cast a dark shadow by Deidre


Prelude

26 Federal Plaza New York 4:45 p.m

He paused at the end of the hallway, eyeing the navy blue rugs and dark wood walls. His eyes rested briefly on the gold seal above the heavy double doors. He sighed, fingered the badge clipped to his belt and then took a steadying breath before continuing.

He looked awful. 'Like something the cat dragged in', his mother would say. Dark circles rimmed his slitted eyes, swollen from lack of sleep. He needed a shave, a hot shower and a soft bed for a week. No, he shook his head, halfway down the corridor. What he needed was his team. The men and women who served with him. The four individuals who made him proud every day. He paused painfully, hearing the desolate echo of his footsteps in the hallway. He'd never felt so alone. How had it all gone so wrong?

Taking another deep breath, his hand trembled briefly above the shiny doorknob. Several pairs of eyes turned and burned a hole in him as he entered. He didn't shy away — that wasn't his way. He stood tall and looked every one of them in the eye. One set did unnerve him, they were as potent as blue lasers and as he held their gaze, the temperature in the room seemed to drop rapidly.

Representatives from several Federal Agencies were on hand — The Bureau's Office of the Inspector General, Law Enforcement Ethics Unit and the Office of Professional Responsibility sat on either side of the oval. The other two members of the adjudication unit were more familiar to him. At the other end of the table, glowering at the 'head' spot was the National Deputy Director, with those icy eyes. To his left sat the local director, whose office was on the top floor. He was the one who finally spoke, making the brief introductions. Finally, Victor Fitzgerald's cold voice split the air.

"Charges!"

Barbara Holiday, from the Office of Professional Responsibility stood and opened the file. "These charges and the disciplinary action that follows are the result of a cooperative investigation among the offices of said counsel represented herein. The review of the actions undertaken by John Anthony Malone associated with the events and activities that took place..."

Jack's eyes remained fixed on the hawkish woman, whose pinched features gave him an eye ache. But her voice faded away and instead he heard their voices. Laughing and teasing at the conferance table during a break in a tense investigation. Finally, with the addition of Martin Fitzgerald, he'd put together a team with all the right stuff. A complete set, a good fit — the right fit! He blinked and zoned back in, as the charges were listed.

"Misconduct, Misuse of Government property, inadequate performance, improper judgment, neglection of duties, failure to exert proper managerial oversight..."

He watched her lips moving and thought of a predator eating a poor, wiggling creature alive. He was exhausted and far beyond the point of reason. The room was stifling and the trickle of sweat that first formed on his back, was now a small river, running wildly. He blinked at the sweat that rolled in his eyes and wondered why no one else seemed to be feeling the oppressive heat. Her voice was like a drill in his ear and he flinched, hoping she'd end soon.

"... and therefore, after a careful and thorough review of all the facts and statements by witnesses, we have concluded that the F.B.I. agent in question..."

He closed his eyes briefly, trying hard to remain upright. Then a new voice to his right took over. and he flicked a gaze over. He didn't know the man, but the badge indicated he was from the Office of the Inspector General.

"If you're ready, we'll begin the proceedings."

"Yes, sir," he rasped, his voice dry and brittle. "May I?" He nodded to the water pitcher at the end of the long oval table.

"Certainly," The Assistant Director of the New York branch of the F.B.I. agreed with the nod of his head.

Jack moved slowly, partially due to his wounded pride. Inwardly he was fearful, but he'd never give them that satisfaction. Mostly, he was exhausted and moving faster than the snail's pace wasn't possible. He managed to control his shaking hands long enough to pour a glass of water.

For those few precious seconds, time stood still. He closed his eyes and saw them all again, his team. Healthy, vital and very much alive. Using biting humor as they gathered around the conference table discussing evidence and theories. They were good — damn good. Had he ever told them just how much so?

"I'm sorry..." He whispered, eyes filling as the smiling faces faded away. Then he brushed his eyes and turned back. He squared his shoulders and held his head high.

He let his leaden legs carry him across the room to the seat at the far end of the highly polished mahogany table.

He sat down, took a long drink of water and listened as the longest day of his life was drawn to a fitting end. He listened as the details that led to the charges brought forth, were drawn out. His face was colored with dispassion. Try as he might, those steely blue eyes from the elite head of the bureau, seemed to burn a hole right through him. The simmering rage that brewed in their depths burned into him like lava. Then the grim-lined lips parted.

"Supervisory Special Agent Malone." Victor Fitzgerald didn't hide his disdain for the underling. The words dripped off his tongue like repulsive drops of acid.

"Sir," Jack managed between clenched teeth, rising and buttoning the front of his wrinkled and ripe suit jacket.

"This committee is in complete agreement as to the disciplinary methods that will determine your future," he paused, managing a reptilian lip curve, "if any, within the Bureau."

He never moved while the 'sentence' was revealed. He didn't blink an eye or move a single facial muscle. He flinched slightly and his hand trembled a bit, when he placed the badge on the table. The gun followed. He turned and left, not wasting any breath on them. Then again, there was nothing to say.

Had he been on that committee, he'd have voted in unison as well. He was at the elevator, seeking the fastest route to the path to nowhere, when a hand caught his shoulder and spun him around.

"We're finished," Malone spat in contempt.

"Finished!" Victor growled, using his index finger like a wayward jackhammer on the soiled white shirt. "I haven't even begun yet! I intend to make every day you're breathing free air, Hell. You cocky bastard, who the hell do you think you are? Had you shown some remorse instead of that fucking Malone defiance —"

"Don't touch me!" Jack warned, shoving the hand away.

"What? Is that a bit of remorse I see? A crack in the armor of the mighty Jack Malone?" he sent back and moved in closer, not hiding his hostility. "Well, how does it feel Hot Shot?" His lips curled up in contempt. "Huh? You proud of yourself? If you hadn't been choking on that pride of yours and your head wasn't up your ass, you'd still have a team."

"Don't you tell me about my team!" Jack leveled with a wave of hostility, his dark eyes flashing. "You couldn't carry their shoelaces!"

"Spare me your false pride, Jack," Victor spat in contempt, "That arrogance finally bit you in the ass. Where are they now?" he roared and saw the eyes pinch slightly. He knew why and he zoned in, rubbing salt in the raw wound. "I hope to hell you suffer, every day for what you did to them." He swallowed hard and his voice wavered. "To him."

"What I did for him," Jack barely contained his simmering rage, "was let him breathe," he tossed back at the overbearing man. Then he paused, zoning in for the kill. "Now let me tell you something about Martin Fitzgerald." He tapped the badge on the other man's shirt pocket. "When he wore it, it shined! It fuckin' blinded me. Had you taken the time to look, you'd have seen that, instead of prancing around with a stick up your ass."

"Don't you dare," Victor seethed, eyes bulging, "have the audacity to tell me about my son!" He shoved the other man hard into the wall. His anger was so great he was shaking with wrath. His fear of loss so overwhelming, it choked him and he turned and walked away.

"Fuckin' prick!" Jack vented, kicking the walls of the elevator. His cell phone rang and he flipped it open. "Yeah?" he sighed painfully, watching the numbers descending. "It's over."

"The hearing or your career?"

"Both," he sighed, rubbing his tired eyes.

"How bad?"

"I'd ask if you're sitting down, but..." He bit off the end, seeing the ashen body in his mind's eye in the hospital bed. "A four-bagger."

His voice was cold and raspy, as he recounted the internal discipline standard for the Bureau — censure, transfer, suspension and probation.

"You had to expect that Jack," the fatigued agent replied, shifting in the hard hospital bed. "How long?"

"Suspension, indefinite," his voice was brittle, "Probation pending — which is bullshit. I'll end up counting fuckin' fish in Alaska somewhere!" he berated of the remote transfer possibility. "Basically, I'm fucked." He paused painfully as the security guard approached and held out his hand. "I gotta go..."

"Tomorrow?"

"I don't know," he replied, shoving his free hand into his pocket for his identification tag. He paused, his ear to the phone. The silence was more painful than a reply. "Okay. I'll see you in the morning."

He'd left his car several blocks away, near the park. He took the long way, letting the cold night air slap his face. How could it have happened? How could the finest investigative team in the city be gone? Two agents missing, one dead and one lucky to be alive. He saw his twisted reflection in the glass door of a Chinese restaurant.

"How the hell did you let this happen?" He accused the haunted face, watching hope and honor flee in despair. "You fucked up, Malone."

By the time he got to his car, he was totally and utterly spent. The street was pitch black, without even the cruel moon for light. He leaned heavily against the vehicle, he had nothing left. He slid into the seat and laid his head back against the headrest.

There in the dark, with only his shattered conscience for comfort, he allowed a single tear to fall. It snaked a crooked path down his shadowed face and hung precariously from his chin. His eyes moved then and caught the rear view mirror. His trembling fingers made an unsteady path to the photo taped over the mirror. A battered body with today's paper draped on the bloody shirt was ghoulishly displayed.

"Jesus!" He gasped, "Holy Mother of God..."

Then he pulled the disturbing picture down, his eyes burning as he drank in every horrid detail. A cold hiss from behind him caused his heart to clench and his head to jerk up. His eyes went to the mirror again. He was frozen in place, his heart hammering so loud he swore they heard it across the river in New Jersey. Before his jangled nerves could recover, the body in the back seat moved.

"Drive!" the desperate voice commanded.

And he did.

 

Six Weeks Earlier
Outside Tarrytown, NY
Our Lady of Grace Nursing Home
Monday, Eleven PM

Three Hours Missing

The exit road from the Interstate was dark and eerie. Fog rolled onto the highway, causing the driver to put on his fog lights. He slowed down and eyed the black ribbon ahead with caution. He squinted slightly, thinking on the area and expecting Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane to appear without his head.

"It's not far; there's a sign after this curve," Jack Malone supplied, rubbing his eyes.

"You still chasing that headache?" Martin Fitzgerald asked, spotting the sign and guiding the car to the right.

"More like it's chasing me," he returned, squinting painfully. "Could be it's driving me."

"Funny," Martin grimaced, draining the bottle of water he'd brought from his apartment. "Don't give up your day job."

The road narrowed and a large iron gate appeared. Jack got out and headed for the phone in a box by the fence. He spoke briefly and then returned to the car. Shortly thereafter, the gates opened and they proceeded through.

"It looks like a castle," Martin commented, eyeing the gray stone edifice complete with turrets.

"Gothic Revival," Jack replied, "It was built at the turn of the century by William Blackmore, a wealthy retired industrialist. His widow was a devout Catholic and sold it to the Archdiocese of New York in the 1940's," Jack recounted of the Nursing Home's history.

"Nice catch," Fitzgerald noted, blinking and shaking his head. "Grounds seem to go on forever."

"Seventy acres, give or take," Jack assessed, then noticed the younger man's eyes unnaturally wide. He frowned when Martin shook his head slightly and blinked rapidly. "You okay?"

"Yeah," the dizzy agent replied, wondering why his heart was racing, "just tired, I guess."

"Want me to drive?" Jack offered.

"Nah," Martin denied, "we're almost here, but thanks."

Large hedges, well over twenty feet, guided them down the long path. The closer they got to the large main building, the more impressive the sweeping lawns and well manicured landscaping became. Suddenly, a man appeared in the mist, at the foot of a narrow path. Several inches over six feet, his dark hair was bushy and unkempt. A scar ran under one eye and over the shadowed face, which needed a shave.

"There's a face only a mother could love," Martin deadpanned, "All he needs is a hook for a hand."

"We all weren't blessed with your face, Fitzgerald," Jack shot back, getting out of the car, "Thank God." He noted the identification tag clinging to the man's overall pocket, which announced he was part of the maintenance department.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Martin scowled, not as much for the comment as for lightheaded sensation that lingered.

"I'm Jack Malone, F.B.I." He flipped his badge and the strange man in the black overalls nodded and pointed to the main drive, where a reserved parking spot waited. "This is Special Agent Fitzgerald."

"Bates," the stranger lifted his identification badge and let the federal agent inspect it. He nodded to the main drive and the building. "Security told me you were coming. They're tied up on the grounds. Park it here, follow the path to the door."

"Okay," Jack jerked his head to the choking younger agent, resisting the urge to thwack his head.

"You're shittin' me," Martin kept turning back, "Bates? Tell me his first name was Norman?"

"What, and spoil your fun?" Malone smirked, eyeing the handsome agent's profile.

He was glad Martin Fitzgerald was learning to relax a little. Fitting into an elite team like theirs wasn't easy. Melding comfortably with four other strong personalities was hard, especially when they spent so much time together. But the heaviest mantle was the fact that the rookie was the son of Victor Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the Bureau, whose pit bull-like tenacity had taken him up the ladder of success quickly. Now that power was known both within Washington D.C. and around the country.

Jack cast an eye at the profile of the handsome young agent as they walked. He had to give him credit, just carrying that name would be tough. Choosing the same profession as the juggernaut took balls and Jack admired that.

But finally, after the initial six months, a mid-year trial period, the newest member of the team was a good fit. Jack would never admit it, but he enjoyed Taylor and Fitzgerald driving each other nuts. Taylor's outgoing personality and street smarts were just what the lone wolf rookie needed to round out his rough spots. In turn the Ivy League grad's dogged determination, razor sharp tenacity and strong deductive skills made the two a great team. He'd need that tonight, since Samantha Spade and Vivian Johnson, the remaining members of the team, were flying in late from Denver. The two had been called to testify in a case from early last summer.

"Nice place."

"One of the best in the state," the team leader replied, eyeing the statue of the Blessed Mother in the midst of the roses in the garden.

"Looks expensive," the younger man stated, eyeing the well manicured rolling lawns, roses and cobbled paths. He took several deep breaths of the cold night air, glad that it seemed to calm his jittery nerves.

"Close to seven thousand dollars a month." He heard Fitzgerald's sharp whistle as they jogged up the steps. He nodded to a security guard, held up his badge and waited. "Skilled nursing care, top quality care, runs upwards of two hundred a day."

"Good thing I plan to die on my honeymoon." Martin flashed his badge and followed the taller man into the building. The foyer was lit up and several offices were flanking the main corridor.

"Honeymoon?" Jack puzzled, nodding to the approaching nun.

"Yeah, on my ninety-ninth birthday with my twenty-one year old bride."

"Keep dreamin', Junior!" he shot back, then took the nun's hand. "Sister Catherine, it's good to see you again."

"I never forget a face..." She paused, staring hard at his features and inquisitive dark eyes. "Murrow... Mallon..."

"Malone," he supplied.

"Of course!" she accepted the warm shake. "You're Rosemary's nephew. How are you, young man, and how's your wife and family?"

"Young?" Martin's voice rose and he choked, before catching a dark-eyed glare.

"Got somethin' stuck in your craw, Martin?"

"Somethin' like that..." the imp smirked, eyes crinkled in mirth.

"See that you don't choke on it!" Malone warned. "Sister Catherine, this is special agent Martin Fitzgerald, one of my team." He turned and let the amused agent shake the elderly nun's hand. "Sister Catherine has been the administrator here for the last forty years."

"Impressive," Martin nodded, "that's a huge job. You've earned your wings."

"Thank you." She eyed the fair face and smiled, before turning back to her old friend, "My, they get younger and younger. Such a handsome boy."

"Boy..." Martin mouthed to his boss, thumping his chest and wagging his eyebrows.

Jack ignored the mischievous dancing blue eyes and walked with the elderly nun, leaving the amused agent to walk behind them.

"How long has it been?" she asked.

"About eighteen months since she died. She loved it here, you were all good to her," Malone replied of his elderly aunt.

"She was a lovely woman, had a voice like an angel. She so enjoyed singing at Mass every day." As they turned past a statue of St Joseph, her smile faded. "I wish you weren't here in your official capacity."

"Me too, Sister. What can you tell us?"

"Sister Michael is new to us, just four months. She came to us from Costa Rica. She works with those here in St. Joseph's wing, for those suffering with Alzheimer's and dementia. She was taking a resident, John Stewart, to the chapel."

"Wasn't it kind of late for that?" Martin quizzed, "Shouldn't he have been in bed?"

"The patients in this wing are lost in their own world, often they don't recognize time or space. When he became troubled, Sister often would take him to chapel, it calmed him down. He gets peace from looking at the images on the stained glass."

"What happened then?" Jack pressed, stepping into the small chapel and noting the beautiful windows.

It was rectangular, twenty-four feet wide by fifty-eight feet long. Rows of shiny wooden pews stood by coldly as they passed. In the loft behind them, an organ stood waiting for work. The marble altar was a few feet behind a small marble railing with blue velvet kneelers. To the right of the altar, in a niche, was a statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus. On the left side, in an identical niche, was Saint Joseph with Jesus as a small boy.

"That would have been about eight p.m. or so... at nine, Carl Winters, from our maintenance department, came to chapel to fix the wiring. The lights have been dimming and flickering during services," the administrator noted. "He found John alone and felt air rushing in. He checked the sacristy, which is behind the altar, and found the side door open. I made sure no one was permitted in there once we realized she was missing."

"Was she troubled lately? Did she have any run-ins with family members of the residents? Any nasty letters or the like?" Jack inquired.

"No," Sister Catherine shook her head. "She was a very private person. She was an excellent nurse and worked tirelessly among the poor souls in this wing. She's quiet, but I think if something like that, a nasty letter or altercation had occurred, she'd have told me or Sister Claire. She and Sister Claire have become close friends."

"Where is she?"

"Sleeping, I guess, in the convent, it's in a separate building. Her shift ends at seven p.m."

"We'll talk to her in the morning," Jack replied, "But I want to talk to the staff who were on duty. Can you arrange that?"

"Certainly, there's a conference room near my office. You can use that. Sister's records are in my office, you will want them of course." She saw him nod and turned as the younger agent began to speak.

"What about family?" Martin asked, steadying himself on a pew. Once the dizziness passed, he resumed taking notes.

"None, according to her records. She entered the convent at age twelve in California, I believe, after her parents were killed. She completed her education and traveled as needed, to many parts of the world. Costa Rica was her last position, as Nursing Administrator to a large orphanage."

As she spoke, Martin shoved his notebook in his pocket and eyed the rest of the chapel. He ducked behind the altar and through a doorway. The small square room housed the instruments the priest would use in celebrating Mass. Against one wall, a linen covered altar held several silver containers of incense, next to those were a chalice and ciborium, used to hold the Holy Eucharist and the wine. In the corner, a closet held liturgical vestments that the priest would wear during Mass. On the shorter wall, next to the open door, was a long cabinet. Using the edge of his pen, he tipped the door open. It held extra vessels and instruments for use in the mass, as well as bibles, missals, candles, altar linens and wine. Nothing seemed out of order; he tipped the door closed.

He bent down and examined the door, the lock, the knob and the floor. Then the blue-eyed agent moved outside, squinting as he searched the small path. A wooden fence, a good two feet above his head, started at the wall beside the door and elbowed out, running about ten feet. He pulled out a flashlight from his pocket and spent several minutes scouring the ground. He walked the narrow concrete path until it hit dirt at the end of the fenceline. He squatted down, sending the light over the earth. A short path widened out, with a thick copse of trees bordering it. He took the light slowly over the dirt, spotting an odd array of prints. He rose and followed them to where they hit the woods.

He paused when something silver hit his eye. Squatting down by a tree, he shifted the light and took out a plastic bag, carefully picking up the small cross. He spent five more minutes, but the dense woods had no more answers, so he retreated back to the door.

>From this new perspective, he eyed the tidy sacristy again. Against the remaining wall was a sink. Martin walked closer and his brow furrowed.

"Jack."

"Whaddya got?" the senior agent inquired, ducking into the room, "Signs of a struggle?"

"No, apple pie order," he remarked, "The door was forced and there's this." He pointed, "Looks like blood in the sink."

"Piscina," Jack corrected and saw the younger man's features crease.

"A what?" Martin frowned at the unfamiliar word.

"It's not a sink, it's a piscina, it's sacred. You see, unused wine and crumbs or bits of the host can't be put down a normal sink that leads to the sewer, because they've been consecrated. So they are poured down here," he pointed to the drain, "and they go directly into the earth. God's orders." He saw a cross between amazement and amusement in the blue eyes. "What? I'm an ex-altar boy, we never forget."

"I didn't say a word!" the amused agent smirked.

"No, you never do," Jack shot back, hiding a smile, "Anything else?"

"Some crazy prints outside," he held up the bag, "and this. Found it by a tree in the woods."

"Crazy how?"

"Weird pattern. I'll show you."

Jack moved quickly to keep up with Martin's brisk pace. He followed the beam of the light, and listened as the younger man spoke.

"See?" Martin stood and flicked the light behind them. "They start out normal, side by side, one larger, a male's, at the start of the path. But then when closer to the woods," he moved the light again, "they fan out. Almost as if they went one way, turned back and went another."

"So?" Jack prodded, watching the wheels turning behind the clever blue eyes.

"It doesn't add up. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to grab her. Just gettin' out of the woods to the main road would be tough at night; it's pitch black out there. He would have a route mapped out, there'd be no time for indecision. It stuck out."

"Maybe she got loose, tried to run away."

"No, then the prints would be turned and twisted, and solo. They're together. It's like they got that far and changed their minds."

"They?"

"She's keeping pace with him, she's not struggling, or the prints wouldn't be so neat."

"Maybe she didn't have a choice, he could have a gun. Maybe she was hurt." Jack turned back towards the door.

"No," Martin decided, "pretend you're forcing me to walk." He moved to the far left, away from the tracks.

"You'd make a cute nun." Jack's lip twitched as the other man grimaced and rolled his blue eyes. "Okay, I'll buy." He grabbed Martin with his left hand on the other man's neck and used his right to press his side, like a gun. Then they moved, and stopped.

"See!" Martin said, "Look at my footprints, they're in front of yours and uneven. Those are side by side... even and neat. They were walking next to each other and about six inches apart. It doesn't figure."

"No, it doesn't, Junior." He held up the cross and headed back. "Sister?" Jack took the bag back into the chapel. "Is this hers?"

"Yes," she eyed the cross, "Yes, it is. It's much smaller than ours. I think she mentioned receiving it as a gift many years ago, as a child."

"Looks like the lab is here." Jack waved to the team at the back of the chapel. While he updated them, Fitzgerald pressed onward.

"What can you tell me about the security system, Sister?" Martin asked, his pen poised.

"We have nine guards spread over three shifts," she paused, "Mike Kennedy is the supervisor, I called him immediately. He called some help in and they've been searching the grounds."

"Do you have cameras?" he followed up.

"Several, at various parts of the building. One in the employees' parking lot, and one above the entrance."

"Did security check them?"

"I believe Mike instructed one of the guards to begin reviewing."

"Check it out," Jack directed to his partner, as he came back to the pair, "But check out her room first. Sister?"

"I'll be right back." She waited for the fair-faced young man and walked with him to the main corridor, pausing before a sign. "This is where we are," her finger moved, "This is the convent. It's connected by this stairwell and indoor bridge."

"Got it," Martin nodded, "Where's her room?"

"I'll call Sister Anne, she'll meet you at the entry. When you return, come back here." She moved her hand to the map again. "If you turn right outside the door to the chapel, you follow the long aisle and turn, there you'll find the Security Office. Paul Hooper should be in there, I believe."

"Okay, Sister, thanks." Martin paused, "Is there a bathroom here?"

"Just over there," she pointed to the sign above a door across the way.

"Thanks!" he nodded, hoping that splashing cold water on his face would help the odd, lightheaded sensation.

"When can we speak to John Stewart?" Jack asked when she returned.

"In the morning, but... he suffers from Alzheimer's. I don't know how much help he'll be."

"He's our only witness," Jack sighed, "I'm going to need all the information you have on Sister Michael "

"It's in my office," the administrator agreed, stepping past the lab crew who were working.

Jack turned and nodded to Susan Lennon, from the lab. "Sue, keep me posted. We'll be in the Administration office."

"Okay Jack," the tall redhead nodded, then grinned wickedly. "Where's that blue-eyed boy wonder? Could be I might need his assistance."

"Busy," Malone smirked, "and young enough to be your..."

"Brother!" she interrupted, "and we'll leave it at that!"

Martin looked up in surprise when he entered the door to the security office. Inside the room were a high counter and a wall with several television monitors. Each had a different view of the floors, parking lot and grounds. Two doors on the far wall could be seen. One was open, revealing a long table and a kitchen set-up, with sink, microwave and refrigerator. The other door was closed, marked 'locker room'. Just inside the room, was a third door, with M. Kennedy, CHIEF, in black letters. The young agent was startled when a dark head rose from behind the tall counter by the monitors.

"Where'd you come from?" the rookie asked, taking his overcoat off. It was extremely warm inside the room. He wiped his brow and tried to control his trembling hand. He took a few breaths, trying to overcome the smothering sensation that was gripping him.

"See, that's the difference between us," Danny Taylor grinned, "I knew all about that before I got out of grade school. You're ass deep in degrees and still in the dark about the birds and the bees." He wagged his eyebrows and enjoyed the blue eyes rolling. "Hey, that rhymes!"

"Just like a Hallmark card," Martin rasped, concentrating on every shaky step as he crossed the room, "Where's the guard?"

"Getting the plans for this place," Danny replied without looking up. He was reviewing the files on the security personnel.

Martin eased his lean frame though the half-door that separated the monitors and outer office. He hung onto the small hip-level door for an extra moment as the room seemed to spin. He felt sweat running down his back and clinging to his face as well. He shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and waited for it to pass. He wondered how he could have picked up the flu. Finally he let go of the door. He tossed his jacket on the empty chair and eyed the cold can of ginger ale the other agent was drinking.

"When'd you get here?"

"A few minutes ago."

Danny reached for his soda and saw Martin slip into a chair. His brows furrowed at the damp face and brown hair curling up. He saw the trembling hands curl into fists on Martin's lap and noticed just how pale he was.

"You look like shit, man."

"Thank you."

Danny ignored the acid in the reply and remembered that Martin was scheduled off that day. If his memory served him right, Fitzgerald had planned on spending the day rock climbing and hiking. He eyed the clock on the wall, recalling his own call from Jack Malone. Knowing how driven the blue-eyed agent was, he thought on the shaking figure.

"Let me guess, you got home around eight and Jack called. You tossed on clean threads and scurried your rookie ass across town to pick him up..."

"Yeah, so?" Martin was annoyed, he glared sideways at the other man and let his anger show.

"So, I'm guessing you didn't eat dinner, and I know when you do that hiking shit, all you eat is granola and stuff." He paused, watching the blank face, then he sighed and leaned over. "You skipped dinner. You burned a lot of calories playing Daniel Boone today." Still the face was blank. "Two and two make four yet?"

Martin rummaged through his coat pocket and pulled out a new pony bottle of water. He uncapped it and took a swig before a hand clamped on his wrist.

"You need to eat! You burned off all your carbs. That's why you're shaking all over. How come you didn't grab—"

"I didn't have time!" Martin snapped, "Until we were on the road, it wasn't so bad."

"There's some doughnuts and cookies and crackers in there," he jerked his head towards the small kitchen, "Coke in the ice box. You get some sugar inside and you'll feel better. Help yourself, the guard said it was okay."

Martin stood up and swayed, grabbing the edge of the long table.

"Whoa!" Danny stood up, sat him down and studied his face, "Don't you faint on me. I got enough to do finding a missing nun."

"Get offa me," Martin protested weakly, shoving the hand away. "I'm not gonna pass out. I just need a minute," he vowed, trying to control his racing heart.

"Yeah, well, I don't need extra incident reports to fill out. You stay put!" Danny ordered, trotting to the kitchen. He took out a twenty-four-ounce bottle of coke, picked up a paper plate and eyed the boxes. He took a package of orange peanut butter crackers, a doughnut and an orange.

He put the plate down, pointed and snapped his fingers. Before he even got settled into his own seat, the melting man had sucked nearly half of the coke. A badly suppressed belch slipped past the pale lips.

"Proud of you!" Danny shook his head.

"'Scuse me," Martin managed, then eyed his partner. "You know what they say, 'hang around a dog long enough...'"

"Eat!" Taylor ordered, and watched the doughnut disappear first. "Jack called and updated me. You find anything in her room?"

"No, small and tidy, and I mean tidy!" Martin shook his head, shoving a peanut butter cracker down. "Not even any dust. A single bed, one small bureau, a closet with some habits in it and shoes. A cross on the wall and a statue of Madonna..."

"Madonna huh?" Danny grinned, "Me, I'm a J-Lo guy myself."

"Not that Madonna," Fitzgerald grimaced, trying to navigate the orange peeling process, "the original. Anyhow, there was no mail, letters, nothing. A bible and a book of poems in the nightstand."

"Gimme that!" Danny attempted to take the orange from the stubborn blue-eyed terrier, "You're a mess."

"I can peel my own fuckin' orange!" Martin fumbled, hitting Danny's hand and sending the wayward fruit off the counter and across the floor.

"Now look what you did!" Taylor stood up.

"I was doing fine," Martin protested.

"You were flunking Orange Peeling 101!" Danny retrieved the fruit and began peeling it on the way back. "Here, I started it, you can finish up, okay?" He watched the damp head nod and eyed the water cooler nearby. He picked up the paper towels, soaked a few and handed them to his partner.

"Thanks," Martin wiped his face and resumed eating his orange. "Anything here?"

"There's nothing suspicious in the log book," Danny assessed, " Two guards make rounds inside and one outside. Also, the maintenance man was out there tonight; he works the gate."

"The Missing Link," Martin recalled, watching the different angles on the television, "We met."

"Anything new on the nun?"

"Sister Michael," Martin pulled out his notes, "she's been here about four months. She works mostly with the patients in the Saint Joseph's wing, Alzheimer's and dementia."

"Man, talk about a calling," Danny's voice rose in admiration. "That's what I call an angel. She local?"

"Jack's getting her background. She came here from Central America. She took one of the residents to the chapel about eight p.m. The maintenance guy found the old guy, a John Stewart, alone an hour later. Behind the door to the chapel, in the sacristy, the door was forced. The prints outside don't add up, though."

"How?" Danny asked, glad to see the trembling seemed better and Martin wasn't as stuporous. He noted how fast the food had disappeared and that the coke was nearly gone. "You need another round?"

"Thanks!" Martin looked over, his gaze giving far more than gratitude for the soda. He saw the crooked grin come back to him and nodded, "I'll get it; I'm okay now."

After getting them each another soda, Martin filled in his partner on all that they had found so far. He couldn't help but notice the dark eyes scrutinizing his chest. Finally, after taking another gulp of soda, he placed the can down and frowned, eyeing his white shirt.

"What? I spill something?"

"No," Danny chuckled, the chocolate eyes lighting up, "Man, How much stock do have in 'Striped Ties R Us'?"

"What's wrong with my tie?" Martin's voice was laced with indignation.

"In a word," Danny paused, eyeing the red and navy diagonal stripes. "YECH! Nothing that a man with style and class, not unlike myself," Danny offered, draping a brotherly arm over Martin's shoulder, "can't fix for a slight fee!"

"Humble aren't you?" Martin shot back, unconsciously tugging on his tie, "Thanks, but I'll pass."

Danny just laughed and reached for his radio, as Jack's voice came through. "Yeah. No, the Fashion Assassin was just filling me in. Okay, we'll hang out here." He pointed to the guard's bathroom, near the locker room, when his partner stood and eyed the room. Fitzgerald's head bobbed and he headed for the door. "Yeah, okay, later, Boss!"

The office was immaculate; he'd have expected no less. She moved around the desk to a small table and picked up a folder.

"I took the liberty of copying Sister's records." She handed the item to the agent. "I'm sorry there isn't more. We don't know much about her early years, before she her parents died. There is no record of family of any kind. By the time she was sixteen or so, she'd discovered a talent for nursing. Apparently, she assisted the Sisters in the convent in that capacity. She was very bright and eventually, thanks to a missionary named Father Paulo Santiago, she was able to attend nursing school in San Diego."

"Francesca Maria Alvarez," he studied her birth certificate. "She'd be forty-five years old. This the only photo?" Jack eyed the young woman in a white habit standing between two other nuns. He flipped to the back, where the date was written in pencil. "May 1980?"

"That was when she graduated from school; those are two of the sisters from the convent that sponsored her in La Jolla."

"Point Loma Nazarene University," Jack scanned the notes, clipping the small photo to the end.

"She was very good, especially with the mentally disabled," Sister Catherine noted, "We were very surprised when she chose to come to us, just after the new year. You see, Father Santiago was from Costa Rica. He returned there while Sister was in school and upon graduation, she joined him there. He needed good help, the village he was working in was very poor."

"Isn't that a little unusual?" Jack frowned, "I mean, why would she leave there after all these years?"

"Unusual? No, although she considered Costa Rica her home, which it was for many years, she did travel quite a bit. There's been trouble in the village near the hospital where she worked. Father Paulo got permission to have most of the sisters transferred. He feared for their safety."

"So," he squinted at the small photo of the missing woman from over twenty-two years ago. "This is it? What about her passport?"

"It's in the safe." She moved into a small side room and returned a few moments later. "I'm afraid it's not much better."

"At least we're in the ninety's," he observed of the passport date from ten years prior. The two-inch photo showed her features: dark eyebrows, dark eyes, and a plain, somewhat full face. "Looks like half of New York. What can you tell me about her?"

"She worked tirelessly, very long hours. She had such patience with the troubled souls. Her schedule left little time for anything else other than chapel and rest."

"What?" Jack heard the pause and saw the question in the older nun's eyes.

"Well... she seemed troubled at times. Distraught... deeply hurt... almost in pain. I witnessed her weeping on more than one occasion while on her knees in chapel. She wouldn't talk about it, other than to say than she was homesick."

"Did she get any visitors? Or phone calls or letters?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Does she leave here? Go to town on errands? Could she have witnessed something? Did she seem more upset than usual today?"

"No," Sister Catherine shook her head, "she hasn't been away."

"This weeping you mentioned, when did that start?"

"Actually, since she arrived. Almost as if she's bearing some painful weight inside."

"Do you have a point of contact in Costa Rica? I'll need some background information. What about this Father Paulo?"

"That's quite an order. Father Paulo travels extensively in the most remote areas. He's very hard to reach. But I can leave word with the bishop down there."

"Thanks," Jack rose, then shook the small hand, "Try not to worry. I'll be in touch."

"You look almost human again!" Danny teased when Fitzgerald returned from the bathroom. The damp hair was combed and the face still pale, but better than it had been. Just as Martin sat down, the door opened. A tall, well-built man with a graying crew cut entered.

"Mike Kennedy," the supervisor walked into the security office, extending his hand to a casually dressed young man with inquisitive brown eyes. "Paul said you wanted these," he tapped the blueprints in a canister under his arm. "I'm in charge of security. I'm retired NYPD, twenty-two years."

"I'm Special Agent Danny Taylor," the dark-haired man nodded to his partner. He saw the security guard eyeing them curiously. His own black jeans, dark polo shirt and mussed hair were a stark contrast to his partner's neat hair, gray suit, pristine white shirt and that tie. "This is my partner, Martin Fitzgerald. He's a retired boy scout," he smirked. Then, pointing to a monitor, "That one on the top, is that the only shot you have of the area behind the chapel?"

"Yeah, it's all woods after that, dense and thick." The chief put a large cylinder on the counter and popped the top off.

"How far to the river?" Martin asked.

"Uh," the guard turned and eyed the air, as if taking a mental calculation, "Two, maybe three miles."

"Any other outlets?" Danny asked, "besides the river?"

"No, well, not really..."

"Define not really," the rookie asked as he looked up briefly before putting a paperweight on one end of the now spread out blueprints.

"See this?" Kennedy moved in, using a pencil to illustrate, "it's the back of the chapel. If you go north, you hit the river. West takes you out the main gate..."

"What's that?" Martin pointed to a six-sided shape on the east side of the prints.

"That's all that's left of the Old Hickock Prison. It went up during the Civil War, later it was used as a munitions armory. The army used it on and off for storage until, oh, just after Viet Nam." He saw the question the blue-eyed agent was about to ask in his gaze. "I sent two men over, nothing yet."

"What's on the other side?" Danny asked, for the map ended where the odd shaped building was located.

"A dirt road that eventually leads to Route 9, but it's rough, no way a nun could get through it," the guard replied.

"Might not have been up to her," Martin said, eyeing the computer. "Can you get me online? I want download a map. Did you call the State Troopers?"

"No," he said, watching the dark haired man moved towards the phone, "What was I gonna tell them? Look for the Flying Nun?"

"Easy, partner." Danny's voice was calm as he read the message in the irate sky eyes. He huffed in annoyance; he knew the ex-cop was angry at his 'turf' being invaded. He paused at the dial, watching Martin work the internet.

"Kennedy, your men find any tracks out there?" Danny asked, waiting for the Westchester County Office to pick up.

"I don't think so," the paid cop retorted in a shade of indifference.

"That's a helluva answer!" Martin snarled, pushing the print button. He waited for his partner to update the state troopers. Once the phone was back in the cradle, he spoke. "Danny, look at this."

"Whaddya got?" He moved in, leaning over the back of the chair.

"Take a look." He hit the page down button and brought up the history on the old army depot.

"It went up in 1862, three stories..." Taylor scanned the article, "...stone and brick..."

"No, down there." Martin tapped the screen near the bottom.

"...a seventy-five foot long tunnel runs from the cellar of the building into the woods beyond. It was thought to have been constructed by prisoners in the waning days of the war." The dark-eyed agent paused, "Later, during prohibition in the nineteen twenties, bootleggers reinforced it and used it to illegally transport liquor from Canada."

"Could be that tunnel leads to another spot on the river — one where he could have a boat waiting," Martin observed.

"It's possible," he read the other man's thought, "but seems like a stretch, Martin. Why go to all that trouble when the direct route to the river was closer?"

"Maybe whoever took her wasn't interested in getting to the river," Martin noted quietly, unsettled at he the idea of a nun being assaulted, "Maybe he had another reason for using that tunnel." He flinched inwardly at the image of a dead nun in the subterranean area.

"I think we need to check it out." Danny flipped his walkie-talkie on as Martin copied more info.

"Malone," Jack paused in the conference room, where the ward's staff was waiting. He nodded as Taylor updated him. "Okay, but I want you two to view those tapes." He eyed his watch, "No, I'm gonna talk to the staff, then head back, unless you find something down there. I've got to be in court tomorrow." He rubbed his eyes and sighed, "We'll meet back at the office, I should be done by noon."

"Let's go," Danny gave Martin's shoulder a pat, then paused, scrutinizing the unsteady body rising. He grabbed a wrist and locked onto the troubled eyes. "You up for this? I can get Jack to —"

"No!" Martin hissed, then winced, "Sorry. I'm okay, Danny." He watched those strong eyes absorbing his reply. For several seconds, the hand remained locked onto his wrist, then a nod and it was released.

"Lenny will meet you, he's on day shift, but I called him in," Mike noted, picking up the radio, "Lenny?"

"Yeah"

"Two F.B.I. agents need to get to the Old Prison. Meet them outside the chapel."

"Okay."

Lenny hadn't arrived yet when the two young men got to the chapel. Danny smirked openly as Sue Lennon, from the lab, openly appraised the unsuspecting Fitzgerald's backside as he bent over. He was retrieving his notebook, which he'd dropped, before standing up and putting his coat on.

"Naughty, naughty, Sue," Taylor teased, wagging his eyebrows as he went by, following Martin behind the altar, "Don't forget you're in church..."

"Hey, a girl can dream," she chuckled and gave the other agent a bold wink.

Taylor followed his partner around, listening as the other pointed out what they'd found earlier. They were examining the odd prints when a flashlight hit them full in the face.

"FBI!" Martin hollered on instinct, reaching for his gun.

"Security!"

"You should know better!" Danny scolded the guard, putting his gun down, "You saw us, you should have called out. "

"Sorry," the other man apologized, "I'm Lenny Harper. It's this way." He paused and waited until both men acknowledged him, and then turned.

"What?" Martin eyed his smirking partner.

"It's like looking in a crystal ball," Taylor chased back, "Twenty-five years from now. All that crap you eat will catch up to you." He grinned, eyeing again the guard who was waiting for them. "Some things never change."

Martin tried not to laugh. For a few minutes it worked. But every time he looked up, the striped tie on the paunchy guard seemed to be blinking at him. He smirked, he snorted in a bad attempt not to laugh, he chuckled, then he gave up and laughed.

"It's a nervous disorder," Danny whispered to the puzzled guard, who was staring at the nearly convulsed agent. "He's sensitive about it, try not to notice."

 

Part Two

Jack eyed the three employees sitting in the conference room. He let his gaze linger on them, before turning back to Sister Catherine, who made the introductions.

"Marcus Johnson, Ms. Angela Paccini and Mrs. Maria Colon."

"Good evening," Jack started with the African-American male to his left. He was over six feet tall and two hundred and fifty pounds. The agent slid his eyes down to the sneakers, which were much too big for the prints found. The women were in white pants and colorful nursing smocks.

"This is Jack Malone of the Missing Persons Bureau of the F.B.I. He and his team are investigating the disappearance of Sister Michael. I've explained to him that we need coverage in the wing, so we split you up into two groups. When you're finished here, you'll return and George, Michelle, Thomas and Joanne will be sent down. Jack."

"Thanks, Sister." He waited until she left and turned to the slim Hispanic woman with shots of gray in her short hair. "Mrs. Colon, the man sister took with her to the chapel was one of your patients?"

"Yes, Mister Stewart. George and I helped get him ready for bed. He was very upset. We couldn't calm him down. So Sister Michael suggested the chapel. That usually works when he's upset."

"Why was he upset?"

"I don't know. George and I had bathed him and got his nightclothes on. Sister visits each of the patients to say goodnight. She came out of his room about... seven thirty or so. She said he was very upset and she wanted George to get him in his wheelchair."

"Did you see her after that?"

"No, the last I saw her was when she pushed him past the nursing station, then she went around the corner. That was about... ten of eight I guess."

"Marcus Johnson," he glanced at the brief profile provided by the administrator. "You've worked her for five years?"

"Yeah, give or take. I'm an orderly. I work mostly in this wing, sometimes the residents get, uh, worked up."

"Was Mister Stewart one of those?"

"Yeah, usually just at night. The nurses call it 'sundowners syndrome'. They get confused and upset for some reason, when the sun goes down. It's harder in this wing 'cause they don't know where they are and you can't really talk to them."

"So this evening Mister Stewart was upset and Sister wanted to take him to the chapel. Did she seem upset to you? "

"Well, not really, she don't talk to me much. I mean, she's a nice lady and all, but a little stiff around the help. Maybe she just couldn't get used to a big place like this. Could be she got roughed up where she was."

"Roughed up?" He cocked his head.

"Yeah, in that village in South America where she came from. That ain't exactly Main Street, U.S.A., if you catch my drift."

"Did she seem restless, edgy or upset ?"

"Tired maybe, her eyes were funny, like she needed sleep. She was a little short with me, but she puts in a long day with those folks, so that's okay."

"Short how?"

"Well, I was trying to explain to him that we were taking him to the chapel. I didn't want to upset him any more. She kept moving in, trying to help, you know, lift his other side and get him in the chair. She was saying like, 'Come on, John. Let's go, John,' I had to tell her to ease up a little. She was hurrying him."

"She was rushing," he noted on his pad, "curious. Okay, what next?"

"I got him in the chair, and put the strap over his chest. I pushed him into the hall and she took over, said she'd go alone."

"Ms. Paccini?"

"Hi," the young woman's voice wavered, "I'm sorry, I'm so upset. I really liked her. I'm new here and she went out of her way to be nice. I had the cart down the hall, dispensing med's for the night. She passed me on the way to the chapel. I called out to her but she didn't seem to hear me. I thought she looked upset so I called out again, louder, and she stopped."

"Go on," Jack guided.

"I asked if she was okay, and she stammered a little but nodded, she said she was tired and hoping that the Lord would soothe Mister Stewart's nerves so she could get to her room."

"How far from the chapel were you?"

"It's at the end of the hall, I could see it from where we stood. I watched until she got closer, then went into give Mrs. Morrison her night med's. When I came out, the door to the chapel was closed and they were gone. That was just about eight p.m. "

"Are you all on a seven to seven shift?" he asked and all three heads nodded. "Okay, did you see any strange cars on your way here, either on Route 9 or the side roads? Or strangers? Anything unusual."

After thinking a moment, all three heads shook negatively. Jack sighed and rubbed his neck, then eyed the staff again. "Do you work closely with Sister Michael? Did she seem upset lately, or bothered by something? Did she stray from her usual practices or schedule?"

Marcus and Mary both thought for several moments, then shook their heads, indicating they hadn't detected anything unusual. Angela paused, her brow furrowed.

"Ms. Paccini?"

"Well, it might be nothing, but..."

"Let's have it," the F.B.I agent coached.

"A couple weeks ago we had a party for the residents who turned one hundred this year. The night before, the catering company sent some of their staff over to help set up. You know, bringing the decorations and linens and stuff. I was at one end of the hall, approaching the supply room. Sister Claire and Sister Michael were at the other end, walking towards me. In between us on the right was the dining room. As they passed by, they paused to look inside at the set up. Sister Michael gasped and backed up, her hand on her chest. I rushed forward, thinking it was an attack or she was going to faint or something."

"What happened?" Jack asked.

"She said she was fine, just lost her breath..."

"But you didn't buy that?" Jack pressed.

"No, that was shock, like seeing a ghost or, you know, extremely startled."

"Who was in that room?"

"Three guys from the catering company, they were unloading linens and stuff — there's a small supply closet off the kitchen in the back, right near that door."

"Did they look threatening?" Malone inquired.

"No, all early twenties, black pants, white shirts and blue vests, the outfits from the catering company."

"What's the name?"

"D'Agastino's, I think. Connie Nelson handles the Special Events, her office is upstairs."

"I'll talk to her tomorrow. If any of you think of anything," he slid his card to each one, "you call it in, got it?"

Danny squinted and adjusted his flashlight as he descended into the cellar of the old building. The search of the upper floors had revealed fresh muddy footprints leading to the door he had just passed through. The steps creaked in protest and, with every motion, dirt skipped through the cracks in the wooden boards covering the thick walls.

"Watch your step," he called back to his partner, and then stepped gingerly onto the floor. "Damn, it smells like we're back in the Civil War."

"There." Martin flashed his light ahead, past the crates, trash and a family of rats that were passing through.

"Give my best to cousin Willard," Danny remarked as he kicked a box and sent the rats away. "I see it," he ducked down and flashed his light, revealing a handprint on the wall. He took an orange fluorescent sticker from his pocket and slapped it on the wall above the print.

Martin was several paces behind, trying to get his flashlight to work properly. He paused and frowned, banging it against his palm. As his partner knelt down and pulled a rusty ring, exposing the darkened tunnel, Fitzgerald's light flickered and died.

"Shit," he hissed as Danny disappeared into the tiny opening, which was only about three feet high.

The damp, musty underground room was cloaked in darkness. As Martin gave up on his faulty flashlight, he let his eyes adjust to the shadows and tried to follow the path to the door.

Unaware his partner was lagging, the persistent detective pushed onward. He flicked the beam against the walls and floor, scrunching his face up in disgust.

"Man, this place must be like the Club Nirvana for these rats," Danny coughed, "Jesus, it stinks in here."

Fumbling and stumbling, Martin found the door and descended into the subterranean tunnel. He felt his heart begin to race again. Sweat began to form in the small of his back, and he ran a shaky hand to his collar, loosening it a bit. He balled both hands into fists and tried to control his erratic breathing as a fine sheen of sweat broke out all over his body. The jackhammering in his chest was painful. What the hell was going on? The growing discomfort overtaking his entire body was unexplored territory . Gathering up his courage, his took a shallow breath, ducked down and followed.

The tunnel wasn't wide and not high enough to allow them to stand; rather, they walked hunched over. Danny let the flashlight hang on a chord around his neck, the light slowly travelling along the walls and dirt floor. As the tunnel veered sharply to the right, the width of the passage decreased, barely allowing his shoulders to pass.

Although the body didn't understand the clues, the brain continued to send them. Adrenalin was pumped into his system, more blood released into his muscles, and his respiration and heart rate increased. His nerve hub was reacting to a threat and once that threat passed, his body would return to normal. But Martin Fitzgerald didn't know this — the only thing he felt was 'danger', an invisible enemy attacking him for unknown reasons. The general in the brain command center pushed onward, and Martin's pupils widened. This made his vision distort, causing the walls to bend inward on him.

What was wrong with Danny? Couldn't he see how the tunnel was getting smaller? The walls seemed to brush his shoulder and he gasped, forgetting to duck and thwacking his forehead. With every faltering step, Martin felt less air in the cavern and his heart was now leading the laps in the Indy 500.

"You with me?" Danny called back, not hearing anything, "Martin?"

"Y...y...eah..." the lost soul sent back with false bravado.

A river of sweat poured from every inch of him and he gasped audibly, trying to find air. Now his brain was being deprived of the blood that was sent instead to his muscles. With every step he became extremely lightheaded and a sea of nausea rose up. He licked his lips, trying to ward off the tingling he felt there. His now overloaded muscles began to buckle in tension. He swallowed hard, nearly choking on his closing throat, and began to pant. Despite the inky blackness, he dared not move his hands from the walls guiding him. A tiny band of unseen warriors flung pins and needles in him, shooting up his legs and arms.

Unaware that his partner was mired in a nightmare, Danny Taylor pressed on. He could feel the air growing moister and realized they were drawing near the end of the subterranean path. Not a moment too soon, as it was hard to walk and impossible to see well.

"Whoa!"

He pulled his leg back, nearly falling through a hole in the ground. The boards that covered it were rotted through.

"Watch your step, man, there's a hole here!"

He took a wide step over it and crept forward. Then he saw something white on the otherwise dark dirt walls. He moved closer and found a long strip of white cloth. It was similar to the fabric of the habits he had seen the nuns wearing when he first arrived. The strip was hanging on a rusty nail that protruded, the timber it held long gone. He moved his light and saw a knee print in the mud, where she must have fallen and caught a piece of her gown.

"Hey Martin! I found something!"

It was all the panic-stricken agent could do to keep from passing out. He wasn't aware of the man in front of him, or the warning. The only thing he heard was the roaring in his ears and his own ragged breathing. Pain exploded in his chest and he dropped to his knees, his face a distorted mask. Confusion rained down, drowning all his logic. He stumbled blindly and desperately; seeking escape. Twice more he fell to his knees, gasping harshly, covered in sweat. Trembling badly, his shaky legs seemed to resemble spaghetti and his heart was a wayward jackhammer. Choking back vomit, he clutched his chest, praying the pain there wasn't his heart giving out.

"Oh God," he rasped, clenching his jaw and eyes to combat the pain and nausea.

A name formed in his muddled brain. Danny. Where was Danny? How much further was it? He crawled along on his hands and knees, as a river of sweat fled his body. It felt like he was being smothered. His jaw gapped, frantically sucking air. He stopped as a strong wave of dizziness blanketed him.

"Not here... can't... not... here..." he vowed, pulling himself semi-upright and moving his jelly legs.

He was concentrating so hard on not passing out that he didn't hear his partner's call. He couldn't see through the sweat stinging his eyes, nor hear over the roaring rush of blood in his ears. He staggered badly, needing air... seeking freedom from this coffin. He gasped once as the ground disappeared under his feet.

"Martin?"

Danny sighed impatiently and turned back, flashing the light around the empty cavern. Where the hell was he? He retraced his steps, flashing the light slowly.

"Martin!"

"Martin!"

Danny Taylor coughed and ducked as his loud call brought dust and debris down. He waved his hand, clearing the air, and rubbed his eyes.

"Shut up, Jack," he cursed, mentally hearing his boss chewing his ass out for not waiting. When they'd found signs of forced entry above, he'd radioed Malone. Lenny, the security guard, was outside waiting for Jack Malone to arrive.

The whole place could come down on them if it wasn't stable. He paused at the edge of the hole, about to step over and work his way back to find his missing partner, when he heard a strange sound. Frowning, he flashed the light and saw the bloody side of one calf peeking through a torn pair of expensive pants. The scratch ran from under the knee to the ankle.

"What are you doing down there? It sounded like you strangled a kitten. Didn't you hear me calling you? I should leave your sorry ass down there..." His voice faded away and his anger dissolved when the light rose, hitting Martin Fitzgerald's face. "What the hell?" He stared hard at the panic-ridden wide blue eyes, unblinking and fixed on air, straight ahead. The brown hair was soaking wet, causing water to flow down the pale features. He flinched and heard the horrid sucking breath sounds and saw how badly the agent was shaking all over.

He added the clues up: the sweating, hyperventilation, probable accelerated heart rate, and frightful fear in the sky eyes.

"Panic attack?" he whispered, slightly annoyed that his partner didn't ask for help. His first instincts said claustrophobia might be the culprit. "Why the hell didn't you tell me? Dammit Harvard..." He held the end of the slim light in his teeth, dropped onto his belly and tossed a hand down. Shifting the light to the side of his mouth, he spoke.

"Come on, partner, let's get you out of that hole. Them rats don't like party crashers."

Nothing. Not one movement, save the eyes blinking out sweat. Both hands were pressed to the wall behind him and eyes drilled ahead, not looking up at him.

"Martin, look at me. Martin." He weighed his options and got a thought. "Okay, stay put. I'll call for help. Between all those security guards and the lab guys..."

"No!"

Those words had cut through the web of fear he was tangled in. As if being the mighty Victor Fitzgerald's son wasn't enough of an albatross. He'd grown indifferent to the snide remarks and cruel taunts, but he didn't need the whole department finding out he was a quivering mass of jelly. He wanted to talk to Danny, but his vocal chords wouldn't work. Worse, his chest hurt like hell and he couldn't breathe. He felt on the verge of passing out. How would that look? He envisioned Jack Malone's stern face as paramedics were summoned. Another write up, another dent in his already full rookie folder. Another screw up.

Meanwhile, Danny was moving onto plan B.

"Okay, have it your way. I'm leaving. It's not far to the end and the river. I can feel the cool air. I'll see you outside."

He rolled back and waited, shutting the light off. It didn't take long.

Darkness.

The blue eyes darted frantically. As the thick cloak of black velvet descended, it took the last remnants of air. Panic took a chokehold and released his vocal chords.

"Danny!"

The dark-haired agent chuffed out a long sigh of relief and swung back, flicking the light on. He shoved the light in the side of his mouth and lay down, extending himself over the hole. He reached down, seeking to catch both Fitzgerald's hand and his fears.

"Come on, partner, you can do it," he coached, relieved that the eyes finally moved to meet his. A hand reached out tentatively, shaking badly, then quickly retracted. The wet mop shook no, turned away and the lost blue pools closed.

"...can't..."

"Fuckin' look at me!" he thundered, sending more dirt down. It took several moments, but the head moved and the eyes opened. "I don't intend on lying here in rat shit all night holding your hand. So you got a choice to make. You can take my hand and we'll get the hell out of here. Or, you can wait for help to come back for you — however long that takes."

He used the harshest, coldest tone he could and kept his eyes hard. That wasn't easy, especially since the ones looking back at him were full of raw and very real fear. Finally, the hand came up again and hope rose with it.

"That's it... a little more. Come on, Harvard, you can do it."

Martin forced his weak body to move. He didn't hear the words, but he followed the tone of the voice. It was one he trusted and needed. He reached up to where that warm tone was floating and cried out as the chest pain flared up. He tried to retract his hand... too late.

Flesh hit flesh.

"I gotcha!" Danny exuded, spitting the light out and using both hands to haul the sputtering, choking and trembling body back into the cave.

Martin curled up sideways, hugging his chest and sucking air loudly through his mouth. The eyes were clenched shut in pain, which was painted on every feature. Danny had witnessed panic attacks before and knew they could feel like a heart attack and could seem very real.

"...dyin'..."

"You're too pretty to die!" Danny tossed back, trying to pry the arms from the other man's chest. "You're hyperventilating. I can help you if you let me." He eyed the constrictive clothing and scowled. "You're trussed up like a fuckin' turkey." He unbuttoned the first three buttons on the stiff shirt and loosened the striped tie.

Martin felt sick again and his spasms caused his body to buckle. He felt the room spinning a bit and felt a strong pair of arms draw him to a sitting position. He felt his back hit the wall and tried to focus. It was so narrow, so close... like a coffin. Where was the air?

"Look at me, partner." Danny cupped the square jaw and forced the wild eyes to face him. He didn't miss the fact Martin was pale and clammy and on the verge of passing out. "Not the walls, just me. Look at me, right here. Right here."

"...h...h...here..." Martin croaked, eyes darting past the calm features before him. "...I can't... no... air... God... no..."

"Look at me," Danny kept his voice calm and pressed the wet head to the wall, forcing those lost eyes to see him only. His fingers felt the pulse racing at an alarming rate. "Right here. Don't lose my gaze. Now take a deep breath. Count to five..." he saw the eyes straying and caught them, "You with me, partner?"

Unable to speak, Martin nodded and used what little strength he had left to concentrate on the brown eyes before him.

"Good. I'll breathe with you. Do as I do, okay?" He saw the head nod. "Okay, here we go..." He took a breath and saw Martin follow. He used his free hand to slowly put up each finger, until he got to five. His breath came back out slowly, Martin choked and sputtered. "Okay, now breathe in through your nose, hold it and out through your mouth. Slow and easy, partner, I'm right here. Look at me... that's it... that's it..." he coached, watching the signs of life returning. Finally, he felt the worst of it had passed and he released the jaw.

"Better?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Danny." Martin dropped his head, his shaky hands fumbling badly for his pocket. "Dammit!"

"Here." Danny gave him a napkin from Wendy's that was in his jacket. He gripped the back of the wet hand and gave a solid tug. "Good thing you came around. I was gonna have to radio Hot-trot Sue to give you mouth to mouth," he noted of the lab tech. It didn't get the smile he wanted. The head stayed down. He withdrew his hand, resting it on the slumped shoulder. "Hey. It's okay."

"It felt like a heart attack. I thought... I was... dying... it was so real," the shaken man gasped.

"Of course it was real."

"Victor wouldn't approve." His lips curled in sarcasm, blue eyes lost in time. "...sign of weakness. Purge your demons... face... your... face... shit..."

"Come on, let's get you outside, it's not far. Can you walk?"

"Yeah," Martin got up and went back down. "Maybe not. My legs are... like... jelly..."

"Bad gene pool," the calm agent teased, "Come on, partner, I gotcha." He hauled the other man up and held his elbow, guiding him to the end of the tunnel and to freedom. He shoved the body to a clump of bushes and winced as the retching began.

Martin dropped to all fours, painfully losing his stomach contents. He used the ratty napkins to clean up and sucked in the night. He felt a hand on his back and moved his arm up without looking. He let Danny help him stand and guide him to a nearby crude wooden bench.

"I think you'll live." Danny flashed the light on the leg. Then he saw the shame in the blue eyes, which were avoiding him. "Who the hell are you hiding from?" His voice was tinged in anger.

"I... it's been years. I thought... I was over... I'm sorry, Danny."

"I am too," the concerned agent sent back, "That's a helluva thing to suffer through. Why didn't you tell me? You could have come around the long way and waited."

"Honest to God," Martin croaked, licking his lips and pouring his heart through his gaze, "I didn't know."

"Over it?" Danny puzzled. "You had an attack like this before? How long ago?"

"Christ... years... seventeen, maybe." He raked his shaky fingers through his wet hair, as sharp images of a small boy with frantic blue eyes appeared. "It was a scout thing, exploring caves. I took a wrong turn, ending up in some closed off part of the cave. I freaked... caused a real disturbance. I was scared pretty good, but not out of control, like this. Between the park rangers and the television crew..." he sighed and shook his head. "My dad was pissed."

"Prick."

"Pretty much," Martin agreed, "The next weekend, he took me back to that same cave. Just the two of us."

"He didn't!" Danny's voice was incredulous.

"He did," Martin sighed hard, "Hair of the dog and all that shit."

"You were a kid, what the hell is wrong with him? Why didn't he take you to a counselor or ..."

"My mom did, later," he smiled, thinking on the strong woman, "She was furious at him. I passed out in the cave and caught a bad cold, to boot."

"I'm sorry," Danny said quietly. "You know, my folks died when I was about that age," he noted of Martin's trial. "I'd give anything..." his voice faded away.

"Danny! Martin!"

"Aw, hell," Fitzgerald hissed as Jack Malone's voice broke the silence. Lenny had radioed back and had been waiting out front for the senior agent. Danny's eyes caught his own in a moment of silent communication.

'I got your back, it stays here,' the brown eyes transmitted.

Martin sighed and nodded, grateful for the show of support from his partner. He continued to take deep breaths, hoping it would settle him down. He heard the crunch of gravel, announcing his boss.

"Here, boss," Danny called back, cuffing Martin on the back lightly as he passed.

"Did you find anything?" Malone directed, making his way down the steep incline, sending rocks ahead of him. "Of course, if you had thought to use your radio..." his voice died when his flashlight caught Martin Fitzgerald. A large bruise covered the middle of his forehead, his head was soaked, his clothes were wet, and his pant leg was ripped from the knee down, exposing a raw bleeding gash. "What the hell happened to you?"

"He fell through some rotted wood," Danny interjected, "I found something inside. There're footprints in the cellar and a handprint by the door to the tunnel. Some white cloth, like her habit, on a rusty nail inside."

Jack nodded, but kept his gaze on the pale disturbance sitting on a bench. The night breeze kicked up, sending a sour odor wafting past, indicating Fitzgerald had been sick. He tried to put the clues together but something wasn't adding up.

"Martin?"

Martin started to reply; his lips opened but no words came out. He shivered in the night air, his damp clothes protesting. Both fists were curled up and he hunched over, defensively.

"It's cool," Danny said quietly, catching Jack's eyes.

Malone narrowed his dark eyes, darting between the obviously troubled young agent and the lion-like stance of his partner. He stared hard at Danny for a moment, then nodded.

"It better be!" Jack warned, his eyes directed on Fitzgerald's. Then he turned and moved to the exit of the cave.

"We'll need the lab," Danny said to Lenny, who was also staring at Martin. The guard nodded and made his way back.

Danny walked over to Martin and eyed the shaken body carefully.

"You bring your car?"

"Yeah."

"Good, how 'bout you head back and get cleaned up. You got your gym back in the trunk?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, you take care of business and I'll meet you back in security, we'll go over those videos. I want to have a look around out here."

There was no mumbled, one word reply this time, just the damp head dropping and nodding. The pale cheeks were flushed slightly in embarrassment. Danny reached his hand out, palm open.

"I'll let you buy the popcorn," he teased of their movie watching to come. Finally the head rose slowly and the hand followed, latching onto his arm in a brotherhood grip.

"Thanks." Martin's voice was like a cat scratching sandpaper. He let the other agent haul him up and steady him. "...Partner." He smiled then, letting his gratitude shine through his eyes. Danny winked at him and tapped the back of his head, before turning back.

Martin avoided Jack as he limped past the tunnel exit, eager to be free of the wet clothes and the whole episode. As he made his way back through the woods to the Nursing Home, he couldn't help but say a prayer of thanks for Danny Taylor. It wasn't often you got that lucky.

From a secluded spot across the river, the predator watched and waited. The high-intensity binoculars were trained on the group. They followed Martin Fitzgerald as he made his way through the dense woods. The tiny listening device that had been well-hidden in the cave now added more fuel to his fire. He snapped the record button, gathering more information to be used later. The research that had been done on the rookie's past was time well spent. The underground tunnel was the perfect ruse to take Martin Fitzgerald on a painful trip down memory lane. The first of several that would crush the cocky agent. The hot eyes lingered briefly on the two men remaining and then turned to the spot the rookie had disappeared into.

"You'll pay," the voice hissed, "...for your sins."

Part Three

3 a.m. Security Room,
Our Lady of Grace 6 hours missing

Danny yawned and rubbed the back of his neck. He was glad they were nearly done. Jack had caught a ride back to town with the lab. He eyed Martin who was tagging the copies of the videos they'd made. He stole a side-glance at his partner's haggard face.

"Man, you look as bad as I feel," he commented, eyeing the worn pale features on the face next to him. The blue eyes were half hidden in heavy lids. He stood and gave the navy FBI sweatshirt a pat. "Come on, let's call it a night, we got all we could from those tapes."

"Yeah," Martin agreed, packing up his notes and standing, then tossing the coffee cup in the trash, "I'm beat."

"Martin?"

He looked over sharply then, having become used to 'Harvard' or 'Fitz'. Martin in a certain tone was business: a found clue or a lead. But this was a new tone — not concern, rather it echoed of a icy warning.

"We need to talk," Danny continued, "about what happened."

Martin knew then, seeing the stone face and the set eyes, Taylor wouldn't quit. He slumped, scowled and drew a ragged breath. "Look, I told you, it was a one shot deal!" The angry eyes flashed blue fire. He tossed his jacket on and turned away. "It won't happen again."

"You're damned right it won't."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Martin paused over the notes he'd gathered up. He heard anger now and a hint of arrogance in the steely voice.

"It means I can't afford to take one in the back," Danny fired back, "When we're in the field, I got your back. I expect that in return."

"Go to hell!" Martin hissed, shoving the last notes and tapes in and ignoring the strange storm brewing inside.

Danny was right, of course. Most of the journey through the tunnel was a blur. He'd never heard Danny shouting for him. If the assailant had been hiding in the dark, his partner could have been killed. He wheeled around as his arm was grabbed and the lean man shoved him hard against the wall. Outwardly, he never flinched when the index finger jabbed his chest, inwardly the venomous eyes and icy words were like bullets in his gut.

"Get the chip off of your shoulder, Martin. You're not riding solo anymore. I was calling for you in that tunnel, LOUDLY. You never heard me, did you?" The blue eyes didn't lie and that only infuriated the agent more. "Something caused that panic attack and it could have gotten both of us killed. Seven weeks or seventeen years doesn't matter, FIX IT! You find a pro and talk it out," he vented, pressing his irate face so close he could nearly feel Fitzgerald's heart ramming against his chest, "Or I'll let the department find one for you, COMPRENDE?"

For several moments, the only sound was harsh breathing. Finally the blue eyes shifted sideways in defeat and Danny pulled back. He turned to the table and began organizing his notes and packing up.

Martin's hands were shaking a bit as he finished up and walked to the door. His jangled nerves were all over the place. He was mad. He was furious. He was angry at Danny for holding a mirror up in front of him. Mad at himself for losing control. But underneath the out-of-control simmering rage, was naked fear. Where had that attack come from? He paused and dropped his gaze, shifting his eyes from side to side expecting the floor to reveal the answer. Through all his training, he'd pushed the envelope and scored high. He'd broken records, had excelled at every obstacle and test Quantico threw at him. Why now? Why here? Was the pressure of the first six months on the job getting to him? The bang of the door caused him to startle. The room was empty, a feeling he didn't like. He not only respected his partner, he needed him. He'd come to depend on Danny Taylor, who was an excellent agent and a helluva friend to boot. He was so intent on dispelling the rage in the brown eyes, he'd nearly missed the offering. Danny trusted him to do the right thing. He wouldn't let him down.

Pausing at the front door to sign the logbook, Danny turned and saw the slim figure walking slowly towards the door. Although they exchanged a glance, not a word was spoken. Danny held the trunk of his vehicle open, depositing the information to be transported to their Manhattan office. He waited for Martin to catch up. He was limping slightly due to the long scrape on his leg. Once the tired agent got closer, Danny saw the blue hostility was gone. In its place was a true shade of hope. He relaxed, then tried to bolster that idea being born.

"I'll take 'em. Best to keep it all together."

"Yeah," Martin nodded, putting the bag containing folders inside and turning the collar of his jacket up. When he turned back, he caught those dark eyes lingering on the black gym bag on his shoulder. Inside were his damp clothes. He chuffed out a sharp breath and dropped his head, annoyed and embarrassed.

"I told Sister Catherine we'd be back about ten, to interview that nun friend of Sister Michael's and have a look around those grounds in the daylight." He paused and shut his trunk. "I think you need some extra beauty sleep, Harvard, I'll drive. Nine?" He saw the head bob and gave the shoulder a pat and headed for the driver's door. The key was in the lock when the tired voice descended.

"Danny?"

Martin waited for his partner to turn around. He let out the breath he'd been holding, slowly releasing pent up tension. He thought on the terror he'd felt in that tunnel and the very real pain in his chest. Then he recalled the calm voice of reason and those dark eyes that seemed to be able to see right through him.

The light in the parking area high above his head cast a blue pall on the troubled agent. Danny watched those telltale eyes bearing down on him and let loose a crooked half grin. He leaned over the roof of his car and waited, letting his grin widen.

"Come on, man, I ain't got all night."

"You're not going help me out here, are you?" The raspy voice chased back.

"Nope." Danny let the word roll out slow and bounce over the roof towards his struggling partner.

"Cocky son-of-a-bitch, aren't you?" Martin shot at the smirking Taylor.

"So I've been told. You were saying?"

"Make it eight and I'll buy breakfast."

"On china and with real silverware;, nothing in a bag."

Martin found a small grin, turned and limped to his own car. He eased his weary body inside, and placed his head on the headrest. He didn't dare shut his eyes or he'd never make it home. He fiddled with the radio, finally settling on an all sports station. He winced as the raw area on his left calf where the skin was torn, protested any movement. With the shy moon peering through the windshield, he headed home.

Five minutes later, his cell phone rang.

"Hello?"

"So I'm gong crazy trying to figure it out..."

"Danny?" Martin wrinkled his nose, thinking on the evidence they'd collected, "Figure what out?"

"Where there's a diner between your place in Queens and here where the waitresses serve breakfast topless." He waited and heard the trickle of laughter on the other end and smiled, mission accomplished!

"You're a sick fuckin' pup, Taylor." Martin managed, shaking his head, "Twisted."

"You okay?"

"No," Martin answered honestly, welcoming the warm voice that he'd come to depend on, "but I will be. Thanks, man. Without you back there..." He sucked in a long breath of cold air and saw those cold brown eyes again. "I won't let you down, Danny, you got my word. I'll fix it."

"Deal." the confident agent tossed back, "as long as you find a place where the help is easy on the eye and without unsightly facial hair."

"Unsightly?" Fitzgerald chuckled again, "Goodnight Taylor!"

Queens, NY, 4 a.m.

Martin slipped inside his apartment and yawned, his whole body aching. The bed seemed like an oasis in the middle of a desert. He put his keys next to the mail in the center of his kitchen table. He hung his jacket up and opened the refrigerator, taking out the half empty container of orange juice. He popped two Tylenol's and chugged the juice, heading for his bedroom.

"Shit!"

He staggered badly, the now empty container sliding from his fingers. His arms flailed, seeking to grip the edge of the bed. The floor seemed to turn to mud and his rubber legs wobbled. He tried to work his jaw, but not a word formed. He furrowed his brows at the garbled grunts that slid past his lips. His brain was screaming at him.

'What the hell is wrong?'

With a dull thump, his knees gave way, hitting the blue carpet hard. Somewhere his foggy brain registered pain in his scraped leg, and the wet sensation of healing skin being broken again. His torso flopped forward onto the bed in a bizarre kneeling position, one hand on the bed and one at his side. His whole body was numb; he couldn't feel a thing. Blue eyes under heavy lids darted frantically, trying to connect this to the episode earlier. Did that panic attack affect him somehow? Did it cause this? Maybe it wasn't a panic attack? Maybe he was having a heart attack?

The cold hand on the back of his neck answered that and his dulled senses began to sink further into the mire. Three fingers on his left hand twitched and his jaw worked, but only saliva fell out. Not one muscle worked right and he was helpless as his body was lifted and laid flat on the bed. The bathroom light was on and shed an odd cast on the distorted figure looming above him. His gaped jaw sent more drool out, sliding down the side of his face, as his foggy brain tried to decide if this person was ten feet tall.

He lay helpless, staring at the ceiling, as his shoes were pulled off and his sweat pants shoved up to mid shin. He felt those cold fingers turning his leg, exposing the muscle and smooth calf. Then the ceiling disappeared and a cruel face came into his fuzzy line of vision. The hand descended, tapping his cheek before gripping his jaw.

"You're a creature of habit, Special Agent Fitzgerald!" the intruder spat out in contempt, "Up at five a.m., a five mile run, shower and breakfast and off to work by six thirty. You frequent the same restaurants and stores. You're too precise. Shame on you, little boy blue, you're easy to track."

Martin blinked lazily, his thick brain too foggy to discern just how much danger he was in. Unable to move, save for blinking and breathing, he was totally at this person's mercy. The face came back, the gloved hand waving the empty quart of juice.

"Silly boy with your OJ before bed, every night."

The sinister laughter drew his brows together and the breathing became ragged out of his slack mouth. His eyes watched the near maniacal delight of the intruder and he felt a hint of fear through the haze.

He was going to die. It was a concept too strange and surreal to really settle inside.

"You made it easy. Just enough 'happy juice' to render you helpless. You won't remember my little visit, pity." The visitor sighed and tapped the fair face, enjoying the glint of fear in the glassy blue eyes, "But not to fear, pretty boy, we'll meet again a little later, on the road to Hell. You're the guest of honor."

Martin was fading fast, his brain not absorbing the words. He was floating in a sea so thick and black it swallowed him whole without any effort. He sighed once and let his eyes shut, unable to fight anymore. He didn't see the small glass jar opened and the occupant dumped on his leg, just under his ankle. He didn't see the intruder agitate the little beast until it sank its fangs into the exposed skin. He flinched in his unconscious state, but didn't rouse.

"Sorry my little friend." The unwelcome guest crushed the creature, carefully placing it inside of Martin Fitzgerald's hiking boot. "But you did die in the line of duty." Turning back, the gloved hand drew a syringe from the small waistpack and eyed the bleeding raw wounds from the earlier encounter. "You've been a huge help, but we need a little extra jazz..."

The needle slid inside the open abrasion and, once empty, it was put back into the pack. The bathroom light went off and the crushed orange juice container was next, also placed in the waistpack. Then the exposed leg was covered again by the leg of the sweatpants, which was pulled back down. The blanket came up and the unconscious victim's head was lifted and gently placed on the pillows. The dribble of saliva was wiped from the face and the intruder bent lower, grabbing the square jaw.

"We'll see, little boy blue, just how clever you are!"

The nocturnal visitor left, and the home was once again cloaked in darkness. Tucked in a warm bed with goosefeathers under his head, Martin Fitzgerald was floating in a drug-induced sea, unaware of the deadly game that had just begun.

Journal Entry March 31, 2003

"Ut sementem feceris, ita metes."

Cicero's words were never more appropriate. In a few minutes the sun will rise and with it will come the dawn of fruition. I'm so excited, sleep eludes me. Phase 1 is underway and it is succeeding beyond even my greatest expectations. The CCK4 was diluted into the subject's water supply and was consumed in rapid time. As expected, subject became weak and disoriented. His craving for sugar resulted in the added ingestion of a large dose of caffeine. This was an unexpected bonus and wonderfully enhanced the symptoms induced by the neurotransmitter.

As expected, the psychogenesis of the incident was fueled unknowingly by the traumatic episode from his childhood. Without being aware, those long dormant fears, fueled by both the chemical inducer and outside influences, will cause his meltdown. The cameras in the subject's home continue to allow me to study him at length. I have no doubt, as Phase 2 is born, the blue-eyed fly will become ensnared in the web.

As I watch him sleeping, his angelic features would fool the untrained eye. A fallen angel...one who must be sacrificed. Slowly, the wrath will devour him from the inside out, redefining the word pain. Rejoice! On that glorious day when the sun rises and he is delivered to the gatekeeper, when justice will be served. So, my beautiful dark angel, know this:

As you sow, so shall you reap.

Manhattan Missing Persons Bureau
7:00 a.m.

Observers glancing at the dark, handsome team leader who strode through the lobby would never guess he was working on four hours sleep. Jack Malone punched the elevator button and was thankful for the mega dose of caffeine he'd stopped for. For as long as he remembered, he'd never been one to require eight hours sleep.

He was mulling over the material they'd garnered on the new case as he strode down the hall towards his office. Just before he hit the double glass doors, a voice called out.

"Jack!"

He turned and waited for Lily Stewart from the Crime Lab to catch up to him. The thirtyish striking African American woman was the head of the Biometrics division. It was her skill and savvy techniques that netted them voice matches and other identification characterizations.

"What's up, Lily?"

"I'm not sure." She paused, catching her breath. "We were running tapes that the Atlantic City P.D. sent over late last night. They found a dead junkie under the boardwalk."

"How's that tie to us?"

"There was a message on his cell phone. We ran a CVA and got a match," she noted of the voice analysis.

"Who?"

"A code name, Mustang, but get this, it's a positive match to the only voiceprint we had for the Harrison case."

"Harrison?" Jack frowned, "Abby Harrison?"

"Surprised me, too. It's been what, three years?"

"Yeah..." his voice trailed off, his mind recalling the blond five-year-old who'd disappeared in the Bronx Zoo.

"I called about an hour ago and talked to Vivian. She was lead, right?" Lily inquired.

"Yeah, it's her cold file," he said of the unresolved case.

"Well, I think it just heated up. The call came from a bar in the Newark airport, early yesterday. The bartender's giving the cops what he knows. He said it was pretty crowded, but one guy stuck out. He had little girl with him, a blond about seven or eight."

"Bingo!" Malone punched the air, "You give Vivian everything?"

"Yeah, she was going to call Captain Falcone of the ACPD when she was done with me. I'll keep you both posted if we get anything else."

"Thanks, Lily!"

He picked his pace up as he strode through the doors. Both women were at the conference table, unpacking three large boxes. He glanced at the empty spots where Taylor and Fitzgerald should be, but he wasn't surprised.

"Jack! Lily Stewart called -" Samantha Spade began.

"I saw her," he interrupted, then eyed the boxes, "That was fast!"

"I told Vivian I'd give her a hand, unless you need me to go to Our Lady of Grace?" the blonde agent inquired.

"No, you and Vivian are the primaries on this one. You talk to Falcone? What'd he say?" Jack pressed, going into his office. He tossed his overcoat on the nearest chair and punched his code into the phone.

"Not much, yet. The sketch artist is working with the bartender to get a composite of 'Mustang', our mystery man. The junkie was a kid, just turned eighteen, a few priors but nothing big ticket. Jimmy Ray Hollis of Union City," Johnson replied, following him inside.

"What'd the message say?" Jack paused, eyeing the stacks of material the two agents were compiling.

"Cryptic," the dark-skinned agent replied, picking up a notebook, "Pony, this is Mustang, head over to the corral by sunset for a roundup."

"Okay, you two head over to AC and sniff around. Have the geek in the lab get you an image of what Abby would look like today. Show it around the terminals at the airport, see if they flew out or in."

"You sure?" Vivian asked, "A missing nun is front page news..."

"What?" Jack's lip quirked, "You don't have faith in the Hardy Boys?"

"Hmpph!" she snorted, rolling her dark eyes, "Eighth wonder of the world..."

"...would be..." Samantha baited from the outer room.

"How those two haven't killed each other. They bicker worse than my in-laws," Vivian analyzed.

Samantha laughed and resumed sorting through the large amount of notes, photos and other evidence gathered in the case originally.

"Murder notwithstanding," Jack's voice was dry, punching his voicemail messages, "they can handle the Nursing Home. We'll meet back here this afternoon and review. I'm in court 'til one -"

"Three new messages," the synthesized voice interrupted, "First message."

"Jack, it's Danny, it's three thirty and I'm on my way home. I'm picking up Martin in the morning and we'll head back up there. Later."

Jack punched the pound sign, getting the next message.

"It's Marie, it's six a.m. and don't forget the parent-teacher conference tonight. Call me by four if you want to have pizza with me and the girls first."

Jack sighed, pulled his daytimer out and scrawled a message inside, as the last voicemail played. There weren't any voices, just faint music. Jack cut if off.

"What's that?" Vivian leaned in.

"I dunno..." Jack replayed it, listening to the chime-like tinkling sounds.

"It sounds like a music box," Vivian noted, "I know that tune. Little boy blue. That's a nursery rhyme."

"Wrong number," Jack announced, about to punch the delete sign when the music stopped and the end of 'taps' could be heard.

"Don't," Vivian stopped him, placing her hand on his wrist, "Leave it on there."

Jack shrugged, listened to the strange message again, and shook his head.

"Okay, I'm late," he eyed the clock, "I'm due in the DA's office in fifteen minutes. Check in..."

"Will do." She turned, joining her partner in the other room.

Forest Hills Queens, NY
8 a.m.

"Come on, man."

Danny Taylor leaned on the horn, then peered through the glass. He scowled, eyeing the spot on the steps in front of the apartment where Martin Fitzgerald should be standing. The handsome building held four spacious apartments, with a great view of the park. He beeped again and waited, but no body appeared. He pulled his phone out and dialed, but still got the same weird sound he'd gotten the last time he called. He tried the cell phone and got no reply.

"Shit!"

He slammed the door and jogged up the steps, then leaned heavily on the buzzer.

"Come on, Fitz! Wake your ass up!" He backed up and eyed the stories above, thinking the agent would poke his head out the window.

Nothing.

"Dammit!"

Five more minutes passed with him buzzing at intervals and trying his non-responsive partner's cell phone. Just as he was about to lean on the buzzer again, the outer door opened, revealing a six-foot-tall blonde.

"Good Morning," she smiled, revealing perfect white teeth, "Can I help you?"

"Danny Taylor, F.B.I," he managed, his eyes still numb, letting her see his badge and ID, before unleashing his 'killer' smile, "You must be my fiancé."

She laughed and raked elegantly manicured fingers through her long wavy hair.

"Well, that will come as a surprise to Mike."

"Your father?" he hoped, and she shook her head and held up her ring finger. "Oh. Damn..." he clutched his chest and winced in pain.

"Thank you, Danny Taylor, you made my day!" She examined the badge before handing it back. "Is something wrong?"

"I hope not, my partner isn't answering his bell."

"Who's your partner?" she inquired, "I know most of the residents."

"Martin Fitzgerald."

"Ohhh, the hottie, blue eyes, great buns," she nodded and saw the handsome agent chuckle, "I didn't see him this morning. Usually he comes back from jogging just as I'm leaving and we talk. Maybe he overslept."

"Could be," Danny ducked inside. "Thanks ... uh?"

"Gabrielle D'Amico," she shook the offered hand.

"Have a great day."

"You, too."

He patted his broken heart as she walked away, shaking a head at his misfortune. Then he jogged up three flights to Martin's apartment. He'd visited before both on and off duty and enjoyed the comfortable digs. The sprawling two-bedroom abode was tastefully furnished and sported an excellent view of the park.

"Martin!" He rapped on the door. "Wake up!"

He waited and there was no reply. Frowning, he pulled out his cell phone again, dialing Martin's cell and letting it ring. Huffing in annoyance, he shifted the phone to the other hand and began rapping on the door.

"Martin! Come on man! Rise and shine!"

Nothing.

Then a brief flash of the incident in the tunnel appeared and his frown deepened. What if he'd been wrong? What if what Martin suffered wasn't an anxiety attack? What if something else caused the chest pain and labored breathing?

"Aw, shit!" he hissed, fear rising. He used the heel of his hand to bang even louder, calling Fitzgerald's name. Then the cell phone stopped ringing and he heard a loud thump. He ceased his banging and closed his free ear off, straining to hear into the earpiece of the phone.

"Martin! Pick up! Are you okay?"

There was no voice, just more banging, a loud crash and then the sound of glass breaking. A vision of an intruder popped in his head.

"F.B.I.! Open up!"

He backed up, raised his foot and drew his gun. Just as he was about to burst in, the door opened a crack. The leg he saw through the narrow opening had the fabric pushed up a little bit, revealing a sticky, nasty, oozing, long wound, a souvenir from the night before. He chuffed out an annoyed breath, tucked his gun away and scowled.

"Man where have you been? If I hadn't been with you last night till 3, I'd be asking what her name was. I've banged on the door so loud I think they heard me in Central Park..." He paused, pushed the door a little further, opening it all the way, and winced.

"Nice face! You could haunt a house." He observed the haggard pale features, noting that the eyes were mere slits. "What's with your eyes man, they look like two piss holes in the snow. Can I come in?"

He waited, but there was no reply, no movement and had the body not been standing, he'd vow no life either. He waved a hand in front of the cadaverous features.

"Earth to Martin?" He bobbed his head like a boxer and tried to evoke a response, then snapped his fingers in front of the red-rimmed blue slits. "Yo, Harvard, anybody home?"

"Huh?"

Martin wondered who belonged to that raspy croak and realized it was his voice. Something tan with a black jacket was waving at him. The voice sounded familiar and he couldn't place a name, but his gut said 'safe'. He blinked again, took a slight breath and hoped that the floor would stop moving soon. It was all he could do to remain standing. He felt awful, every muscle throbbed, especially his leg. His head felt like an axe was stuck in it and his sour throat burned from vomit residue.

"What the hell..." Danny noticed the dried matter encrusted on the 'B' of the F.B.I. on the front of the navy sweatshirt. "You puked?"

"Huh?"

"Man, you're really out of it. Looks like you got a bug or something. You get back to bed, I'll handle the nursing home. Later, if you feel up to it, head downtown... Whoa!" He jumped forward as both knees buckled. He grabbed the dazed man around the waist and arm and got him to the bench against a wall a few feet away. He felt Martin's forehead, but it was cool — no sign of fever. It was at that touch that remnants of the being known as 'Martin' resurfaced. The would-be corpse's features scrunched up and a weak snarl ensued.

"...fuckin' touch me..."

"There's the voice I know and love," Danny relaxed a bit and squatted down, resting a hand on the wiggling man's shoulders. "Fitz? You with me?"

"Danny?" He coughed, sending his visitor back.

"Yo, watch that deathbreath, will you?" Danny wrinkled his face and waved his hand. "I'll help you get back to bed and update the office. You need to stay put and have a large bucket near your bed."

"Huh?"

"Come on," Danny soothed, helping the wobbly legs stand. They shuffled for a few feet, then the wheezing body stopped and turned to face him. "Man, you're painin' my eyes!" he teased.

"...m'fine..." Martin managed, pulling away and steadying himself. "...hot shower... ten minutes..."

"No rush. Take your time. Do something with your hair, it looks like a porcupine's ass. I'll make coffee and finish off them greasy donuts on top of your frig." He heard an unearthly sound and saw the slim man stagger quickly for the bathroom. "Something I said?" He winced as the unmistakable sound of retching split the morning air.

Martin managed to peel off the soiled clothing and rip the sheets from the bed, where the rest of his stomach contents congealed. He cleaned them the best he could and rolled them into a ball for the next trip to the laundry room. He tossed two Tylenols down and chased them with a long glass of water. He jumped slightly when he saw his reflection in the mirror.

"...dead man walking..." he noted to the image, who nodded in agreement.

He leaned his aching body against the tiles and let the hot water pound him. Then it hit his scraped leg.

"Dammit! Shit! Jesus!"

Danny heard the sharp cries and moved to the bedroom, pausing in the doorway.

"Problem?"

"No! Get the Hell out of my room!"

"He's baaaackkk..." Taylor pitched, leaving the cranky body and slipping into a kitchen chair. Twenty minutes to nine, the body appeared, looking semi-human. The olive green suit matched the pall under the pale skin, which was nearly as white as his shirt. Danny rose and brought a glass of coke over, then returned to his coffee.

"How you feeling?"

"Like stir-fried shit," Martin groused, sipping the cold liquid, "It doesn't make any sense. Hell, I felt okay when I went to bed."

"Bad bloodlines."

"What?" Martin squinted, blinking at the harsh overhead light.

"While your ancestors where plucking potatoes out of a bog, mine were sitting on the throne of Spain," he boasted, tapping his chest, "Germs quiver and die at the mention of my name."

"Dirt."

"What?" Danny squinted at the ill-looking features.

"Dirt. Potatoes grow in soil, peat comes out of a bog."

"Pete who?"

"Peat, with an a, it's used for fuel, burned in the fireplaces..." Martin saw the blank face and shook his aching head, "Nevermind."

"You're making that up!"

Martin wanted to send a snappy comeback, but he hurt too much. Instead, he lowered his head, resting it on his crossed arms on the table.

Danny frowned and eyed the clock, before rising and going to the sink. He rinsed his mug, dried his hands and moved to his partner's side. He rested a hand lightly on the suitjacketed back and sighed.

"Look, it's your call, but you're nuts. You need to be in bed and..."

"I'll be fine once I hit the fresh air," Martin croaked, then lifted his head and took a shaky hand to his soda. He slowly finished it, then stood and left the room.

"Okay," Danny agreed, grabbing a gallon-sized Ziploc bag from the counter. "But you heave in my wheels and you leave. Here!"

"What the hell's that?" Martin scowled and locked his door.

"Pukebag."

"I'm not riding with that."

"You're gonna look silly walking behind my car with it."

"I'm not gonna get sick," Martin slipped his sunglasses on and headed for Danny's car, "Hell, there can't be anything left."

"It's not a multiple-choice question," Danny got in and put the key in the ignition, shoving the offensive bag back at the feisty agent. Then he laughed when the sick man fumbled badly, trying to reply.

"Man you must be sick, your trigger finger is out of sync.

Part Four

Newark Airport Newark, NJ
9 a.m.

The Garden State Deli and Bar was empty, save for the manager and one of his employees. Two men were waiting at the bar when the two F.B.I. agents arrived.

"Samantha Spade," the blonde tossed along with her badge. "This is Vivian Johnson. We're from the Manhattan Missing Persons Bureau. We'd like to talk to you about a man who was in here sometime yesterday afternoon."

"I'm Richie Glenn. I already gave a statement to the Atlantic City cops."

"Well, humor us, okay?" Vivian addressed the whiny tone of the thirtyish, slightly build man with sandy hair.

"He'll be happy to cooperate," the gray haired man next to him glared, "Won't you, Richie?"

"Yeah."

"I'm Leo Carlin, the manager."

Vivian nodded at the other man, then turned to the bartender in question.

"What can you tell me about the man you saw?"

"Tall, a couple inches over six foot and lean, maybe one eighty. Dark hair, with a little gray shooting through. Light blue eyes, nice features. Good looking guy," he nodded, "Eye candy for the ladies, you know what I mean?"

"Did you see a little girl who looked like this with that man yesterday?"

Richie sighed in frustration and eyed the computerized image. It wasn't bad enough he'd worked until midnight. He'd gotten a flat on the way home and his girlfriend had been in a bitchy mood. Then the boss calls and says to be here ASAP. He wasn't scheduled until 3 p.m. He stared at the image and handed it back.

"Could be, I guess. Her hair was longer, halfway down her back. She looked sick or something."

"Sick how?" Samantha asked.

"Out of it... sleepy..." he shrugged, "Her eyes weren't right, almost like she was doped up." He saw the two women exchange a hard glance. "Hey, that's my two cents, you know. Could be I'm wrong."

"Did he call her by name?" Spade followed up.

"No."

"What about the man? Anything stick out?" Vivian asked, while Sam took notes.

"Uh, he seemed pissed off. Nasty, you know? He got a beer and got the kid a coke and a grilled cheese sandwich. He made his call and she ate. They didn't stay long."

"Did you hear him mention a rental car? Was he meeting someone?" Samantha asked.

"No," he shook his head, "I remember feeling sorry for her. She seemed really sick and he was a real cold bastard. She was stumbling along, trying to keep up with his strides. She dropped that beat up bear twice."

"What beat up bear?"

"A stuffed bear... teddy bear," he yawned, "She dropped it as they turned to leave, it landed on the seat next to her. I reached over and grabbed it. It had a name written on the foot... Hamlet or something."

"Hamley's?" Vivian asked.

"Yeah, that's it — in blue. How'd you know that?"

"F.B.I., remember, " Samantha issued, keeping a straight face, "We know everything."

"He pay in cash?" Vivian inquired.

"Yeah, he left a twenty. Didn't take change."

"What time was it when he left?" Samantha asked.

"Uh," the tired barkeep sighed, "Three p.m. maybe."

"Anything else?" Johnson waited, pen poised.

"No, that' it." He took the card handed to him by the blonde and stuck it in his pocket.

"Okay, thanks, if you think of anything else." Sam turned, following Vivian to the main aisle.

"Hey! Hey! Wait a minute."

They turned back as the young man jogged over to them.

"I didn't remember it yesterday, when them other cops asked. But his watch was broken, at least I think it was."

"Why?" Sam furrowed her brows.

"The numbers were backwards. You asked what time they left. It was just after three, I know cause I came in a half hour before. But I remember taking the bill from him and noticing the hands were wrong on his watch."

"So it was quarter to nine?" Sam turned to Vivian who was nodding.

"That fits," she flipped her book open, "Hamley's is the FAO Schwartz of London."

"Six hour difference," Sam turned back, "Thanks, you've been a big help."

The man nodded and headed for the parking lot. The blonde turned to her partner, "Where to now?"

"British Airways, I guess," Vivian said, "How about you check with security?"

"Okay," Sam noted, "I'll catch up with you later."

10 a.m.
Our Lady of Grace Outside Tarrytown, NY

"Sister Claire?"

"Yes?"

The middle-aged nun looked up from the wheelchair she was pushing. A young man with a winning smile and sparkling dark eyes was approaching. She saw his badge and nodded, recalling her administrator mentioning him.

"I'm Danny Taylor, I'd like to talk to you about Sister Michael."

"Sure, just walk with me." She pushed the patient down the corridor. "He has therapy now and we're running a bit late."

"Did she seem upset lately? Did she mention any problems?

"She was distracted, I guess would be the right word. Some days she'd be fine, other times I'd find her weeping and distraught. But she'd never say why. She wouldn't talk about it, but I think she must have suffered in Costa Rica, somehow."

"Why's that?" Danny paused to open the door to the occupational therapy room.

"Thank you," the nun nodded, pushing the chair into the large, sunny room. "Here we are, Harry!" she said cheerfully, leaving him by a large table, "Connie will be with you soon, okay?" She took the feeble and weak smile that the elderly stroke patient offered.

"Wow, you need roller skates!" Danny teased, watching the spry nun zipping back down the hall.

"We need more skilled help. We're understaffed. I have two new residents arriving today and have to make sure their charts are ready."

"You were saying how you thought Sister Michael was upset by something in her past?"

"Yes, well, that's just a theory. She's a very private person and very quiet. She's devoted to those residents in her wing. Some of them are in the last stages of Alzheimer's Disease. When she first arrived, she was almost in mourning. The village she was in was often caught in rebel conflicts and I am sure it was distressful. She didn't talk about it much, but once..." She paused to enter a hallway, corrected two orderlies who were goofing off, and then called Dietary to check on a diabetic order. "Sorry."

"That's okay." Danny was impressed at her energy.

"I guess it was about, oh, a month ago maybe. She got a long distance call."

"From where?"

"I assumed it was Costa Rica. We were in her room, discussing ideas to recruit aides and more therapists. The call came through and she had trouble hearing. She had to speak very loudly and finally gave up. She was talking in Spanish."

"Did she say who called her?"

"No, but she was terribly upset and began to weep. She asked me to leave, so I respected her wishes. I asked her about it later and she said she couldn't discuss it."

"There was an incident with a catering company, one of the staff thought she was having an attack of some kind. Did you know about that?"

"No, well, not from her. My room is across the hall from hers, and I was just leaving that night when Sister Catherine stopped to ask her if she was ill. She said no, just that the young man in the room reminded her of someone and it shocked her."

"How about letters or visitors?"

"I can't answer about her mail, that's delivered to the room. She never mentioned receiving anything. Visitors? No..."

"What?" Danny heard the catch in her voice.

"Well, she went to town once a week. There's a library there and she would spend some time researching Alzheimer's. She was gone for most of the day."

"It that unusual?"

"No, but I remember Michelle Hastings, one of our volunteers in the Recreation Department, being surprised when I mentioned Sister being at the library. She works there three days a week, and didn't recall ever seeing her."

"So maybe she was meeting someone in town?"

"Or somewhere else?" Sister Claire frowned, "She'd leave after lunch and return by four or so." She eyed the speaker when her name came over the intercom. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid I have to go."

"Thanks so much, Sister Claire, " Danny extended his hand with a card, "Please call me if you think of anything. Anything at all, no clue is too small."

"I'll do that," she took his hand and caught his eye, "Please, find her."

"We'll do our best!"

"Anything yet?"

Vivian Johnson looked up from the British Airways desk in Terminal B in the departures area of Newark International Airport. Her blonde partner had been conferring with the security office to keep them apprised of the situation.

"No, they're still checking," she replied to Samantha Spade, "How'd you make out?"

"Richie Glenn, twenty-nine, no priors," she noted of the bartender who'd identified the man and child that had been in the bar the afternoon the call went through. "He's been employed here about two years. Security has a copy of the sketch the ACPD faxed over. I gave them copies of Abby's composite," she noted of the missing child. "They're going to hit the shops and customs. See if anything sticks out. I checked the rentals, but they get so many customers, it was hard to pinpoint one guy and kid. And nobody from a foreign country registered, so if he did rent a car, he's using a fake id."

"Maybe he wasn't leaving," Vivian said, casting her eyes woefully at the slow computer.

"What do you mean?" Sam quizzed.

"Well if he did arrive from London, he'd have gone through customs and then gotten a cab or limo or rental. What was he doing in Terminal A? That's domestic flights."

"He was changing planes?" the blond assessed.

"Had to be, unless he was meeting somebody and they didn't show up."

"Which might have made him angry," Spade thought aloud of the clues the bartender had provided.

"David Hughes and Alexa MacKenzie."

Both women looked over the counter when the clerk read off the monitor before pushing the print button.

"Is there an address?" Sam asked.

"The address given was Le Meridien Hotel in London."

"He's not using discount coupons," Vivian noted of the expensive residence.

"He was supposed to take the 8:25 flight to Phoenix last night. He checked in at three thirty, but he never made the flight."

"That answers that riddle," Johnson cited of his presence in the domestic terminal.

"We need to speak with the flight attendants," Sam asked the clerk who nodded and picked up the phone to call her supervisor.

Ten minutes later they were headed to the Hampton Inn, where the crew was staying. While Sam spoke to the hotel in London, Vivian's mind went back in time, to a distraught babysitter in the Bronx Zoo. The sixteen-year-old was taking her charge out for the afternoon. She'd been sprayed with pepper spray in the ladies' room and then tied up. The child was never found and the teen couldn't identify her attacker.

"Vivian, did you hear me?"

"Sorry..."

"Hey, we're gonna nail this bastard," the blonde vowed, getting out of the car.

"I hope so," Johnson sighed, following her partner into the hotel.

Ringing.

He blinked, eyeing the blue carpet in confusion while rolling sideways. A cross hung at an odd angle on the cream colored wall across the room. A clock was ticking. Where the hell was he?

Ringing.

He groaned and rolled over on all fours, wiping the sweat from his face. He swallowed back the sea of nausea rising and closed his eyes to stem the dueling jackhammers inside his head. He eyed the room and the confusion in his aching head slowly went away.

He was in the missing nun's room in Our Lady of Grace. He eyed the closed door and sighed gratefully. Nobody had seen him lying here. A fuzzy recollection of stomach pain and the room flying around came back to him.

"Shit," he coughed, stealing a gaze at his watch. How long had he been out? "Ten minutes... Christ."

Ringing.

He fumbled, still on his knees, leaning over the bed while the room stopped spinning, and finally found his phone.

"Yeah..."

"Martin?" Samantha asked wearing a frown, "You okay? It rang about six times."

"Yeah," he said with a false flush of energy, "I left my jacket across the hall. I didn't hear the first few." He nodded as she updated him on their progress. His throbbing skull took in every other word. He hadn't even known they had a new case. He buzzed out of the fog when a familiar word came through. "Danny?"

"Yeah, you remember him. Tall, cocky, smartmouthed?" Sam teased, then frowned again. Martin hadn't asked a single question or said a word. All she heard was ragged breathing. "Martin? You okay?"

"Yeah, just... got a head... ache... You uh... uh... need Danny?"

"Need?" she laughed, "When pigs fly!" There was no sharp comeback, which was totally not like him. "I left a message on his phone, but in case you see him first, tell him Jack said be back at one."

"Yeah." Martin flipped the phone off and rested his face on the bed.

"Looks like you finally came to your senses. As much as I like homage," Danny teased the kneeling man, "I like alms better." He grinned, "Lots of alms." He tapped the white shirt and frowned, his fingers hitting wet fabric in the middle of the back. "Where's your jacket?"

"Chair... hot..."

Danny hissed in frustration and rested both hands on his tense hips. He chuffed out several annoyed breaths, inwardly throttling the other agent. Clearly, whatever flu bug he'd picked up was messing with his equilibrium. He didn't belong in the field, he belonged in bed sucking up fluids and prescriptions.

"Come on," he offered, "I'll drop you home, first. I'll tell Jack you're sick."

"I'm fine."

Martin looked up and sighed, then dragged his aching body from the floor. He managed to sit down without falling and rubbed his eyes.

"I was checking under the bed and Sam called."

"You find the boogeyman under there?" Danny teased, eyeing the tiny bathroom.

"Room's clean," Martin muttered, thinking even death couldn't feel this bad, "Uh, she and Vivian are... uh... at... uh..."

"Newark Airport checking on a cold case, five-year girl from three years ago."

"Yeah," Martin relieved, "Jack wants us back by one."

"Okay, I'm almost done here." Danny picked up the large statue of the Madonna carefully, noting it's fine details. "That's a real beauty. My aunt collects these, has them from all over the world."

"You see a soda machine?"

"Yeah, near that big room that visitors use. Come on, germboy," he picked up the olive jacket and waited for the pale body to rise. He didn't miss how ghastly Martin's color was or that he seemed to be hunched over slightly as if in pain. "You toss your cookies again?"

"No!" Martin snapped, "Not in a nun's toilet."

"Better there than on her rug."

"You get anything from Sister Claire?" Martin inquired, changing the subject.

"I'll fill you in," Danny replied, keeping pace with the queasy body, "Just breathe the other way okay — and keep a couple feet between us." He smiled when the right hand twitched. "Watch it! Remember where you are. Keep it holstered, Amigo!" He chuckled as the scowling face and brows furrowed in annoyance.

Martin eyed the soda machine, and his fumbling hand reached into his pocket.

"Sit!" Danny commanded, steering the cranky body into the lounge. He then gave the damp head a pat, "Down, boy. Good boy."

"Don't be messing with my hair!" Martin growled, tossing the empty water bottle away. He'd chugged almost the whole bottle during his time in the missing nun's room. He'd finished it on their way to the lounge. "Shit..." he whispered, out of hearing range of his partner, who was buying them sodas. His heart began to jackhammer again and his breathing was difficult. His frantic eyes darted around the room and he swallowed hard, trying to stomach his fear.

Windows.

The eyes darted again, noticing the small room had no windows. The air was disappearing rapidly and his face was now covered in sweat. His shaky hands nearly knocked over the napkin dispenser, but he steadied the chrome container. He grabbed a handful of napkins and wiped his face, fighting the urge to vomit hard.

It wasn't working.

"Dan..."

Before he could even get the other syllable out, a strong set of hands was hauling him to his feet. He didn't see the floor or walls, he felt a door open and a hand on his back, shoving him at a stall.

Danny had one bottle of soda in each pocket of his jacket. He waited for the retching to stop and headed for the sink. He ran cold water and got some towels. He didn't say anything, while the ill man washed his face, rinsed his mouth and finally took the towels.

"Fresh air?"

"Yeah," Martin croaked, weaving slightly as he followed Danny outside.

"You gonna pass out?" Danny was worried now, Martin's face was a ghastly shade of white. "Head between your knees, you know the drill." He waited by the bench until, after several moments, the damp head came up. "Here."

"Thanks," the raspy voiced agent replied, taking several small sips of the cold cola, "I'm sorry..."

"For what?" Danny irked. "You didn't heave on the man," he smiled, tapping his chest, "Now that would have made me just a tad annoyed."

"I'll keep that in mind." Martin continued to sip the soda and inhale the cool air. "I'm okay, now. You need to finish up inside."

"Nah, I'm good. I can follow up at the office." He watched the slim man stand, studying him closely.

"You bring that fuckin' bag up and I will heave on you!" Martin warned, slowly making his way to Danny's car. He slid inside, keeping the sealed soda between his legs. He buckled up and laid his aching head against the headrest. He wiped his face with the napkins from his pocket and waited.

There was no ignition sound.

"Why aren't we moving?" he asked, peeling his eyes open a crack, just as a large blue plastic bag was thrust at him. "I'm not riding with this!"

"Fine!" Danny agreed, "Then you can ride with your head out the window like a good Fitz doggie," Taylor quirked.

"Couldn't you find a bigger one?" Martin groused, eyeing the large bag.

"I'm cautious by nature." Danny turned the engine over, moving out of the drive.

"Yeah," Martin snorted, "that's your middle name, all right."

"Are you being facetious?"

"I'm too queasy to be facetious," Martin moaned, clutching his bag in one hand and his soda in the other.

"You look cute with that bag," Danny tossed over, "it matches your eyes." He watched the struggling agent trying to reply and laughed when Martin couldn't answer, "Hands full?"

"Shut up and drive!" Fitzgerald sassed, his stomach rolling with every turn on the winding drive. As he took small sips, he prayed the horrible malady wouldn't get any worse. He rested his eyes, unaware he couldn't be any further from the truth

While Vivian went over the passenger manifest and took notes, Samantha conducted the interviews. The four attendants of the cabin crew were gathered in the room of senior crewmember Anne Davis.

"Miss Davis, did you recognize this man?" She handed the likeness over and eyed her notes, "He was in first class."

"I was in the back. Brian and Tammy were up front."

"Yes, I remember him, he had a little girl with him," the pretty redhead noted.

"She was sick," the blond male nodded, "She didn't eat... just sipped on tea. Slept almost the whole flight. I remember giving him extra blankets to wrap around her."

"Did he mention being her father?" Vivian asked.

"No, she called him Uncle David," Tammy recalled, "He was rather unpleasant."

"He was a nasty bloke," Brian agreed, "Rude. Snapping off orders without so much as a 'please ' or 'thank you'."

"Did he communicate with the little girl?" the blonde agent pressed.

"No, belted her in..." Tammy thought back, "Poor thing curled right up. He was using his laptop... and had some maps out."

"What kind of maps?" Sam asked.

"It was only a fast glance," she answered, "I was checking on the little girl and noticed them on her leg over the blanket. There seemed to be blue on the one side."

"Water," Vivian said, "Which side?"

"Left, but it was folded. There were some red circles in marker... sorry."

"You've been a big help. Anything else stick out?" Sam asked.

"Well, for being a relative... an uncle to that child, he was a cold bastard." Brian shook his head. "I helped her up, after we docked. She was groggy... He grabbed her and shoved her forward. If she hadn't called him 'Uncle David' I would have alerted the pilot to call ahead."

"I collected their passports, we do a standard count," Tammy said, "She had the same address, a hotel in London."

"Did you talk to her at all?" Vivian asked, and both shook their heads.

"Not really," Brian noted, "Just hello and goodbye. She was really out of it."

"If you remember anything else, please call one of us," Sam handed her card to each of them.

"Wait a minute!" Anne Davis said, "Can I see that again?"

"Sure," Sam handed over the printout of Abby and the drawing of the suspect.

"Kami? Isn't this the guy who almost knocked us down?"

"Yeah," the slim Asian attendant nodded, "What a creep! He was running towards a car. A big black car... expensive... like a Lincoln Town Car. You know the kind some of the limo companies use. "

"He was practically dragging that poor child and we had to duck out of his way, or we'd have knocked her over. I tipped over my luggage pulley," Anne noted, "He didn't even look back."

"Did you see the driver of this black car? Four doors? Plates?" Vivian pressed.

"Four doors, I think. It was a big sedan," Michelle narrowed her eyes, "New York plates, I think... I'm not sure. He got in the back, pushed the kid in first. I didn't see a driver."

"No, sorry," Anne shook her head, "I didn't even see the car, I was picking my luggage up."

"Thanks, we really appreciate it," Vivian nodded, following Samantha out of the room.

One p.m.
I-278 West Outside Manhattan

"Man, would you look at this traffic!" Danny complained, leaning on the horn, "Let's go, people!" He was attempting to hit the horn again when his wrist was snagged.

"You push that again and I'll break it."

"You're a lousy patient," he tossed back, eyeing the 'slightly green' agent in the passenger seat. "That coke staying down?" The set jaw and pained expression gave him his reply. "Where's your..."

"If you mention that damn puke bag again, you'll be wearing one," Martin shot back.

He eased his aching head back onto the seat and tried to push the loud sounds of the busy city away. All he wanted was to crash in bed. Whatever flu bug had invaded his system was a doozy. He hadn't told Danny about the passing out in the nun's room. He also didn't mention the severe cramping that was coming in waves. But he couldn't hide the rest, his sweat soaked face and ghastly pallor were a dead giveaway.

"You better call Jack, our exit it coming."

"...about time..."

Danny started to reply, but bit it off. He knew Fitzgerald was suffering and the sooner they got to the office, the better. He looked like shit and probably felt worse. He'd offered to drop the ill man off at home, but was denied 'colorfully'.

"...could give a mule lessons in stubborn..." he murmured.

"You two get a meeting with Falcone?" Jack asked, peering over his spectacles at the two agents sitting at the long table. He'd had a long morning in court and the coffee he was guzzling was burning a hole in his gut.

"He was tied up. We're heading there this afternoon," the blond agent noted of the Atlantic City police captain who was heading up the investigation. "We'll canvas the scene and hit some of Hollis's hangouts." Sam scanned the notes on the corpse.

Before Jack could reply, the phone on the table rang. Samantha pushed the speaker button, but didn't speak. She smirked and watched Vivian roll her dark eyes. Jack sighed in exasperation, took a swallow of his coffee, and leaned closer, listening to the colorful exchange.

"...don't tell me to calm down!" Martin hollered, "You damn near missed the exit!"

"You wanna drive? I'll pull over!"

"I want you to keep your eyes on the road and not up some girl's ass!"

"You're lucky you're not in a cab. We would have been on time if I didn't have to pull over twice so you could puke."

"Yeah, you're right, Danny," Martin huffed, "I got sick just to piss you off."

"No, you should have kept the bag," Taylor huffed, "Mister Tough Guy couldn't carry..."

"Say one more word and I'll christen the front seat."

"Yours, Jack?" Dennis Mahoney, a DEA agent dropping files off for Malone, grinned, "Nice. They ought to take that bit on the road."

"You ladies finished?" Jack inquired, not appreciating the humorous expressions on the two female agents or on the others who'd overheard, smirking in the background. He peered impatiently at the squawk box, now silent.

"Anybody still alive?" Vivian asked dryly, "Did you two kill each other?"

"Where's the phone?" Danny shouted, flipping his turn signal on and watching Martin's eyes darting around the seat, "You better be looking for the phone and not a place to puke."

"Shut up, Danny!" Martin hissed, "Dammit..."

"How could you lose the phone?"

"Oh, I don't know!" Fitzgerald growled, "Could be my life flashing before my eyes made me a bit jumpy."

"I was in control!"

"You had your eyes up her thighs and thanks to divine intervention, we didn't land under that tractor trailer," Martin sent back through clenched teeth.

"Enough!" Jack roared, "Somebody pick up the Goddamn phone!"

"It's under your seat..." Martin started to move and a hand hit his chest.

"No way, Jose!" Danny denied. "That's all I need is Ponch and Jon to ride by and see your head in my lap," he noted of the motorcycle officers that patrolled the area.

"That's not funny!" Jack reprimanded his two giggling agents, "and very unprofessional."

"You're laughing," Samantha challenged.

"It was a twitch," he defended.

"That's weak, Jack," Vivian shook her head.

Meanwhile, Danny pulled over at the corner, fished out the phone and winced, preparing for the blast.

"Hey boss!" he exuded cheerfully.

"So where are you and Costello?" Jack inquired, referencing half of the famous comedy team.

"Just pulled onto FDR, be there in a flash," Danny updated, then turned to see what little color remained on his partner's face drain away and the eyes start to roll. "Martin? Don't you pass out on me. I draw the CPR line at pukebreath."

"Danny, what's going on?" Jack's tone was annoyed as he peered at the speakerphone.

"We're cool!" Taylor shot back while Martin righted himself, leaning closer to the window and sucking in air, "See you in five."

Danny parked the car in the underground lot, then moved to the passenger side, wincing at the horrid pallor of the slumped figure. He opened the door and waited, remaining close by just in case.

"Here," he offered his hand and saw painfully contrite blue eyes look up, "Partners?"

"Seems you're pullin' more than half... not a good split," Martin decided, taking the hand up and steadying himself, "I'm sorry, man... I feel like shit. I didn't mean to bite your head off."

"Yeah you did!" Danny teased, "You lose that vinegar and I'd worry!" He paused at the elevator, eyeing the other man who was truly struggling. "You call a doctor? I think this superbug you got is a beyond over the counter shit."

"Yeah... left a message," Fitzgerald replied, easing his aching body into the elevator. He thought on the cause of the argument on the highway. He glanced sideways at his partner and managed a weak grin. "She did have a nice little ass, though." Martin found a smile as Danny's laughter filled the elevator, seeping out just as the doors closed.

While his teammates were down the hall, going over the notes on both cases, Martin Fitzgerald was hugging the porcelain throne. There wasn't anything left to eject and that made it worse. Dry heaves were painful and he was worn out. He pulled himself together and stood up, taking his shaky legs to the sink.

"You could haunt a house," he muttered, thinking on his partner's assessment. As he ran cold water and splashed his face, he wondered again how he'd gotten so sick, so fast. He sighed and dried his face, realizing nothing would help, and then limped slowly to the door. The new skin forming over the raw scrapes from the night before was throbbing too.

"...would he risk coming back?" Danny tossed to Samantha of the mysterious man with Abby Harrison.

The others looked over as Martin limped towards them. His usually pristine appearance was severely flawed. The designer suit was wrinkled, the tie missing, the collar unbuttoned and the hair at six different angles. His skin was an unattractive greenish-gray and his eyes were clouded.

"Poor baby," Vivian sympathized.

Martin made it to the end chair and sat down hard, resting his head on his folded arms. It was just too hard to keep it upright.

"You eat bad Mexican or something?" Jack frowned, as a muffled voice floated up.

"..or something..."

"My man Harvard's got slam-dunked by the Shaquille O'Neal of the germ world," Danny teased, "Sort of like when Superman got dusted."

"Kryptonite," Martin corrected without looking up.

"I knew that, it was a test," Danny tossed back, rising and moving closer, "You alive in there?"

"My hair hurts..." the miserable agent confessed and heard a soft laugh.

"Give Danny your notes and get the hell out of here," Jack ordered, "Get your ass to a doctor and get some good shit. Get cured, Junior, I need you on this one."

"I'm touched," Martin snapped, shoving his notebook over. He saw Danny take out white plastic gloves from his pocket before picking it up. "Go to Hell!" he rasped, shuffling past the laughter to his desk.

"When we're done, I'll take him home. I want to follow up with the library in town. See if anybody remembers Sister Michael meeting anybody," Danny updated, taking his seat.

"Okay," Jack agreed, "Morgues? Hospitals?"

"Nope," Danny shook his head, "NYPD call? They were checking airports and terminals."

"Check your voicemail!" Jack barked, "and call Hank Davis at the State Department. Maybe he can put a push on getting information from Costa Rica."

Martin rested his throbbing head in his hand and punched out his voicemails. The doctor's office could 'squeeze him in' at noon tomorrow.

"Great..." he grumbled, copying down the other messages. His throat was dry and he eyed the cooler of spring water across the room. It was only about thirty feet, but it looked like thirty miles. He took a deep breath and stood, slowly making his way over the broad expanse of the room.

Unbeknownst to the busy team, they were being observed. A figure shuffled behind a janitor's cart, casting wary eyes at the four agents behind the walls of the conference room. Once the cart moved out of their range, the eyes went to the long figure near the water cooler. A smile played on the lips, as the obviously ailing man sank heavily into a chair, pressing his head to a table. Flicking a gaze around the deserted room, the cart was forgotten.

The target was at hand, Fitzgerald's desk. The hands moved swiftly, taking a small picture from the crowded shelf. After it was dropped into the baggy uniform pocket, the hand snaked downwards into his gym bag, latching onto the navy F.B.I. jacket. Shoving his booty into the bottom of the cart, the figure stole out of the room.

Safely on the other side of the glass doors, the body paused and scanned the room again, as the twisted mind traveled back in time. It was a crisp, cool morning in late September. A day that changed everything. As the anger rose inside, like a river of lava, the sands of time shifted....

TIMELINE: September 2002

Jack Malone paused in the doorway of the large office. It was just past six a.m. and the last person he had expected to see at his desk was Martin Fitzgerald. The team's newest addition had blundered badly during his first case. The rookie had made a grave error in judgment by not phoning in his location and requesting backup while pursuing a missing woman, Maggie Cartwright. Instead, he pursued the suspect, her coworker, himself, in an effort to prove his worth.

'Hot Dog,' Jack thought crossly, shaking his dark head.

Fitzgerald had been criticized for being a 'lightweight,' having no prior experience on a team or on the street. Also, being Victor Fitzgerald's son was not without its scars. But, when the vacancy had opened up, it had been Fitzgerald who stood out among the applicants. His outstanding achievements and profile at Quantico notwithstanding, he'd aced the interview. Outspoken on the border of cocky, the bold young man oozed self-confidence. But, most of all, during the interview, Jack got that feeling in his gut. He'd learned long ago to trust his instincts and they told him this kid was the final piece he needed.

Sighing, he hoped his instincts weren't off track. Although his savvy and smarts had yielded important clues, the hot dog in him had nearly got him killed. Moreover, it placed the hostage's life in peril. He'd ended up with a concussion after the suspect had used his head for a baseball.

Jack sighed and moved inside the doorway. He'd gotten an update from Danny, around midnight. It was a minor concussion, but the doctor felt that the injured agent shouldn't be left alone for twenty-four hours. Danny was going to stay with him, waking him every two hours to check on his mental state. Eyeing Taylor's empty desk, he wondered just how Martin had managed to escape the street-smart agent.

He moved closer and noticed the pinched features, not missing the pain in the dulled blue eyes. His own veteran's eyes knew that the pain was more than physical. But he wouldn't tread lightly. Martin Fitzgerald had promise. He was smart, very smart, and his record at Quantico was outstanding. He could multitask with ease and didn't crack under pressure. What he didn't have was the benefit of teamwork, of sharing and learning to trust someone to watch your back. That was something he intended to 'impress' the young man with at this meeting. Even if it took kicking his ass all over the office to accomplish that. He wouldn't tolerate a screwup like the one the night before again. The victim could have been killed. It had been a reckless act and a selfish one.

"My office, hotshot, now!" he barked, skirting past the injured man and not looking back.

While the two men hashed over the events of the night before, neither noticed the shell-shocked visitor in the corner. They didn't see the haunted eyes that raked over Martin's form and then his desk. They didn't see the agony on the features as they hovered over the desk. They didn't see a hand snatch out and grab a mug. They missed the shell-shocked body stumbling from the room, clutching that mug, which bore the pretender's name and class at the academy. The numb figure was already on the street when the rookie returned, angry and red-faced after being chastised up one side and down the other. The visitor missed the irate blue eyes skirting the desk, looking for that mug.

It was the first ripple in the Tidal wave that would follow, several months later. A maelstrom that would suck every member of Jack Malone's team into its deadly vortex. The jagged teeth of the beast wouldn't leave any of them untouched.

At the heart of the destructive storm's path was one man, who needed to pay with his life for what had been done.

 

 

Part Five

TIMELINE: MAY 2003
5 a.m.
Manhattan Missing Person's Unit

It was that gray time, when Dawn wasn't dressed yet and her sultry sister Eve was already moving on. A misty, blue time that left the visitor confused. A bittersweet melding of emotions battled inside. The dark office was cold, which was befitting the mood. The empty room would soon be full of light and noise.

Camaraderie. That word and the image of the four agents on Jack Malone's prized team caused the intruder to shudder. Images taken on the camera in the pocket of the blue jumpsuit caused the bile of anger to form. Smiling, laughing, teasing and touching, as coworkers do when they form bonds. That strong hand on the pretender's shoulder gave the intruder a sharp pain. It was wrong. So very wrong. How could Jack Malone not see that?

On one hand, justice had to be served. The course was true and victory would be at hand. On the other, even when the pretender's blood ran from the wasted body, it wouldn't change the past.

Power coursed through the hands that roamed over Martin Fitzgerald's immaculate desk. Everything on it was at a certain angle. Each folder stacked neatly, every paper clip accounted for. The cold air made the expensive pen feel like a shard of ice as it hit the warm palm. Caressing it softly, the power rose again. As the pen slipped into the pocket of the jumpsuit, the angry eyes saw a photo neatly positioned between two pictures pinned to the board behind the desk. The trembling fingers itched to reach out and rip it to shreds.

He didn't deserve that hand on his shoulder, or the words of praise and comfort that the newspaper photo didn't print, but the intruder knew had left Jack Malone's lips. Martin Fitzgerald didn't deserve those words or the praise or the pat on the back.

"You're wrong and you'll be sorry!" the hot eyes addressed the image in the photo, before ripping it from the board and shoving it into the large pocket.

The hot eyes lingered on a half-eaten peppermint stick in a glass container. Other hard candies and chocolate kisses were nestled inside. But this one bold stick, tall and defiant, still bearing residue of the pretender's saliva boldly stood out. It disappeared into the large pocket as well. Then, as the first signs of life appeared through the dark windows, the figure stole away, securing the treasures for future use.

Manhattan Federal Bldg,
Seven thirty a.m.

The horns seemed unnaturally loud to the driver. Coupled with the window-pulsing volume of the radios and the loud confrontations on the street, it drove a hot blade though the middle of his skull. Martin cursed his own stubbornness as he gripped the steering wheel. Traffic wasn't moving and he wished he'd called Jack or one of the team to pick him up. It seemed like forever since he'd crawled home the day before.

After a meager meal of soup and dry toast, which had proved to be an exercise in futility, he'd gone to bed by three p.m. the day before. Before hitting the sheets, he'd dosed himself with over-the-counter flu medicine. On and off during those hours, he'd consumed lots of fluid. Isn't that what the annoying commercial said would work?

It didn't.

He chugged the last of his water and tossed the bottle in the back seat. His head felt like lava-spewing rabid dogs were fighting inside of it. Every bone, muscle and inch of hot flesh was aching. Severe nausea and intermittent vomiting added to the pretty picture. And to top it all off, a rash had started with the fever. He laid his head back on the headrest and waited until a swell of bile passed. He'd left messages with the doctor's service, but no callbacks. That noon appointment seemed like forever, instead of a few hours away. His cell phone rang and drew his heavy eyes open.

"Yeah?"

"You sound good."

"I look even better," he rasped, pinching the pain on the bridge of his nose, "What's up?"

"You almost here?" Jack asked, watching the clock.

"If only my name were Clark Kent," he groused, "Traffic's a mess. I'm a few blocks away."

"Okay, then skip the office and head upstairs."

"Upstairs? Where upstairs?" Martin's already topsy-turvy stomach did another somersault.

"Craddock's office."

"Why?" Martin choked fearfully. Craddock's office was associated with being displaced, suspended or worse.

"I don't know; he didn't say; I got a voicemail. I tried to get him back, but his line's busy. The message said eight a.m. sharp, so you better hustle." Jack paused, hearing the harsh, uneven breathing. "You okay, Martin? I told you to call back if you weren't any better."

"I'm just peachy!" he grunted, wincing as the horn symphony started again. He eyed the unmoving line of cars, the digital clock on his dash and the parking lot approaching. "I won't be late." He clicked the phone off and pulled the car over. He eyed the rates listed and took the ticket. He'd come back and move the car after the meeting.

Martin didn't move for several seconds, his hands gripping the steering wheel. His mind did a fast-forward through all his cases, both closed and pending. Where'd he screw up? He sighed, rubbed his throbbing skull and unlocked the door. As he exited the car and moved to walk between his car and the next, his eyes caught a newspaper on the seat. A red light went on.

"Fuck!" he hissed, seeing the photo of the sharp-tongued columnist who'd raked him over the coals his first week in town. He scrubbed a hand over his face, thinking on how his reckless action had nearly caused Maggie Cartwright her life. He'd been so gung-ho to make a good impression on his first case that he'd been beyond careless. Charging ahead, without letting his partner or anyone know where he was, not only endangered his life but could have resulted in the hostage's death.

Leon Summerville didn't like cops, local or federal. His columns were often one-sided and stoked the fires of those who saw the world through his stilted view. It made for great debates and got the outspoken civil rights advocate much television time as well. He'd gotten wind, through the fans he had in the ER who'd been present when he was questioned, of what had happened. He'd pursued it through Maggie's family and the column that appeared a week later roasted Martin royally. It drew a scathing picture of a spoiled rich boy with no experience and knowledge whose father had gotten him the job. Martin had blasted him on the phone, demanding an equal time column, and the colorful writer had laughed at him. It had taken all Jack Malone's tricks to talk Martin into letting it drop. He'd advised that as soon as Leon got his claws into the next hot headline, the readers would forget.

Now he had Dean Craddock on his back. It had to be that case. Could the parents have filed a lawsuit of some kind? He eyed his watch and cursed, it was already eight a.m. He picked up the pace, despite the dizziness and vertigo that picked up steam with every step. He moved swiftly through the masses, keeping the Federal Building in sight. His mind was occupied and he didn't see the man he ran into. The force of the collision sent him to his knees.

"Hey, watch it!" Danny Taylor snapped, then saw who'd hit him. "Where's the fire, Harvard?" The dark-haired agent helped his shaken friend up.

"Up my ass," Martin fumed, shaking off the assistance with a scowl. "What are you doing here? Jack send you to check on me? I don't need a fuckin' babysitter!"

"Then stop acting like a baby," Danny said sharply. "I'm meeting Dave Waldron at the Java Pit," he nodded to the coffee shop across the street, where a lawyer from the District Attorney's office was waiting. "He needed these for the Cross case today. They go before the judge at nine." He held up two thick documents, stapled together.

Martin scowled, chuffed an annoyed breath and raked a hand through his short hair. "I'm sorry, man. I was in a hurry and not even paying attention."

"What's up?"

"I fucked up and I don't even know how. Jack called and said Craddock wanted to see me. It's gotta be connected to that prick Summerville's article in the Times. Dammit!" He kicked the trashcan attached to the utility poll. "You know how hard it was not to rip his fat head off?!"

"Calm down!" Danny tried to stop the runaway train. He eyed the pale face and drew his brows together in concern. The telltale eyes were darting and frantic. He saw a fist form and thought on the incident in the cave. The breathing was also starting to accelerate. "Take it easy. It might be nothing. You're getting all worked up and you don't even know the score yet." "I apologized to Maggie and her folks. I thought it went well," Fitzgerald recounted, eyeing the hands on his watch. Ten minutes to eight. "Goddammit!" Then he grabbed air as the street swirled a bit.

"Calm down before you fall down! I got a full day's plans and they don't include keeping your sorry ass company in the ER."

"Craddock's gonna cut my balls off for his fuckin' trophy wall!" Martin ranted, then turned his hot eyes to his smirking partner, "You got a twisted sense of humor!"

"Well, you see, I've been to his office once or twice and I don't remember seeing a marble case," he teased, but got no snappy comeback.

Taylor chuffed out a breath, studying the grayish-green pallor on the other man. He hoped Martin was up to the meeting ahead. Maybe he should call Jack and get it cancelled. He saw sweat pouring down the pale face. Then Martin stumbled again and he grabbed his elbow.

"Dammit!" Martin fought in vain and then sighed hard. "Let go!" He took several breaths and nodded, then the strong arm released him.

"Look, call Craddock's office and tell him you're here. I only need five minutes with Dave. Then I'll go with you. We can tell him the elevator got stuck."

"No, I'll be late," Fitzgerald worried, knowing the stern taskmaster's reputation, "I'll sprint up the street and hit the express elevator in the lobby."

"Look, Martin, I'll call..." Taylor began, worried about his partner's state. It was time to call Jack and put him on the phone.

"No," Martin shoved the hand off. "I don't smoke so I don't need you there to light a cigarette before the firing squad arrives."

"You better get that temper under control, Fitz," Danny advised as the irate man headed off, "You know you gotta vein that bugs out when you get pissed off?"

Danny was about to turn away when a single finger reply appeared over Martin's shoulder, giving him a solid laugh. He kept track of the fleeing agent until he lost him in the crowd, just at the corner where their building was. Then he crossed the street, heading for the coffee shop. He was still chuckling twenty minutes later as he strode down the hall into the conference room.

"Taylor coming in," he announced, so they wouldn't confuse him with the guest of honor. "It looks great! Chocolate ?"

"He likes chocolate," Samantha eyed the sheet cake, with rich fudge icing on the outside and in the inner panel, an airbrushed image of Martin in a bathing suit, holding up a fish. Danny had taken it from the unsuspecting Fitzgerald's apartment one morning when he'd picked him up for a stakeout. Around the image were the words 'Congratulations, you finally caught the big one.'

"You should have gotten green icing, it would match his skin tone."

"I thought he was feeling a little better?" Sam turned to Jack who shrugged. "Didn't you talk to him last night?"

"No, I tried a couple times."

"You should have called me; I would have cancelled the cake. He's sick..." Spade argued.

"I left messages, he didn't call back," Malone defended.

"I'm not and I looove chocolate!" Danny enthused, "Besides, he needs some TLC; he's having himself a day. What did you tell him?" Danny asked, pouring himself a mug of coffee and taking an end chair. He attempted to sample the blue trim on the edges of the cake, only to have Vivian slap his hand.

"Ow!!"

"You're worse than my son," she chastised, "Must be all them preadolescent hormones having a party."

"I told him Craddock was looking for him," Jack replied, dumping a pack of sugar into his coffee, "but not why."

"Yeah, well it worked," Danny smirked, "My man Harvard is pissed off but good. He's got the idea that Craddock is gonna castrate him and decorate his walls."

"Even Craddock wouldn't be that desperate," Samantha added, eyeing her watch,"He should be here any minute."

"It's hard to believe it's been six months," Vivian noted, eyeing the grinning image on the cake. Then she noticed writing on the briefs and narrowed her dark eyes. "Does that say..."

"Home of the whopper!" Danny boasted, "That was my idea!"

"Why am I not surprised?" Samantha rolled her eyes as Jack smirked.

"You wrote him up, right?" Danny eyed his boss, whose face didn't tell either way. The six-month review was critical in permanent placement. "I'm gettin' too old to be breakin' in rookies. I still got a lot of work to do on my man Harvard, but I'm startin' to rub off on him."

"That's just what the innocent civilians need, two Danny Taylors," Jack drolled, easily reading between the lines. Danny was just a little worried about losing Fitzgerald. Actually, the two younger men worked well together and, despite their sparring, they were a good team.

"God help the women," Vivian sighed.

"You know that Huckleberry Finn shit works?" Taylor frowned, "He tosses a smile and them hounddog blue eyes and women melt. I don't get it."

"Do I detect a note of jealousy?" Samantha baited, raising an eyebrow.

"Moi?" Danny tapped his chest.

"Where the hell is he? The meeting was only a formality. Should have taken only a few minutes," Jack hissed impatiently. "Craddock signed his six-month sheet," he said of the positive evaluation. He saw Danny's dark eyes narrowing and suppressed a smile. "What? You think I got this cake for his farewell party?"

"I'll call Marian," Samantha moved to the phone, dialing the four-digit extension.

"Administration, Dean Craddock's office."

"Hi Marian, it's Samantha Spade, how are you?"

"Can't complain," she replied, "What's up?"

"As much as I'm enjoying that blue-eyed devil squirming," Samantha teased, mentally seeing Martin sweating bullets in Craddock's outer office, "you can send him down now."

"He's not here," the secretary replied a little confused, "He never arrived. He was due a half-hour ago."

"He left thirty-five minutes ago, Danny saw him..." her voice trailed off puzzled. She cupped the phone and turned to Jack. "He knows where Craddock's office is, right?"

"Yeah, he's been on that floor before. Why?"

"He never got there."

Four agents exchanged looks of puzzlement and concern. Sam turned back to the phone.

"Marian, can you do me a favor and peek outside? Maybe he's in the hall?"

"Hold on." She padded across the large outer office to the glass doors. She looked up and down the hall and saw no one. She went to the next office down, which was directly across from the elevators, and poked her head inside.

"Eddie, Tracey, either of you see Martin Fitzgerald get off the elevator?"

"Fitzgerald?" Eddie Davis popped the end of his doughnut in and frowned, "Victor's kid?"

"Yeah, but much better looking," Tracey Hassett grinned. "I had lunch with him a few times during orientation. He's nice, a little too forward for me, but a decent guy. No, I haven't seen him. As a matter of fact I was standing out there for about fifteen minutes talking to Lucy Waters from Human Resources. Nobody got off."

"Thanks." Marian returned to the phone. "Sorry, Samantha, he's not here. I checked with the Internal Affairs people, they face the elevator. Tracey was outside and she said nobody got off. He never got here."

"Okay, keep an eye out, Marian, maybe he went to the bathroom or got lost."

"I'll call the lobby and have the receptionist page him. If he's in the building, he'll hear it," Marian replied, "I'll beep you if he calls in, okay?"

"Yeah, thanks." The worried blonde hung up the phone. "Where could he be?"

"So what now?" Danny's voice was edged with a tinge of worry. "Do we call Missing Persons?" His joke fell flat and his face did too; he held out his cell phone. "He's not answering." He shut the phone off and snarled, "Dammit, I shouldn't have left him. He looked awful. Stubborn fool don't have the sense to stay home with the flu."

"Take it easy, Taylor, he might have been held up," Jack addressed the guilt-ridden face. "Go down to the lobby and retrace his steps. If it is the flu and he was worked up, he could have gotten dizzy. Maybe he's sitting in there or he passed out. If he's not there, check the men's room in the lobby. Maybe he felt sick."

"Okay, I'll work the lobby." Danny started for the door.

"Then work your way back upstairs," Jack noted of Craddock's floor. "I'll take the floors between here and the lobby. Sam, call the dispensary. If something did happen to him, they'd have gotten a call, then check the parking lot. Vivian, call security and see if the elevators were hung up. Maybe he's still inside one." He put the plastic cover on the cake and gathered up the plates, napkins and forks. "Let's roll."

Timeline: February, 1978
Geneva, New York

With beautiful Seneca Lake keeping her company along with a brilliant blue winter sky, a young woman walked briskly up the path. Small white puffs left her lips as the cold, crisp air embraced her. She tugged her hat down and pulled the red scarf up, eyeing the church ahead. She thought on the remaining few months left in the school year. While her fellow high school graduates would be leaving for jobs or summer fun before preparing for college, Theresa DiSipio would be remaining behind.

Rather, she'd be preparing for her new life serving God.

The seventeen-year-old with long wavy dark hair and inquisitive brown eyes was not a classical beauty, not in Madison Avenue's eyes. But her olive skin, shapely figure and earthy sensuality turned male heads. She liked boys, dated some and participated in light petting. But she always knew it would never lead anywhere. They didn't understand her reluctance to 'give out'. She was answering to a higher call.

As the bells in the tower of the chapel sounded, alerting her that mass would begin soon, she quickened her step. She went to Mass every day before class, she felt so at home there. She heard God's voice so clearly. She was devoted to serving Him and looked forward to the summer, when she'd begin her novitiate in the convent.

"Good Morning, Theresa!"

"Good Morning, Father, how are you?" she addressed the elderly priest.

"Fine, child. Will you be going to Good Shepard this afternoon?"

"It's Sunday isn't it?" she tossed back, entering the church.

"We finally have the help we requested. Some of the seniors from Syracuse University will be joining our team. They have a community service course beginning this semester. We'll be leaving an hour earlier to meet with them."

"Show them the ropes?" she guessed and he nodded, ducking off to get to the sacristy.

She made her way to the first pew and knelt down, taking out her rosary. Usually she said it after Mass, but today there wouldn't be time. The church van would be leaving for Good Shepard Soup Kitchen. They fed hundreds of homeless and poor people, along with providing used clothing and shoes when needed. Around the priests and nuns that taught here, she was comfortable and spoke from her heart. But with strangers, she tended to be quiet and shy. She hoped the college seniors that they would be picking up would be working from the heart, not for the credit requirement. She kissed the tiny cross and began her prayers, unaware that in a few hours, her whole life would change.

Manhattan
April 2003 7:45 AM

From the back of the van, he watched them scurry past, like rats in a frenzied race. He chuckled and sipped his coffee, frowning when the radio disc jockey announced it was ten minutes to eight.

"He's late."

That wasn't like Fitzgerald. He was a man who kept discipline in his life. He liked things neat and orderly. Keeping a schedule was part of how he ticked. >From when his radio alarm went off at the same time each day, to the order in which he washed, shaved and dressed, you could set your watch by him. He took the same route to work, stopped at the same bakery for a pastry and coffee and pulled into the same area of the garage at seven a.m.

He'd parked the van close to the quadrant where the blue-eyed pretender always parked. It would be easy, given the weakened condition. It should have gone down by now. He should be on the highway heading out of town.

"Dammit."

He got out of the van and skirted the wall, peeking cautiously around the concrete slab. Instead of seeing Fitzgerald's car approaching, he saw the federal agent arguing with Danny Taylor. The agent was on foot. That changed things. He didn't have much time; the irate agent was now walking towards the Federal Building, in the middle of the crowd.

'Think... think...'

He ran back to the van and pulled the toolbox open. He took the gun out and tucked it into the large pocket of the jumpsuit. He eyed the small jar and took that too. He closed the door and quickly made his way out the side entrance into the alley that ran between this building and the one next to it. He made his way past the trash dumpsters and to the corner.

"Good boy," he coached, watching the obviously sick man cover his eyes with his hand and shake his head, as if to clear it. Then the crowd surged and the air-starved man went sideways, to the edges where there was more space. Just the right spot for someone to force him into an alley.

"Dan... ny..." Martin croaked, confused as the throng surged and stole what little air he sought.

Wasn't the dark-haired agent just talking to him? Where'd he go? Why was the street moving sideways? God, it was warm. He tugged on his tie and moved his hand up rubbing his eyes. The street was moving like a sideways escalator.

Air.

There wasn't any and his stomach was churning.

"What's wrong with you?"

"Hey, pal, watch where you're going!"

"Get away from me!"

"I... don't..." Martin stammered to the people in the crowd around him that he was bumping into.

He moved sideways, seeking the window of a bookstore that was on the inside of the sidewalk. Closer. Keep moving. Closer. Good. Good. Less people. More air. He sucked in greedily, hoping it would help to take the awful vertigo away.

"Aw, hell..." He blinked as sweat ran down into his eyes. The 'Closed' sign seemed to scream at him. He shook his head again. Where was he going? Was he tailing someone? Wasn't Danny with him?

"What the hell's wrong?"

He saw the Federal Building across the small street just ahead. He kept his eyes trained on that building and used his hands on the brick building beside him to guide him. He just hit the end of the wall. The alley between the buildings was now next to him. There was nothing to hold onto. So intently were his blurry eyes trained on the building ahead, he didn't sense the figure looming next to him. He inhaled sharply when the familiar shape of a gun barrel was thrust in his side, just above his right hip.

"Look, I'm a federal agent..." he started to protest and a hand grabbed his collar and forced him deep into the alley. Before he could argue his point, he was shoved hard into the brick wall. Pain exploded in his already throbbing head. He went to his knees as a booted foot found his gasping abdomen. He fell sideways, vaguely aware of a hand taking his wallet and gun. He opened his eyes unnaturally wide, trying to see something.

"Bug..." he mumbled, again going to his knees and attempting to rise.

"Not so fast." The attacker popped the lid on the jar in his pocket and waved it under the dazed agent's nose.

"Awwww..."

Something vile and rank filled Martin's nose. The putrid odor caused his breakfast to reappear harshly. He vomited painfully and collapsed, just as a thick black curtain fell.

"Good little lab rat," he laughed, rolling the unconscious man behind a rancid metal dumpster. Mission accomplished. He tucked the gun away and walked the short distance to the back end of the alley. It was deserted, save a small, dingy coffee shop. He was about to retrace his steps and get the van, when two things occurred. At the same time his eyes caught the sign over the filmy window of the dive, a car pulled up, taking the only spot he could have used to park and have the back of the van remain unseen.

"Okay, Jackie boy, let's see just how good you are," he decided, changing his plans. "Sweet dreams, Martin!" He gave the limp body another kick and made his way back to the parking lot, dropping the wallet, free of cash, midway down the alley.

8:48 a.m.

Jack was taking the stairs between the third and second floor when his phone rang.

"Malone."

"Jack, it's Vivian. I'm with Del Turner in Security. No calls. Also, the parking garage tapes are clean. All the elevators are working fine."

"You looked good at the east entrance? You didn't see him walk by?" the team leader noted. From the angle of the camera, which observed the cars entering from that side of the building, Fitzgerald should have been seen walking past the opening, towards the main doors.

"No. Del slowed it down from 7:45 until 8:15. He wasn't there."

"Okay, hit the garage and have a look around. Talk to the kid at the gate. Maybe he spotted Martin. He sees everybody that goes past."

"Okay, Del put a red alert out. All the guards are looking for him. I've been trying his cell phone, no answer."

"Keep calling," Jack suggested, disconnecting the call.

Jack ducked into the men's room and checked the stalls. He slipped outside and was on his way to the other bathroom on that floor, when his phone rang again.

"Malone"

"He's not here," Danny huffed in annoyance, guilt rising fast. "I checked the bathrooms, the coffee shop and the cafeteria. The receptionist hasn't seen him. Jack, I don't think he got here."

"Look, Taylor, you settle down!" Jack ordered, not liking the fear-tinged voice, "He's a big boy and very capable of telling when he's too sick to come in. He knows how to use a phone..."

"Yeah, yeah." Danny cut the lecture short, "I'm heading outside. Last time I saw him, he was half a block down, heading for the corner."

Jack didn't have time to reply as the dial tone his hit ear.

"Christ, those two are a pair," he noted of Fitzgerald and Taylor. He punched speed-dial and, on the third ring, his other agent answered.

"Agent Spade."

"Sam? Anything?" Jack paused by the water fountain, eyeing the stairwell.

"No. No calls this morning to the dispensary. I'm on my way to the parking lot. Viv or Danny have any luck?"

"Nothing. It looks like he never made it this far. Vivian's on her way to the garage. You hit the street and catch up to Danny. No telling what he'll do if he finds something."

"He'll keep his head," she predicted, "I'll check back."

Vivian was on her way to the garage, her fingers hitting the redial again.

"Come on, handsome, pick up," she coached, urging Martin to reply.

He moaned and turned, wondering if he was dead. Huge, rippling waves of pain and nausea threatened to drown him. His leg hurt, his face hurt, he couldn't open his eyes. Something was wrong. Far beyond the fog he was trapped in, he heard horns blowing. He tried to roll over and his foot hit metal. The resounding thud caused him to cry out in pain.

"...not dead..." he reassured himself.

Ringing.

"...s...s...top..." he moaned, but the shrill noise continued. The offensive sound was close by. His fingers fumbled and hit a bulky spot in his jacket. Then the pieces in the ragged puzzle came a little closer. The ringing was his phone. He was hurt. He needed help.

"...an... swer..." he pushed himself.

Vivian was about to disconnect, having reached the garage, when the ringing stopped. She paused in the doorway, her dark eyes alert.

"Martin? Martin can you hear me? Martin?"

His jaw worked, his lips moved but nothing came out. The ringing stopped. His hand felt around. Where did the phone go? Were they still there? Where was he? God, he felt sick. He felt his stomach turning and, with Herculean effort, turned his pain-ridden body so he wouldn't choke. The effort sent him on his hands and knees and sent two metal trashcans flying.

"Martin?" Vivian winced, hearing metal clanging. She pressed her ear closer, picking up faint moaning and then a gagging sound. She sprinted to the guard's stand by the driveway and flipped her badge with her free hand. She snapped her fingers, pointing to the phone.

"Danny!"

The tall, dark-haired agent turned at the call of the blonde. He was by a printing shop when she caught up to him.

"You get anything?" he asked and she shook her head.

"No, Jack thinks he never made it inside."

"This is the last place I saw him. He was practically running. He was afraid of being late for Craddock. Dammit! I should have told him..."

"Spilled milk, partner. Lose it and concentrate on finding him, okay?"

"The book store is closed," Danny noted, continuing his path, pausing in the small street separating the two buildings. His dark eyes scanned the alley in between, lined with dumpsters and boxes. He turned and walked slowly, his eyes taking a slow parade on the bricks and concrete. "Hey, hey."

"What?" Samantha dropped down, then wrinkled her nose. "His?"

"Has to be," Danny predicted of the vomit. He stood and glanced backwards. "He felt sick, didn't have time to get inside. So he ducked in here."

"Where is he?"

"Well maybe..." he began and his phone rang. "Taylor. When? Yeah ... yeah..." He cupped the mouthpiece. "Viv finally got through to his cell. She heard metal banging sounds and gagging."

"Metal..." the blonde eyed the trashcans. "He's up the other end. Let's go!"

"We're on it, Vivian." Danny tucked the phone in his pocket and ran.

"...little... more..." The stricken man vocalized to urge his aching body to move. Every inch of him throbbed and he was sure his head was about to fall off. He couldn't stand; even crawling was difficult. But he kept his fuzzy focus on a yellow and red sign ahead. He didn't see the large delivery trucks in the narrow street. He only saw that sign. He saw glass and people. He knew that sign. A fast image of a loaded hamburger oozing cheese rudely interrupted his path. He shook the image away, feeling his stomach rebelling again. It couldn't be more that a few yards, but to the nearly unconscious man it might as well have been twenty miles. He was spent. He flopped down, his face hitting something slimy in the street.

'Get your ass moving Harvard!'

"Dan..ny..." He frowned at the loud voice in his head, "...hurts..."

'You're a loser, Fitzgerald, you know that!'

"Shut ...up... Dan...ny..."

Angry at the harsh edict, he sucked what little air he could and tried to move his inert body.

"Danny!" Samantha called to the fleeing man ahead, "It's Martin's."

"Empty?" he asked of the wallet in the corner by some upset trashcans.

"Cash's is gone." She slipped it into a plastic bag.

"Fuckin' animals," Danny vented, "Somebody saw him duck in here. They popped him when he throwing up. Where the Hell is he?"

Samantha was about to reply when she saw a smaller pile of vomit. She moved closer, just where the narrow alley opened up in a loading zone. The large asphalted area was mostly used by delivery trucks. Two buildings, including the federal building, had bays for deliveries that opened into this area. Across the alley was a small coffee shop. A real 'greasy spoon' that many of the agents used, since it was open until 1 a.m. That's when her eyes saw a body. Before she could sound the call of his name, something else caught her eye.

"Oh My God... Martin!"

"Martin!" Danny's body whipped by and his eyes saw the same horrifying sight. Their friend was lying motionless, face down — in the direct path of a truck whose red and white tail lights were shining, as it began to back up.

Part Six

There was no time to think, both agents reacted instantly, as they'd been trained to do. Two guns whipped out and took aim, as voices went airborne.

"FBI! FBI!!

Bubba Soames hit the brakes and swore a blue streak when bullets shattered his driver's side mirror.

"What the hell is goin' on?" he demanded as harsh voices assaulted him.

"FBI! Turn the engine off and get out of the vehicle."

"I didn't do..."

"Oout now!"

"Yeah... okay... damn..." he mumbled, sliding his two hundred and fifty pound frame from the driver's seat. His heavy-lidded dark eyes regarded the slim blonde female sporting a badge with skepticism. "What'd I do?"

"Agent Spade," Samantha identified, "Can I see some identification?"

"Yeah, it's in the..." he moved his head and saw another agent squatting behind his truck, "My load's legit. What's goin' on?"

Sam's face gave the irate driver no choice. Her stance sent him back into the cab of the truck to retrieve his identification and paperwork. While he was inside, she flicked a gaze at Danny, who'd disappeared under the bottom overhang of the truck.

"Martin? Hey man, can you hear me?" Danny eyed the narrow confines and crawled over to the fallen figure, lying face down. He slid his hand down the sweaty neck and frowned at rapid pulse. "I need some room... move it up!"

"Okay," Sam agreed, motioning for the driver to obey. The truck lurched forward several feet, until both male agents were once again in the sunlight. "Hold it, that's good," she directed the driver, then turned her eyes to the pair behind the truck. Danny's face was etched in concern as his hand tapped Martin's cheek. Fitzgerald looked awful. "Danny?"

"He's not doing good!" Taylor reported, whipping his phone out. He dialed 911 first, then dialed his boss. "Jack, we found him. Out back by Dewey's," he noted of the dive masquerading as a coffee shop.

"How is he?" Malone inquired, sprinting the two flights to the lobby.

"Alive," Danny sighed, his hand fingering the pulse, "He's out cold." The side of the face that was showing was bruised and cut. Traces of vomit lingered on his mouth and shirt. "From what me and Sam found in the alley, looks like he got sick. Someone saw him hit the dirt and mugged him. We found his wallet... empty. His gun's gone."

"Shit!" Jack ran through the lobby towards the back exit behind the security office. "You call it in?"

"Yeah, I hear the sirens," Danny noted, as a wailing sound got closer.

"I didn't see him, honest to God," Bubba pleaded, eyeing the unconscious man on the ground.

"What the hell were you looking at?" Danny vented, leaving Martin long enough to eyeball the driver closely. "You see that?" he pointed to the spot where his fallen partner lie, "You damn near killed a federal agent."

"Danny," Samantha warned, showing her partner the paperwork, "He's clean. He was inside, his check is clocked just a few minutes ago."

"Bubba, huh?" Danny spat out, hitting the massive chest with his index finger, "Where'd you learn to drive? Stevie Wonder Driving School? You didn't check. Maybe you helped yourself to his money."

"Danny!" the blonde wormed her body in between them, physically restraining him, "Stay with Martin. I got it!"

"NYPD! What's going on?"

Samantha shoved the smoldering-eyed agent back towards where one officer was kneeling by Martin. She turned to the other.

"F.B.I." She flipped her badge. "If you step back this way, I'll bring you up to date."

"He get hit?" Officer Alvarez asked the hot-eyed man approaching. He saw the badge clipped to the pocket and recognized the federal insignia.

"No. It looks like he got sick, ducked into the alley. Some prick saw him go down and mugged him." Danny's voice was hostile.

"Okay, anybody see it?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

"Once we get a description, if he saw the perp, we'll scout the area. We've had quite a few in the last week."

"You better find that bastard before I do!" Taylor warned, then his voice softened when half of a blue eye opened, "Hey partner! You look like shit!"

Martin tried to concentrate. He heard the yelling and followed it. He knew that voice. He knew he had to find it. It was hard but he pushed and pushed and forced his eye open. He furrowed his brow and fought. It was hard to talk.

"...nneeee... you?"

"Right here, Harvard." He bent lower so the unfocused eye could find him. He saw Fitzgerald's left hand flopping against the asphalt and grabbed it, then smiled at the heavy sigh of relief that came from the gasping lips. "You just take it easy, now. The wagon will take you to the hospital. You'll have some hot nurse giving you sponge baths."

Martin tried to concentrate on what Danny Taylor was saying. There was so much noise punching holes in his head. Horns blaring, sirens wailing, voices shouting. Every sound felt like a wayward jackhammer going wild in his skull

"...hurts..."

"I know it hurts," Danny spoke louder, as the pain-clouded blue eye fluttered and shut.

"Sir, can you move?"

"Huh?" Danny saw the medical gear and moved his body over. He reluctantly gave up his grip. He nodded to Jack, who was speaking to the truck driver and Samantha. He watched as the two EMT's quickly got their patient situated. He took Martin's jacket from them and watched the IV line go in. Oxygen was applied and vital signs were taken.

Through the flurry of activity, the injured man tried to focus. All the voices shouting sounded like bees buzzing in his head. He thought on that and another picture came. A man in a dark jumpsuit. A man hitting him.

"Dan...neeee... Dan...."

"Sir, you need to keep still," Warren Lubbock warned when the feverish man tried to move. "Does your back or neck hurt?"

"No... leg... leg... head... fa..face... side..." he managed, trying to focus on the dark-skinned face near, "..c...c..old..."

"How's he doing?" Jack inquired, joining the group.

"Could be the flu," Shelly Trainer, the other EMT replied. "He's got a nasty bruise on his side, looks like he got hit with something. Minor facial contusions..." she paused. "His fever is over 102, his pulse is rapid and his BP is elevated." She cut both pants legs to the knees and then took off a crude bandage. "You know about this?"

"Yeah, he fell in a cave," Danny updated as the blue eyes moved again, trying to find him.

"...dan... neee...."

"Martin?" Danny tapped the dazed, wet face and saw two eyes struggle. The hand on the gurney flopped weakly tapping at his leg. He smiled and took it. "You see who did this to you?"

"B...b...ug... bu...g..."

"Bug?" Danny puzzled, "Your car was bugged?"

"Car?" Martin flashed to a parking lot. "...keys... move car..."

"I'll take care of it," the dark-eyed agent promised, tapping Martin's jacket until he found the keys.

"Martin, who hit you?" Jack asked.

"...bug... bug..." the dazed man continued, wheezing heavily. "...bug... in..."

"Your house?" Taylor guessed and saw the angry eyes flash weakly.

"...there... nee..."

"Right here, man, focus!" Danny barked and saw the eyes snap back, "Were you following somebody in the alley?"

Following? Martin's mind was full of mush. He saw the uniform and the bug. Did he follow this person? He moaned as a wave of pain rolled through him.

"Bug... in... in..." he tried to convey. It was hard to talk and even harder to keep his eyes open. He wanted to tell them but his tongue seemed too thick for his mouth. Nothing was working right.

"He's out of it," Jack cut through the mumbled words, "He's all mixed up. He heard her say he's got a flu bug."

"Yeah, you got a bug inside you, man, a good one," Danny reassured.

"No... no..."

Martin began to thrash on the gurney. One medic grabbed the IV line before it got pulled out. The other gripped the patient's shoulders and spoke to the two agents next to him, "That's it, we gotta roll. You get the rest at the hospital later." He stood and eyed the two male agents and the female one who'd remained by the truck. "Has he been out of town recently? To the Orient or Toronto, maybe in Chinatown?"

"The Orient?" Jack frowned, "No, he's been stateside. Why?"

"He went hiking a couple days ago, he was gone all day in the mountains," Danny reported, not liking the looks the two paramedics exchanged.

"It could be the flu," the senior EMT noted as his partner redressed the leg wound, "Or it could be SARS."

"Aw, fuck," Jack sighed, recalling the headlines of the worldwide respiratory epidemic, "I never thought of that. Christ, he's been all over a nursing home..."

"Hold on," the EMT put a hand up, "I said it 'might' be. A test can rule it out. I'll need you three with me, if you had contact with him."

"Yeah, okay," Jack sighed, moving as the gurney was raised. "Danny, call Vivian and..."

"I'm riding with him... Sam can call her."

Before Jack could address that look in the driven agent's eyes, a weak voice called out to him. He squatted down and saw two worried blue eyes. He caught the roving pair and waiting until they blinked rapidly, trying to find him.

"Jack... Jack..." Martin saw the fuzzy features of his boss and reached a hand out.

"You're goin' for a ride, Junior. You keep that colorful tongue of your tame, okay?" he tossed of Fitzgerald's legendary short temper.

"...late... tried... tell... Crad...d...ock..." he panted heavily, he couldn't seem to find any air, "...fire... ass..."

"What?" Jack teased, catching the confused blues. "And lose my star rookie? No way! You passed with flying colors. That's what he was going to tell you. You made the team, Martin."

"...joke..."

"No, it's not a joke. Do I look like I'm in a joking mood?" Malone vented angrily and saw the pale lips turn up a bit.

"Hah," Danny grinned, winking at the patient and climbing in the back. He made eye contact with his boss and smirked, "Even with a fever he can play you."

Jack rolled his eyes and shook his head as the medics packed their gear. His eyes remained on the flashing lights until the van pulled away. Then he turned back to the NYPD officers and Samantha.

"You two scour that alley. Somebody fucked with the wrong fed," he ordered, watching Vivian approach, "You find anything, you let me know. Come on, let's take a ride."

Samantha filled Vivian in as the two following the long strides of Jack Malone.

Samantha sipped a bottle of water and sighed, shaking her head as Danny Taylor began to pace again. Jack was on the phone, speaking to Mrs. Fitzgerald, and Vivian was on her phone, waiting for Captain Falcone of the ACPD to pick up. They were due in Atlantic City this morning to follow up on the missing man they'd been investigating.

"What the hell is taking them so long?" Danny vented, "It's been an hour."

"Maybe I should douse you with this and cool you down," Spade suggested, rising from the plastic chair and crossing the room. She paused by Danny and studied every feature on his handsome face. "The little blue-eyed rat got to you, huh?"

"I shouldn't have left him. He was stumbling all over the place. What if they'd used that gun on him?"

"I've been thinking about that." She puzzled, "I mean until they pulled his wallet, he looked like any other businessman. Nice clothes, expensive haircut... an easy mark. But once they saw that id..."

"So, they don't pop him. They don't want that kind of heat," Danny answered, his hot eyes flicking again to the door. They were confined to a room, pending the outcome of the SARS test.

"No, that's just it," the blonde pressed, "If Martin did get sick, he'd have dropped down right inside the alley. So if someone saw him, they'd have roughed him and taken the wallet right there. Why force him to the other end? Why risk being seen?"

"So, what, you think it wasn't a mugging? That someone was tailing Martin? They wanted... had help waiting?" Danny shook his head. "I don't think so. I mean, you saw the back of that alley. Too many delivery trucks. No way a car would be able to get out."

"I don't know," she disagreed, "It doesn't make sense..."

"Good Morning."

All three heads turned when the door opened and a slightly overweight, graying doctor with wire-rimmed glasses stepped inside.

"Hold on, Jean," Jack updated Martin's mother, "The doctor's here."

"I'll call back," Vivian ended her call and stood up.

"How's he doing? What's wrong with him?" Danny walked over, hands riding his slim hips impatiently.

"It's not SARS." The doctor waited for the four agents to recover from the collective sigh of relief. "I'm Doctor Mark Hemple and I can partially answer your questions, young man. He's holding his own, his fever is 103 and climbing, his BP is elevated and he is experiencing difficulty with his breathing. Generalized muscle pain, headache, high fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea could suggest a respiratory infection or the flu."

"But that's not what it is," Sam finished the lingering thought.

"No, he has rash on his chest and his white blood cell count is elevated." He paused, scratching his chin. "He was awake briefly and complained that his lower leg hurt. There is a weeping gash there..."

"He fell in a cave, he scrapped it good," Danny recounted.

"Had it not been for that wound, we'd have found it a bit sooner."

"Found what?" Jack frowned.

"A lesion. A raised red bump with a dark center like a bull's-eye."

"Something bit him?" Vivian guessed.

"Yes, a spider, and the venom released into his bloodstream is wreaking havoc. His symptoms are Grade three in severity. Some people can have mild reactions to a bite like this; others, like Mister Fitzgerald, sustain a severe allergic reaction. Unfortunately, it would appear this young man was hit with a double whammy. He was sensitive to the venom and a large amount of venom was released."

"So you can fix that, right?" Danny pressed, "Give him antibiotics or something?"

"Yes, we've started him on antibiotics, orally and intravenously. He'll be in ICU on a cold blanket until he stabilizes. Also, we're giving him prednisone. We'll start him on dapsone to prevent tissue damage to the wound. Also, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy."

"Hyper what?" Vivian asked, not familiar with that term.

"It's relatively new for situations like this. Normally it's used to aggressively treat diabetic wounds and severe burns. It's a method of breathing 100% Oxygen under pressure, which forces oxygen to reach the affected area quicker. This will both aid greatly in reducing his pain and prevent more tissue damage. He'll go in the HBOT chamber later today. He'll have a 60-minute session today and tomorrow. Then we'll see how the wound is faring. But if we knew exactly what type of spider bit him, it would help him enormously."

"He was hiking a few days ago, upstate," Danny offered.

"That would tie to the timeframe of the symptoms developing. Do you know where?" he directed to the intense dark eyed man.

"No, but I can find out," Danny offered, "You got a beeper or something, I can call you?"

"Here," he jotted the number down and gave it over.

"Hey, he's going to be okay, right?"

Doctor Hemple eyed the three other concerned faces, before directing his gaze on the worried young man.

"Given the right treatment, lots of rest and some downtime to recover, he'll be fine. He's very sick right now and will be weak for awhile. He'll need a lot of rest." He gave the slumping shoulder a pat and turned to the other dark-haired man. "I was told by the nurse you have the number of Mister Fitzgerald's family. I'd like to speak with them."

"Here," Jack handed the phone over, "It's Jean Fitzgerald, Martin's mother." He then turned to the two female agents. "You two head to Atlantic City and find out why our man 'Mustang' is back in town. Three years ago he got away clean. Why would he risk bringing that little girl back here and getting caught? Check in!"

"Okay," Vivian turned, "Keep us posted."

"Will do!" Jack sent back.

"Where are you going?" Sam asked.

"Back to Our Lady of Grace. I'm meeting the catering crew there. Something that nun saw caused a shock. Also, I want to hit town and talk to the people at the library. I got a hunch she was doing more than research there."

"You think she was meeting somebody?" Sam asked.

"I do. Get moving!" he directed, taking the unused water from her hand gratefully and killing the bottle.

Danny paused in the quiet entry to Martin's neat apartment. It was strange to be investigating his own partner. He moved through the living room area, looking for the bag Martin usually toted his hiking gear in. He ducked into the kitchen briefly and then moved to the bedroom. He shook his head and chuffed his breath at the pristine condition of the bed.

"Who the hell makes their bed when they're sick?" he quizzed, then spotted a pair of hiking boots by the closet door.

He lifted the boots up carefully, taking them to the nightstand and flipping the light on. He loosened the laces and pulled the tongue down. His dark eyes narrowed and then he saw it.

"Bingo!"

Leaving the dead arachnid long enough to retrieve a pair of tweezers from Martin's medicine cabinet, he pulled out a plastic specimen bag from his pocket and deposited the remains. He turned the bag over carefully, eyeing the long-legged creature. Then he dialed the number, punched in Martin's phone number and waited. He walked around the bedroom, then spotted a chrome device in the closet that held ties.

Striped ties.

He laughed at that, rubbing the back of his tense neck. He fingered a particularly offensive red and black striped tie.

"You and me are gonna have a talk about your fashion sense, Harvard." He paused, his fingers still holding the silk material. "Damn blue eyes are gonna kill me..." The ringing phone interrupted his mental image of that lost soul in the cave. He strode to the phone and picked it up.

"Hello?" He paused, listening to a chime-like sound. "Anybody there?" Still all he heard was odd faint tinkling, formed into a child's tune. "Wrong number." He hung up, just as the phone rang again. "Hello!"

"This is Doctor Hemple."

"Sorry, it's Agent Taylor. I got your spider. It was in the bottom of Martin's boot. It's brown and has a funny mark on its belly, like an upside-down violin."

"Brown recluse," he nodded. "I suspected as much. Can you drop it off?"

"Sure. Is he any better?"

"No, but he will be. As sick as he is now, and trust me, he's pretty sick, in a few days he'll be on his feet. It will take a good ten days of rest and treatment, that lesion on his leg needs attention, but he'll recover fully."

"Thanks Doc!" Danny hung the phone up and sighed, saying a quick prayer. Then he turned the light off and headed outside.

Journal Entry Two

'Ad Hominem'

That is, the appealing to the feelings rather than the intellect. It would appear Mister Taylor's Achilles' heel has two blue eyes. This will serve the cause well. That fire in his eyes will be a valuable weapon in my battle for justice. So too, he will feel the pain. He will watch as the blue-eyed pretender suffers and falls.

Phase two is now underway. The victim, fevered and writhing in pain, is being readied for the next round. The timing is crucial and, given the degree of his delicate condition, perfect! His foolish partner, with those hot eyes and that big heart, will be the key in his decline. I watch him now, pacing in the lair of the offender, those dark eyes full of compassion. Why him, Agent Taylor? He doesn't deserve such a flow of emotion. How can you be that blind? That loyalty you wear so well will be tarnished. It will be stained with his blood. Then I'll watch those dark eyes full of anguish and my own heart will soar.

He's leaving now for the hospital and I have work to do. Preparations must be made, for the time is drawing near. Soon, soon the battle will begin and the pretender will be made to pay for his sin.

He closed the journal then and shut the lid of the music box, letting the dying notes of 'Little Boy Blue' fade away. His lips curled into a cruel grin, as in his mind Martin Fitzgerald's final theme song began to play. With 'Taps' echoing, he left the room to prepare.

Timeline: March 1978 Geneva, New York
Good Shepard Homeless Center

Everyone who passed through the food line at Good Shepard had to smile. There was something magnetic about the handsome young man with wavy sandy hair and sky blue eyes. His fine features seemed to have been chiseled by Michelangelo. Add a heartbreaking smile and manners right out of Mayberry and the six foot four Syracuse senior melted the coldest of hearts.

"I was hoping you'd be here today," Nellie Parker stopped, reached a wrinkled hand up and cupped his chin. "Like an angel..."

"Thanks, Mrs. Parker, but I don't have wings!" the star quarterback for Syracuse University oozed. "You look real nice today. You changed your hair," he buttered up the already swooning octogenarian.

"Oh, Peter, honestly!" she blushed, slipping a ten dollar bill into his hand.

"No, ma'am, I can't take that," he protested mildly.

"Nonsense!" She cast her old eyes at the handsome young man. "I know you boys don't have much. What with the cost of school and all. Besides, I can't take it with me."

"Okay, but how about I buy you lunch at Peppi's?" he suggested, referring to the pizza parlor down the street.

"Why don't you ask Theresa? Lord knows that child needs someone to talk to besides the priests and nuns. Go on - she's a nice girl."

"Maybe." He slipped the ten spot into his jeans. "Thanks, Mrs. Parker."

He watched the elderly woman go back to the table by the door where she greeted the homeless. They came from all over, some young with children, some stoned and others just old and poor. Good Shepard served up a hot meal and one p.m and offered showers, clothes and counseling. He hated slapping the mashed potatoes and congealed salisbury steaks on the plates, but he needed the credits.

As he wrinkled his nose shoveling food onto the plate of a urine-drenched drug addict, his eyes traveled to the far end of the room. He felt his desire growing, watching the very shapely Theresa DiSipio bending over a table to clean it off. The white blouse clung to every curve, showing off her very ample breasts. The tanned thighs strained as she leaned over, allowing him a glimpse of where they disappeared into no man's land. He sighed hard, shifting as his jeans became too tight.

"Damn nun-wannabee," he mumbled, incredibly turned on by the pious virgin. So far, she had spurned his every advance. But he was wearing her down. Moreover, what Peter Anthony Gilbert wanted, Peter Anthony Gilbert got. From the college scholarship, to his predicted first round draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft, he never lost. What he wanted now was to taste those cherry lips and caress every inch of that body, before breaking her virtue.

"Hey! Hey man," Lamont Turner waved his hand in front of the gaping quarterback. "Earth to Pete." He moved his dark eyes and saw what was causing the lust-filled glare. "Forget it, she's not havin' any of your meat, no way no how. Them church girls are all alike. Besides, you're crazy messing up the sure thing."

"Yeah," Gilbert tossed back, eyeing his close friend and the star receiver on the team. "Some sure thing," he noted of his fiancˇe, Elizabeth Marshal, the only child of Kenneth Marshall, a senator from upstate New York.

Born wealthy, thanks to his father's worldwide chain of men's stores, Kenneth Marshall had turned his sights on politics. He'd married late and his wife had produced one child, his prized possession. The very beautiful twenty-year-old blonde was spoiled rotten. Like everything else he set his sights on, Pete had seen her on television two years ago when she was her father's escort at a white house dinner. He read everything he could on her and her sixty-five-year-old widowed father. He'd haunted the New York art galleries and even put up with Opera, because Marshall was a fan. He'd shelled out money he didn't have to attend fundraisers for the charity of the month and joined the same country club. He'd ignored her, concentrating on winning the approval of the silver-haired millionaire. It hadn't taken long before Pete was eating lunch with Marshall at the club. He'd charmed the older man and soon was invited to the family mansion for weekends.

Lizzie, a tall cool blonde with a face that made every man who gazed on it weak in the knees, always got what she pouted for. At first, she'd ignored him, which suited him fine. He'd played it cool, spurning her advances and snippy remarks. But soon he saw her facade cracking. She wasn't used to be told 'no'. For six long months he'd played the game, flattering and kissing the old man's ass. Then Marshall had asked him to escort his daughter to the black tie fundraiser for the President in Washington. The rest was history, and the 'golden couple' was born. He put up with her whining, her pout and her temper tantrums. He tuned her out and concentrated on all that money, real estate and other pieces of heaven.

"What?" the black athlete teased, "Your pony ain't been out of the barn since the Ice Queen left for Europe?"

"Hell, Lamont," Pete grunted, lifting a tray of macaroni and cheese from the oven, "even when my 'pony' is out of the barn it's like fuckin' a block of ice. She just lays there like a corpse." He paused, lifting the heavy silver container onto the container. "She's got no tits and no ass."

"She's got bread, Lover, lots of it. Hey, Man, once you get her up that aisle and produce a kid, you can get all the booty you want on the side. Just don't fuck it up before you get married."

"Look at that," Pete nodded to the dark-haired girl lifting a baby in the air. Again those magnificent breasts strained against the fabric. A trickle of sweat slowly ran down her chest, right into the valley of desire. "What a waste. A body like that and she's hiding behind a cross."

"Keep dreamin'." Lamont tied an apron on, clapping his friend on the back.

"Twenty bucks says I do her before the end of the month," Pete predicted, eyes following the shapely girl as she moved closer.

"You're on!" Lamont agreed, slapping palms and shaking his dark head. "You're crazy."

"Theresa," Pete unleashed a killer smile, "I was wondering if you could show me how to use that mixer again."

"That's lame," Lamont whispered, getting an elbow.

"Sure, Pete."

Theresa's heart jackhammered as she walked into the deserted kitchen. She wiped her sweaty hands on the wool skirt and licked her dry lips. He noticed her! The best looking guy in America actually smiled at her. She fumbled badly, nearly dropping the large bowl. She put it under the large mixer and waited.

"I put all the stuff in," he noted of the mixture of ingredients for bread, "but I can't get the hook to work." He stood next to her and moved aside, letting her in front.

"Watch now," she croaked, snapping the hooks in and stirring the ingredients.

"Let me try," he whispered, pressing against her from behind and moving his arms over hers. He laid a hand on hers, stirring with her. "That's nice," he said softly, inhaling her scent and lightly grinding against her from behind. God she felt good.

"Uh... uh..." Theresa choked, all her air taken away. Every fiber in her was on fire. She felt her face coloring and a flood of moisture rushing through her loins. She wanted to move away, crawl into the freezer and cool off, but she couldn't move.

"The red button?" he guessed, already well versed in how the machine worked. He moved his arm sideways, toward the button and brushed against those wonderful swells of flesh. He smiled behind her back, hearing the sharp intake of air.

"Hey, how about that?" he noted as the machine went into motion. Like a deer caught in the crosshairs, she jerked and spun around, dark eyes darting, seeking escape. He leaned in closer, pinning her legs back to the table, his face just inches from hers. He felt the heat rising from her and smiled again, kissing her forehead very lightly. "Thanks, you're a real angel, you know? I was thinking, how about I buy you some dinner at Peppi's? You like pizza, right?"

"Piz... za..." she croaked, head spinning wildly.

"Yeah, you know," his hot breath danced over her wide-eyed face, "soft dough... milky mozzerella," his hands moved gently dancing on her back, "and rich sauce from ripe tomatoes." His gaze lingered on those heaving swells of flesh as the dark-haired girl's puppet-like head nodded.

Lamont turned his head as the whistling quarterback returned, bearing a stack of plates and a shit-eating grin. His wink and tongue clicking gave the dark-skinned man a good laugh.

April 2003 Noon
Atlantic City

Vivian turned her back against the wind blowing off the ocean and watched Samantha and Captain Falcone of the ACPD. Just behind the two law officers was a tall, thin, Hispanic woman with bright red lips and spiky hair, tipped with gold. The mini skirt barely covered her ass and the cheap leather jacket was half unzipped, revealing a tigerskinned danskin.

"So you'd be Marita Martinez?" Samantha inquired, peering through expensive sunglasses at the hooker.

"No, Mother Theresa," the young girl shot back, rolling her dark eyes.

"Nice, bet your mother's proud," Vivian drolled.

"She's on her back earnin' a livin'."

"Nice to see some family business surviving the corporate monsters," Spade returned, "So what can you tell us about Jimmy Ray Hollis?"

"He was my old man. We did alright." She snapped a pink bubble.

"You don't seem very broken up over his death," Vivian noted, appraising the young girl.

"Hey, life's a bitch ya know?" she shrugged.

"When did you last see him?" Captain Falcone asked.

"Breakfast a couple days back... Sunday morning. We got Egg McMuffins and coffee. Right over there," she jerked her head towards the boardwalk.

"Then what?" Vivian pressed.

"I had two customers waitin' on me. I bring them breakfast... we uh... eat in bed." She eyed the cold features of the blond woman.

"Spare me the details," Sam waved her hand, "So did Jimmy have plans?"

"Yeah, he got a phone call from some dude. It shook him up some. It takes a lot to scare Jimmy."

"He say who it was?" the policeman inquired.

"No, it was on his voicemail. It was a meeting ... for later."

"Did you ever see Jimmy talking to this man?" Falcone showed a blown up image taken from security cameras of the suspect.

"No. He's a good lookin' dude, I'd have remembered that. Shit, I'd have had to have me a piece of him."

"He didn't mention a name or what the meeting was about?" the blonde asked.

"No, all he said was 'fuckin' bastard, I told him I ain't into that shit. I'm not doin' it no more'." She paused, snapping her gum. "We were supposed to meet that night at Resorts for some grub," she noted, referring to the casino, "He never showed."

"We heard his voicemail message," Vivian relayed. "It was from a man named 'Mustang'. He was meeting Jimmy at sunset at the 'corral'. Does that mean anything?"

"No." She shook her dark head.

"Who else knows Jimmy? Who else would know where the 'corral' is?" Sam pressed.

"Hell, I don't know. Even if I did, why should I tell you? So I end up fish food like Jimmy?" She eyed the cold blonde. "No thanks, Barbie!"

"This is a Federal Investigation," Vivian moved closer, "You understand that? We're looking for a missing child. If she ends up dead and you are withholding knowledge, you can be charged as an accessory. Got that?"

"Look, I don't know nothin' about no kid," Martina protested, "Jimmy, he hangs out at a place off Atlantic Avenue called Wet Willie's, a strip joint. His homeboys are there. Spike, Frankie and Leo mostly. The guy who runs the place, Sal Cannelli, sometimes Jimmy does work for him on the side, collecting."

"Thanks, you've been a big help," Vivian managed, "If you remember anything or if anybody asks about Jimmy, or you see a stranger sniffing around, you call, understand?" Samantha shoved her card at the young streetwalker.

Two PM
Our Lady of Grace

"Jack, I wasn't expecting you. I was waiting for those two young men."

"You saying I'm old, Sister Catherine?" Malone teased the nun.

"You still have miles to go before you catch me," she tossed back, eyeing the empty space in the hall behind him, "You came alone?"

"Martin was taken ill suddenly and Danny had some work to do downtown. So the boss gets to hit in clean up."

"Ill? I hope it's not serious?"

"He got bit by a spider and turns out he's very allergic. He's in the hospital."

"Oh, dear, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Not to worry, Sister, he'll be fine in a few days. Did you call that catering crew?"

"Yes, the two young men working that day are waiting in the very room where Sister encountered them."

"Thanks, Sister, that'll be all for now." He followed her lead and entered the room. Two kids about twenty or so stood up. "Jack Malone, F.B.I," he flipped his badge.

"Michael Upton, D'Agastino's Catering. This is Tony Forelli. Sister Catherine said you wanted to see us."

"Either of you know Sister Michael?" He showed the picture and both shrugged.

"Hey, all these nuns look alike to me," Tony handed the photo back. "We do gigs in nursing homes and hospitals a lot."

"We have witnesses who saw her looking at you two and then becoming shocked. She gasped and almost passed out. Seems odd for someone whom she'd never met."

"Oh, wait a minute," Upton's blue eyes narrowed and he frowned, searching his mind, "Can I see that picture again?"

"Sure," Malone handed it back, studying the youth's body language carefully.

"Yeah, I remember her now. She was freaky."

"Freaky" Jack spat back, "That's a helluva thing to say about a nun."

"No, I mean like, we were on duty for that party. Putting food out, checking on stuff. I kept catching her looking at me, like staring me down. I asked if I could help her but she just backed off, scared."

"And you've never met her?"

"No, sir. Sorry."

"Okay, thanks, you remember anything else, you call. " He handed them each a card and departed for town.

He wrote some notes on the small pad, before heading back to town. He'd come up dry in the library, stopping on the way to Our Lady of Grace. The two librarians and a clerk hadn't recognized the nun's photo. Granted, there was a chance that they weren't working the dates in question when the nun would disappear for several hours. But given the size of the small town, it was unlikely that none of them knew her. The two remaining employees were on vacation, but the one librarian scanned the photo into the computer, promising to email them and let him know. He'd made his way around town, hitting the drug store, two coffeeshops and a few other stores.

Nothing.

"What are you hiding?" he asked the dark-eyed nun in the photo, before scanning the few stores left he'd not visited.

His growling stomach reminded him that he'd not eaten since breakfast. He eyed a hotdog cart in the small park in the center of town and walked over. He got two dogs with chili and a root beer. He found a sunny spot with a bench and sat down, putting the small cardboard box that held his food next to him. He was halfway done with the second dog when he noticed an older man with a broom eyeing him.

"Something I can do for you, pal?" he muffled, shoving the last bite in and taking a long gulp of soda. He wiped his mouth and eyed the black man, who came over, his dark eyes curious.

"You a cop?"

"Why? Do I look like one?" Jack sent back, bringing an even set of white teeth to appear.

"The Mob dresses better. We don't get many strangers here."

"Thanks," Jack eyed his rumpled overcoat and worn shirt and tie peeking through. He stood tossed the box and can away and eyed the whistling worker. He drew the picture out and approached.

"Malone, F.B.I." He flipped his badge and paused, "You work here everyday?"

"Monday to Friday, I clean up the park and the streets around town. Why?"

"You seen her here? Sister Michael from Our Lady of Grace. She's missing."

"Yeah, that's her," he nodded, "I knew there was something wrong with them."

"Them?" Jack pulled his pad out, "You'd be..."

"Oh, Harley Deever." He handed his wallet over, bearing his driver's license. "I was the foreman at a car plant upstate till them layoffs came. My sister lives here, nice town, quiet. I've been here about six years, I guess."

"The nun?" Jack prodded, writing down the man's information and handing the wallet back.

"I'd see her a couple times a week, down that path. I'll show you." He left his broom and walked towards a narrow path edged in flowers. He pointed to a small gazebo, nearly hidden by overgrown foliage. "There. She'd get here first, early afternoon. He'd come later. They'd visit for a spell, then he left. She'd be saying them prayer beads for awhile, then she'd leave. Real odd. Didn't add up to me."

"Just one man? The same man?"

"Yeah, never got a good look, he was always in a hooded sweatshirt. Dark blue or black. Big guy, tall and well built. First time I saw him headed up there I followed, cause I saw her go up there. I thought maybe he was gonna hurt her. But she seemed to know him, they hugged. Then he gave her papers... white papers. I started to walk over and she got nervous, waved me off saying she was fine and he was an old friend."

"You said you saw him leave," Jack pressed, "Did he walk? Drive?"

"I don't know... he'd have to drive. Not many strangers in these parts. I know most of the folks here. Could be he walked to the park, maybe the car was up the road somewhere. You might check with Carla and Bill, they have a small hotel about, oh... three miles south of here. Only one hereabouts. If he was a stranger, could be he stayed there."

"You said he was big? You mean tall or heavyset?"

"No, tall. He had to duck to get inside the gazebo. Not heavy, I think, but the sweatshirt was so bulky it was hard to tell."

"Black guy? White guy?"

"White. I saw his hand when he gave her those papers. Same thing every time, he'd show her papers. Sometimes he took them back after she looked at them. I asked her more than once that I was close by. She'd smile and thank me, but said she was fine, that he was a friend. I wish I could tell you more." He paused, thinking on the small nun. "I'm sorry to hear she's missing. She seemed like a nice lady."

"Yeah," Jack nodded, "Thanks, Mister Deever, you've been a big help. I'll be in touch."

Three PM
Mount Sinai Hospital

Danny moved from the bathroom just as the phone next to Martin's bed rang. He dried his hands, threw the towel away, and headed for the table. He saw the patient's brows furrow at the odd sound, but he remained asleep. He looked awful. He was curled up on his side, occasionally moaning in his sleep.

"Hello?"

"You didn't answer at the office, so I figured you'd be here." Jack eyed the long line of traffic. "How's he doing?"

"About the same. His fever's down a little and he's not as restless. I got here about a half hour ago. The nurse said he threw up a lot and was in a lot of pain. They gave him something, so he's quieter now."

"How'd you make out with the State Department?"

"I talked to Helen Bacon, like you suggested," Danny noted, eyeing Martin's damp features before sitting down. He took a sip of the large soda he'd brought with him. "She's trying to nail down somebody in that area. But it's really in the middle of the jungle. The priest travels in the mountains apparently and he's hard to reach. She's got a call into the embassy down there; she's gonna leave her number, yours and mine."

"Anything on Upton or Forelli?" he asked of the catering help.

"Nah, they're clean. It must have been a flashback or something. That one kid's got dark hair and eyes, maybe he looked like a kid from Costa Rica she knew."

"Yeah, maybe, but she wasn't reading books at that library. I'm trying to find more witnesses that can give us a description of our mystery man. I'm gonna check in with Vivian and Sam. We'll check back later."

"Hey!" Danny hung the phone up and saw two blue slits appear in the grayish-green face. "Man, I've seen corpses with more life. Nice face."

Martin didn't understand the words and didn't care. All he knew was that he felt miserable. His head hurt and his leg hurt; for that matter, every inch of him throbbed. Then there was the overwhelming urge to vomit. He wondered for a moment whether or not he was on a boat. Everything seemed to be moving a little, which made his tender stomach rebel. But the worst feeling was that hot, dry desert that invaded his lips. The whole inside of his mouth was on fire. Swimming in his watery line of vision was a mustard colored plastic pitcher. It was wet on the outside just like him. A word appeared in his mind's eye and caused him to moan.

Water.

He opened his parched lips and waited.

"What?" Danny saw the lips part and frowned. He followed the watery gaze towards the pitcher. "Shit." He glanced around the cubicle at the open door. Then he leaned over, trying to make the sad soul understand. "You can't have anything, you threw up all over the bed and..." The new moan nearly took his knees out. "Okay, but if old iron girdle catches me, she'll castrate me. Hold on."

He slipped to the door, then peered carefully outside and up and down the hallway. He saw the gray-haired, hefty nurse and cringed. She gave a whole new meaning to the words 'Grim Reaper'. She was on the phone and facing the other way. Satisfied, he headed back to the bedside and winced. The poor devil still had his mouth open, waiting and completely trusting. "Okay, hold on. " He lifted the lid off and picked up a plastic spoon from the plastic tray that was partially sealed with plastic. He scooped up some ice and gently tipped it onto the waiting tongue.

Heaven

If he could have cried he would have. Nothing ever felt so good as the wet cold ice that was deposited in his mouth. Greedily, he chewed on it, ignoring the warning voice from somewhere above. His face broke into a puzzle; he knew that voice. Smooth and reassuring, it took the edge off his rising fear. He wasn't sure what had happened or where he was, but he knew the voice made him safe.

Danny watched for a moment and sat back down, eager to resume his work. He downloaded another site, which covered the area of the jungle where the missing nun was from. He was hoping recent headlines might clue him in to why she'd fled that country. Or perhaps from whom. While the dark-haired agent scanned the headlines of the newspaper article, his fallen partner was on a mission.

More.

He need more. That brief oasis in his desert trek was nirvana. The tiny offering barely repaired the hot inferno inside his mouth. So he parted his lips, opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out He waited, confident the voice would bring more ice.

Danny hit back-arrow and scanned the other headlines, just as his side vision caught movement. He turned his face and sighed hard. The pale lips were opened under scarlet-slashed, fevered cheeks. Although he couldn't remember being as sick as his friend was, he could imagine how awful hot and sour his mouth was. He eyed the doorway again and stood up, picking up the spoon. As he scooped up more ice he warned the fevered man.

"Okay, but this is it, comprende? I get caught and I'll be in the next bed with my balls in a sling. Here." He carefully nudged the waiting tongue and - like a lizard - the tongue flipped back, taking the ice with it. "SLOW!" Danny hissed, "You're supposed to suck on it, not gulp it!" He waited until the jaws slowed down and the sick body began to pant. "You're a pain in the ass, you know that?" He trotted to the bathroom, taking one of three cotton clothes he had floating in water and wringing it out. When he got back to the bed, the mouth was open again and the tongue out. He frowned, wiping the fevered face and chastising the scowl that appeared. "No, no more. I'm on her shit list already. You're gonna upchuck just to spite me." He moved the cloth over the fevered face and neck, before losing it. "No, that's not ice, let go!" he whispered, tugging gently on the end of cloth being sucked on. As he jerked the cloth free, the mouth came open, complete with waiting tongue. "You're worse than a wet dog," he warned, shoveling more ice onto the waiting tongue, "That's it, Fitz, I'm not kidding. You're a greedy little bastard, you know that?"

When he finally got the cloth back and dropped it into the water, he felt the liquid carefully. Frowning, he poured it out and put fresh cold water in. Swirling the washcloths in the filling sink, he waited until he was satisfied and stopped the faucet.

The smooth as silk voice sliced through the hot mud that was oozing in Martin's brain. A name formed, bringing a mental image of two fired-up brown eyes flashing in a tanned face. A face he knew and trusted. God, his mouth was dry. He needed more ice. He opened his mouth and waited, confident that Danny would come through.

Nothing happened.

Frowning, he forced his throbbing eyes open. He choked down a rising wave of nausea and eyed pale walls through what seemed to be a waterfall. There was no brown blurry figure beside the bed. There was no voice in the storm. Where was he? What was wrong? Panic rose up as flashes of an alley and a sinister body appeared. His chest began to heave as his breathing became more labored. His mouth was on fire and he needed those flames extinguished. He saw something darker than the swimming pale walls moving. He was desperate now, in dire need of more cold ice.

"Aw, hell," Danny hissed, as now he not only had the pink tongue facing him but two sad blue eyes as well. They darted around, in a frenzied state. "What's wrong?" He saw the heaving chest under the oversized hospital gown and the panic flitting into the lost fevered gaze. "Hey, calm down!" He grabbed the flopping hand and held on, leaning closer. "You're in the hospital. You're pretty sick now, but you'll get better." He paused, watching some of the fear die down and the breathing start to regulate. Thinking of the panic attack coupled with the fever, he found a half smile, "Hey, partner, I'm right here. I got your back, okay?"

Danny was here. He wasn't alone. The bad man fled his tortured brain and his heart stopped jackhammering. His fried nerves tried to settle down and he relaxed a bit. He felt that hand take hold and felt that power. For several moments he floated, then the need returned.

Just as Danny slipped his hand free and turned to sit down, the mouth opened again and the tongue came out.

"No," he whispered, eye on the door, "That's it, you're flagged. This is gonna be the straw the breaks the camel's back, I know it."

He went back to his work, forcing himself not to look. It almost worked, until one sad, croaking collection of letters invaded him like a poisoned arrow.

"...pl...e...e..e...z...e...."

"Shit." He wrinkled his face, stood up and grabbed the spoon. "Okay, but this is it, I mean it."

The moans of pleasure at the fires being doused were short lived. Something was wrong. Someone was shoving sharp knives into his stomach. His body began to jerk and his eyes shot open, just before his stomach did an Olympic flip and fire exploded in his bowels.

"Shit!" Danny grabbed the kidney dish with his left hand, using his right to lift Martin's wet head as the watery residue reappeared. His nose told him that his ailing friend also had diarrhea. "I knew it. Goddammit, Martin... "

He waited until the episode was done and put the dish down. He grabbed some tissues and wiped the panting mouth, just as those sad blue eyes came up.

"...s...s...or...ry... Dan...neee..."

"I'm gonna charge you for overtime," he teased, then tugged on the gown that had slipped past the hot shoulder. "You're a mess, Harvard, you know that? Your ass is hanging out..."

Before the miserable pile of bones in the bed could muster a reply, he slipped away again, letting the black sea envelop him, just as a voice boomed from the doorway.

"You again!"

Danny winced and felt the beady, rat-like eyes bearing down on him. He eyed his hands on Martin's neck and side and thought quickly.

"He was having a nightmare, I didn't want his IV to get screwed up..."

"Nightmare!" she warned, eyeing the telltale evidence in the kidney dish. "Ice? You gave him ice after I told you he wasn't to have anything?"

"Look, I can explain..."

"Save it for the judge. Take your things and go. Your visit's done. He needs a bath and his sheets are soiled. Didn't I instruct you to leave at three?" She eyed the clock. "Twenty minutes ago. ICU visiting hours are very strict. You can return at five; I'm on until midnight," she ordered, pulling the curtains on the glass windows. She pulled his top sheet down and headed for the bathroom.

"How lucky can I get?" he mumbled, packing up his laptop. He winced visibly as she began to run water in the bathroom. The thought of those beefy, meat-cleaver-like hands on his body gave him a chill. He eyed his partner, half-naked and blissfully unaware in the bed. He said a quick prayer, hoping the injured agent remained asleep. He tapped the damp cheek, bending low. "Good thing you're unconscious, partner."

"What was that?" she snapped, putting the soapy water down.

"I said it's a good thing you're conscientious," Danny covered.

"Out!" she thundered, pointing to the door.

Danny's brisk strides took him very quickly out of the room and to the elevators, right past the silent observer. The eyes remained on the annoyed dark-haired agent until he disappeared into the elevator. Then the body, hidden in a long white lab coat, shuffled down the hall. Pausing by the door, the hand opened it a crack, just enough to see the pretender. A brief rush of euphoria rose at the sight of the helpless, naked, young man. Future plans mentally unfolded, giving the visitor another rush.

"Patience..."

The word slipped out as the disguised body moved down the hall to the empty room near the laundry cart. The waiting began. It didn't take long until the large, irritated nurse appeared, shoving the soiled sheets and gown into the bin. Then she headed for the phone and the body moved.

It would be so easy, with the pretender so helpless and weak. He was on his side, the fine features slightly rosy from fever. He smelled of soap and his wet hair shot up in spiked points. Curious, the fingers pinched the nostrils, watching the body struggle. The rush came again to have the power to make Martin Fitzgerald suffer. The weak body moved and twitched and the jaw gaped, seeking air. The hand retracted and moved lower, cupping the square jaw.

"Soon... my blue-eyed fly... very soon..."

Part Seven

Late Afternoon
Wet Willie's Bar Atlantic City, NJ

"Charming!" Vivian rolled her eyes, wincing at the bored young women dancing in two cages suspended from the ceiling. Between them, on a tiny stage, two nearly naked women were wrestling in what looked like oil of some kind. About a dozen seedy-looking patrons were sipping on warm beer as Tom Jones' voice moaned from speakers, calling for 'Delilah'.

"Oh, I don't know," Sam smirked, "Could be one of them is working her way through law school"

"Yeah, and I'm Halle Berry!" Johnson remarked, approaching a pair of muscular men standing in front of the stage. She flashed her badge and squinted in the dim light. "F.B.I. We're looking for Sal Cannelli."

"So's the IRS."

Sam and Vivian ignored the beefy man with the blond crew cut. His partner nodded to a small hallway to the right. Vivian eyed his head, bald save for a streak of pointed, black, stiff peaks.

"Spike?"

"I know you?"

"I'm psychic," Vivian deadpanned, "What can you tell me about Jimmy Ray Hollis?"

"He's dead," the blond answered.

"And you are? Show me some id," Sam held her hand out.

"Leo Curry," he replied, "Jimmy did odd jobs for Sal."

"When's the last time you saw him?"

"Sunday morning. I dropped him off at that flophouse he lived in. About three a.m. or so."

"How about you?" Vivian inquired of Spike, "Mister Henderson."

"I wasn't workin' on Saturday. I saw him Friday morning. He stopped by around 10, Sal had a job for him and Frankie."

"Is 'Frankie' here?" Sam pressed.

"No, he's in New York, his cousin died. He took a bus on Friday afternoon sometime."

"What kind of job did Jimmy and Frankie do for Sal?"

"Couple of the regulars were behind in payments... the usual," Spike offered.

"You ever see Jimmy with this guy?" Vivian showed the drawing of the suspect but neither man recognized him. She handed each a card with her name and phone number. "There's a missing child involved and if you hear anything about Jimmy or where he was Saturday night, you call."

"Yeah, sure," Leo nodded. "A kid huh? That's rough. Sal don't go for shit like that. I don't think Jimmy would be that dumb."

Sam winced as the tail end of a conversation hit her as she entered the tiny office. It was littered with dust, stacks of skin magazines and smelled like a urinal. She gingerly stepped inside, afraid to look to see what was sticking to her foot. A large man with greasy, stringy, dark hair and heavily lidded eyes was seemingly poured into the small chair.

"...don't care what the fuck Angelo said. Get your face out of that whore's snatch and find that prick. He owes me five bills. What the fuck am I paying you for?" He paused, eyeing his watch. "You have that money here by seven or I'll send Dogface after you!" He slammed the phone down and glanced up.

Sam glared at him when he openly 'appraised' her, taking a slow gaze from her feet to her face.

"Sorry, sister, you're too skinny, not enough tits and ass. Try Hot Shots across town. Joey likes his girls all bony..."

"Thanks for tip," the blond snapped, sweeping her hand across the desk and sending his greasy meatball sandwich to the floor along with papers and a book. "Now let me give you one. " She shoved her badge in front of his jowls. "You tell me what I need to know or you'll be somebody's new bitch tonight in Bayside," she drilled of the nearby prison.

"Christ, the Feds must be desperate," he repelled, "Hirin' mouthy, skinny broads...." He paused as another woman appeared.

"Jimmy Ray Hollis," Vivian announced, pulling out the morgue shot.

"He never did take a good picture," Sal eyed the photo and the two women. "F.B.I? For a junkie who went belly up? That don't add up."

"Was he working for you last Sunday morning?" Sam asked.

"No, I didn't see him... since... oh, sometime on Friday. We had a meeting that morning and I was late getting here. He was gettin' a lap dance from Peeps."

"Peeps?" Sam paused.

"Yeah, she does this thing in a box with baby chicks..."

"Spare me!" Spade dismissed, waving her hand, "Have you ever seen him with this man?"

"No, never seen him before. But Jimmy hustles all over town... or he did. He'd do anything for a fix."

"What do you know about 'Mustang'?" Vivian asked, again producing the drawing of their suspect.

"Doesn't ring a bell, sorry. Now if you ladies are finished? I got a business to run." Sal belched, sending a wave of garlic and nearly felling both women.

"This man is suspected in kidnapping a child. He called Jimmy sometime Saturday and they were meeting at the 'corral'. Now, I'm gonna ask you again," Vivian drilled, "We need to find this little girl. Tell me about Mustang."

"Look, I don't mess with kids, okay? That's for freaks. I don't know this 'Mustang'. Jimmy wasn't a saint, but he'd never do something like that. Could be this guy you're lookin' for knows him on some other level. The kid's got nothing to do with it."

"Where can we find this Frankie?" Sam asked.

"He's in New York, in the Bronx; his cousin got killed in a driveby... " He paused, "Matter of fact, he did time in Juvie Hall. Frankie Machelli. His old man's got a Pizza joint across from a church, Saint Anthony's."

"Thank you," Vivian managed, slipping a card across the cluttered desk.

Seven p.m
Manhattan

Something smelled wonderful.

He hurt too much to move, but just inhaling the rich aroma was enough. Then sounds interrupted his peaceful retreat, causing his pale features to crease in a frown. Beeping and buzzing; voices and motion; heels on a floor and Peter Jennings.

Peter Jennings?

He furrowed his brows, licked his dry lips and sighed heavily. Reluctantly and with great effort, he got both eyes half open. He blinked and cried out as light stabbed his eyes, sending a knife-like jolt clear through his skull.

"Hey? You alive in there, Harvard?"

Harvard?

Images of a cocky smile under smirking dark eyes appeared in his painful hell. He felt a hand on his shoulder and tried to control his ragged breathing. His head hurt and his eyes were throbbing. He moved his back and found that just about everything hurt, especially his leg. He decided that moving wasn't a good idea and slumped. Just the brief effort had him gasping.

"Your ass is hanging out again," Danny teased, watching signs of life slowly returning, "and that ain't an ass that needs to be showcased, comprende?"

"...fuck... off..."

"He's baaaack," The dark-eyed man chimed, hearing the peppery tongue, "How about if we sit you up and get some food in you?"

"We?" Martin chuffed, shoving the hand away. "Don't be touching me. I hate 'touchy feely' types."

"I know," Danny chuckled, ruffling the damp spiky brown hair and laughing outright when a string of colorful curses sailed through the air. Despite the weaker man's feeble protest, he eased him up and pressed the button, causing the head of the bed to rise. "There, that's better. Man, you look like shit."

"Who's asking you to stay?" Fitzgerald growled, blinking and swaying slightly, "Isn't there some unfortunate woman you can go play with? What happened to Miss Fish Sticks?"

"That's Miss Long Island Fish Company to you!" Taylor grinned, thinking of the 'ample' young woman. "And she sure can get my gills worked up. She does a thing with her teeth that..."

"Stop!" Martin's hand came up. "You want me to throw up again? What time it is?"

"Dinnertime!" Danny pushed the stand over to the bed and lifted a mustard colored lid, revealing a rather bland assortment. "Now doesn't that look good? Broth, Apple juice, custard and..."

"Shimmering shit!" Martin wrinkled his nose, poking at the yellow jello. "I'm not eating it." He lifted his face and angled it, seeing something on the bedstand. Then that wonderful aroma assaulted him again. "Chinese? You got won ton soup and... and..."

"Two egg rolls, pepper steak and fried rice."

"A real partner would share," Martin tried, casting his best blues on the other man.

"You talking about my dinner or my date?"

"I don't do threesomes, " Martin grinned, "even with Miss Fish Sticks."

"She was nice girl; you didn't understand her," Danny defended, standing by as a shaky hand lifted the soupspoon.

"You touch my wrist and I'll hurt you!" Fitzgerald warned, watching a wavering hand approach. "She thought you were Elizabeth Taylor's son."

"Okay, so she's not a rocket scientist," Danny admitted, then his face turned serious as the spoon halted halfway, the patient's face froze and the eyes were lost in time. "Martin? You okay?"

"...Bugs..."

Danny frowned at the trancelike voice and eased the spoon from the pliable fingers. He placed it back in the bowl and waved a hand in front of the unblinking eyes. "Hey... earth to Martin. Come on man, you're scaring me." He shook the bare slip of shoulder where the gown fell down again and got a sharp gasp.

Martin's eyes darted around the room and his breath came in pants. This wasn't an alley. He wasn't lying on the filthy ground. He heard a voice and turned, seeking out reassurance. His eyes caught the pale walls, a window and a television.

Hospital.

"How'd I get here?"

"They just okayed you to be moved from ICU. You were there all day. You got bit by a spider and turns out your allergic." He saw the confused face puzzle up and a hand rub the knee of the injured leg. "Yeah, down by that ankle. Nasty sucker. Doc says you'll be fine in a few weeks. You need to rest or you'll get sick again. What about bugs?" Danny pressed, recalling his friend's desperate plea by the ambulance.

"He... had... bugs... uh... blue coveralls... bugs... an alley..."

"You got mugged," the dark-eyed agent updated. Then his voice became tinged with anger, "Bastard hit you when you were down. You ducked inside the alley to puke and he nailed you."

Martin sat back, closed his eyes and rubbed them. He tried to think of details. A face, a color, anything, but all he saw was that uniform and a bug. He remembered hearing Danny's voice and recalled fleeting images of an ambulance ride. The dark-eyed man had never left his side.

"I'm sorry," Danny hissed, gripping the rails.

"For what? You didn't mug me!" Martin shot back, opening his eyes. He saw guilt cresting the handsome man's face and didn't like it. "Don't go there, Danny."

"I shouldn't have left you. I should have called Jack and told him to push the meeting off. You were so dizzy and sick." He sighed hard and caught movement from his side vision. "HEY!" He slapped the hand that had managed to snake through the rails and was nearly picking up his dinner.

"Aw, hell!" Martin groused, retracting his hand, "You weren't eating it, it's getting cold. How 'bout we switch?"

"How 'bout you eat that or I'll call in Godzilla. She'll give you another bath."

"Bastard!" Martin gruffed lightly, recalling the evil nurse's hands all too well.

The two men ate quietly. Danny was glad Martin finished his meal and seemed to be getting better. He filled him in on Vivian's cold case and updated him on what Jack had found out about the missing nun. A nurse arrived, took Martin's vitals and gave him medicine. The drugs caused the weak man's eyes to begin to drift. Danny was just refilling the thirsty man's water pitcher when the phone rang.

"Taylor." He paused, nodding his head and eyeing his partner. "I'd say he's feeling better. He's cursing at me. No, nothing yet," he noted of the question about the State Department's call. "I talked to Joe McKeever. He said he'll check through their records but it might take awhile. Little blonde girls are the most popular grabs." He thought on his conversation with the NYPD detective who investigated child porn rings. "Plus, it could be our boy Hughes isn't a local. I talked to Scotland Yard, they're running a check too ."

"Good work," Malone gruffed. "Okay, finish up there," he sent back, eyeing the traffic. "Meet me at the Harrison's. We need to update them. Then we're meeting Vivian and Sam at Casey's," he said of a diner they all knew. "We can compare notes. Put Martin on. "

"He's asleep." Danny eased the bed down and juggled the phone on his shoulder as he pulled the blanket up. "Yeah," he nodded as Jack gave him the address, "I know where that is, I'll see you in fifteen minutes."

He hung up and cleaned up, throwing his used containers in a plastic bag and tying it before placing it in the trash. He packed up his laptop, checked his cell phone and then got his short leather jacket on. He heard a noise and saw the patient's fist curling up. His eyes traveled north and saw that Fitzgerald's fine features were twisted.

"Shit!" He put the computer down and moved. He hated leaving him until Jean Fitzgerald arrived. He'd spoken with Martin's mother, who was on her way over. She was due in any minute. The nightmares seem to plague the fevered man as soon as he fell asleep.

"Easy partner," he soothed, laying a hand on the blanketed chest. The features righted, the breathing evened out and the fingers uncurled. "Good," he pronounced as two blue eyes cracked open. "Your mom's on her way. I gotta go meet Jack." He watched the damp head nod and the lips parted. "What?"

"...don't... remember much..." Martin managed, his tongue not coordinated. The drugs were strong. "...but... know ... you... were... there... here... watching... back..." With Herculean effort he got his hand up and reached over, fumbling in an attempt to find Danny's hand.

"Now who's 'touchy-feely'?" the dark eyed man teased with a charming smile. He took the hand and gave a solid brotherhood grip, before laying it down on the blanket again. "You get some sleep, Sundance, I'll always have your back."

She paused in the doorway, watching the curious scene. Finally, the tall, dark, handsome young man turned to face her.

"I didn't want to disturb you." She crossed the room, put her coat and handbag on the vacant chair and smiled at him. "I'm Jean Fitzgerald. I'd know you anywhere," she offered in sincerity, "Martin speaks about you all the time. You've made a great impression on him."

"Mrs. Fitzgerald, you have great timing." He returned the smile, then shook the hand of the attractive petite blond woman who had the same emotive blue eyes as his partner. "He's doing much better. And it's a real pleasure to meet you, too."

"The nurses told me you've been by his side since he collapsed. I'm so very grateful."

"Hey, that's what partners are for, right? I got Harvard broke in just right. I can't afford to lose him and start breakin' in another rookie."

"You're far too modest, Danny, and this mother is glad her boy has such a fine man for a partner. Thank you."

"You're welcome. I hate to rush, but I gotta meet Jack. I just filled his water pitcher. He needs to drink as much as you can get in him."

"Okay and thanks again, Danny, for everything."

"Ah," he tossed with another winning grin, "The kid needs somebody to look out for him, right?"

"Right!" She returned the smile and kept her eyes on the young man until he left.

Nine p.m
Casey's Diner

"No forwarding address?" Sam frowned, backing up slightly as the stout waitress deposited four cups of coffee and a cheeseburger platter.

"That's what the realtor said." Jack took a large bite of his sandwich, using a napkin to wipe his mouth.

"Turns out that losing that little girl busted up the marriage. Mr. Harrison never got over it. The neighbor," Danny flipped through his notes, "Mrs. Riemer, said that they separated about six months after she disappeared. Mrs. Harrison lived in the house until about eight months ago. Then she sold it."

"What about Mister Harrison?" Vivian asked, stirring cream into her coffee.

"I've got DMV checking," Jack muffled, spearing three fries and dipping them in ketchup. "He was a lot older than she. He's close to fifty-five. The neighbor thinks he retired and moved up north. New England someplace."

"How'd you guys make out?" Danny asked, taking the pickle from Jack's plate, "Anything on the stiff?"

They spent a half-hour comparing notes and offering suggestions to each case. Jack flagged the waitress and got the check. He tossed a five on the table for a tip and made his way to the register.

"You look beat, boss, heading home?" Danny asked.

"Later. I got one more stop." He paused. "You two head to Saint Anthony's tomorrow. Find this 'Frankie'. I got a hunch he's hiding something. Dead cousin or not, his timing is too convenient. Danny, I want you to follow up on Mrs. Harrison. She's got a sister in New Jersey, near Newark. Talk to her. We'll meet in Martin's room at noon."

Jean was just returning from the bathroom when the door opened. She smiled and crossed the room, extending her hand.

"Hello, Jack. It's nice to see you again."

"Same here, Jean. How's our boy?"

"Better. His fever's down and he had another treatment in that oxygen chamber. The doctor feels confident that he might be released the day after tomorrow. He needs some more wound care treatments on the ankle and he's still in some pain."

"He sleepin' okay?" Jack wandered to the bed, eyeing the distressed face.

"No, he seems to have nightmares. He was calling for Danny." She stood by the bed and observed the concern on Malone's face. Despite her husband's wrath, she liked Jack Malone and that only infuriated Victor even more. "How are Marie and the girls?"

"Good, real good. They grow so fast."

"That's so true," she noted, brushing Martin's fevered face with a cloth. "But eight or twenty-eight, they still need 'Mom'." She smiled as Martin sighed and mumbled in his sleep. "Are you thirsty, sweetheart?" The damp head nodded and she lifted the mug, nuzzling the straw to his lips. Satisfied when half the mug disappeared, she brushed her fingers through his hair and waited until he drifted off.

He was in the cave again. It was dark and cold. The smell of the dank dark place mingled with another smell.

Death.

He stumbled and ran, gasping and choking as sweat poured off of him. The walls closed in and the ceiling dropped down. He couldn't go any further and he couldn't back up. His chest was pressed against the cave wall, which was dripping in blood. A voice was calling to him for help. It was Danny.

"Where are you? I'm down, man... I got hit... Martin... Martin..."

He couldn't move.

He couldn't breathe.

He was trapped.

Blood poured down the walls. Danny's blood. It covered his face and neck.

He opened his mouth to scream and a thousand spiders dropped down, invading his mouth, nose and eyes.

"Hey!" Jack shot out of the chair and grabbed the flailing arms. Martin's mouth was open but no air was coming out. "What the fuck's wrong?" he fumbled, shaking the damp shoulders. "Wake up." Frustrated at the lack of reply and worried about the odd sucking sound, he slapped the nightmare-bound soul's face. Two eyes came open and a rush of air tumbled forth. "Christ, Junior, you're a mess," he grumbled, keeping his hands on the confused man's shoulders. Martin was trembling badly. Finally, he calmed down and Jack backed off.

Martin focused and the cave melted, taking the spiders with it. It was a grisly image and he had trouble shaking it off.

"Water?" Jack offered, not sure how to proceed.

"Whiskey?" Martin croaked and heard a chuckle.

"Sorry, Junior," Malone sympathized, handing the shaken man a mug of water. "Whiskey and IV's don't mix. Want to talk about it?" he inquired of the dream.

"I was stuck in that cave again... trapped... Danny..." He paused, sipping and feeling a gnawing inside, "was dead... his blood was running down the walls... all over me... then spiders came."

"Jesus," Jack twitched.

Martin finished his water and his eyes caught the numbers on Jack's watch.

"You sleepwalking?" he asked, wondering about the bedside vigil.

"I happened to be in the neighborhood." Jack shifted uncomfortably.

"At midnight?" Martin sent back, aware of just how and why his boss was here. He saw the casual shrug and shook his head, "You're a shitty liar, Jack."

Malone eyed his watch and updated Martin on the case. He was nearly done when a nurse appeared. She put something in Martin's IV and gave his shoulder a pat.

"It's something a little stronger. You'll sleep right through, no bad dreams."

"Thanks," Martin nodded.

He began to blink almost immediately and Jack got his coat on. He waited until the younger man was asleep and headed for the door. A disembodied croak caught up to him.

"...Ja..ck..."

He turned, scanning the darkened room. The eyes didn't open, but a single hand came up.

"...tha..nks..."

"See you tomorrow, Junior," he sent back, waiting a few seconds for the young man to drift off. Then he slipped out into the hall, heading for the elevator.

9 a.m.
Our Lady of Grace

Jack stirred sugar in the ceramic mug of coffee and sipped thoughtfully, eyeing the overcast sky. He rubbed his eyes, still fighting off the weariness. One man down left team shorthanded and two cases were splitting them further. It seemed he'd just about gotten home, answered voicemails and emails, and then the alarm went off at 6 a.m.

"Jack?"

"Sister, thanks for coming," he nodded to both nuns. The administrator, Sister Catherine, had gone to find Sister Claire, who was a friend to the missing nun.

"Have you found anything new that might help us find Sister Michael?" the middle aged nun inquired.

"Maybe," Jack replied, sipping his coffee. "As you know, Sister Michael went into town several times a week. We checked the library, but they didn't recognize her. It turns out she was spending the afternoons in the gazebo in the park. She was meeting a man there —"

"No, I can't believe that!" Sister Claire's voice rose in indignation.

"Hold on, Sister, don't put words in my mouth," Malone shot back, "They would talk for awhile, then he'd leave. We have a witness who saw them meet several times. This man she was with was tall and well built, a white man, but that's all we know. He gave her papers of some kind and she seemed upset."

"I'm stunned," Sister Catherine admitted. "I had no idea. She's a very private person. She's never mentioned any family. She doesn't send any letters or make calls."

"Speaking of calls, Sister Claire, you mentioned she received a call about a month ago? Long distance?" He paused and the nun began to nod her head. "She was upset?"

"Very, but she wouldn't talk about it." She frowned, "Do you think it's connected."

"At this point, Sister, I'm looking for all possibilities. We're trying to trace that call. So far, the State Department can't regionalize it. Just that it came from Costa Rica."

"Maybe it was Father Santiago? I know she missed him terribly," Sister Claire admitted.

"We can't seem to track him down," Malone issued, "But the State Department is having a hard time with the Costa Rican Government. It's a slow process."

"Jack, you asked to see the staff again? They're in the cafeteria."

"Thanks, Sister Catherine." He rose, finished his coffee and paused by the other nun. "Sister Claire, if you think of anything, anything at all, you call me. My cell phone is on here, too."

"I will," she vowed, taking the card.

10 a.m.
St Anthony's Church Bronx,
New York

Vivian paused outside the rectory of the church. Her dark eyes went from the parking lot of the church to across the street. She saw the blonde's head swiveling as well, trying to find the pizza shop that Sal mentioned.

"Bella's," Sam nodded at the tiny Italian eatery at the corner, "That's got to be it."

"Let's hope our boy Frankie is there," Vivian replied, just as her phone rang. "Hello? No, we just got done talking to the priest, Jack."

"Anything on Hollis's place in AC?" he asked, taking the exit off Route 9.

"No, it was a mess, but nothing we can use. The landlord doesn't see him much. The locals are gonna update us if they find anything. How'd you make out?"

"Not much better," he admitted, "I'm gonna meet Danny at this hotel off Route 9. Then we're heading back into town. I talked to Jean this morning, Martin seems better."

"That's good. We still set for this afternoon?" she asked, eyeing the traffic on the street before crossing.

"Yeah, one o'clock. Call me if you get anything from Frankie."

"Will do." She flipped the phone shut as they entered the small pizza shop.

10:30 a.m.
Ivyland Inn
Outside Tarrytown, NY

"Whadda we got?"

"Hey boss." Danny nodded to the empty seat in the small lobby of the tiny hotel, "Not much. They get mostly one-nighters — truckers passing through and an occasional stranded motorist. So far, nothing about our mystery man sticks out. I ran down the males that registered over the last few months. It's gonna take awhile to track them through DMV. Most of them are truckers."

Malone sighed hard and scanned the list provided by the younger man. Years of experience and a great 'gut' sense told him they'd find no answers here. He sat down, thinking on the strange story the cleaning man had told.

"What the hell was she doing?" he murmured.

"It could be our mystery man is from the city. These meetings were timed...precise. He's only an hour away."

"Timed," Malone nodded, "So whoever it is isn't a '9 to 5' guy. These meetings were in the afternoon, same time."

"Not a desk jockey," Danny returned, "It has to be somebody with their own business who can call his hours."

"Unless he's retired. Either way, you're right. He's calling his own hours. Let's go."

"Where to?" Danny held the door.

"Let's go see Helen Bacon," he said, referring to the State Department Employee, "I want to see what she has on Father Paulo Santiago."

10:30 a.m.
Bella's Pizzeria

"Okay, Mister Machelli, let's quit fooling around." Sam glared at the wiry man behind the counter. The red apron bearing the word 'Bella's' was smudged with flour. The fifty-five-year-old owner was clearly no fan of anything or anyone toting a badge.

"I told ya, I ain't seen Frankie in a couple weeks. He don't live here no more," Gus Machelli spat back. It wasn't bad enough to have cops hassling him, now he had a fed with a skirt up his back.

"He was here for your nephew's funeral. We talked to the priest at St. Anthony's and he told us how upset Frankie was."

"I musta missed him," Gus retorted, "I got to the Mass late and left as soon as the casket came out. I had customers."

"Tight family," Sam hissed, "That's so refreshing."

"Ya don't live here, doll, don't tell me about my family!"

"Doll?" Vivian mouthed to her partner, raising an eyebrow.

"Listen up, Macho man, I'm only going to say this once," Spade shot back, " We have a little girl missing and if you're withholding evidence, you'll be flippin' dough at the house of many doors. Now I'm going to ask you again. Where is your son?"

A long stream of Italian caused both agents to turn as a slightly stout, neatly dressed woman with short graying hair stepped in from the kitchen. She and Machelli spoke rapidly, gesturing wildly with their hands.

"Excuse me, Ma'am?" Vivian stepped up, flashing her badge, "Would you be Mrs. Machelli?"

"Yes, that's my cross to bear..." she sighed heavily. "Rose Machelli. My boy was here for Dominic's funeral. So sad." She paused to bless herself. "His mother is devastated. Frankie wasn't himself. He was very upset."

"You talk too much!" Gus warned, grabbing her arm.

"I should have stopped before saying 'I do'," she sent back, shoving him.

"That's enough!" Sam interjected, putting her body between them. "You settle down or I'll call the NYPD. Now where is he?"

"He left early... I was getting dressed for Mass," the mother noted. "I always go to the six a.m. service. I heard the door slam and saw him heading up the street."

"Do you have any idea where he went?" Vivian asked.

"He wasn't always in trouble. He was a good boy," She recalled, "but this neighborhood... these times we live in..."

"I know," Vivian sympathized, "I have a twelve-year-old boy. It's not easy."

"No," Rose sighed hard. "He hasn't talked much since he came back, but I know he got a phone call and got upset. He was nervous... pacing... he might be with those people... he does jobs for..." She sat down on a stool with cracked red vinyl. "They're not nice people. Maybe he's hiding there. This little girl, my Frankie wouldn't hurt a little girl. He's done a lot of things I'm not proud of, but a little girl... no... not him."

"We don't think he's involved in that," Vivian reassured, "But he might know who this man is," She showed the likeness. "He's the one we think has Abby Harrison."

"Harrison?" She narrowed her eyes. "I think I remember that... a little blond girl who got taken from the Zoo?"

"Yes, that's the case we're working on. If you remember anything, if Frankie calls or you hear from a neighbor or customer who's seen him, you call me, okay?" Vivian handed her the card.

"Yes. You might check DiVito's Cleaners. The owner, Johnny B, he's the man who Frankie does errands for sometimes."

They got back in the car and noted the address for the cleaners, supplied by Mrs. Machelli. Vivian saw Sam eyeing the kids playing ball in the schoolyard and then the older ones, hanging on the corner, drinking and smoking.

"I don't know how you do it," the blonde supplied, "I'd be scared to death."

"They don't come with a warranty," Vivian replied, "There is no blueprint. You do your best, and pray a lot."

"Not me," Sam shook her blonde head, "If I ever get that urge, I'll get a cat."

Noon
State Department Office
Manhattan

"Sorry, the governor's meeting ran over. I hope you weren't waiting long."

"No," Jack nodded to the slim, attractive, silver-haired woman. He'd known Helen for years and she had a gift for cutting through red tape. "I think you've met Danny before?"

"Great smile," she nodded, shaking the handsome agent's hand. "Them I don't forget. What can I do for you?"

"Sister Michael? The nun I spoke with you about?" Danny prodded.

"Ah... the former Francesca Alvarez." She shifted a pile of folders from the crowded desk and pulled one out. She moved to the oval table in the corner and the two men followed. She put the folder down and flipped it open. "Nothing much I'm afraid. She seemed to be very good at her job. Father Paulo is well thought of down there, from what I gathered from my conversation with the Ambassador. The priest left her in charge usually when he went into the mountains."

"Any luck on finding him?" Danny asked, eyeing a photo of the priest.

"Well," she moved back to her desk, put her glasses on and ripped a page from the legal pad by the phone. "I got a call while I was gone. I jotted down the information from my voicemail. It was from Carlos Rivera. He used to work for Father Santiago and now lives in San Diego."

"Worked for him how?" Jack asked.

"A lay missionary. He came back to the states when his wife became ill. Anyhow, his message indicates that he's not been able to reach the priest. That worried him. Apparently they spoke weekly. It's been over a month."

"Let's get him on the phone." Jack sat down by the triangular speaker phone.

"Mister Rivera? It's Helen Bacon returning your call. I'm with two F.B.I agents, Jack Malone and Daniel Taylor. Can I put you on the speaker phone?" She nodded, pressed a green button and hung up. "Still with us?"

"Yes."

"Mister Rivera? Jack Malone here. What can you tell me about Father Santiago? When was the last time you spoke to him?"

"Not for awhile. I've been very upset. My wife is so ill and I have been neglectful about checking on Paulo. It's been several weeks. I noticed when the new calendar turned. So the last few days I've been calling some of the others..."

"Others?" Danny asked.

"Yes, Father had a network of six lay missionaries like myself. They still work down there. No one has seen him. Today I got a call from Javier Gutierrez, he heard that Paulo was taken prisoner by the rebels."

"Damn," Jack sat back, fisting a hand. "When?"

"Information is sketchy... but the last time anyone saw him was about, oh... five weeks or so. He was giving medical aide to some wounded soldiers."

Danny began writing, flipping through his notes and then writing some more. He looked at the squawk box and frowned.

"Mister Rivera, do you remember Sister Michael?"

"Yes, a lovely woman. So devoted to her work. I heard that she is missing as well."

"About five days now," Jack sent back. "I'm sure in his line of work, Father Paulo had more than a few enemies?"

"Yes, he has had some rather nasty encounters with the rebels. He's been taken before, beaten and threatened. But never this long..."

"Was she ever with Father Santiago when he was accosted by these rebels? Could she have witnessed something?"

"You think they are connected?" the missionary asked.

"I don't know, but I think we need to find out."

"Off the top of my head, I'd say no. Sister usually remained behind at the church. But I will make some calls and get back to you."

"That'd be great, Mister Rivera, we need all the help we can get. You contact Helen, she'll find me."

"I will be happy to help."

"Oh, and Mister Rivera," Danny added, "a few prayers wouldn't hurt."

Jack rose and walked with Danny and Helen towards her desk.

"That ties in," Danny said, flipping through his notes, "You remember Sister Claire saying Sister Michael got a call?"

"Long distance," Jack nodded, "Had her rattled."

"Yeah, just over a month ago..." Danny eyed his boss. "I think it's connected. Maybe he told her something on the phone. Could be somebody down there got wind of it and she was taken before she could talk."

"I don't know, Danny," Helen sat down, raking a hand through her short hair, "A nun? It's risky, coming up here and pulling that off."

"Maybe," Jack agreed, "but it worked. She's gone. Keep us posted."

"Will do Jack," she agreed.

One p.m.
Fourth Floor

"Shhh!"

"Don't shush me, Sam, it's not a library."

"He's sleeping, Jack."

"And I'm on the clock. He can sleep later."

"What's that smell?"

"My new cologne. Like it?"

"Eau de Puke, Taylor, very nice."

"At least my hair is the color I was born with, Samantha... OW!"

While his four teammates argued, jostled and kibitzed around the bed, the recovering man drank in every word. For years he'd been the loner, working long hours on his own, going home to an empty apartment. He'd never realized just how much he'd missed this... until now. Funny, missing something you never had. These last couple days, lying alone in a hospital without those voices, had spoke volumes.

"Did you do that?"

"Why am I the first person you accuse?"

"'Cause that has your crooked signature all over it, Danny."

"Listen, Jack, I can explain. There I was, burning the midnight oil, toiling away without any though to my own health," Danny paused when both women snorted and rolled their eyes, "Shut up. Where was I?"

"Chained to a desk... starving..." Malone grunted, rolling his eyes.

"Oh yeah. Thanks," the dark head bobbed. "I didn't take time to eat —"

"I thought I saw blue snow," Vivian inserted, shaking her head.

"So rather than leave my work, and the phone, waiting on a case-breaking call, to eat, I remembered the cake. My man Harvard wouldn't mind."

"You ate half of it," Malone's voice rose.

"You're a pig!" Vivian lifted the lid and eyed the remaining confection.

"Yeah but I left the good part," Danny nodded. "I left his jewels intact."

Jack was about to reply when he saw the body's lips twitch. He moved closer, narrowing his eyes and scanning the pale features of Martin Fitzgerald. He winked and nodded, indicating to his team that the 'poor suffering soul' wasn't as asleep as they thought.

"Well, it's a shame Martin isn't awake." Jack leaned over the rail, watching the young man carefully. "I was hoping we could have some cake with him," he paused dramatically, "before Nurse Ratchett comes in to do his enema."

They all exploded in laughter, with Danny clapping his hands when two indignant blue eyes popped open.

"You're twisted, Jack."

"Hey!" Sam smiled, "How are you?"

"We miss you!" Vivian added, tugging his blue pajamas. "Nice... Kenneth Cole..."

"My mom brought them."

"Very David Niven," Jack supplied, eyeing the dark blue robe nearby.

"Who?" Martin asked, only to get swatted.

"Don't get fresh!" Vivian teased, pushing the button to raise the bed. "You feel like some cake?"

"Is it chocolate?" Martin eyed the half-rectangle, "or was it chocolate."

"There's plenty there. It would have gone stale and that would be a waste of money. Hard earned money. So I sacrificed and —"

"Shut up, Danny!" Martin held his hand up. "You got milk?"

"Right here," Sam pulled out a pint and opened it, put a straw inside and put it on the tray in front of the patient.

"When you going home?" Jack asked, slicing a piece of cake.

"Tomorrow. My mom's picking me up. The doc says I can't work for a few weeks. He's worried about the leg. I need to rest and make sure it gets ointment and heals right. It's a deep wound. That little devil packs a mean punch."

"Looks like you two have something in common," Jack teased.

"Home of the whopper," Martin read the piece of cake before him. Then he saw the image. "Where'd you get this?" he laughed.

"My idea!" Danny thumped his chest, "Like it?"

"Yeah, but you didn't have to do that. I'm surprised you didn't get a 'Spiderman' cake. I'm not that sick."

"It's not that kind of a cake," Vivian moved closer.

"No?" Martin eyed the odd grins, "What kind is it?"

"Well, if you look here," Jack pointed to the empty space. "It should say Congratulations Martin."

"That went down real easy," Danny laughed, ruffling the light brown hair of his partner. "Hey, man, you made the team!"

"No shit!" Martin spun his head to where Malone was grinning, "That was what Craddock wanted?"

"Six month review, you passed. Don't screw up the next twelve. I hate extra paperwork."

"I'm touched," Martin deadpanned, reading easily between Malone's words. "Listen, thanks. You didn't have to do this. I never realized just how much four letters could mean."

"Letters?" Sam asked, taking a large piece of cake.

"T-E-A-M. I rode solo for so long..." he mused, pausing to swallow some cake. "I had no idea how much working with a solid team," he eyed the group, thinking on the ambulance ride and his partner's support, "friends, could mean. Thanks"

Danny winked at Jack, each of them seeing how Martin was struggling. They updated him on the cases and ate the cake, then it was time to go.

"Duty calls," Jack announced. "You stick to those orders. Get your ass back in gear, okay?"

"Got it, boss."

"I guess they're okay," Taylor eyed the expensive sleepwear, "but I miss your scrawny ass hanging out."

"So that's why you were over here so much!" Sam winked at Martin.

"Enough! You bums have a job to get back to. Martin," he nodded, "you want any more of this?"

"Nah, give it to the nurses."

"I'll do that," Danny took the cake.

"Hey."

They all turned at the door, spotting the slim man's half-grin. His hair was spiky and sticking up and his color was awful, but his eyes had the light again. The watched the Adam's apple dive twice before the lips parted.

"Thanks."

Eight p.m.
Maria's Cafe

"Hey handsome, how 'bout you and me taking a shower?"

Danny's lips curved into a smile and he swallowed the red beans and rice he was eating. He wiped his mouth and turned, just as he was hugged. The crowded Cuban cafe was a favorite of the locals in the neighborhood. He came here a couple of times a week, ensuring at least twice of getting a good meal.

"Carmen? How are you? I thought you were working second shift at the hospital," he quizzed of his fiftyish neighbor who was a nurse. The widow smiled and cupped his chin.

"Honey, if I had that face to come home to I'd have to quit my jobs."

Danny blushed and smiled, then his face puzzled.

"Sit down. Have you eaten?"

"I'm getting takeout, but thanks," she nodded.

"Jobs? As in more than one?"

"Yes, you can't believe my luck. You know how much it means to me to have Antonio go to college. I've been saving hard but the money, it goes like water. So about... oh... six weeks ago I'd say, I run into this guy in CCU. A psychologist. Turns out he works with firemen and cops, you know, helping them get over traumas. You remember that fire a few years back? Five firemen were killed. It was a warehouse? One lived..."

"Yeah. He had to retire, I think?" The dark eyes narrowed as they recalled the news story.

"Yeah, he's back working for a small town upstate. Thanks to this doctor, he got over the guilt."

"Guilt?"

"Survivor's guilt, they call it. Anyway, this doctor, he's good." She fished into her purse and pulled out a card. "I work for him from 9 to 3, three days a week. So I work Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, seven to seven at the hospital. Get this, he pays me fifteen dollars an hour to work in his office. That extra money, Danny, it's really coming in handy."

"I'll bet," the agent nodded, eyeing the name on the card, "Trauma, huh?"

"His specialty. Why? You have some dark secrets to shed?"

"No, but...." he paused, thinking of the troubled blue eyes he'd experienced in the cave. Then he looked at the name again. "Hey, wait a minute, I think I know this guy. Hawke..."

"That's his nickname, he used to be cop."

"Was he!" Danny nodded, "One of NYPD's finest. He's got a lot of citations. He's well liked and very well respected."

"Number ten!"

"Hey, that's my order. I gotta run, lover." She kissed his cheek. "You take care and eat more! You're too thin!"

"See you, Carmen, and thanks!" He watched until the door swung closed and eyed the card again. He flipped out his cell phone and made the call.

"Hello?"

"Hey, man, how's the leg?"

"Sore," Martin admitted. "You sure it was a spider and not a shark?"

"You busy tomorrow night? I was gonna come over and bring some pizza."

"Well let me check my schedule," Fitzgerald noted sarcastically, "Seven okay?"

"Yeah, I got something important to show you."

"What's her name?"

"Very funny!" Danny shot back, "I gotta go, good luck tomorrow."

"Thanks."

Five days later
Manhattan Upper East Side

Martin rubbed his sweaty palms again on the knees of his pants. He tugged at the tie and eyed the clock. He cleared his throat and pulled the card out, eyeing the name and the lettering. Danny's heartfelt talk over pizza the night he came home had struck home. The loyal agent had kept his word, not revealing to Jack or the others just how terrifying the incident in the cave had been. He was a good friend and a solid partner. What if the felon had been in the cave? What if, due to his panic attack, Danny had been injured or worse?

He shut his eyes, took several steadying breaths, and recalled the vivid nightmare that had been tormenting his nights. The same dream each time. That damned cave... the walls closing in... he can't move or breathe... Danny's scream... blood... so much blood... and the lifeless brown eyes.

"Are you alright?"

Martin choked and shot out of the chair, scaring the receptionist who backed up a few feet. His wayward eyes darted around the office, skimming the plants and pictures. There were no windows and no air. He tugged on the tie again and felt sweat forming on his face.

"Uh... I... uh..."

"You're a little nervous?" she prompted

"Yeah. Silly, huh?"

"No, not at all. He's a good man. He can help whatever is bothering you. Don't forget, whatever goes on that room is between the two of you. Pour your heart out, get rid of whatever is causing you to lose sleep." She saw the startled expression and took his hand. "Martin? Can I call you that?"

"Yeah, okay..."

"As a nurse, I would have recognized the signs of lack of sleep." She smiled and led him to the office, opening the door. "As a mother, I'm telling you this is a good decision, one that will help you chase away whatever demons are haunting you."

"I sure hope so."

"Sit down. Would you like something to drink?" She pointed to a small refrigerator.

"Coke?"

"Sure, here." She popped the top and handed the cold can to the nervous man. "The doctor will be right in. Better?"

"Yeah, thanks Mrs.... "

"Arnez, but you can call me Carmen, okay? Danny didn't tell me how cute you were."

"Danny talks too much!" Martin smiled, "Thanks."

"You'll do fine," she whispered, scooting out as the doctor came in.

Martin stood up and eyed the tall, lean man, clean-shaven including his head. The piercing blue eyes seem to look right through him. The handshake was firm and solid and Martin winced slightly.

"Shall we get started, Mister Fitzgerald?"

Journal Entry Three Casus belli

And so it has arrived, I stand on the battlefield, my armor solid. For all the months that I waited and prayed for this moment, I was not prepared. The sheer exhilaration that runs through my veins leaves me breathless. Of course, I have to be careful. Patience is a virtue, and for the penance to grow to fruition I must not rush. My little blue-eyed fly must heal. His broken wings must fly again, so the crash will be all the more painful. Those blue eyes will be void of the emotion that shimmers there now. They'll be dead eyes... dull and vacant. Those slim fingers will never be able to wash the blood of the martyrs away. Never... never... until I put him in Hell, where he belongs.

I will make sure to tell Danny Taylor just how very much Martin Fitzgerald will benefit from his suggestion. I do so love personal recommendations. The time invested in staking out his apartment was well spent. Little does he know that he was the key in luring the blue-eyed fly into the web. And his lovely neighbor, who has turned out to be an excellent receptionist, is icing on the cake.

He shut the journal, tucking it away safely in his bottom drawer. He locked the drawer and walked over to the burgundy leather sofa. He ran his hands over the very spot where the destruction of the pretender would take place. What the talent he possessed in his mind couldn't do, the drugs would.

With that, Doctor Peter Anthony Gibson took the videotape of the first session from the recorder hidden in the wall. Still seeing the hope in the trusting blue eyes that matched the tentative quiver in the shaken voice, he caressed the tape. He thought on the private movies he'd been watching all week. The slim body drenched in sweat, rising from the bed, gasping in pain. Twin blue eyes wide with fright, still fresh from the nightmares.

"Soon, very soon, Mister Fitzgerald," he vowed, crushing his fingers into a fist of vengeance.

Part Eight

Timeline: March 1978

Pete parked his car across the street and exhaled in annoyance. He watched from across the expanse of green lawn in front of the church. It was just past seven p.m. and he was sitting in his Dodge Charger listening to Styx on his 8 track player. He tapped his fingers impatientely on the steering wheel watching the doors.

"Come on sweet cheeks..." he muttered. How long could a bunch of prayers take?

He sat back and enjoyed the last of the joint he'd brought with him. He thought back on the first several dates they had. Careful not to strike to quickly, he was slowly luring the unsuspecting female into his lair. The first date was just to dazzle. Over pizza and later a walk through town, he'd charmed her. Date two was a bike ride and lunch by the lake. He'd kissed her on the lips once and just massaged her lower back gently. Their third outing was a concert in a coffee house in town. That ended with more serious kissing and his fingers caressing that pliable ass over the wool skirt she wore. Tonight he was planning on moving forward and by next weekend, he'd part those thighs and add another notch to his belt.

"Finally." He finished the joint and the ginger ale. He tossed two life savers in his mouth and got out of the car.

"Hi Pete!" Theresa greeted the handsome football star as she left the church.

As she walked towards the car, she felt as if her feet weren't on the ground. That this handsome, charming, intelligent football star even looked at her was unreal. That they were dating seemed to be a miracle. She waved as he walked around the car to her side.

"Hey. Come here..." he whispered huskily, pulling her close.

"Ummm..."

She moaned and parted her lips, allowing his tongue to explore. Her back was pressed against the car door and as he leaned in, his muscled thighs pressed hard against her soft skirted ones. She gasped as his right hand slipped passed the unbuttoned coat and captured her breast.

"No..." She turned away, flushing in confusion. It was wrong. It had to be, even if it felt good. She heard him hiss and saw a fist clench. "I'm sorry..."

"Don't blow it"

He listened to his inner voice and regained control. He tipped her chin up and kissed her forehead.

"No, I'm sorry," he oozed, burning blue sincerity into those trusting brown eyes. "How about pasta at Leonardo's? The movie house is just around the corner. The flick's at nine."

"Okay." She backed up and let him open the door.

He paused crossing around the trunk, still feeling that lush body pressed to his own.

"Soon, sweet cheeks..."

Theresa blinked and swayed, trying to find her way in the dark theater. She felt dizzy and warm and wondered if drinking the punch that Pete brought into the theater was a good idea. It was strawberry and very sweet. Maybe she should have eaten more dinner. She'd been too nervous to eat a whole plate of pasta in front of him so she nibbled a lot and ate mostly salad and some garlic bread.

She saw the back of his head and held onto the chair at the end of the row, slightly tipsy. She should have gotten water at the fountain. The garlic bread made her thirsty and he'd gotten popcorn once they arrived. That added to her thirst so she took some of the fruit drink he said he got from the farmer's market.

"Here, princess," he whispered, easing his arm around her as she sat down. He held the straw to her lips. "Drink. Good huh?"

"Yesh..." she sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. She was tired and it felt good snuggle.

"That's my girl," he put the strawberry wine contained in an emptied fruit jug at his feet. Twice he looked over and saw the halfmast eyes fighting. The lips parted slightly and he moved in. As his talented tongue went to work, he right hand slid under the sweater and up towards those glorious mounds of flesh.

""No..." she whispered sluggishly.

"Shhhh..." he soothed, kissing her again and moving his hand over that firm cup and beneath the cotton. He groaned and let his fingers work on her pink tip as she struggled weakly, moaning a little. Then he moved his hand out and down south. Across the knees and with slight pressure they gave way. The snake slithered quickly into the valley past the scant bit of cotton.

"Ohh... oh... P...P...eeee...te..." She groaned, trying to push him off.

"Easy baby, I won't hurt you," he whispered in her ear, biting the silky skin under the earlobe by her neck. His fingers continued to stroke and inch further inside. She fought weakly but began to pant, her hormones taking over. "That's my princess, that feels good, doesn't it? Just relax."

"...'kay..." She blinked hard, fighting the demon inside. This was wrong. She knew it was wrong but it felt good. She told her herself to close her legs but her body did the opposite. The electrical shocks below her waist caused her thighs to part even further. What was wrong? Why was she so tired? She wanted to sit up and push him away but couldn't and began to panic.

He felt the change in her and pulled back. He let the lolling head on his shoulder and kept his right hand on his own lap. The left hand snuck below her shoulder and lightly danced in even rhythm over and around the sweatered breast. He eyed the sleepy brunette and kissed her again, then began to suck on that tempting neck.

He crossed the fifty yard line and the end zone was in sight.

Thursday
Nine a.m.
Missing Persons HQ
Manhattan

"Malone"

Jack paused, eyes lifting off the massive amount of paperwork in front of him. His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head, straining against the phone. Light strands of music played a tune that he couldn't quite grasp. It was a children's song of some kind and sounded vaguely familiar.

"Is anybody there?" He snarled, annoyed at the chime-like music. "Stupid kid's prank." He hung the phone up and went back to his work.

"Dr. Gibson, you're nine o'clock is here."

"Thank you, Carmen, I'll be right out."

He waited until the woman hung up from the intercom and pulled the drawer open again. He lifted the lid and enjoyed the last stanza of 'Little Boy Blue'. Jack Malone's gruff voice was still echoing in his ear. Thinking on the devious plans ahead, he smiled and then chuckled. He stood up, walked to the wall and pressed the record button. The camera was hidden and trained on the individual on the other side. He reviewed his notes, nodding at the gradual progress gained over the last two weeks, since the first session. With every new one, his excitement grew as he thought on the week ahead. There was a lot to do but he was ready. Finally, the time had come to make Martin Fitzgerald and Jack Malone pay for their sins.

He paused at the doorway, casting his eyes on the photo there. Here in the inner sanctum where no one entered, he allowed himself to grieve. His fingers went over the glass, still haunted by the face beneath, forever preserved in color.

"Justice will be served," he vowed, already smelling the blood that would flow.

Martin stood up when the doctor stepped into the room.

"Good Morning."

"Good Morning, Martin." He paused to shake the young man's hand. His eyes raked over the handsome agent's face. He noted what he saw there, relaxed features, trusting eyes and confident grip and posture.

It was working.

Over the last two weeks, through a half dozen sessions, he'd gradually eased his way into the young man's pysche. Martin spoke of his childhood, his current problem and how they related. The incident in the cave was brought up. Today he was going to further explore that and add some changes of his own. His fingers were itching to ply that brain and plant the seeds of doubt. From those seedlings, the vine would grow, gripping the unsuspecting soul's mind until their was nothing left.

"You look well."

"Thanks," Martin nodded, "and I mean that. Since I've been coming here, I noticed a change. Before...I mean...after the thing in the cave with Danny. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I wasn't sleeping too good."

"Not to mention those nightmares you spoke of." The doctor kept his face stoic, his mind replying the wonderful sight of the thrashing sweaty body in the bed lost in the grips of terror.

"Yeah." Martin sat down on the couch. "But I haven't had one in over a week. I think I'm ready to go back to work."

"Hey, whose the doctor?" Gibson teased and watched those blue eyes crinkle up from the smile that Fitzgerald held.

"Sorry... I'm just so anxious."

"You've made excellent progress, but there are more issues to address. " He paused, eyeing the small refrigerator. "Would you like some water before we begin?"

"Yeah, I don't know why I get so thirsty in here." Martin took the small bottle of mineral water and twisted the top off, taking a good swig.

"On Friday, if you recall, I discussed hypnotherapy."

"Yeah, uh... two kinds... suggestive and regressive." Martin paused, more that a little fearful. "You're not gonna make me bark like a dog or anything?"

"You watch too much late night television" Gibson shook his head. "Both are vital tools of my trade. However in your case, I believe regressive hypnosis will be a key factor in your recovery. Something you buried many years ago in that cave, needs to be drawn out."

"I guess you're right," Martin drained the water, unaware he'd already consumed the 'elixir' that would begin his journey. "But I've been replaying that day. My dad took me back to the cave. I'd been having nightmares and he felt we needed to bit the head of the snake so to speak."

"And how did you feel?"

Martin shifted in the seat, his brows furrowed. How did he feel? What was buried down inside? Anger? Maybe a little. He remembered being upset that his father didn't listen to his objections. Scared? Hell yeah, hadn't he been lost in that cave just a week before. Nearly unconscious in a tiny hole, the walls scraping his face and arms. His small body covered in urine, sweat and mud. The images swirled in his mind and brought back too many painful memories. He didn't realized he'd conjured them up into one word, until it was airborne.

"Small."

"Really? Expand on that."

"Helpless, like a mouse in a trap. That's what I felt like. I couldn't move... I couldn't breathe..."

"And after, when you went home?" He observed the Adam's apple bobbing and the blue eyes darting. Coupled with the single fist curled into a know, it spelled anxiety. "Is that when the bad dreams started?"

"Yeah... I'd end up on the floor, throwing up... choking..." Martin sighed hard, raking a hand through his brown hair. "Scared my mom half to death. By Friday my dad had enough, decided to 'fix this nonsense once and for all'"

"But you didn't want to go, did you?" He noted that now both fists were clenched and there was a knot forming between the handsome agent's eyes.

"No... He wouldn't listen. He... said... he... said..."

"He said what?" He goaded.

"...that I was acting like a girl. Making a fuss and crying," Martin spat out in a contemptive sneer.

"Go on... what happened when you got into that cave?"

"I... uh... I..." Martin fought hard, seeing the movie reply. Grainy images of a little boy with wide saucer-like eyes following a bobbing yellow light. The walls began to shift, moving inward. The air grew short and he began to sweat. "I don't know..." he choked, swiping the wet drops.

"But you need to remember, or you'll be choked by that fear. Shall be proceed?"

"Okay," Martin paused, trying to reassure himself. "So I guess this is the part where you pull out a pendulum or swinging crystal?"

"There's that late night television again," Gibson moved to the doorway, hand on the light switch. "I want you to take your shoes off and stretch out on the couch." He paused, waiting for the patient to comply.

He turned the lights off and walked back over, taking a chair next to the sofa. He pushed the recorder and the sounds of rain falling filled the room.

"Close your eyes, Martin and breathe in and out, taking good long breaths. Relax. You're safe here. Let your limbs go. With every breath, let yourself relax deeper. That's it... good." He heard the breathing change and the exhalations were steady and sure. "As you listen to the rain falling, let your body go with it. See that beautiful forest with tall green trees. Follow the path, Martin, melt into the landscape."

It was easy. With every breath he took the room faded away. He could feel the rain around him, it seemed to enter his skin and fill his soul. The air was sweet and rich. He couldn't get enough of it. The doctor's voice faded away as he sank deeper into the wonderful stand of trees.

"Martin?"

Gibson lifted the young man's hand up and let it fall down again. The fine features were totally slack and the body limp and relaxed. He rose and turned the lights up. It had been easier than he planned, but then the tainted water helped. Drugs were a wonderful thing, especially those that haven't been approved by the FDA yet.

"Martin can you hear me?"

"Yes."

"Good." He nodded in approval at the toneless voice. "I want you to leave the forest now. You're in the car, going with your father on a trip. It's the Saturday after your unfortunate accident in the cave with your scout troop."

He smiled as the change began. Twin fists curled up and the light brown brows furrowed. The anxious eyes darted under the lids and sweat broke out on the chisled features.

"Where are you Martin?"

"...dark... dark... wet..." He twitched frantically. "...please..."

"You're in the cave again, Martin. Are you alone?"

"No, Daddy... he's here... Daddy...I wanna go home. I'm cold. I don't like it here."

He observed the breathing becoming extremely labored and the face twisting up as a small boy's fears exploded.

Martin looked around the cave, eyes darting to every wall. His small legs couldn't keep up and the yellow light, cast from his father's flashlight, disappeared.

He was all alone in the cold cavern. The walls began to close in and the air began to thin out. He hurried his pace, stumbling and falling, scrapping his face and hands. He was slipping and falling... and it was so very dark.

"DADDY!"

"Calm down Martin, you're fine." Gibson coached, waiting for the anxiety to leave. "That's better. Take a good breath, in through your nose and out hrough your mouth." He waited for the calm to return. "Good. Keep walking, what do you see."

The voice caused his head to turn. Someone was calling him, he wasn't alone.

"I'm not alone! He's here... he didn't leave. I'm... not... I'm not lost. Daddy..."

He stumbled and fell, the walls were too tight. He couldn't breathe. Why wasn't his father coming faster? He could hear his voice. He began to shake and his teeth chattered. It was too cold. He was holding on to a ledge and his fingers were slipping. As he fell, someone caught him. He caught a flash of his father's worried face, felt himself lifted and then nothing.

"Please... Daddy... I don't feel good."

Gibson noted that Martin's body sagged in relief. The breathing eased up and the sweating stopped. The eyes resumed their normal pattern, not frantically searching under the lids.

"Martin?"

"Yeah..."

"Are you alright?"

"Daddy, I want to go home, okay?"

"Is your father there?"

"Yeah, I'm dizzy... he's holding me... holding me... walking... walking."

"Good, that's good Martin. Where are you now?"

Martin licked his lips and blinked, eyeing the trees above his head. He heard a voice and turned to see his father. He was kneeling next to him, his face shocked and pale. He felt his father draw him up and hug him, holding him close. He felt that hand on his back and heard the words.

"It's okay, Dad..."

"What's okay, Martin. Tell me what you see."

"We're outside. I'm okay now. My dad's got me. He said he's sorry. He sure looks scared. We're gonna go home."

"Good, that's good. You rest now."

The doctor moved across the room, lifting the thermal mug of coffee he brought with him earlier. He ate a danish and watched the blue-eye fly peacefully sleeping. He reached into his bag and got out the tape he'd created from snippets of words from prior visits. He mixed in the dialogue from tonight's session and played it back. Satisfied at the forged effort, he slipped it out of the machine. Then he put the original tape back inside. Now the seeds would be watered and the doubts and fears would grow. He wiped his mouth, tossed the napkin away and resumed his mission.

"Martin?"

"Yeah?"

"You're back in the cave now."

"No..."

Martin tossed his head as the peaceful afternoon went dark. He was back on that ledge, cold and shivering. This time, there was no light. There was no strong hands to guide him to safety. He was all alone. His heart began to pump wildly and he began to choke.

"Look around you, it's dark and damp. The ceiling has dipped down, you need to crawl. The walls are so close they scrape your shoulders."

"No... no... please... can't... bre...athe..." he gasped, shuddering as the rocks scraped his body.

Martin struggled, frantically trying to escape. For every foot he got ahead it seemed the cave was shrinking. Panting and coughing, his fingers clawed at the dirt and rocks, needing to get out. There was no air or light... he was trapped!

"You're all alone Martin."

"No... my father's here. He'll f..f...find me." He managed, his voice small and unsure. His eyes blinked in the utter and final wall of blackness. He sought out that beam of yellow light. "Daddy?"

"He's gone Martin. He was ashamed of you remember? In the car he told you you were a coward. He's left you there."

"No... no..."

He smiled then, the tremble in the voice told him that first seeds were sprouting up. He leaned over, watching the damp features twist in geniune fear. It sent a thrill through his body.

"He can't hear you, Martin. He's gone. You failed him. You failed him, Martin, you're not good enough. You let him down. He was counting on you. You're weak Martin, full of doubt. You're not as good as the others. They're stronger and smarter. You're not good enough. You're afraid. You're so very afraid. You're full of shame and self-doubt."

Gibson watched the young man's spine seemingly melt into the couch. His whole body seemed to sag in defeat. The last of the seedlings was now in firm soil. All that was left was for the vines to grow and choke the life from him. He held his hand over the exposed throat and put pressure there. He watched the mouth gaping, sucking for air. So helpless, it filled him with a power surge. He retracted the hand and took his handkerchief out, wiping the unaware victim's features.

"Martin, I want you to remember a word for me. The word is Scorpion. Whenever you hear that word, you'll return to this moment. You'll feel insecure and worthless. You'll tremble with fear and be so full of fright you'll choke and sputter. You'll cower like a yellow dog. You'll have no control over this and your skill and ability as a federal agent will dissolve. You'll be a disgrace to your badge, full of guilt and remorse.You'll be drowning in your own lack of self-esteem. This will last five minutes, then it will disappear. Do you understand?" He waited for the head to bob. "Good. Now I'm going to count to five, Martin. When I get to five, you'll feel healthy and extremely full of energy. You'll be ready to take on all comers. You won't remember this discussion. One, two, three, four," he paused, standing and returning to his desk. "Five."

Martin sighed and opened his eyes. He blinked a few moments and sat up, turning his head slowly. Wearing a shy and almost sheepish mask, he eyed the doctor, who was writing notes. He felt great. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so good. He chuckled to himself, letting out some remnants of nervous energy. He gathered his thoughts as he slipped his shoes back on.

"So how did I do?"

"You barked quite well," Gibson teased, "How do you feel?"

"Great." Martin admitted, feeling his damp shirt. "Must have been a helluva workout."

"It was. You did exceptionally well." He put the tape into the machine. "We'll listen now and go over the session. Feel free to stop me at any time to ask questions."

"Okay," Martin rasped, rubbing his throat. "You got a coke in that box?"

"I think so," Gibson rose and pulled the small door to the refrigerator open. He took out a soda and handed it to thirsty patient.

"Thanks. Man am I dry. I must have spilled my guts good."

Martin sat enrapt watching the tiny wheels in the cassette recorder play. He couldn't believe the words that came from his mouth. But as he heard them, the pictures came back. He recalled the terror in the cave and the safe harbor afterwords. Why it remained buried all this time eluded him, but maybe that would come out later. Or maybe not. As the tape concluded, he eyed the doctor.

"Why did this happen to me?" He tossed the empty can away. "I mean, why did I bury that? It wasn't that bad."

"Perhaps the key lies in revisiting the scene of the last attack. Maybe there is something still buried inside, something even this therapy hasn't uncovered." He patted the young man's back. " Next week will be an extended session, a field trip as it were."

"Field trip?" Martin stood up and eyed the clock. "Ten-thirty? Jesus, I lost an hour and a half."

"No, you earned that sweat. It was a hard trip, but you clawed and fought back. That's why you feel so much better."

"Yeah, I guess," He reasoned, he did feel lighter, as if a weight was lifted. "What about this trip?"

"The last piece of the puzzle. You face your fear and conquer it once and for all. If there are any other beasts lurking inside, we'll slay them then. We'll be going back to that tunnel that you had our panic attack in with your partner."

Martin froze at the door, licked his dry lips and rubbed the back of his neck. He waited for the storm to descend again. Every time he thought about that day, he felt guilty. What if the kidnapper who took that nun through the tunnel had been in there? What if because of his flashbaack, Danny had been killed. But there was no choking fear or guilt. Instead, he felt a need to conquer, to squelch that force under his boot and destroy it.

"Okay, let's do it!" Martin thrust his hand out and shook the doctor's "Thanks, Doc. If someone had clued me in on this headshrinking business sooner..."

"I'll see you Monday morning. Your home is closer to the interstate. How about if we meet there?"

"Okay, 9 a.m.?"

"Fine, enjoy the rest of your day."

"More doctors." Martin nodded to Carmen in the outer office. "I'm getting wound therapy for my ankle and then I have to get bloodwork and see my doctor."

"Don't forget to eat!" Carmen scolded the handsome young man. "You and Danny... so wrapped up in your work..."

"Speaking of that weasel, he owes me lunch. I got my eye on a steak and beer." He called back from the door. "See you Monday, Doc."

"Oh it will be my pleasure," Gibson oozed, his blue eyes twinkling in devilish delight. His victim had no idea that Monday would bring the first blow in his fall from grace.

"Carmen, see if you can reschedule my eleven o'clock, I forgot an appointment I had."

"Okay," she pulled up the patient index. He had no afternoon appointments. "I've got some typing to catch up on. I'll lock up."

"Thank you, Carmen."

As he strode to his car, he pulled out his notebook and reviewed the list. He had a few finishing touches to get to and he wanted to double check everything. He pulled out of the parking lot, easing his Mercedes onto the road. Everything had to be perfect for Monday... the first day in the bloody war for vengeance.

TIMELINE: MAY 1978
Geneva, NY

"Did you understand what I said, Miss Smith?"

"Are you sure? I mean... maybe it was... there was a mistake?" Theresa stammered, her mind reeling .

"No, there is no mistake. You are almost eight weeks pregnant. Do your parents know?"

"Huh?" She choked, feeling the heat rising to her face.

"Your parents," the harried doctor inquired. "What about the father?"

The father?

The overworked, unsympathetic doctor at the clinic seem to fade away as the face of Pete Gibbons appeared. How could she have been so stupid? How could this happen? She couldn't even remember being intimate with him. You can't get pregnant from kissing and groping.

"Miss Smith?"

"Huh?" She blinked, sending the laughing face of the handsome quarterback away. "I'll uh... have to find him... I mean, he doesn't know I'm here... I uh... I... thanks..." She mumbled, stumbling from the examination table. "I'm fine... really..."

"Alright," he nodded, seeing the truth in her large brown eyes. Another girl who listened to some smooth talking Romeo who left her high and dry. "I'll leave you some vitamins and pamphlets about how to keep yourself healthy."

"Yeah, fine..." she cut him off, backing up to the cold chair near her clothes.

She dressed hurridly and fled the clinic. She picked a clinic across town in a seedy neighborhood where nobody knew her. She'd been as regular as clockwork getting her cycle since she was ten years old. When she missed the first one, she panicked but then told herself it was stress due to graduation. But the inner voice nagged her and then last week she missed the second one.

Gasping for breath, she finally stopped in a park. Across the expanse of green, she spotted a bright blue and yellow vendor's cart. Beyond it were some trees. She bought a soda from the vendor and held the cold can against her face. She caught a reflection of herself in the chrome trim on his card.

"Stupid cow," she whispered, turning away.

How could she have been such a fool? The 'stomach virus' that made her sick in the morning wasn't a flu bug. Those missed cycles weren't stress and deep down she'd known that. But how? She sat under a tree and sipped the cola, pondering on that question. Eight weeks. Eight weeks. Her mind went back in time. Her dark eyes darted back and forth, remembering another park and another tree.

"You bastard," she wept, "I believed you."

And she had.

The picnics in the park, that had to be it. Two weekends in a row, they had picnics in the park. They hiked for a bit through the dense woods and found a private spot by the river. He bought a whole picnic basket full of Italian gourmet meats, cheeses and bread. They had the same sweet homemade fruit cider that he brought to the movies. They kissed and she let him take her bra off and fondle her, it felt good. When he used his teeth and tongue it send electric shocks through her. But when his hand crept up between her legs and his fingers went inside her, she'd told him no. He pulled back and apologized.

"...ever the gentlemen.." she spat out in contempt.

How? How? She leaned against the tree and closed her eyes, trying to remember every minute of those two weekends. After they made out for awhile, he pulled out brownies. He claimed they were homemade, from a friend who was studying to be a chef. They were good, very rich and sweet. The next memory was of watching the sun set on the river. She'd taken a nap, or so he said. Then his ten week tenure for his course was up and he left for Syracuse. He promised he'd write and he was sure they'd stay 'good friends'.

She never got that letter, nor a reply to the ones she'd sent to him.

"How could you?" She vented, pounding the grass. She was such a idiot, believing his lies. He must have drugged her somehow. She didn't have to be back in class until Tuesday for graduation practice. Syrcause wasn't that far and he owed her an explanation. She rose, tossed the can away and headed for the bus depot.

Monday Morning, 9 a.m.
Our Lady of Grace Grounds
Old Hickock Prison

The 'good' doctor paused and adjusted his designer sunglasses. It was a beautiful morning, the air was crisp and the golden sun seemed to shine only for him. The sky was a brilliant blue, just a shade deeper than the eyes of the unsuspecting fly. His smile broadened then, thinking of how the plan was unfolding perfectly. So many times he'd thought about this moment, but he'd not been prepared for the exhilaration racing through his bloodstream. It was better than being high. That brought out a snorted chuckle.

"I miss something?" Martin asked, eyeing the psychologist. The older man seemed almost giddy.

"No, just recalling a joke I heard on the radio this morning. Are you ready?"

"Yeah, sure," Martin spoke too quickly. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"No need to get defensive," Gibson sent back, just as Fitzgerald's cell phone rang. "I'll be down the path by the entrance. Take your time."

"Thanks," the recovering agent nodded. He blew out a long breath and hopefully some of his unsteady nerves. He'd been up half the night retracing the path he took both fateful trips. Although separated by a span of nearly twenty years, each gnawed at him equally. He had to crush that demon inside once and for all. He'd wanted this so bad he could taste it. The persistant phone drew him back.

"Hello?"

"T-minus sixty seconds and counting." Danny Taylor eyed the red digital numbers on the radio in his car as they turned to eight fifty-nine a.m..

"Something like that." Martin's breathing calmed down hearing his friend's voice. "What are you up to?"

"I'm comin' your way, partner," the dark-eyed agent countered of his trip to Our Lady of Grace "I'm meeting with security to go over the tapes and some old employee records. I can't figure out this sky though."

"Sky?" Martin glanced upwards.

"Yeah, it's clear as far as I can see," the upbeat voice returned.

"What are you looking for?" Martin quizzed.

"Butterflies!" Danny chirped. "I thought for sure I'd see hundreds of them with little H's on their wings."

"H's?" Martin puzzled. He knew Danny was going somewhere but couldn't figure out where.

"Harvards. A rare breed." Danny grinned as he turned off the interstate. "I heard there would be a herd of them escaping from somebody's stomach."

"A herd?" Martin wrinkled his nose and chuckled.

"Okay, so bugs aren't my speciality." Taylor shrugged. "Speaking of which, how's the leg?"

"Not bad, the doc says it'll be a week or so until it's fully healed."

"You'll do fine" Taylor heard the silence that followed very loudly. "You're gonna ace it!"

"From your lips to God's ear."

"Look, you took the first step, " Danny noted with a rise of pride. "That was the big one. You saw the mistake and fixed it. The rest is cake."

"I wish I was that sure." Martin saw the doctor pointing to his watch. "Guess it's liftoff."

"Then buckle up, spaceman." Taylor heard the long shaky breath in the phone. "...and ride!"

He wished it was that easy. That the confidence Danny was pumping through the phone would be enough fuel to take him there.

Danny was ready to hang up when he heard the soft call of his name. He put the phone back up to his ear.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks man..."

"You'll get my bill!" Danny chimed, flipping the phone off. He fingered the tiny gold cross that he wore under his shirt and eyed the sky through the windshield. "If you're not too busy... he needs this."

Nine a.m.
Atlantic City Boardwalk
Atlantic City, NJ

"Dammit!"

Vivian laughed as her partner jumped up and grabbed napkins from the discarded bag between them. The glazed doughnuts were long gone and the coffee was warm. They got a tip two days before that Frankie Machelli was back in town. A creature of habit, he usually had a bagful of doughnuts on his way to Sal's. They'd been in Atantic City all weekend, staking out the boardwalk spots that the youth often frequented.

"It's not funny, Viv!" Sam fired, brown eyes flashing.

"It is from here." The older agent smiled, "Isn't that supposed to be good luck?"

"For you maybe, you're not the one wearing seagull shit."

"You better get it all out," Johnson supplied, "It's a bitch to get out once it dries."

"Yuck it up!" Spade pulled out a water bottle from the bag and used what was left to douse the napkin, then the 'deposit' on her head. She quickly completed the task and tossed the bag away. She put her sunglasses on and craned her neck. "Hey, looks like our boy is getting his sugar fix."

"Let's rock and roll." Vivian got up and followed her blonde partner across the wooden boards, down the steps and onto the street.

Frankie slipped inside Mitzie's Sunshine Cafe and bopped up to the counter. He was trying to go clean but it was hard. He wouldn' be able to get his fix until later, so for now he'd settle for some sugar-coated gems right from Mitzie's oven.

"Hey Mac, gimme two glazed, two chocolate iced and two jellies to go," he issued impatiently, "Gimme a large coke too, extra ice on the side." He tossed a few bills down and took his breakfast items.

"You know that junk will rot your teeth."

"Huh?" Frankie turned around to see a very serious dark-skinned woman behind him. "Who are you the friggin' tooth fairy?"

"No," Vivian replied, pulling out her badge. "I'm the frigging FBI."

"Yeah," the dissheveled youth scoffed. "Good for you. Whatever turns you on, sister."

"How about me, Frankie?" Sam stood on the other side of the shifting young man.

"I know you?" Machelli eyed the attractive blond, lingering on her breasts. "No, I would have remembered you. Nice jugs."

"Sorry I can't say the same." Sam pushed the dropped jaw back up. "I'm sure once we're done with you, we'll be good friends." She moved her jacket to reveal a badge.

"Shit... I ain't done nuthin'" He twisted but found his path blocked.

"Good, then you won't mind talking to us about Jimmy Ray Hollis."

"Not much to tell... he's dead.." he shrugged, eyeing the door behind the persistant agents.

"Sit!" Vivian ordered, pointing to a vacant table.

"I look like a dog to you?" He snarled, taking a chair.

"You look like a junkie," Vivian eyed the nervous leg jumping under the table and the large amount of sugar disappearing into the coke.

"I'm clean..."

"Squeaky," Sam tossed out, "So tell us about Jimmy."

"What's to tell? He's stiff." He shruggged and picked up a cake.

"When did you last see him?" Vivian asked.

"Mmmph..." Frankie stuffed a half of the chocolate doughnut into his mouth. He took a large gulp, wiped his mouth and burped.

"Charming too," Sam said, "What more can a girl ask for?"

"Sunday," He nodded, recalling the day, "Yeah, him and his old lady were tossin' some back some Mickey D specials. I was down the boards. Time I caught up to him he was a little jumpy."

"Jumpy how? Did he say why?" Vivian demanded.

"Something about some old ghost comin' back to haunt him." He scarfed down another cake and took a swig of the overloaded drink.

"Who?" Sam asked.

"Dunno his name." Frank scrunched his face up and thought. "Some dude he used to work for years ago. A legal eagle, a real high-roller, always had a wad on him. Tipped great. Me and Jimmy always had real good party when he was working that dude."

"Is this the man?" Vivian showed the photo they had of David Hughes.

"Yeah... that's him. He was thinner then, no beard. But it's him. On paper, he was on the payroll of some of the casinos, keepin' them out of trouble. But he made his real money in New York on the blackmarket buyin' and sellin' kids."

"Kids?" Sam asked. "Blackmarket babies?"

"Yeah... It was a good setup. Jimmy knew the streets. He was a real sweet-talker." Frankie shoved another doughnut into his mouth and paused to chew it, before taking a large drink. "He'd have them knocked up chicks eatin' out of his hand. He'd get a list from the dude of what he needed and he'd go huntin'. He'd get his cut and they'd get taken care of. The dude had a big house, he said, with nurses and all kinds of shit. He'd feed 'em, keep' em healthy until they dropped the little bastard out."

"Do you know where the house was?" The blonde agent pressed.

"No... Jimmy only told me about it once. In North Jersey I think... I dunno."

"This man left a message on his voicemail about a meeting at the corral. Do you know where that is?" Vivian asked.

"Was." Frankie wiped his hands. "It burned down a couple years back. A dive off the turnpike. One of them country western bars. It was in the middle of nowhere. Nothing left now but an empty lot."

"Is there anything else you can tell us about this man?"

"Well... might be nuthin'." Frankie took a drink and frowned. "Jimmy was shook up so bad that day because he thought he'd never see that dude again. A ghost, you know. The dude was gone for a few years and the bang, he's in his ear again."

"Did Jimmy have something that belonged to him? Maybe information or ... pictures ..." Sam tried to push his memory. "Something that would bring the guy all the way back here to seek him out?"

"Jimmy knew a lot of shit... he could have buried that guy." Frankie drained his soda. "He seen things... didn't talk about it much. Some of them girls changed their minds. Nobody ever heard from them again."

"Okay." Vivian slipped her card over the table. She stood and leaned over the nervous young man. "You listen to me, Frankie. This man we're after, Hughes, is a very bad 'dude'. If he killed Jimmy and he knows about you..."

"I can take care of myself," Frankie spouted.

"You call us... if you see him, hear from him or remember anything. There's a little girl's life at stake." Johnson kept her intense stare on him until he nodded.

"Yeah... yeah ...okay..." Machelli took the card and watched the two women leave.

"So where's that leave us?" Sam slipped into the passenger side of the car while Vivian dialed Jack. "He wouldn't come back after three years just to silence Hollis. He wouldn't bring the little girl."

"Jimmy wasn't blackmailing him." Vivian listened for Jack to pick up. "From all accounts he was too shook up when he heard his voice on that message."

"Unless somebody else was... maybe somebody else contacted Hughes. Maybe one of the relatives of one of those girls that didn't make it out of the delivery room," Spade theorized.

"That's a long list." Vivian shook her head as Malone's voicemail came on. "Jack, it's Vivian. We're headed back to Manhattan. We found Frankie and got some new information. I'll update you later."

"We're missing something," Sam pondered as they turned towards the highway. "Why would Hughes seek Hollis? Why would he bring Abby with him?"

"Well," Vivian said, "Frankie said Jimmy knew the streets. Maybe you're right, maybe somebody was gunning for Hughes and he wanted to hire Hollis to find out who."

"I think we need to push the DMV to find out where Mister Harrison moved." Sam pulled the sunvisor down. "He's got to be considered. Abby's disappearance broke up his marriage. He lost his family, got despondant. Maybe he had a private eye looking all this time. That could be what drove Hughes out of hiding in London."

"Maybe." Vivian thought back. "But I don't think so. He didn't seem the type."

"There is no 'type'," Spade disagreed. "Not when it comes to a grieving parent's loss."

New York
Old Hickock Prison
10:00 a.m.

Martin felt like a kid on his first trip to Disney World. Every stinking crevice and damp corner of the cave looked like the Magic Kingdom to him. His strides were firm and true. His heart was normal, his breathing was fine and he felt great. There were no drums in his ears or a jackhammer in his chest. There was no river of cold sweat pouring from every pore on his body. There was no heart attack-like pain or quivering limbs.

It mattered not when the walls closed in and they had to turn sideways to get through. He pushed onward without missing a step. Even when they had to duck and crawl through the tinest of spaces, he felt like he was a mole. He pushed right through and never looked back. Not even when the walls of the cave pressed his back and chest did he as much as flinch.

Gone

Vanished

Destroyed.

"Damn..." He whispered, feeling his chest expand in glee. "It worked. It really worked."

He sailed into the sunshine. A cocky grin was born as he strode with confidence past the concrete bench by the bushes where he threw up and almost passed out the last time. He formed a fist and crossed it in front of him.

"YES!" he triumphed, then fingered the badge clipped to his belt. It never shone brighter or felt better. Without proving his meddle, beating the beast that had unwittingly lurked inside for all these years, he might not have had a future in the Bureau.

Gibson watched the younger man's excitement, he was practically glowing. He knew that the stricken agent would pass without fail. He'd planned it that way. A smile tugged his lips when he thought of the return trip through the cave. He'd planned that path as well.

"Martin?"

"Yeah?" He turned back and approached the tall, sturdy man. He held his hand out and nearly winced at the grip. "Thanks, I really owe you. If anyone had every told me... If I'd have known sooner..."

"It's done, no need for that," Gibson dismissed, clapping the blue-eye fly's back. "If you're ready, we'll return the way we came. I have several appointments back at the office."

"Let's do it!" Martin reentered the cave then boasted with a confident grin. "Piece of cake."

"To be sure," the doctor agreed, wearing an evil smile

They were nearly through the return trip when villian paused. He waited until his prized lab rat was turned sideaways, just inching through a narrow gap. Once the young man passed through, he pulled his cell phone out and dialed the agent.

"Hello?" Martin answered.

"Scorpion." Gibson said and watched as Act I finished in all it's finery.

He stood over the young man who dropped the phone and went to his knees. Terrified blue eyes roamed wildly, like a rat caught in a trap. The breathing was labored, sweat began to form and the slim body trembled in fear.

"No... no... please..." Martin managed, so choked by terror unknown that he couldn't breathe.

Words echoed in his head, the mantra causing his already quivering heart to nearly shatter.

You're worthless. You're nothing. You're a coward. You're afraid. They'll hurt you. They'll make you bleed. You're a worm. They'll step on you. Cower and shake spineless cretin. You're nothing... nothing... nothing..."

"Surpurb!" the evil doctor beamed, watching his prey come entirely unglued.

The blue-eyed fly was turtled up, covering his head and mumbling 'go way' and begging. He gazed at his watch and true to the plan at precisely five minutes, it was over. He felt like he'd swallowed the canary when Fitzgerald stood up, shook his head and blinked, then continued on as if nothing happened.

"Outstanding!" he exuded, stooping to pickup the cellphone. "Martin?"

"Yeah Doc?" he turned back and saw the other man holding his phone.

"You dropped this." Gibson handed it over. "You wouldn't want to lose it."

"No... hey thanks." Martin nodded and resumed his trip. "I'm starving. I need to eat, I'm getting shakey."

"You didn't eat breakfast?" the doctor suggested, although he knew the spiked water the young man drank was responsible.

"No, I was too nervous." Martin ducked outside and lifted his face to the waiting sun. "I feel like Adam on day one, you know?"

"I do," Gibson patted the young man's back. "You sure you'll be okay? I hate to leave if you're unsure or unsteady."

"Hell yeah, I'm meeting Danny here. I haven't felt this good since...well I don't know..." the 'cured' agent grinned ."Like I could take on Ali and Frasier."

"Good. I'll see you on Wednesday morning. I'll need some information to finish up your report."

"You're gonna okay it, right?" Martin fretted of the final leg of the report that would complete his treatment.

"What do you think?" Gibson grinned.

"I think Wednesday gonna be a great day!"

"Oh if you only knew just how big." Gibson thought as his grin widened. "Until then."

"Sure thing Doc, thanks!" Martin watched the other man drive off and he dialed his phone.

"Taylor."

"I made it," Martin gushed, "I'm on the moon, man!"

"I never doubted it." Danny grinned, pushed the chair back and listened to the euphoria sail through the phone.

"You should have been here. It was unbelievable. We crawled, we climbed, the fuckin' wall was kissin' me... I never felt better. I felt like Superman."

"I don't know about that," Danny chuckled "Your legs are way too skinny for blue tights."

"So how soon can you get here?" The anxious agent inquired. "I want you to see... if it wasn't for you..."

"Hey, my name isn't Thomas," Taylor noted of the apostle that needed to touch. "I believe you... and I'm proud of you, man."

Martin didn't reply right away. He sat down on a chair outside the front door of the old barracks. He drank in the words spoken and stowed them away carefully. The word unspoken was the one he held onto, turning it over and basking in the glow it gave off. When Danny said 'I believe you' what he heard was 'I believe in you'. That one skinny preposition made all the difference. He felt it's power coursing through him and it stole his breath.

"Hey, you okay Clark?" Danny teased. "What happened? Them tight-assed red pants givin' you a wedgie?"

"Pants?" Martin recovered, swallowing hard and shifting the phone. "I fly commando."

"There's a pretty picture," Taylor laughed.

"I'm starving."

"What else is new?" Danny shook his head " You eat more shit than any five people I know. How you keep a thirty-one inch waist is beyond me."

"Under cover work at night... burns a ton of calories." Martin shot back.

"Superman huh?" Taylor sat up. "So that's why Lois Lane was always late for work. All that work under the covers."

"Hey, can you get away? Isn't there a roadhouse near here with loaded burgers?"

"Is that sound I hear your wallet opening?" Danny stood up. "You head back this way, I'll meet you out front in ten minutes."

Cal's Roadhouse
An hour later.

Lunch went down easy. Loaded burgers, poppers, cheesefries and a pitcher of iced tea were soon consumed. Danny just sat back and listened to Martin run his mouth. He knew the rookie was burning off nervous energy. He knew how scared Martin had been of failing this test. He'd not only passed, he'd aced it. Finally the dark secret that had been pushed too far into hiding by the elder Fitzgerald had been purged.

"Now that's what I call lunch." Martin choked on his drink.

Danny sat up and cast his eyes on a very shapely brunette that entered the eatery. Close to six feet tall and wearing a body made on Mount Olympus, the blackjacket parted to reveal a plunging neckline in a tight red sweater.

"You drank a lot of tea." Taylor stood and moved in front of where Fitzgerald was sitting. "You better hit the bathroom."

"I look that blind to you?" Martin moved to his feet and shoved the owl-eyed agent aside. He too couldn't help stare at the beauty walking their way. "Besides, she's giving me the eye."

"Then you are blind," Danny countered. "Fair haired boys tend to be weak. The real treat is with the darker meat, for it is the most sweet."

"Thought of that all by yourself Taylor?" Martin grimaced. "Somewhere Hallmark executives are jumping off bridges."

"You had your chance, my man," the dark-eyed poet oozed, flexing his chest and putting on his best grin. "Now you're gonna get shot down in flames."

His smiled faded when the statuesque beauty waltzed by him without a second glance. His irritation increased when the blue-eyed devil next to him began laughing so hard he nearly choked. He turned back long enough to cuff the now choking man on the side of the head.

"Well there goes your 'dark meat' theory," Martin wheezed, wiping his eyes. "Could be I need some seasoning, but that guy goes way beyond where white ends."

"He's got to be eighty." Danny astounded, then made a sour face. "Aw shit, here comes my lunch up."

"She's gonna suck the tongue right out of him," Martin spoke of the passionate kiss the lovely lady bestowed on her elderly date. "Nothing wrong with the old guy's hand."

"You had to mention that?" Danny turned away as the woman sat down and the gnarled old hand snaked up her inner thigh.

"You never had a chance, buddy," Martin draped a brotherly arm on the dejected man's shoulder. "He's got more zeros in his bank account than either of us will ever see. Besides, she's too tall for you"

"Not from where I'm standing." Danny shook his head. "Smothered between them two soft pillows..." he sighed. "I can't thinnk of a better way to die."

Unaware that they were being observed, the two young man continued to enjoy their lunch. They laughed, joked and celebrated. Outside on the patio, far from their unsuspecting gaze sat the hungry hunter.

Gibson watched and found his own smile, his euphoria nearly spilling over. He lifted a glass of red wine and kept his eyes trained on Martin Fitzgerald.

"Enjoy your moment in the sun, Mister Fitzgerald," he toasted. "You have forty-eight hours until your apocalypse begins." He moved the glass then, watching Danny Taylor's handsome face through the ruby juice of the grape. "Blood red..." he prophesied.

Cast a Dark Shadow

By Deirdre

A short fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Part Nine

Wednesday, Ten a.m.
Old Alpine Chocolate Factory
Atlantic County, NJ

It was the perfect setting. Hollywood couldn't have scripted it any better. Sheer luck and a bit of good fortune twenty years ago had brought this piece of property into his lap. For close to sixty years the sturdy stone building had produced rich chocolate confections. But when the owner died in nineteen seventy nine, his sons sold the business. It had been on the market for a few years when he bought it. The spacious three story building had a wonderfully laid out cellar as well.

When Pete heard about casino gambling appearing in Atlantic City , he did some homework. He'd purchased this old factory with the hopes of knocking it down and building condos. It was close enough to Atlantic City for the gamblers but the private beach and access road would offer a relaxing Mecca as well. It was money in the bank. It wasn't even in his own name so there would be no ties to him.

But the demands of his job and unforeseen expenses had dashed those hopes. All but forgotten, it would now serve as the hub for the fruition of his plan. He'd begun renovations last year when the need for the plan of action was born. He did most of the work himself. He was amazed at just how much information was available on the internet. He'd poured all his extra time and money into converting the large stone building into his arena of judgement. It had state of the art extras in electronics, videos and other necessary tools.

It would be in this room that he would be the judge, jury and executioner. There would be no stay of execution; the governor would not call at the last minute. The face of his prey loomed in his mind and his rage grew. He clutched his fist and banged it against the wall.

"You'll pay for your sin!"

Pete Gibson strolled through the first floor, eyeing the renovations. His office was here, a small cantina that would serve as a kitchen and of course his 'playroom'. That was where the fun would be, where he could watch and plan his every move. All the time and effort paid off; mostly on his own or the use of day laborers. Untraceable and illegal, these desperate souls showed up at designated locations to hire out for the day. The rest had been the efforts of some of his patients, who traded off their talent for his silence.

The top floor was mostly storage. The floor above him had been converted into a three bedroom condo where he would stay. Below, in the 'dungeon' the cells were waiting. Spacious and with all the comforts of home, they would serve the prisoners well. After all, what good was the show with out without an audience? Confined to their last earthly abode, they would be treated to the entire story. They would see the origins of the ordeal, watch live events and of course the execution.

"Live and in technicolor!" he boasted.

He paused at the control room and eyed the wall of monitors. Below on several workstations were computers and other electronic toys. He spared no expense and got top of the line material from overseas. He sat down at the primary work station and turned the computer on. He punched in the numbers and smiled as the image appeared. Martin Fitzgerald was having coffee and fidgeting. Those animated blue eyes were trained on the phone and the fingers on his right hand tapped the table in front of him impatiently

"So you're waiting for your doctor to call and give the green light..." he guessed based on their conversation early that morning.

Fitzgerald was nervous; his knee was jumping as he waited for the doctor's office to call him. Based on the examination last night, Martin hoped to be cleared for work. Now that his 'head' was clear, he was confident and cocky again.

"But not for long..." he predicted.

Gibson's unsuspecting prize student had been all to accommodating this morning, unaware that his subconscious had provided information on his co-worker's schedule for today. He'd come in at seven a.m. for their final session. He'd left more confident than ever, unaware of the fine-tuning that had been done. Today's session had just reinforced what he knew. Combined with all the prior hypnotherapy, he now just how to pull the strings to make his puppet work.

"Enjoy it while you can, Mister Fitzgerald," he laughed, eyeing his watch. He lifted his own coffee and toasted the screen. "Actually, I think thanks are in order. You are indeed my prize specimen!"

He thought on the information the unsuspecting patient had given while under hypnosis. Cell phone and home phone numbers of his team, vital information on the cases they were working, their habits and other delicious details. He had more than enough rope for the hanging. As for the others, they would be never be found. His years as a cop had given him many trips up and down the turnpike to New Jersey. He knew every exit and knew several spots in the Pine Barrens that no man could find without a map.

FBI Headquarters, Manhattan, NY
10:30 a.m.

"Malone"

The leader of one of New York's finest squad of federal agents picked the ringing phone up on the second cry. He was expecting a call from Martin's doctor. The anxious agent has called twice since eight a.m, hoping for news.

"Falcone here, Johnson said to call if anything turned up. I got her voicemail, she's not in town?"

"No, she and Agent Spade left for Maine this morning to talk to Abby Harrison's father. What do you have?"

"Two positive ID's from the Trop and Harrah's. Hughes worked for them as a legal consultant. He was on retainer with Harrah's for about seven years, the Trop for over five. He moved out of the area about five years ago."

"Friends or associates? Anything we can go on?"

"Not so far, but there's such a high turnover of employees in this business..." Falcone scratched his chin. "You're talking over ten years ago. His secretary was an older woman, died a couple years back. So far, we can't locate any records of files." He eyed his notes. "Your crew get anything on the grounds of Tex's?" The lawmen inquired on the site where the meeting between the dead man and suspect supposedly took place.

"Not yet," Malone saw the other line blinking several times and threw a pen at the window. Danny Taylor turned around and he pointed to the line. The younger man nodded and picked it up. "But if anything turns up, I'll let you know. Taylor and I have a meeting this morning. If he's not tied up all afternoon, I'll send him down there. He can meet with you and you can give him what you got. Hughes must have made an impression on somebody."

Danny poked his head in the door and nodded to his boss. He shifted his cheese bear claw into the other hand, swallowed and licked the sugar mustache from his lips.

"Jack, Doctor Andrews in is on the phone."

Jack nodded, "Okay, Captain Falcone, thanks. I'll have Danny check in with you when he gets to Atlantic City." He signed off and punched the other line. His annoyed face and waving hand did nothing to dispel the anxious Taylor who lingered in the entry to the office. "Malone..."

"Good Morning Mister Malone. I won't keep you long I know you are a busy man. I gave Martin Fitzgerald a complete exam yesterday and he passed with flying colors. The leg is healing nicely, but I'd like him restricted to desk duty for another ten days. I don't want to put undue pressure on the healing tissues."

"Good enough, Doc. You sign off on his paperwork?"

"I will do that as soon as his final lab work is here. I called them and they read the results but I need to sign them. I told Martin that last night that the paperwork wouldn't be ready until after lunch. Have him stop by at 1 p.m. and I'll turn the papers over to him. I just faxed you the final report which is a synopsis of the incident and treatment."

"Thanks." Jack nodded to the fax machine then snapped his fingers when Taylor never moved. Finally Danny ambled over, shoved the pastry in his mouth, brushed his sticky fingers on his suit jacket and picked up the papers. After scanning them, he muffled a cry of glee which sent crumbs and tiny pieces of cheese flying.

"You're cleanin' that mess up!" Jack whispered, snapping his fingers. "Yeah, I got it. Anything I should know? He okay to do a full day?"

"Fine. He's been resting, taking his medication and eating well. I read him the riot act about permanent tissue damage. He seemed to comply."

"You don't know him like I do," Jack thought aloud of the blue-eyed terrier. It would be a long week and a half and a cranky agent. "Okay, thanks again."

Jack hung up, pulled a side drawer open in his desk by his knee and fingered through the red and green folders until he came to the one he sought. He filed Martin's medical release into it and then shut the drawer. He put his glasses on and went back to reading one of the many open files on his desk. Several minutes went by and he heard footsteps.

"Well?" Danny paused by the desk, watching as his dishevelled boss's head came up. The dark eyes appraised him still tinged with annoyance.

"Well what?"

"What did he say? Is my man Harvard okay for duty? He's been working so hard..."

"Working?" Malone frowned. "He's supposed to be resting." He saw the handsome agent's dark eyes shift and the jaw was set. "You keeping something from me?"

"No, he had some business to take care of... it got done. He gave me his word and he did it."

"Business?" He thought back on the last time the two were working. The strange incident by the cave came to mine. "This tied to that cave and him getting sick?"

"It was..." Danny changed the subject. "So he's back on board?"

"He is," Jack replied, "Get cleaned up, Helen Bacon's expecting us," he noted of the meeting they were having at the State Department. She had a potential contact calling in who knew both the missing nun and the priest who they couldn't locate in Costa Rica.

"Are you gonna call him?"

"Is this my office?" Jack eyed the puzzled agent and nodded at the door. "Don't let it hit your ass," he ordered, picking up the phone as a slow smile formed on Taylor's face. "GO!"

"Grouch... even with a ton of caffeine."

Martin was pacing the living room again, having re-adjusted every picture that hung on the walls and moved the same neat pile of magazines to each end of the coffee table. He paused at the mirror and adjusted his tie. He found a small smile, having selected one with wide stripes just to annoy the hell out of Danny Taylor. He sighed, eyed his watch and frowned.

"...the hell's taking so long... it's almost eleven..." He broke his thought when the phone rang. "Jack?"

"You psychic or anxious?"

"Maybe both... I'm leaving now. I can..."

"You weren't invited yet."

"Aw, hell..." Martin sank back on his heels, raking a hand through his short hair.

"Desk duty for ten days and then..."

"Ten days!" Martin barked. "Come on Jack... you can't be serious. I'm fine. There's no reason I can't..."

"That skinny ass of yours isn't even in the door yet and you're bitchin'. You keep that temper under control or I'll make a call to that doctor and it'll be twelve."

"That's blackmail!"

"Shootin' for fourteen?" The silence followed by a short and annoyed huff gave him his reply. Satisfied he leaned back cast his eyes on the empty desk where Fitzgerald usually worked. The office seemed off balance without him. He'd become that much of an integral part of their machine. "Danny and I are headed over to the State Department to talk to Helen Bacon. You stop by the doctor's office arount one o'clock he said he'll have your paperwork signed off. I'm leaving some files in the conference room. You read over them and get yourself caught up on the case."

"Yeah I know... paperwork's the glue..." Martin returned tersely.

"It's the truth."

"It's bullshit..."

"You're on duty, Fitzgerald and you're late. Get that hot head of yours out the door." Jack ended the conversation by hanging up.

Ogunquit, Maine
Noontime

As Vivian drove up the street crowded with tourists and workers seeking lunch by the sea, Sam's gaze lingered on the rocky coast. There was a golden sun leaving shimmering shades of luster on deep blue water while gulls sang a chorus above. A lighthouse sat on a point, its weather beaten sides speaking eloquently of days gone by. She tossed back her flaxen locks and inhaled the sweet scent of wild roses. Coupled with the salt spray and stunning visuals, it was intoxicating. Fishing boats dotted the murky depths, no doubt the men and women working them harvesting that which this area of the country was famous for.

"World's best lobster bisque," Vivian read a cafe sign as they drove by. Her eyes swept over the very picturesque seascape. "Sure is pretty. I think I understand why he might have come here. The lure of the sea is a powerful thing."

"I gotta think that this place was created just for photographers..."

"...and painters..." Vivian supplied, catching that rare glint of sentiment in the blonde's eye. "...and dreamers?"

"Hungry federal agents," Sam quipped, turning back. "lobster bisque... broiled lobster... lobster ice cream... bring it on!"

"Work first, stomach later," Vivian chased. "Go grab a lobster roll from that cart while I look at this map again." She pulled the car over and flipped open the map that the rental place at the airport provided. Two minutes later, her hungry partner was back with two enormous Lobster rolls and two cans of diet soda. She placed her roll strategically on her leg, in order to take a drink. She heard a crunch as Sam dug in and began to groan in delight.

"I've had orgasms that weren't this good," Sam moaned, causing her partner to choke. "Sorry," she laughed at the soda now clinging to the driver's raincoat.

"Just remember that Johnson paybacks are a bitch," Vivian warned. "We're not far. A half mile up the road there's a turnoff. Robert Harrison's house is up that hill."

Sam saw the house first. A turn of the century restored cottage perched on a picture perfect bluff. Its whitewashed walls were accented by red shutters. Simple but elegant, its pristine condition and glorious rose bushes suggested the owner took great care.

"Cottage?" Vivian shook her head as they got out of the car and stood in the dirt driveway. The 'cottage' was impressive. "I'd hate to see what they call mansions around here."

"Nice place to retire," Sam teased.

"This town ain't ready for a New York City girl that far from downtown Manhattan. I'll visit..." she decided, rapping on the door.

Sam got impatient and rang the bell. Vivian was about to knock again when a voice sounded on the other side.

"Yes?"

"Robert Harrison?" Vivian saw a green eye appear in the side window and held her badge up. "Agents Johnson and Spade, FBI. We'd like to speak with you."

"Come inside," the host offered.

"Wow," Sam glanced past the middle aged man, who didn't look his age. Lean and tall, his dark hair was just starting to turn silver. He was dressed in expensive slacks and a hunter green cashmere sweater over a striped shirt. The house was just as tastefully appointed inside, with a cream and deep blue color scheme. "Beautiful."

"Thank you, Miss?"

"Agent Spade," Sam flashed her badge. "We would like to ask you a few questions about your family."

"I have no family," he replied, entering the study

He sat down on a dark blue sofa and eyed the portrait over the fireplace. Neither agent missed the absolute heartache in his eyes when they studied the oil painting over the mantle. A pretty blond child with blue eyes and the face of angel. "That's Abigail... just after she turned five. It was to be a gift for my wife. But... before it was completed my angel was stolen ... You can't imagine the pain."

"No, I can't." Vivian walked over and sat down next to him. "I have a child Mister Harrison, a son. If he were taken from me, I'd be devastated too."

"I can't even remember if I kissed her goodbye that morning. I can tell you what she wore, what she ate but..." he paused, rubbing his eyes. "Funny the things you remember.. is this about Abby?"

"We're not sure, but it's possible the man who took her might be back in the New York area. We were wondering if you or your wife had been contacted by him or anyone else inquiring about Abby?"

"No... my God... that monster resurfaced!" Harrison's anger rose, flushing his cheeks. "Have you arrested him? What about Abby? Where is she?"

"Easy Mister Harrison," Vivian soothed. "We haven't found him. Let me explain."

While Vivian brought the anxious father up to date, Sam studied him carefully. She read his eyes, body language and responses. She was a good student and it was clear to her this man had no idea about Hughes. She excused herself to go to the bathroom and saw photos of the pretty child everywhere. Along the walls also were dance class citations, crayon drawings from a devoted daughter and stuffed animals and dolls were still waiting for their owner to return. No, she was certain he wasn't involved. She came back into the room just as Vivian was asking about Mrs. Harrison.

"So you and your wife split?"

"Yes, the divorce was final about six months ago. We tried after... after Abby..." he sighed hard, his eyes filling. "I'm sorry. It never gets any easier. Karen didn't have many friends. Usually it was just the three of us. After that dark day and those that followed, the sun never shone again. I suppose I was at fault, I was so terribly depressed. A man reaches my age without marrying... then finds such happiness and a baby to boot. All smashed... broken dreams..."

"Have you spoken to her? Do you know where she is?" Vivian asked. "We need to talk with her about this and DMV doesn't have information."

"She didn't drive," Robert stated. "I'm sorry, I don't know where she lives now. The lawyers did all the work... there is no alimony, just an even split of assets. That was her idea... I really didn't care. What does money mean when your heart is shattered?"

"Does your wife have any family? Would she have gone to live with them?"

"I'm afraid I don't know much about Karen's life before we met. She was a loner... an artist. Her mother died several years ago. She had a sister... up in Canada somewhere... Kitty... short for Kathryn I believe. They haven't spoken in many years. I wish I could be of more help. Do you think this vile creature is after Karen?"

"We don't know what his motive is," Vivian relayed. "But we reopened the case when that voiceprint confirmed who he was."

"Can you tell us anything about your wife's life; Habits, hobbies, anything that might lead us to where she is?"

"We met in New York. She didn't know the area very well, she had just moved here from Toronto. That was oh... about nine years ago. Yes... that's right. I'm afraid I was quite flattered that a woman twenty years younger would become smitten so quickly. We wed six months later and Abby was born a few months after that. Karen was rather shy. She didn't open up around strangers very much. She loved to paint, she was taking lessons and quite good. I travel alot a lot for my business, I'm a consultant for a large engineering firm... or rather I was. Anyway... we led a rather quiet life."

"Would there be any information in your address books? Maybe the phone numbers of some of her old friends?"

"She took all her things..." He paused, "I suppose I could go through some of the trunks in the attic. There might be holiday cards, return addresses... she kept them in the envelopes. Some of the older boxes were intact."

"Alright," Vivian agreed, "Seven o'clock."

"I'm sorry, I feel as if I've left you down."

"That's okay," Sam shook his hand. "We never stopped looking for her. You remember that."

"Dare I hope?" he prayed, watching as the car drove away, "that my angel is still alive?"

State Dept Office
12:30 p.m.

Jack leaned forward and studied the monitor intently. The image was black and white and very grainy. Through the dense jungle in South America, several rebels could be seen. Angry and nearly animalistic, they hooted and hollered while using machine guns to murder their prisoners.

"Who were they?" Danny grimaced, shuddering slightly.

"Soldiers... the uniforms," Helen Bacon answered.

"Is that him?" Jack squinted and resisted the image to use his hand to bang the side of the monitor. A method he still used on his ten inch black and white television to clear up the fuzz.

"Yes, the Embassy confirmed it. That is Father Paulo."

"He looks awful," Danny decided, eyeing the gaunt features and bruises on the older man.

"He's still alive," Jack commented, "How old is this?"

"We're not sure... but once they find the graves... we can confirm time of death. This was found on a dead rebel after a skirmish near the border. We got the feed last night from a Costa Rican television station."

"Why didn't they kill him?" Danny asked.

"Well for one thing, from what you told me and what I've learned since our first meeting," the slim silver-haired woman replied opening a folder, "Father Paulo is a medical missionary. To those rebels, that's worth more than gold. They have casualities..."

"So they'll keep him alive to tend to the wounded..." Jack nodded.

"For now," she agreed, "But the South American Government is holding Juan Xavier Martinez. He is one of the rebel leaders. They might offer Father Paulo in exchange. The American Embassy is involved, since FatherPaulo has dual citizenship."

"Is that where this Jose Colon comes in?" Danny peered at the notes she'd given them.

"Yes, Mister Colon is a farmer in that region. His home is often used by the rebels when they are in the area. He has a sister in Texas who he visits on occasion. He spoke with her earlier this week and mentioned Father Paulo. She read about your missing nun in USA today and reconized recognized the priest's name. She called the local police who contacted us. She is expecting him to call this afternoon. It should be anytime now."

"He met Father Paulo?"

"Yes, he's been in the area for years. He may have information we can use to find Sister Francesca."

"Excuse me." Danny rose and headed for the door. "Too much ice tea. I'll be right back."

The handsome agent made his way down the hall towards the men's room. At the end of the hallway, Pete Gibson watched and waited. His eyes were lit up and he had such an adrenalin rush he was giddy. His fingers were tingling in anticipation. This was it, after all the months of planning, finally it was time to start the show.

He'd left a package at the edge of the river, right where the fishermen would find it. He'd studied their habits and on Wednesdays they used the small cut-off and arrived just after midday. He also knew that every operator on the waterway had a flyer on board courtesy of the county. The number on the front of it would be the one being dialed right about now. He waited until Danny exited the washroom and glanced at his watch. Then he heard the distinct sound of that cell phone.

"Bingo," he whispered, keeping his eyes on the agent.

"Taylor." Danny paused and his eyes widened, "Who? Yes this is the FBI..."

"My name is Max Jones, me and my brother have a small fishing boat we run on the river. Well we just found something by the bank. We spotted something stuck in the rocks and thought it was a person."

"Mister Jones, what does this have to do with me?"

"We got your card from Sheriff Yates. We're up here on the Hudson, just north of Tarrytown. We come down this way a couple times a week. He made sure everyone using the river had your number, cause of that missing nun..."

"Where are you? What did you find? Did you disturb anything?"

The anxious agent stopped at a nearby bench and sat down. While cradling the phone with his neck, he rummaged through his pocket, withdrawing his notebook and a pen.

"We were heading past Bootleggers Cave when we saw something white floating in the water. We thought it was a woman. I jumped in and when I got close, I saw it was just a dress. I didn't touch it, poked it with a stick. It must have travelled from further up; it had bits of wood and rocks on it, not from here. It has dark stains... reddish brown, could be blood."

"A habit maybe?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact there's a paper or something hanging from one of the pockets. I think it's a mass schedule or something. It has a cross and the words Our... and Grace still on it with some numbers like times you know? So me and Al, that's my brother, well we thought about that flyer on the missing nun."

"Yeah..." Taylor kept writing. "Exactly where are you on the river?"

"If you follow it inward, it becomes a tunnel to a cave that ends up at the old prison."

"Hickock?"

"Yeah... you know where I am now?"

"Yeah... Don't leave. I'm coming up there. You keep your eye on it. " Danny thought on the logistics. "I'll need to contact the coast guard I guess, you're pretty far out."

"Be faster to drive to the nursing home and go through the old bootleggers tunnel. It's under the prison."

"Yeah I know..." Danny nodded. "That'll save a lot of time. I'll be there in less than an hour. Stay put!"

"Yessir!"

While the anxious agent went back into the State Department's office, his observer hid an evil smile. His face was glowing as he headed for the street. Timing was everything and he couldn't afford to make any mistakes. Danny Taylor would be the first resident of his newly appointed prison. He hoped the affair wouldn't be too messy, he so hated blood stains.

"Jack I gotta call from a fisherman near the nursing home," Danny issued in a fast burst, "He found a nun's habit in the river. It sounds like it's hers. They're waiting up there for me. I'm gonna drive up now..."

"Okay," Jack agreed, "Go... call me!"

"Yeah," Danny grabbed his jacket and ran for the elevator.

When he hit the street, he stopped dead in his tracks and frowned as he eyed the snarling mess of traffic. He had come here with Jack. Even if he was able to snag a cab back to collect his car it would take well over an hour to get back to the office. Nothing was moving, not midday in Manhattan.

"Shit!" He kicked the curb in frustration. Then an idea sprung to mind. He glanced at his watch. "Perfect timing," he sighed. Jack mentioned Martin picking up his paperwork at the doctor's. That office was about two blocks away in the Medical Plaza. He punched the numbers as he strode along.

"Fitzgerald," Martin answered, jogging down the stairs in the modern building.

"My man Harvard! Welcome back! So are you official?"

"Huh?" the blue eyed agent frowned. "Yeah... I got the paperwork. I'm on my way in the office. You and Jack done already?"

"No, he's gonna be tied up all afternoon. I got a lead on the missing nun. Some fishermen found her habit in the river. My wheels are clear across town and traffic is a mess."

"Where are you?" Martin asked, striding through the lobby. "Oh..." he waved, seeing the other agent outside. "I take it this isn't a coincidence?"

"Hey, as long as you're back on duty and we need to get to the Interstate ASAP..." Danny grinned, clapping the other man's back.

"Yeah..." Martin frowned, hearing Jack bellow already. In addition to the cursing, he 'heard' a long list of regulations. He could turn his keys over to Danny and get a cab. But then again, if Jack wouldn't be back all afternoon, he wouldn't know. It was just a detour on his way in. Technically he was still off duty and helping out a friend. He could drop Danny off and drive back. He'd be in the office before Jack got back. He'd been out of the saddle too long and was dying to get back to work. "You just need a ride up there? Can you get a lift back with the lab?"

"Sure, why?" Danny paused at the passenger side of Fitzgerald's car.

"I'm supposed to check in," Martin slid behind the wheel. "So once we get there and secure the scene, I'm gonna take off. You call the lab?"

"No yet... I'll do it on the way. I need to call the sheriff too." When he eyed the profile of the driver, it was nice to see the fine features relaxed, no sign of the tension of the last few weeks. "Hey Partner?"

"Yeah," Martin turned and his brows furrowed when the dark eyes lit up and a smile formed.

"Lookin' good!" Danny grinned as they turned onto the highway.

The sun was high and life was good... but beyond the edge of the ribbon of highway was a dark cloud. It churned and brewed, anxious to seize its unsuspecting victim who had no idea the nightmare that awaited him.

The journey to Hell had begun.

Part 10

Our Lady of Grace
Security office
1:30 p.m

"So you wait here for the lab crew." Danny turned to nod to the deputy who'd been waiting when he arrived. "Quinn, you're with me. Sheriff Yates is sending some men to the river?"

"Yeah, they're meeting the coast guard up river near the base," the young deputy returned.

"Okay, Taylor, if you're sure you don't need me," the security guard stated.

"No, I know the way. We're good." Danny turned to a very pensive Martin Fitzgerald. The young agent had said little to nothing during the last half of the trip and their short walk to security. The dark-eyed agent had a nagging feeling something wasn't quite right. His partner's pensive expression dictated that clearly. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Martin rasped, trying to convince himself as well.

He needed to do this. Despite all his mental lists why he should turn around and drive back now, his gut told him different. All the logical explanations and rationale didn't outweigh that need inside; the want that now gnawed at him to prove to Danny Taylor he was cured. And he wasn't a fragile, sweating, convulsing pile of nerves inside tight quarters. He was dependable and he could watch his partner's back. He had to do it; he had to show his partner his mettle was made of the same stuff. He blinked and looked up and found the other agent gone. He trotted to the security door and followed the same path he took that fateful night. He walked towards the trail to the woods and realized he'd have to pick up his pace. Danny and the other lawman were walking much faster than he could. His leg wasn't 100% yet and he felt the pressure from pushing too hard already. The injured area beginning began to throb and he heard the doctor's warning about the slow-healing tissue damage echoing again.

He stopped for a moment, leaning against a tree while breathing heavily. As he allowed his leg and lungs to recover, he thought on of all the logical reasons he would give Danny when he did catch up. Taylor would be pissed, but he'd handle that. It was more important to do this; to finally prove to himself with his partner by his side that he wasn't that broken man they'd last encountered. After gathering his breath, he was able to continue. By the time he got to the prison, he was still alone. He took a deep breath and entered.

He felt good, no nerves jumping around and no jitters.

Confidence reigned supreme and he continued his trek. He reached the rusty iron ring that with one pull opened the door to the secret cavern. The musty air kissed his face hungrily and he pushed onward. He heard echoes of movement ahead and quickened his pace. The walls narrowed and he had to duck under some low areas, the darkness enveloped him totally and the walls hugged his shoulders.

He felt good.

He crawled through a low entry point and saw legs ahead. Finally, he'd caught up.

"Danny!"

Taylor turned and squinted and wished he hadn't. He flashed his light and saw Fitzgerald approaching and he chuffed out a breath of annoyance. His hands snaked to his slim hips and his dark eyes were full of anger. The look on the other man's face had him puzzled. Martin looked like the rookie running back who wanted to replace the starter in the fourth quarter with time running out and the game on the line. Martin stopped a few feet away, by now limping badly. The blue eyes shifted to the deputy, clearly not wanting the other man there for whatever had to be said. The dark-eyed agent shook his head and turned back.

"It's okay, it's my partner Martin Fitzgerald," Danny dismissed the concern. "You go ahead to meet those fishermen. I'll be right behind you."

"Okay, Agent Taylor," Quinn nodded and left quickly, taking a narrow exit between two cave walls.

"I outta bust you good for this!" Danny's fury rose with every word and fisted hand. "What the hell are you doing here? You should be on the Interstate, heading back. You're on duty, remember?"

"Not until I turn the papers over," Martin hedged, but his gaze was strong and true. He felt good, damn good and he knew he was right. He couldn't deny the strong force inside him compelling him to do this. "I'm going with you," he said and put a hand up before Danny's irate face could launch a protest. "I have to do this, Danny. A part of me ..." he tapped his lean gut, "in here... it's like a rat is chewing its way out. It's always going to be there unless I show you... I need you to know I got your back."

"Look, you don't owe me a thing. You did this with that doctor, you're all healed now." Taylor knew better. He knew as soon as he made the mistake of looking right into Martin's tell-tale eyes he'd already lost the battle. He could stand here and argue until he was blue in the face, but it wouldn't change anything; he knew the determined terrier would follow anyhow. "Okay, it's your dime.".

Martin exhaled slowly, letting his tension escape. Then he limped onward, seeking out his partner. He kept close, guarding the other man's back. He knew Danny was pissed off at him but he'd get over it. By the time they got through the tunnel, Danny would be headed for the crime scene. His anger would dissolve. He was too good at his job to let it get in the way of an investigation. They were entering the crucial part of the cave. It was very near the place where he'd had his collapse. The walls were at their narrowest and they had to turn sideways to get through. He saw the taller man pause briefly and cast a semi-worried profile back at him.

"I'm fine," Martin said in a very upbeat voice. "No jackhammer in my chest, no trembles... not even any sweat."

Danny didn't reply. He was too angry. He did believe Martin the other day when the doctor had taken him through this place as the final key in the lock. Once that key fit and turned, it opened the door and let those long festering demons out. He saw the change in the other man's face, step and voice. But he didn't need a relapse, not today when there was key evidence waiting for him to examine. The sound of a phone ringing jarred him slightly, causing him to pause. They had just come through a narrow area into a space about fifteen to twenty feet square. Two tunnels channelled into different directions. One was covered with debris and unfamiliar to him. The other was the one that led to the river, which he had used before. He turned slightly to see Martin putting his phone to his ear.

"Fitzgerald," Martin said and then one whispered word slide into his ear. It caused his spine to dissolve, his will to evaporate and his faith to escape as a horrid cold fear consumed him.

"Scorpion"

"Who..." Danny's sentence was broken when something stung the back of his neck.

It all happened at once. Taylor felt his senses slowing to a snail's pace and he dropped to his knees. He saw Martin's face go blank for a second before the cell phone left his hand fell to the ground. Then the other man dropped like a rock. His dark eyes narrowed in a combination of surprise, fear and trepidation. Martin was curled up in fetal position, his hands over his head. He seemed to be moaning. The words 'I told you so' formed in his mind but the chastising phrase never made it to his lips. He couldn't speak. His tongue seemed to too big for his mouth. He wondered briefly about what kind of bug had bitten him. He couldn't recall ever having an allergic reaction like this. A blunt force of pressure to the center of his back caused him to fall onto his face. He was turned halfway over and a hand took his gun from his shoulder holster. He blinked slowly, his heart seemed to slow down and his breathing was labored. Then a dark shadow appeared on the wall where his now discarded flashlight had cast an eerie glow.

"...the hell... are..." Danny slurred, unable to move to protect his fallen partner.

With Herculean effort, Taylor rolled onto his side and forced his numbing body to his knees. His mind urged him to stand but he just couldn't. He had no motor coordination. He blinked slowly, clinging desperately to consciousness. The images were becoming distorted, like garish slow moving photos from a Twilight Zone episode. He saw a gloved hand drop what appeared to be a tranquilizer gun into a large bag. The leering face seemed to be on a body ten feet tall. The clean shaven head on the giant and the icy eyes only made him seem more ominus.

"I'm the gatekeeper, Mister Taylor," Gibson approached the drugged agent and tapped the slack jaw. He pulled the dart out and grinned. "Welcome to Hell."

A thin line of drool was already decorating his chin. The drug would work quickly, but not too fast for Taylor to realize what had been done. Gibson saw the dark eyes shifting to Martin Fitzgerald and left the prisoner long enough to kneel by the gasping blue-eyed lab rat.

"...shhh...ooo... t...emmmm... Mur...tt...t...n...." Danny slurred, his angry eyes watching the stranger caressing Martin's now wet face.

"He can't hear you, Mister Taylor," Gibson oozed, enjoying the trembling mass of flesh beneath his touch. "He's an excellent student, my prize specimen I"ve been working on him for weeks now."

"...no... no... please..." Martin choked. "...don't... hurt... me... no... no..."

"...f...f....f...a....c....k....." Danny cursed, realizing his partner had been the unwilling victim of a madman's plot.

"Ah, I see there is a bit of light still working in your quickly numbing brain. I'm sure you recall your earlier trip through this very area." He paused to pet Fitzgerald's damp head, getting the whimper and terrified eyes that he needed. He picked up the discarded cell phone and tucked it back into Fitzgerald's pocket. "The terrified blue-eyed rat's collapse... it was my doing. He'll be the star of the show. When the final act is completed, justice will have been served. The guilty party will be dead and poor Mister Fitzgerald not soon after. By his own hand, of course, " he predicted, enjoying the look of burning hatred that Taylor was emoting. "Guilt is such a terrible thing, it does horrid things to a man's soul. Survivor's guilt can be very painful, even fatal. He will be the lone survivor and the blood of his beloved team will be a stain he can remove by only one course of action."

"...k...k...k...i...lll... y..y...y...o...u...." Danny predicted, his thick tongue protesting.

"Such fire, I do admire that," Gibson said, turning back to the shivering lab rat.

While Danny's body was quickly turning to jelly, his mind was full of fire. He didn't know who the stranger was or what caused him to act upon this cold hearted murder plot. It didn't matter. If the madman wanted him dead, he'd have used a gun or knife by now. So whatever he had planned involved him remaining alive. That meant he had a chance for escape. He would wipe that smirk from the evil man's face. He'd pay for what he'd done to Martin Fitzgerald. Danny Taylor vowed that and with the little strength he had left, launched his body at the other man.

"I am afraid I underestimated you," Gibson said, rubbing the side of his face where it hit the rough wall.

Taylor was on his knees, drool running from his now rubbery lips. The eyes were glazed and heavy; the breathing was labored. He was swaying badly but his gaze was on his fallen partner. Gibson watched fascinated as the dark-eyed man's cloudy eyes went to Fitzgerald's chest.

"Ah, the gun," The evil doctor chuckled and let the prisoner make his weak attempt. He stepped behind him as twice Taylor lurched and flopped, finally landing near Fitzgerald. The arm was useless, flopping badly and hitting Fitzgerald's hip.

"You have more heart than I anticipated," Gibson noted, eyeing the quivering Fitzgerald. "Martin, Danny needs you. He's hurt and it's your fault. You failed him in his time of need. You remember that! You failed him! He called to you to defend him and you cowered like a yellow dog. He's lying out there full of bullet holes... because of you!"

"No... Danny..." Martin choked, sitting up.

"...huh... huh... herrrre...." Danny tried, unnerved by the blank face and especially the unblinking blue eyes. Whoever this guy was he was good. Martin was unaware of anything but his voice.

"Go to him... hurry... before he dies. It's your fault, you remember that. Danny's not here and it's all your fault. So consumed by terror and shame, you cannot speak. Seek him out silently. He's out in those woods."

"...n...nooo...oooooo..." Danny cried out, as Martin staggered past him to a part of the tunnel they hadn't explored before. He didn't even know where it went.

"I'm sorry but I'm afraid I'm pressed for time and you're not complying." Gibson hauled the drugged younger man up by the back of the collar and slammed his face into the cave wall. "Sweet dreams..."

Danny wasn't aware of his body being put into a large duffel bag. He didn't feel the huge man haul him over his shoulder and follow that the same path that Martin Fitzgerald had taken. He didn't hear the cocky man whistling as they strode through a dense part of the woods. He was not aware when that path met it's its end to a dirt road. He didn't feel his body being tossed into the trunk. He was lost in a dark black void, floating in a numbing sea while he was being driven down a path into a nightmare world.

State Department
1:45 p.m.

Jack was on his cell phone with Vivian getting an update on the Harrison case when the static filled line on Helen Bacon's desk finally cleared.

"Hold on Viv." He paused, cocking his head and watching the silver-haired woman bend over the speaker on the phone.

"Mister Colon, can you hear me?"

"Si... yes... Ma'am..."

"Vivian I gotta go, I'll check back with you."

Jack closed his phone and wheeled the chair back across the room. He pulled up next to the desk and picked up his pen.

"Good." She sighed, "Mister Colon, my name is Helen Bacon. I work for the State Department in New York City. I'm here with Jack Malone of the F.B.I. We have some questions about Father Paulo and Sister Michael."

"Yes... I know them..."

"Mister Colon, do you know if Father Paulo will be released? Have you heard any rumors?" Jack pressed.

"I have heard..." There was a burst of static before the voice came back. "...government... exchange. He is well... for now."

"Good, that's good," Helen said. "About Sister Michael, can you tell us about her?"

Jack winced as another burst of static broke up most of the sentence. He wrote down the words that did come over the line.

"...lovely woman... truly... God's... angel... miss... her..."

"When is the last time you saw her?" Jack hollered into the phone.

"...many... months... summer... brother visited... upset... her... sad... cry..."

"What?" Jack in frustration smacked the static-filled machine. "A brother? What's his name? What did he look like? Colon? Can you hear me?"

"I'm sorry, Jack, we lost it again. He's in a very remote area. They're forwarding it through his sister's home."

"Yeah... yeah..." Jack kicked the desk leg in frustration. "Dammit! That could have been our first real lead."

"The brother?" Helen frowned.

"She doesn't have a brother, she had no family." Malone's dark eyes were glaring. "This guy is tied to her disappearance, I can feel it," he predicted, not knowing just how true those words were.

Hudson Riverbank
1:50 p.m.

"Sheriff Yates?"

"Yeah." The county official jumped off the coast guard boat onto the bank. He approached the two fishermen, nodding to the older one who addressed him. He noted his deputy was taking photos and notes where the white garment was still lying in the water.

"Where's Taylor?" the sheriff asked his deputy. "Right behind me," he turned and eyed the empty path that led to the exit of the cave. "We got about half way through and his partner came charging in. Some guy named Fitzgerald, he seemed upset about something. Taylor told me to head down here."

"Partner?" Yates whipped out his cellphone and the card with Taylor's number. He dialed and got no reply. "I don't like it, he's not answering. Quinn, you got the number for security?"

"Yeah," the deputy tucked his camera away and pulled out his cellphone. "Kennedy? This is Deputy Quinn from the county. Did Taylor or his partner come back there?" He shook his head at his boss. "No? Can you check the monitor? I left Taylor about halfway through and he never arrived. Yeah... I'll hold."

Yates was examining the scene when the F.B.I.'s forensic team arrived via an NYPD boat. Four technicians got off the boat, each toting a bag of equipment. A woman in the front gave some orders and clearly was the agent in charge.

"Sheriff Yates," he offered along with his hand.

"Sue Lennon, where's Taylor?"

"We don't know. He and my deputy," he nodded to the young man on the phone, "left Security together and made their way over there through the shortcut in the prison. Halfway through the underground tunnel, his partner showed up. Taylor told Quinn to head over here. That was about a half-hour ago."

"They didn't come back the way we came," Quinn ambled over closing his cell phone. "Security tape has us entering and Fitzgerald following a little later. But nobody as of now has exited that way. I'm gonna head back through the tunnel. Something happened to them."

"Yeah, okay, you let me know!" Yates ordered, scrubbing a hand over his face. "I don't like this..."

"I wouldn't want to be in your shoes if they don't turn up," Lennon added as she turned back.

"How's that?" Yates asked.

"You're the lucky soul who gets to call Jack Malone."

"Shit!" The sheriff kicked the rocks by his foot. He pulled out his phone to call the supervisor of the missing men then decided to wait until his deputy phoned. He didn't have long to wait before his radio came on.

"No sign of them," Quinn reported from the prison. "I have two security guards with me. What's the call?"

"You looked good? Any signs of an accident? Anything at all?"

"Nothing..." Quinn relayed.

"Okay, you and those two guards start searching. If they didn't come out either way, there has to be another tunnel you missed. I'll send a couple men into the woods from this end. Check in!"

"Will do!" Quinn agreed, "Let's go. Where do we start?"

While his deputy and the two guards studied an old map and began to outline a plan, the unlucky sheriff pulled out Taylor's card and scanned the numbers listed. Taking a deep breath, he dialed Jack Malone.

State Department
2:04 p.m.

"Dammit!" Jack hissed impatiently when yet another attempt to contact the man in Costa Rica ended in static. "I got a meeting with the D.A's office in a half-hour for a trial this week. I gotta go. If you get through, ask him about that man. If whatever he told her caused her to get that emotional..."

"She led a rather sheltered life. If it's not a family member, who could it be?" Bacon wondered. "An old flame? By Colon's words the man was American."

"Why would she lie?" Jack asked, rising and putting his jacket on. "Tell them he was her brother? What was she hiding?"

"...or who was she hiding from? Perhaps she felt threatened by this man?"

Before Jack could reply, his phone rang.

"Malone."

"This is Sheriff John Yates with the county. I was supposed to meet your Agent Taylor down here by an offshoot of the Hudson River near Our Lady of Grace..."

"Yeah, he left here about twelve-thirty or so, why?" Jack interrupted.

"Well there's a problem..."

"What kind of problem?" His interior radar kicked up and the word 'trouble' began to blink in red letters. "Is Danny okay?"

"When was the last time you spoke with him?" Yates delayed.

"Not since he left..." Jack frowned. "Quit fuckin' around, Yates. What's going on?"

"I'm afraid your agents seem to be missing. We're doing everything to find them. I've got men combing the woods and I'll call the State Troopers and get some additional help. My deputy and the security team are going back through the tunnel to see if they somehow got lost."

"Hold it!" Jack roared, backtracking. "What do you mean 'agents'? Danny was alone."

"He was when they left. He and my man were halfway through the tunnel when Taylor's partner caught up to them."

"Partner?" he managed through clenched teeth already seeing a familiar face. The very image of Fitzgerald brought on a headache.

"Yeah... a Fitzgerald..." He paused when he heard a very odd sound resound in his ear "Quinn, my deputy, said that this other guy was upset. Taylor sent him ahead and that's the last we saw him."

"I'll kill him!" Jack vented, punching the wall. "Stupid... stubborn... Dammit Fitzgerald!"

"Security tapes have them entering but not exiting. They didn't come this way. They could be just down an old tunnel or maybe they got lost and ended up in the forest on the other side."

"You try his phone?" Malone asked.

"No answer."

"Okay," Jack eyed his watch. "You get more men in that cave. I want every rock turned over. If we can't find them inside, I'll get a chopper authorized; we'll need one with all those trees."

"Listen, I'm sorry about this," Yates apologized.

"Not your doing," Malone dismissed, "Gimme your number..." He jotted it down and then flipped the phone off.

"What's wrong?" Helen asked.

"Danny and Martin are missing... something about that damn cave. They went inside and never came out. Do you have Mannion's phone number?"

"Dennis?" She flipped through a roledex. "Yes. I guess you won't be meeting with the D.A today."

"No," he said, taking the phone from her. After the short conversation ended, he punched Danny's phone number. He was about to hang up, when the ringing stopped. He was by the elevator and paused, closing off one ear to cut down on the outside noise. "Hello? Danny? Danny!"

Martin jerked and almost dropped the phone. He was covered in sweat and his face stung. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. He was lying in the dirt in the middle of a forest. He forced his body up into a sitting position and fell back against a tree. He blinked hard and stared at the terrain, but had no idea where he was or how he got here. His mind began to spin at an increasing speed, making him dizzy and sick. Sweat poured down his face and his chest hurt. His heart was beating wildly and he couldn't catch his breath. His eyes darted back and forth like balls spinning in a pinball machine. Questions exploded in brilliant colors within his state of panic.

Where was he? What happened? Why couldn't he remember?

He heard a disembodied voice and stared dumbfounded at the phone in his palm. He put it to his ear and flinched when his partner's name was screamed at him.

"Danny! It's Jack. Can you hear me?" Malone waited but could only hear the odd breathing

Jack

That brought an angry face to his mind's eye. Jack was mad at him. Jack was going to skin him alive. He'd done something very wrong. His eyes darted and he tried to remember. He shut them, blocking out the voice on the phone. He fought hard to bring up any memory at all. He saw Danny beside him in a car on the highway. He pushed harder trying to see what had happened next but the screen went black. The voice was hollering again.

Talk to him. Tell him you need help. Tell him what you did to Danny.

He cocked his head, puzzled at the last statement. What about Danny? Where was Danny? His frantic eyes swept over the dense landscape. Trees, grass, rocks, dirt and vines were all around him. But his partner was not here. He tried to call out, but no voice emerged. Not even as much as a croak. It was hard to breathe and he was cold. He was so cold he was shivering and his teeth were chattering.

Another voice interrupted; a dark, menacing voice echoing of Lucifer.

Remember it's your fault. He needed you. He was bleeding. Dying. Reaching out for your help. You deserted him. You failed. Failed... failed...

Then the picture exploded in his head. An image so ghoulish it caused him to drop the phone as bile rose. He gagged and coughed but no vomit came up. Just the image of Danny's body riddled with bullets, one hand reaching out.

"N...n...n...o...o..." he whispered. "God no."

Jack froze and furrowed his brows. That wasn't Danny. That was Martin's voice. It was barely audible but definitely Fitzgerald. He heard distant sounds of what appeared to be moaning or sobbing. But the voice wasn't close to him. Martin must not be holding the phone anymore.

"Martin? Pick up the phone... Martin! Shit!" Malone aired his frustration, then a thought occurred to him.

He swung his head around and saw a businessman approaching. He eyed the small black leather pouch on the man's waist, pulled out his badge and held it up in front of the man.

"Yo! Hold it. F.B.I. I need that phone."

"Excuse me?"

"Give me your damn phone!" Jack hollered, shoving his hand into the man's chest.

The startled man complied and dialed Martin's number. Sure enough on the third note, the ringing stopped. He listened hard and the same frantic breathing came into his ear.

"Martin? Martin! Is that you?"

"J...j....j..." He pushed, sucking up air. "...a...c...k..."

"Yeah, it's me, Martin. Are you hurt? Is Danny with you? Where are you?"

"Danny?" Martin gasped, seeing the dead body again. "Oh God... Jesus... Danny... I'm sorry... it's my fault"

"Christ!" Jack vented, raking his free hand through his hair. "Fitzgerald snap out of it!" he roared. "You and Danny were in the cave by the nursing home. You never came out. Where the Hell is Taylor?"

"I don't know! Stop screaming at me! Just stop!" Martin blurted, clenching his eyes shut and rocking back and forth, trying to quell the pain in his gut. "... failure... failure... he needed... me... yellow..."

Malone didn't try to make any sense out of the young agent's prattle. He sighed in frustration and tried in vain to get the shocked man to speak with some clarity.

"Martin, stop babbling!" he thundered. "Listen to me. Where are you? There are cops there. They'll find you. Understand? Are you inside or out?

"Trees..." Martin rasped, "...woods..."

"Okay, good, that's good," Jack encouraged. "Is Danny with you?"

"Danny?" Martin's throat closed and he nearly choked as if invisible hands were strangling him. "N...o... gone... I don't know... I can't... I don't..."

"Okay," Jack sighed hard. "Do you have your gun?

"Yeah..." He patted his shoulder.

Jack kept Martin on his right ear and dialed Yates with the other. A worried voice picked up on the first ring.

"Yates."

"It's Malone. I got Fitzgerald. He's not making any sense. I don't know if he's got a head injury or he's sick. Could even be shock. He's in the woods somewhere and he's alone. I'm going to have him fire two shots in the air. You track 'im, okay?"

"Yeah. Gimme a minute to update my men. Then have him shoot."

"Martin? You still with me?" Malone asked.

"Here."

"Okay," Jack kept his eyes on his watch. "I want you to take your gun out and fire two shots in the air. Can you do that?"

"Yeah..." Martin whispered. He put the phone down and took his weapon out.

The echo of the shots lingered in his head. The picture came back. It was a grisly image in black and white; Danny's unseeing eyes in a bullet ridden suit. The dark stains on his chest began to turn into color; rich red... blood red. He curled up and rocked as the voice came back telling him what a worthless worm he was, that his partner had died calling out for his help.

And he had done nothing . He heard his name being called in the distance. The voices gradually got louder, but not loud enough to drown out the other one. He took the gun out and raised it high, firing another shot. Then the dark voice got so loud it drowned out his screams finally sending him into darkness.

Ogunquit, Maine
Five o'clock

The waterfront was crowded. The tourists and locals shared the tables in the colorful cafes along the ocean. The scent of fresh seafood rode on the breeze, mixing freely with the salted spray. Gulls called overhead and laughter from the tables tickled the ears of all who were dining. Colorful drinks in oversized glasses, pale wine and amber beer were flowing freely. But the real attraction was the prized catch - lobster.

"I think I died and went to heaven!" Sam complimented, dipping a healthy piece of lobster into drawn butter. It went down easy, like velvet. "God this is good."

Before Vivian could reply, her phone rang. She swallowed, took a sip of ice tea and wiped her mouth before answering the phone.

"Hello." She frowned at the tone on the other end. Then her face grew ashen. That caused her partner to stop eating and lean forward.

"What?" Sam whispered.

"When?" Vivian's heart sank. "Nothing? No leads? Jack, how's Martin?" She pulled the phone away as the voice grew in anger and got colorful. "That's not going to help anything. I'm sure nobody feels worse than he does. Alright Jack.." she tried to placate. "Just calm down. We'll leave now..."

"Vivian, what's wrong?" Sam demanded when her partner hung the phone up . When those dark eyes met hers, there were shadows there that she didn't like at all. "Oh God..." She did a quick assessment. Before she could voice her fear, Vivian did.

"Danny's missing."

Atlantic Counry, NJ
The Tower
Six p.m.

He felt like Caeser the night of the first victory. His blood was coursing through his veins at record speed and his adrenalin was in high gear. He was nearly drunk with power. He sat within the control room of the newly named ŌTower'. The name had come to him as he had deposited his first prisoner within its walls. After all, the Tower of London was the most famous prison in history. And he was about to crush his enemies not unlike those monarchs who ordered the heads of their enemies to roll.

Peter Gibson punched up the numbers on the panel and sat back. Three of the ten screens sprang to life. Three different angles of the final resting place of Special Agent Daniel Taylor. His blue eyes moved far left, where the long shot of the room was before him. Clothed in the typical orange jumpsuit that prisoners wore, the newcomer was lying on his back on the twin-sized bunk. He had yet to rouse but that was due to the strong sedative that had been in the dart. His handsome face was bruised but the blood had been washed away. Head wounds do tend to bleed a lot. He wasn't confined, there was no need; the cell had no visible door. Only by punching in a sequential series of numbers did a wall panel slide open, providing entry.

He took his gaze to the second screen, an overhead shot that was a close-up of the prisoner's face. No stress in the features, his drugged sleep was without trauma. But that would change. His confinement coupled with the guilt that would come once the fact was introduced to him that he had been the key that sent Martin Fitzgerald onto the psychologist's couch would add to his frustration. Then there would be the videos provided that would show Taylor the early footage of the blue eyed fly landing in the web.

Yes, it should be an interesting week, until the second guest arrived. He opened the leather journal and began to write.

Journal Entry Four

Audentes fortuna juvat -Fortune favors the bold.

Welcome, Agent Taylor. As my chapter states, I do believe that 'Fortune favors the bold'. That is why I will be victorious and the corrupt doer will fall. But not before he suffers the pangs of Hell. He'll feel Lucifer's fangs sinking in his gut every waking minute. By the time I've finished with his sorry soul, death will be a welcome relief.

Already it is beginning, though he is barely aware of it. But with each passing day when he frantically searches for the lost lamb, I will rejoice. Until the soil beneath this place is soaked red with his blood, I will not rest.

Justice will be mine.

Part 11

Phelps Memorial Hospital
Sleepy Hollow, NY
Seven p.m.

Jack eyed the red letters bearing the word 'Emergency' and steered his car to the parking lot beyond the entry. He paused for a moment after cutting the engine off and rested his head against the back of the seat. It was chilly damp spring night but he felt like it was the middle of July. Sweat made his wrinkled shirt a second skin, clinging to him like an unwanted lover. The shadows of his beard were appearing and his eyes bore the mark of the headache he suffered.

"What a fuckin' day..."

He sighed heavily and unbuckled his seatbeat. As he strode towards the entry of the hospital, he reflected on the last several hours. Martin had been found unconscious by the deputies from the county. He'd arrived here just before three p.m. and the initial examination indicated no signs of injury. His body had suffered no physical trauma, only some minor cuts on his face and hands. The emergency room attending physician had ordered all the perfunctory tests. He'd spoken with the doctor and told her of his phone call and Martin's shaken demeanor. She admitted him for observation for a few hours, depending on how he reacted upon awakening.

Until a half-hour ago, he'd remained at the scene, coordinating efforts to find Danny Taylor. The tension that began at the initial phone message from the sheriff had grown with every passing hour. Frustration hung heavily in the air, causing his own temper to flare. Despite the manpower and hours spent combing the woods and cave, no sign of the missing agent could be found. It was as if he disappeared into thin air.

"Can I help you?"

Jack blinked his way out of the train of thought and eyed a nurse at the reception desk he was now standing in front of. He glanced around the room, eyeing about a half dozen people waiting to be seen. He stepped closer and pulled his badge out.

"Malone, F.B.I.. One of my men was brought in here, Martin Fitzgerald. I'd like to speak with Doctor Gardner, she admitted him."

"Hold on," she requested.

Jack wiped the weariness from his eyes and leaned heavily on the counter. She punched numbers into a phone bank and then at the sound of a beep, asked the doctor to call her. A few minutes later, the phone rang. He listened as she identified him and the situation.

"Sorry for the delay, Agent Malone," she eyed the haggard face before her. 'Doctor Gardner will meet you in Room 212, just take that elevator to the second floor and turn left, follow the numbers."

"Thanks."

Jack was following the numbers on the doors in a pleasant bright colored hallway when he saw a middle-aged woman wearing a lab coat eyeing him. She was standing by a station that held charts, monitors and several nurses.

"Agent Malone?"

"Jack," he acknowledged, offering his hand. "You the doctor?"

"Yes, I'm Anne Gardner. Mister Fitzgerald has recovered and I'm releasing him. His earlier symptoms have dissipated but he should be careful for the next twenty-four hours or so."

"What happened to him out there?" Jack inquired.

"How did he sound to you on the phone? You were the only one who spoke to him during the crisis."

"Uh... confused... scared," Jack paused, shaking his head. "That's not Martin. His breathing was off, like shallow, he was incoherent and very disoriented."

"Well, coupled with the physical signs I saw upon admittance." She nodded, eyeing her notes, "Cold, clammy skin, sweating profusely, extremely pale, his lips were a bit blue. His blood pressure was low and his heartbeat was a bit rapid. He roused briefly but was unable to reply to any questions coherently. He didn't seem aware of where he was and he did vomit."

"And?" Jack pressed.

"We ran a full series of tests on him to rule out any possible head injury or chemical induced reaction. They were all negative and my diagnosis is shock. His body was not getting adequate oxygen enough to feed itself."

"Shock?" Jack shook his head, envisioning Danny's body. "Not from blood loss...""

"No, there are several types of shock. I believe Mister Fitzgerald was suffering from Respiratory Shock, most likely from a trauma," She saw his eyes darting. "What?"

"When he was on the phone he was babbling about Danny. Danny Taylor is the other agent missing. He was saying something to the effect of 'it's my fault' and 'I'm sorry Danny', sort of like he was blaming himself."

"Well, it could very well be something did occur that was so painful to bear that his body shut down, his nervous system went out of control. Has he been under a lot of stress recently? If he was in a situation and lost control..."

"He was out on sick leave." Jack shook his head.

"Yes, he mentioned that to me, when I quizzed him about his medical profile. He told me about the spider bite. But I felt he was holding back. I thought perhaps something else happened." She paused and saw the dark-haired man shake his head. "He can't remember anything, that's normal in some cases. The last thing he does remember is traveling on the highway before they reached Our Lady of Grace. He woke up about an hour ago. We kept him on O2 and got some fluids in him. He seems stronger now."

"But..."

"He's not incoherent anymore; he's angry, very angry. I sense he feels whatever happened out in those woods is his fault." She nodded towards the room, thinking on the body language of the young man. "He doesn't like to lose control."

"That's an understatement," Jack agreed, raking a hand through his disheveled hair. "So he's okay to go?"

"Shaken but yes, with some rest and fluids, he'll be fine." She saw the anger flashing in the federal agent's dark eyes and her protective nature kicked in. "Mister... Agent Malone I need to caution you. He got very upset when he learned you were on you your way. He's extremely agitated."

"He's not the only one," Jack sent back tersely.

"This is my field, Agent Malone and that won't help anything. You lashing out at him won't make him remember any quicker. Rather it might have severe consequences. You need to tread carefully. Give him some time to recover before pushing him into a corner."

"With all due respect Doctor," Jack interrupted, "I have a man missing and he's the only witness." He jabbed a finger at the room a few doors away. "He's not glass; he won't break. Give me a little credit, I've been doing this for twenty years."

"Alright." She put up both hands defensively. "Just think before you leap, okay? I'm telling you he's on the edge."

"Yeah... yeah..." Jack nodded once and moved past her. "Thanks."

Malone paused in the doorway. Fitzgerald was pacing the room like a caged tiger. Short strides in the same pattern, the muscles flexing in suppressed rage and his eyes were nearly glowing. Finally, he paused by the window. Anger was radiating off his rookie like the heat from a desert highway. He was dressed in blue hospital garb. Jack saw a bag by the foot of the bed and the smell told him it contained the soiled clothing. Martin was turned at the window, only half his face visible. The skin was flushed red, both fists were clenched to the white-knuckle stage and the blue eyes were livid. Malone collected his thoughts and decided on the best approach to take.

Martin felt guilty. He chuffed in annoyance and stared at the tiny lights from the cars moving up the highway in the distance. Why couldn't he remember? How the hell can you lose your own partner? How is that possible? He prided himself on being in control of every situation. Making mental notes and taking in every detail. But this... this huge block of time missing from his mind was unnerving. What the hell was he doing in the middle of the woods? He shut his eyes and pushed back the hands of time... again. The same damn scene came up; Danny beside him in the car on the highway. The next thing he recalled was waking up on a gurney in an elevator on his way to this room.

"...fuckin' black hole..." he vented, kicking the radiator.

"What happened?" Jack asked without moving, he didn't want to push the tiger further into the cage he was already trapped in. He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips.

"I lost my goddamn partner, that's what happened!" Martin ranted, turning to face his boss. "Stupid... stupid... Martin. Can't do a Goddamn thing right..."

"Stop it!" Jack hissed, jerking his index finger in the irate agent's direction. "You're not three, knock off the tantrum. Just tell me what you know. Take a breath and calm down for Christ's sake.

Martin's hands were riding the hips of the loose blue scrubs. He stared hard at the intense dark eyes and saw the leader inside. Jack was the man in charge of the highly rated team and had a lot of people to answer to. Danny's disappearance would cause a large ripple in the undercurrent of the Bureau. Jack would have a lot of questions to answer and that search for the answers started here in this room. He knew inside Jack wanted to kick his ass from here to the river, but that's why he was a team leader. The supervisor inside and the skills he had as a leader now pushed the emotional half to the side.

He turned away, dropped his head and took a deep breath .He closed his eyes and pushed the 'play' button again .The same grainy image appeared of two agents riding in a car on the Interstate laughing and teasing; then a bunch of blurry faces in the Emergency room quickly replaced by the walls of the elevator he woke up inside of.

"What the fuck's the use!" Martin snapped, throwing his hands up in annoyance. "It's a blank... there's nothing there. Jesus, Jack, I lost half the day."

"Alright, Martin, calm down!" Jack issued in a low voice."Take a deep breath and start from the beginning."

"Danny... found me at the Medical Building." He turned and eyed the other man. "I was going to the office."

Jack sighed hard and nodded, Martin was looking at him like a blue-eyed puppy in the window of a pet store; too anxious to please and eager for a pet on the head.

"Yeah... go on..."

"Danny needed a ride. He had to get to the nursing home and traffic was a mess. He'd have lost too much time going back for his car. He asked for a ride."

"Why didn't you give him your keys? You weren't on a timeclock."

"I..." Martin paused. "I could have, but you weren't due back all day. I thought I had plenty of time to get there and back."

The words 'desk duty' were dangerously close to spilling from Malone's mouth. He had to fight hard to resist the urge to throttle the headstrong rookie. He balled both hands into fists and heard the doctor's words echoing in his head. He didn't want to push Martin so hard that he would never be able to retrieve those missing hours. So he held back, swallowed his anger and let the younger man breathe a little.

"Okay, what next?"

"We uh... got... I drove us... to... Our Lady of Grace... "

"You asking me or telling me?" Jack replied to the question that lingered in the his tone.

"I'm not sure," Martin admitted, rubbing his eyes. "It's like a bad movie. I keep pushing the play button and I see the same damn scene - me and Danny in the car. That's it... until I woke up here." He sighed hard and turned to face the man who was his mentor. "Jack, what the hell did I do?"

"I don't know, Martin," he replied honestly, a little bit undone by the pleading shade in the eyes. "Whatever happened, it happened fast. You weren't in the cave very long."

"I wasn't supposed to be in there at all," Martin said too quickly and then jumped back a bit startled. Where did that come from?

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack quizzed, realizing by the shocked face Martin didn't expect those words to come out.

"I don't know... I think I was just dropping him off... I..." Martin shook off the strange disorientation and reached for a mug of water. His trembling hand barely got the cup to his lips.

"From what the guard said, you two split up at the Security office. Danny and the deputy, a guy named Quinn, were going to use that old cave as a shortcut to the river. Quinn said you showed up halfway through and Danny told him to go ahead. He got to the river... you two didn't. They found you on the west side in the woods. You took a tunnel that was closed off. When I talked to you, Martin, you were incoherent. You were confused, babbling nonsense about 'it' being your fault, apologizing to Danny. You passed out and the sheriff found you. Does that help?"

"No," Martin whispered, unable to account for the sheer terror gripping his chest. He didn't want a relapse. He needed to escape this place and find his .partner. He took a steadying breath, corralled his scattered emotions and regained control. So he put the mask back in place as he turned back to face his boss.

"Sorry... nothing."

"Well, the doctor said it might come back. Did you notice anybody following you on the highway? Maybe somebody had it in for Danny and was tailing him."

"No..." Martin shook his head. "Nothing on the tape?"

"Just the three of you going into that old prison and only Quinn coming out. The west side isn't on a monitor, it's never used. Whoever did this, came in that way and went out that way.I got a crew going over the cave but it's not stable."

"Well, he didn't just disappear into thin air!" Martin hissed, annoyed at himself. He was with Taylor when it happened. Why was he still here and Danny gone? He bent down to pick the bag of his dirty clothes up as his boss spoke.

"Look, you need to rest," Jack was anxious to get back and not liking the instability in the rookie. "I've got a county car outside, they'll take you home. I'm heading back to those woods. Then tomorrow..."

"Tomorrow? Like Hell I will," Martin spun around, eyes hot. "Danny's my partner. I was supposed to watch his back.I fucked up and I'm gonna find him."

"You can add 'doesn't listen to direct orders to that list'," Jack leveled not hiding his displeasure. "What about the words 'desk duty' don't you understand?"

Martin opened his mouth to reply but said nothing. What was the use? His ass was grass anyway. Jack was going to chew him up and spit him out in little pieces. He'd be lucky if he saw street action before his next birthday. Annoyed and not in the mood for being interrogated, he moved to pass the bull in the doorway.

"I told you to go right to the office. That didn't include a detour to Our Lady of Grace!" Jack raged.

"I wasn't on duty yet!" Martin fired back and winced when his arm was grabbed and he was propelled down the hall toward the elevator.

"I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that," Jack seethed. "And you better think of a better answer on your way home."

"Fuck off!" Martin jerked his arm free as the door opened. He moved inside and nearly saw the steam coming out of Jack's ears like and an old Loony Tunes Cartoon. "You gotta be kidding, Jack. How the hell am I supposed to sleep with my partner missing? I'm the only lead you have. I'm going back to those woods and I'll dig up every tree if ..."

Martin's words were cut off when he was suddenly shoved to the back of the elevator. Jack's arm was thrust across his chest. The dark eyes were about one degree past the lethal zone. He swallowed hard and waited for the explosion.

"Now you listen to me, Fitzgerald. I'm going to plant your ass in that car. The deputy inside will be driving you home. HOME, as in the place where that sorry ass of yours will be perched since you're on suspension."

"What!" Martin yelped. "Aw, come on Jack..."

"You disobeyed a direct order and thanks to that mistake, a federal agent is missing."

"You don't know that!" Martin defended. "Maybe Danny took off and I followed. Maybe he screwed up..."

"What I know," Malone paused as the door opened and he grabbed Martin's elbow and propelled him out the door. "Is that it's about time you learned to obey my orders! And lose that cocky attitude. None of this might have happened if you understood your job. I'm the boss, I give the orders. You had no right to play cowboy."

Before Martin could reply, Jack's phone rang. They were standing by the sheriff's department car. He saw Jack snap his fingers and point to the door. Martin knew he'd get nowhere arguing with Jack now. The eyes were well beyond the danger zone. Besides, after the deputy dropped him off, he had some errands to do. First on the list was calling the doctor. He had to find out what happened during that large chunk of time missing from his brain. The hypnotherapy would work and he'd get his answer. Then he would find his partner, no matter what it took. He was already suspended.

How could it get any worse?

Atlantic County, NJ
The Tower
8 pm

Dry

Fire

Burn

Hurt

These images forced their way into his muddled brain. He tried to piece all the jagged thoughts together but it didn't work, he was in too much pain. Somewhere way beneath his pounding head and heavy eyes his mouth was dry. It felt like it was on fire. He tried to pull his tongue from where it seemed to be glued to the roof of his mouth. His eyes twitched and his jaw worked. His fingers moved and felt stiff cotton. Then he inhaled and frowned.

Antiseptic

This wasn't home, it smelled new, like the inside of that car you test drive but can't afford to buy. He inhaled again and plied his tongue loose, wincing at the effort. Questions started to form inside the throbbing skull he was housing.

Where am I?

Why am I in so much pain?"

Why can't I wake up?

"...hap...pen...ed..."

The unfamiliar, croaking voice caused him to peel his eyes halfway open. Danny blinked rapidly, adjusting to the light. Pale walls, a fancy television built into the far wall with a large screen, a table and chair, a small refrigerator and microwave. He closed his eyes again, the pain and confusion too much to absorb at one time.

Sick

As soon as his brain was aware he was awake, the nausea erupted. Like a tidal wave it rose and caused his body to convulse. He flipped sideways, curling up in a fetal position and protecting the tender abdomen that was now having in seizure. He couldn't remember ever being so sick.

He wanted to die.

"...God... Oh God..."

He spotted an open door and a toilet. His mind was willing but his body unable. Then he saw the bucket by the bed. He stumbled off the bed and landed on the floor. With all the effort he could muster he managed to get to his hands and knees. He didn't have time to grab the bucket before his gut erupted fast and furious. By the time the vomiting ended, the painful dry heaves left him weak and teary-eyed.

Dizzy and on the verge of passing out, he didn't have the strength to find the bed. He collapsed on his back, gagging on the bitter, foul-tasting residue clinging to his mouth, face and chest. He gasped for air, the effort of releasing the bile having worn him out. He blinked in confusion at the ceiling and his blurry eyes roamed around the room again.

It wasn't a hospital, it wasn't home. For a fleeting second, he feared he had died.

"...no... puke... heaven..." he gasped.

Then black spots appeared on the ceiling and seemed to dance. They got larger and larger, taking away his vision. Just before he gave in and let the black circle absorb him, he had a flash of another place. A dark cave, a sinister voice and a terrified man curled up in a ball.

"...Mar...tin..."

He reached out to his partner as the darkness fell. His fingers remained half curled and seeking Fitzgerald. He was in a weird state of semi-awareness. He heard a noise he thought was a door closing but couldn't find his eyes to look. He felt a warm cloth and inhaled the scent of soap as the cotton cleaned his face. He felt pressure on his chest and moaned. Then someone turned him onto his side and that caused him to cry out.

"...no... hurts..."

A voice penetrated his dark place, soft and calming. He relaxed, for some reason he didn't fear this person. His head was lifted and something cold nudged his lips. The voice came back, close to his ear. Words were issued, soft orders and he obeyed, opening his mouth. He had to concentrate hard to follow the instructions.

...rinse... spit... drink...

Water

God it tasted great. He sucked too hard and fast like a starving infant finding his mother's breast for the first time. The voice came back and the mug was taken away. He fought weakly and was chastised. Fast? Sick? No, not that again.

"...ple..e..ze... wad...derrrr..."

The cloth wiped his face again and the cold water refreshed him. He was raised halfway and collapsed back against something too soft for a bed. The mug nudged his lips again and a straw entered his mouth. The voice said to go 'slow'. He could do that. He would do anything to keep that water coming. The voice was talking again and the soothing tone was comforting. But it was getting harder to hear. Then it faded away and he gave into the blackness completely.

TIMELINE:
November 1978
Mystic Isle, NJ

Theresa DiSipio sat on the beach and watched the gulls swooping down to snatch their breakfast from the blue sea. It was beautiful here. The sea was very tranquil and the calming waves soothed her. Maybe it was the ebb and flow of the tide or the salty spray in the air. Whatever the reason, this place was home now. She'd found it by accident five months ago and stayed.

As the new day rose, she sipped some coffee from the bench on the boardwalk and contemplated her life here. All the pain and turbulence of the spring has dissolved on the day when her bus ticket brought her to this place. Without money or a home, with her heart broken and her eyes swollen from crying, she walked from the depot to this place. Carrying her few possessions in a bag, she walked on the golden sand until she saw a small church.

Seeing the tiny stone building and that cross on the top took her exhaustion away. Like a beacon, it called to her. She found herself inside, kneeling in a wooden pew by a beautiful stained glass window. The sun spilled through, giving the blue, gold and rose image of Mary, the mother of God an unearthly hue.

She was captivated and mesmerized. She pledged herself that day. She vowed that if the Blessed Mother gave her another chance, she would make things right. She prayed, she wept and finally, she slept. A gentle hand shook her awake and the dark eyes that met hers were the warmest she'd ever known. A slight man, with a shock of thick dark hair, shooting through with silver brought her to her feet. Four simple words; that was all it took.

What troubles you child?

She took one look at those dark eyes and melted. She was full of shame and remorse. She poured her heart out to the kindly, old priest. She told him everything, her hopes and dreams as well as her nightmare. He didn't judge he; he accepted her. She had a good heart, that is what he said. He offered her a job at the rectory, cleaning and cooking. She had a room in the back and this beautiful beach and ocean at her window.

Peace.

She felt Mary's embrace that day and pledged her soul to the beautiful lady. As she stroked her swollen abdomen, felt the child move within her, she reaffirmed that vow. This child would be raised in God's light. True and strong in body and spirit, with none of the malice and deceit from its father. Anger flashed briefly when she thought of Peter Gibson. She'd gone to him, poured her heart out and begged for help.

He'd laughed.

That hurt her more than she would admit to herself. He laughed and dismissed her, accusing her of pinning a bastard on him that wasn't his. It was in front of a whole campus full of students, his friends who only saw the golden boy, the star quarterback who made every magazine cover, the NFL's soon to be star rookie. He laughed at her, loudly stating she was a whore who slept with anyone willing to pay for it. She did it anyway they wanted and with more than one.

They laughed and called her names.Terrified, she threatened him, saying she would go to the Dean. He told her he'd go with her.She had no proof and the school wasn't about to lose all the money and acclaim he brought to them.His hand clamped on her arm and propelled her towards the path that led to the main road.He warned her if she dared ever show her face here again or called him, he had friends who would make sure she never uttered another threat.

Weak.

She was weak, she knew that, but she had nobody. She was alone in the world and in the sun on that fated day last spring, she knew her life was altered forever. She realized watching him walk away that she didn't need him. Nor did she want him in her life or her child's. This child would learn nothing but cruelty and hatred from him. He was shallow and evil; he had nothing to offer as a father. She was better off without him and so was her baby. So after graduation, she counted her money and walked to the train station. That's how she ended up in this seaside town.

She heard the bells ringing and awkwardly stood up. Father Dominic would be returning from morning mass and she had to get lunch ready. She paused and fingered the tiny cross on her neck, casting her dark eyes skyward. Mary still held her close and once she raised her child and it left the nest, she intended to return to her promise. She would become a nun and devote her life to God.

Manhattan New York
Missing Persons Bureau
Ten p.m.

Jack Malone glanced at his watch on his way up to his office. It didn't seem possible that this day could still be alive. It might have been the longest twenty-four hours he could remember in quite some time. The last few hours combing the woods by the cave netted absolutely nothing. Darkness set in along with a rather harsh storm, so the search was called off until daylight.

As he walked down the corridor towards his office, Danny Taylor's easy smile appeared. Taylor was not only a good agent, one of the best he'd worked with, but a good friend. It was a weird feeling, one he couldn't yet come to terms with. His job was the head of the F.B.I's most elite Missing Person's Unit. Now for the first time in his investigative career, he was on both sides of the fence. Playing the role of cop and victim, or rather family member.

It sucked.

He frowned as he got closer to the office. Harsh voices could be heard even this far down the hall. Quickening his pace, he eased his frame through the door and then froze. That two people were inside his office was enough to raise his hackles and his voice. But these two individuals brought dual ulcers into overdrive in his gut.

That Martin Fitzgerald was inside his office was bad enough. The man with him caused his blood pressure to rise into the stroke zone.

"Christ," he muttered, spotting the arrogant Deputy Director of the F.B.I. What the hell was Victor Fitzgerald doing here?

As he strode towards the door, he winced at the livid face and harsh words coming from Victor's mouth directed at his son. Something paternal lurched in his gut when the elder Fitzgerald's finger jabbed Martin hard in the chest, backing the defensive agent into a wall.

"What a prick," he mumbled, as he got to the doorway.

"I didn't raise an idiot, Martin! Just what the hell were you thinking? I'll answer that, you weren't thinking at all. What you did is inexcusable! Disobeying a direct order and then that nonsense in the cave."

"I was doing my job!" Martin lashed back. "You weren't there. You don't know shit." He seethed, shoving the hand holding him to the wall away. "And don't you fuckin' touch me!"

"You watch your language, this is an office and you're supposed to be a professional," Victor warned. "And show a little respect, Martin."

"Respect has to be earned," Jack oozed, walking towards the pair and putting himself in front of the emotive Martin, then turning to face the irate Victor.

"Oh that's rich coming from you," Victor spat back. "Just where the hell were you? How did you let this happen? You're supposed to be in charge here. You have an agent out on injury returning to desk duty. You're supposed to enforce that so something like this doesn't happen."

"Martin was..." Jack started only to be interrupted by a voice from behind him.

"Martin can speak for himself," the angry rookie declared, shoving off Jack's restraining arm and facing both of them. "I'm not a child, stop talking around me. I won't apologize, I didn't do anything wrong. Danny needed a ride and I gave him one. Whatever happened out there... happened to him.Somebody was out to get him and I just happened to be there. It was an accident. I'm not Teflon Dad. I'm not like you, I'm flesh and blood, I bleed..."

"You're making excuses, Martin," Victor accused, "and you watch your mouth! Don't you use that tone of voice on me, young man. I'm still your father!"

"Jesus, your arrogance would choke a horse," Martin snorted, shaking his head.

"Seems you've grown a filthy mouth since moving back East..." Victor bristled

"That's it," Jack spoke to both, moving again to separate them.

Martin was ready to shove Jack aside again. But during the process of licking his wounded pride he looked up and saw Malone's black eyes glaring at him. The force was nearly blinding and he felt sure a hole was being seared through his shirt.

"Sit," Jack issued quietly through clenched teeth and directed his eyes to the chair by his desk. Martin swallowed hard, nodded once, then slid into the chair.

"I'm not done with you, Martin," Victor ignored Malone, bared his fangs and hovered over his shaken son. "Look at me when I'm talking to you. You screwed up royally and there's a federal agent missing because of your stupidity..."

"Enough!" Jack roared, moving again to place himself between his agent and the director."This is still my office. This man is under my command and I need to speak with him. You'll get your report in the morning. Goodnight, Deputy Director Fitzgerald."

"You pompous fool, I can have your job!" Victor warned. He didn't like the fact that his own son respected Jack Malone more than his father.That hurt and he intended to show up the younger man. If Jack wanted a war, he'd get one and he'd lose.

"Yes, you can," Jack answered calmly meeting the icy blue eyes with his own and not blinking. "But until then, this is MY office. And I'd like you to leave."

"Alright," Victor conceded this battle."But this isn't done yet, not by a long shot.Martin... Martin I'm talking to you."

"Really?" Martin scoffed, rising and giving his father a blistering look. "Guess there's a first time for everything."

"You insolent little..."

"Goodnight, Victor," Jack warned, cutting off any further abuse.

He stood there with his back to Martin until he saw the arrogant Washington chief disappear down the long hallway. He thought about Martin, the rookie who was supposed to be the new shining star on his team. He had all the right tools and his record at Quantico was stellar. He'd fared so well during the first six months, maybe he allowed himself to get complacent. The kid was still a rookie with a lot to learn. He was about to turn around and throttle the cocky agent when he heard a strangulated choke. He watched Martin collapse in the chair by the desk.

Gone was the defiance he'd seen just a few moments earlier. The face that had been flushed in rosy hues of fury was now far too pale. The blue eyes weren't blazing anymore. The hands that had been fisted in defensive rage were now spread palms down on his desk and shaking. The lips that had spouted words of rage against a brutal father were now trembling badly.

He was too painful to look at. Jack inhaled slowly and walked towards his desk. He could verbally draw up every infraction that the rookie broke. He could list every violation and the consequences. He could point out every way this situation would have been better if those rules had been followed.He could bring up that Danny should be sitting just outside the door, making a pest of himself. He wanted to slap some sense into the young agent.

But he didn't.

Instead he walked over and stood behind the discouraged body. He placed a hand on the back of the downcast agent's neck and gripped it solidly. The long exhale that escaped Martin Fitzgerald's lips was a reward that surprised him. He felt that tinge in his gut again and silently berated Victor for being such a jackass of a father. He slowly felt the tension leaving. Maybe he was able to lasso some of the wavering faith and restore it. He hoped so.

Just when he thought his whole world was about to crash on his head, someone was shielding him. When his father left, Martin expected Jack to explode. He'd been waiting for the reprimand pellets to rain down on him like acid. He had no idea how to defend himself. But now, with every bit of pressure being applied to his broken spirit, he felt pieces of his shattered soul being restored. So he took a few moments to get himself together. He felt the strength and power that Jack wore so easily coming through in the silent support. The ache left, the pressure was gone and he was ready to face what was coming. He took a deep breath, rubbed the tension from his face and turned a bit.

"I'm sorry, Jack," he managed, "Honest to God. I wish I could change... that it was me instead of Danny. I know you like him and..."

"Like him?" Jack teased, nearly unglued by the lost eyes too painful to look at. "Nobody else would take him. What choice did I have?" He ruffled the back of Martin's hair and cuffed his jaw lightly. "So I got a soft spot for hot-headed colts. And I don't intend to lose either of them, okay?"

"Okay," Martin nodded, then stood up. "I thought maybe if I came in and looked over Danny's schedule. Maybe he called somebody... somebody followed..." he shook his head. "I needed to do something. I felt... so stupid..." He choked, swallowing hard.

"Listen to me, Martin," Jack got the agent's leather jacket and handed it to him."You go home, you get some sleep. You rest up tomorrow, the doctor said it might be a day or two until you're well. Then we'll talk about your mistake and how to make sure it doesn't happen in the future." He saw the dark head bobbing, but it was studying the rug. The body moved slowly towards the door, each step like those on the way to the gallows. "One more thing Agent Fitzgerald."

Martin paused at the door, his hand on the frame. He lifted his face and his eyebrows went up in surprise. Jack was giving him a look of pride, something he hadn't expected and certainly didn't deserve. His confusion must have been evident, because the older man then spoke then to address it.

"I only work with the best. You beat out a long list of very qualified agents to get this job. You have all the right stuff. It's you I chose, not your name. But you're green, Junior, you're gonna make mistakes, some more painful than others. It happens to all of us and you'll learn, cope and go on."

"Thanks, Jack," Martin rasped and went to leave.

"Martin?"

"Yeah."

"If you ever make the mistake of using the word 'stupid' or anything like it to describe yourself in my presence, I'll transfer you. Understood?"

Jack saw the head bob and the Adam's apple working overtime. Then with one final nod of approval, he allowed the young agent to go home.

He spent two more hours combing over Danny's recent cases. He made a long list of chores to be assigned in the morning. Which of the felons Danny had put away had been released recently? How about the suspects interviewed that had threatened him? What about some of the dangerous elements from his troubled youth? Maybe one of them had a lingering grudge. At the fifth yawn and with eyes too heavy to see, he called it a night. He rose, turned the lights out and paused for a moment, eyeing the sky outside. The silver moon beckoned him with sultry promises. He hoped with the new dawn that would follow, hope would rise as well.

Atlantic County
Midnight
The Tower

Dinner was long gone and the bitter aftertaste in his mouth had nothing to do with the food. Danny's scowl grew with each passing hour. He'd awoken a few hours ago, feeling dizzy and weak. He found a coke and some pretzels and made a meager dinner for his tender stomach. So far it stayed down. He eyed the cot across the room and cocked his head. He fuzzily recalled being deathly sick and someone caring for him.

Or had he?

Was that a dream? Or was he still sleeping and trapped within his own nightmare? It was all so damned confusing. He opened the refrigerator and peered inside.In addition to soda, there were tiny cans of fruit, juice and prepacked turkey breast, roast beef and cheese. On the table were a loaf of bread and several boxes of cookies and crackers. He got out another coke. He pressed the cold can against his face and drank in the icy sensation. Bruises and cuts marred his skin and one cheek was swollen. He sat down and popped the top, taking a good swig. His headache was gone and the stomach was better. His dark eyes roamed around the room again. He couldn't figure out where he was or why he wasn't dead.

He sighed and took another drink, recalling his last clear thoughts. He was in the cave with Martin when something stung him. He vaguely recalled Martin being on the floor a mental wreck and trying to protect him. He recalled a giant of a man, unnaturally strong and tall or so it seemed.Why would someone kidnap him to get at Martin? He didn't know why he thought that, but felt it was so. Something in those moments in the cave he couldn't reach would confirm it. This madman was the reason Martin collapsed.

"Why me?"

"All in due time, Agent Taylor."

Danny nearly choked on his soda when the voice came through the room. He narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. There was something very familiar about that voice. He moved from the table to stand in the middle of the room and stared high on the wall by the ceiling. A large monitor that had been black came to life.

"Welcome to your new home or should I say your final resting place?"

"Who the hell are you?" Danny asked, peering at the screen.

A large man, several inches over six feet and built like a wall appeared. He was clean shaven, face and skull and had eyes so pale they seemed white.

"Wait a minute, I know you..." Danny accused just as a name emerged with the picture. A highly decorated New York City Detective who retired to pursue psychology. He still worked for the Department in that capacity."You're Gibson..."

"I see you've recovered from your initial ordeal. I'm sorry about your unfortunate sickness. I wasn't aware that you would have a severe reaction to the drug. My apologies."

"Stick it up your ass!"

"Now I do admire that fire," Pete grinned, hearing the rage that matched the tiny irate face in the three inch monitor in his hand. "Despite your vast differences in style, culture and background, you and Mister Fitzgerald do share that high degree of intensity."

"Martin?"

Danny's brow furrowed and the image returned of his fallen partner cowering at this man's feet. Then the rest came back, the large man's taunting words, his disgusting use of Martin and those hands petting the fallen man like a dog.

"You bastard! I'm gonna kill you for what you did to him." He flared, eyes flashing. He raised his fists towards the screen. "And I won't need a gun."

"Now there is that fire again, I do so enjoy that. Yes," he nodded, pleased. "You are a most worthy adversary. We shall see how you fare as the weeks go by."

"You'll be dead by then," Danny predicted with confidence. "Jack'll cut your balls off."

"Highly unlikely," Gibson dismissed. "Oh and I believe I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. I thank you," he goaded.

Danny's face screwed up in a puzzle for a moment, then it dawned on him. At first he tried to deny it, but it wouldn't go away. He closed his eyes as a sick feeling washed over him.

"A bit fuzzy, let me refresh your memory. It was under your high recommendation that the imposter came to me in the first place. Poor soul, he was so troubled. And you put him right in my hands..."

"You sick son-of-a-bitch!" Danny raged, pounding his fists on the wall.

"There's that temper again," Gibson chuckled, "You really should do something about that. Perhaps I could give you a discount, seeing as you're a brother in blue."

"Blue... you'll be a nice shade when your ass is ridin' a slab in the morgue..." Danny fired back, "If there's anything left of you to cut up."

"As much as I am enjoying our little chat, time is pressing and I have an urgent matter to attend to," the villian grinned. "Act I is about to end, you have a front row seat. I think you'll enjoy this," he oozed, slipping the handheld device away and pushing the button that activiated activated the tiny camera clipped to his tieclasp.

"What?"

Danny's brows furrowed as the monitor turned from grainy images to a clear picture.He knew this place, it was the lobby of the Federal Building where he worked. What the hell was Gibson up to?He didn't have a clock or watch, but he knew by the deserted interior it was late. Vivian and Sam were away, that meant Jack or maybe Martin were working. He knew they would be turning over every stone to find him. Did this madman intend harm to his friends? His heart began to pound against his chest wall and his throat went dry. He moved closer to the screen as the image of the elevator doors drew near. He heard a roar in his ears as his blood rushed... the elevator doors opened.

Then he screamed.

He screamed the name over and over, sending a warning no one would hear. He pounded the wall in frustration and kicked the chairs over, cursing and venting. Disgusted as he was, he was unable to draw his eyes away from the screen. He did watch as 'ACT I' ended and he felt his dinner rising. With Pete Gibson's sick laughter echoing in his ears, he huddled over the toilet giving his dinner back

Midnight
Manhattan

Jack was working on his fifth yawn, when the indictor for the final floor appeared on the panel of the wall of the elevator. It seemed to his bone-weary body that the building had added new floors while he was riding. The trip seemed endless. But the ding sounded and the doors slid open He had his head down and barreled out, right into a muscular chest.

"Whoa!"

"Huh?" Jack blinked and his eyes widened in pleasant surprise. "Snake? How you doin'? You're out late."

"Duty calls, Jack," Pete Gibson answered. He'd known Malone for a lot of years, way back to his early days in the NYPD. Jack was one of the few old timers who used his college nickname. "You look like shit, Malone."

"That'd be a compliment, considering how I feel right now," The weary agent admitted. "What a fuckin' day."

"Yeah," Pete nodded 'sympathetically. "I heard about Taylor. That's rough. Any leads?"

"Nothing!" Jack spat out, eyeing the empty lobby. "Not as much as a Goddamn button or scrap of cloth. It's like the earth swallowed him up."

It was all Pete could do to swallow a broad smile. As Malone's frustration grew, Gibson's euphoria rose in equal measure. With only one agent missing, the well-acclaimed Malone was already starting to unravel. What would happen when the second went missing and then the third? He had to physically bite his lip to prevent laughter. He tried to hide the naked delight shining in his eyes as Malone finally turned to look at him. He rested a 'brotherly' arm on Jack's shoulder and pledged his support.

"Listen, Jack, if you need anything... advice, a second pair of eyes, an extra set of hands, bounce any ideas... you call me..."

"Thanks Snake, I appreciate that," Jack noted of the highly-decorated NYPD veteran who now worked profiling suspects and as a psychologist. "See you around."

He remained in the hall long enough to watch the desolate Malone turn towards the parking garage. Then he followed more slowly, with every step his joy rising. A smile broke onto his face and by the time he turned the other way towards his own car, he was practically singing.

"Oh will you ever," he whispered into the wind.

Part 12

The twisting branches reached out to wrap around his throat. The heat was so thick in the dense woods it smothered him. He couldn't breathe, sweat drenched his entire body and his legs were like rubber. But he ran onward... pushing himself far beyond the limits of endurance. He didn't know where he was or where he was going. What he did know was that he had to run. He had to push himself ahead. Somewhere up there... was... was...

The voice came then, so soft and light it caressed his ears, curling inside and stroking his brain.

"Martin... Martin... where are you..."

"DANNY!" he choked with what little air he had left.

Close. He was close by. Something very primal inside Martin Fitzgerald was urging him to a specific spot in this mass of trees and brush. Every turn seemed for a specific purpose. With every staggered step his heart clenched and the sweat running like a river got colder. Then it appeared, right where he knew it would. He shook his head in denial just as his legs gave out. He collapsed on the shallow grave, punching the new earth with his hands.

Then he began to dig.

Growling and grunting, every demon inside came out as he clawed frantically, throwing the dirt in record time. Then his fingers hit cloth and his arm became paralyzed. He shook his head, there was no air to issue as much as a tiny gasp. The icy realization turned into horror and he withdrew his hand.

But not quick enough; a hand jerked up and snagged his wrist. Horrified, his face screwed up in fear and he tried to pull back. The body came up with him, a bloody shirt riddled with bullets under a maimed face and two empty sockets where those brown eyes should be. He mouth formed the name silently, every letter forced through his shallow air. The bloodied lips of the corpse opened and the voice from the grave chilled him to the core.

"Where were you... I needed you... my back's full of bullet holes... where were you... you failed... failed me... your fault..."

"Nooooooo!"

Reality hit about the same time as the wall connecting with the back of his head. Rubbing the sore spot, Martin's confused gaze roamed around the immediate area. There were no trees or haunting woods. He was on the floor beside the bed. He moved his hand over the carpet. .

"Jesus..." he gasped, raking a shaky hand through his damp hair. He examined his hands then, ensuring that the trembling digits weren't covered in dirt or blood. He dropped his head and shook it as if to clear it.

It was so real, so vivid. He didn't move for several minutes, unable to calm his jittery nerves. Sweat dripped off his chin and he fought to regain normal breathing. His gaze saw movement and he zoned in on the digital clock. It was almost five o'clockin the morning. His hand groped above on the nightstand until he found the phone. He pulled the receiver down and hit the numbers. His heart didn't begin to sink until several words into the message.

"You have reached the office of Doctor Peter Gibson. I will be out of the office indefinitely due to an unexpected family emergency."

"What?" Martin choked, eyes frantic. "No... shit...you can't be gone."

"...a message after the beep. I'll call you back when..."

"You have to call back... " Martin pleaded when the name of an associate came on the line. He wouldn't trust anyone else with this, he had to keep it quiet. If this went public, given Danny's disappearance and his involvement, he could lose his job. The beep finally sounded. "Doc... it's Martin Fitzgerald. Call me... right away, no matter what time you get this. It's urgent. You have all my numbers." He paused to catch what was left of his fleeting breath. Desperation remained,

"Please Doc..."

The Tower
Pre Dawn

Danny Taylor watched his opponent move and began to smile. He bent slightly forward, moving his arms while laughing. The nimble body in front of him returned his grin, deftly faked a move and swept by. The basketball went through the hoop and the blue-eyed opponent tossed it back to him. The swagger in his voice and the bold body posture made it hard for him not to grin back.

"Is that the best you got? Man, let's make that twenty bucks," Danny suggested, tilting his head back.

"Sure you can afford it? What with your harem and the overhead costs and all..." Martin teased.

"Hey, I can't help it women are drawn to me," Taylor began to dribble the ball and decide on his next move.

"Women?" Martin sent back, moving to block the swift body as he approached. "The ones that are in nursing homes and prison don't count."

"Yuck it up slide rule boy," Danny barrelled into Martin and leaped, slamdunking the ball. "Ha! Get your ass out of the Ivy, this is street ball," he announced then saw the blue sparks of fire coming out of the other man's eyes. He laughed and sent the ball back. "You need a Band Aid?"

"You'll need more than that by the time we're done," Martin predicted, swiping blood from his knee. He dribbled the ball and let a slow smile form. "And that's Mister Slide Rule Boy to you..."

The loud sound of his own laughter filled his head. Danny shook his head to clear it. The voices weren't inside of him, this was no dream. He blinked and his fingers felt the cotton sheet and the wall. He rolled on his back and saw movement from his side vision. The dream was being played out or rather a past moment revisited. He sat up and got off the bed, watching the video on the large screen.

Two partners, two friends, two active young men working off nerves after a difficult case. There was nobody in the playground, not at three a.m.Just a couple of overhead lights and a ratty basketball hoop. Martin wasn't a bad player, more guts than talent. But it wasn't about the game. It had nothing to do with scoring points.

Danny reflected on that night when he lost a kid during a chase through a warehouse. The sixteen year old felon fired three times, nearly hitting him. He kept pursuing the kid, shouting at him to stop. He was a suspect in the disappearance of another kid from his high school. But the kid didn't stop, he ran out of the warehouse and right into the path of a truck. It was an accident, it wasn't his fault. But after all the paperwork was done, the kid was still dead and he was still puking his guts up. Martin was sitting quietly by his car when he got down to the garage. Hours had gone by; he thought his partner had gone home. No words were spoken Martin simply tossed a basketball at him.

Two soldiers fighting on an asphalt jungle for a crown neither could see or touch. But it was real and he felt it. Both pushing their bodies far beyond the exhaustion point, sending elbows into face and body. Then one dropped, too weary to rise. The victor considered the laurel wreath for a moment, before placing it on the other man's wet brown locks. Two blue eyes peered up at him and he nodded once, ruffling that sweaty hair.

"Harvard...." he whispered painfully, the sweetness of that moment tainted by the twisted mind of his captor.

"Good Morning Agent Taylor or should I say Good Afternoon perhaps even Good Evening."

Pete's voice slithered through the room. He ate a hearty breakfast, enjoying the anger and frustration on his prisoner's face. He thought he'd prepared himself for the pleasure this would bring. But it went far beyond his wildest hopes. He could get high on this very easily. Taylor had no idea what time of day it was or even how much time had elapsed.

"You sick bastard!" Danny screamed, feeling utterly violated. "You had no right!"

"Such a tender moment between you and the pretender. The gilded prince offering his pathetic heart to you in your time of need. A shame poor Carlos couldn't be there to play too. But what was left of him was in the morgue..."

"Shut up!" Danny snarled, clenching his fists. "Shut the fuck up. You don't know shit!"

Pete laughed then, watching the guilt rising in Taylor's eyes. He punched a few keys on the computer and drew up another moment. As long as the younger man was harboring doubt, he might as well add some fuel to that fire.

The screen went black and Danny headed for the bathroom. As he washed, he thought on the clues he had so far. He knew who Gibson was, but what was his goal? He scrubbed his teeth and welcomed the sting of the peppermint. All star quarterback in college, five good years in the NFL with a Superbowl ring, three years with the New York Police Department before passing the detective's test. Then he rose quickly, everything turning to gold like always. He'd retired a couple of years back to pursue a career within the New York law enforcement arena as a psychologist and profiler. Once again, he hit gold and his talents were constantly called upon.

He mixed some water and instant coffee then put the mug in the microwave. He pulled out cereal, milk and an orange. Before he began his meager meal, his name was called. The voice wasn't cocky this time, it was shaken. It echoed of need and want.

"Shit..." he hissed dropping the spoon.

"Danny..."

He watched the screen, swiping milk from his chin. His face remained impassive but his insides were boiling in rage. He wouldn't give the freak a show, fill his sick need. He kept his eyes cold and distant, as Martin Fitzgerald went to pieces all over again in that cave the first time. He remained stock still, not so much as a muscle twitched when the image changed again. He had to work hard to control his breathing, gripping both fists in silent rage. There was his friend drugged and completely at the monster's mercy on the bed in his apartment. He watched as Gibson toyed with Martin then put the spider on his wounded leg.

"Sick... fuckin'..." he whispered, watching the needle come out. No wonder Martin had gotten so sick. That's why the doctor's were puzzled at the severity.

The pictures continued to play and Danny watched in horror. He controlled his anger until the picture of a trusting Martin lying on the sick bastard's couch in his office appeared. He heard every painful word Martin spoke about his trauma. Then he watched the strings being played and the sick game being put into place. He saw the terror in those blue eyes and cringed and at the soothing words that Gibson planted. Then with his partner completely under the other man's spell and totally unaware, Gisbon's hand entered the picture, stroking Martin's cheek. Danny lost it then, hurling the chair at the wall and unfurling a sound only half human.

He paced the confines of the room before sitting on the floor. He shoved his legs under the bed and began to do situps. He needed something to take the edge off. What was Gibson's motive? He thought back on all he knew, adding up the clues. Gibson wanted to make Martin fall apart, totally lose it. But why? He knew Martin wasn't the intended victim.

Victor Fitzgerald?

Perhaps. He thought on the words Gibson used to talk about Martin, 'imposter' and 'pretender'. So Gibson felt Martin didn't deserve his badge. Was there a case he'd worked with Victor that went wrong? Or did Victor Fitzgerald get the promotions and brass ring that eluded Gibson. Was his intent to get revenge on the elder Fitzgerald by pushing his son over the edge? Danny continued to put his clues into little piles of information as he put his body through a hard workout. He tried to drown out Martin's voice.

It almost worked.

Manhattan
FederalBuilding
Seven a.m.

Jack yawned and watched the numbers rising on the elevator panel. It seemed he'd just left. He might as well have stayed for all the sleep he'd gotten. He'd already made several phone calls to the county police and to the F.B.I. as well. He'd just exited the elevator when his phone rang.

"Malone," he grunted, pausing in the hallway.

"I didn't want you walking into the fire," Vivian warned, casting her dark eyes towards the inner office. "You have company."

"Shit," he hissed and sighed hard. "Victor?"

"In the flesh and he's not in a good mood."

"How long?"

"I got here about a half hour ago and he was sitting at Martin's desk. I'm in the conference room." When you're done with the Deputy Director, Sam and I need to talk to you about the Harrisoncase. Anything new on Danny?"

"No, Sam here?"

"On her way in, she's stopping at Martin's."

"Good... that's good. He was pretty rattled last night. Victor skewered him to the wall. You need a licence to drive a car and they let any idiot raise a child."

Vivian frowned and wondered about that uncharacteristic parental tone in Jack's voice. That wasn't like him. Whatever went on between the three men last night must have been brutal. She eyed the two open folders in front of her and the legal pad with notes written on it.

"I'll be here when you're ready. Oh and Van Doren called."

"Yeah..." Jack nodded, "Thanks, Viv."

Victor studied the collection of photos and other personal items on his son's desk. A pang of something green inside ate at him. Among the photos on his desk were those of friends from school, one of his mother and one of the four agents working under Jack Malone at what appeared to be a holiday party. There were a few citations from his Quantico days and notes on pending cases. But nowhere was there anything that tied his missing son to him. He again thought on how highly his son held Jack Malone. His anger grew again, just as the SAC's voice sounded.

"Nice to see you again, Victor."

Jack Malone didn't hide his sarcasm and Victor swallowed the sharp rebuttal. He stood up and followed Malone. Jack got a quick cup of coffee, didn't offer him any and went into his office. Victor remained by the large desk, not missing the folders, reports and photos in order all over the desk.

"I wanted to discuss a few things," Victor began. "First of all, Agent Taylor's disappearance is being handled by another team." He gloated but the glow didn't last. His face fell a bit when his ace was trumped.

"Yeah, I know, I spoke to Boone," Jack replied nonchalantly, but ate up the look of dismay and annoyance Victor now wore. Chris Boone headed one of the best units in the Bureau and was a good friend as well. "He's got a good team, I'm sure they'll find Danny. Look Victor I got two hot cases I'm working. So..."

"I don't want you interfering between me and my son. You were out of line last night."

"I was out of line!" Jack shouted, then got his anger under control. "Martin's tough but he's not made of steel. He's currently on suspension and I can't stop you from calling him. But take a minute to think before you cut his heart out again."

"How dare you!"

"You can't be that blind," Jack tossed back. "Look Victor, I don't have time for this. You have issues to settle between you and your son, that's fine. But his job here, what he does, how he thinks and reacts, that's my territory. Don't get in my way."

Any further jousting was interrupted by the phone ringing.

"Malone," he sighed, nodding his head. "Yeah... I know Vivian said you called." He glanced at his watch. "Okay, I'll be right over. No, I didn't talk to Vivian yet about Abby Harrison. I will... yes... okay..."

Victor saw the numbers on the panel on Jack's phone and recognized that it was Director Van Doren. He didn't want to impede any of the open cases, but he wanted his point made. He hadn't anticipated Jack already knowing Taylor's case was in another office, that stung a bit. He rose and waited for Malone to look up.

"I'll be in touch, you keep you head on straight and don't let anything else go wrong."

Jack bit off the reply and just glowered at the other man as he left. He shook his head wondering and marvelling at the fact Martin had survived and come through the iron fist successfully.

He took his coffee and headed for Van Doren's office, pausing long enough to tell Vivian where he was going. After his morning meetings, he was going to pick Martin up and take him back up to Our Lady of Grace. One of Chris Boone's agents was meeting them there. They were hoping that by revisiting the scene, Fitzgerald would remember something. He sure hoped so.

"So how did round two go?" Van Doren asked as Malone took the seat across from her.

"You heard?"

"Guess who was my wake up call at five a.m?" She sat back in her chair. "It wasn't Denzel..."

"No..." Jack sighed, "Victor was here last night when I got back. He's a real..."

"Don't go there!" She held her hand up. "He's not in a popularity contest. I don't have to tell you just how much clout he has in Washington. Tread carefully, okay? Martin's on thin ice now. You push Victor too hard and his son will be the one caught in the fallout."

"Give me something easy to do," he commiserated, then consented. "Okay."

"Good, let's talk about your pending cases and about your theory on Taylor."

The two senior Bureau agents conducted their meeting, unaware they were being observed. Concealed in the toolbox marked 'maintenance department' in yellow letters was a listening device. The wig itched and the bulky coveralls were hot but it was a necessary part of the plan. When Malone rose, the cart moved, far down the hall and out of sight. But not before capturing very valuable information; information that would become the first strands of the noose that would bear Malone's name.

Forest Hills NY
Thursday
seven fifteen a.m.

Agent Samantha Spade shifted her sunglasses and rang the buzzer again. She was about to pull her phone out when a sandpaperish voice came through the intercom.

"Yeah..."

"It's Sam."

The buzzer sounded and she entered the outer door. She took the elevator up and made her way down the hall until she came to Martin's door. She knocked and a voice called out.

"It's open..."

"Martin?"

Sam entered the almost pristine home and chuckled. Martin's place was a reflection of the same tight inner box where he kept his feelings. His desk at work was the same way, save a few photos. He liked to maintain control at all times, nothing out of place. The apartment was very nice, done in colors of navy and burgundy with silver trim on all the picture frames and accents. She eyed the empty living area and could see over the stools at the bar in the kitchen that he wasn't there either.

"Martin?" She repeated, pausing at his hallway leading to the bedroom.

"...in the shower..."

"Want some company?" She heard a short laugh and grinned, then made her way back to the kitchen. She put the two bags down and headed for the counter. She put coffee on, one eyebrow rising at the very expensive import from Kona. She flipped the television on and was watching Kate Couric interviewing the Secretary of Defense. Katie paused just as a damp body came past the television clad only in sweatshorts. A white towel was slung around his neck.

"Nice ass."

"You can't afford me." Martin paused briefly by the kitchen.

"No I guess not, I can't even afford your coffee," she nodded to the tin. "I don't cook, but I make great takeout." She nodded over to the bags. "Bagels, sandwiches, chocolate chip pastries and some danish. Can I get you something?"

"Yeah, you can get Danny," Martin shot back with vinegar. "I lost him."

"There are federal and local agents all over the state looking for him. You blaming yourself won't solve a thing."

"There isn't anyone else to blame," Martin sent back, "He needed me and I failed him."

"You don't know that, Martin. We don't know what happened out there." She slid off the stool and moved closer. "Danny's been chasing creeps and lowlifes and locking them up for a lot of years. He's made a lot of enemies, Martin. Anyone could have followed you two up there."

"Why can't I remember, Sam?"

She winced at the unusual sound of defeat in his voice. They had their differences in style, technique and methods. They often clashed on procedure and he was still a rookie. But she didn't like this wavering stance. She preferred the cocky Martin, flaws and all. The defeat in the blue eyes was disturbing.

"Look, it was your first day back," she said quietly, moving closer. He was sitting on the edge of the coffee table, head down. "You've been through a lot. Maybe you didn't do anything wrong. Maybe you passed out and Danny went to get help and then somebody grabbed him. It might not concern you at all."

"Yeah... maybe..." he spoke but knew the words weren't true.

"Come on." She picked the towel up and ruffled his damp hair. "I busted my ass to make you a buffet breakfast."

"Buffet huh?" Martin rose and eyed the pretty blonde. "Guess I could eat, seein' as how you stayed up all night baking."

"Now you're talking." She snapped the towel, hitting his butt. The bloodshot eyes and circles under them told her he hadn't gotten much sleep. He caught her staring and frowned, dropping into a chair. "Sorry... did you get any sleep?"

"A few minutes between nightmares." He eyed a bagel with a wrapper marked 'cheese and bacon' and put it on his plate.

"Wanna talk about it?" She poured two mugs of coffee and sat down across from him. She slid one over and saw him pause while cutting his sandwich. "Might help..."

"I'm running through the woods... near the cave." His eyes moved back and forth as the dream came to life again. "Heart's racing, legs are like rubber, can't breathe..."

"Terrified."

"Yeah." He nodded and shook his head. "There's a grave... fresh. I... dig.." he examined his hands, sure there would be dirt. "He's... Danny... his body..."

"Oh, Martin..." She winced, having suffered more than a few realistic nightmares herself.

"His hand... grabbed... " he shoved his arms onto the table curled his hands into fists. "...me... he sat up... he had no eyes... he blamed me..."

"It was just a dream... with all you've been through..."

"Was it?" He shook his head. "What if he is lying in a shallow grave somewhere?"

"I don't think so," she replied, selecting a cheese danish. "If somebody wanted him dead, why go to all the bother of the cave and the unused tunnel?"

"You know about that?" He was surprised and his wide eyes reflected that.

"Vivian and I spoke with the sheriff's department last night after we got back from Maine. Chris Boone's team is on it."

"He's good."

"Next to Jack, nobody better," she hoped that brief flicker of hope she'd heard remained. "Eat!"

"So how was Maine? You get anything new?" Martin took a bite from the hot sandwich as she spoke.

As she updated him on their trip, she saw he was eating something. That was good, it wouldn't do him any good not to eat. He finished two cups of coffee and the bagel. She wrapped the others up and put them in his refrigerator. She was going to have another cup of coffee and saw the time.

"It's almost eight, you better get moving." Martin followed her gaze at the clock and pushed his plate away. "Where you headed today?"

"Not sure, Atlantic City maybe. We have to go over everything with Jack."

"You need anything, calls made... followups... I got nothing but time."

"Take advantage of that time." She paused, eyeing the injured ankle. "Get some sleep and don't forget your pills."

Martin nodded absentmindedly and paused by the door. She put her glasses on and rummaged around until she found her car keys. Finally she walked towards him. He realized just how much better she made things. Just a simple gesture of stopping to check on him... something he didn't have on his other job. He didn't have a team or many close friends.

"Hey, Sam..."

"Yeah?" She turned and watched him struggling. She got a brief flush of guilty pleasure. He wasn't used to this and it showed.

"Listen... thanks for coming over. Don't listen to those critics, you make great breakfasts. Could be a future for you there."

"Yeah, right," she laughed, shaking her blonde head. "You want to clear a room fast? Put me near a stove." He was facing away away and his profile melted into a 'little boy lost' look. She moved closer. "Hey..." He turned then and she hugged him, "Don't shut us out, okay? Your shoulders aren't that broad. "

"Yeah..." He pulled back and shuffled uncomfortably.

"You play your cards right," she tapped his cheek and winked. "I'll make you dinner."

"Might have to wait, I need batteries in my smoke alarm."

"Wiseass!" She smacked his arm and left.

"Sam." He leaned out into the hall, suddenly feeling very vulnerable "Thanks... really."

"You're welcome," she smiled and headed for the stairs.

Old Hickock Prison
noontime

Jack stood on the edge of the damp cavern, watching Martin carefully. Fitzgerald was the only witness they had to whatever happened to Danny Taylor. He thought by bringing him to the last place they were both seen together, something might trigger his lack of memory. He watched as the frustrated witness squatted down by the abandoned tunnel.

"Nothing?"

"No, sorry Jack."

Martin shook his head and gazed hard into the tunnel. The security guards said he'd gone through this semi-boarded up old exit. Now it was off limits, much too unstable. Part of the ceiling collapsed on the first deputies who'd gone through the day Danny disappeared. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. He pushed his brain hard. There had to be something in there. He was here with Danny and found in the woods alone. Something happened... and it happened here, he was sure of it.

"Come on... dammit..."

"Don't force it..." Jack suggested. He'd seen the frustration building over the last forty minutes since they'd arrived.

"It's no use..." Martin snapped, kicking the board and sending dust and debris raining down.

"HEY!" Jack hollered. "Burying us alive won't help."

"It was here... I can feel it..." Martin kept glancing down the tunnel. "Why can't I remember?"

"Maybe you were out of it... passed out. Could be you got sick or something and Danny went to get help."

"No, he wouldn't have left me... he'd use the phone."

"Okay, could be somebody was tailing you and decked you. You woke up half out of it... ran the wrong way, got lost in the woods."

"Yeah... no... hell what's the use!" Martin strode away, taking the safe exit towards the river.

"Gonna be another ball buster," Malone noted of the day only half done.

For two hours they combed the woods, stopping frequently by trees and rocks. Jack watched as Martin knelt down, feeling the earth, branches, needing to touch. Brendan Garvin, the likeable young man from Chris Boone's team met them at the river and was accompanying them. Jack let Brendan stay close to Martin, since he was the investigative officer. His phone rang and he waved for the other two to continue

"I'll catch up," he called out, flipping his phone open. "Malone."

"We're at the Tropicana waiting for Claire Thomas. She works in Human Resources and is going through the archives here for old personal records. Hopefully, we'll find some retiree who remembers him."

"Okay, keep me posted."

As he spoke, he watched Martin punching the cellphone again for what he calculated was about he fifth time. He counted the extra numbers and theorized that either Fitzgerald was dialing long distance or accessing his voice mail

Martin sagged in defeat when the message he was waiting for didn't arrive. He'd called the doctor again, stressing the urgency. He'd checked his voicemail five times... but there was nothing. Of course he didn't know where the doctor had gone. What if the emergency was overseas? He was sitting on a rock, waiting for Brendan to finish. The other agent was updating his boss. He saw Jack approaching and averted his gaze. He felt like a failure.

"Looks like rain's comin'," Jack eyed the dark clouds rolling in and felt the wind kicking up. "Go home, get some sleep. You look like a damned racoon." The brown head bobbed once and he watched the slim fingers trembling slightly as the phone was put back inside the jacket. "You expectin' a call?"

"Yeah," Martin replied, not hiding his displeasure. "Where the hell is he?"

"Who?"

"That damn doctor." Martin muttered, leaving as the first light whispers of rain fell.

Jack wondered which doctor Martin meant. The doctor who had taken care of him during his illness or the one from the hospital nearby. He shrugged it off, the young man had gone through a rough few weeks, maybe his nerves were bad. Could be he needed more medicine. He kept pace with Brendan, going over the theories they had so far. Martin was way ahead. By the time Jack caught up with him, they were in the parking lot.

"Look, I want you to call Lisa Harris," Jack noted of the Bureau's therapist. "You can't go on like this."

Martin looked up in surprise and tried to hide his panic. If he went to her and she found out, she'd be obliged to report her findings to both Malone and Van Doren. Of course, his father would find out. His rookie status was still pending. He couldn't afford that risk, not yet anyhow. Unless he was a very good actor and didn't reveal it.

"Martin? Did you hear me?"

"Huh?" He blinked and saw Jack looking at him oddly. "Yeah... sure... got it Jack."

"Okay, I'll talk to you later."

Martin went over his options on the drive home. He couldn't avoid Jack forever. He could buy a few days until the new week started. He'd say he was exhausted and got ill. But Jack would keep after him, he'd have to call her eventually. But maybe by then Danny would be found alive. He pulled into his parking space and turned the ignition off. He was tired and his leg was bothering him a bit. It might not be a bad idea to take the pain killers that the doctor left.

Martin tossed his keys on the table by the door and headed for the phone. His eyes widened when they hit the answering machine. The red light was blinking. He almost knocked the lamp over pushing the 'play' button. There were three messages. Hope hovered with him over the machine.

"Come on... come on... be there..." he coached.

"Martin? I stopped by... call me. We have to talk."

"Right after hell freezes over." He kicked the table let upon hearing his father's voice.

"Are your windows letting out valuable heat?"

"Shit," he hissed at the annoyed telemarketer and punched the delete button.

"Martin? It's been all damn morning, where are you? You call me!"

"Go to Hell," Martin answered his father's voice. He dialed the doctor again and waited patiently for the voicemail. "Doc, it's Martin Fitzgerald again. Look I know you're tied up with an emergency but I got a big one here too. I need to talk you it's very important. CALL ME!" he urged, then rubbed his throbbing eyes. "Please..."

He tossed the pills into his mouth and chased them down with a coke. He pulled his shoes off and stretched out on the sofa. He fell into a dreamless sleep and woke up several hours later. He sat up, blinked and eyed the darkness outside. His growling stomach took him to the kitchen.

He heated up a can of soup and made some toast. He finished that and ate a danish leftover from breakfast and drank some coffee. He got to thinking about the doctor's office. Maybe someone in the other offices knew where he went? What could he lose? He grabbed his jacket, his car keys and went over. The other offices were closed and he got the dark glass walls at the end of the hallway His fingers slid over the gold and black lettering bearing Peter Gibson's name. He flattened his palms on the glass and pressed his face there. It was cold, nearly the same icy degree as his insides were. He turned and rested his back on the wall, then slid down until he was sitting on the floor.

The hallway was nearly black and the eerie silence enveloped him. Cold fingers encircled his throat and he felt despair choking him. He brought his knees up, resting his face on his arms. He never felt so alone or so defeated.

Part 13

Pomona, NJ
Friday morning
Eight a.m.

"Mrs Carroll? Mary Carroll?" Sam paused at the door of a modest brick house in the small town not far from Atlantic City. The woman looking back at her through the tiny glass window was about sixty or sixty-five with short white, hair and glasses.

"Yes, who are you?

"My name is Agent Samantha Spade, I'm with the F.B.I." She held up her badge and nodded to Vivian who was next to her. "This is Agent Vivian Johnson, we're looking for a missing child. She may be with a man who used to work for the Tropicana when you were employed there. His name is David Hughes."

"Can we come inside?" Vivian asked and the hesitant woman finally unlocked the door.

"Thanks," Sam nodded and entered the small house.

"I've been retired for a few years, I'm not sure how I can help," Mary said, motioning for the sofa. "Can I get you coffee or..."

"No, no thanks," Vivian replied, pulling the photo out. "This is the man we're looking for. He's a lawyer named David Hughes who did work for some of the casinos including the Trop.You were employed as a secretary?"

"Yes, I worked for Michelle Peterson of the Public Relations office." She took the photo and studied it carefully."Yes, I remember him, very handsome and charming. He had meetings occasionally in the executive offices next to ours. He was very pleasant, always stopped in to say hello."

"Do you know if he had a wife, girlfriend... someone he knew in the area?"

"No I..." she paused and looked off into space a moment, then studied the photo again and nodded. "Yes... actually I do remember someone. Sometimes I would work second shift. If Miss Peterson had meetings all morning, she'd have me come in for twelve to eight or one to nine. She worked late hours and..." she shook her head. "No matter about that, the point is I took a late dinner break. The coffee shop was usually not crowded. That's where I saw him with her, more than once."

"A woman? Are you sure it was him?" Vivian asked.

"Oh, I'm sure. The first time I thought maybe he was just being polite. I recall thinking it was strange he'd be working so late. But then the second time and third and beyond... well I realized they were a lot more than friendly."

"Really?" Sam leaned over, "How so?"

"Kissing and groping in the parking lot... sometimes even before her shift was done. She must have walked him to his car."

"Shift?" Vivian sat up and took out her notebook. "This woman worked there?"

"Not very long, she got fired.Lisa... no... Lynn... no..." she sighed, trying to see the name on the tag of the uniform. "A waitress... usually worked late... evening shift. Loretta? No..."

"Uh... Laura, Leslie, Lucy..." Vivian tried to find names beginning with an L.

"Leigh!" Mary exclaimed. "That was her name L-E-I-G-H. I can see it on the tag. She wasn't there very long."

"Mrs. Carroll, would you mind working with a police artist? Could you give him a description of this woman?"

"Of course, anything to help find a missing child. Do you think this woman was involved?"

"I don't know, but she might know where Hughes went, or something about him we can use." Sam flipped out her phone to dial the police.

"Would it be alright, I mean... could I see the child's photo?" Mary asked.

"This is Abby Harrison," Vivian fished through her handbag and found the photo. "She was five when she disappeared from Central Park. We recently got information that David Hughes arrived from England with her. We—"

"That's her!" Mary's voice rose as she shook the family photo.She tapped the face of the woman who was standing behind the pretty blonde girl. "That's Leigh..."

"Are you sure?" Sam put the phone down and peered at the photo. "That's Karen Harrison, Abby's mother."

"I don't care what she calls herself, that's Leigh... her hair is shorter and lighter.When she worked in the coffee shop, she had it long, it was pulled back.That odd necklace... she wore that every time I saw her."

Sam and Vivian stared at the photo taken at Abby's fifth birthday party not long before she disappeared.The necklace in question was a piece of jade carved to resemble a turtle.

"I asked her about it once, since she always had it on," the retiree noted. "She said it was some kind of rare jade, a gift from her boyfriend. It looked expensive, the setting was in gold."

"Do you know if she lived nearby? Had family?"

"No, but I think she was alone for some reason. I'm sorry, I don't remember much else. She didn't work there very long, only a few months I think. That necklace caught my eye, I collect jade. I know quality. But I never got into many conversations with her."

"Thank you, Mrs. Carroll, you've been a big help." Sam stood up and waited for Vivian's lead.

"We'll be in touch, you may have to identify her in court," Vivian updated.

"I'll do whatever I can... I have five grandchildren... if one of them were missing..." She shuddered.

"Thanks again," Sam said and followed Vivian out the door.

They sat in the car for several moments, Vivian pulled out a list of employees from that year. Her fingers skimmed through several pages until she found what she sought. She tapped the name and Sam leaned over, reading the words.

"Leigh Mosley, aged twenty-five, Garden Court Boarding House. You know where that is?"

"I do," Vivian said, turning the key. "You call Jack.This case just took a sharp turn."

Manhattan
Missing Persons Office
F.B.I
Ten a.m.

Jack Malone wrinkled his face as the lukewarm bitter coffee took an unwelcome path down his throat. He shoved the mug aside and read the notes from the Harrison case again. He was expecting an update from Vivian and Sam on Leigh Mosley from both the last known address and from her ex-husband. He'd placed that call himself after reading their notes .

He yawned, rummaged in his desk drawer for a mint or hand candy and selected another folder from his crowded desk. He had notes that Chris Boone faxed over sitting on the corner of his desk, three calls to return to the parole board regarding recent ex-cons who were released who had ties to Danny Taylor and also there was Carlos Colon's sister. Helen Bacon had gotten a call from her saying her brother was going to draw a likeness of the man he saw talking to Sister Francesca. If he could get that drawing to a fax machine and send it to them, that could be a huge breakthrough. Helen was tracking down the nearest facility near the man's village where he could do that. She had made calls to a small college and a hospital near the mountainous area where the Mexican man lived. If they would allow him to use their machine, they might get the fax this week.

"Dammit," he grunted, not finding anything to take away the sour taste in his mouth.

His dark eyes went to the glass and zoned in on Martin Fitzgerald's empty desk. He shoved his chair back and ambled through his door and over to the desk. He paused in the aisle eyeing the other desks where his team was usually busy making calls, downloading information on the computer and analyzing their ideas at the table nearby.

The silence was deafening.

Sighing, he sat down at Martin's desk and lifted the top to the tin container in the far corner. It was no secret that the rookie had a sweet tooth. He munched on junk all day and his desk usually had candy of all sorts tucked away. He took a handful of peppermints, root beer barrels and some aging Hershey kisses. He shoved them in his pocket and unwrapped a blue mint. The mint did take the bitter taste from his mouth, but it did nothing to settle the empty hole in his gut. Until his team was once again gathered in this room, making noise, bad jokes and driving him nuts, that hole would get deeper. He picked up Martin's coffee mug and eyed the yellow letters on the front. He knew just how much those letters meant to the ambitious rookie.

"F.B.I...."

His mind's eye went back a few weeks to a busy morning. He'd arrived late and paused in the doorway, watching his team. They weren't perfect, but he wouldn't trade one of them. Finally, he had the right fit; four smart agents from different backgrounds who used their differences in technique and thought processes to their greatest advantage. They were the best team in the bureau. He heard the echoes of their voices from that day as their ghosts lingered nearby.

Somebody had linked the paperclips on every desk. So when one of the team went to select a clip, three or four came out of the container. Not something you noticed right away, until it happened two or three times, usually when you were on the phone or busy. All clues pointed to the culprit having blue eyes, much to his dismay. Taylor chased the sky-eyed prankster into the conference room and got him in a mock chokehold. They didn't believe Fitzgerald's denials. Sanity returned briefly. Danny was singing as he walked to the printer. Martin was complaining about the lyrics being wrong. Taylor told Fitzgerald just what he could do with this critique and continued in a louder tone. Sam was trying to get one of them to look at the information that the lab just sent up. Vivian just shook her dark head and wisely stayed out of Taylor's and Fitzgerald's argument.

Would it ever be the same?

The ringing phone drew him back. He put Martin's mug down and rose, scattering the mists of time. Their voices faded away as he entered his own office. He eyed the three blinking phone lines and wondered which poison to pick first. He was expecting calls from the lab, Helen Bacon, Martin and of course, Victor Fitzgerald. The Deputy Director had called twice and he knew he was just postponing the inevitable by not calling back.

"Eeeny, meeny, miney, moe..."

His finger moved along the three buttons and he pushed the end one.

"Malone."

"Jack? Anything new?"

"How you doin' today, Junior?" He kept his eyes on the other two blinking lines as Martin began to speak.

"I'd be doing a lot better if you told me Danny was back."

"Sorry." He winced at the silence. "Listen Martin, I'm not trying to cut you short but I've got a few lines blinking here..."

"Oh... yeah... uh... okay... sorry..."

"Wait a minute!" he hollered but got dial tone. "Shit..." he hissed and pushed the next button. "Malone."

"Jack, it's Helen.I just wanted to let you know that Santa Lucia agreed to let Carlos use their fax machine.One of the doctor's knows the old church near where Carlos lives.His sister is going to tell him to meet the doctor there and he'll get a ride to the hospital."

"How soon?"

"This week, we're hoping. He generally calls her once a week. I'm going to give her both our faxes and instruct her to sent send it to both."

"Good, that's good, Helen. Keep me posted." He hit the last blinking button, but then two more lines lit up. At this rate, he'd never get to the lab before Vivian or Sam called in. As soon as the voice came through, he his felt his stomach acids doing Olympic dives.

"It's Victor. Is my son there? I've called his house a half dozen times. He better not be at that office..."

"He's not, I just talked to him, he's home.Is there anything else, Victor?I'm busy."

"You just remember what I said," Fitzgerald ordered. "I'm not so busy that I won't be up to par on your activities."

"Call me when the gallows is done," Malone sent back.

"Spare me your bad humor and if you talk to Martin, you tell him if I don't hear from him today, I'm coming down to find him."

Jack made a face and bit off his chosen reply.He listened as the elder Fitzgerald again warned him that he was easily replaceable He nodded and sat back, rubbing the tension building in his eyes.

"Alright... yes... fine... goodbye." He put the phone down and shook his head. "Christ that guy's a pain in the ass." He dialed Martin back and waited for the machine to come on.By Victor's clue he figured out Martin was screening his calls."Pick up, it's me."

"Danny? Something...."

"No, sorry. Two things, I will call you later, I promise. I'll keep you posted on anything we find out. It's just without any of you here and the phones..."

"I know Jack,"Martin's voice dropped to a hush and he slumped a bit, "right now desk duty looks great."

"Sorry hotshot, no dice.Listen, your old man called. You call him or he's takin' the next train. You don't want a houseguest; I'd suggest you straighten it out."

"Should be a real short conversation," Martin growled. "Fuck off doesn't take up too much time."

"Martin..." Jack warned.

"Yeah I know, it's just that there isn't a helluva lot left to say, Jack. Hell, it's not like he listens."

Jack huffed out a breath of exasperation, wishing he had more time to offer the troubled agent. Between his father on his back and Taylor gone, the young man was carrying a heavy load.But those lines blinking and the pending cases couldn't wait.

"You think of a way to keep the peace. You have a lot on your mind and you don't need that weighing you down anymore."

"Alright.I'll talk to you later," Martin managed.

"And Martin?" Jack leaned over the desk.

"Yeah?"

"You watch that temper.Don't let him push your buttons.Beat him at his own game."

"Piece of cake," Martin tossed back with a dose of sarcasm as he hung up.

The Tower
Noon

Peter Gibson watched as Danny Taylor put his body through a harsh workout. He had to give the dark-haired agent some credit, he was a tough customer. The initial period where he'd been able to cause the young man to lash out at the screen had diminished considerably. Even when footage of the pretender or another of the team working together were was shown on the television, he ignored it. The only videos he seemed to concentrate on were the live ones He turned up the audio and heard the raspy voice counting off.

"...fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty..."

Danny didn't reach for number sixty-one. He remained on the floor, both legs under the bunk. Sweat poured out of his lean body and his abdomen rose and fell as his breathing began to regulate. He reached for the towel he'd left by the bed and wiped his face. Also within arm's reach was his water bottle. He drained it, turning as the midday news anchor's voice came through the screen.

He turned backwards, resting his back against the side of the bed and drawing his one knee up. He took another swig as the image of Martin's apartment appeared. He watched as his forlorn partner came into view. He flinched a bit, the face was far too pale, making the dark circles under the blue eyes all too noticeable There was an aura of desolation surrounding him that troubled the prisoner.

Martin took a swig of iced tea and swallowed painfully as Danny Taylor's photo appeared on the television.He eyed the table needing to find the remote. He didn't want to hear that there were no leads in the case.He couldn't get away from it; everywhere he turned there were constant reminders of his failure.The newspaper articles were brutal; some suggesting he was incapacitated due to his painkillers.The news anchors were more vague but hinted at his being the only witness and that Jack might be covering up something.

"That's bullshit!" Danny bellowed at the anchor man whose last name had to be Mattel. "Turn that shit off, Martin."

Danny watched as the shaken agent finally found the remote and hit the mute button. His skin nearly split from helpless frustration. He felt every muscle straining. Martin eased his head back on the cushion of the sofa. The dark circles under the haunted blue eyes were bad enough, but the slight tremble on the hand holding the bottle of iced tea caused a genuine pain. Still in his sight was the screen beyond Martin where his own image was once again seen.

"I'm sorry... Danny..."

"Fuck!" Danny threw his water bottle and launched his lean body into action, he threw a chair at the wall and then heard the sick laughter enter the intercom.His face was livid and every fiber of his being was on fire.

"Show yourself you twisted son-of-a-bitch!" Danny screamed, clutching both hands into fists and eyeing the walls. "I'll fuckin' kill you! Mark it down!"

Gibson thought on replying but instead he just laughed harder which infuriated his prisoner. He sat back and watched the venom shooting out of the menacing dark eyes. He didn't doubt for one moment that Agent Danny Taylor wouldn't carry through with his threat. But since the young man would never get the chance, there was nothing to worry about.

Danny raged until he was spent. He collapsed on his bunk and draped an arm over his eyes. The irony hit him then a sarcastic chortle left his lips. At the same moment in time he and Martin were both prisoners. He was bound by walls and a madman; his partner was bound by a much harsher warden - Guilt. Those bars would remain entrapping the blue-eyed agent until Gibson was found out. Danny knew somehow that day would come. But would it be too late for either of them?

The silence in the room was broken by a phone ringing. He turned as Martin rolled off the couch and frantically found the phone. He flinched as those telltale blues widened in an odd mixture of hope and despair.

"Jack?" Martin's voice rose in anticipation.

"Martin! Where the hell have you been? I've been leaving messages for two days!"

"Shit!" Martin mouthed, dropped back on the sofa and covered his throbbing eyes with his free hand. "Enough Dad, no lectures okay? I took my meds, I guess I conked out."

"Great... just what you need," Danny commiserated, shaking his head. "Sometimes I think your scars are worse," he noted of the father he barely remembered but wore the wound still.

"I'm worried about you Martin," Victor continued, "I don't like your attitude. Your behavior in the office was a disgrace. I won't even mention that surly tongue you've grown."

"Stop!" Martin hissed, sitting up. "Jesus, Dad, my head's got a fu... damn axe stuck in it now, I don't need you screaming at me."

"Alright... alright..." Victor conceded. "Have you remembered anything else?"

"No Dad I..."

"I've read all the reports. You were the last person to see Danny alive and I'm sure if you put your mind to it, you'll..."

"He's not dead!" Martin screamed, jumping off the sofa. "What the hell is wrong with you? You don't think I feel bad enough about what happened to him?That my gut's not ripped to shreds over this?"

"Goddammit!" Danny snarled, "Hang up the fuckin' phone. Don't let him yank your chain!"

"Well you tell me then, Martin. Just what did happen? That deputy left the two of you alone in that cave. You came out alone. You had to have witnessed something. You better put the pieces together. You realize what this could mean for your career? I have plans for you, Martin that go far beyond that office."

"God does it never end!" Martin snapped. "And stop talking down to me.I'm a damn good agent and it's about time you realized that.When are you going to see me for who I am? I'm Martin Fitzgerald, not Victor! I don't want to run the fuckin' country."

"How dare you..." Victor started, only to be interrupted.

"No, how dare you!" Martin rebelled. "You don't get it yet, do you Dad? You want to talk to me?I'm not going a damn place. My job is here, my life is here. Look me up when that lump of ice in your chest turns into a heart. That is if you can fit your head through the door." He slammed the phone down and began to curse, while kicking the table leg.

"Good for you Harvard!" Danny rooted, but his moment of triumph was short lived. His heart sank along with his partner, who slumped to the floor. Then he saw an unsure hand reaching for the 'silver star' lying on the coffee table. The badge came out and briefly caught the sun, before it was thrown to the side, no longer shining. The soul that looked right back at him was tarnished as well. "No... oh man... don't... " Danny whispered, heart aching. Then the troubled face rose and for a moment, he felt that Martin was looking right at him. He stood and walked to the wall where the monitor was and reached out. But Martin took one shuddering breath and moved away. Then the screen went black.

The only sound in his cell was a single lingering sigh, then Danny turned away.His heart heavy and his spirits sinking.His worn body was no match for the emotional upheaval and he lowered his body onto his bunk and he slept.His troubled dreams were a scary mix of Gibson's evil laughter and Victor Fitzgerald's arrogant echo.

Atlantic City
Four p.m.
Tropicana Casino

Jack paused in the lobby of the large casino. The distinctive sounds of the one-armed bandits doing their job fill filled the air. Hundreds of gamblers stood by the slot machines, going through silver like water. The gilt glare of the gaudy golden lady made him turn away, her opulence was not to his liking. He never quite understood the her lure, or why so many fell prey to her powers.

He pulled out his cellphone as he eyed the glittering lights and dazzling displays on the walls and above on the next level. Vivian said to meet them at the Seaside Cafe, one of the many restaurants within the large casino. A not-so-young woman approached, her black spandex pants appeared to be painted on and the low cut sweater left nothing to the imagination. The teased hair and makeup reminded him of many misspent nights in his youth. She cocked her head and licked her scarlet lips, swinging her hips invitingly as she stopped right in front of him.

"Seems a waste for both of us to be alone..." she paused, running her eyes down his body "...and hungry."

"Sorry sister, shop it somewhere else," he mumbled, heading for the cafe.

"Jack!" Sam stood up and waved as Malone entered the eatery.

"Sorry I'm late, traffic was a bitch." He nodded to Vivian and took a seat by the window. The view of the Atlantic on any other day would have been enjoyable. But his inner turbulence matched that of the ocean outside.

"Anything new on Danny?" Sam asked while flagging down the waitress.

"No," Jack sighed hard and took a menu from the perky blonde who smiled at him.

"Coffee honey?" she asked and saw the dark head bob. "Comin' right up."

"Chris has his team working overtime, he might have a lead. Hector Herrera got released three weeks ago." Jack paused as the waitress put an empty mug down.

"Herrera?" Sam shook her head and nodded to the waitress bearing a pot of coffee. She then stirred a packet of sweetener into it. "I don't know that name."

"Before your time," Vivian shook her head and tapped the large glass. "More iced tea, extra lemon."

"Are you ready to order?" The waitress paused and the two women eyed the man who was looking at the sea. "Sir?"

"Huh?" Jack blinked, "Oh, sorry.I'll have a bowl of clam chowder and the Hot Angus, extra onions."He was starving and the large hot roast beef sandwich with sharp provolone on a crusty loaf of bread would fill the bill.

"Spinach Omelet," Sam decided, "No toast or homefries. Can I have fruit instead? Maybe some watermelon or honeydew?"

"Sure... how about some strawberries? I'll make a salad up..."

"Great!" Sam decided and saw Jack wrinkling his face. "What?"

"That's not enough food to fill a mouse. Are you on a diet or something?" he complained as Vivian ordered the sautˇed deviled crab platter with a cup of chowder.

"No!" Sam retorted, sitting back and eyeing his paunch. "And if anybody needs to lose a few pounds, you do."

"Love handles," Jack defended and both women groaned.

"Soup'll be right up," the waitress informed, took the menus and left.

"Herrera was a drug dealer who Danny ran with in Miami when he was a kid." Jack sipped the strong black coffee. "Danny went straight, cleaned his act up... Herrera wasn't that smart. He got nailed for killing a bartender during a bar fight. Danny testified against him and he vowed to get even. He's been doin' time for almost fifteen years."

"Where is he now?" Sam asked.

"Miami PD is checking on him. His parole officer didn't have much, but didn't remember him mentioning Danny." Malone sat back as the waitress but soup in front of both his plate and Vivian's. "Thanks..."

"Then why the suspicion?" Sam asked, watching him crumble oyster crackers into the thick creamy soup.

"Brendan spoke with the warden at the prison, turns out that Hector didn't hide the fact he had Danny in his gun sights. As recently as a month ago when his brother visited, he got quite loud about it." Jack paused to take some soup, savoring the rich flavor.

"What else do we have on him?" Vivian asked.

"Well, his brother was going to get him a job working in his catering business. Chris said that the brother hasn't seen him since he got out. He apparently moved in with his old girlfriend. They can't find either of them. The girlfriend's neighbor heard them talking about 'leaving town' but nothing more."

"Airlines, buses?" Sam said.

"Nothing.But he could be using an alias or even drove up." Jack finished the soup and pushed the bowl away.He grabbed a napkin to wipe his mouth and thought on the other news. "Oh... the lab didn't find anything on the nun's habit.Just river residue, no blood."

"No new leads there either," Sam replied, "Well we have a good one. The manager is going over all the employee records.Leigh Mosley didn't work here very long.The last known address doesn't exist anymore.It's now a parking lot.We called Robert Harrison, but he was out."

"So Mrs. Harrison worked here and presumably met Hughes here.How'd she end up married to Harrison? He's a bit out of her league." Jack theorized.

"Well, she said they met in New York. It had to be through Hughes, he has to tie in somehow. Why else would she change her name?" Sam assessed.

"Harrison didn't have any work down here, we checked right?" Jack eyed the two and both nodded.

"No, but one of the other waitresses that worked with her now works at the Sands. She comes on duty at five. We can head over there and talk to her. She didn't have much time when we spoke on the phone, her cell phone kept going in and out." Vivian recalled of the aborted conversation earlier that day. "I think she said that she met her later, after she was engaged. She thought that they met at a party in New York."

"Somethin' stinks here." Jack surmised with a frown. "This is all a little too convenient.She quits the job here suddenly and reappears a few months later married to a rich man old enough to be her father?"

"You think Hughes set this up? Why?" Sam said.

"I don't know, but now that we have a few more pieces, I think we'll find out. Anything on her name turn up?"

"I've got DMV checking," Vivian said. "I called the Arizona bureau office. I spoke with Special Agent in Charge Jose Sanchez. He's running both names for me."

"Arizona." Jack nodded, "That's right, Hughes' ticket was for Phoenix. But he never made that flight."

"No," Sam replied. "But maybe Hughes wasn't after Robert Harrison.She got a huge chunk of money in the divorce."

"Her husband was very generous," Vivian agreed and moved back when the waitress appeared with a large platter. "Thanks."

"You need anything else?" the waitress asked, putting a container of ketchup by the hungry man at the table.

"No, this looks great, thanks," Jack replied. "So you're thinking he'll figure that she's a softer touch? The mother would be more inclined to fork over money for the lost child?"

"Maybe," Sam said. "It's worth a shot. I think he was flying out there to meet her.Something changed his mind.Maybe he got spooked... decided to drive.Or maybe she called him in the meantime and they changed the meeting place?"

"I guess we'll find out," Jack said, taking a bite of the huge sandwich.

"Hopefully this Lisa Zimmerman, that's the other waitress," Vivian updated, will have more information for us when we meet with her."

"How's Martin?" Sam asked. "I meant to call him this afternoon and we haven't had any time."

"He's out..." Jack muffled, swallowing his food. "I think he is anyhow. I spoke with him earlier, before he spoke with Victor."

"Oh boy," Vivian speared some crab and sympathized. "That man does have a way of clearing a room."

"He's a jackass," Jack spat, before dipping his fries into some ketchup."I know Martin was trying to get a hold of his doctor, maybe the guy found time for him."

"I felt so bad for him, he seems so lost," Sam nibbled on some watermelon.

"I can't imagine that kind of guilt, it can't be easy," Vivian added.

The trio resumed their meal, discussing other phases of each of the pending cases. They paid the bill and headed up the boardwalk to meet with the waitress at the Sands casino. Neither of them saw the stranger following them.

Journal Entry - Aurora Musis amica -

Dawn is friend of the muses.

Yes, the early bird catches the worm. Things could not be going any smoother. The course is true and the sails are full. Jack Malone is not even aware yet of the noose around his neck. Oh to say patience is a virtue! Would I have used a knife on him the other night in lieu of shaking his hand... But the fruit will be all the sweeter for the wait.

The crack in the pretender's armor is widening quicker than I anticipated. I devour that blood that trickles from his broken heart. His fate is sealed; he will be the deliverer and by his own hand become the sacficial lamb.

As for my prisoner, young Taylor has proved his mettle and is a very worthy advesary. I so enjoy our chats and watching that temper of his explode. He is not concerned with his own fate, rather his agony is his heart bleeding for his brothers in arms. His blue -eyed Achilles heel is indeed causing his unrest.

So to the lusty Aurora, I wait for you kiss. For when you rise by the end of the week, at the time when your golden gown crowns the heavens, Danny Taylor will have a new cellmate and once again the blue-eyed imposter will be left with blood on his hands.

One step closer to his inevitable fate.

Dies irae Jack old friend... The Day of Wrath is nearing.

Part 14

TIMELINE
November 1988
Mystic Isle, NJ

"Happy Birthday Dear Nicky... Happy Birthday to you... Yeah!"

Face flushed with excitement at the party and the cheering, the birthday boy blew out the ten candles on his large cake. His mother looked on in pride at her handsome son. The chubby baby with wavy black hair and a winning smile had grown into a tall, lean, handsome child. Where his dark hair and olive skin tone came from her, his deep blue eyes and his features were entirely his father's. He didn't know about Peter Gibson, for her that man died in Syracuse. He drowned in the sick laughter that still rang in her ears. He didn't need a man that vile and shallow in his life. Nicky thought his father was dead; in her eyes he'd died a long time before the boy was born.

He was a good boy, excelling in both school and as an altar boy. He was a loving son and had many friends. But where he really shined was on the athletic field. Like his father, he had the magic touch. No matter the sport, he championed it. Currently he was the quarterback of the neighborhood football team. The coach was already confident he'd gain a scholarship to a good high school. One she couldn't afford otherwise. Theresa felt sure that God had answered her prayer that night over ten years ago. He'd given her a special child, a real gift. She loved her boy with all her heart. She was raising him in God's light, to follow his lead. Once he left the nest to fly on his own wings, she would keep her part of the deal. She would turn her life to working for God as a nun.

"Happy Birthday young man," Father Dom declared, ruffling the boy's long dark curly hair.

"Thanks Father, this is great!" he yelped turning to his mother. "Look Mom...a Giants Jersey. Isnt' it great?" He tugged the athletic shirt over his own. "Wow... this is great. Thanks Father Dom!"

"You're welcome..." the priest smiled. He was such a good boy, endearing himself to all who knew him. "Now how about cutting that cake? I'll have a piece and don't be skimpy!"

"Yes sir!" Nick answered, cutting the chocolate cake. "Mom?"

"No thanks, honey, maybe later."

In addition to Father Dom and Father John, the two priests from the small church where she worked, there were a few neighbors and his friends from school. She had moved into this small apartment when Nick turned two. It was better for him to be around kids his own age. The woman next store, Rose Carney, was a widow who loved him Nick like a grandchild. She watched him during the day when Theresa was working. Aunt Rose was a lifesaver and Nick loved her dearly. Theresa watched him cutting the cake and thought about the yellow iced name depicted there.

Dominic for the kind priest who'd opened his heart to her, Joseph for the carpenter who raised another special boy and DiSipio for her a fine name and one to be proud of. This had been a wonderful day. Despite the cool air, the sun was strong and the autumn sky was deep blue. Now, as the sun set into a burnt orange sky, she felt good. Nick had his favorite two foods, pizza and chocolate cake. Surrounded by his family and friends, he was joyous. He was opening some more of his gifts, when a rap sounded on the apartment door.

"Who can that be?" Rosa asked, rising to answer the knock.

"No, sit Rosa, I'll get it," Theresa said.

"He's here... I'll bet he's here. He came, I can't believe it!" Nick scooted around the two priests who were eating cake and ran for the door. "Mom, remember I told you about him? My new Big Brother, from school remember?"

America was a program that gave fatherless boys like hers a chance to have a positive male influence in their lives. She recalled the forms being sent home and then getting a call from the school about a man named Richard Kelly. She'd spoken to him on the phone once. "Mister Kelly?"

"No, he had an accident." Nick grabbed the knob. "Not serious... but he's not doing it this year. I got a new big brother. He's way cool. He's a cop, a hero you know, NYPD!" He jerked the door open. His back was to his mother so he couldn't see the color drain from her face. "His name is..."

"Gibson, Miss DiSipio, Detective Peter Gibson."

It was all he could do not to gloat. His smile didn't even come close to the euphoria he felt inside. He heard echoes of James Brown singing 'I Feel Good' and wanted to dance along. She still looked hot and he let his eyes rake over her great body. Unlike his own wife, who was thin to the point of being nearly emancipated. Sleeping with her was like rutting a pile of bones. The two daughters that had been born to the unholy union were blonde replicas of their icy mother. But he got the big prize, all that the money and prestige that comes from being the only child of a millionaire. He smiled as his son rattled off his accomplishments. His father-in-law was crazy about him, preferring his company over his own daughter.

"...and he played in the NFL for awhile he was a quarterback just like me!" Nick touted, starry eyed. "...and then he joined the police department and now he's a detective. He puts the bad guys away. Ain't that right Pete?"

"You got that right, slugger!" Pete toussled the boy's dark hair.

"Mom, you okay?" He stared upwards at the pale face. "Hey..." He tugged her arm.

"Uh... uh..." Theresa stammered, shock settling in on her features.

"Nick, how about getting your mother some water. It's very warm inside." He waited until the boy trotted off and pulled her outside. In the darkness of the side of the house. He drank in the terrified stare and quivering limbs.

"Wha... a... do... you... w..w...wa..want..."

"Well now I'd love to have you again."

His breath was hot and laced with a tinge of beer. She turned her head away, closing her eyes as his hand groped her breast.

"Don't... please..."

"Jesus, you still turn me on," he whispered into her ear before biting the soft spot behind it. She pulled away, shaking and tears filled her dark eyes.

"He thinks you're dead. If you tell him otherwise, I'll tell him what you did."

"No you won't," he tossed back cockily. "You won't do a damned thing. You love that kid too much. It will shatter his confidence. I'll see him when I want and how often I want. If you do anything to change that, I'll have him taken from you. I have money, know just about every judge in the state and a blood test will confirm him parentage. You want trouble?" He gripped her arms and pressed her back against the brick wall. "I'll make you disappear. I know places in the Pine Barrens that even the Jersey Devil avoids. Do you understand me?"

She didn't know what to do. She wasn't strong and he knew that. She couldn't lose Nick, he was her whole life. She didn't have the money to fight him. She knew all about him, he was in the paper often enough. For now she would have to go along with him, until she figured out what to do.

This is terrific stuff — very gripping!

"Mom?"

"I'll be in there in a minute, Nicky, I'm talking to Mister Gibson. Please go back inside!" She ordered and heard the door slam. She turned to answer him and he kissed her hard. She flinched when his fingers slid under her sweater and used her free hand to slap him. "You haven't changed. You're still an animal."

"One you need to be afraid of, sugar." He pulled back and tapped her cheek. "I bite and I bite hard."

"How did you find out?" she managed, wrapping her arms around her chest.

"About six months ago I saw an article in the paper. Some nine-year old kid with an arm like a rocket won a contest and got to pitch to the some of the Yankees. I couldn't believe my fuckin' eyes. There he was, starin' right back at me from the paper. My own kid... my flesh and blood. I did a background check on him and found out about his school, his hobbies, his friends. Hell, the kid's a natural. He's got a great arm. I go to all his games."

"Then you know he's happy. Please don't ruin him. He's a good boy..."

"Ruin him?" Pete chortled. "He's my son. I'm not going to miss another part of his life. I'm gonna mold him..."

"No! You won't turn him into a beast like you who uses woman... a rapist! I'll... I'll..."

"You'll keep those red lips of your shut," he warned, inching closer and causing her to shrink back, "or this will be the last cake you eat with him. I'm off every other weekend and I'll take him then. Camping, fishing, hiking; all the things he needs a father for." He predicted and then moved closer until she had nowhere to go. He slid his hand up the leg of her jeans and cupped her backside hard. He watched those eyes grow in fear again. "And Sweetcheeks I'll have you anytime I want... you understand?"

"No... please... we're happy now. I never bothered you. He doesn't need you."

"The hell he doesn't. I'm his father." He liked the sound of that. This set-up was perfect. He could reap in all the benefits of being a father without the strings. "I'm gonna see to it he has it all. Great schools, a good deal with the NFL, I got all the right connections."

"Can't you just go away and..." she was interrupted again by her son. She was glad Gibson pulled away and moved several feet, as if inspecting the flowers that grew on the side of the house.

"Mom, can't Pete come inside for some cake? Please?"

"What about it?" he paused, smiling wide. "Mom?"

She nodded once, not trusting her voice. Her son ran over and grabbed Gibson's hand.

"You like chocolate don't ya, Pete? You ought to see how big my cake is!" Nick proclaimed, gazing up at his new hero.

"Sure sport... cut me a big piece. Shall we go inside, Miss DiSipio?"

"Uh... uh... I'll be right... in... I have to...check... the... uh... back of the house..."

"Okay, Mom." Nick said, turning back to his new hero.

She watched him turn away, leading his new 'father' into the house. Gibson paused in the doorway giving her a smile so evil it chilled her to the bone. She skittered away, not stopping until she was in the back yard. She dropped to her knees in front of the Blessed Mother statue and pleaded.

"Why? What did I do?" she asked the Lady In Blue. "I don't understand. Is this a test? Is that it? My faith? You're testing my faith? Yes, that must be it." She sighed hard, relieved that the Lord hadn't deserted her. "I'll be strong," she vowed, blessing herself. "I'll get me and Nicky through this somehow."

Manhattan
Monday Afternoon

"Jack, Robert Harrison is on the phone," Vivian announed, sticking her head in the door.

As she waited for the team leader to join them, Vivian thought on the information they had gained in Atlantic City. The waitress at the Sands only recalled that brief chance meeting in Macy's a few months later. Leigh was wearing a diamond ring and very expensive clothes. She was rushing to an appointment at a very exclusive Salon uptown. They only talked for a moment. She just said she'd met a great guy and was living the good life. They met at a charity auction at the Art Museum

"Okay." He joined Sam at Vivian's desk and waited for the senior agent to punch the speaker key. "Mister Harrison?"

"Yes?"

"Thanks for your cooperation. I'm Jack Malone of the Manhattan F.B.I. I work with Agents Spade and Johnson. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your wife, Karen."

"Okay, I'm sorry about the delay. I was away for the weekend and just now got the message. Is there a new lead on Abby? Have you found that man who has her?"

"We're actually following a lead on your wife's whereabouts. We understand she worked as a waitress at the Tropicana before you met. Did she mention that to you?" Jack asked.

"Yes... but it was so short a time. I mean, how is that applicable to this case?" Harrison replied

"How did you meet Karen?" Sam asked.

"We met in New York, as I told you. Why?"

"Where did you meet?"

"At a christening for the Hunters. Ted was a colleague of mine; he and his wife had a celebration to honor their new baby."

"And Karen was there?" Vivian prompted. "Working or as a guest?"

"A guest. There were a couple hundred I suppose. She was seated next to me. She was very engaging. I was very attracted to her."

"Do you recall meeting a man named David Hughes that night?" Jack asked.

"Yes, he introduced us. He was at the table with us. He knew Karen from work I believe. He was the lawyer that arranged for Theodore and Tess to adopt their son."

"The baby was adopted, that's a key," Sam noted.

"Did you see him after that? Was he a friend? Did your wife interact with him?" Vivian asked.

"No, I don't recall seeing him again. His business relocated just after that. Overseas... London I believe."

"Wow..." Sam shook her head. "The pieces are filling in fast."

"I would like an explanation. What does David Hughes have to do with this?" the concerned father inquired.

"We believe he's the man who took Abby three years ago and brought her back a few weeks ago. We're looking for him," Vivian replied.

"Oh my God... Abby..." Harrison choked.

"As far as we know Mister Harrison, she's still alive. He was very careful to bring her back and that is for a reason. We think maybe he contacted your wife. Possibly to get money from her," Jack stated.

"Ransom? I suppose... but why?" Harrison debated. "It's been three years."

"I don't know, but we'll find out. Did your wife ever visit Arizona? Or talk about it?" Sam asked.

:"No... is that where they are?" the missing child's father pressed.

"We don't know, he had a ticket for Phoenix but never made the plane." Jack eyed the speaker box. "Listen Mister Harrison, try not to worry too much. I know how hard that is, I have two little girls myself. We'll be in touch."

"Alright."

"Sam, call the Hunters find out anything you can about Karen Harrison or Hughes. Vivian, get on the phone to Sanchez. He's had three days, I want some answers," the team leader snapped.

"Where are you gonna be?" Vivian.

"With Chris Boone. They found Herrera. He's being questioned this morning."

Wednesday night
The Ploughman's Manhattan

Martin glared at the mouthy man sitting next to him. Who the hell did the guy think he was anyhow? He didn't own the bar or that damn stool. Every time he reached for his beer the ugly brute shoved him.

"Go home and sleep it off, pretty boy."

"Shut... the... hell... up... " Martin retorted, blinking at the blurry figure beside him. "...move... your... fat... ass..."

"Fat huh?" He grabbed the smaller man by the collar and shoved him hard against the bar. "How 'bout I give you a fat lip?"

"Ye've had enough, Tommy, go on home," the bartender suggested.

"I've had enough!" the patron sneered. "He's toasted."

"Go on now... Mary'll be worryin' on ye. It's nearly two."

"Loser," he snarled, shoving the inebriated man face first onto the bar.

"Are ye alright then?"

"...sherrr...." Martin slurred, raising his face. "...didn't... need... you... wipin'... my nose... fight... own... battle..."

"Aye, laddie, I'm sure ye can, but ye need to have yer wits about ye. Yer three sheets to the wind." The bartender shook his head and reached for the phone.

Martin fumbled and tried to decide which one of the two glasses in front of him was his beer. He reached twice and missed. Huffing in annoyance, he swiped again and nearly sent himself to the floor. Why couldn't they leave him alone? It didn't hurt anymore. He didn't feel the pain. Who said drowning your sorrows was a bad idea? He hoisted his wobbly body upright and swiped the spittle running from his mouth. Determined, he narrowed his eyes and picked the glass on the left.

"Hah..." he exclaimed triumphantly, draining the last of the amber fluid. "...the hell is he... hey... one more... hey..."

The bartender took the empty glass and didn't return it. He ignored the surly comments and weak threats. He nodded at the irate bleary-eyed man as he dialed the phone. He used his left hand to grab the sliding body on the other side and heard the ringing stop.

"Is this himself then? Jack, are ye there?"

"Himself?" Malone shifted the phone and turned up the light beside his bed. "Who the hell is this?"

"It's Pat Kelly from Ploughman's. Yer Martin has had a wee bit too much of the Dew. He's a bit surly, that devil of a temper he has. Haven't I stepped in twice already and stopped a bottle and a fist from givin' him a new line on that pretty face of his."

"Shit!" Jack hissed.

"I thought ye'd want to handle it. He's a good lad normally and I wouldn't want the local boys in blue gettin' wind of it. He's got enough troubles weighin' him down now."

"Two a.m...." Jack sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Thanks Pat. Get some coffee in him. I'll be there in a half hour."

"What's wrong?" Maria asked.

"Martin's drunk, the bartender called. I gotta go get him."

Martin rested his head on his arms on the bar. It seemed too difficult to keep it upright. He hoped that the large amount of beer he'd consumed would put him away. Maybe the alchohol alcohol would take the nightmares away. Maybe he'd sleep for a week and wake up and Danny would be back. He felt a hand tapping his head and raised it, blinking badly.

"...go to hell..."

"Ah, ye know I'll be in heaven an hour before that devil knows I'm gone." He put a mug of hot coffee in front of the red-eyed troubled soul. "Come on, be a good lad and drink that all up.," the big Irishman coached.

"You got... kids..." Martin slurred, trying to focus on the white-haired barkeep. He wrinkled his nose at the sweet coffee but drank it anyhow.

"Five and ten grandchildren. The joy of me life."

"You... want... one... m...m..more..."

"Did ye have a row with the old man then?" Pat pressed. He knew the young man's father was a big shot in Washington. The little he'd seen of him on the local news or CNN, he didn't like. The man was far too arrogant for his taste. But he liked Martin and enjoyed the debates he usually had over a pint of Guinness with Danny Taylor or Jack Malone.

"R....r..r...row..." Martin hiccuped, slobbering badly. He swiped twice and missed his chin completely. "...like... t...t...a... row... him... out... riv...er..."

"No ye wouldn't. Ye have yer differences, that's fer sure. But he's still yer father. He must have done somethin' right, raisin' a good lad like yerself. Yer not like him, ye know. Yer a good lad, ye've a good heart."

"...good... har... har...t...." Martin whispered, shaking his head. "...no bra...in... stu...pid... stu...pid..." He paused to catch his breath and grab the bar which appeared to be moving, "Vic...tor... wouldn't... make... mis... take... lose... lose ... part...ner..."

"Ah, so that's the devil that's bitin' yer balls then?" He leaned over and steadied the young man who was swaying. "Ye listen to Old Pat, Martin. Danny-boy is as tough a man as I've ever met. Jack will get to the bottom of this mess. Then I'll have to hear the three of ye boastin' and braggin' at yer table."

"...it hurts..."

"Aye, Lad, I know it does." Pat filled the mug again and watched the sorrowful eyes filling up. "A crier I'd not have guessed." He'd seen his share of drunks over the years and the criers were better than the fighters. "Yer eyes don't need washin'. Ye get yer chin up now... that's a good lad." He nodded to Jack who had just entered the room.

Jack nodded back, "Thanks Pat, I owe you." He walked over to where Martin was draped in a cloak of misery. "You're a pain in the ass, Fitgerald, you know that? It's Goddamn two-thirty in the morning."

"...go to... hell..." Martin's face screwed up in distaste.

"Well at least I'll have some company." Pat winked at Jack and stepped from behind the bar. "I'll be puttin' the take in the safe. Take yer time."

"Pat." Jack slid some bills over. "That cover it?"

"The lad paid, yer money's no good." He paused and gave the forlorn man a pat on the back before departing.

"Come on," Jack tried to pry Martin loose and got shoved. The miscalculation sent the younger man off the stool and onto the floor. "Jesus!" He bent over and tried to help organize the seemingly disconnected limbs.

"...Fuck... off..." Martin began to crawl towards a chair.

"Look, I don't have time for your shit, Martin. I'm driving you home and if I'm lucky, I'll get a couple hours in before I have to get up again."

Martin fought a losing battle and felt himself hauled upright. He nearly went down again and grabbed the arm steadying him. He tried to pry free; he didn't want to see Jack, it was all his fault.

"...had him... let... him... go. Some fuckin' fed... you... are..."

"Who?"

"Her... murr... rer... bra..."

"Herrera?" Jack shoved the staggering body out the door and fished his key out. "He had an alibi, dozens of witnesses and a video to boot. He didn't take Danny. I told you that on the phone."

"...lied..."

"Fine," Jack buckled the sliding body in and slammed the door.

You never win arguing with a drunk and he wouldn't try. He should have timed the call better. Martin was right there, it was his fault. Had he waited until this morning, he wouldn't be driving a drunk home. He cast an eye sideways and saw the drooping head hit the chest, eyes closed. At least there would be no argument during the trip to his apartment.

The interrogation with their only suspect had been brief. Herrera and his girlfriend had gone to Atlantic City trying to pull a scam at the casinos. They tried a card counting stunt at the blackjack table and it was all on videotape. In addition to the dealer and other players, the security camera had him on tape from noon until five p.m the day Taylor disappeared. So he was released. Martin knew they had picked him up and when he found out they released him, he hung up on him. He knew the troubled agent had put too much hope on the arrest and coupled with the argument with his father and the bad press, it was too much.

"Home, sweet, home." He turned the engine off and walked to the passenger's side. He unlocked the door and unbuckled Fitzgerald's seat belt. He raised the shaggy head and tapped the slobbering man's cheek. "Wake up Sleeping Beauty... hey..."

"Huh?" Martin blinked in confusion. He was in a car, it was late and someone was reaching inside. "...freeze... I..B...F...." He slapped his shoulder and frowned. "Don't... move... I... got... got... a... a... gun..."

"Okay Maxwell Smart." Jack ignored the protesting hand and got him out of the car.

He steered the wavering body up the stairs and used Martin's keys to unlock the security doors. It seemed to take forever but he finally got inside Martin's apartment. He half carried the inebriated rookie back towards his bedroom and sat him on the bed. He got Martin's jacket and shoes off and was going to shove the swaying body back when the drowsy eyes popped open.

"Jack... I think... I... think... I'm gonna..."

"NO!" Jack grabbed him but not quickly enough. "Goddammit Martin!" He held the retching body until nothing else came up. His own shirt had vomit on it and Martin was a mess. He couldn't leave him alone, if he threw up again in his sleep he'd choke. "Okay, Junior, you owe me for this and don't think you won't pay up."

"...Jack... you... there...." Martin felt a wet cloth on his face and tried to move.

"Yeah, just call me lucky," Jack filled a dixie cup with water and moved it towards the gaping mouth. "Rinse and spit..." he ordered, then redirected the confused face. "No... not on me in the damned sink..."

"Huh?"

"Here." Jack filled the cup again and added Alka Selzer. "Drink."

Once again he tried to settle Martin in the bed. He wiped his soiled shirt and got it pretty clean. He left briefly to get a glass of milk. It was the cure that usually worked for him. Martin was still sitting on the side of the bed where he'd left him. He seemed to be sleeping sitting up.

"Come on, one more Junior." He held the glass out and saw two lost eyes peer at him.

"...call me... that..."

"Okay, I won't do it anymore."

"No... no..." Martin's voice was annoyed. His mind drew up another face and he heard another name. "...har...vard.... ju...ju...n...ior... nick... name..."

"Yeah, come on drink this. I'm tired." Malone was irritated and didn't hide that tone in his voice

"...term... of... dear... meat..."

"Deer meat?" Jack chuckled. "Yeah, endearment."

"Nobody... ever..." He faltered, eyes filling.

"Oh great... a crier..." Jack hissed, again shoving the glass. Then the face changed and an angry flush took over.

"Vic...tor... never... called... me.." he shook his head and drank the milk. He burped once and curled up in the bed. He felt a blanket come up and forced his eyes open. In the light of the hallway, he saw a figure exiting the door. "J...a..ck..."

"What?" Jack barked a bit too forcefully. He was tired, his head hurt and he smelled like puke.

"...sorry... fucked... up... again..." Martin coughed a few times and concentrated hard on focusing on that figure. "...thankshh... you..."

"Yeah, okay." Jack nodded and went to shut the door, then paused and lowered his voice. "Junior."

He eyed the long leather couch and the quilt folded on the bottom. He tossed Martin's jacket on the chair, before he took his shoes off and tugged his shirt off. He saw a piece of paper fall from the jacket and bent to retrieve it.

"What the hell?" He scanned the paper. The distorted almost child-like scrawl told him it had been written long into the drinking binge. "Martin Smith... Martin Jones..." He sighed hard, raking a hand through his messy hair. The name Fitzgerald was crossed out. Prick or not, Victor was getting a call from him in the morning. This shit had to stop. Martin had enough problems with the strain he was under. He lay on the sofa and pulled the quilt down, wondering when hellish dream would end.

Martin's apartment
Eight a.m.

Something was ringing. Jack sat up and rubbed his eyes, squinting at the unforgiving sun that was piercing his eyes. He turned away from the harsh intruder and fumbled until he found his cellphone.

"Malone."

"Jack, Vivian called, she said it was urgent. Where are you?" Maria asked.

"At Martin's. He was a mess, I stayed." He eyed his watch. "Eight...I'm late."

"I'm working late tonight, if you can't pick the girls up after school, let me know by noon. I'll have Connie get them."

"I won't be able to pick them up, I'll call you later." Jack hung up and dialed Vivian Johnson's desk.

"Agent Johnson."

"It's me, what's up?"

"Where are you? We were worried."

"At Martin's. He got drunk last night, I got a call at two a.m. We get a break?"

"You're not going to believe this. Sanchez called, he's got an address for us. Leigh Mosley is listed in Sedona. She's been living there about six months. A few weeks ago, a man and child moved in with her. Sanchez sent a couple of the local police out and they identified them from the photos we sent."

"Bingo!" Jack fisted the air. "Get us on a flight. Are they under surveillance?"

"Nobody was home, but the apartment house has local cops watching it and Sanchez is on his way up there."

"Good. I'm gonna go home and grab a shower and change, then I'll be in. Tell Sam she's stays. I want her to keep tabs on Chris Boone in case something breaks."

"Okay," Vivian answered. "How's Martin?"

"Green." Jack eyed the ghastly pallor on the body in the bed he was now standing over. "He'll survive. Call me when you get the flight."

He flipped the phone off and used the bathroom. He wrote a note for Martin and left it on the dresser. He shoved his feet in his shoes and grabbed his jacket. The child was alive and after the bad run of luck the team had suffered through over the last few weeks, this was a shot in the arm. He yanked the door open and stepped back surprised.

"Victor? What the hell are you doing here?"

"The neighbor let me in," Victor Fitzgerald replied, eyeing the disheveled body. "And I could ask you the same thing."

"Martin got drunk last night. I got the call." Jack stepped back inside and let the older man through the door. "Listen Victor, we have our differences, that won't change. We'll never see eye to eye on this job and how to work it."

The senior agent dismissed Malone and began to walk back to his son's bedroom. He was about to reach for the doorknob, when his arm was yanked and he spun around, eyes flashing.

"Your speech is done, I have business with my son."

"Oh, so you do know who he is," Jack levelled hard not hiding his anger. "Then you ought to know that he's fragile now, like glass. You keep pushing him, shoving that arrogance down his throat and he'll shatter." He shoved his index finger into the Deputy Director's chest. "And that's a chance I'm not willing to take. You're his father, not his warden. Act like one, Goddammit!"

"You're out of line, Jack. From what I can gather you had a rough night here with him. You've had a few tough cases and with Taylor gone, I will excuse your attitude due to stress. But don't you dare tell me about my son."

"I'll tell you this," Jack hissed, grabbing the other man's wrist. "How about usin' this to steady him when he's falling instead of cutting his heart out? You can't make him live out your dreams, Victor. Despite your blindness, he's grown up into something you should be proud of."

"Look, I've had just about enough of your lip, Malone..."

"Here," Jack shoved the wrinkled paper he'd found by Martin's coat into the other man's hand. "Happy Father's Day."

Jack turned and walked away, not intending to look back. He paused at the door then turned back. Victor's face lost all its color and the ashen tone and trembling hand gave Jack a bit of hope. Maybe, just maybe Martin would get that second chance.

"He's gonna be sicker than a dog when he gets up, he really tied one on. Just talk to him, Victor, not at him. He doesn't need a speech or drill or repetitive reminders of his mistakes."

"I just wanted him to avoid... to get the facts... right to..."

"No... he's learning and he's human. They're his mistakes, you let him make them. It's the only way he'll learn. And when he falls, you help him up, you don't kick him." Jack finished and left the stunned man in his wake.

Victor nodded and barely heard the door closing. He kept staring at the paper in disbelief. How had it gotten this bad? That his own son didnt didn't want the name that he was so proud of. As he approached the bed, he pushed away the broken dreams of Senator Martin Fitzgerald. Those shards had already cut his son enough. No more blood needed to be shed. He paused by the bed and looked at the face of his sleeping son. His hand reached out to touch the flushed cheek.

"I'm sorry... so sorry... Martin..." He paused, sat down and gave the stilled shoulder a pat. "...son..."

Part 15

Thursday afternoon
Phoenix Arizona
F.B.I Headquarters

Jose Sanchez was a large man, several inches over six foot. He was all muscle and still had much of the same body he wore in college playing football. At forty-seven, he was just beginning to get gray strands in his thick dark hair. Aside from the imposing way he carried himself, his glare was legendary in the local area. The dark eyes could melt through the roughest surface. It was those eyes and an annoyed growl that met the rookie agent when he tapped on the open door to the SAC's office.

"...New York... uh... Agents Malone and Johnson are here..."

"Okay, Diaz, thanks." Jose rose and handed the rookie a file. "Go find Kelly and get me more, this isn't enough for a warrant."

"Yes, sir."

"And Diaz?"

"Sir?" The eager eyed newcomer turned, shifting uncomfortably and adjusting his tie.

"Don't trip on the way over."

"Trip? No sir." He scowled at the rest of the team who snickered from where they sat at their desks.

Jack found a grin as the all-too-green rookie went past him and Vivian. They were standing in the center of a new office. The lingering paint fumes still hung in the air. His dark eyes scanned the impressive layout of desks, computers, phones and a room at the end with all glass walls. Behind them were surveillance equipment and very high tech monitors.

"Impressive."

"Thanks," Jose extended his hand to the speaker who he assumed was Jack Malone. "Ten years I've been bitchin' for an upgrade. Last year they got funding and we moved in this week. But the bodies don't change." His eyes went to the hall where his confused rookie reappeared. "Son?"

"Yessir?" Diaz turned, flushing as those dark eyes glowered at him.

"It's upstairs... fourth floor."

"Yessir... I knew that."

"That's what I thought," Jose sent back and bit back a smile. His visitors chuckled and he stepped aside, nodding to a conference room.

"How green?" Jack asked of the rookie.

"First week," Jose grumbled. "He came with the new furniture. I'm gettin' too old for this shit."

"I know how you feel," Jack commiserated, entering the bright room.

"Help yourself." Jose nodded to a counter on the wall. Large coffee urns, mugs and fixings were waiting. Next to the counter was a refrigerator. "Juice, soda, ice tea..."

"Thanks." Jack opened the refrigerator and got himself a coke and Vivian a Diet Peach Snapple. "Where are we on this?"

"We brought them in about an hour ago. They're downstairs in a holding cell. The little girl is fine, but I sent a couple of my agents to the hospital with her to have her checked out." Sanchez brought a box over and pulled some containers out. "Sandwiches and house chili," he set a large hot container down and smiled evilly. "You've been warned."

"Duly noted," Jack took a bowl and spoon from the box and opened the container.

"They haven't been charged yet. I wanted Agent Johnson there to question them." The Phoenix lawman turned to the female agent who was opening a turkey sandwich. "You've been waiting a long time for this."

"Yes, I have and thank you," Vivian replied. "Did they say anything?"

"She started to." Sanchez poured himself a cup of coffee and chuckled as Jack Malone's face turned red. "Hot enough for you?"

"Just a little," Jack choked through the mouth that was on fire. He took a sandwich, unwrapped it and dumped out the insides, wolfing down the bread to kill the fire. Half of the coke soon followed.

"She turned to him and got upset, telling him it was 'his fault' and 'I knew this wouldn't work'. She claimed 'her plan' had been better." Sanchez recalled. "He told her to shut up and wait for their lawyer."

"What about the girl?" Jack wheezed.

"Nice kid, considering what's she's been through, she's doing well. She told us he was her Uncle David and they came to America to see her mommy again. She doesn't remember much about being taken. Could be she was drugged or kept sedated. She recognized her father in the photo we showed her. She said her 'Uncle David' told her that her father died and that her mother was sick, too sick to take care of her. Once her mommy got better, they'd all live together in a new house."

"So they planned this whole scheme?" Jack wondered, taking the other half of the sandwich he'd massacred.

"Looks that way," Sanchez eyed the clock, "When you're ready, we'll go find out."

"I've been ready for three years," Vivian decided, finishing the half of a sandwich and drinking a large gulp of tea. "Let's go."

Thursday
Early evening
Forrest Hills, NY

Pete Gibson finished his taco and tossed the wrapper in to the back of the van. He took a long swig of soda, belched and sent the napkin he used behind him as well. His icy blue eyes moved to the digital clock in his van.

"Three more minutes," he predicted of the pretender's pattern.

With Malone and Johnson out of the way for another twenty-four hours or more, he was free to make his next move. The pretty, blonde woman's cell was ready and waiting. Once again his blue-eyed fly would be the sole witness and unable to recall what transpired. But this time he'd 'awaken' from his trance far away from the confines of New York. In an abandoned house with Samantha Spade's bloody clothes next to him. He felt the adrenalin rising and had to calm himself down.

"Clockwork," he chuckled as the lean man jogged around the corner. The neck and upper chest of the gray sweatsuit were covered in sweat. "Naughty boy," he noted as the young man stopped, bent over and winced, rubbing his ankle. "What would your doctor say?"

Once the blue-eyed fly entered the building, Gibson moved to the back of the van. He eyed the first class surveillance equipment and got a rush. He sat down, put the headphones on and began to listen.

Sam yawned, rubbed her eyes and finished her mineral water. She sighed and looked at the piles of notes, folders and photos on the conference room table. She had copies of the information that Chris Boone supplied on Taylor's investigation and those on the missing nun as well. She had spent the afternoon with Trisha Collins from Boone's team, reviewing the files and info that they had on Danny's early troubled life. Just maybe one of his old enemies, gangmembers gang members or friends had a debt to repay.

She moved to the window and watched the traffic below. It was getting harder each day to come to terms with the fact that Danny might never return. The thought of losing that cocky, shit-eating grin he wore for good was too hard to bear. She pushed the image of a nameless grave away and thought about the other victim. Recalling Jack's words about therapy, she decided to gently suggest visiting Lisa Harris to Martin. She turned to the wall and picked up the phone. The machine came on, again. She waited for the beep to sound and spoke.

"Hey, it's the gourmet chef checking in, you want Chinese or Italian?" She heard the click as Martin picked the phone up.

"Hey," Martin managed, flopping onto the sofa. "Either, I'm not very hungry."

"Okay, I'll be over in about an hour. We'll go out; you've been in too much."

Martin sighed once and nodded, rubbing his eyes. Lord he was tired. No matter how much sleep he got, he was always weary. The fatigue that possessed him had little to do with the physical need for sleep. It was the emotional and mental toll that was conquering him. He heard nothing but concern in her voice and that was something to hold onto. He wasn't used to having friends, real friends who gave a damn. Someone who liked him for who he was, not what name he carried.

"Martin? You there?"

"Huh?" He blinked, "Yeah, sorry Sam. I'll be out front. See you."

The troubled agent took a fast shower then, scrubbing his body until it hurt. No matter how hard he washed, Danny's blood lingered. With every passing day, the almost permanent stain got worse. The smell choked him, causing what little food he consumed to come back. As he dressed, he eyed his soiled clothes and thought of his odd day.

He didn't remember Jack's visit, only flashes of a pissed-off face while he was throwing up. But he'd found the note from Jack Malone. It seemed that his boss found him at the Irishman's bar and brought him home. He stayed all night and that meant something. His father's change of behavior was tied to Jack, although the senior Fitzgerald would never own up. He knew they'd crossed paths inside this place and that Jack would have said something. Whatever the reason, his father had been very understanding. Martin had been too sick to converse much, but he was glad his father stayed the morning and talked to him about Danny. His voice had changed and he'd seen a new light in the old man's normally icy eyes. He promised his father he'd come down to Washington over the weekend to talk.

After tossing on some khakis and a blue denim shirt, he padded back into the bathroom to scrub his teeth and blow dry his hair. He didn't like the reflection that looked back at him. Far too many shadows were chasing him these days. Spitting out the minty sensation, he glared at the man in the glass and left. He grabbed his wallet, his cellphone and leather jacket and headed outside. The burning orange orb in the sky seem to mirror the heat that he felt inside his churning stomach.

"Eight fuckin' days," he whispered into the wind. "Where are you Danny?" The only answer he got was those damned icy fingers gripping his gut and that stench rising again. He closed his eyes and rocked back, just as the horn sounded.

"Right on time, Agent Spade," Pete whispered, watching the car pull up. He turned to the keyboard of the computer in the van and rubbed his hands in delight. "Time to get this party rolling." He began to type, giving the computer the right signals to initiate the cheese in the mouse trap that would lure the blonde victim into his hands.

"Hey, you okay?" Sam didn't like the pale face and pinched features that greeted her.

"Yeah, just still a little green," he noted climbing into her car.

"I know a little place not far from here," she said. "It's quiet. We need to talk." She turned the corner and heard the annoyed chuff escape his lips. "You need to talk to Lisa."

"Look, Sam..."

"No, you look," she replied sharply. "I resisted too. I fought it and pushed it away. I lost valuable time and the only person I fooled was myself. I could have gotten any of you killed because I was blind to the fact I wasn't being honest with myself."

Martin didn't reply. He kept his eyes on the passing houses, buildings and ballfields. She didn't continue the conversation and he closed his eyes. She was right, he knew that. But what she didn't know was why he was resisting; that if he told Lisa Harris about the breakdown in the cave that led to his visit with Doctor Gibbons, she'd have to report it. It was a direct bearing on Taylor's disappearance. He didn't want to lose his badge. But he couldn't go on like this anymore. He didn't know what to do. His phone rang and he sat up while reaching for it.

"Hello?"

"Martin?"

He was so dumbstruck he couldn't utter a sound. His eyes shot open and his mouth gaped widely. His heart began to hammer in his chest and he couldn't seem to find any air. He pulled the phone away and stared at it, as if seeing it for the first time. The pins and needles that pricked him at the sound of that voice now consumed every inch, nearly causing his numb fingers to drop the precious line. He blinked, put the phone to his ear and forced his sandpaperish whisper to come out.

"Danny?"

"What?" Sam nearly veered off the road. She pulled into the curb, put the car in park and grabbed the phone.

"Danny? It's Sam..."

"...ank... God... where... are... you. Need... help... hurt... b...b...bad... can't..."

"Danny, I'll find you. Where are you? Are you inside a building or outside?" She crammed the phone to one shoulder and dug out her notebook, pulling the pen cap off with her teeth.

"Where is he?" Martin pressed, too stunned to be annoyed that Sam took over.

"...old... cold... rats... hell all over..."

Sam winced at the weak voice and the ensuing coughs. She needed him to stay alert and shoved her concern back down. She gathered her jangled nerves and forced her shocked body to work.

"Danny! Pay attention. I can't help you if you don't talk to me. Where are you? Inside or out? Can you see a landmark?"

"...in... side... old... ware... how... how... sssss..."

"Good, that's good."

"....vats... beer... maybe... dunno...."

The voice was getting weaker and she had to push hard to hear him.

"...dogs... red... dogs... fancy... h...h...ats..."

"Danny? Danny?" she hollered, but the line was now dead. She dropped the phone into her lap and examined the notes.

"Where is he? What's wrong? What did he say?" Martin demanded, then grabbed her arm roughly and yanked it hard. "GODDAMMIT TALK TO ME!"

"He's alive!" she said calmly, staring hard into those emotive blue eyes.

She didn't say anything else for several seconds, letting that sink in. He calmed down, pulled back and dropped his face into his hands. She took a breath and moved her hand over, gently rubbing the back of his neck. She winced at the almost iron-like tension housed there.

"Sorry..." Martin managed, finally drawing his head up.

"He's in a warehouse, he sounds hurt. It's abandoned . I think it might be an old brewery, he mentioned vats and 'red dogs and fancy'."

"I don't know this area that well, not for something old."

"I do," she replied already dialing the phone. "Eric? Thank God you're home. I'm fine..." she answered the NYPD detective's question. "We just got a call from Danny."

"You're kidding?" Eric Keller, the pretty blonde agent's sometimes paramour said. "When? Where is he? Jesus..."

"He's hurt and he thinks in an old brewery. The line went dead, I didn't have much time. Listen, he mentioned 'red dogs and fancy hats'" She scanned her notes. "Do you still live up the street from Bulldog's?"

"I'm on it," he jumped up, grabbing for his gun and denim jacket. "You call it in?"

"I'm gonna call Chris Boone now. Call me!"

"Yeah," Keller replied, tossing his phone into his pocket and heading out the door

Arizona F.B.I Headquarters
Late afternoon

"Miss Mosley? Mrs. Harrison or Mrs. Hughes?"

Vivian coolly approached the woman sitting alone at the table. Her hair had been cut short and dyed a dark auburn. But the face was the same, one she'd seen in her sleep. A set of startled blue eyes met hers for a moment then went back to the nervous fingers clutched together on the table.

"Is it Karen or Leigh?"

"Leigh Mosley. Karen was my mother's name. I used it to..."

"To what?" Johnson pressed, then played a hunch. "To lure Robert Harrison into your trap?"

"It wasn't like that," she replied, bringing her head up.

"Then why don't you tell me what it was like."

"How's my daughter? I didn't get to say goodbye. They took us out... she was napping."

"She fine," Vivian replied, "and she'll be reunited with her father soon. Are you ready to tell me what you know? Or do you want your attorney present?"

"I'll tell you," Leigh decided. "I should have done this a long time ago."

Vivian was alone in the room; Jack and Jose were on the other side of the two-way glass. David Hughes, Karen Harrison's partner in crime, had refused to say anything and already contacted his attorney. The woman looked away, her eyes darting back and forth. Vivian saw the stressed woman's fingers twisted in uncertainty and moved in. "Look, you're in a lot of trouble, big trouble. Kidnapping is a federal offense. Abby was taken out of this country against her will. That man you consorted with is tied to a lot of illegal activity. Don't make this harder on yourself than you have to."

"I had a baby...before Abby, David took care of it. Afterwards, he got me a job at the Trop waiting tables. He had some money and I didn't want to push plates at blue-haired old ladies forever." She paused and sighed hard before continuing. "He liked me, couldn't keep his hands off of me. So I came onto him hard. We had an affair and I got pregnant."

"Abby's his child?"

"Yeah," she whispered, shaking her head. "It wasn't supposed to go down like this."

"Damn," Jack spoke from behind the glass. "That's something I wasn't expecting."

"The little girl's almost eight," Jose shook his head. "Not a very good plan. Something went wrong a long time ago."

"It was David's idea. He knew... had met Robert through the Hunters, friends of his. He said he saw how taken Robert was with their new baby and how he spoke about how much he'd always wanted a child. I was only a few weeks pregnant."

"So you conveniently sit next to him at the Hunter baby's christening and charm the wallet right out of his pocket."

"He had more than enough!" she snapped. "Hey, I was good to him. I played the loving wife bit so good, I deserved an award. He got what he wanted."

"He got his heart broken, his life shattered," Vivian snarled, "Is that what you think he wanted?"

"No!" she screamed, began to sob and paused for a moment to think. "It was supposed to be after she was born. We'd separate and divorce. I'd get my share and move on. He'd have visitation. David needed money to relocate to London to open his practice. My cut would give us more than enough, then there'd be child support."

"Charming," Vivian countered. "What happened?"

"Robert was offered a big job... huge. It was with an overseas company. His fee would be close to a half a million dollars and some bonuses. David decided we should wait until the job was done, so we'd get a bigger cut."

"It took longer than you expected?"

"A lot longer due to construction delays and weather, but right before Abby turned five the job was done. Robert decided he wanted to retire and move north to New England. He wanted Abby in school up there and to spend time with her."

"But you didn't ask for a divorce?"

"No," she replied, shaking her head ruefully. "We met, I didn't know him that well really. We got married right way and then Abby came. If I'd left then, it would have been different. But..."

"But you liked being Mrs. Harrison and didn't want to give it up?"

"No," Leigh Harrison admitted. "And with every year that passed, it got harder. I liked Robert, he was good man and he adored Abby. I got cold feet. When David contacted me again, I refused. I told him I couldn't go through with it."

"So he took her," Vivian interrupted.

"Yes... to force my hand. He didn't want ransom. He wanted it all. He wanted me to... force... to plan an accident, so Robert would be killed. I'd get all the money."

"This guy's a real piece of work," Jack commented to the glass, shaking his head.

"I was thinking of something a little further south," Jose noted, tapping his beltline.

"Oh yeah," Jack agreed, turning back as Vivian continued.

"Why didn't you tell us this three years ago?"

"I didn't want to go to jail!" Leigh sobbed. "What we did was wrong. I didn't want to get caught. I thought if I made him a deal, got him the money somehow..." her voice trailed off. "You have no idea what Hell I went through over this!"

"Why three years? Why now?"

"A few weeks after he took Abby, he had a bad car accident. That changed everything. He nearly died and it's taken until now for him to get over therapy and learn to walk again. Months went by and I couldn't reach him. I couldn't live with Robert... anymore. I couldn't look at him without being consumed with guilt, so I asked for a divorce. Then David called, he found out about the divorce. I was shocked. I'd been trying to for three years to find him. He said enough time had passed and it was safe. He made it sound like it wasn't wrong. He said I was free now and we could be together again." She began to sob again.

"Why didn't you call me?" Vivian asked.

"I couldn't risk it. If David found out..." her voice trailed off. She wiped her eyes and sniffled a bit before continuing. "I knew this wouldn't work. I told him that. My plan was better."

"And that would be?"

"Before he took Abby, when he told me I'd have to kill Robert and become the wealthy widow." She paused to collect herself. "I told him a better way to go would be a divorce. I'd get half, that'd be enough. He didn't like that idea."

"Come on, Vivian," Jack coached from the other side of the glass, "Ask about Hollis." He wanted to know the connection between Hughes and the dead junkie.

"Okay, what happened? We know he was planning on flying to Phoenix right after he arrived."

"Abby was sick, she had an ear infection. The plane ride over was horrible for her. He drove instead. He called one of his old street runners to steal a car for him. They were to meet near the boardwalk."

"Who was this man?"

"I dunno," the confused woman shook her head, "Billy Bob or Donny Lee or ..."

"Jimmy Ray?"

"Hollis," Mosley finished. "That was his name. He called me when David and Abby got onto the Turnpike heading for Philadelphia. I could barely understand him, he was as high as a kite. He said David got him some real good shit."

"Oh, it was quite a ride," Vivian agreed, leaning over the table. "Right to the morgue!"

"Hey, you can't pin that on me!" Leigh tossed back.

"Honey, you're in no position to be threatening me. If you ever want to see Abby again you better cooperate. Did David admit to you what he'd done to Jimmy?"

"No," she shook her head. "But I know other things about him. I was there at the safe house when Annie changed her mind. She wanted her baby. They killed her."

"They?" Vivian's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying you saw David Hughes commit murder?"

"He gave the order to that quack who worked for him, a drunk with no medical license. He's dead now, his name was George Hoover. That freak didn't use gloves for his exams..." She shuddered. "Annie's room was next to mine. I heard them fighting. She was ready to deliver any day and wanted to leave. He told her she'd never leave alive and she screamed. I got out of bed and snuck into the hall. I saw them carry her out. David told that drunken doctor that after the baby was born to give her a shot that would stop her heart. I never saw her again."

"What was her name?"

"Annie Sweeney, she was sixteen. She was from Atlantic City, her mother was a hooker. She didn't have a father. She'd cry at night, saying how nobody ever loved her. She thought maybe if she left, her baby would love her, that they'd have each other."

"Okay," Vivian spoke. "I'm sure if you can supply us with other information about Hughes and those black market crimes, the judge will take that into account." Vivian sat down, opening the folder before her. She explained the charges and the details of what would transpire. Jack and Jose moved down the hall, prepared to file charges against David Hughes. She moved the recorder over and listened as more details came out.

New York
Bulldog Brewery
7:32 p.m

Eric Keller had scoped the perimeter of the seventy-five year old brewery. He flipped his flashlight around the darkened interior. It had been closed for years and twice developers had bid on it only to have the plans fall through. Broken windows dotted most of the five story facade and the insides had been stripped of the valuable copper pipes and most everything else. The center of the large building was a huge cavity, dominated by large vats. Around the perimeter on each floor were old skeletons of offices, storage and other rooms. He didn't see any cars parked in the lot and eased his lean frame into the entry. He went inside and kept behind the door, letting his eyes adjust to the old warehouse's floor. Just beyond the vats he saw an old but faded painting on the wall of a bulldog.

"Bingo!" he noted of what Spade had told him Taylor had seen.

His eyes went to the floors above where each had a view of the large painting. Taylor could be anywhere. How did he get here? Was he being held here but escaped his captor? Or had he been held in one of the nearby abandoned buildings and sought this for refuge? Was he pursued from another place and took shelter? Keller saw no signs of life and was about to pull his phone out, when he heard a car motor. He ducked down and crawled over to the busted window by the entry. He peeked outside and saw a familiar blonde getting out of a car.

"Anything?" Sam called out, opening the trunk of her car. She got a flashlight out and pulled out her weapon. Keller had just exited the old brewery. He shoved his gun in his holster and approached.

"Backup's on the way. You get Boone?" he asked, scowling openly at Martin Fitzgerald who was behind Samantha Spade. "What the hell is he doing here?"

"Danny's my partner, you arrogant piece of ...!" Martin sent back, not liking the arrogant tone.

"Hey!" Sam turned and warned the irate Fitzgerald with one glance. Then she turned back to the NYPD man. "Yeah, I updated Chris, he's heading over here, let's go." Sam met Keller's hot gaze which went over her shoulder. She turned, placing a hand on Martin's chest. "No, you stay. You're a civilian."

"Aw, come on Sam. Danny could be dying. He called me, I'm the one who..."

"No!" She was adamant She waited until she saw Martin step back and then turned away, walking toward the building.

"You're off duty and your head's not clear. You step one foot inside and I'll arrest you." Keller warned, then inched closer. He jabbed the angry blue-eyed agent's chest hard with his index finger. 'You fucked up once and Taylor nearly bought the farm. I won't take that chance, not with her."

"Fuck you, Keller!" Martin growled and struggled as he was manhandled and shoved over the hood of Sam's car.

"I'll cuff you," Eric warned, watching as Sam disappeared inside. "You want that on the news? Backup'll be here in five minutes. You want them to see you harnessed?"

Martin didn't reply and sagged against the car. He felt another shove as his face was pressed into the warm hood. Then the tension left and his arm was released. He heard boots on gravel as Keller ran to catch up to Sam. Martin shook off his anger and paced, rubbing his neck. He kicked the stones and glared openly at the building. Sam was on his team, not Keller's, who the hell did he think he was?

"He could be anywhere," Keller spoke as he paused just inside the darkened entry. He watched the beam of her light flicking around the room. "And he might not be alone. Don't call out..."

"I've been carrying a badge longer than you, Eric," she replied sarcastically and turned to face him.

"What are you pissed off at me for?"

"Oh, I don't know," she tossed back with vinegar. "Could be the Gestapo tactics you used on Martin."

"He got what he deserved and don't start with me. He fucked up and Taylorpaid the price. He isn't half the fed Tayloris."

"You don't know a damn thing about him," Sam hissed, dark eyes flashing. "And bullying him wasn't necessary. Is your head above your waist now? Can we do this right?"

Keller sighed hard and cursed under his breath. How was it that a prick like Fitzgerald could get under her skin like that? She couldn't be that blind. It wasn't bad enough he was a rookie, but his old man was a Bureau legend and major league pain-in-the-ass. Maybe that was it; maybe she wanted to score points with the old man. Couldn't be on talent, Fitzgerald couldn't find his dick with both hands and a map.

"Sorry," he issued and got a an icy stare. So much for winning her favor back. "It's a big place, we'll cover more ground if we split up. That mural," he coughed, flashing on the dusty wall,"can be seen from all five floors. I'll go high, hit five and work my way down."

"We cover this floor first," Sam decided, overruling him. "Then if we don't find Danny, we'll split up. Let's go."

While the other two were inside, Martin continued to simmer. His shoes tore up the gravel as he paced beside the car. With every very tense step his anger grew. His short fuse was burning quickly and Keller's handprints seem to burn in his neck. He didn't like the NYPD detective and didn't know what Sam saw in him. She didn't seem the type that went on looks alone. Maybe they had a history once and that was enough. But being manhandled by the arrogant lawman got Fitzgerald's blood boiling. He'd respect Sam's order, she was the senior agent on the scene. He heard a wail of sirens in the distance and gauged that help would arrive in short order.

His eyes caught movement from the far side of the lot. The sun had gone down and the colors of twilight blue made it difficult to see. A shadowy figure wearing a mask peeked around the corner and disappeared.

"Hey!" Martin called out, running across the lot. He slapped his pocket and pulled out his phone. He was about to call Sam when two shots rang out. "SAM!"

"Sam?" Eric pulled his phone out and waited. They'd found nothing on the first floor and had split up. He'd just cleared the stairwell to the fifth floor when he heard those shots.

"I'm okay, that came from the third floor," she updated. "I'm heading up."

She ran up the stairs and hit the door, exiting onto a large hallway. Like the other floors above, the vats in the center of the ground floor were visible below. She skirted the wall and kept the light flashing, wary of the broken railings. She heard the door and ducked behind a doorway, pulling her gun up. It was Keller and just as she motioned to him, his eyes lit up. He tapped her on the back and nodded. There at the far end of the very long passage a body was laying on its side. It was a male with dark hair, a bloodied pale shirt and dark pants. He appeared to be Danny's size and had the same coloring. As they got closer, the pale olive green shirt caused her to flinch. She saw something on the pocket that looked like dark stitching. She recognized it; it was a favorite of his and worn often.

"Oh God, Danny." She started to run to him, but was pulled back.

"No," Eric denied, flashing to the huge hole in the floor, making it impossible to reach the fallen fed. "You stay here, keep that light on him. Try calling to him. Could be he saw us and couldn't call out, he shot those bullets. I'll backtrack and go around the long way, come up behind him."

"Okay."

As Keller retreated, Sam propped the light on an old metal box. The beam hit the body which was too far away to see facial features clearly. But what she could see was so much like Danny and the echo of the phone call still lingered. Was he alive? She squinted and tried to see if the chest was moving at all.

"Danny... Danny, can you hear me? It's Sam. Danny?"

Martin froze in the stairwell, he heard Sam's voice just above and took the stairs two at time. It was very dark and he had to squint to see. He adjusted to the dim lighting and peered ahead. He saw Sam looking down the long corridor and moved sideways, leaning on the short wall that overlooked the main floor. He saw a body far down the hallway. Not just any body, Danny Taylor's!

"Oh God..." he whispered. Just as he was about to go to his fallen partner's aid, he saw a shadow loom up rising over Sam, who was totally unaware of the sinister threat. The metal glint of the weapon in the assailant's hand caught his eye.

"Lookout!" he screamed, diving at the space between the huge arm and her unprotected back.

Part 16

TIMELINE : AUGUST 1996

The others had gone long ago, but she remained in place. She blessed herself and kissed the cross before putting the rosary beads into her pocket. She moved her hand over the tombstone, still unable to come to terms with his passing. A man who'd given her everything and she wondered had she ever repaid him?

"I'll miss you Father Dom," she whispered.

His death had been sudden, a massive heart attack while he was watching his beloved New York Yankees. She'd found him in the soft, worn leather chair he loved so much. The last few days had been a blur, a flurry of making arrangements. But in the quiet of the night, she lay awake alone in her apartment, she felt the calling. The echo of the words promised on a crisp November day so many years ago came back to her. Warmth filled her and she wasn't cold anymore. She knew now what she must do. A voice called to her.

"Theresa, you've been here all day, you need to rest."

She looked up at the kind woman who'd become her best friend. The nun who wore two 'hats'; a skilled nurse who ran the clinic that Father Dom had founded for the poor and a woman of God as well. They'd met shortly after she came to this place and had been friends these last eighteen years. Those kind dark eyes had filled her with warmth then and ever since.

"I know, I know," Theresa confessed, her dark eyes going to the cold stone slab. "I can't seem to... he's really gone."

"Yes, dear, he is." The older woman helped the shaken one to her feet.

"I've been thinking a lot lately," Theresa said as they walked towards the car.

"I know, you've been troubled. You haven't been sleeping at night. I've seen the light on in the chapel."

"I'd like to come to Costa Rica with you; I want to serve the Lord."

"Theresa, are you sure? Your son... your life is here. I was born in those mountains and vowed to return home when my mission here was done. The people there are very poor, many without medical aid."

"I know... I know..." Theresa replied. "I made a promise to Our Lady when I arrived here. I was lost, no family and no future. I had nowhere to turn and a baby coming. She filled me with such grace that day. I felt her, I truly felt her touch. I promised that when Nicky was grown and on his own, I'd give her my life. Don't you see? This is her answer. This is my time to finally do the one thing I have always wanted. I know God has called me to serve Him. Please don't deny me my heart's true mission."

The nun saw a light shining from her friend's dark eyes and smiled. She took the younger woman's hand and nodded her head.

"Alright, if you're sure. It won't be for several more weeks but... perhaps you're right. The Lord does work in mysterious ways. Does Nick know?"

Theresa paused several yards from the car and smiled. The driver emerged and her heart soared. "He's very handsome, isn't he?"

"You should be proud, Theresa, he's a fine young man." The nun turned and saw the younger woman's eyes shining. "Won't you miss him?"

"I love him, cherish him and I'll visit him. But he has his own life now. Father Dom is gone, my time here is done. I've never been so sure of anything; I feel such joy in my heart."

"Hey Mom... Hey Sister, how are you?" Nick DiSipio greeted his mother and the nun who he'd known all his life.

"Fine, Nick, you look well."

"I'm great. Hey Mom, the coach thinks I got a good arm, the The handsome athlete gushed, his face flush with excitement. "Matt Grover graduates next June. That means this time next year, I'm the starting quarterback!"

"That's wonderful, honey." Theresa hugged her son and wondered where the years had gone. Where was that chubby baby who'd she sang to and rocked? At eighteen, he'd grown into the fine young man she'd known he was destined to become. Several inches over six feet tall and with a body that bespoke his many years of athletics, he was every coach's dream. He was on his own now, her job was done. She recalled the vow she'd made to the Blessed Mother that first day she'd arrived here, just a few weeks before he was born. She took his arm and turned back.

"Sister, will you meet us back at the rectory? I'd like to walk to the beach and talk to my son."

"I understand." She took Theresa's hand and gave it a squeeze. "I'll start supper."

"What's wrong?" Nick asked as they began to walk away.

"Nothing, Nick." She smiled. "Everything couldn't be more right. You know how I always told you that God called me to serve with Him when I was young?"

"Yeah..."

She turned and took his hands and stared up at him. "I'm so proud of you. I don't think anyone could love a son more. You're the finest thing in my life, Nick."

"But..." he hedged.

"You remember Father Paulo visiting last winter?"

"Yeah, neat guy. He's really something, helping all those people with rebels chasing him. He's a real hero."

"He's asked Sister to come home to Costa Ricato run a clinic there." She rested her hand on his cheek and then the tears fell. "I'm going with her."

"Going... leaving? Costa Rica?" Nick backed up. "You're leaving me? Here? You can't..."

"Honey, you're in college now, two thousand miles away. I only see you a couple times a year. Once you graduate you'll go on to your own life. Now that Father Dom is gone, I have nothing. I made a vow... a promise to the Blessed Mother before you were born. I told you that story many times."

"Yes..." he whispered, swallowing hard.

"Please be happy for me, Nick. I know it's a shock but it's what I've always dreamed of. You have so many friends and you have Pete." She almost choked on his name but she wouldn't let the bitterness show. He may have been the devil incarnate to her, but he worshiped his son. He'd been good to Nick over these years. They were very close and he spent weekends and vacations with the Gibsons.

"Yeah," he managed, swallowing his disappointment. She was leaving him, just like Pete said she would. He'd warned him about how her eyes glazed over whenever she saw a cross or church. That she clearly was devoted to her God and spent most of her free time in church. He heard the older man's words that he'd never desert him. He felt that strong hand on his shoulder. Pete has always been there for every game, practice and awards presentations at school. They went camping, hiking, fishing and he was the father Nick always dreamed of. It was time to show his loyalty, to the person who did truly care about him and wasn't running out on him. He'd do everything he could to make Pete Gibson proud of him.

"Fine... I'm happy for you, Mom."

She narrowed her eyes then and shuddered, almost recoiling. For the first time in eighteen years, she saw his father in him. There was a coldness in his eyes and tone that had never surfaced before. She tried to hold onto him but he turned away. She heard the bells ringing for six o'clock mass and the echo remained in her head as they walked to the car. She wouldn't deny the Lord; it was all she longed for. He was ready to fly on his own now. He'd be fine. She tried to convince herself as she gazed at the stern profile driving.

It almost worked.

Manhattan
Spring 2003

Martin grunted as the boot or knee of his very large predator caught him hard, taking his breath away. The impact sent Sam's light flying. He heard another voice screaming at him and rose to his knees. He saw Eric waving at him from the other side of the floor. Voices from below sounded and the beam of a flashlight hit his eyes. Then he was yanked back hard by the scruff of the neck. Martin hissed slightly as the hot metal of a blade touched against the side of his neck.

The force of Martin's body hitting her sent the blonde agent into a broken piece of concrete near the shattered railing. She landed hard against the inner wall that ran along the perimeter of the third floor. Her head hit the cement wall and she saw stars over the explosion of pain. Sam felt herself blacking out and tried to regain her senses. Her whole body was numb and the gun was lying a few feet away. She stared at it dumbfounded, her groggy brain trying to figure out how to make her arm work to retrieve it. A blurry but familiar body hit body hit the ground near her and her mind flashed a name.

"Mar...tin..."

He looked up at her briefly and her eyes widened in shock when what appeared to be a giant loomed in the shadows near him. Her mind flashed one word - gun! Sam tried to move to get it but the pain splitting down her head just wouldn't allow it. She heard voices that seemed very far away calling for her. Through the fog she heard Eric's voice rising up. Had he found Danny? Was Danny safe? The injured blonde blinked the stars dancing in front of her eyes away and quelled the nausea rising up.

Gun

Her hand wanted to move and she forced her body to work. Sam fell sideways, fingers brushing the gun and missing. Martin was crawling towards her and she prayed he saw the gun. She tried to tell him, but only slurred moans came out of her mouth. Then the giant's hand yanked Martin backwards and she saw a knife flash. No. Not like this right in front of her. But the knife didn't move, only the monster's snarled lips, which were pressed to Martin's ear. She saw those lips move and repeated the single word she'd heard spoken in her mind.

"Scorpion"

Sam saw the change immediately as all the fight left her stricken partner. He curled up, began to shake all over and his eyes widened in fear. She tried to move towards him and slipped again, then felt the crumbling floor beneath her giveaway. A distant image of that gaping hole that initially separated her from Danny loomed. Her last fleeting thought before she fell was that she was going to die.

Martin heard metal crashing and saw Sam's inert body disappear through a broken railing. His heart nearly stopped when he realized his action had caused that. He was consumed with fear and the pain in his chest was so great it felt like a heart attack. He felt the gun in his fingers but couldn't seem to lift it. He curled up, shaking his head over and over. In a stupor, he stared at the gun in his palm and heard the loud roar of drums in his ears. The words kept in time giving it a sadistic beat.

...failure... coward... yellow... fear... worm... they know... coward... failure... yellow... you're nothing... nothing... coward..."

Eric Keller couldn't believe his eyes. First, a huge masked man dressed in black appeared out of nowhere. Then that idiot Fitzgerald shows up, just when he was about to shoot the guy. Because Martin jumped the unknown assailant, he couldn't get a clear shot. Then right before his horrified eyes, he saw Samantha fall through a gaping hole down to the first floor. His anger boiled over and his eyes widened in shock when the brute stood right before Fitzgerald, who'd collapsed like a terrified rat. The concrete jagged wall now blocked his own shot, but Fitzgerald had a clear one. The guy was right in front of him!

"SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, HE'S RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. JESUS FUCKIN' CHRIST, MARTIN SHOOT HIM!"

"Go... go... go..."

Sergeant Dan Murphy had seen most of what transpired from where he and his partner arrived on the main floor. He too saw the man attack two agents above and the railing break. His partner ran to the fallen women, his own light and eyes were trained above. One man who he recognized from the news as Martin Fitzgerald, an F.B.I agent was curled up against the wall, his hands over his head. To the naked eye he appeared to be paralyzed in fear. Murphy saw the gun shaking so badly in the fallen agent's hand he hoped it didn't go off and wound the man. Then he saw the larger man, the felon who'd attacked Fitzgerald disappear into the darkness. The cop pulled his weapon upwards and heard the NYPD detective from above screaming at the rookie.

Eric was frantically waving at Martin from far across the floor. The large cavity that was the entire central mass of the building seemed like the Grand Canyon. He froze momentarily, realizing the choice. To continue to Danny Taylor, backtrack to where Fitzgerald was in trouble or go down to where Sam fell. Was she alive?

"What the hell's going on? Somebody talk to me!" Chris Boone thundered as he rushed inside the building.

"Up there on three," Murphy ran to the stairs. "Somebody jumped Fitzgerald and the blonde agent. She fell and he... just... froze. The perp walked right in front of him and he never fired. Didn't lift his gun. Fuckin' green rookie was shakin' like a virgin on her wedding night."

"Who's the perp? Where is he?" Boone demanded.

"He's huge, I saw him standing over that fuckin' yellow dog, " Keller spat, coming up behind Boone.

"Where's Taylor? Did you find him?" the SAC asked as they reached a now stilled Martin Fitzgerald. He squatted down and tapped the slack jaw of the fallen agent. Pale brows furrowed and then the damp brown head rose over clouded blue eyes that began to blink rapidly. He didn't know if Martin was suffering from a head injury or the confusion he now saw had been a panic attack. But it didn't matter. He wouldn't let the NYPD get their hooks in him and turned as Eric Keller approached.

"No, I was over there, " Eric flashed his light across the large cavity, "on my way to Taylor. I heard him scream her name and turned back. I watched the whole thing. That fuckin' idiot has a yellow streak right down the middle of his back!"

"Enough!" Boone stepped in front of Fitzgerald to block Keller and he hit his radio. "Murphy? Anything?"

"Not yet," the cop replied, still following the trail to where he thought the large man went.

"How's Spade?" Boone yelled down over the broken rail

"Alive, I called it in . Her breathin's funny though..." Murphy's partner shouted up.

"No," Boone grabbed Keller's arm when he went to turn. "I'm not done with you yet, detective. Where's Taylor? Is he alive?"

"He's right there!" Keller snapped back. He flashed his light to where they'd both seen the missing man. The area on the other side of the large hole in the floor was now empty.

"Aw, shit... he was right there lyin' on his side, all covered in blood.'

"Then I suggest you get your ass back there now!" The sandy haired SAC ordered, green eyes flashing. He had a few inches and twenty pounds of muscle to his advantage and used it now in a menacing stance. "And Keller, you better find Danny Taylor."

"If she dies, I'll break your pretty face so bad..." Keller warned in a cold whisper only for the shaken Fitzgerald to hear.

Keller quickly retraced his steps around the large perimeter. He kept one eye on the floor and the other on the action below. Boone was kneeling down beside Sam and talking into his radio. The anxious lawman got to the area where they'd seen Danny Taylor and froze. He flashed his light over every inch of the very narrow path and frowned. There was no sign of the missing man. Where had he gone? Had he heard the commotion and gotten confused? Did he crawl away into one of the empty rooms nearby?

"DANNY! DANNY TAYLOR! IT'S ME, MAN, KELLER. WHERE ARE YOU?"

He quickly searched the only rooms that were close enough for an injured man to crawl to. They were empty. He retraced his steps to the exact spot where he'd seen the body. He paused when he heard the medics talking loudly below; their voices carrying in the cavernous area. He flinched as the paramedics worked on Sam. She seemed so small with the neck brace and backboard. His rage against Martin Fitzgerald went up a notch. He made a fist and vowed to have a 'talk' with the cocky rookie.

"Keller?"

"Yeah?" he called back and turned in time for Boone to appear. "Shit," he hissed, seeing the cool fire in the light green eyes. Next to Jack Malone, there was no fed feared more than Chris Boone.

"Where is he?"

Boone didn't hide his anger. Keller was a good detective and had many tough collars to his credit. But he was also a bit of a cowboy and a hothead. He had no doubt that the previous and possibly ongoing relationship with Spade had caused the NYPD man to lose focus. Also it was clear he had hard feelings against Martin Fitzgerald.

"I asked you a question," he repeated when the younger man turned away.

"I dunno," Eric managed, squatting down and flashing the light. "Blood... something that might be skin... hair... fabric..." He eyed the bits and pieces and sighed hard, trying to think of a reply. "Look," he tried to explain and stood back up, carefully stepping clear of the evidence. "I don't know where he is. That's where we saw him, right there. Maybe this guy wasn't alone. Maybe they were holdin' Taylorhere and he got loose, got that call out. They tracked him and found him... I don't know!" He waited but the only delete thing reply he got was severe frost in the sea green eyes. "Alright, I fucked up, is that what you want me to say!" Keller vented and then backed up as the tall, lean SAC forced him into the wall.

"I want some fuckin' answers!" Boone hissed. "If your head hadn't been in your pants when this went down, it's possible Danny Taylor wouldn't be missing and Samantha wouldn't be ridin' a gurney on her way to the ER!"

"Hey, don't pin that on me, Fitzgerald did that. He had the guy...dead to rights, eyes glazed over, like some Goddamn deer in the crosshair..."

"You had a missing federal agent in your sight and your job was to get to him. You weren't close enough to the altercation between the perp and Martin and Sam to make a difference. Because you fucked up and left Taylor, we lost him and the perp." He was seething now and it wasn't the first time he'd crossed paths with the cocky cop. "You secure this area?"

"Yeah, I checked all these rooms, he's not there. He's gone."

"Okay, what did this body look like? How were you sure it was Danny? What about the guy who attacked Sam and Martin?" Boone inquired.

"Look, I don't have time for this. I'm going to the hospital and..." His thought was cut off when the tall F.B.I. man moved closer, forcing him to backtrack. The voice was cold and hard and barely issued through tense lips.

"You're gonna stay here and secure the scene. You're going to wait until the lab arrives and goes over every bit of this dump and bags up rat shit if it might have a clue. Then you're going to write this up and you better not fuck that up. Then you're going to hand deliver that report to me. There are a lot of apartments that back up to this building, somebody might have seen this guy coming in or leaving. Maybe Danny got out and somebody found him. Either way, it's going to be long night for you, Detective Keller."

"Why are you chewin' my balls? How come you're not writin' up that excuse for an a fibbie? He's a disgrace. Oh, I'll write you a report alright! And even his fuckin' old man won't stop justice this time. He'll be slingin' burgers at Mickey D's by the time I get done with him..."

"Don't fuck with me," Boone warned, jabbing Keller's chest. "...boy."

While the F.B.I and local men in blue swarmed over the abandoned building, the man they sought was already on the interstate heading back to Atlantic City. Unlike his fumbling colleagues, Gibson knew that old building well. So while they were screaming at each other and confused in the darkening interior, he'd slipped through a side passage, collected 'Danny' and exited using an old coal chute He'd timed this run several times and used the building specifically. The cellar where the chute exited had a subterranean sewer where the drainage pipes ran off. He took that underground passage to his van and hit the interstate.

But the plan failed.

His fingers gripped the wheel in a death lock and his rage simmered inside. Instead of a struggling blonde agent in his grasp, he had nothing. He'd not counted on Eric Keller showing up. The computer driven phone call was easy. Modern technology is a wonderful thing and his set up was first class. He used tapes of Danny's voice to create a program of words. From that, he could have the prisoner Taylor 'talk' to anyone. The call went fine and he timed it so that by the time Spade called in and the other cops arrived, he'd have used the stun gun on her. After securing her in the Tower, he would have come back for Martin. But he didn't count on her boyfriend showing up. He killed the beer he was drinking and tossed the can out the window. With every passing mile and another pint of beer, his anger rose. He didn't like defeat and now the acrid odor of it reeked.

He didn't like losing control.

His eyes hit the artificial passenger sprawled in the back, the top of the very realistic dark hair and forehead catching his eye. He'd spared no expense on the mannequin. Even touching it made him jumpy, the flesh was so pliable. The model for the bait then rose up in his mind's eye. The snarling, wise-talking Agent Taylor who despite his best efforts, he couldn't seem to break.

A cruel smile twisted onto his face.

"Smart-mouthed bastard's goin' to hell anyway," he decided, flexing his fists. "What's a few broken bones and cuts? Gym's closed..." he rationalized of his usual method of unwinding, by sparring in the boxing ring.

"Martin?"

The shaken agent was still sitting on the floor by the hole where he saw Sam fall through. He couldn't move; a part of him was afraid to. Somehow he reasoned if didn't leave this spot, he wouldn't have to face the cold harsh reality of the outside. That place where they took Samantha. It was bad, he knew that. He'd watched through this very hole as the frantic paramedics worked on her below. He reached out as the image of her pale face disappeared.

"...Sam..."

"Martin?" Boone repeated, squatting down and touching the trembling man's shoulder. The shaken agent jumped back and nearly went through the same hole.

"WHOA!" Boone grabbed the leather jacket collar and hauled Fitzgerald upright. "Come on, this area isn't stable. You with me?" He ducked and weaved, trying to find the lost blue eyes. "There's another bus outside, I want you to go to the hospital and get checked out. You were out of it when I got here. Did you fall? Hit your head?"

"Huh?" Martin blinked, then looked up startled. "Chris?"

"Yeah," Boone frowned. "Did that guy hit you? Did you fall?"

"I uh... I..." Martin furrowed his brows and rubbed his neck. What did he remember? "...shots... I was outside. Sam said... to wait. She and Keller... I heard shots..."

"Okay, you were outside, heard shots and came inside?"

"Yeah, I followed... the back door... where he went."

"Who?" The older agent inquired.

"The uh... uh... guy... all in black... no face... gun..."

"You saw the perp come in the back and followed. Then you heard the shots?"

"Yeah... up here... I saw him... he was uh...." he motioned with his hand, seeing that glint of metal again. "...behind her... his hand had... silver... a knife maybe... she didn't see him. She was looking at Danny."

"Did you see Danny, Martin?"

"Yeah, right there." Martin pointed to the spot across the way. He saw the lab crew setting up and scurrying about collecting evidence. Then he realized he'd forgotten about Danny. "Oh God... Danny..." He started to move that way and was hauled back.

"No... Martin's he's not there. I got men on that. So Sam was facing the other way looking at Danny and this man..."

"...big... huge... came out of the shadows and he raised his hand..."

"He was going to stab her?"

"I don't know, maybe..." Martin replied and winced before the irate SAC's words came back at him loud and biting.

"That's not good enough, Martin. Think! You're the only who saw this guy. He could have Taylor..."

"Don't you think I know that?" The dishevelled agent shot back, raking a shaky hand through his damp hair. "You think my guts not torn to shit over this?"

"Come on, Martin, think. You shouted a warning at Spade. You had to see something..." Boone pressed in a hard, harsh tone and watched the last of Fitzgerald's resolve die.

"I... didn't... I don't... I can't..."

Chris Boone rested one hand on each lean hip and huffed in annoyance. He knew before the embarrassed agent turned away. He heard the unspoken words as if Fitzgerald had screamed it aloud. He didn't want to admit it, he liked Fitzgerald. He knew Jack Malone recruited heavily before finding the right fit. Martin came highly qualified and a part of him was envious that Jack Malone scored an ace for his team. But maybe the rookie's luster hid something nobody could have anticipated. All the broken records and high scores at Quantico and the awards the prior desk jockey from Seattle bore didn't equal street experience. Maybe Martin Fitzgerald cracked under pressure; something the simulations couldn't figure into their scoring.

"Remember?" Boone supplied quietly of the silent albatross hanging over the angst-ridden man's head. The damp head bobbed slightly and the emotive blue eyes were pooled with fear. He thought for a moment and wanted any other possibility ruled out. That meant a trip to the ER, so it was on paper that there was no physical cause for the collapse.

"I'm sorry, Chris, I don't know what else..." Martin sagged sideways, his hand on the wall. He pushed his face against the cold stones and an irate face rose up to haunt him. "Jesus, Jack's gonna kill me."

"No, he won't," Chris laid a hand on the shaken man's back. "I want you to take another look around, Martin. Think hard. Do you remember where he went? Did you see his face? Anything that we can use to..."

"No..." Martin sighed hard. "Nothing... just screaming her name and... watching her fall... I did that, Chris. My God what did I do? I killed my partner."

"No, you didn't. She's not dead. Come on, I'll take you over to the hospital. You're gonna get checked out. If they rule out any kind of drugs or physical injuries, we're going to have to have you evaluated."

Martin nodded mutely the word 'evaluated' bouncing around in his throbbing head and reforming. The quirky letters spelled 'end of career'. That's what the evaluation would show, that he was unfit for duty. He didn't say a word during the ride over, nor did Boone expect him to. The nurse in the ER only said that Sam was in surgery and listed as critical. Internal injuries had forced them to move quickly.

Chris thanked the nurse who promised the evening supervisor would update him as soon as possible. He left Martin in a cubicle and relayed the information to the attending ER resident who would be examining the dazed rookie. Then he went outside to call Jack Malone.

"Sometimes this job sucks," he muttered, raking a hand through his fair hair and punching in the number.

The Tower

"What the hell?"

Danny croaked and coughed, sitting up on his bunk in a dark room. For a few fleeting seconds, he didn't know where he was, then reality slapped him hard. He wondered about the darkness there was usually a light on. He blinked at the large television monitor that sprang too to life with the loud volume nearly deafening him. It was an old movie of some kind with soldiers firing guns and missiles going off. Wincing, he blinked until the fuzz left his skull. He rubbed the weariness from his eyes and moved a hand over his growling stomach. Breakfast? Dinner? He shrugged and padded to the bathroom. He snatched a cookie on the way over. He was just finishing relieving his full bladder, when the words from the television changed.

"...we interrupt our regular programming to bring you this breaking news. An F.B.I agent has been badly injured in an abandoned brewery..."

"Shit."

Danny flushed and ran back into the other room, swallowing the cookie so hard he hurt his throat. He reached for the bottle of water on the counter and took a swig, trying to chase the dryness that settled inside. His dark eyes darted fearfully as images of an old building rose up. In the background, behind the reporter were the flashing lights of emergency and police vehicles. He saw Chris Boone first, putting a hand up to protect someone from the reporters. Then he caught a flash of flesh before the man with Boone disappeared into a car.

"Martin? What's wrong?"

"Is there any word on the condition of the injured agent? Or what happened inside that building?"

Danny blinked and waited for the reporter on the scene to answer the anchorperson back in the newsroom.

"No word on the condition of Agent Samantha Spade..."

"SAM!" Danny choked, rocking back on his heels.

The questions were coming through his mind fast and furious. What were Sam and Martin doing in that building? Was it tied to the missing nun? Sam wasn't on that case, she was investigating the missing Harrisongirl. Was that it? Why was Chris Boone with Martin? Where was Jack? He tried to quiet down his inner drive to hear what the reporter was saying.

"...details are sketchy, but it doesn't look good for the future of F.B.I. agent Martin Fitzgerald, not carrying a badge anyhow. This appears to be the second incident of questionable behavior that has lead to tragic results. As you recall, Fitzgerald was the only one with missing Agent Daniel Taylor over a week ago when he disappeared. Now a similar scenario has unfolded and the life of the young female agent lies in the balance..."

"What were they doing there, Mike? I thought that Fitzgerald was on suspension?" The anchor person asked.

"He was. From what I'm hearing," the reporter paused to nod to the cops lingering in the background. "They were nearby and got a tip of some kind that Danny Taylor was inside this building. There was a man inside, possibly connected to Taylor's disappearance. It seems Fitzgerald was with Spade and this man when the female agent was either pushed or fell from somewhere above to the main floor. Her partner confronted this man but he got away clean... again."

"What the hell did you do now you bastard?" Danny hollered at the walls, not knowing if Gibson was listening or not.

"Sorry about missing dinner, I do so enjoy our chats." Gibson stepped into the room. "I was busy with your two pretty friends. We were playing in an old brewery, a very dangerous place so many holes in the floor. Your buddy fucked up again, the last thought he'll have is of her face as she fell to her death. Poor Martin... now he'll have her blood on his hands too. Pity he'll never know the truth. I wonder if I should have let him eat his gun or use a rope?" He heard the odd, strangulated cry in the dark from across the room and smiled. He stepped closer and saw the handsome agent's face twisted in naked rage. The dark eyes were burning with pure loathing and helpless frustration; aperfect mix. "Have you met your replacement?" He pushed a button on the remote in his hand and the television image changed. The other 'Danny' appeared in spot where he'd been place to lure the unsuspecting agents into the web. The audio replayed the conversation between the anxious Spade and Fitzgerald with the artificial Taylor. He smiled then, seeing Danny's face reflect the fury that was boiling inside of him. He had his own need to fill and put the remote down. He flexed his fists and his grin widened, his muscles already anticipating the release of all that tension on the handsome young man's torso. "Come on Danny boy, I'm right here. You ready to back up that loud mouth of yours?"

The chilling voice coupled with the horrid images and the news story served to ignite the flame. It caused the rush of boiling lava inside of Danny Taylor to crest. It rose up and scalded his common sense and logic. Danny didn't listen to the small voice inside that usually corralled his temper. He didn't call upon all his years of experience in dealing with psychos like Gibson. The caged rat had been locked inside the box too long and every fiber inside him went into overload, like the a bull in the a ring, he saw only red. It split through his skull and seared his brain, mixing with the burning lava. He unleashed an unearthly growl and through the red haze saw the arrogant face of the large bald man. All the weeks of torture this animal had put Martin through; taking him prisoner, making his friends suffer and now he'd possibly killed Samantha Spade.

"Well come on, boy," Gibson leered, grabbing his crotch. "You said you wanted to tear my balls off. Here's your chance."

"YOU SICK SON-OF-A-BITCH!" Danny screamed, shoving caution to the side and hurling himself at his adversary.

Part 17

Phoenix, AZ
Five p.m.

Jack watched as Vivian spoke quietly with Abby Harrison. This story did have a happy ending. It wasn't often enough that he got the chance to deliver good news. Despite the ordeal she'd endured for the last three years, little Abby was handling the situation well. Kids were funny that way, very resilient. Vivian and two doctors had talked to her about what happened.

"He's not dead?" Abby whispered, eyeing the man with the sad eyes next to her.

"No, sweetheart, he's not," Jack answered, ruffling her hair. "And in a little while, Agent Johnson is going to take you on a plane back to Maine. That's where he lives now."

"Can I talk to him?"

"We're trying to call him now," Vivian answered. She wondered where Jack had gone. While she was updating the lawyer for David Hughes, he'd excused himself when his phone rang. He'd been gone until a few moments ago. Something was up, she could tell by the new spark of light in his formally weary eyes. Was is a break in Danny's case? Or had the missing nun turned up?

Jack's saw Vivian's dark eyes questioning him as she dialed Robert Harrison. He would update her on his urgent message after she was finished. He found a smile for the small girl whose large blue eyes were trained on the phone in Vivian's hand. She turned and walked over to him when he got closer.

"What if he doesn't know me?" Abby whispered fearfully.

"He loves you," Jack reassured her, tapping her nose with his finger. "He's been looking for you every day. He could never forget you."

"Do you have a little girl?" she wondered.

"I have two, one is your age and one a little younger. I know how much I love them and that's how I know your daddy misses you very much."

"Mister Harrison?" Vivian spoke into the phone as she smiled and reached over to take Abby's hand. "I have good news..."

"You found her!" Robert Harrison cried out, his heart soaring.

"There's somebody here who wants to talk to you," Vivian replied and handed her Abby the phone. "Go on honey."

"Daddy?"

"Oh God, thank God... Abigail... I can't believe..."

"Don't cry daddy. The police lady is going to bring me home on a plane. Is that okay?"

"Yes, honey, that's fine. I can't wait to hold you. I love you, Abby."

"I love you too daddy. I missed you. I thought you were in heaven."

"No honey, that was a lie that bad man told you. I'm fine and I can't wait to bring you home. Just know that I love you very much."

The conversation continued for several moments, with father and daughter sharing thoughts and concerns. Then the little girl handed the phone back up to the nice lady who'd talked to her.

"Mister Harrison?" Vivian asked again.

"Where are you? What happened? How did you find her?" he demanded.

"We're in Phoenix. Your ex-wife had her in Sedona." Vivian hesitated then taking a short breath. She wasn't quite sure how to tell him this child he idolized wasn't his. She certainly wouldn't do it on the phone. "She was living with David Hughes. They've both been arrested. They planned this together."

"But why? how?" he wondered then thought on his miracle. "Abby? She's really alright?"

"She's beautiful, Mister Harrison and she can't wait to see her father. I'll fill you in on the details when I see you. I'm leaving for the airport now, we're catching a red-eye. We'll land around six a.m. I've notified the local branch of the Bureau and they'll escort you to the airport."

"I don't know how to thank you, all of you. You have no i...de..a..."

"You're welcome," Vivian smiled, choked up as well. "And you just said it beautifully. Hold on."

She handed the phone to Abby and walked a few feet away to where Jack was standing.

"So are you gonna tell me now?" she asked of the mysterious message he'd taken when he'd stepped away.

"I got a call from Helen Bacon. Father Paulo turned up in San Diego. It took a few phone calls to confirm it, but he's in a hospital there. He's in bad shape but he's expected to live. I'm leaving now for the airport."

"How did he get there?"

"The army raided a suspected rebel camp in the hills outside Costa Rica. They found some dead prisoners, some very ill. Father Paulo was with them. He's in bad shape. He's sick and weak and from what Helen said, he'd been beaten pretty badly. He's well liked in that area and the army got him on a plane, fearing he'd go right back to help those people if he got the chance."

"And the rebels would kill him?'" Vivian thought aloud.

"Oh yeah..." Jack nodded. "Plus the State Department put some pressure on the army to find him. I'm on a plane in a less than an hour. You get some sleep tomorrow, that's an order. We'll touch base later tomorrow. If I can't get you, I'll call Sam."

"Alright," Vivian said watching him walk towards the exit. She was halfway back to where Abby was waiting when he called out.

"Agent Johnson?"

"Yes?" She frowned.

"Good job," Jack grinned and nodded towards her. "I ever tell you that you're one helluva a federal agent?"

"Thanks, Jack," she smiled back and arched a brow. "And you could mention that a little more often."

The Tower

The swirls of blood quickly turned from red to pink as the water washed them down the drain. As Peter Gibson washed the blood from his hands, he cursed his lack of self control. He vowed to be more careful next time. He couldn't do that again, losing control caused mistakes. He'd planned this too well to make a critical error now.

Gibson winced and dabbed the cut over his eye with antibacterial ointment. His lip was also cut badly and his body ached. He had to give the feisty fed credit; he fought well, in a losing effort, of course. He was careful not to break any bones, but that damned mouth of Taylor's wouldn't be sassing him for awhile. The battered body wouldn't be leaving the bunk in his cell for a few days either.

Rinsing the last of Danny's blood from his hands, he thought on his problem again. He had a schedule to keep and couldn't afford to waste any time. It had to go off just exactly as he'd mapped it out. But the shapely blonde was in a hospital instead of in her cell. That changed everything

"Think... think..." he chastised himself.

The first order of business would be to ascertain how Spade was and how the investigation was going. Then he had to find out where Jack Malone was. He knew that Malone and Johnson were in Phoenix, but the news of Spade's accident would no doubt bring him back. He thought for a moment and picked the phone up.

Chris Boone was in the bullpen area of his office when the phone rang. He shoved the lukewarm Chinese food away and reached over the large pile of folders, photos and case notes on Danny Taylor and picked up the phone.

"Boone."

"Chris, I was supposed to meet Jack. I can't get a hold of him. Is he there?"

"Hey Snake," Chris sighed, rubbing his tension lines near his eyes and sat back in his leather chair. He rocked back and forth and drained his coffee. "Sorry, he's not here. He and Vivian went to Phoenix. They found that little girl, Abby Harrison."

"The cold case, yes he mentioned that to me. That's great news." Gibson shifted the phone to the other hand so he could write notes.

"Yeah, he'll need it today. You hear about Sam Spade?"

"I heard a news report, I've been busy this evening, how bad?"

"Critical. But she's a tough kid, she'll pull through." The blond predicted. "She took a nasty fall in the old Bulldog Brewery. Her spleen ruptured, did some internal damage. A few broken ribs and they're not sure about her head injury. They said her brain was bruised pretty good."

"Head injuries can be tricky." He smiled, still seeing her fallen body lying like a broken doll. "Brewery? What was she doing there? That placed was closed years ago."

"It seems they got a call from Danny Taylor or someone pretending to be Taylor. The call mentioned the brewery and they went to check it out. Someone was waiting for them and she took a fall."

"They? She has a new partner? Or one of your men?"

"No, Fitzgerald was with her. They were off duty."

"So you have an idea who did this? Fitzgerald, did he see this man?"

"No, nothing, we got zip. Listen Snake, I'm pretty busy..."

"Sorry Chris," he smiled. "If you need any help. You know to call me. Does Jack know about Samantha?"

"Not yet. I've left a few messages on his cell. I finally got Sanchez, the SAC out there. Jack left for San Diego. He got a break on that missing nun case."

"Really?" The curiosity in his voice was genuine. What lead could Malone have possibly found in San Diego?

"Yeah, some priest she knew from years ago turned up half dead in a hospital. He's going to see if the guy knows anything about her. Johnson is bringing the kid back to Maine to her father. So she won't be back here in the city until tomorrow sometime."

"Thanks, Chris, and please call if I can help."

"Thanks, Snake, will do," Boone promised and hung up.

"Doable," Gibson sat forward and pursed his lips, nodding his head. A plan formed, his spirits lifted and a smile caused his puffed lip to split. But he didn't mind the pain. The vacant cell wouldn't be empty long. This time, his plan would work. He'd have to move fast to get the unsuspecting victim before Jack Malone returned.

Critical Care Unit
Six a.m.

The hours seemed to fall sloppily into each other to the dazed man who wandered through the hospital. The tests were negative, of course, Martin knew they would be. His low blood sugar and low blood pressure kicked in and he'd passed out. He was given a temporary bed until his vitals went up. He was glad for that. For some reason, the sterile atmosphere with strangers was a fitting place for him. Sort of like being lost in the twilight zone. The blue-eyed opossum feigned sleep both times Chris Boone came to check on him. He didn't want to see anyone and certainly didn't want to speak to anyone. Martin knew he was postponing the inevitable.

He waited until the change of shifts, got dressed and slipped out of his room. He hit the stairwell, going to the third floor. The words 'Critical Care' seemed to burn a hole in his heart. He'd asked overnight several times how she was. The only reply was she'd come out of surgery well and was holding her own. She was 'guarded but critical'. What the hell did that mean? Martin tiptoed to the door and peered through the glass. He couldn't get inside, he wanted to but they had strict rules. No visitors until 11 a.m. He squinted hard, pressing his face against the glass door. There were bodies sleeping and resting in glass cubicles around a central nursing station. Some of the nurses were checking on their charges. He couldn't tell where she was. Then one of the nurses moved and the shell-shocked agent's heart sank. His voice was a barely a whisper as the realization hit hard.

"Oh God..."

There she was. Her blond hair had been pulled back and secured behind her. Oxygen ran into her nose and several monitors were behind her, giving off tiny, technicolor blips. Two IV lines ran into her arm and she was unnaturally still. She was so awfully pale, as white as the sheets she was lying on. She looked so small an and frail. He put his hand up, covering the part on the glass where, to his eye, it covered her hand. With a heavy heart, he raised his damp eyes skyward and made a moving plea

"Please... don't let... her die. Please..."

Bar Harbor Maine
Arrivals Terminal

Vivian Johnson's head turned when the sharp cry of joy pierced the early morning air. The airport wasn't very crowded so it was easy to pick out the tall, handsome man with gray hair wearing a tearful grin.

"ABBY!"

"Easy, Abby."

Vivian held on tightly to the little girl's hand as they exited the entry area. The local F.B.I. agents had driven the very anxious Robert Harrison to meet the plane. She let the little girl's hand go and bent down. The child seemed anxious to run to the man but hesitant at the same time.

"Honey, that's your father. Remember we talked about this on the plane?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Abby nodded and peeked around the agent's brown trench coat to view the man who was wiping tears from his eyes. "Is he sad?"

"No," Vivian replied, rubbing the little girl's back. "Those are tears of happiness. They're for you, he loves you that much. He always has..."

"Daddy?" the blonde girl slowly walked over to where her father was squatting and opening his arms.

"Oh Abby I've missed you so much..."

"Daddy!" she cried and ran to his open arms.

Vivian swallowed the lump in her throat as the happy reunion took place. It wasn't often enough she got to witness such wonderful closure on a case. Cold cases were especially difficult and usually ended with a dreaded visit after a body was recovered. Seeing this man overcome with emotion holding his only child was something she'd keep for a long time. She would tuck it away inside for those days when she needed that envied ray of hope.

"I'm just about starved," Abby decided, spotting a big sign with french toast and cinnamon. "Can I have some breakfast please?"

"Sweetheart, you can have the moon served up on a silver platter if that's what you need." He walked over and purchased her a child's breakfast, some juice and a cookie. He bought four coffees for the adults and carried the container to a nearby table. He returned to the counter to get the child's meal and he saw the female agent pointing to the table where Abby was sitting.

"Mister Harrison, can I speak to you a moment?" Vivian asked, "Agents Smith and Capshaw will remain here with Abby."

"Alright." He put the meal down in front of the anxious child and kissed her cheek. "I'll be right back, honey. Here are some napkins."

"Okay," she agreed, tugging on his hand. "But not too long..."

"I promise, buttons," he vowed and saw her lips turn up.

"I remember that..." she whispered, her large eyes darting , "Goodnight buttons... and a big white book with gold pages."

"Your favorite book of fairytales," he squatted down and smiled. "I have it by your bed at home. We read together every night" He watched the old memory bring a smile and some confidence to the little girl. He ruffled her pale hair and rose. He took a single cup of coffee with him and handed it to the agent who was across the wide aisle of the corridor.

"There's something you need to know about Abby," Vivian began. "It concerns the man who your wife was found with."

"He's the man who fathered Abby," Robert's eyes never left the pretty blonde child happily dipping French toast sticks in syrup.

"You knew?" Vivian's dark brows drew together.

"That I wasn't her natural father? Yes, since she was about two." He recalled the event that lead to the discovery. "Both Abby and her mother became very ill with a nasty case of the flu. They were both hospitalized. I saw her blood type, I wasn't compatible. I knew somebody else had gotten Karen pregnant."

"You never said anything to Karen?"

"No, there was no need. I loved her and we had a good life together at that time. I couldn't love that child more if I had created her. "He zipped his jacket." Shortly after I found out I was in a gift shop near the hospital, buying flowers for Karen and a stuffed toy for Abby. I saw a mug on the shelf that said 'Anyone can father a child, but it takes someone special to be a father'." He smiled again, "I bought that mug and use it everyday."

"I'd say she's a lucky little girl," Vivian hugged him and waved to Abby. "A very lucky girl. We'll be in touch before the trial. I have a plane to catch. The two agents will see you home. You remember what we discussed earlier? That she'll need counseling, she's been through alot."

"She'll have the very best. We have a whole lifetime to share... and I can't thank you enough. I wish there were someway to repay you and your partner for all you've done."

"I'll tell you what Mister Harrison," Vivian replied thoughtfully. "You give her all the love and guidance she needs and give this world a shining star. We need all the bright lights we can get."

"She's the brightest, I can tell you that.," he agreed and shook her hand before walking back to the table.

Vivian sipped her coffee and watched the father and daughter sharing their first moments of a very warm reunion. During the ride back to Maine, she'd talked for quite some time to the little girl. She found her to be a very bright and well adjusted child, despite the ordeal. Vivian was confident that with counseling the pretty eight-year old would be just fine.

She eyed the overhead monitors and saw her flight was boarding. While she made her way down to the right gate, she pulled out her cellphone and checked her messages. There were four messages, two from Jack, one from Chris Boone and one from Martin. Jack's first message was short and clipped with a very tense 'Call me as soon as you get this'. The second one added that Sam had been injured badly in a fall. Chris Boone's was next and he relayed that her blonde partner was in critical condition and to go right to the hospital when she landed.

"What the hell happened?" She murmured, quickly dialing Jack's cellphone.

"Malone."

"Jack, how's Sam? What happened?"

"Vivian, thank God." Malone slumped in the unforgiving plastic, hospital chair. "Sam and Martin got a call from Danny or someone pretending to be Danny from that old brewery. Sam called Eric Keller, he lives close and he met them there. Keller and Sam headed inside to find Danny. Martin was supposed to stay outside," Jack paused, kicking the bedside table. "Dammit!"

"My plane's leaving Jack..." she pressed.

"They saw what they thought was Danny but couldn't reach him. They split up and Martin claimed he saw somebody run into the building and he followed this mystery man. He caught up to the guy just as he was about to attack Sam. He jumped the guy, they fought and Sam fell over the third floor ledge. The guy got away and no sign of Tayloranywhere."

"Oh no... Sam?"

"Internal injures, brain bruise, spleen something or other..." Jack sighed hard, raking his hand through his hair. "It's not good, she's in CCU in a coma."

"Uh... okay..." Vivian stammered, absorbing the news. "First flight out is into Newark, I'll be home in an hour."

"Find Boone first get an update. He should be at the hospital, he wants Martin to have a psych workup and I okay'd it."

"Jack?" she questioned and waved to the annoyed clerk at the counter who was trying to herd the last straggling passengers onto the plane.

"It's warranted he fucked up again... he had a gun on the guy and let him walk away. If this guy was connected to Danny's kidnapping..."

"Ma'am, you have to turn that off now." The annoyed clerk pointed to the doorway. "Or this plane will leave without you."

"Alright, alright." She handed her ticket over. "Jack, I have to go, the plane is leaving."

"Call me later."

As she ran down the narrow gangplank that led to the plane, she pushed the last message on her phone.

"...Viv it's me... Sam and me thought we found Danny in a warehouse but... there was a guy there. I didn't... I can't... she fell Viv... it's bad, she might die. Hurry okay?"

"Oh Martin." She snapped the phone shut and hurried up the aisle to her seat.

The Tower
8 a.m.

"Danny!"

He ignored the voice and the pain the loud call brought to his tender skull. He dared not move, for even breathing caused intense pain. There wasn't an inch of flesh or bone on him that wasn't screaming in protest. Somewhere within the red haze in his brain a vague memory of a fight flashed up; distorted images of a brutish hulk with icy eyes and a jackhammer fist. He ran his tongue around his mouth and the metallic taste turned his already queasy stomach.

"DANNY!"

"Shut up, Jack..." he murmured, wondering what his boss was doing inside his apartment.

"Get your ass up Taylor," Malone replied.

His swollen fingers found a metal edge and he frowned. His bed wasn't metal. Hospital? Was that it? Was that why Jack was calling him? He pressed his aching head to remember what had gone down. New case? Old case? Chasing a perp? Suspect that got out of control? No, nothing was coming to mind.

"Ja..ck... hap..pen..ed...?"

"You got your ass whipped again, Taylor."

"Harvard?" he whispered in a rough voice.

With a force known prior only to Hercules, he pried his eyes open. He could see only half of a room. Everything he could see was very blurry and totally unfamiliar. He moved his hand upward to find the source of his missing field of vision. One eye was swollen completely shut and there was something rough covering the brow above it. He tried to sit up and cried out in pain, but forced his body to move. His legs landed with a thump as his feet hit the floor.

"Shit... holy shit..." he gasped as the room spun wildly and he held onto the bed so as not to fall out of it. His stomach began to protest and he closed his good eye, swallowing the bile and breathing hard. Finally the awful spinning stopped and he peeled his eye open. The room wasn't as blurry and on the large screen on the wall he saw an image of himself, Jack and Martin at a boxing ring.

"Max's..." he croaked of the gym near the office. He and Martin often went there to work off steam after a hard case. He watched Martin peer down at him in the ring and the red logo on the front of the sweatshirt. "...PAL..." Then it came back to him, the Police Athletic League sponsored the matches to raise money for the organization.

He saw the small frig across the way and found his wobbly legs. He staggered badly, hissing in pain as every breath through the badly bruised ribs caused agony. Finally he made it; collapsing in a chair and reaching to open the door. He grabbed a can of soda and pressed it to his face. The cold went through the throbbing pain, dulling it somewhat. He finally popped the top and drank the Ginger Ale. As he relieved his dry throat, memories flickered to life in his muddled head. The beast who laid him out had a face now One who'd caused him physical and emotional anguish. . One he'd not forget.

"I will kill you, Gibson," he vowed, crushing the can. "Mark it down."

San Diego Hospital
5 a.m.

"Is he awake yet?"

"In and out," the nurse replied to the very disheveled F.B.I. agent. He'd been there most of the night and left briefly to take care of some business and get something to eat. "Coffee?

"Please." Jack entered the room and made his way to the bed. He sat down hard in the bedside chair and rubbed his temples. He couldn't remember when he'd had a headache quite this bad. He was wondering if his real name was Murphy, since that was the way his luck was running. Of all times to be stuck across the country from home; one agent missing, one in a coma and one a basket case. Thankfully, Vivian was heading home. He tried to ignore the call that he knew would be coming. Chris Boone told him Victor Fitzgerald called twice and he wasn't happy. As much as he itched to be on a plane to New York, he needed to speak to Father Paulo.

Frustrated, he dialed the hospital in New York and got the nursing supervisor. She told him exactly what Chris had, that Sam was in critical condition with a serious brain bruise. The surgery went well and she was having the lost blood replaced. Once she stabilized they would do further testing to determine if there was any more damage to her brain. He got the switchboard operator again and had her transfer him to the room Martin was in. He was supposed to be waiting for the doctor to sign the orders for his evaluation.

"I'm sorry for the delay, sir. We don't have a Martin Fitzgerald in the room."

"What?" Jack saw forward. "What do you mean? He's being kept there for a psych workup. He was admitted last night. Check again."

"Alright." She punched in the info and came up blank again. "Hold on a minute.' She put him on hold and dialed the admissions office. They confirmed the admittance and the room, so she dialed the floor. "Connie? It's Sandy from Communications. Do you have a Fitzgerald on your floor, an F.B.I agent admitted last night?"

"We did, he checked out an hour ago. I wasn't on duty yet. The kid who delivers the breakfast trays said he saw the man in that room leave just as he was about to bring his breakfast. We notified the point of contact and left a message."

"Okay, thanks." She got back on the phone and relayed the message. She found the silence that followed curious "Sir? Did you hear me?"

"Yeah, thanks," Jack replied and hung up. "I'll nail his scrawny ass to a post! Jesus Christ I need this shit..." He punched in Martin's cellphone, which was busy. "Where the hell are you? You call me as soon as you get this. Don't fuck around with me Martin, you're on thin ice and it's cracking fast."

As he hung the phone up on the bed stand he saw two very weak eyes looking up at him. He wasn't sure of the extent of the old mans lucidity. He leaned over and gave the ill man a smile.

"Father Paulo?" He saw the frail head nod. "I'm Jack Malone. I'm an F.B.I. agent from New York. I need to ask you a few questions about Sister Michael." He paused, flipping his notebook open. "Francesa Maria Alvarez." He waited and studied the blank face peering up at him. "Father do you understand me? Can you hear me?"

"Si."

"Good, do you speak English?" Jack asked and the head nodded. The frail hand wavered and the eyes turned towards the water pitcher. "I should have thought of that. Let me find out if the nurse says it's okay and I'll get you a drink." Jack ducked outside and caught the nurse's eye. 'He's awake, okay to give him water?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact he needs fluids. I'll call dietary and get some broth and juice sent up."

Jack nodded and returned to the room. He found the previous blank stare now a very puzzled one. He poured the water, shoved a straw in the top of the plastic lid and set the cup down. He pushed the button raising the bed up until the injured man nodded. Then he held the mug out and watched the thirsty man drink.

"Easy... there's plenty." Jack waited and saw the head nod again. "More?" The head shook negatively and he put the cup down. "You let me know, okay? Good. What can you tell me about Sister Michael? I'm particularly interested in her family. I was told a man visited her down in Costa Rica. I thought she was an orphan."

"She had no family, Senor Malone," the weak priest replied. "I do not understand. What is your purpose here? What do you wish this information for now?"

"Well she's missing, Father, we're trying to get leads on who might have taken her." He paused at the odd expression the old man wore. Father Paulo's head shook a bit and his dark eyes narrowed.

"There must be some mistake," he turned to the federal agent. "Sister Micheal is dead."

New York City Airport Terminal
8:30 a.m.

Vivian's phone rang as soon as she cleared the arrivals area. She was hurrying to her car in order to get to the hospital and get an update on Sam. She picked up her car and slid behind the wheel. Rush hour traffic in this area was murderous, the sooner she was out of the airport the better. She was about to call Chris Boone when her phone rang.

"Hello."

"Vivian?"

"Martin? Is that you? I can barely hear you..."

"I found her...

"Who? Where are you? Martin?"

"...car... to... Pietro's Villa..."

"That's not far from here," she hollered into the phone. The Italian restaurant and winery was once a real tourist attraction. But over the years as new, trendier places opened in the city, the quaint place fell on hard times. "Martin what are you doing there? Jack said you were in the hospital"

"...called... hotline... was... office..."

"Who? Who called you?" She strained to hear.

"Sister Michael..."

"Did you call it in?"

"...Boone... 911... on... way..."

"Martin, I can barely hear you. Are you sure it's her?"

"...pretty sure... Catherine... Lady... Grace... said it... her voice..."

"Alright, I can be there in about fifteen minutes. Don't ..." She pulled the phone away and heard a burst of static. "Martin?" The line went dead and she dialled Chris Boone's office and got one of the team. "Brendan? It's Vivian Johnson. Is Chris around?"

"Hey Vivian, I heard about the Harrison case. Congratulations, that's a damn good piece of work."

"Thanks Brendan. Do you know where Chris is? It's urgent."

"Oh, hey, I'm sorry about Samantha. Trish went with Brendan to the hospital to talk to Keller again. He was over there first thing. What's up?"

"Well, I got an odd call from Martin Fitzgerald. He claimed to have spoken to Sister Michael..."

"That missing nun? Where? When?"

"This morning I guess. His cell phone broke up. He said she called from Pietro's Villa. I'm just about to leave NewarkAirport, it's right off the first exit."

"But..." Gavin hedged, hearing her uncertainty.

"But something isn't quite right. Martin is supposed to be in a hospital and he's not on duty. He knows that. He's already in a deep hole and now with what Jack told me about Sam and him last night." She paused, "Unless he called the office from the hospital and got the message."

"He's not thinking clearly, Vivian, he might have seen this as his chance to redeem himself."

"Big mistake," she confessed and nodded, thinking it was something he might be inclined to do.

"Rookie mistake, they happen," Gavin replied. "I'll call the state troopers, they can meet you there. I'll update Chris, too. You call me back okay?"

"Okay, Brendan, thanks." She tried to redial Martin and had no luck. She called Jack's cellphone and got his voicemail. She left a message and turned on the freeway. It was only a few moments and she took the exit ramp that led to the road where the old winery was. As she pulled up the pathway, she saw flashing red lights in front of the entry to what looked like an old storage building at the end of the property. She pulled closer and saw another car that appeared to be Martin's next to the police car.

As she entered the building, she pulled her gun out and cautiously eyed the well stocked storeroom. Large cans of pizza sauce and jars of peppers and olives lined the shelves. In the distance a radio or television was playing, the low voice was giving a local weather report.

"F.B.I.!"

"Hello? I am in here..."

Vivian kept her gun drawn and followed the voice. She entered a large room that appeared to be an office and saw a middle -aged woman huddled in a chair wearing a policeman's jacket around her shoulders. The dark eyes that met hers were full of fear. The woman was trembling and began to babble in Spanish. A broken pair of rosary beads were entwined in her fingers.

"Sister Michael?"

"Si... yes... Thank God... Thank God..."

"Are there any other policemen here?" She wondered why the missing nun was left alone.

"They chased him... I ran... I called the number... my picture was on... the poster... but he found me. They ran... out back..."

"Alright... calm down." Vivian said.

Then she saw the woman's eyes shift to the right and realized her mistake too late. As something sharp stung the side of her neck, she turned and fired, hitting the wood paneling on the wall beside the door. The narcotic was very strong and she was unconscious before she hit the floor. She didn't see the tall, well built man step out of the shadows and holster the dart gun.

"Excellent, my dear." Gibson moved over to the frightened woman. She turned away from him, shaking her head and wringing a tangled set of rosary beads. "Now we discussed this, it has to be done. You know that..."

"I don't like it. You hurt her, you didn't say... you would hurt her."

"She's asleep there are stronger pills being sold at drug stores that what I gave her. Come on, we have work to do back at the base" He effortlessly lifted the fallen female agent and took her out the side door, dumping her in the back of the white van. His accomplice didn't say anything and wouldn't sit with him, choosing instead to sit with the prisoner in the back. He took out the computerized recording device and pushed on the voice scrambler. The he queued up the music on the CD in the van and dialed Jack Malone's office phone.

"Little boy blue come blow your horn, the sheep are waiting by a wall for their heads to adorn. So Jack be nimble, Jack be quick before the gilded heir turns fatally sick."

Part 18

Martin paused at the entry to the Intensive Care Unit and took a deep breath. After his prior trip here, the image of Samantha Spade had shaken him so much he'd thrown up. Then he'd heard the echo of Chris Boone's edict and the thought of being locked up in the pysch ward had forced him to make the decision to find out who had been behind the bizarre attacks on Sam and Danny. He was already suspended, it couldn't get much worse. So he'd returned to his room, gotten dressed and left. He went across the street to the coffee shop to eat, his weak body and glycemic condition requiring fuel. He had to see Sam first, to tell her how sorry he was and then he was going to find his doctor. The missing psychologist might have left notes or clues to his whereabouts at his office. Doctor Gibson's office was the next stop on his journey for the truth.

"Yes?"

Martin blinked at the reply through the intercom to his rap on the door. He held his badge up and watched the nurse's face as she studied it carefully. Visiting hours didn't start for several hours and he coudln't couldn't afford to run into Chris Boone and get caught. He didn't even want to think about Jack and his reaction.

"F.B.I. I need to see Agent Spade."

"She's not conscious."

"Yes, I know, but she was attacked and she's going to need protection incase this man attempts another attack."

"Hold on."

Martin waited for the buzzer to sound and a light to go on over the door. He nodded to her in thanks as he eased his slim body into the critical care division of the busy hospital. The smell was the first thing that assaulted his rocky belly. A curious mix of antiseptic and sickness mingled all around him. From the corner of his eye, he saw several nurses turn towards the door. He gathered his jangled nerves while managing to maintain a steady walk, he approached the bed. It took all his strength not to show his broken heart on his face. He pulled the curtain around, giving them a bit of privacy. The edge of the nurses station was in partial view and he sat down, keeping his eyes on the nurse watching him.

The clock on the wall seemed to drag, turning the minutes into what felt to him to be hours. He looked relaxed and casual to the untrained eye, but inside he was a mess. Seeing her lying so pale and helpless made his guts feel like they had been shredded by a ferocious raptor. His cowardice had put her there. He swallowed hard and forced himself to calm down. but the beeping of the monitors near her seemed to mock him, accusing him of the deed. Finally, the nurse at the desk was diverted to the other side of the unit. He took the opportunity to unleash the sorrow in his heavy heart. He picked up her hand and flinched at how cold it felt.

"I'm sorry, Sam," he whispered in a broken voice, trembling badly. "If I could trade places..."

"Martin?"

Sam heard a familiar voice and relaxed at the warmth of the hand holding her own.She listened as he poured his heart out, blaming himself for her injuries and for Danny's disappearance as well. His voice broke several times and she heard him choking. She knew those emotive eyes all too well and it hurt to picture them so wet and filled with pain . As he spoke of what happened, she thought back on the warehouse. She saw the large man and then she saw him whisper something into Martin's ear. In an instant, the normally fearless agent was transformed into in a pile of jelly. The echo of the whispered word revisited and she realized her partner was being used.

Scorpion? What does that mean, Martin? Who is he? What did he do to you? Does he have Danny? Martin?"

Her mind was working but she was trapped in her body's comatose state . She couldn't vocalize her clues; she couldn't warn the shaken man that he was being used. What had the beast done to Danny? Was Danny still alive? Why was he using Martin? How did he have the power to use one word to take Martin's backbone away? So many questions and nobody could hear them.

"How the hell did you get in here?"

Martin dropped Sam's hand and whipped his head up. His color drained when Eric Keller's unwanted face appeared. His eyes shifted to the nurses' desk and the path to the door. He couldn't let Keller take him in; he had to get the answers he sought.

"I'm talkin' to you, shitface," Keller grabbed the confused agent and hauled him to his feet, shoving him against the wall out of sight. "You stay away from her. You got balls showin' up here after what you've done. Did you take a good look? First you let somebody kidnap Danny, then you let him put her in that bed. You proud of yourself?"

"Eric? Leave him alone. Shut up. You don't know... it's not his fault. Dammit!"

Sam could hear the whole conversation but was unable to move, to help to support her partner. She listened to every brutal word that the furious NYPD detective issued and didn't hear Martin reply once. Already emotionally wrecked, she knew Fitzgerald was on the verge of collapse. She wanted to throttle the arrogant Keller for his bully tactics. Eric's threat to Martin only increased her fury and frustration.

"You come near her again and I'll mess up that pretty face of yours."

"Don't you touch me...""

Sam wanted to throw off the hand that now swept over her brow. It wasn't Martin's warm touch it was Eric's cold one. His skin temperature was the same as his icy heart. She was repulsed by his touch and the shallow words of comfort he offered. She couldn't move to intercept the hand only lie by and endure his hollow words. One question kept looming up, haunting her.

"Where are you Martin?"

Eric couldn't believe how frail the normally feisty blonde was. Upon his arrival, the nurse had updated him, telling him she was expected to survive. The bruise to her brain was causing her to remain unconscious, but she was starting to respond to stimuli and they felt she would awaken at any time. His beeper went off, causing a frown. He was stroking her cheek and paused, flicking his eyes at the numbers.

"Boone?" He recognized the phone number and eyed the nurses' station. He left Sam and made his way to the nurse, flipping his badge. "I gotta make a local call. Can I use this phone?"

"Sure, just dial 9 to get an outside line."

"Chris?" Eric stated when the ringing stopped. "It's Keller. What's up?"

"I'm in Newark, at an old Italian Villa, Pietro's. Vivian Johnson's missing."

"What? How?"

"I'm not sure," Boone admitted, watching as they loaded the unconscious patrolman into an ambulance. His patrol unit was outside and he'd been found in a room behind the kitchen. "She called my office and said she got a call from Martin. He'd heard from that nun they're looking for and was on his way here. Brendan Gavin took the call and got NYPD to roll. We found a patrolman unconscious inside. We also found Fitzgerald's car but he's not here. Johnson's car is here, along with her weapon, but she's gone. There are some tracks outside, the lab is taking castings. He's not answering his phone. He's supposed to be at the hospital, but they lost him a few hours ago. I don't know if he was taken too or..."

"He was just here," Eric updated. "Missing for a few hours huh? Isn't that convenient! I'm with Spade at the hospital. I got here a few moments ago and he was by her bedside."

"Is he still there?" Boone's hope rose briefly. "I need some answers."

"No, he just left, I'll catch up to him. I need some answers myself." He snapped the phone shut and took off in pursuit.

The Tower

"Danny"

Somewhere in the painful netherworld he was lost in, a voice penetrated the thick fog. He frowned and groaned, trying to push the painful word away. It kept repeating, each time causing his tender skull to throb. He fought against the voice, seeking to return to the place where he'd been hiding without pain.

"Danny... wake up... come on now..."

Vivian sat on the side of the bed and watched his badly bruised face screw up in annoyance. He turned away from her and moaned slightly, pushing weakly against her with his hand. She'd only been awake about twenty minutes herself and had no idea where she was. She'd found the bathroom and the connecting door and then saw her partner lying on the bunk. She was more curious than shocked by his injuries, since they appeared recent and he'd been missing for a couple weeks.

"Come on, honey, wake up, it's Vivian." She paused and tapped the unconscious man's scowling face. "Danny!"

A cough preceded a fist rising, which she intercepted. She gently pushed the hand back down and kept her other hand on his neck. His pulse was good but the raspy breathing and protective curve of his body told her there might be bruised ribs matching his marred face. One eye was swollen shut, a nasty shade of purple under a neatly stitched eye. The other eye opened with guarded skepticism and a touch of confusion. She watched as that dark eye blinked and finally seemed to part through the fog.

Danny's blurred vision cleared up and the voice that lured him painfully into the present had a name. It took him several moments to realize that he wasn't dreaming; Vivian Johnson was sitting next to him. Still his hand moved, tapping against her leg. A warm hand took his own and he sighed and relaxed a bit. Then the questions rose up, swirling and stabbing his already tender brain. What was Vivian doing here? Had he been rescued or was she a prisoner too? Before his thick tongue could form a word, pictures appeared in the haze. Uninvited and troubling, they rudely shoved their way to the center of his murky mind; a reporter's words, a special bulletin about a 'young female F.B.I. agent' who'd been badly injured.

"Sam!"

"Easy," Vivian addressed the alarming darting motion of the brown eye and the trembling of the hand she gripped.

"...dead..."

"No, she's not dead." She eased him upright and waited for his swaying body to right itself. She saw the bruised lips moving over what must be a dry mouth. His pained face eyeing the refrigerator across the room. "Can you walk?"

"Yeah..." Danny rasped, cradling his ribs. He hunched over for a bit until the burning in his chest subsided. Then he lifted his face and saw the familiar orange jumpsuit. She wasn't here to rescue him, she too was a prisoner. "How?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Vivian answered."I was at the airport and got a call from Martin. He said he'd gotten a call from Sister Michael.His phone was breaking up but he said she was at Pietro's Villa."

"...trap..." Danny croaked and saw the dark head bob.

"Yes." She sighed, shaking her head. "But she was there, I saw her. Just before something stung my neck, I saw her eyes shift."

"Pietro's," Danny mumbled, rising with her assistance and gingerly walking to the refrigerator. The English translation of the name irritated him only further. "Arrogant bastard."

"Who?" Vivian followed him, watching as he got a can of soda. "Do you know who's doing this?"

"Pete Gibson."

"Snake?" Vivian sat at the table and pondered. "Are you sure?"

"Perfect nickname," Danny snarled. "Sure?" He replied, holding the cold can to his face. "This look sure to you?"

"But why?"

"I don't know," Danny answered, popping the top and drinking a gulp of ginger ale. "But it's tied to Martin. He's framing him, using drugs and hypnosis."

"Danny how can you be so sure?"

"Technicolor!" The irate Taylor waved to the large screen. "He's been taping Martin for months. He plays videos of the older stuff and the feed from the news. That's how I knew about Sam. Bastard!" He vented, fisting the can. "I'm gonna kill him."

"We need a plan," Vivian directed. "You've been missing two weeks and..." she paused as the color drained from his face. "It's easy to lose track of time in a place like this."

"Two weeks," Danny's voice dropped and he thought of his lost partner's blue eyes. "How's Martin?"

"By now, I'd say the Bureau will want his badge. After the incident with Sam and now me..." She saw him puzzle up and spent the next several minutes updating on all that had transpired.

Danny absorbed the information and began to think, trying to put the pieces together. He rose and began to pace, thinking on the past six months that the rookie had been on their team. He couldn't come up with one incident that involved the NYPD's retired detective. What motive could Gibson have?

"I can't figure it, Viv," Danny admitted. "Why Martin?"

Vivian didn't reply right away, she too had been thinking quietly. She mulled over all that had happened and motioned for Danny to sit down. She had a hunch but wanted to play it out, to see if Danny could add anything to it.

"Let's start at the beginning. You and Martin were in the cave and he was inside? Gibson was waiting? He used that old tunnel?" She saw the head nod and proceeded. "He shot you with a tranquilizer and you woke up here? What about Martin? Was he knocked out? Why didn't he step in?"

"I told you," Danny snapped a bit, guilt stabbing at him."Gibson's fucked around with his head. All that time I thought I was helping him..." he seethed, punching the table and causing the can to dance a bit. "I led him right to that son-of-a-bitch! I suggested he go to see him for therapy."

"Martin is a patient of Gibsons?"

"Yeah, you see that first night the nun went missing," Danny updated. "We were hunting in the cave and he freaked out.A bad flashback, like an anxiety attack. I didn't know then that Gibson caused it, I told him he had to get help.That's who he was seeing all that time he had after he left the hospital."

"I see, " Vivian replied. "So while he was on the good doctor's couch, he was hypnotized. Usually that means a trigger of some sort."

"The phone," Danny answered. "He calls him on the phone and whatever he says, it turns Martin into jelly.I mean he's cowering..." Danny thought on the awful film he'd had to endure. "Goddammit!"

"That won't help, you calm down!" Vivian ordered."So he called Martin while you were in that cave? That's the start."

Danny eased his aching body down and frowned. "No, it started before that. That bastard has access to his Martin's apartment. He spiked Martin's water and he's connected to Martin getting sick. I saw the video of him injecting something into Martin's ankle. I don't get it Viv," Danny sighed hard. "What's his connection to Martin? They haven't worked together, Martin hasn't been here that long. Maybe he's got an ax to grind with Victor?" He noted of the rookie's father, a legend in the Bureau.

"Martin's not the target," Vivian answered, meeting the stormy eyes across from her. "He's the bait."

"What? How? Why? Who's the target then?"

"Jack," Vivian answered and heard a laugh echoing from the speakers in the wall.

"Excellent work Agent Johnson."

"You're pathetic, Gibson and you won't get away with this," she calmly replied, moving her hand over to grab the furious Taylor who was ready to explode. She met his eyes and shook her head, indicating he better calm down.

"I'm afraid I already have," he stated, "and you and your hot-headed partner will have a front row seat when Malone's dawn of judgement rises. As for my poor blue-eyed fly, causing the deaths of his teammates , what other course does a broken man have then to kill himself!"

"Danny!" Vivian scrambled to corral the irate Taylor, who leapt to his feet and began to curse. She'd already gone over the two rooms and saw no point of entry. Unless they were rescued, they were trapped, completely at the mercy of the madman.

San Diego Hospital

Jack Malone was not a patient man. The grueling pace of the last few days was catching up to him fast. He needed sleep, food and more answers than he had questions for. He tossed the end of the roll from the sandwich he was eating away and his beleaguered eyes found the clock on the wall of the hospital coffee shop. The day seemed endless, although it had barely begun. After being stunned with news that Sister Michael was dead, the priest had suffered a severe coughing fit and passed out. The nurses had ushered him out, in order for the doctor to examine the frail old man. It was not the answer he'd expected and he needed details. Especially since Chris Boone's phone call informing him of Vivian Johnson's disappearance. His counterpart had been calling him with progress reports on Spade and he had been relieved to find out the blonde was doing better and expected to recover.

His initial rage at Martin had taken an odd turn. His years of experience told him that all was not as it seemed. It was too convenient for Martin to be at the scene of each incident. His gut told him there was something out there he wasn't seeing. Had it just been Danny, it might have flown. But Sam's fall and Vivian's disappearance changed that. He'd been thinking about nothing else since Chris Boone called. If Sister Michael was dead, who was the woman who lured Vivian into a trap? How was it connected to Danny? Did Victor have an enemy using Martin for revenge? He tried calling Martin again but the cell didn't answer. Sighing hard, he drained his warm coffee and decided to check his voicemail messages. There were several to wade through, four alone from Victor Fitzgerald. He winced at the ordeal of calling the arrogant Deputy Director back. The final message was one that chilled him to the bone.

"Little boy blue come blow your horn, the sheep are waiting by a wall for their heads to adorn. So Jack be nimble, Jack be quick before the gilded heir turns fatally sick."

Martin was walking through the parking lot, outlining his path. He could take the bus uptown far enough to get off close to Gibson's office. He would use his badge again to gain entry and then hunt for clues. He was nearly through the parking lot, heading towards the bus stop when hurried steps just behind him caused him to halt. He turned just as a hand grabbed his jacket and shoved him hard into the side of an old truck.

"Okay, I'm done playing around, Fitzgerald. You fucked up for the last time. Just where the hell where you this morning? You checked out a few hours ago..."

"Get offa me!" Martin hissed, slamming his elbow backwards into Keller's gut. It was enough to loosen the tight grip on his throat.

"Oh no you don't," Keller snarled, punching the wiggling younger man hard in the lower back. and forcing him to his him to his hands and knees. He hauled him upright and turned him, shoving him against the truck. "I want some answers and I don't give a flyin' rat's ass how much skin you lose getting them. Now you answer me. Where were you this morning?"

"None of your fuckin' business," Martin snapped, punching Keller in the gut.

"Vivian Johnson's missing and your car was found where she disappeared. That makes it my 'fuckin' business' you yellow-balled dog. Now answer me!"

"Vivian?"

That caught Fitzgerald off guard and rocked him. He knew she was due in from her trip with Jack, he'd left a message for her about Sam. Her plane would have just about landed, whatever happened, had to have happened on the road from the airport.

"Look, I was here, I got dressed and got some food," Martin supplied, moving his hand to his jacket pocket. Didn't he shove the receipt from the coffee shop in there? "Shit..."

"Enough of your bullshit, Chris Boone wants you brought in and you're going. You're history, Fitzgerald. Even your father can't save you this time."

Martin sagged, giving the other man the false impression he was defeated.Just as Keller's hand grabbed his collar, he sprung back, catching the NYPD cop off guard. He fought without abandon, using his fists like pistons.Keller fought back, sending both of them hard into asphalt, car hoods and a bench. Finally, Martin's fist connected solidly to Keller's jaw. He took a few moments to collect his breath and swipe the blood from his mouth. He saw some movement from the other side of the lot as some visitors were running towards them.He leapt over the curb and didn't look back, racing down the street.Vivian's disappearance gave him the fuel he needed to continue his quest. He would find the answers and Gibson had the key.

Jounral Entry.

"All the pieces are at last in place. Finally the rosy rays of the Dawn of Judgement are approaching. At last justice will be served and Jack Malone will be broken, his soul left shattered and unrepairable .irreparable The blood of the missing lambs will be on his hands as well. As for my prized lab rat, his fate is sealed. His body, lifeless and cold, all the potential drained along with the lifeblood will be the final stain on Malone's dented armor. The sight of the lifeless body will haunt Malone all his miserable days. Soon the new day will come when Jack meets his fate and at last the scales will be righted.

With that final short scripted note, Peter Gibson put the journal away and pushed his chair back. He cast an eye on the monitors, seeing Taylor and Johnson still trying to solve the puzzle. An exercise in futility, they didn't have, nor would they find , the answer they sought. His icy blues traveled to the other camera. His unwilling accomplice was sleeping, courtesy of the drugged coffee she'd ingested. Slowly she was breaking down, falling further into the madness that would eventually consume her. Secure that all was locked down, he left the Tower and headed for his car. He had to clean out the remaining files and notes from his office. By this time tomorrow, the final pieces would be falling into place.

The noose around Jack Malone's neck just got tighter.

Part 19

Timeline: November 2001

"You're gonna do fine, just relax. You're the top draft pick, the others are Nick wannabees. You'll show 'em all up."

Nick DiSipio snorted at his image in the mirror as his father's voice echoed again in his head. It was easy for him to say, he wasn't the one going up against some pretty stiff competition in order to get one position on the team. His father had more confidence in him that he had in himself at times. Although he was very quick, smart and talented, he still felt so much smaller walking in Peter Gibson's shadow.

The handsome dark-haired young man walked away from his nervous twin in the mirror and strode to the closet. He stepped over the football jersey on the floor and pulled the door open before examining the ties hanging inside. He pulled three out and tossed them onto the shirt lying on the bed. He paused for a moment and eyed the clock, hoping against the odds his mother would call.

"Yeah, right," he chuffed in annoyance.

Although he still wrote to her every other week, with each passing year she'd become more withdrawn. She was slowly becoming more and more distracted. He wouldn't use the term 'religious nut' to describe her but her fervor was well beyond the danger point. He visited as often as he could afford but the area she had been assigned to was dangerous to travel in, especially for young American males. Plus the last two visits had been disturbing, she'd spent most of the time praying for him and at times, forgotten who he was.

His father on the other hand was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He smiled and picked up the photo on his bed stand The date he'd inscribed on the frame was the best day of his life. To most people, December 25th, 1999 was just another Christmas Day, but to Dominic Joseph DiSipio it had been the day he'd been reborn. That was the day he'd gotten the very best gift possible, his father. It was at exactly nine-seventeen on Christmas morning in the kitchen of the mansion that Mrs. Gibson's parents owned that Pete told him his true identity. It was at exactly nine-seventeen on Christmas morning in the kitchen of Mrs Gibson's parents' mansion that Pete told him his true identity.

At first he was shocked and in denial. Over the years the big brother he'd gained had turned into a father figure who he loved very much and respected. But to be told that in fact he was the man who'd fathered him was a revelation. Then his father showed him his own college football photos and the resemblance was more than striking. He also had a photo of his mother when the two of them had been dating. It was then, as his father put the scrapbook down and he saw the anger raging in the blue eyes that he realized the depth of his father's love. That his mother had never told his father of his existence hurt him deeply. That his father found out by accident, from a newpaper newspaper clipping soured him against his mother. The tears in his father's eyes that day, along with the bear hug had sealed his decision to try to make his father proud.

Now he had a real family, a stepmother and two stepsisters, uncles, aunts and cousins. Oh they might not be the closest family but they'd accepted him and he'd shared their home on holidays. His father was a very important man and well established in the community. He didn't want to see any of that fall away due to an illegitimate child. So he told his father that just knowing he was his son was more than goodenough. He didn't need the name and wouldn't risk the potential fallout. Since that fateful Christmas Day he'd made his primary goal in life to follow his father's dream, even if it wasn't the career he desired, it was what his dad wanted. He selected the blue print tie and quickly got dressed. He didn't want to be late for this interview.

Somewhere during the ride over, the butterflies in his stomach seemed to multiply. By the time he parked and walked into the building, he was sweating. By the time the twenty-four-year old, well built prospect got off the elevator, he was suffering from a dry mouth and rapid breathing. He ducked into the restroom and threw some cold water on his face. He dried off his face and then rubbed his neck, where the collar was damp. He closed his eyes and felt his father's hand on his shoulder, offering encouragement and praise. His father had always been his number one fan. But down the hall there was a door that led to the culmination of all his years of training. This was the moment he'd been hoping and wishing for. To become a member of a solid team, one that was widely acclaimed.

"Let's do it," he told the handsome kid in the glass.

The strides down the hall were a bit stronger now and his brow was dry. He found the right door and knocked once. After several shuffling footsteps, the door opened and a middle-aged man shorter than himself but very intense stared back at him.

"Good Morning, sir, I'm Nick DiSipio."

"Come on in, sit down." The interviewer walked to the other side of a table containing a folder. "I'm Jack Malone."

Silas Washington didn't like trouble. He'd survived over seventy years on God's green earth by minding his own business. He took the same route to work each day, carrying his lunch and a newspaper. On Tuesday he went to dinner at his sister's across town and on Sunday he went to church and then to breakfast at the diner near the interstate. Occasionally, he'd meet his old buddies from years gone by for dinner and a ballgame. But mostly, he kept to himself.

"Sir?"

"I heard yuh, son," the dark-skinned man replied, his curious eyes flicking to the hallway. "I got nothin' against yuh boy, but my supervisor ain't in today. He won't like it if I let strangers in the offices."

"Look," Martin used a soft, sympathetic voice and handed the old janitor his card. "My badge number is on the back," he stated and flicked out his pen, writing it down. "That's my office number at the FederalBuilding. You can call there and they'll verify me." Martin wasn't afraid of Boone getting wind, since the toll free number went to a voicemail generated employee base.

"Well," he scratched his stubbly chin. "Yuhr badge looks real and I can keep this card?"

"Sure," Martin nodded, noticing the janitor staring at his busted up face. "I'll only be about ten minutes, nobody will even know I was here. I'm a patient of the doctors and I think I might have left my beeper here. I hope my luck changes, I got mugged this morning. I just want to check the floors, sofa cushion, anywhere it could have fallen."

"Well, okay, yuh'll tell me when yuh leave?"

"Sure," Martin reassured, patting the old guy's back as he unlocked the office. "Thanks, I really appreciate this."

He closed the door after he entered and spent a few moments looking around, just in case the old guy came back. Then he went right to Gibson's desk and looked for a phone number. He had to have left something written down, even if it was just an airline number or hotel reservation confirmation number. He needed to speak to the doctor and find out what the hell was wrong with him. His whole career was now in the toilet with Jack's hand on the flusher.

He sat down at the desk and searched the pristine blotter, getting nothing. He flipped through the desktop calendar and also got nowhere. Frustration began to set in and he eyed the clock, theorizing that the old man might pop back. Two of the drawers in the desk were locked and he got nothing from the other three. He sat back and eyed the office, rubbing the back of his throbbing head. His inquisitive eyes narrowed when he saw the door to the far side of the room. He travelled back in time during their appointments and recalled the older man entering and exiting that room before and after appointments. He rose and walked over, surprised when the door knob turned. He shut it behind him and continued on his way.

"Damn," Martin whispered, walking through a small entryway into a private office.

He saw sat down as at the small desk and turned the computer on. He found the C Drive and there were several files in there. A quick scan didn't net anything so he turned it off and began to open the drawers. More paper folders, a lot of CD's and other computer paraphernalia were there but no phone numbers. He was about to close the drawer when he noticed a black leather notebook. He picked it up and flipped it open, hoping it was a date book; he got more than he bargained for.

He got more than he bargained for.

"What the hell is this?"

Incredulation hung on his words as his name appeared on the first page, along with a complete bio on him. His earliest school records, his hobbies and awards all the way through graduation at Quantico were there. His blood began to chill as he turned the pages, revealing his daily routines and assignments. This man had been following him since his first week on the job!

"Jesus Christ!" he hissed, feeling totally violated.

With every passage the pins and needles racing up his spine increased in measure. There wasn't anything the 'good' doctor had missed. His mind was reeling and his senses numbed. How was it possible that he'd come to the doctor for help after all this had occurred? Danny recommended him only after the attack. Was that a part of the plan? How could it all fit? What did this guy want with him?

Impatient for answers, he left the recordings of his daily life behind and flipped back to the middle of the journal. His heart began to pound as he read the words 'blue-eyed fly', impostor and pretender. He had never met Gibson before that first day for his initial session. Why did this guy hate him so much? Gibson's age and years on the force meant dealing with federal agencies a lot. Did he have a grudge against his dad? He couldn't recall his dad ever mentioning problems or a run in with Gibson. Plus, if it was something his father had done to Gibson that he was seeking revenge for, why do it after he had began his tour here? No, it had to be tied to the job somehow. He put the book down and saw a bag underneath it. His slim hand fished inside revealing tapes and CD's with his name on it and dates.

"Fucker's been recording me..." he shivered, wondering about the high tech surveillance equipment that Gibson would have access to and realizing his apartment was wired and maybe worse. "Why?"

Then he moved his eyes back to the book and flipped to the date of the incident in the cave. The sheer stark brutality of the words before him shredded his guts. He'd been used clear back to the spider bite. The use of cameras and recorders in his own apartment turned his stomach. It was all there; how'd he'd used a tranquilizer on Danny and had taken him away.

"Where's Danny? I'll cut your balls off for this you sick son-of-a-bitch," he vented, hoping his dark-haired partner was still alive. "Dammit..." he mumbled, unable to find any clues to the location where Danny and most likely Vivian were being held. Just as he was getting to the part of the book that held recent entries and possibly the place where his missing friends were being held, he heard the outer door unlock. As he went to put the book back in the spot where it was held, a newspaper clipping fell out of the back. He only had time to eye the figure in the photo, a college football player getting a large trophy and the name under beneath it. Then heavy footsteps told him the intruder was coming right for him. He quietly replaced the book and shut the drawer. He frantically eyed the room and saw another door on the far wall. He turned the desk light off and scurried over, glad to find it unlocked. He entered the closet and closed the door to a crack. The large bullish man with the bald head had created a sick feeling inside him. Gone was the appreciation for the 'skilled doctor' who'd healed him. He had his hand on the doorknob, ready to confront the sick bastard, when he heard another voice from the outer office.

"Doc, that you?"

"Yeah, Mike."

"Shit," Martin whispered, recognizing the large and very nasty security guard from the lobby. That was trouble he couldn't afford, knowing by now there was most likely an APB out on him.

"I was checking the floor and saw the door open. I knew you weren't due in today. Everything okay?"

"Yeah, I needed a few things from my private desk," Pete replied, reaching inside and taking his journal and the bag of recordings. "Oh, I left some boxes in storage. I'd like to take them with me. Could you help me bring them into the lot?"

"Sure, Doc."

Martin's heart sank when the large guard remained by the doctor's side and walked out with him and all the evidence. They were both armed and if he confronted Gibson now, Danny and Vivian would end up dead. The doctor would play up as the innocent victim of a raving F.B.I. agent who'd already had a few breakdowns. By the time he'd get anybody to listen to him, Gibson could kill Danny and Vivian and be gone. The only chance he had was to follow him. He could use the element of surprise, since Gibson didn't know he was there. Maybe the unsuspecting bastard would lead him right to the place where his friends were being held. He waited a few moments, exited and took the backstairs to the parking lot. He spotted the large man tossing the bag into the back of a panelled van. There were several boxes waiting by the elevator where the guard was. Since he had no car of his own, Martin's only chance was to hide in the van. He turned the handle and crept inside, hiding under a large white tarp by a group of boxes at the other side of the van. When the last box was loaded, the door slammed shut. The rookie agent only hoped his career and life didn't close as well.

The persistent headache riding Chris Boone for three days was now in overdrive. The last thing the blond SAC needed was a cocky cop with a large chip on his shoulder. He didn't know how Keller's C.O. put up with him. He heard the loud voice echoing all over the parking garage and took a moment to calm his nerves. He didn't want to lose control before he even got there.

"I want an APB out on the lunatic now!" Keller ordered the green patrol cop who'd been the first to arrive. A passer by had notified security who in turn called 911. "He's dangerous, you make them put that out too. Bastard damn near killed me."

"Hold it Officer Crandal," Boone scanned the kid's badge and waved to his partner who was talking to the security guard. "Kill that APB for now." He flipped his badge. "I'll advise you on what to air."

"Look Boone, you got no right to bust my balls for this one." Keller tossed the ice pack the paramedic had given him away and stood, jamming his index finger in the intense man's chest. "That cocky rookie went too far this time."

"Move it or lose it," the cool, green-eyed agent warned of the hand still on his chest. It was withdrawn and he leaned in, making sure that the NYPD detective understood him clearly. "You saying Fitzgerald did this?"

"No, Ali did!"

"Really" Boone replied calmly. "Funny, when I got to ICU an orderly told me you hauled Martin up from Sam's beside and had him in a chokehold against the wall. He heard you threaten Fitzgerald. Seems you forgot that little detail when you called me."

"That doesn't change a damn thing!" Eric raved, waving to his stitched eye and bruised face. "Look what he did, he's out of control and needs to be tossed in the cage."

"And you didn't lay a hand on him?" Chris replied, "You better think before you answer, this lot has cameras."

"Okay so we scuffled and he got away," Keller admitted. "But he's got no alibi for the time when Johnson went missing. I'm tellin you, he's cracked."

"You give a statement?" Boone asked and the younger man nodded. "I'll have a copy so don't embellish it. Spade's got protection on the ICU floor and I got three missing feds to find. I don't need your hot head screwing this investigation up. If you can't stay cool, you stay off the street."

"I'm fine!"

"...and off duty, go home." Boone ordered, turning to the two patrolmen to give them the correct information on Martin Fitzgerald. Once that was done, he dialed the hospital again and had Jack paged. He took a deep breath when his counterpart answered. "Jack, you're not gonna like this."

"Excuse me, Agent Malone?"

"Yeah?" Jack hung the phone up and filed the information from Boone away. He'd been in the coffee shop having lunch when his name was paged. The woman before him was from the floor the priest was on, she was an aide."

"The nurse sent me for you, Father Paulo is awake."

"Thank you," he sighed hard and headed for the elevator.

The priest looked awful and Jack felt guilty for having to press him for more information. He was old and frail and the infection in his system was a serious one. What he needed was rest and not the worry and stress over a missing nun, especially since he thought she was already dead. Jack pushed his emotions away and strode to the bedside.

"Hey Padre, how you feelin'?"

"Better, a little tired. I'm sorry to inconvenience you, Mister Malone."

"Mister Malone is my old man, I'm Jack," he extended with a smile. "I'll try to keep this brief, I know you want to rest. You said Sister Michael is dead?"

"Yes, she passed away a few months ago in late December. She'd been so ill and in such pain it was a blessing when God called her home."

"January, that'd be four months," Jack calculated. "According to Our Lady of Grace Nursing Home in New York, Sister Michael began to work for them not long after you state she died. She came from the same parish you worked with her in Costa Rica. If it wasn't her, who was it?"

"I'm sorry, I don't know. I've been travelling for months. There are a number of nurses, aides other villagers who helped out at the church. Any one of them could have stolen Sister's passport and identity to gain entry into America. You say this woman is missing?"

"Yes, for about a month now. You're the first lead we had, since you had prior knowledge of her. We spoke to someone who knew her in Costa Rica. He said she had a male visitor, tall and dark last year. Do you recall anyone like that coming to your church or perhaps who they spoke with?"

"No, I am sorry. But I can tell you Sister Michael is dead, I buried her. It was so hard on the other sisters, they are all close. Sister Theresa seemed especially upset."

"Sister Theresa? Is she a local?"

"No, she came to us many years ago with Sister Michael. They ran our clinic for the poor."

"She still there?"

"Most of the sisters were removed by the bishop after the New Year due to the unrest in the area. But I'm sure the bishop can find her. I can give you his number and he has one of those... other mails... uh... on the computer."

"Email?"

"Yes!"

"Good, that's good Father Paulo, I appreciate it," Jack complimented and took down the info. "Best of luck to you, get well soon."

"I will keep in touch and try to remember if anything else comes to mind..."

"You call me anytime, Padre," Jack extended his hand and slipped a card into the priest's hand.

By the time he got to the hotel to collect his things, he'd called Martin's house, cellphone and office. He left blistering messages on each one. He checked twice on Sam's condition and called Vivian's husband. By the time he got to the airport, he had one last call to make. He dialed his office to check his voicemail and sped past each one, seeking one voice. The last one wasn't the voice he expected.

"What the hell..." he muttered, hearing the cryptic poem. He selected option four and forwarded it to Chris Boone. "Chris, it's Jack, this message was left on my voicemail. It might be a crank, but I'd like you to give it a listen. I'm on my way back, plane lands at 10:30, I gotta talk to you, pick me up, okay?"

The plane took off and began its journey back to New York and Jack tossed two Tylenols down hoping to kill the headache that was now in overdrive. He leaned back and closed his red-rimmed eyes, hoping to catch a nap. But the odd poem wouldn't let him rest. He hoped it was just a crank call, but his gut told him different. The words continued to replay in his mind as he dozed off.

"Little boy blue come blow your horn, the sheep are waiting by a wall for their heads to adorn. So Jack be nimble, Jack be quick before the gilded heir turns fatally sick."

Manhattan 11 p.m.

It was a cold night and he pulled his collar up, peering at the approaching headlights. The rain and wind took turns in lashing out at him, the icy needles seeming to go right through him. He couldn't remember the last time he was this tired. It went well beyond the point where physical exhaustion ends. He felt as if some unseen force had zapped him of his mental and emotional strength as well.

There was too much water to wade through and it was getting thicker by the minute. The shallow pools he normally parted with careful treading where turning quickly into quicksand. He was trying hard to keep his head above the murky depths but it wasn't easy. One by one he was losing his team and he felt his defenses slipping away.

Sam and Vivian were at the top of the mental list he'd drawn up of priorities. He wanted to visit with Vivian's husband and son to reassure them and also he he also needed to see Sam. Despite the doctor's assurance that she was out of danger and expected to survive, she was still unconscious. He viewed his team as family and he didn't want to lose any of them. That left the newest 'child' in the clan, Martin.

"Dammit!"

His anger rose again at the hot-headed rookie. Fitzgerald had a lot of talent which his records at Quantico supported. But nothing in training can compare to field work and the seasoning that comes from working in the guts of a case day in and day out. That was something he'd have to acquire over time. But it was possibly already too late for Martin, his potential for a successful career was fading fast.

Victor. That was one monster he couldn't face until daylight. He knew that without question the Deputy Director would be in his office when he arrived in the morning. He had no idea what to say or how to explain his position. The only person that would get a bigger piece of the mighty Victor's wrath was Martin. He punched the rookie's cellphone again and it rang several times. Frustrated, he shut it off and dialed Martin's house. The machine came on again. He hung up and for a moment, thought on the possibility of an accident and considered calling the morgue.

"Jack?"

He flinched at the sound of his name being called that coincided with the blast of a car horn. He peered down, swiped the rain from his face and nodded to Chris Boone. His counterpart was the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable day. Chris was not only a first class agent but a good friend, someone he could count on.

"There's this invention called an umbrella," Boone suggested as the door slammed.

"Shut up and drive," Jack growled and tried to wipe the rain from his wet face.

"Glove compartment," Chris directed and pulled out into the lane that exited the airport. "You get anything out of the priest?"

"He claims Sister Michael is dead."

"Dead?"

"Yeah, that she died last December, right before she supposedly arrived at Our Lady of Grace."

"So who's the missing nun?" Chris asked, pulling onto the expressway.

"I dunno," Jack replied, drying his face and hands with some old Burger King napkins. "Anybody who worked with her in Costa Rica could have seen her passport as a way to get into the States."

"But you don't think so," Boone read between the words and saw the shaggy head nod.

"No, there's a tie somehow... she had to know her. First of all, she's a nun, I mean that kind of thing you can't fake well. She knows the routine, the habits, the training. She's a nursing nun, so she'd have to have had some kind of medical background. Father Paulo mentioned a close friend, a Sister Theresa."

"She still down there?"

"He's not sure, there's so much upheaval in that area, apparently the Bishop had some of the remaining nuns transferred. I got an email, I'll see if he can let me know where she is."

Jack listened as Boone updated him on both the investigation into Johnson's disappearance and the latest information on Sam. Martin was nowhere to be found and after what Chris told him about Eric Keller, he wondered if Fitzgerald wasn't lying low somewhere licking his wounds. He put his head back and rested his throbbing eyes for a few moments, listening to the wipers chasing the rain away.

"There's a small diner near the hospital," the blond team leader suggested as they exited into Manhattan. "I think that message you got isn't a crackpot. A couple things stuck out."

"Okay," Jack yawned, he'd not eaten in some time and it might be a long night.

The diner wasn't crowded.A thick-waisted waitress with screeching white blond hair and several hairy moles escorted them to a table. She eyed the lean blond's backside when he hung his jacket up and gave Jack his first chuckle in what seemed like forever. He saw his friend frown and narrow his eyes suspiciously.

"Broom Hilda was sizing up your ass," Jack updated as the other man quickly slipped into the taped fabric of the booth. "I could step out if you need to be alone."

"Don't give up your day job," Chris grumbled and happened to look up as the portly woman gave him the eye as she poured two cups of coffee. "Shut up, Jack, that's not funny."

"From where I'm sittin' it is," Jack quipped, reading the menu.

"What can I get you, honey?" the waitress oozed totally ignoring the disheveled dark haired man in favor of the handsome fair haired one

"Uh..." Chris stammered, glaring at Jack's raised eyebrow and suggestive hand gesture. "Cheeseburger... uh... the number 4..." He noted of the special that included seasoned fries.

"How would you like it?" she purred.

"In bed?" Jack mouthed behind the waitress's back and caused the blond to sputter on the water he was drinking.

"Well done..." Chris managed as the waitress turned.

"Hey!" Jack chirped and waved the menu.He eyed her name tag and glared. "Bernice? I look like a customer to you?"

"Oh, you... what'll it be?"

"Western omelette, side of sausage and a toasted bagel." Jack examined his fingers for blood as the menu was stripped from his hands. He shook his head as the annoying woman left. "You hear that sound?" He cupped his ear, "ka-ching, ka-ching."

"The sound of her tip fading away?" Chris guessed and stirred cream into his coffee.

"So whaddya make of the message?" Jack asked and saw Boone's notepad appear on the cracked Formica. He saw the cryptic message was written down in full and two words circled in red.

"A couple things stuck out," Chris noted, examining his notes. "Gilded heir and Little Boy Blue."

"Yeah that gilded heir bothered me too," Jack admitted."Little boy blue, like the kids' nursery rhyme?"

"Possibly, but I don't think so," Boone replied. "I think that's directed at you. The 'little' is meant to be demeaning, the 'boy blue' a reference to the badge, somebody with a grudge against you."

"Aw, hell there's a short list," Jack spat back tersely "Let's go one line at a time."

"Okay. "Little boy blue come blow your horn, the sheep are waiting by a wall for their heads to adorn.."

"Sheep." Jack shook his head. "That's gotta be Viv and Danny."

"Yeah, you know I think Vivian was an afterthought. He didn't expect Sam to fall through that railing."

"Waiting by a wall..." Jack mused. "Execution? Revenge?"

"I don't think so," Chris supplied. "That last part about their heads adorning, that's like a trophy case. He's bragging, he thinks he's superior. He's taken your team and he's displaying them. He's goading you, Jack, they're his prize catch."

"I'll fuckin' kill him," Jack vented, wondering if Danny was even alive at this point. "You get anything on the warehouse? Fiber, blood, hair? Was Danny there?"

"No, we found traces of a synthetic compound used in sophisticated and very expensive dummies."

"So he could be dead," Jack sighed hard and sat back as the food was deposited.

" So Jack be nimble, Jack be quick before the gilded heir turns fatally sick." Chris continued to the next line. He picked up the sandwich and took a large bite as his partner digested the words of the chilling poem.

"Gilded heir," Malone stabbed his eggs and shoved them onto part of the buttered bagel. "That's gotta be Fitzgerald. But why 'gilded'?"

"Golden," Chris tossed back of the word, dousing some overcooked fries with old ketchup. "Could be his old man Martin's the only son. Maybe it's someone with connections in D.C."

"Christ, there's a face I'm looking forward to seeing first thing in the morning." Jack noted as he devoured his egg and sausage laden bagel.

"I called him today, Jesus he's a real prize, his ego would choke an elephant," Boone leveled distastefully, "The kid's nothing like him."

"No, he's not," Jack rasped, tossing down some coffee. "He's too cocky and headstrong; he doesn't listen to orders..."

"Imagine that?" the blond imparted with a hint of sarcasm. "Like looking back in time, eh? He's good, Jack. The hardest ones are worth the effort. You know that."

"Yeah," Malone sighed hard, "Couldn't have been easy having him for a father."

"You ever work a case with him?"

"Not directly, but he's been involved in some of them, usually to chew my balls off . Why wouldn't this freak just contact him?"

"Because Martin works for you, you're the one the bastard wants, Fitzgerald is the just the cannon fodder."

"Where the hell is he?" Jack tossed his fork down and peered through the rain streaked glass into the dark, unforgiving night. His only answer was the howling wind. "You don't think that he's gone?" Jack wondered aloud if the madman had nabbed his last agent.

"No, the timeline's wrong." Chris tried to take the fear from Malone's eyes. It was something he'd rarely seen in the ten years they'd known each other. "He had enough trouble when Sam fell and he had to reorganize and nab Johnson. I think that forced his hand a bit, he's refitting his tools. Martin's a hot head, Jack, and the fight with Keller really shook him. He might be green but he's not that stupid. He'll call you or come in."

"He better not be pulling a superman, I'll kill him," Malone thought aloud of the rookie's penchant for flying solo.

"That was his car out be by Pietros. Comma But I don't think he was driving it," Chris flipped the pages of his book back a few. "The footprints were from a small boot, not his size and most likely a woman's."

"Vivian said the nun called her?" Jack theorized."So maybe there's more than one involved? He's obviously been tracking Martin and the rest of us.It could be he knows we're investigating Sister Michael and he used that to lure Vivian."

"We need to move on this one, that last part about 'turning fatally sick," Chris paused and saw Jack sit back and shake his head. "We'll find this sick freak, Jack, he'll slip up again."

"He better," Jack sighed hard, "because I don't intend going to any funerals."

The Tower
Midnight

She was sleeping. It had been another endless day in paradise. Danny Taylor sighed hard and shifted his position in the doorway. He bit his lip in pain as every battered inch of his discolored flesh protested strongly. He'd gotten used to the headaches and the dizziness wasn't so bad. He was sitting on the floor just inside Vivian's room. He didn't trust Gibson and had no intention of letting Vivian's back go unguarded. She protested at first so he 'gave in' and went to his own bed. But as soon as she was asleep, he moved to the post inside her door. If Gibson had a way in, there was a way out and he'd find it.

Sam. He took a chug from the water bottle and thought of his injured blond teammate. He remembered the first day they worked together. He found a weary smile then, in the dark, at as his own fumbling image came back. He'd been tongue tied and a bit unsettled around her. She was a very pretty woman and he'd never had a female partner. She was a damn good agent and that quickly put him at ease when working with her. They had a short-lived romance that both had warm memories of and the thought of her lying broken and unmoving in the ICU was disturbing.

Jack would be returning today. He sighed hard, frustrated at the prison without light. Was it day yet? He had no sense of time inside this place. Jack would figure this mess out and find a way to rescue them. He still wondered what devious plans Gibson had for Malone. A cold terror crept into the room and grabbed him by the balls then. What if he intended to use the hypnosis and drugs to have Martin kill Jack.

"Shit... shit..." he whispered, fisting the bottle and grimacing.

He wanted to tear down the walls and find Peter Gibson. He wouldn't need a weapon just his fists. Gibson wouldn't get the drop on him this time. What about the woman? Was it really the missing nun or had that been a rouse? Was she bent on revenge too? Or was she a pliable pawn in Gibson's twisted hands?

He sighed hard and laid his head back against the wall. The darkness seemed especially chilling tonight and cast a dark shadow on his soul. He could only pray that wherever Martin was, he was safe and not planning something stupid.

"Don't fuck this up, Martin, go to Jack," he whispered, shifting again to maintain his vigil.

There was no reply in the thick darkness that surrounded him. He rested his eyes and tried to figure out a plan. The weak link had to be the accomplice. Maybe if he could get to her, he could persuade her to help. Gibson's sick laughter echoed in his mind, as if the barbarian had read his private thoughts. He tried to force the sound away, grabbing the cross around his neck and praying that Jack Malone would find the key that would unlock the mystery and set them free.

Part 20

The hospital
One a.m.

She looked a lot younger and much smaller in the bed, but hospitals had a way of doing that to a person. He eyed her pale face and recalled the first time he'd kissed her and the rush of heat that had filled him. The affair had been a torrid one, with extended one night stands in cheap motels. Hot sex had come fast and furiously, leaving both feeling spent and more than a little guilty. It was wrong, they both knew it and risked ended their careers. It was wrong, they both knew it and had carried on the affair at the risk of ending their careers.

Love. No it hadn't been that, neither of them was emotionally stable enough to appreciate the full significance of what that meant. She wouldn't leave the team, she had insisted on that and was content to share him with the wee hours between dusk and dawn. She wasn't interested in marriage or anything permanent. A part of her would never heal from the rough first marriage she'd undertaken way too young. Being married made him a safe option to her, as she could never truly have him. He wasn't a great lover, but she hadn't been looking for that. What it had come down to was two very lonely and empty people clinging to each other in the dark, hoping the light wouldn't come. It had ended at the right time, before they'd been caught and fired.

He frowned and cast an eye on his watch. It was just after one a.m. and in a few moments he'd have to leave anyway. He needed to get some sleep before six a.m. rolled around and he had to face the fire. He shut the beeper off and rose, bending to kiss her forehead.

"I gotta go, Sam, I'll be back tomorrow." He paused and gently put her hand under the blanket."It'd be nice if you were lookin' back at me by then."

He sounded so sad and lost she fought hard to wake up, hoping to see those sad eyes. But she remained lost in the weird darkness. It was unnerving and senseless to be trapped like this. Her mind was spinning and working stuck in a shell that was lying limp and useless. He'd mentioned Vivian being missing and that they were checking on new leads. She needed to wake up and tell him about Martin and that phone call. He needed to know that, he was the last one left on the team. What if the animal that attacked her, used Martin again to hurt Jack? She couldn't let that happen. So she forged forward in the darkness, hoping that light would break over the unending horizon before it was too late.

New Jersey Highway
Three a.m.

Martin woke up with a start, when the echo of a loud bang reverberated throughout the extremely cold van. His fuzzy mind and dry mouth told him it had been hours since he'd been awake. He didn't remember falling asleep, just riding in the dark. But the sound of the motor coupled with the motion must have caused him to fall asleep. He peered at his watch and tried to make out the numbers, which were on the right side of the dial. It was somewhere after midnight, close to three a.m. he judged. He heard a loud voice nearby and listened intently.

"...no... I'm gettin' it towed. Just get over here so I can unload the stuff."

Towed? That wasn't good, he'd lose his lead. Martin untangled his twisted limbs and bit his lip in pain as the pins and needles from lack of circulation jabbed at him viciously. As the fire raced through his dormant veins he tried to find a way to escape. He moved his hands and found a door handle, a slider. He theorized that Gibson used this to get from the back to the front without leaving so nobody outside would see him. He kept his hand on it, as he followed the fading conversation.

"...not far, only about an hour from home. Just get here. The tow is coming, I see his lights. You pick me up at the service station on Route 9. Yeah, the one by the Tile Store across from the Wendys."

Decision time; ride with the truck to the station and try to get out then? Or, take a chance here and follow on foot? Too many things could happen at the station. If Gibson caught him, he'd never be able to update Jack. Then again, if he hoofed to Route 9 and found this service station, how would he be able to tell which direction they went in? Time was running out and he heard another motor close in and the door slam again. He took a deep breath and slid the lever, peeking from under the tarp. He lifted his head and peered through the windshield several feet away. Gibson was talking to a stranger in front of the truck's swirling yellow lights . Martin easily slid through the narrow passage and pulled the door shut behind him. Keeping an eye on the two men speaking, he slid out of the open door. He rolled on the ground and out of sight down a hill. He kept his eyes on the pair as they walked towards the van. He took a deep breath of relief when Gibson opened the back door and stepped inside.

"...too close..." he whispered

"Everything okay back there?" the driver asked.

"Yeah, just needed to get my laptop."

Martin closed his eyes and counted his blessings. He'd been sitting right next to the same leather case that Gibson now held.He kept his eyes on the pair and slipped down a little further, just waiting for them to leave.

"Okay Mister..."

"Smith," Gibson lied, extending his hand, "Jonas Smith. My wife's gonna meet me at the service station.I'll ride with you that far."

"Okay, just leave a note inside the van with your keys for the manager he'll be by seven or so."

Gibson had no intention of coming back. The van couldn't be tied to him as it was bought with the dummy account he'd set up a year ago. He used latex gloves every time he was inside of it, so there would be no prints. The equipment was portable and he wouldn't need it much longer; the only fly left to snag was the blue-eyed one. As he rode the short distance to the service area, he wondered where Fitzgerald had gotten to. He made a mental note to call Jack Malone. Better yet, maybe he'd stop in to see him tomorrow morning. The poor man would need somebody to talk to, a professional to guide him through his trauma.

"Something funny?" the driver asked when his quiet passenger began to chuckle.

"Private joke," Gibson replied, seeing the pathetic and overrated Jack Malone pouring his heart out.

Beep... beep... beep... beep.

"...the hell..." Jack grumbled as he sat up and put the low light on. Once his eyes adjusted to the harsh entry into his darkened sleep quarters at the midtown hotel, he reached for his watch. "Four thirty?"

He sighed hard and read the digital numbers blinking at him. He fumbled inside the drawer and got a pencil out, writing the numbers on the hotel laundry form that was next to the phone. The hotel was much closer to work than his apartment and he had a change of clothes in the office. Reading the numbers he frowned, recognizing the exchange as one from Southern New Jersey. He rubbed his eyes, stumbled into the bathroom and relieved his full bladder. After drinking two cups of water he returned to the phone. He dialed the numbers, cradling the phone and rubbing the tension between his temples.

"Hello?"

"Who the hell is this?" Jack demanded, not willing to give his name just yet.

"Jack? Thank God."

"Martin?" Jack was completely awake now and sat forward, grabbing the pencil. "Where are you? Why haven't you checked in? Do you know there's a Goddamn APB on you? What the hell's the matter with..."

"Shut up!" Martin hissed peeking from the floor on the filthy phone booth he was sitting in.

He was sharing the confining space with urine, feces and other assorted filth. He'd gotten lucky after his journey up the road began. A truck driver hauling ice cream to the casinos had given him a lift to where Route 9 intersected. From there it was a five minute walk to the service station. Gibson was still there, waiting for his ride. Martin had no intention of losing him, not when he was this close.

"Start talking and it better be good," Jack replied, "Where are you?"

"I'm not sure, somewhere near the shore on Route 9, Miller's Body Shop is across the street. I know who's got Danny and Vivian. It's Pete Gibson."

"You're nuts," Malone denied. "Look, Martin, that one thin rope your ungrateful ass is hanging from is breaking fast. You come in now or you can kiss your career goodbye."

"Sam?" Martin changed the subject, hoping to rid his clearly irate boss of some venom

"Alive, better but not awake."

"Thank God, that was all my fault."

"Nevermind that, what the hell are you doing in New Jersey? Why Gibson?"

"I can't go into details now but he's my shrink.I haven't been able to get a hold of him since I zonked out and Danny got nabbed After Keller confronted me in the hospital lot, I was pissed. I wanted an answer so I went to his office to see if there was a number where he went off to. Jack, I found a diary, a journal he kept. He's been using me for months, tailing me, he's got fuckin' tapes of the inside of my house. He's using drugs and hypnosis, I think he's causing my blackouts. The office is bugged to, so don't take any chances, watch your cell and phone calls. He's got tons of shit on me, since my first days on the job. I don't even know this guy..."

"He's not after you; he's using you to get to me. You're sure it's him? You're positive?"

"I'm fuckin' lookin' at him!" Martin hissed, eyes bulging. "Don't talk to me like I'm crazy. I'm his Goddamn lab rat! I'm sitting in dog shit in a fuckin' phone booth. I saw the evidence, I read his journal. He's got shit on me clear back to high school."

"Okay, calm down!" Jack thundered and winced at the rapid breathing he heard. "You stay put and don't take any more chances. I'll come and get you."

"No, I'm too close. His van broke down... he came into the office before I could finish reading the book. He cleaned his office out, there's no evidence left. Who to you think they're gonna believe? Huh? A green rookie whose fuckups have cost him three of his partners? Or a decorated veteran with more medals than the Marines? I got nothing Jack, aside from the hospital blood work with drugs in my system. How's that gonna look? I go in there accusing him and he'll not only deny it but we'll lose any shot of getting Danny and Vivian back. He could move or kill them. He could leave the country. I won't take that chance, I have no choice."

"You always have a choice," Jack argued. "You're in the middle of nowhere, unarmed, what can you do besides get your fool head blown off?"

"He won't kill me, he would have done it by now." Martin debated, keeping an eye on the two figures across the highway. "I'm the bait, remember? Worse gets to worse, he'll use me to lure you in, but he won't kill me, not yet. I'm gonna follow him and find Danny and..."

"No! You listen to me," Malone interjected. "Your balls are a in a sling now. You go gallavantin' off on a wild goose chase and you're done. You can kiss that badge goodbye."

"You can have the badge, I want Danny and Vivian back, it's not even close," Martin argued back of the choice. "Look Jack, I got an idea. He doesn't know I'm on to him. What if tomorrow you or Chris tell the news media that I went missing? That you found evidence, ropes, tape, a sign of a scuffle. I can be the inside guy."

"More like the dead guy," Jack sighed hard but realized that most of what Fitzgerald said was true.Without evidence, none of Martin's claims would hold water. And if Gibson was holding his missing agents, he could indeed kill them.

"Twenty four hours, that's all I need," Martin plead into the angry silence. "I'll call in every few hours. If I'm right, they're close by. I need some wheels though.There are a lot of roads and paths in this area, too much to cover on foot. I know they're close, Jack, I can find them.You can say it was an anonymous tip. I'm gonna do this, with or without your help. I'd rather have you in my corner. Please Jack?"

"I'm gettin' soft," Jack replied wincing at the plea on the phone. He knew the sometimes impulsive rookie could indeed hang up and pursue Gibson on his own. That wasn't an option and left only one choice. "Okay, hotshot, you got twenty fours hours and that's all. I'll check a car out from headquarters and leave it by the phonebooth you're calling from. You wait there for me, understood? I'll leave some food and stuff in the trunk and a radio."

"Thanks Jack, you won't be sorry," Martin vowed.

"No, I'll be the jackass next to you in prison," Jack commiserated. "You okay? You're not hurt?"

"I'm fine, I better go," Martin answered, then recalled the news photo. "Just one more thing, in the back of the journal there was a picture, an old newspaper clipping of a football player, looked like a college shot. He was holding a trophy. The kid's name was DiSipio. I don't know if he's connected to this or..."

"Nick?" Jack's voice interrupted and went up a full octave. His heart nearly stopped as the full ramifications of his actions hit him like a sledge hammer. He nearly dropped the phone and clenched his eyes shut, sucking in a ragged breath. "No, Jesus Christ...."

"Yeah, how'd you know that?" Martin asked, his brows knit in confusion.

"He... was... uh... you took his place. He was only on the team a few months," Jack managed to reply through the numbness now enveloping him.

"So Gibson blames me for taking this kid's job? Why? What's he to Gibson? What happened to him?"

"It's a long story and we don't have that kind of time," Jack rasped painfully as the dark-haired youth's face rose up to haunt him."I don't know his tie to Gibson, but I'll find out."

"Shit... shit... he's heading this way..." Martin panicked, at the sight of the large man who was walking towards the booth.

"Martin! Martin!" Jack called out but only got the eerie reply of dial tone.

He hung up the phone and waited until the shockwaves left the room. If Martin was right, they finally had the upper hand. The 'why's and 'what fors' could be filled in later. He took a fast shower and as the hot water massaged his aching bones the mixed up pieces of the deadly puzzle began to take place. As he dressed, the file from his former rookie opened before him in his mind's eye. The background information seemed to blink in red letters.

"...unwed mother..." he mumbled, shoving his damp feet into the smelly socks. "...Theresa... DiSipio..." he grunted and sat back reeling."Sister Theresa... Shit! shit!" He grabbed his keys and took his belongings. He paused at the hallway phone and had his finger on the numbers intending on dialing Boone's beeper. Then Martin's warning loomed up and he wondered how far the powerful Gibson's bugging went. He knew where the fair-haired agent lived and what route he took to work. He took a cab to the office and checked out an agency car, then he sped to the area where Chris exited. He entered an all night supermarket and spotted a clerk in the customer service area.

"F.B.I.," he issued along with his badge, "I need to use your phone."

Chris Boone didn't like surprises, especially when they got him out of the shower. The odd message took him a few moments to figure out. A young girl answered his callback and said that his Aunt Bernice had been taken ill and was in the manager's office. He asked if she had the right person and she insisted she did and it was very urgent. The market was on his way to work so it was possible to stop by. He was halfway there when the name struck him. He knew then who was waiting for him but now why. The manager's office was deserted when he arrived at six a.m.

"Jack? What the hell is going on?"

"You're not going to believe this," Jack noted sipping some coffee and swallowing the last of the doughnut the manager provided. "Hell, I'm not so sure I believe it myself." He wouldn't give Chris all the information, since if it went bad he didn't want his friend to lose his job. But Boone was his only ally and he needed him. "I need you to trust me on this one, Chris. I can't tell you why or how, but Pete Gibson is behind this."

"Snake? What do you mean? Are you sure? How did..."

"I don't have time to go into it. I need you to meet me on Route 9 in two hours.Here's the address. I got a tip to follow."

"Well, okay, I'll go with you and..."

"No," Jack denied. "I can't let you... just trust me, Chris. I know it's asking a lot but I can't tell you right now."

"Okay, I'll tell Victor you're following a lead," Chris said as Jack exhaled in relief, his eyes shining with gratitude.

"Just like that?" Jack said, extending his hand.

"Nobody I trust more," Chris answered and took the hand. "You'll always have this, Jack."

"Thanks Chris, you may have just saved me and my team. Listen, be careful of what calls you make, I think he's got the office bugged, maybe even your cell.If something happens, I'll call the gym as Agent Robertson, okay?"

"Yeah, that'll work. See you in a couple hours," Chris said turning away then he saw a large set of emotive blue eyes, rookie's eyes. "He called you didn't he?" He didn't get a reply but the silence gave him his answer. "I hope you know what you're doing, Jack."

"That makes two of us," Jack replied heading for the car, twisting the keys in his palm.

New Jersey Turnpike
7 a.m.

Jack pulled off the turnpike onto Route 9 and made his way to the designated meeting area. His keen eyes darted left and right, taking in every part of either side of the road. Finally he spotted the Auto Repair Station that Fitzgerald had mentioned. His eyes shot left and sure enough there was a deserted phone booth near a thicket of trees off the side of the road.

He turned around at the corner and made his way back to the phone booth. There didn't seem to be anyone near it, but he was very cautious as he got out of the car to inspect it. Wary of Martin's frantic call that Gibson was heading for him when they last spoke, ; he was relieved to find no blood or signs of a struggle. His nose wrinkled as the strong stench of urine, dog feces and other undesirable elements rose up from the filthy booth.

He made a quick search of the immediate area, but found no broken glass or signs of trauma. He stood by the booth where the missing man would have been standing with the view of the body shop in front of him. He recalled how Martin had seen Gibson approaching as they spoke. Why would Gibson need to approach the booth? He had a cell phone so had no need for its use. It could have been that he dropped something and was checking the road. Jack looked back at the booth and theorized that without the benefit of an overhead street light, Gibson couldn't have seen Martin. Martin on the other hand had been looking over to the Service Station which had lighting. So if he'd been quick enough, he could have slipped out of the booth and into the woods nearby. But on the off chance that Gibson had spotted Fitzgerald and followed on foot, he had to check it out. He'd seen a turnoff when he turned around initially that would be a better place to leave the car.

Martin felt sure that the huge and deep sigh of relief he emitted could be heard all the way back to Manhattan. He was so weak from not eating that he was dizzy and the hours spent outdoors with just a light jacket had him shivering. He was filthy and the stench that covered him was making him sick. He slowly crept up the hill from where he was hiding in the trees. He saw Jack turn to head back to his car and started to call out to him. But Malone was already behind the wheel and turning the engine on.

"...the hell is he doing?" Martin hissed. He jogged back down the hill and through the trees heading up the road. He climbed back up and cast his eyes down to where the car's headlights could now been seen. He hooked his thumb out and waited for his boss to see the Ōhitchhiker' and pick him up.

Manhattan, 7:00 a.m.
F.B.I. Missing Persons Bureau

"Where the Hell is he?"

Chris Boone looked up briefly from the report he was working on when the bellow shook the room. He coolly regarded the older man and noted how much hostility was burning from the steely gray-blue eyes. That was one thing the kid inherited from his father, that rippling emotion. He put his pen down and stood up, taking his empty coffee cup towards the pot on the other side of the room

"Good Morning, Deputy Director Fitzgerald." He spoke evenly as he filled his mug. "Would you like some coffee?" he asked, pointing at the empty mugs nearby with his free hand.

"No, I don't want any Goddamn coffee," Victor raged, slamming the newspaper onto the team leader's desk. The blazing headlines on the front page about his son fleeing the hospital and possibly being on drugs had him enraged. "I want some Goddamn answers! Where is that cocky son-of-a-bitch?"

"And what cocky son-of-a-bitch would you be referring to?" Chris replied nonchalantly as he made his way back to the filing cabinet.

"Don't you play games with me, Boone." Victor crossed the room and grabbed the blond man's arm. "I'll transfer you to the middle of nowhere so fast your coffee won't have time to get cold. Now where is he?"

Chris didn't reply, rather he glared with open hostility at the arm holding his own. Finally Victor backed off and released him. He pulled a folder from the drawer, shut the cabinet and returned to his desk. "Jack's following up a lead, he'll be in after ten if you need to leave a message..."

"I'll leave a message alright, I'll deliver it myself. I'll be back in his office at noon. If he wants to keep his badge, he better haul his ass here and be in that chair when I arrive. That's the deadline, you tell him that."

"If I talk to him, I'll be sure to pass that along, Victor. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"I want an update. Where's Martin? Have you spoken with him? Has Malone? Is he with Martin? He better not be hiding anything, I'm not in the mood for one of his Goddamn wild goose chases."

"Jack left a message on my voicemail earlier this morning. He got some kind of a tip about the case and is meeting someone in Jersey. That's all I know. As for Martin, no I haven't heard from him but I do have an APB out."

Chris handed over the file in front on him and while the gray-haired man scanned it, his rapid eyes keeping time with the vein throbbing in his temple, the blond updated him. He told him about the incident with Keller and his theory that Martin was hiding low, licking his wounds.

"We have his apartment under surveillance and a guard 24/7 at the hospital by Spade, so if he decides to show up, we'll catch him." He paused and saw the armor crack a bit as the father in Fitzgerald began to fight through the shield. The hand that gave the folder back was trembling just a bit and his eyes were pinched. "He's a smart, kid, Victor. This isn't what it looks like, I'd stake my badge on it."

"You have no idea who that man in the warehouse was?" Victor replied, regaining control.

"No." Chris levelled not giving away the information he had received from Jack. "But it's pretty clear it's Jack he's after. We're running his old cases, something will crack soon."

"What if that bastard has Martin?"

"I don't think so." Boone studied the back of the tense director's trenchcoat. "Sam wasn't supposed to fall. That screwed up his plans; he took Johnson out of desperation. If he's a control freak, that'll rattle his cage. He's gonna make a mistake."

"So now we just wait?"

Unless you have a better idea, yes." Chris watched as the older man turned towards the door and stared back at him. "You push him the wrong way he might kill Vivian and Danny. As long as he still has them, there's a chance. He's gonna call Jack... that's been his plan all along"

"If Jack had been doing his job here, we might have caught him already," Victor hissed, pausing in the doorway.

"Jack's shield might be dented a bit and his methods might not be the same as yours," the blond team leader directed sharply not breaking the icy gaze. "But he's one helluva agent and you ought to consider yourself lucky this Bureau has him."

"Just give him my message."

"Yeah," Chris scoffed in disgust as the door slammed.

Jack was about to leave a message with Chris Boone, when he saw a figure several hundred yards ahead in the road. Part of him wanted to grab the missing man with relief while the other part wanted to throttle him for being so careless. He eased the car up the road, slowed down, beeped and unlocked the back door. He put the window down to address the confused face trying to sit up front. His eyes zoned in on the blood stained blue shirt and a tattered bandage on the hand.

"It's okay, looks worse," Martin answered the silent questioning eyes.

"In the back, lie on the blanket over the seat and keep that fool head of yours down," Jack directed. "Now that you finally got it out of your ass, I'd like to keep it attached."

"Good to see you too," Martin rasped, shivering badly and flopping onto the seat. "Can... you... turn... the..heat up?"

"There's a cheap hotel up the road," Jack updated, while shoving the heat on full blast. "I'll pull around the back and get a room. I've got clean clothes and food in the trunk. We'll get you cleaned up and some food in you." He paused and frowned when all he heard was shivering and teeth chattering. "You sure you're okay?"

"F..f...f...ine."

"What's with your hand?"

"Cut it... runnin' from the booth... stopped bleeding."

Twenty minutes later with Martin scrubbing the cold and filth from his lean frame in a hot shower, Jack was working on his laptop. He typed in his access code to put up Nick DiSipio's file. He paid close attention to the birth date and information given at the time the young man applied to become a federal agent.

"Mother, Theresa DiSipio, New York. Father, unknown." He scanned the other information and found something else that stuck out. "Big Brothers of America."

That might be the key, it could be that Pete Gibson was Nick's 'big brother'. He knew the veteran NYPD detective was heavily involved in youth programs. He added that to his notebook of things to check and continued re-reading DiSipio's file. Nothing else popped out at him so he started a new search. He pulled down the information he could find on Gibson. He scanned the early years and high school then stopped cold when he hit the profile of college credits.

"Community Service, Geneva, New York."

He flipped back through his notebook his notebook pages. It was the same town that Theresa DiSipio had lived in at the time Nick was conceived sometime late in her senior year. "Good Shepard Soup Kitchen," he read aloud of Gibson's three month hitch for credits for college. He downsized that link and went back to the search index. He backtracked and found Nick's mother's High School and jotted the number down. He heard the water turn off finally in the bathroom as he dialed the school.

"Good Morning, my name is Jack Malone," he spoke to the secretary who answered. Martin came out of the bathroom draped in a cloud of steam. He nodded to the food on the other side of the table. The wet headed agent nodded once and quickly slipped into the fresh clothes laid out. "I'm an F.B.I. agent from New York. I need some information on a former student."

Martin was curious about the information Jack was getting. As he pulled on the socks, jeans and a Columbia University sweatshirt, he listened as his boss began asking questions about Theresa DiSipio. By the time he shoved his feet into the sneaks and went to the table, Jack was hanging up. He saw the senior agent move to the bed and pick up a bottle of clear liquid. It had a red cross on the front and the name told him what would follow.

"No way!" Martin pulled his hand back. "I look crazy to you? That shit hurts."

"What are you, four years old?" Jack growled, waving his hand. "Quit fuckin' around with me, Martin, you already fried the last nerve I had." He grabbed the palm and inspected the cut which ran across the meaty area between the thumb and first finger. He rolled his eyes when the blue-eyed man yelped as the antiseptic was applied. He then put on two large band aids and nodded to the table.

"Eat!' Jack ordered, pausing to write down the information and upsizing the information on Pete Gibson. "Bingo!"

"Whaddyagot?" Martin muffled, taking a huge bite of a sandwich. He popped open a container of hot soup and stirred.

"It's all they had," Jack addressed the wrinkled nose peering down into the soup container. "There's donuts too, you need to get your sugar up." He was all too aware of the low-blood sugar condition Fitzgerald had and he'd recognized the symptoms developing.

"It's fine," Martin sipped the tomatoish soup and rifled through the bag to get a vanilla iced donut. "What you find out?"

"I think you found our key," Jack said, scanning his notes, he clicked onto the photo displayed of Gibson as a star quarterback for Syracuse University. "Look at this." He moved the screen around so the ravenous rookie could see. "This is Gibson his senior year," he did a close up of the youthful face. Then he pulled up the staff photo of the rookie agent he'd hired a little over a year ago. "Nick DiSipio."

"Strong resemblance," Martin muffled, "Nick's darker, but the features are almost the same. You think Gibson is his father?"

"Gibson needed community service credits during his senior year in college. He worked for several months on weekends at Soup Kitchen in Geneva, New York. Good Shepherd," he paused to sip his coffee and eyed the flushed rookie. The other thing that struck him was that the fresh-faced rookie with his wet spiky hair and the oversized shirt had the capability of looking so much younger. He could have passed for a student of the school on the shirt he wore. "You looked like a boiled lobster."

"I was freezing," Martin defended, although despite the hot shower, he still felt chilled and his throat hurt. "So what about Good Shepherd?"

"Geneva is the town where Theresa, Nick's mother went to high school. I spoke to the secretary of the school and she pulled up her records. Theresa was an active volunteer at Good Shepherd for two years. Nick's birthday is November; Gibson started working there during the winter prior."

"So he met her, got her pregnant and ran out on her?" Martin asked, wolfing down the sandwich and chasing it with the soup.

"He's not listed on the birth certificate and Nick told me he came from a one parent home. Pete was engaged to a socialite with a shit load of money, old money.'"

"The unforgiving kind?" Martin guessed and saw the dark head nod. "So he dumped her? She had the baby alone?"

"He wasn't born in New York, so I'm guessing she started over in New Jersey, raised him alone there. It's where he went to school until he got a scholarship down south in college." Jack sat back and thought on his interview with the rookie. "Gibson became Nick's big brother when he was about ten. I asked him about his family, he didn't mention Gibson but he said his mother was a medical missionary in South America."

"That's it, then," Martin tossed the napkin down and lifted the hot soup, sipping on it. "She's the missing nun and she's working with him. I'm guessing that the job she got at Our Lady of Grace was a cover"

"Yeah, I think you're right," Malone agreed and thought on the South American man who'd told him about the dark-haired visitor the nun had. "I'm bettin' Pete was the visitor that the nun had last year. He recruited her down there and she came north in December after her friend died."

"What friend?"

"Sister Michael, the real one, died in December. Theresa DiSipio must have worked with her there. Father Paulo mentioned her by her first name as a good friend. I'll bet she used her passport to get out of the country."

"But why?" Martin questioned. "Maybe Nick knows where they're at? What happened to him anyway.?"

"No, he can't tell us anything," Jack dismissed. "You spoke to her? Vivian called Brendan Gavin at Boone's office just before she disappeared. She said she got a call from you and that you spoke to the nun. You were going to meet her at Pietro's."

"No," Martin answered. "I was at the hospital when Vivian got taken. I never spoke to her. Pietros?" He spat in contempt of the play on his name. "Christ, he's got brass balls."

"Okay, so he's got a first class recording and camera setup. It's obvious he's invested a lot of money in this. So wherever he's keeping Danny and Viv will be hard to find and break into. Top notch security measures, you be careful. That body you saw in the warehouse wasn't Danny, it was an expensive dummy."

"A lure?" Martin finished his donut and took a sip of hot coffee. "To get Sam? But when she fell, he had to get out quick and regroup."

"That's my guess, he found out Vivian was coming back and put together a static heavy phone call to her, from you."

"So we don't know if he has the nun or not?" Martin asked.

"She's with him and it doesn't appear to be against her will," Jack noted. "Chris told me that they found a patrolmen unconscious inside that place. Vivian called 911 when she got 'your call' and they rolled a unit. The cop only saw one person, a middle-aged dark-haired woman that he thought was Spanish. She was praying in Spanish." He paused and carefully inspected Martin as he ate. The eyes were bright again and that haunted look was gone. Whatever the rookie had read in Gibson's journal must have been the right medicine. But now he wanted to know what Martin did with Gibson in that office. "So exactly what happened between you and Snake?"

"Snake?" Martin sipped his coffee and shook his damp head. "That's a fitting nickname." He fought the to urge to crawl into the bed and sleep. Instead he sat back in the uncomfortable chair and let his mind go back in time. "It all started the first night, when Danny and me found the passage in the cellar of the armory."

Jack listened as Martin slowly extracted information from the painful events and put them all on the table. He never wavered or hesitated; he wasn't making excuses or whining about what had transpired. He was taking it on the chin and standing straight. That was the most encouraging sign and one Jack hoped would help him reclaim his place on the team. When Martin finally finished, he threw his head back and moved his bandaged hand over his eyes. The senior agent absorbed all the information and then moved his chair back. The heavy cloak of guilt had been transferred from the rookie's shoulders to his own. It was not the best time or place to revisit the decision that lead to this moment, but it had to be done.

Martin drew his head back up and watched curiously as Jack rose and walked to the windows. He knew by the clench of the jaw and the flash in the dark eyes that Malone was upset. But something told him it was not his own ass in the sling this time. Something much deeper was bothering Jack. He finished his meal, tossed the trash away and eyed the gear on the bed. There was a new cell phone, a knife, a small flashlight and other tools on a small belt that he clipped onto his belt loops. He pulled the long sweatshirt down just as Jack spoke.

"You need to be extremely careful, Martin, that he doesn't see you. It's pretty obvious he planted a trigger word in your subconscious while he had you on that couch. Whatever that word is, no doubt it's what caused your mental breakdowns when Danny, Vivian and Sam were attacked. Since we don't know what the word is, we're flying blind."

"It's a chance I gotta take," Martin replied.

"The phone's clean and I programmed a number into it for voicemail. You call every two hours. If you get in trouble and can't reach me, you call Chris's cell phone, it's programmed in there" Jack ordered then walked over and faced Fitzgerald who looked very weary and drawn. "Listen to me, Martin, when you find Gibson, you call it in, understood? You DON'T," he emphasized with his index finger, "Move in on your own. You can't handle it alone."

"I got it," Martin agreed, recalling the horrid sight of Sam lying broken on the ground.

"Look, lose that right now, you can't afford it," Jack growled of the guilt washing over the handsome young agent's features. "That can't help you now or Danny or Viv."

"That's easy for you to say," Martin snorted and shook his head. He examined his palms and eyed the senior agent. "You're not wearing their blood."

"No?" Jack snarled, jabbing his finger into Fitzgerald's tense chest. "That bastard's doing this to me, not you. You're just the worm wigglin' on his line. Sam's in a coma, Vivian and Danny could die - all in my name. You don't have the market on guilt, hot shot!"

For several anxious seconds, blue eyes bore into brown and neither tense, male moved. Then Jack turned away again to face the demons that lurked just beyond the horizon he was peering at through frosted glass. Martin took several calming breaths and levelled his nerves. Jack was right, if they were to find the missing agents, he'd have to have his head on straight. He shoved the guilt away and prepared for his mission.

"I'm ready, you got the keys?" he requested quietly and put his jacket on, clipping the phone to his belt.

"Martin," Jack replied in calm tone without turning around. "No matter what goes down, you know this. You were picked to be on my team for very specific reasons. I don't work with anything less than the best. Don't let that prick rattle your self confidence. He's using you, remember that. None of this is your fault. You got balls, hotshot, you use 'em."

Martin accepted the high compliment and checked his gear again. He found several power bars in the duffle back, along with gatorade, water, cookies, crackers and other non perishable food items. He finally broke the uncomfortable silence that lingered between them.

"That van in the service station was the one where I hid. I don't think you'll find anything but..."

"Chris is picking me up here, we'll stop by and talk to them. Listen Martin, if this goes south you know we're both fucked." Jack turned back and watched the only remaining member of his prized team securing his meager weapons. Given more time, he might have been able to come up with a better plan but the little time they had was running out. "So I think the best plan is for you to simply vanish. No trace whatsoever. Let Gibson think he pushed you too far. The garage has you on video fighting with Keller. You ran off like a bat out of hell. Coupled with what he's already spouted to the press, it might be enough to make Gibson think he pushed you too far."

"Yeah," Martin replied, "You know that might work. His ego just might be big enough to make that happen. I'm the key to your gallows. If he can't find me, it'll force his hand."

"You just make sure he doesn't find you!" Jack said loudly and got annoyed when the young man found a half grin for him. The cocky grin was as unnerving as the fact Martin knew just how to punch his buttons. "Shut up, Junior."

"I'm touched, Jack." Martin rasped, trying to take some of the pain in the guarded dark eyes away. "Look, you know it's our only shot at getting Danny and Vivian back alive." He walked to stand beside his mentor and thought on that guilt he was now looking at. "So why can't you call this Nick? Maybe Gibson's contacted him? Hell, he might be an accomplice. Don't you have a phone number for him or..."

"Psychic hotline," Jack replied sarcastically and saw the young man's face creased in confusion. "Nick's dead."

The Tower
9 a.m.

Theresa DiSipio was a very devout person. Pete had gotten used to her odd little rituals and now worked around them. She prayed for several hours and was content to spend what time he didn't need her, confined in the small room that was attached to the prisoners' chambers. She knew how to access the panels, slipping in and out quietly while they slept. She left food and had provided the medical attention Taylor needed both times he'd been injured. Her declining mental state did concern Pete though.

As he toweled off from the shower and prepared to dress for his trip into town to meet with Jack Malone, he thought about Nick again. The boy would never truly be gone and he'd be haunted by the loss the rest of his life. He gripped both fists and growled, fighting off the urge to shoot Jack Malone down like the rabid dog that he was. It was all his fault that the his only son was now lying cold in an unforgiving grave. That had spurred him on to travel to Costa Rica and find the boy's mother. He knew from Nick's letters and the pieces of conversations the boy shared with him about his mother, that Theresa had obviously began to break down. His meeting confirmed it; she clearly had a mental illness. But he'd used guilt and the photo of Nick's bloody corpse to rub salt into her open wound. He'd soundly addressed her lack of mothering and how much her boy needed her and how badly she'd abandoned him. She had no choice then and agreed to help him.

Now he just hoped that her mental state would hold out just long enough to incorporate the final phase of the deadly plan. He'd have his meeting with Jack and extract the information needed to find Martin Fitzgerald. His prized lab rat had not surfaced at home, the office or any of his usual haunts. He'd find Martin and, if necessary, take him by force. Bloody and broken didn't matter, as long as he could remain alive on the mousetrap so that Jack's neck would snap when he tried to free him.

"Theresa?" He knocked on the door and frowned when the nonsensical Latin stopped and a shuffling of feet was heard. The door opened a crack and the anxious dark eyes looked up at him. He almost missed the fire that used to linger there. He'd used that ripe body for many years during the time he entered Nick's life until the boy went to college. But now he found the crazy woman repulsive. "I'm going out, you have to watch the monitors. I won't be back until tonight. Understand.?"

"Yes... yes..." she stammered, easing from the doorway and following him downstairs into the large area where the computers were. "I'll be good... Pete... I'll be good."

"I know you will," he cooed, stroking her dark hair and patting her back. "I'll see you later." He cast his eyes at the monitor and a grin formed as he watched Danny Taylor glaring openly at the camera. He enjoyed baiting the young man and punched the microphone button.

"Temper, temper, Danny boy, you would be well advised to save that energy."

"You'd be well advised to shut the fuck up!" Danny hissed, shoving off Vivian's arm.

"Okay, go on, Danny," Vivian whispered into the tense Taylor's ear. "Give him what he wants."

"I'd love to stay and chat but I'm off to visit with my colleague, Jack Malone. The poor man is just about unglued. It seems his whole team is gone and all he has left to hold onto are his skinny balls."

"You bast-"

"Danny!" Vivian shoved him away from the camera and into the bathroom as Pete Gibson's laughter echoed in their quarters.

"I'm okay." The frustrated dark-haired agent slumped onto the toilet seat. "I can't stand this anymore Vivian, I gotta get out."

"He's getting desperate."

"He sure as hell don't sound it," Danny sighed hard and eyed the quiet woman. "How so?

"He's going to see Jack," she tapped his back and waited for his to rise. "He's pushing the envelope. Come on, you need to eat."

"So you think that he's running scared?" Danny asked, following her into the main room. He sat at the table and took a sandwich from the senior agent. He nodded when she held up coffee and put it into the microwave.

"Sam changed everything for him. She wasn't supposed to fall. Then there's that incident with Martin and Keller."

"That cocky bastard's on my list, too," Danny muffled, swallowing the ham and cheese on rye. They'd been forced to endure the painful scene that Gibson so willingly provided. "I never liked that guy. What the hell did Sam see in him?"

"I'm guessing that Martin is in hiding. He won't go home, I'm sure they have an APB out on him by now. He won't go to the office, so he's hiding and that is not a part of Gibson's plan. Without Martin, he can't get Jack. So he's going to see Jack to try to get some information about Martin from him."

"You think Martin called Jack?" Danny took the coffee as Vivian sat across from him.

"He better, he can't fight this alone. He needs Jack." Vivian replied, watching the young man's weary face. "And you need some sleep. While Gibson's gone, you rest up."

"What are you going to do?" Danny asked of the odd tone in her voice.

"I'm gonna find the key to the door," she replied. "Somebody has been coming in and out and there's no keyhole or slot, so it has to be a spring trigger."

"From the outside in the hall somewhere," he answered, taking a pickle and munching on it.

"There's got to be one in here somewhere, Gibson wouldn't build a place like this and risk being caught or trapped inside the cells."

"Good luck," Danny shook his dark head, "I spent the first few days here going over every inch."

He watched as she rose and began her search. He finished his meal and crawled into his bunk. He was not only exhausted but his ribs hurt and his headache was fierce. He drifted into an uneasy rest his dreams invaded by dark menacing shadows bearing Jack's bloody, severed head. His sweat soaked body tossed in the bunk, his pale lips moaning as the horrid visions increased in their fury. Would the nightmare ever end?

Timeline: April 2002
Federal Building
Manhattan
Missing Persons Unit

"Jack?"

Jack Malone looked up from this desk as Vivian Johnson poked her head in the room. She was the first agent he'd selected upon being named to head up the elite unit of the F.B.I several years ago. She was the best agent he knew and someone he'd come to lean on over the years. Along with Danny Taylor and Samantha Spade they had become quite a force and had the highest success rate of any of the Missing Persons Units in the Mid Atlantic Region. But their close knit quintet was about to expand. Upper management felt that the number of cases and heavy workload required the addition of another agent. The brass was putting a lot of pressure on him to accept a rookie out of Quantico. On paper the kid looked okay, but he'd visited him during field trials and came away with an odd feeling in his gut. He'd always had an uncanny knack of reading people and he had a sinking feeling this kid was in the wrong line of work. There were a dozen more qualified agents in the bureau already that had applied for transfer. There were two folders in front of him and his mind replayed the angry meeting he'd held with his boss. He'd presented a half a dozen solid points supporting his choice, the better choice. But they'd turned a deaf ear and 'encouraged' him to make a different choice.

"Jack, Dan Henderson is here, he's the state trooper who pulled over McDevitt on the Jersey Turnipike."

"Yeah, Viv, sorry," he sighed and fisted his hand over the folder on the right, the man he would have chosen.

They were closing in on finding a missing man who'd disappeared during a business trip. The state trooper in question pulled over the man's car after he disappeared. He had a dashboard camera that hopefully would give them a lead on who stole the car and from that they could find the suspects responsible for the man's whereabouts.

"I'll be right in, you go ahead," the weary team leader suggested and waited until the door closed again.

Jack sighed heavily and eyed the folders on his desk. It went against everything he'd written up in his assessment of the viable candidates, but the decision was taken away from him. He'd been ordered to make a choice, a very specific choice, but definitely not his choice.

"Maybe next time," he muttered, tapping the folder of the young man he'd have chosen, one he felt was the right fit. His records were outstanding and the interview he'd given had left Jack with a good feeling. He wanted to keep this file close by, just in case he had the opportunity again. So he slid Martin Fitzgerald's folder in his top drawer and picked up his pen, signing his name to the final paperwork accepting Nick DiSipio as the new member of the top-notch team.

May 2003, Eleven a.m
Manhattan

Jack slipped into the phone booth at the bus terminal and dialed Martin's number. He frowning in annoyance by the second ring and shifting uncomfortably by the third. Visions of Fitzgerald's dead body with Gibson dancing over it flashed into his mind.

"Come on... come on... pick up..." he voiced his hope and the phone clicked.

"Yeah?"

"Where the hell where you? It was five rings!" Jack thundered.

"Takin' a leak, sorry!" Martin replied and easily heard the concern between the crusty issued words. "I'm fine, no holes in me and all body parts working."

"Where are you?" Malone pressed.

"About twenty miles north of where you left me," Fitzgerald replied. "I've stopped at every gas station, diner and store on this stretch, nobody saw either Gibson or the nun."

"Well I might have something for you," Jack replied, fishing the small paper from his pocket and opening it up. "The van was clean, no prints, nothing, just sand. But I found a gas receipt shoved down the side of the driver's seat. It's from a Sunoco station in Atlantic County, it's about fifteen miles north of where you are. It's pretty rural out that way, perfect place for a hideout."

"Okay, got it," Martin copied down the address and phone number. "I'll check in at one if I don't find it first."

"You okay?" Malone cocked his head, "Your voice sounds funny."

"You know if word gets out you have a heart, your reputation will be ruined," Martin teased. "I could make some big bucks out of this."

"Not enough to bail the two of us out of jail," Jack snapped. "Just keep that hot head of yours down, okay? And don't forget, if you find something..."

"Call it in, I got it, Jack, I left my red cape at home," Martin assured him and hung up.

He winced, rubbing his sore throat and resting his throbbing head against the inner car door. His glands were swelling too, it was difficult to swallow and opening his mouth wide was painful. He'd stopped at a drug store and picked up Tylenol and throat spray. He cursed his bad luck at picking up a bug now, when he so needed to be sharp. He took a sip of the sweetened tea he'd purchased at a donut store and put the car back in gear. The sun was shining and the sky looked blue again. He had a feeling this road was the key to the puzzle he sought. The lead was slim but it was all he had and he didn't intend to waste it. He was determined to find Vivian and Danny, no matter what the cost.

The Tower
Eleven a.m.

Vivian flinched when a table was slammed down hard and the echo rang around the room. She could imagine the look on the irate face of the person responsible for the noise. Danny was pissed off, frustrated and extremely agitated. She couldn't blame him, her own frustrations were beginning to build and she'd not been here two weeks like he had. Wearily, she sat on the floor by the corner of her room and shook her head. They'd searched high and low and couldn't find a trigger switch anywhere. Whatever Gibson did, it was first rate. A string of curses followed by something hard being heaved at a wall brought her to her feet. She crossed through her room, then the bathroom and finally entered Danny's room. He was stalking the confined area like a panther trapped in a cage.

"Danny..."

"What? Calm down? Why?" he snapped, curling his lip in disgust. "Why the hell should I? I want outta here!"

"And I don't?" she replied, keeping a distance and letting him 'unwind' a bit more. "We have to be..."

"If you say 'patient'," Danny warned and saw her look away. "I'm done with patient, Viv. Wherever the door is, it has to open sooner or later and I'm getting out, even if I have to break that son-of-a-bitch in half!"

Vivian heard Taylor's words and paused, her mind spinning and turning. She nodded slowly and theorized. Gibson was gone and most likely would be gone for awhile. Wherever they were, it was probably in a rural area where he could move more freely. So he'd have to spend time going and coming, added to whatever time he was planning on spending with Jack as he had vowed to do. The terrified eyes of Sister Michael came into her mind. Although her glance had been brief, it was enough to see the woman was scared.

"...and alone..." she thought aloud.

"Huh?" Danny puzzled, walking over to stand next to Johnson. "What are you thinking?"

Vivian didn't reply, rather she gave the handsome agent a small smile and turned toward the screen. They were being monitored, she knew that, there were tiny cameras in every corner of the room.

"Sister Michael, it's late and we haven't had our lunch yet. You know how Pete likes to keep a tight schedule. He's going to be very angry with you, you've disobeyed him."

"Oh," Danny whispered, nodding as he saw what she was doing. "I wouldn't want to be in your shores, shoes not with that temper he has. He's gonna explode. You forgot the wash too," he pointed to a pile of laundry in the box in the bathroom.

"No, no," Theresa whispered at the faces on the monitor. She'd delivered the food earlier, hadn't she? Panic set in and she got confused, losing all sense of time. What if she had forgotten?

She turned away, her dark eyes darting to and fro. Pete's irate face appeared, those blue eyes seething and his face red in anger. The large fist came up and she flinched inwardly as if the blow actually came. She began to pace around the large room, breathing so hard and fast her chest hurt. Her heart began to hammer and she broke out into a sweat. She wrung her hands together and turned as the prisoners continued to speak.

"You know he might not come back," Danny called out. "Kidnapping is a federal offense and when federal agents go missing, they put out all the stops. If he screwed up, he's headed out of town, leaving you to hold the bag."

"They'll put you in prison for a long time, a very long time." Vivian picked up the ball and pressed onward. "Women's prisons are not very nice, Sister, they'll hurt you in there."

"Oh God," she whispered, her whole body trembling. She'd seen the prisons in Costa Ricaand she knew what the women did to each other there. "No... no... I don't want to be... hurt... no... no... bad place... bad... bad..."

"It's working!" Danny whispered, feeling the weight on his back beginning to lift as the first sliver of hope appeared.

"We can help you, Sister. If you let us go, we'll protect you. Nobody will hurt you. I promise," Vivian vowed and waited.

Maybe that was what she should do. Pete said he was going to the city but what if he'd lied? What if they were right? What if he wasn't coming back at all? She didn't want to go to prison. She didn't want to be raped again. She didn't know what to do and the image of Pete's angry face loomed above. Had she forgotten her chores? She'd have to unlock the door to find out. He'd be so angry with her if she had . Why couldn't she remember? She had to hurry and find out. The transmitter that opened the doors was in her room. She put it in the large pocket of the sweater she had on and turned. Then the voices came back, the bad ones that gave her nightmares and scared her.

"Kill them... kill them... kill them..."

"No, no," she denied, dropping to her knees and clutching her head.

"They'll hurt you, they're lying to you... like he does... devil's pawns... devil's hands... you must stop them... the devil is evil... they are evil... evil... evil..."

She stopped trembling then as the voice gave her strength. She stood and walked to the small closet, taking the gun from the basket of yarn she had there. Pete didn't know about the gun, she'd found it in the trunk of the car when they first came to this place. They weren't going to help her; they were working for the devil. She'd have to do God's work and purge the earth of them. Then the voices would stop, once she did as she was ordered to do. She tucked the gun into her other sweater pocket and slowly left the room.

Malone's office
Eleven thirty a.m.

Jack ate a turkey sandwich without tasting it, washing it down with lukewarm and bitter lukewarm, bitter coffee. It seemed to be the right taste for the sour mood he was in. He'd updated Chris Boone from the gym using Agent Robertson's code name and as soon as he did some research and made a few phone calls trying to dig up information on Gibson and any possible new real estate transactions he'd done, he intended on meeting Martin near that gas station.

He threw the trash out and made his way to the file cabinet. As painful as this was, it was the first and very necessary step in his journey to find out the truth. He fingered several files before coming to the right one. His fingers were still on Nick DiSipio's case file when a knock on the door sounded. He didn't have time to even turn around, when he heard the click as the lock changed. He shut his eyes and prepared himself, Boone told him Victor was coming. But the voice he heard was not the one he'd been anticipating. It was one that turned his guts icy and caused his blood to boil. He gripped his hand into a fist over the file and it took every ounce of fiber he held inside to keep his exterior cool and nonchalant.

"Jack, is this a bad time?"

"No, Snake, come on inside," Jack replied calmly, swallowing the bile of disgust that rose in his throat.

He shut the file cabinet and turned, eyeing the tall and massive man before him. The idea that this large muscular brute with torture in his mind had manhandled both Danny and Vivian caused a rage inside him he'd not known before.

"I heard about Johnson, I thought maybe there was something I could do to help."

"Thanks but we've got it covered," the inwardly seething agent replied, keeping his distance.

A part of him feared losing control if he got to too close. Suddenly the truth of Martin's words of warning in that busted up phone booth rang true. If pushed into a corner, Gibson could and would kill both of the missing agents and there would be no proof or bodies for that matter. But if he could buy some time, stalling Gibson in the city, it would give Martin more room to manuever. manoeuvre

"First Taylor, now Johnson," Gibson pressed, seeing how distressed Malone was. "Is Spade out of ICU yet? I heard she came close to dying. You've had a tough run of luck, lately, huh?"

"Yeah," Malone replied, trying hard to hide the vile contempt in his eyes. "But we're gonna get this son-of-a-bitch."

"You have any leads?" Gibson knew they didn't, but he wanted to see Jack Malone squirm like the worm that he was. He lived for the day that he'd read about Malone's suicide. After all, it ran in the family.

"No!" Jack lied, not hiding his face this time. Let Gibson think the disgust was over the lack of evidence.

"Sit down, we'll talk." Gibson moved to the chair by the desk. "I heard you were in San Diego tracking down leads on that missing nun. You get anything?"

"That's not my case anymore," Jack replied, dying to scratch the itch in his hand that wanted to beat the shit out of the arrogant former detective. "In case you didn't notice, I have no team."

"Oh, now Jack, don't lose hope," Gibson oozed with false sympathy as Malone took the seat across form him. "I'm sure Danny and Vivian are still alive."

"You sick fuckin' bastard," Jack screamed silently, his eyes flashing and his hands tingling to reach out and wipe the smirk from the larger man's face. He was rubbing salt into a very open wound and it hurt.

He stared hard into the icy blue eyes and felt a chill run up his spine. There was a glint there that he'd seen over the years. It was born from the ill harbored hopes and sick desires of every man he'd arrested. Now it was shining from Gibson's eyes and just beyond it possibly was were the broken and bloodied bodies of his two missing agents.

"So this priest Chris Boone mentioned didn't help any?"

"Dead end," Jack answered, watching that sick glint dancing in the pale blue eyes. He wanted to reach over the desk and beat the truth out of him. He crossed his arms over his chest and kept them under control. "And it's out of my hands now."

"What about Fitzgerald? How's he handling all of this?" Gibson asked, needing to find out what Malone was hiding. He knew something was lurking behind those dark eyes, he'd seen them hot like this before when Malone was upset.

"He's uh..." Jack paused , putting on his worried face. "Well, truth is Snake, I haven't... nobody's heard from him."

"He's missing?"

Jack almost smiled at that, the shock in the other man's voice was real as so was the surprise in the widened eyes. Good, that was one thing in their favor. As long as Martin remained 'missing' Gibson would continue to spin his wheels. Eventually he'd make a mistake.

"Nobody has seen or heard from him since yesterday. He had a run in with Eric Keller in the parking lot of the hospital. It was on the news..."

"I didn't see it," Pete lied.

He felt sure Martin would have gone crying to Jack as soon as the plane touched down. But he knew Jack wasn't lying, his expertise and experience told him that. Plus he'd spoken with Victor Fitzgerald who was on the verge of coming unglued. What if he'd pushed the blue-eyed fly too hard? What if Martin went over the edge before the trap could be baited? He cursed himself for not being more careful. He didn't like it when his plans got sidetracked.

Jack rose and walked out of the office onto the short crosswalk twenty nine stories above the street. Far below, they walked, ran and drove through the streets of the city. Thousands of people going to work, school or play, moving like tiny ants over the terrain. He heard footsteps but didn't move.

"He's out there somewhere, Pete," Jack rasped, allowing his voice to 'crack' for the other man's benefit. "Alone, scared... hell he might even be dead; it's all my fault."

"Now, now, Jack," Pete laid a hand on the downcast man's back and felt the body jump "I'm sorry, I should have realized you're on edge."

On the edge of breaking your balls you cocky bastard!" Jack's mind replied

Gibson was so excited over Malone's obvious despondance he was nearly hard. The thrill of the moment he'd been planning for so very long was coursing through him. It took all of the strength he had not to whoop out a call of glory. Jack Malone was going to pay for his sins. As for Fitzgerald, he'd find him and if not, he had Danny Taylor as a backup. It was no secret that Malone bled for his troops and if necessary Taylor's bloody face would do just fine. He heard a tap on the glass and turned to see Victor Fitzgerald's angry face. For a split second, he felt sorry for Jack Malone.

"Martin's father is here, I'd better go," he said, slipping his card into Malone's suit jacket pocket. "Call me, anytime, especially if you need to talk."

"Great," Jack sighed, as one devil was replaced by another, bearing sharp talons. He turned as Gibson was consoling Victor and the large man left. Victor gave him one blazing glare of fury and entered his office. "I wonder if they make casts for balls." He thought and made the long walk to his office.

Part 21

Timeline: July 2002
New York
Eight thirty a.m.

Somehow it amazed him that the more 'paperless' society became the more paperwork it produced. It was all over his desk and bursting out of file cabinets within his office and in the many offices on the floor. Folders full of photos, evidence and information on missing people, suspects and more. He ran his fingers over the brand new folder, the scent of the box it came in still clung to it. Inside, he eyed the photo of a pretty dark-haired girl, a freshman at NYU. She had volunteered to tutor poor kids from broken homes to give them a better chance. He only hoped that her decision wouldn't prove to be a fatal one.

"Jack?" Danny tapped on the open door and waited. "We gotta talk ."

He knew before Taylor uttered another word what the problem was. Danny Taylor was the kind of agent that made his job easier. It made the promotion he'd accepted many years ago to lead a unit a good one. It made him thankful that he carried a badge. What Taylor had couldn't be taught in a class or learnt from a book. His streets smarts, cocky attitude and guts were intangibles that, combined with the training, made that badge glisten.

"Close the door," Jack said and went back to reading the brief on the missing woman. Vivian and Sam had been on their way in and he'd directed them to go right to where the missing woman's car was found. They'd updated him and were now on their way to interview her two roommates.

"It's about Nick," Danny stated as he sat down across from his boss. His brows knit in frustration and he shifted in the chair. "He's a nice kid, I don't mind goin' to a ballgame with him or havin' a beer after work."

"But..." Jack suggested, trying to gently pull out the problem.

"He's wearin' the wrong boots."

Jack ran his tongue along the back of his teeth and kept his gaze on the brooding dark eyes before him. The nagging presence in his gut told him that Taylorwas right; DiSipio might have chosen the wrong profession. He'd sensed that too and talked at length with the very eager rookie several times during his first few weeks. But the newest team member was so anxious to make a good impression he'd given him a little more space. The kid had some good points, he was good in the interrogation room and on interviewing witnesses. But in the field it was a different story. He'd seen rookies go through a green stage before. Sometimes they came out fine, putting the worst behind them. Sometimes they could shake it off and gain confidence.

Sometimes.

"Look I know he's had some trouble adjusting, but he's a rookie. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get used to carrying a badge."

"It's been three months and he's gettin' worse, not better," Danny quietly argued. "He's had rabbit eyes from the first day. Twice he almost cost Vivian and he damn near got me shot last week. Then how about yesterday when he froze when we were chasing Lester through the Seaport?" he noted of the pursuit of a suspected kidnapper. "When we finally cornered him, DiSipio dropped his gun. The damn roachcoach jockey is lucky his balls weren't shot off," he noted of the food vendor who dove for cover. "He's a disaster waitin' to happen, Jack. I've broken in rookies before, you know I'm fair. I wouldn't be sitting here if I wasn't sure. I trust this," he patted his lean gut. "And it's tellin' me he's gonna get somebody killed."

"I know!" Jack hollered and then took a controling breath. He'd suspected as much when he rode with DiSipio. He could smell the kid's fear and see it in the way he moved. "I talked to the brass, they're aware of the situation. But until they say otherwise he gets the full six months."

"Great!" Danny's voice was full of disgust. "You can write that on my tombstone." He leaned forward and continued his plea. "He'shearin' footsteps, Jack. That won't change, you know I'm right." He paused, unable to read the stone face before him. He let out a very tense breath and rose, putting both hands knuckles down on the desk. "I won't ride with him anymore."

"You don't give orders!" Jack issued sharply, rising and squaring his shoulders. He stared right back just as hard. "Agent Taylor."

"Maybe not," Danny leveled, not breaking the heated gaze. "But I can take them anywhere. Miami, Philly, Frisco... there are lots of openings. You can bury some other fool, not this one," he threatened.

"So what's stopping you?" Jack retorted, knowing damn right well Taylorlived, ate and slept for New York. The city was in his blood, he moved in sync to the pulse of it, he'd never leave. Brown eyes locked on brown, twin sets of clenched jaws shared some very tense space. Jack picked the folder up and moved away. "We have a new case, Viv and Sam are already on the scene." He brushed past the seething, six foot lean body.

"Probably my last," Danny muttered, punching the doorframe in frustration as he followed Malone into the outer office.

"Theresa Montoya, a student from NYU who was supposed to arrive to tutor a class of kids in math this morning. She never got there." Jack put the folder down on Nick DiSipio's desk. "Viv and Sam are talking to her roommates. Her car was in front of the pizza shop where they last saw her around ten last night. I want you and Danny to go over there and comb that whole neighborhood. Somebody had to see her."

Danny didn't look at the rookie when they passed his desk. But when Jack began to give them more details on the missing woman, he saw the kid shift in his seat. His face was pale and damp. His hands were shaking a bit as they took notes. For a moment he felt a twinge of guilt, he knew from the way DiSipio talked his heart wasn't in this job. Whoever he was doing this for was a damn fool. He didn't know much about the kid's family, only that his mother raised him alone. He seemed like a misfit, trying to make himself into something he wasn't and never would be.

"Danny? Did you hear me?" Malone spoke and saw the dark head bob. "Okay, you and Nick get moving. I'm gonna go to the school and see if she's had any trouble there. Could be somebody followed her from class. She left the school around eight. Keep in touch"

"Yeah," Danny managed, walking past the stumbling rookie and heading for the elevator.

Nick ran to catch up with his partner. He admired Danny Taylor and tried every day to emulate him. He was in control of every situation and he knew just how to move and react. He seemed to have sixth sense and always knew which suspect was the right one. He watched Taylorslide a pair of dark glasses on as he unlocked the car. He hoped one day he could make Danny like him. He got into the car and reviewed the notes on the case at hand, unaware that it would be his last as an F.B.I. agent.

May 2003
Manhattan Missing Persons Unit
Noon

Victor turned around as Jack Malone entered the room. He didn't hide his anger; it rippled off of him like heat on a desert highway. He met the other agent by the doorway and let his cold gaze go right through the arrogant dark eyes. That was what bothered him the most about Jack Malone, that cocky 'I don't give a shit' attitude.

"Where's Martin?"

"I dunno," Jack honestly replied and shrugged his shoulders.

He didn't know 'exactly' where the rookie was so that was not an untruth. He pushed past the Deputy Director and headed for the water cooler. He tossed back two cups of water and zoned out as Victor Fitzgerald droned on and on about how many places he could have him transferred to. The only thing he wanted to do was get rid of the older man so he could do some research on Gibson and check in with Martin. He was eager to find out if the young agent had found anything on Route 9.

"Look, Victor, I can't make him appear, I'm not a damn magician. He's shook up. That incident with Keller last night really rocked him. He's out cooling down, licking his wounds. I promise you when I hear from him, I'll tell him to call you."

"I spoke with Chris Boone, he said you were following a lead?"

"Yeah, turned out to be a dud," Malone stated. "But the woman who lured Vivian into that old restaurant is real. She matches the description of our missing nun, Sister Michael."

"A set up?" Victor inquired.

"Looks like it, I'm gonna have to go through our old cases, see if anything pops out. Whoever's behind this was using Martin. Martin knows that, he's not running scared."

"I know that!" Victor snapped, "He's my son, I think I know my own son."

Jack almost choked on that remark and wondered on the odds of having two jackasses in his office in the same morning. He nodded at all the right times as Victor made more points 'clear' about how the case would be handled. He was surprised and didn't argue when Victor suggested he take some 'time off'. After all, Boone was running the show and he had no team.

"I'm putting a man on your apartment, twenty-four seven," Victor said. "If there is a nut after your team, you or Martin could be next. Could your wife take the girls out of town?"

"She could," Jack sighed, that actually was a good idea and one he'd suggested on the phone earlier. "She's going to pick them up from school at three and head to Connecticutto stay with her folks."

"I'll dispense two agents to take them there and make sure the office up there gives her cover."

"Thank you," Jack nodded. "Martin's a good agent, Victor. We might not see eye to eye on much, but I wouldn't do anything to harm him."

"I hope not," Victor returned his hand to the doorknob. "Because if anything happens to him, I'll have your badge on my desk and your balls on a skewer"

Jack flinched when the door slammed and sank back in his chair. He waited until Victor had gone and turned on the computer. He wanted to know everything about Peter Gibson and especially where'd he'd been since last July. He sighed hard and closed his eyes, thinking of that hot afternoon nearly a year ago when the cause of this madman's game had been born.

Timeline: July 2002
New York
Two p.m.

The sweat that ran freely from his trembling body chilled him despite the warm weather. His dark hair was soaked and his saturated collar felt like it was strangling him. His quivering limbs kept time with his shaky breath. Nick DiSipio laid his head against the chipped paint on the tenement wall and felt his throat closing. His slick hands, now shaking badly, nearly dropped the gun.

"Oh God... oh God... oh God... go away... go away... go away..."

His silent mantra fell on deaf ears as the voices of the suspects drew closer. They were coming down the hall, their angry accented voices filled with threats of violence. The cause of their alarm was his partner, Danny Taylor. The senior agent was in hot pursuit of three members of a gang that might be involved in the disappearance of the tutor.

"Nick!" Danny screamed into his radio, "Nick they're comin' right at you. Nick?"

He cursed and shoved the radio back into his pocket while picking up his pace. He'd been patient the first two times the rookie went sour, but this was it. He was going to talk to Jack about Nick again and this time, Malone would have to listen. Something had to be done before he ended up a corpse on the six o'clock news. He took the stairs down two at a time and flew down the hall, ducking as three shots rang out. The trio of bullets sent plaster flying into his face and he felt a sting as something cut his cheek.

Nick flinched inside the empty room and slid further down the wall. He drew his knees up and pulled his fluttering body closer together. His face was soaked in sweat and it stung as it ran into his eyes. His heart was hammering so loud and hard it threatened to break a rib. He clenched his eyes as the gang members just inches away on the other side of the wall ran past.

"...please... please... don't stop... run... run... run..." he urged silently.

So intent was he on trying to hide he didn't hear Taylor screaming into his radio. He didn't hear anything but the deafening roar of his heart which was pounding through him. The roaring sound in his ears caused him to moan. Frantically he tugged at his collar, trying to get some air. Why couldn't this stop? Why did this happen every time? Why couldn't he do this? His father's face rose up and he felt his bladder threatened to empty. The first two times he'd approached the highly decorated NYPD detective about the problem the icy blue eyes nearly fried him. The last meeting ended with his father's wrath descending down on him and echoes of 'pull yourself up by the balls" and other insulting remarks about his fleeting manhood. Finally the voices faded, the threat passed and his breathing slowed down. He dropped his head onto his drawn up knees over his quivering manhood and flinched as the echoes of Pete Gibson's voice thundered again. He was caught between a rock and a hard place; he couldn't quit and he couldn't seem to conquer his fear.

"FREEZE FBI!" Danny screamed, pausing in the doorway and pulling his weapon around. He pulled his head back as more bullets flew and quickly returned fire. One man went down, the other two split up. The larger one kept firing as he ran, which slowed the pursuing lawman down. By the time he looked up from behind the abandoned car he was hiding behind, the shooter was gone. But he saw movement by trash cans in the alley and moved in. A slim, olive-skinned young man with long hair immediately put both arms up.

"Man, you're fuckin' with the wrong dog, I didn't do nuthin'!"

"You're ugly," Danny growled, shoving the suspect down and putting his knee between the surly youth's shoulder blades. "I outta lock your mother up for that." He quickly cuffed him and dragged him back to his feet. A search of the baggy shirts and pants revealed more weapons and a vial of crack. "A real altar boy, aren't you? Where's Theresa Montoya?"

"Gettin' it up the ass from your old man!" The youth spat back defiantly and then shrank back when the angry agent grabbed him again. His face hit the wall hard and the arm that pressed into the back of his neck was like iron.

"You ain't a juevy no more, Chica," Danny hissed, pressing his lip closer to the struggling suspect's ear. "Your days of getting a free ride are over. That virgin ass of yours will look like hamburger after a few nights in the joint." He paused and tugged the long dark hair that was bleached blond around the edges. "Oh yeah, you'll make some big bastard a nice bitch."

"I don't know nuthin'... I swear..."

"Whaddya we got?" Jack asked, stepping through the debris in the alley. He'd arrived just as Taylor shoved the slim Latino against the wall. "Who the hell are you?"

"Answer him!" Danny turned the youth but maintained his grip on the wheezing boy's neck. Over Jack's shoulder he spotted his missing partner now talking to two patrolmen. He swallowed his rage against the rookie to concentrate on the task at hand.

"...Car...los... Nieves..."

"Okay, Carlos Nieves," Jack repeated, flipping out the missing young woman's photo. "We're looking for Theresa Montoya. She was last seen leaving a pizza place a couple blocks from here last night. The pack of dogs you run with were seen nearby. We have a witness who can place a half dozen of you flea hotels walking behind her. "

"I never seen her before," the youth choked, his fear rising fast.

"Man you lie as bad as you smell," Danny accused, pressing his arm across the shifting youth's throat. "Where is she?"

"I told you, I ain't never seen the bitch..." Carlos sent back and flinched when the detective's hand moved and curled around his throat causing the bricks to kiss the back of his neck.

"That's okay Danny, it's early yet," Jack told the agent but kept his eyes on the quaking body against the wall. "By the time they get through processing Mister Nieves," he let the name curl up and roll off his tongue, "and getting transport, it will be dark before he gets to his new bed."

"And it ain't the Hilton, Goldilocks," Taylor whispered, tugging on the peroxided braid. "It might be fist or dick, but somethin's goin' up that lily white ass of yours before midnight."

"I... didn't... wasn't... there." Carlos swallowed hard as his backside seemed to recoil and shrink at the mere sound of the threat. "I heard..."

"You heard what?" Jack asked, but the kid's dark eyes shifted to the "Look, kid, my patience is wearin' thin. You have one minute to spill your guts or you'll be showerin' with your new significant other before the ink is dry on your paperwork!"

"You gotta promise me... I won't get... go there."

"Thirty seconds..." Jack replied, eyeing his watch.

"Yeah, okay..." Carlos spit and sighed hard. "She's at Chili Dog's... him and the others took her. I wasn't there, I swear. They got her in the basement..."

"Is she alive?" Danny asked.

"She was... I mean... Chili was braggin' about doin' her again when you busted in back there..."

"Danny!" Jack stepped in and got between the suspect and his livid agent when a strange sound erupted from the disgusted agent's lips. "Go find your partner. I got this... Danny!"

Taylor let his sizzling gaze fry wha little nerves the kid had left. Then he found a sick smile and let his eyes roam to the squirming gang member's groin and ass. His expression told the now worried youth just what a long night he would endure. He didn't move until Jack forcefully turned him and shoved him back up the alley.

"Is that Chili Dog?" Malone asked, pointing to the dead body.

"No... that's Manny... Chili's a big dude... he took off... after Manny went down."

"Where?" Jack growled and the address was given. He updated all the information on the radio so that a unit could respond to the location.

Jack waved over the two patrolmen and continued to question the youth. Once the name and address of the leader of the gang was produced, the two street cops took the kid away. They radioed the information in and headed up the street to where the missing woman was being held captive.

Nick was wiping his face when an angry voice split his eardrums.

"DISIPIO!"

"Shit," he hissed, eyes darting around the immediate area.

He quickly tried to find a hole to crawl into as the crunch on the broken glass nearby told him Danny Taylor was closing in fast. He dropped his head in shame and the wheels in his head began to spin wildly. What the hell could he say? He had no excuse this time. The only thing between the three felons and escape had been him. If he'd stopped them, all three would be in custody. Before he had another precious second to think upon his dilemma, a rough hand grabbed him and spun him around. He flinched at the fire shooting from Taylor's eyes. The blood running down his face seemed to make the irate orbs only more lethal.

"Where the hell were you!" Danny hissed, shoving the quivering rookie hard against the side of their car. "Didn't you hear me? Hell, I bet they heard me downtown. Nick, I'm talkin' to you!"

"I... uh... uh... uh..."

"I want a fuckin' answer!" Danny screamed, pointing to his bleeding face. "You damn near got me wasted."

"I... I'm... sorry... Dan...ny... I... didn't... maybe... the radio wasn't..."

"THE RADIO!" Danny hollered, his livid eyes nearly melting the paint on the car. "You're kiddin' me? You can't be serious."

"I don't know... I didn't... see... them..." Nick wavered badly and ducked sideways when the fist came towards him. The hand didn't hit him; it grabbed him by the collar. He was pulled forward and staggered, stumbling badly. They entered the building again and he fell twice as he was pulled along.

"Look Danny... I know I made a mistake but..."

"A mistake?" Danny hauled the kneeling figure up and grabbed the designer tie. "Not addin' your Income Tax right is a mistake. You fucked up royally!"

He grabbed the tenderfoot and shoved him further down the hall. He pushed him hard until he was inches from a spot by the open door riddled with holes. "You see this? Huh? Huh?" he seethed, shoving the rookie's face an inch from the frame. "That's where my brains outta be plastered. They outta be drippin' down collectin' by your feet. Flies like that, you know? They'd be all over it." Danny let the body go and backed up in disgust when the rookie went to knees and began to vomit.

Nick was frantic, he felt his collar tightening again and his bladder was protesting. He coughed up the rest of his lunch and wiped his mouth. He spotted Jack Malone standing a few feet away and the look of anger on the team leader's face matched the heat that was radiating off Danny Taylor. He knew they were pissed, they had every right to be. Danny could have been killed and he had no explanation. He had no idea of how to get out of this. He couldn't expect his father to get him off the hook again. That worked in May and June when he screwed up during his first ten weeks on the job. He rose on shaky legs and dropped his eyes, he couldn't look at them. He flinched when Taylor's voice shook the timber in the building. He didn't protest when the hand came up and hit his collar, backing him against the wall.

"What the fuck happened? I damn near got blown the hell away!"

"Danny," Jack suggested quietly walking over to where the irate agent was seething in the doorway. "Go see the paramedic and get that cut checked out. He saw the fingers on DiSipio's collar whitened and put his hand on Taylor's wrist, trying to release the grip. "Taylor, that's an order."

"Not until I get an answer," Danny replied tersely, glaring at Malone and tossing his hand aside. He flipped the stuttering newcomer around and the eyes that met his own held the answer that no words cold match.

Danny knew what was hovering badly in the rookie's dark eyes. Fear. It was so strong, it nearly blinded him. The shine that the fresh-faced rookie wore his first day had long faded into pools of doubt. Every cop knew that doubt could get you killed or get your partner killed. The slight hesitation, the moment of uncertainty, the choking sensation in your chest was as deadly as the gun you were facing. He knew as soon as Nick's head came up and he saw right through those eyes.

"This isn't a game, Nick, this is real blood," Danny suggested in a grim tone tapping his bleeding face. He then pulled the kid's jacket aside to where the badge was clipped to his belt. "You don't got the balls to wear one, then you find the balls to walk away."

Martin Fitzgerald finished the Butterfinger bar and tossed the end of the wrapper into the back of the car. He spotted the Sunoco Station ahead and pulled up to the first pump. He filled the tank with gas and then went inside to pay. It was a remote area, Jack was right. He easily saw now why Gibson would have been able to successfully manoeuvre in this area. There was nothing but heavily wooded areas of ground all around him. He put on his best 'Opie Taylor' face and entered the mini-mart connected to the station. He grabbed a container of ice cream and some iced tea and headed for the counter. The older man was the same one in a yellowing newspaper photo taped to the wall. It showed President Clinton shaking hands with him. Martin assumed the old guy must be the owner.

"How ya doin'?" He asked, putting down his purchases. "I got a fill up on number 2," he updated of his gas purchase.

"Hey, kid," the old man behind the counter nodded and saw the college logo on the shirt. "Good school."

"Second to none," Martin answered. "I don't get down here very much. I think I might be lost. My uncle's renovating an old place near here. I'm supposed to be the muscle," he teased, laughing lightly, "Him and my old man do a lot of the directing, you know? They point a lot and toss the beers back. I think my back is already sorry I was volunteered for this job."

"It's keeps you honest," the gray haired man gave the handsome youth his change. "That's why we have kids. Shovel snow..."

"Mow the grass, wash the car," Martin finished with a winning smile. "I know there's a turnoff around here, I hope I didn't miss it. Maybe you've seen my uncle. You're the only station around here. He's hard to miss, six -six, clean shaven head, light blue eyes, real muscular, drives a van..."

"Oh yeah," the old guy nodded. "He's been in here a lot the last few months. Not much of a talker. Your aunt seemed nice." He saw the kid puzzle a moment and then retracted his thought. Maybe the dark-haired woman with the large man wasn't married to him. "Hey, I didn't mean anything by that. I mean she was with him sometimes, I just assumed..."

"Mid-forties, dark-hair, dark-eyes, kinda nervous?"

"Yeah, that's her."

"I figured I must be close but I can't seem to remember where he said to turn," Martin deflected, wondering how long the missing nun had been stringing them along. Maybe she wasn't the victim she appeared to be. If Gibson was coming and going freely, she could have left anytime.

"I think I can help," the owner walked from behind the counter and paused when he noticed how flushed the young man was and how his free hand kept moving to his throat. "You sick kid?"

"I must have picked up a bug," Martin replied, "Something's been going around the campus."

"Here." the guy moved over to a shelf and squatted down, selecting a clear bottle with a red and white label. "You spray this in your throat, it'll numb it."

"Thanks, hold on," Martin shifted his bag and tried to get some money.

"Keep your money kid, it's on the house. I got a kid down in Delawarein school. This one's on me."

"Thanks." Martin followed the old man outside until both were standing in the middle of Route 9.

"Follow this road for a couple miles, you're gonna come to a road on your left, it's a narrow path, you blink you'll miss it." He noted, "I was leavin' one night, headed home and I saw your uncle turn off on that road. Nothing back there but the old factory. That what he bought?"

"Yeah, he's convertin' it into condos,' Martin rasped, keeping his game face. He shook the man's hand and nodded. "Hey listen, if my uncle shows up, don't tell him I got lost. Hell, him and my old man'll never let me hear the end of it."

"Okay College boy, you go it." The guy tapped the logo and gave the likeable kid's back a pat. "Good luck to you."

"Thanks," Martin supplied and truly meant it. His heart was hammering when he climbed back into the car. He quickly ate his lunch and gave his throat a good spray. The cherry flavored medicine was awful but it worked, the pain subsided. For awhile anyhow, he didn't feel the razors in his tender throat. He started to dial Jack but paused, he hadn't found anything yet. Plus he didn't know who Jack was with. What if his father was there or someone else? Jack might get in trouble and they'd both be out on their asses.

If this spot was as close as he thought, he'd get there just about the time Jack would be calling in. He turned the engine over, pulled out and moved back down the road. He found the turnoff just where the man said but would have driven right past it had he not known. The path was not visible from the main road. He eyed the digital numbers changing on the clock in the car as he continued to drive down the very narrow path, brush and trees scraped against the car. He saw the top of an old brick building emerge over the trees. Then Martin pulled off and ensured the car could not be seen.

He'd jogged up the path and kept hidden. He looked around, not seeing a car of any kind. Maybe Gibson was out or at work. The call of the gulls and salt in the air caught his senses at the same time he heard the ocean singing nearby. He went around every side of the large, old building and spotted windows high above him, at least thirty feet. He ran back to the back of the building where he'd seen an overhang from an old heating unit. He moved around it and his foot hit something loose beneath the old unit. He pried the loose tin covering away to reveal an old coal chute. He kept that in mind and booted himself up and over until he was on the roof. Climbing quickly, the eager detective was soon peering inside the glass.

"Jesus..."

Inside, before his eyes, was a large room full of computers, oversized video screens and very high tech equipment. There was so much of it; he scanned the electronic collection in amazement. It was like a mini NASA, with colors flashing and lots of different images. Then he zoned in on one large screen filled with a face he'd longed to see. A tense jaw, an irate set of dark eyes and that damned cocky stance.

"Danny... thank God."

What the relieved explorer couldn't know was that hidden in the very woods around him and on the beach were motion detectors. So as he scrambled down and hit firm ground, the phone already ringing, his time was nearly up.

"Martin?" Jack called out when the ringing stopped.

"Jack, I found it... Gibson's prison... they're..."

"Martin?" Jack paused in the parking garage and his guts twisted. The shrill sound on the line was from interference, the kind that a security system would use to prevent invaders from making calls. "Shit... shit..." He ran to his car and hit the road, wheels screaming. His mind told him that Fitzgerald was fine and that the icy fingers stroking his gut were a false alarm. He continued to think on that with every mile he traveled, hoping that this plan wouldn't end with him finding the blue-eyed rookie's corpse.

Timeline:
July 2002
New York

The blood had been washed off his face and the new set of stitches were just under his left eye. So as Danny Taylor arrived at Chili Dog's shack, his hopes were still rising. Maybe the cops got there in time; maybe she was still alive. He pulled up behind two cop cars and ran into open door and headed towards the voices from below. He paused midway down the stairs to the basement, when his gaze was divided. To his right, Nick DiSipio was kneeling in a pile of vomit. The shell-shocked expression on the rookie's face doused the hopes Taylorcarried with him. Then he saw Jack Malone's grim expression and he knew.

"Oh God," Danny whispered, a knife slicing through his gut. He rocked backwards and didn't protest when Jack caught his elbow. He allowed himself a few moments to be steadied and got to the bottom of the steps. He peeked around Jack and saw a pair of naked legs splayed open, the thighs splattered with dried blood.

"How? When?" he croaked, dropping his head and shaking it to clear it.

"Less than an hour ago, he slit her throat," Jack stated without pulling any punches. "I'm sorry Danny." He backed up a few steps when the emotional younger man's head rose. The eyes that met his were painted with fury and bristling with incrimination.

"Tell it to her, Jack!" Taylorrasped painfully, nodding to the corpse. He averted the battered body and the signs of torture on her chest. But he couldn't avoid the lifeless eyes, which seem to be pleading with him or accusing him.

"Don't go there, Danny," Jack advised, seeing the guilt rising.

"Why? Why shouldn't I, Jack?" Danny replied with fire. "She should be alive now, on her way to the hospital. Where is he?" He flexed, eyeing the room.

"Dead, upstairs," Jack stated of the murderer." Tomas 'Chili Dog' Diaz. There was a shootout, he tried to escape." He saw Taylor's face painted in rage move to where DiSipio remained in a stupor on the floor. "He's finished, Danny. He'll get some counseling , then I'm going to recommend dismissal."

"That's great, Jack," Danny lips curled up in distaste and his eyes moved to where the lifeless gaze screamed at him. "You're a little late."

The Tower
May 2003
One p.m.

"Where is she?" Danny demanded, pacing anxiously. "I mean we had her going. What's taking her so long?"

"She'll get here," Vivian replied, "and you need to calm down. Slow and easy will win this race. You blow your cool and we'll lose her. She's hanging by a thread now."

"Yeah, okay," Danny slumped a bit, "I'm sorry, Viv, it's just I gotta get outta here. I can't stand these walls anymore."

"I know, honey, I know." She walked over to where he sat on his bunk and cupped his chin, tipping up the bruised face. "You sure are pretty, if I wasn't a married woman..." She accepted the soft laugh and ruffled his dark hair. He stood up and kissed her cheek, giving her a wink.

"I ever tell you I dig married chicks?"

"And single ones, and divorced ones and tall ones and short ones..."

"Okay, so I worship the female form, that's not a crime..."

Danny's thought was cut off by the wall on the far side of the room which began to move. He put his finger to his lip and motioned for Vivian to split away. They peeled off and took a different end of the wall. Cool air entered the room and he sucked in his chest, flattening himself against the wall. He waited for her to enter but nobody appeared. He furrowed his brows in annoyance and saw Vivian shaking her head. He could almost hear her pleading to be patient. Hell, didn't the woman know he wasn't a saint?

"Hello?"

Vivian called out and moved cautiously along the wall to where the opening was. Danny followed suit. She peered around the newly formed door and found the hallway to be empty. She motioned for Danny to look as well and nodded to the cameras moving from the ceiling. He nodded back and they crept outside. Danny paused and eyed the two twin paths which went in separate directions. Vivian moved right so he followed her, turning and walking backwards to guard their backs. He stopped when he walked into Vivian who had her head cocked. She pointed to the turn ahead and cupped her ear. He heard it too then, the nun was talking to someone. Had Gibson returned? Or was there another player in the twisted game?

"Don't tell me what to do," Theresa argued with the voice. Everyone was always telling her what to do. She wasn't a child, she wouldn't be talked to like that. "Just shut up and leave me alone now."

The silence that followed caused the prisoners hopes to rise. Maybe whoever it was had gone back to the main room. Vivian waited and heard nothing more and she turned back to Danny, pointing to the other end of the hall. They now knew where the nun was, so they should go the opposite way. They were halfway there when a voice stopped them.

"NO! NO!"

"Sister put the gun down now!" Vivian commanded when the distraught woman appeared armed and aiming a weapon at them.

"Kill them... kill them... they'll hurt you... just like he did..." The voices were screaming at her now and the pain was bad. A red film seemed to cover her vision and there were other voices, new ones. The orders were mixed up, creating a cacophony of thunder in her head.

"Don't do this, Sister," Danny pleaded. "We can help you."

...kill them... he'll hurt you... he's looking at you... he'll hurt you... kill him..."

"Sister put the gun down," Vivian remained firm and saw the arm waver. "That can't help you now. We can help you. We'll all leave together."

"You can trust us, Sister, we won't hurt you," Danny tried, seeing the distress and signs of the ragged emotional state in the woman's eyes.

...shoot... shoot... kill... hurt... pain... do it... shoot..."

"...sister, we can help..."

"...don't do this..."

..SHOOT... KILL... SHOOT... SHOOT... SHOOT..."

"STOP!" she screamed and took aim.

Martin dropped the phone when the sound that came from it nearly burst his eardrum. He picked it up and cursed himself for not realizing sooner that Gibson would have prevented any intruders from gaining entry. He'd have to get back to the car and drive back to the main road so he could call Jack back. He'd only gone three feet when a shot rang out.

"Danny, Vivian," he called out and quickly ran towards the building. It was twenty minutes or more back to the main road. Even if he did call it in and drive back, that would be close to an hour. That was more than enough time for Danny or Vivian to bleed to death. Plus there had to be a phone inside. He took off towards that old coal chute and ripped the boards off, cutting his hands but moving it enough to gain entry. He slid inside and flattened himself down as the old metal slide took him on a dark and dangerous ride.

Timeline:
July 2002
Central Park

"Daddy just one more, please?"

"I don't think so," Jack wavered and felt the crack widening. "Your mother said no junk."

"It's not junk, it's got milk in it, right?" Kate pleaded, tugging on her dad's hand. She offered up her most adoring look and the reserve split wide open. Another victory!

"Alright, one more," Jack gave the vendor money in exchange for two ice cream cones. "Here, Kate... Hannah."

"Thanks Daddy," twin voices chorused.

He watched them walking by the water and smiled at the chocolate mustaches already forming. Nobody prepared him for the enormous feeling of pride inside that comes with parenthood. Every day he saw something new in each smile they offered. They were good kids and although he struggled at times, he was doing okay. His job often conflicted with their school projects and plays and family time. That hurt him; they were too young to understand.

"They're getting big."

"Yeah, that happens. You water them and feed them and they grow," Jack answered turning to greet Danny Taylor. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for chicks," Danny grinned, eyeing the crowded park, "Maybe I should have brought the dog. Chicks love that."

"Dog?" Jack wrinkled his face. "You don't have a dog."

"I could rent one," Danny tossed back and waved to Jack's girls who'd just noticed him.

"I talked to the doctor today, Nick's doing much better," Jack updated and saw relief in Danny's eyes. He knew the intense agent felt bad about DiSipio.

"Jack, he ever mention his old man? Or an uncle? Somebody who might have been a cop?" Danny asked.

"No," Malone replied and nodded, "I thought of that too. But maybe there was somebody in his life when he was a kid that was a cop. Maybe he just admired them. Who knows..."

"Something had to push him, it was almost unnatural. He was fighting himself everyday. For what?"

"We might never know," Jack admitted, "But maybe he'll open up for the therapist I signed the papers this morning," Jack took a seat on the bench close to the girls and kept his eye on them.

"I know," Danny answered as the dark head came up and considered him.

He knew how hard the last couple weeks had been for Jack. The board didn't have any other choice. Jack recommended dismissal with counseling. The papers he'd signed were the final report on the incident that proved to be the cement on DiSipio's short-lived career. He felt sorry for Nick and once the doctor's okayed it, he was going down to Virginia to visit him. The rookie had a nervous breakdown, not having fully recovered from the girl's death. The Bureau had a facility tucked away on private property in Virginia that dealt with emotional trauma. He wanted to help Nick find the right path. He didn't know why the kid wanted the badge. He'd never disclosed why he went to Quantico.

I know."

Two words but what lingered before and after them meant a lot to Jack Malone. That was only a small fraction of what made Danny Taylor special. He'd read about the first astronauts, John Glenn and his friends that braved a previously unexplored world when they journeyed into space. He really admired them, to him they were heroes, they had all the 'right stuff'. So did Taylorand that's why those two words now comforted him. He felt maybe by taking the kids out, he could escape the heartache. But it lingered, a little less painful each day but it was there. He ached for the dead girl and the single sob her mother rendered at the news still haunted him. And he hurt for Nick DiSipio who tried too hard to wear boots that were never meant for him. For a long time, well past the point where both of the ice cream cones were gone and two sodas as well, Taylor remained silently by his side. Then a groan brought Jack's head up, he rolled his dark eyes as the handsome agent's gaze was drawn to a spectacular woman with a body that defied gravity who was tying her sneaker.

"There is the future mother of my children," Danny boasted with a twinkle in his eye.

"She's got all the right equipment," Jack muttered, eyeing the low cut tank top. Then he frowned when Danny and the Amazon exchanged sly smiles. The would be Romeo stood up and tossed a killer smile across the path. The redhead slowly stood up and returned the smile, which moved his star agent to her side.

"Hey, what about moral support? I thought you were here for me?" Jack called out.

"I am man, always," Danny called back and then wagged his eyebrows. He cast a loose arm around the jogger and shrugged. "Duty calls!"

"Yeah," Jack laughed and shook his head, then he thought about it again and laughed harder. He cast his eyes heavenward, "Keep an eye on him, okay? He's special."

Timeline:
July 2002
Virginia

It was a first class facility, he'd made sure of that. He'd made all the right inquiries, discreetly of course. He felt sure once his son recovered from the trauma and they talked about it, he'd be able to resume his job in the Bureau. Maybe Missing Persons wasn't the right place for him. He admired Jack Malone and picked his unit specifically for Nick. His many years on the force at the high level of his job gave him inside dirt on a lot of important people. That made it easy to put Nick right where he wanted him. But Jack had been too hard on the boy, it had to be his fault. Nick was a star pupil, he'd seen the records and film of his studies at Quantico.

So as a guest of Tom Kelly, an old friend who was now a therapist there, he was a frequent visitor. He was 'observing' the trauma team and how they dealt with varying degrees of trauma. He sat in on the sessions, talked to staff and watched them work. They didn't know his son was there, Nick was fragile now and he couldn't afford any more stress. But this visit gave him the opportunity, on a professional capacity, to be near his only son.

The late afternoon when the staff were having a meeting, Pete left his guest quarters and made his way to Nick's room. The first two weeks had gone well. Nick was eating better and beginning to open up. He paused by Tom Kelly's office and eyed the folders on the desk. He flicked a cautious eye to the meeting room next door and carefully entered the office. He found Nick's file and opened it, skimming the reports and keeping an eye on the door.

He spotted Tom's mail and a letter from the Manhattan F.B.I. office. He saw the code on the top and recognized it. He opened the letter sent to headquarters by Jack Malone. His rage had no bounds as he read Jack's report and saw the words 'recommend dismissal from the force'. Who the hell was Malone to end his son's life like this? He wasn't a professional; he wasn't even going to wait for Nick's therapy to end. His son's only hope was that he felt redemption was waiting for him. So Pete slipped the letter into his pocket and closed the folder. Nick would never know that his boss had stabbed him in the back. He had to have hope, to think his job and team were behind him. When he was stronger and out of this place, he'd talk to the boy. He'd convince him to make a change, encourage him to re-enter athletics perhaps. But that letter would never be seen, he'd see to that. He strode outside into the sunlight and watched the rolling green fields behind the hospital. One day he'd see to it that Jack Malone paid for his sin.

Part 22

Coughing and wheezing, Martin blinked, sat up and adjusted to the darkness around him. He stood up and peered at the large boilers and other ancient gear stowed in the cellar of the warehouse. The rookie pulled a small flashlight from the gear on the belt he wore and flicked it on. He moved cautiously, pausing to pick up a good size piece of wood in case he ran into trouble. For a warehouse so large the boiler room was small. In addition to the old heaters and the new system, there were boxes and crates filling the cavity. Martin eased his slim body through the narrow lane and found the lone door. He jerked the knob but it was locked.

"Great..." he mumbled.

Peering around the room, he caught sight of the new heating system, it's light coloring stood out. He moved closer his gaze roaming to the ceiling. There was a wide grid cut into the plaster. Hope flared up again and he made his way through the wooden and steel maze until he was under the grate. It was more than adequate width to fit his body through and would provide a path throughout the building. A path he could follow without being detected. He dropped his club and moved several large crates over, creating a crude ladder which he used to engage the ceiling. Holding the small flashlight with his teeth, he eyed the two screws holding the grate in place. Carefully, he took the small penknife from his pocket and unscrewed the grate It dropped easily into his hand. He dropped it to the floor and took the light back in his hand.

"Bingo!" he whispered, slipping his body into the duct.

Timeline: August 2002
Virginia

Danny looked up when Nick strode into the large day room. He looked a lot better, he'd gained some weight and his eyes weren't as empty. He was in the last week of his stay at the highly ranked facility. Jack mentioned that DiSipio was going back to his mother's old neighborhood at the Jersey Shore for awhile. That might be the right medicine for him, a small town by the sea. The ocean could be a very healing balm.

"Hey, man, you look better," Danny noted cheerfully, taking the extended hand.

"Thanks, Danny, I feel better. I'll never scoff at anyone who takes therapy again. How's everybody?"

"Good, busy, you know how it is," Danny replied and regretted the words immediately. He saw the shadows appear and the younger man turned away."Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."

"That's okay, Danny, I have to learn to face that." Nick eyed the crowded area around them full of other patients. "Let's walk outside, it's nice out today."

Pete entered Nick's room and found it empty.. He made his way to the large common area shared by patients and sometimes visitors. There where a dozen or so other patients parked in front of televisions. Some were in robes, their zombie eyes telling him they were medicated. Others were playing cards or talking. He saw the back of his son's head outside and moved to the window. He recognized the man with Nick , Danny Taylor.

As the two men disappeared down a path and beyond his sight, he thought on his son. The bright blue sky and that brilliant sun nestled in it should be a symbol of Nick's future. That path should have led to a promotion eventually, the leader of an F.B.I unit, then onto Washington D.C. in a position of authority in the White House maybe. But instead, all Pete Gibson had of his only son's future was broken glass. The crystal he'd set on the altar when he met the boy so many years ago was now smashed.

He couldn't put the pieces back together but he could make sure the man who was responsible would pay. Jack Malone's future would be left in shards and totally irreparable, just like his son's.

Jack Malone would pay and pay dearly.

As Danny drove off after spending the afternoon with Nick, he wondered about the odd way the kid spoke. It was almost as if he didn't know he'd been dismissed. A few times he mentioned 'coming back' and 'making no mistakes this time'. Danny didn't feel he had the right to question that, maybe the kid hadn't been told yet. Maybe he was still fragile and they felt telling him before he was ready would be harmful. The facility was top notch, one of the best in the country. They were the experts, he wasn't. He pushed the nagging thought away and made his way home.

May 2003
The Tower

"Alright Sister, just calm down!" Vivian ordered, putting both hands up. "Put the gun down!"

"Don't tell me what to do!" Theresa screamed, one hand clutching her head and the other waving the pistol wildly. "Everyone's always telling me what to do. I know what to do... stop yelling at me... stop... stop... no more."

"Alright, alright!" Vivian lowered her voice and kept her guarded eyes on the distraught and clearly unstable woman and the loaded gun that she waved in front of her. . "I'm just going to check on him, okay?"

"Okay... but... just... just..." Theresa stammered, totally panicked. Pete wouldn't like this, not one bit.

"I'm okay," Danny whispered, clutching his bleeding thigh.

"No you're not," Vivian replied, trying to peel his fingers away,"You're bleeding all over the floor. Let me see, Danny. Let go."

"It's a graze?" he asked hopefully, gritting his teeth at the burning pain engulfing his leg.

"Yeah, but a bad one, it's deep." She put pressure on it and thought on the nun's medical background. "Maybe she can help, she's a medical nun."

"She's a whack job waving a gun!" Danny hissed, pulling away. "No thanks."

"You don't have a choice, Danny. You could bleed to death," Vivian replied

"What are you talking about?" Theresa asked, her eyes narrowing.

You, they're talking about you... whispering... you... about you...."

"Are you talking about me?" She repeated what the voices told her. "Stop it. Stop talking about me. I'm not crazy!'

"No, you're not," Vivian lied and turned back. '"As a matter of fact, you're the only one who can help Danny.He's hurt badly and his leg needs tending. You have to help him, Sister, it's your duty."

"Duty?" she whispered, hearing her lost friend's voice. Sister Michael would know what to do, she always did. There was a medical room down the hall, which Pete set up in case of emergency. It was fully stocked. "I can help... I can help..."

"Yes, that's right, Vivian oozed, eyeing Danny's pasty complexion. The eyes fluttered and he began to slide sideways. She slapped his face. "Don't you pass out on me, Danny. Can you stand?"

"Yeah... gimme... a... minute..."

"Just him!" Theresa snapped the gun back up as soon as the young man was on his feet. "Down the hall, move!"

"Okay, okay, just keep that damn thing away from me, you already got a big enough piece of my hide," Danny noted and limped away.

"You!" She motioned to Vivian. "Get back in that room, now!"

"Alright," Vivian agreed, not liking the glazed eyes.

Danny turned to her then and behind the nun's back nodded his head once. He'd find a way to get back and free her. She walked back into the room and the wall slid shut. She sighed once and eyed the blood on her hands. While she washed them in the sink, she saw the blood swirling and disappearing into the drain. She only prayed that their hopes didn't wash away as well.

Timeline: Late August 2002
Seattle

The dramatic lodge boasted a fabulous view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. It was the only waterfront hotel in Seattle and offered dramatic views of the Elliot Bay which it overlooked.

Martin Fitzgerald made his way through the impressive lobby; its overstuffed chairs and rock-housed fireplace creating a unique atmosphere. He stifled a yawn and tried to shake off the lethargic feeling left over from the night before. One of the perks of working undercover as part of a team designed to take down the largest Idenity Theft Ring on the West Coast was dating the boss's daughter. Maddie Perrault was a ravishing redhead with a temper that matched her flame colored hair. She was a spoiled, only daughter to the man behind the crime and Martin had been seeing her for two months. She'd gotten her claws into him his first day on the job. He was bending over to plug in his computer, when she grabbed his ass and whispered something very dirty in his ear. He'd been warned about her, he had a whole background on the Perraults and their operation. She was said to be a wild young woman totally without restraint. Fending off her rather forward advances had proven difficult. He broke into a cocky grin as he approached the elevator. He thought back on the night before and the marks she'd left on his neck after a rather rough cab ride from the Italian restaurant they'd dined in.

He'd fended off her hands, teeth and tongue as best he could and crawled into his bed at two a.m. He'd been up and out early, getting to the office long before the others. He was Jacque Perrault's new , fair-haired boy, a wonder kid with the magic touch. He'd already suggested two ways to improve their system and gotten the pat on the back from the old man.

He entered the restaurant and admired the room before him. Just the right blend of wood, steel and stone with floor to ceiling windows gave the a Northwest feel to the Asian fusion restaurant. It was a favorite of his; the food and view were outstanding. His keen eyes skimmed the room and he saw Jacques and three of the other board members at a table. They were enjoying drinks and appetizers at the best table in the house. The old man stood up and waved him over.

"Martin, you're early," Perrault offered. "I have a favor. I left my cane up in the room. My hip's really bothering me today. Would you be so kind?" He gave the key over and flicked his eyes at his watch. "The meeting won't start for another twenty minutes. That should give you plenty of time. Oh and could you call Denise?" He noted of his secretary. "Tell her we won't be back until four or so and to cancel my dentist appointment."

"Yes, sir," Martin took the key and sauntered to the elevator.

Perrault trusted him; they always did. Although his looks and charm were tools that made his job working undercover easy, white collar crime was beginning to bore him. Three years was about two too many. He'd had his heart set on working for Jack Malone. He didn't understand how he missed out; he felt he had excellent qualifications. Often when he went back East to visit his folks, he'd hear his father complaining about Malone and his 'unconventional' methods. Victor called Malone a 'loose- cannon' and it always gave Martin a guilty pleasure that Malone could work his father's nerves. He'd done his research; Malone headed up the most successful Missing Person's Unit on the East Coast. He kept track of the cases and when he heard they needed a man for the team, he couldn't get his paperwork done fast enough. It was only a temporary setback; he fully intended to become a member of Malone's squad. He unlocked the door and moved into the large suite. He spotted the phone and made the call first. Then he hung up and walked over to the living area. He spotted the heavy blackthorn cane and picked it up. Before he had a chance to turn around, a pair of very talented hands wrapped around his waist. He turned around to find Venus before him wearing only a very sly smile.

"What are you doing here?" Martin asked, before a pair of sultry lips assaulted him.

"I'm lonely..." Maddie replied, tugging on his belt. She pushed him onto the sofa and straddled him, kissing him again and then moving her talented teeth to the spot just under his ear. "I'm hungry."

"You're crazy!" Martin snapped. "What if your father walked in? You're supposed to be in class."

"I am in class," she pouted, then knelt before him, tugging the zipper down. "I'm a naughty girl, Professor."

"I can't, Maddie," Martin groaned and pushed her away. "Your father is waiting."

"Let him wait," she purred, casting doe-eyes up at the handsome man and taking his hand. She kissed the palm and then suckled the index finger, getting the groan she intended.

"Shit!" Martin hissed, losing control. His beeper went off and he moved from beneath her. "Saved by the bell," he mumbled, adjusting himself and zipping up. He froze in place when he saw the numbers. He didn't feel the hand working his thigh nor the lips that nuzzled his neck. "This is important, I gotta take it." He grabbed the cane and turned back, giving her a hard kiss and caressing her smooth skin. "You get to class, we'll catch up later."

"I'm very angry with you," she sulked, grabbing his crotch. "You'll pay for this."

"I hope so," Martin grinned, pulled away and took off into the hallway.

The anxious agent took the elevator and exited on the ground level. Walking quickly through the lobby, he spotted a phone on the wall by the restrooms. Ducking behind a large plant, he quickly dialed the number. His heart was pounding so hard he swore it would jump out of his chest. Then the voice answered and he was dumbstruck for a moment. He prayed it was the call he'd been waiting for.

"Agent Malone"

'Uh, Hi... Hello, it's Martin Fitzgerald."

"Martin." Jack sat back at his desk, playing with paperclips and eyeing the morning sun streaming in the windows. It was a bright and very beautiful day, one he felt represented a new start. The dawn he hoped would mean the beginning of something very good; a new team, a new future. "It's about the job, it's yours if you still want it."

"You're kidding right?" Martin rasped, raking a hand through his hair. "Hell, yeah I want it. But I thought the position was filled."

"It didn't work out," Jack tossed the string of clips aside and Nick DiSipio's ghost left the room. "So when can you start?"

"I'm gonna need a few weeks, I'm in the middle of an ID theft case, a big one. I'm close..."

"Yeah, I heard, I talked to your father. Sounds like you're quite the white collar whiz kid."

"Don't remind me," Martin groaned. "I want more, Agent Malone, a lot more. I'm stifled here."

"Okay, hot shot, we'll see what you have." Jack waved to Chris Boone who'd entered his outer office." I spoke with Max this morning," he noted of Martin's boss from the Seattle office, "he's He's up to date. You call me when you're ready."

"You got it." Martin was almost giddy. "Agent Malone? Listen, I want to thank you. You won't be disappointed."

"I hope not," Jack noted, "See you in a few weeks, Fitzgerald."

"Hot damn!" Martin whispered and triumphantly fisted a hand. Then he ducked into the men's room, washed his face and collected himself.He put his game face on and resumed his role as Martin Baker, systems analyst extraordinaire.

Jack hung the phone up and felt a mixture of sadness and relief. He was relieved that he finally had the right man for his team. But his sadness over the very tragedy that was Nick DiSipio would take a while to digest. A part of him felt he hadn't pushed strong enough early on to get the kid out. Maybe if he had, Nick would have been spared the nervous breakdown that ensued. But this was a new day, a new start and time to move on. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out the folder he'd so carefully tucked away. He signed the papers and slipped them into the interoffice memo for the HR Department. Then he picked up the photo and made his way into the outer office.

"Hey Chris," he greeted his peer on another team and a good friend.

"I just heard," Boone returned, eyeing the photo. "You got the First Draft pick huh?"

"We'll see," Jack replied. "I hope this time I get it right."

"Nick wasn't your fault, Jack, you tried," Chris consoled. "This kid's got the right stuff, I know Max Dennison, he's tough. I worked with him in St. Louis. He took the kid right out of the academy and he's worked with him for three years now. He's good, Jack, Max says all the kid needs is grooming."

"In other words, he's green," Jack sighed and eyed the trio waiting for him in the conference room."I hate green."

"Don't we all," Chris teased and clapped the disgruntled team leader's back. "Old timer."

"Fuck you, Boone," Jack tossed back as the handsome blond agent left for his own office.

"What's up boss?" Danny looked up from the crime scene photos he was studying when Malone entered.

Jack laid the photo down and watched as all three bent to examine it. "This is Martin Fitzgerald, he'll be joining our team in a few weeks. He's working undercover in Seattle, white collar unit wrapping up an ID Theft Ring case."

"He's easy on the eyes," Sam noted of the handsome, blue-eyed young man.

"Very easy," Vivian agreed.

"I'll bet he has a tattoo on his ass, 'made by Mattel'," Taylor's sarcasm was met with a trio of chuckles. "Fitzgerald?" he puzzled and eyed Jack. "He related to Victor?"

"His son."

"You're kidding!" Danny replied, shaking his head in misery. "Great, a lightweight. Just what we need."

"Daddy's fair haired, little boy," Vivian shook her head. "Jack, are you sure?"

"No wonder he's in Seattle," Sam scoffed. "White collar crime? It might as well be Palm Springs."

"Are you three done?" Jack cast a sharp eye on the group. "I picked him, he's been my choice all along. Deputy Director Fitzgerald had nothing to do with my choice. And whatever you think about his father, that's not his fault. Give him a fair chance, don't be so prejudiced."

"Okay." Sam backed off and put her hands up in defense. She and Vivian resumed their phone log work and Jack picked up the report sent by the lab to review.

"Hmmph!" Danny growled lightly, picking the photo up. He eyed the clean cut, chiseled face that screamed Ivy League. "Jack's no fool, that's for sure. But I'm still keepin' an eye on you, Harvard."

May 2003
The Tower

Martin inched his way through the twisting tunnels inside the heating duct. He paused several times to rest his head, which was throbbing intensely, making it hard to keep focused. The sweat poured off him, causing him to blink rapidly as it ran into his eyes. He cursed whatever bug he'd picked up, leaving him feverish and with a bad throat. Two more openings were ahead and he paused, eyeing both empty rooms. He had no idea how long it would take to find the right one. He heard voices and his ears pricked up.

"...still... sting... dizzy..."

It was a woman's voice which was followed by a sharp cry of pain.

"Danny?"

He inched along faster, using his elbows and knees and worming quickly through the dark path. He saw a light shining from the grate before him and paused, peering downward. Danny Taylor was lying on an examination table stripped of everything but a pair of briefs. Both hands were strapped down at the wrist, the ankles were bound as well. His right thigh was covered in blood and there was a middle-aged dark-haired woman washing the wound with a bloody rag. Twice she moved to the sink, tossing bloody water away and returning. Then she picked up a silver tool and began to prod at the wound. He flinched when Danny cried out again and his own fisted curled up in pain as his partner's did.

"I'm sorry this hurts so much, but you shouldn't have hollered at me," she defended, picking out more debris.

"Sis...ter..." Danny grit, trying to fight the urge to pass out. He'd lost blood and it was making it very hard to stay awake. "...listen... to... me. You need to call the police... before... Gib..son... gets..."

"I told you not to tell me what to do!"

"Okay... okay..." Danny winced; he'd made a bad choice. The silver sharp tool was inches from his eyes. He swallowed hard and felt sweat pooling behind his neck.

Martin held his breath and waited. He couldn't risk unscrewing the grate now, she'd hear him and he was too far away. She was unstable and could accidentally stab Danny. Also the gun was peeking out from her pocket. If she felt threatened enough, she'd shoot before he got through the opening. No, he'd have to sit and wait until she left. Then he could free Danny. Besides, the jagged wound on his thigh needed stitching. So he bit back his frustration and waited in the dark.

"I'm sorry," Danny managed, his eyes never leaving the sharp thing held so closely in front of him. Finally she retreated and he exhaled sharply. He felt a prick on his arm and turned sharply as a needle was inserted. "What's that? What... are... you... doing?"

"It's for infection, it'll help," she said and picked up a bottle of antiseptic. She paused over the open wound. "I've taken out as much debris as I could find. This will hurt but it's necessary. Then I'll stitch your leg and bandage it."

"Okay," Danny agreed, not wishing to push her again.He pressed his head flat back and clenched his eyes waiting for the pain.

The scream caused Martin to back up in his hiding spot overhead and cheek to slam against the wall . The echo of Danny's cry of agony ripped through the very core of him. It took several moments before he peered through the grate again. The nun's hand was moving with a needle and thread. He flicked his eyes to Danny who was lying motionless, apparently passed out from the pain. So he waited patiently while she finished her job and securely bandaged the leg. Then she pulled a cotton sheet up to his neck and moved to the sink. He watched her wash her hands and put every tool into a basin of foamy hot water. Then she dried her hands and moved to the door. Martin's eyes never left her hand as she typed in the numbers on a digital panel.

The pain ebbed and flowed just like the tide. The semi-conscious man thought that was ironic; that they were close to the ocean and he was feeling similar tidal effects. He sighed hard and tugged weakly at his bonds. He thought maybe when she came back, he'd tell her he had to go to the bathroom. Once he got free he'd jump her, if she returned before Gibson got back. But what if she didn't? Danny muttered in frustration at his predicament.

"Nearly naked, tied down and locked in a room by a mad nun."

It didn't get much worse. He laid back and tried to ignore the pulsating pain in his leg. It pounded in even rhythm, leaving a burning sensation down his leg. A sound caused his heavy eyes to open. He peered through blurry vision at a body upside down suspended from the ceiling. A man's upper torso was emerging. The blurriness cleared long enough to allow him to focus on a familiar set of features.

"Great!" he rasped, shaking his damp head. "What the hell was in that shot she gave me? Now I'm hallucinatin'."

"Thanks, Taylor, I'm glad to see you too." Martin pulled the sheet off and eyed a cabinet nearby. He'd seen the nun open it to get towels and had glimpsed some orange material in there. Sure enough, there were clean jumpsuits folded at the bottom. He took one out, examined the size and moved back to the table.

"Harvard?" Danny's voice caught he was so stunned that the 'dream' was now unlocking his restraints. "Where the hell did you come from?

"You should have been paying attention in Biology class," Martin chased back and helped the wounded agent sit up. He lost his smile then and cupped the back of Danny's head. He met those brown eyes head on and swallowed hard. How many nights had he he dreamed about Danny's death? "You look like shit, partner," he choked hard as a half grin formed on the other man's face. Not just any grin, that damned, cocky, Taylor special.

"I missed you too." Danny took Martin's forearm in a brotherhood lock and nodded once, trying to chase the guilty face away. "Vivian's down the hall, we gotta get outta here. "

"She okay? I was outside and heard the shot." Martin got both of Taylor's legs in the legs of the jumpsuit and eased the wounded man down. He grunted when his back took Danny's full weight but tugged the suit up. Once Danny got his arms inside, he zipped it.

"Yeah, that nun is whacko... she's hearing voices..."

"Armed and dangerous." Martin eyed the room. "No phone?" He saw Danny's eyes go to the cellphone on his waist. "No good, Gibson's got interference up."

"You know about him?" Danny took the container of juice that Martin had taken from a small refrigerator by the lab table. He took a long swig as Martin made his way to the sink.

"Yeah, he's gonna kill Jack. He's been using me all along."

"I know, man, I've had to watch it on the damned screens in my prison cell in full color." He got angry again as the offensive pictures reappeared. "I'm gonna slick that pig from his neck to his balls."

Martin paused then, with a glass of water in his hand and captured the heat coming from Taylor's eyes. It felt good, damned good to have someone take up your back like that. He drained the water and filled up twice more. He gasped slightly and swayed as the room seemed to tilt for a moment. He grabbed the sink and heard Danny limp up to him. He jerked his head but not fast enough.

"You're burning up. How'd you get here? What happened?"

"Sick?" Martin shrugged, "I guess I picked some bug up. The 'how' is a long story and we don't have time. Jack knows about Gibson, Boone too, but nobody else. I knew he was doing this, but I have no proof. I couldn't blow the whistle on him until I knew you and Vivian were safe. He'd have killed you."

"Where's Jack now?" Danny asked as they made their way to the door. "It's locked, she uses numbers."

"I know." Fitzgerald deftly pushed the right combination. "Us white-collar lightweights have all kinds of unseen talent."

"Yeah," Danny cuffed the back of the damp curling head. "I know. In case I forgot, thanks."

"We're not out of here yet, partner," Martin replied, helping his injured friend into the hall." Which way is the control room? We need a radio or phone."

"It's not this way," Danny noted jerking his head behind him. "It's gotta be ahead." He limped slowly behind Fitzgerald as they made their way down the hall. There was a single door with a very complicated alarm system attached to it.

"Locked," Martin jerked the knob.

"And armed!" Danny finished.

"Okay, I can climb back up into the vent and try to find it the hard way. "

"Yeah and you could get your Ivy League ass lost for hours in that vent," Danny dismissed. "Or you'll pop your head down in there and she'll shoot it off."

"That's a chance we gotta take," Martin replied turning back to head back to the medical room and the open vent.

"No, we don't," Danny said softly, pulling the arm back. "We get Vivian and get the hell out. You got a car?"

"It's out back, I hid it in the woods. We're near the shore, not far from Route 9 outside Atlantic City."

"Okay, but Jack knows we're here. He'll bring the..." Danny paused when Martin's head dropped. "Aw, shit. He don't know you're here?"

"Yeah... no..." Martin huffed in annoyance. "I found this place and tried to call him, but Gisbon's got a field up, the cell won't go through. He'll find the old guy at the gas station, that's how I found you. He'll be here, come on."

Vivian's head came up when a voice called to her from the other side of the wall. Frowning, she walked over and pressed her head to the wall.

"Vivian? Can you hear me?"

"Martin?" She didn't hide her shock. "How did you get here? Is Jack with you?"

"No, I'm alone. There isn't time to talk. I'm trying to get you out. I got Danny with me."

"Is he okay?"

"I'm fine, all stitched up." Danny called from the floor and tapped the wall with his hand.

"Martin, there's no control panel. She's wearing the remote, it's in her pocket. You can only unlock this with the device she has. I've been watching her on the monitor and she's on the verge of cracking up. She's pacing like crazy in the control room. You can't afford to get caught. You need to take Danny and get help. If you get caught in here, we could die, Jack included. You need to go now."

"Not without you," Martin disagreed.

"She's right, Martin," Danny conceded. "Hell, I'm lucky she didn't kill me. If she comes back she could shoot us or lock us up."

"Or Gibson could walk in," Vivian added. "I'm the senior agent here. I'm ordering you two to leave. Leave now!"

"Alright, I'll take Danny down to Route 9 and radio for help, then I'm coming back. I'll be less than an hour, Vivian," Martin vowed.

"Good luck," Vivian sent through the wall and moved back to the bunk. For some reason she shivered as a chill ran through her. She wasn't superstitious but felt as if someone had walked over her grave.

It didn't take as long as he thought. Martin got Danny back in the vent and they quickly crawled through the maze. They landed back in the boiler room, with him helping the injured man to a crate to rest. He knelt down and examined the wound. There was a zipper on the jumpsuit by Danny's thigh and he pulled it down to examine the wound and felt his hand slapped.

"You didn't even buy me dinner," Danny managed, his head swimming."Pawin'... me... like... cheap... meat..."

"I'm fevered, not desperate," Martin retorted, glad to find the wound not seeping. The bandage was good and strong. He zipped the fabric back up and began his search.

He left the wheezing agent long enough to scope scout the room. He found a ladder and moved it under the chute that he'd ridden down. He climbed up to the top rung but he was still about four feet short of the opening. Then he remembered the other door. He eased his body down the rungs and moved through the boxes around the room.

"You still with me, Danny?" he called out, trying to keep the semi-conscious man alert.

"...better... offer... come... along..."

"Thanks, I'll take that as a compliment," Martin answered and quickly found the trap door. He moved several boxes, forming a mock mountain. It would be a very tricky climb but his experience as a rock climber would help. He could climb up to the very top, pop the door and get out. Then he'd lower a rope and haul Danny through the chute where the ladder was. He quickly came back and found Taylor fading fast.

"Hey!" Martin tapped the face and two slits appeared. "Listen up. I gotta climb all the way to the top and through a small door. Then," he paused and pointed to the chute above their head, "I'm gonna call down to you from up there. You climb that ladder and take the rope. I'll pull you out, got it?"

"Hur...ry..."

"Will do," Martin replied, climbing up his mock mountain. He shoved the broken trap door open and hauled his body through. He sucked in the fresh air and rested his face for a moment on the grass. Then he took a good gulp of air and sprinted for the car. He got a rope out of the trunk and made his way back to the chute. He tied the rope to a steel support beam and lowered his head down into the chute where he spied Danny's foot by the base of the ladder. "Danny?" He called out and got no answer. "Danny!"

"Yeah... here..." The dizzy agent slurred, shook off the black curtain falling and stood up. He gingerly made his way up the ladder, using his good leg and dragging the bad one. He hooked the rope around his upper body and let his partner pull him up.

Martin eased Danny out and collapsed, his chest heaving from the effort. The fever left him weak and lightheaded. Danny's weight took all the extra strength he had. It took a good five minutes to regain his lost stamina. He moved his hand over and patted Danny's chest.

"...with me..."

"...yeah..."

Martin forced his ailing body into motion. He sat up, got Danny up and took the rope off. Then he stood up and regained his balance. He was dizzy and felt sick, whatever bug got a hold of him was a strong one. He felt a wave pass over him and almost passed out. But he took a few breaths and it passed. He turned to see how far the car was and if it would be better to back up and bring it to Danny. But the car wasn't in his line of vision. Something large and lethal was and he didn't have time to react before his face exploded.

"Well, well, look what the wind blew in," Pete Gibson growled, unleashing a solid right and sending Martin Fitzgerald flying into the side of the building.

Part 23

Timeline: September 27, 2002
Manhattan Federal Building

Nick DiSipio was very nervous but it was understandable. He walked along the crowded streets of New York and felt the pulse of the city again. He'd been living in a small apartment on the Jersey shore near the sea for about a month. He'd spoken to his father at great length about his troubles and coupled with the Bureau's counseling, he felt sure he was ready to rejoin his team. He needed to speak with Jack Malone first. He'd approached his father with the idea as soon as he'd been released. He wondered why his father was so hesitant, what was his dad afraid of? Finally, he'd threatened to move back into New York and his father had agreed. But the older man made him promise to wait until next week and they'd talk about the best options for his future. His father felt a change would be better, a new city, somewhere where there was no ghosts. But Nick needed to prove something to Jack and Danny. So, despite the fact he'd promised his father he'd wait until the older man returned from Denver on business before he made some plans, he was here in the city.

Nick was never a patient man and he'd chomped at the bit all week. His father was due back in a few days but he couldn't wait any longer. He'd seen Malone the night before on the news and he just had to talk to him. So here he was at the Federal Building. He swallowed his fear and stepped inside the lobby. The security guards were lined up and he allowed himself to be frisked. He told the guard he was here to speak to the HR people about a job. That wasn't a lie; he intended to do that as soon as he saw Jack. Yet when it came to actually getting in the elevator, he couldn't move. The doors opened and he froze, still seeing the dead girl's lifeless eyes. The stench of her bile and blood rose up and choked him. He began to sweat and his dark eyes darted around.

"Excuse me? Are you getting in the elevator?"

"No... uh... no..." Nick decided and watched a handsome young man with fair-haired good looks and very blue eyes nod as he went past. The badge clipped to the man's pocket identified him as a federal agent. He even looked the part, clean cut and very sure of himself. The doors shut and his heart sank. He remembered the coffee shop off the lobby and headed for it to get some tea. He needed to calm down. An hour later, with two cups of tea and a large doughnut under his belt, he entered the elevator.

He paused outside the glass office walls in the corridor as the rush overtook him. It was as if he'd never left but at the same time, he felt like a stranger. He saw some of the other agents from neighboring offices eyeing him oddly. He didn't turn away; the therapist said he had to meet his fears head on. He watched Danny walk past just a few feet away on the other side of the glass. He reached a hand out but his old partner's name froze in his mouth. He followed the tall, dark-haired agent until he sat at the conference table. On the bulletin board was the photo of a young woman. He knew by the way Vivian and Sam were looking at Jack, that it was a new case. They were talking and taking notes, probably going over theories. He slipped through the doors and went left, heading for his old desk. He froze and glared at it, all his things were gone. A sinking feeling entered his gut and he turned his face again towards the conference area.

A handshake.

That was the first bullet that ripped through his tender insides. His heart nearly stopped and his throat went dry. His dark eyes widened in shock when he saw Jack shaking hands with a stranger and he read the team leader's lips. The hail of bullets tore him apart.

"...give him that frosty welcome... rookies..."

"Welcome to the team," Nick repeated the words spoken by Malone while glancing at the man. The very same one who'd passed him in the lobby. "No... no..."

He staggered away watching in disbelief as the newcomer sat in the seat he used to occupy. His place was gone; his job taken by a blue-eyed pretender. Stunned and filled with so much pain he could barely walk, he staggered to the elevator and fell inside. His mind began to whisper things to him as he descended. He forced the voices to go away, they usually obeyed him. No, it had to be a mistake. His job wasn't stolen from him. Jack believed in him, didn't he? He got to the lobby and found a phone on the wall. He quickly dialed the number to the receptionist at the end of the floor above where his old office was.

"Missing Persons Bureau, can I help you?"

"Nick DiSipio. He's on Malone's team."

"One moment." Hope soared briefly, the flickering flame warming his cold insides. She didn't hang up, she was connecting him.

"I'm sorry, we don't have any agent by that name working here."

"Are you sure" He croaked as the flame choked and died."I mean... I know he's with Malone..."

"Malone, Johnson, Spade, Taylor and Fitzgerald."

"Fitzgerald?" Nick shook his head. "No that's a mistake. There's nobody by that name on his team."

"He's new today, it's his first day." She paused as the phone went dead. "Hello? Hello?"

New.

The word worked his gut like a hot saber, slicing it to bits. Nick quickly found the street, rushing to get some fresh air. He didn't see the people he was passing on the street. He didn't see the traffic lights that changed and the cars that screeched to avoid hitting him. He only saw the empty desk, the new man's face and Jack's handshake.

Welcome to the team.

The sky wasn't blue anymore; it had turned to a sickening shade of gray. The same color as his father's eyes — the eyes of the deceiver.

"You lied," he cried, sliding down the side of a building. He didn't have a team anymore. He didn't have a job. He didn't have a family. He had nothing. He sat there and drew his knees up, his heart broken. He'd ignored the voices that had taunted him when his mother left. Now they seem prophetic .Everyone discarded him. Even the man he'd loved so much, his own father had ripped his heart out.

May 2003
Route 9
New Jersey

Jack kicked the side of the wall of the Sunoco Station and cursed. The 'closed' sign was not what he needed to see. Had Martin even made it this far, or had he stumbled onto Gibson's hideout on his own? He'd been trying every few moments unsuccessfully to call the missing agent's phone. Now he had no choice, he had to make the phone call he'd hoped he could have avoided.

"This is Jack Malone, I need to report a federal agent missing."

New York

Cindy Thomas looked up from the nursing station when a very handsome, intense man with short sandy hair and grayish green eyes approached. Some men were born to wear stylish clothes. This guy had a gray suit on and a designer shirt and tie. He could easily pose for the cover of GQ.

"I'm Chris Boone, F.B.I. I was called about Agent Samantha Spade?"

"Oh, yes," she recovered, trying not to let those magnetic eyes distract her."She's just been placed in room 403, second door on the left."

"She's awake?" Chris asked, "She's out of ICU, that's good right?"

"She began to respond to stimuli early this morning.A neurosurgeon tested her and she was able to respond.She's still very weak and she's going to be here awhile, but she's doing much better."

"Where are the men who were with her? She's not to be left unguarded."

"Inside the room," Cindy replied.

"Thanks." Chris nodded and made his way down the hall

Sam blinked and opened her eyes, startled at the light touch on her arm. Her vision was still fuzzy and she knew someone familiar was next to the bed. Light hair and light skin. Not Jack or Danny. A little heavier and taller than Martin. Not Eric. Blond hair.

"Sorry," Chris whispered, "I didn't mean to startle you, Sam."

"Chr...is..." she croaked and moved her hand to her throat. "God... is... that... me..."

"Hold on, Sunshine." He poured some water into a cup and snapped the lid on. After securing the cup, he held it out so she could sip.

"Thanks," she managed, after draining the mug. "It's been... awhile... since... you... called... me that."

"You're not a rookie anymore." Chris grinned and rubbed his cheek. "But you still have that fire."

"You... should... have... ducked..." Sam replied of the incident during her first days on the team when Chris had mistaken her for someone else. She reached out and took his hand, very glad for the warmth it brought.

"It's good to see you looking up at me, you had us all scared."

"Where's ....Jack..." She began to panic, as a feeling of dread overwhelmed her. "I need... something... important... to... tell... God... Jack... I..."

"Take it easy, Sam," Chris soothed, "You've been in a coma, you took quite a fall. You're lucky to be alive."

"Martin!" She blurted out, closing her eyes and trying to find the brief image that had just appeared. "What happened, Chris? Is he dead?"

"No," Boone answered and waited. "What do you remember?"

"We got a call from Danny," she rasped and eyed the pitcher. After another sip of water, she laid her aching head back and thought again. "I remember driving towards... a..."

"Warehouse?"

"Yes," she nodded and her dark eyes darted but the rest was very fuzzy, a long echo of her name being screamed from behind. "Martin... warned me... it's dark... he shouted for me."

"And..." Chris prodded.

"I can't..." she whispered, closing her eyes and pushing the mental buttons to try to retract the information. Only one picture came up; Martin on his knees, terrified and a man behind him. "A monster..." she whispered. "So big... he hurt Martin... he... he... whispered... he...." She kept looking at that same picture in her mind. She saw another image, the monster's mouth moving. Martin dropped like a hot stone. "Scorpion!"

"What?" Chris asked as the door opened.

"Scorpion, he said... that... and Martin fell... he was paralyzed in fear..." Sam was confused and she was in a lot of pain. None of this made any sense."What the hell happened?"

"That's all Detective, she needs her rest."

"Just another minute, Doc," Chris pleaded.He saw the apologetic nurse behind the very brusque doctor. "Sam, someone is after Jack. He's behind the kidnapping of Danny and Vivian."

"Vivian? Oh no... when..." She recoiled in shock, putting her hand over her eyes. She was very dizzy and this was too much news to get at once for a foggy head. "My God how long have I been out?"

"We think whoever did it, used Martin, with drugs or possibly a trigger. So I need to know if you are sure about Scorpion. If that's the word you heard him say."

"Oh yeah," Sam nodded, annoyed at the doctor who was glaring at Chris. "Look, I'd rather have him here than you right now. Can you stop doing that?"

"You're my patient, Miss Spade and right now I know what's in your best interests. You need to rest and that doesn't include being interrogated."

"Okay Doc, you made your point," Chris huffed and turned back, lifting the hand and kissing it. He winked at the sassy blonde, glad to see that spunk back. "You take care and obey the 'doctor' here okay? I'll be back later. I'll call Jack and update him."

"Where's Martin? What aren't you telling me?" Sam demanded.

"I don't know, Sam, I honestly don't know. Jack spoke with him, he knows where Martin is. So don't worry, okay. There will be an agent here 24/7."

"Okay, Chris." She was scared now, with most of her team missing. She was also frustrated that she was lying broken in a bed with tubes attached to her and unable to help. She saw Jack's counterpart reach into a bag by his leg and pull out a very soft and very cuddly peach colored dog.

"Something to hold onto." Chris laid the stuffed animal next to her.

"Cute," Sam smiled and again was reminded what made guys like Chris so rare. "But you know nothing says 'I care' like diamonds."

"Wiseass," Chris grumbled, winked once and left the room.

Sam tolerated the doctor's exam, listened to his words and tried not to gag on the onion-and garlic laced breath. She was glad when he left and accepted a tray of clear liquids from the nurse. Later, when the tray was taken she laid back and closed her eyes. She held onto that soft, furry dog and thought about how and why everything could have gone so horribly wrong.

May 2003
The Tower

"Get away from him, you animal," Danny hissed, hauling his wounded body upright. Martin's body flying past him roused him from his stupor. Seeing his partner threatened by the hulking monster sent his senses soaring.

He climbed to his feet and felt a fire explode inside of him. The adrenalin rush alone born of that hate gave him the strength to go on. He didn't feel pain anymore only a thirst for justice; something that cried out to be quenched. His lips curled up in disgust and his dark eyes were bright with fury.

"I'm gonna rip your heart out."

"Really? Care to wager?" Gibson leered at Malone's tenacious terrier.

He turned away from the wheezing Fitzgerald and laughed at the wavering would-be fighter before him. He'd let Taylor get a few shots in, it was good for him to get a workout. This business of revenge had cut into his gym time. He ducked at the first punch that glanced off his jaw. He connected with his right to the gut that sent Taylor backwards. Amazingly, the young man stayed on his feet and delivered a hard shot of his own.

Danny rifled all he had into the fist he sent into Gibson's throat. He watched the beast stagger and shake his head. So he followed up with a punch to the jaw and one to the gut. That one hurt, the man's abdomen was made of steel or so it seemed. Gibson caught him twice to the face and side, sending him to his knees. From the corner of his eye, he saw Martin crawling towards the car. Maybe there was a gun inside. He had to give Fitzgerald a few moments.

"Jack knows about you," Danny panted, swiping blood from his newly split lip. "You're history, Gibson."

"Tsk, tsk," Gibson clicked his tongue and shook his head. "Malone's a worthless worm. I'll squash him under my boot," he issued as he hit the side of Taylor's leg, one that the dark-haired agent was favoring. The cry of pain that split the air told him he'd hit his mark. Taylor went down hard on one knee, but he didn't give up. Gibson pulled his hand back, preparing a fist to launch into the defiant and battered face, when something hit him hard behind his knees, hard enough to topple him.

"Get his gun, Danny," Martin wheezed, barely able to keep upright. Gibson's fist felt like a sledgehammer and his vision was blurring badly. He also was seeing spots dancing before his eyes. He used what little strength he had to pick up the large piece of wood he'd found.

"That wasn't very nice, Martin," Pete coughed, sending his right leg out and hearing a snap as it hit Fitzgerald's chest.

"Shit..." Danny hissed, launching himself at Gibson.

Martin was hanging onto the large man's legs, trying to prevent him from rising. Blood was running down Fitzgerald face and his eyes were barely open. Danny hit the beast between the shoulder blades and forced him down again.

The victory was brief.

As he moved his hand under Gibson's coat to try to find a weapon, a large fist moved and slammed into his wounded thigh. An explosion of colors appeared before his eyes and he winced as a scream hit the air. As the white hot pain enveloped him, he was thrown over and a beefy arm went around his neck. His air was cut off and his eyes bulged, he clawed at the arm frantically. Martin's motionless body before him began to fade away until there was nothing.

"I'll give you credit, Jack," Pete admitted and dropped Taylor's unconscious body. He eyed the young men and laughed. "You had a couple of real warriors here."

He didn't know what transpired inside the building. He didn't know how much of Taylor's words were true. But the fact that Fitzgerald had found him and had gotten Taylor out spelled trouble. He'd come too far to allow his plan to be compromised now. So he rolled Fitzgerald over and searched his pockets until he found the keys to the car the agent had driven. He popped the trunk open and eyed the cavity inside. Without any mercy, he rolled Martin Fitzgerald onto his stomach and cuffed his hands. He then threw him into the back. He opened the back door of the car and jogged back to his own vehicle. He got a rope, a tarp and got to work. He gagged both victims with silver duct tape, before tying Taylor and dumping him into the back seat. He covered him with a tarp and then locked the car up.

He paused in the doorway, punching in the combination. From the emergency box in the entryway, he pulled out a gasmask. He'd find the answer to his questions later. Right now he had to move to another location. He found the control room empty and quickly typed in the code to the virus. Soon it would spread to all the computers, preventing anyone from gathering information. He watched as Vivian Johnson staggered and fell. He didn't know where Theresa was but he had a good guess. He walked quickly through the hallway and to her room.

"Fool..." he muttered, knowing she'd failed and that failure could cost him. She was in the corner and had been praying but was now slumped over on the wooden pedestal; he lifted her effortlessly and made his way back to the car. He strapped her to the passenger's seat up front and put his sunglasses on her. To anyone seeing her from another car, she looked like a bored wife. Vivian Johnson was placed on the floor and the tarp was unfolded, carefully covering her and Danny. After loading some necessary documents into the back over the inert Fitzgerald he shut the trunk. He took his emergency duffle bag from the trunk of the rental car he'd used and tossed it over Taylor's body.

As he drove away, he turned on the radio and found the news station. There was a news bulletin about a missing federal agent. He laughed at that and thought of Jack Malone's misery building. It excited him, to think he'd finally gotten to the summit. He was standing on Mount Everestand nobody could touch him now. He would crown his glory with a spike bearing Malone's head. He knew now what he had to do and in a way, it would be a more fitting end for both Fitzgerald and Malone. It wasn't very far and with any luck it wouldn't be very long before victory would be his.

Route 9, New Jersey
May 2003

Chris Boone saw the flashing lights on the highway well in advance of his arrival. He recognized the state troopers' cars and two dark sedans as federal vehicles. He wondered how long it would be before Victor arrived. Maybe he could get Jack out of here before that happened. Then a news van passed him and he shook his head. A news van passed and he shook his head, "Fuckin' vultures," he muttured as they stopped at the roadblock before him. He flashed his badge and the state trooper allowed him to pass.

"Fuckin' vultures," he muttered as they stopped at the roadblock before him. He flashed his badge and the state trooper allowed him to pass.

"Anything?" Jack asked of the young man who was viewing the tapes from the cameras in the station.

"Maybe," the cop replied, tapping the screen with a pencil. "This your man?"

"Yeah," Jack huffed in annoyance. He watched as Martin talked to the store owner and they walked outside. He couldn't see much, but he did see the old man return and look north out of the window. "Okay, thanks."

"Jack?"

"He was here," Malone updated Boone and had the kid replay the tape. "Three hours ago. Why the hell didn't he call?" Malone saw Boone jerk his head and they moved to the rear of the store where they could speak privately.

"Sam's awake," Chris updated as soon as they were in a secluded area.

"When?"

Jack's voice reflected the relief that was evident in his face. His world had turned into a menacing place, where an evil monster was casting a dark shadow over him. This was good news and he'd take any ray of light that he could grab. Sam would recover and Gibson wouldn't get her; it was a small victory in a much larger war.

"Earlier today, I spoke with her. She's pretty shaken up and very weak. She's been moved out of ICU."

Chris saw Jack sigh and turn his face away for a moment, letting his hand move over his weary features slowly. He couldn't imagine the hell his friend was living through and hoped he'd never have to. Although they had the key to the door that would free the missing agents, they didn't have the location. Without that, the key was useless and Gibson could would win his vile game.

"She remember anything? Did she see Gibson in that warehouse?" Malone shook the clouds away and tried to refocus.

"No, well... she can't see the guy's face but, she did say he whispered a word to Martin and the kid dropped like rock. "

"The trigger word," Jack recounted of Fitzgerald's find in the former NYPD detective's office. "Martin said he read Gibson's journal that he was being hypnotized."

"Yeah, well the word is 'Scorpion'. She remembered that the guy was huge."

"What else?" Jack saw something he didn't like in the very readable, light eyes. It uncoiled a cold snake in the pit of his stomach. He flinched as the reptile thrashed in a bath of stomach acid. "Don't hold out on me, Chris, I'm treading in quicksand here."

"We searched Martin's apartment. I had the lab take some samples of the stuff in his fridge." Boon paused and rested his hands on his hips, before exhaling slowly.

"What? Jesus, Chris, stop yankin' my balls huh?" Jack demanded, his last nerves frying fast.

"Just as I pulled in, I got a call from Brendan Gavin," he noted of one of his agents. "The orange juice had traces of something in it."

"Traces?" Malone's stomach dropped, sending the snake into a fierce dance with fangs sinking fast and furious.

"Something similar to the flu but not yet identifiable." Chris paused and swallowed hard, "Jack, it was almost empty."

"Christ!" The stunned team leader sagged, dropped his aching head into his shaky hands. The words of the poem came back to haunt him. "...before the gilded heir turns fatally sick. What the hell did that sick bastard do?"

"I authorized the sample to be sent down to Atlanta," Boone noted, trying to find the right words. He wondered if there was anything that would lift Malone's spirits. "The CDC might be able to track it."

"Great, that's great," Jack ranted, kicking the door to the freezer in frustration. "When we find Martin's corpse they can name the damn vaccine after him. Anything else?"

"The water bottles had a narcotic in it, but that's all we found. Jack, we got nothing tying Gibson to this. I know it sucks, but we have to tread carefully here."

"Tread carefully? Yeah, I'll 'tread' real carefully when I kick the snot out of that son-of-a-bitch!" he snarled, eyes flashing and hands fisted.

"Cut it out," Chris snapped, grabbing Jack's arm hard. "Listen to me, Jack. I've known you for over ten years. I won't let you do this. Revenge isn't the answer, you push Gibson now and we're done. We'll put a tail on him. In an hour this whole area, every side road and swamp will be searched. We'll find them Jack."

Jack growled and shook the hand off, moving a few feet away to regroup. He knew the fair-haired man was only doing his job, but it didn't make it any easier. Martin was missing and full of a bug that had no face. What if Gibson caught Martin? What if his anger spilled over and the ripple effect caused a lethal wave to wash over Vivian and Danny? He sighed hard, pressed his throbbing face against the cold glass and wished he'd wake up from this nightmare. He heard Chris's cell phone ring and felt a hand on his shoulder as the other team leader answered a call. He left Boone and went outside, shoving on his sunglasses as the late afternoon sun was strong. He walked past the red and blue flashing lights and past the throng of cops. He ignored the reporters who were asking questions and moved down the road. He paused and eyed the golden light beginning to fade from the sky. He closed his eyes, feeling his hopes fading as well.

Mystic New Jersey
September 2002

Nick stumbled through the doorway of the seedy dive and flinched as the abrasive morning light hit his eyes. Fishing through his pockets he found a crumpled five dollar bill. He eyed the greasy sign across the street and the broken lettering indicating it was a diner of sorts. As he managed to stumble across the street, the large amount of booze he'd consumed the night before was a distant memory. He'd left the bright lights of the city to return to the only home he'd ever truly known, the one place where he'd been happy in the sunny days of his youth.

The church was boarded up, so he'd found an old boarding house nearby and took his buddy Jack Daniels home with him. Together they'd drowned their sorrows and cursed the evil Fate who'd sent them on this path. He vaguely recalled trashing the room and with every downed shot of liquor, dismantling Jack Malone and his father. The very thought of Pete Gibson caused his stomach acids to rise. He found the tiny bathroom in the eatery just in time to lose the contents of his stomach. As he cleaned up, he vowed to get the answer he deserved. Both men owed him an explanation and that started with the man who'd fired him. After downing some toast, oatmeal and coffee, he found the phone on the corner just down the block and dialed Jack Malone.

Manhattan FBI Headquarters
Early morning
Sept 2002

Jack Malone put the phone down and shoved his chair back. It was barely daylight and the day was souring. Hard work, timing and a sheer luck had seen them arrive at the scene of the crime in time to save Maggie Cartwright, the missing young woman who'd been their assigned case. But his newly acquired rookie had made a critical error that could have ended tragically for himself and the young woman. Martin had left the office where he and his partner Danny had gone to gain information on their leading suspect. Martin hadn't told Taylor where he'd gone, he'd gone to confront the suspect on his own. His reward was in the form of a baseball bat to the back of his thick skull. Jack only hoped the hot-headed rookie had learned his lesson, in this case the hard way.

"Malone!" he hollered when the phone rang again. In the short span of the last twenty minutes, he'd already been dressed down by his supervisor Paula Van Doren and her boss as well.

"Lower your voice, Agent Malone," Victor Fitzgerald threw his pen down and turned his back to the window that afforded an outstanding view of Washington D.C. "What the hell happened? My wife got a call this morning from the Emergency Room. I talked to Dick Smith and Paula Van Doren."

"Then why are you wasting my time?" Malone replied tersely.

He'd gotten little sleep. After speaking to the family and the brass, he'd finally gotten the paperwork done just after one a.m.Then he'd gotten a call back from Danny Taylor who had taken the injured agent home. The doctor felt due to the concussion, Martin shouldn't be left alone. So Taylor stayed with him and would be waking him up every two hours as instructed to ascertain that he knew who he was and where he was. By the time he finally dropped into his own bed, it was after two.

"My son's life is hardly a waste of your time!" Victor roared. "His first day on the job and you put him in peril? He's..."

"He's a very qualified federal agent and he gets no special treatment, you know me better than that. He screwed up, Victor, is that what you want to hear? The kid made a mistake and it damn near cost him and the hostage. Nobody knows that better than him. He was with a senior agent and he left the post without notification. He was trying to show the others up, a common rookie mistake. It won't happen again."

"I'm coming down this morning to speak to Martin. I'll expect a fully detailed report when I arrive."

"I'll set my alarm," Jack muttered.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," Malone managed, rubbing the throbbing temples by his graying hair. "Is there anything else?"

"I'll speak to you later."

The dial tone was a relief and he hung up. He wondered how Martin had managed to survive under the scrutiny of his father. It was tough enough being in this line of work, but having your father the Bureau's Deputy Director and a jackass to boot was brutal. He knew his gut instincts were correct; Martin was a fine agent and once his green skin turned to the rosy shade only time could color, he'd be fine.

He picked up the phone to dial Taylor again and eyed his empty coffee mug. Putting down the phone, his growling stomach reminded him he'd not eaten since late the previous afternoon, so he headed down to the lobby to grab some grub from the coffee shop.

Mystic NJ
Early evening.
May 2003

Vivian shivered and wrapped her arms around her chest, hoping to find some warmth. The room they were being held hostage in appeared to her to be a cellar of some kind. The damp gray stone walls bespoke of an architect of long ago. It was a fairly large storage room, full of dusty old crates and scattered debris. The lone window was covered by bars and was placed far above, near the ceiling. The lack of light on the other side of the cracked glass told her it was evening. A soft cough and a moan drew her head around. She sighed hard and eyed her two companions. Both young men were in desperate need of medical attention. She rummaged through the duffel bag that had been left with them and fished out a bottle of water.

"Danny?" She moved closer and held the chilled bottle against the hot skin of the semi-conscious Taylor. Two fuzzy eyes blinked and he licked his dry lips. "Hold on, I'll help you up."

"..hell... are... we... hap...pen...ed..." he slurred, forcing his heavy eyes open. He was propped against a cold wall and the musky smell in the room made him cough again. He felt a bottle nudge his lips and latched up, sucking like a greedy infant.

"Slow down!" Vivian ordered, "You'll get sick."

He paused, breathless from the exertion and didn't bother wiping the excess that spilled from his lips. He frowned as his foggy brain tried to put the scattered pieces of the missing part of his memory back in place. A large body loomed up in his cloudy vision and a fight. Another body was lying bloody nearby. Not just anybody...

"Martin!" He cried out, alarmed.

"He's right there," Vivian assured, pointing to the stilled body lying on the floor.

"He's... bad... huh..." Danny knew by looking at the flushed, wet skin and the ragged breathing he heard.

"He's very sick, he needs a hospital. So do you."

"Where is he?" Danny wheezed, flinching and holding his throbbing leg. He eased his damp head back against the cold stone and shivered.

"I don't know, Danny. But this is not what Gibson planned, he's on the run."

"Great," Taylor muttered, shaking his wet head. "He's desperate, that's just what we need."

"We'd be dead already, then," she countered. "It's not us he wants, it's Jack. We're the bait. He's revising his plans."

"Jack... will... come... Martin... thinks... he... knows... where..."

"I hope so," Vivian replied, moving to assist Fitzgerald who was moaning and beginning to thrash. "Because I don't know how much longer he can last."

"I got it," Danny interceded, lifting the flushed face agent until he was semi-upright, just beside him. The head lolled, hitting his shoulder and a wet cough ensued, causing Taylor to wrinkle his face. Just then two blue eyes startled open, wide and unfocused.

"Hey, man, you mind not hackin' all over me, I don't need your damn Harvard germs crawlin' into me. I got a fine, tooled machine here," Danny teased and saw the confusion remaining. "Hey, up here... focus... Martin!"

"Huh?" Martin croaked, trying to find the face nearby. A slim man with dark hair and eyes... white teeth... cocky grin... "Dan...ny?"

"Yeah... you with me?"

"Why... under... water..."

"Oh man, you're wasted," Danny fretted, holding Martin upright so Vivian could get water in him. "Open up, incoming..."

Martin opened his mouth and found the bottle, but had a hard time drinking. It spilled down his chin and onto his shirt. He was annoyed and screwed his face up and made a fist.

"Hey, cut that out," Danny ordered.

"Just take a little, Martin, it's not a race," Vivian suggested, supporting his wobbly head and nudging his lips again. "Good... good... easy... that's it... good." Across the profile of Fitzgerald, she saw Danny's face full of fear. His dark eyes never left Martin and she wished she could find a way to reassure him. Martin finished drinking and laid back, his head thumping against Danny's shoulder.

"He did this," Danny vented, coughed and paused to catch his breath. "That... sick... bastard... did this... to... him..."

"Looks and brains as well, aren't you Jack's prize?"

Vivian smiled but it was short lived. "Danny!" she hissed moving in front of both injured agents as Gibson appeared from the shadows. She felt the weak man struggling to rise and could feel the hatred pouring off him.

"...get... out... of... my... way..." Danny wheezed, seeing the monster through a wall of red haze.

"You really screwed this up," Vivian assessed coolly, her face not revealing the fear inside her heart. "Martin's dying. You don't get him to a hospital soon and your plan fails. Jack wins."

"You're the brains, you know." Gibson moved closer, full of revulsion at the protective hold Taylor had Fitzgerald. How could they be so blind? The blue-eyed pretender had fooled them as well. "You should be the team leader, not him. Be that as it may, you are partially correct. My plans have changed somewhat and that will require some additional work from that sorry pile of refuse."

"You bastard..." Danny sneered when Gibson aimed a gun at Vivian motioning her to move across the filthy room.

"Really, my dear, you are as expendable as the valiant Agent Taylor. I can put a bullet in you... or one in his knee and cripple him for life. You can watch him suffer."

"Alright!" Vivian answered, moving to the chair that was about twenty feet away. She saw him motion to the handcuffs and snapped one on her wrist. The other was attached to the chair, which was bolted to the floor.

"Good, isn't that nice, you have a front row seat."

"No..." Danny pushed Martin behind him and tried to stand up. A sharp backhanded blow sent him flying. He landed in a stuporous pile and watched through stars dancing before his eyes as the beefy hand hauled Martin up. The rookie's legs were like rubber and his head was lolling on his chest.

"Sorry," Gibson's sarcasm echoed as he eyed the nearly unconscious, fevered man, "but I'm afraid that pretty face of yours needs some touch-ups for your debut."

Danny flinched and spit a mouthful of blood from his mouth as Gibson's fist found Martin's face again and again. Blood poured from a split lip and a cut over Martin's eye which was swollen shut over an equally swollen face. What was Gibson's plan? Too weak to move and still reeling from the blow, the fevered agent watched helplessly and curiously as Martin was propped against the wall. A newspaper was thrust on his chest.

"Say cheese..." Gibson leered, "How appropriate..." he gave the damp head a pat as he took a series of photos. "...for the prize lab rat..."

"You sick fuckin' bastard," Danny gasped, rolling onto his back and fighting to push his body up. A booted foot found his stomach and ground him down, causing him to choke as his air was cut off. He grabbed the foot and twisted it, hearing a laugh echo above.

"Amazing... your resilience, I didn't count on you being so strong." Pete was fascinated by the growing fire in Taylor's eyes. "I'd love to stay and chat some more," he noted, "but I have an appointment with your boss... the curtain on the final act of his sorry career is about to rise."

"Danny?" Vivian called out as Gibson disappeared among the large crates. The little twilight from the window was fading fast. Soon they would be in darkness.

"Danny?"

"Yeah..."

"Can you get to Martin?"

"Yeah..."

Painfully, the injured man crawled over to where his partner was lying in a bloody heap on the floor. Gently he rolled the limp body over and swallowed hard, painfully taking in the damage to the battered face. He felt tears of rage and frustration burning in his eyes and he took a long, steadying breath. He gently laid a hand on the face and Martin flinched, moaned and tried to pull away.

"Easy man, it's me." Danny said softly and flinched when the fear left Fitzgerald and the face pressed into his hand. "That's it, relax. Hold on, I'm gonna clean you up," he assured softly, reaching over for the discarded water bottle.

He poured water onto the bloody face and washed some of the mess away. He continued to work, talking softly and felt slightly relieved when Martin relaxed under his touch. Finally, exhausted, he sank back, landing on the duffle bag. Martin fell with him, his upper shoulders and head hitting his chest. Danny moved his hand under so he could grip Martin's neck.

"Don't you die on me..." he wheezed, a cold fear creeping into his chest. The pulse beneath his fingers wasn't as strong as it should be. "I'll kick... your... sorry... Ivy... League... ass..." he choked. Several moments went by before a weak, raspy reply went airborne.

"...big... talk... like... to... see... you... try...."

Danny laughed then and heard Vivian chuckle. He gave Martin's chest a light thump and pulled him closer, trying to keep them both warm. Now that the light was gone, what little warmth the sun provided was gone as well. Martin was restless, the fever was making him thrash. His breathing was awful; he was truly struggling.

"Shh..." Danny whispered, moving his face closer to the damp curling hair. "Settle down, man. I've got you."

"...nee..."

"Right here, partner."

Danny found some relief in that his words soothed whatever demons were sticking their hot pitchforks into Martin's flesh. His own leg throbbed and the lethargy that was consuming him would only be worse by morning. His last thought before his heavy eyes drifted closed was that hope was renewed each dawn; he hoped that the morning light would reveal Gibson for the madman that he was and their savvy team leader would defeat him.

Part 24

New York
FBI Headquarters
Sept 2002

The fifteen minutes of peace over a stack of pancakes ended abruptly for Jack Malone when an unpleasant sound pierced his ear as left his table at the coffee shop. He winced as the weasel called out his name again.

"Yeah," he replied, turning as Dean Craddock approached the cashier. Jack paid his check and exited, walking swiftly and hoping to lose the other man.

Craddock was an annoying fixture in Administration, the kind of rat that employees despised but administration loved. He was a stern taskmaster who scrutinised every case that even had a slight infraction on the part of an agent. More than one agent had been suspended, Malone felt, without merit. By his book, the forty-ish, balding whiner was a frustrated agent wannabe. He couldn't crack it on the street so he made sure he made those that did, pay.

"I want to talk to you about that rookie you snuck through the back door."

"Back door?" Jack whipped around and loomed over the smaller man. "That's a load of shit, Craddock and you know it. Fitzgerald is more than qualified, you have his records."

"I also had three reporters on my back asking me how a rookie managed to nearly get the very person he was supposed to save, killed."

"Get off my back!" Jack hissed, entering the elevator. "The kid's good, he's green is all. Not all of us have your stellar record of arrests." He paused and watched the other man's face flush. "Oh, that's right; you have no jackets, do you?"

"That's enough! I won't be talked to that way, especially by a rogue like you. You withheld his file, that's a violation. You had no right retaining it after the last choice was made. There were other agents who deserved that place and never got the chance."

"They didn't make the cut the first time," Malone insisted of the list. "What the hell sense would it make to haul them in again?" The doors opened and he stepped out. "For the 'record' Craddock, Fitzgerald was my first choice, my only choice. I made that clear and got overruled."

"This isn't over, Malone, I'm watchin' that hot-shot and if he pulls another stunt like that, I'll have his badge."

It was barely six a.m.and he already had a headache. Between all the local calls he'd fielded from the internal department brass, Victor's call and now Craddock, he was simmering. Over the screaming tension in his head, he heard his cell phone.

"What?" he growled, wincing at the echo of his voice.

"Jack? It's Nick. I need to talk to you about my job."

Nick hadn't been able to get through to his boss on the phone, so he drove into the city. He found his first ID badge in the glove compartment of his car and that got him into the building. Now, despite the turbulent stomach, the splitting headache and sickness that comes with a severe hangover, he was trying to find the courage to face his boss. What had gone wrong? Why had Jack pushed him out? He'd worked so hard in therapy to conquer his demons. Didn't they understand how badly he needed to prove himself?

"Nick?"

"Your mustang tactics won't fly this time, Jack, you won't get away with this. That kid showed last night that he's not the rising star you thought he was!" Craddock grabbed at the team leader's shoulder to emphasize his point.

"Get your slimy fist off of me and don't tell me my job!" Jack snarled.

"Jack?" Nick repeated confused at the harsh tone. "I don't understand. It's about my job with the team."

"Huh?" Jack only half-heard the raspy voice on the phone. "Job... team... Nick you don't work here anymore. You have to move on... like the doctor said."

"You make sure that Fitzgerald has his paperwork on my desk by eight a.m.and it better be good." Craddock threatened.

"He's got a concussion and you'll get your damn report when I review it," Jack retorted as he listened to Nick's babbling in the background. Craddock continued his tirade and Jack felt sure there was a drill going through his ear. "I gotta go, Nick."

"DiSipio?"" Craddock added the clues up. He read the fatigue on Malone's face and pushed harder, "Another one of your failures. Your track record is beginning to show just how short-sighted you are."

"Jack!" Paula Van Doren stepped in front of her irate team leader as his fists clenched and his muscles screamed in tension. "Enough! Go to your office. I'll speak with Dean."

"You do that," Jack snapped, heading up the hallway.

He paused in the doorway of the large office. He frowned and eyed the back of the body seated at a desk. The last person he had expected to see at his desk was Martin Fitzgerald and certainly not this early. How had the newcomer eluded Danny Taylor? His eyes snaked over to Taylor's desk and the computer was off. Jack rubbed his throbbing eyes and moved into the office, his thoughts trained on Fitzgerald Outspoken on the border of cocky, the bold young man oozed self-confidence. Despite his hot-head and rookie mistakes, Jack got a feeling about him in his gut. He'd learned long ago to trust his instincts and they told him this kid was the final piece he needed but the eager rookie needed a lot of seasoning and he was about to get his first dose of salt.

"My office, hotshot, now!" he barked, skirting past the injured man and not looking back.

Martin jumped and sucked in a harsh breath when Malone's unexpected bellow slammed into his still tender skull. He took a few seconds to compose himself and stood up, grabbing the desk for support. His eyes flickered to the glass wall behind which his mentor was waiting. He looked awful; no doubt he'd had a long night ahead and a lot of questions to answer. It had been a costly error but he'd learned from it. This job was what he wanted and his training at Quanticowas finally being put to use. He knew Jack was pissed, but he was ready for whatever bullets the angry leader would fire at him.

Jack saw Martin approaching just as the third ring ended and a very groggy voice met his ear.

"...lo..."

"Taylor? Put Martin on the phone, I need to ask him something."

"...okay..."

Jack listened as the dull thump of footsteps and the call of Martin's name sounded. Then a short string of curses in both English and Spanish met his ear. Finally after the sound of something falling and breaking, the disturbed agent was on the phone again.

"Uh... he's uh... can't come to the phone now Jack," Danny answered, glaring at the empty room.

"Really? Where is he?"

"Uh... he's... uh... I'll have him call you..."

"That won't be necessary," Jack replied, "since he's standing five feet away from me."

"He's there!" Danny snarled. "There he goes again, running out on his partner. You picked a winner this time, Jack. I oughta knock the other side of his head in."

"You were supposed to be watching him! How'd he get past you?"

"I dozed off..." Danny protested, still annoyed that the rookie had slipped out on him.

"Go home and get some sleep. I'll need you here by noon to do your write-ups on the case."

"Look, I'm sorry, Jack, I don't know how he got by me."

"You can take that up with him later," Jack answered and hung up.

He watched as Fitzgerald approached the door and didn't miss the features pinched in pain, the bruised blue eyes and the awful pallor. His years of experience told him the dull pain in those eyes was more than physical, but he wouldn't tread lightly. Fitzgerald had all the right tools, he just needed some time and a good ass-kicking to make sure he learned how to use them properly.

"Sit down while you still can," Jack warned of the 'ass-chewing' that was about to ensue.

Martin took a seat across from Jack and was about to go into the rational apology that he'd worked on during his ride on the train coming to work. But before he could utter a sound, a piece of paper and a pencil was thrust at him. He looked at it and then at the stormy dark eyes of the man whose team he'd yearned to be a part of.

"Write down the word team," Jack ordered and watched the slim fingers work. He waited until the confused blue eyes looked up at him. "You see an 'i' in there?"

Martin sighed hard and pushed the paper away. He'd not expected a lecture on these lines; he knew his job. Why couldn't Jack just see he'd made a mistake? He shouldn't have turned his back on the suspect. Had he not done that, the bat would not have met the back of his skull. He wasn't a child and didn't need a lecture on cooperation and cohesiveness.

"I didn't hear you, Agent Fitzgerald!" Jack snarled and saw a flash of defiance in the expressive eyes. "You holster that temper, last night wasn't enough for you?"

"Look, I screwed up!" Martin protested, "Nobody knows that better than me. But I don't need a lecture on..."

"Shut up!" Jack stood and loomed over the cocky rookie. "Answer my question."

"No..." Martin mumbled.

"Good, well at least you can read." Malone picked up the paper and held it right in front of the annoyed face. "And until you understand exactly what this means, you keep it posted at your desk."

"Aw, come on Jack..." Martin began but the fist slamming down and sending the pens and pencils into a wicked dance silenced him.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you!" Jack leaned closer and waited for Martin's head to rise. "You're not riding solo anymore, hotshot, and that stunt you pulled last night is proof you've still got a lot to learn."

Martin never moved while Malone addressed every issue of teamwork, partnership and trust. With every hot word issued, his stomach knotted even more. Jack was right; he had been selfish and that had nearly gotten their victim killed. The words rained down on him and every one hit him like tiny needles. Reckless, impulsive, screw up, hothead and more colorful descriptions of his actions were now littered all over him.

While the two men hashed over the events of the night before, neither noticed the shell-shocked visitor in the corner. Nick, numb all over, crept quietly to his old desk. Gone where his mementos and photos, all the things that had made this workplace his own. He heard the muffled echo of Jack's loud shouts as his eyes went over the new personal items that littered his desk. It wasn't right; it wasn't fair. This man had stolen his job, his place on Malone's team and his desk. He saw a navy blue mug with gold lettering bearing the Quanticoemblem and the graduation number. His hand moved and he snatched it, needing to take something back from the man who'd stolen his life. With tears burning his eyes, he stumbled down to the street, clutching the mug to his chest. He had nothing left, the coldness inside of him made his choice easy.

New York
May 2003
Hospital

Sam moved a little in the bed and shut her eyes, waiting for the nurse to come in and administer the painkillers. The night medications were strong and she knew she'd sleep until dawn. There were no dreams and for that she was grateful. During her waking hours, she fought the awful replay of the horror in the warehouse. The monster looming over Martin and then a pain exploding as her body exploded. Other disturbing images were invading as well; including Eric Keller screaming at Martin. She couldn't see a picture but the memory of his voice angered her.

"Jack!"

She jumped a bit and her voice betrayed how startled she was. He was sitting in a chair just on the other side of the rail. She could barely see him in the shadows; the only light was from the hallway. But even in the dim light, she saw the pain. Jack wore guilt like nobody else, his eyes all too often heavy. Her throat was dry and she tried to sit up a little but the pain in her side and head crashed down.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have upset you," Jack fretted, rising and moving away from the bed.

"Sit down!" she barked weakly in her best Malone imitation.

"Here." He poured a drink and thrust the straw in the cup, holding it carefully so she could drink.

"What are you doing here? What about Vivian and Danny? Chris... said... he... said..."

"Easy," Jack coached, gently pushing her shoulder back until she was against the pillows. He pulled the light blue blanket up and then gripped the rails.

"Talk to me, Jack," she begged, not liking the darkness in the eyes above her. He turned away then and let out a shaky breath. One horrid thought crossed her mind and she nearly lost her own breath. "Oh, God... no... dead?"

"I hope not but..." He sagged and walked away, turning to the blackness outside the window. "I can't stay long, I'm meeting with Chris to go over some evidence."

He paused and eyed the utter darkness, not even a star dared to glimmer and give him hope. It was as if some evil force has cast a dark shadow over him, not yielding to any light. He turned back then but didn't move closer. She looked awful, so frail and pale but the alternative was too painful to think about. So he slowly began and in a haltering voice, hued in tones of desperation and exhaustion he told her all that had occurred from the time she fell until his meeting with Victor just before arriving. By the time he was finished, he was spent; he slumped in the chair and dropped his head into his hands.

Sam was shocked and numb. It was too much for her healing body to absorb. She knew Pete Gibson and that he could be responsible for something this evil stunned her. That he fathered Nick DiSipio and was using him as a part of his mad plan was sickening. Taking Vivian and Danny and nearly killing her, all to get at Jack. But Martin being poisoned and possibly slowly dying alone and in the dark was agonizing. She didn't know what words to use to comfort Jack. Where would they be? How do you tell someone who is the victim of a sick predator that the blood he now saw on his hands was not his fault? She slipped her hand through the bars and caught the side of his face. She pressed her fingers there, gently applied pressure, letting him know he wasn't alone.

May 2003
Midnight

Danny knew before he opened his eyes. He shivered in the cold, the lack of body warmth signalled that what he'd thought was a bad dream was in fact reality. He coughed and turned onto his side curling up and wincing as the cold stone floor kissed his hot flesh. The fever was worse and his leg and head throbbed relentlessly, but it didn't compare to the other pain. He sighed hard and swallowed his fear and the emptiness threatened to consume him.

Martin was gone.

He closed his eyes and his heart sank. A part of him wanted to believe that the feisty rookie was still alive; but the gnawing fear inside told him differently. Like a rabid rat chewing it's way free from a trap, the dull pain ate away at him. Even in his darkest moments he'd felt sure that somehow they'd survive. Had he ever told Martin he thought he was a good agent? Or had their colorful discussions, too often heated, taken up valuable time?

"I'm sorry..." he whispered into the darkness.

"Danny?"

"He's dead... isn't... he...." he choked, then coughed, pushing himself up to get better air.

"No, honey, at least he wasn't when Gibson took him away."

"How long?"

"I don't know," she replied, "a few hours ago, maybe. I guess once he delivers that photo to Jack, he'll use it to lure him in. "

"He's gonna die, Vivian, hell he was barely alive before..."

"Don't give up on Jack, Danny."

Her ailing partner didn't reply but Vivian knew he was fading fast. Hope had been the light that kept him going before. Now, with his fever weakening him, his rally flag was gone. Martin had been the reason Danny fought so hard. The thought that Fitzgerald was dead had taken the wind from the ailing man's sails. As much as she feared Danny's prophecy was true, a part of her felt that Gibson would fail.

"Where are you, Jack?"

Danny tossed restlessly as the fever ate away at his last defences. His dreams were a bittersweet mix of memories. From the cocky rookie's first few weeks when they'd been at each other's throats through the last few months when he'd seen the faltering green steps turn into confident strides. He'd hoped that as time went on they'd learn from each other's differences, Martin's polish and insight against his street smarts and savvy. The distressed soul slowed his frantic breathing, closed his eyes and began to pray.

TIMELINE: October 2002

He stood alone, lost in a place so cold and desolate it held no hope of redemption. He didn't know how long he'd been standing over the tomb. An odd word for a timeless ritual of the need of the living to come to terms with the finality of loss. His eyes were dry; there were no more tears to shed. His eyes went to the name on the stone and his fingers traced over every letter. He recalled the winning ten year old boy whose smile lit up his heart. The charming teenager who was a star in every sport he played and the engaging young man who'd graduated from college.

Gone

Shattered

Stolen from him by Jack Malone. His only son, his pride and joy whose life had given his own so much more meaning was now buried beneath the cold marble stone and unforgiving earth. He closed his eyes and recalled that fateful day just one month ago when he'd gotten a call from the captain of the Mystic Police Department. The seven words every parent dreads.

"Mister Gibson, I regret to inform you..."

The crime scene photos were as disturbing as the tape his son had left behind. He'd gone back to the only place he felt secure, his childhood home. The message wasn't long and rambled in parts, due to the lethal combination of drugs and alcohol. A lost soul whose heart cried out in pain; a young man who felt violated and betrayed by the world he'd trusted. The unseeing eyes of his son gazing at him from a bloated blue corpse, lying among the rats and trash in the bedroom he knew as a boy.

So on this fateful day in October, Peter Gibson made a vow on the grave of his lost son. He knelt and placed both hands on the tomb and made a vow.

"They'll pay, son, I'll write your name in their blood... justice will be served."

New Jersey
Atlantic County
The Tower
Two a.m.

"More coffee, Chris?"

"No thanks, Jack," the blond yawned as he eyed the thermos Malone was shaking and shook his head.

Jack eyed the exhaustion on the younger man's face and then his own burning eyes went to the clock. It was nearly two am and they'd been going over evidence for hours. He knew Boone wouldn't quit, despite the time. They'd gone over some of the evidence at the office and then when the New Jersey State Troopers called to say they'd found what they thought was the place the prisoners were held, they'd gone there. The last of the forensics lab had departed but the two senior agents remained. Together they'd combed every inch of the place, uncovering rooms that had been occupied and blood. Someone had been hurt, and recently. The lab would determine the blood type and shed some light on whose it was. The loose grate in the ceiling of a makeshift medical room had given Boone a thought. Coupled with the tracks outside he'd assumed that Martin had discovered this place and gained entry through the ventilation system. They'd found traces of blood out there as well.

"Why'd he come inside and not call it in?" Jack asked, eyeing the open vent in the medical room.

"Maybe he couldn't. Could be Gibson found him first."

"No, I don't think so. Martin came through that vent."

"Into a medical room," Boone turned and eyed the frustration rising again in Malone. "He had to have a reason for coming in here."

"He saw something... heard something...." Jack theorized, still eyeing the vent.

"The shot." Chris flipped through his notes. "There was a casing in the hall. Either Gibson or the nun shot Taylor or Johnson. Martin might have been in the vent system and heard it."

"So they brought the wounded person in here and Martin surprised them?"

"That's my guess... and somehow Martin got one or both of them outside through that vent. All those tracks tell me Gibson got here afterwards. He doesn't know that Martin didn't call it in..."

"So he moves his operation, which means he's gonna fuck up," Jack predicted leaving the room and walking up the hall to the rooms where they surmised Johnson and Taylor were kept.

"So close..." Chris sighed, entering the room and once again tapping the keys of the portable computer.

"Close doesn't cut it," Jack snapped, eying the laptop computer that Boone was working. "Anything?"

"No, the virus is complicated. The lab guys might be able to get something from the hard drives but it'll take time."

"I don't have any fuckin' time!" Jack yelled, kicking the cot. "I want this bastard!"

"And I don't?" Chris growled, shoving the computer aside. "You think this son-of-a-bitch isn't on my hit list?"

"Alright, I'm sorry," Jack sighed hard and shook his head. "Go on home, we're both fried and snipin' each other won't help."

Chris quietly turned off his computer and got his jacket on. He walked over to the slumped body seated on the cot and held out his hand. The head slowly rose. He needed a way to restore hope to the telling eyes now clouded with gloom.

"You always have this, Jack."

Malone took the hand and rose, letting the younger man feel the full power of his grip. He silently sent with it his own affirmation of the respect he held for Chris Boone. He knew how much blood and guts the blond was putting in this case and that he'd do anything to get the missing team back. He released the hand and tapped the worn team leader's face.

"Get your ass moving, pretty boys like you need a lot of beauty sleep."

"Fuck you, Malone," Boone teased with a weary grin, taking his exit.

Jack sat back down on the cot and closed his eyes. He let the time slip away and tried to become Pete Gibson. He thought on all the clues given and the cryptic messages left behind. He listened and heard Danny Taylor's restless pacing and the calm waters of Vivian keeping Taylor's head in check. He hoped they were together and that Martin was with them. At least then they'd have each other. Or had Gibson killed the pair and kept only Fitzgerald? He dozed for awhile and shook himself free of the lethargy gripping him. Standing, he put his coat on and then walked through the crime scene towards his car.

His brain was too numb to absorb any more thoughts on the case. He was beyond the point of exhaustion. He welcomed the darkness that enveloped him for the morning light would be harsh and unforgiving. The small dirt covered access road was bordered by tall trees and the utter blackness that came with it was eerie. Then, without warning, a body suspended from a rope dropped down and hit the ground in front of his car.

"JESUS CHRIST!" He yelled and slammed on the brakes, his mind screaming the name of the body that he'd nearly hit. "CHRIS!"

He jumped from the car and his insides turned to ice; his staggering legs barely able to carry his stunned body. As he got closer to the battered figure he realized the ropes were under Boone's arms not around his neck, but until he felt a pulse he couldn't be sure. He tugged the rope off and frantically called his friend's name.

"Chris? Chris... dammit... Chris...." His trembling fingers pressed against the crimson-tinged flesh. "Thank God." He slumped and then frowned and saw something was tied under the gag that was across Boone's mouth. He untied the gag and tugged out a brown leather object. He opened it and Martin's badge was revealed along with a grisly photo.

"Photographs don't do him justice."

The voice was colder than the metal of the gun now pressed to this neck. It caused his blood to boil and the all rage that had been festering inside of him began to turn into molten lave. How many sleepless nights had he spent finding new and more painful ways to eviscerate this monster?

"Put your cuffs on."

He did as he was ordered and kept his eyes trained on the bloody face of Chris Boone. Then a hand snaked under his coat to his shoulder and his gun was removed. He rose and turned letting his lethal gaze rake like smolderingembers onto the beast before him. Gibson was dressed all in black and his eyes were merciless. It was as if the man had no soul at all. What Jack saw reflected back at him were the bloodless eyes of a killer, a man without feeling, who had nothing to lose by his actions. But Jack had everything to lose, including the lives of his friends.

"And just how did a clever man like Chris Boone get taken down?" Gibson asked as he waved the gun, motioning for Malone to rise. "The same way you did... let's go."

"Where?" Jack asked, eyeing the injured man at his feet. "He's hurt, he needs help."

"I can remedy that," Gibson leered and took aim, then laughed as Malone went to his knees again, covering the wounded man.

"You sick fuckin' bastard!" Malone growled, "Where are they?"

"All in due time, let's go."

"Go where?" Jack asked, not moving from Boone's side.

"To meet your destiny," Pete replied, taking aim at the bloodied, blond hair.

"No," Jack yelled, throwing his body over Chris's neck and head.

Gibson just laughed and slammed the cocky team leader's head with the gun. He took Malone to the car and began the short trip back to where the curtain would soon rise on the final act of Jack Malone's life.

Mystic NJ
May 2003
Four a.m.

She watched the sky starting to get lighter and frowned, it was all so confusing. Was this the weekend or did she have to go to work today? She sighed hard and turned around eyeing the dirty walls of the kitchen. She always kept a clean house, how had she got so careless? Her fingers worked together, wringing and gripping in fear. The confusing timelines shifted again. Was this a school day? Would Nicky be needing breakfast? Then the room seemed to change and a huge monster lurked in the corner. He grinned evilly and unzipped his pants. He'd be back soon and he'd yell at her. He always yelled at her and if she didn't behave. He'd do the bad thing again. He'd hurt her and she couldn't have that, not again. A low moan drew her attention and she moved from the window. Shuffling quickly into the next room she approached the old dining room table where a pale young man was lying. The bad man had brought him in a little while ago and told her not to touch him and that he'd be back. He was bare-chested and his body glistened, slick with sweat. Her trained nurse's eye told her before his hand moved to his brow.

"Shh... poor thing... so sick..." She peeked around the room and it was quiet, the beast wasn't there. Just as she turned back, his eyes opened.

Through a thick sea of hot mud, Martin forced his eyes open. One eye wouldn't cooperate and he realised the pain that slammed into his face when he tried might be the reason. He was hot, so very hot, and thirsty. He tried to pry his swollen tongue from his mouth but it wouldn't move. He moaned again and began to thrash, he had to escape this heat. Then he swallowed and panicked when his throat seemed to close up. It felt like he was being forced to swallow jagged razors. He was choking, coughing and grasping for help.

"Easy, now... please you must stay quiet." She worried for this boy; the beast had beaten him so badly already. She hovered over him, cupping his discolored face in her hands. The one eye that was able to work focused on her. A shaky hand reached out seeking warmth. Human contact was vital, that was one of the first things she learned. Just as she reached to take the hand and soothe the moaning man's fears, he touched her face. "Calm down, that won't help. Slow and easy, slow down... that's better."

How she'd got here he didn't know but his fevered mind saw only one thing, a small woman with dark hair and eyes and a soothing voice. She'd found him and he was safe. So he reached out to touch her, to make sure she was real and he wasn't dreaming again.

"Mom? Thank God... sick... need help... Mom... there..."

She gasped and tears formed in her eyes. The face before her turned into the one she'd longed to see, dark hair curling around an olive face and dark eyes. Her very one angel sent so long ago from God. He wasn't dead; the beast had lied to her. Her beloved Nicky was alive and he needed her. She took his hand and kissed it and then took hold of it, holding it tight. She moved closer, using her free hand to stroke his cheek. He was so very ill and she provided the touch only a mother can give.

"Mother's here, son, I'll take care of you now, you're safe."

Safe.

Martin sighed and let his eyes close, letting that word and the soft hand on his face cradle him.

She left his limp hand go and eyed the rooms around her. Certain that he wasn't home yet, she moved quickly to the box locked in the closet. She moved the floor boards and took out the metal box she'd hidden from him. He could walk in at any time and that was a risk. But this was her only boy that needed her and she would do anything, even sacrifice her own life to save him. So she opened the box and drew out the syringe and the vial of medicine. It went into his arm easily and she washed the syringe in antiseptic and hid it along with the vial in the pocket of her sweater. There was enough to last at least for a few more doses. Then she locked the box and shut the door. She began to sing softly as she bathed his fever, vowing that she'd not let anyone harm him again.

"I'm right here, Nicky," she whispered, kissing his damp cheek.

Atlantic County Medical Center
Six a.m.

"Where the hell is Jack Malone?"

The doctor that was stitching the head wound on the injured man frowned as the loud voice bounced off the walls around him. The man he was tending to moved his eyes to the door and grimaced. The doctor didn't know who was outside but it didn't matter. This patient was not ready for anyone to question him.

"I'll take care of it," he reassured the pale man.

"Thanks Doc, but postponin' the hurricane won't make it go away." Chris tried to sit up and regretted it immediately.

"I told you not to do that!" Doctor Tim Harrison complained and moved to get an empty kidney dish as the battered, blond man vomited.

Victor Fitzgerald entered the small cubicle just as Special Agent in Charge Christopher Boone's stomach erupted. He wrinkled his nose and moved back a bit, noting that the younger man's pallor matched the shade of green of his eyes. He'd gotten a call from the New Jersey State Troopers who'd found his son's badge and a gruesome photo with the unconscious agent on a deserted road. He'd arrived and been told that Boone was alive and had suffered a head injury and some facial contusions.

"How is he?"

"Alive," Harris replied, assisting the injured man to rinse his mouth. "Drink, you need the fluid." He got a cup of water into the injured blond and eased him back down.

"Chris? Did you find Martin? Where's Malone?"

"I'm sorry; he's not up to this yet. Although his X-Rays were negative, he did suffer a grade 4 concussion and has passed out once since he arrived. I'm admitting him for observation. You'll have to wait before..."

"It's okay, Doc," Chris whispered, wishing that the room would stop moving like deck chairs on the Titanic. He closed his eyes and tried hard to quell the tide of quickly rising nausea. He tried to sit up again but was held in place by a firm hand. He cracked an eye open and was surprised to see Victor holding him down.

"I'm not a tyrant you know," the senior agent answered the surprised green eyes. "Who did this to you?"

"Pete... Gib...son..." Chris managed and saw the disbelief in the blue eyes. "...s'true... he's... af...ter... Jack... using... team... bait..."

"And Martin?"

"...bad... sick... virus... home grown maybe... lab working..."

"Yes, I know that, I got that report late yesterday evening." Victor knew the younger man was fighting hard to remain awake, his eyes were rolling. "Chris is there anything else you can tell me? Was Jack with you? Did Gibson take him?"

"...no... alone... driving... saw... saw... Martin... hanging..."

"Oh my God..." Victor rocked back on his heels and felt his stomach drop.

"no... dead... sor...ry... sor...ry..." Chris huffed in annoyance at his poor choice of words, "...he was... choking,... eyes wide... no air... I ran... to... him... he saw me... called my name... warned... too late... something hit me..."

"So Gibson used Martin to lure you?" Victor scrutinized. "Are you sure?"

"...mis... take... thought... Jack's car..."

"Oh," he nodded, watching the pale eyes slipping. "Chris?" The eyes slid shut and the doctor moved in.

"I'm sorry, you'll have to go now."

He gave the unconscious man's shoulder a pat and left the room. He already had a team from Washington coming down to work every angle of this case. Now that he knew Peter Gibson was a suspect, they had a lead. But what were two senior agents doing on a crime scene in the middle of the night? If they knew Gibson was a suspect why hadn't they said so sooner? He had more questions for Boone and for Malone if he turned up. If Jack had prior knowledge and withheld it, he'd have his badge.

Mystic
Eight am.

"Danny?"

He frowned and furrowed his brows displeased with the disturbance. Waking up meant pain and shivering and misery. Here he was free of that and didn't wish to revisit the area so he resisted. But the soft voice wouldn't let him alone and a hand tapped his cheek. Again it pushed and prodded him to wake up and he protested. He didn't want pain in that place, here he had none.

"Fuck off."

"Nice," Vivian chuckled at the cranky voice. "You're starting to sound like Martin."

Martin. The name brought his eyes open and he realized Vivian was sitting next to him. He stared at the chair across the room and back at her in confusion. Then he inhaled the distinctive scent of hot chicken soup and saw her holding a water bottle with a straw in it. He parted his lips and drank greedily.

"Gibson came back a little while ago and untied me. He left some food." She halted abruptly and hoped that Danny didn't notice.

She helped him sit up and got some soup into him and watched the wheels turning in his head. She didn't tell him how the brute leered at her, showing her photos of an unconscious Jack tied to a chair. Worse yet was the photo of Chris Boone hanging from a tree. She didn't want to think of the likable agent as a swaying corpse. Plus Danny was weak and the only hope that he clung to was Jack finding them. She wouldn't take that from him.

Danny was halfway through the soup when it hit him. Why would Gibson feed them? Why wouldn't he just let them die? Something didn't add up. He turned to Vivian and caught the dark eyes off guard; where hope once was now only a horrid hollowness remained. His heart sank and he called out softly to her.

"Talk to me Vivvie," he asked quietly.

"He's got Jack," she replied simply and sat back, resting her head against the stone. She heard Danny sigh once and lie back down, she wished she could think of something to say but words escaped her. Danny spoke then and she turned.

"Food."

"What?" Vivian asked.

"Food, why's he feeding us? Why bother now?"

"I dunno, and right now I don't care."

"He's got something planned, he must have changed the show." Danny sat back up and took another sip of water. "He didn't count on Martin finding us... that changed everything. We still have time. I got a gut feeling this ain't over."

With Danny's weak voice buoying her, she kept the vigil, allowing him to sleep while she stood guard and waited for Gibson to return. She prayed silently, going back to the familiar lines of faith she'd learned as a child. She always found comfort in prayers and hoped that the Lord heard her call.

Mystic, NJ
Two p.m.

Something slammed loudly and Jack's head shot up too quickly. He moaned and blinked painfully at the cracks of light coming through slivers of torn shades on a very old window. His eyes adjusted to the dim light and he scoped the room. He vaguely recalled being dumped on the floor and being injected with something. Whatever Gibson used to drug him was strong; he'd been out for hours. His arms and legs were bound to a chair that was bolted to the floor. The brightness of what light was trickling in told him it was close after midday. The room he was held prisoner in appeared to be a very small living room. There was a dark curtain suspended in front of the archway separating this room from the next. He heard a shuffle of feet and saw the movement under the bottom of the curtain, just as it was pulled back.

His eyes narrowed in disgust and shock at the sight before him. Martin Fitzgerald was lying on a white linen cloth on top of a dining room table. Although he was covered to the waist by a sheet, his upper body was slick with sweat and his eyes were half closed. His dark hair was curled and plastered to his pale face. The damp cheeks were rosy with fever. But it was the horrid sucking sound that caused Jack's stomach acids to churn. His rookie agent was fighting too hard to breathe; it sounded as if he was slowly choking to death. Then Gibson moved into the picture, grinning evilly as he cupped Martin's chin. He nudged the slack lips with the nozzle of a water bottle and then laughed when the weak man's lips moved seeking water.

"You sick fuckin' bastard!" Jack hissed, straining against the ropes.

"Not to worry, Jack old friend," Pete replied, tossing the bottle aside and moving his hand down Martin's bare chest. "The poor lamb's misery will be over before the new moon rises. How easy it would be," he paused to move his hand to Martin's throat and apply a small pressure. The blue eyes bugged open and the mouth sucked silent 'O's of agony, desperately seeking air, "to end his suffering now." He saw the fire shooting from Malone's eyes and got a rise of delight. He almost envied the way Malone bled for his troops. "But that would be too easy; he has to suffer, gasping for his last bit of air before he chokes to death on his own blood."

"Why? He's done nothing to you. He didn't kill Nick, you did." Malone saw the moment's hesitation and the beefy paw was removed from Martin's neck. The cold slate eyes regarded his own for a moment. "You want justice? You and me can settle this alone. You let me call in a medic for him and you release the others. I'll go with you."

"Tsk... tsk... such a valiant hero." Gibson sneered, moving his face lower to study Fitzgerald's tortured features. "I'll give you credit Jack, you sure have an eye for talent. This one's quite the fighter."

"He's everything you're not," Jack replied and saw Martin's head turn. "Martin? Can you hear me?"

"Oh, I'm afraid the infection consuming him has his mind out of your range."

Jack ignored Gibson and concentrated on Fitzgerald's lost face, "FITZGERALD! I'M TALKING TO YOU DAMMIT, LOOK AT ME!"

Martin blinked as a light penetrated the murky water he was drowning in. He turned towards the light; he recognized that beacon and strove hard to find it. He began to swim for the light shining ahead of him and used all his waning strength to focus on it. He knew that light, the voice that broke through brought hope to the dark storm clouds he was mired in. It gave him renewed energy to fight back.

"That's it!" Jack drilled, watching in amazement as the damp head turned towards him. He didn't hide his revulsion at the swollen and discolored flesh that marred the young man's fine features. "MARTIN! MARTIN!"

"...ack... there...."

'Yeah, Junior, you keep fighting," he encouraged. He saw the lone eye that wasn't swollen shut start to drop and he barked again. "Don't you quit on me! FITZGERALD!"

Martin's shoulders jumped and he shook his head weakly, blinking and turning towards the light. The waves were rough and he was truly struggling to tread the thick water. He couldn't breathe, his throat was full of muck and it was choking him. He coughed and coughed, trying to expel the blockage and panicked when his airway closed.

"Calm down," Jack ordered. "That won't help. Spit it the hell out... TURN YOUR HEAD AND SPIT IT OUT!" He held his own breath and drilled Gibson with a lethal laser when the sick predator laughed at the young man's struggle. But finally the wad of phlegm flew out. "That's it, Martin, now just take it easy."

Gibson eyed his victim for a moment and frowned, wondering why the blue-eyed fly was rallying. He should be close to the coma stage by now. Maybe the orange juice he laced wasn't strong enough? Or maybe he underestimated the will to live. He gave the damp head a pat and laughed when the weak face turned towards the human touch. His laugh grew deeper when Malone cursed at him and just about broke the ropes binding him. At the call of his name, Fitzgerald turned away from the hand and towards Malone.

Gibson wouldn't give the arrogant federal agent the satisfaction. "I'm afraid we can't have that," he moved again, shutting the curtain and taking Martin's hope away. "Showtime is at six sharp, don't be late!" he teased and moved towards the front door.

"...Ja..ck... no... go... ple...ase...." Martin begged, his delirium not allowing him to understand.

"I'll fuckin' kill you," Jack issued in a hot breath as Martin's lost eyes were cut off from his view.

Jack took a moment to let his head overrule his heart and he relaxed. He eyed the ropes on his hands and tried to think of a way to work one arm free. As he jerked his hand under the coarse rope, the motion caused the flesh to tear. That blood would make his wrist slick, hopefully enough to pull his hand out. As he worked, he thought on Gibson's clues. This was revenge against him for Nick's death. Whatever he had infected Martin with was tied to the cause of Nick's death. He furrowed his brows and thought on the coroner's report. DiSipio died by choking on his own vomit; the result of an alchohol poisoning. So that was the grisly end he had in store for Fitzgerald. He winced from the pain of the ropes cutting his flesh and thought of being forced to watch Martin choke to death slowly.

"Hang on, Junior," he rasped, flexing his wrists harder against the rope.

As soon as the door shut, she watched the clock and waited ten minutes before entering the dining room. She moved to his side and gently kissed his cheek, causing his heavy eye to open. She saw the confusion on his face and used a cold cloth to bathe it and his neck and chest. She began to sing and it seemed to calm him. His horrid breathing was a bit better and she thought maybe the medicine was working more than she had hoped. She slipped the syringe from her pocket and took it out of the alcohol sodden cloth it was wrapped inside of. She drew up more of the antidote from the vial and injected it into his arm. It was the third shot she'd given him and she'd increased the dosage. She'd also been giving him something mixed in his water to help with the congestion in his chest. She lifted his head and put the plastic nozzle inside his lips. He drank it all down, the effort exhausted him and his eye closed. She bent to kiss his cheek and her experience told her it was working. His fever was coming down.

"Shhh... shh... mother's here, Nicky, mother's here."

"...mo...m..." Martin tried to open his eyes but couldn't. Her touch and the soft voice singing to him calmed the rough sea and he floated contentedly.

"That's it, son, you rest, I'll take care of you. He won't hurt you again."

"Who's there?" Jack paused as the conversation stopped. The face that appeared on the edge of the curtain coupled with the odd conversation he'd heard gave him his reply. "Siser... uh... you're Nick's mother?"

"Yes," she replied and eyed the blood on his wrist.

"Look, Gibson is going to kill all of us. You have to untie me. We need to get Mart... uh... Nick to the hospital right away. He needs a doctor to..."

"No... no... no..." she denied, her fears rising. She'd waited for years to find him again and nobody was taking him away. The monster lied to her; her boy wasn't dead. If she let this man and the other strangers take him, they wouldn't let her see him again. She'd failed him far too long, she shook her head. "You lied to me... you all lied to me. You can't have him. I'm his mother; I'll take care of him. I won't let you take him away again. He's not dead! You lied ... you lied..."

"No! Wait ...wait!" Jack's plea fell on deaf ears as the curtain dropped. He continued working his wrist and thought on another way to break through to the deranged woman before Gibson returned and time ran out.

Part 25

Timeline: December 2002
Mountain village, outside Costa Rica

Pete Gibson adjusted his dark glasses from where he sat inside the small cantina and drained the bitter coffee he'd ordered. The plan was going much better than he anticipated and the large amount of money he'd paid to the local snitch had paid off. The conversations he'd shared with the junkie didn't do his son's mother justice. She'd already begun to hear voices and was losing touch with reality. The beginnings of a mental disorder in Theresa were already evident. The news of her son's death crippled her; she'd absorbed every word and with each detail he'd provided, another part of her resolve was chipped away. One look in the frantic, dark eyes told him how weak she still was. Now she would be full of guilt over the son she had deserted. By the time his visit was completed she'd been more than a willing participant in his plan. He looked up from the table as she returned. She'd fled to the rest room when he'd told her and by the look of the pale face and queasy unease in her pallor, he guessed she'd left her breakfast there.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. It's just the kind of news I wouldn't feel comfortable delivering on the phone."

"But how..." Theresa stammered, "I don't understand. He was a strong boy, how could this happen?"

"I'm sure he told you in the letters he sent how difficult his early months were in the Bureau. Didn't you call or reply to encourage him? Send him your faith in him? I mean since you deserted him to pursue this... new life."

"No... I mean... I don't know?" she puzzled, eyes darting frantically. Had she written to Nick? My God did he think she'd deserted him? No, that was a horror to painful to bear; her only child calling out to her in his time of need.

"Surely you must remember?" he pressed, seeing her guilt rising quickly. He reached over to take her hand on top of the table. Giving it a gentle squeeze, he continued to pour kerosene of the fire. "I'm sure you told him that you loved him, especially since he told you how much he was hurting. That he missed you so very much during his hospital stay. How much he needed you there, giving only that touch a mother's love can cure..." He saw the opening and seized it, driving his stake home. "It's a pity he died without his mother by his side, calling for you with his last breath.

"No... Nicky... I... loved him. I wouldn't... I didn't... Nicky? I..."

"Now, now," he soothed, patting her hand as the tears began to spill. "I didn't mean to cause this much upset. Don't do this to yourself, my dear, it won't bring him back. I'm a psychologist, Theresa, I can help you. That's part of the reason I'm here. Grief counselling is a good thing; it will purge your soul of this pain you bear over deserting your child."

"I didn't... I always loved him! You must believe me... he had to know... did he know that? Oh God..." The brutal truth cast a dark shadow over her and no more could she walk in the light.

"Easy, now." He stood and gathered the trembling woman in his arms. "I'll walk you back to the church and we can talk there. I know with some of my treatments, you'll feel much better."

A week later when his plane was over the Gulf of Mexico and heading north for New York, he allowed himself to relax. Through the hypnosis sessions, he'd planted seeds of doubt and vengeance in her mind. He'd suggested that it was her duty to avenge her son's death at the hands of Jack Malone. He'd suggested it would be her 'mission' to heed the call and follow him. That only then when justice was served, would her pain go away. Then and only then would Nick forgive her of her sins. By the last session, her already unstable mind was putty and he'd planted the final seed. Her good friend and co-worker, Sister Michael was dead. He forged the passport for her and told her to use it, even providing the ticket paid in cash. He told her about the work she could do at Our Lady of Grace. He'd even written a full recommendation in the name of the Padre she worked for. So in a few weeks, she'd be in New Yorkand in place. Then the first planning for the downfall of Jack Malone would begin. After endearing herself to the people at Our Lady of Grace, Sister Michael would 'disappear' and Jack Malone would be called in to investigate. He eyed the sky outside the window and despite the cloud cover; it never looked bluer to him.

May 2003
Manhattan
6 p.m.

"Jack!" the blonde patient choked on her lukewarm tea and coughed, reaching for the remote.

Sam shoved the hospital dinner tray away and pushed the volume up on the television. Despite the pain that the loud sounds caused to her tender skull, she forced herself to stay alert. The photo of Jack behind the Barbie clone delivering the news caused her heart to jackhammer.

"...no word from the officials yet on what could have become of the agent, who was last seen by a co-worker around two a.m.this morning. But the speculation is that this is directly related to the whereabouts, yet unknown, of the three other missing agents on his team. Danny Taylor, Vivian Johnson and Martin Fitzgerald have all disappeared during the last two weeks. It is thought that the injury to the only surviving agent on the elite team, Samantha Spade, was the result of a thwarted kidnap attempt."

"...only surviving..." Sam rasped, reeling from the stark realization which hit her like a sledgehammer.

"We go now to Dan Chesney at the Federal Building. Dan, anything new?"

"Thanks Jodie," the reporter continued, pointing to the podium set up in the lobby. A dozen reporters were milling about. "We're expecting a statement shortly from Victor Fitzgerald, the Deputy Director of the F.B.I. He's been involved in this case and of course his son is one of the missing agents."

As the two reporters discussed the case, photos of Danny, Martin and Vivian appeared. Sam blinked back tears and thought of the horrid possibility that she might never see her friends again. Suddenly the memories of Danny and Martin's endless bad jokes and pranks were too painful to revisit. Vivian's strong guiding hand might be lost to her forever. Jack, she shuddered and pushed that away, there was no way she could bury him. Then she saw Victor and four other local bureau representatives walking to the podium. Someone was missing and she eyed the chair that Jack had been sitting in less than twenty four hours before. Then it hit her, the missing body that should be making a statement, the lead agent.

"Chris? Chris?"

She listened intently as Victor outlined the details of the case, from the minute Danny disappeared through to Malone's absence earlier that day. The missing piece of information left her both relieved and upset. Fitzgerald had been cryptic, his notes only stating that his son's badge and a recent photo were found with an injured agent, Chris Boone.

"Injured how? Dammit Victor," she hissed, as the reporters began to shout out questions. Her ears pricked up as the query on a suspect was given.

"No, we have no leads," Victor replied, not willing to tip his hand. "But we have every available agent in the tri-state area covering this case. We are reviewing the team's most critical cases and co-ordinating with prison records of any possible felons that have been released."

"What about your son? Isn't he a suspect? He's been seen with each of the others right before they..."

"My son is a victim!" Fitzgerald roared, shoving the photo into view. "Does that look like a suspect to you? We suspect he was used by this madman, evidence in his home indicates he was infected with a virus. That information was given to you in the press packet. My son is damn proud of that badge, don't you dare tarnish it."

"Did you ever tell him that?" Sam loathed at the screen, her stomach turning at the grisly photo of Martin, his handsome features marred. She picked up the phone and dialed Chris's office. Brendan Gavin answered.

"It's Sam Spade, Brendan, what happened to Chris?"

"Hey, Sam it's good to hear your voice." The young agent switched the phone to his other hand and picked up his coffee. "I'm sorry, Sam, I meant to come over in person but the shit hit the fan this morning and we're swamped. Chris is gonna have my ass for this, he told me to come over and tell you."

"Tell me what? Come on, Brendan. All I got is the crap the television fed me."

"Okay, last night Jack and Chris met up at the old plant that Gibson converted. They were doing a walk through, seeing if they could figure out any missing pieces. Around two a.mor so, Chris left. The road was very narrow and dark; he said it was pitch black. Then his headlights hit Martin, half naked and bloody, hanging in the road."

"Jesus! Oh God, he's really dead. Victor didn't..."

"No, Sam, Martin wasn't dead," Gavin interrupted, "at least not last night when Chris found him. The rope was at an angle, Chris thought he was choking. But when he got closer, it was just tied up his back to look that way. He said Martin tried to warn him and then he got clobbered."

"He's okay then?"

"He's down the hall from you. He's got a serious head injury, they admitted him to do some tests. Something about a brain bruise, he slips in and out a lot. I'm sorry, Sam, I should have called you."

"That's okay, Brendan, anything new on Gibson? Any trace of him?"

"None, it's like the guy just disappeared. His house had been closed up for months, wherever he moved he didn't give out to his office. His computer was clean, no credit card or cell phone records that go anywhere. It's like chasing a shadow.

"Keep me posted, Brendan, I want to know as soon as you do. If they find Jack... good or bad..."

"You got it," Gavin replied and hung up.

Sam didn't realize she was still cradling the phone until a nurse took it out of her hand. She accepted the painkillers, her whole body was screaming and tense. She wanted to slip away to a dark place where she would feel no pain. She let the medication dull her senses until her eyes closed. The smiling faces of her friends appeared briefly, casting a dark shadow over her future. Then they faded away, their warm voices dying out as she let the dark consume her.

Mystic, New Jersey
Nine p.m.

It was a glorious day and the cerulean surf crashed onto a golden beach. Overhead, gulls were singing and swooping in a brilliant blue sky under a blazing sun. Martin swam hard, keeping his eye on the large wave coming. He turned and positioned his body, just as it crested, taking him on a body surf right into the shallow waters. His head came through the water and he whooped, fisting the air. He ploughed through the shin high water and towards the beach. His light eyes crinkled in mirth as he took in his partner. Danny's bronzed back was being oiled up by a pair of very buxomy bathing beauties wearing what some would consider dental floss with a chaser. He nearly laughed at the moans of pleasure the young man was uttering. He motioned for the girls to move aside and he leaned over, and then shook the water off. The sharp cry of discomfort was followed by a pair of very angry dark eyes that glared up at him.

"Man, you got me all wet!" Danny rose and began to stalk the laughing blue-eyed devil. "You need to be taught some manners. Get him girls!"

"...wet..." Martin murmured, smiling.

"Yes, dear, but it's almost over," Theresa answered her boy and finished his bath of rubbing alcohol. She put the thermometer in his ear and smiled when the digital reading appeared. "100.1, that's down a full degree, it's working." She withdrew the needle and gave him another injection, and then saw the blues eyes looking at her in confusion. "Nicky, I was so worried, they lied about you. You're not dead. I won't let the monster hurt you again." She frowned at the circles under his eyes. "My poor son, you need to eat and then get some rest."

Martin's confusion was growing by the minute and faster than his brain could come up with a logical reply. He kept his eyes on the faded wallpaper and dusty furniture in the small room. He was lying on what appeared to be a table in someone's dining room. He swallowed and cried out in alarm when his throat rebelled. It seemed to be too narrow to accept anything.

"Shh... it's alright dear, mother has medicine for that." She helped him sit up and was happy to see he wasn't swaying as badly. She eased him down and led him to the small table and chair that was near the window. She frowned at the baggy sweatpants. "We'll have to get you some proper clothes, those won't do at all. Here now, mother made you some soup."

"Mother?" Martin repeated, totally confused. He had no idea where he was or how he had got there. He thought hard and tried to avoid the dizziness waving over him. Her hand eased him back and he felt a tap on his face. He wasn't as dizzy when his eyes were closed. "It's... dizzy... I... can't..."

"It's okay, Nicky, I'll feed you. Open up."

Nicky?

Martin's fuzzy, fevered addled brain began to pick up the pace. The chicken soup went down awkwardly, some spilling when his throat wouldn't accept it. She was right there to clean him up and encourage him to try again. In between spoons of soup was a mug with a straw with very sweet warm tea. As he gained nourishment, the pictures dropped into the blackness in his aching head. Vivian and Danny in a cellar and Taylorhurt. He's there too and Danny is talking to him, the soothing voice cools him down. Then a face appears and a fist follows.

"Gibson!" he whispered painfully and heard a sharp gasp. He saw the horror and fear cresting on her face and her dark eyes move to the doorway.

"No, he mustn't see you up... that will ruin everything. He'll kill you... he must think you're weak..."

"...where... he..."

"I don't know," she fretted, wringing her hands. She saw the empty plate and got one more mug from the tray. She tipped the straw on top of the orange juice with medicine. "Here, drink it all, son." Slowly she watched the juice disappear and he began to slide out of the chair. "No... not yet. We have to get you back to the... Nicky, please... wake up..."

The sharp slap to his face brought his head up. He understood her fear and through the hot mud inside his head, he accepted it. He staggered and stumbled, leaning on her heavily until the five feet was covered and his butt was against the table. His legs were like rubber and the whole room was spinning. The effort brought sweat to sheen on his body, which he welcomed. Something she said about Gibson needing to think he was still very ill sicked. As long as Gibson felt he was totally helpless, he had a chance. His eyes went to the open door where a battered, dirty kitchen was. There must be a cellar; was that were his friends were?

"...others... here... Dan...ny... Viv..."

"Others?" She shook her head, "No Nicky, he carried you in... nobody was with him."

The short trip to the chair left him wiped out and he lay back, letting the sweat paint his entire body. He heard her shuffling around in the kitchen and forced his mud-filled brain to remain alert. Whatever she'd given him was working; he could feel his body responding to the medicine. But he had to escape and couldn't do that without her help. Whatever sick game Gibson had planned, involved him being nearly comatose. That was his advantage and his only tool, albeit a weak one. He could not attack or overpower the brute with all his health back in place. He'd have to work on her, make her see that escape was their only option.

"Sis... moth...er...?" he rasped and turned his head trying to focus on the blurry kitchen. "Mom!"

"Nicky!" She chastised, eyeing her son from the doorway, his dark eyes pleading with her. "You must rest or you'll never get well. Mother knows best."

"...need... to... get... out... now... hurry...."

"Shh!" She moved over and began to stroke his wet cheek. "If you keep fighting, that fever will spike. You are not strong enough to fight it off."

"But... we..." Martin's words died as her face faded away and he slipped back into darkness.

Jack's head popped up and he stared at the curtain. He shook off his lethargy and wondered if he'd heard what he thought he had. She was talking to somebody but whom? Martin or Gibson. His eyes went to the window where the dark sky told him that Gibson had missed the six p.m.deadline. Gibson was a man who planned carefully. The 'showdown' was supposed to be at six. Something went wrong. His dark eyes darted as thoughts came through, maybe he'd be caught. If he hadn't, he'd have begun the grisly show he'd planned. His eyes moved to the curtain again and he stared at the space below it, where dark movement indicated feet moving near the table. She was tending to Martin.

"Martin! Martin!" He screamed aloud and the curtain parted revealing an angry face and a gun. The gun was aimed as his chest and the eyes of the woman holding it revealed a deep madness. Glazed dark wide eyes filled with hatred were trained on him. "Put that down!"

"You shut up!" she commanded, wincing as the voices in her head began to order her to shoot.

"...men are bad... men are bad... .men hurt you... kill the man... shoot the man... shoot... shoot.."

"Stop!" she commanded, waving the gun erratically. "Don't tell me what to do!"

Jack sat back in the chair and realized that she wasn't talking to him. A mad nun with a loaded gun was not something he could battle with tied up. He continued to work his bleeding and raw wrists, wincing as the pain shot through them. The left wrist was slick with blood and the bonds were beginning to loosen. He couldn't see Martin for she was blocking the entry, but he could hear his awful struggle to breathe.

"He needs a doctor," Jack calmly stated, his eyes on the gun. "He's going to die."

"No!" She jerked her arm, raising the gun and aiming as his head. "They're all men, they're all bad. They'll take him away. Nobody will hurt him again. I'll take care of him..." The sound of the back door unlocking drew her attention.

"Sister... wait!" Jack hissed but she was gone, leaving him alone again. The slamming door accelerated his actions. If it was Gibson returning, he was out of time.

Gibson's cold blue eyes went to the shivering mouse in the doorway. She had outlived her usefulness and as soon as Malone was dead, she'd be next. She was only alive because he needed her to care for Fitzgerald until the plan was done. He'd planted explosives in this house and the church where the two remaining prisoners were being held. He planned on having her call 911 and give a cryptic clue leading the police to the church. Then after they contacted the FBI and bomb squad, the half-charred note he'd left in the house would cause them to believe he was heading south. He'd even booked passage in her name and his own for Mexico.

Meanwhile, he was planning on heading north, via a boat up to Canada. From there he would lie low for awhile living under the new identity he'd bought. Changing your name and life didn't come without a high price tag. His contact had demanded more money, after the exposure on every television network when Jack Malone went missing. That was the reason he was delayed.

"Get out of my way!" he snarled, throwing her hard into the wall and then onto the floor.

He'd been delayed enough and it was time for Jack Malone to pay the ultimate price. He ripped the black curtain down that separated the two rooms and saw Malone's head pop up. The combination of hatred and disgust in the dark eyes caused a sneer to grace his lip. He turned to the star of the macabre show and tapped the glistening cheek. The blue slits appeared and a weak fist formed.

"I'm afraid I underestimated you, Fitzgerald, you proved to be more worthy an opponent than I'd planned," he effortlessly shoved the fist away and pulled a syringe out.

Jack ignored the weak mumbled pleas that Martin's fevered state was emitting; he tried to ignore the fist that came up to battle with Gibson. He kept working on his left wrist and kept his eyes trained on Gibson's back. Finally, the wrist slid free, leaving a fair amount of skin and blood on the ropes. He worked on the right hand, untying it and then moved to release his bound feet. He cursed inwardly when the needle went into his rookie agent's unprotected vein. What the hell had Gibson shot him up with? Was he already too late?

The eye that wasn't swollen shut and discolored, opened wide and Gibson laughed at the fear shining there. "Not to worry, it'll be over soon. This is just something to help the cause along."

"That's just what I had in mind," Jack snarled, launching himself at the brute, "helping to send you to hell you mother-fuckin' sick, son-of-a-bitch!"

Gibson wasn't prepared for the hard impact and grunted in pain when the force of the attack sent him hard into the table by the widow. Malone landed on him and the table shattered. Cursing, he picked up a broken leg from the scattered bits of the table and swung it at Malone. The dark-haired man ducked but the blow caught him hard on the shoulder.

Jack was still bent over from avoiding the blow and charged forward, sending both of them through the window and onto the porch. He shook free of the glass which left a large cut on Gibson's forehead. They were both shaken and over the beating of the rain onto the dirt beyond, they regarded each other warily - like two predators in a dense jungle.

The makeshift bed Martin had been resting on was jarred during the initial encounter and he tumbled off onto the floor. It seemed to him that he was on a ship as the floor was moving beneath his hands. He heard the sound of glass breaking and blinked through what appeared to be fog and saw two bodies go through the window. He crawled forward, inch by inch, to investigate.

Gibson thought of pulling his gun but his height and weight had him at a great advantage. Besides he wanted to feel the bones of the other man crack under his fists. He wanted the primal satisfaction of fist hitting flesh and blood flowing. The thought of choking the life out of Malone and squeezing hard enough to make his eyes pop gave him a rush. With a grunted cry, he fisted both hands and sneered at the shaken agent just rising.

"You want a piece of me, Snake!" Jack taunted, waving his left hand, wiggling every finger. He wanted nothing better than to rip this bastard's heart out with his bare hands.

"Shame... I was hopin' to do you last, let you watch that pretty boy slowly choke on his vomit. I just gave him something to make him sick; he'll start pukin', 'cept that his throat won't be able to handle it."

"You fucked up good," Malone spat in contempt. "First you ruined your son's life and caused his death. Now you screwed up the twisted game of revenge you planned." He saw the brief flicker of shock on the other man's face and took advantage. "Yeah, I know about Nick and so does the Bureau by now. He was a good kid, but he wasn't cut out to wear a badge."

"You ruined him!" Gibson roared, charging and connecting to his enemy's jaw with a solid right.

Jack flew off the porch and into the muddy street, the heavy rain covering him like an unwelcome blanket. He scrambled to his feet as another blow slammed into him. He counterattacked, his fists connected with Gibson's jaw and gut. The latter was like hitting a brick wall and Malone decided to avoid that and not break his hand. A verbal barrage would cause Gibson to become irrational and lose focus. That was his goal, to break the other man and then move in.

"You arrogant bastard, you were supposed to be his father," Jack hollered as a fist caught him in the side. He gasped and went to his knees, watching as the blue eyes began to become enraged. "You forced your ..." he began, rose up and landed a solid fist to Gibson's neck. "...ambitions on him. You're a bully... you put the bottle and drugs into his hands."

"Shut the fuck up!" Gibson roared, as Malone charged and sent both of them into the muddy street.

"...how's it... feel..." Jack spat blood from his mouth where his lip was cut. "...to have... your... only... son's blood... on... your... hands... forever!"

The rain fell, creating a strange arena for the two combatants. The only light other than the full moon was a street lamp several yards away. Eerie shadows played on the two men, giving each an unearthly cast. Gibson grabbed a thick piece of wood from the ground and swung hard, catching the lower back of his enemy. He smiled at the force of the blow and the hiss of pain it caused. So focused were they on their battle that neither one noticed the dazed body appear in the large hole where the beau window had been.

Martin swayed badly in the window. The wind kicked up, sending the rain into his face. He was so hot he welcomed the moisture. It was dark and hard to see, but he knew they were out there somewhere. Then he heard a sound, flesh hitting flesh and a cry of pain. He turned his head and saw two blurry figures seemingly dancing in slow motion. With great effort, he got to his knees and watched the world spin at a crazy angle.

Although he landed some solid shots at the larger man, Jack couldn't get the upper hand. The club that Gibson swung skittered away and he moved to pick it up. But Gibson saw him coming and also moved to pick it up. Jack missed and went to his knees again. He felt the wood come around his throat and his air was cut off.

"I'll... break... it..." Gibson whispered in Malone's ear. "...snap it like a twig." He looked up and saw Martin Fitzgerald swaying in the window, his eyes trying to focus on what was happening. Just then the blue eyes snapped back and the wet head cocked.

"Jack!" Martin croaked over his sore throat. His boss was on his knees covered in blood and mud. Pete Gibson was trying to snap Jack's head back.

"Well... well... the pretender is going to watch you die first." Gibson leered, his anger at Fitzgerald taking his son's place rising. "He's weak... like you are, Jack. He didn't have the right to take Nick's desk."

Jack was fighting to breathe, the wood was pressing hard into his larynx causing his air supply to dwindle. The spots that were appearing would soon turn black and his time would be aborted. His dark eyes darted and he used what waning strength he had left to thrust an elbow hard into Gibson's groin. The wood dropped and the giant fell to his knees. Jack crawled a few feet away, gasping for air and rubbing his throat.

"Martin!" He choked, watching the dazed young man blinking at him. "Get out of there, get the nun and get out the back."

"Sorry, Jack," Pete managed, through the pain coursing through his groin. He wasn't going to let Jack win. He snaked his hand to his hip and pulled out his gun. "Time to die... blue-eyed fly..."

"No!" Jack screamed, watching the deadly aim. Martin had no idea the gun was trained on his head. "Martin! Get down! Dammit, get out of there."

He picked up the club and swung at Gibson. The larger man was on his feet, taking aim. Jack deflected the first shot, which hit the door of the house. Gibson flipped him back like he was a bug on his arm. Frantic, Jack slipped and slid in the mud trying to get traction. Then as Gibson's deadly aim once again was trained on his fevered agent's face, a word flashed in his mind, blinking in big red letters.

"Scorpion!" Jack screamed and watched Fitzgerald drop like a rock out of sight, just as the shot whizzed through the area his head had been. He took advantage of the look of shock on Gibson's face and picked up the wood again, smashing it hard onto the other man's wrist. The gun sailed through the air and through the large hole where the window was.

Mystic, NJ
The old church cellar

It was late, and although she had tried dozens of times already, the determined federal agent once again tested the chain that bound her ankle. Frustrated at the solid link, she walked around the room and studied the walls and ceiling in the dim light. She was nearly hoarse from calling for help and since the chain wouldn't allow either of them to leave, she had to find some other way to get a message out. She studied the stone walls again and sighed in dejection. The tomb appeared to have no exit. A low moan brought her head around.

"Danny," she whispered, wondering how much longer the fevered man could hold out.

"...bar still... open..." Taylor teased and found a weak smile for the concerned face now bending over him.

"Hold on." She picked up a water bottle and uncapped it, then lifted his head. "Slow now... that's a good boy."

"...dog now..." Danny frowned and heard a chuckle. Then he relaxed as the cool water was applied to his face from a cloth. "Thanks... Vivvie..."

"You know," she eased him back down on blanketed floor and studied his handsome features, "you're the only one besides my father that calls me that."

"Smart guy," Danny managed, trying desperately to hold on, "...your old man. He a good-lookin'... stud too?" He felt her hand on his bandaged leg and intercepted it, his dark eyes pleading. "Don't..."

"I'm sorry, honey, but I have to check it," Vivian replied, nearly undone by the soulful eyes.

She waited until he pressed his head down against the wet blanket and then untied the bandage. The area around each wound was red and nasty. She pressed the cold cloth to the ragged edges and flinched when the greenish goo came out. She tried not to hear his suppressed cry of pain and pretended not to see the fisted hand beating against the floor. She flushed both wounds and picked up another piece of cloth. The bright green and yellow trim told her it was most likely an old vestment. She'd unearthed a box that wasn't opened in the corner of the room. It contained objects that a priest would use for Mass.She assumed whoever packed them either forgot to take them or perhaps never got the chance. But it had yielded a good deal of white cotton cloth for her to use. She tied the bandage off and looked down at Danny.

One tear was snaking a crooked path down his cheek. She used the last bit of cloth to wipe it away and the futility of the situation got to her. Without Medical attention soon, Danny would die. Martin was probably already dead and Jack would soon follow. She closed her eyes and let her guard down, weeping softly. Then a hand came up and touched her cheek. The smile that met her eyes was something to behold.

"...there's no... crying... in baseball..." Danny rasped and got the laugh he sought.

"I thought you didn't watch chic flicks," she teased of the movie about a women's baseball league during World War II.

"...not without a chic... I don't..." Danny countered, "I watch the chics... watchin' the flick..."

"That's my boy," Vivian gathered her scattered emotions. She wiped her eyes and then felt movement as Danny sat up. "You shouldn't move..."

"Air..." Danny gasped, bright eyes wide and roaming. He felt her hand on his face and shook it free. "No... no... not me... felt air..."

"Air?" Vivian repeated and saw his hand sweep an arc to their left.

"Air!" he repeated, "...from up there..."

"A window?" She rose and stared at the dark direction he was gesturing towards. "I can't see one. It's all gray stone."

"Get your ass up and look!" Danny ordered as the cool air once again touched his face.

"You're right." Vivian felt the air too and began moving the boxes.

It took quite some time to move them out of the way, adjust her eyes to the near darkness and then search. But she kept using her hand, waving it high and narrowing the zone. Finally, she determined where the air was coming from. Then she rebuilt the boxes into a crude ladder of sorts and began to climb. Her hands moved over the cold stone walls and then hit glass. It was painted and she banged on it hard, hitting something hard on the other side. Most likely it was boarded up. Dejection rained down hard and then she felt the air again. There had to be a crack in the surface somewhere. She climbed back down, got a chalice from the box and resumed her task. She used the heavy bottom of the chalice to break the glass. There was steel or metal of some kind over the old window, except for a small area perhaps 8 inches by 10 inches. It was above her head so she couldn't see out but the sounds of the night and the air gushing in told her life was on the other side.

"Danny, I found it!" she exclaimed and turned back. Her partner wasn't moving. She kept her eye on him for a moment, studying his form in the near darkness until she saw his chest rising and falling. Then she began to call for help. There was no reply, but she could try again in the morning. Or maybe she could write a note and toss it outside? It couldn't hurt; at this point she'd try anything. She climbed down, rummaged through the box again and found an old booklet written about the fiftieth anniversary of the church. She didn't have anything to write with and thought hard on how to create a message. Her eyes roamed around the room again and she caught the chair where she'd been tied and forced to watch Martin being beaten. Then her head snapped up.

"The picture!" she exclaimed, moving to the area where Gibson had left one of the gruesome photos he'd taken of Martin. She could attach the picture to something heavy and toss it outside the window. Something bright and flashy that would catch a passer-by's eye. The chalice!

It was bright gold and adorned with jewels. Somebody would pick it up and if Martin's photo was attached to it, maybe just maybe it would bring help. So she made a small hole in the edge of the photo and looped a tiny bit of cloth through it, then tied the other end to the bottom of the chalice. Finally, she made her way back up the ladder and tossed it through the opening.

"Hold on, Danny-boy," she whispered, cooling his face off again and pulling the makeshift blanket around him. "The Calvary just might come after all."

"I'm tired of playing around," Pete grunted, shaking his throbbing wrist. He backhanded a brutal blow to Malone's chin and sent the smaller man backward. He then kicked the gasping agent's midsection, taking his air away. Finally, he pulled a detonator from his pocket. It was small and silver and covered with his hand and to a delirious man would resemble the hilt of a knife.

"Say goodbye, Jack!" Gibson vented. He gripped Malone by the hair and yanked his head up, exposing his neck. He made sure Fitzgerald was watching and moved his hand as if about to slice. "And watch your prized pupil get roasted alive."

Jack Malone was dizzy and blinking hard trying not to fall unconscious. He knew that Gibson held a detonator. He'd seen Fitzgerald reappear in the window, holding on with one hand to stay upright. Then Jack saw the gun in his rookie's right hand and knew where the blue eyes were trained.

"No!" Jack choked, "Don't, Martin... don't shoot... Get out of there!"

Martin held the gun in unsteady hands and watched the grisly scene about to unfold. He knew he had only a split second to make the decision. Clarity appeared in his fevered eyes and he stared hard at Jack, sending his emotions in a powerful silent wave. Then the warm eyes turned cold when he thought on the hell that Gibson had caused him and his friends. Without a second thought, he lifted his arm, aimed and fired. The force of his actions sent him staggering backwards into the middle of the dining room. He couldn't see Jack anymore and wondered if his shot had found its mark. He tried to crawl back over to the window, but couldn't.

"Jack?" he whispered, wondering if his mentor was alive. "...sor...ry..."

For a moment, neither man moved. Jack shoved Gibson's body off and stared at the window. He flicked an eye to his enemy and saw the large stain spreading on his chest. The eyes were closed and the body unmoving. Martin? He had to get his injured agent and the nun out of there before the house blew up. Jack was dizzy and trying to navigate through the mud was difficult. He slipped twice and fell.

"Martin! Martin!"

"...s'too... late... Jack..." Gibson opened his eyes and saw Malone turn briefly. He knew he was dying but he wasn't going to let the other man win. "You lose."

"No!" Jack screamed as the dying man's hand pushed the detonator. The concussion from the blast sent him flying. It was several minutes before he could sit up, then he wished he hadn't. Debris from the house was scattered all over the ground and the flames and smoke were rising quickly.

The whole episode seemed to have happened in slow motion. His mind replayed the sickening movie again. Martin was in the window, gun poised. He felt every bit of the emotional farewell the young man had offered. For a few seconds he'd seen the light of reason in the sky eyes. Martin knew the score and took the ultimate roll of the dice. By using that gun, he'd saved his life, but at what cost?

For a few seconds he couldn't move and then Jack forced himself to get up. He winced as the torrents of rain stung his eyes. He saw the flames beginning to lick at the remaining wood timber, quickly rising to consume the frame of the house. He tried to rush to the door but the intense heat drove him back. Then a smaller explosion sent him backwards off the porch. He landed hard in the mud and the brutal realization of what he was witnessing ripped through his gut.

Martin Fitzgerald was dead.

Jack clenched his eyes shut and turned his face to the sky. He felt every needle-like shard of the teeming rain pierce him, seeming to shred his soul. His eyes raked over a flicker of silver in the mud. He bent and picked a jagged shard of glass up. Then, a new strength coursed through him and he turned slowly, walking over to where the wounded man lay bleeding.

"Get up."

Snake blinked into the rain and paled beneath the usual cocky sneer he wore. He was lying against an abandoned car, having crawled over after the bullet hit his gut. He'd had his share of enemies over the years in a variety of moods, positions and conditions. Never, not once, had he been afraid of anyone.

Until now.

"Get up, you bastard, or I'll carve your balls off and shove them down your throat!' Jack offered, venom dripping from every forced word.

"I hope he suffered, felt his skin melting and his eyes pop out of his..."

Gibson screamed when Malone's foot ground hard into the large bleeding wound in his side. He saw the crude weapon and then made the mistake of looking at those lethal eyes. Through the dirty, bruised flesh were killer's eyes, colored flint and rimmed with deadly intent.

"...where are my other two agents?" Malone asked, pressing the knife against the large bulge in Gibson's pants. He knew the large amount of blood pouring from the former NYPD detective meant that an artery was severed and that he had only minutes to live. "Where are they? Where they in that house? Answer me!"

"See you in hell, Malone!" Pete whispered.

"Nooooo!" Jack screamed when the eyes rolled and the body went limp. His hand confirmed what his heart told him. Gibson was dead. "You fuckin' bastard!" he vented, gripping Gibson's neck and slamming his head onto the ground. He continued to pummel the corpse until the Grim Reaper tapped him on the shoulder. He staggered a few feet and then dropped to his knees in shock. Guilt riddled him

"My God..." he gasped, eyes tearing from the sting of smoke and lashes of harsh driven rain. "What have I done?

The sirens came quick and furious, racing down the street towards the area of the explosion. They paid little notice to the gray car that had pulled over. Like the other motorists, the driver was getting out of the way. But the driver of the car had a very odd light in her dark eyes. She slowly pulled out and drove away, leaving the loud sounds and noise behind her. She did not journey far, but far enough away from the noise and the red lights. There was a place where she used to spend many happy afternoons in the sun with her beloved boy. She'd been here twice in the last few days, preparing for their stay. She pulled through the broken fence and her headlights cast a very eerie glow. She drove past the carosel, the coats of the proud ponies were tarnished now, their eyes dulled with age. The ferris wheel seemed bowed also rather than tall and majestic. Across the way were red, blue and yellow stands that used to hold the games of chance. How many prizes had her talented son brought home? A large hole in the face of the spider web on the house of horrors caught her eye. Nicky loved that place, it never scared him. Like discarded toys, they lay scattered and forgotten within the confines of the old amusement park.

She pulled around to a solid stone building. The mural of a clown juggling many colorful balls was faded now. She parked behind the building near the door. Her mind's eye drew up those days of yesteryear, when a very excited six-year old with shining eyes would tug her hand impatiently.

"Do you remember, Nicky?" She shook his shoulder and the lolling head stirred. "How much joy you found here. Oh you loved this place. Yes, we were so very happy here."

It took her eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness. She made her way to the entry and after opening the door, she went back to the passenger side of the car. The door was already open and the dazed body had one leg out. His wet head was leaning against the frame of the door. She tapped the flushed face and saw two eyes blinking slowly. A series of wet coughs ensued and a cry of pain.

"This cold rain isn't good for you, you're already so sick," she scolded and pulled him to his feet. His knees buckled and she had to readjust her weight. "Come on, it's not far."

Stumbling and staggering the pair made their way to the open door. She had chosen the back of the former fun house because she remembered there was a small apartment there where one of the workers must have lived. She led him inside of the small room housing a cot, table and chair. She made two trips to the car to get the rest of the things. She placed her medical bag onto the table next to some plastic cups and bowls. She eased him down and he cried out in pain, coughing and nearly choking. She moved just in time as the vomit came, hard and fast.

The pain that the acidic bile caused forcing its way past his tender throat was almost too much to bear for the infirmed man. But it seemed his throat wasn't wide enough and it took so very long to expel the mess. He was sucking air wide mouthed, like a fish on the deck of a boat. His hands clawing at air as he felt his life threatening to leave him. Arms wrapped around his trembling body and a woman's voice called to him. Someone was near; someone was washing his face, taking his tears away. The woman's voice was soft and low to his ear and soothed him. He sagged against her, moaning and teary-eyed when the burning pain wouldn't end.

"Shhh!" Theresa soothed, hugging him close to her. His face was pressed into her neck and she rocked him, rubbing his wet back. "Mother's here, Nicky, you're safe now. Mother won't let any of those bad men hurt you again."

"Mother?" Martin whispered, his thick tongue sticking to his mouth. That wasn't right. He knew who she was. She had to call for help. His mind screamed at her to dial 911 but his voice didn't cooperate. The last thing his foggy brain registered before passing out was her tender kiss to his cheek.

"That's right, dear, mother has you now."

Part 26

Mystic, NJ
Midnight

"Where is he!"

Four startled agents and two local cops turned when the bellow seemed to shake the earth beneath their feet. The crime scene was lit up to give the forensics team the proper light to work in. There wasn't much left of the house. Debris was scattered and being carefully examined. They were standing a few feet from the paramedic unit that was on scene. Sitting in the back was Jack Malone, having his wounds tended to. He'd refused transport.

Brendan Gavin had known Jack for a few years and wasn't prepared for the shell of the man he'd found kneeling over the blackened corpse. The dark eyes that were usually full of fire were totally void of any sign of life. He moved again to intercept the rocket that was disguised as the head of the Bureau.

Irate didn't begin to cover the raw fury emulating from every pore of Victor Fitzgerald's body. His hot blue eyes seemed to be radiating from his rage-reddened skin. The passion and power that were housed there caused all the men to step back. Two were senior agents and one of the cops was a twenty year vet on the force. None could utter a word or even try to find one that would fit. What do you say to the head of the most elite crime force in the country when what was left of his son was lying nearly incinerated a few yards away?

Brendan Gavin recovered first and stepped forward to intercept the walking inferno. He was the acting agent in charge while Chris Boone was laid up. He'd been on the case since its inception and it was his duty to halt the Deputy Director of the Bureau in his tracks.

"I'm sorry, sir, but if you'll just wait I'll..."

"Who the hell are you?" Victor demanded, shoving the young agent out of his way.

"I'm Agent Gavin and I'm the acting..."

"Get the hell out of my way or I'll have your badge!" Fitzgerald roared, his angry eyes roaming to the medic unit.

He saw the other three agents and the local cops move uncomfortably, unable to meet his eyes. He didn't really care, he wasn't here for them. He could barely see their faces. His nostrils were still full of the sickening stench of charred flesh and bone. He'd seen burned bodies before, but nothing prepared him for the gut-wrenching trauma of standing over the blackened, twisted mass that was his son. It was surreal, as if the disgusting thing at his feet had been another dead body. This 'thing' couldn't possibly be his son. Martin was a handsome young man full of life and a passion for his work. The smouldering pile he'd thrown up next to couldn't possibly be Martin.

"Sir, I'm sorry, I can't let you in there, Agent Malone is being treated for injuries sustained when he..."

"I don't give a goddam!"

"It's alright, Brendan."

Every hair on Fitzgerald's neck stood on end when the raspy whisper crept through the crack in the door in front of him. His fury rose like a hell bent Tsunami and he exploded at the doors. Two of the medics skittered away before he found that which he sought. Malone slid from the back of the emergency vehicle and had no time to prepare.

"You arrogant bastard!" Victor screamed, grabbing Malone and slamming him hard into the van. "You killed him!"

"I'm sorry, Victor."

That was stupid. As soon as the words left Jack's lips he cringed. What words would be acceptable in a situation like this? Had he missed that chapter in the appropriate manual and training from Quantico? Why couldn't he remember the text that covered what to say and do when your stupidity causes a fellow agent who just happens to be the only son of the Deputy Director of the Bureau to be fried to a crisp? He backed off and rubbed his throbbing head. He saw Victor's mouth moving and his face seemed to change into a vivid mask that was not recognizable. He couldn't hear the words; a dim buzzing was all that was entering his foggy brain.

"Answer me you son-of-a-bitch!" Victor demanded, grabbing Malone by the collar of his jacket and slamming him again.

"Back off!" Brendan ordered, shoving his six-foot plus lean frame between the men.

"Excuse me?" Victor replied, his mouth curling in distaste.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you're interfering with a federal investigation. With all due respect to your title..."

"Due respect my ass, I was putting trash in the federal pen long before you were born."

"What do you want me to say, Victor?" Jack straightened up, tugged his shirt sleeves over his bandaged wrists and cast his reddened eyes at the enraged figure.

"I want a Goddamn answer!"

"I fucked up, Victor, is that what you want to hear?" Jack hissed, pointing to the circle of crime scene workers hovering over what had been his newest team member. "You think I wouldn't trade places with him if I could?"

"I want you on your knees!" Victor screamed, grabbing Malone and hurling forward. "Take a good look, Jack. I want you to see that every time you close your eyes..."

The force sent the dazed agent to his hands and knees just a few feet from the body. Body? It wasn't quite that; it looked like something from a bad horror movie. How could something so disgusting be the handsome, blue-eyed agent who first came through his office door seven months ago? He wanted to feel pain, to feel the excruciating ripping of his heart and the visceral shredding of his guts. But he was numb. He couldn't feel a thing. He could barely make out the voices of those around him. Why wasn't he throwing up or gagging? Why couldn't he feel anything? All he saw was Martin's face, alive and grinning at his desk.

"Come on, Jack, they'll be taking him away soon." Brendan bent down to assist the battered superior to his feet. "I'm sorry, I have to take you downtown."

"I know," Jack whispered, unable to move his eyes from Martin's body.

It fascinated him and disgusted him at the same time. That was one thing he and Victor would agree on; he would see this charred thing for the rest of his life. He reached a trembling hand out and mouthed a silent apology to his fallen agent. He barely felt Gavin leading him to a car. Through the reddish haze that seemed to surround him, he heard one voice shrill and clear.

"I'll see you in hell, Malone!" Victor predicted, "Your career is history. By the time I'm done with you, you won't even be able to get a job cleaning the monkey shit from the zoo!"

Jack slumped against the window of the car and closed his throbbing eyes. He wished he could feel some pain. It would reassure him that he was still alive. He was finished; he had no defence for his actions. He'd grabbed that trapeze once too often without a safety net. Now he was plummeting towards the unforgiving ground a high speed. He didn't care about the charges or the severe action he knew would follow. They couldn't possibly hurt him any more; his heart and soul were already gone. They were shattered in a pile around the charred remains of Martin Fitzgerald, the jagged pieces leaving a macabre epitaph.

Mystic, NJ
Dawn

Vivian woke with a start and shook the lethargy from her body. She quickly rolled over and checked on Danny. Her hand told her his fever wasn't worse and his breathing was the same. She saw light streaming in and trained her eyes on the crack in the glass.

Daylight

Was it six a.m. or noon? How many hours had she lost? She had cried for help until she was hoarse. Had anyone heard her call? Would anyone find the totem left by a desperate hostage? Still, with every new dawn came hope. Without hope and faith there wasn't anything left. So she moved to the crate and began to climb. Then she stood precariously and began to cry for help again. She didn't know how much time transpired. Her throat hurt and she was about to give up and get some water into Danny, when part of a shaggy blond head appeared. Frizzy, bleached hair that was spider black at the roots with greasy strands hanging down over stupefied, mascara streaked dark eyes which looked in at her. Gaudy gold hoop earrings with glittering pink jewels shook as the head moved.

"Thank God!" Vivian whispered, reaching a hand out. "Can you hear me? My name is Vivian Johnson, I'm with the New York F.B.I. My partner is Danny Taylor and he's injured. We're trapped in here and we need you to get some help. You need to call 911 and tell them..." she paused and frowned, the partial face didn't move. "Hey! I'm talking to you. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Fuck off, sister!" the voice slurred, through eyes that were barely open. "I got my own party to finish." She held up her crack pipe and giggled, then disappeared.

"No! Wait... no..." Vivian called, over and over. But no face appeared. She climbed back down as Danny began to stir. She managed to get water into him, but he didn't answer her when she tapped his face and spoke. She hoped that the junkie had picked up the chalice. Maybe she'd get lucky and someone else would notice her with it. She wiped Danny's face and tried to reassure him above the moans that snuck free from his troubled sleep. She cast her dark eyes heavenward then, "Please..."

Manhattan
Noon

Peach fur.

Peach fur.

Peach fur?

A groan preceded a shaky hand snaking out to touch the strange image. Fumbling fingers found the soft plush animal's hide. Animal? His painful eyes found a blurry pair of black eyes and a nose. He sighed in frustration, none of this made sense. The dog moved and he backed his head up. Peach dogs don't move.

"...are no... peach... dogs... hell... goin' on..."

"Thought you up and died on me, soldier."

"Sunshine?" He croaked, blinking over the rails to a face with blonde hair in a wheelchair.

"You're lucky you're in worse shape than me or I'd hit you," she replied, pulling the dog back onto her lap. She moved her hand in to tap his face. "Hey? You with me?" The light green eyes were trying hard to focus.

"...hit like a girl..." he managed, fumbling for the button. He wanted to sit up.

"Hold on," Sam moved and pushed the button.

"...look like one too..." he teased of the soft curvy form in a robe.

"I'd say to stop thinking with your pants, but you have none," Spade retorted, moving a cup of water with a straw to his lips. She found a small smile at the weak 'evil' chuckle and the sandy eyebrows wagging. Then the smile left her face and she put the mug down. She looked away then, not sure of how to tell him.

"What... fell... on... me..." he moaned, unable to recall much." How... long..."

"Yesterday morning. Gibson jumped you in New Jersey near the place where he had Danny and Viv. Jack was with you..."

"Shit!" He hissed as the fog lifted. Then he saw her eyes clearly and wished he hadn't. They were red and slightly swollen from tears. Sam wasn't the emotional type. She didn't go to pieces and was as tough as any man he'd trained. Something had to rock her world to cause tears. Only one thing came to mind; a body under a sheet in the morgue.

"Oh God," he whispered, taking her hand. "Who?"

"Martin... he's dead... there was an explosion... in Mystic... the old house where Nick's mother... raised him."

"Jesus... no... aw God... no..." He sat back stunned, his headache seemed to pale in comparison to the internal pain. "Jack?"

"Alive, in custody. It's bad, Chris," Sam admitted, sighing hard. "They have a list of charges a mile long. They came here twice already to get your deposition."

"Not much to tell," the shaken blond admitted. "Most of what I can remember is bits and pieces." He gave the hand a solid squeeze then. "Sam, I'm sorry. He was a good kid, I liked him."

"Yeah," she rasped, swallowing hard and Martin's grinning face appeared. "Brendan said... Victor nearly imploded on the scene. He's gonna nail Jack to the wall on this, Chris. He'll ruin him."

"Maybe... not... maybe..."

He saw her study him then and they both knew the truth. Jack had played the craps game and lost. The dice didn't go his way this time. He'd broken and violated too many rules to hide. And he'd lost an agent, not just any agent, the son of the head of the Bureau. He recalled a story from the bible of John the Baptist's head being served on a plate. He laid his head back and held onto her hand, each grieving for the life lost and the one shattered and left to live on.

Atlantic County
Bayside Amusement Park
Three p.m.

Martin finished the soup and swiped the excess that spilled onto his chin. Swallowing anything was nearly impossible but he'd gotten most of the soup down. He began to cough as his throat rebelled, closing in and causing the familiar panic. He couldn't breathe, tears formed in his eyes and he fought to get his breath. She was there in a flash, reassuring him and calming him down. He kept his eyes trained on her face and although she was helping him, he feared her. She was delusional, lost in a time and place that didn't exist. She tended to his every need but there was a maniacal gleam in her eye that frightened him.

She also had a gun and waved it around too frequently, usually when the 'voices' began to bother her. He was too weak to move from the bed, but he'd have to try. She couldn't remain awake forever. He had to fight to keep his eyes open and try to escape from this place. By the old carnival signs on the wall, he assumed it was an old amusement park. Her rambling voice had been recalling when 'they' came here before, during the summers when 'he' was a boy. He watched her draw the syringe out and fill it.

"No... more..." he begged, for the strong drug put him to sleep.

"Now, now, Nicky," she soothed, batting his hand away and exposing a nice vein. "Mother knows best."

"No... not...." Martin whispered as her face began to grow smaller. He had to get through to her somehow. She had to get to Jack. He was slipping fast and without a hospital soon, he'd die. He thought of the fury that Gibson felt and wondered if he could use the same on her. "Jack... Malone..."

"What dear?" She washed the damp face and saw his eyes trying to focus. That name was famliar. A man with dark hair and eyes appeared in her mind. Words came next, telling of how this man ruined her son's life. "He's bad... he needs to be punished..."

The sick luster in her eyes gave the weak man his first gleam of hope. "...he hurt me... mother... he did this... I'm gonna die... his fault... he had to pay... for this... you need to make him pay... I want to see him beg... don't desert me again..."

"No, no..." She frowned and pulled him up, clutching him to her chest. Her fingers moved through the wavy, wet locks. She felt his ragged breathing on her neck and felt a tremor of fear. He was dying; Jack Malone had hurt her baby. He'd made her handsome boy suffer. He'd have to pay for that.

Martin was fading fast and by the time she eased him back down and exposed his chest, he was nearly out entirely. He felt something cold washing over his hot skin and he heard her speaking. He focused hard on the blurry face, seeing the familiar glint of madness shining in her lost eyes.

"That's a boy, sleep now, mother will bathe you... poor thing you can't lose this fever..." she cooed, wringing out the cloth again. He was nearly unconscious now and would sleep for several hours. One sliver of an eye remained trained on her face. "Mother has work to do, Nicky. Yes, mother will make that bad man pay for his sins."

"...Jack..." Martin's mouth silently formed the word that was his only salvation. He surrendered to the black sea, clinging to the hope that Malone would free him from this prison.

Manhattan
26 Federal Plaza, New York
4:45 p.m

He paused at the end of the hallway, eyeing the navy blue rugs and dark wood walls. His eyes rested briefly on the gold seal above the heavy double doors. He sighed, fingered the badge clipped to his belt and then took a steadying breath before continuing.

He looked awful, 'Like something the cat dragged in', his mother would say. Dark circles rimmed his eyes slitted and swollen from lack of sleep. He needed a shave, a hot shower and a soft bed for a week. No, he shook his head, halfway down the corridor. What he needed was his team, the men and women who served with him, the four individuals who made him proud every day. He paused painfully, hearing the desolate echo of his footsteps in the hallway. He'd never felt so alone. How had it all gone so wrong?

Taking another deep breath, his hand trembled briefly above the shiny doorknob. Several pairs of eyes turned and burned a hole in him as he entered. He didn't shy away -- that wasn't his way. He stood tall and looked every one of them in the eye. One set did unnerve him, they were as potent as blue lasers and as he held their gaze, the temperature in the room seemed to drop rapidly.

Representatives from several Federal Agencies were on hand. The Bureau's Office of the Inspector General, Law Enforcement Ethics Unit and the Office of Professional Responsibility sat on either side of the oval. The other two members of the adjudication unit were more familiar to him. At the other end of the table, glowering at the 'head' spot was the National Deputy Director, with those icy eyes. To his left sat the local director, whose office was on the top floor. He was the one who finally spoke, making the brief introductions. Finally, Victor Fitzgerald's cold voice split the air.

"Charges!"

Barbara Holiday, from the Office of Professional Responsibility stood and opened the file.

"These charges and the disciplinary action that follows are the result of a cooperative investigation among the offices of said counsel represented herein. The review of the actions undertaken by John Michael Malone associated with the events and activities that took place..."

Jack's eyes remained fixed on the hawkish woman, whose pinched features made his eyes ache. But her voice faded away and instead he heard their voices. Laughing and teasing at the conference table during a break in a tense investigation. Finally, with the addition of Martin Fitzgerald, he'd put together a team with all the right stuff. A complete set, a good fit, the right fit! He blinked and zoned back in, as the charges were listed.

"Misconduct, Misuse of Government property, inadequate performance, improper judgment, neglection of duties, failure to exert proper managerial oversight..."

He watched her lips moving and thought of a predator eating a poor, wiggling creature alive. He was exhausted and far beyond the point of reason. The room was stifling and the trickle of sweat that had first formed on his back was now a small river, running wildly. He blinked at the sweat that rolled in his eyes and wondered why no one else seemed to be feeling the oppressive heat. Her voice was like a drill in his ear and he flinched, hoping she'd end soon.

"... and therefore, after a careful and thorough review of all the facts and statements by witnesses, we have concluded that the F.B.I. agent in question..."

He closed his eyes briefly, trying hard to remain upright. Then a new voice to his right took over and he flicked a gaze towards it. He didn't know the man, but the badge indicated he was from the Office of the Inspector General.

"If you're ready, we'll begin the proceedings."

"Yes, sir," he rasped, his voice dry and brittle. "May I?" He nodded to the water pitcher at the end of the long oval table.

"Certainly," The Assistant Director of the New York branch of the F.B.I. agreed to Jack's request.

Jack moved slowly, partially due to his wounded pride. Inwardly he was fearful, but he'd never give them that satisfaction. Mostly, he was exhausted and moving faster than a snail's pace wasn't possible. He managed to control his shaking hands long enough to pour a glass of water.

For those few precious seconds, time stood still. He closed his eyes and saw them all again, his team, healthy, vital and very much alive, using biting humor as they gathered around the conference table discussing evidence and theories. They were good, damn good. Had he ever told them just how much so?

"I'm sorry..." he whispered, eyes filling as the smiling faces faded away. Then he brushed his eyes and turned back. He squared his shoulders and held his head high.

He let his leaden legs carry him across the room to the seat at the far end of the highly polished mahogany table.

He sat down, took a long drink of water and listened as the longest day of his life was drawn to a fitting end. He listened as the details that led to the charges brought forth, were drawn out. His face was colored with dispassion. Try as he might, those steely blue eyes from the elite head of the bureau, seemed to burn a hole right through him. The simmering rage that brewed in their depths burned into him like lava. Then the grim-lined lips parted.

"Supervisory Special Agent Malone." Victor Fitzgerald didn't hide his disdain for the underling. The words dripped off his tongue like repulsive drops of acid.

"Sir," Jack managed between clenched teeth, rising and buttoning the front of his wrinkled and ripe suit jacket.

"This committee is in complete agreement as to the disciplinary methods that will determine your future," he paused, managing a reptilian lip curve, "if any, within the Bureau."

He never moved while the 'sentence' was revealed. He didn't blink an eye or move a single facial muscle. He flinched slightly and his hand trembled a bit, when he placed the badge on the table. The gun followed. He turned and left, not wasting any breath on them. Then again, there was nothing to say.

Had he been on that committee, he'd have voted in unison as well. He was at the elevator, seeking the fastest route to the path to nowhere, when a hand caught his shoulder and spun him around.

"We're finished," Malone spat in contempt.

"Finished!" Victor growled, using his index finger like a wayward jackhammer on the soiled white shirt. "I haven't even begun yet! I intend to make every day you're breathing free air, hell. You cocky bastard, who the hell do you think you are? Had you shown some remorse instead of that fucking Malone defiance..."

"Don't touch me!" Jack warned, shoving the hand away.

"What? Is that a bit of remorse I see, a crack in the armor of the mighty Jack Malone?" he sent back and moved in closer, not hiding his hostility. "Well, how does it feel Hot Shot?" His lips curled up in contempt. "Huh? You proud of yourself? If you hadn't been choking on that pride of yours and your head wasn't up your ass, you'd still have a team."

"Don't you tell me about my team!" Jack leveled with a wave of hostility, his dark eyes flashing. "You couldn't carry their shoelaces!"

"Spare me your false pride, Jack," Victor spat in contempt, "That arrogance finally bit you in the ass. Where are they now?" he roared and saw the eyes pinch slightly. He knew why and he zoned in, rubbing salt in the raw wound. "I hope to hell you suffer every day for what you did to them." He swallowed hard and his voice wavered. "To him."

"What I did for him," Jack barely contained his simmering rage, "was let him breathe," he tossed back at the overbearing man. Then he paused, zoning in for the kill. "Now let me tell you something about Martin Fitzgerald." He tapped the badge on the other man's shirt pocket. "When he wore it, it shined! It fuckin' blinded me. Had you taken the time to look, you'd have seen that, instead of prancing around with a stick up your ass."

"Don't you dare," Victor seethed, eyes bulging, "have the audacity to tell me about my son!" He shoved the other man hard into the wall. His anger was so great he was shaking with wrath. His fear of loss so overwhelming, it choked him and he turned and walked away.

"Fuckin' prick!" Jack vented, kicking the walls of the elevator. His cell phone rang and he flipped it open. "Yeah?" he sighed painfully, watching the numbers descending. "It's over."

"The hearing or your career?"

"Both," he sighed, rubbing his tired eyes.

"How bad?"

"I'd ask if you're sitting down, but..." He bit off the end, seeing the ashen body in his mind's eye in the hospital bed. "A four-bagger." His voice was cold and raspy, as he recounted the internal discipline standard for the Bureau - censure, transfer, suspension and probation.

"You had to expect that Jack," the fatigued agent replied, shifting in the hard hospital bed. "How long?"

"Suspension, indefinite," his voice was brittle, "Probation pending, which is bullshit. I'll end up counting fuckin' fish in Alaskasomewhere!" he berated of the remote transfer possibility. "Basically, I'm fucked." He paused painfully as the security guard approached and held out his hand. "I gotta go..."

"Tomorrow?"

"I don't know," he replied, shoving his free hand into his pocket for his identification tag. He paused, his ear to the phone. The silence was more painful than a reply. "Okay. I'll see you in the morning.

He'd left his car several blocks away, near the park. He took the long way, letting the cold night air slap his face. How could it have happened? How could the finest investigative team in the city be gone? Two agents missing, one dead and one lucky to be alive. He saw his twisted reflection in the glass door of a Chinese restaurant.

"How the hell did you let this happen?" He accused the haunted face, watching hope and honor flee in despair. "You fucked up, Malone."

By the time he got to his car, he was totally and utterly spent. The street was pitch black, without even the cruel moon for light. He leaned heavily against the vehicle, he had nothing left. He slid into the seat and laid his head back against the headrest.

There in the dark, with only his shattered conscience for comfort, he allowed a single tear to fall. It snaked a crooked path down his shadowed face and hung precariously from his chin. His eyes moved then and caught the rear view mirror. His trembling fingers made an unsteady path to the photo taped over the mirror. A battered body with today's paper draped on the bloody shirt was ghoulishly displayed.

"Jesus!" He gasped, "Holy Mother of God..."

Then he pulled the disturbing picture down, his eyes burning as he drank in every horrid detail. A cold hiss from behind him caused his heart to clench and his head to jerk up. His eyes went to the mirror again. He was frozen in place, his heart hammering so loud he swore they heard it uptown. Before he jangled nerves could recover, the body in the back seat moved.

"Drive!" the desperate voice commanded.

And he did.

Chris Boone held the phone in his hand for quite awhile after Jack hung up. He felt angry at himself for not being there when his friend needed him the most. The operator's voice droned on and on about 'making a collect call' before the annoying tone began. He looked up startled when a hand took the phone from his grip.

"You okay?" Sam asked, hanging the phone up.

"I called Jack," Chris answered, fisting the sheet. "They crucified him, Sam. I should have been there beside him. It was my fault too, it was my case," he ranted. "Godammit!"

"You were there for him, Chris," she bolstered, "I talked to him before he went before the committee. He knows you saved his ass, he told me how grateful he was. Your testimony is the only reason he wasn't fired. Your statement was brilliant. You had almost nothing and made that into something plausible. Jack's down but he's not out and you still have a job to do. Danny and Vivian weren't in the house. They're still out there somewhere."

"Yeah," he shifted, "I'm getting out of this place in the morning. Brendan's picking me up and taking me over to Jack's." He saw the question when her face clouded in concern. He picked up her hand and kissed it. "Thanks for that, but I'm okay, just another dent in the armor. Besides, the clock is ticking and I already lost a couple days." He released her hand and found a small smile. "I wish you were riding shotgun."

"Me too," she commiserated. "My kidneys aren't working right yet and I have to go to therapy. I can't seem to walk without help and even then the whole room goes around. They won't be releasing me any time soon."

"So we'll bring the mountain to Mohammed. The rooms in the therapy unit are bigger. I won't keep you out, Sam, promise." He paused, needing to give the pretty face a smile. "Besides, Jack needs at least one blond agent watching his back, one real blond anyway, not that I have anything against Clairol."

"Revlon," she corrected of the hair coloring product she used. She slapped his thigh. "You're fresh."

"I'm fresh?" he queried, arching a sandy brow, "You're the one groping an invalid's barely covered naked thigh."

"Wheelchair bound, not blind or desperate," she sassed, lifting the lid on his diner which was sitting on a tray in front of him. "Chicken huh? Brave and handsome."

"Bad?" he wrinkled his nose at the foul looking fowl.

"Well," She said, nodding to the aide who'd come to take her back to her room. "You don't see any pigeons outside and there's a 'rat free zone' sign just outside the kitchen." She smiled when a hard roll flew past her head.

Part 27

New Jersey Turnpike

She'd said little to him, other than giving him directions. He'd tried the usual methods of talking down a suspect and they'd done nothing but increase her maniacal fervor. It was evident that she was slipping fast but still had enough sense to demand his cell phone. It went out the window somewhere by the bridge. But, the gun was real as was the mad gleam in her eye. He had to play out her charade if he was to find where she'd taken his injured agent. What little had been left of her mind in the house before the explosion was gone. But somehow, cracked or not, she'd gotten Martin out of that inferno. The total and utter darkness that had enveloped him from the moment the house had exploded was now lifted. Hope was riding with him and he absorbed everything it offered.

"How is Mar... Nick?"

"How do you think he is?" she screeched, "My poor Nicky is dying, I think. He's so weak."

"OW!" Jack yelped when the end of the gun was jabbed hard into the soft spot between his ear and shoulder.

"It's all your fault... you took his job away, all his hopes and dreams. They said you were bad... all men are bad," she babbled then nodded as the voices in her head encouraged her to continue. "But you'll pay for your sin and Nicky can watch you suffer as you made him do."

Jack sighed in relief at that and he knew Martin must have spurned her onto this trip. Wherever she had left him must be in a desolate area with no means of communications. He theorized that his rookie must have known his only hope for survival was to use Gibson's original seed of hate planted in the woman's already twisted mind. He could see Martin honing in on that and using her guilt to lash out. It was fairly clear she wanted him alive at least to see 'Nicky' and have him give the final judgement. Once he secured the area where Martin was, he could get them both out. He had no intention of burying Martin Fitzgerald twice. Whatever it took, he would get Martin out safely and he'd have his redemption.

"He's very lucky you're taking care of him. Whatever bug he has is pretty bad. Where did you get the medicine?"

He knew he had to find that out. Chris said that the CDC in Atlanta was still trying to identify it. Whatever shit that Gibson had most likely imported from the Far East at a premium price had to have an antidote. He'd seen it work with his own eyes. Martin standing in the window was proof she'd shot him up with something good.

"He's my son, nobody will take him from me again," she rattled on as the voices told her not to listen to the man who was 'tricking' her. "Shut up! He won't trick me; I know what I'm doing."

"Oh boy," Jack mumbled, she was losing it fast.

By the time she'd instructed him what exit to take, it was getting dark. He heard the ocean and knew they were somewhere south of New York and not quite in Mystic. He saw the old Ferris wheel first, a gaunt and tarnished skeleton that seemed odd and out of place. Demented or not, she'd picked a perfect place to hide, funny how crackpots had sense that way.

"Where to?" He squinted at the buildings.

"Around the back," she ordered, anxious to see her boy.

Jack stopped when the order came and squinted at the garish clowns. He always hated them; he never saw what exactly was funny about them. They'd given him more than one nightmare as a child and now loomed larger than life to haunt him again. He shut the motor off and unlocked the door.

"Wait!" she called out, sliding out first and keeping the gun trained on him.

Jack kept his eyes on the gun and slowly got out, keeping his hands away from his body. He walked cautiously towards the door and entered the building. He followed the low light towards the room. A lantern was on top of an old table and its dim light seemed to give the body in the bed a ghastly pallor. The fine features were marred by bruises and discoloration. He resisted the urge to go to the morgue and beat the hell out of Gibson's corpse. He moved on instinct, like Thomas, he needed proof. Something deep inside him needed to feel the pulse of life coursing through the young man's veins. As his fingers hit the sweat-slick neck, the eye that wasn't swollen shut popped open. Jack wanted to say something to offer comfort and hope but his voice was gone. He couldn't produce a single word.

Martin blinked and stared up at Jack Malone's face. His fevered dreams had been brutal, full of Danny's dead body and Jack's headless corpse. This one was real, so much so he could smell the perspiration hovering near the apparition. He moaned and twisted his head trying to make it go away. Seeing Jack's ghost was just a painful reminder that he'd failed miserably. Jack was dead.

"...go away... damn... nightmare..." he coughed, gagging severly and flailing.

"Cut that out!" Jack ordered, hoisting Martin's upper body up. He gripped the back of his neck hard and winced at the heat radiating off Fitzgerald. "Your old man's got my balls in a sling now. I ain't lettin' you go twice."

Martin's lone working eye went wide with wonder when his hand hit flesh and muscle. This wasn't a dream. Jack was here by his side. He vaguely recalled the conversation with the mad nun. It must have worked; she had gotten Jack.

"I ain't no dream, Junior," Jack answered the amazed and confused face. He swallowed hard when the weak hand came up to touch his face.

"God... God..." Martin's relief was overwhelming.

"No, still Malone," Jack teased, "But you're not the first person who made that mistake."

Martin wanted to tell his boss just how sick he was. He could feel the life force leaving his body. He wanted to tell him how sorry he was for his mistake and how that failure had put them in this place. He wanted to ask about Danny and Vivian and if Sam was okay. But although his lips moved, the words were lost; except two... two which came out in fear.

"...hurry Jack..."

"Hey," Malone caught the fevered blue eye and gripped the damp head in a solid affirmation on his intent. "I will get you out of here. You just keep wheezing, okay?" He saw the lips trying to form a word and read it silently. He found a smile then and tapped the swollen and discolored cheek. "I know you're trying. You're on my team, right?"

Theresa was having a hard time focusing. The voices in her head were so loud she couldn't think. She backed up and clutched her head, keeping the gun on Jack Malone .He was talking to Nick. What was he saying? Why couldn't she hear him?

"Shut up! I can't hear!" she ordered and saw Malone turn around. "Get away... from my boy..."

"Look, he's really in a bad way, he need a hospital."

"No!" she screamed, aiming the gun at his chest. "I can take care of him. They'll take him away from me again."

"Alright, alright!" Jack put both hands up in front of him defensively. "He's thirsty. Can I give him a drink?" He saw her nod and carefully eased Martin's head up. As the younger man drank, he saw the blue eye roaming around the room. He caught the busy orb and could almost hear the wheels turning. "What?" he mouthed and furrowed his brows. Martin began to cough then, violently. The hands began to flail and grab at the throat that was constricted. "Easy... easy..." he coached, hauling Fitzgerald and clapping his back. A huge wad of yellowish muck flew out and hit the floor. The wet head flopped on his shoulder and the labored breathing worsened. "You're fine now, you need to calm down."

Martin shut down, letting Jack's voice and strong hold take over. His breathing slowed down, his throat opened and his pounding heart relaxed. Finally, he opened his eye and felt his waning strength come back. He realized how badly he needed a hospital and had to put the plan in motion. He needed Jack to understand they had a slim opening and it would be up to him to lead the charge. So Martin pulled out a very rusty bugle and began the call to arms. He pulled back and caught Jack's concerned face. The dark eyes where full of fear and guilt. He shook his head to try to dispel the awful cast on the face and gathered up his fleeting energy.

"...follow... lead..." he whispered and saw Jack nod. He turned his gaze to the nun then, who was standing a few feet away with her gun trained on Jack's chest. "...moth...er..."

"Get away from him!" she screamed and motioned for Malone to take a seat on the floor by the wall behind her beloved Nicky's head. Once he had, she moved closer to the bed but kept the gun on him. "Mother's here, Nicky."

"...time... for... him... to... pay...." Martin rasped.

He pulled himself to a sitting position and gasped sharply when the whole room began to fly around. He wanted her to give him the gun, to let her think he was going to blow Jack away. But his body was a steep roller coaster without any seatbelts. He fell forward and instinctively grabbed out for her arm for support. An action she misread badly.

When Nick's hand grabbed for the gun, the voices reached a crescendo in her head so loud it created an explosion of pain and color that caused her to cry out.

"He lied to you... he's like the others... he's bad... he's a man ... he will hurt you... he doesn't love you... he lied... he lied... he's bad... he's bad... kill them ... .kill them... he... lied... bad... kill... bad... bad... bad..."

"Nooooo!"

As soon as Martin went for the nun's gun, Jack moved from the floor. It all happened so fast he didn't feel the bullet. But the loud echo of the gun and the force sent him flying sideways into the wall. A burning pain exploded in his right side then his head when it impacted with the edge of a supply cabinet. He hit the floor and the wobbly cabinet went with him. He felt the blood oozing from the head wound and his hand moved to his side over his hip where the bullet hit. He yanked his shirt with great difficulty and felt a long crease. He hoped that meant the bullet grazed him. He couldn't see Martin's face, but the younger man's body was being supported by the frantic nun who was still screaming at some invisible terror. Then he saw Martin pull his head around and stare right at him.

Jack managed to nod to reassure the worried face that he was fine. He saw Martin sigh hard and nod back. He was very dizzy and his vision began to blur. The blow to the head was worse than he thought. Martin and the nun now appeared to be in a long tunnel far away.

"He's dead," Martin lied, hoping Jack caught on. The bloodied dark head nodded and went back down, resting on the floor.

"...s'over... moth...er... we... need... to... go... now..."

"No!" She slapped him hard on the face and he flew backwards, hitting the bed hard. "You lied... you're just like them... a man... a dirty, filthy beast. You have to be punished. You were a bad boy."

At the word 'punished', Jack's fading eyes struggled to stay open. He would be losing consciousness soon and he needed to see what the mad woman was up to. He pushed as hard as he could to move whatever piece of furniture fell on his back but he was trapped. He saw her shove the gun in her pocket and reach into a black case. She took a needle out and then a small pink bottle.

"No, mother," Martin wheezed, watching the ceiling spinning wildly. He gagged and fought the urge to throw up. He coughed and sputtered as she shoved his arm down pressing it into the bed. He knew the bottle wasn't the same as the medicine she'd been giving him. This was something new and his heart clenched. What if this was the poison? What if she intended to finish him off? "...that's not... medicine... not the right color... what... doing...."

"You need to be punished," she repeated, shoving the needle into his wet arm. "You are a very bad boy. This will teach you not to misbehave again. It almost is the right medicine but it has some rather nasty side effects; painful, burning diarrhea and severe cramping, sometimes hallucinations, terrifying ones." She saw the naked fear shining from his eyes and cupped his trembling chin. "You won't misbehave again, Nicky." She stroked his cheek and moved the wet locks of hair that were plastered to his forehead. "Mother knows best, dear."

"Sick, fuckning bitch!" Jack whispered as the room began to fade away. The last thing he heard was Martin's painful scream of agony.

Manhattan
Five a.m.

Brendan Gavin sighed hard and watched his boss studying Jack Malone's apartment. The call to arms had come a couple hours ago. He didn't know what prompted Chris to leave the hospital against orders but he'd learned a long time ago not to argue with the very stubborn team leader. He'd been awakened by a groggy voice and the only explanation given was the infamous Boone 'gut feeling'. So he raked a hand through his dark hair and yawned, sipping the lukewarm coffee.

"He never made it home," Chris dictated, holding the railing for support and slowly walking down the steps from the front door. "The mail's piled up and his car isn't here. I don't like it."

"Maybe he was tired, his wife and kids aren't here. Maybe he went to a hotel or..."

"No, he'd come home. Plus he's not answering his phones. Something's very wrong." Chris eased his lean frame back into the car and rested his throbbing head against the back of the seat. He had woken up at three a.m. in a cold sweat and shaking. He saw Jack's face and a coldness washed over him. His friend was in trouble.

"You look like shit, boss," Brendan announced, climbing into the driver's seat.

"And you're one write-up away from being transferred to Staten Island," Chris growled. "Just drive."

"Where to?"

He didn't know where to start. Where would Jack have gone? The fact that they only found one body in the rubble of the building was bothering him. What happened to the nun? The body found was a male, she was inside, Jack had said so. She had to have gone somewhere before the explosion. Jack said she was mentally off balance, hearing voices and such. What if he went to find her? Was he that desperate?

"The Turnpike," he replied. "Head over to Mystic."

Thirty minutes into their journey, Brendan's cell phone rang. He flipped it open and watched the sun beginning to rise overhead. The words he heard nearly caused him to go off the road. He listened carefully but had to be sure.

"Can you repeat that? You're sure!"

The tone of his agent's voice brought the leader's throbbing grayish-green eyes open. He peered at the anxious look on the young man's face and sat up. His stomach threatened to heave and he swallowed down the vomit that rose. Concussions were a bitch and this was a bad one. Once the wave of dizziness passed, he turned again. The phone was being offered.

"Boone, F.B.I."

"Agent Boone? I'm Detective Mark Koslowski of Mystic. We pulled in a hooker this morning and she had something you need to see."

"I'm short on time here; just tell me what you got!" Chris barked.

"I got a gold chalice with a photo tied to it, it's that kid Fitzgerald that was on the news last night."

"What?" Chris rasped, hoping he'd not pass out. "A chalice? What'd she say?"

"She's higher than a kite, she's rambling. But she said she got it from a 'dark eyed bitch in the dungeon'"

"Dark-eyed," Boone repeated, hopes rising. "Vivian. Vivian Johnson is a missing federal agent, she's African American. Dungeon... a cellar... something below ground. Where? Did she say where?"

"No, but she was arrested near an old church. That would tie to the chalice. I can meet you there. Where are you?"

Chris listened to the address as Brendan took the right exit. "I'm five minutes away." He tossed the phone down. "Go!" He ordered Gavin and reached under the seat to get the red light out. He flipped the magnetic unit onto the roof and the sirens began to wail.

"Vivian, Vivian! Vivian Johnson!"

The star student walked up the aisle in her cap and gown. Her parents were beaming in the seats as the college graduate went to get her degree. The sound of her name being called echoed in her ears. It was a shame that it was a cloudy day, she couldn't see the sky. Then the sun came out and blinded her, causing her to stumble. Someone grabbed her arm then.

"Vivian!"

The agent blinked and froze when the dream faded and reality slapped her. Dumbfounded, she blinked again, not able to speak. The arms holding her eased her down onto a crate. She heard other voices both from outside and within. Orders were being given and two men moved past her to kneel by Danny's side. They weren't just any men, they had uniforms and badges.

"Vivian? Can you understand me?" Chris spoke more softly this time. She was shaking badly.

The face before her was not a stranger but a handsome man with sandy hair and light eyes. This wasn't a dream, it was real. They were rescued. Somehow, some way they'd been found. She turned and saw a medic run by and drop by Danny's side. Oxygen was being forced into him and his clothes were being stripped away. An IV line was inserted and she saw his fearful eyes open.

"Calvary came, Vivvie!" Danny whispered, watching tears rolling down her face.

"Chris?" Vivian took her wet eyes from Taylor's relieved ones and looked at the supervisor. He was ashen and gaunt and the usually clear eyes were clouded in pain.

"Damn, you look beautiful, woman!" Boone teased, hugging her. "Let's get you topside and let the medics have a look."

"I'm fine, Danny was wounded." She moved as the gurney came by with Taylor on it.

"Hold it!" Danny ordered hoarsely, snaking a hand out to grab Chris Boone's arm. Something beside physical pain was cresting hard on the handsome man's very pale face. "What's wrong?"

Chris eased Vivian down onto the crate and looked hard at her and then at Danny Taylor. There was no way to sugar-coat the news, he'd lost partners before and knew how devastating it was. There would be nothing in that medic's bag to take away the anguish he would now deliver.

"I'm sorry," he choked, his eyes burning. "Martin's dead."

Atlantic County Medical Center
Mystic, NJ
Evening

They'd finally gone, or so he thought. Well intentioned friends and other agents checking on his 'well being'. Coupled with the hospital personnel and even Victor Fitzgerald himself, it seemed there'd been an endless parade of bodies in and out of his room all day. He peeled a wary eye open and sighed at the empty room. It was cold and stark, much like his mood. He shivered and pulled the blanket up, though it would do no good. There would be no warmth for him tonight; nothing could take the chill from his soul. The words uttered by Chris Boone as this same day was born left him utterly gutted, like fresh kill.

"Martin's dead'

How could that be? His dark eyes moved to the window where the last remnants of the day were clinging unsuccessfully to life. Dark streaks of crimson slashed at a deep cerulean blue sky. Martin's face appeared in the clouds, the sky matching his emotive eyes. They were lit up with mirth as a wise crack emerged. They'd had their differences, but Danny liked Martin. Despite the green rookie mistakes, he saw what Jack did. Fitzgerald had an uncanny sense of getting the right angles in a case. He anticipated well and could read a crime scene with the best of them. He couldn't even remember their last conversation. It was lost in the fevered prison he'd left behind. He bit his lip and swallowed the grief.

"Let it out, Danny."

He turned to the doorway as Vivian Johnson walked inside the room. She was in a loose fitting FBI sweatshirt and jeans. The bruised eyes looking back at him mirrored the agony rippling inside his own body. No, he wasn't ready to give in yet, the pain was too raw. He'd read a story once about a group of sailors whose boat sunk in shark infested waters. One by one they'd been slowly consumed by the slick gray predators. The survivors said that the agonizing screams of their buddies nearby in the dark haunted them to this day. That's how he felt; like he was floating in a dark pool without light or hope and slowly being eaten alive.

Vivian wasn't sure how to address the dark pools of anguish trained on the window. She sat down and moved closer to the bed, resting her arms on the rails. He'd been very lucky, the mad nun's initial treatment and debridement had aided the wound immensely. He'd been given a strong antibiotic cocktail in an IV and some much needed fluid. His fever had come down steadily all day and was hovering near normal. He was expected to be released late tomorrow if he continued to improve. But there was no medicine to heal the festering soul inside Danny Taylor.

"I know how bad you're hurting, Danny. I miss him too."

"I'm fine," Danny rasped, as the echo of Martin's laugh and that cocky smile disappeared with the departing day outside the window.

"Sure you are," Vivian chased back, moving to catch the painful profile. "You can't hide from me, Danny. The longer you hold that in, the worse you're going to feel. Martin wouldn't..."

"Don't!" Danny whispered, swallowing the pain and swiping his burning eyes. "Not yet... I need to feel this... to remember... just what I lost."

Vivian nodded and kept her bedside vigil. Danny wouldn't hide long, she knew him that well. She knew just how torn apart he was and how he didn't really want to be alone. He'd slept most of the day, missing Victor's arrival. She felt sorry for the elder Fitzgerald who looked haunted and lost. He'd commended both of them for their courage and given them full support. He'd given her a copy of Jack's testimony. She told him all she knew and he agreed to consider an appeal, if they found Jack. Like Chris, she didn't think Jack was running away. Even Victor had his doubts, although he didn't like Jack very much, one thing they both knew was that Malone wasn't a coward. He didn't stay long; he was meeting his wife at Martin's home. Vivian intended to visit Jean Fitzgerald, whom she'd only met once. As a mother herself, she didn't dare imagine that kind of pain, the pain of burying a child. She thought Taylor had fallen asleep, but a rasp broke the silence in the hospital room.

"I can't remember, Vivvie," Danny whispered, wondering how it was possible for his chest to ache even more.

"Can't remember what?" She reached over to stroke his cheek.

"What... I... said... last...." Danny swallowed hard and took a shaky breath. "Smart-assed Danny... always with the one-liners..." He bit his lip and felt his eyes burning. "What if that's the last thing he heard? Some stupid crack... dissin' him..."

"No, no, Danny, don't do that," she reassured but the grief-stricken man pulled away, holding his arms across his chest and rocking in pain. A pain so deep she wondered if anyone could touch it.

"I never told him how good he was, how much I thought of him. All that corny shit you think of after somebody's dead."

"I got your back, Harvard."

"What?" Danny blinked and slowly turned his wet eyes to the strong woman. She stood up from the hard chair and put the rail down. His eyes never left the strong brown ones that were trained on him.

"That's what you said to him. He was lost in a nightmare, terrified, shaking, he couldn't breathe. You told him you were watching his back. Yours was the voice he heard, the one that calmed him down." She reached over to lightly touch his face. "You chased the demons away. He relaxed, he trusted you. You found him in whatever Hell he was lost and brought him home. That's what you did for him last, Danny."

"Goddammit Harvard..." Danny whispered, falling into the strong arms and letting the wall crack. He held on to the rock and didn't fight the tide. It wasn't much but those incredible words offered by Vivian provided the salve that his burning soul needed. Blanketed by the protective force that had guided him this far, he wept.

Manhattan
Four a.m.

"Who the fuck is this?"

"Little Sisters of the Poor."

"Who?" Chris Boone sat up, flipped the light on next to his bed and immediately regretted it. The yellow illumination slashed through his skull and he cried out, dropping the phone. "Goddamn concussion..."

"Chris?"

"Yeah?" Boone picked the phone up again and eyed the red digital numbers on his clock. "It's four fuckin' a.m."

"You got a mouth that would make any mother proud."

Chris blinked at the voice on the phone and pulled his legs over the side of the bed, hunching over in pain. One hand was pressed to the bridge of his nose, stemming the jackhammers going wild. The other was barely holding the phone to his ear. He knew that voice but he didn't have the energy to find the name or the face.

"You there, Goldilocks?"

That horrible nickname was used by one man and one alone. He grimaced and chuffed out a very annoyed breath.

"Maddox! One of these days I'm gonna find a germ you can't identify and slip it in your coffee!" he growled to the Crime Lab Veteran he'd known for twenty years.

"You know I had a nice eulogy picked out for your funeral," Avery Maddox teased. "Then you up and survive on me."

"It's four fuckin' a.m. Mad Dog, this better be good." The name of the cheap wine that the forensics specialist was fond on in his college days had become his nickname. He could almost see the dark-skinned man grinning into the phone.

"That charred bastard they pulled out of that house isn't Fitzgerald."

"What!" Boone bellowed and dropped the phone, clutching his tender skull, "Shit... shit..."

"Christ, don't keel over on me now, Goldy, I'd have to rewrite the eulogy." Maddox paused and frowned. "Chris, you still with me?"

"Yeah, give me a minute." Chris took several steadying breaths and waited for the room to stop spinning. Once his stomach landed where it should be, he picked the phone up. "You're sure?"

"If I'm not, he's the best lookin', fifty-seven year old arthritic cripple with two knee replacements that I've ever seen."

"Jesus... Jesus..." Chris slumped, raking a shaky hand through his short blond hair. "So there is no trace of Martin, he got out? How? That place was incinerated."

"That's your job, Sherlock; my speciality is the dead, not the living." He paused. "Anything on Jack yet?"

"No, it's like he vanished into thin air. If Gibson wasn't dead..."

"Him I can confirm, this guy was some poor homeless bastard, I'm guessing. The local cops told me that the area is loaded with condemned houses. The winos and druggies live in the ones that aren't too bad off. The guy's artificial knees had serial numbers. They're five years old. His name was John Powell, he was fifty two then and from Newark, but the address is now a parking lot. We're checking for next of kin." The uneven breathing he heard on the other end had him a bit worried. He knew how bad the head injury was and how hard Boone pushed himself. "Hey, Holmes, you okay?"

"Good enough to kick your sorry ass, Cryptkeeper." Boone rose and shook his head. "Listen, thanks... I'll let his old man know."

"Okay and keep that ugly mug of yours intact, okay? I don't have proper funeral attire."

"Attire?" Chris grinned, "You cheating on crosswords again?"

He hung the phone up and crossed the room, heading for a fast hot shower. After gulping down two pain killers and a jug of Orange Juice, he grabbed his keys and headed for Martin Fitzgerald's apartment. Victor had been with him at the hospital when Johnson and Taylor were brought in. He had to give the old guy credit, he'd kept it intact and been very supportive of the pair. Taylor was mostly out of it and maybe it was better that way. He still couldn't lose that shattered set of brown eyes that had met his over the awful news. The senior Fitzgerald had updated him that his wife was being driven down to the city and they'd be at Martin's. He'd put an APB out on Malone, which irritated Boone but he'd kept his anger in check, due to the man's grievous loss. Now, all bets were off. It was almost five thirtywhen he arrived at Martin's. It took several moments after his ringing for a voice to come through the outside speaker.

"Yes?"

"Victor, it's Chris, we need to talk, it's urgent." The buzz gave him his reply and he made his way upstairs. By the time he arrived at the door, it was open. Without the expensive suits and attitude, the man before him looked like any other retiree in a blue terry cloth robe with dishevelled hair, except that he'd aged ten years in one day.

"Well?" Victor demanded, opening the door and letting the younger man inside.

"It wasn't him," Chris said, eyeing the darkened guest bedroom.

"Who wasn't him? Stop talking in riddles." Victor paused when the light green eyes before him reflected something wonderful and a hand came up to rest on his shoulder.

"The body in the house, it wasn't Martin. The autopsy revealed..."

"Sweet Jesus." Victor gasped, staggered and would have fallen if not for the arms guiding him to a chair. He struggled for breath and took the glass offered a few moments later. The Irish whiskey went down easy, leaving a burning sensation inside. He finally collected himself and looked over at the haggard looking team leader. "Chris, you're sure? How?"

"I got a call a little while ago from the lab. The body was a fifty-seven year old male formally of Newark. Could be some homeless guy who was living in the cellar. They're checking for next of kin, he had no address on record. They tracked him through the serial numbers on his artificial knees."

"My God... it's a miracle. Martin... Martin..." He didn't move for several moments and then offered a wet set of eyes and a hand to the deliverer. "Thank you Agent Boone... Chris. You have no idea..."

"Yes sir, I think I do." Chris smiled. "Jack mentioned the nun, Nick's mother, she was there too. We didn't find her body either. So I'm guessing she got him out. Jack said her mind's gone, she thinks Martin is Nick."

"So she'll shelter him, protect him? Why wouldn't she take him to a hospital?"

"She's not thinking rationally. She's terrified of someone getting him. She'll hide with him."

"So we've got a little time, but... not much?" Victor guessed and saw the sandy head shake.

"I'm not so sure, Victor. Based on what Vivian told me, Martin was at death's door. She didn't think he'd live the night out. But Jack saw him on his feet, holding a gun. He not only shot at Gibson, he nailed him, saved Jack's life. Something doesn't add up."

"The nun is a nurse?" Victor sat back and thought. "Johnson said she fixed Taylor's leg. Jack said she gave Martin medicine."

"And if she thinks he's her son, Nick, she'll keep on giving it to him"

"She saved his life," Victor managed as a light in the other room went on. He stood and shook the offered hand. "Thanks, Chris. I want to tell Jean... she was shattered."

"I'll be in touch," Chris promised and went to the door. He was about to close it when he heard her sobbing cry. He only hoped they did find Martin alive. He couldn't imagine burying a son twice.

Early morning
The Mystic Amusement Park

The hundredth grunt of pain and frustration gave birth to a hoarse, albeit weak, cry of glee. One hand snaked out and hauled over a blue and white cooler. Inside was liquid refreshment, water, that which keeps life in your body. The only free hand he had sunk into the cooler and got a bottle. Two minutes later, it was gone and the prisoner was breathless. He used a second bottle to wash his head wound, cursing at the dried blood covering his scalp, face and neck.

"Goddammit!" Jack vented, tugging on his left hand that was cuffed to an old radiator.

He sighed and fished into the cooler again, taking out a round container. He made a face at the container of yogurt, not being a fan of the stuff. But desperate men in desperate situations take desperate measures. So he popped the lid and began to eat. His eyes roamed over the room again and his worry increased. It was empty and he had no idea when she'd gone. He'd been in and out of consciousness for the last day or more and when he'd finally got his senses back, he'd found himself alone. It had taken him hours, working slowly and with one hand to get himself from under the shelf pinning him to the ground. That's when he'd discovered she'd used his cuffs to secure him to the old radiator. How far had she gone? How long ago did she leave? Was Martin still alive?

"No sense toting a dead man," he argued to himself. She wouldn't have taken Martin's body. She was beyond the realm of the sane now and he needed to find her quickly. He couldn't stand up; the cuffed link was at floor level. But from his knees, he could see through the slip of window and to his car which was outside. She didn't use it to get away and that bothered him. She couldn't support Martin on foot. Something didn't add up.

"Unless..." He sat back down and tossed the empty container away.

Unless Martin had escaped first- it was clear from her babbling about the pink bottle of medicine that it was something very dangerous and hallucinogenic. What if the drug caused him to lose his sense of reality? What if he didn't see the world around him and was lost in a bizarre Neverland in his tortured head? What if the injured man had fled in terror? She might have fallen asleep and missed his flight and then woken up and gone to find out where he'd got to. That's why the car was still there.

"Radio," he whispered of the unit tucked under the dash in the car just a few torturous yards outside the window. He eyed the room again, seeking any rough hewn tool to use for a pick. A discarded wire hanger was lying on the floor under an old time coat rack. It seemed to be a hundred miles away but he had to try. He needed something long and sturdy to haul the hanger over to him. He eyed the braces of the shelf lying in pieces around him. It would take some time, but he could tie the short pieces together with pieces of cloth and make a pole of sorts. It wasn't great, but it was all he had.

"Hang on, Junior," he hissed, sitting up and feeling the wound on his side protesting.

They were all around him, their evil laughter rang in his ears and the horrid stench of their breath was choking him. He staggered and stumbled, seeking escape from the devilish monsters. They were from Hell, he knew that. Nothing among the living was that big and bizarre. White faces with large blue circles around their black eyes, topped with orange hair. The twisted scarlet mouths were cruel and spewing blood. Others had green faces and black demonic eyes, their huge claws holding up severed arms dripping in blood. He was sure they'd poisoned him somehow, for the pain ripping through his guts was brutal. Each bout with the pains left him weak and disoriented, with a stench-filled watery residue clinging to his legs.

"God... please..." Martin begged, crawling down another tunnel.

It was dark here and the smell of waste clung to him. He pushed onward, knowing that the army of monsters were right behind him. This prison had no end in sight, yet he had to press onward, or they'd capture him. He'd seen the others, strapped to tables and writhing in agony, their waxen faces pleading with him to help, the bodies torn open with strange hooks and blades, their entrails dripping onto the gory floor strewn with body parts. He wouldn't let the beasts capture and torture him. He didn't know where he was or who he was. All he knew was that he had to leave this place.

"Air... air..." his starved lungs cried out as a cold blast hit his hot face.

He fumbled and fell, sliding down a steel board that twisted and curved, spiralling around and around. It was too much and too dizzying a pace for his drugged body. The world spun wildly, the beasts laughed wickedly and Martin screamed and let the black curtain fall. His limp body landed in a heap at the end of the slide. He lay limp and unmoving, unaware of the rats that scurried from their holes to inspect the newcomer. He didn't see the dusty sign far above his head but it did identify where he was; the 'Wax House of Horrors'.

Part 28

Atlantic County Medical Center
Mystic NJ

The sun was streaming inside the window, causing the patient to frown. His eyes weren't open but he felt the warmth of the new day on his face. His fever had broken just before dawn and the nurses were kind enough to bathe him, change him and the bedding. So the last few hours, he'd been blissfully sleeping. He rejected the healing light, not ready to face the cruel morning. Outside in the world there was people going about their busy lives, co-workers laughing and talking together during a project, partners riding in their vehicles chasing down a lead. Partners. Partner. Martin. His mind painted up the grisly image of a charred body and his heart clenched. It wasn't fair, to die like that. He hoped Martin had been unconscious. The idea of his friend being burned alive was far too painful to contemplate.

"Good thing you're a cop and not an actor, you'd fail miserably."

Danny cracked a single eye open and made a sour face at Chris Boone. The tall, lean blond man was just hanging up clothes in the closet. His familiar Nike's were on the dresser with a white bundle of what he suspected was clean socks and underwear. A small plastic bag from Walmart was lying next to them. He saw blue and red coloring through the bag that he assumed was deodorant, a razor and other necessities.

"Good news, the doctor is springing you later today. This is a small facility, they need the beds for real sick people," he teased.

"Excuse me for not dancing in glee," Danny hissed, pulling the blanket up and turning away. "Go away, Chris."

"Can't do that, Taylor, you're on duty and I need you to analyze a report for me."

"Analyze this," Danny returned holding up a significant finger.

"Nice," Chris commented, walking to the bed and pushing the button bringing Danny into a sitting position. The body in it shifted, lying back flat. Two angry dark eyes, red rimmed and slightly bruised regarded him hostilely. "Look, just read the beginning of the third paragraph, I highlighted it in yellow. Then you can kick me out and return to your cave, okay?"

Danny sighed hard, took the paper and scanned the heading at the top. "This is an autopsy report from the explosion? What the hell is going on?"

"Just read it," Chris ordered.

Taylor chuffed out a terse breath and shifted his gaze to the door, as Vivian had just entered the room. He didn't understand why she looked so cheerful. What was there to be happy about? Why wasn't she torn to shit inside like he was?

"I can't hear you," Boone pressed.

"Yeah, okay!" Danny snarled, snapping the paper up. "A fifty-seven year old male Caucasian was the only..." he paused, scanning the rest and then his brain shot large red letters back at him- 'Fifty-seven! Fifty-seven!'.

"He's alive, Danny!" Chris smiled and took the paper back.

The shocked patient couldn't speak. He laid back and covered his throbbing head with his arm. The eyes that were once glimmering with despair now shimmered with hope. He felt Vivian move in closer, clued by the delicate perfume and soft touch on his arm. He wanted to shout in exaltation or cry out in triumph, but he didn't trust his voice yet. Martin was alive. Martin was alive. Inside, the euphoric mantra was providing a healing force that the IV's couldn't touch.

"We think it was a local wino, that area is full of them. They often live in the abandoned houses. He was probably sleeping in the cellar, never knew what hit him," Boone filled in.

"Damn, Vivvie," Danny whispered, pulling his arm down and taking her hand and holding on. "We got a miracle."

"Yes, honey, we sure did." She pulled out a series of papers. "You need to read this, Danny. It's Jack's account of what happened that night. Martin saved his life, he shot Gibson and he knew that would cause the explosion."

"Jack..." Danny choked of the ultimate sacrifice his blue-eyed partner had chosen. "...was right. Harvard has all the right stuff." Then his brows furrowed in confusion. His last memory of Martin was of a dying man unable to lift a finger. "He couldn't even lift his hand. How'd he manage to shoot Gibson?"

"From the window." Boone quickly updated him as the younger man scanned the report in his ha