Manhattan Missing Person's Bureau
The snow had begun falling and coupled with the howling winds, it made the eighteen degree temperature feel closer to zero. It was a fairly quiet morning, most of his prize team hadn't come in yet. Sam wouldn't be in until ten or so, she had a doctor's appointment. Vivian Johnson was on the phone with Reggie her teenage son who wanted to get some body part pierced and was waging a losing battle. Danny and Martin were both due in, but the weather had most likely slowed them down. Jack Malone reviewed the information he'd gotten just as a cup of coffee appeared next to his wrist.
"Sorry, Jack," Vivian sighed and sat down, shaking her head. "Be grateful your girls aren't teenagers."
"It's coming," Jack commiserated, "all too soon."
"So what do we have?" she asked, taking a folder that was slid towards her.
Jack's head popped back up when a song hit his ears from the outer office. Before he could reply a familiar voice sailed into their ears. He shook his dark head as he watched the lean body appear. Valentine's Day was approaching and if anyone was born to celebrate spreading his love around, it was Daniel Taylor.
"Cupid, draw back your bow, and let your arrow go...ooo...straight to my lover's heart for me...for me..."
"Nice of you to join us, Taylor," Jack groused, watching the chilled body dispose of his coat. His dark eyes were shining and that trademark 'Danny smile' was slapped on his red face.
"Cuuupid, pleeease hear my cry...ay...." the crooning agent continued, waltzing near his desk and doing a half spin with his invisible partner. He paused to tap his chest and wink at his boss.
"Trust me, Sam Cooke isn't spinning in his grave with you around, park your ass," Malone ordered.
"My ass," Danny answered, pausing long enough to take a large caramelcino and a hefty cinnamon bun from the bakery bag, "is numb."
"Really?" Vivian arched a brow and observed the grinning fool. "Late night?"
"From the weather!" Danny retorted, wagging his finger at her and slipping into a chair. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Vivvie."
Danny sipped his sweet brew and eyed the photo that Jack slid across the table. It was of a very attractive man possibly of Italian or Spanish decent. The clothes, jewelry and grooming indicated a man with some wealth. He appeared to be somewhere between twenty five and thirty, tall and well built.
"So who'd we catch?" Taylor inquired of the missing person.
"Peter Riccardi, twenty eight, son of Giancarlo Riccardi, of Vittorini Incorporated."
"Damn," Danny whistled of the internationally known race car manufacturing family. "I'll bet his suits cost more than my car."
"He was late for a meeting with his father last night. They were supposed to have a late supper at D'Angelos at ten. He never showed. The state troopers found his car on the side of the road just off the Turnpike exit no signs of a struggle. His wallet and briefcase were inside, untouched."
"Car break down?" Vivian asked, flipping through the paperwork for a police report.
"No, not so far as they can tell, it started right up, no signs of a struggle and his cellphone was in the glove compartment. "Jack paused, "He flew into Atlantic City Airport at five. He has a suite at the Taj. He was visiting from California, supervising an addition to an investment north of San Francisco in a gated community, Laurels."
"I saw those houses profiled on one of those lifestyles of the famous shows, the cottages start at 1.5 mil," Danny noted, his brows drawing together as he read. "That's near Sausalito, that's a bit of a commute for us isn't it?" he mumbled, shoving part of the cinnamon treat into his mouth.
"The developer has similar estates in three other areas, one in La Jolla, one in Palm Beach and one that's just opened in the Hamptons. Over the last few months, two other residents have gone missing," Malone noted, indicating the photos of the other men with his pencil.
"Three?" Vivian frowned, pulling out her copy of the photos of the other two missing men. "That's too much of a coincidence. Did they find them?"
"Are there any common owners, did somebody move from one of the others? Maybe we got a serial stalker," Danny theorized.
"That's part of the reason we need to have an undercover couple move in. If the pattern follows through, the next one to be hit might be the one in the Hamptons. The Riccardi's are heavy investors in the Laurels. Peter's father said his son called late yesterday and it was urgent. He wouldn't say much on the phone, but he was worried for his safety," Malone updated.
"Did he say why?" Vivian asked.
"Not in so many words," Jack said, tapping his pencil. "Apparently, he was upset about the other two men who went missing; both of them disappeared within a week of their arrival and were never found."
"Were they richer than God too?" Danny asked.
"Not according to what I've read," Jack noted, pausing to sip his coffee. "So that may buy Riccardi some time. If he has been abducted, they might decide to try for ransom." He wrinkled his nose as Taylor shoved a large clump of cinnamon roll oozing with icing into his mouth. Aware he was being observed, the dark eyes shifted in annoyance at him.
"What?" Danny managed, swallowing his pastry and licking the icing from his lips. "It's got flour and eggs in it somewhere. I keep this machine running smooth!" He tapped his lean abdomen and belched.
"Nice," Vivian supplied, "Do you want to check your lights too?"
'Ha! Ha!" Danny mocked then turned back to the costly brochure from the Laurels. Wow!"
"So that's how the other half lives," Vivian sighed eyeing the gorgeous homes, outfitted with the very best and with all the modern toys the rich and famous require.
"Money is no object; the average income for the residents is well into six or seven figures. Movie stars, athletes, politicians..."
"Look no further, Jack, I'm your man!" Danny piped up, eyeing the photo of the huge master bedroom in the model complete with a six foot television screen built into the wall behind a hidden panel. He eyed the rich golden satin sheets and thought of his current flame, Antonia, and how her dark hair would look fanned across a plump pillow. "If anybody is great under the covers, it's moi!"
"Undercover," Jack corrected, trying not to grin.
"That too!" Danny winked, ignoring Vivian's groan. "Besides if you send Martin and Sam in there, that'll never work."
"You being the expert here?" Malone returned watching the wheels behind the dark eyes spinning.
"Aw, come on Jack, Mr and Mrs. Mattel?" Danny made a sour face. "Yetch! What kind of yawn fest is that? Now me," he charmed, preening himself as he sat back, "I come with extra salsa. So how about it?"
"Well," Jack answered, trying hard to keep a straight face. It was almost painful but he managed. "You got it half right. You are half of the couple, but it's not Sam."
"Vivvie!" Danny winked at the dark-haired agent and lowered his voice suggestively and wagged his brows "I'll be gentle."
"Please, honey, you couldn't keep up with me," she tossed back, her dark eyes full of mirth.
"And it's not Vivian," Jack added, his face splitting into a grin. He couldn't hold it in anymore. "In this case, it's gonna be Mr and Mr Salsa-Mattel, with a hyphen."
"Huh?" Danny frowned, his face puzzling up. Then he made sense of the comment and he grinned, jumping up. "You're shittin' me! Does he know yet?"
"No, I haven't had time to-"
"Can I tell him, Jack," Danny begged, grinning like a fool, "pleeeze?"
"NO!" Jack ordered, coughing to hide his chuckle. "Sit down!"
"Aw, come on Jack, I can do this very creatively," Taylor began and then paused when his soon to be groom approached. He put on his best and most seductive face, "This is gonna be great. I always did have a weakness for limp pools of blue."
"Here comes my breakfast back up," Vivian groaned as Jack just chuckled. "Oh brother," she moaned, casting a doubtful glance to Jack. "You sure the Hamptons are ready for this?"
"I'll never live there, what do I care?" Jack replied, "Besides there is a specific reason why it has to be Martin and Danny."
Shivering badly, Martin made his way into the office. He took his coat off, coughed twice and sneezed, before picking up his pen and heading for the bullpen. He paused a few feet away, his wary eyes regarding two grinning faces, Malone's and Johnson's. Their twin amused expressions gave him pause. He did a quick check to make sure his fly was zipped which caused Jack to laugh aloud.
"What?" he asked, reaching for a chair. Before he could grab it, the swift-footed Cuban moved in front of him.
"You look half-frozen," Danny oozed, noting the reddened features which made his blue eyes stand out even more.
"It's damn near freezing out there and I had to walk from the train. My hands are numb, I can't feel my fingers." He moved to get some much needed hot coffee.
"I can take care of that." Danny lowered his voice and moved closer to where Martin was fumbling with the coffee pot. "I can warm those slim fingers." He moved behind the very puzzled Fitzgerald who was looking at him as if he had sprung a second head. He pressed his body close, snaking his right arm over Martin's to ease it off the pot. He moved Martin's hand over a warm mug, wrapping his fingers around it. "Why don't you get comfortable and I'll fix you right up."
Martin yelped, yanked his arm away and moved. "Get away from me! What's wrong with you?"
"Cupid's wayward arrow hath pierced my tender heart..." Danny whispered, running his gaze over Martin's lean torso.
Martin moved to the end of the table, leaving three empty chairs between him and the very oddly behaving Taylor. He took the files that Vivian slid towards him and began to read the case profile and eye the photos. He was just about to review the police report, when a hand moved from behind his right shoulder, as he was putting the coffee mug down. He stiffened up as the other hand latched onto his left shoulder, then slid over to massage his neck. Danny's face pressed close to his own, their cheeks nearly touching.
"Hot and sweet, just how you like it, right?" Danny rasped and caused his partner to hiss and stand up. He then caught the startled blue eyes and winked suggestively, eyeing up the prized Fitzgerald ass. "That's great cologne, very musky," he whispered for Martin only. "Brings a real twitch my lips, I'll bet it stirs the loins."
"Don't be talking about my loins and your lips in the same sentence," Martin barked as Danny's hand patted his ass and the dark eye winked at him. "Okay, that's it!" The irate Fitzgerald huffed, his red face having nothing to do with the cold weather anymore. He shoved the roaming hand away and left the enamored Taylor to regard Jack Malone. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Enough," Jack interrupted, trying to regain his composure. "Sit down both of you. We have a lot to cover and we're short on time." Taylor was enjoying this role a little too much and Martin was getting angry. "TAYLOR!"
"We'll catch up later," Danny noted with a final wink and returned to his seat. He felt Jack's piercing gaze lingering on him and rolled his eyes. "What? I was just having some fun."
Jack held Taylor's gaze until it was clear his message had been relayed. Then he turned his attention to the confused and semi-flustered Martin Fitzgerald. The young agent was moving his perplexed eyes from Danny to him. He nodded to the file in front of Fitzgerald.
"Did you read it?"
"Some of it," Martin answered. "Do we have any leads?"
"Not yet, he's been missing about ten hours. He called his father from his cellphone at about nine o'clock. He didn't say where he was but he expected to be on time," Vivian relayed.
"An hour away?" Danny eyed the map on the board behind Jack. "If he left from the Taj, that means he was already on the road when he called."
"Vivian, you get hold of Sam and update her. She can get some background from the FBI on the two men. See if there is a tie somewhere. We'll head over to Giancarlo's place and speak with him directly. We also need to check with the A.C. cops, see if they turned up anything. They should check into the airport, the hotel, and all the places Peter was on his way here."
"I can do that," Martin offered.
"No, you and Danny won't be working the case from this side." Jack glanced at Fitzgerald and couldn't help but think of Danny's use of the word 'Mattel'.
"This side?" Martin eyed Taylor's devilish grin and felt his face flush again. "What exactly..." his voice trailed off and he flipped through the pages again. He found something that caught his eye when he first sat down. Something about Peter Riccardi's background and a scandal involving a male European tennis star and a tabloid photo revealing that the two were more than friends. He re-read it and then his head shot up. "You mean..."
"That's right, lover." Danny leaned over and cast a sympathetic smile "I'll take it slow, it being your first time and all."
"Great." Martin grumbled then eyed Malone. "What's our cover?"
"Some background first. The other two men who went missing were also gay. Adam Sayles went missing in Palm Beach first, about two months ago. Brad Everett went missing from La Jolla four weeks ago. No trace of either man was ever found."
"Did either of them have live-ins?" Danny asked.
"No, Sayles had asked his lover to move in with him, but disappeared before he got the chance. The FBI in Palm Springs checked the guy out, he's clean. Everett played the field, no steady." Malone reported.
"Do we have backgrounds on the other men?" Martin inquired, flipping through the packet.
"Sayles was a restaurant owner, three successful bistros in Florida. Everett was a playboy, living off Mommy's money," Vivian relayed from the notes she was reading.
"What was Riccardi doing here?" Martin asked. "Does his father know?"
"Young Riccardi was about to head up his father's corporate offices in New York, he'd planned on moving into the new section of Laurels," Jack answered "The old man thinks there's a possibility it was tied to the other two men disappearing. We'll be meeting him at his apartment. I'll get more information then. He's got a condo at Times Warner."
"Shit!" Martin's eyes widened. The luxurious Times Warner Center was located in Manhattan at the southwest corner of Central Park, a mixture of real estate, including a luxury hotel, upscale stores and several offices, including a new CNN Studio as well as luxury apartments.
"So maybe someone else found out what Peter knew," Danny theorized.
"And followed him to shut him up," Martin finished. "How's that link to me and Danny?"
"Well both of the other missing men were gay and the only gay residents in their respective establishments. So either Peter got taken for that same reason or because of what he knew," Malone noted. "It could be that whoever is behind this caught wind of him moving in and threatened him. If you two move into the Hamptons and that pattern follows suit, something should happen."
"What next?" Martin asked.
"Get over to Max and get your bio's done. Driver's licenses, credit cards, bank accounts, the whole nine yards," Jack ordered. He slid two folders at them, watching as they began to read. "Martin Sheppard, thirty, computer whiz kid who earned his first million before he was twenty five, very athletic and conservative. tennis, golf, all the rich sports. Dante Figueroa emigrated from Havana to the U.S via Miami when he was a teenager. Lived off the streets, in with some gangs and became a top player in the mob down there."
"How'd we hook up?" Martin asked.
"One kiss baby and the rest is history," Danny teased and got the groan he expected. This was going to be too easy, his partner was that uptight.
"Sheppard's extremely competitive and a gambler. You met a couple years ago at a speedboat competition in Miami," Jack answered.
"I beat his ass, right? His ego couldn't take it, he demanded a rematch, but on the handball court." Danny paused, his dark eyes animated and his hands moving in descriptive waves. "Several furious matches later, two sweaty bodies in the shower room...lots of steam...that hot ass of his..."
"Yo! Keep it rated G okay?" Malone interjected. "It's fictional. That works for you, fine. I don't gotta hear about it."
"And we're in New York because?" Martin glared at Danny, squirmed in his seat and tried to concentrate.
"Sheppard's gonna become an investor in Laurels," Jack answered, eyeing his watch. "You two do your homework on this, we can't afford sloppy work. No mistakes!" he warned. "Get your act together, families, ex lovers, backgrounds, food likes, movies, the whole thing. You're moving in this afternoon, the head of the complex is expecting you at two at the house. Her name is Lily Amherst. She's got a lot of clout. Peter was supposed to meet with her also. He went missing and you got his interview. Don't blow it."
"With this face?" Danny cupped Martin's square jaw. "He'll blush and Ma'am us right past Ms. Amherst and into the good life. We'll be fondlin' and fondue'in by five."
"Your humor is as bad as your diction." Martin shoved the hand away.
'Oh, I love it when you talk dirty!" Danny teased and Martin just groaned.
"How do we contact you?" Fitzgerald asked, rising and taking his files.
"I'm your Uncle Jack, you speed dial me from the cell that Max will give you," Malone replied. "You check in at least twice a day and I want updates. I'll be listed in your email address book too."
Vivian and Jack went over their itinerary as they prepared to leave right behind Martin and Danny.
They couldn't help but overhear the conversation, albeit it a one-way affair. They both knew the two young men were top notch agents and would be ready by two. Despite Martin's stance, Jack knew that he trusted Danny without question and Taylor for his part was just the right fit.
"Let's get one thing straight, I get the right side of the bed," Danny chirped, enjoying Martin's tension.
"You can have the right, middle and left of any bed you choose," Fitgerald answered, punching the elevator button. "It won't be mine."
"Pissed huh?" Danny continued, following his partner into the elevator. "Oh I love make up sex...turns my motor on." He paused when the irritated agent scowled, then leaned closer, "I got a Marty party workin' in my pants now."
"Get away from me!" Martin hissed, moving again and hitting his shoulder against the wall.
"Have fun you two lovebirds," Jack saluted as the doors closed. Then his face split into a huge grin. Vivian just sighed and shook her head. "Who knows, it's that time of year and love is in the air."
Times Warner Center
Jack and Vivian were waiting in the large formal living room of the Riccardi home. The rich burgundy and navy blue furniture and rugs were accented by very expensive antiques with Italian flair. Gold and crystal fixtures, lamps and small ivory sculptures were scattered throughout the room. Giancarlo and his wife Anna were fans of the Renaissance era and it showed. Jack eyed the large painting of a trio of Rubenesque women over the ornate fireplace and his clucked his tongue.
"What? You don't have one over your fireplace?" Vivian teased.
"I think I dated that one in the middle," he joked just as a male voice sounded from behind them.
"I'm sorry, Agent Malone." Giancarlo, apologizing, swept into the room. He was a tall, lean man with graying dark hair and piercing black eyes. He stood several inches over six feet and still turned most female heads within range.
"That's okay," Jack returned and shook the offered hand. "This is Special Agent Vivian Johnson. We'd like to discuss your son and his movements before he went missing. What can you tell me about the meeting you two were supposed to have?"
"Coffee?" Giancarlo offered and both agents declined. "Well," he started, taking a seat on the navy, burgundy and gold silk sofa. "Peter had been very upset for the last week or so. He had been planning on moving back East to take over more of the business. There was an opening at the Laurels and since the homes come furnished, he could move in right away. He had an appointment to go over the formalities with Joan Amherst, she's the CEO of the Laurels."
"You mentioned to the police that he seemed fearful of something?" Vivian prodded, eyeing the fiftyish magnate.
"Yes, he was clearly distressed when I spoke with him yesterday morning. He was on his way to the airport. Peter was very upset about the two missing men from the other Laurels developments. The police have not uncovered any leads, but he got a phone call last week that upset him."
"From who?" Jack queried.
"He didn't know. It was one of those computer-enhanced voice messages. It warned him about coming to live in New York where 'his kind' wasn't welcome."
"His kind? Those are the exact words?" Vivian asked.
"Yes," the worried father admitted. "Look, my son's lifestyle, his sexual preference is not one I am entirely comfortable with. I have four boys, all good strong young men and I am proud of each one of them. My wife and I were upset when Peter told us he was gay, but we accepted it. But when you're in the public eye, people are not always so kind."
"So he's gotten threats before?" Vivian asked.
"Not threats as much as filthy letters, derogatory remarks, that kind of thing. But I think because this message came after he began asking questions on his own about the other two men, it did shake him up."
"What did he find out?"
"They both got messages warning them to stay away. From what the police told me, they also got these calls just before they disappeared. But that first call mentioned his mother, that something would happen to her if he didn't 'stay in Frisco with his own kind'. My wife is in our Tuscany Villa, our two youngest boys are still in school there. I have the very best security, he knows that."
"First call?" Vivian eyed the father carefully. "There was more than one?"
"Yes, shortly before he left California, it graphically described what would happen to his mother if he didn't comply. It mentioned that he'd be watching them."
"When did he tell you this?" Vivian asked.
"After he arrived, when he was in the car on his way to meet me, he was being followed, or so he suspected. He phoned me to say a black van had been behind him on the road and he didn't like the way it was following his every turn, he had a bad feeling. That's when he mentioned the other call, despite the fact that I assured him his mother was fine and safe. I told him to take the first exit and find a public place, like a store or a restaurant and head inside and I'd have the police come. That's the last time I spoke with him."
"Where on the Turnpike was this?" Jack asked.
"Not far from where they found his car. He never made it to the exit."
"Okay, the black van, did he mention seeing a driver?"
"No, just a black van. The police said that they were looking into that, watching the Casino camera footage from the parking area to see if he was followed from there."
"Good," Jack agreed. "Mister Riccardi? Do you have any enemies that would go to this extreme?"
"I have business rivals and yes, Agent Malone, in my line of work there are disagreements and jealous businessman, but I've never felt threatened. I pay my security team well. I cannot recall anyone recently who has presented a problem that way."
"What about Peter?" Vivian inquired
"Peter," he mused, "Uhm...not that I can think of. He was well liked and respected in the company. He's had only two long term relationships, one in college and one that ended about a year ago. Here."
"Thanks," Jack replied, taking the file the other man offered. He began to flip through it and saw photos, names, dates and a synopsis of information.
"That's most of his public life since college, but I don't think this is tied to that. I think it's connected to the two other men who went missing."
"We're checking that as well," Jack noted, rising from the stiff sofa. The rich fabric and fancy surroundings had him feeling a bit uncomfortable. "We'll be in touch. If you think of anything else, you call."
"I will and thanks so much," Giancarlo offered.
Manhattan FBI Office
Sam was just finishing some soup when the phone rang. She pushed the mug away and reached over the open files about Adam Sayles and Brad Everett to answer the call.
"Sam, how are you coming on that end, anything?" Jack spoke loudly, trying to overcome the noise in the street in Atlantic City.
"Nothing yet. I've got the full reports from the California and Florida police and nothing stands out. Sayles went missing on his way to a business trip to Dallas. Everett was tougher to track down; he was due home from a Bahamas trip and never made it. From what their friends reported, both had gotten calls similar to the one Peter got. Vague voice in a box sound, the same 'your kind' isn't wanted, don't push your luck or else..." she sat back and reached for her diet soda. "You got anything?"
"Not much," Jack answered. "The surveillance camera from the casino parking garage shows a black van pulling out behind Peter, but it had no plates. The driver appears to be a man, youngish, but it's hard to tell. He's got a hooded sweatshirt up with dark glasses. They're checking the other cameras to see if they can find a shot of them approaching the van. The car was clean, no prints or fibers. Vivian is staying, she's checking the hotel suite and the stores around the lobby. I'll be back later, I'm gonna head over to the AC airport and get the manifest of the flight, do those follow-ups. The boys check in?"
"No, but Max did," Sam chuckled, "He was ready to shoot both of them. Sounds like Danny is taking his role very seriously and Martin isn't having a good time with it."
"They'll be fine." Jack eyed his watch. "Okay, keep at it."
Four-forty five p.m.
Danny tossed two boxes of frozen pizza and paused by the next case. He scrutinized it, took out a large bag of buffalo wings, a box of mozzarella sticks, another one of taquitos and a large bag of seasoned fries, placing them into the cart and moving towards the Ice Cream. In between choosing Death by Chocolate or Strawberry Cheesecake, his phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and flipped it open.
"Danny? What's going on?"
"Jack?" Danny spoke into his cellphone from the Supermarket aisle. "We're in. Ms. Amherst wouldn't win any personality prizes, but she accepted the application. If Martin ever hangs up his badge, he could make some serious dough being a gigolo. He doesn't even break a sweat and they swoon."
"Is Martin with you? Where are you?" Malone asked.
"I'm picking up some food and things at the market. I left the little woman at home. Max has a moving van coming anytime now with our clothes and stuff. Anything we should know?"
"No, Vivian didn't get anything in A.C. We're going to meet back at the office at five to go over everything. We're missing something. So you're all set?"
"Yeah, we're gonna wait on Max and then chill in the new digs. Me and my honey are gonna break in that hot tub. I think a nice white Sangria will loosen him up some"
"Look, you keep your eyes open. Whoever is behind this is very careful. Check in later."
"Okay, pop!" Danny teased and hung up, turning into the cookie aisle. "Gotta keep my boy's junk food fix sated." He noted of Martin's sweet tooth. He tossed in three different varieties of chocolate cookies, which landed next to the potato chips, a large bag of chocolate candy bars and several liters of coke in different flavors. Eyeing the full cart, he nodded wisely. "That outta hold us for tonight."
Martin was on the computer when he heard Danny calling from the floor below. The condo was beautiful, decorated in soothing tones of cream, peach and aqua. The large living room had cream and ivory rugs and walls with cream, aqua and peach furniture. A large marble fireplace was the center point. The kitchen was in cream and sage, something almost too beautiful to use. Every modern appliance was primed and ready. There was even a television built into the refrigerator door, something that Danny was fascinated with.
The dining room and study were the other rooms on the first floor. Three bedrooms, two full baths and an office were on the second floor. In the basement, was a workout room, complete with a sauna and hot tub. There was also, a laundry room, a game room and a large recreation room. There was also a large patio off the dining room that overlooked a garden.
"Hey, you going deaf?" Danny asked, poking his head into the office where Martin's computer was set up. "I've been calling you for five minutes."
"Sorry," Martin replied, stretching and rubbing his neck. "Sam was right, there's nothing here. I can't find a link, it's gotta be there somewhere. This Everett guy was a playboy, could be he pissed somebody off good."
"Nah, I don't think so," Danny shoved a cookie into his mouth. "He got taken second. If it were personal, a crime of passion, Sayles wouldn't be missing or Peter."
"Chocolate?" Martin swiveled, eyeing his partner's cocoa muddied tongue wagging at him.
"That's my bloodhound," Danny laughed, tapping Martin's cheek. "White fudge covered Oreos, only the best for my honey." He dangled a half eaten cookie in front of the transfixed blue eyes. Just as the hand reached up, he snatched it back, shoving it in his mouth.
"Pig," Martin hissed, returning to his screen. "What if Everett was the target? The perp knew where he was living. Maybe he took Sayles first to make it look like a stalker."
"Nah, I think it's one of the residents here, a holier-than-thou blueblood who has it in for gay men." Danny yawned. "They don't want their lilywhite Laurel pond tainted with colorful fishes."
"Fish," Martin corrected.
"I'll pass, I'm full from dinner," Danny replied, wondering what caused Martin to groan. They'd had the taquitos and mozzarella sticks first, then devoured pizza and wings. "You toil away, here, I'm hitting the hot tub. Those notes read just as good in there, print them out."
"Yeah, maybe," Martin admitted, the thought of sinking in the steamy water was appealing. Besides he was tired, he'd been up before five a.m.
It was almost an hour later when Danny had tried all the gym equipment and worked up a good sweat. He slipped into the steamy water of the hot tub and sighed heavily. The jets hit the small of his back and felt like fingers massaging his muscles. He frowned and eyed the empty room and doorway.
"All work and no play make Martin a more uptight that usual boy," he mumbled, eyeing the intercom. He slipped from his seat on the rose marble and padded to the wall, pushing the button.
Martin closed the chest of drawers and turned off the gas fireplace in the bedroom he'd chosen. It was done in shades of light and pale blues, in an almost beach-like theme. It was very pleasant and restful. He was in the doorway, just about to shut the light off when a low and sultry voice came through the intercom.
qqq"Danny est enfermo"xxx
"Danny is sick?" he translated of the sing-song toned question. "Yeah, I'll buy that, he's one sick pup."
He was still mulling over his thoughts and trying to find the missing key in the mystery as he went downstairs. He stopped in the kitchen and pulled out a small cooler from the cabinet. He took some mineral water, fruit and the last of the Oreos. By the time he hit the entry to the chic workout room, another question in an equally musical tone was sounded.
"qqqQue haces, medico moi?"xxx
"What are you doing..." Martin repeated with a smirk, thwacking the back of Danny's slick dark head. "my doctor?"
"Si," Danny wagged his brows as the lean body slid into the water. "The only one who can cure what ails this needy body...this hungry boy..."
"Think again," Martin shot back, as Danny chuckled and shook his head. "What?"
"I can't believe you're wearing a bathing suit," Danny erupted into a full laugh when Martin's face blanched.
"You're naked?" Martin's voice rose in alarm, eyeing the foaming water. "Jesus...Danny..."
"Don't worry, my wiggly love muffin," Danny slid over and cupped Martin's cheek, then gave him a saucy wink. "You won't get pregnant, my many, many mighty sperm have met a tragic death in this hot water."
"Humble aren't you?" Martin reached for the cooler Danny had brought with him and took out two bottles of mineral water, handing one over, he frowned. "Something doesn't add up."
"You don't think this is a gay bashing thing?" Danny asked, taking the cold drink.
"No, for some reason, I don't think it is. I think one of the men was the solo target, the others are just fodder." Martin eased his weary, wet body onto the jets, moaning as the pulsating water began to knead his skin.
"Vivian thinks so too," Danny added, taking a long draw and suckling the lip of the bottle suggestively and sliding his arm over Martin's neck and chest, pressing against him as he reached into the cooler for a piece of fruit.
"You're enjoying this a little too much," Martin remarked over a slight grin and wiggled away from the tangled limbs.
"Watching you squirm like ripe bait on a hook? Hell yeah!" Danny growled, shoving a pineapple spear in his mouth. "Gettin' paid for it is icing on the top."
"Cake," Martin corrected.
"No thanks, I'm watchin' my weight," Danny declined, slurping at his pineapple.
"No, I didn't mean to eat, I meant, oh never mind." Martin rejected the idea of correction
For a while they tossed some ideas around, none of Danny's suiting his determined partner. So he reluctantly decided it was time to leave the hot tub.
"Okay, let's go over everything," Danny suggested, rising from the steaming water. "Jealous?"
"I look that desperate to you?" Martin shot back at the glistening torso that was now displayed before him and God in all its glory.
Danny pulled his sweatpants on and hung the towel around his neck. He followed his restless partner up the stairs and back to the office. They went over Sam's notes first, then Vivian's and finally Jack's. Was Peter the real target? Were the others just window dressing? What if they had a common enemy? The bank statements, investments and other background information didn't shed any common light. Was the hunter already finished with the game? Or would they be targeted?
Danny was reviewing Adam Sayles college years statement when he saw Martin's head bob. The eyes were heavy and he noted the clock behind Martin reading nearly midnight. He rose, collected the folders and carefully stored them inside the hollowed inside of the fake DVD player that was attached to the television in the corner. Then he rubbed the back of Fitzgerald's wavy brown locks.
"Hey, Cinderfella, it's midnight, get your glass slippers and take your skinny ass home."
"Huh?" Martin blinked and shook his heavy head. "Sorry..."
"It'll be there in the morning," Danny noted, heading for the door. He waited until Martin was nearly in his room. "Last chance."
"What?" Martin paused, making the mistake of looking at the animated face down the hall.
"Havin' your unbroken ass slide all over my satin sheets."
"Goodnight, Danny," Martin grimaced, heading into his own room.
The next morning brought them into their first encounter with some of their neighbors. The tennis club was open early and Martin and Danny didn't waste any time. By the third set, each was aware of the curious stares they were getting. Danny made eye contact then darted his dark eyes towards the club. Martin nodded slightly and walked around the net. Danny was surprised that when they met on the side of the court, Martin put his arm around his waist in a more than casual manner, sliding his palm down Danny's flank and rubbing the side of his leg. But he played along; after all they were on the 'stage'. He snaked his own arm around Martin's waist and they headed for the club.
The buffet at lunch was large and held a variety of selections. It looked like a scene from a wedding. Danny and Martin split up, seeking to chat with as many regulars as possible. Each hoping their training would be able to weed out anyone who might be a threat of some kind. Martin took the salad bar, loading a couple of plates with greens, crab salad and shrimp. He found a table near the south window, being invited to sit down by a blonde woman. Danny watched him introduce himself to the group and begin to talk, Martin saying something which caused all six at the table to laugh.
"Schmooze, my man, schmooze," he whispered, taking two slices of dark bread and loading them with rare roast beef, provolone, roasted peppers and horseradish sauce. He added pickles and hot peppers on the side and headed for the bar.
"Something for you?"
Danny glanced sharply due to the bartender's tone which was decidedly colder than the ice nearby. He knew from the history that he'd read on the employees, this was Jeff Muller, who'd also worked briefly at the Laurels in La Jolla. Jack mentioned him as slightly hostile towards gay men.
"Yeah, iced tea, thanks," Danny managed.
"He with you?" Jeff nodded towards the handsome man with blue eyes keeping the table by the window entertained.
"Yeah, we live together," Danny replied, not hiding the hostility in his own tone. His dark eyes met the other man's and he found himself being defensive. 'Why, you got a problem with that?"
"I just work here, what I think don't count."
"You actually think," Danny's voice was dripping in sarcasm, "and talk at the same time? New implants?"
"Smart guy, huh?" Jeff tossed back, sliding the ice tea over. "Guess Lover boy over there is the pretty one. I can pick them candy-asses out right away. I saw him swimming this morning, I had him pegged."
Danny resisted the urge to jump over the bar and shove the seltzer nozzle down the lout's throat and pull the trigger. He ate the sandwich and continued to draw the unsuspecting fly into his web. He took a large swallow of iced tea and watched the repulsive face continue to stare at Martin.
"This place must be desperate for help, if they're payin' you," Danny noted, picking up the second half of his sandwich.
"I do okay, management appreciates me," Jeff returned, smiling smugly. "I make myself well known and it's paid off."
"Really?" Danny made a mental note. The spin on the word 'appreciates' gave him pause. How well did Mrs. Amherst and her crew 'appreciate' Jeff? He was tall and all muscle, easily able to overpower another man. Was his position as bartender only one of his jobs there? Was he the hired help for illegal activity?
Martin gently questioned the others without them even being aware of the interrogation. He brought up politics, religion, weather and family life. When he mentioned he and Danny were living together, two of them had gay relatives; none seemed hostile or threatened by their situation. He got the immediate sense that they were not suspects. Sylvia Atwater, the blonde who introduced herself to him at the salad bar was a longtime resident. Her husband Stan was a primary stockholder and carried a lot of weight in the business. Martin mentioned he'd just invested heavily and they chatted about the stock market. They got to talking about sports and betting and Sylvia invited him to join them for lunch. She also invited him and Danny to a party that evening at their house. Just as the waiter took their plates away, Martin spotted a dangerous look in Danny's eyes. He'd been watching him converse with a very cocky bartender. He knew Danny was about to lose control and it was time to go.
"Hey, thanks so much for the warm welcome. Danny and I will see you tonight." He rose, nodded at the cheerful notes received and headed for the bar.
"So I bet blue-eyes had the old knee pads strapped on when you went to see Humpback Mountain, huh?" Muller sneered.
"Danny!" Martin growled, grabbing the back of the damp, white polo shirt just before it began to vault over the bar. 'Let's cool off, the pool's not far."
"Yeah, you and sweet cheeks have a nice swim, guess you don't know anything about the breaststroke?"
Martin swore he heard Danny growling as he shoved him through the door. The dark eyes were livid and both hands were fisted. He moved Danny past the sidewall where no one could see them. He let his partner pace for a few moments until the sparks shooting from his dark eyes diminished.
"You need to calm down, you're gonna blow this," Martin warned.
"Sorry, man, that redneck got me going. I wanted to shove that soda hose down his throat and drown him."
"So you tell Jack, let him check the guy out, okay?" Martin warned, keeping his hand on Danny's knotted up shoulder until he felt it relax.
"Yeah, I'll see you by the pool, I'll call Jack."
Martin waited until Danny was safely on the other side of the gate, heading for the large indoor pool. Then, he made his way back towards the clubhouse, spotting Danny's jacket on the seat by the bar. He went back inside and picked it up, then noticed the bartender unloading boxes by the door to the kitchen area. He made his way over and waited until the beefy barkeep noticed him. Martin squared his shoulders and turned up the heat in his gaze.
"We didn't get formally introduced," Martin stated coolly. "Martin Sheppard, just moved in and here to stay." He saw the smirk and held it, "Oh, you don't think so? I'm a big gambler and that is one bet you'd lose. Also," Martin added, "I want to apolgize for Dante, sometimes he loses his temper." He stepped closer and Muller backed up, puzzled. "I'm the one that usually finds it, since I'm the black belt." He saw Muller begin to turn away and waited, "Oh, and one more thing, you so much as look at Danny wrong and I'll have you in traction for six months, comprehend?"
"Get out of my face, sweet cheeks, or I'll show you just how creative I can be with a zucchini." Muller returned and shoved away, going back into the kitchen.
Martin did three laps in the pool and was turning to do his forth when he changed his mind. He spotted Danny lying on his stomach, flat out on a chaise. He got out of the pool and picked up a towel, drying himself off as he headed for his partner.
"Don't be wearin' yourself out," Danny mumbled, spotting Martin approaching. "I ain't eatin' that frozen shit for dinner again tonight. I don't want you too pooped to cook."
He yawned, stood up and put on the thick complimentary robe. The other side of the room had a juice bar and he was thirsty. Before he could react, Martin grabbed him and pushed him face first against the Roman style column nearby. The other man's hands went around his waist and his face pressed close. A husky voice met his ear and a hang tugged at the robe belt.
"Get your robe off and get on that table."
"Damn!" Danny rasped, dropping the robe as he was forced over to a massage table. "I got powers I don't know about."
"Don't flatter yourself," Martin stated, shoving Danny down and reaching for the bottle of warm oil. He began to massage the hot liquid into Danny's skin and leaned over him, nuzzling his neck by his ear. "We're being watched. I can't see the guy's face. When I'm done and you flip over, you look over my right shoulder. He's behind the stone wall outside."
When Martin tapped his thigh, Danny flipped over. While Fitzgerald's strong fingers worked the oil onto his chest, he eyed the perp that was indeed outside. Danny had his dark glasses on, so the man didn't know he was being observed. He didn't know how Martin had spotted the guy, he was barely visible. But Danny could see they were being recorded. The man had a small camera. He was wearing a heavy sweatshirt and a hood, but the body was the same build as Muller.
Martin paused when Danny sat up and grabbed his hand. He backed up a bit and Danny eased off the table, rose and moved close, forcing Martin to move back. His back hit the column, Danny followed, leaning in close. It was partially obstructed and from the spy's angle, he wouldn't be able to see what they were doing. The only thing he could see was that Danny had his legs spread apart, the edges of the feet visible at each side. But it would appear from the close proximity that they were groping and kissing.
It's the bartender, I think," Danny whispered, "He's taping us. You got good eyes, man."
"Okay, let's get dressed and see where he goes with the tape. He's off duty at four that gives us about an hour."
"I'll call Jack, have him follow us from that seafood place near the turnoff," Danny noted of the restaurant that was the first public building when you left the property. "He can tape and monitor"
Muller watched the two leave the pool area arm in arm and head for the path that led to their condo. He glanced at his watch, shut the tape off and slipped it into his pocket. He had to finish up and head for the meeting place.
"Have yourselves a nice little fuck," he hissed, "It'll be your last." He didn't like the arrogant Sheppard and despite his orders, he intended to make him bleed slowly.
Danny suppressed a laugh at the look of distaste on Martin's face when they entered the large discount chain store. Dozens of aisles displayed bargains in every category for housewares, clothing, shoes, garden, electronics, jewelry and even food. Jack and Vivian were in the van monitoring the images Martin was sending through on the camera disguised as a cell phone. It dangled from the top of his blue sweater.
"We okay?" Martin asked and heard the affirmative reply.
"He's in the head," Danny stated, watching the men's room door.
They bulky envelope that they saw Muller slip into his coat told them he was meeting someone. Martin was clearly uncomfortable perusing the less than stellar linens by the end of the aisle. Danny on the other hand, had something catch his eye. He lifted it off the rack and waved it proudly in front of Fitzgerald's face.
"Hey, look at these."
"What?" Martin squinted, keeping an eye on the door to the men's room.
"We can put these in the kitchen!" Danny grinned, waving the bright yellow curtains covered with red chili peppers wearing green sombreros.
"Are you blind?" Martin's incredulous voice rose. "The kitchen is French country; I don't know what the hell you would do with those."
"I like them!" He decided proudly with a grin. " The kitchen's too boring now."
"You're not putting those in my kitchen," Martin argued, taking the offensive cotton curtains and putting them back.
"What do you mean 'your' kitchen?" Danny retorted.
"I warned you." Vivian turned to Jack who was cursing softly and reaching for the monitor.
"Christ!" Jack hissed, as the camera feed provided by the security department of the store showed Muller heading for the door with another man coming from the opposite side of the store and keeping slightly behind him. He pushed the button opening an airway. "Earth to Ozzie and Harriet, Wally and the Beaver just left the house."
"What?" Danny yelped, swiveling his dark head. "Shit..."
"See what you did," Martin accused, moving deftly through the narrow aisles.
"Me? I didn't..."
"ENOUGH!" Jack roared, "Get your asses in gear and get after them. "NOW!"
"There...there..." Danny whispered, nodding to Muller's sedan which was pulling into traffic.
"What's the other guy look like?" Martin asked, putting the car into gear.
"Magilla Gorilla," Jack replied from the van, eyeing a close up from the video. "Forty maybe, under six foot or so, two hundred and fifty pounds, close cropped dark hair."
Danny and Martin nearly caught the elusive car twice but lost it in traffic as it hit the interstate. They pulled off the road, turning the car around in a Burger King parking lot. Neither spoke, each glancing out the windshield hoping by some miracle the sedan would pull in front of them. Instead it was Jack's van that pulled up.
"Great," Martin sighed, rubbing his temples.
"You got a party to get to," Jack delivered in an icy tone from the end of the drive through line. "We know who he is, we got an APB on the car, could be he might even turn up at that party. Sometimes they hire the help for private affairs. Either way, you keep asking questions. If he's being paid, it might be by someone at that party."
"Jack, listen, I'm sorry..." Martin began.
"Save it," Malone ended the apology. "It's water under the bridge," he paused, "don't screw up again. Check in later."
"Okay," Martin tugged the earpiece out as the van turned away, leaving him and Danny to ponder their error. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me too," Danny said, "A lot of good that's doing Peter Riccardi. Let's go, we gotta lot to do before hitting the Atwaters place."
Sam was scanning the bio and other printouts on Mrs. Amherst when something caught her eye. She frowned and squinted at the handwritten note on the bottom of the page. It was Vivian's writing and appeared to be a name. There was a question mark after it and she read the name again.
"Monica Reed...wait a minute..." She flipped through her notes. "Hey, Viv?"
"Yes," Vivian answered from her desk. She walked over to where Sam was holding a document.
"Who's Monica Reed?"
"Oh, that." Vivian read her note from the day before. "She went to college with Mrs. Amherst. There was a call from her yesterday, I called back and left a voicemail."
"She called again today, it's on our hotline," Sam replied, hitting the redial.
"Is this Monica Reed?"
"Yes, who is this?"
"Special Agent Samantha Spade, I'm here with my partner, Vivian Johnson. You called us about the Peter Riccardi case?"
"Yes, I'm glad you called back," Monica sighed, "it might be nothing, but something occurred to me about Lily Harper."
"Mrs. Amherst?" Vivian clarified using the married name.
"Yes, sorry, I guess I still think of her from our college days." Monica sat down and recalled the event. "It was a long time ago..."
The Atwaters house was easily the cream of the crop. Large and lavishly outfitted, it was clearly worth millions. It sat on the best piece of ground, with a breathtaking view. Two dozen guests mingled inside the large living room and some spilled into the billiard room downstairs. A trio of musicians played soft jazz music and two large tables held an eye catching display of hot and cold appetizers.
Danny eyed his partner and smiled, Martin looked good tonight. Of course it hadn't been without his help. As usual, his partner had dressed way too conservatively with the a dark navy suit and a custom striped tie. Danny groaned and immediately shoved the protesting body back into the bedroom and went through the closet. He found a light colored pair of pants and a great shirt with pastel tones. He lent Martin a pale sweater that matched, tying the sleeves loosely around his neck.
"Work your magic," Danny whispered, leaning into Martin from behind and patting his butt lightly, shoving him into the crowd.
Unbeknownst to the newcomers, someone had seen them enter and was watching their every move. A hand moved quickly to a phone and the voice relayed an urgent message.
"It's me, they've arrived, you know what to do. I'll set the wheels in motion now, you won't have any trouble getting him. Tonight's fine. Just don't make a mess."
An hour later, each having worked half of the crowd, they met at the edge of the foyer. Martin nodded to the narrow entryway that led back to the kitchen. It was dark and quiet, no one would hear them.
"Anything?" Martin asked.
"Maybe. I got some definite frosty stares from four of the guests. They seemed to be like the Atwaters, long time residents, old blood you know? But I don't think they're the type to kidnap or kill. How about you?"
Noises from the kitchen told them they should move. Danny hustled down the path and into the dining room. They killed another hour but each felt they weren't gaining anything and time would be better spent waiting for Muller to show up. They thanked their hosts and made their way down the path towards their car. Danny saw Martin pause and eye the second floor.
"What?" he inquired following the fixed gaze.
"Well...never mind, it's nothing I guess," Martin unlocked the door and got behind the wheel.
"Well?" Danny asked, seeing a loose puzzle piece glinting in the sky eyes. "What do you mean 'well'?"
"Just now, before we left, I got the feeling I was being watched, I even saw a curtain move up above from the second landing. I went up but nobody was there except one of the strolling waiters." He paused, "At least the champagne is good."
Danny decided to check out the clubhouse on the way back, spotting a friendlier barkeep. He decided to see if the beer slinger could be eased into a chat about Muller. Martin went straight up to the room.
Martin was just pouring himself a mineral water when the door opened and Danny came inside. He saw the cell phone in his partner's hand flip shut and placed back in his pocket. He was glad Danny was back, he wasn't feeling well. He wondered if some of the seafood he'd eaten might have been off or maybe he wasn't used to swilling so much champagne in a short period of time.
"You were gone longer than I thought," he said, offering some water which the dark-haired agent denied.
"I was busy talking to Mike," Danny explained.
"Mike who?" Martin blinked rapidly, Danny swam out of focus for a moment. He'd definitely had too much to drink and not enough to eat.
"Some guy I met in the bar, a Real Estate mogul from Vegas. He said Muller left early tonight, he got a phonecall and seemed excited."
"Really?" Martin's voice changed not because of the information, rather because he had to hold onto the counter as the floor seemed to move.
Danny smiled, walked around the counter to grab a handful of ice cubes and eyed the firm body leaning against the counter. He couldn't resist and gave the prized Fitzgerald ass a good squeeze.
"Not to worry, Harvard, he don't have your ass."
"Cut that out," Martin yelped and slid back onto his stool. He felt better sitting down. "Why are you fixated on my ass?"
"Well I wouldn't have noticed if Sam hadn't mentioned it," Danny teased, tossing the ice into his mouth.
"Sam?" Martin's brows drew together as he brought forth an image of his lover. He dropped a wedge of lime into his water and frowned. "Sam was talking to you about my ass?"
"Actually, she was talking to her friend Brandi in the Lab. I just happened to be walking by and....well...let's just say you're quite the uh...'hero' down there now."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Martin's eyes narrowed in suspicion. Sam would never do that and he wondered what Danny was up to.
"Well, I didn't hear all of it and I'm not one to eavesdrop..."
"Since when?" Martin challenged, draining a large part of the water.
"...but I did hear something about 'endurance' and 'superman'"
Danny nearly choked at the primping tone and the chest that swelled just a bit. He left the handsome man dwelling on that for a moment, turning to leave the room. He paused at the doorway, before finishing his thought.
"Yeah," he waited through the pregnant pause. "She said you were 'faster than a speeding bullet' hence the Superman nickname."
"Fuck you, Taylor!" Martin chuckled and tossed a large handful of ice at the grinning fool.
"I knew I'd convert you!" Danny teased. "As much as I'd like to watch that fine ass of yours sliding all over my sheets, I'm gonna have to pass. I got a date."
"A date?" Martin choked, coughing up half a mouthful of water. "Now? It's after eleven. With who?"
"A girl!" Danny beamed, wagging his brows. "You remember them, soft and curvy in all the right places." When he saw the wounded face before him, he laughed outright. "Aww...you're jealous!"
"Pffft!" Martin chuffed, grabbing the glass and trying to leave the room.
"Don't worry, sweetheart, I'll make it up to you..." He shook his dark head and followed Fitzgerald who staggered. "Whoa!" He steadied him and sat him down on the edge of the coffee table. The blue eyes seemed out of kilter for a moment, before they blinked back at him. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just got dizzy, too much rich booze, I guess."
Danny inspected the other man and noticed Martin's eyes looked funny and he seemed to be wheezing a bit, also he seemed sluggish and pale. "Are you sick?"
"Not sure, maybe," Martin managed, wondering why it was so hard to talk.
"Look, I'll call Sam and tell her to come here," Danny suggested.
"Sam? You're meeting Sam?"
"Yeah, remember I told you she called when we were at the Atwaters, she's got new information. I couldn't talk long on the phone." He eyed the sluggish body and felt his gut clinch. What if it wasn't a bug? What if something was wrong? "Damn, maybe I ought to stay here."
"Oh," Martin rasped, vaguely recalling that having Sam show up wouldn't do, what if she were recognized? Also, he didn't need a babysitter, he was just tired and maybe getting a bug.
"No, go meet Sam. I'm gonna go to bed." He found a small smile and cast his woeful eyes upwards. "Alone."
"Let me check for blood," Danny replied, pulling his shirt and peeking at his 'wounded heart'. He grinned and ruffled Martin's hair. "You call me if you feel lightheaded again, okay? I won't be long, I'll be back in an hour or so."
Martin got to his room and changed, draining the water. He eyed the shower and felt maybe the hot water would make him feel better. He took a pair of sweat pants with him. He let the hot water cascade all over him but it didn't help, as a matter of fact he felt worse. He got out, dried off and pulled his sweat pants on. The bathroom suddenly seemed to be turning and he had to hold onto the sink. He was gasping for breath now and felt very sick.
Something was very wrong. He had to get Danny or Jack now. He eyed the phone on the small bedside table and it appeared to his distorted vision to be miles away. The floor was moving and seemed to be crooked, making his gait staggered. He only went a few feet when a fist shot of out the dark from the bedroom and hit him on the jaw. The blow staggered him, sending him hard into the chest of drawers. Blood shot from his lip and his eye. The blow caused him to fall to his hands and knees. His head was jerked back harshly by his hair and a blade pressed against his exposed neck.
"Welcome home, sweet cheeks," Muller growled, "Looks like you didn't like that custom blended cocktail you sucked up before you left the party. Don't worry, though, we're gonna have ourselves a private party. You need to learn some manners."
Martin used what little strength he had to send his elbow hard into Muller's groin. The blade nicked his collarbone, but he was able to crawl away. He snaked his hand to the bedside table and got his gun. Muller's hand latched onto his leg and pulled him back. He was sucking in hard now, desperate to get air. He kicked back, dislodging the hand and shoved off from the bed table. Just as he turned to fire, Muller crashed into him and they fought for the gun. Then a shot rang out and all was still
He was barely able to draw a breath and unable to move. He felt his hands roughly pulled above his head and tied to the bedpost. A heavy booted foot kicked him hard in the groin and another foot hit his ribs. Several more blows found his face and torso. Pain rained down in fiery licks causing his already frantic breathing to become more erratic. There was a sound from downstairs and the brutality stopped. His fuzzy eyes saw the glint of the blade nearby but not the gun or his attacker.
The call of his name brought his heavy eyes half open. It was all he could do to keep them from shutting. Danny was here. He had to warn him before Muller shot him. Danny wouldn't be prepared and Muller would have dead aim. Where was Muller? His glassy eyes roamed the room and the light from the bathroom spilled onto the large bloody puddle under him. Too much blood...a lot of blood...that wasn't good. He frowned and continued to try to draw a breath. He had to warn Danny. Where did Muller go? If Danny was walking through the house, Muller would kill him. He parted his lips, which felt like rubber and spilled a load of bloody saliva down his chin.
Garble. He couldn't produce a word, just garble. He moaned and fought hard to get his lips and tongue to make a word. Just one word, one that would let his partner know that danger was lurking.
He chuffed in frustration, the word wouldn't come. His eyes wouldn't stay open, he tried but they just slowly came down, like the curtain on the final act of the play.
"Hey, man you okay? I called but you didn't..." Danny's voice froze when he flipped the light on and illuminated the dark bedroom. Martin was tied to the bedpost, his legs splayed open on a bloody carpet. His face was pounded raw and half of it was covered in blood. From where Martin's dropped head hit his chin, blood ran onto his exposed chest. But the large amount of blood on the groin of the jogging pants and the bloody knife nearby caused Danny's heart to lurch and fall into his gut.
"Christ...aw, God no..."
He dropped to the fallen man's side, his shaky fingers slipping on the bloody neck for a pulse. He spotted the cellphone nearby and immediately flipped it open, pushing the speed dial Jack set up for a trouble call. He then dialed 911 and gave an order for help. Then he cut Martin down and gently laid him on the floor.
"Martin?" He slapped the bruised face hard and saw the brows furrow. "Come on, man, open them baby blues for me. It's Danny, Martin! Martin!"
He grabbed a towel from the bathroom and shoved it down Martin's pants, applying pressure. That caused the eye that wasn't swollen shut to open and regard him in a mix of shock, pain and confusion.
"Just lie still, man, don't move. You're bleedin' bad..." Danny rasped, forcing every word over the guilt lodged in his gut. "I should have been here..."
"...hell...doing...st...o...p..." Martin whispered, totally confused. He tried to push Danny's arm away and sit up
"Stop!" Danny ordered, "You're gonna bleed to death."
"What?" Danny wrinkled his face and moved the towel away, then sighed in relief. "You scared ten years off me."
So that was what was wrong with him, Danny mused, then his anger grew at the brutality of the attack. Martin had been drugged into submission and then beaten. The acid that this caused to churn inside him spilled out in his tone.
"Who did this to you?"
Danny's question invaded his muddled thoughts. He couldn't remember the beefy felon's name. But the one thing he did remember was the word that came to him when that blade was against his throat.
"That prick!" Danny vented, easing a pillow under Martin's head. "I'll fuckin' cut his balls off."
"Me?" Danny winked, trying to reassure the worried face below him. "Caution is my middle name."
He left the battered body briefly when Martin's cell phone rang. "Jack?"
"What's wrong?" Jack demanded.
"That bastard Muller broke in while I was gone. He tied up Martin and beat the hell out of him. I called 911. There's blood all over the place in here, but not Martin's. I think he's still here but..."
It happened all at once. The injured man's eye opened unnaturally wide. His bloody lip began to move up and down. The eye was wild now, screaming at him that danger was close by. It was directed over his shoulder to the doorway. Danny kept his gaze fixed on the frantic eye before him. He dropped the phone and moved his hand to his waist where his gun was positioned.
"Danny?" Jack's gut clenched when the line went dead. He pressed the pedal to
the metal and headed up the road for the Laurels. He was glad he'd left Vivian when Sam called.
"You didn't think I'd let pretty boy here have all the fun, did you?" Muller saw the dark-haired man's right hand snake inside his coat. "If you got a gun in there, you better toss it out, or I'll put sweet cheeks out of his misery."
Muller had heard enough of the conversation to realize something wasn't quite right. He'd heard enough to be suspicious. He had to make a decision quickly, he was bleeding heavily and he knew the cops were on the way.
"Look, loser, the gig is up. We're FBI agents and we know about your boss, Lily." Danny slowly turned around with both arms in the air. Muller was holding his left hand over a bloody side and the gun in the right hand was wavering. How far away was Jack? Would the sirens approaching cause the wounded man to make a fatal mistake? He couldn't take a chance with Martin's life.
Martin tried to stay awake, but failed. The last image he had was of Muller holding a gun on Danny who was trying his best to shield him from harm. Then everything faded to black.
"F.B.I.?" Muller muttered, blood seeping through his fingers. "You're lying and it won't save you."
"Look, I got my badge, okay?" Danny slowly moved for his wallet and flipped it open, revealing his identification. "We got you on tape, we know about you and Lily Amherst. She's gonna pin this on you, a murder rap you'll do time."
"Murder?" Muller shook his head. "No way...I didn't kill anybody. That sick bitch is the one who needs a padded room."
"Where's Riccardi?" Danny asked, stalling for time. Why weren't the police here?
"He's not dead; she wanted the old man to watch. It was supposed to go down this weekend but then you two moved in and she couldn't let it go. She didn't like sweet cheeks asking all those questions. She thought maybe the old man set you two up, paid you to get information. We were supposed to take him and question him."
"Where's Peter?" Danny asked, relieved to see Jack appear in the hallway.
"Drop the gun, F.B.I.!" Jack ordered, glancing briefly past Danny and seeing Fitzgerald's bloody face.
Muller tossed the gun down and in one motion, whipped his arm around, followed through with his body and slammed the man behind him. He turned briefly at the top of the stairs and saw that Danny was following him. The blood loss was taking a toll on him and he staggered badly by the foyer, going to his knees. Then he heard a chilling voice from just behind him.
"You can't shoot me, I'm not armed," he whined, trying to crawl away and eyeing his opponent.
"I'm not armed either." Danny's voice was low and menacing; he tossed his gun behind him and slowly walked over to the festering worm. "You sick son-of-a-bitch," he hissed, hauling Muller up with one hand and spliting his nose with the other.
"Danny!" Jack thundered, running over to where Taylor had the felon by the throat. The odd but distant look in his agent's eyes alarmed him. He knew that Danny wasn't aware of just how dangerous a position he was in right now. He also knew that Taylor was thinking of his battered partner. "Let go of him, Danny, you're gonna kill him. DANNY! LET GO!"
Through a red haze, the voice penetrated but it sounded far away. Danny wasn't aware again until he hit a wall and Jack was staring at him. He blinked and looked around, then saw Muller on the ground, choking and coughing up bloody phlegm. He saw the question in Jack's eyes and turned away.
"The medics are outside, take them up to Martin. I got this." Jack saw the fists still balled up and the hatred piercing the air from the livid dark eyes. "Let it go, Danny. It's done. You hear me? Let it go."
Danny didn't reply, he took the stairs two at time. He froze in the doorway, his eyes glued to the unmoving blood streaked chest. Unmoving? He ran to Martin's side, his hand seeking the vein in the neck. Nothing. There was nothing.
"No...no...MARTIN!" he screamed, slapping the face hard. "Don't you fuckin' die on me. Goddammit, breathe!"
"What?" Jack hollered, having turned the felon over to the NYPD who arrived just as Taylor departed. The medics were already coming up the stairs.
"He's dead...he's dead...it's my fault. I didn't have his back. He thought I was here for him, I didn't..."
"Get out of the way," Jack ordered, shoving the babbling Taylor aside. He was about to give mouth to mouth, when the medics arrived. "He just stopped breathing. Prior to the beating he was apparently drugged and that affected his breathing."
Danny felt Jack's hand on his shoulder. He dropped his head and rubbed his burning eyes. Martin couldn't die; it just couldn't happen like this. His trembling fingers found the cross on his neck and he prayed to the Blessed Mother for help.
"They're baggin' him," Jack said softly, realizing how upset his agent was. The mechanical ventilation worked. He kept his eyes glued to the bloody chest and finally it began to move again. "He's responding!"
"Thank God," Danny whispered, kissing the crucifix and watching the medics begin treatment.
"He's stable," the medic reassured, while his partner secured the young man on the gurney. "Let's roll."
"Come on, we still have a job to do." Jack clapped Danny's shoulder and handed him his gun back. "Sam called; they have movement inside the warehouse."
Long Island, NY
His head hurt. He had no recollection of why he was in such pain. Brief images of a party appeared in the darkness. Strange faces and voices, expensive jewelry adorning surgically enhanced socialites and distant music caused him distress. A hangover? No, that didn't fit, he hurt too much. With a low moan, he tried to open his eyes, one wouldn't open.
Sam moved to the bed and peered down at him. It hurt her to see him lying so helpless, that wasn't like him. He was so strong and at times to her seemed invincible. His cocky attitude and brash charm had made him seem fearless, strong and dependable. Yet here he was, lying broken in a hospital bed wearing more color than Crayola carried in their crayon box. The lone eye was unfocused for a moment and the hand moved feebly on the bed. She snagged it, gave a tug and waited for the eye to find her.
"Shh...it's okay, you're safe now. You're in the hospital."
Hospital? Martin saw a blurry face with blonde hair. He knew the voice and when a soft hand gently stroked his face and a pair of lips kissed him, he knew who was near. Sam was here, taking care of him. Where was he? A hospital? What had happened? He frowned and thought again, as that hand stroked his battered cheek. He moaned again and leaned into it, seeking human comfort. Images returned of the strangers at a party. It was loud, he didn't know these people. Then another image invaded his throbbing skull, a beefy man with a feral grin and a gun. The gun was pointed right at Danny Taylor's head.
"Martin!" Sam tapped the battered face until the wavering eye found her. She cupped his chin and leaned close. "Listen to me. Danny is fine. He's at the office processing the prisoners. We got Riccardi and the other two men, they're all fine. Can you understand me? Danny is not dead."
He took a deep breath, hissing harshly at the pain that it caused down his side and swallowed hard. Sam wouldn't lie to him; Danny survived somehow. Danny saved his life. He heard her voice again; it seemed so very far away. He let the curtain come back down and fell into the blackness.
Time had no place in this strangeness he was lost in. Sounds came and went, odd metallic noises and unfamiliar voices. Hands were placed on him, needles invaded his flesh and it hurt to breathe. He opened his eyes and saw blurry faces, walls and an IV line. He heard someone calling him but couldn't comply, it hurt too much. Then a voice he knew sounded, a gruff voice, which was not happy with him.
"I know you can hear me, get your damn eyes open. Thanks to you and the other half of the Hardy Boys, I got no sleep last night, Fitzgerald. You open those eyes or I'll call your old man."
Jack found a grim smile when the lone eye opened and regarded him hostilely. The beginnings of the infamous Fitzgerald temper were sparking or trying to. He leaned over the rail and eyed his watch, it was just after six a.m. Martin was being held for twenty-four hours until the drugs in his system were gone. The beating left him badly bruised and with a broken rib, but he was lucky.
"You with me?"
"..mmm..hmm..." Martin managed, casting his painful orb at the phone. That got a deep laugh. "...dirty...trick..."
"That's why they pay me the big money, Junior." Jack saw the confusion rain down as the concussed man tried to figure out where he was. "Long Island Hospital, you got beat up last night on duty. The Riccardi case? He's fine, we found him."
Duty. Riccardi. What was last night? Why couldn't he remember anything? The pictures he wanted to see were missing; the odd strangers and expensive clothing made no sense. Then another face invaded, a large man, a knife pressed to his throat and painful blows. He shifted in the bed as if dodging the invisible blows and his ribs reminded him of what pain meant. His mouth formed a silent oval of agony and someone latched onto his hand. Jack? Why was Jack there? Where was ...was...the last image answered that question for him; Danny kneeling in front of his broken body with a gun to his head.
...no...no...dead...didn't watch his back...sorry...Dan...ny..."
"Danny's not dead," Jack answered the delirious ramble. He used his free hand to tip the anguished face his way. "Hey, I'm talking to you. Look at me, right here. He's not dead, okay? He's at work. Martin?" Jack saw the eye flutter shut and hissed in annoyance. Had his words penetrated?
Long Island Hospital
Jack stood in the doorway and shook his head, pondering for a moment. Danny looked awful; he'd not gotten any sleep. The distressed hair and unshaven face matched twin bloodshot eyes. The rumpled clothes seemed fitting housing the weary body slumped forward in an unforgiving plastic chair.
It had been a long night. The raid on the warehouse had been successful. There was a chamber beneath the bottom floor that she had outfitted into a large holding area. The three men were held there waiting for the moment of her final revenge. Peter Riccardi was indeed being held prisoner, along with Sayles and Everett. Save a few bruises and cuts, Peter was fine and staying with his grateful parents. Lily Amherst was being charged with several violations; she'd confessed to the crimes. She claimed that she was going to set the others free once the deed was done.
"You heard the doctor, Martin might not be awake for hours. Go home. Get some sleep and a hot shower. You'll feel better."
Danny's monotone voice did little to dispel the team leader's concern. He wasn't fine and they both knew that. Danny bled for his family and Martin was family. Until the blue eyes were looking back at him and they were squabbling over something trivial, he wouldn't be fine. Danny spent all night processing the prisoners, updating the Florida and California police and doing his paperwork. Jack sent him home at dawn, after arriving at work directly from the hospital. He told the stubborn agent that his partner would recover fine. A concussion, major bruising and a broken rib along with several contusions would keep Fitzgerald out of action for awhile.
So he sighed, moved across the room and set the bag down. He handed over the coffee he'd intended to drink himself. He gave over the sandwich as well. At least Taylor was wise enough to take nourishment. Jack walked to the other side of the bed, pausing long enough to look over his battered agent. Martin's face was swollen on one side and discolored; the left eye was a swollen blue and purple mass. Stitches rimmed his left eyebrow and lower lip. Jack pulled the spare chair over and sat down, watching as the sandwich disappeared. The belly might be full but the eyes were empty and that bothered him.
"You give a whole new meaning to the word stubborn."
'It's my fault."
Danny's voice was barely audible.
"You two are quite a pair," Jack commented, leaning his forearms on the rail. He nodded to the bruised face below them. "That was the only thing he said earlier. That he failed you; didn't back you up. He thought you were dead."
Danny looked up sharply for a moment studying Jack's face. He rose, stretched and went to the window. He squinted as the strong sun hit his pained eyes. He knew Jack was right, but it didn't make it any easier. Every time he looked at the mottled colors marring Martin's face it hurt. It hurt to think that he was drugged and tied up like a dog, beaten to unconsciousness. It hurt because he should have been there. What if that bullet had hit him instead of Muller?
"Don't Riccardi, Sayles and Everett's lives mean anything to you?"
"What?" Danny turned back, annoyed that Jack was gnawing away at his misery. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Because of you, they're alive, back with their families. Would you feel better if you were lying there?"
"He wouldn't have left me," Danny replied, "He's a pain in the ass that way."
"He's on sick leave, you're not. You still have a job to you. So I'm telling you again, you're on duty tomorrow. We got three new MP's. Go home, get some sleep, that's an order, Taylor."
"Yes sir," Danny tossed back with vinegar. "Gimme a minute with him."
Danny waited until Jack left and stared at the bed. He moved closer and let the words come out. He told his partner how sorry he was, he wasn't sure if Martin heard him but he needed to speak them aloud.
The soft voice soothed him, drew him from the bleakness he was lost in. He didn't hear the words but the voice was compelling. It pulled him along, carried him to the light. He peeled his eye open and gazed around the room, blue walls, dusty curtains and a haggard face. Danny's profile was almost too painful to bear. He was exhausted, unkempt and his eyes were lost. Martin wanted to say something, his dry lips parted but no words came.
"I'm so sorry, man. I gotta tell you, when I came into the room and saw that knife...all that blood on your pants. I thought that bastard had killed you. I should have been there."
Guilt. Danny wasn't guilty. How could he think that? Martin needed to take that guilt away, to bring the cocky, full-of-himself, sun melting smile back onto Taylor's face. He thought for a moment, as the slow recollections of their assignment filed into his memory, taking their proper place. Most of it came back, right through the party but after that just an image of Danny with a gun to his head.
"Huh?" Danny leaned over the bed and saw the bruised eye observing him. Martin heard him apologize and agreed. It was his fault. He hung his head and sighed hard.
"Yeah," Danny was relieved, Martin didn't blame him. "You ain't got the ass for those tights though. Red ain't your best color."
"Com..man...do..." Martin teased and got the smile he'd waited for.
"See? I'm rubbing off on you already. Hey, listen, you're gonna be fine. They're gonna let you out later, I'll pick you up, okay? That doctor said you got a concussion and can't be alone for awhile. Hope you still like my frozen pizza."
Martin snaked the hand up through the bar and latched on. For Danny, it was enough; he could go home and rest now.
By the time eight p.m rolled around, Danny was whistling. He'd gotten word from the hospital that Martin was ready for discharge. He entered the room and saw his battered friend sitting on the side of the bed, dressed in an FBI navy blue sweat suit. A nurse was helping him to finish dressing, tying the laces on his sneakers. Two more were nearby reviewing his chart and making sure his medications were ordered.
Danny paused by the bed and smiled back at the wide grin before him. "You look awful. You're lucky I got just what the doctor ordered, lots of TLC Danny style."
"You're not kidding," Martin replied, keeping his game face. "Being back home sleeping in your arms. Waking up with your kisses and feeling you close," he sighed deeply, peering up at his 'lover' with full adornment. He took Danny's hand and pressed it to his face, lifting and parting his lips for a kiss.
"What?" Danny's voice rose a full octave and he stepped back in alarm. He saw the nurse pause over Martin's left foot and look at both of them oddly. "What did you say?"
"You're gonna have to be careful thought, I'm pretty sore, no rough stuff for awhile. Maybe we could play in the hot tub again? You really work magic under those bubbles..."
"Whoa!" Danny put both hands up "Martin, you really hit your head hard. We're not together. For that matter, we're not gay. It was a job, that's all, for work, don't you remember that?"
"...last thing I remember is your hands down my pants..." Martin replied huskily.
"Really?" the nurse smirked, tied the shoe and stood up, joining her giggling friends in the doorway. "All the good looking ones are taken, what a shame."
"Uh, listen, I can explain that," Danny pleaded to the nurse who just shook her head. "I thought he was bleeding to death, I had to put pressure on..." he eyed the other two nurses in the doorway, "Honest, I'm not with him."
"Danny? Don't you love me anymore?" Martin choked out his eyes full of sorrow. "You said I was your love muffin, didn't you?"
"I didn't mean it that way, I mean I did but not in that exact..." His head spun from the bed to the curious faces in the doorway. "I'll be right back," he told his love struck partner.
"He's such a sweet guy, how can you hurt him like that?"
"He's my partner, I mean on the force not in real life," Danny replied to the first nurse, eyeing all of them. "This concussion, would it make him remember being someone else? We were undercover as a gay couple for the FBI. He thinks he's still that guy. When will that go away?"
Head injuries are very tricky," the first nurse said.
"Could be he'll wake up later and remember everything," the second nurse added.
"Or he might never get that back," the third said, tapping the handsome dark-haired agent's chest. "Love muffin huh? Nice, I like that, very clever."
"Yeah, that's me, the smart one," Danny commiserated.
"Why don't you get your car, we'll bring him down in the wheelchair."
"Yeah, okay," Danny answered, ducking back into the room but staying away from the pleading blue eye. "Hey, I'm gonna get the car now, okay?"
"Okay," Martin yawned. "I think we'll skip the hot tub tonight, I'm too tired. We'll just cuddle by the fire and play for awhile."
"Cuddle, uh...uh...we'll...uh...uh..." Danny stammered badly, the battered face was nearly angelic, the eye glowing with adoration. "I uh...better get...uh...the car now...yeah ,that's it...the car."
"No kiss goodbye?" Martin pleaded, parting his lips and running his tongue across the lower one.
"NO!" Danny retorted then saw pain appear in the sky eye. "Uh...I mean your stitches...you know...uh...I gotta go..."
The nursing trio remained in the hall until the alarmed and upset man disappeared into the elevator. Then they entered the room, all laughing hysterically.
"Don't... that hurts..." Martin pleaded, laughing and holding his injured side.
"Oh, honey, you're good," one nurse stated. "Love muffin? I thought I'd die."
"How long are you going to keep him dangling?"
"I haven't decided," Martin grinned, knowing that the little game would chase the Taylor blues away for good. "I'm having too much fun watching him squirm."
Martin kept the pretense up for the ride home. But he was in a lot of pain and by the time he got to bed, he was too tired and sore to act anymore. Danny got his sneaks off and eased him down onto the bed. Martin caught the back of his neck and pulled his face closer, parting his lips. He ran his free hand up Danny's inner thigh slowly.
"I'm hungry, Danny, I need you..." The look of pure alarm staring back at him caused him to laugh, a bit too hard. "Gotcha!"
"You're fuckin' twisted, you know that!" Danny stepped back and watched Martin double over, cradling his injured ribs. "Serves you right!"
"Guess that means...I'm not...your...love muffin...anymore..." Martin wheezed.
Danny narrowed his eyes and watched the prankster ease his ailing body into the bed. He left the room twice, coming back to check on him. He woke him up every two hours to see if he was okay. Then as dawn approached, he got an idea. He eyed the deep sleeper and an evil grin formed on his lips.
"I'm like the Marines, you mess with the best, you die like the rest..."
Martin sighed and yawned, stretching a bit and opened his eyes. His headache reminded him he was thirsty and due for painkillers. He eyed the clock and frowned, the digital readout said it was nearly noon. Where was Danny? He vaguely recalled a voice saying that he was leaving and Sam was coming over. When was that?
He turned the light on and something hit his face. He blinked in horror and sat up, eyeing his room. His plain navy blue comforter was replaced by one that was bright turquoise with large yellow and hot pink lizards running all over it.
"What the hell..."
Suspended from the ceiling were dozens of tiny chili peppers wearing cowboy hats. He limped into the bathroom and gasped in horror. His conservative beige room was converted into a Mexican mess. The shower curtains were green with red chili peppers in bright yellow sombreros. Towels bearing bright purple coyotes on a hot pink background were on all the racks and small ceramic ones held his toothbrush and mug. Matching patterned carpets and a rug on the back of the toilet burned his eyes. Mini cacti that were motion activated began to sing 'La Cucuracha' as soon as he moved. Dozens of them were sitting on the sink, floor, toilet back, shower stall top, window sill and they lined the floor. There were Mexican characters in a variety of shapes and sizes in his bedroom as well, all singing and playing music.
A noise from the other room alerted him. Instead of the doorbell, 'La Cucaracha' was loudly playing in his hallway. He heard Sam's voice in the outer hall, asking to be let inside. To his horror, as he staggered along, his walls had posters of dancing chili peppers, colorful lizards and green frogs dressed like banditos. They adorned the living room as well. He groaned when he entered the kitchen. The curtains had been replaced by the very ones he'd tossed back in the store. More cacti and dancing chili peppers along with a stuffed Mexican dog wearing a large hat was perched high above, on a spot he couldn't reach. The phone rang and he picked it up, his raspy voice betraying his shock.
"Rise and shine, love muffin!"
"TAYLOR! YOU'RE DEAD MEAT"
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