Follows Misperceptions

August 2004

Another day, another missing person. Martin sighed, carefully setting his hot cup of coffee on the desk.  He wasn't really surprised to find Vivian already there, but Sam had beaten him there, too, which was unusual. He paused and began browsing through a small stack of papers that hadn't been on his desk the night before.

Why hadn't he gone home early and gotten a good night's sleep last night? he wondered, taking a swallow of coffee. Of course, there was no way he could have known they'd be called in early today. It would have been nice to have a day to get caught up on the old stuff, and perhaps allow Vivian a chance to get a feel for her new position, but that wasn't the way things went in this line of work.

It was a little strange thinking of Vivian as the SAC, but Martin was happy for her. She deserved the promotion and the chance to prove herself worthy of managing her own team. He already looked up to her and respected her seniority. So, really, other than the fact that Jack was gone, things probably wouldn't be all that different.

The case he was looking at seemed fairly routine as far as Missing Persons cases went, anyway.  Single male, late thirties . . . a private investigator? Now, that was an odd twist. The report had been made by the man's partner, also a PI. Okay, very odd. Usually guys in this business tended to handle these things on their own, at least until they ran out of options. And by then it was usually too late. This particular man had been missing less than 24 hours when the call was made.

He glanced up from his paperwork when he heard Danny approaching. Danny was dressed in a charcoal gray suit, dark tie and a bright pink shirt. The shirt contrasted nicely with his dark skin tone and made his eyes stand out, too. Very nice, he thought approvingly. If he were a woman he'd be tempted to . . ..  Wait a minute -- if he were a woman? Where the hell had that come from?

Shaking his head, he quickly returned to the paperwork. Apparently Danny was in high spirits this morning; he'd had a smile and a cheery greeting for everyone except for Martin, who'd gotten what could only be perceived as a snub. That was just fine with him. If Danny wanted to be pissed, then so be it.

Besides, he hadn't actually promised to meet Danny last night, so there was no reason for him to be upset with Martin for not showing up. Perhaps, if Danny hadn't been so busy flirting with the tall redhead in the really short skirt he might have noticed that Martin actually had shown up last night.

Danny finished joking around with Samantha before sitting down at his desk and shuffling though his own pile of paperwork. Martin could feel the glares Danny kept shooting at him, but he wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of looking up. He knew what Danny was probably thinking and could care less.

Vivian walked out of Jack's office -- well, her office now -- with a strange look on her face. "Has anyone spoken with Jack today?"

All three of them glanced at each other and shook their heads no.

"I haven't talked to him since yesterday," Samantha offered. "Why?"

"Well, I just spoke with Marie, and apparently he didn't accompany them to Chicago."

"He didn't?" Sam asked, her face lighting up like the sun.

"No," Vivian placed her hands on her hips, shot a reproving look at Sam. "Marie didn't go into detail, but she said at the last minute she informed him she'd rather make the move without him."

"You mean she dumped him?" Danny asked, in disbelief.

Vivian shrugged. "Sounds that way."

"Aw, man," Danny grimaced, "that's harsh."

Vivian nodded, obviously uncomfortable with the discussion. Martin could understand that. He couldn't imagine that Jack would appreciate their discussing his personal life.  "She hasn't been able to reach him since they arrived in Chicago. I just tried their home phone, it's disconnected and he's not answering his cell phone."

By the look on Danny's face, his mind was going a mile a second trying to work out all the details he'd just been given. "Would he have taken a later flight?"

"I already checked with the airline," Vivian said. "So far he hasn't rescheduled his flight."

"More than likely he stayed at a hotel somewhere around here." Martin tried to put himself in Jack's place. Jack hadn't called them, so he probably didn't want anyone to know where he was. He probably just wanted a little time alone, to figure out what he was going to do.

"We could run a search on his credit card," Danny said thoughtfully.

"I'm not sure he'd appreciate that," Martin pointed out. "It could just be that he needs a little time to himself."

"I agree," Vivian nodded, giving Martin a smile. "Let's not forget why we're here early this morning. We have a new case to work on." She cleared her throat, looking pointedly at Samantha, who was clicking her pen distractedly.

"Sorry," she said when she noticed all eyes were on her. Sitting back, she crossed her legs and smiled sheepishly. "I'm just worried about him."

"We're all concerned for Jack," Vivian said patiently, "but he'd be the first to remind us that this case takes first priority."

"Of course." Samantha turned her attention to the notes before her. "Let's see . . . male, late thirties, PI, two kids? Is he divorced?"

"No," Vivian answered, shuffling through her notes. "It says here that he had a wife and son, but both are deceased. These two boys were just recently adopted by him and his partner."

"His partner?" Sam looked confused.

"That's what it says."

"Hmm . . .." Sam nodded, flipping through the notes, and clicking her pen again. Martin fought the urge to snatch it out of her hand.

"Samantha, I want you and Martin to head over to their firm," Vivian instructed. "It could be that his disappearance is related to one of their cases. Danny and I are going to be heading over to his apartment."

Martin stood up and grabbed his coat and notepad and headed for the door.

"So, Jack isn't an official case?" Samantha paused to ask.

Vivian shook her head. "No, not right now. And if it does happen to become one, it won't be given to us, you know that."

"Yeah," Sam replied, sounding regretful.

"I'm sure he's fine. He'll get a hold of us when he's ready."

Sam nodded, then headed out the door, leaving Martin trailing behind.  Once in the elevator she turned to Martin, pointing at the address of the PI firm. "Four Corners Investigations, this isn't too far away from Jack's old apartment."

Martin wasn't really surprised that Sam was still thinking about Jack, but he felt it was imprudent of her to bring it up again. Their minds ought to be focused on the case and Jack would be the first to say so. Still, he was slightly concerned, too, although not in any hurry to face the man. "Maybe, if we have time, we can drive by and take a look, afterwards."

~ * ~

They spent a few hours at the PI firm, going through their records, searching for anything that could be linked with the man's sudden disappearance. When they left, they took copies of several old case files along with them, although it appeared that the man's co-workers had already gone through everything with a fine-toothed comb.

While they'd been at the office, Martin had spotted a picture of the man, his partner and their two adopted sons. When he'd tried to ask about the relationship between the two men, none of the others had been willing to offer anything other than the fact that the two had a long established friendship, which predated the missing man's marriage. Martin felt that the distinction was relevant, although he seemed to be the only one who did. He'd tried to explain that if the two were lovers, it could put things in a different light, but the co-workers had disagreed with him on that.  So, they were heading back to the office, knowing little more than they had in the beginning.

"I'm going to swing by Jack's place," Sam told him, as she floored it through a yellow light, taking the corner way too sharply for his comfort. Martin had been so focused on the present investigation that he had temporarily forgotten about Jack Malone and his unfortunate predicament. He'd spoken with Vivian about a half hour before they left the PI's office. At the time they'd still been at the missing man's apartment and neither of them had mentioned Jack.  He knew Samantha had more personal reasons for her concern, but they weren't supposed to let those things affect their job performance. Sam was coming close to crossing a line.

"Sam, we need to get back and start looking through these files," he said, mildly scolding.

"It'll only take a few minutes," she assured him with a smile. " I'll even let you drive back."

Martin couldn't help but return the smile. "Bribing a federal agent?"

"I'd offer to let you cuff me," she said as she parked the car, "but you don't look like the type."

Martin scowled at her over the top of the vehicle as he shut the door. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," she said with a casual shrug. "I just can't imagine you doing that sort of thing." Then she started to laugh.

"You have no idea what sort of things I might do." Although, he had to admit he couldn't imagine letting anyone handcuff him. He wondered about Samantha and Jack, and then shuddered, quickly pushing that image out of his mind. As for Danny . . . yeah, he could picture Danny cuffed to the bed. No, no, not that bed!

"You're right, I'm sorry," she said, but she was still laughing. He didn't want to have this discussion anymore, so he ignored her.

When they got up to Jack's old apartment they found the door wide open. The place was empty with the exception of the cleaning service and their equipment. The floors had been buffed and the smell of fresh paint was almost overwhelming. No one had seen Jack Malone, and when they asked the building super, she said that she hadn't seen him since he'd turned over the keys, the night before.

Once they got back to the office, Danny and Vivian were already there. They had learned little from interviewing the man's partner and the two children. The older boy had been the last person to see him. The man had gotten up and gone into the boy's room to soothe him from a nightmare around 2AM, and disappeared sometime between then and 6AM when the man's partner had woken up. His keys were missing, but his car and wallet were there and strangely, the front door had been locked. The older boy, who was only seven, hadn't said a word to anyone since they'd realized his father was missing.

"What's that?" Samantha asked, pointing to a stuffed animal on Danny's desk.

"It's a . . ." Danny shrugged, looking embarrassed, but recovering quickly. "Gee, I don't know. What does it look like to you Agent Spade?"

"A dog." She grinned, picking the toy up and cuddling it.

Danny snatched it out of her hands. "Be careful with that."

"Whose is it?"

"It's mine."

Vivian came out then, smiling as she nodded to the stuffed toy. "Danny has a new friend."

"I had a friend like that when I was little," Martin said teasing. "Only mine was a cat."

Danny blinked and stared at him then shook his head. "This," he held the dog up by one floppy ear, "is a stuffed animal and it's not mine."

"Um, Danny, you just said it was yours, but,” Samantha tried to snatch the cat back, "aren't you a little old for stuffed animals?"

"It's mine, I bought it, but it's not for me," he tried to clarify.

"It's for his new friend," Vivian told them.

"Aww . . .."

"Hey, what can I say? I've always been a sucker for big, blue eyes." He winked at Martin, and Martin felt his cheeks burn. "Seriously, though, I just feel bad for the kid."

"The little kid whose dad is missing, right?"

"Yeah," Vivian replied sadly. "Poor little guy."

"The kid was just adopted not too long ago, they just moved to a new place," Danny explained, "and before they're even unpacked his dad turns up missing."

"Where does the dog come in?" Sam asked.

"Well, during the move he sort of lost his Cat. That's why he woke up crying the night his dad disappeared."

Samantha patted him on the arm. "That's so sweet of you. But if he lost his cat, why'd you buy a dog?"

Martin smiled wistfully. He knew the answer to that one. When he'd lost his Cat, his nanny had bought him a new one. It looked exactly the same, but it could never replace the one he'd lost. It sat on his dresser for a few years until he ended up giving it to his little sister.

Danny shrugged, trying to seem indifferent. "Cat, dog . . . what's the difference?" Then he turned to Martin and frowned. "What are you smiling about?"

Martin just kept smiling, "Nothing. I just think that's a really nice thing to do."

Danny looked like he was going to say something defensive or perhaps insult Martin, but he didn't. He just nodded, lifting his chin high.  "Well, I'm a nice guy. What can I say?"

"Sure you are," Martin chuckled.

Sam shook her head and gave Danny another pat on the shoulder as she passed him on the way to her desk. "I have some calls to make."

Danny sidled over to Martin's desk. "You saying I'm not a nice guy, Fitzie?"

"Uh, I think I'll take the fifth on that one."

"Oh, yeah? Well, at least I don't keep my friends waiting for hours on top of tall buildings," he murmured.

Martin didn't reply. He kept his eyes on the case file in front of him.

Danny set the stuffed dog right on top of the file Martin was pretending to read and folded his arms across his chest. "So, was it worth it?"

With a sigh, Martin finally looked up. "Was what worth what?"

"You know . . . Sam. Was she worth it?"

"What happened between me and Sam is none of your business."

"Uh-huh," he grinned, then bent close to Martin's ear. "So, you're saying that something did happen between you and Sam?"

Martin leaned back in his chair. "I didn't say that."

"So, nothing happened?"

"I didn't say that either. I believe that I said it was none of your business."

"Aw, come on Martin," Danny whined then he tilted his head playfully. "I'd tell you."

Martin couldn't help but be amused. "You would, huh?"

"Of course I would," he replied, trying to look sincere. "All you'd have to do is ask."

"Okay, so why don't you tell me about the redhead you were with last night?" Martin asked without thinking. Oops.

"Redhead?" Danny looked puzzled. "What redhead?"

Martin was too busy choking to answer. He reached across the desk for the half full cup of coffee that had been sitting there for hours. The coffee was cold and stale, but he drank it anyway, then he put the cup down, took a deep breath and moved the stuffed dog out of his way. "Forget it. I really need to go through these files, if you don't mind."

Unfortunately, Danny didn't take the hint. He sat there for a few moments with an odd look on his face. Then, suddenly, his eyebrows lifted as realization dawned. "Ohhh . . .."  He began to nod, looking way too smug. "So, you did show up last night?"

Shit. Martin tried to ignore him, hoping he'd go away.  It didn't work.

"Ha! You did, I knew it!"

"You don't know anything."

"That's where you're wrong, my friend." Danny had a cocky grin on his face.

Martin was having trouble deciding whether he liked that grin, or hated it. "Oh, really?"

"Yes, really. The amazing Danny Taylor knows all, sees all."

"He obviously doesn't see all."

"Well, maybe not, but," he waved his index finger in the air, "I'm willing to bet that you showed up last night, you saw me with that redhead . . .who, by the way, just happens to be an old acquaintance, someone I met on a case a couple years ago. She recognized me and was thanking me again for helping to find her sister. It wasn't--"

Martin held up a hand, halting the explanation. "It's none of my business."

Danny sat there smirking at Martin, making him feel really uncomfortable. Then, he licked his lips and in a low voice said, "You know, Martin, green is not a good color for you."

"What are you talking about, now?"

Danny gave him a sly look. "I think somebody’s jealous."

Martin snorted and shook his head. "I'm amazed that your ego is able to fit in this room."

Danny ignored the jibe. "Now, you're blushing," he said, reaching out to trace a finger down Martin's cheek.  "Nice."

Martin batted his hand away, feeling the temperature of his skin go from warm to flaming hot.  "I'm not blushing. It's just very  . . ." he pulled at his tie,  "warm in here. Shouldn't you be working?"

"Yes, he should," Vivian answered, approaching Martin's desk with an open folder.

Danny grinned and stepped back from the desk.

"I just got some new information and we're going to need to head back over to the apartment and ask a few more questions," she said to Danny, then placed the folder on the desk in front of Martin. "I need you and Sam to see what you can find on this woman."

"Ella Gaines," Martin said, nodding as he looked over the sheet of information. "Stalker?"

"Could be." Vivian picked up the stuffed dog from Martin's desk and tossed it to Danny, who was already putting his coat on. "Don't forget your toy."

"Very funny," Danny said with narrowed eyes, barely catching the dog. "This is what I get for being a nice guy?"

"Okay, okay. I do think it's nice of you." Vivian admitted, then shook her head. "Strange, but nice."

"Maybe you could assign Danny to search for the kid's Cat while you're there," Martin said with sarcasm.

From the doorway, someone cleared their throat loudly, startling the four agents. "What is this? The ASPCA?"

All four turned toward the door, astonished. "Jack!"

"Uh . . . yes, the last time I checked," he answered, amused.

"We've been worried about you," Samantha blurted, taking a step closer to him, her fingers twitching.

Jack narrowed his eyes, looking at them with disbelief. "Worried about me? Why?"

"Well, we thought . . .." Sam began, then her voice trailed off and she stood there with her mouth open.

They all stood there for several uncomfortable moments until Vivian finally broke the silence. “Martin, why don’t you head on over to the apartment with Danny. Sam, you start gathering as much info as you can find on Ella Gaines. Look for anything that might link her to this disappearance.”

Martin grabbed his coat and followed Danny to the door, both exchanging smiles with Jack as they passed him.

Vivian handed Danny a small notepad, gave the two of them a decisive nod then turned to Jack and tilted her head in the direction of her office. “Jack? A word?” Martin figured she had to be wondering if he was back to resume his former position, and he had to give her credit because she certainly wasn’t letting it show.

Continues in Misadventures