elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DM_DannyIcon)
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Samantha Spade had never thought she would get used to the constant overhead of artificial light. An open plan office should never have come to feel so much like home, but it did now; bad sign, she suspected, proof she was becoming a workaholic incapable of making a commitment to anyone or anything except the missing who became consuming passions until they or their corpses were found. Damn, five more years of this and she’d be well on her way to becoming Jack Malone.

She made another note and thought again how much work one could do in the office. She sometimes forgot that; like Martin she tended to prefer to be out in the field, but so much of their job was this – making calls, following up old paper trails, watching security tapes, tracing DMV records, cross-referencing names. This was more likely to be where the vital lead came that may save a life. This case was already getting to her and she hadn’t been involved in the search for Margaret; it was just too unlikely, like a puzzle with so many pieces missing one couldn’t see the pattern at all.

So far the white board was showing a lot of time line but very little useful information. Mary had called Karin Box at 8:35am and the Boxes had gotten to her around 9:11am – Jack had explained that where the Ryans lived was so isolated that even the closest neighbor was a half hour drive away. They had arrived at the hospital at around 12:28. A Doctor Hughes had seen her at 12:46. She had called her husband at 13:37, then gone outside around 13:48 – which was the last time she had been seen, by a passing orderly. Then everything for Mary just stopped. Her husband had arrived at the hospital at 16:34pm, having driven straight there to collect her as soon as she called. The timing of the phone call was the only possible oddity about Mary Ryan’s behavior – that twenty minute delay between being shown out of his examining room by Doctor Hughes and her calling her husband, but it could be something as simple as waiting for a pharmacy prescription to be filled or waiting in a line for the payphone. Sam had called all the hospitals and morgues with no success, and was now waiting on the hospital security tape footage, and for the hospital pay phone records to be faxed to her.

She had retrieved the file on the Margaret Ryan disappearance and was starting to familiarize herself with the details. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that a mother and a daughter had both apparently been abducted four years apart but she wasn’t sure she believed in those. She was going to be cross-referencing every step of the way and while she tried not to pre-judge a case, if there didn’t end up being a connection she was going to be very surprised.

“Here you go.”

Looking up in surprise, she found that Martin had deposited a cup of coffee in front of her and was eating a Danish while sitting on her desk. He looked more at home there than he had in a while. For too long now he had seemed to be concealed by a thin veil of pain; a distance between them which had little to do with their months of intimacy and was more a conscious act on his part of cutting himself off from the rest of them. She felt as if she had him in focus for the first time in months. He was looking less bony than he had and the shadows under his eyes had faded a little, although the lines were there; she suspected it was going to be a long time before they went away. Even his suit seemed to fit him a little better than usual and his tie was not actually burning her retinas. It was red silk, and matched the blue-black suit and thinly striped white shirt he was wearing a lot better than the oversized tweed suit-check shirt-and-orange tie ensemble atrocity he had been wearing on the last occasion she had really looked at him.

“How long have you been here? Nice tie.”

“Just arrived. Thank you.” He looked down at his tie in confusion, as if surprised to find it there, and yet he presumably did choose those clothes each morning, made a conscious decision to wear suits of coarse tweed or unsightly checks that would only have fitted him if he had first put on two sweaters. Presumably he did go into stores and select those ties with the patterns that always made her think of a particularly drab acid trip. She wondered if someone had once told him that as long as a suit jacket cost more than a thousand dollars, and had shoulder pads, a gentleman would always look stylish in it; or did he just buy suits like his father’s because he had no real attachment to his work clothes anyway, only to his work? Or was it a sensory thing? His clothes had always felt better than they looked, even the worst of his suits a pleasure against the fingertips. At home he wore jeans and college sweatshirts, and looked younger and sexier and painfully unguarded. She wondered if people in the office had expected her to take him shopping while they were dating or if she was the only one who thought that Martin’s clothes were terrible? One day, she really would have to ask Danny.

She picked up the coffee and sipped it, realizing how much she needed it as the first gulp went down. “Thanks. You’re not having any?”

Martin gestured vaguely in the direction of the doorway. “Danny’s getting mine.”

She bent her head to hide a smile. Danny had originally been so proud of the way he was getting the new guy broken in, but it was still Danny who did most of the running around after Martin. “You have him well trained. Get anything from the Boxes?”

“Nothing much. Did you find out anything?” He craned his neck to read her notes over her shoulder, his hand automatically going to his stomach as he did it. She couldn’t tell if he was still in pain these days or if the pain had just been a part of his life for so long that he expected it to be there even when it wasn’t. There had been so many times every day for the past few months when she had wanted to ask him if he was okay, but he had been so keen to tell everyone how well he was, and how ready to come back to work, that she, who had behaved in exactly the same way after her own shooting, didn’t have to heart to push it. She did feel as if she’d failed him though, but that had become a reflex for her now; a constant niggling of guilt that sometimes, ironically, made her snap at him when she had intended to be nothing other than patient.

“Sam?” He looked at her in surprise when she didn’t answer. “Are you going to fill me in on all the background so I don’t have to read my way through all these old files?”

“You know, I’ve been meaning to ask – did you pay poor people to do your homework for you at school?”

“Of course.”

When he smiled at her it was almost like old times, a relief to see his ridiculously blue eyes crinkling with humor instead of pain. It was difficult not to touch his arm, just to let him know that he was cared about; however busy they all got, however difficult this job became, he did have friends here to whom he truly mattered – even the friends who had slept with him. But it was always difficult – touching people with whom one had once had sex; the touching always lasted too long or not long enough. She envied the way Danny and Viv and even Jack could just pat Martin on the shoulder or the back, or invade his personal space the way Danny was always doing, without having to be self-conscious about it. But then she had known all about the difficulties of office romances before she had ever invited Martin to share that taxi and done it anyway.

“I’m a sucker for a pretty face,” she said aloud and when Martin looked at her in confusion, she opened the file. “I’ll give you the Cliff Notes because you brought me coffee.”

“What do I get?” Danny came in bearing coffee and donuts, slopping the coffee down and distributing pastries; energy so high it felt as if the national grid could just plug into him and power an entire city.

Sam realized that as well as being thirsty and caffeine-deprived she was also starving. “You, I may have to marry.”

“We should totally do that,” he told her cheerfully. “We’d clean up on that book they’re running on us in Admin.”

Danny was wearing a more obviously blue suit, but, unusually, a white shirt, and a tie that was exactly the same shade as Martin’s. She fingered it curiously. “Are you two coordinating your clothing now?”

“Yes, Martin and I call each other every morning to make sure that our ties match,” Danny deadpanned. “Because we really like it when we’re trying to interview suspects and they waste our time making cheap cracks instead of answering our questions. And – by the way – next time you get the hung over three hundred pound ex-con to interrogate and we’ll take the friendly neighborhood call-girl.”

Sam smirked at him. “But I heard ‘Buster’ took such a shine to you two. The word is he offered Jack a whole fifty dollar bill for five minutes alone with you.”

“That was for five minutes with Martin. He offered seventy-five for me.”

“Well, if you ever get tired of all this, there’s a whole new career for you, right there.”

“Don’t forget the only slightly hot electrical goods.” Martin snagged a donut for himself. His Danish had evidently gone down without touching the sides and Samantha moved her own donut away from him before he started eyeing it up. She was all for Martin gaining the weight he’d lost but not with her food. “He was willing to throw those in, too. And we have an open invitation to share his cell in Pelican Bay.”

“The guy sounds like a real prince. I don’t know how you two could say ‘no’.”

“What book they’re running in Admin?” Martin added through a mouthful of donut.

Danny gestured with sugary pastry. “The Inter-Team Office Romance book. Right now, I could get us pretty good odds on Sam and I getting married in Vegas or Martin and I getting married in Canada.”

“What kind of odds?” Sam felt stung. She suspected she was probably the reason the bets were being placed; one could not sleep with two co-workers and expect no one to make comments; but she was perfectly willing to tough it out and follow Danny’s lead on this. He had a way of meeting things head on which she had always admired. “Cause I always have the rent to make.”

Danny’s eyes were warm and kind and she liked the light of mischief in them. “Twenty to one on you and me, fifteen to one on me and Martin.”

Martin licked some sugar from his fingers. “You and Sam marrying is considered a longer shot than you and me marrying?”

“Fifteen to one is still pretty good – although I bet those odds would be longer if you stopped wearing matching ties.” Sam took another sip of coffee. “If we all put a thousand bucks on it and then booked you two your tickets to Canada, we could clean up.”

“We’d get more if it were you and me though,” Danny pointed out. “To maximize our profits, you and I should get hitched. Right away the odds on Martin and I marrying are going to lengthen. Then you and I get a quickie divorce and I marry Martin before the smart money catches on. As an extra bonus, Martin would also get to really annoy his father.”

Martin held up his sugar-dusted hand. “Count me in for a thousand.”

Sam was pretty sure that somewhere inside Danny Taylor, the playboy, was a nice Catholic boy just looking to settle down, who would no more use the marriage vows to line his pockets than he would sky dive naked off the Empire State Building, but she liked his way of dealing with what could have been considered a public humiliation. She pointedly shook some of the sugar from Martin’s donut from a file into the wastepaper basket. “What about me and Elena?”

Danny shook his head. “Only four to one – but thank you for the visual.”

“You’re welcome.”

“How’s she doing?” Martin’s gaze was fixed on her donut and she quickly took a bite.

“Last time I called her, she sincerely asked me to kill her. I’m making sure my flu shots are up to date from now on. Now do you want me to fill you in on the background to this case or would you rather read the copies I just made for you?”

Martin gulped down some coffee. “You tell us.”

She told them all she had so far. There were more files coming, so far she only had the bare bones of births and deaths; social security numbers and DMV photographs. Impossible to do this job and not be aware of how thin one’s own life would look if subjected to an investigation. Date of birth, date of first runaway attempt, date of marriage, date of divorce; and agents sitting there making assumptions, making judgments, making guesses. They worked together every day and yet they probably knew more about some of the missing people they had looked for than they did about each other.

“Mary Ryan was born in a small town in Wisconsin called Indemnity, population about six thousand. It’s very rural. Frank Ryan’s family owned a big farm on the outskirts of the town. The Ryan family gave employment to a lot of people during harvest time and throughout the year and a lot of the town’s economy was dependent on them. His mother died when he nineteen so he came back from college to help his father out on the farm. No one in the family has ever had so much as a parking ticket. In fact if they were any squeaky cleaner their name would have to be ‘Fitzgerald’.”

Martin made a face at her. “I hate them already.”

Danny nodded at the file, also trying to read it over her shoulder. She often wondered how he and Martin managed to avoid clashing heads the way they did that. “What about Mary’s family?”

“Very much from the other side of the tracks. Mary grew up in a trailer park outside town.” She tried to say it without a tremor, as if she was not already feeling a pull of connection to this woman from Wisconsin who had grown up in a place that was too cold and too poor while surely dreaming of better things. “Mary’s father was arrested several times for drunkenness, assault, DUI, and there are a lot of notes on his file about officers being called to the house because of domestic disturbances. Mary’s mother was admitted to the hospital on several occasions with unexplained injuries, and Social Services had both kids down as being ‘at risk’. The mother died when Mary was eleven. Her father finally was DUI one too many times, ran the curb into a bunch of kids waiting at a bus stop, and served a six-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter.

“Mary and her brother were in and out of foster homes and her brother was arrested several times while still a juvenile for various offences. And before you ask, yes his juvie records were sealed but the sheriff knew everything he’d been charged with and told Jack and Viv all about it when they were investigating Margaret’s disappearance. According to the sheriff, Nathan was arrested for taking a vehicle without permission, public drunkenness, breaking and entering, assault, resisting arrest, you name it, he probably did it. He finally got sent to Juvenile Hall when he was sixteen for being high behind the wheel of a stolen car – which didn’t help him as much as you’d hope because it was only six years later that he died behind the wheel of a different car that he drove into a tree. He was burned beyond recognition. His father had been killed driving over a cliff while drunk only a few months before Nathan died in almost the same way.”

Martin grimaced. “Nice family.”

Samantha saw Danny glance at him briefly but he didn’t say anything and it was left to her to say – a little more tartly than she had intended: “Even poor white trash have a right not to be kidnapped, Martin.”

He gave her a hurt look. “I was just thinking that Mary Ryan can’t seem to catch a break, can she? She finally gets away from what sounds like the start in life from hell and marries a decent guy and then she loses her child. And now this.”

Danny touched him gently on the arm. “Which is why we’re going to find her. Cause that’s what we do.”

“And we don’t even need a secret identity or special costume,” Sam murmured as she reached for the next pile of files.

Martin swallowed the last of his coffee and got up from her desk. His gaze was searching. “Are you going to be okay?”

She knew what he was asking; almost wishing she had never told him even as much as she had about what it had been like to come from a tiny town in Wisconsin. She gave him a smile brittle as shattered glass and wondered if he could see all her yesterdays reflected in it. “Fine. And you should get moving. Jack’s not going to be happy if you two are late arriving in Unity. According to Viv, he hates that town and the feeling is entirely mutual so he’s not going to be in the best of tempers.”

Danny smirked at her triumphantly. “We get to drive a Humvee.”

“It’s still a three and a half hour drive from here, especially as you boys don’t know how to drive in the snow.”

“I’m from Washington,” Martin pointed out. “We have snow there.”

Breaking it to him gently, she said: “Not really relevant, as no way is Danny letting anyone but him drive the big shiny Humvee.” For Danny’s sake she phrased it that way instead of saying ‘No way is Danny going to let you risk your neck behind the wheel in this kind of weather’, and if Danny drove at faster than forty miles an hour the whole way there she would be amazed. She hoped Jack had factored in Danny’s heightened anxiety where Martin was concerned when calculating their journey time or he was going to be extremely ill tempered with worry by the time they arrived.

She watched Martin catch up with Danny and point out in vain that he knew everything there was to know about driving in the snow only to have Danny give him a pitying smile. She remembered all too clearly how annoying it had been to have people hovering over her, giving her covert glances, letting her know they didn’t feel she was ready to be back in the field yet, so she waited until Martin and Danny were out of sight and earshot before she said quietly: “Drive safely.”

***

Standing in an exam room in the Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale, Jack Malone assessed Doctor Hughes with the skill of long practice; forty-seven, he would say at a guess, hair starting to recede like a shore before the tide, deep-set eyes, hard-working, possibly over-worked but conscientious and thorough. They had been talking for a few minutes now and he had seen no sign of the man having anything to hide.

“So, the contractions had stopped by the time you saw Mary?” Viv pressed.

“Completely. She didn’t seem to be in any discomfort.”

Viv looked a little incredulous. “At eight and a half months pregnant? Because I remember feeling as if I had accidentally swallowed a fire hydrant for about the last six weeks.”

Doctor Hughes had the grace to smile. “No more than the usual discomfort that anyone feels in the last few weeks of pregnancy when there is eight pounds of infant pressing on one’s bladder.”

“You didn’t keep her in?” Jack asked.

“I wanted to but she seemed embarrassed by the whole incident. She apologized for taking up my time. I suggested that she let me run some tests but her blood pressure was normal, there was no sign of any contractions, she didn’t have a noticeable backache. She felt she’d already caused enough fuss and said she just wanted to get home. She said she’d been so flustered when she left the house that she wasn’t sure if she’d left a note for her husband and she wanted to call him right away.”

That sounded like the Mary Ryan he remembered; that woman had put more effort into going unnoticed than anyone he had ever met, it was as if she craved invisibility the way a neglected child craved affection, as if the world could never quite be quiet enough for her; as if she could never be too still.

“Do you remember what time you finished your examination?”

“I saw my next patient at seventeen after one.”

“Did you give Mary a prescription?”

“No. I asked her if she needed anything and she said she was fine. She seemed to be in perfect health and she was adamant she didn’t want to stay in so I let her go with a warning about coming straight back if she had any other symptoms.”

“So, you weren’t worried about her?” Viv enquired.

Hughes shook his head. “No. I wasn’t sure there had even been contractions as such, maybe a touch of indigestion or the baby being a little restless. She really did appear to be in perfect health.”

“And you got the impression that she was going to call her husband next?”

“Yes. She asked me where the payphones were and I asked the nurse on duty to direct her to the one just down the hall.”

Jack managed a smile. “Thank you, you’ve been very helpful. Would it be possible to talk to the nurse?”

“I’ll have her paged for you.”

As they walked towards the payphone, Jack said: “One doctor down, only seventeen nurses, five receptionists, and two dozen other possible witnesses to interview. Why didn’t I send Danny and Martin to do this job?”

Viv gave him a glance of mild amusement. “Because you wanted to be on the spot. As for the ‘abduction’ – it could have been a set up if Mary wanted to get away from her husband – wait until he’s out of the house then call neighbors who she knew would bring her to the hospital, go through the motions of a medical examination, while always intending to make a run for it.”

“That would be my assumption, too, except for the disappearance of her daughter. I’m worried someone may have targeted her. In the same way it could have been the only chance for a wife who lives an isolated life to get free of a controlling husband, it was also the only chance for someone to snatch her.”

“I could never figure her out, you know, Mary Ryan,” Viv admitted. “All those times we talked with her and sat with her and told her we were hoping for news, I never knew what she was thinking. In this job we get so good at reading people, and she was still a blank page to me.”

Jack remembered those Madonna eyes, the sadness, the resignation; Mary Ryan pouring them both another cup of tea in that neat kitchen that hadn’t been updated in a decade; gaze going to her daughter’s photograph as if she already knew she was gone forever and her loss was no more than she deserved. “I remember thinking she was too good to be true – the perfect wife, the perfect mother who lived only for her daughter; it was as if she had no ambitions for herself, nothing she wanted, nothing she hoped for. I felt there had to be a secret life somewhere even if it was only in her head.”

“That whole family…” Viv shook her head. “There was something going on there we never got close to.”

That was exactly how Jack thought of it, too. He had spent so many hours in that dark house in the dark woods, asking questions and listening to the answers and feeling all the time that something significant was being kept from him. He thought of the place as cobwebbed with secrets, strands veiling every corner; a double failure, not just their inability to find Margaret but also their failure to read all that secret history that every family harbored. He had felt as if the Ryans were a puzzle box and he and Viv had never found the catch; perhaps if they had done they would have found Margaret.

“I’m telling myself it’s an advantage that we have all the background we gathered last time,” he offered.

Viv sighed. “Yeah, I’m telling myself that, too, Jack.”

“Maybe we didn’t dig deep enough. Maybe we were one piece of information away from working out what it was we were missing. I just got so hung up on thinking Ryan was an abusive husband…”

He was still angry with himself for that mistake. They had wasted so much time when the local PD had already taken a day too long calling them in. Something about Ryan had rung all his alarm bells and he’d convinced himself the man was molesting his daughter or beating his wife. It had turned out he was doing neither or had found a way to beat the polygraph because those questions had been asked and answered in brief, dismissive negatives. They had wasted time pursuing the alibi of an innocent man and Margaret had been lost, presumably forever. Later, when he’d analyzed his own reactions to Ryan he had realized, too late, that it had been an alpha male clash. He was used to being treated with a certain amount of deference himself; most people tended to respect men in authority who worked for the government and carried loaded guns; Ryan had seen Jack Malone as someone paid for by his taxes who wasn’t doing his job. The same attitude that irked him every time he had dealings with Victor Fitzgerald had irked him with Ryan, too, this feeling that the world should revolve the way they wanted it to because they had more money and a longer family tree than most of the people they encountered.

A background check had revealed that the Ryans had owned that farm in Wisconsin for six generations. In Indemnity they were people of importance; everyone knew them, their custom was always good, their wishes were respected. Even in these new surroundings, Jack had noticed that people talked about Ryan with respect, regarded him as a man of importance.

“You were sure Ryan was an abusive husband, I was sure it was his money that made him a target.” Viv shrugged. “If you were on a wild goose chase for non-existent bruises, I waited and waited for that ransom note that never came.”

“I know.” Jack grimaced. “I was hoping for it, too. That meant it wasn’t a pedophile, that it was someone with an interest in keeping her alive. You know those woods are so wild and so empty, she could have been buried ten miles from the house, or her body dropped into one of those abandoned mine shafts, and we’d never know.”

“The dogs didn’t find anything,” Viv reminded him. “Maybe she ran away, after all.”

“If she’d been the age she would be now, then I might buy it – possibly. But how many seven year olds can successfully disappear without anyone finding them? Everyone who knew her described her as naïve and innocent. A quiet, obedient girl with a strict but loving father, who, like her mother, tended to do as she was told.”

Viv glanced at him. “That always bothered you, didn’t it?”

Jack stood in front of the payphone and gazed at it until Mary came into focus for him. He pictured her in that worn blue coat of hers, hair the exact same shade as her daughter’s dark plaits, placing the handset back in the receiver, stepping back and then fading away before his eyes.

“I have daughters. ‘Quiet and obedient’ is not how I’d describe them. I’m not sure that’s how kids are meant to be. Or wives. Not that I’m claiming to be an expert. Ryan may not have hit them or raised his voice to them but I think he demanded so much from them they never had time to think whether or not he had the right to keep asking it; I think he stifled them with the weight of all his expectations.”

Viv said: “You know – given the way Martin turned out there are people who might argue that Victor Fitzgerald did a pretty good job as a father.”

“I’m not even going to pretend to follow you.”

“You follow me perfectly. There isn’t a right way to raise a child and you can’t judge anyone’s performance until you look at the adult and see how he or she turned out. Margaret was a nice girl, everyone agreed on that. And Mary didn’t exactly have the best start in life. She said it herself – Ryan rescued her from a drunken father who used to hit her and her brother whenever he had too much booze or not enough. To her, she said, Ryan was her knight in shining armor.”

Jack sighed, remembering. “It was the way she said it, Viv. Like it was a mistake. Like it was a delusion. Like the fairytales always lie.”

He turned to find the nurse had arrived to answer their questions, pointing out the phone Mary had used – Viv arranged for the numbers called from it during the time Mary had been in the hospital to be faxed straight to Samantha – telling them how she had seemed when on the phone – her fingers had shaken a little, she had seemed excited – how she had watched her walk out to wait for her husband; how she hadn’t thought of her again until Ryan arrived and started looking for his wife.

Viv was checking the timeline again. “It feels like a set up to me. I don’t think it was chance that Mary came here today.”

Jack had a lot of respect for Viv’s instincts. He trusted his own for the same reason he trusted hers; they were born of experience. No one could really succeed in this job unless they learned how to read people and read the patterns in their behavior. And their instincts were always going to be clouded by their own experiences, he recognized that; men like Ryan were going to set off his alarm bells even when they were innocent, and Sam was always going to think any teenage girl was innocent and any forty-year old man was probably guilty of something; just as Danny thought every child was salvageable, however damaged, and Martin had to be watched closely when the cases took a turn too dark because he bottled up everything inside while being as sensitive as an over-strung piano wire. Out of them all, Viv was the one who carried the least baggage and was the least inclined to view the world through the flawed lens of her own imperfections. That was why he trusted her judgment most of all – sometimes even more than his own.

“She didn’t seem the type to run off to me.” He looked at her sideways. “She was so spiritless, that was why I was convinced he’d broken her somehow.”

“Perhaps life broke her before she even met him.” Viv gazed up at the security cameras. “It’s too much of a coincidence, Jack. She called him and then she walked out here and gave herself a three hour start.”

“To go where? To do what?” He liked the idea of her making a dash for freedom, away from that dark house in the looming forest, away from a man who was always going to set his teeth on edge. But he suspected that the only sanctuary that Mary Ryan would ever seek from her sorrows would be to the quiet of chill black water or the fiery eye of an oncoming train.

Viv blew on her hands as the snow gusted down on them gently as a benediction. “What wouldn’t you do to get your kids back, Jack? If anyone ever took Reggie, everything I know, everything I’ve ever learned in this job, would go straight out of the window.”

Jack was already ordering the tapes from the security cameras to be sent to the office. There was enough there to keep the tech guys busy for a while, looking through grainy footage of pregnant women while hoping for a match, and all the while he was seeing Mary Ryan sitting in her kitchen in that stone and wood house with no glimmer of hope in her eyes.

His breath caught and he stopped in mid-stride. “That was it.”

“What?” Viv put her hand over the phone and he realized belatedly she was talking to Sam.

“Most people wait moment by moment for good news, but she never expected to see her daughter again. She was already like one of the bereaved. That’s why I thought it was Ryan and that she knew it was him. She acted like someone who didn’t have any hope.”

With her gaze fixed on him, Viv said: “Sam, I need to call you back. Jack…?”

“That was why I thought Ryan beat her, not because of the bruises she didn’t have, and which the school physician and the gym teacher told us Margaret didn’t have either, but because Mary didn’t have any hope.”

He could see Viv remembering, turning over old impressions in the light of new perceptions. “Jack, you’re right – Mary thought her daughter was dead, but you know what – I was waiting for a ransom note because I’m almost certain Ryan believed she was alive. Whatever Mary believed, Ryan thought his daughter was taken for his money. When that ransom note didn’t arrive, he was as baffled as I was.”

And he realized abruptly that Viv was right, too. Ryan had never shown a moment’s evasion, never even seemed aware of his wife’s quiet despair, because he had been angry with hope and frustration, snatching up the phone when it rang, hurrying to look in the mailbox each morning. He hadn’t done it, after all. For all the warning bells he’d rung in the mind of Jack Malone, for all that he might be a man capable of murder; he had believed his daughter was alive as fervently as his wife had believed that she was never going to see her again.

***

Samantha Spade picked up the fax that had just come through and scanned it for the Ryans’ number. There it was, at 13:37, just as it said on the Ryans’ phone records, a three minute call placed from the hospital pay phone to the Ryans’ phone. The call before it had been placed to a cell phone and it had lasted seventeen minutes. That could explain the delay in Mary using the phone. She could have been waiting while someone else used it. She called Viv and asked her if she could ask the nurse if there had been anyone using the phone when she had shown Mary to it.

“Already asked her,” Viv explained. “She said no one was using it.”

“So, the call made at 13:20 could have been made by Mary before she called her husband?”

“What’s the number that she called…?” Viv had to raise her voice as she and Jack clearly went out through a door.

Sam could hear the unmistakable sounds of the town replacing those of the hospital, no quiet paging of doctors and nurses, the sound of trolleys being wheeled, someone in the background asking just how long his wife was going to have to wait before anyone could see her, to the sound of traffic noise. She gave her the number, Viv repeating the digits after her, and listened to the sound of Jack dialing. She almost jumped out of her skin when his dialing was greeted by the unmistakable sound of a cell phone ringing. “Viv, is that…?”

“It’s coming from the dumpster,” Viv told her, sounding as shocked as Sam felt.

Sam listened to rustling and some cursing from Jack as he made contact with something he clearly didn’t much care for and then the ringing was much louder. “I’ve got it,” she heard Jack say breathlessly. “Whoever Mary Ryan called before she phoned her husband, I’m holding their cell phone right now.”

***

The nearest town to where the Ryans lived was Unity, a place so small that Jack wasn’t sure it even featured on the maps. It certainly lived up to its name; which meant that he was about as welcome here as a plague toxin. As far as this town was concerned he was always going to be the big bad G-Man who had wasted time questioning Ryan instead of finding his lost child. But although people didn’t much like co-operating with him, they really did want Mary found and for that reason were overcoming their dislike of him to help as much as they could. Despite the slanting snow gusting down around him and close-to-freezing temperature, every telegraph pole had a poster with Mary’s picture on it. That was one of the benefits of small town crimes – everyone took it to heart, everyone cared. A pregnant woman who had already lost her child to an unexplained abduction was not exactly a hard sell in the sympathy stakes, and Ryan had made a lot of donations to local charities and churches in the twelve years they’d been living in this area.

This evening the whole town was tinkling with ice and snow, not enough of it salted to prevent the roads ridging with gray-brown slush. Darkness was coming in and carrying more cold with it; up in the mountains where Frank Ryan was waiting for his wife to come home, the local PD quite probably his only company, it would be even colder than here, the air bracing itself for another freeze. It was supposed to be a little warmer tomorrow, not necessarily a good thing as there was more snow forecast to dump itself all over the ice that was going to form tonight. He hoped Danny had taken in what he’d told him about renting a vehicle that could tackle that kind of terrain. Martin at least had his hiking experience and time logged in those all outdoor activities summer camps rich kids got sent to if their grades were high enough for even the most demanding parents to let them off studying calculus during their vacation. Thinking about Victor Fitzgerald, Jack wondered if Martin’s grades had ever been considered truly ‘high enough’. Depressing to think that Martin had probably known the best parenting out of any of the five of them – Jack didn’t know enough about Elena yet to consider her background something he could judge – and yet every day Jack saw him chilled a little by the long shadow his father cast.

He was still slightly uneasy about sending Martin and Danny up to deal with Ryan, and yet couldn’t have said exactly why. Martin had a reasonable knack with difficult people, he could suck it up and keep it polite, and, even if Danny was a hothead sometimes, he was also instinctively empathetic in a way that only Viv could match. He would pick up on things that Martin might miss, but he could also get ignited by them. Jack would remind him before they set off to keep himself in check – however much Ryan treated them like a couple of green kids better suited to simonizing his car than finding his missing wife.

The cell phone in the dumpster had been stolen out of a car in Albany two days before. Nothing else had been taken and they were waiting on the security footage from the apartment block now. Jack had ordered the local PD to dust the car for prints, just in case, even though it was almost certainly too late now and any prints would have been obliterated. The cell phone itself had been wiped clean. By not taking the car or anything else that was in it, the crime had remained so small as to go unnoticed right up until the moment when it had been used in the commission of a possible kidnapping, by which time it was probably a stone cold lead on a road to nowhere. As if they didn’t already have enough of those.

Looking at his watch for the fifth time, Jack Malone thought that it would probably be a lot better for his blood pressure if he were allowed to act out unreasonably about Danny and Martin being nearly an hour later than he estimated it should have taken them to join him and Viv in Unity – especially when there was all that ice and snow on the roads. Viv was refusing to get with that particular program, much to his annoyance, and being maddeningly calm.

“They were picking up another car for the trip up to the Ryans’ place, Jack, it may have taken longer than they thought. Or they could have got lost…”

“No, Danny called me as they were leaving.” Jack looked at his watch for what was now the sixth time. “That was more than four hours ago. And I told them to merge onto 1-84 West and then take Exit 30 to Porter’s Lake. It’s not exactly brain surgery.”

“Well, it’s snowing. The traffic is going to be slow.”

“I’m just saying it’s three and a half hour drive, that’s all, and they should be here by now. And they can’t drive up to Ryan’s tonight, not now, not on that track, they’ll have to go tomorrow, when it’s light and they can see what they’re doing.”

“You know the local sheriff’s office would take them and then they wouldn’t have to drive on that road and your blood pressure could return to normal.”

“It could undermine their authority with Ryan and I want them to interview him alone, not with the friendly neighborhood sheriff – who, as you may remember, likes Ryan and doesn’t like us – drinking coffee in the kitchen. And there’s nothing wrong with my blood pressure.”

“Well, there’s going to be if you don’t learn to relax a little. They’re only forty minutes later than they should be. Maybe they stopped off for something to eat. You do want them to eat, don’t you?”

“In a gesture of astonishing generosity I was planning to buy us all take out.”

“And did you tell them that?”

He glared at her. “That patient, reasonable thing you’ve got going isn’t fooling anyone, you know. I know you only do it annoy me.” After a pause he added conversationally: “I couldn’t help noticing that your name doesn’t appear anywhere in that book Admin is running any more.”

“Well, fancy that.” Vivian’s face was an unperturbed blank.

“You didn’t threaten those good people, did you?”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because I know for a fact that there were pretty good odds to be had on you and I having an affair before Thanksgiving.”

Still looking seraphic as an angel, Viv shrugged. “I may possibly have mentioned that it would be better for their long term health prospects if they made some minor alterations to some of their bets.”

“You didn’t think the rest of us might like not to be the subject of tawdry gossip and speculation, too?”

Viv glanced up at him with her best ‘don’t try it on with me’ expression. “Jack, I know for a fact that you have twenty bucks on ‘Danny and Martin having sex while undercover’.”

“Oh, come on. It was ten to one odds, and Martin’s an easy drunk.”

“Did Sam tell you that?”

“It’s in his personnel file, right next to ‘relentless over-achiever’ and ‘questionable dress sense’.”

Viv nodded up the street from their motel. “I think that’s them now.”

The two younger men were obliviously chatting as they pulled in neatly next to Jack’s car. They were driving a rented Dodge Humvee that looked more appropriate to tackling the prairie or possibly an African safari and Jack wondered if he’d overdone it a little in stressing the roughness of the road that led up to the Ryans’ place. Still, with so much more snow forecast, it was better to be safe than sorry. He noticed that Danny was driving and wondered if that was just the way it had fallen out or if Danny was still a little PTSDy about Martin driving a car they were in just in case someone ambushed it and riddled it with machine gun fire. Jack at least liked to think they were deep in discussion about the case, but as Danny switched off the engine and opened the door he could hear Martin saying: “…I just don’t think I’d want to live for three hundred years if I had to live on the first floor of a five story walk up.”

“Well, I don’t think you’re accurately factoring in the plus value of the drinking the blood of virgins…”

“Glad you boys could join us,” Jack told them. “Where the hell have you been?”

Martin looked as if he were probably guilty of something even if he wasn’t sure exactly what. “We missed our turn off.”

“Where?”

“We forgot to merge, ended up driving too far on the Jersey City Turnpike.”

“We may have been a little distracted,” Danny admitted.

Martin turned to Viv – whom he evidently considered the more likely to be sympathetic – and said: “A bunch of co-eds flashed us from a convertible.”

She looked only mildly surprised. “In this weather? Brave girls.”

Jack felt his amusement in danger of overturning his irritation. “Did they perchance also make lewd remarks?”

“They did.” Danny jumped down from the jeep with a flourish, pressing the button for the central locking in a way that suggested he was going to have to be surgically separated from those keys. “I told them I hoped they didn’t kiss their mothers with those mouths, so they slowed down, cut us on the inside, and flashed Martin, too. You don’t even want to know what they said to him – but there are pimps out there right now still blushing.”

Jack glanced at Martin in what was definitely amusement now. “Are you recovered from that encounter or are you going to need counseling before you can eat dinner?”

“They didn’t just flash us with their…” Martin explained. “They weren’t wearing any kind of underwear…anywhere.”

Danny nodded solemnly. “We’re talking a full on Sharon Stone moment here, Jack.”

Viv glanced across at Jack. “I have to admire their pioneer spirit. Even at that age I’d have been wanting something thermal for this weather.”

Jack shook his head. “You boys had better have at least some positive information for me if you want dessert.”

“Just let Martin geek up in the motel room and we can pool what we have,” Danny said.

Jack watched Martin roll his eyes as he unpacked his laptop and he and Danny headed off to their twin room, bantering at one another good-naturedly in a way he had thought gone for good along with Martin ever getting to take another pain-free breath.

“They look well, don’t they?” Viv offered at his side.

“They look an hour late to me,” Jack retorted. “And in Martin’s case in need of a shave.”

“You know you love them really.”

Jack could hardly hide his smile of relief as he realized that Viv was right and they really did look fine; they were acting like Danny and Martin again. “I know no such thing.”

As he watched Danny waving Martin in ahead of him after he’d unlocked the door with exaggerated courtesy and Martin rolling his eyes, he tried to see them through Ryan’s eyes. Viewed that way they suddenly seemed a lot more physically insubstantial than he usually thought of them.

“Do those two look kind of young to you? You know – if you were seeing them for the first time?”

Viv gazed after them in some confusion. “They look like Danny and Martin to me, Jack. And, no, they don’t look particularly young. Why?”

“Do you remember Ryan saying something about young men these days needing more discipline and how he was all for them introducing the draft again as he thought five years in the army was what every boy needed?”

“I don’t think he meant it for people like Martin and Danny, Jack. I think he probably meant unemployed young black men that he didn’t like wandering around unchecked because they didn’t have them where he came from...”

That caught him off his guard, her words and the bitterness, and he turned to her in surprise. “That’s what you thought?”

He felt wrong-footed by his own lack of observation. He thought he was pretty good at picking up things like that but, of course, he was never going to be as aware of the small signs of prejudice that Viv was. After the hundred and fiftieth time of seeing them, Viv would be pretty much an expert.

“It wasn’t what you thought?”

“I thought he just had a bug up his ass about every guy under the age of forty not treating him as if he were Ryan of Ryan’s Farm, proud descendent of six generations of manly men from Montana.”

“Wisconsin,” Viv corrected absently. “And, trust me, you can’t do that accent.”

“Maybe you and I should go. We have the history with him.”

“It’s because we have the history with him that we’re not the right people to go, Jack, and you know that. Last time around we missed whatever clues we should have picked up on to find Margaret. It’s time for some fresh eyes.”

“Okay, but remind me to give Danny the lecture about being very polite.”

“You’ve already given him the lecture, and Martin, too.”

“Well, in Danny’s case I’m going to give it to him twice.”

As he followed them into the motel room, he could feel the air bracing itself around him, that indrawn breath of a world about to get colder, and tried to tell himself that was what had just made him shiver.

***

Viv watched in a way she hoped – without much optimism – was more disapproving than indulgent as Danny pointedly pushed the greasy carton from Martin’s cheeseburger further from his side of the coffee table on which all their papers were spread out. “I think I liked you better when you had an eating disorder.”

“You try a few months where the only thing you can digest that doesn’t hurt is apple sauce and see how much junk food you have a craving for.”

“Boys…” Jack warned them. “Not that I don’t appreciate the cabaret after dinner but I need to know where we are.”

Danny reached over the pizza carton Jack and Viv were sharing. “One of the questions we’ve all been asking is – did Mary Ryan leave her cell phone behind because she was in a genuine hurry and forgot it or because it was part of a pre-arranged flight and she didn’t want to be carrying anything traceable?”

“And the answer is…” Martin swallowed another mouthful of cheeseburger and pressed the Enter button on his laptop. The printer began to disgorge paper. “She doesn’t own one. She never has. She doesn’t have a driver’s license, or a bank account in her own name, or an ATM card, or a credit card, and she isn’t a co-signatory on her husband’s account either. She is entirely dependent upon him financially for everything and has been the whole time she’s been married to him.”

“Still?” Jack demanded. “She told me that they just hadn’t got around to adding her to the account. I thought it was odd then. The cell phone is news to me, though. I got the impression she’d lost her old one and was in between them last time. But you can see why I was suspicious of the guy – there were so many red flags about that relationship.”

“He certainly seems to like his wife cut off from everyone but him.” Martin handed over the pages of print out.

Jack glanced over it and gritted his teeth, all the old suspicions coming back again. “So, she has no way of driving anywhere, no money to pay for a bus ticket, no way of obtaining funds from a bank account, and they used to live on a very isolated farm.”

“‘A thousand acres of nothing in the middle of nowhere’.”

“And now they live in a very isolated house at the end of a very bad road.” Viv pulled the photograph out of the file.

“Exactly.” Jack nodded. “There are a lot of remote properties and no near neighbors. It’s not unusual for people to own eighty or a hundred acres of rock outcroppings and mature woods and make a partial living renting out a cabin for hunters or hikers in the season. It’s very, very private. A man could pretty much do what he wanted.”

“Isn’t this what happened last time?” Danny put in. “Didn’t you spend so much time chasing after Ryan that you didn’t find who really took the girl?”

Jack grimaced and Viv thought Danny could have phrased that a little more tactfully. Nevertheless: “He’s right, Jack.”

“But it’s creepy all the same.” Martin was still typing as he talked. “In this day and age, most women aren’t dependent on cash handouts from their husbands to buy groceries.”

“You’ve checked his account?”

“His income comes from interest on investments he made when he sold the farm. There was no mortgage on the property, it was prime farmland and he got top market price for it. With the money from the sale he could have afforded a place that was in Lew Beach but he bought a hundred and sixty acre parcel, mostly made up of what the realtors call ‘billy goat land’ – very rocky, hilly and wooded, only accessible by one bad road, in Sullivan County. It’s generally used for hunting, not living in all the year round, and most of it only cost him around two thousand dollars an acre, which, for the Catskills, is a steal. Most of the investments he made have doubled in value. Anyone who read about him selling the farm, or even who read the press clippings when Margaret went missing would know he was a very wealthy man. Here.” He hit ‘Print’ again and the printer spewed out Ryan’s financial records in black and white columns of figures. “But there’s no evidence of any unusual payments going out or coming in either in the past few months or back when Margaret was taken.”

Jack sighed. “So, we have evidence of a controlling husband from whom a wife could possibly want to escape, and equal evidence that kidnapping aforementioned wife could be a very lucrative venture but no evidence of a ransom being paid? Great.”

Vivian set the pictures of Mary and Margaret side by side, thinking how alike they were. Margaret would have been taller than her mother, that was the only contribution Ryan’s genes seemed to have added to the mix; in every other way Margaret looked like her mother, and seemed to have inherited all her temperament from her as well. The teachers had described her as shy and studious, a girl who never missed a lesson and always handed in her homework on time.

“At the hospital, a nurse saw Mary hang up the phone after talking to her husband and go and sit down in the waiting room, but she didn’t pick up a magazine, she just sat there. And an orderly thought he saw Mary look at her watch and then go outside about fifteen minutes later.”

Jack checked his notebook even though Viv was sure he had it all memorized. His father might have succumbed to Alzheimer’s, but there was certainly nothing wrong with Jack’s mind. It could make steel traps look rusty. “Which was two hours and forty-five minutes before her husband could arrive to pick her up, but it was assumed she was going shopping and would come back later.”

Danny looked up. “Mary mentioned her husband was coming for her? Because, I’m thinking right now we only have Ryan’s word for what passed between them.”

Viv shook her head. “The same nurse – Ellen O’Hara – overheard a little of the conversation and it confirmed Ryan’s version, and when Mary put the phone down she told Ellen that she hated to be a nuisance and it was a long way for her husband to have to drive just because she’d overreacted. Ellen asked her if her husband minded and Mary said that he’d told her he’d rather she was safe than sorry and Ellen said he was quite right, and then she went off to see a patient and the last she saw of Mary she was sitting down in the waiting room.”

“I think we have what happened after she went outside.” Martin clicked on the screen and turned it so Viv and Jack can see. “Sam sent through the footage from the security camera outside the hospital. We think this is Mary.”

“‘Think’…?” Viv was hoping for something a little more concrete than that but as the grainy image started to play she saw Martin’s problem. The woman had kept her back to the security camera and her head lowered as she walked outside. But she had dark hair and was certainly pregnant and Viv thought she recognized her, not just build and coloring, but something in the defeated set of her shoulders. As they watched, a man so bundled up in a hat, scarf, and greatcoat that he was visible only as two eyes and a nose, came up to Mary and touched her arm. She jumped nervously and turned, there was a pause as the two stared at one another, almost as if the tape had frozen, and then the two of them moved off together.

Even playing it four times over, Viv couldn’t see if there was a gun or decide whether or not Mary had gone willingly. “But whoever he is I think she knew him.”

Jack was still watching the replay fixedly. “That’s the best shot we have of this guy? Because he could be anyone. We need more footage. We have to see what happened next. Did she get into a car with him? Someone must have seen something. I want the locals interviewing everyone within a mile of that hospital.”

Danny nodded. “They’re already on it, Jack. They’ve been on it since she went missing.”

Viv watched the abduction or meeting again. Build for build – as much as one could tell when comparing two tiny snatches of grainy footage and on both occasions the suspect was wearing several layers of bulky clothing – Mary’s abductor could have been the same man who had last been seen with Margaret. “I still like the third option.”

Jack was watching it too, looking for details he had missed. “The ‘lured away with the promise of information about Margaret’ option?”

“We know how vulnerable the parents of missing children are. Chet Collins could have gotten himself into a whole heap of trouble plenty of times if you hadn’t been there to look out for him. What if someone told Mary they had information about Margaret but that she wasn’t to tell her husband? Ryan’s not the kind of guy to sit at home and do what a kidnapper or a possible kidnapper tells him; he’d want to be out there breaking the guy’s neck. Mary may have agreed to this meeting by herself.”

“What would persuade her to do something so dangerous?” Even as Jack asked the question she knew he knew the answer. “Okay, dumb question.”

“Maybe she had some hope after all, Jack,” Viv offered.

Jack’s dark eyes were angry and intent. “And maybe it’s going to get her killed.” He turned to Danny. “We need all incoming and outgoing phone calls to the Ryans’ house in the past few months and get me the name of the mailman or woman who delivers to that address. I need to see him or her as soon as possible.”

Martin looked as his watch. “It’s ten after ten.”

“And…?”

Martin exchanged a brief look with Danny that reminded Viv a little of the looks Reggie and Marcus would exchange when she came home bad tempered after a long hard day, before saying obediently: “I’m on it.”

***
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