elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DM_MartinIcon)
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The ticking of the clock sounded loud in the kitchen. Outside, the world was growing darker but in here the lights were all too bright and Martin could feel the headache that had been pressing its attentions on him earlier becoming more insistent. Each time the clock ticked, it added a tiny jolt of tension to the pain between his eyes. He massaged his forehead and tried not to think about how hungry he was. Ryan was making him uneasy. The man had been difficult before the call from Jack, but he had at least been focused on them; now he just seemed distracted and increasingly irritated, each question they asked seeming to have the accumulative annoyance for him of a buzzing bluebottle. It was as if something in that call had rendered them irrelevant, although no less irritating. Now Ryan was no longer sitting at the table with them but had started to pace around the room. With another man, Martin would have already asked him to sit down and concentrate but even questioning Ryan about his wife was already too much like juggling lighted matches over an open barrel of gunpowder.

Ryan was barely listening to their questions as he paced up and down the long low kitchen. Martin exchanged a glance with Danny, trying to agree through eye contact alone what their response should be if things deteriorated further. He had been in law enforcement for too long for it not to be a shock to the system to be completely dismissed as if he were still some college kid looking for extra credits. And, although he had certainly never consciously used it to his own advantage, there had always been a certain amount of significance conferred upon him through being Victor Fitzgerald’s son that had left him unused to being treated like this. In the past, the relatives of the missing or the dead had railed at him or even hit him, or sobbed in front of him, but they had never just dismissed him as irrelevant until now.

As Ryan continued to wear a groove in the floor, Martin glanced around the room, taking in the note on the refrigerator where someone had started a shopping list, the calendar on the wall, showing a winter scene of what was presumably Wisconsin. The kitchen was Shaker style and looked as if it had been installed when the Ryans first bought this place, and had not been touched since, and yet money was certainly no problem and Ryan seemed the type to give his wife anything she asked for. Perhaps she had simply never asked. There were still faded pictures pinned to the wall that had clearly been painted by a child, brittle with age now and the paper yellowing under the streaks of red and yellow paint. It was as if time had stopped here when Margaret vanished and neither Ryan nor Mary had been able to move on since. The clocks kept ticking and someone dutifully turned each page of the calendar as a new month began, but the humans trapped in this life could not keep pace with the passing of the days.

He wondered if there was a way to get through to the human being Ryan must be in there somewhere and abruptly rose to his feet. Danny darted him a concerned look and Ryan stopped in his tracks and looked at him as if he thought Martin should have asked permission before doing even that. Martin tried a smile and nodded to the photograph on the dresser. “Is that your daughter?”

Sometimes that was enough to soften even someone living second by second for the phone to ring – enough to get through and make a connection. But Ryan only frowned at him. “You’re supposed to be helping to find my wife and you don’t even know what my daughter looks like?”

Martin cleared his throat. “I wasn’t involved in that case.”

“No, I imagine you were still in school.”

Martin tried for another smile; the most disarming one he could summon under the circumstances. “Sir, we’ve found over and over again that what happened to a missing person in the days leading up to their disappearance and how quickly we learn about it can make all the difference between them being found alive or dead. Now, if there’s anything you can tell us that might help shed some light on why your wife would choose to do what she did it would really be a good idea for you to share it with us.” He tried to keep it light and friendly but Ryan was still looking at him as if he were a skunk he had just found going through his garbage. Sighing, Martin sat back down.

Danny persisted quietly: “I know this must be very difficult for you, sir, but we don’t know your wife the way you do, and any information at all that you can give us about her could help us to find her and bring her home safely.”

Ryan flicked a dismissive glance in Danny’s direction. “I’m not comfortable discussing my wife with people she doesn’t know. A marriage is a private thing.”

“I understand that, sir, but, as Agent Fitzgerald just said, we’ve found in the past that the best way to find someone who’s lost is to comprehend their state of mind at the time when they go missing. The people who are closest to them are the ones who are the most able to help us with that.”

“That’s why it’s important that you answer our questions as accurately as you can.” Martin snatched a breath before trying again: “Would you say your marriage was happy, sir?”

The gaze Ryan turned on Martin was one of chilling dislike and Martin felt a flicker of unease. He had dealt with distraught and furious relatives before, but there had always been a sense of recognition of his status even behind their emotions. If they blamed him for their current distress, they blamed him because he was part of the process that had failed to find their loved one in time. There was the sense of him being part of a larger organization that while conferring responsibility upon him for its shortcomings did at least also confer some authority.

Danny said quickly: “Mr. Ryan, it’s important that we know these things. We wouldn’t ask if we didn’t think it was relevant to helping us to find your wife.”

“Did your wife seem normal to you on the morning when she went into Honesdale…?” Martin realized that they were entirely failing to hold Ryan’s attention. He was gazing fixedly out of the window at the falling snow, the light from the kitchen spilling out in checkered rectangles onto the new layer of glittering whiteness. “Mr. Ryan…?” Martin cleared his throat. “Mr. Ryan, did your wife seem different to you in any way in the days leading up to her disappearance…?”

Ryan abruptly turned on his heel and walked out of the room, heading into the back of the house. Martin flashed Danny a look of confusion. “What did I say this time?”

Danny was frowning after the man. “I don’t think it’s you, I think it’s something Jack said. He’s been weird since that call.” He rose to his feet and touched Martin gently on the shoulder. “Wait here. I’ll go and see if he’s okay, see if he has any pictures of his brother-in-law we could use.”

“I’ll take a look around in here.” Martin crossed to the dresser to look at the framed photograph of Margaret. She looked so much like Jack’s kids, long dark hair, big dark eyes, but the life shone out of Jack’s kids, they were vivid and animated; even when Hanna was giving her father one of her patented ‘you are lower than the dirt beneath my feet’ looks there was some passion in it. Margaret just looked so spiritless by comparison, every hair in place in those long plaits, her socks both pulled up neatly, her coat arranged without a crease. He picked up another photograph and there was Mary with her daughter sitting next to her on the bench Martin had noticed out at the front of the house. Mary had her arm around her daughter and Margaret was leaning against her; they were both smiling at the camera but even their smiles looked sad, as if someone had told them to look happy so they were attempting the action but only attaining a fleeting facsimile of happiness while their eyes were still full of sorrow.

He was aware of the quiet murmur of Danny and Ryan’s voices from the back room. Ryan was at least answering Danny, so perhaps his partner was making some headway on getting hold of a slightly more up-to-date photograph of Nathan Gallagher. Martin tried to imagine what it was like to grow up like that; to live in fear of the parent who was supposed to protect you from all the bad things out there; what it would have to do to you for your home to be the place you needed to escape from, instead of to, when you wanted to feel safe. But then he thought about Danny, whose father had also been abusive and unreasonable, and how Danny had an unshakeable set of moral values. But then Danny had a stronger character and a stronger sense of self than almost anyone Martin had ever met. He doubted that Nathan Gallagher had turned out to be a protector of the damaged and innocent the way Danny had – more likely someone who thought the world owed him a lot and even his own sister was fair game if it would help him to get his next fix.

A dull ‘thump’ from the back room made Martin look up in surprise. He put the photograph back where it had been standing and stepped back from the dresser. “Danny? Is everything okay?”

Ryan appeared in the doorway, breathing hard and wiping his hands as if they were soiled, although as far as Martin could see they were perfectly clean. The gaze he turned upon Martin was openly hostile. “He had to use the bathroom.”

He had become used to Danny invading his personal space, although it had disconcerted him at first, he had quickly grown to accept and even like it. Given his upbringing, raised in a family where they pressed their elbows in against their sides to avoid making accidental contact, it was probably good for him to have his space invaded on a fairly regular basis; to be touched when he wasn’t necessarily ready for it, small gifts of warmth passed to him from casually affectionate fingers. But as Ryan got much too close and loomed over him, too tall and way too wide, Martin took an instinctive step backwards, feeling his threat assessment instincts kick in automatically, like a car alarm going off in his head. “Did Agent Taylor ask you about the photograph?”

“What photograph?” Ryan loomed even more ominously and when Martin took another step back, the edge of the kitchen cabinet jabbed his kidneys painfully.

“He was going to ask you if you had a photograph of your brother-in-law. If Nathan Gallagher is still alive he’s presumably living under a false name, which means we don’t have a current DMV photograph to show to people who may have seen him.” Ryan was close enough for him to smell his sweat and Martin took a step to the side only to have the man cut him off, glaring at him out of unfriendly blue eyes. Martin craned his neck to see past him, hoping to see Danny appearing in that doorway before Martin had to do something Jack was going to yell at both of them about later. “I just need to consult with my partner….”

Ryan took another step to cut him off. “What are you two – eight? You can’t even go to the bathroom alone?”

Martin decided that Jack’s express orders or no express orders there was no way in hell he was staying in this guy’s house tonight, not sleeping in a chair, or crashed on a couch, not anywhere. He would rather sleep in a ditch than here. In fact he’d rather sleep, pinned in place by his seatbelt, upside-down in a crashed Humvee, in a snow-filled ditch than here. “Mr. Ryan, please step aside.”

“Don’t tell me what to do in my own home, boy.”

Martin wondered if he was allowed to put the guy down now – except that was the final resort and they weren’t quite there yet. Once he did that with a guy like Ryan, they were in a place of absolute confrontation and the next logical step was arresting him. But if Jack asked him if he had precipitated matters by strong arming Ryan before it was absolutely necessary, Martin really wanted to be able to answer ‘No’ and it be true. He had lied to Jack in the matter of the Reyes shooting and it had made him feel sick every minute that Jack was looking at him as if he knew damned well that Martin wasn’t telling him the truth; and he had lied to Danny about being an addict and felt lower than a worm as he did so. He was done with lying. He decided to give being very polite one more chance before he got Ryan in an arm lock and slammed him down on that counter the way he really wanted to do right now.

“Mr. Ryan, please take a step back. Then why don’t we both sit down and talk about…?”

Which was when Ryan’s fist connected with his jaw so hard that all he saw was a supernova of white stars exploding, while the floor came up to greet him very hard.

***

Vivian let Stapleton ramble for a little while, like an old sweater unraveling, and then leaned forward and plucked the whiskey bottle from his fingers, placing it on the coffee table in between the piles of old newspapers. “Mr. Stapleton, if you killed Jake Gallagher, I really think you would feel happier if you told me all about it.”

That was one of her gifts, and she knew it. Jack could intimate and empathize with the best of them; scare the truth from people or coax it out so gently it felt like nothing but a relief to let it go; she could invite confession without blame. People lied, of course, all the time, but at heart most of them wanted to tell the truth, or to find a way that the truth didn’t make them the bad guy after all, to justify, to excuse, to have someone understand, and she was good at understanding. She could sit there and let them spill all the darkness they had been concealing from everyone but themselves, and at the end they would feel better. Jack had once told her that she would have made a good priest, and she’d been amused to tell him that she had often thought the same thing about him. Given his dislike of the priesthood, that had made him recoil indignantly. But it was true of both of them.

Stapleton gazed up at her out of bleary bloodshot eyes. “I wanted to kill him. I thought about it…every day. My wife said we had to let it go, that revenge just eats up the one wanting it, but I kept thinking about how he wasn’t even sorry. He was so drunk he didn’t even remember what he’d done. They had to tell him when he sobered up and even then he just shrugged, like it was nothing, like my daughter’s life was nothing at all.”

“That must have been very difficult for you,” Viv said gently.

“I used to follow him. Everywhere he went, I’d be there watching him. I was determined he was never going to do that to any more children. I pulled him over every time he got behind the wheel of a car, but he was too smart for me. Didn’t drink when I was watching. Kept complaining about harassment.”

“What about on the day he died?” Viv gave him another encouraging smile. Stapleton wanted to confess like a chick wanted to free itself from an egg, everything in him propelling him towards the light and warmth, wanting to be unburdened once again.

“I lost him for a few hours. Had to go and see about some domestic disturbance on the other end of town. When I found him again, he was over at the trailer park, not at his own place, at the Hopes’. I kept out of sight but got in close enough to listen. Nate was there arguing with Clare. Her mother was inside, playing that music too loud, the way she always did. Clare was trying to get him to do something – I couldn’t hear what – but he was saying he couldn’t do that to Mary.”

They crystallized in her mind, turning from vague images to concrete certainties, Clare, pupils pinpricks from the drugs, amorous and argumentative at once, Nate, with the new clarity of being clean, trying to reason with her. Clare sitting on the steps of the trailer while inside her mother’s music blared out, something country, a scream for help that wasn’t coming and never had as the liquor brought its own temporary oblivion.

“Nate had a black eye. Real nasty bruise and looked fresh. Clare kept telling him he had to come with her, that they needed to go far away from this stinking town. He kept saying he couldn’t leave Mary; that Clare ought to know what it meant to be part of a family. Clare said that no, she didn’t know that, she’d never known that; that he was the only family she’d ever known and she never saw him any more. Then Jake Gallagher walks in and Nate asks him what the hell he wants. Jake goes to hit him for talking back and Clare picks up a knife and says he can back the fuck away right now. Then Jake gets all whiny and says he just wants to know why Nate’s got a black eye, that he’s his father, that he’s got a right to know, and when Clare told him that he was the one who gave it to him, he kept saying that he didn’t do it. Then he started in on Nate demanding that he told him who hit him. Nate said ‘Like you ever gave a shit’ and said he needed to get back to the farm. He asked Clare to try again to get herself cleaned up, and then he went off. But Jake kept asking Clare who hit Nate until Clare told him that Nate told her it was him, and maybe he was just too drunk to remember like the thousand other times when he said it wasn’t him. But Jake kept saying that this time it wasn’t. Clare asked what difference did it make if he didn’t hit him the hundredth time when he hit him the ninety-nine before? She went into the trailer and I heard her start screaming at her mother to switch the damned music off. Jake went off to the liquor store and I would have had him for driving with that whiskey in his lap but then I got another call and I had to drive halfway across town….”

Samantha leaned forward, wrapped up in her coat as if it could keep out not just the cold but the past as well. “So, on the day that Jake Gallagher died, Nathan had a black eye and had told Clare his father was the one who hit him?”

Stapleton nodded a little blearily. “But Jake kept saying it wasn’t him this time. Swearing black was white that he hadn’t done it.”

“But you didn’t believe him?” Vivian asked.

Stapleton shook his head. “Like Clare said, it had been him every other time. I was angry because I knew Jake was going to get himself oiled again and then get straight back behind the wheel of that damned pickup of his. So, as soon as I finished taking witness statements from a crash on that corner on Piedmont and Freemantle, I started driving around, trying to spot Jake’s pick-up, and I finally saw it taking the turn-off for Ryan’s farm. That track only led up to the farm and back so I decided to wait him out and then pick him up when he came back down. I knew Frank was home and would never let Jake hurt Mary or Nate. So, I sat in the car and listened to the radio for a while. And, maybe it was because I had the heater on, but I nodded off. When I woke up, it was dark and I didn’t know if he’d come out while I was sleeping….”

Vivian could picture him, starting awake, blurry with sleep, enfolded by the warmth of a dream in which his daughter had been alive, enjoying that twilight moment before the ever-present grief came back to remind him that he had no child any more. It was too easy to imagine that, in this job; all the possessions people scattered around their homes that became unbearable reminders of absence once they were gone. She could imagine the catch of the engine as Stapleton started the car, headlights dazzling as they revealed the track that led up to the farm, jolting around blind bends at a snail’s pace, no purpose left except trailing the man who had murdered his daughter, as if that could somehow make him comprehend the enormity of his crime.

“If he’d said ‘Sorry’ even once.” Stapleton gazed across at her as if willing her to grant him absolution. “But he never did. He never was. Nothing he ever did was his fault.”

“We understand,” Sam said gently.

Stapleton had driven along the long twist of rutted track that led to the farmhouse and outbuildings nestling in the center of all those fields, the sun sunk into darkness, and a fine rain spitting on the windshield; the only illumination the blare of his headlights and the farmhouse dark except for the deep red flicker of the kitchen fire, visible through the unshuttered windows. Then he had seen the black doors of the barn edged with the soft glow of yellow, a pale light spilling from the cracks and hinges. Splashing through puddles, he had walked to the barn, as disconnected from life as any ghost, walked past Gallagher’s pick up, touched the hood and felt that it still had some residual warmth. Pushed open the barn doors, still in that oddly dream-like state, and walked into a crime scene.

Frank Ryan with the piece of bloodstained piping in his hand, crouched in the hay with the hurricane lantern in his hand, and Jake Gallagher dead with a crushed skull, wet crimson trickling into the long stalks of the harvest. Stapleton had made some sound, the shock lodged halfway down his throat, and Ryan had looked up like a man in a dream, raising the lantern so that Stapleton saw the second body – Nathan Gallagher naked, bloody, and unconscious, his back welted, face bruised.

Stapleton reached for the whiskey glass and Vivian let him take another sip before she said quietly: “What did you think had happened?”

“It was clear enough. Gallagher had gone off at Nate, like he was always doing, only this time he’d done worse.” He glanced up at her briefly. “Much worse.”

Samantha cleared her throat. “It was your impression that Jake Gallagher had sexually as well as physically abused his son?”

“That boy wasn’t wearing a stitch and those bruises…” Stapleton shook his head. “His own son? It felt like the whole town was sick with something. Clare’s father and now Nate and Mary’s. Frank got up and put that piece of pipe down and said he couldn’t help himself – walking in on that. He’d just seen red. Hell, I would have done the same. And then he’s telling me he knows I have to put the cuffs on, that he’s ready to take his medicine, and I’m thinking all the time, why should Gallagher get the last laugh? Why should he be allowed to ruin Mary’s life and Nate’s even after he’s dead? Why should Frank go to prison for doing what any one would have done?”

Vivian glanced across at Sam. “So you decided to cover it up? Make it look like a car accident?”

Stapleton nodded. “I had to talk Frank into it. He was all for confessing right away. I said to him, what did he think Mary would rather think, that her husband had killed her father for doing that to his own son, or that he’d died in an accident?”

“What did you do?”

“Frank and I untied Nate, wrapped him in a blanket, and carried him into the house. He was still unconscious. We put him in his room and Frank said as soon as we’d finished with what we were doing he’d make sure Nate was taken care of, call him a doctor if he had to but try not to if he could avoid it for the sake of the boy’s self-respect. Then we put Gallagher into the passenger seat of his pickup and Frank drove it down while I followed him in my car. My hands were shaking so badly I could hardly hold the wheel and I didn’t know how Frank could be so calm, but I followed him until we got to that bend that goes around Jefferson. We put Gallagher into the driving seat and pushed the pickup over the edge. Then I drove Frank home so he could take care of Nate and I went to see Walt.”

“Walter Coredon, the old sheriff?”

Gallagher nodded. “I told him that I was following Jake Gallagher, the way I’d been doing recently, and I saw him lose control of his pickup and drive it over a cliff, but that I was worried people were going to think it was me that drove him off the road, as everyone knew there was bad blood between us. He asked me on my honor if I had anything to do with his death – and I could swear I didn’t because, on my life, he was dead before I got to that barn – and then he said that my word was good enough for him and he’d take care of it. At the inquest, the store clerk who sold him the liquor gave evidence that he was opening that whiskey before he was even out of the store. Everyone knew he was a no-good drunk who couldn’t drive worth a damn, and no one said anything about it.” He met Viv’s eye. “But I knew. All this time, I knew.”

“That must have been very difficult for you, Mr. Stapleton,” Viv said gently.

“I’ve been wanting to say something for a long time, but it doesn’t just involve me. There’s Frank as well. I didn’t want to get Frank into trouble. He only did what any man would have done. Nate Gallagher was a troublemaker but he wasn’t bad at heart. He loved his sister – always put himself between her and his father when Jake started turning mean. A boy would have had to be a lot worse than him to deserve what that son-of-a-bitch had done to him. He couldn’t even come to the funeral – still sick in bed.” He took another gulp of the whiskey. “I never thought Jake Gallagher would trouble my conscience. But I still see him lying there. I see him all the time.”

Viv nodded to Sam to take over. She rose to her feet, said a polite ‘Excuse me’ to Stapleton, and then went outside, dialing Danny’s number as she did so. A car swept past at the kind of speed more appropriate to a freeway on a sunny day, but she had noticed that everyone drove like that around here – even with their headlight beams thick with snowflakes, they never took their feet off the gas pedal. When there was no answer from Danny she tried Martin, and then when he didn’t pick up either, dialed Jack’s number.

“Malone.”

“Jack, you need to hear this.” She related the whole story to him rapidly. “I’m not saying I blame Frank Ryan for snapping – he was presumably fond of his brother-in-law, and that was a pretty despicable crime – but he still committed murder and I don’t like the thought of Danny and Martin being alone in a house with a man who may have a guilty conscience with them not knowing….”

“I’ll call them now.”

“Can you call me back when you get through?”

“Sure.”

She expected the call back within a few minutes, and blew on her hands to keep warm as she glanced back in through the window. Stapleton was crying and Sam had moved next to him, looking awkward as she tentatively offered words of sympathy. Leaving this one to the local sheriff to sort out was looking like the best option to her. Bennett had seemed intelligent and humane and perfectly capable of making a judgment call on the best way to proceed. As to Frank Ryan, she thought Jack would probably want to hold off on arresting him for the murder of Jake Gallagher, or perhaps Jack would see this as the way to have some leverage over Ryan that would get him to cooperate. Through the grimy windowpane she could see Sam still quietly questioning Stapleton. Viv checked her watch. Ten minutes. She was starting to feel a little anxious, when she saw Jack’s caller ID show up on her phone.

Smiling in relief, she said: “Did you get through?”

“I’m not getting any answer as yet on their cell phones or the landline but there is a blizzard up there at the moment. I’ll try again in a few minutes. Just didn’t want you hanging around waiting for my call. Do you think Stapleton is telling the truth?”

“Yes. It’s been eating away at him for all these years. He’s a lawman and he covered up a murder.”

“Was there anything in the social services reports to suggest that Gallagher was sexually abusing his kids?”

“No. Nothing. Nathan had behavioral problems but they were accounted for by the physical abuse.”

She could almost hear Jack’s brain ticking all the way down the line. “Well, exactly. His father used to stub out his cigarettes on him if he was closer than the ashtray, and belt him just because he couldn’t find the remote for the TV – that doesn’t tend to produce the most well adjusted teenagers in the world. I’m just not liking this sexual abuse out of nowhere.”

“As far as I know Nathan was never seen by a doctor, Stapleton could have leaped to that conclusion because the boy was naked.”

“But that scene would have been pretty much burned onto Stapleton’s retinas. I’m thinking anything he thought he saw was probably accurate.”

Another flurry of snow melted on her coat and she wondered why the flakes in New York always seemed so much less bleak than this small town variety. “You know, Jack, Jake Gallagher fits the general description of the other victims of the Indemnity serial killer. Is it possible that he got away but not before he’d been physically and sexually abused by the killer? If that were the case, if Gallagher was a victim who got away from the serial killer in this town when he was Nathan’s age is it possible that he could have…?”

“Stored up the trauma and taken it out on his son? It’s a little pop psychology for me but it may be the best explanation we’re ever going to get. It might explain his nasty temper and alcoholism – although the fact that his own father was a mean drunk also covers that. But if he never dealt with what was done to him, he may have spent his life taking it out on everyone else.”

“Nathan probably witnessed the murder.” Viv was still turning over everything Stapleton had told them in her mind. “He could have been scared of his brother-in-law after that, or he could have just wanted to avoid having to give evidence against him if Stapleton ever admitted what he saw. His father was killed three months before he faked his own death.”

“He may not have been able to cope with Ryan and Stapleton knowing about it either. He was only twenty-two – not the most resilient age for young men trying to deal with a trauma.” Neither one of them mentioned that twenty-six had not been the most resilient age for one of them either, but Viv thought about that telegraph pole and the car wrapped around it in the middle of the afternoon.

Sighing, Viv said: “I’m not finding a connection to Mary’s disappearance or Margaret’s. And I think the last thing on Stapleton’s mind was vengeance.”

“I agree. He had his closure and then some. It’s one thing to think you want a man dead, whole different ball game to have to dispose of his corpse after someone else has beaten his head in. From the sound of things, he’s spent the last twelve years trying to live with the guilt, not looking to get even.”

“What do you want me to do about Stapleton? I think he’s possibly a danger to himself. He’s been storing this up for a long time and now it’s out, he may not be able to live with it.”

“Hand this off to the locals – the sheriff’s a smart guy as I recall – let him handle it. He knows Stapleton. He’s probably the best placed to keep an eye on him.”

“Okay, I’ll call him now. Let me know as soon as you get hold of Danny and Martin?”

“Will do. And call me as soon as you finish up with the teacher. We still need to know where Clare Hope could be hiding Mary if she’s got her.”

“Jack, that’s another thing. Stapleton was adamant that Nathan always protected Mary even though he was younger than her. He doesn’t think he would ever harm his sister.”

“If he’s clean then Stapleton is probably right. But if he’s back on the crack…”

It didn’t need to be said aloud. They had both seen it too many times now, and addiction had a way of eroding anyone’s moral fiber faster than acid rain on sandstone.

“Maybe Mary is security?” Viv offered. “Nathan’s a witness to a crime that Ryan committed. Maybe he took Mary so that Ryan wouldn’t think about coming after him.”

“Ryan didn’t know Nathan was alive, I’d bet anything you like on that. Not until he saw the photograph that Danny and Martin showed him, and even then I don’t think he believed it until I confirmed it wasn’t Nate’s body in the car. I’ll call you as soon as I get hold of them, okay?”

She switched off the phone while more flakes melted on her coat. She thought of Stapleton carrying the burden of having covered up a killing for all these years, of Nathan Gallagher, who had probably thought himself safe from his father at last, only to suffer at his hands, and who had possibly ended up committing murder to cover his tracks, and of Mary, whose loyalties must have been so torn between her father, her husband, and her brother that something inside her had snapped with the strain. Perhaps that what had broken her spirit and turned her into the sad-eyed ghost who believed that she would never see her daughter again long before any of the rest of them had given up hope.

***

Danny Taylor woke, not for the first time, to the sound of an angry man shouting. For a moment reality wavered and he wondered if he was a child again, cowering out of sight while his brother took another beating on his behalf, then he blinked into full consciousness and realized he was lying in the back room of a house he didn’t recognize. There was a dresser with a picture of a child on it, a little girl with long dark hair, she was wearing a school uniform and smiling as if she wasn’t quite sure that it was permitted. There was crockery on the dresser, too, the best kind that was never used, even when there were visitors. A mirror was too dusty to reflect much more than light, and through thin drapes he could make out trees and the white covering of snowfall, but there was only the thinnest streak of red in a dark sky. His arms hurt, a lot, as did his head, which was pounding in the sickening way that suggested some blunt force trauma recently applied. When he tried to pull his arms out of their painful position, metal bit into his wrists and he realized they were cuffed behind his back.

“Mr. Ryan, you need to calm down so we can talk about this, sensibly. You’re in a great deal of trouble right now and if you want to get out of this without a very long jail sentence I advise you to…”

Martin. That was Martin talking. He sounded as if he was clinging to his patience by a thread.

“You come into my house and try to tell me how things are going to be? You need to learn some manners.”

A stranger. No, Ryan. Danny blinked hard and realized that some of the moisture running into his eyes was blood. Damn. Ryan, whose wife had gone missing. He blinked again and got the man slotted back into his memory. Frank Ryan. Six feet five and two hundred and thirty pounds of alpha male with attitude. The man had been talking about the way young men needed discipline, just before he knocked Danny out. Danny had been trying in vain to get some sense of out of him about a picture of Nathan Gallagher, and Ryan had been off on a rant of his own about rules and how they needed to be followed; how arrangements once made should be stuck to, and how he was the master of his own house. Danny knew all about those kinds of speeches and exactly what they meant – and the sickening pain in his head had really confirmed it for him.

“No, you need to understand what’s going to happen if you don’t…”

No. No. No. That was not the way to handle this guy, Martin. Getting mad was absolutely the worst thing to do.

“You raise your voice to me again and I’ll make you wish you’d never been born.”

Ryan had that note in his voice that told Danny everything he needed to know about the kind of guy he was. The kind who made his own rules and brooked no opposition to them, even if they were unjust; the kind who was always angry and always looking for some kind of act of defiance to his rule that he could react against. Danny knew all about those kind of men. With his hands free, he knew about how to intimidate them right back these days, but if you weren’t in a position to get out of belting range or to take them down hard, you had to play by their rules, and that meant agreeing with every stupid thing they said and telling them you were sorry and you’d never do it again. That was the only thing that ever worked.

“For the last time, Ryan, you need to unlock these cuffs and you need to tell me where my partner is…”

“And you need to learn some respect.”

Danny flinched at the sound of a punch being landed. He managed to scramble to his knees; the room tilted sickeningly, like a ship on high seas, but he fought the urge to hurl.

“Listen, you crazy son-of-a-bitch, if you’ve laid a finger on Agent Taylor I’m going to make sure you go to jail for so long that flares will be back in fashion by the time you come out….”

Every hair on the back of his neck stood up in horror as he heard Martin utter those words. He didn’t even want to think about what Papi would have done to any boy who gave him that kind of lip. Even with him and Rafi doing their best to never make him angry, there had been so many flashpoints of temper; if any son of his had ever displayed the kind of attitude Martin was showing right now, Papi would have put him in the hospital for certain.

Despite the lurching of the room and the pounding in his head, the almost overwhelming need to vomit, he was on his feet and running; knowing if he didn’t get in there and get between Martin and Ryan’s fists, his partner was going to get himself beaten into a coma.

There was light spilling into the corridor in a hallway, he tried to find a weapon but there was nothing in sight, even as he circled desperately, and the blows were landing, he could hear them, punch after punch.

“Mr. Ryan?” he called desperately, stumbling down the corridor. “Please, sir, can we just talk about this?”

He lurched into the kitchen, catching his hip on the doorway as he did so and rebounding off it, to find Martin with his hands cuffed behind his back, on the floor with his back to the kitchen cabinets, blood running from his mouth, but his blue eyes blazing defiance as he told Ryan just how much shit he was in right now. At the sight of Danny, Martin’s expression was one of overwhelming relief. “Danny! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Martin, just be quiet. Let me handle this.” Danny flashed him a warning look which was met with total incomprehension. Ryan loomed up and Danny didn’t even attempt not to flinch. He ducked his head a little and talked fast: “Sir, if we could just talk about this. If we did something to offend you, we’re sorry. We know how stressful this must be for you with your wife missing, especially after the loss of your daughter.”

Martin looked up at him in disbelief. “Danny, will you tell him he’s under arrest?” He was trying to get up but his legs weren’t strong enough to get him upright and it was clear that Ryan had landed a flurry of punches to put him on his ass in the first place. Danny wondered how Martin could not know that this was a time to just stay down and if possible pretend to be out for the count.

“Martin, shut up.” Danny flashed him a warning glance, but Martin kept looking up at him as if he’d never seen him before in his life, and couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Even now, with his coat ripped and blood spattered on his nice white shirt, Martin had absolutely no idea how this worked. He thought this was a temporary setback in the middle of them arresting a suspect; he hadn’t yet adjusted the lens far enough to perceive that, right now, they were prisoners, and if they didn’t play this carefully, they could end up being murder victims.

Danny forced a conciliatory expression onto his face, trying to hold Ryan’s gaze. “Sir, this is my fault. My partner hasn’t been doing this very long. I apologize and I…take full responsibility for anything he may have said or done. He’s under my guidance right now and anything I haven’t taught him that’s my fault, not his.”

“I think he’s the one who needs to learn some manners and you’re the one who needs to do exactly what I tell you unless you want to be crying at your boyfriend’s funeral real soon.” Ryan grabbed Martin by the collar and yanked him to his feet in one fluid movement. Danny didn’t particularly want to think about how strong an ordinary non-military untrained guy had to be to do that so easily. Martin tried to charge him, but he was too dazed from the punches that had landed not to telegraph the move before he made it and Ryan had fast reflexes; he slammed him face first into the nearest kitchen cabinets.

Danny darted forward. “Mr. Ryan, please…! Anything Martin has said or done, it’s completely my fault.”

“Danny, what the hell’s the matter with you?” Martin demanded breathlessly. There was an ugly looking bruise coming out on his forehead now to go with the one on his jaw. “The son of a bitch is batshit frickin’ crazy.”

“That’s it.” Ryan tightened his grip on Martin’s collar and began to drag him towards the door. As Danny started forward, Ryan turned and glared at him. “You stay here. Right here. And, if you want to see him again, you don’t move.”

Danny felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach; bad memories circling him; he had hoped never to be this guy again, the one who was helpless to stop a brother taking a beating; that was why he did the job he did, to prevent at least some of the million injustices in the world.

“Please, sir, can we just talk about this?” he said in his most soothing voice. “Martin’s sorry for what he said. I’m sorry for what he said. Like I said, he’s under my command, it’s my fault if he’s done anything to offend you. I’m the one to blame.”

“Well, that’s a shame.” Ryan elbowed Danny out of the way. “Because he’s the one who’s going to pay.” His eyes flashed a warning. “Move one muscle before I come back and I’ll break his neck.”

As Ryan dragged Martin out of the kitchen door into the flurry of snow, Danny could hear Martin still arguing and struggling every step of the way. He felt dizzy and didn’t know if it was the bleeding cut on his head making him feel that way, or just the sickening familiarity of being in this situation again. The room circled him and he tried not to hurl. There was a stabbing pain in his head whenever he tried to concentrate but the thoughts kept coming; this situation wasn’t just familiar to him; it was familiar to Ryan. He’d done this before.

Danny reached into each pocket in turn awkwardly to see if his knife or lock pick were there, but his pockets had been emptied. He looked around for a knife block but there was nothing in sight. He tried to open the silverware drawer with his hands cuffed behind his back; everything felt clumsy – upside down and back to front – but he delved into the drawer and his fingers closed on one blunt knife after another, not one of them with a blade worth anything, until he felt something with a handle and prongs. He would have preferred something finer and more flexible, like a paperclip, but a fork was better than nothing as a lock pick. Perhaps he had time to pick the cuffs and…

The crunch of boots on snow outside made his heart jump in his chest. Ryan back already? Had he killed Martin? He hadn’t heard a gunshot and he would have put up a month’s salary Ryan was the type who liked to administer punishment for a good long time. Danny stuffed the fork into his pocket hastily. He barely had time to shove the drawer closed with his hip before Ryan was coming in through the open doorway, letting in a blast of freezing air and very human rage.

“Mr. Ryan, can we just talk about this?” Danny pleaded. “I want to negotiate with you. I want us to come to an agreement.”

“Your partner needs to learn some manners.” Ryan had blood on his hand from Martin’s face; it was shining wetly on the knuckles. He reached up to where a leather belt was hanging and began to wrap it around his fist. “We agreed on that?” The door swung shut behind him but the chill in Danny’s veins remained.

Danny tried to keep his voice even: “Martin doesn’t understand the rules, but I do. It’s not his fault, his father never taught them to him.”

Ryan loomed over him. “But yours did?”

Jack’s voice felt as if it had just spoken to him, he could hear it so distinctly: Call him ‘sir’ a lot, he likes that.

“Yes, sir. And I’ll do whatever you say, just, please don’t hurt Martin. He had major surgery this year, and I don’t think he can take… He nearly died…. But I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong with me and…” He couldn’t seem to get the words out the way he wanted; he kept seeing Rafael with his face all bloody from a beating dished out for milk Danny had spilled, and Martin lying on the ground with blood pouring from his chest and stomach.

He snatched a breath. “Sir, if you’d just let me explain? He didn’t mean to make you angry. He didn’t understand he was being rude. Please…” Danny thought this had to be about sex as well as power – so many things were – and when he darted a quick look at Ryan’s crotch for confirmation the guy certainly looked at least half-hard to him. With his heart hammering in his chest, Danny risked holding his gaze and said breathlessly: “I’ll do anything you want if you’ll leave Martin alone.”

The moment hung there between them. Danny was afraid to blink in case the connection was lost, and he had never tried so hard to achieve something that he wanted to do so little. And perhaps later – when he was on his eighteenth straight week of therapy – he would wonder why he had thought he had to do this, but right now, with Martin’s blood shining wetly on Ryan’s knuckles, with the memory too fresh of Martin’s blood soaking his hands, even this felt better than the thought of Martin getting hurt again.

Then Ryan looked away and went back to wrapping that belt around his fist in that dead-eyed purposeful way; ignoring Danny as if he were no more coherent than a yapping dog as he strode towards the door.

“No, please….” Danny darted between him and the door and planted his back against it. “He was shot twice. He was in surgery for five hours. Please…”

Ryan took him by the shoulders and slammed him back against the kitchen cabinets hard enough to knock the breath out of his body, holding his gaze intently. “You’ll get your chance to negotiate later.”

Then Ryan’s hand was on the door handle, yanking it open and letting in a blast of freezing air that made the fire in the hearth flicker and dance. Which was when Danny was gifted one of the memories that had been simmering under the surface for all these years, which he had chosen not to remember, of blows barely averted by the frantic pleading or bodily intervention of people who had taken his father’s fists in his place. His brother desperately shoving Danny behind him when Danny had shouted at their father for hitting their mother: He’s just a stupid kid. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying. You want to hit someone? Hit me!

“You want to hit someone?” Danny threw out quickly.

Ryan turned to him with a frown and Danny realized that he briefly had his attention. “You’re angry that your wife is gone and we haven’t found her? So, you want to take it out on someone? Take it out on me. Martin’s an Ivy League boy scout. He’s not going to be able to take what you want to dish out. One more punch and he’s going to be unconscious, and I know you have a lot of rage you want to use up right now and that’s just not going to cut it for you, so, you want a punching bag – I’m right here.”

Ryan hesitated and for the second time Danny thought he might have gotten through; swallowing hard as the guy loomed over him, looking like six feet five of pain that was just about to happen, and then Ryan grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. He patted Danny down invasively and found the fork, holding it up in front of Danny’s eyes. “I told you not to move.”

“I’m sorry,” Danny said hastily.

The backhand was a white burst of pain across the right side of his face, his lip splitting and spilling hot salty blood down his chin; Ryan’s eyes a cold blue blaze in his set face. Danny wondered just how long this explosion had been building – since Mary’s disappearance, or for the whole of the four years since his daughter had been lost and the FBI had failed to find her.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take it out of your friend’s hide.”

“No, Ryan….” His head was singing, the room a smear of bleeding color and melting furniture, light a jagged pain behind his eyes. “I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt Martin.”

“Shut up.” The snarl was savage. Ryan hauled him over to the table. It was an enormous piece of furniture that looked as old as the woods themselves. Ryan shoved him down on to his ass, pushed his hands back with his foot – sending a white-fire lick of pain through Danny’s shoulders – and then lifted the massive oak table before letting the leg drop down, Danny’s cuffed wrists secured by it. “Stay still and be quiet,” he told him. “Or I’ll break every bone in his body.” He tossed the fork negligently onto the floor, not seeming to notice or care as it bounced under the dresser, turned on his heel and went out the front door, slamming it purposefully behind him.

“No, please, Ryan, don’t!” As the crunch of boots in snow got fainter, Danny raised his voice to shout: “Martin! Do what he says – do you hear me? Just do what he tells you! Martin!” He twisted at the cuffs desperately, trying to slide his hands free, feeling the metal catch on skin and bone, bruising and scraping, but they were unmovable and the tick of the clock sounded deafening even over the thunder of his heartbeat. Whatever was happening in the barn was happening just too far away to hear. He kicked out at a chair he couldn’t quite reach, feeling a pulse in his neck throb with frustration, having to snatch in lungfuls of air over his anger at being helpless, at having let himself get captured like some stupid rookie.

He slid off his shoe and tried to reach the fork under the dresser with his foot; he could see it, but he couldn’t quite get the traction; he scraped off his sock as well, and that was better, he could just reach the end of it with one long toe.

Time crawled past as he strained his ears and tried to wheedle the fork closer, trying to hear past the whistling of wind in the chimney and snow spattering against the panes. He could practically feel the trees inching closer, bleak and menacing, the great bowl of the forest valley darkening as the day got even colder and the gray metal sky paled with unshed snow. He hated the ticking of the clock, and hated even more the wind that snatched away tiny fragments of sound, all of which sounded more than a little like pain.

He moved the fork to the left a little, but couldn’t hook it out. He wriggled down lower, trying to gain another precious inch of traction while all the time straining to hear any scrap of noise that would tell him what was happening in the barn. When he braced his back against the table it didn’t shift even a fraction of an inch. Cursing under his breath, Danny shoved hard against it and felt as if he had tried to move a wall. Thinking of how Ryan had picked it up as if it weighed so little, the careless way he had moved Danny out his way as if he were entirely inconsequential, his fear for Martin cranked up another notch. They spent so long training to learn how to deal with people stronger and heavier than they were; were so adept at the methods whereby an agent could use the perp’s own weight against them, that he had forgotten in the intervening time just how it felt to be really scared, but he was scared right now. If Martin had ever been in a mental place where backing down had seemed sensible to him, being shot and living with pain and what pain could make him do had eroded that. Martin was all about proving to himself that he wasn’t scared at the moment even though, right now, being scared was absolutely the right way to be.

“Martin, please, just do what the crazy son of a bitch tells you to do,” Danny breathed as he struggled even lower, wrists screaming a protest at him but determined to get that fork if he had to dislocate both his shoulders to do it.

The minute hand juddered from one roman numeral to the next while the second hand swept around and around and still Ryan didn’t come back, and Martin could be dead by now. Ryan could be digging a grave out there in the woods or even in the floor of the barn itself, before coming back to put a bullet in Danny’s head, except he seemed to be about the discipline; people bending to his will, doing as he said. That was why he needed humoring. That was the trouble with Martin. He was so damned by-the-book ninety-five percent of the time that the five percent of him that wasn’t wired that way was totally ungovernable. He just internalized his unhappiness without saying anything until it built up to the point where it broke out in a flood. Martin had put up with a lot of crap from his father over the years, no doubt about it. Lectures and sighs and head shakes and that over-protective interference in his decision-making. And yes, no doubt it was frustrating sometimes to have your father always looking over your shoulder trying to smooth out every wrinkle in the road in case you weren’t man enough to weather the bumps, but this was not the time for Martin to indulge his Daddy Issues.

He wondered if – even now – Martin knew how to ask for help. Danny felt he had to carry some of the blame for Martin getting in so deep with the painkillers; if he hadn’t been so caught up in his own issues about Martin getting shot, he would have kept an eye on him and seen the signs earlier, but all the same, Martin was a smart guy, and he had been given plenty of red flags, and they still hadn’t been enough to tell him that he couldn’t do this alone. Apparently, asking for help was something Fitzgeralds just didn’t do. They just dug themselves deeper and deeper, until their lives were completely out of control and they had so far to walk to get back to normality that their feet would be bleeding by the time they reached it.

He was so proud of Martin for getting himself straight but he still wished that he had come to him earlier when he could have stopped him from walking himself over that cliff. Danny could suck it up when he had to; blame, even unjust blame, he could take it and say ‘sorry’ and move on; he didn’t have anyone he needed to prove anything to, maybe not even himself any more. Every day he didn’t take a drink he knew he was stronger now than he had been then; every day he wasn’t shooting up an in alley, or sitting on death row, he was bucking the odds, given his upbringing. He knew how close he was to being his brother, how lucky he was not to be in prison or a junkie, or both. He, who had been given no advantages at all, had nothing to prove, and Martin, who had been given every advantage, had to prove to himself he could have earned it even if it hadn’t been handed to him; even though he spent his life trying to prove it hadn’t been handed to him, even when it had, when what he should have been concentrating on realizing was that he was good enough that he would have got it anyway. That was the big lesson Danny liked to think that Martin had learned since being on Jack Malone’s team, but apparently he was still in the remedial class some days and those were the occasions when, against all reason, he would be the one mouthing off to the enormous angry guy while Danny showed sense enough to call the bastard ‘sir’ for both their sakes.

He had never been so pissed with Martin or so scared for him. Seeing him get gunshot had been bad enough, but Martin had just made an unpredictable sadist angry with him when he was completely at the guy’s mercy, and if Martin hadn’t actually been beaten to death, Danny was going to give him a very loud lecture about not mouthing off to madmen some time soon.


It was half an hour before he heard the crunch of boots on snow. He hastily shoved his foot back into his shoe, concealing his sock under his calf a moment before Ryan came back in again, bringing in with him a spiteful flurry of snow, one flake of which slapped Danny’s cheek like a rebuke then slid down it, melting. Ryan had blood on his hands, Danny saw that right away, and on his shirt, red spatters.

“Oh God. Ryan, what have you done to Martin?” He could hear the fear in his voice and tried to banish it; trying to sound the way he knew a psychologist would be advising if he was linked up to one right now: conciliatory, reasonable. He lowered his voice, tried to keep his body language slightly submissive. “Sir, please tell me what you’ve done to Agent Fitzgerald?”

“He needed a lesson in manners.” Ryan poured himself a glass of whiskey as if this were a regular occurrence for him, as if, after the regulation beating of the captive FBI agent, a real man of the mountains always had to have a shot of Jim Beam.

Danny’s heart did a tap dance in his chest. “Is he still alive?”

Ryan glanced across at him as if the subject was boring him. “Can’t learn much if he’s dead, can he? I told you, he needed a lesson. He got one. And he’ll be getting another one real soon if he doesn’t mend his ways. Now, hold your tongue, I’m sick of all your noise.”

“Sir – Mr. Ryan, it’s very cold out there. If you leave Martin out there in this weather, he’s not going to make it….”

Ryan loomed over him. “I told you to be quiet. He’s in the barn. He’ll make it well enough.”

“Please, just bring him back in here. I promise you, he won’t be any more trouble….”

“Hold your noise or I’ll hose him down and leave him outside to turn into an ice sculpture.”

Danny swallowed the next three things he had been about to say. He wanted to impress upon Ryan that holding them was dangerous and futile, that people would look for them, that he would never get away with it and it would be much better for all parties if he would just let them go now, but he didn’t doubt the man meant what he said. He had crossed that line that said that the law applied to him as well as other people; as far as he was concerned the only law was his, and anyone who attempted to upset that world view was going to be beaten until they agreed with him or possibly killed to stop them arguing. Either the loss of his daughter or his abandonment by his wife, or the two events together, had conspired to cause a meltdown in Ryan’s head, and Danny and Martin had reaped the consequences of all that build up of rage. There were a million things Danny wanted to say, and he even thought some of them might have gotten through, but how could he risk it when Ryan had already made it clear that any disobedience of Danny’s was going to be paid for by Martin?

Ryan downed his whiskey in one gulp while gazing at Danny with unfriendly eyes. “Did you hear what I said, boy? One more word out of you I didn’t ask for and your partner’s an icicle come morning. Tell me you understand?”

Seething inwardly with frustration, Danny gritted his teeth and managed a taut: “Yes, sir.”

***
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