elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DM_DannyIcon)
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Eileen Watkins was like a training video of evasion. She paced the room restlessly, and when invited to sit, did so without making eye contact, hands fluttering. The room was like too many of those Vivian knew from looking for those who disappeared, filled with the familiar memorabilia of life lived so quietly it passed almost unseen even by those few who witnessed it. There were a few abstract prints in bold reds and burnt oranges, some photographs of Africa that carried a quiet yearning; the dying sunsets of a world still unvisited; only those few snatches of color and the books asserted themselves with any personality. The books at least were plentiful. So far Eileen had been unhelpful while pretending to be otherwise, but Vivian didn’t make her for the difficult type usually, which meant she had a reason for her behavior, and Vivian had a hunch she knew what it was.

“Ms Watkins, let’s go through this again…?” Vivian invited. “You’re saying you don’t remember the Gallaghers or Clare Hope but that you do remember that Clare wasn’t dyslexic? Because according to our records, you were one of their teachers and according to Sheriff Bennett you’re the only person in this area that Clare has definitely kept in touch with.” It was a shot in the dark, but they took a lot of those, and sometimes they hit their target. Seeing the flicker of shock in Eileen’s eyes, Vivian was pretty sure that this one had.

Samantha backed her up with the skill of long practice, leaning forward to say: “We’re not the enemy here. We’re trying to find a pregnant woman who we think may have been abducted against her will. That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Eileen seemed to reach a decision. “Clare isn’t what you think.”

“Right now we think she may be a kidnapper,” Sam told her. “If you know she isn’t then we’d love to hear anything you have to say.”

There was another awkward pause while the snow spat against windows that rattled in the wind as the fire flickered in the grate with each swoop of draught that gusted down the chimney. “She’s clean now.” Eileen turned to Vivian, the brown eyes behind her spectacles suddenly vulnerable. “She’s married. She has a child of her own.”

“Do you have a current address for her?” Vivian took out her notebook.

“She lives in Appleton. With a man called Garrett Davidson.”

“He’s her husband?” Vivian carefully smoothed out any cynicism from her voice.

“No. It’s his house but they’re not involved. She lives there with her husband.”

“What’s her husband’s name?”

That look of evasion flickered across Eileen’s face again, and she averted her eyes. “I don’t know.”

Vivian mentally filed that last statement under ‘lie’ and moved on, intending to come back to it later. “You said she had a child? Would that be a little girl?”

“Yes. But she’s not… She’s not Margaret, if that’s what you’re thinking. She’s four. Her name’s Charlotte.”

“Do you have a photograph?” Samantha pressed.

There was an awkward pause before Eileen went to her mantelpiece and began to go through some envelopes that were concealed behind a cookie jar; several had envelopes the color of a winter sky, each one made vivid by a local stamp. Viv reached across and took the bundle from her hand. “Let me.”

“No…” Eileen tried to snatch them back but Viv held them out of reach.

“Ms. Watkins. It honestly would be better for everyone – Clare included – if you helped us. We’re not here to make trouble for people who are just trying to live their lives.” Viv sorted through the envelopes quickly and then paused as she saw the address of the second one. It had been hand printed carefully: Ms. Eileen Watkins, 44 River Drive. Viv glanced across at Sam and then opened the letter, only to have a photograph slip into her hand. A photograph of a toddler beaming up at the camera, dark blue eyes huge in a pretty if slightly grimy face, a jam sandwich a little out of focus as it was evidently waved for emphasis. She turned over the photograph and written on the back were the words: ‘Charlotte – June 2005’. Vivian gazed up at Eileen Watkins with narrowed eyes. “You said that Clare Hope wasn’t dyslexic.”

“She’s not.”

“Impeding a federal investigation carries a five year sentence, Ms. Watkins.”

The woman crumpled into her chair like tissue paper left out in the rain and put a hand up to her face. “Clare didn’t send me that.”

“Then who did?”

As Eileen made no answer, Sam crouched down next to her. “It’s from Nathan Gallagher, isn’t it? That’s who Clare married?”

The wind whistled down the chimney again, damp air meeting damp wood in a flurry of sparks. Eileen straightened up, tears in her eyes. “He’s not called that now.”

Vivian pushed the advantage fast. “Ms. Watkins. If you know what’s going on, you need to tell us and quickly. Mary Ryan is eight and a half months pregnant. She could go into labor at any time.”

“I don’t know anything about Mary!” Eileen protested, tearfully. “And I’ve only been up to see them a few times. They write to me every few months. They send me pictures of Charlotte. That’s it. It’s a way of Clare letting her mother know she’s okay without actually contacting her.”

“But you knew that Nathan Gallagher wasn’t the body in that car?” Viv demanded.

“Not at first. I just heard from Clare from time to time. She told me she’s got herself cleaned up. She thanked me for what I’d done for her.”

“What did you do for her?” Sam pressed.

“I used to give her a place to stay and I gave Nate extra lessons. When he got out of Juvenile Hall, he was barely literate. He’d slipped through all the cracks, he had mild but undiagnosed dyslexia and he’d only attended school from time to time anyway. He needed to catch up so that he could graduate. His brother in law was adamant that he had to graduate, and Nate said that Mary had asked him to do what her husband asked, so I gave him extra lessons to help him with his reading. Clare used to sit in on the lessons to help him.”

Vivian looked around the room and saw them both sitting there, Clare in her short skirts and bleached hair, the diligent student when there was no one there to mock her studying, and Nate struggling to comprehend elusive vowels, Eileen patiently helping them both. She wondered why, in her mind, the boy was still carrying all those bruises, even though, by that time, his father would have been in jail.

“They weren’t what people thought. They were just trying to make sense of a world that had done nothing but harm to them from the day they were born. There was good in both of them. Nathan was rude and disrespectful, and he drank and cursed too much, and he tried every kind of drug he could get his hands on, but he was just trying to work through some things. He wasn’t cruel, he was just so…wounded. He used to see other men with their sons and be so hurt because his father didn’t like him whereas the fathers of those other boys did. He thought there was something wrong with him. Clare was the same. She’d been abused from the age of eleven. She was just trying to find a way to deal with all the things that had been done to her and she tried sex and drugs…and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lived her life has the right to judge her.”

Viv sighed at the flash of defiance in Eileen’s eyes and reached across to touch her knee gently. “We’re not judging anyone. We just need to find Mary.”

“I swear I don’t know where she is. I only found out about Nate still being alive when Clare sent me this.” She plucked a letter from Vivian and extricated a photograph from it, holding it out.

A wedding photograph. No white dress or veil blowing in the summer breeze, but undoubtedly a happy union all the same; there were even flowers, a yellow and white spray gilded with spring sunlight. Clare almost unrecognizable from her arrest photograph, hair allowed to return to its natural light brown shade, face no longer pockmarked with acne, body no longer so emaciated with the hunger for a different past, and with a smile on her face as she gazed at the handsome young man leaning across to kiss her. Vivian recognized him at once. “Nathan Gallagher.”

Sam gazed at the photograph over Vivian’s shoulder. “Who knew he’d clean up so well? Remind you of anyone?”

And then she saw it, not just the sullen teenager grown up to be a handsome young man, but something in the boyish face, now that it was unmarked by bruises, that was indeed reminiscent of how Martin might have looked if he had grown up in a trailer park somewhere, with a body left wiry by underfeeding and ill usage, instead of nurtured by comfort, good feeding, and all those healthy outdoor sports.

“That was the first time I knew he was still alive, I swear.” Eileen’s fingers were clearly itching to snatch back the photograph but the damage was done now.

Vivian held up the photograph. “Ms. Watkins. There was a body in that car and if it wasn’t Nathan’s you knew it had to belong to someone. But you didn’t feel the need to report this to anyone?”

“I wrote Clare straight back. I asked her whose body it was and she invited me up to visit with them. I sat up there and I looked into her eyes and Nathan’s eyes and I’ve been a teacher for twenty-five years, I know when someone is lying to me, and those two were telling the truth. She said they found it buried under an old ruin on the farm. She said it seemed to have been there for a long time. She didn’t think anyone would still be waiting for him to come home, whoever he was, and that maybe he’d rather no one ever knew he’d died that way. I believed her.”

“That wasn’t your decision to make.” Samantha reached for her phone.

“They deserved a second chance if anyone did. They weren’t hurting anyone. They were happy. What harm did it do when he was already dead anyway?”

Samantha gazed at her in disbelief. “How about disturbing a crime scene? Destroying the evidence that may have helped to put away a serial killer? And that’s just for starters. How about showing a little respect for the dead?”

“Clare said they told him they were sorry – about how he’d died and using him in Nate’s place. She told me they said prayers for him.”

The fire flattened itself like a nervous dog as another gust of wind spiraled down the chimney.

Viv motioned to Sam to hold off on calling this in just yet, holding Eileen’s gaze. “Why did Nathan fake his own death?”

“To get away.”

“His father was dead by then. He couldn’t hurt him any more.”

“He wanted to be with Clare. Ryan wouldn’t allow it.”

Samantha rolled her eyes. “So, he leaves his sister thinking he’s dead just because he doesn’t have the courage to tell his brother-in-law he wants to date an old flame?”

Eileen glanced at her in surprise. “No, Nate would never have done that. He loved his sister and she loved him. They would have done anything for each other. He would never have left her if she hadn’t insisted.”

Vivian felt her heart begin to beat faster, the way it did when they were getting close to something truly significant at last. “You mean Mary knew? About the car accident? The burned body? She knew her brother was still alive?”

“Of course she did.” Eileen seemed confused that they had not realized this already. “It was Mary’s idea.”

***

Danny had possibly passed out for a few seconds because it took a moment before he could hear the sound of another human being stifling sounds of pain into ragged breaths. He ducked his head blearily and realized he had an armful of a wet, dirty Martin; or at least an armful of wet dirty coat and wet dirty sweater with a wet, dirty, Martin bundled up in it somewhere. He finally remembered how to expel air, snatching freezing oxygen into his aching lungs, afraid to move in case he found parts of him were no longer still attached.

“Are you okay?” he managed after a moment.

Martin raised his head and Danny could just make him out in the snow-glitter. He saw the moment when Martin thought about opening his mouth to lie. Martin never had been a very good liar. Most addicts quickly became experts, but, when Martin was lying, it practically lit up in neon on his forehead. At least Martin seemed to be learning that this was one skill in which he was never going to be a straight ‘A’ student because he gave up on speaking as something he could do right now and just nodded his head. There was a long pause while he choked down a few more whimpers and then managed an almost normal-sounding: “You?”

“Never better,” Danny assured him. Unlike Martin, he was a good liar, and despite the pain that was pretty much everywhere it came out airy and assured. There was another long silence as they both fought not to whimper, Danny gripping Martin so tightly he was probably adding to his pain.

“We’re a lot closer to that stream now,” Martin offered after a moment. And then in a voice from which the fear had not been removed despite his best efforts: “Can you move your legs?”

Danny had been hoping to put off for a little longer the moment where he discovered he was irreversibly paralyzed, but he supposed it was probably something he needed to address at some point. He tried wiggling his toes and to his surprise could certainly move them even though they were so cold he would have quite liked to disassociate himself from them in other ways. “Probably not with you lying on them. Can you get up?”

“Sure.” Martin tried to roll off him and Danny automatically tightened his grip on him. Martin cleared his throat. “Danny – you have to let me go.”

“Okay.” Danny kept hold of him, needing a few more breaths.

“Danny…?”

Reluctantly, he let Martin go and then listened to all the pain his partner was in going into his breathing as he practically chewed through his lip to stop Danny hearing him whimpering as he struggled onto his hands and knees. The glance he shot in Danny’s direction was fearful.

“Can you move?”

Danny risked a look at his legs and was surprised to see that they weren’t twisted into any hideously distorted positions. Reaching above his head for a snow-laden bough, he gripped it hard and hauled himself up, realizing as he did so that it was the stolen backpack that had taken most of the impact of him hitting the tree. His back hurt, his shoulders hurt, every muscle between his neck and his knees hurt like hell, but the thighbone still seemed to be connected to the knee-bone. “Damn. And I was hoping I was dead and could stop playing this game now.”

Martin gave him the glimmer of a smile, an arm wrapped around his ribs and more blood trickling from his mouth. “You and me both.”

“It was when we were reversing, wasn’t it?” Danny asked him abruptly. “I told you to back the car up and that was when you were shot.”

“I don’t remember.” Perhaps Martin was a better liar than he thought because there was nothing he could read on his face right now. Jolting through the darkness and being hit by a tree seemed to have improved his eyesight because he could make out Martin’s face a lot better than he had been able to just after the flashlight had been extinguished. He just couldn’t read what Martin was really thinking.

“It must have been then.”

“I remember you pushing me down. You reacted faster than I did. I remember that. I don’t remember anything else.”

He knew that was a lie. In the instant when he had looked in and seen Martin dazedly plucking at the blood-soaked cloth of his shirt, trying to make sense of the pain in his body and the blood pouring out of it, he had known that was a moment they were both going to remember until the day they died. “Nothing else?”

“Nothing until I woke up in the hospital on that morphine high.”

He really wished it had been like that. He wished that Martin would never remember how it had felt to be so utterly powerless, strength and warmth flowing out and the fear flowing in that this was really it; nothing left that he could do now but die afraid and in pain. But he knew he remembered.

“It was definitely when we were reversing.”

“Why does it matter?” Martin asked him.

“Because I told you to back the car up.”

“And you think if we hadn’t backed the car up either one of us would be alive today? Given how well those guys shot into a moving vehicle, how much better do you think their aim would have been into a stationary one?” Martin moved closer to gaze into Danny’s eyes, searching for something in then. “Is that what you’ve been thinking all this time? That if you hadn’t told me to back up the car that I wouldn’t have been shot? Because that’s crazier than…”

“Mouthing off to a madman when your hands are cuffed behind your back?”

Martin didn’t so much as blink. “Way crazier than that. Danny, you can look for a reason why I got shot and you didn’t, but it was chance, and you should let it go now – because one of us really needs to have his act together if we’re going to make it out of this alive, and, given that I can’t breathe in right now without wanting to toss my cookies, I think it probably needs to be you.”

There was a long moment when Danny let the words seep in and he realized that this was the conversation they should probably have had all those months ago, before it ever got to this, no, before it ever got to Martin throwing those pills down like candy. He looked up the slope and he could no longer see the road, or the house, and could only just make out the faint glow of what would be the kitchen light spilling out into the snow. There was no longer any sound of the motorcycle. “He’s back. We need to go.”

“You forgot to tell me I’m right.”

Danny hooked his arm back around Martin, grabbing hold of a branch with his free hand to help them down the next slippery descent. “Tell me I’m right about you mouthing off to Ryan and I’ll tell you you’re right about the survivor guilt thing.”

“I was unbelievably patient with Ryan. Jack would have jumped all over him five minutes through that door.”

“Which is why Jack sent us, remember?”

“Well, Sam would have shot him.”

Danny considered the point and then had to concede it. “Okay, you win on the Sam thing.”

“And Elena would have shot him twice.”

“Okay! You’re slightly more patient than Jack, Sam, or Elena. Big deal.”

The moment he let go of the branch, they slipped down another six feet of tree roots and rocks, every muscle in Danny’s body tensed in readiness for pain before he awkwardly righted them both, fingers twisted into the rough material of his coat as he yanked Martin upright. Looking back up the slope, he could see that despite the falling snow they had left a clear trail of footsteps and slide marks.

“Who buys a place in terrain like this anyway?” he demanded.

“A hunter.” Martin tried to give him a reassuring smile but still looked mostly bruised, cold, concussed, and in pain.

“I couldn’t find any guns.”

“They were probably locked in the trunk of his car along with all the knives and axes and chainsaws.” Martin looked a little wistful over the word ‘chainsaws’.

Cursing under his breath, Danny helped him over a fallen tree. “I should have looked in the trunk. Why the hell didn’t I look in the trunk?”

“He still had our guns, and you’re probably right that we’re not in the best shape for tackling him…”

That concession from Martin was a little worrying; that meant he had to be hurting pretty badly. Danny could feel how his body was starting to seize up. The adrenaline had probably helped for a while but his teeth were chattering continuously now and the cold was creeping in deeper and deeper into all those pulled muscles. The snow fell so gently, then melted softly as a kiss but his shirt was soaked and chilly against his spine; the only warmth coming from the sweat he was pouring with the exertion of trying to hold Martin up as they slid and stumbled over this terrain, and that dried colder than the snow on their skin. They slid down another few feet of snowy needles and undergrowth and then with another awkward lurch and him tightening his grip on Martin again they were more or less upright on more or less level ground.

The stream tinkled tunefully at them as it ran through the rocks, reminding Danny that the water bottles he had packed were probably all cracked by now. He wearily undid the strapping of the backpack and delved into it. The blanket was sodden and when he felt around past it, he realized that so was everything else.

Martin said. “He may wait until first light to track us.”

“Where was the nearest house to his? Do you remember?”

“About twenty-five miles by the road. But there was a campsite that was only about ten miles away.” Martin closed his eyes, trying to concentrate and then pointed. “That way. Upstream and to the north-east.”

Danny looked upstream and then downstream and both looked equally uninviting. Going in either direction meant dragging Martin through the snow for hours with his ribs cracked. But although ten miles seemed impossible it was less impossible than twenty-five miles.

“Danny, I think we need to…” Martin broke off to squint into the darkness. “Is that…?”

“Please don’t tell me it’s a bear. I’m really not in the mood right now.”

“Bears hibernate in winter, remember?” Martin kept peering through the trees. “Does that look like a cave to you?”

“Wait.” Danny propped him against a convenient tree. “I’ll check it out. Because if it has a bear hibernating in it I figure there’s no point in us both being eaten. Have you got the flashlight?” As he asked it, he realized even before Martin’s grimace of apology that it was probably smashed into twenty different pieces a hundred yards higher up the slope. “This night just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, I’m already planning the return trip,” Martin assured him. “Next time I’m bringing a packed lunch – oh yes and a SWAT team.”

“Hey, when Viv and Sam see what that son-of-a-bitch did to your face he’s going to wish he were facing a SWAT team instead of them.”

He had never thought that he would get to hate trees and snow quite as much as this. Maybe this was what had turned Sam against the cold; too many nights in Wisconsin where the stars were blinded by clouds and the snow touched the skin like kisses from the dead. He blundered over a few more fallen branches that broke beneath his shoes like brittle bones, grateful that the snow was at least muffling his footfalls. Spiteful twigs kept lashing his face and trying to shove mouthfuls of snow and needles down his throat… He swallowed quickly as he thought about what he had almost ended up doing for Ryan in that kitchen. That was something he was definitely never telling Martin. Much better to let him think that if they were kidnapped by any more deranged psychopaths with alpha male control issues that Martin was going to be the one getting his knees dirty. Perhaps that would at least make him think twice about mouthing off to any more maniacs.

Ducking under another frosted branch, he could make out that square patch of darkness in the glittering whiteness. Too symmetrical to be a cave. He edged closer, a hand out to steady himself. He felt mossy rock beneath his fingers and then the straight edge of a wooden upright. The blackness was absolute here. When he looked back the way he had come, he could just make out Martin in the trees, huddled in Danny’s ill-fitting overcoat that wasn’t broad enough in the shoulders for him, the sleeves of Ryan’s sweater dangling over his hands as he tried to warm them. The light filtering through from the stars above the snow bank was a dim bluish-gray; the trees black lines against silvery snow, like living in perpetual twilight, some undead world they were trapped in with no real color, no real warmth. But this… He turned back to the square of blackness in front of him and smelt dampness, a different granite chill from the earthy exposure of the woods. He ventured into it and heard the sound of water dripping. A few more paces and he hit his shoulder on something hard. Feeling it awkwardly, he felt rough hewn wood under his fingers and realized it was an upright of some kind. No, a pit prop.

He backed out, wondering if this was the shelter they had been looking for or if it would only be a trap. Without a flashlight he did not like the idea of venturing into a place which could have gaping holes into a mine shaft. And there was also the matter of the mine giving him a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.

It was a relief to see Martin still standing where he had left him, looking cold and miserable, but still on his feet. He hurried back to him, the muscles in his calves clenching as he went deep into a drift of snow and had to haul himself out, shoes slippery on mossy branches and rocks as he clambered back to where Martin was standing.

“It’s a mine. We could maybe shelter in it – but it’s blacker than the inside of a black cat on a really black night.”

Martin’s teeth were chattering but he shook his head. “It’s the first place Ryan will look. But if there’s one there are probably others. I think we need to go upstream. If we walk in the stream we won’t leave any tracks and he won’t know which way we’ve gone.”

“And we’ll both get frostbite.” Danny crouched down next to the running water and dipped a hand into it, as he suspected it was like liquid ice. He splashed some on his face and gasped at the cold, before forcing himself to swallow a few mouthfuls. “No way am I walking through this. We’ll have to rely on the snow to cover our tracks. At least we’ll be on level ground now.” He glanced along the stream. “Okay – a slight incline.” Martin gingerly crouched down next to him, keeping his back straight as he did so, he cast a longing look at the water but leaning forward to get a drink was clearly out of the question. Danny scooped some water up in his hands and offered it.

Martin shook his head. “I’m fine.”

The annoyance sparked again as he thought of those weeks when Martin has been worn out with pain, and the only thing that helped dug him deeper and deeper into a pit of despair and self-loathing. “Yeah, you’re always fine, aren’t you?” He scooped his hands back into the water and held them out to Martin, who steadied his wrist and then sipped a little gingerly.

Not meeting his gaze, Martin said: “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Look, I know I could have handled things differently. I should have followed up after… It was just difficult for me to deal with going through that again but you closed me out, too.”

Martin said: “Do we have to do this? You know I’m sorry. We both know I screwed up. I can’t undo what I did.”

“I know. I’m not…” Danny wiped his hands on his wet pants, vainly wishing for his right sock. “No, we don’t have to do this.” He didn’t know how to tell him that he wasn’t angry with him about that any more. He was proud of him for getting help. He was angry with himself for not having worked it out earlier, for not having picked up on the signs until it was too late. As far as he was concerned it was all in the past; he just found his temper getting frayed when Martin put himself in danger or didn’t admit that he needed help. He put his arm around Martin again, getting them both into a position where they could do this, step by step, him taking some of Martin’s weight and keeping him on his feet.

“Your teeth are chattering,” Martin said.

“So are yours.”

They stumbled wearily along beside the stream. At least the terrain was relatively level here, and when they wandered dazedly off track the shock of the freezing water splashing over their feet reminded them to lurch back in the right direction. Danny wondered how long the human body could take being this cold. He could barely feel his feet or his hands and his forehead was aching with the chill of snow that had numbed it. Martin was stumbling along with his eyes closed, Danny having to take more and more of his weight.

“Stay awake,” Danny told him and felt Martin jolt against him.

“I’m awake.”

“Right. You’re awake, and you’re fine. You’re always fine. All the shit we see every day and nearly dying and being in pain for all that time, you’d think that would take a toll, but, hey, Martin, it’s lucky you’re Superman and don’t need help like the rest of us.”

“I didn’t shut you out. I shut me in,” Martin said softly. “I couldn’t do my job without the pills and I knew none of you would let me keep taking the pills if you knew about them; so I either had to stop doing my job or stop taking the pills, and I couldn’t imagine a life without this job. And then I couldn’t function without them and the only way to feel even slightly like myself was if I took a handful of Vicodin first.”

The silence was a fall of snow between them, as Martin realized he had spoken those words aloud, after all, and Danny felt it hit him with renewed force, the pit Martin had gotten himself into. He knew Martin would never have said any of that out loud if he hadn’t been concussed and exhausted and light-headed with pain.

“You have a best friend who’s an alcoholic and you can’t come to him and tell him you’re drowning and you need a hand?”

Martin glanced up at him in surprise. “That’s nice.”

“What?”

“The whole ‘best friend’ thing, because I thought one had to stop doing that after Fourth Grade.”

“Now the alien conspiracy geek is telling me what’s cool? I don’t think so.” But Danny pulled him in a little closer all the same. It scared him sometimes how much he cared about the rest of the team, and he was used to caring passionately about the people he loved; used to treasuring them because a twist of a car wheel and they could be gone like that; but it must scare Martin so much more.

“No, seriously, does this mean we have to make each other friendship bracelets and always sit together at lunch?”

“You’re cute when you’re concussed, you know that?”

They stumbled on a little further, still veering drunkenly into the stream and then splashing out from time to time. Danny was afraid that Martin was going to drift off again but the man surprised him by saying: “It had to be something in the call from Jack that set Ryan off. And he definitely recognized the guy in the photograph.”

Danny was equally grateful for a chance to act like an FBI agent. “Jack told him his brother-in-law had faked his own death so chances are the guy in the photograph is Nathan Gallagher. And I was asking Ryan about him when he knocked me out.”

“So, why does a guy go off the deep end because his wife’s criminal brother is scamming her into seeing him?”

“He doesn’t.” Danny thought about who Ryan was, the way he was. His eyes widened. “Martin, if he did what he did to you for giving him some lip, what the hell did he do to a rude, morose teenager who had been running wild for years and was fresh out of Juvie?”

Martin shivered in his grip. “Nothing good, I would think. Except – why would Mary stay with him if he was treating her brother like that?”

“Maybe she was frightened? Maybe she didn’t know that it wasn’t something she had to put up with. Her father beat her mother, he beat her and her brother. Sometimes it can take a while before you realize you deserve something better, when something shitty is all you’ve known.”

Danny kept turning over in his head the conversations they had with Ryan. “Maybe he doesn’t hit women, or girls, or children. He said ‘young men’ needed to learn discipline, nothing about women. Maybe he wasn’t pissed with Mary for going to see her brother. Maybe he was pissed with Nathan for outsmarting him and escaping. Maybe it was Nathan who broke Ryan’s ‘rules’ when he got away.”

Martin pressed a hand to his head and Danny saw that the blood had seeped through the Band Aid. Martin wiped off his hand absently, stumbled in the snow and then struggled on. “Nathan Gallagher was only seventeen when he came out of Juvenile Hall. He was technically a minor.”

“I think Ryan would still think he was old enough to have the crap kicked out of him. Nothing else explains that miraculous character transformation. That kid was into drink and drugs and had a whole load of attitude inherited from his abusive father. One day the kid is a hopeless case, the next he’s the best-behaved boy in the class. And now we’ve met Ryan, I don’t think he made that happen with a good talking to and a reward system.”

“Would you stay with a man who did that to your brother?”

Danny found there was abruptly no air in his lungs. Papi was a bastard. And he was a mean drunk. And I spent ten years between his fist and your pretty face. He remembered it all now – those few words from Rafael enough to bring it all back – and yet, even remembering it, he still loved his father, still missed him, still felt guilty for his part in the crash that had caused his death.

He had to take a moment to catch his breath before he managed quietly: “What if you loved them both? What if she loved Ryan and he kept telling her that if her brother just did what he was told then he wouldn’t need to hit him any more? Maybe she just used to beg her brother to obey Ryan so he wouldn’t get mad. Maybe anyone living in the house started to think that Ryan had a right to set the rules the way he did and knew if the rules got broken then there was going to be a punishment. Maybe it just became the only reality they knew.”

He turned to find Martin gazing at him with way too much sympathy in those expressive blue eyes of his, although he quietly persisted: “I still don’t know why she’d stay.”

“She had no money of her own and she can’t drive.”

“She could pick up the phone.”

“And tell the cops what? That she – the daughter of the guy who did six years for killing the deputy sheriff’s daughter – wanted to report that Ryan – the pillar of the community and sixth generation all round good guy – was hitting her drunken, drug-addicted, juvenile delinquent brother? They’d probably think it was tough love and just give Ryan a warning, and then they’d be left alone in the house with him.”

Martin looked as if he was finally getting it. He shivered. “But – you couldn’t just stay, could you…? How could you just stay…?”

“You said it yourself, Martin, he’s done this before. There must have been someone he practiced on because what Ryan did to you – that was just to soften you up. He hadn’t even gotten started on you. That’s what torturers do. You beat the crap out of someone and then you leave them tied up in the cold until their muscles are screaming and every bruise is throbbing, and then you beat them again, and then you leave them for even longer so they can think about you coming back and starting all over again. And then you do something even worse to them that they weren’t expecting. So by the fourth time you walk in there, they’re hurting so badly and they’re so scared of what you’re going to do next that they’ll agree to anything.”

Martin looked as if a lot of things were finally clicking into place for him. “He told me he still kept a cattle prod for special occasions.”

Danny sighed. “You told him where he could shove it, didn’t you?”

Martin acknowledged his insight with an apologetic grimace.

“Yeah, don’t do that next time. But Ryan was used to negotiating, too. With me, I mean. He was going to bring you back in sometime during the night so I could see exactly what he’d done to you and then he was going to make me watch him do something even worse. He wanted me really scared of what he was going to do to you next before we actually came to terms. I was trying to make a deal with him when he came back in the first time but from Ryan’s point of view, it was too soon. He wanted to be the one who set when and where and what I had to give him to make him stop hurting you.”

Martin darted him a searching look. “What were you offering him?”

“The point is that he’s done this before. Maybe he negotiated with Mary. Maybe he never needed to lay a finger on her because her brother was the one who took the beatings if she didn’t do exactly what Ryan said.”

“Danny, if that’s really what happened…Nathan Gallagher was living in Ryan’s house for five years.” Martin looked as sick as Danny felt.

Danny whistled through his teeth. “That poor kid. Left alone with that guy in the middle of nowhere? I would have faked my own death after five days.”

***

Standing in the office of the local sheriff, while the wind rattled the windows like an insane asylum inmate after the Haloperidol had run out, Jack Malone could feel his patience fraying like torn silk. He had two lawmen, both very unhappy about being bothered at this time of night, smirking at him as if he were an anxious parent whose kids were two minutes late home from Little League practice, and at the same time his gut was telling him that he had every reason to be worried. As the snow battered the windows and the wind whined down the chimney, Sheriff Cooper glanced across at his deputy with an eye roll that suggested he thought that the FBI were once again indulging their paranoia all over his town.

“You said yourself that you heard from your agents after they reached Ryan’s place. There’s a blizzard, in case you haven’t noticed. A few of the phones are out. Why would you think any harm’s come to them?”

“There could have been an accident.”

“In Ryan’s kitchen? Your agents don’t know not to run with scissors?”

“They weren’t getting along too well with Mr. Ryan when last I spoke to him.”

Cooper snorted. “Well, I think we both know who’s to thank for that. You didn’t give him too many reasons to like you guys last time, did you?” Seeing Jack’s expression, he rolled his eyes. “Just relax, Malone. Even if they were getting under Ryan’s skin like ticks, he’d still let them sleep in his barn. Are you worried Bigfoot’s got them – cause I’m thinking we’re a little too far east for that?”

“I haven’t been able to contact my agents for nearly three hours. When I last spoke to them, Ryan had physically threatened one of them. And I now hear from my agents in Indemnity that Ryan has already murdered one man. Now tell me again why I have nothing to worry about?”

He saw Cooper’s certainties waver a little, like drapes flicked by a sudden chill breeze. “Murder?”

“He killed his father-in-law, Sheriff Cooper. There was a witness who helped him cover up the crime – a reliable witness who was, at the time, deputy sheriff of Indemnity. I’m not denying Ryan had cause, and for all I know he rid the world of a serial killer, but he’s still a murderer, and my agents don’t switch off their cell phones when they’re working a case.”

The clock on the wall ticked its way around circle of numbers as Cooper thought the matter over. He rose to his feet. “Are you expecting me to arrest Ryan for this murder he supposedly committed?”

“I think he needs to be taken in for questioning. Last time I checked, someone being a drunken scumbag didn’t mean it was okay to cave his head in with a crowbar even if he did beat and possibly rape his own children. I think it could get plea bargained down from murder one by a first year law student and there’s not going to be a lot of sympathy for the victim, but it’s still a crime, and according to a reliable eye witness Ryan still committed it. So, for the last time, how are you going to get me up that mountain?”

“I can’t.” Cooper gazed up at him with concern in his eyes as well as the exasperation. “Ryan could be the Hillside Strangler, it still doesn’t make that road safe in this weather. You can’t send a chopper up until the wind drops and I wouldn’t risk a car either.”

Jack had already been told that about the chopper, of course, after he’d called it in and been told that on this occasion his best bet was the local law enforcement who would know the terrain and understand the safest approach in the current conditions. But being told it again didn’t mean that he enjoyed hearing it any better.

The deputy said: “The snow’s supposed to let up in a few hours. Come morning, they say it’ll be clear. I could take you up then.”

Cooper added: “Agent Malone, I want to help you, but I can’t make it stop snowing and you know yourself that track isn’t safe in these kind of conditions. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get Jarvis to brew up some coffee….”

Unwillingly, Jack sat. He did not want to concede that he had to wait this out but he knew they had a point. If he were honest, his fear was that Danny or Martin’s questioning had led Ryan to think they knew more than they did, and he had taken them prisoner. He doubted Ryan would hurt them, but he might have grabbed one of their guns and be holding them hostage while he decided what to do. The last thing he needed was another Barry Mashburn dilemma developing. But that might explain why they had been forced to switch off their cell phones. He just hoped that if they were in that situation they were showing sense enough to sit tight and not try to wrest the gun from his hand; the last thing he needed right now was another agent getting shot. Sam had more than used up her right to scare the hell out of him, almost bleeding to death in that bookstore and then getting grabbed and beaten after her cover was blown; Martin had used up a five year allowance of acceptable stress in ten seconds of gun battle; Viv was lucky he even let her out of the office after that scare over her heart; and Danny had ridden his last nerve for weeks after Martin’s shooting, doing his damnedest to get himself killed through a series of reckless stunts that had taken years off Jack’s life.

Cooper put the hot coffee down in front of him. “Here you go.”

“Thank you.” Jack sipped it and winced at its blistering heat.

“You know, Ryan’s a good man.” Cooper sat down next to him. “He may not like you G-men coming in and asking him a bunch of questions he doesn’t want to answer, but he’s a good husband and a loving father. Your boys should be safe enough.”

That was the second time Cooper had called Danny and Martin ‘boys’. Jack called them that himself sometimes but it was an odd thing for someone to call them who had never met them. Jack narrowed his eyes. “Have you spoken to Ryan this evening?”

There was an uncomfortable pause before Cooper shrugged. “He called me a few hours ago. Said you’d sent him a couple of college boys to question him.”

“When exactly?”

Cooper glanced at his watch. “Two hours ago, maybe.”

“Called you from his landline or his cell?”

“His cell phone. Said the line must be down again.”

“And you were going to tell me this when exactly?” Jack rose to his feet again. “Stop screwing me around, Cooper, and tell me what he told you – and I mean word for word.”

“It was nothing. He was kidding around – saying those agents you sent seemed to think they were all grown up just because some idiot had given them a gun and a badge. He said the line was down and that if you started fussing to let you know they were okay. Then he said they were talking about driving down in the dark – but he promised me he would talk them out of it.”

Jack felt anger stirring in his guts; the coffee really hadn’t helped, turning the rage tar black and bitter. “Ryan calls you up for no reason other than to talk about my agents and here was me worrying about them. Don’t I feel silly?”

“He was just a little exasperated – wanted to talk. He mostly asked me about Mary – if I’d heard anything about her, if I could put out my own feelers because he didn’t trust the FBI. Said he was worried about her, being out in this weather and that he hoped she was somewhere warm. All he said about your agents was that they were annoying and too dumb to know how dangerous it was driving in the snow.”

Jack stabbed a finger at the phone. “Call the phone company, now. I want confirmation the line is down.” As the deputy scurried to do as he asked, Jack held Cooper’s gaze. “Don’t withhold information from me ever again.”

“I told you, it was nothing.”

“And I’m telling you he had a reason for calling you. When he called you was it from inside the house or outside?”

“Outside.”

“Did you ask him why he was out there?”

“He said he was getting more wood for the stove.”

“What time was it exactly?”

“Nine-thirty-one. I checked it at the time.”

The silence hung there for a moment, heavy as wet washing on a line, and then Cooper said abruptly: “Agent Malone, this is a nice town. We’ve got people who rely on each other, they live a long way from the nearest doctor, the nearest hospital, the nearest grocery store; you live in a place like this you get to know who your neighbors are, and I know Frank Ryan, and I don’t know what your beef with him is, but he’s a good man. He loves his wife and he loved that little girl of his. Whatever he did back in Indemnity, I reckon he had a good reason.” He held Jack’s gaze. “Did he have a good reason?”

“Yes,” Jack conceded. “He did.”

“You come in here, throwing accusations around, and I have to tell you, I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you except that you’re the FBI agent who never found Margaret even though he said he would.”

“I haven’t finished looking yet,” Jack said quietly. “But I take your point. But that doesn’t alter the fact that Frank Ryan once killed a man and I’ve lost touch with my agents, who were last heard from in his company, so I’m a little concerned, especially as when I spoke to Ryan, he didn’t sound any too good tempered.”

“We’ll take you up at first light.” Cooper reached across and refilled Jack’s coffee mug, his gaze still guarded under light lashes, the lamp light picking up the lines beneath his eyes, like bird tracks in the sand, and glinting on the silver in his hair. “We don’t want to get in the way of your search for Mary or Margaret or your agents. We’ll help you in any way we can, but I know Frank.”

Jack took a sip of the coffee, letting the bitterness wash over his tongue this time. “Maybe you don’t know him as well as you think, Sheriff. But I’m hoping you’re right and I’m wrong. I really am. But I want you to know that…”

His phone cut through their conversation and he flicked it open. “Malone.”

“Jack, it’s Vivian. I think we can fill in a few blanks for you…”

As the new information poured into his ear, he could see the picture in his head adjusting, like a jigsaw puzzle with new pieces filled in, suddenly the sky was the sea and the cloud formation the white spume of a wave. Everything was clearer; everything was subtly different.

“And this teacher – she’s adamant that it was Mary’s idea for Nathan to fake his own death and disappear?”

“Absolutely adamant.”

“I’m not getting that. If Jake Gallagher was the problem and Jake Gallagher was dead then why did Nathan need to run away? Stapleton was sure he was dead?”

“No question, Jack. He checked for a pulse several times and the body wasn’t disfigured by the crash. They had an open casket. Gallagher senior definitely died that night.”

“Did the killings stop after Gallagher’s death?”

“According to Sheriff Bennett they’d already stopped by then. The last one happened six years before Gallagher died.”

“Okay, let’s forget the serial killings for a minute. Let’s go through what we know about Clare Hope again.”

As Viv reiterated it quietly, how Sam had tracked down the midwife who had delivered the baby and spoken to her over the phone, how she had described Clare and her husband – whom she had identified from a photograph as ‘Ethan Hope’ – as ‘ecstatic’ about the birth of their daughter; how they had been a ‘normal, happy, healthy couple’ who showed no signs of being on drugs, Jack was still fitting things together in his head. “Okay – back up. When exactly was Clare and Nathan’s daughter born?”

“I’ve got a copy of the birth certificate here – it’s just been faxed through to me. She was born on…” Viv broke off.

“What?” Jack demanded.

“Jack, baby Charlotte was born three weeks before Margaret went missing.”

Jack remembered that conversation with Danny. “Margaret’s best friend at school said that just before Margaret went missing she was talking about buying presents for a baby.”

“This could be a lot less sinister than we thought, Jack,” Viv put in. “Supposing Nathan is doing that new father thing…”

“Where you accost complete strangers and people you haven’t seen in a decade and force them to admire pictures of your baby?” Jack smiled. “I remember it well.”

“No one was safe from Marcus when Reggie was born. I swear he used to ride elevators just to find new victims. Maybe Nathan’s the same and wants to share this experience with his sister. So he makes contact, she calls him back. They arrange a secret meeting so that Margaret can meet her uncle and see the baby, but something goes wrong. And Mary didn’t tell Ryan that their daughter had been with her brother because she didn’t want to let him know that Nathan was still alive.”

“Yeah, everything else I get, it’s Nathan playing dead that I don’t understand. Ryan’s an asshole but there’s no reason to suppose he would still have a problem with Nathan seeing Clare. She’s not an addict any more, they’re married, they have a child. Even the AFA should be okay with their lifestyle these days.”

“I don’t get that either. Or why Nathan didn’t bring Margaret back. I’d assume he found some evidence that she was being abused, except that Ryan passed that polygraph. Unless Mary…”

Jack thought of Mary, trying in his mind to imagine her striking out, erupting into a sudden fit of temper, but he couldn’t envisage it with any conviction. “The teacher didn’t know why Nathan left? She didn’t know what the problem was?”

“No. She told Nathan he should let his sister know that he was alive and well and he told her that Mary knew, that Mary had always known, that it was her idea for him to leave. But when she asked him why he’d done that, he just said he wanted to be with Clare, and Ryan wouldn’t like it. He did say he hadn’t done anything wrong.”

“And that was when he and Clare told her that they’d given that poor bastard whose corpse they’d used the last rites?”

“Yes. Eileen Walker said that when they told her about that, they both cried.”

He could see the scene of them with the corpse in his mind’s eye, the two skinny ex-addicts, barely into adulthood themselves, sobbing as they disinterred the shriveled remnants of a life ended so cruelly, gagging as they carried it to the car, speaking words of half-remembered rituals, a confused solemnity, vocabulary inadequate for the occasion. He wondered if they woke up in the dark sometimes with their hearts pounding in their chests, still remembering the feel of his dead skin against theirs, the stink of him, the tragedy of him; the one they had doomed to be forever nameless.

“Jack…?”

Vivian’s voice recalling him to the present and reminding him how very tired he was at the same time. “Have you run Ethan Hope through the system?”

“We’ve got his social security number. It was issued three months after Nathan Gallagher supposedly died. He gives Garrett Davidson’s address and on his DMV records he owns a dark blue sedan, like the one the girls thought they saw him driving when Margaret gave him directions. I’m sending you through his DMV photograph.”

It flashed through on his cell phone and he gazed at it, so unexpectedly clear, no longer a blurry black and white, but with color and texture and detail. He could see the connection to Margaret, although Nathan’s dark eyes were blue instead of brown, but more than that he could see another unexpected similarity. “Well, what do you know, a poor white trash Martin. I think Danny owes that schoolgirl an apology.”

“If Mary ran away willingly – even if Ryan gave her no cause – then I think Davidson would hide her, and Margaret.”

“I think you’re right. But we still need to find them, even if they’re missing by choice. We need to know that Margaret hasn’t been abused by anyone. Do you want me to get a team assembled?”

“No, Jack, we don’t want a hostage situation. I think it makes more sense if Sam and I go and knock on the door and ask a few questions, get a sense of how the land lies. We don’t want to spook Davidson or to push Gallagher into doing anything stupid. And two women may seem less threatening.”

“Okay, but if you need any back up – you’ve got it, and don’t take any risks. None.”

“We promise.”

He could hear the amusement in Viv’s voice and couldn’t help smiling. “Hey, I’ve got two agents not answering their phones right now. You need to cut me a little slack.”

“Call us as soon as you get in touch with those two,” Viv warned.

“Will do.” He ended the call and looked at the expectant Cooper. “It seems likely that Mary wasn’t kidnapped. We think she arranged for her brother to pick her up from the hospital in Honesdale. We think she may have arranged for him to collect her daughter four years ago as well. That’s the brother who faked his own death to get away because Ryan wouldn’t let him date.” As Cooper looked astonished, Jack held his gaze: “Still think you know Frank Ryan?”

***
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