elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (DM_MartinIcon)
[personal profile] elgrey

Martin jolted awake to find that he was shivering with cold in thick undergrowth beneath an overhanging fir. Every muscle was aching, the air smelt of bracken and earth, and the snow was still falling – although the flakes had thinned a little, riding gusts of wind in spits instead of the purposeful downfall of before. His head was still pounding but the urge to vomit had worn off, and, while breathing hurt, the pain in his kidneys had faded from a sharp stab to a dull ache. Turning his head stiffly he found that he was curled up against Danny, who had drifted asleep, that warmth against his cheek from Danny’s body heat, that warmth across his back, Danny’s arm around him. Even in his sleep, Danny was shivering and, when Martin reached across, his skin felt icy and his shirt was chilled and wet.

Wriggling out of the coat he was wearing was painful and made a more difficult process because he was trying not to disturb the sleeping man, but finally he was out of its folds and could drape it over Danny. It was warm from his body and Danny nestled into it gratefully without waking up. Martin blew on his hands to warm them, his breath misting the air, and then let the sleeves of Ryan’s sweater cover his fingers again, wrapping his arms around himself to try to keep some of the cold out. At present it was difficult to imagine ever being warm or not in pain again.

He was still trying to make sense of what had happened and what it meant for this case. Ryan’s anger had been not only so violent but so practiced. He had beaten Martin with controlled rage, giving an impression of being entirely in the grip of fury and yet…and yet people had been beaten to death by men a lot less powerful than Ryan in a fraction of the time that Ryan had taken to batter him. Since starting to work for the FBI he had seen far too many rape victims who had sustained broken bones and horrendous contusions from scuffles lasting for only for a few minutes, and Ryan had been punching him out for at least twenty minutes, possibly half an hour. He should have been pissing and coughing blood by now and yet Martin was almost certain that apart from his cracked ribs that he really was just bruised. How did a man get so much practice at knowing how to judge his punches so perfectly?

Jack had been justified in assuming that Ryan was a wife beater; Martin would have thought it too, except Ryan had passed the polygraph, so perhaps he really didn’t hit women, but the effort involved in not doing so was so colossal that he had to find an outlet for his frustrations elsewhere. Martin certainly felt as if he had walked into the middle of something that had been building for a while. Something he intended to point out to Jack when the man was snatching a breath in between yelling at him. Ryan was all about the rules, so presumably he had to stick to them, too, and if not hitting women was one of them then Mary and her daughter had been safe from actual physical abuse, although Martin suspected they had been subjected to all manner of regulation by other means. Presumably Mary and any number of daughters would be safe from actual physical harm but perhaps that safety would not be extended to a son. And Mary’s next child was going to be a son.

Martin shivered and rubbed his arms as vigorously as he could bear with the bruises marking them. Difficult to escape while eight and a half months pregnant but almost impossible to escape with a newborn baby; and the stress of living out of motels as she fled could increase her infant son’s chances of succumbing to SID. So, he understood why she had taken this chance to get away from her husband, and, with his ribs aching in time to every breath, he understood why Nathan Gallagher had faked his own death – and, ironically, Indemnity was one of the few places in the States where one might easily stumble upon the convenient corpse of a dead twenty-something male without the need for murder – and he understood why Mary had contacted the only people she could think who might understand her need to flee, and had chosen the company of a crack addicted ex-prostitute over that of her respectable loving husband. What he still didn’t understand was why Mary had stayed when her brother had left all those years ago. Even if she had been in love with her husband, he didn’t think he could forgive her for staying and allowing her daughter to grow up under the shadow of Ryan’s instability.

Thinking of Nathan Gallagher, he wondered realistically how long it was possible to maintain one’s defiance when in this much pain; when there was no chance of rescue, no end in sight, just the immovable authority of Ryan’s will. He was a trained FBI agent, and he had plenty of practice at dealing with living with pain; he could take a lot and suck it up and keep going – it came with the territory; but he hurt in so many places right now, the hiss and sting of cuts and the dull numbing ache of bruise after bruise, and he wasn’t a scared teenage boy who had been down this road too many times before. In the middle of nowhere, with no help coming, how long could even someone with a childhood of abuse and who had spent a year in Juvenile Hall keep telling a guy twice his size to go screw himself before everything except giving in an accepting Ryan’s authority just hurt too much to bear? Martin thought he could probably stick it out for a few days at the most. And that was if there was no one else around for Ryan to threaten. If the guy held a gun to the head of someone he loved, he would probably do any damned thing he wanted in thirty seconds. He could see Nathan now, getting up off the floor, holding his ribs, with the blood running down his face, saying he was sorry, saying he wouldn’t do it again, eyes averted the way Ryan wanted, shoulders slumped, defeated and full of self-loathing, but even this better than another beating. Maybe Ryan had told himself he was doing this for Nathan’s own good; a short sharp shock to make him accept Ryan’s authority so absolutely that there was no question of any rebellion taking him back to drugs and drink and stealing cars. He could believe the man who had been so righteously indignant in between smacking him around, clearly of the opinion that Martin had brought this on himself, had convinced himself that he really had no choice other than to beat his brother in law into submission.

The person he couldn’t get in focus was Mary. What was she doing while her husband was beating her brother? Was she watching? Was she crying somewhere in another room? Why wasn’t she waiting with an axe in her hand the way Samantha or Viv would have been if anyone had done that to him or Danny, never mind, a blood relative? Except Mary was a churchgoer, he remembered that; considered reasonably devout. Perhaps she believed in ‘thou shalt not kill’ but why did she believe in ‘thou shalt not report your abusive spouse to the police for beating on your brother’ too, because last time he’d checked that hadn’t featured as one of the Ten Commandments. Because no one would believe her. Danny had spelled that out for him and Danny probably knew better than him what the police did or did not believe in those circumstances.

Martin squinted at his watch and saw that they had been asleep for nearly three hours. Three hours closer to Ryan being able to follow their tracks, but perhaps also three hours closer to Jack coming looking for them. Jack had never been the over-protective type, no doubt he would have argued that he had hand-picked a team he trusted to get on with the job without him looking over their shoulders, and certainly on the occasions when they had proven unworthy of that trust he had been happy to hand them their heads with their ears still ringing, but just because he was the hands-off sort of boss didn’t mean that their health and safety wasn’t important to him. He had told them he would call back in an hour, and Martin doubted he had given a casual shrug and headed off to bed when he had done so and found their cell phones were switched off. Of course, if it was possible to check the location of cell phones as shattered as theirs now were, then that was going to tell Jack they were in Ryan’s kitchen, but he doubted that would allay Jack’s fears for long.


Turning his head, Martin saw that Danny was awake. He looked as rough as Martin felt, half-frozen and shivering, unshaven, and with shadows under his eyes from the cold, stubble all over his jaw, and cuts and bruises marking his face from his collision with the slope and then the tree, but his expression was concerned. “You okay?”

Martin half-smiled, acknowledging that his answer was annoying even before he made it. “Fine.”

Danny pointed a finger at him. “That’s going on your tombstone. ‘Here Lies Martin Fitzgerald. Still Fine.’”

“Hey, works for me.”

Danny looked down at the coat draped over him and Martin gave him his most determined ‘want to make something of it?’ look in return. “You’re a pain in the ass, Fitzie,” Danny told him.

Martin held his gaze. “I’m not wearing that coat, so don’t even think about it.”

Either Danny was too cold to fight or could see that Martin was immovable on this because he pulled the coat on and Martin thought he saw him shiver with the relief as it covered his chilled back.

They climbed to their feet stiffly, Martin trying to conceal how much that hurt, although not with much success, going by the way Danny steadied him as if he were made of porcelain. “Can you make this?” Danny asked gently.

“Sure.” Martin nevertheless kept hold of him as he snatched another necessary breath. “We must have covered five miles last night, mustn’t we?”

“Easily.” Danny nodded upstream, still holding him up. “Even limping, it can’t take long before we find the campsite, and even if no one except you and me was dumb enough to get themselves caught in a blizzard, there’s a good chance a ranger will be along to check, although I imagine he’ll want to have some fun at our expense about us getting lost in the snow like Hansel and Gretel.”

“If he’s got a thermos of hot coffee with him he can call us anything he likes. Well, maybe not ‘Gretel’.”

“Coffee, nothing. He’s bound to have food with him, too.” Danny gently looped an arm around Martin’s back. “Hot unhealthy food with melted cheese on it.”

“You had me with ‘food’,” Martin assured him. “I’d arm wrestle a grizzly for some apple sauce right now.”

They scrambled out from under the shelter of the fir and the wind was a lash that shivered through them both. Danny tightened his grip on him. “Sure you’re okay?”

“Peachy.” Martin half-smiled at Danny’s eye roll. “Well, stop asking me stupid questions and I’ll stop giving you wise ass answers.” Walking hurt, every muscle had stiffened up and was chilled with cold, his legs seemed to have seized up and Danny seemed to be little better off, the pair of them lurching along like wannabe Igors. “They don’t put this on the recruitment posters, do they?”

“What?” Danny caught him as he wavered, steering him back from the stream.

“That sometimes being an FBI agent really sucks.”

“And the best part is that this isn’t even as bad as it gets.”

Martin darted him a sideways look, really hoping that Danny was joking. “It gets worse than this?”

“We still have the whole ‘explaining what happened to Jack’ part to get through, remember?”

The wind chill factor seemed to increase and Martin shivered in a way that wasn’t all theatrics. “It’s not completely our fault. He could have warned us that Ryan was a total nutbar.”

Danny looked amused. “That’s the line you’re going to take?”

“What line were you thinking of?”

“Unconditional apology. Possibly some groveling.”

“I don’t think we did anything wrong.” Martin felt stung by the injustice of it. Ever since they had stepped across the threshold Ryan had been looking for a fight. Whatever they did, whatever they said, he had a feeling that the first people Ryan could legitimately perceive as enemies who in any way added to his stress over his wife’s disappearance – were going to get it in the neck. He and Danny had just been there at the wrong time and in the wrong place to suffer for Mary’s deception.

The sigh from Danny still seemed slightly amused and slightly weary. “You don’t get it, do you? The second Jack sees the state of your face he’s going to explode like a nail bomb after ignition.”

“Well, do you think he might direct some of that anger at the guy who took us prisoner rather then me?”

“Oh, he won’t be happy with Ryan either, but he is going to be so pissed with you he’ll probably perforate your eardrums. Do you remember what he was like when you got your head cracked by that baseball bat?”

Vividly, Martin thought. Sometimes he thought his ears were still burning from the tongue-lashing he had received, being publicly berated by a man he had hoped to impress while feeling sick from a concussion had that effect. “I still think he overreacted.”

“Jack nearly has to call the Deputy Director of the FBI to tell him that he’s let his son get killed the first day on the job. How would you feel if you had to take care of your boss’s kid and he immediately started playing in traffic?”

“But I didn’t break protocol this time.” On some level he knew Danny wasn’t goading him for fun, as in the good old days of their first meetings, but to keep his mind off the cold and the wind and the pain of his stiff muscles and aching bruises. And it was working. But nevertheless he still felt indignant. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Danny shrugged. “See, if it had just been you there you could maybe have gotten away with that argument, but I was there, too, and I don’t have a scratch on me.”

It would have been funny on another day, possibly, but given that Danny looked as if he had been not just dragged through a hedge backwards but as if someone had made determined efforts to shred him like an incriminating document, it really wasn’t. “Danny, Ryan knocked you unconscious then punched you in the face before you slid thirty feet down a rocky slope and slammed into a tree. Most people look better than you after they’re dead.”

Realization evidently hit even as Danny had his mouth open to protest. He reached up and felt the needles in his hair and then seemed to become aware of the scrape on his face, the bruise on his forehead. “Damnit to hell!”

“If I get yelled at, so do you,” Martin told him smugly. Childishly, that made him feel better than almost anything that had happened so far.

They trudged on through glittering snow and past trees that groaned and rustled ominously with each gust of the bitter wind. Martin thought he should be used to the pain by now, that it should have numbed down into something he could accept, but each breath was a stab, sharp and new and always surprising. He could feel himself reaching for energy he didn’t have, expecting his body to produce strength from somewhere, and could feel it laboring, wavering, shaking with the effort demanded. It annoyed him intensely to discover that his body was letting him down again. All those years of keeping fit, of training and running, of sit ups and visits to the gym and it had still taken agonizing effort to get back to full fitness after those bullets had so nearly claimed his life. Such a long, slow, painful crawl back to feeling like himself again, with every moment of weakness having to be lived out in the gaze of anxious observers. He had spent so many weeks shaking off offered assistance, telling people crossly that, no, he didn’t need the door held open for him, that, yes, he could manage the stairs, that their help was unnecessary and unwelcome, until they had all taken a step back and learned to let him do it himself. What he wanted now was what he had wanted then – to feel like an FBI agent and not a victim.

“Let’s go through it again. We should be able to solve this thing by now. Mary wasn’t kidnapped, I’m sure of that now. She got away from Ryan, and her brother and her brother’s girlfriend helped her. For all we know they got Margaret away as well.”

Danny was quick to join in. “Mary hears her baby is a boy. Did we decide if that was relevant or not?”

“Well, Ryan didn’t hit women or children, according to his polygraph, but he had no trouble hitting us, so I’m guessing…yes. Although, she could have jumped the gun a little if he wouldn’t start hitting a boy until he was out of being a child and classified as an adult.”

“No, wait, that’s not it…Ryan said something to Jack – when he was on the phone, do you remember? Something about boys taking after their fathers…?”

Martin remembered not only hearing it but wincing from it, images of his own father and his occasional replication of his faults stinging him uncomfortably, not to mention all those meetings with other men in expensive suits with high-powered jobs, eyeing Martin as an extension of Victor Fitzgerald and congratulating his father on how closely he resembled him. “He said: ‘We are what our fathers make us.’.”

“That’s it. That’s why Mary had to go once she knew she was having a son. Not because Ryan would have hurt him, but because Ryan would have raised him to be a chip off the old block. She didn’t want her son turning out like his father.”

“So she contacts her brother and he comes to get her. Are we thinking Mary had her own daughter kidnapped?”

Danny shook his head. “Viv and Jack both said that Mary was desolate over the loss of Margaret. I think she just arranged for Margaret to meet her uncle or something.”

“Risky move, given the way Ryan reacted when he found out that Nathan was still alive. A lot to expect a seven year old to keep secret.”

“I expect Margaret and Mary had a lot of secrets from Ryan.” Danny shrugged. “That’s what happens in that kind of a household. You have to have the things you don’t share with the guy who controls you, even if you love him, he’s also the enemy, he’s the one you form alliances against, have all these maneuvers for keeping in a good mood. Margaret was probably an old hand by the time she was seven.”

Martin thought I don’t want to know how you know that, Danny, but I trust that you know it all the same. “Okay then, so Margaret was just supposed to meet Nathan. But we don’t know what was different, what made him contact Mary or made Mary agree for him to meet Margaret.”

“But something did. So they arrange the meeting and that’s all it’s meant to be – a meeting, but then Nathan doesn’t bring her back.”

The breath caught in his aching ribs again, like a tissue snagged on a twig, he remembered fists hitting him over and over, Ryan yanking his head back by the hair while the blood poured into his eye and the man snarled at him about obedience and respect. “Would you? If Nathan knew what Ryan was like – would you take a little girl back to him? Even if he never hurt her, even if he loved her, would you want her raised by him?”

“No. I’d keep her and I’d hope that it would give my sister the impetus to run away, too. And I’d tell her that if she ever changed her mind all she needed to do was call…and I’d rescue her somehow.”

And for the first time it felt as if they had them all in focus, those shadow puppets overwhelmed by Ryan’s vivid color. Nathan no longer a flake looking for a fix but a guy trying to save his sister from marriage to a monster; Clare solidifying in his mind’s eye from a girl with a needle in her arm to someone with determination enough to make happen the rescue of another woman in need, to save Margaret before she had to endure a childhood every bit as twisted as her own. “I think Margaret’s alive. And Mary’s in no danger.”

“Except from Ryan,” Danny pointed out. “We may have put her in danger the minute we showed Ryan that photograph of her brother meeting her outside the hospital. Maybe he isn’t following us, at all. Maybe he’s already on his way to Wisconsin to look for his wife.”

Martin had another kaleidoscope of Ryan’s fury in a closed space, winded from a punch to the guts and with his ears singing, the man raging at him as he landed blow after blow, all the anger he was feeling about his wife’s betrayal, her brother’s deception; and he suspected that all he’d felt was the tip of the iceberg. “We have to get to a phone. We have to warn Sam and Viv that Ryan could be coming their way. They need to get to Mary before he does, because I’m thinking that if Ryan works out that Mary has known where his daughter is for all this time and didn’t tell him, that he may change his mind about hitting women….”

It was what he needed. The pain and stiffness in his body, chilled nerve-deep by too much cold and too many bruises, all of it receded as he thought of a woman eight and a half months pregnant whose only defenders were a guy who Ryan had probably beaten into submission so many times before he would never believe himself capable of defeating him, and a woman who had been abused throughout her childhood. Then he thought of what Ryan had done to him, with such swift and merciless efficiency. The adrenaline spiked and for the first time since he had awoken, shivering, in the snow, he felt like an FBI agent again.

He found a smile for Danny, who was still watching him anxiously. “We can do this, Danny. It’s already getting light.”

Danny smiled back. “Which means Jack will be looking for us and – given what he does for a living – that’s a comforting thought.”


There was nothing about this picture that wasn’t wrong. Jack stood in the snow with his hands in his pockets and gazed through the starred window of the crashed Humvee. Ever since he had first seen the black metallic shine of the car in the midst of the white show and yelled at the Sheriff to stop the car, he had been trying to fit Danny and Martin into this scene. He had tried to imagine them jolting down that track in a darkness lit only by their headlights while the snow fell in a curtain of gray flakes and the wind buffeted them maliciously. Every time he tried it, they faded like ghosts, because they had never been here in the first place; of that he was almost certain.

Snow had fallen over where the skid marks should have been on the road thirty feet higher up this rocky slope, but the tree was still there and still down, and here was the jeep smashed into a tree and the smears of blood on the steering wheel. Textbook, except it wasn’t an accident scene, Jack had seen too many not to recognize one when he saw one, and this was set dressing.

“It seems to be pretty clear what happened,” the deputy offered. “The tree came down in the storm and your boys swerved to avoid it, the jeep went off the road, hit here and then…”

“And then what…?” Jack turned dark eyes upon him. “Why would they leave the jeep? It’s the best shelter around.”

“Maybe they thought it was going to blow up?”

“Why would it? The fuel line wasn’t damaged. It didn’t even hit the tree that hard. When it came down here it wasn’t going very fast, less than ten miles an hour – probably as fast as any vehicle would go with the impetus of its own weight down a slope that steep. And let’s not start on the tree that’s down across the road – which was cut with a chainsaw, not blown over by the wind.”

“Maybe someone was logging and the storm caught him unawares, so he took off and left the tree like that and then the wind finished off what he started?”

Jack didn’t bother trying to hide his disbelief. “Only an idiot would fell a tree where that one was standing.”

“Maybe it was a safety measure. Cutting it down before it fell? But the storm came and…”

“And this is all bullshit.” Jack gazed at the starred deception of the windshield, the blood. He had already ordered the helicopters and the team of FBI agents. Ironically, he had ended up calling Search and Rescue as well, but he didn’t believe that Danny and Martin had left Ryan’s house in the middle of a blizzard and driven down a track like this in the dark after he had expressly told them not to, not because of any provocation.

“There’s blood on the steering wheel.” Cooper looked grim, but he also looked as if this crime scene was bothering him too.

“I know. It’s not right either.” Jack had examined it carefully and the blood had dried in a clotted sticky lump; it looked more like someone had wiped it off on there to him.

“You don’t think you’re being a little paranoid?” Cooper asked.

Jack glanced at him. “I know what blood looks like on a steering wheel when you run into a stationary object and hit your head.” He could still recall it vividly from when he had done exactly the same thing and it hadn’t looked like that. He called into the office again, wanting an ETA for the helicopter he’d ordered.


He frowned in disbelief. “Elena?”

“Have you found them yet?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Sam talked to your neighbor yesterday. She said you had a temperature of a hundred and three. What the hell are you doing in the office at five in the morning?”

“I called Sam for an update. She said you’d lost contact with Danny and Martin. Just thought you may need someone here to coordinate things.”

“Go back to bed.”


Sighing, he thought about how good he would be at resting in bed and sipping soup while two colleagues were lost in the snow. “Who’s looking after your daughter?”

“My neighbor. She’s sleeping most of the day at the moment anyway. I’m more useful here. They said you’d found their car?”

“Yeah, wrapped around a tree, but I don’t think they were ever in the car. We’re just waiting for a logging crew to get up here and cut up the damned tree that supposedly ‘fell’ across the track so we can get past it and head up to Ryan’s. There’s a helicopter on the way but it’s not easy to find a place for it to land around here. Flat cleared areas are a little in short supply. As you’re there, can you chase up the ETA on…?”

“Forty five minutes. Do you want anything else?”

“A Saint Bernard might be an idea. Does the Search & Rescue team include a paramedic?”

“Of course. Two paramedics coming by helicopter.” She seemed surprised that he would need to ask. “I was very specific about what was needed and how I would personally be hunting them all down if they didn’t find Danny and Martin and bring them home safely. They are very motivated.”

Despite the knot of anxiety in his stomach, Jack couldn’t help a smirk breaking out at that. He could imagine that Elena had a good line in threats. “Good for you. What else did Samantha and Vivian say?”

“They’re still driving up to see Garrett Davidson.”

“Yeah, well, good luck to them with that guy. I’ve had more profitable conversations with vending machines.”

“What else can I do?”

“Wrap up warm, drink plenty of liquids, try not to infect anything I might touch with flu germs. I’ll be in touch.” He snapped off the phone and held Cooper’s gaze. “This is a set up and we’re supposed to waste a lot of time looking for my agents in the snow – time that we need to spend finding out where they really are.”

“They could be around here somewhere, concussed and disorientated,” the deputy protested, clearly thinking that Jack was a heartless bastard. A lot of people thought that about him and at times he almost wondered if they were right, but on this occasion the anxiety for his two agents was a rat gnaw in his intestine, and while his commonsense told him they were probably already dead, he had a siren going off in his instincts telling him they were still in danger and even a minute wasted here could be the difference between getting them back alive and being hollowed out with grief at their funerals.

“They’re not.” Jack began to clamber back up the slope, feeling the cold bite into his aching knees as he did so. “They’re where Ryan is or they’re already dead. But they’re not here.”

Cooper climbed up next to him with a lot more grace. “You’re putting a lot of faith in their obedience, Agent Malone.”

“They’re not particularly obedient.” Jack grabbed a branch and hauled himself up through a knee-deep drift. “They’re just not stupid. And no way would Danny either drive Martin down this track in the dark or let Martin drive down it.”

“What about Fitzgerald?”

Jack snorted. “Yeah, he’d drive down here in a blizzard with no headlamps if he was on the trail of something but, like I said, Danny would never have let him. When a guy has bled all over you before needing five hours in surgery, you tend to be a little twitchy about letting him put himself in a danger. Danny would risk his own life if Ryan got him really pissed but he’d never risk Martin’s.”

That seemed to get through to Cooper as nothing else had, or perhaps the man had already been having doubts. Either way he nodded. “Okay, how do you want to play this?”

“I need to get to Ryan’s. I think he may have taken them prisoner sometime last night and that’s why their cell phones were switched off. Now, either he’s stalling because he hasn’t made up his mind what he wants to do with them, or he’s already killed them and this was stage one of him covering his tracks.” Jack tried to keep his tone brisk but there was a waver in there he couldn’t entirely suppress.

“Even if he is this kidnapping crazy guy you’re describing – maybe they got away?” Cooper suggested. “Ryan’s not a professional criminal. He’s a farmer and they’re trained federal agents, right?”

“They would have called in the second they were able.” And although his instincts were still screaming at him not to waste a second, Jack could see it in his mind’s eye all too clearly – Danny and Martin lying in the snow with bright crimson stains around their heads, Ryan with a shovel in his hands, the edge of it dripping red.

The roar of an engine made them both turn around and he had never been so grateful to see a truck driven by a guy wearing a lumber jacket before. The man pulled up, nodded to Cooper, and then hauled out of the back seat a wicked looking chainsaw. When he pulled the cord and the blade began to whir, Jack thought he had never heard anything so much like music in his life.


Snowflakes had danced in their headlight beams all the way here; through darkness and the graying pre-dawn to the first rosy streaks of morning, Sam had driven through snow and slush and wind-whipped flurries while Vivian map read and wondered how anyone could drive in this weather at this speed. She was grateful to Elena for camping out in the office and taking their calls, letting them know everything that was being done to find Danny and Martin without them clogging up Jack’s cell phone. Even with her throat a hot croak of infection, Elena managed to sound efficient and positive.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Elena had said on the last call. “They’re big boys. They can take care of themselves, the weather’s clearing now and Jack is hoping to be at Ryan’s in a few minutes. You find Mary. We’ll find them.”

As Vivian closed her cell phone, she realized that she and Sam really were Mary’s best chance of being found now. Danny and Martin were missing people themselves and Jack was going to use every resource available to him to find them; she also doubted he had thoughts to spare for anything else right now, even Mary. The last thing Jack needed after the year that he’d had was two of his agents going astray. She really did hope for Danny and Martin’s sake that they hadn’t done anything reckless or stupid, or she suspected they were going to be flying desks for a very long time. Personally, she wouldn’t much care what they had done as long as they hadn’t gotten themselves killed, but Jack’s nerves were a lot more frayed than hers.

They jolted down a snow-softened track lined by a high hedge of firs, a screen between the road and the sprawling isolated farm buildings. This was the place which Garrett Davidson had inherited from his grandparents and immediately turned into a shelter for the dispossessed; he had planted those firs too, a living wall between the people he was protecting and the world that had done them harm. Vivian had liked Davidson a lot more than Jack had, but then Davidson had a lot more time for women than he did for forty-something men. As he had told Jack at the time, he spent most of his time trying to fix the damage done by men of Jack’s age. It occurred to her that Davidson and Sam should have a lot in common.

Sam switched off the engine before they reached the gap in the hedge and they rolled silently along the last few feet of track. As Vivian climbed stiffly out of the car, she could hear a rooster crowing. She glanced across at Sam. “You know there’s nothing natural about being able to drive at sixty miles per hour in this weather.”

As Sam began to dial the number for the office, Viv added gently: “They’ll call us if they hear anything.”

Sam stopped dialing, fingers poised. She was always pale but the shadows under her eyes had a delicate tinge of blue today. Vivian suspected she was hanging on by her fingernails, and, not for the first time, was glad that she had been in recovery herself when Martin had been undergoing those endless hours in surgery. That was a crisis she was in no way sorry to have missed. By the time she had been fully conscious and able to take in her surroundings, Dornvald had been dead and Martin sleeping under sedation, not feeling any pain and already out of danger. There was a tremor in Sam’s voice: “It was thirty degrees in the Catskills last night. If they were out in that blizzard….”

“Jack is going to find them, Sam. We need to focus on Mary now.”

“Ryan’s a murderer.”

“He killed a wife-beating child-battering rapist. Danny and Martin don’t exactly fit those categories. How are we going to play this?”

She saw Sam determinedly ignore the white noise of anxiety in her mind and focus. “Davidson knows you so we can either go in as federal agents, or I can go in undercover and see if I can get inside and take a look around.”

Viv grimaced. “I think we’re better playing it straight with Davidson. Tell him we’re not interested in making Mary go back to her husband if she doesn’t want to, we just need to know that she’s okay and we need to find out what happened to Margaret.”

“Okay.” Sam inclined her head, snatched another breath as she forced herself not to call Elena or Jack, and then followed Vivian into the farmyard.

The place, ironically, was very similar to the pictures of the farm where Ryan had once lived outside Indemnity. The house was large and square and would – before the planting of the firs – have been badly situated, too exposed to the east wind that would sweep in across the fields. There was a barn, a child’s drawing of a building, red corrugated iron, softened by the yellow straw within it, the edge of a green tractor. As she watched, red-brown chickens began to appear out of the shadows, clucking peevishly, a few of them venturing out of the open doors, their tracks narrow cuts in the snow, before scuttling back for the comfort of the barn.

There were several vehicles parked outside the house, most of them old, but all of them looking able to deal with the local terrain. Viv crossed over to examine the old blue sedan, feeling that familiar spark of excitement at some tangible connection to a missing person. The car was grubby inside, looking as if dogs had traveled in it and children spilled all manner of sticky things upon the seat covers, snagged hairs and dropped candy, remnants of journeys taken in comfortable chaos. On top of a slightly stained comforter on the back seat, there was a bent-looking copy of ‘Little House in the Big Woods’, and a grubby soft toy of indeterminate species that had once been pink but had been washed so many times that it was now more off-white.

Vivian knocked on the door, expecting to have a long wait before anyone answered. It was barely six in the morning, there was probably no one stirring. But then Sam said softly: “Viv…” and she turned to follow her gaze. Davidson was just coming from the barn to the house; he looked a little grayer at the temples but apart from that he was just the same, a solid bulk of conviction in an old overcoat. He was holding the hand of a girl of ten or eleven. She was carrying a basket of eggs, hands hidden by mittens, a scarf wrapped around her neck, and her long blonde hair spilling out from a woolen hat. But as she raised her eyes, Viv recognized her at once. Taller and older but unmistakably Margaret. Blonde or not, still definitely Margaret. Alive. Not raped or tortured or murdered and buried somewhere she would never be found, alive and smiling and holding Davidson’s hand and chattering to him nineteen to the dozen about the eggs they’d collected and how even Daisy never pecked her now.

It never stopped feeling miraculous. Finding the ones alive one had believed were already dead would never quite outweigh the misery of finding the one’s dead you had hoped were still alive, but there was almost no high like it – this spike of relief, this moment of seeing a person from a photograph on a whiteboard walk towards her, alive and well; that was why Vivian was still coming into work every morning.

Sam was still holding her arm. “Is it…?”

“Yes.” Vivian had to wrestle the smile of relief from her face. “It’s Margaret.”

Davidson looked up and saw them, and the shock washed over his face before the annoyance took its place. Not with them, with himself, Viv realized; no doubt Margaret had been cooped up in the house ever since her mother had gone missing and he had thought it would do no harm to let her come with him to collect the eggs. “Agent Johnson, long time, no see.”

“You lied to me, Mr. Davidson,” Viv said in quiet reproach.

Davidson raised his chin. “This is Megan, my cousin’s daughter.”

“She’s Margaret Ryan and we both know it.” Vivian held up a hand to stop his protests. “Mr. Davidson, we’re not interested in forcing Mary or Margaret to do anything they don’t want to do. We just need to know if they’re safe.”

Davidson held her gaze with his steady brown eyes. “She’s my cousin’s daughter, Megan, and I have all the paperwork you’ll ever need to prove it.”

Vivian said: “You don’t think her father has the right to know his daughter is still alive?”

The basket fell into the snow, spilling eggs, the whole ones rolling, softly speckled, amidst the crack of shells and gush of bright yellow yolks. Dismay was written all over Margaret’s face, her eyes huge and dark and terrified. Then her face went blank, as if a shutter had come down and when it lifted all the fear was concealed, and she smiled as brightly as if she were posing for a photograph.

“Why don’t you inside and have some tea?” she said. “I can make tea.”

She ran for the farm house door, moving past them swiftly on legs long and spindly as a filly, keeping just out of reach, throwing back the screen door with a clatter, twisting the handle of the door and flinging it wide, saying loudly: “I’ve never met anyone from the FBI before. It was just the local policemen who came before. Do you like being Federal Agents? If you told me all about what you do for a living I could use it for extra credit at school…”

Margaret had always been softly-spoken, all of her teachers had said that – just like her mother, never one to speak out in class although she invariably knew the answers to the questions asked. She just never liked to call attention to herself. Now she let the door slam hard enough to make the windows rattle, and she was talking rapidly, a chatter of sound, inconsiderately loud in a house so full of children, the noise she was making enough to make a dog start barking and summon the inevitable wailing of a baby disturbed from slumber.

Sam hurried after her, darting between screen door and front door with some of Margaret’s own despairing energy, Margaret still a potential whisk of tragedy if she could not be secured. Viv increased her own pace, feeling her heart begin to beat a little too fast, the rhythm a reminder of how much she had invested in this child, in the need to see her safe. The stairs curled upwards, their white paint glazed and peeling, but the flagged corridor led straight past them to the kitchen, French windows letting in a silvery haze of snow-softened light from the scrubby tangle of the kitchen garden.

Vivian increased her own pace, wanting to sit down with the girl and talk to her, get some confirmation that she was happy, some understanding of why she was here; what had happened to her four years ago. She glanced at Davidson in exasperation. “You could have told us she was safe. Do you know what we’ve been imagining all these years? What her father’s been imagining?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Davidson walked past her with rapid strides, and she sped up to keep pace with him, determined that come what may they were not going to lose Margaret again.

Margaret had pulled back the French doors that led out into the kitchen garden and Sam said: “Margaret, please, we just want to talk to you.”

The girl paused in the doorway. “I’m Megan. Why don’t you tell me your names?” But she was coming back into the kitchen, albeit moving straight towards the kettle. There was coffee, ready brewed, but she ignored it, putting the kettle onto the hot hob of the stove. It was the whistling kind, Vivian noticed, and Davidson must have already got the stove going as the kettle began to sing softly, a low note still, but getting ready to build.

“I’m Samantha.” Sam held out a hand. “And this is Vivian. She’s been looking for you for a long time.”

Margaret politely removed her mitten before shaking her hand. “There was no need. I wasn’t lost.” She glanced up at Vivian and her face was a polite blank. “It was nice of you to look for me though.”

The singing of the kettle was growing louder but Margaret made no move to lift it from the heat, gazing up at Vivian without giving anything away. Vivian held her gaze. “Is your mother here?”

“Why do you want to know?” Margaret countered.

“We need to know that she’s safe.”

“If I tell you that she is, will you go away again?”

“We need to know that she wanted to come here. That she isn’t being held her against her will. We need to know that about you too. Do you understand? And we definitely have to see her and speak to her for ourselves.”

The kettle whistled shrilly and, just behind it, Vivian could make out the sound of a car engine starting. She and Samantha exchanged a shocked look of realization at how they had been suckered and then Sam was running. As Viv made to go after her, Margaret caught her wrist and held it desperately.

“No, please. Let them go. I’ll go back if I have to. I’ll be good, I promise. I’ll be good every day. I’ll stay with him and I won’t be any trouble. Just, please let them go. Don’t make them go back. Please, don’t make them go back. It’s only me he wants. He’ll let them go if he has me….”

There were tears running down the girl’s face and although she could hear the sound of Samantha’s shoes on the flagstones as she ran, her shout of ‘FBI! Stop!”, Vivian was held by the fear on Margaret’s face, the same determination to sacrifice herself for others. In that instant, Vivian felt as if something had been shown to her so quickly that she had no time to process it but had recognized it just the same.

“We’re not going to hurt them, sweetheart,” she said gently. “We just need to know that your mother is okay.”

“But you’ll tell him…” Another well of tears. “You’ll tell him where we are.” Behind Margaret the snow had begun to swirl again, swift flakes falling aslant, a wet white wall of silence.

Vivian felt a chill pass through her. “Did your father hurt you or your mother?”

Margaret shook her head, dyed plaits swinging with the motion. “He doesn’t hurt women and children.” She said it dully, as if it was a phrase she had heard many times before.

Samantha ran up breathlessly. “I couldn’t see if she went willingly or not, but Mary was definitely in the car. I think the driver was Nathan Gallagher. Clare Hope was in the back with Mary. We need to get after them.”

Davidson moved in front of them. “Why can’t you let them go?”

“We just need to talk to Mary,” Sam told him shortly. “And if you don’t step aside I’ll arrest you for impeding a federal investigation.”

The sound of a child crying made them both turn and Vivian recognized Davidson’s partner, Bryce, who had a little girl of four or five in his arms who looked like Charlotte Hope. He was talking to her in soothing tones. “Mommy and Daddy will be back soon.”

“They’re not criminals,” Davidson said angrily. “They haven’t done anything wrong. Why do you have to keep hounding them?”

“One conversation with Mary and we’re out of here.” Vivian held Davidson’s gaze. “And Margaret had better be here when we get back or else I’m going to have every adult in this place arrested for kidnapping and every child put in foster care.”

Then she strode after Sam, already speed-dialing Jack to let him know that Margaret was alive and so was Mary, although how long she was going to remain that way being driven into a blizzard remained to be seen….

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elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (Default)

March 2009

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