Chapter 7

        As halfway houses went, this one wasn't bad. Scott Monroe had his own room that included a bed, small desk and wooden chair, dresser, thirteen-inch television set, and an easy chair that sat angled in one corner. There was a community kitchen, dining room and living room. The house was old but clean, and contained eight bedrooms, four on the first floor and four on the second. Scott's room was on the second floor, the last one at the end of a long L-shaped hallway. He shared a full bathroom up here with three other men. Like everyone currently in residence he was kept busy with assigned household chores, a weekly visit to his probation officer, a twice-weekly visit to his state-appointed psychiatrist, and daily visits with one of the in-house counselors. Soon they would have him out looking for a job. He was ready for such an undertaking. Or so Warren, his counselor, kept telling him.

        Scott shut the door to his room and walked over to his dresser. He stared at the bottles of pills resting atop it. At first they didn't allow Scott to take the pills on his own accord. Warren would dole them out to him and watch him swallow them. But as time went on Scott proved himself compliant and trustworthy, and was now in charge of his own medication. Warren still asked Scott each day if he'd taken his pills, and each day Scott would dutifully reply, “Yes, I did.” In reality, sometimes that was true and sometimes it wasn't. The pills gave him a headache and made his stomach hurt. He couldn't see taking something that was supposed to help you if it only caused your head to pound and made you feel like throwing up. After all, if you felt worse after taking the pills how was that helping you to get better?

        Scott fingered the three bottles, but didn't uncap any of them. He threw his arms out and turned aimless circles a moment, then walked over to his desk. He brushed a long lock of pale brown hair out of his eyes. He'd been twenty-five years old when he'd gone to prison for shooting at those two firemen in 1985. He was forty now. He'd spent fifteen years of his life locked up because of John Gage and Chris DeSoto.

        The man tried to remember why he was so mad at Gage and DeSoto, and what made him shoot at them in the first place. He couldn't recall his reasons, but they must have been good ones. But then again, maybe not. Sometimes he just got angry and heard voices in his head like he was hearing now. The voices nagged at him, telling him to do things until the only way to shut them up was by doing what they demanded. He thought maybe that's what happened the night he shot Chris DeSoto, but again, he couldn't remember for certain.

        Scott slid a hand into a narrow slit on the underside of his mattress and pulled out his secret paper. He knew he'd be in trouble if Warren ever found it. He unfolded it and spread it out on the desk, then sat down and picked up a pencil. He was good at drawing and always had been. It was the one thing his mind seemed to be able to focus on for long periods of time. He'd spent days sketching a family tree. It was very well done if he did say so himself. On the very top were the names Roy and Joanne DeSoto. Branching off from them were the names Christopher, Jennifer, and John, all printed in an obsessively neat block-style lettering done by Scott's own hand. Beside Christopher's name was the name Wendy. Below that were the names Brittany and Madison. Next to Jennifer's name was the name Daniel Sheridan with the word 'Divorced' in parentheses. Below Jennifer and Daniel was the name Olivia. Next to Olivia was was an empty space that the man would fill in if he ever learned the other Sheridan child's name. Scott hadn't been able to locate John Gage yet, but when he did he'd draw a family tree for that man, too.

        Scott stared down at his artwork as he circled the name Olivia with his pencil. He'd learned that the family called the girl Libby and he liked that. He liked it because he liked songs. Songs were fun to sing over and over in your head because they blocked out the voices. The name Libby made him remember an old commercial jingle from the 1970's. He sang it softly now, smiling at the silly rhyme.

        “When it says Libbys Libbys Libbys on the label label label you will like it like it like it on your table table table, when it says Libbys Libbys Libbys on the label label label.”

The man sang the song over and over while he circled Libby's name. He couldn't get the tune, or the pretty little girl he'd caught a glimpse of yesterday as she left school, out of his head.

Chapter 8

One week after Jennifer DeSoto had dinner at her brother's home she was sitting down in Rampart's cafeteria to eat a quick lunch with Dixie McCall. Dixie was seventy years old now, but didn't look a day over sixty. She was still fit and trim, and her hair still honey blond, though Dixie would be the first to admit her hairdresser assisted with that illusion. Gone were the false eyelashes she'd favored twenty odd years ago, and also gone was her long hair. Now she wore her hair in a loose, casual style that stopped midway down her neck and was easy to take care of. Gone also was the prim nurse's cap and white uniform of the 1970's. Today Dixie was dressed in pale pink scrubs and white New Balance running shoes. She loved what now passed for nurses' uniforms. The comfort when compared to the old dresses and thick stockings was a God-send.

        The woman who had for so long run Rampart's Emergency Room had retired eight years earlier. Dixie wasn't certain what she wanted to do with her time, but knew she needed to get away from the stress her job brought her. Dixie's 'get away' lasted one year. She grew bored and soon found herself turning to her old career in order to maintain both her mental health and physical stamina. She worked part time now as a nurse in Rampart's ER, coming in two or three days a week for whatever hours she was needed. Sometimes those hours didn't exceed six, other times they stretched as long as ten. Dixie found it was just the mix she was looking for in her golden years, and greatly enjoyed her semi-retired lifestyle.

        Dixie smiled at Jennifer as the young woman took her seat. She'd known the doctor since she was a little girl of three years old. It was hard for Dixie to imagine so many years had passed since the first time Roy had brought Chris and Jennifer to the emergency room to meet her, and hoisted his small daughter and young son up to sit on the countertop of the nurses' station.

        “I missed you last week,” Jennifer told the older woman. “Were you away?”

        Dixie nodded her head as she bit into her tuna croissant. “I went with two friends to Seattle. Every year we go somewhere none of us has been before, and this year Seattle was it.”

        “Sounds nice.”

        “It was.” Dixie wiped her mouth with her napkin, then took a drink of iced tea. “So, any new gossip come up while I was gone?”

        “Around this place?” Jennifer laughed. “Always.” The doctor's eyes rose to the ceiling a moment in thought. “Let's see. Rumor has it Sam Matthews and Andrea Vincent are seeing one another.”

        Dixie cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, really? That's interesting considering they're both married to someone else.”

        “Well, you know how it goes around here. You aptly dubbed it 'Peyton Place' back when you worked with my dad.”

        “That I did.”

        Jennifer forked a piece of lettuce and a chunk of tomato from the chef's salad she was eating. “Oh, and Doctor Brackett was on a rampage over what I don't know. We haven't been told yet, but based on the mood he was in I sure wouldn't want to be called into his office any time soon.”

        Dixie gave a knowing smile. Kelly Brackett was sixty-four years old and the hospital administrator. His temper was just as tenuous these days as it had been when he was younger.

        “So, when you find out what's going on you'll have to let me know,” Jennifer said.

        “When I find out?” Came Dixie's innocent question.

        Jennifer did nothing other than give the woman a smug grin. She suspected, like her father had before her, that Dixie McCall and Kelly Brackett had a relationship that went far deeper than the one of 'friendly colleagues' they presented to the outside world. Why they'd never married, or been open about their romance, Jennifer wasn't certain, and she doubted she'd ever know. Maybe they were simply two independent people who enjoyed living separate lives while still having a deep love for one another. Or maybe they knew if they married their strong personalities would be their undoing. Jennifer had gone through the pain of a divorce and wouldn't wish it on anyone. She had naively thought marriage was forever, or at least thought her marriage would last forever just like her parents' had, but that wasn't how it turned out. You couldn't make someone stay with you who wanted nothing more than to go. Go away from his home, away from his wife, and away from his child. Go as far away as he could in order to escape the sorrow he could no longer bear.

        Jennifer shook herself free from the thoughts of her ex-husband. She focused on Dixie again as the woman steered their conversation in a direction other than Kelly Brackett.

        “I haven't seen your dad for a while. How is he?”

        “Fine. He just finished teaching another paramedic session, so now he's on summer vacation as Libby refers to it.”

        “I'm sure he'll enjoy that.”

        “I don't know,” Jennifer chuckled. “He's got a number of household projects to do as supplied for him by Mom, and he'll be taking care of Libby for me during the afternoon hours. In the morning she goes to day camp at her school.”

        “He might not appreciate your mom's chores for him, but I know Roy loves spending time with his granddaughter.”

        “That he does. And I'm glad. She needs him as much as he needs her.” Jennifer took another bite of her salad as she finished her father's summer itinerary. “A couple weeks before Dad has to go back to work again he and Mom are going to head out to Wyoming to see John.”

        “How's John doing?”

        “Great. Loves his job. Loves Wyoming. And most of all loves some girl named Shawna.”

        “Oh, so another DeSoto wedding on the horizon, is that it?”

        “We think so, but time will tell, of course.”

        “And Chris? How's he doing?”

        A slight frown tugged at Jennifer's mouth that Dixie would have missed had she not been looking right at the younger woman's face. “Jennifer?”

        “He's fine. He's . . .he had all of us over for dinner last week. All of us except John naturally. He had some. . .troubling news to share with us.”

        “Troubling news?”

        Jennifer pushed her half eaten lunch aside. She played with her glass of Diet Coke while telling Dixie about Troy Anders visit with Chris. She finished by saying, “I'm worried, Dixie. About Chris's safety, I mean. And Johnny's. . .Uncle Johnny's, too.”

        Dixie nodded while reaching across the table to give Jennifer's hand a squeeze. The doctor looked at the woman with pleading eyes.

        “If you knew where he was you'd tell me, wouldn't you?”

        “Yes, Jennifer. If I knew where John Gage was I'd tell you. But I don't, sweetheart. I haven't heard from him since the morning he left Los Angeles fifteen years ago. He called me here to say goodbye.”

        “He did?”

        “Yes, he did. I tried my best to talk him into not going, but by then his ranch was sold and his things packed in a U-haul van. He promised he'd keep in touch with me, but I haven't heard from him since.”

        “He promised me the same thing,” Jennifer whispered, while trying to hide her pain at that broken vow. “I. . .no one knows this other than Chris and John, but I went to see Uncle Johnny the day before he left. I took John with me. I. . .I was so mad at my father over everything that had happened, and because he forbid us to have any contact with Uncle Johnny. It was only by chance that I found out Uncle Johnny was moving away. I saw Lori Stoker. . .Mike Stoker's daughter. . .”

        Dixie nodded her acknowledgment of the man who used to be the engineer for Station 51's A-shift.

        “Anyway, I ran into Lori Stoker at the library on a Saturday morning. We didn't go to the same high school, but we were the same age and had always played together at the fire department picnics, and at gatherings our families held. It was Lori who asked me if I knew Uncle Johnny was moving. She'd overheard her parents talking a few nights before that. I ran out of the library and raced home in that old Pinto Chris and I used to share. I knew Mom and Dad would be going to the rehab center later that afternoon, and that I would be left in charge of John. As soon as they were gone John and I got in the Pinto and headed for Uncle Johnny's. He. . .at first he seemed mad at me for coming over, but even then I could tell it was an act. He just. . .he was hurting so much over everything that had happened, Dixie. I was only sixteen, but I knew it. I knew it just by looking into his eyes.”

        “It was a hard time for all of you,” Dixie said.

        “Yes, it was. A very hard time.”

        “So what happened while you were at Johnny's?”

        “Uncle Johnny and I sat on the deck together while John rode Cheyenne around the corral. I begged Uncle Johnny not to leave. I told him I was sure Daddy wouldn't stay mad forever. He just kept shaking his head and saying this was for the best. He made me promise to finish college, and then go onto medical school. He gave me that crooked grin of his and said, “Some day I'm gonna walk into Rampart's ER, and when I ask to have Doctor DeSoto paged you'd better show up.” I started crying then, because it all sounded so final. I knew. . .somehow I knew I'd never see him again, even though he promised he'd write to me when he got settled wherever it was he was going.”

        “And he never told you that? Where he was going?”

        “No. I tried to get him to, but he kept saying he didn't know. I didn't believe him, Dixie. I think he knew perfectly well where he was going, but just didn't want to say.”

        “I'm sure Johnny felt he was doing the right thing. He wouldn't have wanted to come between you and your father.”

        “I know that. Or at least now I do. When I was sixteen it was difficult to understand.”

        “And that was it?”

        “Pretty much. Uncle Johnny gave me a letter he'd written to Chris that he was going to mail. He asked me to deliver it for him instead. Chris has since let me read it.”

        “Can I ask what it said?”

        “You can,” Jennifer nodded. “Uncle Johnny apologized to Chris for not being able to do more for him the night he was injured, thanked Chris for letting him be a part of his life for so many years, said he had great confidence that Chris would have many successes, and then told him he'd always think good thoughts for him.”

        “That was nice.”

        “Yes, it was. I know Chris still has the letter. I can't imagine that he'll ever throw it away.” Jennifer took a sip of Coke, then finished her story. “Shortly after that John and I left. It wasn't until then that it really sunk in with John that we'd never see Uncle Johnny again. He clung to him for a long time and cried while begging him not to leave. Johnny finally had to put him in my arms and walk away. He turned his back on us very quickly, but I. . .I could tell he was crying, too. I just. . .Dixie, I just wish I knew where he was now. I just want to know that he's okay. I just want. . .all I want to do is tell him hello. He was far more of an uncle to me and my brothers than our own uncles ever were.”

        “I know,” Dixie said, having vague knowledge of the fact that Joanne's only sister had never married, and that Roy's two younger sisters, while married for many years now, lived out of state and only returned at Christmas each year to visit their mother and brother. “I wish I knew where John Gage was, too, honey. First I'd box his ears for not keeping in touch with me like he promised he'd do, and then I'd hug that charming, wayward paramedic until he couldn't breathe.”

        Before Jennifer could make a response a page came over the loud speakers.        

       “Doctor DeSoto. Doctor Jennifer DeSoto to the emergency room please.”

        A sad smiled lighted upon Jennifer's mouth. “If this was a soap opera I'd go to the ER right now and find Uncle Johnny waiting for me. But it's not a soap opera, so I might as well wipe that thought out of my mind and see what I'm needed for.”

        Dixie watched the young woman hurry from the cafeteria. She sighed as she pushed her own half-eaten lunch aside and murmured softly, “You're right, Jennifer. This isn't a soap opera, and Johnny won't be waiting for you. I wish I could change that fact, but even this old nurse doesn't have that kind of power.”


        At the same time Dixie and Jennifer were eating lunch on that Tuesday in June, so were Roy and Libby. Shortly before noon Roy had walked the four blocks to Spring Meadows Elementary School and waited for his oldest granddaughter at their agreed upon meeting spot by the front gate. They walked back to Roy's house together, Libby chattering the entire time about the morning activities at day camp.

        After lunch was eaten Libby helped her grandfather put their glasses and sandwich plates in dishwasher, then asked if she could invite her friend McKenzie over to swim in the DeSoto pool. Roy granted his permission, watching as Libby raced out the sliding doors, down the deck stairs, and next door to McKenzie's house. Within ten minutes both girls had changed into their swimming suits and were playing in the above ground pool John Gage had given the DeSoto children as a Christmas present back in 1983. Each time Roy thought of tearing the pool down in order to reclaim his backyard, Joanne would remind him of how much the grandchildren now enjoyed it, and convince him the old pool still had a lot of life left in it.

        Roy sat on his deck allowing the summer sun to warm his bare arms while keeping an eye on the girls. If Libby had been in the pool alone, or if Brittany and Madison were in it, he would have jumped in the water, too. But Libby and McKenzie were content with floating on two blowup whales while jabbering about the Backstreet Boys, and 'N Sync, and the young actor who played Malcolm on the TV show Malcolm In The Middle. Roy had no desire to get caught in the middle of all that girl-talk, so was satisfied to recline in his chaise lounge and read the newspaper. After all, he deserved the break considering the repair job he'd done on the washing machine that morning for Joanne, and then the two loads of clothes he'd taken care of once the machine was running again.

        At three o'clock McKenzie's mother called for her to come home. The girl climbed out of the pool, saying, “Good-bye, Mr. DeSoto. See you tomorrow, Libby.”

        “Good-bye, McKenzie.”

        “Bye, McKenzie. See you tomorrow at camp.”

        Libby picked up a big beach towel off the picnic table and wrapped it around her thin body. She stood beside Roy's chair, shivering now that she was out of the pool.

        “Why don't you dry off and change into your clothes, Libs? Then we can have a snack.”

        Libby playfully patted her grandfather's stomach. “Grandma says no more snacks for you.”

        “What your grandmother doesn't know won't hurt her, unless you want to spend your entire summer eating an apple and carrot sticks with me when snack time rolls around.”

        Libby made a face. “No way.”

        “That's exactly how I feel about it. So get changed and then we'll steal some cookies from the cookie jar. After that, we can go for a bike ride so Grandpa can work off those extra calories he's not supposed to have.”

        “Then will it be time to start dinner?”

        “Just about.”

        “Can we grill something and eat out here on the picnic table? Maybe all of us; you, me, and Grandma, can go swimming together after supper.”

        “I don't see why not.”

        “When will Grandma be home?”

        “Around five-thirty if she doesn't get held up in traffic or delayed at the bank.”

        Joanne had started working at a bank a few miles from the DeSoto house seven years earlier. At first she kept her hours to part-time in order to be home when John's high school classes let out. After John went away to college she'd gone full-time, and was now the assistant supervisor in the personal banking department. Joanne loved her job in a way she never imagined she would. She had enjoyed her years at home with her children, but now was enjoying the opportunity to have a career of her own. Roy didn't begrudge his wife that. If she was happy, then he was happy. She'd always been supportive of any career decision he'd made, so now it was his turn to be supportive of her.

        “And my mom is on-call so I'm staying all night with you and Grandma, right?”

        “Yes, Button, that's right.”

        “Okay,” Libby nodded, secure in the knowledge of which home she'd be spending the night at.

        Roy stood and folded the paper. He placed it under his arm so he could put it in the magazine rack for Joanne to read later, then led Libby into the house.  “Now go on and get changed, then Grandpa will brush the tangles out of your hair.”

        Libby ran down the hall to the room that had been Chris's. Two twin beds still resided in there, though Joanne had redecorated the room so that her grandchildren would feel at home in it when staying overnight. The formerly blue walls were now pale yellow, and the bedspreads and curtains were decorated with characters from the Disney movie, The Lion King, a favorite of all three granddaughters.

        Roy put the newspaper in the rack, then got out three Chips Ahoy cookies for Libby and two for himself. He put them on napkins and placed them on the table. He grabbed two glasses from a cabinet and set them on the counter next to the refrigerator. He'd wait to pour milk until Libby returned.

        When ten minutes had passed and the girl had yet to appear Roy walked down the hall calling, “Libs? Libby, are you changed yet?”

        “I'm in here, Grandpa! In your office.”
        Roy walked in the room expecting to find his granddaughter playing one of the games he had loaded on the computer for her. Instead, she was sitting on the floor with two photo albums stacked in front of her. Libby was dressed now in a pale blue T-shirt and denim shorts. She hadn't put her socks or tennis shoes on yet, and the brush her grandfather was to use on her hair rested beside her suntanned thigh. Roy got down on the floor behind her, groaning as he bent his body to do so.

        “You're going to make this difficult on your old grandpa, aren't you?”

        “You're not old, Grandpa.”

        Roy chuckled at the child's loyalty to him. He picked up the brush and began gently running it through her long hair. “That's nice of you to say.”

        “I only speak the truth.”

        “What are you doing with the photo albums?”

        “I have to bring some family pictures to camp tomorrow and tell a story about them. I don't have to write it down or anything. It's not like homework, we don't do that in day camp. It's just for fun. I wanted to take some pictures of Brandon and tell the kids about him. Is that okay with you?”

        It took Roy a moment to find his voice. “Sure. Sure, as long as you don't lose them.”
        “I won't lose them. And I'll put them in an envelope to keep them nice. Do you have some cardboard I can put them in-between?” Libby asked as she began paging through the album.

        “I'm sure we can find some around here somewhere.”


        Roy averted his eyes from the pictures as Libby studied page after page. If her younger brother, and Roy's only grandson, was still living he'd be eight. He had died two years earlier of cancer. At the tender age of two, Brandon Roy Sheridan had been diagnosed with a fast growing cancer that had invaded his brain. He managed to survive several operations, and multiple chemotherapy sessions, so his family could have four more years with him. But then his small body couldn't fight any longer, and in the middle of a warm April night he clutched Roy's hand and said, “Grandpa, I'm not afraid to see the angels. I wanna go now.” The boy lapsed into unconsciousness after speaking those words, and soon thereafter slipped into a coma. He died just as the sun was rising over Los Angeles Children's Hospital.

        Roy had cherished his grandson and still couldn't speak of him unless forced to do so. The stress of the boy's illness had taken its toll on Jennifer and Dan. Roy had been close to his son-in-law. The breakup of Jennifer's marriage had only been one more sorrow for Roy's heart to bear . Why Dan had since chosen to move away, and had maintained only sporadic contact with Libby, Roy couldn't guess other than to say he supposed Dan was trying to avoid any reminders of Brandon's existence. Unfortunately, it was Libby who was paying the price for her father's denial.

        During the time since Brandon's death and Jennifer's divorce, it was Roy who remained strong for his daughter and granddaughter, and was the rock Jennifer leaned on back when getting through each day was almost impossible for her. She'd been under enormous stress since she married Dan while still in college. He was a twenty-five year old medical student, Jennifer a nineteen year old college sophomore. Roy and Joanne had liked Dan, but were not happy to see Jennifer marry at such a young age and with so much schooling ahead of her. She promised Roy she was going to attain her goal of becoming a doctor, and also assured him she knew what lay ahead by marrying while still having so much schooling left to complete. Roy was certain back then, just as he was certain now, that Jennifer hadn't known at all what lay ahead. Certainly her pregnancy with Libby just a year after she was married wasn't planned, but through it all; Libby's arrival, then Brandon's birth, and his illness, Jennifer managed to complete her education and then begin her residency at Rampart. It hadn't been easy for Roy to watch his daughter subject herself to so much pressure, but if nothing else he'd finally learned that his adult children were going to make some decisions he didn't approve of, nor have any control over.

        “How about this one, Grandpa? Isn't this a good picture of Branny and you?”

        Roy tore his thoughts from his daughter to look at the picture Libby was holding up. It was taken a year before Brandon died. He and Roy were standing in a mountain stream fishing. The boy had been in remission at that time, and the family had been hopeful he just might beat his cancer. His white-blond hair had grown back, and with his big smile and sparkling blue eyes he looked a lot like his Uncle Chris at that same age.

        “Sure, honey. That's a good picture of Branny. You take it if you want to.”

        “Okay. I will. And I'm gonna take this one of me and him in the swimming pool with Grandma. I wanna tell the kids how much I love you and Grandma, and how you take good care of me when Mom's at work.”

        Roy smiled as he stroked the brush over Libby's drying hair. “Grandma and I love you, too, Button.”

        “I know.”

        Libby set the pictures aside and then reached for the other album she'd pulled out. She giggled when she opened it to the first page.

        “You look funny, Grandpa. You were skinny and you had long sideburns. Your hair wasn't white yet, either, and your bald spot isn't there.”

Roy set the brush on the floor beside him and looked over his granddaughter's shoulder. She had pulled out the album that was filled with pictures from twenty-five years ago or more.

        “I looked funny, huh?” Roy questioned with mock indignation as he gently poked his granddaughter in the ribs.

        “Yeah. I think you look better now. Much more handsome.”

        “Why, thank you, Miss Sheridan.”

        “You're welcome, Mr. DeSoto.”

        Libby turned the pages of the book. She personally knew four of the men her grandfather used to work with at Station 51 because they came to the reunion picnic Grandpa and Grandma hosted for them each July. There was Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Stoker, Mr. Lopez, and Mr. Kelly. Mr. and Mrs. Stoker always brought their six grandchildren, who ranged in age from nine to three, and whom Libby and her cousins enjoyed playing with. Mr. Kelly was divorced and usually brought his sons, Ryan and Collin, who were big boys of fourteen and sixteen, but always nice to Libby and the younger children. For some reason that fact surprised her grandfather because Libby once heard him say to her grandmother, “Whoever would have believed Chet Kelly would have such well-behaved, polite kids. Or that he'd enroll them in a Catholic school because he wants them to have firm discipline. Boy, what a change from the days when the Phantom lurked around the station.”

        Libby wasn't sure who the Phantom was, but her mother had told her Mr. Kelly had liked to play practical jokes on his co-workers, most especially on Uncle Johnny.

        Libby stopped turning the pages when she came to a picture of Roy and Johnny leaning against the front of the squad with a then five year old Jennifer and seven year old Chris seated on its hood in-between them.

        “Can I take this picture to camp, too, Grandpa?”

        “I guess so. But why do you want to take that one?”

        “ 'Cause I wanna tell the kids about you being a fireman and a paramedic. And I also wanna tell them the story about Katori. That's the coolest one yet.”

        “Katori?” Roy questioned, as though he had no idea to what his granddaughter was referring.

        “Yeah. He Who Dances With Rattlesnakes. Uncle Johnny. That was Branny's favorite. He liked it better than any story that ever came out of a book.”

        This was the first Roy was aware that Libby and her brother had ever been told anything about John Gage.

        “What do you know about that story, Button?”

        Barely pausing to take a breath in-between her sentences, Libby rattled off the story she knew by memory, and loved to hear as much as her younger brother had.

        “That Uncle Johnny took Mom and Uncle Chris camping one weekend when you and Grandma were celebrating your wedding anniversary. Mom was nine years old, and Uncle Chris was eleven and a half. A man came into their camp late at night after they were sleeping and tried to kidnap Mom. Uncle Johnny saved her. He kept the man from taking her, but he got hurt real bad while fighting the man. The man had a knife and stabbed Uncle Johnny over and over again, before Uncle Johnny's dog scared the man off. Uncle Chris rode down the mountain to get you on a horse named Cody, while Mom stayed with Uncle Johnny and did her best to take care of him. She was real scared, but she knew Uncle Johnny would die if she didn't give him all the help she could. The bad man came back and Uncle Johnny hid Mom underneath the blankets that were covering him. The bad man was beating Uncle Johnny with a club and yelling, “Where's the girl? Where's the girl?” but Uncle Johnny wouldn't tell him. Pretty soon you showed up with some police officers and the bad man ran away. Uncle Johnny was very sick for days and days and almost died, but then he got better. When Uncle John was born, you named him John in honor of what Uncle Johnny had done to keep my mom safe. Uncle Johnny's Indian name is Katori. It means, He Who Dances With Rattlesnakes. There's a neat story that goes with that name I'm gonna tell the kids. Do you wanna hear it, too?”

        Roy gave the child a soft smile. “Not today, sweetheart. I already know the story.”

        Libby looked down at the picture she was holding, then paged farther into the book. More photos of John Gage appeared, some taken at Station 51, others taken right here in her grandpa's home. Most of those pictures had her grandpa in them, too. Sometimes Uncle Johnny was clowning for the camera while Grandpa was trying to look serious. Other times you could tell the two men were playfully arguing over something. There were more pictures of John Gage with Libby's Uncle Chris and her mother, then some of him with her Uncle John when he was a little boy. Rather abruptly, any pictures containing the man suddenly came to a halt.

        “Grandpa, how come Uncle Johnny is never at your Station 51 reunion picnic?”

        Roy chose to answer Libby with as close to the truth as he was willing to give her. “Because I don't know where he lives.”

        “Then you should find out.”

        “So you can mail him an invitation, that's why. I bet Mom, and Uncle Chris, and Uncle John, would really like to see him. And you, too. Mom says he was your best friend. I don't think you have another best friend 'cause I never see anyone around here like these pictures show Uncle Johnny being here. He moved away a long time ago now, huh?”

        “Yes, Libby. A long time ago.”

        “How come you don't know where he lives?” Libby asked, as she worked her way backwards through the album, again viewing the pictures she'd just seen.

        “I just don't.”

        Libby tried to understand how a person could not know where their best friend lived. She'd moved from her old neighborhood with her mother shortly after Brandon died, but she still had contact with her best friend from her former school, Lindsey. McKenzie was her best friend from her new school, but Lindsey would always be a best friend, too.

        “But Uncle Chris knows where Dean lives and they've been best friends since first grade. And Mom knows where Amy lives and they've been best friends since they were four years old, so how can you not know where your best friend lives?”

        “Olivia, I just don't. Now that's enough of this subject. Put the books away, and let's go find some cardboard and an envelope for those pictures.”

        It wasn't often that her grandfather spoke sternly to Libby, or called her Olivia, so she knew she'd said something wrong in regards to Uncle Johnny. Nonetheless; she had her mother's fortitude, and wouldn't let a subject rest until she'd said all she intended to on it.

        The girl did as Roy instructed and closed the albums. She picked the albums up and carried them back to their shelf. When she turned to face her grandfather, who was still seated on the floor, she told him, “Mom says Uncle Johnny could always make you laugh. You hardly laugh at all since Branny died. It makes me sad when you don't laugh, Grandpa. It would make Branny sad, too. I wish you'd find out where Uncle Johnny lives and call him. Maybe he could make you laugh again.”

        And with that Libby turned and left the room. Roy remained where he was a long moment, then struggled to get to his feet. As much as Roy tried to push his granddaughter's words from his mind, they echoed in his head as he walked to the bathroom to return the hairbrush to a vanity drawer.

        You hardly laugh at all since Branny died. It makes me sad when you don't laugh, Grandpa. It would make Branny sad, too. I wish you'd find out where Uncle Johnny lives and call him. Maybe he could make you laugh again.

        Roy supposed if anyone could make him laugh again, truly make him feel like laughing again, that person would be John Gage. But like he'd told Libby, he didn't know where Johnny was, and he had no intention of finding out. Besides, even if he did make contact with Johnny, the man would probably tell him to go to hell.

        And the sad thing was, Roy would deserve every scathing word his best friend desired to throw his way.

Chapter 9

        Evan sat at the desk in the small log cabin he was renting outside of Juneau. Though using Juneau as his home base meant there was the inconvenience of having to take the ferry in order to get to Eagle Harbor, it also meant he wouldn't arouse any suspicions when he left the area the same day John Gage disappeared. The cabin was one of several owned by an elderly couple that were rented out to vacationers, free-lance writers, photographers, hunters, or other people who were visiting for whatever reason. Evan had never even met the couple personally. All he had to do was mail them a money order that covered the amount owed for the time period he planned to use the cabin. A week later he received a set of keys in the mail along with a self-addressed stamped envelope that he'd put the keys in when he left and drop in a mail box. This is what Evan loved about Alaska. The people were so trusting. Throw-backs to an era long gone in the lower forty-eight states.

        Crammer's temporary home was cozy and comfortable. It contained three rooms with all the amenities he needed. The biggest room in the cabin was centrally located and served as living area, kitchen, and dining area. It included a fireplace, refrigerator, stove, double sink, and knotty pine cabinets with a complete set of dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, and an assortment of pots and pans. Down the hall a large bedroom was on the right, and a small bathroom on the left. The brochure Evan had received after inquiring about the cabin had stated that guests were required to provide their own bedding and towels. That was fine with Evan. It meant no one came to the cabin to clean it while he was present. After his stay ended the woman the couple hired to prepare their cabins for the next round of visitors would be in to vacuum, mop, dust, and disinfect the bathroom. Not that Evan was a sloppy guest by any means. Why, they'd hardly know he'd been here, which was exactly the point.

        The one advantage to being an entrepreneur, and that's exactly what Evan considered himself, was that you had all the time and money necessary to indulge in your interests. Being in the upper percentile of the intelligence scale didn't hurt anything either. Which, Evan supposed, was where all this started if he really thought about it. As a child he'd been bored with school, with his playmates, and with the normal activities most kids pursued. His mind turned to other outlets for fun. It had only been in recent years that he'd come to decide it wasn't so much little girls that brought him satisfaction, but rather the challenge of not getting caught. Now that was satisfying. That was what brought Evan to his sexual high. Eluding the police and F.B.I. What could prove Evan smarter than that?
        When you were about to undertake something as complicated as kidnapping a grown man, not to mention a well-respected fire chief from a close-knit community, it paid to spend time meticulously planning each step. But then, the art of meticulous planning was second nature to Evan. You didn't engineer a thirty year killing spree that covered forty-nine states and not get caught by being sloppy. Or by doing faulty or inadequate research. And these days research was made so much easier thanks to the Internet. Evan had always been fascinated with technology, and supposed if he had to work for a living he would have gone into some type of field related to computer science. So many people his age were scared of computers, which Evan found funny considering twelve year olds were teaching themselves to be proficient hackers right under their parents' noses.

        Evan sat down at the dining room table and opened the lid on his laptop. He had some hacking of his own to do. His fingers danced across the keyboard as he went through a figurative back door into Records Storage at the Los Angeles Police Department. He felt his heart begin to race with excitement. He was on his way to initiating a trail so phony that even the most seasoned detectives would be going right, while all the while Evan would be going left.

Chapter 10

        There was nothing John Gage hated worse than a summer cold, and he had a bad one. Trevor had a minor sore throat and a slight case of the sniffles a week before school let out. It hadn't made the boy feel ill enough for Johnny to keep him home from class, but that cold virus Trevor passed on to his father certainly had the fire chief in misery.

        It was nine-twenty on Wednesday morning, and Johnny had come off a twenty-four hour shift at eight a.m. The fire station was manned around the clock by two full-time firefighters on a rotating basis. Unlike past chiefs, Johnny didn't exclude himself from this duty rotation. Including Johnny, there were fifteen full-time employees at the Eagle Harbor Fire Station. Other than the two people whose turn it was to work a twenty-four shift, the others worked more traditional hours of eight a.m. to six p.m., with two days off per week. All of the full-time employees had scanners in their homes, and carried beepers and cell phones. Most of Johnny's one-hundred and twenty volunteers armed themselves with the same equipment. If help was need at one a.m. on any given night, Johnny could always count on plenty of people arriving at the scene of a fire or accident within minutes of the call going out.

        Carl poked his head in Johnny's office as he passed.

        “Hey, I thought you were off duty as of eight this morning?”

        “I am,” came the nasally reply. Johnny turned his chair away from his computer in order to face his friend. For the first time Carl got a good look at Johnny's puffy eyes, red nose, and pale complexion.

        “You look like shit, Gage.”

        “Thanks. I feel like shit.”

        Carl chuckled. “Then if you feel like shit, go home and get to bed.”

        “I'm heading home in a few minutes. I wanted to finish this report.”

        “It can wait. Besides, isn't that what you have a deputy chief for? Give it to Phil to take care of.”

        “Nah. I'm almost done.”

        “Suit yourself. But my mother's gonna take one look at you and put you right to bed with Vick's VapoRub smeared all over your chest.”

        “At this moment that doesn't sound as bad as you might think,” Johnny responded while rolling his head from side to side. His sinuses were so plugged he could barely get any air through his nose, his chest was tight, and he ached from neck to ankles. Not to mention that between his cold, and the two calls they'd had during the night, Johnny hadn't gotten more than an hour of restful sleep.

        “Now I know you're sick. I'll call Mom and tell her to take Trevor to our house for the day so you can sleep.”

        “No, don't do that. I'm not that sick.”

        Johnny's answer didn't surprise Carl. Clarice stayed with Trevor at Johnny's home when the man was on his twenty-four hour shift, but despite the fact that she brought the boy to the station to have supper with his father on those nights, Johnny was still anxious to be reunited with his child when the shift came to an end.

        “Are you sure? Mom won't mind. You know she thinks of Trevor as the grandchild she never had. She reminds me of that on a rather frequent basis, as a matter of fact.”

        “Yeah, like every time she tries to set you up with some eligible woman still of child bearing years,” Johnny grinned. “And yes, I'm sure. Trev and I will be fine together.”

        “Suit yourself.” Carl looked at his watch. “Listen, I gotta go. I've got a meeting with my staff in five minutes. You take care of yourself, ya' hear?”

        “I will.”

        “If you need me to feed the horses or something, give me a call.”

        Johnny shot his friend a mild glare. “Carl, I'm not an invalid. I can take care of a couple horses. It's just a cold.”

        “I know that, but like I said before, you look like shit. It wouldn't hurt you to take a couple days off and do nothing, you know. The world isn't going to stop turning without you.”

        Not for the first time Johnny thought of how similar Roy DeSoto and Carl Mjtko could be at times. Maybe that explained why Johnny quite easily formed with the police chief a friendship that had grown closer with each passing year they knew one another.

        “I know the world will keep turning, but like I said, I'm fine. I just need to see my son and then get a couple hours of sleep. But thanks for the offer.”

        “Anytime. When are you back on duty? Friday?”

        “Saturday. I switched days off with Phil so I could help coach Trevor's Little League game on Friday afternoon.”

        “Okay. See you Saturday.”

        “Yeah, see you Saturday,” Johnny sputtered in-between coughs that were so harsh they hurt his chest.

        “That cough sounds bad. I've been telling you that since Sunday. Maybe you should see Doc Benson before you head home.”

        “Or maybe not.”

        “Gage, why are you so damn stubborn?”

        “I'm not stubborn. It's just a cold, for crying out loud! If every person who has a cold went to see a doctor there'd be no time for patients who are really sick.”

        “You are really sick, Gage. In the head that is.”

        Johnny's eyes glittered with a hint of amusement. “And you think you're the first person who's told me that?”

        “I rather doubt it.”

        “You're right there.” Johnny coughed again as he turned back to face his computer. “Now get out of here and let me finish this so I can go home.”

        “Okay, okay. I'm gone.”

        And with that, Carl disappeared down the hall. Ten minutes later Johnny shut his computer down and headed out of the building. He walked through the engine bay to say goodbye to his employees that were present, consulted with his deputy chief for a few moments, then made his way to the parking lot. Johnny was totally oblivious to the fact he was being watched by the man ambling down the sidewalk with a camera hanging around his neck.

        Eagle Harbor's fire chief pulled in his driveway a few minutes after ten. Trevor and the dogs came running to meet him as he stepped from his vehicle. Despite the soreness that seemed to have settled in his bones, Johnny picked his son up and spun him around three times. He planted a kiss on the boy's cheek before setting him back on his feet. He ruffled Trevor's shaggy dark hair as they walked hand in hand for the back door, Tasha and Nicolai at their heels.

        “How you been, kiddo?”

        “Fine, Pops. But you sound awful. Like a frog who's about to croak.” Trevor laughed at his own joke. “Get it, Poppy? A frog who's about to croak?”

        Johnny groaned at his son's humor. “Yes, I get it.” He ruffled the boy's hair again, then asked, “Am I going to get a good report from Clarice about your behavior?”

        “Of course. You'll get a wonderful report.”

        Johnny had to admit that was usually true. Though Trevor was an energetic, active boy, he rarely misbehaved. He'd only felt his father's hand on his rear end a few times in his young life, and even at that the swats never exceeded two or three and were Johnny's way of saying, “Knock it off right now, Trevor Roy,” when that exact verbal warning had been ignored.

        “What about the animals?” Johnny covered his mouth with one hand and coughed. “Did you do your morning chores?”

        “Yes, Sir,” the child replied in a respectful tone uncommon for the times. Johnny had taught his son to employ such niceties at a young age. He knew that children of officials in small towns were often held to higher standards than other kids. While that might not be fair, it was a fact of life. Johnny never wanted to be ashamed of Trevor's behavior, and did his best to see that Trevor understood there was a time and place to be 'all boy,' and there was a time and place to act like a young man.

        “Did you leave the barn windows open?”

        “Yep. And I turned Champ and Omaha out into the corral.”

        “Good boy.”

        Clarice met father and son at the back door. She took one look at the fire chief and said, “You look--”

        “Awful. Yeah, I know. Your son already told me that, to be followed by my son saying the same thing.”

        “Then get in here and get to bed. I'll make you some chicken soup. Trevor can come with me and--”

        “I wanna stay here and take care of Poppy!”

        “No, you'll come with me so your papa can rest today. Maybe by tomorrow--”

        Johnny held up a hand, too tired to fight with both his housekeeper and his son, even if they did have his best intentions in mind. “No one needs to take care of me. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” Johnny coughed as he bent to untie his boots, causing Clarice to frown.

        “I don't like the sounds of that cough, John Roderick. You know how susceptible you are to bronchitis and pneumonia. You told me yourself one time that it's not unusual for firefighters to have a lot of upper respiratory problems because of years of inhaling smoke. Then add to that you don't have your liver--”

        Johnny couldn't help but laugh at the woman, even if it did cause him to cough again. “My spleen, Clarice. I don't have a spleen. If I didn't have my liver I'd be dead.”

        “Spleen, liver, whatever. Makes no difference at this point. Just remember, because of that, a cold seems to hit you a lot harder than it does most people. You always get so sick whenever you have one, even if you do insist that's not the case.”

        Trevor looked up at his father. “Why's that, Poppy? What makes you get so sick? What is a spleen anyway?”

        Johnny padded into the kitchen in his stocking feet with his little entourage behind him. “The spleen is an internal organ that filters and stores blood.” Johnny touched the upper left portion of his abdomen, just below his diaphragm. “It's located right in this area. You've seen the scar I have there, Trev.”

        “Oh, yeah.” Trevor looked at Clarice. “It's really cool. Ask Poppy to show you.”

        Johnny blushed while Clarice laughed. “I don't think that will be necessary, love. I'll take your word for it.”

        “So how come not having a spleen makes you get sick, Poppy? And what happened to yours?”

        “Another function of the spleen is to help the body combat infection, which is why a person without one can sometimes get lots of colds and other viral infections. I don't have mine because it was ruptured years ago when I was hit by a car. The doctors had to remove it.”

        Trevor's brown eyes grew round. “You were hit by a car?”


        “When?” Trevor asked, as he took a seat beside his father at the oak kitchen table that sat four. The bay window behind them looked over the front yard. The open rounded shape of this area made for the informal dining nook where Johnny and his son ate the majority of their meals. One window panel was cranked open, allowing the smell of pine, cedar, and spruce to waft through the room.

        Clarice put a plate of scrambled eggs, three strips of bacon, and toast in front of Johnny. She gave Trevor a piece of toast, too, smeared with her homemade strawberry jam, even though the boy had eaten a bowl of cereal several hours earlier. This mid-morning father and son breakfast was a tradition on the days Trevor didn't have school when Johnny came off a twenty-four hour shift.

        “Oh, about twenty-six years ago now. When I was a paramedic in L.A.”

        “Was Uncle Roy there?”


        “Why'd he let you get hit by a car?”

        “He didn't let me get hit by a car, Trev. It just happened. I stepped out into the street to put something away in one of the squad's compartments and a car came zooming along and hit me.”

        “Wow! Neat.”

        “Not so neat when you're flipped on top of a windshield, then thrown to the ground like a rag doll,” Johnny said as he picked at his eggs. Clarice was a wonderful cook, but his throat hurt and his stuffy head meant he had little appetite.

        “Milk, John?” The woman asked, guessing that orange juice was not going to be welcome on a scratchy throat.

        “Yes, please. But I can get it. You head on home now.”

        “No, I'll stay until you're done eating so I can clean up the kitchen for you. You're sure you don't want me to take Trevor with me?”

        “No. We'll be fine together.”

        “I'll take real good care of him, Clarice,” Trevor promised, as the woman brought him and his father glasses of milk.

        “I'm sure you will, honey, but maybe Papa would like to rest without a busy little boy underfoot.”

        “No, Papa wouldn't,” Johnny negated. “The busy little boy can fetch things for Papa.”

        “Like a dog,” Trevor giggled. “I'll fetch whatever you want me to, Pops.”

        Johnny was content to let Clarice and Trevor carry the rest of the conversation. He didn't eat all his eggs, and allowed Trevor to snitch two pieces of his bacon, but managed to get down enough of the meal to suit his housekeeper. He finished his toast and drained his glass of milk dry. He started to carry the dishes to the dishwasher, but they were taken from his hands.

        “You go upstairs and stand under a hot shower. Then get to bed. I'll take care of these things.”

        “All right. Thanks a lot.”

        “You're welcome a lot. I'll see you Saturday morning. If you need me before then, you call me.”

        “It's just a cold, Clarice.”

        “I realize that. But if you--”

        “Yes, I'll call you. Thanks for the offer. I don't know what I'd do without you.” Johnny looked at his son. “You help Clarice clean up the kitchen, please. Then come upstairs and see me before you go back outside.”

        “Okay, Papa.”

        Johnny walked through the great room and grabbed the wooden railing of the open staircase that would take him to the upper story. Usually he took the stairs two at a time with a pep more reminiscent of a twenty-three year old man, as opposed to one of fifty-three. But today the fire chief felt every one of those fifty-three years as he trudged up the stairs on heavy legs.

        Johnny unclipped his cell phone and beeper from the waistband of his uniform pants and laid both items on his nightstand next to the clock radio. He walked over to his dresser, emptying his pockets of change, wallet, and key ring, before placing those items on top of the dresser. He pulled off his watch and put it on top of the dresser as well. He opened a drawer, pulling out a pair of white socks, a white handkerchief, and a pair of navy blue boxer shorts, then crossed the floor to his walk-in closest. He grabbed a pair of faded Wrangler jeans and a short sleeve tan safari-style shirt from within its depths.

        The second story of the fire chief's home held two bedrooms, a full bathroom, and a long, wide hallway/balcony that overlooked the great room below. Johnny had that hallway set up as a reading and homework nook for Trevor. A small desk sat against one wall with shelving units on each side of it. The shelves contained a dictionary, a set of encyclopedias, and children's fiction books by a wide variety of authors. A big easy chair resided in one corner that he and Trevor sat in when they read together. Johnny knew the end of those days was growing near, and that within the next year or so Trevor would be too old to want sit and read with his father any longer. Sometimes it was hard for the man to face the fact that his son was growing up a lot faster than Johnny wanted him to.

        The fire chief poked his head in his son's room as he passed by, just to verify that the bed was made and the room picked up. He smiled to himself, knowing fully well his years with various fire departments had molded him into a tough taskmaster in his little boy's eyes. The room was awash with sky blue paint on the walls and white, billowing mounds of snow. Dog sleds pulled by teams of Malamutes and Huskies, and guided by bundled-up mushers, flew over that snow and circled the room in a still-life race. Johnny had hired an artist from Eagle Harbor to transform the room to a young boy's wonderland. A treasure-style chest sat at the end of Trevor's cedar captain's bed and was filled with toys. Johnny had put a shelving unit on one wall that held games, stuffed animals, and the kinds of things an eight year old picks up on his daily travels like shiny rocks, pinecones, and a claw that had broken off from a black bear. A bank in the shape of a Malamute that Trevor referred to as his 'doggie bank' sat on top of the boy's cedar dresser. The navy blue quilt on the tall captain's bed, that housed a pullout trundle bed beneath it for overnight guests, needed only a few wrinkles smoothed out. Johnny opened the matching curtains on the windows while he was in here to let the sunlight in the room.

        Johnny left his son's room and headed for his original destination. He shut the bathroom door and stripped off his uniform. He slid the shower doors back and turned on the faucet. When he had the spray of water as hot as he could stand it he climbed in and allowed the steam to envelope him.

        The fire chief soaped his body and washed his hair, then stood under the hot water another ten minutes. When he climbed out he was at least able to breathe through his nose, which was an improvement over when his shower had begun. Johnny shut the water off and stepped out of the tub. He dried himself with a thick bath towel, got dressed, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and shaved. He gathered up his dirty clothes, throwing his boxer shorts and socks in the hamper. He folded his uniform pants and shirt, placing the bundle on top of the hamper. He knew Clarice would pick the clothing up on Saturday when she made her rounds throughout the house and take the bundle to the dry cleaners for him.

        Johnny exited the bathroom. He returned to his bedroom where he opened the closet door and grabbed a blanket from the shelf. He spread it out on his queen-sized bed, then climbed beneath it. He had just gotten settled against his pillows when he heard Trevor coming up the stairs. The boy had a box of Kleenex in one hand, a glass of water and two Comtrex cold tablets in the other.

        “Clarice says you might need these things.”

        “Thanks.” Johnny took the yellow tablets from his son and washed them down with three gulps of water. He handed his glass back to his son. “Set this and the Kleenex on the nightstand for me, please.”

        “Okay.” Trevor placed the items on the table next to his father's bed. He loved his father's room. Even on the grayest of winter days it was light because of the big windows that faced the south. The walls were paneled with rough, pale barn planking, just like the walls in Papa's first floor office. The carpeting was beige, as was the carpeting throughout the entire house. The bedspread was a big patchwork quilt of slate blue, rusty orange, and dark brown squares made by Grandma Marietta. The curtains were patchwork, too, and matched the quilt. The bed had four thick wooden posters that rose from each corner and a massive foot and head board. The the dresser was half again as tall as Trevor. It was a very comforting room to a young boy when he awoke from a bad dream, or when he was sick and wanted to be near his father. Everything about it was masculine, and seemed like the kind of room a father should have.

        The only pictures in the room, with the exception of one, were of Trevor himself. There was almost a quarter of a wall devoted to him. Another picture resided on one corner of the dresser. It was of a young woman and a twelve-month-old baby girl. Trevor knew the woman had been his father's wife, Kim, and the girl, if she were still living, would be his big sister Jessie. But they'd been dead a long long time, and Trevor didn't know much about them because Papa rarely spoke of them.

        Johnny's voice drew Trevor's attention from the half sister he'd never known, and who would be thirty-four years old if she was alive today. “Did Clarice go home?”

        “Yeah. She just left.” Trevor climbed up on the mattress and crossed his legs Indian style. “Pops, what happened when you got hit by that car?”

        “I already told you.”

        “Did Uncle Roy help you after the car hit you?”

        “He sure did. His actions probably saved my life.”



        “He knew just what to do, huh?”

        “Yep. Your Uncle Roy was a real level-headed guy, Trev. He always knew what to do even in the worst of situations.”

        “And that was a pretty worst situation, right?”

        Johnny smiled at his son's vocabulary. “Yeah. That was a pretty worst situation all right. Except I think you want to say, 'bad situation.' It was a pretty bad situation.”

        “Yeah, that's what I wanted to say. But you knew what I meant.” Trevor glanced into the hallway. “Do you want me to read to you for a while?”
        “Sure,” Johnny agreed, knowing that would give his sore throat a rest since Trevor would be occupied doing something besides asking him questions.

        The boy hopped off the bed and came back with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He climbed up next to Johnny once more, resumed his former sitting position, opened to the page he had marked, and started to read.

        Johnny's long years in the fire service allowed him to drop off to sleep regardless of any disturbance going on around him. He dozed, only dimly aware of the cadence of Trevor's voice while the boy read. Whether Trevor had been reading for fifteen minutes or thirty, when the phone rang, Johnny wasn't sure. He opened his eyes to see his son reaching for the jingling instrument that rested on the nightstand. Trevor's hand hovered with indecisiveness a moment, until he finally decided it was the house-phone that was ringing, as opposed to his father's cell phone.

        “Hello, this is Fire Chief Gage's residence,” Trevor greeted politely, just like Clarice had taught him since Johnny received many business related calls at home. “This is Trevor speaking.”

        By listening to the one-sided conversation Johnny quickly discerned that Trevor was talking to a friend. Within seconds the boy put the receiver against his shoulder and looked at his father. “Papa, can I go over to Dalton and Dylan's to play? Mrs. Tierman invited me to stay for lunch, too.”

        Dalton and Dylan Tierman were identical twins in Trevor's class, and two of his closest friends. They lived a half mile from Johnny's home, and were over here playing as often as Trevor played at their house.

        “I guess that's okay if it's okay with Mrs. Tierman,” Johnny rasped.

        Trevor put the phone back to his mouth. “It's okay with your mom, right?” He looked back down at his father. “It's okay with Mrs. Tierman.”

        “All right. You go ahead then. I'll call over to their house by four o'clock for Mrs. Tierman to send you home. If she wants you home any earlier than that you call me.”

        Trevor nodded, knowing the routine well. His father and the twins' parents had long ago worked out a system that allowed the boys to ride their bikes back and forth between each other’s homes. The hosting adult would walk a quarter of a mile down the road to watch for the visiting child's arrival. Though the road they lived on was rural, not often used, and cut directly through a thick grove of Sitka spruce trees, it didn't have any sidewalks meaning Johnny and the Tiermans were cautious about how far the boys were allowed to travel on it unsupervised. Trevor knew by the time he got to the end of his driveway he'd be able to see Mrs. Tierman and the twins in the distance waiting for him.

        Trevor spoke into the phone one last time to whichever twin he was talking to. “I'll be there in a few minutes.” He hung up the phone and closed his book.

        “You want me to leave Harry Potter here for you to read?”

        “No, you can put him back on the shelf. We'll read more later.”

        “Will you be okay while I'm gone?”

        Johnny chuckled at the boy's concern. “Yes, Trev. I'll be okay while you're gone.”

        “Maybe we can get a pizza tonight, huh, Pops? 'Cause I bet you don't feel like cooking at all.”

        Johnny cocked an eyebrow at his boy. “Are you knocking my cooking again?”

        “Let's face it, Poppy, you're good at a lot of things, but cooking isn't one of 'em unless a kid wants to eat hamburgers and hot dogs for the rest of his life.”

        Johnny reached out a hand and tickled his son before Trevor squirmed away. “For that, I just might let you starve.”

        Trevor laughed, then gave his father a fleeting kiss on the cheek as he scrambled off the bed.

        “See you later.”

        “Yeah, see you later. And don't go out on the road until you--”

        “I know, I know. Until I see Mrs. Tierman waiting for me. Bye!”

        “Bye, Trev. Have fun.”

        “I will.”

        Johnny hiked himself up on one elbow. “You'd better lock Tasha and Nicolai in the barn or they'll follow you.”


The boy returned his book to the shelf, then scrambled down the stairs. He paused in the laundry room long enough to put his tennis shoes on, then ran out the back door without locking it. He raced for the garage with Tasha and Nicolai right behind him. He gave both the dogs a hug, then opened the door that led into the barn.

        “Go on,” the boy urged to the dogs who hesitated. “Go in the barn. Papa will let you out later.”

        The dogs crossed the threshold, Trevor walking in after them. He took a pail off the shelf and ran to the water spigot. He allowed some water to run into the pail, then shut the spigot off and walked to the area of the barn where the dogs' dishes were kept. He filled their deep rubber pan with fresh water before returning the pail to the shelf where it belonged. With one final pat to the Malamutes' heads Trevor ran out the side door, shut it, and locked it.

        The boy climbed on his bike and rode it out of the garage. Trevor loved summer vacation better than he loved almost anything. The days were long, he could play with the twins all he wanted to, he didn't have any homework, and best of all, he got to spend time with his father whenever Papa had the day off. He knew they'd go horseback riding together, and go hiking together, and play baseball, and go bowling, and kayaking, and camping, and all kinds of fun things before school started again in late August.

        Trevor pedaled down the gravel driveway, easily taking the wide curve just south of the house before steering straight once more. He applied his brakes when he came to the end of the drive and looked both left and right. In the distance to his left he could barely make out the forms of Mrs. Tierman, the twins, and the twins' three year old sister Delannie. A white van was slowly coming Trevor's way, so he stayed off the road and waited for the vehicle to pass. The vehicle didn't pass by, however, but rather stopped beside Trevor. The driver rolled down his window and smiled.

        “Is your father home, son?”

        “Yes. But he's sleeping.”

        “Oh,” the driver feigned disappointment. “I see.”

        “He's got a bad cold.”

        “I'm sorry to hear that.”

        “He'll be okay. He just needs to rest.”

        “I'm sure he does.” The man chewed on his lower lip a moment as if trying hard to make a decision. “Listen, I'm an old friend of your dad's from California. Do you think it would be okay if I go up and just say hello? I won't stay long.”

        Trevor studied the man. He wasn't Marco, or Mike, or Cap, or Chet, or Uncle Roy, but maybe his father had other friends in California he'd never talked about, or that Trevor had never seen pictures of.

        “That would probably be okay. If you only stay for a few minutes I mean,” Johnny's little protector emphasized. “Do you know my Uncle Roy?”

        “Your Uncle Roy?”

        “Roy DeSoto. Do you know him?”

        “Oh . . .DeSoto. Sure. Sure I know him.”

        Trevor strained to see inside the van. “He's not with you, is he?”

        “No, no. He's not with me.”

        “That's too bad.”


        “ 'Cause I think my papa would like to see him.”

        “Oh. Well, maybe I can arrange that.”

        “Really?” Trevor grinned, thinking a visit from Uncle Roy would be a wonderful surprise for his father.

        “Sure,” the man smiled in return. “But hey, I'd better let you go. Looks like you were heading somewhere.”

        Trevor pointed to the people in the distance. “To my friends' house. Dalton and Dylan. They're twins.”

        “I'll let you go then. Maybe I'll see you later.”

        “Yeah, see you later. We might get pizza for supper. You can come with us if you want to, Sir.”

        “Well, thank you, Trevor. It's really nice of you to invite me.”

        Trevor waved to the man, then turned his bike onto the road while the van pulled into his driveway. He briefly wondered how the stranger knew his name, but just as quickly that concern left his mind. If the man stayed for dinner Trevor would ask him then.

        I'm glad one of Papa's friends from California is here. And one who knows Uncle Roy. That will make Papa happy.

        The boy pedaled his bike toward the twins, all thoughts of the unexpected visitor pushed aside as a day of summer fun loomed ahead.


        Thanks to some help from the Comtrex tablets, Johnny had fallen asleep by the time Trevor was having his conversation with the stranger at the end of the driveway. He never heard the van come to a halt by the house, nor did Tasha or Nicolai because the barn contained no windows on the side that faced Johnny's home.

        Evan Crammer listened carefully for any other cars that might be coming up Johnny's driveway as he headed for the back door. The location of the house couldn't have been more perfect. It sat a quarter of a mile off the road, and was hidden from view by rows and rows of Sitka Spruce, Blue Spruce, and Cedar trees. Crammer left his camera equipment in the van. Now that Trevor had told him Gage was sleeping, Evan had no need to use the story he had planned to give his old foe, that he'd been sent here by the Police and Fire Commission to take some pictures of the fire chief's home.

        That the boy was gone was a plus. Crammer hadn't been sure what he was going to do with the kid had he been here, but Evan certainly wasn't against killing him if need be. He was glad that need hadn't arose. Trevor was a handsome little bugger, and polite, too.

        The boy called me Sir. How many kids now days use that form of address for an adult?

Evan chuckled when he the thought of the dinner invitation the kid had extended him. Unfortunately, Trevor Gage would be dining without his father tonight. The man smiled at the thought of what was to come as he slipped a pair of black leather gloves over his fingers and tugged them snugly around his palms. He'd never left evidence behind at any past crime scene, expect for the bodies, of course, so he had no intention of getting careless at this late stage in the game.

        Crammer carried Mace in one hand and a black medical-style bag in the other. The Mace was for the dogs. Evan watched for them, but they never appeared. He wondered if they were running somewhere in the forest behind Gage's home, or if they were in the house.

        With that in mind Evan put a light hand on the doorknob. Though he had the necessary tools in his bag that would allow him to gain entry, it didn't surprise him to find the door unlocked. Once again, these Alaskans proved to be a trusting bunch. Or maybe the door was simply unlocked because an eight-year-old boy was the last one to go out it. No matter. It made Evan's job easier.

        The man entered into the laundry room and closed the door behind him. He paused, straining to pick up any sounds coming from the main floor. When he didn't hear anyone moving about, or the sounds of a television or stereo, he turned the knob on the laundry room door and peered into the kitchen. The room was spotless and empty. Evan looked to his right to see the great room in the same condition. He eased his way into the main part of the house, keeping his Mace ready should he encounter the dogs or Gage.

        Without making a sound, Evan crept across the great room carpeting and risked a glance into what looked like a home office. Again; clean, empty, and quiet. He retraced his steps, heading up the stairs. When the man got to the landing he turned to his right and smiled. He could see directly into Gage's room. The fire chief was lying on his back, his upper body propped up on two pillows, and his left arm thrown over his eyes.

        Evan took a few steps backwards, ending up in Trevor's room. He set his bag on the boy's Captain's bed and unlatched it. He placed the Mace inside, and pulled out a thick square of clean cloth and a plastic bottle. He took those two items with him, leaving the bag behind for now. It had a number of things in it he'd need in a few minutes, but first things first. He had to incapacitate John Gage so the man couldn't fight back.

        Evan crept past the bathroom and through Trevor's study area toward Johnny's room. The carpeting assisted in making his journey down the long hallway soundless despite the man's hiking boots. When he was six inches from Gage's bed he uncapped the bottle and gave the cloth a liberal soaking.

        Though Johnny's sinuses were far from clear, it was an odd chemical smell he couldn't quite identify that woke him. Or at least not identify as belonging in his home. He started to move his hand from his eyes when his arm was pinned to the bed.

        Johnny's eyes flew open, all the while thinking he must be dreaming until he caught sight of the stranger looming over him.

        “Hey!” Johnny shouted, struggling to break the man's hold. “Hey, what are you--”

        Johnny's shouts were cut-off as he fought against the man's strength to get to a sitting position. Now he knew what the smell was. Chloroform.

        Johnny's head twisted from side to side as the cloth was pressed against his nose and mouth. He bucked his body upward, but the man was on top of him, sitting on his chest.

        With one last effort Johnny tried to lurch himself free. The man held him to the bed, pressing the suffocating cloth more firmly to his face. Johnny's assailant smiled down at him.

        “You probably don't recognize me, but fate brought us together in the past. One Saturday night in April of 1978 to be exact, Uncle Johnny.”

        Despite the chloroform, for one brief moment Johnny's eyes opened wide as recognition dawned. He heart rate increased even more, but his body was unable to react. The last sound Johnny heard as unconsciousness claimed him was that of Evan Crammer's laughter.


Chapter 11

        Trevor paid little attention to the time as he spent the day romping with the Tierman twins. It wasn't until he followed the boys into the house for some cookies, and he smelled supper cooking on the stove, that he glanced at the wall clock. It was ten minutes after five. He briefly wondered why his father hadn't called for him to come home yet. Normally, if Papa said he was going to call by a certain time, then he did. Before Trevor could ponder this further, Mr. Tierman's blue Ford pickup truck pulled in the driveway.

        The twins and their little sister ran to the door to meet their father. The man was a truck driver for a logging firm north of Juneau. He was often gone for weeks at a time, before returning home to his family for a few days in-between lumber deliveries.

        Bill Tierman playfully roughhoused with his children a moment, then walked over to where his wife was standing by the sink and gave her a kiss. He smiled at Trevor and ruffled his hair.

        “Hi, there, Trevor Gage.”

        “Hi, Mr. Tierman.”

        “How's your pops doing these days?”

        “He's fine. He's got a cold, but he'll be okay.”

        “That's good to hear. We can't have our fire chief down sick, now can we?”

        “No, Sir.” Trevor looked up at Brenda Tierman. “Mrs. Tierman, can I use your phone to call Papa? He said he wanted me home by four, but he hasn't called yet, has he?”

        “No, sweetie, he hasn't. He probably got busy doing something and lost track of the time. You go ahead and call him.”

        Trevor walked over to the phone that was hanging by the refrigerator and dialed his number. He let it ring twenty times, then finally hung up. He shrugged his shoulders as he turned around.

        “He must be outside doing chores. Or maybe he's still sleeping. He was taking a nap when I left. The answering machine didn't pick up, so that means he's around there somewhere. He only turns it on when we leave the house.”

         Brenda looked at her husband. “Bill, why don't you and the boys walk Trevor home?”

        “Will do.” The powerfully built man with the red beard spread his arms and gathered up the three boys. “Come on, guys. Let's get young Mr. Gage back where he belongs.”

        Trevor thanked Mrs. Tierman for lunch, and then gave Delannie a hug goodbye. Because he had no siblings of his own, and possessed a good deal of his father's charm where pretty girls were concerned, Trevor lavished attention on the twins' baby sister.

        Brenda smiled as she watched her husband and the boys walked out the door. John Gage was certainly doing an outstanding job of raising Trevor alone. Brenda, like most residents of Eagle Harbor, didn't know the details behind John Gage's single status. Many of the town's people knew Trevor's mother lived in New York City, but how long she and John had been married, or if they'd been married at all, or how he'd come to have custody of Trevor, remained a well-guarded secret by those few close friends John had confided in. None of that mattered anyway. Brenda had grown up in Eagle Harbor, and could honestly say John Gage was the most dedicated, hard-working, knowledgeable, and well-liked fire chief they'd ever had. Bill was a member of his volunteer force and thought the world of the man.

        Brenda smiled down at her daughter while handing the little blond girl three plastic glasses. All thoughts of the Gage family left her as she instructed, “Help Mommy set the table, Delannie.”


        Bill and his boys walked Trevor three quarters of the way home. As soon as they could see the Gage driveway Trevor climbed on his bike. “I can go on from here, Mr. Tierman.”

        “Are you sure you don't want us to walk you all the way just to make sure your papa is there?”

        “No, that's okay. Like I said, he's either doing chores or sleeping.”

        Bill nodded. He knew John Gage was a conscientious and protective father. If he'd gone into Eagle Harbor for some reason he would have called and asked Brenda to keep an eye on Trevor a little while longer, or he would have picked the boy up on his way past the Tierman home.

        “All right, then. But if you get home and he's not there, you call us. I'll come and get you. You can stay at our house until your papa gets back.”

        “Thanks. But he'll be there.”

        The twins said goodbye to Trevor next.

        “See you,” Trevor waved, as he began pedaling his bike toward home. “Maybe you guys can come to my house tomorrow.”

        The twins promised to ask permission to do just that. As soon as Bill saw Trevor arrive safely at his driveway, the man took each of his sons by a hand and started walking in the opposite direction from the Gage homestead.

        Trevor pedaled the bike right into the open garage. He noticed his father's Durango was still parked in front of the garage, and that the Land Rover was parked in its usual spot inside the structure. Trevor brought his bicycle to a halt next to his father's bike. He knocked the kickstand down with a toe of his tennis shoe, making sure the bike was balanced on it before walking away. He'd once gotten a swat on the rear end for allowing his bicycle to fall against the Land Rover, when he was in too much of a hurry to secure the bike properly. He'd learned well from that lesson. If there was one thing Papa didn't like, it was a scratch in the paint of his vehicles.

        The boy paused when he heard Tasha and Nicolai whining from the other side of the door. He walked over and opened the door, laughing as the dogs danced around his feet and lavished him with kisses.

        “Wow. Papa must be really sick if he hasn't let you guys out of the barn yet.”

        The dogs bounded out of the garage, happy to regain their freedom. Trevor looked toward the house, but all remained quiet.

        I'll surprise Papa and have all the chores done for him before he comes outside.

Trevor spent the next twenty minutes feeding and watering all the animals. He left Champ and Omaha in the corral, knowing that his father would stall the horses before night fell. He poured equal amounts of dog food in Tasha's and Nicolai's dishes, even though the dogs were outside at the moment. They'd come back to eat once they worked off their pent-up energy.

        The boy brushed his shaggy bangs out of his eyes as he reached in the cage Hoppy and Happy shared. He stroked a hand over the rabbits' soft white fur, then scratched both of them behind their long ears.

        “I'll let you guys out to hop around the yard tomorrow,” Trevor promised. Hoppy and Happy loved their freedom when it was granted, but Trevor had to keep a watchful eye on them so they didn't disappear into the thick groves of trees that surrounded the house.

        Trevor secured the rabbits' cage door. He stopped to pet some of his cats who were eating from their feed pans, then skipped out of the barn and ran for the house. He jumped up and grabbed his crossover bars, swinging all the way to the end like a monkey. He leaped to the ground, flew up the ladder to the top of the slide, then ran down the metal structure with his arms spread wide. He raced for the back door, remembering just in time not to slam it as he entered, just in case his father was still sleeping. He slipped off his tennis shoes, opened the door that led into the kitchen, and stepped inside.

        The eight year old fully expected to find Johnny sitting in his recliner in the great room watching TV, or maybe in his office working on something he'd brought home from the fire station. The main floor of the house was quiet, though. Quiet in an eerie sort of way. All Trevor could hear was the faint hum of the refrigerator.

        “Papa,” the boy called just above a whisper. “Pops.”

        When no one answered Trevor he headed up the stairs. He resisted the urge to run; again, not wanting to wake his father if Johnny was still sleeping.

        He must be really sick. Really, really sick. Papa never lays around in bed. Clarice says he's got too much energy to stay in one place very long. Like me. Maybe I should call Clarice and ask her to come over. She'll know what to do for Papa. She can even get him to go to the doctor when no one else can.

Trevor stopped when he got to the same spot where Evan Crammer had stood seven hours earlier. His father wasn't lying on the bed, though the quilt was wrinkled. The blanket that had been covering Johnny was gone, as was the box of Kleenex that had been on the nightstand.

        Trevor's heart pounded in his chest. His father had never left him home alone before. He didn't like this. He didn't like it one bit. Both vehicles were in the driveway, but Papa was gone. No longer caring if he woke anyone, Trevor shouted.

        “Papa! Poppy! Poppy, where are you?”

Trevor ran into his father's room. Just like he suspected, it was empty. He turned around and raced for the bathroom.
        “Papa! Poppy! Poppy, are you in there?”

        The bathroom was empty, too, as was Trevor's own bedroom. He flew down the stairs and ran through the house calling for his father. He slipped his feet into his tennis shoes once again, but didn't bother to tie the laces as he rushed out the back door.

        “Papa! Poppy, where are you? Poppy!”

        Trevor raced from one corner of the yard to the other, then to the garage, barn, and to the border of the national forest beyond. He cupped his hands around his mouth so his voice would carry.

        “Poppy! Poppy, where are you? Poppy!”

        Trevor's panic increased with each second that ticked by without a sign of his father anywhere.

        “Poppy! Poppy, please! Don't play a joke on me.”

        Tears ran down the little boy's face. His father liked to have fun, but he'd never played a practical joke on Trevor before. Trevor knew fully well that because of Station 51's Phantom, his father wasn't overly fond of practical jokes.

        “Poppy! Poppy, please! Please, where are you?”

        For just a moment Trevor had no idea what to do, other than to stand by the barn and cry. He was alone, he didn't know where his father was, and he was frightened. Far more frightened than he could ever remember being in all his eight years. There was something wrong. Something terrible had happened to his papa. Trevor didn't know what made him come to that realization, but for some reason he was certain of it.

        The boy swiped at the tears on his face. He had to do something besides stand here and cry like a baby. His papa had taught him how to react in the event of an emergency, and Trevor was pretty sure this was an emergency.

        Stay calm, get to a phone, and call for help, Trevor told himself, mimicking the words in his head he'd often heard his papa say.

        The eight year old ran for the house once more. He gave little thought to what Clarice would say if she found out he'd been in the kitchen with his shoes on.

        Trevor reached for the cordless phone that rested in a stand on the counter. He dialed Clarice's number by heart. When the answering machine retrieved the call, and Carl's voice began intoning the message, he hung up. Trevor's fingers trembled as he dialed the number that would ring in his father's office at the fire station. He knew after ten unanswered rings the call would roll over to the phone in the deputy chief's office. Phil picked up on the second ring.

        “Eagle Harbor Fire Station. Deputy Chief Marceau.”

        “Mr. Marceau, it's me. Trevor Gage.”

        “Hi, Trevor. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”

        “Is my papa there?”

        “Your papa?”

        “Yes. Is he there?”

        “No, he's not. Isn't he home with you?”

        “No, I don't know where he is.” Trevor's voice rose as his fear once again threaten to take over. “Is Carl there? Can I talk to him?”

        “Just a minute, son. I'll check. You hang on, okay?”

        “O. . .okay.”

        Trevor watched a full minute tick by on the clock that hung over the stove, before he finally heard Carl's voice.

        “Trev, what's wrong? Phil said you don't know where Papa is?”

        “No. I was playing at Dylan and Dalton's all day. Papa said he'd call for me to come home by four, but he didn't. Finally Mr. Tierman walked me home a little after five. The chores weren't done so I did 'em by myself. When I was finished I came in the house to look for Papa, but he's not here, Carl. I've looked everywhere.”

        “Maybe he's outside someplace.”

        “No! I've looked. I've looked and looked, and I've called over and over again, but he doesn't answer.”

        “Are both the vehicles there? The Land Rover and the Durango?”


        “And the horses? Are Champ and Omaha there?”

        “They're in the corral.”

        “Trevor, I'll be right over. You lock the doors and you stay in the kitchen, do you understand me, son?”

        “Yes, Sir.”
        “Don't answer the door for anyone unless it's me or your papa knocking, okay?”

        “O. . .okay.”

        “I'll be there in five minutes, Trev. Don't cry now. Everything will be all right.”

        Carl hung up the phone after reiterating to Trevor the importance of locking the doors. He scooped his keys up off his desk and ran for the door.

        “What?” Phil questioned, as he took a step back so Carl could get by him. “What's going on?”

        “Nothing, I hope. Trevor arrived home an hour ago from playing with the Tierman boys, and hasn't been able to locate his father.”

        “But John would never leave Trevor home alone.”

        “I know that.”

        Phil ran to keep up with Carl as the man rushed for the white Durango he drove that identified him as Eagle Harbor's Chief Of Police.

        “Are both the vehicles there?”

        “Trevor says they are.”

        “And the horses? I heard you ask him about the horses. Are they there?”

        “Yeah. In the corral.”

        “Then he can't be far. He's got to be around there somewhere. I mean, unless someone came by and picked him up, where could he have gone to? Especially considering the way he was feeling when he left here this morning. He said he was going to take a nap, and then just relax and watch a video with Trevor or something.”

        “I can't answer any of your questions, Phil, because until I get out there I have no idea what's going on. Hopefully, John just took a little hike into the woods. Maybe by the time I arrive he'll be back.”

        “But the look on your face says you don't think that's the case. You're upset, Carl. Really upset. How come?”

        Carl slid his bulk behind the wheel of his Durango with the name Scott Monroe assaulting his brain. He shook his head at Phil. “I'll tell you later if need be. Think good thoughts, huh?”

        “Yeah. Yeah, sure,” Phil agreed, as he watched Carl wheel the Durango out of the parking lot.

        The deputy chief wasn't exactly sure why he was supposed to be thinking good thoughts for John Gage. After all, it wasn't like grown men got kidnapped. Especially not in Eagle Harbor, Alaska. But Phil did as Carl requested, and offered up a prayer for the boss he admired and called friend.


Chapter 12

        Getting John Gage out of Alaska was so easy it was almost a disappointment for Evan. After all the work he'd put into this, a little excitement would have been nice.
        Once Evan had incapacitated Gage with the chloroform, he'd gone to the man's closet and grabbed a pair of black and red Nike running shoes from the floor. At some point Gage would be doing a little hiking for him. Evan didn't want that trek slowed by bloodied feet or stubbed toes. There'd be plenty of time for blood later on.

        Evan put the shoes on Gage's feet and tied them. He then put the blanket covering the fire chief over the man's head. Evan grabbed Johnny's arm, pulled his limp body into a sitting position, crouched down, and loaded the man over his shoulder. Evan smiled as he hauled Gage out of his house.

        A fireman's carry for a fireman. How appropriate.

The big white van Evan drove had no windows other than the windshield, the pane of glass in the driver's side door, and the pane of glass in the passenger side door. Evan slid the panel door back and tossed his burden onto the floor. He shut the door and locked it, then ran back into the house. He picked his satchel up from where it still rested on Trevor's bed. He hurried into Johnny's room and collected his chloroform and cloth. He put them in his bag, then grabbed the box of Kleenex off the nightstand. It wasn't that he was overly concerned about his captive's comfort, but he had no desire to watch snot run out of Gage's nose until he finally killed him.

        Evan latched his bag and ran a hand over the quilted bedspread to straighten it. He looked around the room, satisfied that it appeared completely undisturbed. He made sure the rest of the house was in the same condition as he exited. He didn't want it to look like foul play had occurred, or that anything had been disturbed should Gage's housekeeper or boy return. Evan needed to buy enough time to get out of Eagle Harbor, so for now it was best if it appeared as though Gage had simply gone for a walk.

        When Evan was outside again he unlocked and slid open the side door of the van, then set the Kleenex box and his bag on the floor next to his captive. He opened the bag again and pulled out two lengths of rope and silver duct tape. He tossed the blanket away from the fire chief's body, then tied one thick strand of horse-hair rope around his ankles, and the other around the wrists he clasped behind Johnny's back. He made sure the knots were tight and secure. Gage was not going to get away from him this time. Evan dug in his bag until he felt a pair of scissors. He cut six inches of tape from the roll and slapped it across Gage's mouth. He brought the thick blue blanket back up and pulled it over the man's head. Between the high bench seat in front of Gage, and the blanket, the likelihood that anyone would realize the fire chief was back here was so low Evan didn't even worry about it.

        Crammer latched his bag again and slid it under the seat in front of Johnny's head. He slid the box of Kleenex under there for the time being as well. He shut the door, relocked it, and ran around to the driver's side. He drove up by the barn and turned around. He could faintly hear the sound of barking dogs as he did so, and realized now the Malamutes were locked in the building.

        Lucky them, because a couple of dead dogs would mean nothing to me, but the sight of their lifeless bodies might have upset that nice little Trevor.

Gravel crunched beneath the van's tires as Evan headed down Johnny's driveway. He pulled onto the road and turned left. He laughed as he drove by a home and spotted Trevor playing in the front yard with two look alike boys.

        “Say goodbye to Papa, Trevor,” Evan muttered as the van flew by.

        There were only two ways off of Eagle Harbor, by water or by air. Evan had long ago decided his only option after kidnapping Gage would be to leave by water. He drove down to the ferry landing, parked and waited. At noon the monstrous ferry would pull out for Juneau. As soon as Evan saw other vehicles get in line to board, he started the van and put it in drive. He got in line behind a pale blue Ford Taurus and waited his turn. He paid the gatekeeper for a one-way fare to Juneau, then slowly inched the van onto the deck. He kept a watchful eye on the teenager who was directing traffic. He did exactly as the young man's hand gestures instructed, and parked in the spot the boy indicated. Evan wasn't going to do anything stupid that would cause him to get caught with Eagle Harbor's fire chief unconscious and tied up in the back of his van by a sixteen year old kid in bad need of a tube of Clearasil.

        The hour ride to Juneau was uneventful. By one-fifteen Evan was driving the van off the boat. He laughed as he passed Eagle Harbor's police chief, Carl Mjtko, guiding his Durango onto the ferry.

        Stupid Eskimo. I'm kidnapping his best friend from right under his nose.

Evan drove straight for the small airport on the south end of Juneau. The main airport in this part of the state was the Anchorage International Airport. Juneau had a smaller airport that catered to private pilots. Evan had long ago learned that money can buy you just about anything, and there were plenty of immoral and dishonest people in this world who would take your money in exchange for performing a service without asking why. In this case, Evan had hired a pilot to fly him and his burden to California. He pulled the van up to the Cessna's side entry door, put it in park, and jumped out. The skinny pilot with the scraggily brown beard wasn't more than twenty-eight years old. Evan only knew him by Fritz, and had no idea if that was the guy's first name, last name, a portion of his last name, or none of the above. It didn't matter, because Fritz had no idea what Evan's name was at all. The money had already changed hands. All Fritz had to do was fly his plane south.

        “Want me to help you with that?” Fritz asked, as he watched Evan load Johnny over his shoulder as though he was totally unaware there was a man beneath that blanket.

        “No. Don't need any help. Just open that door for me.”

        Fritz did as Evan requested. He unlatched the short stairway, and brought it to rest on the pavement. Evan climbed the stairs and dumped his captive on the floor. He hurried out of the plane and back to his van. He cleaned it of all personal items, including his suitcase, camera case, and the leather case that held his laptop computer. He looked at the square building across the tarmac.

        “That's the office?”


        “Think anyone will mind if I make use of a phone line for an Internet connection?”

        “Don't think so. Iverson. . .the guy who runs the place, goes home for lunch from noon until about two-thirty, so no one's around 'cept me.”

        Evan's personal research had already garnered him that information, but he acted as though it came as a pleasant surprise.

        “Great. Thanks. I'm going to put most of this stuff on the plane, then I'll be in the office for a minute or two.”

        “Okay. Ready for me to get rid of this van now? My buddy's here to take it.”

        Evan suspected as much. He'd seen a man in the distance hanging around the parking lot smoking a cigarette.

        “Yeah. Get rid of it. And your buddy knows the score, right?”

        “Yep. Change the plates. Sell it to a chop shop in Fairbanks. And keep his mouth shut.”

        “Good. You gave him his share of the cash we agreed upon?”
        “I did.”

        Again, Evan said, “Good.”

        Crammer boarded the plane while Fritz drove the van away. He put his suitcase, medical bag, camera case, and the box of Kleenex against one wall. He got down on one knee and opened the black bag. He picked up the damp cloth from within its depths, pulled out the chloroform, uncapped it, and soaked the cloth again. He was careful not to breathe in any of the fumes as he pulled the blanket away from Johnny's face and held the cloth against his nose for a count of twenty seconds. Evan didn't plan on his captive waking up for quite some time yet. He knew he had to be careful in regard to the use of the drug. Too much chloroform and Gage could go into respiratory failure and die. It could also cause liver damage, cardiac irregularities, or bring on a fever. Evan cared little about those last three things. Actually, he didn't care if Gage died either, because ultimately, that was exactly what was in store for the man. He just didn't want the fire chief to die yet. If that happened it would take all the fun out of this little adventure.

        Evan put the cloth and bottle back in his bag. He threw the Kleenex box inside the bag, too. He latched it, picked up his laptop case, and headed out of the plane. He sprinted across the tarmac to the small square brick building the airport's owner used as an office. The building held two rooms. The central one contained a cluttered desk and yellowed walls that were scarred and in bad need of a fresh coat of white paint. The other room was in the rear of the building and contained a toilet and sink.
        Crammer's eyes followed the computer cables until he spotted the phone jack. He pulled the gray wire out that was connected to Iverson's tower, then unzipped his case. In one minute's time Evan was dialing into the Internet using his laptop. He had composed the e-mail several days earlier when he was staying in the cabin north of here. He had saved it in his drafts folder, and took a moment to reread it now.

        Hello Chris DeSoto. You'll be sory you mesed with me. Sined, Your Old Friend.

Evan laughed as he hit the send button. God, this was so easy. Hacking into the LAPD's records system had given him all the information he needed about Scott Monroe, from the man's mental status, to the fact that he was a poor speller, to the fact that he had made threats against Christopher DeSoto and John Gage.

        “I'm telling you,” Evan muttered to himself as he unhooked his phone line connection and repacked his computer, “this is like taking candy from a baby. But never fear, it will get more exciting. Oh, Uncle Johnny, I promise you. It will get more exciting.”

Chapter 13

        Controlled chaos reined over the Gage household the rest of that evening. Within ten minutes of arriving, Carl had done a thorough search of the house, garage, and barn. With Trevor clinging to his hand, Carl hiked a mile into the forest calling Johnny's name, though right from the start he suspected that was an effort in futility. Just like the Tiermans' and Phil Marceau, Carl knew John Gage would not leave his son home alone.

        Carl swung Trevor to his hip and carried the boy into the house. Trevor fought back the urge to cry.

        “Where is he, Carl? Where's my papa?”

        “I don't know, Little John,” Carl said, using the nickname he'd given Trevor years earlier because of the striking resemblance the child bore to his father. “But don't you worry. I'll find him.”

        Trevor stood next to Carl as the man began punching numbers into the receiver of the cordless kitchen phone. Explanations and instructions flew from Carl's mouth as he talked to first to his deputy chief, and then to Johnny's deputy chief. By the time Carl had tracked down his mother fifteen minutes later at his Aunt Marie's house, vehicles that ranged from police squad cars to battered pick up trucks were pulling into the Gage driveway.

        Trevor listened to Carl's side of the conversation with Clarice.

        “Mom, I need you at John's as soon as you can get here. No. . .no it has nothing to do with John being sick. I need you to come and take care of Trevor. Yes, something's wrong.” Carl looked down at the boy whose big brown eyes held a combination of fear and trust. “Trevor came home late this afternoon from playing at the Tiermans' to find John gone. I've searched the house and the outside property, and I can't locate him either. Yes, I know that's not like him. Yes, I know he wouldn't leave Trevor alone. I'm not certain what's going on at this point, but I'm sure we'll come across him. I just need you here to take care of Trevor for me, okay?” Carl did his best to muster a smile for the eight year old while tweaking the end of his nose. “He's been a big help to me, and he's doing a great job of being a brave boy, but he could sure use a friend right now.”

        Carl never had any doubt that his mother's response would differ from the one he got.

        “I'll be right there. You tell my Trevor that Clarice is on the way.”

        “I'll do that. Thank you.”

        Carl hung up the phone and cupped a big, callused hand underneath Trevor's chin. He looked into the boy's face. “My mother said to tell you she's on the way, Little John. Everything will be okay. Don't you worry, we'll find your papa.”

        Before Trevor could answer his father's friend, people began pouring in the house. Under normal circumstances Trevor would have pointed out to Carl that Clarice didn't allow shoes to be worn inside, but these weren't normal circumstances, and he sensed that in this case, Clarice would overlook any mud that marred the floors or carpeting.

        Trevor had often heard Clarice say the citizens of Eagle Harbor thought the world of his father, and that night her words were proven true. By eight o'clock one hundred and eighty people ranging from police officers, to every off-duty firefighter, to firefighters and EMT's from Johnny's volunteer force, to neighbors, shopkeepers, fishermen, and teenagers, were combing the woods surrounding the Gage house, and walking shoulder to shoulder through the Eagle Harbor National Forest with the hope of finding some clue that would lead them to their missing fire chief.

        “Maybe he just wandered off,” Trevor heard Clarice say a number of times to Carl. “John was sick when he came home. I didn't ask him if he had a fever. Maybe he did and it got high enough that he didn't realize what he was doing, or where he was going. If that's the case someone's bound to find him not too far from here. You should get Doctor Benson out here, Carl, so that when John is found, he'll be here to treat him. You know how easily he gets bronchitis and pneumonia. Doc Benson will probably put him right in the hospital.”

        For some reason Trevor got the impression the police chief thought this situation went far beyond his father simply wandering off in a daze as a result of a high fever. He watched as Carl pulled Clarice into the great room. Carl turned his back on Trevor, who was sitting at the kitchen table, and spoke softly to his mother. He heard Clarice gasp once at the explanation she was being given, and picked up the name, “Monroe,” though he had no idea to whom Carl was referring.

        It was after that conversation ended that Carl took Trevor by the hand and led him to Johnny's office. He wanted to get the boy away from the bustling activity going on in the kitchen each time police personnel came into or went out of the house, or each time the phone rang, or a handie-talkie squawked to life.

        Carl beckoned for his mother and his deputy chief to follow him. He sat Trevor on Johnny's desk, facing the boy away from the door. Carl sat in Johnny's chair, with his mother sitting behind him on the padded seat of the deep bay window. Carl's deputy chief, Anton Baklanov, stood behind Trevor and out of the boy's line of sight. He pulled a pen and small spiral notebook from the pocket of his uniform shirt. Without Carl having to tell him to do so, Anton was prepared to record every word Trevor said.

        The police chief placed a gentle hand on Trevor's blue jean clad knee.

        “Trev, I need you to help me find your papa. Can you do that?”

        Trevor gave his head a vigorous nod. “I can do whatever you ask me to. But I already helped you look everywhere we could think of. Do you want me to look again?”

        “No, Little John, this time what I need you to do is tell me everything that happened after my mother left the house this morning.”

        “You mean everything me and Papa did?”


        “But there isn't a lot to tell, Carl.”

        “It might not seem like a lot to you, but maybe it will seem like a lot to me. So let's start at the beginning. What happened after my mother left here?”

        “Papa had just gotten done taking a shower. He was dressed, but layin' on his bed under a blanket when I went upstairs with the things Clarice had given me for him.”

        “What things were those?”

        “A glass of water, some cold pills, and a box of Kleenex.”

        “What was Papa wearing, Trev?”


        “What clothes did he have on?”

        Trevor thought a moment. “His safari shirt. You know, the tan one with the four pockets on the front.”

        “Short sleeved?”


        “What else?”

        “Blue jeans, I think, but I'm not sure 'cause his legs were covered by the blanket. But usually he wears blue jeans unless he's at work, or has to dress up for something special, like when Clarice makes him go to church with us on Easter or Christmas Eve.”

        Clarice couldn't help but smile a bit at the boy's remark. John Gage wasn't a church-goer, but he'd never objected to Clarice taking Trevor to the small Methodist church she attended in Eagle Harbor. Like most children his age, Trevor enjoyed attending Sunday School, and had fun participating in the activities offered there.

        “And white socks,” Trevor added. “He had on white socks 'cause I saw one of his feet sticking out from under the blanket.”

        Carl hadn't seen any blanket on the bed upstairs.

        “Was the blanket gone when you came in the house from doing your chores this afternoon?”


        “Where does Papa normally keep it?”

        “On the closet shelf in his room.”

        “What color is it?”

        “Blue. Dark blue like the ocean in September when it first starts to get cold.”

        “Did you notice anything else missing?”

        “The box of Kleenex Clarice had me give to Papa.”

        Carl made a mental note to take Trevor upstairs later so they could look in the closet together to see if the blanket was there, or to see if Trevor noticed anything else that might be missing.

        “What happened next, Trev?”

        “I read to Papa. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Abzacan. I think he might have fallen asleep while I was reading, but I'm not sure. His eyes were closed though, and he didn't correct me when I said the hard words wrong, so I'm pretty sure he was asleep. Then the phone rang.”

        “Who was it?”

        “Dylan. Him and Dalton wanted me to come to their house to play. Mrs. Tierman asked me to stay for lunch, too. Papa said it was okay, so I left.”

        “Did your papa say anything to you before you left?”

        “Just to lock Tasha and Nicolai in the barn so they wouldn't follow me.”
        “And did you do that?”


        Those words on Trevor's part explained to Carl why the dogs wouldn't have attempted to chase someone off bent on foul play.

        “Did Papa give you any other instructions?”

        “To stay at the Tiermans' until he called for me to come home. Or, if Mrs. Tierman wanted to send me home before he called, I was supposed to call Papa. He doesn't let me ride my bike on the road by myself.”

        Carl nodded, fully aware of the routine Trevor and the Tierman boys followed when traveling between their homes.

        “Did your papa say what time he'd call for you?”

        “Four o'clock. He said he'd call by four.”

        “But he never did?”

        “No. So when Mrs. Tierman started making supper I knew I'd better leave 'cause she only invited me for lunch. I called Papa, but he didn't answer the phone. I thought he was outside doing chores. Mr. Tierman and the twins walked me most of the way home, then I came the rest of the way by myself.”

        “And Papa wasn't outside?”

        “No. He wasn't anywhere. I did all the chores by myself 'cause I thought he was still sleeping. But when I came in the house he wasn't here either.” Though he tried to hold back his tears, Trevor couldn't keep them from spilling over to run down his face. “I ran back outside and yelled for him. I yelled and yelled and yelled, but he didn't answer. That's when I got scared and called you.”

        Clarice walked around her son and gave Trevor a hug that the boy immediately returned. “There, there, love. Don't cry. Carl's going to find Papa. Don't you worry. So many people are out looking for him right this very minute.”

        Trevor's words came in hiccupped gasps. “But where. . .where could he be, Clarice?”

        “I don't know, sweetie, but he'll turn up. I promise.”

        “May. . .maybe he went with his friend.”

        Carl sat up straighter in the chair at those words. “His friend?”

        Clarice released her hold on Trevor so the eight year old could make eye contact with Carl.

        “The man in the white van.”

        “What man?”

Trevor swiped a hand across his face in order to brush his tears aside. “When I was leaving for Dylan's and Dalton's, he stopped me at the end of the driveway.”

        “Stopped you?”

        “Yeah. He wanted to know if Papa was home.”

        “Did he say why he wanted to see your papa?”

        “He's an old friend of Papa's.”

        “And old friend?”

        “From California.”

        “Is that what he said?” Carl asked, as his heart rate sped up.

        “Yep. Only I didn't recognize him.”

        “What do you mean by that?”

        “I've seen some pictures Papa has of his friends in California. The guys he used to work with at Station 51, and some of the doctors and nurses from Rampart Hospital, but the man who was coming to see Papa wasn't any of those people. But he knows my Uncle Roy, so I think he might have been a fireman at another station.”

        Carl swallowed hard as he pulled a picture out of the left breast pocket of his shirt that Troy Anders had sent him. He turned the picture so the person in it was facing Trevor.

        “Trev, is this the man who was driving that van?”



        “No,” Trevor shook his head.

        “Are you certain?”

        “I'm certain.”

        “What about if he was wearing a wig, or had disguised himself in some way?”

        “No. It still wouldn't be him 'cause the man who was driving the van was older. And he didn't have a wig on.”

        “You're sure?”

        “Yeah. His hair was long. Like to the middle of his back. And in a pony tail. But he didn't have a lot of it on top of his head. It wasn't a wig, Carl.”
        For the first time since the interview started, Deputy Chief Baklanov spoke up. “Monroe could have hired someone to do his dirty work, Carl.”

        “I'm already thinking the same thing.” Carl turned his attention to Trevor one last time. “Trevor, did that van pull into your driveway after you left?”

        “Uh huh. The man was coming to see Papa. I already told you that. I told him Papa had a bad cold, but he said he'd only stay for a few minutes.”

        Without a further word to the boy, Carl stood and motioned his deputy chief out of the room with him.

        “I've gotta call a detective in L.A. by the name of Troy Anders. And I've gotta call the FBI.”

        “You're ready to start treating this as a kidnapping?”

        “You damn well better believe I am.”

        “Don't you think you're jumping the gun a bit?”
        “I sure as hell don't.”

        Whatever other words the men exchanged were lost on Trevor as looked at Clarice with wide, terrified eyes.

        “My papa's been kidnapped?”

        “We don't know that for sure, love.”

        “But Carl just said--”

        “I know what Carl said, but it's his job to be cautious and explore all possibilities.”

        “Why would someone want to kidnap Papa? He never hurt anyone in his whole life, Clarice. He only helps people. Papa. . .he's not mean, and he doesn't do bad things, and he likes to laugh, and have fun, and the people in Eagle Harbor depend on him to run the fire department. Why would someone take him away?”

        All Clarice could do was once again wrap her arms around the distraught boy. She stood in front of Johnny's desk, gently rocking Trevor back and forth as he clung to her and cried.

        “I don't know, sweetie. I just don't know. But everything will be okay. I promise you, everything will be okay.”

        Despite his own upset, Trevor could hear the tears in Clarice's voice. She was just as scared as he was for Papa, and she didn't really think things would be okay. Trevor could tell she didn't think things would be okay at all.

        When Clarice had dried her own tears and then Trevor's, she took the boy to the kitchen and made him eat supper. Trevor could do no more than pick at his food. His brown eyes only further accented his pale features as he listened to every word spoken by each law enforcement official who came into the house. At ten o'clock he was finally carted up to bed by a young firefighter who worked for his father, and who was one of Trevor's favorite people in the way John Gage had been a favorite of the DeSoto children.

        After brushing his teeth and changing into his pajamas, Trevor pretended to fall asleep quickly so the young man would leave his room. After the firefighter was gone, Trevor climbed out of bed and crossed to the window that overlooked the backyard. There was still enough light that the boy could watch the activity unfold before him. He could faintly hear people calling his father's name as they searched the national forest. He added his own voice to those urgent calls, whispering, “Papa. Papa, please come home,” until the sun finally set and he was too exhausted to stay on his feet any longer.


        Los Angeles Police Detective Bickle had always thought he'd been handed a bum deal. From the moment he was born and his mother had christened him Bernie Boris Bickle, his life had been hell. He'd been a pudgy baby, an overweight child, and was now a fat adult. Every accolade he'd ever strived for was snatched from his grasp by some smart, thin, good-looking guy. The kind the girls were lusting for in high school, and continued to lust for after high school ended. The kind like Troy Anders. His boss. Anders was still balling chicks in the back seat of his father's Thunderbird when Bernie was paying his dues as a street cop. The sixty-year old detective had resented Anders for more years now than he could remember. The guy had the job that should have been his, all because he'd kissed Mark Bellmen's ass twenty-odd years ago when Bellmen was lead detective of the division.

        Seniority, and the union, was how Bickle had survived in the department this long. His work was as sloppy as his demeanor. He was intelligent enough to do a good job, but too lazy to care. He was coasting to retirement, a blissful two years away now.

        Shirt buttons strained across Bickle's ample belly as he reached for his can of Dr. Pepper. He knocked a stack of files off his desk in the process, but he'd pick them up later. He tore the wrapper off a Butterfinger candy bar and took a large bite. He hated working nights, but he had to get this report done for Anders or the guy just might make good on his threat to have Bernie patrolling the streets again on foot. Bernie was the only person in the squad room. The florescent lights cast a bright glow over the battered metal filing cabinets and pock-marked desks. It was late, almost ten-thirty, and dark outside.

        Bernie wiped the chocolate from his fingertips onto the shirt he was wearing that used to be white. Coffee and grease stains had long ago settled into stay that no laundry detergent could ever hope to wash out. His red tie wasn't in any better shape. The man turned toward the keyboard of his computer and began to type using his cumbersome hunt, peck, and stare-off-into-space-a-moment method. His face was round and puffy from years of too much fast food, and his jowls hung heavy against his bloated neck making it impossible for him to button the top button on his shirt. When the phone rang he took a welcome break.

        “Special Investigations. Detective Bickle here.”

        “Hello. I'm Carl Mjtko, police chief in Eagle Harbor, Alaska. Is Detective Anders there by chance?”


        “Can you give me his home number?”



        “I said, nope.”

        “Look, this is an emergency in regards to a case Anders spoke with me about a couple weeks ago. It's important that I get in touch with him.”

        “I'm sure it is, but he's on vacation for a couple days. That's why I can't give you his home number. Wouldn't do you no good. Him and the missus went outta town. You know, a little getaway kinda deal.”

        “Is there anyone else I can speak to about this?”

        “You can speak to me.”

        “And you are again?”

        “Bickle. Detective Bernard Bickle,” Bernie stated, using the first name he thought sounded more authoritative than his own. “Whatchya' got?”

        “I've got a missing fire chief is what I've got. A man by the name of John Gage. I suspect his disappearance ties into Scott Monroe.”

        “Oh. Monroe. Sure,” Bernie acknowledged, though in truth he had no idea who Carl was talking about. “Go ahead. Tell me the rest.”

        Bernie listened as Carl relayed the details surrounding Johnny's disappearance. When the police chief was finished Bernie said, “Seeing how Troy is out for a couple days, I'll get right on this and get back to you.”

        “Okay. And you'll tell Troy as well?”

        “You bet. He'll check in with me sometime while he's gone,” Bernie said, making it sound as though Troy was obligated to touch base with him, as though Bernie was Troy's boss instead of the other way around. “I'll tell him when I talk to him.”

        Bernie could almost hear the sigh of relief in Carl's voice.

        “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

        “Not a problem.”

        Bernie wrote down Carl's name and phone number as the man rattled it off. He badly botched the spelling of Carl's last name, writing out Mitchko, as opposed to Mjtko, because he was too lazy to ask the correct spelling in the first place, and wouldn't have cared to learn that the name was Tlingit Eskimo in origin anyway.

        They said good-bye with Bernie promising to stay in touch. When their call disconnected the obese detective reached for his candy bar and soda. His hand hit the aluminum can and sent Dr. Pepper sailing all over his papers, including the slip he'd just written Carl's information on. He swiped up everything that had just gotten wet and threw it in the garbage with no regrets.

        After all, Bernie certainly had no desire to work a case that should have been his in the first place, and what did he care about a stupid fire chief in Alaska?


        Chris DeSoto had been busy most of the day meeting with clients. He'd picked his girls up from preschool at three-thirty, and played in the backyard with them until Wendy got home at six. By seven Chris and Wendy were dropping the girls off at his parents' home. Roy and Joanne had volunteered to keep their granddaughters that night so Chris and Wendy could celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary. Chris would pick them up the next afternoon, and along with his father, take his daughters and Libby to the zoo.

        The couple went to dinner, then to a late movie. They arrived home shortly before one in the morning, collapsed on their king sized bed, and made love. When their passion came to a satisfying end Wendy fell asleep in her husband's arms. Chris, however, was suffering from a bout of insomnia that had plagued him on and off since the day Troy Anders had called upon him.

        Being careful not to disturb his wife, Chris grabbed his pajama pants from the end of the bed and pulled them on. He moved from the bed to his wheelchair, and propelled himself out of the room. He headed for his office, where he'd do some work until he got too tired to stay awake any longer.

        The man wheeled himself to his computer counter. He placed his fingers on the mouse and dialed into the Internet. When a connection was established Chris checked his e-mails. Just by looking at the addresses he identified all four messages. The first one was from his brother John, the second two from clients, and the third one a weekly advertisement that came from Amazon where he sometimes purchased books. He clicked on that one with the intent of skimming it, then deleting it. He never quite got as far as 'delete.' Chris's eyes widened with shock as he read it.
        Hello Chris DeSoto. You'll be sory you mesed with me. Sined, Your Old Friend

        Chris's hands started trembling. He fumbled to open a cabinet on his left and pull out his address book. It took him three tries before he was able to pluck Troy Anders' business card from a pocket in the inside cover. Not only did the card have Anders' work and home numbers on it, Chris had added the number of the detective's hotel room in Carmel the other day when Troy had called to say he'd be out of town until the following week.

        Chris hated disturbing the detective on his vacation, but Anders had said to call him if anything at all came up concerning Monroe. Based on the e-mail Chris had just received, something had just come up. Something big.

        The man reached for the portable phone. He punched in the number that would ring in Anders' hotel suite. When he heard the man's sleepy voice answer he said, “Troy, this is Chris DeSoto. I'm really sorry to bother you at this hour of the morning, but I just checked my e-mail and I've got a message from Scott Monroe.”

        Chris didn't have the chance to say anything else. He heard Troy's response of, “It will take me about four hours to get back to L.A. I'll leave here as soon as I get dressed,” and then the line went dead.

        Chris hung up the phone and sat in silence staring at his computer screen. He didn't know how Monroe got his e-mail address, and he didn't know how the man had managed to hack into Amazon in order to make it look like they were the sender. Both those events unnerved Chris. Monroe was a hell of a lot smarter, and far more devious, than he ever would have imagined. And that was frightening to Chris. It was extremely frightening.

Chapter 14

        John Gage slowly regained consciousness with a muffled moan. Like the other times he'd come to a dazed awareness, at first he thought he was dreaming. Or in the midst of a nightmare was more like it. But when he felt the ropes cutting into his wrists and ankles, and the sticky tape covering his mouth, the events of the past two days washed over him in a foggy blur of jumbled details.

        Johnny's first round of consciousness had come to him on an airplane. He hadn't remained that way very long before his captor was placing the chloroform soaked cloth over his stuffy nose again. The second round had been in a hotel room late at night. What night, Johnny wasn't certain. The sound of quiet footsteps, combined with the unfamiliar mattress beneath him, caused Johnny to conclude he was in Eagle Harbor Community Hospital.

        Damn, pneumonia again, had been Johnny's thoughts as he rolled his head back and forth on the pillow. My temperature must be sky high 'cause that was some wild hallucination.

When Johnny finally found the strength to open his eyes, he wasn't looking into the face of one of the nurses or doctors whom he knew by name, nor was he looking into Carl's face, or Clarice's face, or his son's face, as had been the case when he'd been hospitalized in the past with pneumonia. Instead, he looked into a face that frightened him to the depths of his soul.

        “So, you remember me, Uncle Johnny,” the man had said at the recognition in Johnny's eyes. “That's good. That's very good. I want you to know exactly who I am throughout our stay together. Now I'm going to help you sit up on this bed, and if you behave yourself, I'll take the tape off your mouth and give you some water and food. Do you understand?”

It was all Johnny could do to nod. His head felt like someone had cinched a leather band around his skull, and he was so hot and congested all he wanted was a strong dose of penicillin and a cool shower. The after-effects of the chloroform made his ability to think muddled at best, and almost non-existent at worse.

        Johnny gratefully took deep gulps of the cold water from the glass that was tilted to his lips. He turned his head away to cough when he'd drained the glass dry. The cough was tight and unproductive, and its force brought his upper body off the mattress.

        “Oh, that sounds nasty. I hope you're not getting sick, Uncle Johnny.”

        Johnny glared at the man. “Yeah, I can see you're real worried about that,” came the fire chief's hoarse remark. “What the hell do you want?”

        A finger was shaken under Johnny's nose. “Don't get testy with me, Gage. I'm not one of your firemen, nor one of those idiots in Eagle Harbor, Alaska who thinks the sun rises and sets on you. You owe me, Uncle Johnny. You owe me big time, and I've been waiting twenty-two years to pay you back.”

        “Pay me back for what?” Johnny questioned, more to buy time to formulate a plan than for any other reason.

        “You know for what. For keeping me from Jennifer DeSoto, you stupid redskin.”

        “It was a long time ago. Whatta ya' got your shorts in a bundle over it now for?”

        “I've had my 'shorts in a bundle,' as you so eloquently phrased it, ever since the night you wrestled little Jennifer out of my arms. I don't take kindly to failure, Gage. I don't take kindly to it at all.”

        Johnny didn't waste anymore time. As the man started to rattle on about his triumphs versus the one failure John Gage had brought him, the fire chief launched himself off the bed. Johnny's plan had been to head-butt the man in the center of his stomach, and hopefully ram his skull against the wall behind him. But Johnny underestimated his body's weakness. His head-butt did nothing but cause his assailant to laugh.

        “Now you've pissed me off, Gage, and that's not good. Or at least not for you.”

        Johnny struggled as he was lifted back on the bed. Before he could yell, tape was slapped over his mouth again. Thirty seconds later he felt the prick of a needle in the crook of his right arm. Five minutes after that Johnny was in the throes of such violent stomach cramps all he could do was curl into a ball and bite back the urge to scream through the tape. He felt the man pat his back.

        “Don't worry, Uncle Johnny, my little drug here won't make you sick. It will only make you wish you could get sick just so you'd feel better.”

        The man was right. For the next three hours Johnny actually wanted to vomit. The drug did make him feel like if he could get sick, he'd then be on the road to recovery, similar to the way a person feels when the stomach flu is just starting. But Johnny never did throw up, which in one sense was good considering his mouth was taped shut. When the agony the drug caused him finally started to subside, all the fire chief's body was capable of was lapsing into a fitful sleep.

        The hours that followed that episode were once again a blur of passing time to Johnny that made little sense. He remembered being taken to the bathroom on three different occasions where he'd been allowed to use the toilet and then wash up at the sink. He remembered being given more water to drink, and had a vague recollection of some vegetable soup being spooned into his mouth from a thick Styrofoam container like you'd get at a restaurant, but these events seemed to take place in a dream world. Whether that was from the drug he'd been given, or the chloroform, or from his fever, Johnny wasn't sure.

        The fire chief looked around the space he was lying in now. It took him a moment to realize he was on the floor in the rear of a big van. There were no windows back here, meaning if he did manage to get off the floor no one would see him anyway. The driver kept glancing in the rearview mirror. When he saw that Johnny was a awake he smiled. “Glad you decided to join me, Uncle Johnny. I wouldn't want you to miss my next act.”

        Johnny had no idea what the man was talking about, but the van soon rolled to a gentle stop against a curb. Johnny's assailant reached over the seat and grabbed one end of the blanket that was covering the fire chief. He pulled it over Johnny's head.

        “Be right back. This should only take a minute.”

        It was a child's screams that first brought Johnny out of the doze he'd fallen into.

        Trevor! He'd got Trevor. I'll kill the bastard. I'll swear I'll kill him if he hurts my son.

Ever since he'd come to awareness the first time, Johnny's boy had been the most prominent thing on his mind. The man had never mentioned the child, and Johnny could only pray Trevor had arrived safely at the Tiermans' before his assailant entered the house. He'd resisted the strong urge to ask about his son for fear of drawing the man's attention to Trevor. For John Gage had no idea where he was. He could still be in Alaska, but on the other hand he could be in Brazil for all he knew.

        The shrieks Johnny had heard were muffled now, as though someone's hand was covering the child's mouth. Johnny felt a small body bump against his, then felt the child's feet lashing out.

        Good for you, Trev! Give the bastard what he deserves. If you get away from him you have to run! You have to run as fast as you can, son, and get to safety just like I've told you to do a thousand times if a stranger ever tries to take you off your bike, or snatch you from a sidewalk in town.

The floor of the van shook beneath Johnny's body as the child kicked the man, then tried to roll out the open side door. The man got a firm grip on the child before that happened and slammed the door shut. He slapped tape over the child's mouth, then bound the child's feet and ankles in the same way Johnny's were bound. He clambered to the front of the van, threw it in gear, and took off with a lurch that threw the child into Johnny's body. When the child pushed away from Johnny the blanket fell off his face. He glanced up, fully expecting to see his son. Instead what he saw, shocked John Gage even more. The heart shaped face was so familiar, as were the sky blue eyes and long, golden hair. Just looking at the sobbing girl took Johnny back twenty-two years. He knew this wasn't Jennifer DeSoto, but he'd bet money on the fact that this little girl was Jennifer's daughter. What was a bad situation to begin with had just gotten worse.

        Oh, no. Oh, God, no. How can I protect this child from him with the shape I'm in? Oh, God, why? Why are you doing this to me? Why are you making me relive this? And most of all, why are you making Roy's family relive it?

And with that final thought, Johnny turned his face away from the little girl so that she wouldn't see the silent tears trickling down his cheeks.


        Friday was a good day for Evan Crammer. It was the day he'd kidnapped Olivia Sheridan right from the sidewalk in her safe, middle class neighborhood just four blocks from her grandfather's home. He had rented a house down the block from Roy DeSoto during the winter months. The location of that home made it so easy for Evan to watch the comings and goings at Roy's home, and for him to identify every family member that went in and out the front door, including precious little Libby.

Since arriving in Los Angeles in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning Evan had sent two more e-mails to Chris DeSoto. He'd hacked into E-bay to send the first one, and hacked into Priceline dot Com to send the second. The gist of both messages was similar to the first one he'd sent from Alaska. Evan knew that by now the cops would be combing the streets looking for Scott Monroe, who had conveniently disappeared on Wednesday morning thanks to careful engineering on Evan's part.

        A red van, identical to the white one he'd been driving in Alaska, had been waiting for Evan when Fritz had landed at the private airport just north of L.A. The license plates were registered to a bogus name, just like Evan had registered under a false name when procuring the motel room where he'd kept John Gage until noon on Friday.

        With his captives in the back of that van now, Evan drove for an hour, then pulled into a McDonald's. As he eased the van into the drive-through lane he turned around in his seat. He fished a gun from the plastic food holders in-between the driver's and passenger's seats, and pointed it over the high-backed bench seat behind him that would block Johnny and Libby from view of most passers-by.

        “You two stay right where you are, and stay quiet. Either of you moves, and the other takes a bullet to the skull. Got it?”

        Libby was too scared to even nod her head, but Johnny managed to do that action for both of them. The man stopped the van in front of the speaker and ordered three Big Mac meals with Cokes. He drove ahead to the window, paid for his order, and accepted the bag and drink tray he was handed. He gave a cheery, “Thanks!” to the teenage girl who'd waited on him, as if he wasn't holding a gun on two kidnap victims seated in the rear of his van, but rather just out for an afternoon of summer fun.

        As Evan drove from the McDonald's parking lot he turned in his seat once more and smiled at Johnny.

        “Well, Uncle Johnny, we're on our way to ending it where it all began.”

        Johnny had no idea what the man meant. With the tape still secured on his mouth, he was unable to ask even if he'd wanted to. He looked into Libby's tear-filled eyes. He saw a sudden hope there he didn't quite understand, and that Libby was unable to voice because of the tape over her own mouth.

        Uncle Johnny! It's Uncle Johnny! Katori! He'll take care of me, just like he took care of my mom when that bad man tried to kidnap her.

For the first time since this ordeal began, Libby Sheridan's fear left her. Uncle Johnny was here. He'd take care of her. Everything would be okay. Uncle Johnny would never let anyone hurt her.

        Unbeknownst to Libby, Uncle Johnny didn't have nearly as much faith in himself, and his abilities, as she did. Because to Uncle Johnny, this was far more than a favorite bedtime story. It was a terror he'd lived through once that he'd never wanted to experience again. The scars he still bore from the knife wounds to his back reminded John Gage all too frequently of his captor's capabilities.

No food was passed back to Johnny or Libby as the van drove north, though their kidnapper did eat one of the sandwiches, a container of French fries, and washed it all down with one of the Cokes. The food made little difference to Johnny anyway. He had no appetite as he continuously coughed into the tape that covered his mouth. He attempted to form a plan of escape as they traveled. The trouble was, by the time the van stopped an hour later and Johnny was blindfolded, he hadn't come up with one.


Part 3