S&S††† S&S†††† S&S†††† S&S†††† S&S

 

†††† I waded through my second day of paperwork without A.J. there to grumble and complain to about such mundane tasks.He'd been right when he'd called the previous morning and said we didn't have much goin' on at the office.We didn't.Which is why I assumed he decided it was a good time for him and Lauren to sneak off and get hitched.

 

†††† I was plannin' to call it quits early on Thursday bein' A.J. wasn't there to monitor my day, but then I got tied up with some phone calls.I had no more than hung up from those, when a potential client walked in.Since we could use the work, and the person seeking our services was female and attractive, I put my best foot forward and showed her to a chair.By the time I'd determined what she needed Simon and Simon to do for her we'd been hired.

 

†††† I showed Miss Taylor to the door.I watched her hips sway provocatively in her tight leather skirt all the way to elevator, gave her a smile and wave when she turned around, then reentered the office.I flipped the answering machine on, added the bills that had come in the mail to the pile I'd begun the previous day on A.J.'s desk, then grabbed my field jacket and hat off the coat rack.

 

†††† I eased my truck into rush hour traffic.I thought about what I had at home in the fridge and decided none of it sounded all that great.I wheeled the Dodge into the parking lot of a strip-mall, hopped out, locked the door, and ambled toward a carryout Italian joint I favored.

 

†††† I got in line behind a copper headed woman.A copper headed woman who seemed awfully familiar.Before I could get a look at her face I felt two small arms wrap around my waist.

 

†††† "Hi, Rick!"

 

†††† I looked down into a pair of bright blue eyes that were capped off by an unruly mop of hair the color of a cardinal."Hey, Red!"

 

†††† I reached down and swung the five-year-old up to my hip.His auburn headed brother came runnin' over from the table they'd been sitting at.

 

†††† "Hi, Rick!"

 

†††† I pulled Shane close and patted his back."Hi, kiddo."

†††† By now the woman had turned around to see what commotion her children were creating.

 

†††† "Rick!"Lauren exclaimed her surprise."What are you doing here?"

 

†††† "I was just about to ask you the same thing."

†††† "Getting supper for the boys and me.But how about you?I thought you were with A.J."

 

†††† "With A.J.?"

†††† "Yes.On the case he's working on."

†††† "Case?"

†††† "Yes."She hiked her purse strap up on her shoulder."He called me early yesterday morning to say he'd be out of town for a few days on a case.†† I just assumed you were with him."

 

†††† Although I had no idea what my brother was up to, I acted as though I did.

 

"Uh...no.I didn't go with him.We have several cases pendin' right now so I uh...I stayed here."

 

†††† "Do you know when he'll be back?"

 

†††† "Uh...no. No, I don't.Not for certain.He'd didn't tell you?"

†††† "No.He just said if it turned out he was going to be gone more than three or four days he'd call me."

 

†††† "Oh.Then he probably will."

 

†††† She looked at me funny but nodded."Where is he?"

 

†††† "Where is he?"My mind cast about for something to say other than, "Beats the hell outta me."

 

†††† "He's...here and there.Movin' around a lot.I'm sure he'll fill you in when he gets back."

†††† My reply garnered me another odd look, as though the woman was tempted to reach out and lay a hand on my forehead to see if I was runnin' a fever.I gotta admit that my answers sounded rather delirious and disjointed even to my own ears.

 

†††† Thankfully, Lauren's order number was called before she could ask me any further questions.Shane and Tanner stayed with me as she weaved her way forward to pick up a pizza.The boys reluctantly bid me goodbye while Lauren gave me the fast, preoccupied wave perfected by single working mothers who have a hundred chores to complete before the short night comes to an end.

 

†††† "Bye, Rick!"Lauren called as she struggled to hold the door open for her kids."Boys, don't run out into traffic!Wait right there on the sidewalk!"

 

†††† She turned back to me."Tell A.J. I said hi if you talk to him anytime soon."

 

†††† "I will.See ya,í Lauren."

 

†††† As I waited for the opportunity to place my own order I mulled over what had just occurred.Obviously A.J. wasn't off with Lauren gettin' married somewhere.

 

†††† So where the hell was he?

 

†††† For a brief second I wondered if he was sneakin' around with someone else behind her back, but just as quickly I negated that thought.A.J. would never do that to a woman he was seeing.Never.If the relationship had no future and he was ready to move on then he'd tell her so.But never would he see someone else while allowing Lauren to believe she was the only lady in his life.

 

†††† I thought over what little Lauren had said.A.J. had told her he was out of town working on a case, while he had told me he was gonna be visiting an old friend.So which explanation was the truth?†† And why would he feel the need to lie to one or both of us?

 

†††† When you don't have nothin' better to do than return to your houseboat and share a meatball sandwich with your dog, you have a lotta free hours leftover to think.By the time I was gettin' ready for bed at ten-thirty that night I had a helluva case of heartburn and was worried to death.The only thing I could figure A.J. would feel the need to keep from both me and Lauren was something to do with his health.By midnight I had myself convinced he was seriously ill, had gone somewhere to get answers or have more tests done, and for whatever reason didn't want his family to be a part of the process.

 

†††† Now that all sounds rather stupid, I'm sure.I mean, how many people in this day and age run off to die alone?On the other hand, maybe it's not so stupid.After all, our father did.

 

†††† By the time the seagulls were diving for fish the next morning I hadn't gotten more than two hours of sleep.I didn't know whether to be worried, pissed, or insulted at my brother's lack of courtesy.I finally settled on all three as I drove to the office.

 

†††† There was no message from A.J. on the answering machine as I hoped there might be.I didn't hear from him all day, though each time the phone rang I jumped on it as though the caller was about to reveal I was a million dollar prizewinner.Because I was so damn angry with my brother I locked up the office an hour early.

 

†††† "Serves him right for not bein' here," I grumbled to no one but myself."I hope some client comes to the door after I leave wantin' to offer us big money to do some cushy job.And when A.J. gets in a snit over it I'll tell him the next time he gets the urge to hightail his ass outta town without tellin' anyone where he's goin' he'd better think twice about it."

†††† I met Carlos and group of our buddies at Ollie's for a couple of beers, an Ollie Burger with the works, and a few games of pool.My mind was so far removed from what was goin' on all I managed to do was lose twenty bucks on the pool games and rekindle my heartburn.As I drove home later that night I decided if I didn't hear from A.J. by Monday morning I was gonna start lookin' for him. And for his sake, I just hoped he knew I didn't much care where I found him, or how much embarrassment I caused him when big brother showed up unannounced in one helluva toot.

 

†††† Man, A.J. was sure gonna be sorry for pullin' this dumb little stunt when I got a hold of him.

 

†††††††††† †††

S&S††† S&S†††† S&S†††† S&S†††† S&S

††††

†††† While Janet showered and got ready for work the next morning I took a thirty minute run on the treadmill.When my workout was complete I made the bed I'd slept in and straightened the room.I took a quick shower in the downstairs bathroom, then shaved and brushed my teeth before dressing in a pair of tan Levi's trousers, a black turtleneck, and a long sleeved tan oxford shirt striped in black, white, and red.

 

†††† Once again Janet had breakfast laid out in the kitchen when I arrived.I filled her in on what I intended to do that day, leaving out one small part I wasn't sure if I was going to share with her or not.I had a feeling it would be better to wait and see what I uncovered.I also went over a plan I had in mind for that evening when I picked her up from work.She asked a few questions of me, then nodded her head in understanding of what I hoped to accomplish.

 

†††† Like the previous morning, I cleaned up the kitchen while she gathered together her shoes, briefcase, coat, and purse.Rather than slipping into my tennis shoes, I put on a pair of weather-proof ankle high brown suede boots I'd brought along.It was snowing again and I was sick of walking around with cold wet feet.†††

 

†††† Janet commented on my wise choice of footgear as we walked out to the garage together, but also reminded me once again that I really needed to stop and buy myself a warmer coat.

 

†††† "And bill me for it," she instructed in a repeat of the conversation we'd had the previous morning.

 

†††† "If I get time," was how I left things as we climbed into our vehicles.

 

†††† I saw Janet safely to work, then drove to the courthouse.I spent the morning there reviewing several past cases of Janet's our discussion from the previous evening prompted me to take a closer look at.†† Despite my concentration and perseverance, nothing jumped out from the documents that gave me the solid lead I was so desperately in search of.

 

†††† I took a look at a few other documents while I was there.Documents that had nothing to do with any case Janet had ever worked on.I had my first bit of luck in two days when I recognized the name of the lawyer on those papers as being someone I knew well.Or at least someone I had known well when I lived in Seattle.

 

†††† Though I suppose most of Edward Melton's clients referred to him respectfully as Mr. Melton, I knew him as Ned.†† He was one of the few lawyers left in Seattle who wasn't partnered with someone else, but rather ran a small, independent law office out of an old building downtown.Ned and I met at some function or the other when I was new to Bloomdecker, Hershaw, and Clark.We're roughly the same age and come from similar backgrounds.We also shared a number of the same interests, and soon began meeting to play racquetball a couple times a week during our lunch hour.†† ††††

 

†††† The thing I liked about the guy above all else was the fact he was an honest, straight shooter who didn't hesitate to tell it to you like it was.He didn't beat around the bush, he didn't care if he impressed you, pissed you off, won you as a friend for life, or made you his worst enemy.He never compromised his values simply to gain a new client.As far as I could tell, money didn't matter much to him.He drove around in an old American Motors Pacer - the funny little bubble shaped car manufactured for a brief time in the late seventies that looked like something Neil Armstrong would have traversed the moon in.Nedís clothes possessed no more style than his vehicle.†† His suits were bought off the rack at Kmart with few concerns one way or another as to how they fit.

 

†††† I suppose part of the reason our friendship formed in the first place was because, in so many ways, Ned reminded me of Rick.A nonconformist happily marching to the beat of his own drum, totally unfazed by the stares and whispers of those who were losing out on so much by judging him on face value alone.Not only was Ned a loyal friend, he was also one of the best attorneys in Seattle.

 

†††† Ned was either too cheap to hire a secretary, or didn't make enough money to pay one.I had never figured out which.Regardless, when I placed a call to him from a pay phone in the courthouse lobby he answered on the third ring.

 

†††† "Hello.Ned Melton's office."

 

†††† "Ned, hi.It's A.J.A.J. Simon."

 

†††† "A.J.!"The exclamation boomed through the phone line."How the hel...heck are you?"

 

†††† By the way he'd quickly corrected his vocabulary I guessed he had a client sitting across from his desk.†††††††

 

†††† "Long time no see, my racquetball buddy.My serve's getting a little rusty without you around to keep it greased up."

 

†††† I smiled."I'm sure you can still take me three out of four.Listen, Ned, I know this is short notice and all, but I need to see you for a few minutes today if that's possible."

†††† "You're here in town?"

†††† "Yes."

 

†††† "What brings you way up here?"

 

†††† "It's a long story.Maybe we can talk about it over lunch?"

†††† "Sure, sure.That'll work."

 

†††† I could hear him shuffling papers on his desk, and got a mental picture of him frantically searching for his appointment calendar.

 

†††† "Is one o'clock okay?I'm tied up until then."

 

†††† "That'll be fine," I agreed."Where do you want to meet?"

†††† "How about right here in my office?You bring the pizza - sausage, mushrooms, extra cheese, but hold the anchovies, peppers and onions 'cause I've got another appointment this afternoon - and you've got yourself a deal."

†††† "Great.I'll see you at one."

 

†††† "See you at one, old buddy."

†††† It was eleven-thirty when I left the courthouse.I stopped at a gas station and filled the Concord's tank, then drove over to the other side of the city where I stood in line at a crowded hole-in-the-wall pizzeria to place my order.I sat at a small table in a far corner while I waited for the pizza to cook.I watched people come and go, picking up their carryout lunches, but didn't see anyone I knew.Not that I expected to.The part of the city Ned worked and lived in wasn't exactly an area the lawyers and staff of Bloomdecker, Hershaw, and Clark would have a desire to frequent.Not unless they could bill a client double for it, that is.

 

†††† Rather than fight for another parking space I left the Ford where it sat.I juggled the hot pizza box and the bag holding our drinks to one hand and fished in a pant pocket for change.I shoved a quarter and dime in the meter's slot knowing the time those two coins gave me should prevent a parking ticket provided I wasn't with Ned longer than I expected.

 

†††† I walked the three blocks to the stone front building the Melton Law Office resided in.I silently cursed the wet snow that pelted my face and ran down my neck.Because its situated on the Pacific coast, Seattle rarely gets enough snow to halt her movements, only enough to make those of us moving about her in the winter time miserable.As I looked up at the slate clouds a snowflake plopped in my right eye.I longed for some San Diego sunshine as I wiped my face and kept walking.

 

†††† I trotted four flights up a winding wooden staircase that was over one hundred years old and creaked in time to my movements.Ned's office was as I remembered it - paneled in cheap pale wood that probably wasn't real wood at all, the only decoration on the walls a crooked eight inch by ten inch picture of his wife and four daughters.It was so out of date the youngest girl, who appeared to be about two in the photo, was now seventeen.

 

†††† Ned was alone, sitting sideways at his desk pounding information into a computer keyboard that rested on the heavy extension arm.His shaggy, sandy colored hair fell straight to his shoulders, a stray lock of it swooping down over his forehead.He had left the Kmart suit at home today, choosing blue jeans and a black Hard Rock Cafe - Chicago sweatshirt instead, making him look more like an aging Beach Boy than an attorney.†††

 

†††† Law books, legal journals, and newspapers spilled over a wide span of bookshelves that ran from the ragged rust colored carpet all the way to the yellowed ceiling that was in bad need of a coat of fresh white paint.Four pock marked metal filing cabinets stood at attention at the end of the shelves.Like everything else in Ned's office they, too, were mix-matched.One was black, two combat green, and the fourth diarrhea brown.†† Two†† chairs sat in front of Ned's desk, one pumpkin orange, the other the bright shade of jungle foliage.Their colors alone left little doubt they were castoffs from some doctor's office.Their wooden arms were scuffed from years of use, the finish completely rubbed off in some spots.Silver duct tape patched small tears in various spots of the upholstery, adding a unique touch only Ned would refer to as classy.

 

†††† I don't know whether he saw me first or smelled the pizza first, but either way Ned rose to greet me.

 

†††† "A.J.!It's great to see you!"

 

†††† He took the cardboard box and paper bag from me, haphazardly clearing a space on his cluttered desk and sitting them down.He grabbed me by the shoulders for a brief moment, studying me at arms length in an effort to see what changes time had brought.

 

†††† "You look good," he said."At peace with yourself.†† Like you're back where you belong."

 

†††† I had never shared with Ned the spectrum of mine and Janet's marital problems, not even after I filed for divorce.But he had known I was dissatisfied with my law career and longed to return to P.I. work, so I suppose he'd easily put two and two together and come up with four.

 

†††† "I am back where I belong," I acknowledged while thinking of San Diego, my family, and Simon and Simon Investigations.

 

†††† He waved a hand at the stacks of papers, files, and books not only on his desk and the shelves, but also piled on the floor against the walls."I've been meaning to give you a call, but something always seems to be demanding my attention."

 

†††† "I know what you mean.Same here."

 

†††† He rounded the desk and reclaimed his seat.I hung my jean jacket over the back of the orange chair before sitting in it.We caught up with one another while we plucked pizza from the box and sipped Coca-Cola through straws.†† Despite the fact we'd only spoken once by phone since my return to San Diego we fell into the easy conversation of old friends.

 

†††† We wiped our greasy hands on napkins when we were finished and tossed them into the empty box.Ned lifted it up and sat it on the floor behind his chair to get it out of our way.God only knew how long it would remain there.

 

†††† He leaned back, taking a final sip of his Coke before tossing his cup and mine in the nearby garbage can.

 

†††† "While I'd like to think you returned to Seattle just to get another glimpse of my pretty face, I'm not quite that gullible.What can I do for ya', A.J.?"

†††† I briefly filled him in on Janet's troubles before coming to the reason that brought me to his office.

 

†††† "You handled a divorce case last year for a Deanna Gillet.Do you recall that?"

†††† The springs in his wooden chair squeaked as he leaned back and blindly reached for a drawer in the black file cabinet.

 

†††† "Yep, I remember that one all right.Nasty from the get go."

 

†††† "What can you tell me about it?"

†††† He cocked an eyebrow at me before turning to finger through tightly packed manila folders.

†††† "Since I'd be breaking lawyer/client privilege to tell you much of anything about it, why don't you tell me what you know."

†††† I understood his position, therefore had no problem doing as he suggested.I relayed what I'd discovered at the courthouse that morning concerning the legal dissolving of the marriage between Lance Gavin Gillet and Deanna Marie Price Gillet.

 

†††† Ned must have decided I already knew enough that he wasn't going to be violating his ethics to fill me in on a bit more.

 

†††† "I can take an educated guess as to why you're asking since you said Lance Gillet now works with Janet and is seeing her after-hours.But whatever you do with any information I reveal, you didn't hear it from me."

 

†††† "No, I didn't," I assured my friend.

 

†††† He studied the open file on his desk, refreshing his memory.Within thirty seconds he closed it and pushed it aside.

 

†††† "Overall, it was your classic case of spoiled rich boy meets spoiled rich girl.Deanna's grandfather started the Price Accounting Firm.Her father is currently the CEO."

 

†††† I nodded my head in recognition of the multi-million dollar company that now has offices nation wide.

 

†††† "Lance's old man, Marcum, comes from family money, too.They lay claim to being among the founding fathers of Seattle.Whether that's true or not, I don't know.What I do know is that Marcum Gillet owns half the buildings in this city, and just about any other type of prime real estate in the surrounding area."

 

†††† "Making him worth mega bucks," I said.

 

†††† "Exactly," Lance agreed."Many, many millions I'm sure.So anyhow, the debutante and the boy born with the silver spoon in his mouth married one month after Lance's graduation from law school.Fifteen years and a couple kids down the road later she finds herself disillusioned with him, his career, his late hours, the lack of time he spends with the family, the fact he has a mistress, the whole nine yards.So she came to me and filed for divorce.

 

†††† "Now let me tell ya', A.J., Deanna Gillet is one hell of a looker.Coulda' been a model right out of a high priced fashion magazine."

 

†††† I couldn't help but think, like Janet.

 

†††† "Therefore spoiled rich boy wasn't too agreeable to giving up his trophy wife.As a matter of fact, spoiled rich boy was pissed as all get out."

 

†††† "And that's when the trouble started?"

 

†††† "Yes.That's when he slashed a vast and expensive collection of paintings she had.The next thing he did was puncture her car tires one night with a screw driver.As well, after Gillet had moved out, the police were called to the house several times because of violent arguments he instigated when he came to pick up the kids for the weekend."

 

†††† "Did he assault her?"

 

†††† "No, but he threatened to.Or at least that's what she claims.Naturally, he maintains otherwise."

 

†††† "Naturally," I agreed with heavy sarcasm."And what about the stalking incidents?They were mentioned briefly in documentation I saw at the courthouse records room this morning, but not in any great detail."

 

†††† He shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his hair to push it out of his eyes."All I can tell you is what Deanna told me.The police never caught him at it.But she alleged she'd look outside at various times of the day and night to see Lance parked across from the house.Or she'd be in the grocery store and find him standing at the end of the aisle, or tailing her when she left to go pick the kids up from school.†† The stalking got worse when she began dating another man shortly before the divorce was final.He broke into the house late one night while she and the children were sleeping with no other intention than to scare the hell out of her."

†††† "And then what happened?"

 

†††† "As far as I know nothing.I believe once the divorce was final things straightened out.Or at least I've never heard anything further about the situation.I advised Deanna to contact me if her problems continued.I told her we'd have a restraining order put out against him if necessary."

 

†††† "So what do you think?"

 

†††† "You want my honest opinion?"

†††† I nodded. "Of course."

 

†††† "I think Lance Gillet is a royal asshole who cares about no one other than himself.I also think he's got a nasty temper and an ego the size of the Grand Canyon, therefore doesn't take too kindly to being dumped by the woman in his life."

 

†††† "Do you think he's capable of hurting that woman?"

†††† "Do I think he's capable of it?Yes, A.J., quite frankly I believe he is.If Janet has gotten herself mixed up with him she'd be wise to put an end to the relationship as quickly as possible."

†††† I left Ned's office ten minutes later, his words an ominous warning that stayed with me for the rest of the afternoon.

 

_____________________________

 

 

†††† I pulled my rental car into the parking garage at twenty minutes to five, a little more than an hour prior to the end of Janet's working day.I found an open spot on the ground level, locked the car and left it there.I snapped my jacket closed to ward off the permanent chill of the cement structure and headed for the stairwell.

 

†††† I took my time as I climbed to level seven.I didn't see anyone other than a maintenance man perched high on a ladder at level four changing a light bulb.

 

†††† I opened the door a mere crack when I arrived at my destination.I saw no one in the vicinity, so exited onto the garage floor.I shoved my hands in my pockets and strolled the entire area as though I had nothing better to do than check out the wax jobs on expensive cars.When I was satisfied no was about, neither in a vehicle or outside it, I secreted myself in a dark corner between the wall and a heavy support pillar that jutted out enough to hide my presence.

 

†††† No one lingered inside the building that night.It was Friday, everyone was anxious to get a head start on the weekend.I stood quietly and patiently as people bid their co-workers goodbye.Car after car started and exited.I took careful note when Lance came out alone a few minutes before six.For whatever reason he'd changed into casual clothes before leaving the office.His black Armani suit was on a hanger and draped neatly over his left arm.He wore a denim shirt and blue jeans underneath his wool topcoat.His wing tips hung from the hand carrying his briefcase. In their place he wore a pair of hiking boots with soles treaded thick like car tires.

 

†††† Lance brushed a finger over Janet's glossy car as he walked by it on the way to his own.My eyes narrowed, and I wondered what the gesture signified.Simple admiration of the vehicle?Or ownership of the woman who drove it?

 

†††† I watched Lance stow his things in his vehicle, then drive away.It came as no surprise to see him primping in his rearview mirror.

 

†††† My feet were growing numb from the cold surface of the concrete when Janet exited the elevator alone like I had told her to that morning.By arriving so early and parking the Concord on the ground level I was hoping to catch her stalker up here waiting for her.So far I had struck out on that accord, but I was far from ready to give up.If he didn't see me anywhere we might just be able to lure him into following her home.

 

†††† I jogged out and met Janet halfway.I put a hand on her elbow and rushed her to her car.She had her keys ready, enabling her to quickly unlock the vehicle.Within in seconds I was lying down on the back seat, completely out of anyone's line of sight.

 

†††† Janet took the route home we had discussed that morning at breakfast.She didn't talk to me, but rather appeared to passing drivers as though she was a woman alone.

 

†††† She stopped at the grocery store she frequented, even though she didn't really need anything considering I'd just stocked her cabinets the day before.I peeked my head up enough to be able to watch her enter and exit the building.She came out with a gallon of milk and a quart of orange juice ten minutes later.If anyone was following her I didn't see him.

 

†††† Her next stop was the dry cleaners.This time she had clothes to drop off, as well as clothes to pick up.But again, I didn't see anyone or anything that aroused my suspicions.Though that didn't mean someone wasn't watching her out of my line of vision.I just hoped he was foolish enough to trail her home.

 

†††† Like we'd discussed it would be that morning, Janetís final errand was at a Block Buster Video located a mile and a half from her home.She parked in a dark corner well away from other vehicles and right next to a Dumpster.

 

†††† Using her car as a shield, I slid out the back passenger door, my bare hands landing in a pile of frigid snow.I ignored the biting chill and scurried around to the other side of the massive trash container.I didn't take my eyes off Janet until she'd safely entered the store that was lit up like the Hollywood sign at night.While she was inside I kept a vigilant watch over the parking lot.I saw plenty of people sitting alone in their cars, but time and time again they proved to be waiting for a child, friend, or spouse who had been choosing a movie.If anyone was especially interested in the lone BMW driven by Janet Fowler he was doing a good job of keeping that a discreet fact.

 

†††† I watched Janet exit the store carrying a small plastic bag in her hand.My body tensed when a man stopped her just outside the doors by coming up behind her and placing a hand on her elbow.I snapped opened my coat and felt for my gun.If his intention was to grab her and run I'd be on his heels before they got three feet from that storefront.

 

†††† But Janet's posture wasn't that of a woman in fear of assault.When the man turned so the parking lot lights illuminated his face I recognized him.

 

†††† Lance.

 

†††† I watched, wondering what he was up to, and wondering just how big of a coincidence it was that he'd turned up here.At a video store in Janet's neighborhood.

 

†††† Their conversation didn't last more than thirty seconds.When they bid one another goodbye he entered the store and she continued to her car.

 

†††† She did an excellent job of acting as though her ex-husband wasn't lurking about behind a smelly Dumpster.She got in her car and laid the bag on the front seat.It was when I heard her door lock that I felt reasonably assured of her safety.

 

†††† I took off running away from the Dumpster, soon leaving the vast parking lot and store behind me.I jogged through a strip mall, past three fast food places, and around a gas station until I came to Janet's residential neighborhood.

 

†††† I continued my journey but stayed off the streets now, instead racing through a succession of back yards.For once I was thankful for the winter cold and darkness.†† No one was outside to see me and wonder what a grown man pushing fifty years old was doing sprinting over their property as though he was late for dinner.

 

†††† I came upon Janet's house by way of her backyard neighbor's.I used the set of keys she'd given me to enter into the garage through the service door.I unbugged her alarm system and unlocked the door that would let me into the back hallway.

 

†††† Her automatic timers had the living room lit up.I didn't turn on any additional lights as I waited for her to arrive.I took off my boots and left them on the rug next to my tennis shoes, then hung up my coat.I made my way into the dark kitchen and looked out at the street in front of her house.I didn't see any cars in the immediate vicinity, but knew he could just as well be parked down the road or standing on the sidewalk a block away.

 

†††† I was still winded when Janet pulled up five minutes later.I waited for her in the hallway and took some of her burdens from her when she finally entered the house.

 

†††† I could immediately tell she was tired and crestfallen.

 

†††† "I didn't see him.Not anywhere."

 

†††† I carried the milk and juice to the kitchen while she deposited everything else in her hands on the living room sofa.

 

†††† "Then we'll just have to come up with another idea," I stated practically when she came to the kitchen doorway.

 

†††† "But it was a good plan, A.J.I thought for sure we'd catch him tonight."

 

†††† I walked over and placed my hands on her upper arms, giving them a tender squeeze."We'll catch him, Janet.I promise."

 

†††† "But you can't stay here forever.You'll have to go back home soon and--"

 

†††† "Hey.Stop it.I can stay here for as long as it takes, and that's what I intend to do."

 

†††† She looked into my face, searching to see whether or not I meant what I said.She must have gotten her answer because she briefly laid her head against my chest and whispered, "Thank you.Thank you so much."

†††† I released her and cocked my head toward the stairs."Go upstairs, get changed, and relax for a while.I'll make dinner."

 

†††† "You don't have to do that.You cooked last night.I'll get supper together tonight."

 

†††† I gently shoved her toward the stairs, refusing to take no for an answer."Go on.I don't mind cooking and you know it.That's when I do some of my best thinking."

 

†††† She smiled at me as if she remembered that, indeed, I do in fact do some of my best thinking when I'm puttering around the kitchen getting a meal together.

 

†††† Janet threw the plastic bag that contained her dry cleaning over one arm, then grabbed her purse and briefcase.She headed up the stairs while I placed the movie she'd rented on top of the TV before returning to the kitchen.

 

†††† While she rode her exercise bike I made a meatless pasta dish and tossed a salad.When she came downstairs forty-five minutes later she was wearing black leggings, baggy white socks, and a knee-length red sweater.It looked like the perfect outfit for a casual winter evening at home.

 

†††† Janet set the table while I finished cooking supper.She complimented me on the meal, though I don't think she ate enough of it to really know what it tasted like.She spent more time pushing shell noodles around in Alfredo sauce than she did putting them in her mouth.It was obvious to me she'd been counting on our fox being drawn out of his den this evening.Considering the situation had been going on for three months, I couldn't blame her for wanting it to come to a swift end.

 

†††† We didn't speak of her troubles until after the table was cleared and the dishwasher cycling.We reclaimed our chairs and exchanged information regarding our day.I didn't mention anything about Lance right then, but just told her I'd looked further into a few of her cases but had come up empty handed.

 

†††† "I was finally able to get a hold of Judge Sheridon's secretary today," Janet said."Or his former secretary, I should say, considering heís retired. She no longer has a list of the guests that attended his party, but after I explained the situation to her and why I wanted the list, she promised she'd do everything she could to reconstruct it.She's also going to contact the judge and his wife.I asked her to do as you suggested, put their heads together and write down everyone they can think of who was there.I made my own list while I was on my lunch break and faxed it over to her.She said she'll get back to me early next week with the names they come up with."

 

†††† "Great.That'll give us another source to draw from."I folded my hands together on the table and squirmed in my chair knowing she wasn't going to like the subject matter I broached next.

 

†††† "I also looked into Lance's background today."

 

†††† "You what?"

 

†††† "I looked into--"

 

†††† Her eyes flashed her anger."I heard you the first time, A.J.I thought we put an end to this discussion last night."

 

†††† "Janet, we have to look into all the possibilities.And in my opinion, Lance happens to be one of those possibilities."

 

†††† She crossed her arms over her chest and refused to speak to me.It reminded me of how much that gesture had ticked me off when we were married.

 

†††† "Don't do that, Janet.Don't block me out because you've decided what I have to say isn't worthwhile.It just might be, you know."

 

†††† "Okay, fine.Talk.Though I can't imagine what you found out about Lance that will make any difference one way or another."

 

†††† "For starters, he was stalking his ex-wife while they were separated.He also punctured her car tires and slashed an expensive collection of artwork she owned."

 

†††† "And just where did you hear all this?"

†††† "I read about it in some documents I pulled at the courthouse."

 

†††† "How did you pull those?Those types of documents shouldn't have been accessible to the public."

 

†††† I grinned at her."Despite my advancing years, my charming smile has still been known to persuade a young lady into letting me see things I'm not supposed to."

 

†††† The joke didn't make her laugh like I'd hoped.

 

†††† "That's not funny, A.J.I should make you give me her name.She should be fired for letting you see those papers."

 

†††† "Oh, Janet, come on!Get off your high horse.This has nothing to do with what some nineteen-year-old clerk let me see or didn't let me see.It has to do with Lance.†† He's a possessive, jealous man who couldn't come to terms with his impending divorce so felt the need to scare his wife as retribution.He broke into the house one night, Janet, with no other purpose other than to frighten her."

 

†††† "That was documented in what you read today?"

†††† "Well...no.But someone told me about it."

 

†††† "Someone?Someone like whom?"

 

†††† "Ned Melton. He was Deanna Gillet's attorney."

 

†††† "Oh, good," she said with dripping sarcasm."Ned Melton.The Rick Simon of lawyers."

 

†††† I wasn't about to get into this argument with her.I was well aware she was furious with me and purposefully brought Rick up to fuel my anger.Sheíd done it often times when we were married.Despite my sentimental feelings of late, I was acutely reminded as to why our marriage ended.

 

†††† "I'm not going to debate either Ned's or Rick's credibility with you.It'll be a waste of time and effort, and will only cause hard feelings between us.Therefore, I'm going to end this discussion by reminding you that I devote myself one hundred percent to every case I take on regardless of who my client might be.And if there's one thing I learned from your father when I first started working for him over twenty years ago, it's that a good investigator leaves not one stone unturned.So if you're upset with me for looking into Lance's background today then so be it.But I discovered some things you'd better spend time pondering.The possibility of Lance being your stalker is a good one.But even if he's not, I don't think he's a guy you want to get mixed up with."

 

†††† I stood from up from the table and headed toward the living room.I paused in the doorway a brief moment."And just for your information, I'm not saying that as your ex-husband.I'm saying that as your friend."

 

†††† Janet must have recognized that we needed some space from one another, because while I sat in the reclining easy chair reading the newspaper she remained in the kitchen.I could hear dishes being pulled in and out of cabinets and couldn't help but smile.Whenever Janet was angry she felt the urge to nest.Cleaning, scrubbing, and rearranging seemed to be her way of working off steam while at the same time mulling over her thoughts.Toward the end of our marriage our house practically gleamed.

 

†††† Janet joined me in the living room an hour later.I had finished the paper long ago and had gone upstairs to retrieve my book.I laid it on the coffee table when she curled up on the couch.

 

†††† Her apology was spoken softly."A.J., I'm sorry.I shouldn't have flown off the handle regarding what you told me about Lance.I'm still not certain how much of it I believe, but I'll do what you say and give it some thought."

 

†††† "Do one better than that, Janet.Access the court records and read the documentation for yourself.Call Ned if you need further proof."

 

†††† She made a face at that suggestion, but kept her opinions to herself.She didn't like Ned any better than she liked Rick.

 

†††† "Promise, Janet.Promise me you'll look into this guy before your relationship with him goes any farther."

†††† She nodded."I promise.But I want you to know the only reason he was at the video store tonight was because he was picking up some movies for his kids.They're spending the weekend with him."

 

†††† "That's a viable excuse, but he could have been following you."

 

†††† "He could have been," she reluctantly conceded, "but for some reason I don't think so."

 

†††† I let the subject drop there.She'd promised me she'd check the guy out further, so that was all I could ask for the time being.If he proved to be her stalker, I had every intention of catching the bastard in the act.

 

†††† She stood up and crossed to the television set."Do you want to watch the movie I rented?"

†††† She held up the box so I could see the cover.I nodded my agreement at her choice.We always did have the same taste in movies.

 

†††† Janet popped the movie in the VCR and settled back on the couch.I remained in the chair and quickly became engrossed in the storyline.Twenty minutes into the showing her phone rang.

 

†††† For obvious reasons she had quit acknowledging the phone weeks ago in favor of letting the answering machine screen her calls.The machine was up in her office/exercise room.As she rose to go retrieve the message I reached for the VCR's remote control and paused the movie's progress.

 

†††† I could hear the tremor in her voice when she called down the stairs.

 

†††† "A.J.!A.J., can you come up here please!"

 

†††† I shot out of my chair and took the stairs two at a time.She was standing next to her desk.With a shaking finger she rewound the tape, then hit the 'play' button.

 

†††† "You are the rose in my garden, Miss Fowler.The gentle rain that falls upon my face on a hot summer day.The lone shining star in my night sky.†† And I will make you mine."

 

†††† The voice was raspy, like the kind you hear on a campy TV movie when the madman's trying to hide his identity from the pretty girl he's terrorizing.

 

†††† I grabbed a pen and a tablet of paper off Janet's desktop.I replayed the message, writing down what he said word for word.I dated it and recorded the time he called before returning the paper and pen to their place by the phone.I turned to Janet.

 

†††† "Is this the kind of thing he always says?"

†††† She looked so small, and sick, and scared, that I wanted to kill the guy.

 

†††† "Sometimes it's things like that.Poetry of his own making, I guess you'd call it.But sometimes the things he says are very...obscene."

 

†††† I put an arm around her.I didn't say anything further about the phone call other than to remind her to report it to Detective Wilke in the morning.

 

†††† I guided her back to the living room where we finished watching our movie.It ended a few minutes before eleven o'clock.I stood to go outside and make my nightly rounds of her house.

 

†††† "I'll slice us some cake while you're gone," she said."Would you like some coffee?"

 

†††† Considering the lateness of the hour and my full thoughts I decided coffee would only make sleep more difficult."No.No coffee for me."

 

†††† "A glass of milk then?"

 

†††† "That'll be fine."

 

†††† I put on my boots and tied the laces.I grabbed my jacket, snapping it closed over my Smith & Wesson.I checked my pockets to make sure I had Janet's keys.

 

†††† I looked up to see her standing at the head of the hallway.

 

†††† "I'll set the alarm and lock the doors when I go out.If anyone comes to the door don't let them in no matter who it might be."

 

†††† "I won't."

 

†††† "And if the phone rings let the machine pick it up.Don't listen to the message until I come back."

 

†††† Again she promised, "I won't."

 

†††† In all my years of knowing her I'd rarely seen this strong woman vulnerable.For the most part Janet is a person who keeps her pain, sorrow, and fears well-hidden.But she stood at the end of the hallway that night looking like a lost child who didn't know whether she'd ever find her way home again.

 

†††† I offered her a reassuring smile."Janet, it's going to be okay.We'll get this thing resolved."

 

†††† "I know."†††

 

†††† As I turned to go out the door she echoed the concern she'd voiced each night since I'd arrived.

 

†††† "Be careful, A.J."

 

†††† I shot her another grin."I will be.And tonight I'll do my best to leave your teenage neighbors alone."

 

†††† She chuckled a little at that as I hoped she would.My last sight of her was of the small smile my remark brought to her lips.

 

_____________________________

 

 

†††† I locked the service door behind me as I exited into Janetís backyard.Other than the faint light shining through the closed blinds that hung at her patio doors the surrounding area was dark.The moon and stars were covered by mounds of low hanging clouds that were releasing a gentle, yet steady snowfall.I pulled my jacket collar up around my ears to prevent the stuff from finding its way inside my turtleneck.It was cold, with the weatherman predicting the night's temperature would dip to ten degrees.It felt to me like it was already there.

 

†††† My boots crunched across the snow, making it sound like I was walking on Styrofoam.I had just rounded the corner that led me into the dark narrow space between Janet's windowless garage and her neighbor's windowless garage, when I heard the soft 'pop' of an air gun.

 

†††† I never had time to turn around or reach for my revolver.The dart burrowed painfully into my left shoulder blade like a dart from a blowgun burrows into the tough hide of an elephant.Whatever it was doused with caused an immediate reaction.My leg muscles melted away and I fell face first into the frigid snow.I tried to throw my arms out as a means of protection, but they no longer existed.Or so it seemed.My brain kept sending them signals to extend themselves, but they remained hanging limply at my sides.I had the presence of mind to realize I'd been shot by some sort of tranquilizer gun and recalled the long ago case at the San Diego Zoo where much the same thing had occurred.††

 

†††† Someone grabbed my shoulder and turned me over.His easy manipulation of my body made me sympathize with how a paraplegic must feel.I opened my mouth to shout for help, hoping Janet would hear me and call 911, but nothing came out.

 

†††† My attacker bent down on one knee.I felt scratchy wool brush my hand and caught a glimpse of gray.Arctic blue eyes swam into distorted focus, as did a massive pair of feet encased in hiking boots with thickly treaded soles.For some reason my vision was rapidly blurring and my hearing seemed to be affected by the drug as well.I could tell his mouth was moving, but what he said I didn't know.I began to panic then, as I lay there helpless in the snow, unable to move, hear, speak, and with rapidly fading eyesight.

 

†† I don't think the big man realized I could still see when he hoisted me up on his shoulder as though I was a child's rag doll.

 

†††† I knew who he was!Damn, I knew exactly who he was!†† I wondered how I could have been so careless...and so foolish.My last coherent thought before my world went completely black was, God, please don't let him hurt, Janet.Please don't let him hurt her.

††††

 

S&S††† S&S†††† S&S†††† S&S†††† S&S

††††

††††

†††† It was three o'clock in the mornin' when I groped for the ringing phone beside my bed.My concern and anger over A.J.'s whereabouts, plus my Ollie Burger heartburn, had kept me awake until one-thirty.I was, by far, not ready to have what little sleep I was gettin' interrupted.

 

†††† My brain was still so shrouded with slumber that it didn't even occur to me there were only two reasons behind me receiving a phone call at that time of the morning.Either it was a prank bein' played by some kids, or there was an emergency involving a family member or close friend.

 

†††† "Lo?"I croaked dry-mouthed into the receiver.

 

†††† A frantic female voice greeted me from the other end."Rick, it's Janet."

 

†††† "Janet?"

†††† "Yes.Janet."

 

†††† "Janet who?"

 

†††† She sounded ticked off when she replied with indignant force, "Janet Fowler!"

 

†††† She probably thought I was being a smart-ass, tryin' to get her worked up on purpose, but I honestly wasn't.I no more expected my brother's ex-wife to be callin' me than I expected to hear from Raquel Welch.

 

†††† This time my "Janet?," while still spoken in a question, let her know that I was now fully aware of who I was talkin' to.I hiked myself up on one elbow and reached for the bedside lamp.Even though I turned it on its lowest setting, I squinted as the light assaulted my eyes.

 

†††† "Rick, I need your help!A.J.'s missing and I don't know who else to turn to.He went out at--"

 

†††† I scooted farther upright, becoming more alert with each passing second."Whoa, whoa.Hold on a second.Back up.A.J.'s missing?What the hell are you talking about?Whatta ya' mean, A.J.'s missing?"

 

†††† "He didn't tell you?"

†††† "Tell me what?"

†††† "That he came up here to work on a case for me?

†††† My lips formed a tight, furious line."No.He didn't tell me.Maybe you should fill me in."

 

†††† Her story spewed forth in sketchy staccato detail, but I got the gist of what was goin' on.

 

†††† "He went out about eleven to walk around my house.He's been doing that every night since he got here.But he's always been back inside within fifteen minutes."

 

†††† "And you didn't see or hear anything suspicious?"

†††† "No.Nothing.I've been out in my car five times since eleven thirty, Rick.I can't find him anywhere."

 

†††† "Have you called the cops?"

 

†††† "Yes.They left here about an hour ago.Because they're familiar with my case they were sympathetic to the situation, but I'm afraid they won't be much help."

 

†††† I was afraid of the same thing.First of all, no police department in the country, that I know of, considers an adult a missing person until he or she has been gone twenty-four hours.Secondly, the Seattle cops had to be pissed that Janet went out and hired a private detective to work her case. Yeah, they probably indicated otherwise to her 'cause of her position with the D.A.'s office and all, but I could easily guess they had no intention of being upstaged by some out-of-state private eye, so probably didn't care too much whether they found him or not.And thirdly, it wasn't exactly like A.J. and I had enamored ourselves to the Seattle Police Department the last time we'd come in contact with them, leading me to believe that fact alone would knock him one notch farther down on their priority list.

 

†††† I was already throwing off the covers and climbing out of bed. "I'll call you back in a little while.I'm gonna work on making arrangements at gettin' up there as soon as I can."

 

†††† I had no idea what her phone number was so yanked opened the drawer on my nightstand and fumbled for a scrap of paper and a pen."What's your number?"

†††† I scribbled as she recited it.I didn't even say goodbye when I hung up.If I was rude, so be it.She was the last person I felt like offerin' platitudes.††

 

†††† The good thing about best friends is they don't hold it against ya' when you call 'em at ten minutes after three on a Saturday morning.The details I gave Carlos were even briefer than those Janet had given me.It didn't matter to him, though.I'm sure he heard the urgency in my voice and knew that sooner or later I'd fill in the gaps.

 

†††† At four twenty-five I met Carlos's cousin, Emilio, at a private airport ten miles from my boat.I had thrown my razor, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a few changes of clothes in my duffel bag.Remembering it was January in Seattle, I carried my heavy winter coat over one arm.In its side pockets I'd stuffed a knit hat and a pair of gloves.I let Rex out between packing and calling Janet back.I filled his food bowl and gave him fresh water right before I ran out the door.Carlos had promised to come over later in the morning to get him.He'd keep Rex at his house until I returned.

 

†††† Emilio's plane was fueled and ready to fly when I arrived.I parked my truck, grabbed my bag and coat from the front seat, and took off running.He had the propeller churning by the time I was climbing in the small two seater Cessna.

 

†††† Emilio gave me a nod as he spoke to the lone man in the control tower.He'd already filed his flight plan, meaning there were no delays.In a matter of seconds we were cleared for take-off.

†††† The little plane swayed and rumbled to the end of the runway.She gained altitude smoothly once we were off the ground.Emilio leveled her out when we reached eighteen thousand feet.

 

†††† "I appreciate the trip on such short notice, amigo.Bill my business whatever's necessary when you get back home."

 

†††† The Hispanic man flashed me a toothy white grin."No sweat, Rick.If an old friend of the Escobar family can't ask a favor now and again, who can?"

 

†††† That was pretty much the extent of our conversation.The noise created within the small plane by turbulence made it almost impossible to hear one another even if we had wanted to talk.I was grateful for that.My mind was on too many other concerns right at the moment.

 

†††† As we flew north I'd get a distinct whiff of the sweet odor of marijuana on occasion.I didn't know if that meant Emilio's cargo hold was full of the stuff, or if it meant it had recently been full of it but the scent still lingered.†† I prayed it was the latter.The last thing I needed was to be involved in a drug bust when we landed.

 

†††† Fortunately, that was not the case.The Cessna glided smoothly onto a runway cleared of snow at the King County Municipal Airport later that morning.I peeled four twenties outta my wallet and handed them to Emilio as a gesture of appreciation for him comin' to my aid on such short notice - and at such an ungodly hour.He stuck around only long enough to fuel up for the return trip home.He was just jumpin' outta the plane when I climbed in Janet's waiting BMW.

 

†††† I threw my coat and duffel bag in the backseat.I skipped over the pleasantries as I slid in beside my former sister-in-law.

 

†††† "Tell me everything that's happened," I ordered gruffly."Start at the beginning."

 

†††† She gave me a sidelong glance as she pulled the car into Saturday morning traffic.By the set of my jaw she knew better than to mess with me.She did as I requested, going all the way back to the first night she was followed in October.She filled me in on everything that occurred since, including her phone call to A.J. on Tuesday evening.Her narration ended with his disappearance.

 

†††† While some of what Janet relayed she'd already told me over the phone, most of it I was hearing for the first time.I attempted to put it all together just like I was sure my brother had.Janet told me everything A.J. had done since he arrived as she drove us to her home.I couldn't think of one thing I would have done differently, or one person I would have investigated who he hadn't already looked into.I asked her a number of questions, but her answers didn't bring me to any firm conclusions.

 

†††† When we entered her house through the garage thirty minutes later I was frustrated, angry, and scared.Janet led me to the kitchen where A.J.'s notes sat on the table.I picked up the blue two-pocket school folder and began leafing through the papers it contained.Janet told me to sit down while she made coffee.

 

†††† I pulled out a chair and spread my brother's notes before me.I paid only scant attention to the coffee, muffins, and banana bread Janet sat in front of me.I didn't feel like eating, but figured I'd better have something.I had a hunch a long day awaited me.

 

†††† By the time I'd downed a muffin and two cups of coffee I had scanned through A.J.'s notes twice.Janet wisely made the coffee strong.Very strong.†† Strong enough to strip varnish off a gymnasium floor, but I was in bad need of the jolt of caffeine it provided so didn't complain.

 

†††† She only picked at the muffin she had taken, tearing off tiny pieces as though she had a baby bird somewhere in the house that was in need of being fed.She didn't have any coffee either. I noticed she was drinking milk instead, which led me to believe she had an upset stomach.

 

†††† Good, I thought.She deserves a knot in her gut same as the one I got.And while she's at it she can have a good dose of my headache.

 

†††† When I'd gleaned all the knowledge I could from A.J.'s notes I gathered them up and stacked them together by lightly tapping them against the surface of the table.I placed them back in the pockets of the folder and shut it for the time being.I had no idea where to start lookin' for my brother, which, by far, did nothing to assuage my fear or fury.

 

†††† I looked across the table at the woman I had at one time considered to be a good friend.But that had been many years ago now, and too much had happened to cause me to retain much affection for her.This latest turn of events didn't exactly garner her favorable points with me either.

 

†††† "Tell me again about what happened last night," I demanded coldly."Step by step from the time the two of you came home until A.J. disappeared."

 

†††† She went through the story with me for the third time since three that morning.I shook my head in frustration when she finished.My fist came down so hard on her table that my empty coffee cup jumped from its saucer.

 

†††† "Damn you, Janet!Damn you!You just had to go and do it, didn't you?"

†††† I'll give Janet this, she's never been a shrinking violet.Even my temper can't faze the woman.

 

†††† "Do what?"

 

†††† "The minute somethin' went wrong in your life you just had to go running to A.J. cryin' for help, didn't ya'?Why the hell couldn't you just leave him alone?"

 

†††† She sat up straighter in her chair and her eyes narrowed.

 

†††† "For your information, Rick, I did not go running to A.J.Yes, I called your brother on Tuesday evening, but it was not with the intention of hiring him.It was with the intention of getting a recommendation from him for a Seattle investigator.I already told you that twice."

 

†††† I pointed an accusing finger."Fine.But you knew, you knew he'd never let you do that.†† You knew damn good and well A.J. would insist on coming up here himself!"

 

†††† "I did not!I did not know that, Rick!If I had I wouldn't have phoned him.I swear I wouldn't have!Never in my wildest dreams did I think he'd want to take the case.We haven't even talked to one another since the divorce!To tell you the truth, I was half expecting him to hang up on me when he heard my voice."

 

†††† "Which is exactly what he shoulda' done!You're nothin' but trouble for him, lady.It was that way twenty years ago, and it's that way yet today!Somehow he always winds up gettin' hurt whenever he gets himself mixed up with you."

 

†††† "I'm the one who gets him hurt?"She placed a disbelieving hand against her chest."Me?I think you'd better take a long hard look in the mirror, Rick Simon, before you go accusing me of putting A.J. in jeopardy.It's you who's always--"

 

†††† Without intending to, we'd become embroiled in an old bitter argument that could last for days.For a few seconds both of us lost sight of what was really important - finding A.J.

 

†††† Janet came to her senses before I came to mine.She paused in mid-sentence and held up a hand."This is getting us no where.Your brother needs us to work together right now, not tear one another apart."

 

†††† I threw back my head and emitted a heavy sigh.I hated it when she was right, but her words had been like a much needed slap in the face.

 

†††† "You're right," I mumbled."If we have any hope at all of findin' A.J. we're gonna have to work together."†††††

 

†††† We silently declared a truce, then I asked Janet what the police had done when she'd contacted them.

 

†††† "They sent a patrol car over.That was a few minutes after two this morning.The young officers I spoke with looked around the house but didn't see anything.It snowed most of the night, though, so as they pointed out, footprints that might have been left behind by A.J. or anyone else were already covered up.When they were finished outside I gave them a description of A.J. and what he was wearing.†† They promised that all officers on patrol would keep an eye out for him, but that was about it.I drove around looking for A.J. again shortly after they left.It was then I decided I had no choice but to call you."

 

†††† I looked around the kitchen.I spotted a phone on the wall behind Janet's head, but I didn't see an answering machine anywhere.

 

†††† "Do you have an answering machine, or a means of gettin' messages while you're gone?"

 

†††† "Yes, I have a machine.It's upstairs in my office."

 

†††† "Go check it.Before we decide how to proceed see if the police have left you any messages.If they haven't, you and I are gonna have to figure out where to start."

 

†††† "I called all the area hospitals while I was waiting for you to arrive," she said."No one matching A.J.'s description was brought in during the night."

 

†††† I nodded my head at her wisdom.It was a helluva place to start, but she was the daughter of a private investigator, and in one form or another had been around the profession her whole life.She knew what had to be done in a missing persons case.I didn't have to ask her if she'd called the morgue as well.I could see in her eyes she had, but she had no intention of bringing that painful fact up unless I made a direct inquiry of her.

 

†††† "I also called all the neighbors within the immediate vicinity."

 

†††† "Don't tell me, let me guess.No one saw anything."

 

†††† "No."I could hear the deep regret in her voice, as though she wished she had more to offer me."No one saw anything."

 

†††† I remained in the kitchen while Janet went up to check her answering machine.I reopened the folder and skimmed A.J.'s notes once more.I knew it was an effort in futility, but I had to do something while I waited for Janet to return.If she thought I was gonna kill time cleanin' up the dishes she was sadly mistaken.

 

†††† She musta' called my name twice before I heard her.I could tell she'd come to the head of the stairs when she called for me again.She came down three steps while beckoning a fourth time.

 

†††† "Rick!Rick, get up here quick!"

 

†††† I ran outta the kitchen and tackled the stairway.I woulda' beat Janet to the bedroom if I hadn't been forced to let her lead me there.I'd never been in this house, and had no idea where the various rooms were located.

 

†††† She'd already rewound the tape 'cause all she had to do was hit the 'play' button.A deep, clear masculine voice came across strong and loud.

 

†††† "I have what I came for, my dear Mrs. Simon.So with this, my final contact, I bid you a fond farewell.You have been a grand lady.I extend to you my thanks and my sincere appreciation."

 

†††† His speech was distinct without any discernible accent.Right away I surmised he was an educated man.A white-collar professional of some sort, I'd bet money on it.In the distant back ground I thought I could hear a clacking sound, like metal hitting metal.But it was so faint identifying its source was impossible.†† ††

 

†††† We listened to his message three more times without commenting to one another about it.We both knew it was important to gather our thoughts without clouding one another's opinions.

 

†††† I crossed my arms over my chest in thought."Okay, tell me about it. Is this message similar to, or different than, the others you've received?"

 

†††† "Different, Rick.Much different.Always before he's left either very obscene messages, telling me what he wants to do to me in the bedroom, or he's left messages that are almost in the form of poetry.And the previous times he's called I could tell he was working to disguise his voice."

 

†††† She reached for a pad of paper by the phone."Here.This is the message he left when he called last night around nine thirty.Ē

 

†††† I recognized A.J.'s handwriting, and could easily guess they'd been up in this room together doing exactly what Janet and I were doing now.Trying to get inside this guy's head and figure out who he was and what exactly his motives were.

 

†††† I read the message from the evening before twice.She was correct.The tone and meaning was totally different.I tapped the paper with my index finger.

 

†††† "He calls you Miss Fowler in last night's message.Yet this morning he refers to you as Mrs. Simon.Has he ever called you that before?Mrs. Simon, I mean?"

 

†††† "No.Never."

 

†††† "Then up until now a person would have assumed he didn't know you'd been married to A.J."

†††† "That's correct.I never gave it a thought that he might be someone who has known me for a long time.Since my troubles with him started in October, I guessed him to be someone I'd recently met.Or someone who had recently met me, whom I was unaware of."

 

†††† That would be a logical assumption on Janet's part, as well as on the part of the police.

 

†††† "But now we know that isn't true," I said."Now we know his association with you goes back several years."

 

†††† "Unless, if he is the person who has A.J., A.J. told him we'd been married."

 

†††† "No," I shook my head."A.J. would never do that.He'd never reveal anything that might put you in danger no matter what the guy did to him."†††† I pointed to the machine."Play the message one more time."

 

†††† She did as I requested.In those few seconds I was certain.

 

†††† "Heís the one who has A.J., Janet.Or at least he's the one who's behind his disappearance.It's not you he was after.It never has been.It's A.J."

 

†††† I could read a combination of disbelief, guilt, and grief in her pale blue eyes.

 

†††† "A.J.!But, Rick, no.No!Why would he have been stalking me if it was A.J. he was after all along?"

 

†††† "Because he wanted to draw A.J. here."

 

†††† "But how could he have known I'd even call A.J.?We're divorced for heaven's sake!And even if he surmised I might phone A.J., there was no guarantee A.J. would show up here."

 

†††† "Since neither one of us knows who this guy is, I can't give you any concrete answers.Maybe he was willin' to take a chance on all that.Or maybe he was hopin' you'd somehow lead him to A.J.Or maybe his original intention was to hurt you in an act of revenge against A.J., but then A.J. came here and the guy made a quick change of plans.None of that matters right now.What matters is we gotta figure out who he is and where A.J.'s at."

 

†††† "How are we going to do that?"

†††† I thought a moment."When A.J. was workin' for Bloomdecker, Hershaw and whatever the other guy's name was, did anyone ever make a threat against him?"

 

†††† "Not that I'm aware of."

 

†††† "No one?No disgruntled client who was upset over how he handled a case?"

†††† "No.The cases A.J. generally were assigned weren't the type that cause people to seek revenge if things don't turn out their way."

 

†††† "So he never tried a murder case?Or something connected to the mob, or connected to someone with a lot of power and influence?"

†††† "No.Never.That's one of the reasons he ended up hating the job so much and sneaking around behind my back doing P.I. work for the firm.He--"

 

†††† Her words came to an abrupt halt as though she'd just slammed the brakes on a speeding car.She grabbed for the phone, frantically punching in a number.

 

†††† "Whatta ya' doing?"

†††† She snapped the fingers of her right hand, trying to call forth a long forgotten memory."P.I. work, Rick.P.I. work!That's the key!It's got to be!When A.J. was working for Bloomdecker, Hershaw and Clark, he did some investigation work for Ken Hershaw.The case--"

 

†††† She punched a button on her phone allowing me to hear the conversation on the other end just as a receptionist answered with a pleasant, "Good morning.Bloomdecker, Hershaw and Clark."

 

†††† Janet hung up the receiver and spoke toward the wide grid.

 

†††† "I need to speak with Ken Hershaw."

 

†††† "Just one moment please."

 

†††† A secretary picked up the line next and identified herself as Rita.She'd been well-trained at running interference for her boss.She reminded Janet this was Saturday, and that the law offices of Bloomdecker, Hershaw and Clark were only open until noon on Saturday and working with minimal staff.

 

†††† "I'm sorry," the woman said,"Mr. Hershaw doesn't speak with clients on Saturdays unless the meeting has been previously arranged.Would you care to leave a message?I can have him return your call on Monday morning."

 

†††† Janet's rebuttal was firm and authoritative.

 

†††† "This is Janet Fowler, the chief prosecuting attorney for the city.I need to speak with Ken immediately, Rita.Whether or not it's Saturday is of little consequence to me."

 

†††† Upon hearing the words 'chief prosecuting attorney,' Rita hopped right out of her chair and went in search of her boss.Or so I envisioned when she didn't give Janet anymore shit, but rather requested politely,"Hold the line please, Ms. Fowler."

†††† Janet turned to me with a rapid explanation while we waited for Hershaw to pick up.

 

†††† "The case had to do with a prominent anesthesiologist from St. Mary's Hospital.A number of patients had died while under his care.This had been going on for quite some time when a group of family members of the various deceased parties got together and began to discuss foul play.They took their suspicions and concerns to the hospital, but were basically ignored.The administrator attempted to pacify them with well-scripted answers, but a lot of what he said didn't ring true.For one thing, he claimed all those who died were in poor health to begin with, therefore at high risk when it came to any type of surgical procedure.That in itself was a lie.Two young healthy children had died, one who was in for a tonsillectomy and another for a minor ear operation.A thirty-year-old man, a professional hockey player, died who was in for nothing other than surgery on a torn tendon.Another victim was a twenty-two year old woman who was having some type of cosmetic surgery."

 

†††† "How does A.J. fit into all this?"

†††† "Fifteen families pooled their facts and money together.They hired Ken Hershaw with the hope they could have charges of first degree homicide brought against the anesthesiologist.Ken has the reputation of being the best criminal attorney in Seattle, and in my opinion he is."

 

†††† She didn't have to tell me the rest.I could easily guess it.

 

†††† "He had A.J. do the investigating into the case, didn't he?A.J. was instrumental in getting criminal charges filed against the guy, wasn't he?"

 

†††† "Yes, he was.Without my knowledge, A.J. worked on the case for many months.When I found out about it I damn near rang his neck.When it went before a judge in a preliminary hearing A.J. testified.I only discovered months afterward that Dr. Hewitt, the anesthesiologist, threatened to get even with A.J."

 

†††† "What happened to 'im?The doctor I mean?"

†††† "He was declared mentally unfit to stand trial.To tell you the truth, I think someone paid someone to pay someone off, but I could never find evidence of it and believe me, the D.A.'s office tried."

 

†††† "His family?"

†††† "No, I don't believe so.I always suspected it might have been one of his colleagues.Or several of them.While there was a fraction of his co-workers who thought he was guilty, an even larger fraction steadfastly supported him throughout the ordeal.†† I think there was a great amount of hospital politics at play.Anyway, he was committed to a mental institution for treatment back in the fall of 1993.That was the last I heard of the man, or of the case."

 

†††† Before Janet could say anymore Hershaw came on the line.She cut him off in the middle of his exclamation over how nice it was to hear from her.

 

†††† "Ken, listen, I need you to tell me everything you remember about the Dallas Hewitt case."

 

†††† "Dallas Hewitt?"

 

†††† "Yes."

 

†††† "Certainly, Janet.But it would help if you tell me what it is you need to know.Is the D.A.'s office reopening the investigation into--"

 

†††† "No, we're not.At least not right this minute, though we may very well have reason to in the near future."

 

†††† She launched into a quick explanation as to why she was seeking information from him.

 

†††† "A.J.'s back in town?"Hershaw asked.

†††† "Yes, he is.Though I haven't seen him since eleven o'clock last night, and I'm fearful Hewitt might have gotten a hold of him.Do you have any idea as to whether or not the man's still institutionalized?"

 

†††† "No, Janet, I'm sorry.I don't."

 

†††† "Do you recall where he was sent?"

†††† "To the state run institution here in Seattle for a while.

But then I heard he was transferred to a private facility by his family.I have no idea, however, what the name of the place is."

 

†††† I took a step closer to the phone.†† "Mr. Hershaw, this is Rick Simon, A.J.'s brother."

†††† Hershaw made polite sounds as though he recalled meeting me the one time I'd been at A.J.'s office, but I truthfully doubted he did.†† I could only vaguely remember meetin' him, and had yet to be able to draw a mental picture of the guy.

 

†††† "Listen, Mr. Hershaw, anything you can tell me and Janet will be helpful.Anything at all."

 

†††† "Certainly.Hold on a moment, please."

 

†††† I heard him tell Rita to bring him the Hewitt file.I got the impression he was talking to her through an intercom.

 

†††† Hershaw told us what he could ready recall without the benefit of the file.When he finally had it in hand he went into more detail.Janet furiously made notes on the pad of paper A.J. had used the night before.

 

†††† "And he threatened A.J., didn't he, Ken?"Janet asked.

 

†††† "Yes, Janet, he did.Several times."

†††† "Did A.J. seem worried or upset about that?"I asked, trying to gauge whether or not my brother perceived Hewitt's threats to have any validity.

 

†††† "No.It didn't seem to bother him at all.He just shrugged it off and said it came with the business.The P.I. business he meant, I suppose."

†††† When Janet and I had asked Hershaw all we could think to we thanked him for his time.

 

†††† "Oh, one more thing," he added right before we broke our connection."Hewitt Chrysler Plymouth over on 22nd and Marshall is run by the doctor's younger brother Keegan.He might be able to answer questions for you as to the man's whereabouts.I found Keegan to be very cooperative the few times I had reason to talk to him."

†††† My surprise was evident in my tone."Cooperative?"†††††

 

†††† "Yes.He seemed well aware of his brother's problems.Oh, not in regards to the murders, but in the sense that he had known for a long time Dallas was mentally unstable.He led me to believe this instability dated back to childhood."

 

†††† "Thanks, Ken," Janet said."I know exactly where the place is.We'll take a run over there now."

 

†††† "Good luck.And please, let me know the outcome of all this.I'd hate to think something has happened to A.J."

†††† Janet looked at me and swallowed hard."So would we, Ken.So would we."

 

†††† She gave him a final goodbye and thank you, then broke the connection. Janet thrust the pad of paper she'd been writing on into my hands.

 

†††† "Get ready.I'll meet you in my car in ten minutes."

 

†††† Before I could ask her why she assumed I wasn't ready, or what she needed to do so damn bad that it was gonna take ten precious minutes away from our search, she was gone.She disappeared into a room down the hall I assumed was her bedroom and shut the door.

 

†††† For lack of knowing what else to do I went down to the kitchen and grabbed the blue folder containing A.J.'s notes off the table.I slipped the pad of paper inside that now contained Janet's notes and carried the folder to her car.

 

†††† I opened the passenger side door and placed the folder on the dashboard.I leaned across the front seat and fumbled for the switch that would pop the BMW's back door locks.I finally found what I was looking for, knocking my Panama hat off in the process.

 

†††† The field jacket I'd worn up from San Diego wasn't going to offer me the necessary protection against Seattle's winter air.Although I didn't know the exact temperature, I guessed it was around twenty degrees.My charcoal colored winter coat is bulky, warm, and comes to my thighs.It has a high collar that protects my neck from the cold, and a hood for additional coverage if need be.†† The L.L. Bean Outdoorsmen Catalog I ordered it from promised adequate protection in elements as cold as eighty below zero.

 

†††† I didn't bother to remove my field jacket, just put the coat on over it.I left gloves and knit hat in the pockets for the time being.I plucked my duffel bag up from the back seat.I stepped back into the house only long enough to sit it on the hallway floor.I couldn't imagine why any thief in his right mind would be interested in an old Marine-issue bag worn and faded with years of use, but God knows if it was sitting around in a sixty thousand dollar BMW some joker would think it was filled with gold.

 

†††† By the time I was walking back out to Janet's car she was scurrying around to the driver's side.She'd been wearing a pair of black leggings, as I think women refer to them, and a long red sweater when I'd arrived.For whatever reason the ten minutes she said she needed proved to be to change her clothes and apply some makeup to her pale face.She was now wearin' a pair of gray pleated dress trousers, black ankle high boots with wide, sturdy low heels, a white turtleneck, and a black and gray wool tweed blazer with just a hint of pale pink threads runnin' through it.She wore an unzipped apple red winter parka over the whole ensemble, not that dissimilar to mine, and carried a small gray purse under one arm.

 

†††† I couldn't quite figure out why she'd wasted time changing her clothes when A.J.'s life could very well be at stake, but I didn't ask her.I knew her well enough to guess there was probably some reason for it that would eventually be revealed to me.

 

†††† It took twenty minutes for Janet to drive us to the car dealership Hershaw had spoken of.The property seemed to spread for miles and ran parallel to a busy intersection.Despite the fact the towering sign declared it Hewitt Chrysler Plymouth/Dodge, row after row of every type of car grew before us.The majority of the Plymouths and Dodges were brand new, but the guy evidently did a heck of a used car business as well.Cars, trucks, and vans of every make and model dotted the lot.

 

†††† "That's how he did it," Janet mumbled to herself while searching for a place to park the BMW.

 

†††† "That's how who did what?"

 

†††† "Hewitt.Every time I saw him he was in a different vehicle.That's one reason the police had so much trouble getting a bead on him."

†††† Janet finally found an empty spot.We barely shut the doors behind us as we exited her car in a rush.Without thinking about it, I put a protective hand on her back and ushered her in front of a vehicle that had slowed to let us pass.We walked at a clipped pace all the way to the sprawling building.

 

†††† The Hewitt showroom was designed like most automobile showrooms are.Glass surrounded us on three sides.Five new cars, ranging from sport to luxury models, and two new trucks were parked strategically on the freshly waxed white floor.I could see my reflection in the vehicles' high-gloss finishes as easily as if I was lookin' into a mirror.That distinct odor of vinyl and polish that all new cars contain filled the air.Repeated soft 'ding ding ding's' sounded as customers opened doors and climbed in behind the wheels.

 

†††† Janet walked up to a countertop where a squat, heavyset woman with glasses stood entering information from invoices into a computer.She smiled at us and stopped what she was doing.

 

†††† "May I help you?"

†††† "Yes," Janet said."I need to speak with Mr. Hewitt."

 

†††† The woman looked across the showroom floor.I followed her eyes where they came to rest on a hulk of a guy who stood six foot nine.He appeared to be in his early forties and had to weigh three hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce.He was large without being fat, dressed in blue Dockers, a blue and white stripped oxford shirt, and a blue tie that looked funny laying against the chest that was as broad as a washing machine.His burnished blond hair was short and neatly trimmed in a businessman's cut.Streaks of gray-gold bleached his temples, that discoloration and its location a painful reminder of A.J., who had been graying for a couple of years now in the exact same location.

 

†††† Hewitt had one hand on the top of an open car door while a customer bent down to inspect the inside.The ultimate salesman, he kept up a steady stream of conversation with his customer's butt.

 

†††† "I'm sorry," the clerk apologized,"Mr. Hewitt is tied up right now. Can I have another one of our salespersons help you?Or would you prefer to wait for him?"

†††† That's when I figured out why Janet had changed her clothes, touched up her makeup, and added some styling gel to the new short hair cut she was sporting.Obviously she appeared more professional dressed as she was now.

 

†††† Janet took her wallet out of her purse and showed the woman her city identification.She kept her voice low and discreet."I'm the cityís chief prosecutor.It's imperative that I talk to Mr. Hewitt immediately."

 

†††† The woman glanced at Janet's I.D., then bustled around the counter as though we'd just produced handcuffs and threatened to arrest her.

 

†††† "Yes, ma'am.I'll get him right away, ma'am."

 

†††† The clerk pulled Hewitt from his customer.She was talking so softly he was forced to bend down so he could hear her words.†† She looked at us briefly and pointed.His eyes flicked from me to Janet.He nodded his head and I heard him say, "Show them to my office.I'll be right there."

 

†††† The woman did as Hewitt directed.She led us down a hallway to a large, Spartan office placed well out of the customersí line of vision.She indicated to the two chairs that sat across from a glass and chrome desk free of any clutter save a computer, a phone, a Rolodex, and a hinged picture frame that contained two five by seven inch photos, one of a girl around ten years old, the other of a boy who looked to be twelve or thirteen.A spiral bound appointment calendar lay open to the date and sat to the side of the computer keyboard. The clerk offered us coffee, which we both declined, then disappeared with a final promise that Mr. Hewitt would be right with us.

 

†††† Janet and I stood when Keegan Hewitt entered the room.It's not often that I'm made to feel short, but the guy was a damn giant.If his brother was anywhere near his size I was beginning to understand how easily A.J. could have been overpowered.Especially if caught by surprise.

 

†††† The man was polite in a guarded sort of way as he shook our hands.He asked us to reseat ourselves and circled his desk.He pulled the massive maroon leather chair out that was on wheels.The seat was sunken in as though it had long ago given up any hope of retaining its shape against the assault of Hewitt's three hundred pound frame.

 

†††† The car dealer folded his hands on his glass desktop and offered us a tight smile."What can I do for you today?"

†††† Like she'd done with his clerk earlier, Janet pulled out her I.D.

 

†††† "I'm Janet Fowler, Mr. Hewitt.The city's chief prosecuting attorney."She looked to me, stating smoothly,"This is Detective Richards."

 

†††† The man nodded in my direction while handing Janet's I.D. back to her.I was wonderin' what she was gonna do if he asked to see mine, but he evidently thought Seattle's chief prosecutor had no reason to lie to him about who either of us were.

 

†††† "What can I do for you, Ms. Fowler?"

 

†††† "I need to ask you some questions about your brother Dallas."

 

†††† The man swallowed hard and leaned back in his chair."I see."

 

†††† "I know your brother was sentenced to serve time in a mental health facility.Is he still there?"

†††† "No.He was recently released."

†††† "How recent?"

†††† "Early October."

 

†††† Janet kept her features schooled in a neutral mask.She wrote the information down on a small spiral notebook she'd pulled from her purse.

 

†††† "And where is your brother now, Mr. Hewitt?"

†††† "Where?"

†††† "Yes.Is he living here in Seattle?"

 

†††† "Yeah.He's renting an apartment in an old Victorian home that was converted into a two-flat some years back."

 

†††† "And the address would be?"

†††† He gave Janet the street name and house number, though not without a good deal of reluctance.

 

†††† "What's this about, Miss Fowler?My brother has had a difficult time of things.He doesn't need any further trouble in his life."

 

†††† I spoke up for the first time."If your brother has further trouble in his life it's his own doing."

 

†††† Janet gave me a look that cautioned me to keep the sharpness out of my tone.

 

†††† The man looked at me."What do you mean?"

†††† Janet intervened before I could answer."He means that a man has been reported missing who was hired to investigate your brother's actions back in 1993.Doctor Hewitt made threats against this man when he testified at the preliminary hearing."

 

†††† "And you think Dallas is behind the man's disappearance."Hewitt's words came out in the form of a statement, as though it was a fact he could be made to readily believe.

 

†††† "Yes," Janet said."We have reason to suspect that."

 

†††† Keegan brought an enormous hand up to cover his face a moment."Oh, Dallas," I heard him mutter in both entreaty and prayer.

 

†††† His hand dropped away and he let forth a tired sigh."He...I was afraid something like this was going to happen. He lost everything, you know.His career, his home, his friends, his family.His wife divorced him not long after the allegations of murder were made against him.They've got three sons.None of the boys - they're practically grown now, all in their late teens - none of them will have anything to do with him.They're embarrassed to even carry the Hewitt family name.Last I heard they were considering having their last name legally changed to their mother's maiden name."

 

†††† "When was the last time you saw your brother, Mr. Hewitt?"

†††† "This morning."

 

†††† "What time?"Janet asked.

 

†††† "Around eight-thirty, quarter to nine.Somewhere in there.He brought back a van he'd borrowed yesterday afternoon."

 

†††† "A van?"I questioned.

 

†††† "Yeah.A red Ford."

 

†††† "Did he have reason to borrow vehicles from you on a regular basis?"

 

†††† "Yes, fairly regular.He was constantly asking to borrow this car or that.Some new, some used."

 

†††† "And you allowed him to do this?"Janet asked.

 

†††† "Sure.Why not?Granted, it gets a little annoying at times, but as I said, he's lost everything so I try to help him out in whatever way I can.And besides, I don't really have much call to tell him no.This car dealership was our father's before it was mine.It would have been Dallas's, too, had he chosen not to go to med school."

 

†††† Janet pulled a small tape recorder out of her purse, the kind you see professional people dictate into now days.She popped a tiny cassette in it.

 

†††† "Mr. Hewitt, can I ask you to listen to this tape?It's a brief message that was received by the missing man's...wife, early this morning.I'd like you to tell me if the man speaking is your brother."

 

†††† Keegan nodded his agreement.Janet hit the play button.The message we'd heard on her answering machine filled the room.She musta' grabbed the tape on an afterthought right before she met me at the car.

 

†††† Hewitt closed his eyes in defeated resignation as the tape ended."That's him.That's Dallas."

 

†††† I allowed the guy a few seconds to gather his emotions.When he opened his eyes I made my request.

 

†††† "Ms. Fowler and I need to look in the van your brother was driving."

 

†††† Evidently he didn't know about search warrants, or was beyond caring, for his answer came quickly and willingly.

 

†††† "Certainly."

 

†††† He swiveled around in his chair and plucked a set of keys off a rack of small hooks on the wall behind his desk.He hesitated a moment before pushing himself to his feet.I got the impression he could foresee the events to come and wished he could somehow change what had already happened.

 

†††† We followed Keegan Hewitt away from the showroom and toward a back door.

 

†††† "Is your brother a large man like yourself?"

†††† If Hewitt wondered why I was makin' that inquiry he didn't let on.He seemed spent and resigned, like he'd stood by someone he loved for as long as he could, and no longer knew what to do to help that person who had strayed so far from the beaten path of life.

 

†††† "Yes, Dallas is big.Not quite as big as me, but almost."He gave a sad smile."By the time we reached our teens the family joke was that little brother had outgrown big brother.Nonetheless, today he stands around six foot five or so and probably weighs two-fifty to two-sixty."

 

†††† Janet zipped up her coat as we stepped out into the frigid air.We walked on either side of Hewitt until he'd brought us to a Ford Cargo Van, similar to the kind you see plumbers and other service people use, that I guessed was a 1983 or '84.

 

†††† Although Janet hadn't told him exactly what I was a detective of, he evidently thought I was employed by the Seattle Police Department because rather than open the van himself, Keegan handed me the keys.

 

†††† I took my gloves out of my pockets and put them on.I didn't want to leave any fingerprints that could jeopardize the case if, in fact, Dallas Hewitt had driven A.J. away in this vehicle.

 

†††† I started on the driver's side but didn't find anything of great significance other than a crumpled Taco Bell bag.I ran a hand under the seat and console, then did likewise on the passenger side. I leaned between the two seats to repeat that action in the backbench seat.Again, I found nothing.

 

†††† I climbed outta the van and walked around to the rear.I used the key to open the double doors.The metal floor was scraped and scarred from years of use, its red paint chipped and cracked allowing dull black to show through.

 

†† I lifted a thick, gray wool blanket that had been haphazardly wadded into a ball.Underneath it sat a blue jean jacket.Underneath the jacket laid a Smith & Wesson handgun.

 

†††† "Janet!Janet, come here!"

 

†††† The urgency in my voice caused Janet to bring her conversation with Keegan Hewitt to a quick end.She rounded the open doors and came to stand beside me.

 

†††† "What?"

 

†††† Before I could reply she caught sight of the discarded items.Her hand flew to her mouth.

 

†††† "A.J.'s jacket!That's A.J.'s jacket, Rick!He was wearing it when he walked out the door last night!"

 

†††† I was well aware it was A.J.'s jacket.Shane and Tanner had saved a portion of their allowance for the entire year in order to buy it for him for Christmas.When the temptations of candy and baseball card purchases had left them a little short of cash come December, I gave each of them ten bucks to put toward it.I'll never forget how excited they were when they watched him open it Christmas Day at Mom's house.Shane had been forced to put his hand over Tanner's mouth to prevent his younger brother from spoiling their surprise.

 

†††† Janet was rambling now with fright."I told him it wasn't warm enough!I scolded him for leaving his winter coat at home!I kept insisting he go out and buy one and put it on my tab, but he wouldn't do it.Oh why does he always have to be so stubborn?"

†††† I put a hand on her upper arm and squeezed."Janet, it doesn't matter.It doesn't matter now, 'cause he doesn't have it.It's cold, he doesn't have his jacket, and we need to concentrate on findin' him."

†††† My firm words calmed her down.She nodded, then turned to Hewitt who was standing far enough away so he couldn't hear our conversation.

 

†††† "I need to use your phone, Mr. Hewitt.We need to call the police."

 

†††† The man craned his head and got his first peek of A.J.'s jacket and gun.He gave a grim nod before leading Janet back to the building.

 

†††† I went over the inside of the van once more but found no further clues.I studied A.J.'s jacket, but discovered no blood or tears that would indicate a struggle ensued.For that I was grateful, but I couldn't help wondering what it meant.Why had the guy taken A.J.ís jacket off him?Did it mean A.J. was dead and his body had been dumped somewhere, his clothes scattered from hither to yon?††

 

†††† I didn't allow myself to dwell on that thought as I removed the glove from my right hand and checked the jacket's pockets.All I garnered was a pack of sugerless Trident Spearmint gum, the brand A.J. favors, two dimes and a penny.

 

†††† A patrol car showed up shortly thereafter.Janet seemed familiar with the young cops.I could only guess they were same ones who'd taken the report at her house at two o'clock that morning regarding A.J.

 

†††† A rumpled looking old fart arrived a few minutes later.Janet introduced him to me as Detective Wilke.She told me he'd been working with her since Dallas Hewitt had starting stalking her back in October.Since I'd read the copies of the guy's notes A.J. had I was already aware of that fact.

 

†††† We stood around the van for a few minutes answering Wilkeís questions regarding what we'd found there.He looked it over in much the same meticulous manner I had.Ten minutes later he left it exactly as we'd both found it and suggested we all go into the building where it was warmer.

 

†††† It took far more time than I felt A.J. had for Wilke to finish questioning Janet and Keegan Hewitt.We went back out into the cold when a woman and man from the crime lab showed up to dust the van for prints and further evidence.I knew when they were done it would be towed downtown and impounded as evidence.

 

†††† I shoved my hands deep in the pockets of my coat.I stood off to the side watching as more and more cops showed up.Keegan Hewitt came to stand next to me.

 

†††† "If I had only known," he murmured with disbelief."If I had only known I would have contacted someone.The police, or the D.A.'s office.I didn't know Dallas had threatened that man.No one told me.If Iíd known I would have contacted Mr. Simon myself, just to let him know Dallas had been released.So many people have been hurt because of him.So many innocent people.Our mother passed away before all this happened, thank the Lord, but our father...well, he died shortly after Dallas was institutionalized.To this day I believe the shame of the whole thing killed him.And now another man's family is suffering because of my brother's actions."

 

†††† As far as Hewitt knew I was still Detective Richards.I felt it best if things remained that way.

 

†††† "Listen, Mr. Hewitt, don't blame yourself.You didn't know.You're doin' all you can now by helping us like you are."I squinted into the bright winter sunshine."Can you give me any idea where Dallas might have taken my...Mr. Simon?Any idea at all?"

†††† "No.No, I wouldn't know.Maybe his apartment.But I already told Detective Wilke that."

 

†††† Though it was a good place to start, I highly doubted that's where they'd find A.J.It was too damn obvious.Especially since the guy literally had neighbors right on top of him.

 

†††† "Any place else that you can think of?ĒI asked. ďSome place he liked to hang out?Possibly somewhere that's fairly secluded."

 

†††† His brow furrowed in concentration."No.No, I'm sorry.I just wouldn't have any idea.I've tried to help Dallas as much as I can since his release, but to tell you the truth we haven't been close in years.Not since we were kids really."

 

†††† I assumed his sudden smile had something to do with a childhood memory.

 

†††† "He's always had a great fondness for trains."

†††† "Trains?"

†††† "Yes.As an adult he had numerous models set up in his basement.Thousands of dollars worth of equipment I'm sure.When he was feeling stressed he'd go down there and watch the trains circle his make-believe towns.After he was...put away, his wife got rid of all of it.Just trashed it.It broke my heart to have to tell Dallas that when he asked me where all his trains were a few months back.When we were kids he'd spend hours on end at the train yard down on 5th street just watching the cars being coupled and uncoupled.Watching the big engines pull in and--"

 

†††† I grabbed the man's arm."What?†† What did you say?"

†††† "That he liked to watch the engines--"

 

†††† "No!Not that!About the cars."

 

†††† "Coupling and uncoupling.You know, they're backed into one another to hook up.Dallas could stand there all day just watch--"

 

†††† I never heard the end of his sentence.I took off running for Janet.All the cops were gone, off searching the streets and Hewitt's apartment I supposed.The only ones who remained were the young officer who had been the first to arrive, and the personnel from the crime lab still working within the van.

 

†††† "Janet!Janet!"My breath was expelled in a cold cloud as I yelled."Janet!"

 

†††† Janet looked up from where she stood staring into the back of the Ford.††† I took her by the arm and propelled her out of everyone's hearing range.

 

†††† "Do you know where the train yard is on 5th street?"

 

†††† "Not exactly, but I know the general area.Why?"

†††† " íCause I got a hunch that's where the guy has A.J."

†††† "In a train yard?"

 

†††† "Yeah.There was strange sound in the background while Hewitt left his message."

 

†††† "I didn't hear anything."

 

†††† "It was real faint.You had to listen hard to detect it.I meant to say something to you about it, but with everything else goin' on I forgot.Do you still have the tape?"

†††† She shook her head."No.I gave it to Wilke."She turned toward the building."But I'll have the dispatcher get in touch with him.He can have the lab techs enhance the sound and see if they can determine what it is."

 

†††† I put a hand on her back and steered her in a different direction, for the front of the building and her BMW."I don't need them to determine anything.I already know what it is."

 

†††† "Rick...what the--"

†††† I opened the driver's side door and all but pushed her in."I'll explain on the way there."

 

†††† I ran around the vehicle and hopped in.While Janet drove I relayed my conversation with Keegan Hewitt, and as a result of that conversation, what I thought the sound was I'd heard on her answering machine tape.

 

†††† "But what if you're wrong?"

†††† "If I'm wrong, I'm wrong.Then we do what you suggested and contact Wilke to see if he can have the sound enhanced."I looked out the window at passing traffic while balling my gloved hands into fists."But I don't think I'm wrong, Janet.I don't think I'm wrong."

 

†††† Janet took us west, toward the frosted waters of the Northern Pacific.The four lane highway we were on soon narrowed to two lanes and wound us into the city's industrial section that was full of factories, warehouses, and working man's bars.†† Smoke stacks coughed diesel fuel as semi-trucks rumbled past us.We came to the intersection of 5th, but weren't sure which way to turn.I thought I could see a brown boxcar in the distance to the south so told Janet to hang a left.

 

†††† We followed a set of railroad tracks until we reached a fourteen foot high cyclone fence.Janet drove until she came to a gated opening ten feet wide.She slowed as the BMW made the transition from smooth pavement to bumpy gravel.

 

†††† The train yard sprawled before us.I counted five sets of tracks from where I sat and surmised there were more I couldn't see.†† Much like a child's play-set, some trains were lined up neatly and ready to pull out, while others had cars uncoupled, scattered here and there as though discarded and forgotten.††

 

†††† Janet and I climbed out of the BMW, pausing to look around.There didn't seem to be an office, depot, or even a tool shed.We began walking then, in search of anyone who might be in charge or who could answer a few questions for us.But no one seemed to be in the area, and I began to wonder if we'd stumbled into a train graveyard of sorts.†† The only sounds were that of vehicles passing on the nearby road mixed with the snow and gravel crunching underneath our boots.

 

†††† I pointed to the far perimeters of the yard where boxcars sat ten tracks away."You start over there.Look through each and every car.I'll start here.We'll meet in the middle."

 

†††† Janet nodded and took off running while at the same time pulling tan mittens out of her coat pockets and slipping them on her hands.

 

†††† I started with the last boxcar in a line of nine on the tracks closest to the fence.I grabbed a metal bar and hoisted myself up on the narrow steps.I looked inside the hallow space.I called A.J.'s name but got no answer, nor did I see him.

 

†††† I repeated this action time and time again.Sometimes the cars I came to had no steps and I had to thrust myself upward with my legs and arms, propelling myself inside.Other times their heavy doors were closed and I was forced to figure out how to unlatch them before sliding them back in their tracks.Some of the cars were loaded with materials from the nearby factories.I ran across roofing shingles in one, layers of sheet metal in another, and lumber in yet another.I knew this meant the yard was far from abandoned.I shuddered when I considered the possibility of Hewitt leaving A.J. in a boxcar injured to the point he couldn't cry out for help.

 

†††† What if a train pulled outta here hours ago bound for God only knows where with A.J. on it?Were my thoughts.I'llnever find him if that's what happened. Never.

 

†††† I pushed those despair-filled thoughts aside and kept on lookin.íMy cowboy boots didn't offer my feet much protection and my toes were growing cold.My exposed ears were even colder, but I didn't stop to exchange my Panama hat for the knit one I still carried in my coat pocket.

 

†††† I crossed over from the second track to third.I occasionally caught a glimpse of Janet engaged in her own frantic search.I wondered if she'd been able to open all the boxcars.I hoped if she hadn't she could remember which ones she'd had trouble with so I could go through them.

 

†††† I was about to jump off the bottom step of the car I'd just emerged from when I heard her call my name.

 

†††† "Rick!Rick!"

 

†††† She stood between tracks seven and eight."Rick!"†† She waved her arms in the air like a referee signaling a touchdown.Her repeated cries accompanied by her wild movements led me to believe she found something.I prayed it was more than another piece of A.J.'s clothing.

 

†††† I raced toward her with every ounce of speed I had.She didn't bother to wait for me, but like a runner about to be passed a baton she led the way to a boxcar when I was close enough to follow.

 

†††† The steel car was dark and cold and empty.Empty except for A.J., who sat propped up in a far corner.If we hadn't been searching as thoroughly as we had, Janet would have never seen him.If someone simply poked their head in the doorway the heavy shadows would have made him impossible to spot no matter what time of day it was.

 

†††† Right away I knew something was seriously wrong. Janet was running her mittens over A.J.'s face, trying to get some kind of response outta him.His eyes were wide open but vacant.And though he wasn't tied up, wasn't restrained in any way, he didn't move.

 

†††† I looked him over thoroughly while speaking to him, trying to garner a reaction.

 

†††† "A.J.?A.J., come on.Talk to me.Tell me what's wrong.Tell me where he hurt you, little brother."

 

†††† When I was unable to find any type of wounds on his torso or back I took off my winter coat and wrapped it around him.He was so damn cold.The cotton shirt, turtleneck and loose fitting trousers he was wearing couldn't have afforded him much protection in the metal car that felt like the inside of a meat freezer.

 

†††† Janet took the weight of his body from me since he didn't seem to have any type of muscle control.Even though he wasn't unconscious, it was like movin' someone who was.We continued to talk to him while we worked.

 

†††† "A.J., I'm gonna put my coat on you.You're cold, kid.We'll get ya' warmed up as soon as we can."

 

†††† "A.J., please," Janet pleaded."Please tell us what's wrong."

†††† Janet removed her coat next and wrapped it around his legs.I lifted him up enough so she could tuck it under his shins, knees and thighs.

 

†††† Once she had her coat in place Janet rubbed her hands over A.J.ís legs in a vigorous attempt to offer him some warmth.

 

†††† "He's so cold, Rick.If he's been here all night it's nothing short of a miracle that he's still alive."

 

†††† My "I know," was tight and grim.

 

†††† I took off my gloves, working them on hands that were stiff, frigid and milky white.Manipulating his fingers was like tryin' to get a frozen Popsicle to bend.I worried about frostbite, and wondered if amputation would be another part of this ordeal.Again, A.J. didn't try to help in any way while I put his hands in the gloves.He didn't respond to me at all.

 

†††† It was when I was gonna put my knit cap on his head that I found a bump on the back of his skull.It was about the size of an Eisenhower dollar, a hard swollen knot surrounded by dried blood.When I gently touched it he winced, indicating to me my action had hurt him, but yet he didn't cry out or even so much as emit a soft moan.

 

†††† Because I didn't know how severe the injury was, I decided to forget putting the hat on him.Instead, I brought the hood of my coat up over his head but left it untied and loose.I put my hands on his either side of his icy face and looked into lifeless eyes.

 

†††† "A.J.!†† A.J., it's Rick.A.J., come on!A.J., talk to me!"

 

†††† He didn't look at me and he didn't respond.I gotta sinkin' feeling in my gut when I waved a hand in front of his face and he didn't so much as blink, let alone follow the movement.

 

†††† My cries became harsher, sterner, full of force and commanding."A.J.!A.J.!A.J., damn it, talk to me!"

 

†††† Janet must have thought I'd lost my mind when I took my fist and pounded it as hard as I could against the wall of the metal car - the wall right by A.J.'s head.I pounded and called his name until the sound echoed painfully around us like hundreds of horse hooves thundering across a prairie.

 

†††† "Rick!"Janet demanded loudly.†† "Rick, what are you doing?"††

 

†††† I ignored her and pounded again while screaming at A.J. to answer me.

 

†††† Once again my actions evoked no reaction from my brother.But when I looked at his face I could tell one thing.I could tell he knew people were with him, and I could tell he was scared.Scared because he couldn't see us, couldn't hear us, couldn't touch us, and didn't know who the hell we were.

 

†††† I couldn't even find any saliva to swallow when I turned to look at Janet.

 

†††† "He can't see us, Janet.He can't see us, he can't hear us, he can't move, and he can't talk.It's like his whole system is paralyzed."

 

†††† If the fear I saw in Janetís eyes was anything like the fear I knew she must be seeing in mine, we were both dangerously close to being overwhelmed by the ramifications of the situation.Between the two of us Janet was the first to recover.

 

†††† "I'll get my car and bring it to the door.Can you carry him out to it?"

 

†††† I pulled A.J. close in a tight hug.I hoped that action alone indicated to him who I was.

 

†††† "Yeah, I can carry him."

 

†††† "The best hospital in the city's only five miles from here.Down on the waterfront."

 

†††† She squeezed my arm."He'll be okay, Rick.We'll get him there, and they'll find out what's wrong, and he'll be okay."

 

†††† I nodded numbly.I watched as she quickly removed a mitten and ran a hand over the left side of A.J.'s face.She allowed her upturned wrist to linger under his nose a moment.†† I wasn't sure what the action signified, but assumed she might be wearing a perfume she thought he would recognize.Even though her soft words were lost on him she said them anyway.

 

†††† "You're going to be fine, A.J.You're going to be fine."

 

†††† Janet disappeared out the door then.I could hear her boots crunch over the snow as she ran to her car.

 

†††† I couldn't do much more than hold A.J. in an attempt to offer comfort and body heat.I wondered what Hewitt had done to him that left him in such a state.My medical knowledge is nil, but the possibilities still seemed endless.The guy was a doctor, an anesthesiologist.Who knew what drugs he'd managed to get a hold of?Or maybe the bump on the back of A.J.'s head wasn't as innocent as it looked.Maybe the guy had known right where to hit A.j. in order to destroy vital nerves.Or possibly when A.J.'s clothes were removed they'd find another form of injury.I was well aware there are various areas of the spinal cord, that when severely damaged, can cause a large array of disabilities.

 

†††† I'm not sure why I did it.I knew his hands were cold and the last thing he needed was me removin' the gloves I'd put on him.But when I looked down into his face all I saw was terror.The terror that came from not knowing what was goin' on around him, or who was with him.For all he knew I could be Dallas Hewitt having returned for more fun and games.

 

†††† So, for just that reason I worked the glove off his right hand.I gave his fingers a gentle, reassuring squeeze.They felt like brittle icicles, yet I could detect a faint twinge of pink around the nail beds and prayed that was a good sign.

 

†††† I lifted the hand to my face, running his fingers back and forth over my moustache five times.I brought them up to the brim of my Panama hat next, again letting them linger there until I was certain he knew what it was he was touching.His hand moved a little on its own then, the motion as uncoordinated and blind as a newborn baby's.†† I couldn't figure out what he was doing when his clumsy movement pushed my hat back.But I caught on soon enough when I felt his icy fingers on my bald scalp.If that cowboy hat was resting on the head A.J. thought it was, he knew he wouldn't find much hair underneath it.

 

†††† Although he needed my support in order to hold his hand and arm upright, I allowed him to guide us.His fingers journeyed over the scar that's been under the corner of my left eye for forty years now.They finished their quest by grazing over my moustache one more time, then brushing across the suede patches on the chest of my field jacket.

 

†††† I squeezed his hand again and spoke despite the fact he couldn't hear me.

 

†††† "Yeah, you know who's here with you now, don't ya', little brother."I pulled him closer and kept his bare hand encased in mine."It's gonna be all right, A.J.†† It's gonna be all right."

 

†††† For the first time he allowed his sightless eyes to close.I took that action to mean he knew I was with him, and no longer had to be on guard.

 

†††† I heard Janet's car pull up outside.I slipped my arms underneath A.J. knees and back.I struggled to push myself to my feet without toppling us both into the wall.Janet poked her head into the boxcar as I was carrying A.J. to the door.

 

†††† "Do you need my help?"

†††† "No, I got him."

†††† She moved out of the way but stayed close by, verbally guiding me down the narrow steps I couldn't see because of A.J.'s body.She had the rear passenger door open and I could hear the heater blowing full blast.

 

†††† I knew I could never climb inside with A.J. in my arms without giving us both skull fractures, so I worked to get him in a sitting position on the seat.Janet helped me, usin' her hands as a shield to protect his head from being bumped into the car's frame.When I got him seated she held him upright while I ran around to the other side of the vehicle.I climbed in and took him from her, leaning him back in a half reclining position with his head restin' on my chest.

 

†††† Janet rearranged the coats around his body, making sure they afforded him as much warmth as possible.She shut the door and raced to the driver's side.With all the skill of Richard Petty, she gunned the engine and wheeled us outta there in a shower of snow and gravel.

 

†††† It didn't take us more than ten minutes to reach Shoreland Hospital.A.J. laid limp in my arms the entire trip except for the two times he tried to inch his right hand upward.I helped him like I had in the boxcar, allowing his fingers to travel over my face.I could easily guess he was confused and seeking reassurance that my presence wasn't merely a dream or wishful thinking on his part.I saw his lips struggle to form my name, but no sound came out.I ran a hand through his hair.

 

†††† "Yeah, A.J., it's Rick.I'm here.I'm right here, little brother."

 

†††† Janet pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance of a twelve story white brick hospital that appeared to be less than ten years old.It faced the ocean, its immaculate grounds dotted with wooden benches, cement fountains, and towering shade trees naked of their leaves.The quiet setting reminded me more of a park out in the country than it did a city hospital.The name Shoreland tickled the back of my mind.If memory served me correctly, this was the hospital Mom and I sent flowers to when Janet had her miscarriage.

 

†††† We worked together at gettin' A.J. outta the car the same way we'd gotten him into it.Janet ran ahead of me as I hurried toward the automatic doors with my brother in my arms.

 

†††† The hospital was private and expensive, which might explain why its Emergency Room wasn't overflowing with activity.A couple of people sat waiting to seen by doctors, but there didn't appear to be any life or death situations goin' on.Other than ours, that is.

 

†††† Janet seemed to know where she was going so I followed her.She ran right up to the nursesí station, pulling her I.D. out at the same time.I was beginning to suspect it hadn't gotten this much use in all her years in Seattle.

 

†††† A nurse rose and scurried around the counter, intent on determining why I was carrying a grown man in my arms.She called for a passing orderly who was pushing an empty gurney.

 

†††† Janet looked to the nurse who remained behind the counter."Is Dr. Zabler on duty today?"†††

 

†††† "Yes, ma'am.But I'm not certain where she's at."

 

†††† "Then I'd like you to have her paged please."

†††† The woman attempted to ignore Janet's order."Doctor Kahir is available.I'll--"

 

†††† Janet reached over the counter and put her hand on the phone's receiver, preventing the nurse from picking it up."No.If Doctor Zabler is in the hospital, I'd like her paged."

 

†††† Janet's position with the D.A.'s office finally won the woman over. She did as my former sister-in-law requested, picking up the phone and broadcasting a hospital-wide summons.Janet used the phone next, placing a call to the police.

 

†††† By the time the doctor arrived I had helped the orderly transfer A.J. to an examination table in a trauma room.The nurse who first rounded the counter was with us, taking his vitals and trying to make sense of all Janet and I were saying.

 

†††† At first I thought the woman Janet had paged was a candy striper.She was a tiny wisp of a lady no taller than my mother, and couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds.Her pale blond hair was cut in a short Cathy Rigby wedge, and a smattering of sandy freckles dotted her nose.She looked more like a fourteen-year-old Olympic gymnast than a physician, but the green tag on her white coat said she was Dr. Leslie Zabler.She wore blue scrubs underneath the coat and white New Balance running shoes on her small feet.The metal stethoscope hanging loosely from her neck and a plain gold wedding band on her left ring finger were the only pieces of jewelry she adorned herself with.††

 

†††† Dr. Zabler examined A.J. while Janet and I tried to explain all we knew and suspected as briefly, yet as thoroughly, as possible.The woman seemed to have an amazing ability to focus on several things at once.She never paused in her work, and even issued instructions to the nurse while at the same time absorbing all we were tellin' her.She didn't ask any questions of Janet when Dallas Hewitt's name was mentioned, leading me to believe she was well aware of who he was and what he had done.But, then, that made sense. His crime had more than likely been splashed all over the local papers and TV for months.I doubted there was one person within Seattle's medical community who hadn't gossiped about him with colleagues.

 

†††† By the time our story was out two other doctors had been called into the room as well as additional nurses.One of those nurses was given instructions to show Janet and me out the door.

 

†††† A.J. must have sensed my movement away from the table because just like in the car, he struggled to raise his hand.I touched his face then, running my fingers over his cold cheeks and through his hair in an attempt to let him know I was still there.Offering verbal reassurance came naturally, regardless of whether he could hear me or not.

 

†††† "It's gonna be okay, A.J.You're gonna be okay."

 

†††† That was as much time as I was allowed before I was forced to join Janet in the hallway.The nurse indicated where the waiting area was located before disappearing within the trauma room once again.I remained standin' by the closed door, straining to hear what was goin' on inside, while Janet went to move her car to a parking spot that wouldn't cause it to get towed, or to be rear-ended by an arriving ambulance.

 

†††† I was still in the hallway when Janet returned from outside.We didn't make it to the waiting area before Wilke showed up with an entourage of cops.Janet was taken to one end of the corridor, and me to another.People eyed us like we were Bonnie and Clyde as they hurried past flicking nervous glances our way.They acted like they were expectin' us to pull out Tommy guns and spray the hallway with bullets at any moment.

 

†††† Twenty minutes later the cops left.I heard Wilke give a description of Dallas Hewitt over his walkie talkie that I assumed was being broadcast to all available personnel.While Janet and I were at the rail yard, Wilke and several officers had gone to Hewitt's apartment.He musta seen 'em before they ever exited their vehicles.Wilke told us when they entered the apartment the place was empty, but the back door was standing wide open as though someone left in a rush.They'd been scouring the neighborhood for him when Janet's call came in from the hospital.So far no one had seen him, but Wilke promised they'd continue looking until they had him in custody.

 

†††† The open lounge we finally made our way to was painted a quiet serene blue, its long windows overlooked the ocean.The furniture was comfortable and well-cushioned, the beige carpeting so recently vacuumed I could see the neat lines left behind by the machine's attachments.Paintings decorated every wall.†† Small gold plaques screwed into their frames announced what family the paintings were donated by, or whose memory they'd been given in.The opulence reminded me again that this was a private hospital supported by more than what meager funds the city could throw its way.

 

†††† The area was long and L-shaped, allowing Janet and me the privacy of a small alcove that contained two chairs with matching end tables.A soda machine hummed from down the hallway, right next to it another vending machine stood holding candy and chips in its silver spirals.I'd always found it kinda amusing the way hospital waiting areas are filled with machines that dispense instant artery clogging food.An oxymoron if there ever was one.

 

†††† We sat in silence for a long time.I was half turned in my chair, staring out at the ocean that was struggling to move against patches of ice.We'd lost the sun at some point during the day.The last I recalled it was shining brightly in the frigid winter sky when we were at the car dealership, but when it had disappeared I didn't know.The horizon was streaked with patches of pewter.It looked like it could snow or rain any minute.Maybe it would even do both, as I'd often heard A.J. say happened in Seattle in the wintertime.

 

†††† I glanced at my watch to see it was ten minutes after three.I wondered when we'd have some answers regarding my brother's condition.For some reason I had a feelin' we might be in for a long afternoon and evening.

 

†††† Janet finally broke the quiet we'd cloaked ourselves in.

†††† "I know you're angry with me, Rick, and I don't necessarily blame you for that, but--"

 

†††† I held up a hand while moving to face her."Janet, right now I'm mad at you, I'm enraged at Dallas Hewitt, and I'm pissed as hell at A.J."

 

†††† "At A.J.?"

†††† "Yeah, at A.J.He took off for up here without tellin' me where he was goin' or what he was up to.And now...well now that one foolish stunt on his part might cost him everything.His eyesight, his hearing, his ability to communicate and move.I saw stuff like this happen to guys in Nam.Do you know how a person lives with disabilities that severe?"

†††† She didn't have an answer for me.

 

†† "That's right," I said."They don't, Janet.They don't live.Or least ways what life is left 'em ain't much of one to brag about.Can you, in your wildest dreams, imagine A.J. being forced to spend the rest of his days like that?"

 

†††† Her "No," was small and quiet.I turned away from the tears I saw trickling down her cheeks.

 

†††† I choked on my own tears."I hope...no, I pray, he makes a full recovery.'Cause if he does, I swear I'm gonna kick his butt all the way back to San Diego."

 

†††† I thrust myself to my feet and walked the hallway for a while.When I returned I handed Janet one of the two Cokes I'd bought from the machine.She thanked me and went back to staring out the window.

 

†††† I reseated myself and popped the top on my soda can."So, I take it you know this Doctor Zabler?"

†††† Janet turned to face me.Her voice was soft, and like my own, full of weariness and worry."Yes.When A.J. and I were married Leslie and her husband, Steve, were our next door neighbors.They lived in the house directly to the south of ours.We socialized with them on occasion."

 

†††† I nodded, recalling the well-kept mint green Victorian that was even more awesome in its beauty than A.J. and Janet's yellow one.

 

†††† "And she's good at what she does?"

 

†††† "Yes, Rick, she's good at what she does.I wouldn't have brought A.J. here if she wasn't."

 

†††† We didn't exchange more than half a dozen further words for the remainder of the afternoon.Neither of us left the area any longer than to pace the hall for a few minutes, or to go in search of a bathroom.Other people came and went, but as darkness fell Janet and I stayed waiting for word on A.J.

 

†††† I shot outta my chair when I saw Doctor Zabler coming toward us at seven o'clock that night.Around three-thirty a nurse had been sent to tell us A.J. was being moved to another floor for a battery of tests, but requested we wait where we were.Despite our many questions of her, she gave us no other answer than, "The doctor will speak with you just as soon as she can."

 

†††† Doctor Zabler looked as calm and in control as she had in the trauma room five hours earlier.She gave Janet a hug.When they broke apart Janet introduced me.

 

†††† "Leslie, this is A.J.'s brother Rick.Rick, this is Leslie Zabler."

 

†††† The woman offered me her hand.

 

†† "Rick, it's nice to finally get to meet you, though I wish the circumstances were different.†† A.J. spoke of you quite often."

 

†††† The doctor wouldn't answer any of our questions until we'd reseated ourselves.She pulled a chair over so we formed a private semi-circle.She started with what we needed to know most.

 

†††† "A.J.'s eyesight and hearing have returned since the two of you were last with him.He's also gradually regaining control and use of all his muscles."

 

†††† I leaned back in my chair muttering,"Thank God."

 

†††† Janet's thanks came forth in the form of the tears that sprang to her eyes.She quickly wiped them away then questioned her friend.

 

†††† "What was wrong with him, Les?What was the cause of all this?"

†††† "He was injected with a neuromuscular blocking agent called Tracium.It's one of several similar drugs used to promote muscle relaxation during surgical procedures."

 

†††† "Injected?"I echoed."But how?"

 

†††† "From what A.J. has been able to tell us, more than likely the drug was rubbed on the tip of a dart, then shot from a tranquilizer gun, similar to the type a large animal veterinarian or zoo keeper might use."

†††† Janet and I nodded our understanding.†††

 

†††† "Iím sure the police will want to question A.J. further when I give the okay.Which won't be until at least tomorrow.The only other information I have for you, based on what A.J. told me, is that the last thing he remembers is walking around the corner of Janet's house.He heard the sound of the gun being fired, but the dart pierced his shoulder blade before he was able to do anything about it.The drug would have immediately impaired his abilities, giving him no chance whatsoever to defend himself."

†††† "Could this drug have killed him?"I asked.

 

†††† "Most certainly.Given in a larger dose it would have prevented his lungs and heart from working."

 

†††† "So the guy didn't wanna kill him," I mumbled to myself.

 

†††† "What?"Janet asked."What do you mean?Of course Hewitt wanted to kill him!"

†††† "Yeah, yeah he did," I acknowledged absently while putting it all together in my mind."But not right away.If Hewitt wanted that to happen, he obviously had the knowledge, the means, and the opportunity.But that's not what he did.Instead, he left A.J. blind, deaf, and paralyzed in a boxcar in freezing weather."

 

†††† I looked over at Janet."Don't you see?He wanted him to suffer.He didn't want A.J.'s death to be quick.He wanted him to know exactly what was goin' on."

 

†††† The three of us were silent for a moment, all acknowledging to ourselves what a terrifying situation the ordeal had to have been.

 

†††† Doctor Zabler was the first to speak again."As soon as the blood and urine samples we took revealed what it was in A.J.'s system, we started treatment.Fortunately, there is an antidote that will counteract the effects of Tracium.If Hewitt had used any number of other drugs we might not have been so lucky.Aside from that, A.J. was very cold, as I'm sure you both know.We've been slowly warming him up all afternoon using heated blankets and towels."

 

†††† "What about his fingers?"I asked."Were they frostbitten?"

†††† "Four of them were very slightly, three on his right hand and one on his left, but not enough to cause him any permanent damage."

 

†††† "And the bump on his head?"Janet asked.

 

†††† "Nothing serious.The X-rays we took didn't reveal anything to cause us concern.†† After examining it I've come to the conclusion he wasn't hit with anything, but rather his head came in contact with something while Hewitt was moving him."

†††† "The metal wall of the boxcar," I offered.I surmised Hewitt had carried A.J. into the car slung over his shoulder.When he bent to put him in a seated position I doubted he cared too much about bein' gentle.I could easily picture A.J.'s head being thrown back and making painful contact with the thick surface.††

 

†††† "That could very well be," Doctor Zabler agreed."I asked A.J. about it, but he doesn't remember how it occurred.With everything that's happened to him, I'd say that's understandable."

 

†††† "Can we see him?"Janet asked.

 

†††† "For a few minutes.†† We've got him in Intensive Care for tonight.If no complications arise throughout this evening and tomorrow morning, I'll probably have him moved to a regular room by sometime tomorrow afternoon."

 

†††† The doctor led us to a bank of elevators where we climbed in an empty car.She pressed the lit number 6, which I assumed would take us to the Intensive Care Unit.I was relieved when she told us the hospital's security staff was on alert for Hewitt, and that a guard would be standing watch outside Intensive Care until either the anesthesiologist was apprehended or A.J. was released.The nurses on the unit had been briefed, as well, as to who was to be in A.J.'s room and who wasn't.They'd been given a picture of Hewitt by one of Wilke's detectives and asked to be especially attentive of anyone making inquiries of A.J. by phone.

 

†††† We exited into a long quiet corridor lined with rooms that looked like they were used as offices and small laboratories.At this time on a Saturday night they were all deserted.††††††

 

†††† We came to another waiting area similar to the one we'd just left, then passed public restrooms, a pay phone, and another room marked Family Lounge.Doctor Zabler took us straight through to the double doors labeled Intensive Care in bold red letters.She ignored the sign mounted underneath that requested all visitors return to the Family Lounge and use the phone there to call the nursesí station for permission to enter.†† ††† ††

 

†††† The wide nursesí counter was right inside the doors.We bypassed it and the three nurses working there.I glanced in some of the rooms as we passed.None of them had doors, making for quicker access in an emergency I supposed.Instead, curtains hung from rods mounted in the frame where a door would have stood and could be pulled for privacy.

 

†††† The rooms were only big enough for a hospital bed, a chair, and a nightstand.TV's were mounted on the walls opposite the beds, but most of the patients were too sick to be interested in having them turned on.A tiny cubicle jutted out from the far wall within each room.Later I would discover this was the bathroom that held a toilet, sink, and narrow shower stall.

 

†††† I came to an abrupt stop in the doorway of A.J.'s room.Doctor Zabler and Janet weren't aware they'd left me behind when they entered.

 

†††† The doctor stayed a brief minute, asking A.J. a couple of questions.His answers were slow in coming, and it seemed to cost him a lot of effort to talk.I didn't know if that was still a side effect of the drug Hewitt had given him, or if it was just from the ordeal in general.

 

†††† Evidently the physician was satisfied with what my brother told her.Since he spoke so softly I couldn't hear what he'd said, but I saw her pat his arm and tell him she'd check on him several more times before she went home.

 

†††† The doctor gave Janet a final hug and told her to call her if she or I had any further questions or concerns.Janet thanked the physician and assured her we would.

 

†††† I thanked the woman, as well, when she passed me in the doorway.

 

†††† She smiled up at me."You're welcome, Rick.And again, it was nice meeting you."

 

†††† I nodded."Same here."

 

†††† A.J. was wearing a hospital gown now, reclining at a forty-five degree angle in a bed with raised rails.He was covered from neck to toe in heavy blankets.I could see a cord running from one and knew it must be plugged in providing constant heat.The covers were pulled off a small portion of his right arm so an IV line could freely flow.Janet bent over his left side and lightly kissed his forehead.She worked her hand under the blankets until it came in contact with his.Her words were quiet and gentle.

†††† "Your hands are still cold."

 

†††† I could barely pick up his mumbled,"I know."

 

†††† If he was cold anywhere else, like I knew he must be, or in pain of any kind, he didn't mention it.

 

†††† Janet asked him a few more questions.He answered some, and simply nodded his head at others, half the time with his eyes closed.†††

 

†††† Janet looked up and motioned me in the room when her conversation with A.J. was beginning to draw to a close.She shot me a puzzled glance when I refused to move.

 

†††† Whether A.J. sensed her movement and knew I had to be close by, or whether he was simply wondering where I was, I don't know.I saw his eyes open and heard him ask her,"Where's Rick?"

†††† Janet looked at me again, but I remained rooted in the doorway.She had no idea what to say to him when I didn't answer, and didn't step forward.Before she could come up with a reasonable excuse A.J.ís head turned toward me.Our eyes met and held a long moment.I saw confusion and regret in his.He only saw anger in mine.

 

†††† I turned on my heel and walked away without ever looking back.

 

Part 3