The Fire Is Hope
for some language and sexual situations
Knight Rider and its characters are the property of Universal. They
don't belong to me, I just borrow them.
As always, thanks to Tomy
for being my muse’s playmate and task master (read: beta reader).
Thanks for letting me bounce so much passed you and for the final polish.
Thanks to Moonbeam
for allowing herself to be talked into beta reading this monster.
Thanks for pointing out the big plot holes that somehow escaped my attention.
Thanks to Asp
for advising me on weaponry and how to use it.
And finally, thanks to the Knight
Rider Archive for providing the scripts that were invaluable in my
research. It’s starting to take a village, I tell you. ;-)
“Somewhere in this darkness,
There’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away.
Maybe I’m just blind.”
- Love Me When I’m Gone -- Three
Two sharp cracks punctured the silence surrounding
the little tree-sheltered cabin and echoed off the canyon wall on the far
side of the lake. Roused from sleep, a bird squawked and took flight
from under the covered pier. It swooped across the water, its black
form slicing through reflections of moonlight on the rippled surface.
The bird banked to skim along the rock wall before climbing beyond it,
and disappearing into the early morning darkness.
Bonnie pulled up next to the garage, and was surprised
to find that the cabin was dark. It was unusual, but then again,
it was only an hour after sunset. Maybe the fish were biting and
Michael was still out on his nightly fishing expedition. She grabbed
her laptop bag from the back seat and strode across the dark lawn to the
cabin. She flipped on the light as she entered the kitchen.
As she expected, there was no response.
Bonnie set her bag down in the direction of the hallway to take upstairs
with her later. Opening the refrigerator, she looked around for something
to eat. A pair of potatoes caught her eye as a good start, and she
set them on the counter while she fished around for a peeler. While
rinsing the vegetables over the sink, Bonnie happened to glance out the
window and spot Michael's boat, tied to the pier. It was bobbing
up and down in the pools of light cast from the lantern that hung from
That was odd. She had seen the dark shadow
of the Chevy in the garage, so he hadn’t gone out. She ignored the
warning chill that crept up the back of her neck. Normally Michael
made it a point to be around when she got home on the weekends. Maybe
he wasn’t feeling well and had gone to bed early. She turned on the
light in the dining room to see if he had left her a note. The table
was bare. Bonnie drummed her fingers on its smooth surface, trying
to remember if he had mentioned that he was going anywhere with his neighbor
Zeke. She glanced through the dining room windows, wondering if maybe
they had taken Zeke's boat out fishing tonight.
Bonnie froze when she spotted the hole in the
glass door. It was just above the knob, about fist sized, with fissures
curving through the rest of the pane. The light from the kitchen
glittered menacingly off the sharp edges. She turned around slowly.
“Michael?” she asked, her voice a whisper. There was no response.
Bonnie stared at the dark hallway that led to
the stairs and the loft. She knew she should probably get out of
the house - there was no way to know if the intruder had left - but she
needed to look for Michael.
Still trying to convince her legs to move, Bonnie
spotted something dark on the hallway floor. Her breathing thundered
in her ears as she took a few steps toward it. Scanning the hallway,
she put her back to the wall and knelt to study the spot. It could
have been dried blood - it was hard to tell in the darkness. She
glanced at the stairs, torn. One part of her brain was screaming
at her to get out of there, another part was wondering if Michael was upstairs,
maybe even hurt. She couldn’t leave without being sure.
Bonnie swallowed hard and stood, trying to listen
for anything unusual, but she only heard herself. Slowly rounding
the bottom of the stairs, she saw that there was more blood on them and
in the front room leading toward the kitchen. Whoever was hurt had
left through the kitchen door. Bonnie eyed the stairs carefully and
made up her mind to climb them.
She gingerly stepped past the dried blood and
made it about halfway up the stairs, before her courage started to waiver.
She took another step and paused behind the dresser. It was turned
to face into the room but was pushed back against the railing, obscuring
the otherwise open loft stairway. As soon as she was past it, anyone
up there would be able to see her.
Bonnie rested her head against the back of the
dresser, and tried to talk herself into going up the last few steps.
Hopefully Michael was up there, asleep after a long day, with some sort
of small cut and a reasonable explanation. Maybe he had locked himself
out and had had to break the glass himself to get in. They would
have a good laugh about it. But glancing down at the steps, Bonnie
knew there was too much blood to have been a simple cut.
Finally pushing away from her hiding space, Bonnie
continued up to the loft. Time had slowed down and the distance to
the top step kept increasing. She scanned the room as she climbed
the last few stairs, unable to get a good sense of whether or not she was
alone. The room was crowded with shadows and potential hiding places.
When Bonnie got to the top of the stairs she glanced around furtively but
nothing moved. She studied the bed and could tell there was no one
in it, but something didn't seem right. Making her way to the middle of
the room, Bonnie glanced up at the ominous blades of the ceiling fan, before
spotting the cord for the light. The chain clanked as she pulled
it and the lights burst on, blinding her with sudden intensity. She
was shocked to find that the bed had been obliterated into a pile of feathers,
the pillow split in two. She whirled around, panicked, looking for
an intruder, but nothing moved in the glaring light. Bonnie's attention
was captured by the damaged pillow. Moving slowly, her limbs heavy,
she approached the bed. No blood. This had been an impotent
act. But who would have done this, she wondered, frozen by the possibilities.
Bonnie reluctantly pulled her eyes away from the
ruins of the bed. She gave the room another once over before she
fixated on the cedar closet. She felt like a child waking from a
bad dream, convinced there were monsters in the room. Her hand quavered
as she reached for the knob and quickly pulled the door open. She
took in a short gulp of air when she realized it was empty. Bonnie
turned in a slow arc, studying the room, listening to her heart as it pounded
away at her chest wall. Whoever had been here was gone now.
And so was Michael.
Bonnie was again drawn to the wreckage of the
bed. Where was he? Obviously he had not been here when the
shots were fired. But whose blood was on the stairs? She closed
her eyes against the panicky feeling creeping up the back of her throat.
She needed to get out of the cabin; she didn't feel safe.
The thought seemed to finally break through the
fog in her mind, and Bonnie rushed back down the stairs. She hurried
through the kitchen and out to the car. Slipping quickly into the
drivers seat, she hit the button to lock the doors, and backed out of the
After driving down the road a few miles, Bonnie's
fear subsided and she stopped, trying to think through her options.
Her first instinct was to call Kitt, but she didn’t want to worry him needlessly.
He was on a case with Shawn, so he was probably not in a good position
to get away right now. But if Michael was missing, Kitt would want
to be here. Bonnie bit her lip and stared at her cell phone.
Was there anywhere legitimate that Michael could be? Perhaps he was
at Zeke's, or the hospital, or maybe he had gone to the police station
to file a report? Maybe she should try to find him before she worried
Bonnie decided her best bet was to start with
“That man is an ass!”
Michael cringed as the garage door slammed.
He hunkered down under the Chevy to wait out the imminent storm.
Bonnie had had her usual two-hour drive home from the Foundation to build
up a head of steam -- there was no stopping the freight train now.
And Michael had no intention of becoming a collateral casualty.
“What grievous offense did Mr. Maddock commit
this week? And what number are you up to?”
“The list is getting too long to remember.
I think we’re in the neighborhood of Grievous Offense #7632.”
Michael smiled. Maddock could make anyone angry,
but he seemed to have a special talent for infuriating Bonnie. Michael
was glad she was only working at the Foundation four days a week.
Another day with Maddock would probably kill her. Or Maddock, he
thought, silently snickering.
“He won’t let me upgrade Kitt’s CPU housing.
Kitt’s been having trouble accessing the car’s peripheral systems because
he wasn’t designed for the current interface. Maddock won’t let me
install a new bus because, and I quote, ‘Kitt is temporary anyway.’”
Michael rolled the dolly forward and hazarded
a peek out from under the bumper. She was leaning against the powder
blue Chevy, her arms crossed, her face pursed in a frown.
“Oh come on, he’s all bark. He won’t remove
Kitt,” Michael said, grabbing a wrench and sliding back under the car,
where it was safer.
“He’s constantly threatening to. And I don’t
see why he wouldn’t. He hates Kitt and he’s just waiting for the
opportunity to pull him out of the car and reintroduce KIFT. I can
see why Kitt wanted an ally there. The Foundation's culture has become
completely adversarial. There's so much backstabbing, it's a wonder
that anyone there is still alive.”
Michael waited to see if she had blown off enough
steam yet. It was starting to become a ritual. After spending
four days in Seattle, she would come home all wound up about something,
and it would take the whole weekend to calm her down. Then the process
started all over again on Monday. Michael was glad she wasn't keeping
much in the little apartment they had rented for her in Seattle -- he'd
be worried about any breakables.
“I have half a mind to steal KIFT and hide him
here so that it’s not even an option anymore. It would be nice to
have something to hold over Maddock's head for a change.”
Michael decided it was time to stop hiding.
He slid out from under the car and brushed his hands off on his jeans.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. That would be a lot more trouble
than it’s worth.”
Michael checked himself for grease spots and finding
none, gave her a hug. “Besides, he’s not going to replace Kitt with
“How can you be sure of that?”
“Think about it. Maddock is nothing if not
ambitious. He’s going to do everything possible to make himself look
good. With Devon gone, he’s under even more pressure to make sure
he can perform on this freelance contract." Michael put his ratchet
back in the toolbox. "The Foundation stopped doing any sort of fieldwork
after I left. So you, Kitt, and I are the only ones left with actual
field experience. Shawn is promising, but she’s still very green.
She doesn’t even have much time logged as a cop. So, Maddock needs
us to make him look good and get him out of any jams they get into."
Michael set about his argument logically.
He was at least pretty sure he was right about this. "Kitt is the
only thing tying us to the Foundation. Maddock knows that if he deactivates
Kitt, we won’t help him. And he’s not going to let that happen.
He acts like they’re solidly on their feet over there, but they aren’t
and he knows it. He just wants you to think he’s holding all the
“Okay, I’ll buy that. But its not going
to take long for him to feel confident that Shawn can handle things, assuming
she doesn't screw up too badly. He only has to keep us around for
the next six months or so. Then what?”
“Well, then Shawn gets attached to Kitt.
Maddock sees how valuable he is, and he decides to put KIFT on permanent
“And if she doesn’t get attached to Kitt?”
“How could she not?” Michael asked, confident
in his former partner’s charms.
Bonnie just looked at him with her brow cocked.
“This is Shawn we’re talking about. She’s not exactly the warm, friendly
“Then you steal him, we put him back in the Chevy,
and you look for a different job. I hear Boeing is hiring.”
She rolled her eyes and smiled. “If these
are the kinds of plans you used to come up with, I’m surprised you’re still
“Hey. I’m a great strategist. Trust
me,” Michael said, stealing a kiss. “I’m brilliant.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, unconvinced. "When your
brilliance is done tinkering with that car, come help me with dinner."
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, saluting as she left the
garage. At least she was in better spirits.
Bonnie had exhausted the obvious options.
She hadn't wanted to worry Kitt, but she also didn't want to waste precious
time. It looked like Michael was really missing, and Kitt was her
best chance of finding him. Her trip to Zeke’s had only added fuel
to her fears. Mary had told her that Zeke was at a reunion for his
former special ops unit all week. She hadn't noticed Michael out
in the boat or jogging along the roadway. As far as Mary knew, Bonnie
was the last person to see him before she left for work on Monday.
Bonnie punched in Kitt's name on her cell phone
and was reassured when he answered immediately.
"Hello, Bonnie," he said pleasantly.
Somehow she couldn’t find the right words.
Kitt felt so far away. "Have you heard from Michael?" she asked,
not wanting to alarm him.
"Not since last weekend, why?" There was
already a note of concern in his voice.
"I don't know where he is."
“He’s not playing darts at Zeke’s, or out fishing?"
Kitt asked, sounding more worried.
Bonnie decided there was no point in beating around
the bush if he was already alarmed. "Kitt, the back door was broken
into, someone shot at the bed, and," she took a shaky breath, "there's
blood on the stairs."
"I'll be right there," Kitt said, quickly.
"Are you somewhere safe?"
"Yes. I'm in town -- I checked the police
station and the hospital. I called his cell phone, but it went right
to voicemail. I even checked at The Old Dog, but he hasn’t been there."
It was a bar that Michael and Zeke hung out in from time to time.
She had known that he wasn't going to be there with Zeke out of town and
the Chevy home, but she had been holding out hope that he was somewhere
"I'll get there as quickly as I can. Will
you be okay for a while?"
"Yes, but what about Maddock? What about the case
you're working on?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
"I'll come meet you at the cabin tonight. I'll plan to be back tomorrow
morning early, before they know I'm gone. Hopefully we'll have found
Michael by then. If not, we'll have to work something out."
Bonnie shut her eyes. "Okay. The police
are on their way to the cabin now. They said they would put out an
APB on him. I guess I’ll meet them there and wait for you.”
It would probably take Kitt at least an hour to get to the cabin anyway.
In the meantime she could see if the police had any leads.
"Bonnie, please be careful. Call me if anything
"Okay," she answered, the reality of the situation
slowly starting to seep through the confused haze of the last hour.
* * *
Kitt drove down the two-lane county highway to
the appointed turn off. For a human driver the turn onto the gravel
road would be hard to see. It was little more than a slight opening
in the trees, a small spray of gravel that was kicked out onto the asphalt,
but for Kitt it was clear as day. He knew the distance from the center
of town down to the hundredth of a mile. He knew the number and pattern
of the trees surrounding the corner, and he knew there was a rusted street
sign that had long ago fallen beneath the ferns on the far side of the
intersection. It was like a second home, and he knew all its features.
He was scanning as far and as fast as he could.
The sweeps of electromagnetic radiation were bouncing over everything in
the forest, scattering, and occasionally bouncing back to him. But
none of them told him what he really wanted to know. None of them
told him where to find Michael.
Kitt reached the end of Michael's driveway and
stopped. There were two squad cars in front of the cabin. He
decided to pull into Zeke's driveway to avoid the questions associated
with an unusual car showing up without a driver. Kitt turned his
attention from scanning the forest to the police officer standing with
Bonnie. The officer was asking her the standard questions in a missing
person's case. Kitt did a quick medical scan and found that Bonnie’s
vitals were elevated. She was upset, as he would expect. Kitt
couldn't always tell a human’s emotions from their physiological state,
but when it came to Michael and Bonnie he could usually put a name to what
they were feeling. He had known them long enough to figure out the
There were two other officers searching the cabin
and the grounds for evidence. Kitt noted the blood stains on the
wood floor in the hallway, as well as some down near the lake, but without
a sample, he couldn't tell if it was Michael's or not. Kitt's sense
of discomfort increased as he started counting the number of bullets lodged
in the trees and the ground on the far side of the cabin. Also disturbing
was the fact that the phone line had been cut at the pole, the Chevy's
tires had been slashed, and the boat's fuel tank was contaminated with
something granular. Even Michael’s cell phone was gone – Kitt tried
it himself, just to be sure, but it went to voicemail for him too.
This was no accident. Michael had been the victim of what appeared
to be a well-planned attack. Kitt wished the officers would leave.
He really wanted to talk to Bonnie.
Trying to keep himself busy, Kitt turned his attention
back to his long range scans. After thoroughly scouring the woods,
the lake caught Kitt's increasingly desperate attention. It glittered
in his peculiar low frequency vision, reflecting his scanning waveforms
back to him. There were no boats on the lake and no one was swimming
through its surface. Aside from that, Kitt didn't want to know.
He had to adjust his scanning array to penetrate the water, which wasn't
either difficult or time consuming, but it was just enough of an excuse
not to look for the one thing he didn't want to find. The lake was
frightening tonight, holding potentially unfathomable outcomes. Kitt
turned away and focused on the more promising leads -- best to exhaust
Finally Kitt overheard the officer ask Bonnie
if she had somewhere to go.
"I've got someone coming to pick me up," Kitt
heard her answer.
He figured that they would be at the cabin for
at least another hour and there were places he and Bonnie could look in
the meantime. He wanted to investigate the cabin without the prying,
misunderstanding eyes of the local police.
After waiting an appropriate period of time, Kitt
darkened his windows and pulling into the driveway behind the squad cars.
Bonnie quickly mumbled an excuse, took the officer's card, and hurried
down the driveway toward him.
"Are you okay?" he asked as Bonnie sat down in
the passenger's seat. He was glad she had the presence of mind not
to go to the driver's side.
"I don't know. Yes, I guess so. Just
Kitt checked over her vital signs again to confirm,
and then started to back out of the driveway, the lights from the squad
cars bouncing off his hood.
"They said they'd call around, check the hospitals,
and that sort of thing. They're going over the cabin with a fine-tooth
comb. I just don't know where he'd be," she said, with a hint of
fear in her voice.
"We'll find him," Kitt said, in a tone he hoped
was reassuring. He wished there was someone to reassure him.
In the old days, that had been Michael's role.
"I take it you didn't find any sign of anyone
in the woods?"
"Not within scanner range, I’m afraid."
Bonnie shook her head and leaned back. "They
kept asking me, but I just can't think of any place he'd go."
"I'm afraid the only leads we have are the blood
stains and the bullets."
"The police took the bullets from upstairs.
They found dozens outside, though," she said softly. "Maybe we can
come back, once they've left."
"In the meantime, I suggest we get to higher ground
so that I can scan farther. It's probably too late tonight to talk
to anyone in town."
Bonnie nodded. "Okay."
Kitt made one more pass through the police frequencies
and checked on his hacks into the emergency admissions databases at the
three closest hospitals. There was no mention of Michael or a John
Doe. Please be all right, Kitt silently pleaded as he looked for
a suitable place to start searching.
He heard the soft twittering of glass falling.
It was funny the things that woke him up. He could sleep soundly
through a thunderstorm or a raccoon fight right outside his window.
He rarely woke up when he heard the normal sounds of life, but breaking
glass wasn’t normal. And Michael Knight hadn't spent the better part
of his adult life honing his senses for nothing. He always had one
ear to the ground, listening for the surprise attack that could come from
any one of his enemies at any moment in his life. Thunder didn’t
wake him, but the quietest intruder would -- it was simply a question of
Michael glanced at the alarm clock -- 3:37 am.
He propped himself up on his elbows, quieted his breathing, and listened
for the telltale signs of an intruder. He heard a creak that must
have been the patio door swinging open, followed by the groaning of floorboards.
Someone was definitely in the cabin.
In his mind, he could imagine a black-clad body,
creeping from room to room, responsible for the sporadic thumps and creaks
emanating from the first floor. Michael wondered who was down there.
It could be a thief, but he doubted it. This area was safe -- most
people left their doors unlocked -- and the cabin was remote. His
gut was telling him the intruder was probably after him. And if he
was judging the direction of the noises correctly, whoever it was, was
making his way toward the stairs.
The stairway into the loft was open, but protected
along the edge by a railing. Michael had run out of room in the small
space so he had pushed his dresser against the railing, in the front corner
of the room. It was the only cover from someone approaching up the
Michael slid out of bed, quickly arranged the
pillows lengthwise, and threw the comforter over them. Then he slipped
across the loft and perched with his back to the dresser. He silently
cursed himself for not getting around to buying an ultrasonic handgun.
He had decided a long time ago that it would be a good idea to have one,
but he had never gotten around to it.
As he waited, he cataloged the most likely players.
Someone from his past -- it had to be. The Foundation was too new
to the freelance job to have stirred up any fresh enemies. Watts
and his crew had all gone to jail, and it was hard to escape from a cryogenic
The cabin had always been creaky. It made
all sorts of protests and complaints when it was windy or when the weather
changed. But there was nothing like the creak of the fourth step.
It had a loud staccato bark all it's own. Michael tensed when he
heard it sing out, warning him. There could be no mistake now about
the whisper of what had to be a gloved hand as it slid along the rough
railing. It rasped by, on the other side of the dresser, a foot and
a half from Michael's head -- clearly moving up the staircase.
Kitt and Bonnie went back to the cabin when Kitt
had determined that the police had finished their investigation.
His wider scans had revealed nothing, so they were eager to look for new
Bonnie crossed the gravel driveway, aiming a small
flashlight at the ground in front of her. She entered the cabin,
avoiding the print dust residue on the knob, and turned on the lights.
It was amazing how much safer she felt knowing that Kitt was there.
She had attached her hands-free set to her cell phone so that they could
keep in contact inside the house.
"I've done a complete scan of the first floor.
I believe that all the prints are yours and Michael's. There are
no prints on the patio door, so it's likely the intruder was wearing gloves.
Nothing looks out of place, and I don't see anything obviously missing.
It doesn’t appear to have been a robbery and I can't find any evidence
that the intruder was looking for anything specific."
Bonnie took a deep breath and headed for the hallway.
She stooped to the floor and from her pocket, pulled out a small, square
piece of plastic covered with a paper-thin film. She scrapped a bit
of the blood onto the slide and let the film fall back across the evidence.
"It would be a good idea to collect several samples,
to determine if all of the blood is from the same person," Kitt suggested.
Bonnie climbed a few steps and took a sample from
one of the stains there. She glanced up toward the loft. "Anything
"Yes. The police took the bullets and the
pillow, but . . ." Kitt hesitated several seconds before continuing.
Bonnie was afraid for a moment that something had happened to him.
"There is something in the dresser that might be helpful to us."
Bonnie slowly climbed the stairs again and approached
the bed. She absentmindedly plucked up a feather and ran it along
her fingers. It seemed such a cowardly act -- to try to shoot someone
while he slept. She didn't want to think about what would have happened
if Michael had been asleep. "You said there was something in the
"Top drawer on the right."
Bonnie pulled it open and her heart sank.
No wonder Kitt had had a hard time saying it. Michael's comlink was
lying nestled in a small cardboard box next to a pair of old cufflinks
that he refused to wear unless absolutely necessary. Their former
life had been so long ago, that she had forgotten about the comlink completely
-- as did Michael, apparently. He didn't normally wear it unless
Kitt was around.
"Damn," she said softly. Aside from being
a man who didn't care much for jewelry, Michael also didn't care to live
his life by the clock these days. If only he had been wearing it
. . .
"Kitt, is it still working?"
"It hasn't been tampered with, Bonnie."
She gingerly lifted the watch to examine it.
"Anything else?" she asked over the cell phone.
"No. I don’t think there is anything else
we can do here," Kitt replied over the comlink, implying that he approved
of her using it. Bonnie turned off her cell phone before heading
back downstairs. She stroked the face of the watch gently with her
thumb. She would use it, but she wouldn't wear it. It was Michael's
and it felt inappropriate to put it on her own wrist. Bonnie carefully
snuggled the comlink into her pocket and headed outside.
* * *
Kitt was still following a standard search pattern
near the cabin, scanning while Bonnie slept in the driver's seat.
He was growing more and more worried about Michael. He knew there
were really only three possibilities. Either Michael had been killed,
abducted, or he had escaped an attack but was missing for some reason.
Kitt wanted to be able to study the evidence and come to the explanation
that was the most logical. Unfortunately the threads of data just
didn’t lead to logical conclusions. Surely if Michael had been taken,
he would have found some way to leave the proverbial trail of breadcrumbs
for them to find. But maybe it had happened too quickly. What
if the kidnappers were thousands of miles away already? If Michael
had gotten away from them alive, why wouldn't he have contacted them?
The only way that made sense was if he was still in danger or hurt.
If he had been killed, why would his attackers have done anything other
than leave the body where it fell? They had not bothered to clean
up the blood or the bullets, so they weren't trying to hide anything.
That gave Kitt a moment of comfort, but it was intruded upon by the thought
of the scans he had been avoiding.
Michael was not dead. He couldn't be.
Kitt was frustrated that he didn't have Michael's
instincts for making the pieces fit. He would love to have one of
Michael's hunches right now. He needed something to help make sense
of the holes in the data. There were signs of a struggle down by
the lake -- trampled grass, a splash of blood on the pier, but nothing
definitive, nothing that explained everything. He needed Michael’s
brand of calm optimism right now. Kitt needed to stop circling through
all the horrible possibilities.
If they were going to make sense of the meager
leads they had, they were going to have to consider suspects. There
was no reason for anyone new to come after Michael. It had to be
someone from their past. And that was a very long list of suspects.
Kitt turned his attention to Bonnie, who was beginning
to stir. She had fallen asleep after 3 am, and had been restlessly
dozing ever since. Her eyes popped open and she glanced down at his
voice modulator, looking confused.
"I'm sorry, Bonnie, but there hasn't been any
sign of him."
Her eyes closed again briefly. Kitt suspected
that she too knew that aimlessly scanning was little more than a shot in
"I'm afraid that if I don't get back before Shawn
wakes up, Maddock may interfere with our search." Kitt didn't want
to leave, but he knew that if he gave Maddock a reason to make good on
his threat to deactivate him, Michael's situation could become a lot more
"Okay. Drop me off at the cabin and I'll
call Maddock and see if I can get him to agree to let you investigate."
"I'm not leaving you at the cabin," Kitt said,
appalled that she would even suggest it.
"Kitt, I'll be fine . . ."
"Bonnie something has happened to Michael.
We don't know who's responsible or where that person is now. I'm
not leaving you out here alone."
"But Kitt, what if Michael comes back or calls?"
"He knows how to get in touch with us," Kitt said,
knowing that her cell phone was in her bag. He felt a little uneasy
about the disabled phone line at the cabin, but if Michael made it there,
he could make it to Zeke's.
"But what if he's hurt? I can’t leave knowing
he might need our help."
The wounded look on her face, and the way fear
replaced anger in her voice, resonated right through Kitt. He didn't
want to leave if there was any possibility that Michael was out here.
He desperately wanted to stay and investigate with every resource he had,
but right now they had practical concerns to worry about too. One
of them had to be rational about the situation. It was not safe for
her to stay here.
"The police are still out looking for him.
They're going to check the cabin regularly."
Bonnie shut her eyes for several seconds.
"Kitt, I'll stay in constant phone contact. If anything happens,
I'll call you."
"Leaving you here is unacceptable," Kitt said
in a tone that he hoped conveyed the finality of his decision. Seeing
her face, he softened his tone. "I know you want to help him, but
I'm not going to risk losing both of you. Aside from my own judgment,
if I agreed to something like this, Michael would never forgive me if anything
happened to you."
Bonnie looked at him like she was contemplating
reprogramming him on the spot, but then dropped her chin slowly and gave
"Okay," she said.
* * *
They were already several miles into the journey
back to Seattle when the timer Kitt set finally ran down to zero and the
results of his first order analysis of the blood began scrolling through
his processor. Oh, Michael, he thought. What happened?
It was several minutes before he could bring himself to share the results.
"Bonnie," he said, causing her to start and look
away from the window.
"I'm afraid the blood from the cabin is Michael's,"
he said gently.
She slowly nodded and pressed her thumb into her
palm, wringing her hands slowly.
"Some of the blood in the grass is also his, but
the blood from the pier is not," he continued trying to sound hopeful.
"And even though it is his blood, there isn't enough of it to indicate
a major injury. I would guess some sort of grazing wound."
"No, but he’s hurt and missing." Bonnie
put her head down and ran her right hand over her forehead and through
"There is something else."
"According to the rate of decay, the blood is
between 36 and 48 hours old."
"Two days?" Bonnie whispered. "Are you sure?"
"You know my capabilities as well I as I do, Bonnie."
He didn't really want to give her the odds that he was correct. It
was too disheartening.
"Kitt, if he was injured two days ago . . ."
"He needs our help," Kitt finished. He was
not ready to think about worse case scenarios yet. He knew that over
the course of their partnership, Michael had held out hope for him when
others had not. And now Kitt was going to return the favor.
Bonnie seemed to shake off the shocked look on
her face and she nodded determinedly. "You're right. We may
need the Foundation’s help to get access to the evidence the police collected."
"And I'm going to have to get out of the Butler
case. I don't think Maddock's going to be happy about it, but it's
not high priority, so he could turn it over to the police."
"A missing person should take precedence over
embezzlement. I'll handle him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. We need to get his permission and
the Foundation's weight with the local authorities, unfortunately."
"How do you propose to get it?”
"Appeal to Maddock's almost human side."
"Does he have one?" Kitt found some comfort
in the fact that Bonnie seemed to become more focused and determined now
that they had concrete tasks to accomplish.
"I'm hoping he does, but the trick is going to
be to find it."
* * *
Bonnie hesitated before she knocked on Maddock’s
door. She knew she looked like hell and she wanted to at least gather
her wits before going in to meet the beast. She rapped on the tinny
aluminum door and pushed it open when she heard Maddock bellow, “Come in.”
He was standing at his flat-topped workbench,
his tie hanging over some presentation or plan. He glanced at her
briefly before returning to his work.
“I thought that one of the conditions you hired
on under was that you were only going to be here four days a week,” he
said as he continued with whatever he was doing. "I didn't think
you were going to grace us with your presence on Fridays."
Bonnie crossed her arms defensively and rethought
whether she really wanted his help. “Michael’s missing.”
Maddock didn’t react. He had picked up a
pen and seemed to be marking up whatever was in front of him. After
a long pause he said, “That seems like a fairly common occurrence for him.
Are you sure he’s not just out and about?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she said, strategically keeping
the rest of the information quiet for the moment.
“Well, perhaps he’s shacking up with some woman.
I hear he used to get around.”
Bonnie somehow kept her jaw from dropping and
reined in her temper. She didn't think he knew the extent of their
relationship, so it wasn't a personal insult. He was just being generally
insulting. Arguing with Maddock was always a game and if she lost
her temper, he’d win. “There were bullets fired in the house.”
“And was there a body?”
She managed to catch the words before they left
her mouth. Asshole. Complete asshole. It never ceased
to amaze her how in the few months she had known him, he had only gone
down in her estimation. She wanted to fling some scathing comeback
at him, but nothing came immediately to mind. She was too tired for
“That's promising, but I don't understand why
you’re here, exactly,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“I thought that maybe Kitt could investigate,”
Bonnie said, in measured tones.
“Sounds like a situation for the local authorities.
We don’t have the time or the man power right now to help you.”
He went back to his documents as she stood at
the door fuming. “You don’t have the time or the man power?” she
repeated, enunciating every syllable. “For one of your own?”
“Michael isn’t one of us. He made that very
Bonnie had spent most of the drive into Seattle
trying to think of the best way to approach Maddock. Michael had
always said that the best way to get to him was to appeal to his self-interest.
She had been trying to figure out how getting Michael back would help the
Foundation. “He may not be a full time employee but he is an asset.”
Maddock gave her a cocked brow. “When he
feels like it.”
Michael did go out of his way to give Maddock
heartburn. Usually Bonnie found it childishly satisfying, but it
was not going to help them now. “True, but in the end he comes through
for you. He helped the Foundation get this freelance contract.”
“And he has our deep appreciation, but we have
other cases right now.”
Bonnie was afraid to play her only real card right
away, but she knew there was only one thing that would really scare Maddock.
The only angle she could think of that really affected Maddock’s self interest
was publicity. “I’m sure that will make a lovely sound byte.”
Maddock’s pen stopped moving and he looked up,
his eyes dark and threatening. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sure that sooner or later word will get out
that a contract employee of the city’s brand new freelance department has
“Are you threatening me?” he asked giving her
a cold prosecutor’s stare.
“Of course not,” she said. “But inevitably
it’s going to come to somebody’s attention. How would it look if
the Foundation hadn’t even investigated?”
Maddock had stopped glowering at her and was obviously
sizing up the truth in that statement. It wouldn’t look good.
It would perhaps even make the Foundation the target of speculation in
“I wouldn’t want to try to explain that to Commissioner
Daniels,” she added, trying not to be too obvious that she was maneuvering
him. She knew that on at least one occasion, Daniels had asked for
Michael specifically – she wasn’t completely comfortable with Shawn, given
their past relationship. If Michael wasn’t found, and the Foundation
didn’t even investigate, Daniels would want answers, and Maddock would
be the one in the hot seat.
Maddock made a show of going back to his paperwork,
as if this conversation was an after thought, and completely unimportant.
“Fine. Shawn and Kitt will investigate – after Shawn's ten o'clock
meeting with the security team handling tonight’s Mariners game.
But I would appreciate it if this was wrapped up quickly.”
“So would I,” Bonnie said before turning on her
heels and leaving. When she was safely outside of his office, she
let out a sigh. She didn't like the delay, but at least she had gotten
The intruder continued his creep up the stairs,
his whole body trained toward the bed in front of him. Michael could
see an odd jut in the silhouette around the intruder's face; he was wearing
night vision goggles. Michael was surprised he hadn't seen through
the basic pillow ruse yet, but from the stairs, he was at a bad angle.
He watched, transfixed as the figure extended a gun and took aim.
Who are you? Michael wondered. He sat frozen, waiting the microseconds
until the man squeezed the trigger and one of Michael’s pillows exploded
across the bed.
The assailant continued firing, giving Michael
the opportunity he needed. He sprang up and vaulted over the dresser,
landing behind the startled figure on the stairs. He quickly brought
the weight of both his arms down, connecting solidly with the man’s weapon
arm. The gun fell and skittered over the edge of the stairs.
The man recoiled at first, but then recovered and launched himself at Michael,
knocking him backward. Michael winced as his shoulder slammed into
the corner of a step. The intruder jerked out a knife strapped to
his ankle. Michael managed to lurch to the side, just enough that
the knife missed his chest and sunk into his arm instead, causing him to
howl in pain. With his left hand Michael grabbed the assailant’s
shirt and used it to throw the man off balance, sending them both tumbling
down the stairs. When they hit the bottom, Michael reached for the
gun that he had knocked out of the intruder's hand. Both men grabbed
for it, but Michael managed to wrestle it away. The intruder scrambled
around the corner into the living room, as Michael brought the gun up.
He heard the man running toward the kitchen, and after clearing his way
around the corner, raced after him.
Michael chased the man out of the cabin and peered
around the corner. His assailant was running past the garage, so
Michael turned the corner after him. He was so intent on his pursuit
that when the first bullet whizzed by his head, a distracted part of his
mind thought it was a June bug. That misconception was quickly cleared
up, and he slid on the dew-covered grass under a maelstrom of automatic
weapons fire. Michael scrambled along the grass and hurled himself
back around the corner of the cabin. He spotted muzzle flashes from
at least four different guns. He had assumed that he was dealing
with a lone assailant. This was not good.
Quickly examining the gun, Michael recognized
it was a Beretta 9000. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed as though
the man in the cabin had fired at least 5 or 6 rounds. Assuming that
he had started with a new magazine, there would 4 or 5 rounds left.
It wasn’t much, but at least it was something. Michael risked a quick
glance back around the corner and realized that the flashes were moving
-- they were coming after him. He was barely armed and cut off from
both the cabin and the garage. The run to the pier would leave him
exposed for at least 150 feet, which was too long. He didn't know
if all the shooters had night vision goggles, but if so, he'd never cover
that distance alive. The keys to the boat were in the kitchen drawer
anyway. At the moment, his only line of escape was into the forest
behind the cabin. If they were using night vision goggles, hopefully,
the light from their own muzzle flashes would be just enough hindrance
for him to get to the trees.
Michael didn’t have time to take better stock
of his situation – he was going to have to get to a safer position first.
He yanked off his bright white T-shirt and stuffed it into the elastic
of his sweats. He spun around the corner, fired off two shots for
cover, and then ran.
He knew he'd have a few seconds, but he needed
more time. He turned as one of the men peered around the corner.
Michael shot at him and ducked as the man fired back before disappearing
again. Michael sprinted towards the woods, and heard gunfire erupt
behind him. The trees in front of him splintered as bullets slammed
into them. He dove at the nearest set of bushes and scrambled up
into the forest. He turned and fired the remaining round at a pursuer
who was right at the edge of the woods. Listening to the constant
rain of bullets, he veered away from their general direction, jumping over
bushes and trying not to trip over roots. He had made it to the woods,
but now he was going to have to put some distance between him and his pursuers
if he was going to get out of this alive.
The trip back from the Foundation had been silent
for the most part. There had been several delays in getting out of
Seattle, not the least of which was a slight snag with the Mariner's security
team. By the time they left, around noon, Kitt was feeling very anxious.
He didn’t like that they had been away from the cabin so long. He
was driving well above the speed limit, trying to make up time.
Shawn and Bonnie had seemed to get along well
enough in the small amounts of time they spent together at the Foundation,
but Kitt didn't get the impression that they were friends. That impression
was strengthened in the last hour. Shawn had made an attempt to reassure
them both that they would find Michael, which Bonnie acknowledged, but
without the warmth that Kitt would have expected. After that, the
trip was filled with awkward silences that were interrupted only by Shawn
asking a few basics about the state of the cabin. Bonnie and Kitt
had decided it was best if Shawn didn't know that they had already begun
investigating, so neither of them were volunteering much information.
Kitt just couldn’t be sure if Shawn was more loyal to Michael or Maddock.
He didn't know how she would react to the knowledge that they had gone
behind Maddock's back. It made for a tense ride.
When they finally reached the cabin, Bonnie barely
moved as Shawn pushed open the door and climbed out, surveying the property.
With her long, business-like stride, she crossed the lawn and entered the
house. Bonnie lingered behind.
“I feel like we’re wasting time,” she said.
“It won’t take long for Shawn to investigate.
“I’m sure she is, but if someone has him . . .”
Bonnie trailed off.
“I know, but we need to get Shawn caught up first.
I’m still scanning,” he said, wanting to believe there was something to
“Okay.” Bonnie tapped his hood before following
Shawn into the house, not showing much enthusiasm.
Kitt switched to infrared to follow them with
his scanners. He watched as they went from room to room, going over
and reinvestigating what he and Bonnie had already discovered. It
did seem depressing to cover the same ground, knowing you weren't going
to find anything new.
After several minutes, Bonnie and Shawn reemerged
from the house. Shawn stopped to examine a bullet hole in the side
of the cabin, and Kitt rolled over to join them.
"Whoever it was, they didn't get him on the first
"Obviously," Bonnie said icily.
"Kitt is there any indication that any of the
"It's hard to say, Shawn, but if so, I don't believe
it was a fatal shot. There isn't enough blood."
"So they were shooting wildly?"
"Can you determine how many there were?" she asked.
"It appears there was one shooter in the house.
The spray pattern of the bullets outside suggests at least four shooters."
"But that may, or may not include the shooter
from the house?" Bonnie surmised.
"Correct. Although the inside shooter’s
gun appears to have been used outside as well. The police found 0.40
caliber bullets in the grass as well as the 9 mm automatic rounds."
"Why is it that only the criminals can get their
hands on real guns?" Shawn muttered.
"We're outside of Seattle. There are plenty
of guns to be had," Kitt replied, even though he was sure she wasn't really
looking for an answer. “The larger caliber bullets seem to have trajectories
in the opposite direction as the smaller caliber spray pattern.”
"Maybe Michael got a hold of the gun and was shooting
back," Bonnie suggested.
"It's possible, but I have no way of determining
a timeline for when those bullets were fired. There are many possible
"And there's no sign of a ransom or anything?
You haven't received any unusual phone calls or emails, Bonnie?" Shawn
She shook her head 'no' and traced a nasty round
pockmark in the cabin wall. "Something tells me they weren't looking
Shawn opened Kitt's driver's side door and slid
inside, swiftly punching the button to activate Kitt's analyzer.
She slipped a set of slides onto the tray. Kitt already knew that
the blood they contained was Michael's.
"Is there somewhere Michael would go to hide?
Somewhere he liked?" Shawn asked.
Kitt expected Bonnie to answer, but she didn't.
Shawn looked from Bonnie to him. "He usually stays around the cabin
or out on the lake. There are a few places in town where he goes
with his friend Zeke."
Kitt ran the blood analysis again. He was
going to have to wait the appropriate amount of time before giving Shawn
the results anyway. As he expected, everything came out the same.
"According to my preliminary results, the blood in question is the right
type to be Michael's. It will take longer for me to run a DNA comparison,"
he said somberly, assuming that was enough to get Shawn started.
Kitt would doll out the rest of the information as it was appropriate.
Bonnie had moved to lean against Kitt's side.
She was gazing out at the lake, still somewhat detached from Shawn and
Kitt's conversation. Out of the blue, she asked, "Have you scanned
the lake, Kitt?"
"No, I haven't," he said somewhat sheepishly.
He felt guilty about it, but he had his reasons. And he didn't feel
like explaining, not even to Bonnie.
She looked at him oddly for a moment and then
said somewhat coldly, "Please scan it now."
Kitt wanted to be angry with her for her demanding
tone. But he couldn’t. He knew when he had made up his mind
the previous night not to scan the lake, that they might quickly exhaust
other possibilities. Bonnie wasn't herself at the moment -- anymore
than he was -- so he couldn't blame her. They were both worried.
Kitt was confident scanning the land around the
lake. Michael could be hiding or injured but clinging fiercely to
life, as Kitt had known his partner to do on several occasions, but to
scan the lake felt like a betrayal. There was really only one reason
to force his scanners to peer into the depths of the murky water.
A less rational side of him wanted to avoid that kind of pessimism as long
as possible. But now that Bonnie had asked, there was no way to continue
Kitt switched over to a better-suited wavelength
and searched the lake in a wide arc, probing the waters for organic matter
larger than the average fish and more consistent with a human being.
Much to his dismay, he found it. Kitt narrowed the beam of his scanner
and swept the area again, to be sure. Human remains gave off a distinct
decomposition signature, and unfortunately, this organic matter matched.
It was floating a few feet under the surface in a small cove, sheltered
from the main lake. It had washed into a tangle of branches along
with empty beer cans, an old fishing rod, tires, and other impervious human
creations. Kitt couldn't bear this sort of ending for his best friend.
After all that they had been through, all the disagreements that had just
recently been worked out, Kitt couldn’t bear to find Michael like this.
Kitt tried to calm himself. There was no
way to tell from this distance if the remains were Michael's. There
was still the possibility that this was someone else, his attacker maybe.
But Kitt alone couldn't determine that.
He hesitated, and thought through his words carefully
before speaking them. "I am detecting organic material that could
be human remains, although I cannot make an identification from here."
He carefully monitored Bonnie as her body briefly slumped harder against
"Where, Kitt?" she asked, standing up and looking
at the boat moored by the pier.
"On the far side of the lake," he said.
Bonnie pushed herself away from the car and strode
purposefully toward the dock.
"No, Bonnie," Kitt said, but she didn't stop.
He didn't want her to go. If it was Michael, he didn't want her to
see him like that. Kitt knew the boat’s gas tank was contaminated,
but there was a good chance the boat would make it across the lake before
the engine died. "Shawn?!" he said, somewhat desperately.
Shawn shook her head and launched after Bonnie.
She had to run to catch her, but quickly closed the distance. Shawn
grabbed Bonnie's arm trying to slow her dawn.
"Let go of me!" Bonnie said angrily.
"You don't want to do this. I'll go check
"This isn't any of your business. I'll go."
"Oh yes it is. When you asked for our help,
you made it my business."
"I didn't ask for your help, I asked for Kitt's,"
Bonnie said as she pulled her arm away from Shawn and continued her march
down the pier.
Shawn rolled her eyes and stomped after Bonnie,
positioning herself between Bonnie and the boat. "I don't care if
you want my help or not. You've got it. I may not be part of
the family but I am in a much better position to handle this than you are.
And furthermore, if that is his body down there, I know he wouldn't want
you to be the one to find it."
Bonnie glared at Shawn but it was obvious that
she wasn't going to get passed her. She folded her arms and glared.
"Fine," she said hostilely.
"Why don't you collect some more samples of the
blood in the grass and on the pier? We need to know if all of it
is the same."
Shawn held out an envelope containing more of
the little plastic slides and after a minute, Bonnie took it. Then
she wordlessly turned and marched off the pier, back toward solid ground.
“You’ll need to drain the gas tank and refill
it,” Kitt said over the comlink to Shawn. “They contaminated it with
what I would assume would be either sugar or salt. There's a canister
of gas in the garage.”
"You know, someone took a lot of time to plan
this. They came with enough weapons to take on a platoon, and still
took the time to cut off every escape route. Whoever this was, wasn't
taking any chances."
"What I don't understand is why they'd bother
with the boat? The lake doesn’t have an outlet. Michael wouldn't
have had anywhere to go," Kitt pondered.
“It was probably a nasty little trap,” she said.
“If he was able to get it started, he'd think it was a means of at least
getting away. Then he’d end up with a dead engine out in the open.
They might have been able to pick him off."
“I don't believe Michael would take that route.
He knows the lake would be a dead end.”
“But what if it were his only option? He
could at least cross the lake. Any escape is better than none,” Shawn
said. “Even if it is only temporary.”
* * *
Kitt watched on his monitor, nervous, as Shawn
got closer and closer to the remains. He was suddenly filled with
a need to do something. If he had fingernails, he’d be biting them.
After years of wondering about strange human habits, he was starting to
see why people found them comforting. But right now the only comfort
for him would be finding Michael alive.
"Kitt, I'm in the cove," Shawn said over her comlink,
her voice swimming in the whining of the outboard engine. "Where
do I go?"
"Change your heading 17 degrees north. The
body is just below the surface, 16 feet from shore.
This was getting to be too much for Kitt to bear.
He had just gotten Michael back. He wasn't prepared to lose him so
soon. Please let this be someone else, he pleaded.
Kitt couldn't control his anxiety as he activated
the video feed in Shawn's comlink. She used a hook in the boat to
pull the body out of the tangle of debris and coax it to the surface.
Immediately Kitt started some quick comparisons to Michael's known features.
"It's not him," Shawn said. "This guy was
a short blond."
Kitt relaxed a little as his scans confirmed what
Shawn was saying. Thank heaven, he thought. But the feeling
of relief was quickly deserting him; they still had no idea where to find
Michael. Kitt desperately wondered what had happened. Unfortunately,
right now, there was no answer.
Trusting that Shawn would know what to do with
the body, Kitt turned his attention to Bonnie. He slowly rolled over
the grass to where she was stooped, examining the spatters of blood.
She glanced quickly over her shoulder when she heard him coming and then
went back to collecting a sample.
“It’s everywhere. But it seems like most
of it was the result of a previous injury the way it's smeared into the
ground,” she said.
“Bonnie . . .”
“Can you tell an impact point, or anything from
the splatters? I would guess that the person fell here, but if you
follow it further, it takes on more of a drip-like pattern . . .”
She continued on with a rush of words like waves of watery fear.
Babbling. “I'm assuming you can analyze the direction and amount
and maybe . . .”
“Bonnie.” Kitt said forcefully. “It’s not
She froze at his words and let out a shuddery
sigh. Her shoulders dropped and she slowly turned around. “Well
that’s something isn’t it?” She didn’t sound convinced.
“Have faith in him, Bonnie. He’ll come back
Michael took in a deep gulp of air and winced
as he pulled tight a second strip of cloth with his teeth and good arm.
The knife wound had already soaked through the first makeshift bandage.
Luckily it was a grazing slice instead of a deep puncture. It was
bleeding a lot, but he knew that as along as he kept the cut fairly clean,
and got it looked at eventually, he'd be fine.
His feet were not so easy to dismiss. They
hurt like hell. Having been chased out of his home in the middle
of the night, he had nothing but the T-shirt and sweats he'd worn to bed.
He had been too worried about getting ahead of the men to carefully pick
a route. As a result, the soles of his feet were ripped up and blistered,
but there wasn't much he could do about it. He had wrapped them up
with strips of cloth he'd ripped from the bottom his sweats, but he didn't
think it was going to help much. He was just going to have to deal
with the pain for the time being.
But on the bright side, Michael thought, at least
he didn't sleep in the nude.
He leaned back against a tree and considered his
surroundings. The sun was just coming up and the murk of the forest
was starting to clear. He took in another deep breath and held it,
intentionally slowing his breathing. The dash through the forest
had left him panting and Michael needed to get his body back under control.
He needed to clear out some of the adrenaline so that he could think calmly
and rationally. But it was hard when he knew there were men with
guns on his tail.
Michael was confident that he had put a reasonable
distance between himself and the assailants. He was familiar with
this section of forest and even in the dark, knew where he wanted to go.
They were obviously still fumbling around. They had even shot at
something in the last hour -- probably a deer. It looked like they
had planned to get him while he slept, or worst case, mow him down if he
managed to escape the first assault. They had probably only prepared
for a hike to his cabin, not an all out chase through the woods.
Michael was startled when he heard a loud yell
behind him. He couldn't make out the words exactly - they were distant
- but they were still getting closer. Or at least three of them were.
Three men had been following closely behind him, not being particularly
quiet. He could tell that they were flanking him, attempting to cut
off escape to the sides, and herd him forward, always away from the cabin
and the state highway where he could get help.
The question was, where were the other two?
Michael was guessing they were following behind the first group, ready
to cut him off in case he slipped past them. Or maybe they were waiting
at the cabin, preventing him from getting to a phone or his car.
In any case, he couldn't hear them, which meant they were dangerous.
There was a sharper crack behind him. Michael
had wanted to rest and come up with a plan, but he didn't want to lose
his lead. It would be suicide to take them on right now. He
had nothing. They were well armed, and sticking fairly close together.
Even if he could ambush one, the others would be on him immediately.
Michael stood up and winced as his feet protested.
He thought through his situation, in part to keep his mind off his wounds.
It was Wednesday morning, which meant that Bonnie wouldn’t be back at the
cabin until Thursday night. That was a relief. He didn't want
her to somehow get caught up in all of this. He wondered if the people
involved had staked out the cabin. If so, they might know her schedule
and know when to expect her back. But if that were true, and they
were after her as well, they would have waited until the weekend to attack.
It was probably safe to assume that they didn’t know about her. Michael
glanced down at his bare wrist and cursed himself for not wearing his comlink.
He hadn’t thought to grab it from the dresser in all the commotion.
Of course, it wouldn’t have done him much good anyway. There was
no way to reach Kitt in Seattle from here, which meant that Bonnie would
be driving into this mess on her own . . .
Michael used the sun to get his bearings and limped
off again. The best plan he had for the moment was to get far enough
ahead of these guys so that he could get to the highway. It was possible
that, anticipating that move, the two missing men had taken a more direct
route to cut him off. It was a chance he’d have to take. He
needed to get out of this mess before Bonnie came home tomorrow night.
Shawn met Bonnie
back at Kitt and handed over the keys to the boat. “The coroner’s
coming for the body,” she said. “I called Maddock and he’s going
to try to get it moved to Seattle.”
Bonnie asked, hoping that Shawn had some suggestions.
"We need to
start talking to people in town -- see if they’ve noticed anyone unusual
hanging around or asking questions. I think it’s a good bet that
this is someone from Michael's past, so we should start looking into old
a cold and familiar bile flooded her stomach. "Kitt, where's Garthe?"
she asked, her voice sounding frightened, even to her own ears. She
didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to her before. Maybe she just
didn’t want to acknowledge that particular specter of their past.
in prison, Bonnie. Although, he isn't in a cryogenic facility."
verify that he’s still where he's supposed to be?"
"An old enemy
of the Foundation. Wilton Knight's son, actually," Bonnie sketched
"I'm sure the
Foundation has a lot of enemies," Shawn said. "We should probably
track down anyone Michael and Kitt put in jail."
"That's a logical
place to start," Kitt said, "but it wouldn't have to be someone who was
sent to prison. This could also be a relative or friend of someone
make it almost impossible to figure out, Kitt," Bonnie said, propping her
chin on the arm she had resting across his roof.
"We have to
start somewhere, so let's assume it was someone directly involved with
a case," Shawn said and then turned to Bonnie. "Kitt and I will take
you back to Seattle while we investigate. You can look into old cases
"I'm not going
anywhere. I can look them up with my laptop."
"I don't think
its safe for you to stay at the cabin, while we're away. Whoever
did this has been here. They could come back," Shawn persisted.
"Then I'm coming
but I think you'd just be in our way," Shawn said, pulling open the driver's
I was with the Foundation long before . . ."
"And how much
police training do you have?" Shawn interrupted, rudely.
"And look at
all the good your police training did you. In your first year on
the force you were shot in the . . ."
Kitt interjected. "Bonnie will come with us and look over the list
of potential suspects while we search the area."
at Shawn, waiting to see if she would argue with Kitt.
got into the car and stabbing the start button before Bonnie had a chance
to close the door.
up straighter when he heard the unmistakable sound of an engine turning
over. They couldn’t be giving up. The engine sounded far away,
and there were still at least three of them right on his tail. He
listened to the foreign noise a moment, his mind churning. Apparently,
the mystery of the two unaccounted-for men had been solved; they were going
for reinforcements or supplies.
his head back and tried to think. They had assumed they would ambush
at the cabin. They didn’t drive their car or truck down the road
because they didn't want to wake him. But that meant they had only
brought what they needed to hike to his cabin.
The cabin was
five miles from the main road, so they probably didn’t bring much.
Michael guessed that they had just enough in the way of guns and ammunition
to finish him off if shooting him while he slept didn’t work. Or
maybe they were afraid they’d find him awake. Whoever this was, they
were used to thinking about contingencies.
Now that he
had at least some idea of what they were up to, he was going to have to
try to outsmart them. If they were going for reinforcements or any
sort of military style equipment, he'd be in trouble. If they were
just going to town for supplies, that wouldn't be nearly as bad.
Michael thought about what he’d want if he were in their shoes. They’d
get food and water -- maybe a GPS unit, radios, and more ammunition.
All of those items could be purchased in town, with a little searching.
they wouldn’t be gone long, but it was an opportunity. If Michael
were going to slip past the other three, now would be the time to do it.
If he got back to the cabin he could get to the Chevy, or call for help.
Now was his best chance to get out of this mess.
* * *
under the roots of a felled tree. From the charring, he guessed it
was a victim of lightening – the price of being the tallest tree in the
area. The sun was higher in the sky and it was getting hot, so he
didn’t mind hiding for the moment. The tree had fallen so that in
the shallow dugout of its roots, he was shielded from his pursuers.
They were getting
damn close, though. Michael listened to the cracks and swishes from
the displaced branches as they passed through the brush. It was disconcerting
to just wait, but it was going to be easier to let them slip past him if
he wasn't risking a fatal twig snap, or visible motion in the trees.
And the truth was, he could use the rest. His arm hurt, his feet
hurt, all his muscles hurt. But it didn’t do him any good to focus
on that right now.
focused on the men behind him. Waiting on his pursuers was feeding
a growing tension that he was trying his best to ignore. He was pleasantly
surprised that it had taken so long for them to catch up -- he had had
quite a substantial lead. Based on the position of the sun, he guessed
that he had been at least an hour ahead of them. Not bad for an old
guy with no shoes.
A noise to
his left caught his attention. They were almost to his position.
Michael hunkered down, turning so that his dark sweats helped to hide the
white of his t-shirt. He had smeared it with dirt to blend in better,
but he wanted to take every precaution to stay hidden. He lifted
his head in the dark recesses of the roots, hoping to get a good view as
for what seemed like far too long before he heard something to his right
as well. He was tempted to try to ambush one of them, but they were
so close together that if he wasn’t completely silent in his attack, he’d
quickly have a mess on his hands. He listened as the man to his left
slowly came abreast of his position. He was too far away to be seen,
as he continued to move slowly forward, away from Michael.
A twig snapped
to his right and Michael held his breath. The other man was passing
close - too close. Michael’s hiding place wasn’t obvious from a reasonable
distance, but if someone passed right next to it, he would be sure to peer
deeper into the roots. He willed every muscle to quiet, demanded
that everything but his heartbeat go silent. He heard rustling and
more movement. He could almost imagine the man out there in the forest,
about to stumble onto his hiding place.
got unbearably close, and Michael was starting to think about making a
run for it. He didn’t want to sit there and wait to be taken out,
crouched under some tree. But the man walked by, just far enough
away that he didn’t notice the excellent natural shelter. Michael
watched the boots and khaki pants pass through the bushes as the man slowly
marched forward. When he was far enough away, Michael risked lifting
his head a little. The man was blond, medium height, walking with
his weapon pointed in front of him, slowly turning to scan from side to
his brain. Who was it? He hadn’t gotten a good look at the
man’s face, but he had hoped he would at least recognize him. But
then, there was nothing to say that he would know any of them, other than
the ringleader. There was even a chance Michael wouldn’t recognize
When the man
had moved far enough away, Michael finally let his tensed muscles relax.
He listened until the noises finally faded, then slipped out of his spot,
and started his beeline for the cabin.
the lobby of the old, run-down motel. The chairs in front of the
registration desk were threadbare and showing stuffing around their seams.
The man behind the desk was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed,
either asleep or quickly approaching it. An ancient-looking computer
cluttered the desk in front of him.
The man’s eyes
popped open and he stretched, but didn’t bother to get out of the chair.
“Can I help you?” he asked lazily.
her Foundation badge, hoping the man wouldn’t want to study it. They
only had legal jurisdiction in Seattle, and to anyone with any sophistication,
that would be apparent from the etching on the bottom of the badge that
read, 'City of Seattle Freelance Department.' Luckily the man didn't
show much interest, so she continued.
a disappearance. I was wondering if you could tell me if there’s
been any unusual activity around here the last few days.”
The man sat
up straighter and seemed to give her more of his attention. “This
about that business down by the lake last night?”
heard about it?”
I’ve got a security contract with one of the cops in town to come by my
place when he’s off-duty, which around here is a lot of the time.
He was in the lobby when he got the call last night. I was sure it
was Zeke though. Someone who runs his mouth off as much as that boy
is bound to get himself in trouble. I was real surprised to find
out it was the bass charter guy. He’s always been kinda quiet – keeps
to himself mostly.”
“You know Michael
Knight?” Shawn asked.
“I know everyone
in this area, or at least their names. I’ve seen him with Zeke at
the bar from time to time and I know he’s got the old Jones place down
by the lake. Oh and that sweet Chevy, but other than that, I don’t
know much about him.”
“So no one
was here asking about him the last few days?”
“Not really. We usually get a few weirdoes around here this time
of year. Out here to hike the mountains. You know the types
who backpack across Europe and don’t exactly find themselves?” He said
it with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
a few people just passing through, but there’s nothing unusual about that.”
“I don’t suppose
I could get a list of all your current guests?”
The man gave
her a dubious look. “I don’t suppose you have a warrant for that?”
be as a favor.”
He shook his
head. “I’d like to help you, but I don’t think that would go over
too well with the granola crowd, if you know what I mean? They tend
to be a bit paranoid about law enforcement. They're not exactly my
favorite customers, but I gotta pay the bills."
Shawn said, wanting more, but she knew she didn't have a leg to stand on.
She couldn’t push it.
you what, though, if anyone seems particularly suspicious, I’ll give you
It was better
than nothing. “Thanks.” Shawn headed back out to Kitt.
So far no one had seen anything suspicious, and they had hit all of the
local hotels. They had heard from a couple of people that there were
a lot of transients in the area, which made it far less likely that anyone
was going to look out of place.
Kitt’s door open. “See if you can get access to his computer and
download a list of people who've checked in or out this week. If
nothing else we can cross-reference the names with the list of people involved
in your cases.”
took the liberty of peeking at the guest lists of all the hotels we've
been to. It will take a while to create a reference matrix though.”
“Keep on it.
Any word from the airstrip or bus terminal?" she asked.
"A few Cessnas
and a Piper took off from the air strip, but there was nothing unusual
about any of them. Nothing suspicious at the bus terminal either,
and the police department hasn't had any promising leads from their APB.
I'm afraid that given the amount of time since we suspect the incident
occurred, whoever attacked Michael could be hundreds, or even thousands,
of miles from here."
"So what do
we do now?" Bonnie asked. She had waited with Kitt while Shawn
had gone in to ask questions.
autopsy comes back on the body in the lake, all we can do is keep searching
here. This is the only place that we know for certain has a connection,"
going to lean on the medical examiner and see if they can get the autopsy
moved up in the queue," Shawn said. He had already been successful
in getting the body moved to Seattle.
the ME finds something useful." Bonnie turned her attention back
to her laptop.
I guess we keep searching." Shawn put the car in gear. They
had exhausted most of the likely prospects in one afternoon. She
was afraid they were looking at a cold trail.
from a thicket and hurried across the lawn in a low crouch. He quickly
scanned from side to side, making sure the coast was clear. He didn't
see either the men or a truck so he sprinted toward the cabin. He
had already worked out a plan. The keys to the Chevy were in the
junk drawer in the kitchen along with his cell phone and wallet.
His tennis shoes were by the door. He wanted to go upstairs and get
some clothes, but he didn’t know when the men in the truck were coming
back, and he couldn’t risk it. Get the essentials and go; that was
the best plan. He could always buy clothes on his way to Seattle.
surprised to find the kitchen door open. He had flown passed it so
quickly last night that he hadn’t even bothered to give it a push closed.
He cautiously peered inside. Seeing that all was clear, he entered,
quietly opened the junk drawer, and was relieved to see that everything
was still there. He stuffed his keys and wallet into the pocket of
his sweats. Then he slipped his shoes on, and picked up the cell
phone. He glanced at the display only to see that it was dark.
Damn! He almost never used it and therefore rarely thought about
charging it – it figured that the battery would be dead the one time he
really needed it.
the back of the drawer, Michael grabbed the phone's car charger.
He’d charge the batteries on the way to Seattle -- it would only take half
an hour before he could make a quick call to Kitt. He glanced around
the kitchen to see if there was anything else he needed. Seeing nothing,
he quietly shut the door and hurried toward the garage.
door was never locked. Zeke had laughed at him the first time he
had seen Michael lock up. There really wasn’t anyone who wandered
by, and aside from a few gun-wielding phantoms from his past, it was a
pretty safe area.
about to push open the door when the sound of the Chevy’s hood slamming
stopped him cold. Shit! He tried to back off just as the door
flew open and a muscular man in fatigues and a black skullcap came through
it. He saw Michael and froze for just an instant. It was all
Michael needed. He launched himself at the man and tackled him to
the ground. The man fought back and managed to hit him with a well-placed
elbow that knocked Michael off balance. The man was quick to get
on his feet again, forcing Michael to lunge at him. He knocked the
man backwards and got to his knees to punch him. The man laughed
despite the blood from his split lip and yelled, “Joe! He’s here!”
Michael gritted his teeth. Damn it, this was not good. The
man twisted and tried to kick his way out, so Michael cocked back, hitting
him again -- this time hard enough to knock him senseless.
The man's gun
was still strapped to his back, lying under him. Michael glanced
up, and spotted a man with a weapon running at him from the road.
‘Joe’, no doubt. Michael shoved the man on the ground over, and pulled
the gun off his shoulder. He barely had time to slide back the bolt
and check that there was a round loaded before the man on the road opened
fire. Michael dove through the garage door to avoid the incoming
stream of bullets, only to land next to the Chevy’s discarded distributor
cap. He briefly entertained thoughts of trying to put it back in before
noticing that the tires were slashed too.
the side of the garage and the far window shattered. Michael was
out of options. The Chevy was useless and staying in the garage was
only going to get him cornered. The boat. Now that he had his
keys, maybe he could get to it. He had interrupted them sabotaging
the car, so maybe they hadn’t had a chance to do anything to the boat yet.
It wasn’t the best solution, being on a landlocked lake, but it was better
than staying here and waiting for one of them to pick him off. He
quickly checked the gun, saw that it was a Mac-10, and flipped it into
semiautomatic mode. He wished he had had time to search the guy for
a reload, but he was going to have to make use of what ammunition he had.
out through the garage door, firing several bursts in Joe's direction.
Joe dove to the ground, giving Michael the head start he needed.
He sprinted towards the pier, keeping low and trying to fire behind him
to keep the guy off his back. It was about 150 feet to the dock,
which was more time out in the open than Michael would have liked, but
it was his only choice.
for him, the man was gaining. In quick glances backward, Michael
could see that he was young and fit. Michael poured everything he
had into his legs and focused on the pier. His feet hit the first
boards and he was starting to believe that he might just get out of this.
He pulled his keys from his pocket as he ran, but Joe fired on him again.
Michael turned and saw that the man he thought he had knocked out was on
his feet again too, carrying a handgun. Michael hadn’t had time to
check him for other weapons.
started raining past him and Michael took the only option he had for cover.
He dove into the water, cutting through the cold surface and kicking as
hard as he could. He had to get away from the pier before coming
up for air. Footsteps echoed on the wooden planks above him, and
bullets began piercing the surface of the lake. He wouldn’t last
long against an automatic weapon.
for a pause, and then he surfaced. He quickly tipped the gun down
to drain it, and then fired from the chest high water. The man on
the pier threw up his arms as red blood spurted from wounds through his
chest. He reeled and fell backwards, over the other side of the pier.
Michael realized he had spent the last of the magazine. He glanced
back as the other man launched himself onto the pier, his pistol extended.
There was no way he was going to make it to the boat now. He threw
the strap of the gun over his shoulder, took a couple of seconds to ventilate,
and then dove under as shots peppered the water.
It had been
a long time since Michael had gone through special ops training, and a
long time since he had had to swim, but he kicked as efficiently as possible
in tennis shoes. It figured that as soon as he actually had them,
they became a hindrance. Michael held his breath as long as he could
before coming up. He glanced around just long enough to point himself
toward a tree-lined edge of the water, and then dove again. Michael
kicked harder when he heard the man shoot a few more rounds in his direction.
and legs were burning. This was more exercise than he had gotten
for years. His daily jog was not enough preparation for this.
As he came
up again, Michael realized that the man was not going to swim after him.
He was standing on the dock -- talking into something. They did have
radios. Before long, the three others were going to be back on his
trail. Michael dove again, trying to push his body while also pushing
his mind. He needed a safe place to get back on land, quickly.
down the list of people the Foundation had apprehended over the years.
"This is depressing," she said, discouraged.
mountain scenery passed by unnoticed as they sped along the highway.
They had been looking for anything unusual at the local campsites, rest
stops, and other tourist places. Kitt was scanning constantly, but
they still hadn’t found any clues about Michael’s abductors.
"So many of
these people are out now. You have the idea that once they’re put
in prison, they stay there, but that really isn't the case," she continued.
"A lot of them
were let out before cryogenic incarceration began. The prisons were
overcrowded and some of the white-collar criminals were furloughed early,
since they weren't considered violent,” Kitt explained.
pull the trigger themselves, they just paid others to do it," Bonnie said,
unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. She leaned back in
her seat and rubbed her eyes, trying to ease the fatigue of looking at
that what we knew and what was actually proven in court were not always
the same thing, Bonnie."
"And the criminals
win again," she said. "No wonder Michael got tired of it."
“So why did
you leave?” Shawn asked, in her characteristically cold tone. She
glanced over at Bonnie in the passenger’s seat. “We’ve got ‘burn out’ from
Michael. What about you?”
the distinct impression that Shawn didn't really care one way or the other.
It was just more information. It was ironic that she was colder than
Kitt, despite being flesh and blood. She was so different from Michael
that Bonnie just couldn't see Kitt working well with her. But then,
Bonnie had to admit that she would probably have a hard time accepting
anyone other than Michael as Kitt's partner.
“I guess you
could say the same was true for me,” Bonnie answered.
hours? Or the cases?”
“I just got
tired of things,” Bonnie said evasively.
“I bet it was
hard to walk away.”
glancing down at her laptop.
“So did Devon
put the screws to you, like he did with Michael?”
up sharply, feeling a twinge of panic. She didn’t want to talk about
Devon. “Not really.”
of laughed, but even that had all the warmth of a fall frost. “He
really twisted Michael’s arm to come back and he must have been pretty
effective at it because even after he died, Michael still couldn’t walk
away. I’m surprised he didn’t try to get you to stay.”
part on the best of terms,” she said trying to keep her voice calm, wishing
Shawn would just leave it alone.
an eyebrow. “You didn’t get along with Devon? Granted, I didn't
know him very well, but he seemed like the type who got along with everyone.”
her eyes. "He was." He could get along with everyone but me,
she thought. “It was complicated. And it’s a long story.” She
was relieved when Shawn gave her a funny look, but didn’t pursue it.
After an awkward
pause, Shawn said, "So does anyone stand out on the list?"
to admit it, but no one looked particularly suspicious. "No.
Fortunately, Michael's worst enemies are still in prison. But the
down side of that is that there are a whole bunch of mid-level criminals
out on parole, none of whom stand out. I'm almost ready to say that
we should focus on the relatives and associates of the ones still in prison."
you concentrate on the ones who were recently paroled, I can start to look
for any out of the ordinary visit patterns or phone calls to those still
in jail," Kitt suggested.
That seems reasonable."
as well go in order of parole," Shawn suggested. "If someone was
angry enough to come after Michael, it's probably a good assumption that
they would have done it right away."
have needed some time to plan and get together the necessary people and
weapons to do this," Kitt amended.
the most recent parolee was released three weeks ago. Austin Templeton.”
Bonnie paused long enough to cringe. She didn’t want to think about
that past romantic entanglement. “That would be enough time for someone
to plan a strike against Michael. Unfortunately, I think we're just
going to have to check them all."
down at her watch and was surprised to find that it was already 8:30 at
night. It was just over one day since she had come home, and so far
they had nothing.
pulled himself up on the beach, and just inside the tree line before flopping
down on his back, exhausted. He stared up at the canopy overhead
and listened for anything in the forest behind him. He knew he was
probably somewhere between the man he had gotten away from at the cabin
and the three still in the forest.
He didn’t like
being this close to the shore – it was too open, he was too easily seen.
But he was so low on energy. Michael lifted his head to pull his
shoes from around his neck and undid the knot in their laces. When
he had gotten far enough from the pier to pause briefly, he had taken them
off. He was happy to have the shoes, but now they were soaked along
with the rest of his clothing. And nightfall was coming. It
was late summer so he wasn’t going to freeze, but it would still be uncomfortable.
in a few deep breaths and watched as birds soared high above him.
He didn't want to consider how bleak his options were. Obviously
whoever was after him wanted him dead, and right now they had him over
were blowing in the canopy, making a soothing rustling sound. He
just wanted to go to sleep, but he wasn’t safe yet. Cautiously he
sat up and looked out over the lake. His eyes wandered past the dense
terrain to a calm, half-hidden cove. A forgotten memory tugged its
way to the surface, climbing up through his fatigue. Michael stared
at the cove a few more minutes, getting his bearings right. Yes,
that was the one.
out some of his discomfort and frustration. He slowly smiled and
felt a second wind coming on. He wasn’t out of this fight yet.
it all!" Zeke cursed as the engine on his well-used fishing boat sputtered
again. This time it died. Zeke grabbed the baseball cap from
his head and threw it to the bottom of the boat in frustration. "I’m
sorry, Mike. I shoulda been keepin’ a better eye on the gas gauge."
and shook his head. Fishing with Zeke was always an adventure.
"That's okay. We'll just have to work off our dinner by rowing home."
his head sadly, but then something brightened his squinty blue eyes and
he started to laugh. He glanced around at the rocky shore they were
drifting toward. His gaze rested on a rough landing point and then
he turned his toothy grin back to Michael. "I think I have a way
to get us there a mite bit quicker." He gave Michael a conspiratorial
wink. "Not to mention saving us from having to go slinking home with
our tails between our legs."
"All we have
to do is row over to the flat spot near that dead pine tree. I'll
take it from there."
In a few minutes
the two men had maneuvered the boat toward the sandy-bottomed cove.
Zeke was the first to jump out into the water with a splash and then the
two of them pulled the boat up onto shore. Zeke led the way down
a rough path through the ferns and pines. They navigated several
twists and turns before coming to an overgrown pile of boulders.
Michael did a double take when he spotted the camouflage netting draped
across the opening to a small cave. Zeke plunged through the opening
and Michael had to duck down to follow him. It was dry and dark inside.
Zeke pulled a flashlight off his belt and gave Michael yet another surprise.
Lying along the wall were three large army-green rucksacks, a small toolbox,
jugs of water, and four large plastic gas cans.
my very own Y2K hideout," Zeke said with a smile.
ya know. They were talking all sorts of craziness and I didn't want
to be caught unprepared. I had a generator, but when nothing happened
I figured, what's the use in keepin’ it. I sold it to a friend of my brother’s
who's got land in Florida. But I never got around to getting rid
of the gas. Guess it’s a good thing, huh?"
as Zeke started rummaging through the toolbox. "Now if I could just
remember where I put the spouts . . . "
had a large utility knife, rope, a flashlight, D clips, a GPS, and several
other essentials. Michael looked around at the two other rucksacks.
have you got down here?"
"MREs, water, warm clothes, some blankets."
his head. He knew Zeke was a bit eccentric and as a former special
ops guy himself, he understood Zeke’s obsession with being prepared, but
Zeke never failed to surprise him.
"I have enough
here to survive for two weeks in the dead of winter. And I’ve got
a few more stashes around. I could get to Canada if I ever really
needed to,” he said with a grin.
sure if he was serious or not. "Why would you need to?"
and dug further into the toolbox. "You never know. Besides,
it’ll come in handy if the missus ever kicks me out."
ever told you you're paranoid?"
"You know what
they say, Mike. Even paranoids have real enemies."
going blind staring at her laptop. She was in the process of going
down the list of people who were on parole, trying to determine when each
of them had last checked in with their parole officers. It was tedious
and quite a long list, although it wasn't as bad as she had first thought.
Shawn had been
silent the last hour or so, which was a relief. The quiet was a nice
contrast to the chaos in her mind. Outside the shadows were shooting
by, as Kitt kept going back and forth over the search pattern they had
established. It was almost midnight and everything seemed heavy and
ominous. Bonnie was trying to be optimistic, but she knew things
didn’t look good. Without a ransom demand or substantial lead, they were
at a loss for where to look, so they had resorted to aimlessly scanning.
Any success would depend on Michael actually being alive and in the area,
something that was becoming less and less likely as the hours went by.
But it was something to do, something that could help, however slim the
possibility. At times, Kitt had thought he had something, some signal
or bounce back from an unusual object, but they had all been false alarms.
So far nothing they had found suggested Michael's whereabouts.
her scratchy eyes. The words in front of her had blurred again.
It was getting hard to keep her eyes focused on the screen. If she
thought there was any chance she would be able to sleep, she’d lean her
seat back and try to catch at least a quick nap. But she just couldn't
turn off her mind. It was desperately searching for theories and
running through all the available evidence to determine what fit and what
didn't. The process was like tumbling a stone over and over again,
polishing it to a stark shine.
down at the screen again. This wandering down memory lane brought
out reminders of the worst of their past. After creating two lists,
she had given Kitt the group of criminals who were still in jail.
But some of the names on that list had caught her attention -- Marco Bario,
Cameron Zachery, Durante, Garthe. There were too many villains over
the years who had caused a lot of pain, both to innocent people and to
them personally. Over the last few hours, Bonnie had been obsessing
over all of those who had gotten out -- she was after all researching that
list -- but maybe it was better to focus on people like these, who hadn't.
These were criminals who had been stopped from causing any further injury,
and Michael and Kitt were responsible for that. They had made a difference,
even though sometimes it didn't seem like enough.
They had suffered
personally for all that they had done to protect nameless and faceless
people. Bonnie closed her eyes and tried not to think about how different
things would have been different if not for some of these criminals.
his back against the cave wall, Michael spooned up a mouthful of spaghetti
and meatballs from a piping hot pouch in his left hand. He didn’t
think he’d ever eaten anything so wonderful. Of course after swimming,
hiking, and surviving two firefights, all in one day with no breakfast,
anything would be good. Well, except maybe the tuna and noodle MREs
that Zeke seemed to be such a fan of. There were four of those boxes in
the sack, but Michael avoided those and went straight for the spaghetti.
He had to admit that as far as military food went, it was pretty good.
Definitely better than the K-rations he had lived on in Vietnam.
the main meal, Michael repacked the cheese and crackers and M&Ms for
later. He opened the second of Zeke’s rucksacks and found it stuffed
with clothes. Zeke was 5’10” and 150 pounds soaking wet. There
was no way Michael was going to fit into any of his clothing, but he pulled
out a jacket to use as a pillow and kept searching. He found a flannel,
some long underwear, and then the holy grail - socks. That was one
thing he could borrow, and one thing he desperately needed.
In the last
of the sacks, Michael found a blanket and a butane camping stove.
He was going to owe Zeke more than a few beers. He had laughed about
Zeke's paranoia at the time, but now he couldn’t be more indebted to his
friend. The stash almost made him feel human again.
out of his still soaked clothing and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders.
He piled the sacks around the stove in the back corner of the cave so that
there was no way the little gas flame could be seen from outside.
He knew he couldn’t stay there long – he didn’t want to run the risk that
they would find the cave and corner him - but for tonight, it was a welcomed
spread his cloths around the stove, with his shoes closest, hoping that
in a few hours they would dry. In the last sack he also found a fairly
complete first aid kit. He pulled the soiled, impromptu bandage off
his arm, and unrolled a large piece of gauze. He sloppily affixed
a strip of it around his arm after cleaning the wound with antiseptic --
clenching his jaw at the sting. The wound hurt in a nagging, irritating
way that wasn’t particularly loud, but was nonetheless hard to ignore.
Next he tended to his wounded feet. They were cut and blistered from
the time he had spent without shoes. He smoothed antiseptic and bandages
over the cuts and patched moleskin over the blisters. Then he popped
two ibuprofen tablets and pulled on a pair of Zeke’s socks. They
were snug, to be sure, but much better than nothing. He stuck his
feet closer to the stove, enjoying the comforting warmth, and leaned back
on his jacket pillow.
He wasn’t sure
if sleeping was a good idea. But then, not sleeping might be worse.
He needed to keep his wits about him if he was going to get out of this.
If he was too exhausted, he'd be less able to think on his feet, which
was a skill he was going to need -- especially if they caught up with him
not heard anyone on his trek to the cave and he had been careful to make
frequent trips to its opening to listen for anyone who might be approaching.
So far, he seemed to be alone. He was guessing that they had regrouped
to plan their next move. For the moment, he might be fairly safe.
Zeke had a
waterproof GPS unit in the toolbox. Michael was starting to think
that if he were ever in another scrape, he’d pay to have Zeke there with
him. The GPS gave him the time and after a while, Michael found a
setting for an alarm, complete with vibrate mode. He set it for three
hours and slid it into the jacket. He figured he could at least get
that much sleep and clear his head before trying to figure out his next
full, his body warm and dry, Michael slipped into a fitful sleep.
on his infrared cameras as Bonnie took another sip from the steaming mug
of coffee at her side. He was monitoring her heart rate and respiration,
which were slowing down, despite her obvious attempts to stay awake.
They had decided to go back to the cabin after midnight. He would
keep scanning of course and he had convinced them that it was probably
best if they get some sleep. A good shower in the morning would help
to keep their stamina up as well. In reality their search pattern
didn’t really buy them much, and he knew that if Bonnie got run down, she
would be even less able to cope with the situation. Of course Shawn
had gone to bed, but Bonnie had refused. She had set her laptop on
the dining room table and continued to pour over old case data. Kitt
knew she was trying too hard, being more stubborn than was good for her,
as usual. He remembered all the nights she had stayed up well beyond
the point of exhaustion to take care of him. He knew it had been
hard on her, even in those days, but this had to be worse. Kitt continued
to scan her, ready to put the preverbal foot down if any of her vitals
started to look too worrisome. The least he could do in Michael’s
absence was make sure that Bonnie took care of herself -- if nothing else,
it was easing his guilt a bit. It was hard enough to have his best
friend missing, but to have to keep telling Bonnie the increasingly grim
prospects for a break in the case was getting harder for him to bear.
said over Michael's comlink. He watched as her heart rate jumped
and she drew in a sharp breath. Perhaps using the comlink had been
a bad choice, but it was too late not to continue now.
cross-referencing the registered guests of all the motels in the area.
Unfortunately, none of them has any ties to anyone with a history with
Kitt was actually
a bit sad that that task had been completed. It had certainly kept
his processor busy, combing through all that information. It had
been a very good distraction.
I assume you’re still looking for any unusual visits to the people still
I'll let you know if I find anything," Kitt said. He waited a beat,
then continued. "It's late. You really should get some sleep."
"In a bit,"
she answered turning back to her laptop.
to argue with her, but he knew it would only make her angry. Kitt
realized that what he really wanted was to be able to say something comforting.
He wanted to somehow put her mind at ease so that she could set aside the
laptop and get some sleep. But he knew there was nothing he could
It was almost
dawn when the little GPS unit under Michael's makeshift pillow began to
vibrate, but he was already awake. He reached down to turn it off,
still listening to Mother Nature’s alarm clock. The birds always
knew when the sun was about to come up, and they were twittering like crazy.
Michael waited a while, listening for anything unusual. Deciding
that he was alone, he sat up and ran his hand first through his hair and
then across his eyes, trying to ease his way out of the fog of sleep.
the blanket, Michael quickly located his sweats, relieved to find that
they were dry – well, almost dry, anyway. He snatched up the crackers
and cheese he had left from his dinner last night, figuring it was as good
a breakfast as any. Munching on the crackers, he started trying to
formulate a strategy.
It was Thursday,
so Bonnie would be back tonight. Ideally, he'd get far enough ahead
of his pursuers to be able to meet her at the highway, and they'd hightail
it back to Seattle to get Kitt. But there were risks in that.
The highway was an obvious maneuver - they'd expect him to head toward
it. If he couldn't get far enough away from them, he'd be putting
her in danger. The last thing he wanted was to have Bonnie drive
into a situation like that, completely unprepared. He could try to
ambush them, but in his current, less-than-optimal condition, it would
be pretty hard to take down four men with guns. And it was unlikely
that he could get all of them before this evening.
But maybe he
could use the highway to his advantage. The gravel road that led
to his cabin was a couple of miles long. It was really more of an
extended driveway than a road since there was nothing along it other than
Zeke's house and his cabin. Assuming that they didn’t know about
Bonnie, they wouldn’t be expecting anyone to come down the gravel road.
But if he led them toward the highway first, they’d be inclined to stay
there to stop him, thinking he was just waiting for the right car to come
along. Then he might be able to sneak back toward the road undetected.
on the little GPS unit and was pleased to find that Zeke had a local area
map plugged into it. It took him a minute to figure out how to navigate
through the menus, but he eventual found a way to zoom in on parts of the
map. Using the lake and the highway as a guide, Michael programmed
in a waypoint about where the cabin would be. Then he entered in
a waypoint for the cave, so he could quickly plot a route back if he needed
more supplies. Looking at the map, Michael picked the best-looking
spot along the highway.
contents of one of the rucksacks onto the ground, Michael picked out the
supplies he thought were the most useful. He threw a couple of MREs
into the empty sack and followed it with the canteen, a knife, and the
first aid kit. His next task was going to be finding his quarry and
letting them think they had found him. Michael hoisted Zeke's bag
over his shoulder and carefully crept toward the entrance of the cave.
He hadn't heard anything to suggest that they were nearby, but he wasn't
going to take any chances. He waited a very long fifteen minutes
before leaving the sanctuary of the cave and disappearing into the forest.
her sweater a little tighter around her shoulders before venturing quietly
outside. All those years in Los Angeles had somehow permanently thinned
her blood. Even suffering ten years of snowy Boston winters hadn't
thickened it up much.
Kitt was sitting
next to the garage, where she had expected him to be. The early morning
light was filtering through the trees above, giving his skin a mottled,
should be sleeping," he admonished softly.
the leaf pattern transfer from Kitt's shell to her jeans as she sat down
on his hood. "I can't."
exhaust yourself if you keep this up," he said softly.
I just can't help it." Bonnie had finally gone to bed at 2:00.
She had slept fitfully for a few hours, lain in bed an hour more, and then
had finally gotten up.
me to wake her in an hour. I could call her now, if you'd like to
get an earlier start."
about it for a few moments. She was anxious to get moving again,
but at least one of them should be clear-headed. She should probably
let Shawn get a little more sleep.
That's okay. We can wait."
scanning." He almost sounded guilty about it.
had asked because he wanted to get moving himself. Bonnie hadn't
considered that, but as frustrated as she was, it had to be worse for Kitt
-- always scanning but never finding anything. The process
of doing it would be disheartening. "I know that, Kitt. How
are you holding up?"
about him, truthfully."
"He should have gotten in touch with us by now."
"For some reason,
he can't. And that's what worries me most."
Bonnie resisted the urge to say anymore. She was starting to feel
the strain of not knowing anything -- it was getting harder to keep her
spirits up. Kitt didn't need the added burden of her pessimism.
They sat silently
for a while and then Kitt uttered an exasperated sigh.
in Chief is calling. Again."
surprised at how quickly his mood changed. She still wasn’t used
to the bitter, coarse way of speaking that he had picked up after being
reactivated. Over the months that she had been back, he had toned
it down considerably, but occasionally it seemed to slip through.
Maybe it was a sign that he was taking this harder than he was letting
on talking to either you or Shawn,” he continued.
at the house and then back at Kitt.
"I can put
off again if you’d like to wait for Shawn,” he offered.
sure how much loyalty there was between Maddock and Shawn. A part
of her was afraid that if Maddock ordered Shawn to bring Kitt back to Seattle,
she wouldn’t argue. It might be in their best interests if Bonnie
dealt with Maddock herself. “No, that’s okay. I’ll talk to him.”
through,” Kitt said, a bit uneasily.
How is the case going?” Maddock said.
Nice to see
you too, she thought, not surprised that he'd be at work on a Saturday
morning. “Okay. We were out late last night, so Shawn’s still
Any idea how things are progressing?”
“No, I don’t
know when Shawn and Kitt will be back,” she said, steeling her voice.
Maddock’s voice matched hers in vocal distain. "I thought you'd like
to know that I got the medical examiner to agree to look at your body this
morning. They have a backlog, but she owes me a favor. She
should have a preliminary report by this afternoon."
Maddock was good for something at least, but Bonnie shuddered at the thought
of anyone being in the unenviable position of owing him a favor.
She was glad they'd been able to have the body transferred to Seattle.
At least Maddock had pull there, and they had a full-time staff, who worked
nights and weekends.
transfer the report to Kitt when you get it?" she asked.
at her with his eyebrow raised. "Anything to speed this case along."
the transmission without another word -- before she could tell him what
an ass he was.
her head back against Kitt's seat. At least being angry with Maddock
was better than the stifling emptiness that had slowly started seeping
into her, like water into cotton.
hear the slow, threatening noises starting to overtake him. This
time his hiding place was the bed of the forest. The park service
hadn't been out this way in ages. Years worth of fallen leaves, broken
branches, and a thick bed of pine needles made him nearly invisible.
He was lying amongst the thick undergrowth, using the decaying matter around
him as camouflage.
He was waiting
for them to pass again. He had found them fairly quickly, and had
been able to lead them to the highway, but now he had to sneak back past
them. One more dangerous crossing of paths, then he’d be in a good
position to try his plan. It looked like this might just come together.
Over the last
hour, Michael had toyed with the idea of just trying to flag down the next
car and get away. It was a tempting idea. But if he darted
out onto the highway, in his current dirty and haggard condition, he was
likely to scare any driver into stepping on the gas instead of the brake.
Then he'd be out in the open, exposed. It was too big a risk.
Especially since he was pretty sure that he could get them to linger here,
giving him a better chance to get to Bonnie. It was better to wait
for her than try to involve some innocent bystander.
really hated this waiting game. The first time had been bad enough
and he wasn’t happy about having to do it again. He felt the same
coiling sensation in his muscles and hyper alertness in his senses.
He lay there waiting, one part of him hoping that he'd get a glimpse of
the one responsible for all of this. He wanted to know who he was
up against. But he also knew he was safest if they passed further
away - outside the zone where a single miscalculated movement would prove
He waited and
they came, this time outside his line of sight. They would continue
to be a mystery to ponder while he waited the agonizing minutes until they
were out of earshot.
But they were
still together. All four of them. As long as they hadn't called
for reinforcements, he had a clear shot back to the gravel road.
After waiting about as long as he could stand, Michael rolled out of the
brush and silently crept back the way he had come. He glanced down
at the GPS and had a hard time containing his excitement. In a few
miles and a few hours, he'd be intercepting Bonnie, and this ordeal would
be over. Michael got his bearings and stuffed the GPS back in the
bag. He headed toward his driveway with a lighter step than he'd
had in two days.
They were driving
down a remote mountain road still scanning, still researching, and still
not finding anything.
again staring at her laptop, trying to find out what happened to Lawrence
Blake, the man who had attempted to sabotage Sammy Phillips’ stunt show.
The last time he had checked in with his parole officer had been over six
months ago. A possibility, but it seemed far-fetched.
sent the ME's report," Kitt said, breaking a long silence. "They
were able to get an ID. The body was a former Army special ops soldier
named Joe Fealy. Predictably, the cause of death was the series of
gunshot wounds to his chest."
"Do you think
someone from Michael Long's past could have tracked him this far?" Bonnie
asked, looking up.
highly unlikely, but not impossible. I'll run that name through the
database of old Foundation cases as well as Michael Long's service record."
"I don't know
if this helps, but the ME did verify that the blood in the front room of
the house isn't either Michael's or Fealy's. But the blood from the
pier is a match to Fealy. They're processing the DNA in order to
run it through the usual databases, but with the backlog they have, it's
going to take several days. Hopefully we'll have already found Michael
"If the blood
from the house isn't Fealy's then he wasn't the first shooter. He
could just be a hired gun," Bonnie surmised.
to Maddock's info, he was honorably discharged from the army a month ago,
but there's no record of a new job."
"Maybe he decided
to use his skills in a more lucrative profession," Shawn suggested.
researching his records, but if he is just a mercenary, there may not be
much of a connection between him and the shooter," Kitt said.
deeply and rested her head against Kitt's window. She was trying
not to get discouraged, but every time they seemed to have a new lead to
follow, it just turned into a dead end.
That’s how far he got before it became clear that all of them were after
him again. He could hear them talking; that’s how close they were,
and there were definitely four voices. Michael ran his hand through
his hair. The only plan he had at this point was to take a zigzag
pattern to get to the road. He didn’t like it, it left too much opportunity
for them to hear Bonnie’s car or for them to realize where he was going
and just simply cut him off.
He picked up
a good-sized rock, hefted it in his hand for a moment, and threw it as
far as he could. The oldest trick in the book, but he was desperate
at this point to get a little distance between them. Michael wasn’t
surprised when the forest exploded with gunfire within a few seconds of
the rock hitting a tree and echoing loudly. These guys were playing
What did surprise
him though, was the voice that rang out shortly afterward.
The voice filled the otherwise quiet forest. It was smug and arrogant
and vaguely accented. It also sounded familiar. But maybe that
was because Michael expected it to be someone he knew.
low, resting with one knee on the ground and immediately tried to triangulate
the voice. It was close, and off to his right a little bit.
Michael didn't answer. He wasn’t ready to engage the enemy -- he
still needed to figure out who it was.
have something to say after all these years?" the voice asked after a long
his past, but he'd known that. It was not the least bit surprising,
and it didn't narrow the field.
"Oh, come now,
don't be shy." There was a loud exaggerated sigh. "You used
to be so clever and witty, Mr. Knight. You disappoint me."
Again, the smugness. Michael was sure he was just trying to bait
him into revealing himself.
you may be a bit better than I am at this survival game, but I do have
the advantage of men and supplies and having planned ahead."
at the rucksack next to him. He was glad that Zeke thought ahead,
and they obviously hadn’t found the cave.
"I'd be happy
to hunt you. I'm rather good at that. I earned my nickname
that way. But it would be so much easier if you were to just surrender."
to mull it over. Who in his past had a nickname? Actually,
who didn’t? They all had aliases. But how were any of them
related to being a good hunter? And damn if that accent wasn’t annoyingly
impossible to place.
There was a
long pause. “It’s a pity really. I was hoping you still had
that car of yours. Traded in the state-of-the-art for a molding old
relic. I would have expected better of you, Mr. Knight.” Laughter.
There was a
very loud, medium-pitched report followed by higher cracking and splintering
noises. Michael looked up in time to see the top of a nearby tree
teetering on a split trunk. It slowly broke through the web of the
surrounding canopy and crashed to the ground.
are, or were, so well versed in high tech equipment, I thought you might
appreciate my new device. I have an exquisitely modified ultrasonic
rifle. A friend of mine in prison was an expert at making them unique."
thought. More information that wasn't really new. He had put
the guy away, but when, why?
will destroy a tree, as you can see, but it was really enhanced for a more
interesting purpose. My associate guarantees me that this rifle will
shake the parts off of any circuit card bolted into a chassis. It’s
a pity you don’t have that car of yours anymore. I believe I owe
it a ‘thank you.’"
back and let out a silent puff of air. A coldness crept into his
abdomen. If that were true, then he’d have to be very careful about
bringing Kitt back with him. This was going to be more dangerous
than he had thought.
had a chance to try it out on my television set. What a mess that
was. But I was really looking forward to using it on that impressive
car of yours," the voice said with an unmistakable grin.
Who was he
up against? Even knowing the guy knew something about Kitt, there
were still too many options - too large a list of suspects.
Hunter. Who was a hunter?
"Oh come now.
I know you can hear me, Mr. Knight. I'm sure you'd like to reminisce
about old times. You know, you really might say that things ended
in a stalemate for us. But I seem to have the knight on the run.
Clever ruse, trying to get us to wait for you at the highway while you
slipped away. But I'm very good at ruses."
Okay, he obviously
wanted Michael to figure it out. He thought about who he had lost
at least one round to. Garthe. Well, he'd lost more than one
round to Garthe. They were hardly tied, and Garthe's voice he knew.
Cameron Zachery? Maybe he considered killing Michael Long a victory.
Or . . .
The cold feeling
crept further up his abdomen and into his throat. There was no way.
He was in prison. He had to be.
A falcon is a bird of prey, and Durante had used the moniker Falcon.
And in Durante's
eyes, they might be tied.
went numb and he fought against the cascade of anger that boiled up from
within him. He had to keep control of his head.
in prison. How could he possibly get out? There was no way
they'd release him. He was a convicted murderer and a spy.
his head to clear the painful memories that came flooding back. He
had pushed them down so deep inside himself that the rush of emotions almost
choked him. Her blood, her eyes closing. His own eyes welling
have released the man who killed his wife.
and waited. It had to be someone else.
out yet, Mr. Knight?"
with his silence. Durante’s voice burrowed into him, leaving a nasty,
above his head erupted in gunfire and Michael knew he had to get out of
there, but he didn't want to move. Falcon. Durante.
day of nothing, Bonnie thought, slowly crumpling a sheet of newspaper between
her hands. Other than the name from the ME's report, they had nothing
new to go on, and they had not found anything of interest in the hours
upon hours they had spent scanning the forest. She was starting to
believe that whoever had Michael was long gone. The thought left
her empty and aching.
the wadded newspaper in-between two birch logs in the fireplace.
Then she sank back on her heels, a sense of futility settling on her shoulders.
She had watched
Michael build fires in the past. Although she wasn't sure of the
finer points, she had the general idea that the paper and the kindling
went on the bottom. As the fire rose up with the heat, it would engulf
the logs and set them ablaze. The birch should light easily, with
its papery bark, and once the fire was going, she could throw on some of
the oak she had brought in from the stack outside. Bonnie used a
butane lighter to ignite the carefully built bundle. The paper scorched
and then burned -- the flame filling the pockets she had left strategically
open between the different materials. The fire thrived on the cool
sources of air.
back in Michael's chair and watched the fire burn. She wondered how
it was that they had separated the chairs into his and hers. It was
silly, since of course, they were both his. But she usually sat farther
away, to avoid the uncomfortably hot air. Michael on the other hand,
sat close, always prepared to jump up and throw another log on, or to use
the poker to flip a log over when one side was too charred. He was
an aggressive tender – like everything else, he made it into a challenge.
She had to admit it was part of his charm.
glanced up as Shawn entered the room with a plate of sandwiches.
"You should eat something," she said.
"I'm not hungry,"
Bonnie answered. She didn't feel like humoring Shawn right now.
It had been a long day and now that they had stopped moving, stopped searching,
she was feeling the full weight of her fear. It took too much energy
to breathe, much less humor Shawn. She didn't belong here anyway.
The fire had
consumed most of the paper. It had also devoured most of the birch
bark and a good portion of the small sticks and twigs. Embers from
the paper burned brightly among the ashes, glowing red before flickering
out. The flame had crept back from a roaring, fast-burning inferno
to a smaller licking, crackling burn. It was flowing over the larger
logs like an orange waterfall -- only it was flowing the wrong way.
Shawn said. "He'll be okay. He's very resourceful."
thought. That was the problem. He was resourceful, so they
should have heard from him by now. She wanted to believe that he
would find a way out of whatever situation he was in, but it had been four
days since he had been attacked. The longer they went without hearing
from him, the more likely it was that he wasn't coming home. She
wondered what in the hell had happened? It killed her to think she might
and picked up an oak branch. It was heavy and rough against her palms.
She heaved it into the fireplace, careful to avoid the sparks that cascaded
out from under the wood like escaping insects.
over geological maps of the area. Maybe he'll find some good natural
said, without much conviction.
him," Shawn said. Obviously sensing that she wasn't needed or wanted,
she awkwardly left the room.
drifted back to the fire. The bottom of the oak branch was scorched
and blackened to a char, but the fire had not caught. The flame was
shrinking again, as the birch was used up. The oak log must have
been damp. The fire was skirting it, not truly catching, and unless
she added more kindling or paper, it was going to go out.
the energy or inclination, Bonnie didn’t move from her chair. Instead
she watched, mesmerized by the slowly starving flames.
to his knees to let his lungs catch up with the cramps that were ravaging
several muscle groups. He wanted to keep running, to somehow sweat
out all the anger he was feeling, but his body had had enough. He
bent his head down and ran a hand through his hair.
Damn every last one of them!
of his past just never left him alone. They were determined to take
everything away from him. And they felt justified!
to just sit there, Michael forced himself up again and started pacing.
He spotted a large branch, lying bare on the ground, and it took all his
self-control not to pick it up and start swinging. But he knew it
was too big a risk. If he started beating things, it was likely that
Durante and his men would hear him. His anger and adrenaline had
given him quite a lead, but sound carried too well out here. Michael
glanced at the branch again, almost longingly. He could see himself
smashing it against a tree, and that would be just the release his battered
emotions needed right now.
He could just
never catch a break. They took something from him, he recovered,
and they came back for more! It took him ten years to get over the
last two years he had spent at the Foundation. He finally had Bonnie
and Kitt back, so out trots Durante, figuring that having killed his wife
wasn't enough. Send in the home run hitter when the bases are finally
at a rock wedged into the ground -- his anger had boiled over and he had
to let it out somehow. The rock turned over, leaving a gaping hole
in the dirt, and Michael picked up the softball-sized rock, enjoying its
He just wanted
to live his life in peace. He wasn't even a threat to them anymore!
nothing more than to throw that rock as far as he could. He gritted
his teeth and dropped the rock back to the ground in front of him, knowing
it was too big a temptation for him to hold onto.
Fuck them all!!
If he had ammunition
for the gun he had, he'd march right up to Durante and his men and spray
everything in his path with bullets. He had believed in the Foundation's
non-lethal methods, but now it just seemed like childish idealism.
The 'turn the other cheek' approach only did one thing -- allow the criminals
to get out and come after him again. If no one went to jail permanently,
what good did it do to get them in the first place?
He found himself
pacing faster, digging his feet into the ground, and wearing a path of
fury into the forest floor.
He wished he
could send them all to hell! That was permanent, from what he understood.
and slammed his whole forearm into the side of a tree, from clenched fist
to elbow. It stung like hell. Michael closed his eyes and backed
away, feeling the pain shoot up his arm, calming him somewhat. He
opened his fist and slowly shook out the stinging protests of his nerves.
He slid down the trunk, still eyeing his arm. No permanent damage,
and in a strange way it felt good. His anger seemed to be draining
away with the quickly fading pain. He pulled in a deep breath and
let his head fall to his knees. Sweat was pooled under his arms and
his breathing was still rapid and heavy. It had been a long time
since he had worked up that kind of anger. In fact, he had thought
that the days of that kind of passion were long behind him. He had
been shut down and subsisting for so long that he had thought he had gone
But it was
different when you were only responsible for yourself, he thought.
There was little someone could do to you that could equal the anger and
fear of doing something to the people you love. He had learned that
the hard way. Since Stevie, and the incident with Garthe, Michael
had cut himself off from everyone who could be used against him.
But now he had family again, and he would protect them if it were at all
in his power to do so.
he was going to have to settle down and see through the blinding rage.
It didn't matter how or why Durante was out of prison. He was.
Michael was going to have to put it out of his mind and deal with the situation
at hand. He would not let Durante anywhere near Bonnie or Kitt, which
meant he was going to have to get Durante himself.
set his drink down on the table before pushing open the glass door and
stepping out onto the patio. He paused there, amid the trees to watch
Bonnie typing away at her laptop. She was diligent about actually
working from home on Fridays, which impressed him in a way. He didn't
think he could work outside, overlooking a lake and get anything other
than staring done. Luckily fishing allowed for that.
up, caught him standing there, and smiled. She really was beautiful.
The lines and evidence of age in her face didn't diminish that any -- somehow
they just fit the full picture. It was something that kind of surprised
him, how his tastes had changed as he had gotten older. The women
he had dated as a young man had all been beautiful, but too many of them
had been vacuous. Or maybe they weren't, but he hadn't really taken
the time to find out. They were pretty faces to pass the time.
But when he looked at Bonnie now, his throat caught at the jaunty smile
in her eyes. True, there was a lot more sadness and conflict there
now than there had been in the old days, but when he caught her really
smiling, it was like he could see through everything and right into her.
She was more beautiful than any pretty face. It occurred to him that
this was how people grew old together, and he smiled at himself.
He knew that that was something a younger him would have scoffed at.
"Are you just
going to stand there?" she asked at his longish pause.
from his heart. Right on cue, he thought. "I was just enjoying the
the grass and sat backwards on the picnic table, his back against the stone
top. He stretched his legs out in front of him and took in the view
that she had her back to. He rested his elbows behind him on the
tabletop and inched closer so that his thigh was resting against hers.
"How's it going,
beautiful?" he asked.
From his vantage
point, Michael couldn't see the laptop's screen. It didn't really
matter -- he knew it was work, and it was his intention to get her to stop
paying attention to it.
slightly. "Okay. Nothing too exciting, just documenting my
code and cleaning things up a bit."
just the sort of thing to be doing on a beautiful, sunny day," he said,
gently harassing her.
"Well, if Maddock
thinks I'm doing anything other than working, I'm toast," she said.
pushed the laptop down the table, making more room for his elbows and making
it difficult for her to read the screen. "Who's going to tell him?"
up at him without raising her head, making her eyes dark under her lids.
"Why do I get the feeling that you're trying to get me in trouble?"
trouble?" he said innocently. He got exactly the reaction he was
looking for. He never tired of that exasperated, 'you're insufferable'
look. "I just want to get the attention of the woman I love," he
said, seriously this time.
caught her attention. "What was that?” she asked, the easy smile
erased, and replaced with a serious, almost nervous look.
He slid the
laptop further out of the way and tipped her chin up to catch her eyes.
"I love you, Bonnie." For some reason, it seemed difficult to say
it out loud, but maybe that was because he meant it so deeply.
and met his gaze. “I love you too,” she said sincerely.
have tamed his smile if he'd tried. He was glad they had finally
said it. It seemed to be the last thing missing between them.
He ran a hand over her cheek and kissed her. She kissed him back
and let it deepen before backing away.
"I should be
working," she said, glancing at the cast-aside laptop.
that says you have to work eight consecutive hours on your day at home,
"No . . . "
up her left hand and made a show of examining it. He bent down to
kiss her knuckles and then turned her hand over to examine the tips of
her fingers. "I think you've got a bad case of keyboard callusing
she said, smiling.
You've clearly been working too much already today." Michael kissed
the tip of each finger gently. Then he went for another kiss before
Bonnie could pull the laptop back in front of her. Knowing her weaknesses,
he ran his hand down through her hair and stroked her neck. She responded
and leaned into him, parting her lips. Michael tried to use his free
hand to surreptitiously push the laptop further out of the way. Bonnie
caught the movement and gently pushed him away, smiling.
playing fair," she said, sighing deeply.
"Do I ever?"
"No," she said.
"If I end up getting fired, you know who I'm going to blame."
“Then I’d have
you all to myself,” he said, taking her chin in his hands and kissing her
said languidly after he had stopped to search her eyes. "Maybe that
wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”
his eyes and kissed her again, enjoying the softness of her lips and the
warmth of her mouth. He savored the longing that tore through him.
his hand along her neck, Michael continued on, meandering his way down
her body. He lingered lightly at her breasts, and slid his hand under
her shirt to stroke her side. Then he continued down, caressing her
thigh. He slipped his arm under her knees and then hooked the other
around her torso. Still kissing her, he carefully lifted her up from
the picnic table.
both of her arms around him tightly and Michael stirred at the feel of
her breath against his neck. He turned her around and set her on
top of the table. The stone bench was going to become uncomfortable
quickly, but Michael knelt anyway. They kissed again as Michael started
to undo the buttons on her shirt.
about the lake?” Bonnie asked gesturing with her eyes over his head.
“We’re in the
middle of nowhere," he said, gently grasping her sides. "I don't
think we'll get arrested.”
and looked skyward. That would be an event, that was for sure.
“Bon, if Zeke catches us up here making love, he’ll be whooping and hollering,
and honking the boat horn. In which case, I promise to cover you
so that he doesn’t see anything.”
She was clearly
pretending to think it over and just when Michael was going to protest,
relented. “Fair enough.”
forward and kissed the soft flesh between his neck and the corner of his
jaw. Michael finished removing her shirt and bra before removing
his own shirt. She leaned into him, her smooth skin caressing his,
as her kisses became stronger, more forceful.
her back so that he could kiss her neck, loving the sound of her breath
in his ear. He caressed the sides of her breasts and then cupped
them. He found her nipples with his thumbs and stroked them before
leaning in to take one into his mouth. Bonnie moaned as he teased
the delicate skin with his tongue. She arched her back and Michael
reached around with one arm to support her. He covered her stomach
with long firm kisses, working his way down.
and Michael guided her to lie down on the tabletop. He pulled off
her jeans and panties before removing the rest of his own clothing.
Michael pulled himself up onto the table, trying not to rest too much of
his weight on her. He wanted to be inside her, to be one with her.
It scared him how quickly she became so much a part of him.
love you," he breathed.
her eyes, the emotions there roiling in the gray of her irises, filling
him again with aching desire.
"I love you
too," she said, her voice husky and deep.
her gaze for a moment. A flush had colored her cheeks and crept down
her neck and across her chest. Her breasts were moving up and down
with each shallow breath, her nipples hard little points. Michael
slowly entered her and was enveloped by her softness and warmth.
It seemed impossible
to Michael that he had survived all this time without her.
as Shawn tiptoed around the kitchen brewing coffee and buttering toast.
She was trying to avoid waking Bonnie, who had fallen asleep in the chair
by the fireplace. Kitt knew that Bonnie had been awake for a while,
but he figured she'd make that fact known when she was ready.
if he and Bonnie were feeling the same way. He wanted with every
part of his being to believe that Michael was alive. But where was
he? He wanted Michael back so badly and nothing he had done had made
any sort of difference. There was nothing Kitt could do to help the
most important person in his life. He couldn't even find him!
Sometimes despite all his capabilities, he felt completely helpless.
her coffee and toast out to sit at the picnic table next to him.
we do today?" she asked, warming her hands around the cup.
"I don't know.
Do you have any suggestions?"
really check the river, the highways, spillways, and some of the less accessible
wilderness areas," Shawn said, her voice as dispassionate as if she were
discussing the weather.
flared. "You're suggesting we look for his body. You think
he's dead, " he accused.
Shawn set down
her plate. "You know the statistics, Kitt. He's been missing
well over forty-eight hours, the odds aren't in his favor," she said, not
unkindly for Shawn, but it still put Kitt on the defensive.
"We are not
giving up on him!"
"I'm not saying
you should. I'm just saying that you need to be realistic.
Both of you," she said nodding towards the house.
not your average missing person, Shawn. He's a survivor, and he has
the training and skills to get out of a situation like this alive.
He does not give up! And in the absence of evidence to indicate otherwise,
we are not going to assume the worst." Kitt's anger was flaming up,
but in warming, stoking flares - not the over-heated, bitter kind that
had consumed him when he was reactivated. This was the kind of anger
that motivated him with purpose. "We are not looking for Michael's
dead body. Not yet. Today we will continue scanning.
We'll go back to the hotels and stores. We'll ask if they've seen
anything else. We are going to continue the search assuming that
he is still alive."
her head, and looked for a moment like she wanted to argue. Then
she picked up her plate and headed toward the house. "Fine.
As soon as Bonnie's up, we'll go," she with her back to him.
slowly abated, and in its place another emotion filled him.
Kitt realized that he sounded very much like Michael in the old days, when
they were on a case he felt strongly about. It made him proud to
have launched a rant worthy of his former partner. He just hoped
he wasn’t going to end up being wrong.
back the camouflage and entered the cave. He immediately started rummaging
through the bags as quickly and quietly as he could. He made snap
decisions about which supplies were useful, and which weren’t. The
rope and knife he took, the extra blanket he left behind. Water.
That was a tough call. He contemplated the jugs along the wall for
a moment. Water was heavy and he was already feeling the effects
of both his physical and emotional exertion. But he was going to
need a steady supply of it. He had no idea how long it was going
to take to get the best of Durante and his mercenaries. He didn’t
want to be tethered to the lake for water – it would make him too easy
to track. Not to mention that he didn’t want to come down with some
nasty parasite. He hefted one of the jugs to gauge the amount of
impact it was going to have on his rucksack. Too heavy, he decided.
He’d just have to ration himself and find other sources of water.
He refilled the canteen he had taken this morning and reminded himself
of the scope of his predicament. After this evening, he wouldn’t
be able to get back to the lake or the cave. It would be within scanner
On the hike
back to the cave Michael had come to a decision. Despite everything
that Durante and his men had done, it hadn’t dawned on Michael until now,
just how dangerous this situation was. Bonnie and Kitt would be in
serious danger if Durante knew they were out here. Michael had to
keep Durante away from the cabin and busy enough that he wouldn’t send
anyone back. Since he had no way of contacting either Bonnie or Kitt,
Michael was going to have to get out of Kitt’s scanner range. If
Bonnie found the cabin shot up, she'd go back for Kitt and investigate.
Michael was not going to take any risks with their lives. He knew
they were capable, but Hell would freeze over before he let Durante near
anyone he loved. He was not taking any chances.
that he was going to have to find a new source of water. Damn good
thing that Zeke was a hunter. All the little streams that came down
the mountain were marked in the version of software he had on his GPS.
He was just going to have to keep fairly close to them to restock his canteen.
On a hunch, Michael dug through the rucksacks again and came up with a
small bottle of purification tablets. Zeke really did think of everything.
back and surveyed the cave. Every time he stopped moving or took
just a minute to let his mind wander it went straight back to Durante.
Michael bit the urge to yell out all his frustration. He was so angry
that Durante was out of prison, but right now he needed to focus.
the remaining items he had spread out on the cave floor and made his last
selections. The rucksack was heavy and it bothered his injured arm,
so he was going to have to carry it over his good shoulder. That
wasn’t an ideal situation, but he was going to have to live with it.
Michael hurried to the edge of the cave. He pulled out the GPS, which
was becoming invaluable. He called up the waypoint he had entered
for the cabin and used it as the center of a circle. He entered Kitt's
scanner range as the radius. Michael studied the ring that encircled
everything he had, everything that could bring him to safety. It
was where he couldn't allow himself to go. He felt a pang of loneliness
and isolation, which he quickly brushed aside. He didn't have time
out of the cave and pulled down the camouflage netting. It was fairly
easy to reach -- he had over half a foot on Zeke. The plastic material
felt delicate in his hands and he knew that is was prone to tangling.
He carefully folded it into a narrow strip and rolled it up, placing it
at the top of his bag. He studied the exposed cave opening, and decided
it was too easily spotted. He quickly gathering branches and pine
boughs to cover it -- not wanting Durante and company to spot the cave
and get a windfall of additional supplies. He was eager to get moving,
but not so much that he was going to sacrifice strategy.
knocked at the door where Stevie was getting ready and wasn’t surprised
to hear a flurry of activity inside. The rustling of layers of heavy
fabric stopped and then Bonnie cracked the door and peered out suspiciously.
She gave him a quick appraisal and smiled. “You look dashing, Michael
Knight. But you know you aren’t supposed to see the bride before
the wedding. It’s bad luck.”
“So I’ve been
told. But would you give her this before the ceremony,” he said,
holding out a small box for Bonnie’s inspection.
She took it
knowingly. “Hang on, I suspect there’s something in here for you
too.” She disappeared into the room and Michael could hear Stevie’s
delicate voice whispering back and forth with Bonnie. He hadn’t been
nervous, at least not until he’d gotten into the shower this morning.
Everything had happened so quickly, but he knew this was what he wanted
more than anything else. He had even slept well last night.
But now Michael’s whole world seemed to hinge on whether or not he got
her the right necklace. It was a pretty little diamond cross that
he had seen her looking at. His emotions were so raw and overwhelming
right now that it seemed desperately important that she like it.
He wanted everything to be perfect for her.
back to the door with a second small box. “For you,” she said, still
took the offered box and held it tightly in his hand. Why was his
palm sweaty? In a way it frustrated him that his body was reacting
like this. Everything was fine and he was happy for the first time
in a while. He was going to marry the love of his life. There
was no reason for him to be nervous.
“Does she like
it?” he asked, unable to leave without knowing the answer.
back from the doorway and peered inside. Seeing past her, Michael
got just a glimpse of a figure in white, her blonde hair cascading around
her shoulders. Then Bonnie was back in the doorway.
“I think she
loves it. She’s putting it on right now,” Bonnie said, beaming. “Dashing
with exquisite taste. She’s a lucky woman, Michael.”
fell away for a moment and he felt a deep peace. He was finally marrying
Stevie today. "Thank you," he said.
out to gently push him away from the door. “Now go. She has
to finish getting ready. You’ll see her soon enough."
the door and as quickly as it had come, the peace was gone, and he was
* * *
falling into him, but it seemed to take too long for his body to react.
His mind was still trying to figure out why she was falling. His
eyes had been locked on Durante, on his gun. He had only vaguely
realized that Stevie had moved when he felt her arm go over his shoulder.
The gun had gone off and he felt her falling into him.
Then it all
rushed at him, filling him like a sharp breath of cold air. Stevie
was falling. Michael fell with her, cradling her to the ground, but
he was still watching as Durante fled. Devon and RC took off after
him. He wanted to follow them, to get the bastard who had sent him
to the hospital, and who now dared to show up at his wedding, and shoot
. . .
had fallen. Through the confusion, it finally sunk in. Stevie
had been hit. She’d been hit by the bullet that had been meant for
had managed to cradle her fall, and now he was pulling her to him.
Her beautiful, blue eyes were open wide, but glassy. She was in shock.
Michael should have known exactly what to do; he’d been in this situation
so many times, why was he sitting there, paralyzed. Stevie, his wife,
was shot. Why had she thrown herself in front of him! For a
minute he wanted to be angry, with her -- he was supposed to protect her.
Michael looked into Stevie’s eyes and the anger was immediately replaced
with fear. She was hurt. Michael looked up, desperate for help.
He had heard the screams and felt the rush of activity around him but it
seemed so far away. He and Stevie were cocooned together, trapped
in a hopeless moment that no one intruded on.
she said, her eyes fluttering.
Kitt would have already called an ambulance. But she was so pale,
and there was a terrible stickiness spreading out over her back.
. . . how much I love you,” Stevie said, her eyes so sincere, so filled
with love. And the next moment, they closed.
Stevie?” Michael heard himself ask. She wasn’t dying; she couldn’t
die. The ambulance would come and take her to the hospital.
Everything would be fine.
But he had
felt the way her body took in her last breath, the way she went limp against
his arm. He could feel that she wasn’t breathing.
Michael held onto the hope that somehow, if he just told her not to die,
But she had.
And it was his fault – his bullet.
Michael's sight blurred as he pulled Stevie tightly to him, feeling the
horrible stillness of her chest, the awful weight of her head in his arms.
She couldn’t die, they were finally together again, after all this time.
They were finally going to be happy together -- she could not die!
The weight of the situation finally pounded in on him, he was losing the
love of his life. Right here and now, he was losing her. Everything
they wanted together, everything they were finally going to have came crashing
down. The weight of his hopes was crushing him. He was losing
Stevie forever this time.
"No!" he cried.
The tears slid
down his cheeks and fell into her hair. There had to be something
he could do, some way to change this. His mind couldn’t accept what
was happening right in front of him. Michael looked down and his
vision cleared for an instant, leaving him with the memory of a deep crimson
stain seeping through the pure white of Stevie's dress, clinging to the
lace on her veil.
was quiet again, but he could hear them following behind. Michael
was trying not to make it obvious that he wanted Durante and company to
follow him. He was snapping the occasional twig, ‘tripping’ over
the occasional root. As far as he could tell, all four were dutifully
following along. He just hoped he could keep them together.
As long as they thought they had him on the run, he was probably safe.
have to glance at the GPS unit clipped to his bag. The sun was low
on the horizon, about to go down. Normally Bonnie wasn’t home before
eight but Michael was eager to pick up the pace. It wasn’t going
to take her long to figure out what had happened and call Kitt. It
also wasn’t going to take Kitt long to get there. Michael glanced
down at his bare wrist and cursed himself again for not grabbing his comlink.
That would have made all of this so much easier. But there was no
point in obsessing about ‘what ifs’ now. He didn’t have the comlink
or any other useful way of contacting them, and it was too late to go back
to the cabin.
his attention to the other things he was going to have to do. It
was not going to be easy to take out four armed men. He assumed that
Durante had hired the best he could find. Michael was going to have
to take them out one by one. To do that, he was going to have to
get them out of scanner range, and then get them to split up, which was
not going to be easy. He mentally inventoried everything he had in
his rucksack. He moved the pieces around in his mind like tiles in
a mural, trying to create a coherent picture of how to defeat his enemies.
paying attention to his surroundings. He was going to have to figure
out what kind of terrain would work best for an ambush. Slowly a
picture of what he wanted to do started to coalesce. It was too big
a task to try to figure out how he was going to get all of them.
Right now, he would focus on getting one at a time. After that, everything
else would start to fall into place.
Kitt was recharging
in the garage when Bonnie wandered in shortly after his argument with Shawn.
He knew she hadn’t slept much the last few days, but he didn’t like the
way she was moving – it was slower than her normal gait and held the air
“You look tired,”
he said gently.
There was a disconnected, numb note to her voice that Kitt didn’t like.
“I could recommend
some natural remedies to help you sleep,” he suggested.
That’s okay. I’m fine.” She sat down on the hood of the car
and rubbed her eyes. “I just wish I knew where he was. What
he’s doing right now.”
Kitt did too.
It was so difficult not knowing. “I know it’s hard, but we have to hold
onto something. Michael will find a way to get back to us.”
“What if he’s
a hundred miles from here? Or a thousand? We’ve spent days
scanning this area, but they could have taken him anywhere.”
“I know that,
but I just have a feeling . . . ” Kitt started, tentatively. He wasn’t
sure if he should tell her. She would probably think he was malfunctioning
that he’s still with us. I know it’s completely illogical, but I
have this feeling that if he were gone, I’d know it. I’m sorry, I
know that doesn’t make much sense.”
“No, it does.”
She trailed a hand over his hood.
“I keep thinking
that I’m missing something that’s here to find. I’ve gone over my
data banks hundreds of times, looking at every detail and nothing is obviously
out of place. But I have the sense that there is a way to piece together
the data. Maybe it’s from having been his partner for so long, but
I feel as though the leads will add up to a reasonable answer, we just
haven’t figured it out yet.”
her eyebrow. “I hope you’re right.”
“He would never
give up on either of us, the last few years notwithstanding.”
“I know that.
I just don’t know where else to look.” Her voice still held a level
of detachment that Kitt was finding very unnerving. He was afraid
that it was too late - that Bonnie had already given up.
The sun was
slowly coming up, peaking through the foliage that was hiding Michael,
and bringing him slowly awake. Michael wasn’t sure if the light made
him more or less comfortable. More, probably, but it had the drawback
of making him easier to spot, easier to become the target for a lucky potshot.
He slowly allowed his surroundings to edge into his conscious mind, waiting
for an out-of-place sound or some other hint that Durante was too close.
Michael had allowed himself a couple hours of sleep. He had managed
to get the whole group out of Kitt’s range and a few hours before daybreak,
he had decided he could risk a rest. He had slept under Zeke’s blanket,
with the camouflage draped across it, forming a nice, hopefully safe, cocoon.
He had pulled the netting up over his head, but not the blanket, so that
all he’d have to do was open his eyes to see what was going on. The
net didn’t provide any real protection from the elements, so his face and
hair were covered in a fine film of dew.
his sleep had been fitful at best. He was uncomfortable and deeply
worried. Over the course of the night the reality had sunk in that
Bonnie was probably here and in more danger than she would ever guess.
It sparked an almost tangible fear in him, colder than the dew that had
formed on his body. He knew he had gotten them out of scanner range,
but what if . . .
himself that he was not going to think about that.
had been dream-filled and that was adding to his unease. Lying on
his back in the mud, he gazed up through the canopy.
been in his dreams, watching him, hurt and lonely. Michael knew those
thoughts had been lurking in the back of his mind ever since Bonnie had
come out to Washington, but he hadn't wanted to voice them. So apparently
now his dreams were going to force the issue.
She’d be happy
for them, wouldn’t she? He didn’t know. God, it's been ten
years, he thought, starting to plead his own case.
Then he stopped.
Shake it off, he thought angrily. He didn’t want to think about these
things anymore. He’d spent enough of his precious sleep time on them
slowly, Michael waited to see that no one was looking in his direction,
before pushing back the blanket and netting. He wanted to run a little,
or do some calisthenics to warm up his stiff body, but his feet hurt like
hell, his arm was still sore, and he didn’t want to make any noise until
he knew what Durante was up to. He had slept with his shoes on, knowing
that his feet were probably going to swell the minute he took them off.
He didn’t want to run the risk that he wouldn’t be able to get them back
on again. The rucksack was still next to him, where he’d left it.
He’d like to heat up an MRE for breakfast, but even that was secondary
right now. He needed to figure out where Durante was and get them
back on the chase again. The last thing he wanted was for them to
get discouraged and head back toward the cabin. He could not allow
had a plan. First he needed to make sure they were still all out
there. Then he had work to do. He popped a few of the ibuprofen
from Zeke’s first aid kit, and then quickly pulled himself together.
stepped out onto the veranda and paused. Devon was at his normal
table surrounded by his usual breakfast accoutrements. Michael toyed
with the idea of just slipping out, telling Devon he didn't get the message
or that Detective Cadan had called and urgently needed him. Michael
hadn't missed the worried looks that had passed between Devon, Bonnie,
and RC or the needling in Kitt's tone. He knew that sooner or later
they were going to confront him. He was resigned to it, but very
resentful. He couldn't even grieve without permission. Michael
was starting to feel like his whole life was decided by committee.
up from his paper, spotted Michael, and waved him over. Michael wanted
to turn and leave. He and Kitt had a stake out to attend to.
They had leads to follow up on, witnesses to talk to. Anything, something.
Not this. But just because he knew a talk was coming didn't mean
he could prevent it. And he knew better than to think that putting
it off once was enough to make Devon go away.
the chair across from Devon around backward and straddled it, putting Devon
at arms length with his nonchalance. "What's up?" he asked, still
vaguely hoping that his boss just had some news for him about the case.
Would you like something?" he asked, gesturing to the fancy breakfast spread
around the table.
an eyebrow and Michael shifted uncomfortably. "I already ate," he
in that case I just wanted to let you know that Stacy Martinez asked after
you and Kitt. She mentioned that you hadn't responded to her first
one hand out in front of him, cocked to the side. “And?”
"She's a very
intelligent and attractive woman."
"Yes, she is."
Michael didn’t elaborate further.
After a beat,
Devon sighed and poured himself a cup of tea, as though Michael had missed
his point entirely. He hadn't.
"When did you
decide to become my dating service?" Michael said it lightly, still
clinging to his casual attitude, but he couldn't quite keep the hint of
bitterness out of his voice. He respected Devon, but he was not in
the mood for this. Yes, he had noticed that Stacy was coming onto
him. And yes, she was beautiful, but he’d been relieved when they
had solved the case and he could escape the sideways glances and friendly
smiles. He wasn't ready for that.
it," Devon said, spooning up a lump of sugar and dumping it into his tea.
"You used to hate my casual dating, remember?"
such a solitary figure of late. It just isn't like you to shut everyone
out." Devon very studiously buttered the toast on his plate, and
with forced casualness, said. "It has been nine months, Michael."
a flash of anger. He would suffer the patronizing conversation, but
he was not going to be told by anyone that he was taking too long to start
dating. Resisting the urge to throw the delicate teacup that was
sitting idly in front of him, Michael paused to rein in his anger before
answering calmly, "I didn't know there was a time limit for grieving over
the loss of my wife."
Devon set down
his utensils and gave Michael his full attention. "Of course there
isn't, Michael. I'm just worried. It might be good for you
to get out a little, have some fun."
"She was the
love of my life, Devon, and you all want me to what, just forget her and
move on? Would that make it easier for you?" Michael hated
how hard he had to struggle to keep the catch in his throat from making
itself painfully and so publicly visible. Why did this feel like
"It's not about being easy for anyone else, Michael. In the last
few months, you've grown very distant. Kitt noticed it first, of
course, but we're all worried. If there are things you need to talk
through, we're here for you. You have people who love you."
was right, Devon was the appointed spokesperson. They had all had
a little conference and decided that it would be best if Devon were the
one to confront him. A whole imagined scene filled his head and it
made him angry. "You know, you were the one who warned me that I
was putting Stevie at risk by loving her. You were the one who said
that loving anyone in this line of work is dangerous. Now you're
pushing me to do that all over again? I don't get it, Devon.
It's one way or the other."
Devon set his
toast back on his bread plate, without taking a bite. "Yes, I did
say those things. But I'm afraid that the cruel irony is that despite
all the dangers of letting someone into this very hazardous and unpredictable
life, it is maybe more dangerous not to."
were in a more charitable mood, he might be willing to give Devon the sympathy
that his slightly sad tone demanded. He might accept advice from
someone who was probably speaking from experience. But not this morning.
This morning he had had to force himself to get out of bed. He had
had to force himself to look in the mirror and try to pull himself together.
He hadn't bothered to force himself to eat. And he wasn't about to
force himself to believe that the loneliness of not loving someone could
be any worse than the bitter, heart-searing, pain he was in right now.
He knew the cold loneliness of not having anyone. He had done that
the first few months of his life as Michael Knight. There was no
way that compared to this. This was wrecking, soul-plundering pain.
There was no way that the desolate emptiness of having lost his soul mate
was not a hundred times worse than never having found her. Right
now all he wanted was for that pain to end and he knew it was not going
to be soon.
now?" Devon asked after not getting a reply. "You seemed fine for
so long, why have you retreated from everything now?"
down, thinking back to those first days after Stevie had died, when he
had agreed to come back to the Foundation. What else could he have
done? He had nothing but the Foundation, and he had so desperately
needed something. It had been easier then to throw himself into the
cases, get wrapped up in other people's worries. He had even thought
that the reason he was fine was that he and Stevie had spent so much time
apart that he was somewhat used to her being gone. But then the cases
got solved, and things slowed down. He had had some time off.
Then Michael had started to feel guilty for not missing Stevie more.
Once he had opened that door, too many unsettling questions had marched
right in. The 'what ifs' and the 'if onlys.' And the most painful
question that lingered in his mind was intimately wound up with the one
thing that had driven them apart for so long.
me, us, to have a normal life, Devon. A permanent home, a family."
Michael wanted to kick himself for letting Devon get exactly what he wanted.
But Devon had nothing if not impeccable timing and a damn annoying knack
for knowing how to get him to talk. "I just think. I just know,
that somewhere she's up there, disappointed with me. She wanted so
many things for me and I just gave up and went back to the only thing I
truly shocked. "You can't believe that Michael? She didn't
like the Foundation because it came between the two of you, but she appreciated
the work we do. I’m sure she's proud of you for the differences you
make in people’s lives, the good you've done. While you certainly
knew her better than I, I would think she would understand exactly why
you came back."
with the Foundation is what got her killed. She wanted me to leave,
and I came right back as soon as she was gone."
to be with you. That isn't possible anymore," Devon said very gently.
"She would want you to be happy, however you accomplish that."
to tell Devon that he wasn't happy -- that the only thing that would make
him happy was getting her back. But it sounded childish, even through
loved you. I don't think she'd want you to cut yourself off from
the people who care about you."
his teeth together as tightly as possible, trying to bite down his emotions.
He didn’t want to talk anymore and was relieved that Devon seemed to see
that. After Devon finished his tea and folded up his napkin, he stood
and came around the side of the table. He clapped Michael's shoulder
and Michael was grateful that he was not standing in front of him to see
the tears that were welling up in his eyes.
"You have people
who care about you. We want to help, if you'll let us. If there's
anything you need, just ask, Michael."
He waited until
Devon had climbed the steps and disappeared into the mansion before he
tipped his head back, trying to get control of the tears.
sitting at the picnic table, staring at the lake while Shawn and Kitt went
over their potential options. Not that there were many.
Monday, so we should be able to start calling parole officers,” Shawn said.
Back around in the endless loop. They just kept going over the same
ground. They had no new leads, no witnesses, and there were no clues
to suggest where Michael was. Day three of the search, and they still
had nothing. She felt helpless trying to sift though the stack of
useless dead ends. She just wanted to stop thinking. She put
her head down, about to try to do just that when her mind settled on one
bit of information and froze. It was Sunday.
said out loud.
asked, looking at her like she had finally lost it.
know.” Feeling a new sense of purpose, Bonnie hurried to the car
door that Kitt was in the process of opening.
“Do you want
me to . . .” Shawn started, taking a step after her.
“No, I’ll handle
it,” Bonnie answered dismissively, reaching to shut the car door.
“Do you think
he knows where Michael is?” Kitt asked.
but I bet he can give us a few places to look.”
Mary was already
at the door when Bonnie stepped onto the pretty little front porch, with
its white, wooden swing. She was smiling sadly and had her arms open
to give Bonnie a hug. Bonnie paused at the door, just out of reach.
She saw Mary’s face fall and felt bad, but she really couldn’t take Mary’s
smothering kind of concern right now. Mary was the type to invite
her in for tea and a good cry, but she couldn't afford to do that.
She needed to get to Zeke.
“How are you
holding up? Is there any sign of him?”
yet. I need to talk to Zeke, if that's okay?"
He’s out back, working on some motor or something. We're both praying
for Michael's safe return.”
Bonnie said, as Mary led her through the cozy, impeccably decorated house.
Zeke was leaning
against the side of the garage, a greasy rag in hand, rubbing dirt off
a motor. His hands were covered with black grime and he barely looked
up when Bonnie approached. “Hello there, Bonnie. How’re you
doin?” he asked.
Well . . . I’ve been better.”
He nodded but
continued working the metal between his fingers. “Sorry to hear about
the business with Michael. Any word?”
"I'm very sorry.
Is there anything I can do?"
might be. Do you know where he would go if he were in trouble?"
You know this area. Are there any places he could hide?” Bonnie asked,
surprised that he seemed uninterested. He kept working his rag over
I can’t help you. Wish I knew.”
don’t play me. I really can’t take it right now.” Bonnie said, surprised
at his reaction.
“I ain’t playin
with you, Bonnie.” He adjusted his glasses, still avoiding eye contact.
“I just don’t want to go pokin’ around in nobody’s business. Sometimes
when a man goes missin’ he don’t want to be found.”
her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. He didn’t know.
Zeke had just gotten home and Mary might not have gone into town the last
few days. The police questioned her, but they might not have given
her any details. “That isn’t it, Zeke.”
“Are you sure?”
he asked. “Cause I don’t want to see nobody get hurt.”
“Zeke, if he
wanted to break up with me, he would.” She decided to tell him everything,
knowing he was her best bet to find him. “I don’t know how much you
know about Michael, but he’s the kind of person who’s made some enemies
in his past. Someone shot at him. The cabin is riddled with
bullet holes. He needs help, Zeke.”
stopped and gave her his total attention. "I'm sorry. I didn't
know anything about anybody trying to shoot’im."
"I didn't mention
it to Mary."
Zeke gave an
incredulous look. "It's hard to imagine that them boys that pass
for officers of the law round here could keep that kind of thing quiet.
But Mary hasn’t been in town all week. I'm really sorry to hear that.
"Do you know
where he might go?"
off at the lake and then slowly shook his head. "No. I can't
think of anything. He has mentioned that he’s had some run-ins with
some rough characters in his past.” Zeke’s voice trailed off.
Is there anywhere he could go? A hiding place, or other friends,
someone who might help him?" Bonnie asked again, trying to hold it together
long enough to wait for an answer. She was so tired of coming up
perked up. “Yeah, actually, there is something. He’s seen my
stash. I keep a bunch of odds and ends in a cave on the other
side of the lake. If he needed supplies, he’d go there.”
“Can you show
me? Please?” Bonnie pleaded, needing this to be a real lead.
She needed something to hold onto again.
Zeke said, pushing himself away from the wall. “We can take my boat.”
quietly, trying to make sure the camouflage netting stayed between him
and the man slowly stalking his way into the tiny clearing. It hadn't
been easy to climb up into his perch, but it gave him a clear view of what
was going on below him, and he didn't think Durante's men spent much time
looking up into the trees. He pulled another little pebble from his
pocket and tossed it. The man spun and aimed his weapon at the tree
it had hit. Then he took a few more steps forward.
Michael thought, watching him as he swung slow arcs, keeping one eye on
the path behind him as he inched his way forward.
He was thankful
the man hadn’t been far from his makeshift ambush. It had taken most
of the morning to set up his trap and after that he had shadowed his pursuers
for several hours before they finally fanned out again. He did not
want to get into a situation where the one he took out could alert the
others. He didn’t want another firefight – he didn’t know how many
lives he had left.
The man spun
again, hearing something that had eluded Michael. The mercenary glanced
up and for a moment, Michael thought he was going to be spotted.
He held his breath and waited. He didn’t think he was easily visible
with the camouflage strung out over the limbs below him, but if someone
gazed too long in his direction, the camouflage would separate from the
the man below him turned back to the task of advancing through the clearing.
arm had protested his plan to get up into the tree, but he had finally
found one with enough low branches that he was able to struggle through
it. Getting the rocks up into the tree had been a bit trickier, but
not impossible. It had been a good distraction, if nothing else.
The whole process of planning had helped to curb some of the dangerous
emotions that had been buffeting him since he realized it was Durante who
was after him.
The man below
was inching closer to a point in the clearing that Michael had marked with
a small cluster of rocks. It looked perfectly normal from the ground,
but it made a nice bull’s-eye from his spot in the tree. It was along
the obvious path through the tall grass. Michael had practiced several
times, to take away any nervousness or last minute jitters. All he
had to do was let go. Be patient, and let go.
The man was
slowly coming to the spot, still checking behind him as he went.
Michael was going to have to start battling his impatience. He wanted
this over with as soon as possible.
as the man’s radio burst to life. He held his position, pleased to
see that he wasn’t the only one to be startled. The man settled to
the ground in a low crouch, but didn’t respond. After a few moments
the radio squawked again, this time at a much lower volume.
“No sign of
him, sir,” a second, static-filled voice responded.
the first voice demanded.
The man in
the clearing raised his radio to his face. Michael could barely make
out the sound, as the man whispered his response. Nice to meet you,
Mahlstrom, Michael thought. He gave the man a quick appraisal while
listening to a third man, Galloway, report in. Mahlstrom was on the
small side, but he looked muscular. He had been moving through the
forest with military precision -- he’d obviously had training. Michael
wondered where Durante came by his hired hands. They could just be
men he had met in prison, but they seemed more disciplined and regimented
than that. Although, in the end, it didn’t matter much where they
the area, Mahlstrom was on the move again. Only a few feet left.
Michael waited, trying to keep his adrenaline down. Mahlstrom slowly
moved into range. Finally he was right on top of the little marker.
Michael let go of the rock he was holding and watched it sail across the
clearing in wide arch, suspended in a rope cradle from one of the other
trees. Mahlstrom turned toward the rock, just as it was reaching
the apex of its swing. He was hit dead on in the chest.
had been hoping to get him in the head. If Mahlstrom had been just
a little bit shorter, he would have hit his mark. Despite the pain
in his arm Michael quickly swung down from his branch and dropped to the
ground below him. He had to get to Mahlstrom before he could radio
the others. Michael sprinted toward him and was relieved to see that
he had had the wind knocked out of him. He was lying on the path,
his mouth agape, trying to suck in a breath. Michael quickly pulled
Mahlstrom's gun from his grasp and trained it on him. Something about
Mahlstrom seemed particularly ruthless and made Michael uncomfortable,
despite the fact that he was momentarily disabled. Taking no chances,
Michael swung the gun down, jabbing the butt of it into Mahlstrom’s temple,
knocking him unconscious.
When he was
sure that Mahlstrom was out, he carefully leaned down and pulled the radio
out of his belt. Then he glanced around to be sure he was still safe,
hoisted the slumped man over his good shoulder, and made his way out of
to Zeke as he backed his boat away from the pier where he had let her off,
and sped away. Then she came bounding up the pier. She pulled
open Kitt’s door and sat in the driver's seat smiling and breathless –
surprising Kitt completely.
and here. Or at least he was. He survived the first attack
and got away from them," she said in a rush.
"Are you sure?"
he asked, trying not to get immediately caught up in the excitement that
was radiating from her in a jubilant glow.
kept a stash of supplies that Michael knew about. Some of the things
are missing. Zeke thinks he has food to last several days, a GPS
unit, and a bunch of survival gear."
"We don't know
for sure that that was Michael or when those items were taken," Kitt said,
trying to stay rational, trying not to get too excited. He needed
to be sure before he could let himself be hopeful again.
There was a
pause and a little bit of the energy drained from her face. "That's
true. Zeke did say he hadn't been to the cave in a while. But,
it's well hidden and he said that Michael was the only one who knew about
it. It’s the first real evidence that he might still be here.
"That is a
good sign. But I still have to wonder why there hasn't been any sign of
him. If he’s out there, my scanners should have detected him," Kitt
said, hating the way he was bringing her down.
"I can’t explain
it either, but it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t still be out there.
Maybe whoever's after him knows your capabilities and is forcing him out
"That is possible.
Even if they're going off my old specs, the scanner wasn't significantly
upgraded for this vehicle. That would also potentially narrow done
the list of suspects to people who knew about my capabilities.” Kitt
could hear that the eagerness he was fighting was starting to slip into
"We can take
another look at the list." Bonnie seemed to be regaining some of
her balance. It was obvious that she was going through options in
her mind, working through theories. She was gaining more control
of her emotions as he was starting to give into his.
"If we go on
the assumption that he's still here and out of range, how do we find him?"
Kitt took a
moment to enjoy the fact that they had a direction again, and then tried
his best to put away everything he was feeling. He needed to focus
on the practical. If they suspected he was still here, they had options
they could explore. “Do you remember those repeaters we used to have
to boost my signal?” he asked.
ones I kept in the semi?” It was a statement more than a question.
Bonnie nodded vigorously, clearly thinking it over as she spoke.
"Yes, that might help. If he is being forced out of range and whoever
is doing it is going by your specs somehow, they might just be close enough
that a boost in your signal would find him. But are the repeaters
even still around?”
But there were several spare transmitters procured for KIFT. If we
modified their software load, we could use them as repeaters.”
How do we get them?”
“If you take
your car back, Shawn and I can stay here and continue searching.
We'll try to find ways to get deeper into the forest. And I'll take
a closer look into the whereabouts of anyone who knew details about my
again. It was almost like she was thinking out loud, her thoughts were
so plainly painted on her face. "That sounds like a good plan.
Can you tell me exactly where to find the transmitters?"
Bonnie rapped on Kitt's hood. It was a definitive, determined sound.
"I'll fill in Shawn, get a few things together, and go."
succumbed to a buoyant happiness. He knew there was a good chance
this would be like all the other leads, but he couldn't hold back the ocean
of expectation anymore. He was excited again. He wanted to
hold onto that for as long as he could.
Having a prisoner
was a bigger inconvenience than Michael had expected. Trying to find
a suitable place to hide him had taken much of the day. He had been
able to set up the ambush efficiently and he had planned it well, but he
hadn’t thought about where to stash the man when he was done. Michael
did not want Mahlstrom to become a threat again, but he also wasn’t going
to kill a man in cold blood – if someone was shooting at him, that was
one thing, but he was not going to simply point a gun at an unarmed man’s
head and end his life. But that left him with a little problem.
He had to get the unconscious Mahlstrom far enough away from the others
to keep him out of sight, and that’s what had taken all day.
finally found a thick crevice lined with trees. He had searched Mahlstrom
and come up with a knife, which he appropriated for himself. Then
he had bound Mahlstrom to a tree and used a strip of his shirt to gag him.
Overall it was a mess, but it was the only way he had to be sure that Mahlstrom
was not going to cause him any more problems.
a waypoint on the GPS. If he got out of all this, he’d send the authorities
in after the guy. If he didn’t make it out alive, well, Mahlstrom
wasn’t going to either. So be it.
had to return to the task of finding the rest of the group. He glanced
at the radio he now had strapped to his bag. A couple of hours after
Michael had captured Mahlstrom, Durante had called for another check in.
Michael had toyed with the idea of replying for Mahlstrom, but he doubted
that Durante would be fooled, and he preferred not to have a conversation
with him. It would be too easy for Durante to get under his skin,
and he wanted to maintain his current level of detachment. After
trying to raise Mahlstrom several times, the radio had gone completely
silent. Michael guessed they had stopped using it, knowing that he
was probably listening in. Either that, or they had switched channels
or sub-channel codes. He played with the radio a while, but it didn't
have a scan feature, so he was out of luck. He could monitor each
of the channels for a while, but if they changed sub-channel codes, there
would be too many possible combinations for him to find them.
That was okay
though. The radio was a nice to have, not a necessity. He would
just continue on with his plan. Two down, three to go, Michael thought,
finally feeling like he had some control over his situation.
So far nothing.
Bonnie had gone back to Seattle for the transmitters, which left Kitt and
Shawn with little to do other than drive their well-worn search pattern
again. Kitt tried to keep his spirits up by remembering all the times
in the old days when it had paid off to take a second look at things that
had seemed normal the first time.
Shawn had gone
in to talk with the same hotel and restaurant owners again, but none of
them had anything to add. Now they were canvassing the lakes, campsites,
and tourist spots again. Shawn looked dubious as they pulled into
one of the more dilapidated campgrounds they had come across. It
was low on their list of sites, having only the most basic of facilities
and no hook ups for RVs. There weren’t even volunteers to patrol
the area or welcome newcomers. It was strictly for people roughing
three tents pitched in smallish lots, but they were all empty. It
was a beautiful day and the campers were probably either hiking, or swimming
in the lake nearby.
toward one of the tents. "Nothing here either, huh?" she asked.
there is something a bit odd." Kitt ran his scans again to be sure.
"The SUV parked at site 7 is a bit strange."
Shawn asked, cautiously approaching the gray Explorer and peering inside.
here since Friday, but there's no sign of a recent fire or camping gear
on that site."
"It could be
an extra car from one of the other sites," Shawn suggested.
it's a rental. The Budget bar code is on a sticker in the front windshield.
The rest of the vehicles here are individually owned."
campers?" she suggested.
I thought at first too. I didn't think it was suspicious the first
time we were here, but it hasn’t been moved and there’s no sign that anyone
has been back to it. It’s strange because there’s nothing in it.
At the other campgrounds we've searched, all the vehicles contained extra
supplies, even the vehicles at sites that seemed to be deserted.
When we first came through here, I assumed it belonged to someone who was
just here for the day, maybe swimming in the lake, but clearly that wasn’t
"And why would
anyone rent a car to do backcountry camping here?" Shawn asked looking
around at the sparse campground.
"It does seem
more like a campground for local people. Normally tourists stick
to the national parks or the better tended state parks. It's still
possible this is just a camper, but it does seem a little strange."
"Can you use
Budget's ID tag to track down the last person to rent it?" Shawn
"It might be
easier to check the rental agreement. It's in the glove compartment,"
Kitt said, as he electronically popped the locks.
open the glove box and unfolded the rental contract.
of Butte, Montana," Shawn read. "Kitt, can you verify the name and
progress," he said.
into the back seat and then popped the tailgate. There really wasn't
anything in the vehicle. It looked spotless.
to take some time to track down Jason Hawke, but I can tell you that the
phone number and address given don't match up to each other. The
address doesn't exist and the phone number is in the name Martha Myjerson
who lives in Billings not Butte."
"He made up
a number that just happened to be real," Shawn said, taking a closer look
at the vehicle's interior. "Scan for prints."
other interesting thing. There are several incidental prints on the
car, probably the result of handling by the employees at Budget.
But in the places where you would expect prints -- the door handle, the
steering wheel, and gear shift -- there aren't any. None at all."
it was deliberately wiped," she concluded.
around the campsite. "Anything else useful?"
partial boot prints around the truck and particularly near the tailgate,
but the ground is too hard-packed to determine where they went."
sets," Kitt said as he took snap shots of the boot prints.
of blood in the truck or signs of damage?"
There are some scratches in the dash and other incidental damage, but nothing
that suggests someone was held captive inside the vehicle."
"If this truck
does belong to Michael's assailants, why would they abandon it?" she asked,
joining Kitt again.
"I assume they
why? No one saw anything. There's no reason to leave a truck
somewhere when sooner or later it would attract attention. If they
returned it to the rental agency no one would be any wiser. They
got away clean -- why leave something that might contain clues?"
they haven't left," Kitt suggested.
that they haven't accomplished their goal. They probably weren't
able to kill Michael and they don't have him. That would fit with
the information Bonnie got from Zeke. I'm starting to believe he
might still be out here."
wanted to believe that. He was still trying to keep his optimism
cautious, but this was another good sign. Except for one thing.
"If you're right, that also means that they're still after Michael."
strange that if he's here, why hasn't he tried to contact us? He's
got to know that we'd be here."
"I don't know."
Kitt pondered it and had to admit that that part of the equation really
didn't make sense. Maybe he had been injured more severely than they
suspected and lost his memory. It had happened once, maybe that made
him more prone to it happening again. Or maybe the men had
him on the run and he couldn’t get back. If that were true, they
needed to get to him quickly. Kitt hated the frustration of not being
able to help Michael immediately. "We'll have to keep scanning and
try to figure that out. Hopefully with the repeaters, we'll be able
to get an answer to that."
This was almost
too easy, Michael thought, as he listened to another henchman following
along dutifully behind him. Michael had taken Friday evening to hike
back to his booby-trap, reset everything and get some rest. It had
taken him a while this morning to find the group, but he had been lucky
enough to get one of them alone again. He suspected this was the
last time this was going to work. He figured Durante would keep at
least one thug close, for protection, but for the time being, Michael was
going to stick with what worked.
The noise behind
him stopped, so Michael slowed up and stepped on a few crunchy dead leaves.
He waited and it sounded like the guy was moving again, but it wasn't in
the right direction. Damn. Something else must have caught
the guy's attention. Michael was trying to lead him to the ambush
point while staying far enough ahead that he'd have time to climb the tree
to his perch. Obviously, he'd gotten too far in front of him.
Michael listened to the man moving away tangentially. Frustrated,
he started to follow the man, needing to catch up before he could get his
he'd screwed up the second he felt the trip wire against his shin.
Years of training that had long left his conscious mind flowed in from
his subconscious and launched him forward. It was the only real option
after a trip wire had been set off. He saw the mesh as it separated
from the debris littering the ground around him. It was a net and
he knew he wasn't going to get out of it entirely. The realization
hit him just as he felt the net grab his left foot and he was jerked back
and up sharply. A searing pain shot through his ankle first and then
his forearms as he slammed chest first into the ground. He was jerked
over onto his back as the net pulled his tangled lower leg up into the
air above him.
lifted his head to see if there was anyone manning the net. He spotted
the rope that was angled toward the ground, but no one was there.
It was probably attached to a weight that had been released when he hit
the trip. Michael could hear the guy he had been following come crashing
back through the forest after him. He needed to get out of there
The net was
a tangled knot around his screaming ankle. Michael leaned forward
so he could get to Mahlstrom’s gun, which was slung over his back.
He disengaged the safety and swung it in the direction of the noise.
He popped off a burst to discourage the guy, and grabbed the knife strapped
to his thigh. Not having time to properly cut the mesh net, he simply
ripped through it as best he could, leaving a large hunk of it still wrapped
around his foot. His leg fell to the ground and the pain exploded
up his shin. He dove for cover as the man pursuing him ducked out
from behind a thicket and peppered the ground around him with bullets.
have time to deal with the ankle right now. It felt sprained, not broken,
and it seemed like it would hold his weight, however painfully. He
hauled himself up into a crouch and fired on the man in the thicket.
Giving himself some cover fire, Michael limped as fast as he could in the
opposite direction. He didn’t get far when a hail of bullets tore
the air over his head. Ignoring his ankle, and thankful for the adrenaline
that allowed him to, he took off running as fast as he could.
He had picked
his ambush location in part because it was close to a stream. If
he could just get a little bit of separation between them before he got
to it, he could probably throw the guy off his trail long enough to get
away. Michael turned and fired in the direction of his pursuer again.
The stream was close and he could hear that the guy had slowed down.
He was probably calling for the others.
out of a stand of pines into the cold stream. It was flowing quickly
enough to hide his tracks, but shallow enough to move through easily.
Michael glanced in either direction before spotting a point to the right
where there was a long, dark wall of brush. Michael ran for it, trying
to listen behind him over the splashing of the water and the pounding of
his breath. He reached the trees and jumped as far up the bank, into
the grass, as he could. He dove into the bushes, ignoring the scratches
to his face. He quickly and quietly turned around to see the man
burst out into the creek. Michael watched as he stopped and then
slowly turned in either direction. The guy hadn't seen him.
Michael knew the guy had a fifty-fifty chance of guessing which way he
went down the creek – he had to keep moving, as quietly as possible.
have to stay out here. I'm sure you'd be more comfortable inside,"
Kitt said after Bonnie pulled her sweater more tightly around her shoulders.
Kitt," she said swiveling slightly on her stool to throw him a wan smile.
Then she hooked another transmitter to the end of the cable curling out
from her laptop. As soon as she had gotten back from Seattle, Bonnie
had cleared herself a small space on Michael's workbench, near the garage
door. She had finished writing new code for the little radios and
was now porting it to each one.
Kitt had parked
to the left side of the open garage door to keep her company. Since
Michael had parked the Chevy in the middle of the two-car garage, he was
not able to pull in and was effectively blocking the Chevy's path.
Not that it mattered much that the Chevy was trapped; it wasn't going anywhere.
car," Kitt lamented. “It’s a mess.”
around on her stool, contemplating the vehicle. Her eyes strayed
to the shot-out window above it. After a moment, she pulled her attention
away from the destruction. "I've seen cars in worse shape," she said,
giving him a pointed stare. Then she swung back to her laptop.
That was certainly
true, Kitt thought. He had seen the pictures of his body after the
encounter with Juggernaut in Chicago. He wasn't supposed to have
seen them, of course. Bonnie had forbidden it, and had thought she
had restricted his access. But he had been filled with morbid curiosity,
and had bypassed her safeguards. At first he had been horrified by
the visions of his battered body. He had analyzed every dent and ding,
looking at all the damage to the exterior and correlating it to the damage
that ran deeper. He had actually been a bit obsessed with the images
for a while, but slowly his reasons for studying them had changed.
In the beginning he was analyzing the damage, but eventually he had started
to focus on what wasn’t damaged. Then the pictures had become a secret
source of pride. He had survived the beating he took -- and without
the crisis of confidence he had suffered after being damaged in the acid
pit. He had gotten stronger. It had taken him a while to realize
the garage, taking in all the juxtaposed damage and normality. A
bullet hole marred the wall next to Michael’s well-used toolbox, a bit
from his drill had fallen off the bench and was resting against the Chevy’s
slashed rear tire. The good and bad were all rolled together into
a larger picture. It had taken Kitt a while to forgive Michael for
the last ten years. Maybe that was making him stronger too.
It hurt to admit it, but he was afraid that if Michael’s disappearance
had happened right after he was reactivated, he might have simply written
Michael off. He was ashamed with himself to think he might have said
something caustic and horrible, like 'good riddance.' That was not
the kind of person he wanted to be. He wanted to be the kind of person
who sat with a scared friend on a test course and ran it over and over
until that friend was whole again -- the way Michael had for him.
He was not going to hold onto the bad parts of his life at the expense
of all the good. He knew that the tendrils of doubt that had been
so strong when he was first reactivated, had faded to tiny spider webs
that marbled his corners. One by one, he was sweeping them out.
He was stronger because of Michael.
Even in the
glow of the respect and love he had for his friend, there was also a menace
that uncoiled itself and threatened to come to the surface again.
It was the fear that constantly wanted him to ask what he was going to
do if Michael was really gone. The last few days, Kitt hadn’t wanted
to voice those thoughts, even to himself. Those pangs of panic threatened
to drown out all the happiness he felt in knowing he had someone who cared
for him as much Michael as did.
want to feel that panic right now. They had had a promising day.
He wanted to be positive and strong. For Michael.
beeped and she stopped to unhook the last of the transmitters. "All
"We can place
them first thing tomorrow. I have some sites in mind that should
help us cover a much wider range than we've been able to so far.
You and Shawn are going to have to do some hiking though."
right. It's better than just sitting here. I could use a good
hike." Bonnie began packing up her laptop and preparing to leave.
started hesitantly, "are you planning to get some sleep?"
"I wish I could
Kitt, but I'll probably just lay awake staring at the ceiling."
the case, would you mind staying out here for a little while. It's
a bit lonely, to tell you the truth."
she said, setting her laptop bag back down on the bench. Kitt opened
the door for her and she took a seat inside. Given her current dress
and usual standards of comfort, Kitt warmed the interior to an appropriate
level to make her comfortable. "I know it's not the best place to
sleep . . ."
Kitt. I like the company too," she said. Kitt turned on his
IR heads up display, knowing that the leaves on the trees would be cooling
down and thought Bonnie might appreciate the lazy patterns they made.
Kitt watched as her vital signs slowed and her eyes fluttered closed.
Despite her protests, it certainly looked like she was going to fall asleep.
With her eyes
still closed she said, "All those years in Boston, I really missed you,
"I missed you,
There was a
sharp snapping sound and a corresponding spike in pain as Michael cut through
another bit of the net, which was still wrapped around his ankle.
He was sitting on a log after having dunked his leg in an icy creek.
His fingers were numb from the cold as he worked the knife to free himself.
How could he
have been so stupid? They had used the exact same means to get him
that he was using against them, and he didn’t see it coming. Stupid,
stupid, stupid. He’d under-estimated Durante again. It was
bad enough that he had done it ten years ago. He had spent a long
time beating himself up for thinking that he could just turn over the investigation
to the Foundation, walk away, and that would be the end of it. He
had underestimated Durante's determination to kill him, and it had cost
Stevie her life. Now here he had gone and done it again. Had
he really been dumb enough to think that Durante was going to wait around
idly while Michael picked off his men? Michael had been over-confident,
and now here he was with a sprained ankle.
The last bits
of the mesh net ripped against the knife and the whole thing fell to the
ground. Michael plunged his throbbing ankle back into the cold water,
trying to bring down the swelling. He had gotten away from Durante's
men again, but now he was at a loss. He had headed toward a rocky
area that, according to the GPS, had several springs and run offs from
the nearby mountains. It turned out to be a good move; there was
a nice natural shelter where he was now resting. Of course this was
the only good decision he had made in a while. Michael kept busy
beating himself up while he soaked his foot; he wasn't nearly done with
either task yet.
was that a year ago he wouldn't have cared. He had bored himself
numb fishing, and other than carousing with Zeke, there wasn't much keeping
him going. A year ago he could have loaded up the gun, marched into
their camp, and at least made sure that Durante was dead before he was
gunned down. A year ago, he wouldn't have felt like he was going
to miss anything or let anyone down. He never should have dragged
Bonnie and Kitt back into his life.
his over-sized ankle out of the water and leaned down to get a good look
at it. The swelling was bad, and it was going to be a lovely shade
of bruise-blue. Michael fished out an Ace bandage from the first
aid kit and tied it as tightly as he could stand. He thought about
trying to get a little further out, away from Durante and company, but
there was no way he was going to be able to get his foot back into his
shoe right now.
He was stuck.
And it was his own damn fault.
already annoyed when the branch in front of her snapped back and caught
her in the face. She was sure the sharp sting meant that she had
been cut. She wiped at her cheek, and sure enough, there was a small
dab of blood on her hand. She wiped it against her jeans.
try to be careful?" she asked irritably.
It was only
nine in the morning, but Bonnie was tired. Kitt wasn't kidding when
he said they would be doing some hiking. Despite leaving at sunrise,
they still had two repeaters to place - the terrain they were moving through
wasn't the easiest.
behind her. "Sorry," she said, but her voice was strained and it
was clear that she was in pain.
The anger that
had sparked up slid away just as quickly, leaving Bonnie genuinely concerned.
"Are you okay?"
to a stop and rubbed her temple. "Yeah, it's just this damn chip."
forgot that Shawn had one of Kitt's old memory chips implanted in her brain.
"Is everything okay?"
"As far as I know. It just gives me killer headaches sometimes."
to admit to being intrigued by the idea that Shawn had a piece of Kitt
in her. Bonnie had often wondered what the world was like for him.
How he thought, or how he viewed things. And here was someone who
was, in at least one small way, a little like Kitt.
it like?" she finally asked. "Having a memory chip in your head?"
walking again, and Bonnie noticed that she was being more careful about
not letting the branches snap back.
than being dead. And since those were my only two options, it's better
than the alternative."
Curt and to
the point, Bonnie thought as she stepped sideways over a dead log.
Shawn was not the most gregarious companion, but since there wasn't much
else to pass the time, Bonnie decided to try again. "Okay, but what's
that Shawn was going to ignore her completely but finally she said, "It's
strange. I can memorize whole reams of data, but things that have
an emotional component aren’t as clear-cut. Sometimes I get flashes
of certain memories with such clarity, but they weren't the things I was
originally thinking about. It's like my brain doesn't understand
the addressing scheme. It's hard to explain. And I hate the
headaches. I'd say they have some work to do to perfect this chip."
designed with the human brain in mind," Bonnie said.
right. I forgot. You probably know more about the chip than
with them malfunctioning when they were installed in Kitt?"
about it. "Not really. Well, except the time that Kitt got
electrocuted. They malfunctioned then, but I'd hardly call that a
and raised an eyebrow. "Electrocuted?"
"It was a downed
power pole. It's kind of a long story."
That would explain the sharp splitting pains I get from time to time.
The chip probably suffered permanent damage after that one."
"They were all permanently damaged. I had to rebuild the whole memory
module. You're chip wasn't around then."
I guess." Shawn resumed walking and kicked over a rock. "But
it would be nice if someone could tell me what's normal, and what isn't."
little like a guinea pig?"
issued over Shawn’s comlink, ending their conversation. "I'm getting
something through the repeater you're currently carrying."
walking and looked at each other.
"Any idea what?"
"No, it's just
on the edge of my expanded range. "
at the bag of transmitters Shawn was carrying. They had turned on
one of them so that Kitt could get the benefits of the increased range
as they walked.
"I might be
able to get more information if you each took one and moved away from each
other at a 45 degree angle.
one of the two devices out of the bag, flipped it on, and handed it to
Bonnie. They separated and moved off into the forest in deliberate,
angled lines. Kitt gave them directions and moved them around so
that he could get a better view of whatever was tripping his sensors.
that she suddenly wasn't tired anymore. She was moving quicker than
she had all morning. She needed this to be Michael, she was sure
it had to be. So she followed Kitt's directions with a quick step,
nervous anxiety fueling her.
After a long
of silence, Kitt spoke to both of them simultaneously over their comlinks.
"Bonnie, Shawn, I'm sorry, but the readings I’m getting are not Michael.
I've been able to determine that it was a deer."
that had opened to release Bonnie's hidden reserve of energy slammed shut
again. She felt nothing but disappointment, loneliness, and a draining
fatigue. "Okay, Kitt," she said, because there was nothing else to
you continue on, you can place your repeater where we planned. Bonnie,
if you turn north, you can head to the next site."
little device in Bonnie's hand didn't hold nearly so much promise.
The last faint
wisps of sunlight were still dimly visible over the treetops. Normally
Michael found this time of night beautiful and calming. He liked
to watch the sunset from his boat, bobbing peacefully on the water, but
now the prospect of another night out in the cold depressed him.
It was Saturday. He should be home sipping wine and watching old
Westerns with Bonnie.
and pulled out an MRE. He still had a couple left, but they weren’t
going to last much longer. He was too old for this – chasing the
ghosts of his past through the forest. He just wanted this to be
He leaned back
against a tree and gazed up at the stars. A hundred years ago, he
and Stevie had gone out into the desert around Reno at night to watch the
stars. They had done that a lot before they got engaged. He
had even given her a necklace because it reminded him of their nights out
in the desert -- the one with diamonds on the ends of gold arcs that crossed
a heart, like shooting stars. It was the necklace she had given back
to him after Michael Long had died. “I miss you, hon,” he whispered.
Michael wasn’t in the habit of talking to Stevie much. He didn’t
really believe she could hear him. Sometimes he hoped she couldn’t.
But every once in a while, when something reminded him of her, he’d toss
a comment her direction, more for himself than her.
The stars above
him started to separate out into constellations that he hadn’t paid attention
to in a long time. He spotted the Northern Cross; Stevie had preferred
to call it Cygnus. She had read some myth about the constellation
that she had fell in love with. Michael could picture her sitting
next to him on a blanket, telling him the story, but he couldn't remember
all the details. The crux of it was that someone Cygnus loved, a
friend or brother or something, fell into a river. Cygnus had jumped
in after him and dived repeatedly, trying to find his friend, who had already
drowned. Cygnus died of grief and the gods took pity on him and turned
him into a swan. Michael never did care much for mythology, but Stevie
had loved the stories. And she had always liked birds.
help remembering the time they had spent at the Foundation’s retreat.
It had been incredible, seeing her again, but it had also been almost unbearable
when she left. He had wanted so desperately to tell her who he was
then, but he couldn’t. The Foundation had gotten between them then,
as it always had. But at least that time he had been able to
help her -- and she had lived.
“I’m so sorry,
Stevie,” Michael said, looking up at the swan in the sky. “I’m sorry
I failed you.” Michael bit back the hesitation in his throat. “If
you're up there and there's anything you can do, please don’t let me fail
But he was
afraid it was too late, he had already failed. He looked down at
his swollen ankle. How was he going to get Durante now? They
had so many advantages over him, and now through his own arrogance, he
had given them another one. Michael was starting to think it was
his fate to lose anyone he loved. It was like that stupid myth --
he kept diving, but nothing he did changed the outcome. He had lost
so much of who he was over the years. He had given up his family,
Stevie, his friends, and everyone he knew when he became Michael Knight.
Then he had lost and found Stevie over and over until she died. Then
he slowly lost the Foundation, the only family he had left. Devon
had come back to ask for his help after all those years, only to die at
the hands of the men Michael was supposed to catch. Now Bonnie and
Kitt were at risk.
Why was he
doomed to this life? He kept losing all the people who made him who
he was. It was like he was being hollowed out, scoop by painful scoop.
the twinkling stars and wondered where he would be right now if Stevie
had lived. Maybe he'd be taking their kids to soccer practice, or
helping them with their homework. Maybe he'd be spending spring Saturdays
mowing the lawn while Stevie planted flowers. They were such pretty
little scenes, but he couldn't even see himself in them. Those dreams
were so long dead and buried that it seemed useless to even consider them.
What was the point of letting anyone into his life if it was just going
to end up like this?
was distracted by the alarm on the GPS, telling him his dinner should be
heated. He tore open the packet of tuna and noodles, and then wrapped
the heating packet around his ankle. The warmth soothed Michael’s
aching joint, but it couldn't touch the real source of his pain.
picked a parking spot as far away from the courthouse as possible.
At this end of the lot, no one was going to complain about them taking
up space. Besides, Michael liked the view of the park in front of
them. There were mothers with children playing on the immaculate
grass, jumping across puddles in the sidewalk, which had been rained on
by the sprinklers. Michael turned off the engine and waited.
He was glad
that Devon had not asked where they were going. He had been giving
Michael a lot of leeway the last few weeks, which Michael appreciated.
"Are you going
inside?" Kitt finally asked. Michael knew the question was coming,
but he wasn't going to explain until he had to. Kitt had been giving
him a lot of leeway too.
"Then why are
we here?" Kitt asked cautiously. Michael knew what he was thinking,
but Michael wasn't going to rush a prisoner surrounded by armed guards.
He wasn't suicidal. And he wasn't homicidal anymore either.
closing arguments today," Michael said, answering only the questions asked.
He knew Kitt wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily – he certainly
wouldn’t if their roles were reversed – but he was feeling quarrelsome.
going to start deliberations today."
time it was drawn out, with more of a warning to it.
not going to do anything stupid, I just want to be here."
Kitt was quiet
for a minute. "Then maybe you should go inside. Maybe it would
be good for you to hear the closing arguments."
"I don't think
so. I don't think I want to hear his defense."
Then you're planning on going in to hear the verdict?"
"No. I don't
think that would be a good idea either."
is a crime, Michael," Kitt pleaded. He was obviously trying his best
to piece together Michael’s intentions without asking too many questions.
He felt bad. Kitt had been worried about him for a long time now,
and Michael had done nothing to reassure him. In fact, he had been
curt, rude, and distant. For some reason Kitt had put up with all
of it. Michael wasn't sure he deserved such a good friend.
“I'm not going
to try to talk to anyone on the jury. I'm not going to try to intercept
or hurt Durante. I don't want to go into the courtroom because I'm
still angry. I don't want to give Durante the opportunity to make
me do something stupid. But I feel like I should be here. I
can't explain it, Kitt, but I need to be here, even if I don't go inside."
Michael, I don't think I understand."
"I don't either,
Kitt. But I need to do this."
were the one who brought Durante in. The local authorities never
would have caught him. Even though you couldn't testify against him,
you are responsible for bringing him to justice."
nodded. Kitt was more perceptive than Michael gave him credit for
sometimes. Michael hadn't said anything when Devon told him the lawyers
felt that having him testify was a liability. It had been that way
ever since Michael Long had died. Michael Knight’s lack of a past
was too big a target to present to defense attorneys -- any testimony he
gave would likely be undermined completely during cross-examination.
He had known they weren't going to let him testify, but it still bothered
him. This was his wife’s murderer and he wasn’t even allowed to speak.
"What if he
goes free because I didn't testify?"
have a very strong case. There were more than enough witnesses to
Stevie's murder and they found the recording device at the data center.
There was nothing for you to add."
I just wanted to be the one to put him away."
"You are the
one responsible for putting him away, Michael."
"If he's convicted."
"He will be."
Kitt was right, but there was a terrible knot in his stomach that had been
growing over the last few weeks. What if Durante wasn’t convicted?
What if he went free? It had kept Michael up nights worrying.
all afternoon and finally the number of people coming and going increased
and became a one-way procession. Michael watched as two juries were
taken away by bus, under guard. He wondered which group of people
was deciding Durante's fate. The closing arguments had ended three
hours ago, and the jury had been deliberating all afternoon. Why
wasn’t there a verdict?
Then a load
of prisoners was led out the back way, in chains and under heavy escort.
Michael leaned forward in his seat. "Kitt?"
"He's the third
from the end."
at the group and picked out the man that Kitt had indicated, but they were
too far away. "Give me a visual."
There was a
long pause. "Michael, I'm not sure that would be a good idea."
Michael, but he was here for something, he still wasn't sure what.
"I want to see him."
"You said yourself
that you were afraid that seeing him would just make you angry."
to keep the frustration out of his voice. "Kitt, I know I said that,
but I’ve changed my mind. I need to see him. I want to know
that he's suffering too."
"And what if
he isn't. Then what?"
"I'm not going
to kill him if that's what you’re asking!"
never been this close to a case before. Durante shot you and killed
Stevie. I know you're struggling for answers, but please, I don’t
think there's anything to be gained from this."
to argue, but he knew that Kitt was probably right. He wanted to
see Durante looking miserable, but what if he wasn't. What if he
had that same smug arrogance about him, even in a prison uniform?
It was very possible.
himself to waiting. He just wished he knew what for. "Okay."
distant vantage point, Michael watched the men being led onto the prison
bus and then watched it slowly leave. The parking lot was emptying
out and the sun was setting behind the trees in the park.
long are we going to stay?" Kitt finally asked, after office lights started
to come on in the upper floors of the building.
be one tonight. The jury's gone."
Michael wasn't sure why he was being so difficult. Kitt was only
"Then we can
leave and come back tomorrow?"
prefer to stay here. I know it doesn't make much sense, but I feel
like I should stay."
and Michael was afraid he was going to argue.
"I don't understand
your reasoning, but if you need to stay, I'm happy to stay here with you,"
Kitt said gently.
support caught Michael off-guard, and he unexpectedly choked up.
Kitt had stood by him through so much in the last year. "Thank you,
buddy," was all he could say.
"If we're going
to stay, we at least need to get you something to eat."
right. I'm not hungry."
will stay here with you for as long as you need to be here, but I am not
going to let you starve yourself. We'll go through the drive thru.
Would you prefer greasy burgers or tacos?"
"Kitt you hate
the drive thru," Michael protested.
"Yes, but you
need to eat. And you are not going to win this argument, so you might
as well pick a place," Kitt said, in his gently scolding voice.
fought the lump in his throat. "Greasy burgers, if you don't mind."
do me the favor of not throwing the wrappers on the floor."
to tell him it was a deal, but he couldn’t force the words out. Instead
he nodded and was relieved that Kitt didn't say any more. Michael
tried to get his emotions under control before reaching to start the engine.
you let me drive," Kitt said, the engine leaping to life before Michael's
finger hit the button.
buddy." Michael hoped that Kitt knew just how much he meant it.
above him were screaming. Michael couldn't hear above the horrible,
blood-chilling din. The sounds swarmed around his head -- almost
as tangible as the birds -- confusing and distracting him.
Stevie seemed to be completely unaware of them.
standing calmly, silently in a pool of light in front of him, an oasis
in the cacophony surrounding him. Her feet were bare, her ankles
dainty-looking under the hem of a simple white dress. She had a single
large flower in her hands, and she was staring down at it, so engrossed
that Michael couldn't get her attention. She was just too far away.
out her name, but he knew she wasn't going to hear him; he could barely
hear himself. For some reason -- maybe it was the birds -- Michael
was sure he had to get to her immediately. Something felt wrong.
But Michael couldn't move, there were vines everywhere. He was cutting
through them with a large knife, but no matter how much he cut, he wasn't
getting any closer.
He was frustrated
and distracted. "Stevie," he yelled, but the sound was snagged by
the vines. Or maybe it was the birds. Somehow they were snatching
the sound of his voice right out of the air.
began fiercely hacking at the vines again, trying to get to Stevie.
The knife stuck in a thick, ropy branch and was ripped away from him.
The blade came away bloody. Surprised, Michael looked down to see
a long gash in his hand. The wound was quiet for a minute, the cut
a deep, expectant white. Michael couldn't feel any pain yet.
Then blood filled the gash, bubbling up in the wound like a thick, red-black
oil. Michael stared at it, sickly fascinated. He still didn't
feel any pain.
looked up again, the vines around him had disappeared -- there was a clear
path between him and Stevie. Michael rushed forward, but as he got
closer, the noise above him abruptly ceased. Stevie turned and finally
saw him, but immediately her eyes went dark, and she crumpled to the ground
in front of him.
Stevie!" Michael yelled. This time his words circled above
him, echoing over and over again.
Michael was at her side, crouching next to her. She was face down
in the dirt, her flower crushed under her hand. Michael reached out
and smoothed the hair off her cheek, meaning to turn her over, but the
blood from the gash in his hand stained an ugly red path through her hair.
knelt back in horror and confusion. He suddenly realized that her
hair wasn't blonde -- it was brown.
awake, gasping. His whole body was shaking. He sat up and looked
around, reassuring himself of his surroundings. It was still dark,
although morning was on its way. Michael listened to the birds, who
were a lot quieter and less menacing than those in his nightmare.
He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair, trying to reassure
himself, but he couldn't quiet the unease that was causing his hands to
Kitt hacked into one more supposedly secure intranet
site and decided he had enough information. As a background task,
he had been looking for anything unusual in the records of the criminals
who were still in jail. In the beginning, it had looked like there
wasn’t much to find, but after digging a bit deeper, he had made a disturbing
discovery. He was 92% confident he knew who was in the woods with
Michael and it made him extremely uncomfortable. He was more committed
than ever to finding Michael as fast as possible. This was not an
adversary that Michael should be facing alone.
“Bonnie, Shawn, I have something,” Kitt said over
Shawn's comlink. They had gone back to the cabin so the women could
take quick showers and get something for lunch. With the repeaters
set, the search pattern Kitt drove wasn’t nearly as important – he could
get signals from all but one of the transmitters from the cabin.
“What is it?” Bonnie asked as both of them quickly
joined him outside.
"I've looked into the rental car agreement.
Jason Hawke is a known alias of a man named Jake Mahlstrom. He spent
four years at San Quentin for aggravated assault. Feely, the man
whose body we found in the lake, also spent time at San Quentin for burglary."
"Were they there at the same time?" Shawn
"Were any of the criminals that you and Michael
put away there at the same time?" Bonnie continued.
"Yes, there were several, but only three who were
in the same cell block. Charley Winters from the heist against the
Foundation’s charity auction, Graham Deauville from the Helios case,” Kitt
paused, “and Kurt Rolands."
Bonnie’s eyes went wide. "Kitt, Durante's still
in jail. I checked him three times."
"I don't believe so, Bonnie. According to
his files, he’s being housed at San Quentin, but I have evidence that he's
not there. The last detailed entry about his incarceration occurs
in December of last year when he was put in solitary confinement for two
days. After that, the records become very vague and non-specific.
Also at that time, I was able to locate a strange set of transfer orders.
Normally transfers are a matter of public record, but these were sealed.
I managed to, shall we say, peek at them. According to the orders,
Durante was moved to the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth."
Bonnie shook her head. "That doesn't make
sense. Leavenworth is a military prison. Why would they . .
.” She stopped, tipped her head back, and let out a puff of air.
Kitt watched as her face clouded over. "He's a murderer. And
a double agent. Why would they trust him?"
"I don't know. I can gain access to sealed
records, but not classified ones. I can find no record of Durante
once he got to Leavenworth. That would imply that either the transfer
orders were wrong, or someone classified his current whereabouts.
Leavenworth is a DOD facility. I suspect that someone required his
"Or maybe they needed him for one of his old contacts."
Bonnie sighed and sank down on the hood of the car.
“Kurt Rolands, who went by the alias ‘Durante,’
was a skilled intelligence operative and explosives expert. But he
became a double agent, and gave the enemy crucial information before anyone
suspected him. He faked his own death and was operating as a high
tech thief until Michael and I found him, quite by accident. He shot
Michael and killed Stevie before we apprehended him."
Bonnie ran a hand through her hair. “They
let him out, didn’t they?”
“I can’t confirm that, but I can’t think of any
other reason why they’d move him. I can only assume that if they've
classified his records and moved him to a military prison, that an agency
like the CIA is involved.”
“Why would they trust him?” Bonnie said, shaking
her head. “He betrayed them once, why would they give him the opportunity
to do it again?”
“We probably won't ever know the answer to that.
But it does beg the question, if we catch this guy, what's to say that
they won't just turn around and let him out again?" Shawn asked.
"That's a good point." Kitt was starting
to feel even more discouraged about Michael's situation. What if
Durante did become the scourge that never went away?
Shawn tapped on Kitt's hood, "You know, Maddock's
sitting in Seattle, letting all his skills in irritation and harassment
go to waste. Maybe we should get him to rattle some cages and try
to get some information for us."
"That's a good idea. If we find out why
Durante was let out, maybe there’s something we can do to prevent it in
the future." Kitt knew it wasn’t likely that Maddock would find anything
specific, but it was at least worth a try.
"There's still one thing I don't get. If
Michael is out in the woods with this guy, why doesn’t he just lead him
back here so that we can apprehend him? He’s got to know that we’re
here by now,” Shawn asked, exasperated.
“I believe that Michael would want to handle Durante
himself,” Kitt said.
“Why?” Shawn asked. "That doesn't
Kitt noticed that Bonnie was studying the ground,
and chose his words carefully. “I believe he would do anything to
keep Durante from knowing about Bonnie. He watched Stevie die in
his arms, Shawn. I know he would go to great lengths to prevent anything
like that from happening again.”
Shawn slowly nodded. “I guess I can see
that. The whole ‘burn out’ situation is starting to become a lot
clearer. So how do we help him?"
"We have to find him first. After that we
can determine the best way to help him. But I think we need to find
him fast. I don't believe it's a good idea to let Michael face Durante
alone, even if that is what he thinks he wants."
"Of course. Give us a minute to grab something
for lunch and we’ll head out again," Shawn said. She and Bonnie quickly
disappeared into the cabin. Kitt wished he could impart the urgency
he was feeling. He had never told anyone how close Michael had come
to killing Durante. That had been a secret between them, and he didn't
feel right betraying that confidence now. They needed to find Michael
quickly. Kitt could envision many possible scenarios for what was
happening out in the forest, and very few of them had good outcomes.
Hunting had never been one of Michael's hobbies.
He had had a friend growing up who would get a permit every year to hunt
deer or elk in the mountains. Michael had gone with him once as a
teenager. The trip had consisted mostly of drinking beer that Zach
had stolen from his dad's stash in the cabin. Michael was turned
off to the sport by spending mornings sitting in a deer blind, motionless
-- not to be invisible to the deer but so that the throbbing in his head
wouldn't get any worse. That was his impression of hunting -- fighting
a hangover and waiting for something to wander by. This wasn't much
Of course, he wasn't hung over. This time
the pain was honest. Michael had managed to put his shoe on this
morning but he couldn't get enough free lace to actually tie it.
It had slipped off every few steps, as he dragged himself back to his booby-trap.
At first he had planned to gather up the pieces of his trap and go somewhere
else, but his ankle was already throbbing. After looking everything
over, it didn't appear that anything had been tampered with or touched.
They had gotten him by waiting for him to start leading them, so it was
fair to assume that they didn't know the exact location of his trap.
They knew the general area where he had been, which actually worked in
his favor. He was not feeling up to hunting Durante and his men --
at least here there was a chance that they might come back. However,
after waiting for a couple of hours, he hadn't heard anything out of the
ordinary. Michael was half-tempted to go back and interrogate Mahlstrom,
the man he had captured, but he didn't feel it was wise to use up his energy
hoofing it that far.
So there he was, sitting in a blind after swearing
them off years ago. Already he was restless. The nightmare
he had had last night was still with him, leaving him uneasy and nervous.
Sitting here in the tree, there was nothing to take his mind off of it,
other than the ebb and flow of the throbbing in his ankle. Michael
pulled out his GPS and checked the time again. It was shortly before
10:30 on Sunday morning.
If only he had kept his cell phone on the charger,
or made it a habit to wear his comlink, he would be in a much better position.
If he hadn’t been stupid enough to think that he was the only one who could
set a booby-trap, he wouldn’t have the sprained ankle to deal with.
Michael forced himself to stop and tried to banish all negative thoughts
from his mind. It wasn’t easy.
A spot of flickering red caught Michael's eye
and he turned to watch a woodpecker bobbing up and down on a neighboring
tree. It flitted around the boughs for a while, until it found an
appropriate place and started pecking. It was a melodic, soothing
sound that would have been torture if Michael had been hung over.
But the rhythmic pounding was mildly entertaining, in a monotonous way.
He turned in his perch to watch the bird for a while. It hopped from
branch to branch on the nearby trees, spotting something of interest, and
then digging out its treasure.
Michael had a fleeting thought about beating his
head into a tree too. He decided the bird must have a very thick
skull to avoid getting a headache from all that pecking. A long buried
thought about birds traipsed through his mind, but he quickly dismissed
it. He wasn't going to go down that path right now.
Instead he was drawn into wondering about Durante.
What did he look like after all these years? Michael hadn't gotten
a good look at his face in the cabin, and despite all the run-ins he'd
had with them, he hadn't actually gotten a glimpse of Durante himself.
He hoped that prison had been cruel. He expected it had been.
Surely Durante, who had had mansions, women, and cars, would have had a
hard time adjusting to life with nothing. That gave him some amount
of bitter pleasure. But what if Michael couldn't get the upper hand
back, and Durante managed to stay out of jail. The possibility made
it all seem so futile.
Michael tried to clear his head, but his mind
just wasn't going to cooperate. He was feeling that same weariness
he had felt during his last year with the Foundation -- that same sense
that nothing he did had any real, lasting effect.
The woodpecker hopped to another tree near Michael.
He could see its bright red head through the boughs of a fir that separated
them. It only took a few minutes before the bird resumed the duty
it was born to. Michael briefly entertained ideas of throwing something
at it. The rhythmic pecking was starting to sound less like soothing
natural music and more like something being drilled into his head.
"Michael, the bailiff just came back.
The jury must have a verdict," Kitt said, pulling Michael out of his stupor.
He had been gazing at a child who was running up the steps of a slide and
then gliding down it again in an endless loop. He must have been
at it for over an hour. Each time, he giggled the whole way down,
enjoying the game despite its monotony.
Michael sat up and glanced at the courthouse,
a dread filling him. He didn't think he could take it if the verdict was
not guilty. But it couldn't be. The jury had only deliberated for
a little over seven hours. How could they come back with a not guilty
verdict on this case in that amount of time? There were witnesses
and evidence. They had the gun he'd used to kill Stevie. The
ballistics matched and people had seen him pull the trigger.
But if there was so much evidence, why had it
taken so long? Michael sighed in frustration. He was twisting
himself in knots, and he just couldn’t stop it.
"So what do you think?" he asked, needing to talk.
"I don't know how they could find him not guilty,
Yes, how could they find him not guilty?
They couldn't. He hoped. Michael wanted a toothpick or a cigarette
or some other useful nervous habit. He had felt the first pangs of
anxiety a few weeks ago, but now it was overwhelming. It was a nasty
parasite gnawing away at his insides. The fear left him alone when
he had other things on his mind, but the minute he had a moment's peace,
it was back to torment him.
"You'll tell me when they read the verdict?"
Michael asked through gritted teeth.
"Of course. Right now they're rounding up
Michael rolled down the window for some air.
What was taking them so long? He rolled the window back up again,
not liking the portal it created to the outside world – it let in too many
sounds. He wanted the illusion of being completely alone, except
for Kitt. He moved on to drumming his hands on the steering column.
"The court is assembled, Michael," Kitt said.
Then more gently, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Michael said, wrestling with himself.
"Can I see them read the verdict?"
"They’ve activated the closed circuit camera system.
I can patch in, but are you sure you want me to, Michael?"
Was he sure? Michael didn't know.
Maybe. "Yeah," he said distractedly.
The video monitor popped to life, showing images
from a camera along the side of the courtroom, giving a full view of the
jury. Durante was not in the field of view. Michael assumed
that Kitt was deliberately picking the footage from that vantage point,
but right now he didn't care. There was a man standing at the front
of the jury box, holding a card. He was wearing jeans and a denim
shirt. He looked so nonchalant -- as casual as his clothing.
Did he understand how important this was, Michael wondered? Suddenly
he was worried again.
Off camera, the judge asked, "Has the jury reached
Michael's heart was doing flips as the foreman
said, "Yes, your Honor."
The judge read each charge in the fairly long
list. For each of them, the foreman answered, ‘guilty.’ With
each pronouncement, Michael’s heart skipped a beat. Then they finally
got to the charge that meant the most to him.
“On the count of murder in the first degree, how
do you find?” the judge asked.
The time it took the foreman to answer seemed
to drag on indefinitely for Michael. It all seemed too surreal.
They had found him guilty on everything else so far, they had to find him
guilty of murder. Didn’t they?
“We find the defendant . . . guilty as charged.”
"All right!" Michael blurted out immediately,
and slapped Kitt's dash impulsively. His anxiety was replaced by
a sudden rush of relief. "We got him, buddy! We really got
"Yes, we did."
Michael flopped back into his seat, not having
realized how stiffly he had been sitting before. The last of the
charges was read and Durante was found guilty on all counts. The
judge said a few words to the jury and then dismissed them as Kitt ended
the video feed. Michael couldn't help wondering what Durante’s reaction
had been. Had he made a scene, or sat stoically? Had part of
him died at that moment? All questions Michael had no answers to.
But he was guilty. He was going to jail.
Michael wanted to hold onto the feeling of victory that the verdict had
brought him, but already he could feel it draining away. All too
quickly he was feeling hollow again. He didn't know what he had expected.
He had come for closure and he'd gotten it, but it closed the door on what
exactly? Durante had been found guilty and he would go to jail.
He would suffer -- but not as much as Michael had. Stevie wasn't
coming back. Whether Durante was in prison or not didn't really affect
Michael's day-to-day life. Losing Stevie had. Michael found
that he had been holding his breath for this trial, but now that it was
over and he had started breathing again, his lungs still felt empty.
He had lost so much, and what he had gotten back was simply justice.
Somehow it wasn't as fulfilling as he had hoped it would be.
Michael suddenly found himself fighting tears.
It wasn't like he'd ever expected that getting justice would somehow bring
Stevie back, but he didn't want this bitter loneliness that was left in
her place. He had hoped that somehow knowing Durante was suffering
too would ease his own suffering. Of course it didn’t.
"Michael, are you okay?" Kitt asked, obviously
sensing the change in his mood.
"I'm fine, just tired I guess," Michael said quietly,
because he didn't know how to explain. Would Kitt even understand?
"Do you want to go home?"
"No." He didn't know what he wanted to do,
but going back to his lonely suite at the Foundation was the last thing
he felt like doing right now.
"Michael, are you sure you're okay?"
Michael tried to shrug off whatever it was he
was feeling. "I just thought it would make things easier."
"And it doesn't?"
"I would have been so angry, furious, if he had
gotten off. I think I'd be tearing something apart right now if he
were found not guilty. I'm glad he's going to jail. I just
. . . it’s not all that satisfying."
"It doesn't change what happened."
"No. It's hard to explain, but a not-guilty
verdict would have made things worse, but a guilty one doesn’t make them
"Stevie's still gone," Kitt said quietly.
"I'm sorry. I wish I could help."
Michael gave a half laugh and shook his head.
"Kitt, you have helped."
"But I can't do anything to bring her back either."
"No. But you're here." It really did
mean a lot to him. Kitt might not know it, but he had been keeping
Michael grounded. He had clung to Kitt’s voice in the warehouse to
bring him back to his senses, and despite his brusque attitude and outward
distance, he had never really stopped clinging to him.
"I'll always be here, Michael. As long as
you want me to be."
Michael watched the last bar on the voice modulator
fade away. "Thank you, buddy."
While Bonnie and Shawn were getting ready to go,
Kitt was doing his normal scans without much enthusiasm. He was a
bit discouraged that they hadn’t found anything useful yet. Part
of him had hoped that as soon as the repeaters were active, they would
find Michael. But of course they hadn’t.
Kitt was tempted to turn off his scanners and
give himself a moment of peace when everything turned upside down again.
Something big was on the edge of his extended range. He honed in
on it, trying to get a better read, but it wasn’t coming in clearly.
It was slipping back and forth between being just out of range, and being
Mindful of the last time he had detected something,
Kitt waited, but waiting itself was raising his anxiety level. They
had had so many leads turn to dead ends, so many promising theories turn
out to be false. But here he was again, watching the tiny spec on
his sensors with a growing anticipation.
The blip disappeared and Kitt felt he was getting
close to his own breaking point. He was so tired of spinning his
wheels and always coming up empty. He wanted Michael back so badly
it was palpable. He regretted all the time he had spent being angry
with Michael over what he had felt was abandonment. It had seemed
appropriate at the time, but now it just seemed pointless -- so much wasted
time. If this was another deer, he was tempted to just turn off his
scanners and suggest some new course of action. He couldn’t take
any more disappointment.
The target appeared again, tantalizing in its
low signal strength. It was large and warm – a good sign that it
could be a human being. Or a bear. Or a deer. Or an elk.
Kitt stopped. There was no point in going through all the possibilities.
He wished he had some way of getting closer, but the only way to do that
was to have Shawn or Bonnie hike out to the repeater and move it closer
to the signal. It was not something he wanted to ask of them unless
he was fairly certain this was real.
Again the signal flickered and then it vanished.
Kitt waited and waited. It must be another animal, he thought hitting
the depths of another wave of despair. It was near the same repeater
that he had detected a signal from last time. Maybe they had put
the repeater on a deer path.
Then the signal came back.
Kitt wanted to yell at it to make up its mind.
He watched as the little blip of energy started to move closer to the repeater.
Kitt willed the signal to keep coming. He analyzed ever bit of information
as soon as he could collect it.
Finally Kitt activated Shawn's comlink, excitement
radiating through his voice. "Shawn, Bonnie, I've picked up a human
signature in the forest."
It was after Michael had plunged his foot into
ice cold water that the damn woodpecker had finally gotten to him.
Michael was at least two hundred feet from the tree, but that hollow drumming
carried extremely well. He had woken up to the sound of it that morning,
and other than the occasional brief pause, it hadn't stopped since.
It was nothing if not insistent. And after a while, he couldn't keep
his thoughts at bay.
“I read about a bird once, a long time ago.
A white bird. It eats, sleeps, spends its entire life in flight.
It never lands. That’s its purpose. It’s destiny.”
Stevie was so good at haunting him. She
had put little quips in his mind that even fifteen years later, wouldn’t
leave. Some of things she had said were now so much a part of him
that as much as he might like to dismiss them as romantic, poetic platitudes,
he couldn’t. And it was time he started paying attention.
He had allowed Durante, or at least the circumstances
that Durante had put him in, to get the best of him. He had taken
one day of self-pity, of sitting in a tree, but the pain in his ankle was
lessening, and he decided it was time to get himself back in order.
Michael filled his canteen with water that was so cold it was numbing his
toes. He was not so bad off, and he certainly was not going to let
Durante win because of a sprained ankle and a wounded spirit.
He had people who loved him; they were probably looking for him right now.
If he sat around waiting for Durante to kill him, he was letting them down.
Bonnie and Kitt deserved the best from him, and he could do better than
sit in a tree feeling sorry for himself.
Michael inspected his ankle before wrapping it
again. The bruise was starting to take shape nicely, but the
ankle itself was a little smaller and he was able to wrap the bandage just
a little tighter this time. When he pulled on his shoe and managed
to get it tied, he felt some of his old optimism returning. He had
been out in the woods for -- he had to think a minute -- over five days.
He had managed to get the tools he needed to survive. He had eluded
five men with guns and managed to take two of them out of the picture.
It was time to finish this. Besides, Durante belonged in prison,
and Michael was the only one who could see to it that that happened.
Michael packed the canteen, and spent a minute
hunting around him. Finding a perfect walking stick to lean on, he
decided he needed to find out what Durante had been up to all of yesterday.
On his way back to the trail, he noticed that
the woodpecker had paused again. Of course it started up a minute
later -- it was still relentlessly searching for the delicacies that lay
hidden under the bark.
"Thanks for the reminder," Michael whispered.
"Is it him?" Bonnie asked, rushing out to
join Kitt again.
"I can't tell. The person isn't close enough
to get any information about physical traits, but I am sure it’s a human
"Where?" Shawn asked, pulling open Kitt's door
and peering at the display inside.
"At about the same point where we got a reading
yesterday. It's a good hike from the road, and I'm concerned about
it getting dark." It was already mid afternoon.
"We'll take gear with us. If we wait until
morning it could be too late," Shawn said.
Kitt was glad she was taking that position.
He didn't want to wait either.
"There are lanterns in the garage," Bonnie said,
hurrying to grab them.
"Shawn, I think we have most of what we'll need
in the trunk, but you and Bonnie should bring along some warm clothes in
case we're out after dark."
“Good idea.” Shawn ducked inside to gather
up a few things for both of them. When she got back, Kitt was waiting
with his engine running. He couldn't help his impatience.
* * *
Kitt spotted an opening on the road at just the
right place and quickly swung the car toward it. He sent up a spray
of gravel as he put the car into a controlled slide and ended up nicely
parked, parallel to the road. Bonnie was out as soon as the car stopped
moving. Kitt popped the trunk and she had the emergency bag out before
Shawn could join her.
"Bonnie, are you sure you want to do this?" Kitt
She glanced at Shawn, then back at Kitt.
Her expression led Kitt to believe that she wasn't entirely sure, but she
answered confidently. "I want to help."
"Okay, but please be careful."
"I will," she promised.
Kitt was glad she was insistent. He was
concerned about her, but he was also very worried about Michael.
He wanted to get to him as quickly as possible, and he was unable to do
it by himself.
"Do you know how to fire an ultrasound?" Shawn
"Not specifically an ultrasound, no."
"You know how to shoot a gun?"
"Same principle, only these are pretty much point
and shoot. It has a wide beam, so you don't have to worry about aiming
too accurately, and there's not much in the way of recoil. Just don't
hesitate. These things don't do any permanent damage, so even if
you end up buzzing Michael, it's better than giving them a chance to get
a real gun on you. There's no penalty for shooting first and asking
questions later," Shawn explained. She handed Bonnie an ultrasonic
pistol from the bag.
"The rifle can be a bit more tricky, so I'll keep
it," Shawn said, slinging the gun over her shoulder. She pulled one
last pistol from the trunk and clipping it to her belt.
"Keep in touch with your comlinks. I'll
lead you to him," Kitt said.
Bonnie stuffed the ultrasound in her jacket pocket
as Shawn stepped off the road, onto the gravel shoulder.
"Be careful," Kitt said as they set out into the
* * *
Shawn's comlink beeped, startling both her and
Bonnie. "What is it, Kitt?" she asked, after pausing a second to
catch her breath. They were moving at a good clip and had been for
"Maddock called," he said, sounding mildly irritated.
"He spoke to several people about Durante, and
after being passed off and stalled, he finally got someone to admit, off
the record, that Durante was needed for a covert operation. His source
wouldn't say who was responsible, other than to suggest it was a three
"Three letter agency?" Shawn asked.
"FBI, CIA, DOD, NSA, or the like," Bonnie said.
"Durante did apparently give them the slip.
The source said that they weren't even looking in the right country."
Shawn shook her head. "It really makes you
wonder sometimes, you know?"
"So where does that leave us?" Bonnie asked.
"Maddock said the source was going to get word
back to the people involved and they would be out here shortly to collect
"Nice of them to take to the time," Bonnie said
sarcastically. "Did the source happen to mention whether or not they
were actually going to take him back to prison?"
"Maddock thinks they're pretty embarrassed about
the whole situation. He thinks that if the Foundation implies we're
going to keep an eye on him, they'll consider it too great a risk to use
him again. And there’s always the threat of publicity. Maddock said
they were pretty anxious to keep it quiet."
"You'd think they'd have some agents they could
use who aren't criminals."
"Without knowing the nature of the operation,
it's hard to speculate, Bonnie," Kitt said. "But I have to agree."
Shawn pushed off from the tree she had taken to
leaning against. "And that leaves us to do the dirty work of actually
getting the guy."
"I have further information on that front as well."
"What is it?"
"I've picked up a second person in your vicinity.
He's closing on the first man's position."
Shawn glanced in the direction they were heading.
"Any idea who's friendly and who's foe?" she asked.
"I have no way of determining that. They
could both be foes. But I can tell you that they're both armed."
Great, Shawn thought. "You can tell they're
armed but not whether or not one of them is Michael?"
"He needs to be a lot closer to detect biometrics.
Large chunks of metal are easier," Bonnie supplied, her tone a bit defensive.
"Where are they?" Shawn asked.
"They're moving perpendicular to your heading,
a mile from your current position. They’re approximately half a mile
from each other."
This was a crapshoot as far as Shawn was concerned.
They didn’t have enough information to make a good decision. "Who
do we go after?"
There was a long pause. "I suggest you split
up and go after them both. Either one could be Michael."
Shan raised her eyebrows in Bonnie's direction.
She just shrugged. Shawn suspected that Kitt had had to think about
that plan for a while. She didn't think he would want Bonnie out
here by herself. He must really be worried about Michael.
“I'll take the guy following," Shawn suggested,
assuming a pursuer would be the more likely foe.
"Okay," Bonnie said, looking a little uncertain.
"I'm setting both of your comlinks for hot mic,
and I'll relay any important information between you."
"If you need anything, just yell," Shawn told
Bonnie and then followed a new path into the woods.
* * *
Bonnie set her bag down and leaned with her back
against a tall pine. It was rough and gnarled, and Bonnie thought
it smelled vaguely of vanilla. She pulled a bottle of water out of
her bag and drank quickly. She didn't want to linger too long.
Michael had been in the forest for over five days; she wanted to get to
him as soon as possible. He would probably not be in a very good
state right now, knowing that Durante was out of jail.
Bonnie wondered what was going through his mind.
She knew that the incident with Garthe and her decision to leave had been
only part of the reason Michael had left the Foundation. He had changed
after Stevie died. His interest and enthusiasm for the job had started
to wane shortly after her death. It was obvious to all of them that
he had started to think of it as more of a job than a life's work.
She had thought it was just grief at the time, but obviously it wasn't
that alone. He had paid dearly for his time with the Foundation,
and it wasn't even a life that he had freely chosen. He had wanted
to leave back then, and then Durante had come along and stolen his reason
to get out, his chance at a normal life. Bonnie wouldn't be surprised
if Michael wasn't taking his escape well at all.
She pushed away from the tree and quickened her
Michael never talked about Stevie. It kind
of surprised her really, but then he probably assumed that she wouldn't
want to hear about the love of his life. Bonnie didn't have any illusions
about that, but there was no point in dwelling on it either. If she
were alive today, Michael would be with Stevie. But Bonnie knew he
loved her too.
She was startled out of her thoughts when the
“Go ahead, Kitt.”
"The man you're approaching is approximately 500
meters in front of you. It's not Michael."
Bonnie was immediately disappointed. She
knew that as she got closer to their quarry, Kitt would be able to use
her comlink as an additional repeater to gather more information.
She had been hoping, of course, that the man she was following was Michael.
Their reunion was apparently going to have to wait. It was hard,
but Bonnie pushed the thought of him out of her mind.
She looked down at the ultrasound she was carrying
and flipped off the safety. She was starting to have second thoughts
about all of this. She was a scientist, not a field operative.
She had very little idea what she was doing. But Michael needed her
help and she had gone out on assignments before. She did her best
to gather her courage.
“I suggest you take a parallel path behind him
and see if you can get a clear shot.”
It could have been her state of mind, but Bonnie
thought she could hear a little uncertainty in Kitt’s voice, too.
“Can you lead me to him?”
“Go about a hundred meters to the northwest and
you’ll find a small creek. The man in front of you is following that
Bonnie nodded before realizing that Kitt had no
way to see her. “Okay.”
“Bonnie, please be careful.”
She felt ridiculous, slinking through the forest,
like she had any clue about what she was doing. She had been given
the opportunity to take some basic shooting and defense classes at the
Foundation. She’d also learned a few things by watching Michael,
but she wasn’t prepared for something like this.
Her heart was pounding by the time she came to
the creek. Bonnie had never realized just how stressful it was to
stalk someone. She decided not to get too close to the water, the
trees thinned out and she was afraid the man would spot her. Instead
she hung back in the forest. She almost yelped when the comlink gave
a little jerk on her wrist. She glanced down at it in time to see
text scroll along its face. She had forgotten that they had added
that little feature long ago, just for this sort of situation. It
gave Kitt the option to contact Michael silently.
“He’s stopped, sitting on the bank of the creek,
200 meters directly ahead,” the message said. Bonnie wished he could
just talk to her. It had always been reassuring to hear Kitt’s voice.
If the man was stopped, this might be a good chance
to catch up to him. She moved as quickly as she dared, without making
a lot of noise. Her heart was racing. What was she doing out
The comlink rattled again. “Set your ultrasound
to level 5, it will keep him unconscious longer.”
Bonnie made the adjustment and kept moving forward,
afraid that if she stopped, she’d lose her nerve. It seemed like
a very long time before Kitt sent another message. “Slow down.
He’s just ahead. Approach quietly.”
Bonnie immediately stopped. The tangled
path in front of her didn’t leave many options for stealth, and she wanted
to stay low, which wasn’t going to be easy. Carefully she inched
passed the trees, avoiding the brush that could snap and give her away.
Finally, she spotted something dark, crouched by the stream. Slowly
she approached, keeping her eyes trained on the figure, waiting for the
faintest sign that he’d heard her. She knew she needed to get a little
closer for the ultrasound to be effective. His back was to her, so
she ventured a few feet closer. Her whole body was a numbing mixture
of fear and anticipation, focused but jumpy at the same time.
Bringing the ultrasound up and aiming, Bonnie’s
finger started to squeeze the trigger. The man in front of her suddenly
turned around. She saw him see her in the brief fraction of a second
before she finished the act of pulling the trigger. Before he could
do anything of consequence, he rolled forward to the ground, unconscious.
Bonnie let out a tightly held breath.
“I’m clear, right?” she breathed into the comlink.
“Yes, Bonnie. There’s no one else around,
and he should be out for several hours. Good work.”
“Thank you.” Bonnie lowered the ultrasound
and approached the man on the ground. Cuffing him with the little
plastic ties Shawn had given her, she removed his radio, gun, and ammunition.
Michael would have one less thug to deal with, she thought, elated that
she had finally done something helpful.
* * *
Now that Bonnie was safe, Kitt turned his attention
back to the man Shawn was pursuing. She was closer to him now, allowing
Kitt to pick out additional features. He watched carefully, with
building anticipation as each feature made itself know. And each
of those features was consistent with Michael's traits. He wouldn't
be able to see the person's surface features, like hair or skin color until
after Shawn did, but the basics of the body's shape and mobility, were
evident. With the exception of an odd gait, the man in the woods
matched Michael exactly. But still, Kitt wanted to be sure.
There was one trait of Michael's that he was looking for, now that Shawn
was close enough, and he knew that as soon as he got just the right angle,
he'd have it.
Kitt switched frequencies and adjusted the power
going out of his different transmitters. He cursed Maddock for using
less than state-of-the-art technology in some of this vehicle's systems
-- presumably to save money. If he had just a little bit more power
. . .
And then the figure turned and Kitt caught a flash
in the vicinity of the man's forehead. A small, thin piece of metal
was hard to see from most angles, but when it was turned dead on, it was
like a beacon. The man in the forest was Michael -- the plate in
his head proved it.
Kitt felt like turbo boosting, or going into ski
mode or somehow doing them both at once. He felt a need to launch
himself into the air, maybe to try to catch his soaring emotions.
Michael was alive! They had finally found him! All his scanning had
finally paid off. Kitt felt a strange sense of elation that was partly
a release from tension and partly pure effervescent joy. Michael
Now they just had to bring him home safely.
When he had calmed down enough to speak, Kitt
activated Shawn and Bonnie's comlinks. "I've found him. Michael
"Are you sure?" Bonnie asked, the excitement clear
in her voice as well.
"Yes, the man that Shawn is following is definitely
"Is he okay?" she asked.
"His gait is off, like he has a minor injury,
but other than that, he seems to be fine. I'll know more as you get
"Thank God," Bonnie said.
"Do you have any way of contacting him?" Shawn
"I'm afraid not. He does have a radio, but
I can't be sure whether or not Durante and his men are listening.
For now I think it's best if we keep the element of surprise."
"Okay, but he's armed and expecting Durante,"
Shawn said. "How do I approach him without getting shot?"
"Obviously we'll have to be careful. I'll
work on that," Kitt said.
* * *
Someone was following him. He was pretty
sure that one of Durante's men was in front of him, but now he was hearing
noises behind him too. Perhaps they had split up again. He
wanted to keep tracking the lead guy, but the guy behind was too close
to be ignored.
Michael spotted a downed tree and lay behind it,
as flat as possible against the ground, the barrel of his gun just peaking
over the arc of the tree. There was definitely someone approaching.
The impulsive, rhythmic nature of the noise could only be footsteps.
Michael squinted in the direction of the noise, waiting for someone to
The voice didn't come from the same direction
as the footsteps. He whirled hard to the right, completely startled.
His finger was already starting to pull the trigger before it hit him that
the voice was familiar.
"Michael, can you hear me? It's Kitt."
Michael fought against the immediate relief that
flooded him. This could still be a trap. He waited, listening
as the slow approach of footsteps resumed.
"Shawn is coming toward you. She'll be visible
in a minute," Kitt's voice said. This time it was from the same direction
as the footsteps. Kitt must have thrown his voice away from the comlink
and Shawn, assuming it was really them. Not a bad idea, given his
current state of mind.
Michael didn't have to wait long before Shawn
slowly emerged from the cover of the trees.
Every muscle in Michael's body relaxed and he
gave himself up to the support of the ground. A grin slowly spreading
across his face before it infused his entire body. In one instant,
he was no longer alone, the weight of the world was shared, and for the
first time in days he felt relieved. He savored the feeling for a
moment, breathing in the smell of the forest floor, before heaving himself
"Hi, Shawn," Michael said, his voice catching
from lack of use.
"Good to see you’re still with us," she said,
shaking Michael’s outstretched hand.
"Thanks for coming," he said.
She smiled. "You were there to help me when
I needed it. Just returning the favor."
He nodded in understanding.
"Michael, it's so good to hear your voice again,"
Kitt said over the comlink.
"It's good to hear your voice too, pal."
"We were so worried about you," he continued.
"Is everyone okay? There weren't any nasty
surprises at the cabin were there?" Michael asked.
"We're fine, Michael. Are you okay?
It looks like you're limping."
"I'm exhausted, buddy, and I've got some minor
injuries,” Michael paused for a second, remembering that nice as it was
to have Kitt and Shawn with him, they weren’t out of the woods yet -- literally
or figuratively. “Durante is out here. Somehow, some way he
got out of jail and he's after me."
"We know. It took us a while, but we finally
pieced it all together. If you're able to hike back to the road,
we'll apprehend Durante, and alert the authorities."
"I can't do that, buddy. He says he's got
an ultrasound modified to work against you. I don't want to take
the chance that he's not bluffing."
"But if you're injured . . ."
"I can still take him out," Michael said, his
voice steelier than he meant it to be.
"Michael, I don't think it's such a good idea
for you to go after him. Maybe it would be best if Shawn and I handle
it." Kitt's voice lingered off and Michael heard the unspoken question.
He wondered how much Shawn knew.
"I'm okay, Kitt. We need to finish this
here and now."
There was a long pause when Kitt didn’t respond.
Michael knew Kitt had reason to worry, but he wanted to bring this whole
episode to a close and he wasn’t going to put Kitt at risk or wait for
"So what can you tell me about Durante?" Shawn
asked, breaking the silence.
Down to business, Michael thought. She hadn't
changed any. "He's a former intelligence agent. He's got lots
of training. He's good with high tech equipment and explosives, but
to tell you the truth, I think the fact that this is personal is making
him trip up. He could have just blown up the cabin."
"He wanted to kill you up close and personal."
Michael sunk to the fallen log, and gestured for
Shawn to join him. "Yes and no. His guys have taken shots at
"They left a lot of spent ammunition around the
"Right. But they also set a trap for me,
presumably to take me alive so that Durante could finish me off himself."
"He's willing to let one of them get you if it
gets the job done, but he'd prefer to do it himself if possible,” she surmised.
"I think so." Michael was finding it was
nice to be able to bounce his theories off of someone else. He didn’t
realize how many conversations he’d had in his head. It made it a
little more clinical and less personal to dissect Durante out loud.
"Kitt, do you know where he is?" Michael
"No. There is no one else in my range."
"How desperate do you think he'd get?" Shawn asked.
"I put him in prison. He tried to kill me
times before we captured him because he thought I'd seen his face.
I'm assuming he's not going to give up."
"Which means he's going to get more dangerous
if he thinks he's close to losing."
Michael thought about how he had gone from carefully
guarding his face at a secluded government data center to showing up at
a crowded wedding and killing a woman in plain sight. He got more
reckless when he felt cornered, that was true. And they’d stripped
him of all his advantages. He was likely to be very dangerous.
"Any ideas, buddy? " Michael asked, knowing Shaw's
comlink would pick it up.
"I think you should be careful first of all.
But I think you both now have the advantage. When he's in range,
I'll be able to tell you exactly where he is."
“It’s great to have my favorite secret weapon
back, buddy,” Michael said, genuinely appreciative despite his flippant
"We do have some other advantages as well.
Once he's in range, I should be able to determine what radio channel they're
on and listen in."
Michael was relishing the flip of power.
They were the ones calling the shots now and Durante didn't even know it
"So how do we take him out?" Shawn asked.
"I think the best way to find him is to continue
moving so that I can extend my range using your comlink," Kitt said.
"Once we find him, we can figure out what the
next step will be," Michael suggested. He knew exactly how he wanted
to handle the situation, but he didn’t think his companions were going
"As soon as Bonnie catches up with us, maybe we
can fan out and cover more ground.
Michael started. "Bonnie's out here?"
"Yes. She just stunned one of Durante's
men with an ultrasound," Kitt said.
"Kitt, I don't want her out here. It's too
"Michael, she's fine," Shawn said. "She's
actually better at this than I would have guessed.
Michael was horrified. He didn’t care if
she’d taken out ten of Durante’s men. If she was out here, Durante
could hurt her. "Kitt, tell her to go back and wait with you.
I don't want her out here. I don't want her anywhere near Durante."
He knew his voice was rising and he didn’t mean to be yelling at Kitt,
but he was not going to compromise on this.
"You know she won't like that," Kitt said softly.
"I don't care. I'll deal with that later.
I just can't deal with her out here now." Michael tried to soften
his tone – he knew he was reacting strongly, but he couldn’t help it.
"Please, Kitt, convince her to go back. I need to know that she's
"She’s not going to turn around without a fight,
but I’ll do my best."
"Thank you, pal."
Shawn waited a beat, and then said, "We should
probably get moving.”
Michael would feel better if he knew that Bonnie
was on her way back to the road, but he was going to have to leave that
to Kitt. Reluctantly, he forced his thoughts away from her and back
to getting Durante.
* * *
“Bonnie,” Kitt said over the comlink. “Shawn
has reached Michael's position. He's exhausted, as you would expect,
and has some minor injuries, but for the most part, he's fine."
Thank God, Bonnie thought, bending forward slightly,
letting the fear drain away. "Where are they?"
"About half a mile from your position."
Bonnie breathed another sigh of relief.
"Which way do I go?"
There was a drawn out pause, and then Kitt said
slowly, "Bonnie, I think it would be best if you came back to the road."
"Why?" she asked, completely surprised.
"We’ve found Michael. He and Shawn can take
care of Durante. I don’t think you should be out here with someone
"Kitt, I know he’s dangerous -- I’ll be fine.
I’ll be very careful." Bonnie wasn’t sure why he was suddenly deciding
this, after she had stunned one of the bad guys. She pulled her hair
back and held it behind her head in one hand, trying to rein in her frustration.
Kitt was obviously hesitant; there were long pauses
between his responses. "I don't you think you should be out there.
Durante could use you against Michael."
"I can take care of myself. And you’ll know
exactly where he is. I want to stay out here to help."
"You have helped. You stopped one of his men.
But I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay out there."
"Kitt, I'm not coming back," she said angrily.
"Bonnie, Durante killed Stevie. Michael
doesn't want you to get hurt. He doesn’t want to give Durante any
"I have an ultrasound, it'll be fine."
"You're probably right, but I think it would be
best to leave this to Michael and Shawn. They've been trained for
this sort of situation."
"Kitt, I can't just sit around and wait for them.
I've been waiting for three and a half days!"
"How many times did you wait for us in the old
That made her pause a minute. How many hours
had she tried to keep busy in the semi, wondering if this was the time
they weren’t coming home? Sometimes it had been excruciating.
There were plenty of nights when she didn’t sleep, waiting up with a sour
pit in her stomach. "Kitt that was different."
Bonnie let her hair fall back around her neck
and almost whispered into the comlink, "Because I love him."
"Then come back to the road. He needs to
know you're safe. If you love him, you'll give him that."
It was the last thing she wanted to do.
Michael was so close and Kitt wanted her to turn away from him. She
wanted nothing more than to see his face and touch him. The thought
of turning and walking away made her ill.
But if that was what Michael need her to do so
that he would be safe . . .
Bonnie swallowed all her instincts and desires.
She tried to crush down all the emotions that were telling her fight them
on this. "Okay," she said, quietly. “I’m coming back.”
"Thank you." Kitt sounded very relieved.
Bonnie glanced longingly at the path in front
of her and then turned her back to walk slowly towards the road.
* * *
"I'm picking up radio traffic to the east.”
Kitt said over Shawn’s comlink. “They seem to be trying to reach
someone. I would assume it's the man that Bonnie stunned."
"What channel?" Michael asked, swinging his bag
off his back.
"You have the right channel, but he's using a
coding scheme to subdivide the channels. If you press the button
marked PL and set your radio to code 18, you’ll be able to hear him."
Michael switched the setting on his radio and
waited. A voice broke through the static, calling for someone named
"Good work, Kitt," Shawn said.
"If they follow the pattern, they'll switch again
when they realize he's missing," Michael explained.
"I'll let you know what channel they go to if
he does," Kitt said.
Michael clipped the radio to his belt, and was
about to veer off to the east.
"I have a second signal," Kitt said suddenly.
"It's about one hundred meters northeast of the first."
"Any way to tell which one is Durante?"
"Yes. Based on the radio traffic, the person
further from you is Durante."
"So how do you want to take them out?" Shawn asked.
Michael had a few ideas. There was no reason
that Durante shouldn’t have to suffer at least a little bit. "Let's
get his last lackey first. I want him to know what it's like to be
out here alone."
Shawn gave him a look, but let it drop.
"You'll want to change your heading to bear a
little more east," Kitt said.
Michael glanced in the direction Kitt was indicating
and then motioned for Shawn to go ahead. He stayed to her left and
a little behind her as they resumed their hunt.
* * *
Michael looked through the bushes to his right,
caught Shawn's eye and waved her forward. He had to admit that she
was pretty good at moving quietly through the forest. She wasn't
completely silent, but not bad. He didn't know why he always found
himself sizing her up every time he worked with her. Well, it was
probably no more mysterious than simple jealousy. He found himself
questioning whether she was worthy of being Kitt’s partner. By all
accounts, probably not, but she was the one, and he was going to have to
live with that. At the moment he really had no right to be picky,
because here she was, helping him out of a jam.
The guy they were following was moving quietly
just in front of them. Michael pulled his ultrasound, but he knew
that since Shawn had the longer-range rifle, he was just there in case
the guy somehow got away from her.
Keeping one eye on Shawn's dark green jacket,
Michael crept forward, at an angle to her. They couldn't see the
man yet but they were within earshot, so he knew that Kitt was guiding
Shawn in with the text feature of her comlink. It was a wonderful
advantage to have Kitt lead him right to Durante's man. It saved
a lot of time floundering around.
Michael concentrated on keeping everything silent.
If they came up on the guy without his knowledge, there would be nothing
to this. A quick buzz from the rifle, and he'd go down without ever
knowing they were there.
Every so often Michael spotted Shawn's blonde
hair moving through the trees. He froze when he realized that she
had stopped. Michael carefully crouched down and squinted through
the trees, waiting. Finally he had a glimpse of the guy. He
was dressed in black, with a pack slung over his shoulder. Michael
glanced at Shawn in time to see her raise up the rifle. In a few
seconds he heard the distinctive popping sound that occurred on the backside
of an ultrasound blast. The man ahead of them dropped to the ground.
"It was a clean shot. He's unconscious,"
Kitt said out loud. Michael glanced down at his pistol and dialed
its intensity back to the lowest setting. Then he followed Shawn
into the clearing.
She knelt and turned the mercenary over, securing
his wrists with plastic cuffs. "Looks about like we expected."
As Shawn reached down to pull the automatic weapon
from him, Michael raised his ultrasound and pulled the trigger.
"Michael!!" Kitt yelled as Shawn slumped
to the ground over the man. "What are you doing?!"
Michael bent to take Shawn's comlink. "I'm
sorry, buddy," he said. "But this is my fight."
"You shot my partner! This is unacceptable!"
"I'm really sorry, but Kitt, this is Durante we're
talking about here!"
"Exactly!! That is why you need backup out
there! He's dangerous and you are clearly not in a state of mind
to go after him alone!"
Michael bowed his head slightly. "I'm not
alone," he said quietly.
There was a moment of silence and Michael knew
it was a manipulative thing to say and it probably had Kitt doing flips
in his CPU, but it was also the truth. Only he was afraid that now
Kitt was going to shut up in disgust.
When he did finally speak, his voice was calmer,
more subdued. "This is not acceptable, Michael. I disagree
with your actions completely. You had no right to shoot Shawn."
"Kitt, I need to be the one to take out Durante."
"And if you were in a rational state of mind,
we could have discussed it, instead of you taking matters into your own
hands. I don’t believe that I trust you to continue this. You
do not make good decisions when Durante is involved."
"Kitt, I can't just sneak up on him and shoot
him in the back."
"Of course you can. What are you going to
gain by confronting him?"
"I'm not sure. Hopefully some sense of closure."
Kitt was quiet again. Then he said, "Michael,
I disagree with this course of action. But since Shawn will be out
for at least an hour, and we're running out of daylight, I will continue
to help you, but understand it is under duress."
"Thank you, buddy. I'm sorry for doing it
this way, but I knew it was the only way you'd agree."
"We'll discuss it later. When you're safe."
"Thanks." Michael wasn't looking forward
to that discussion. He knew he was in the wrong, but it was the only
way that Kitt would allow him to go after Durante without her.
Michael carefully pulled Shawn to the side and
made her comfortable. Then he slung her rifle over his shoulder and
unclipped the radio from his sack. "What channel is Durante on?"
"Michael . . ."
"Kitt, what channel?"
"He's changed to code 12."
Michael changed the setting, took a deep breath,
and depressed the talk button. "Durante, you listening?" he asked,
his voice hard.
There was a pause and then the radio came alive
with soft static. "Mr. Knight. You've finally decided to have
a civilized conversation."
"I don't know if I'd say that. I just wanted
to let you know that the last of your men is lying unconscious at the moment.
You really should hire better help," Michael taunted.
"I'll take that under advisement."
Michael wanted to hear fear in his voice, but
it was stated matter-of-factly. "It's just you and me now, Durante."
"So I gather. To tell you the truth, I wanted
to be the one to kill you anyway. I look forward to seeing you die,
"Don’t bet on it, Durante. Your days of
freedom are numbered."
Durante laughed and the radio went silent for
"He isn't transmitting on this or any other channel."
Good. That meant he didn’t have any backup
that they didn’t know about. And their little conversation had gotten
Michael’s blood moving again. He felt the buildup of adrenaline in
his system, giving him the energy he needed to finally finish this.
* * *
And there he was. It was surprising to Michael
how mundane it seemed. Kitt led him to Durante, and now he was sitting
there, crouched low in the scrub, watching him. He had tracked Durante
for a while, following his every move through the forest. Durante
had finally stopped, and so had Michael.
"Are you going to finish this?" The words scrolled
along the face of the comlink. Not just yet, buddy, Michael thought.
He knew Kitt was worried, but he wanted to wait until the right time.
Durante was resting, drinking from a canteen. His automatic was propped
against a tree, a little to his right. Now was probably about that
Michael slid sideways, slipping between two large
evergreens, trying not to touch either of them. He couldn't make
a sound, or he risked Durante spotting him and possibly mowing him down.
Obviously not how he wanted things to end.
Michael had wanted to see something, some sign
that Durante had suffered. He was still small, slightly stocky.
If he had gained any weight, it wasn't showing in the usual places.
There was a thatch of hair sticking out from under his black cap.
It was salt and pepper, but more gray than black. From the side,
Michael could see that his cheek was saggy and lined. But nothing
seemed out of the ordinary about him. He didn't look like someone
responsible for destroying so much in Michael's life. He didn't look
like someone who had suffered, but then, Michael probably didn't either.
To see what he was looking for, Michael was going to have to look Durante
in the eyes.
Michael kept moving, always keeping careful watch
on the figure sitting by the tree. So far Durante was oblivious,
completely focused on something, although Michael wasn't sure what.
He glanced in the direction where Durante’s gaze was locked, but there
was nothing of interest. And if there had been, Kitt would have warned
him anyway. He stepped closer.
Michael pulled back a branch, careful not to snap
or rustle it, and then slipped by, keeping most of his body hidden.
He felt his comlink buzz and looked down.
"Be careful. There are a lot of loose twigs
under the maple ahead of you," Kitt said.
Michael froze in place as Durante moved.
Damn. Michael watched as Durante picked up his gun and started inspecting
it. He was hoping to get Durante when he was out of arms reach of
the weapon. Apparently, he had missed his window of opportunity on
Michael took a few more steps to the side so that
he was directly behind the tree that Durante was leaning against.
He had to fight with his own lack of patience. He wanted to rush
the tree, but with the weapon now in his hand, it was possible for Durante
to get the gun around before he spanned the distance.
"Please use your ultrasound," Kitt scrolled.
Sorry, buddy, Michael thought. He needed
to do this the old-fashioned, personal way. Looking down, Michael
counted the steps he'd need and checked for any roots or branches to trip
him up. He took two steps forward, paused and waited. Durante
Michael took another two steps and paused again.
He was close enough to see Durante's chest moving as he breathed.
Still fighting his impatience, Michael made himself take another breath
and then took three slow steps. He could see that the skin on the
back of Durante’s neck was brown and leathery -- coarse looking.
Michael took two more steps, and then veered sideways
to get a good angle with his right arm. Silently, quickly, Michael
slid one arm around Durante’s neck and wrenched him back against the tree.
Durante stiffened as soon as he realized what
had happened. Then he swung the automatic backward, nailing Michael
in the thigh with it. Michael jerked his arm to the side to grab
Durante’s weapon while tightening up on the arm around his throat.
"Drop it!" he growled.
Durante gave a bizarre choked off laugh and Michael
pulled back even harder on his throat. He felt Durante start to struggle
instinctively as his breathing was restricted. Michael yanked Durante’s
arm back and bashed it into the tree. Durante kept hold of the weapon.
Michael pushed him forward and then back, slamming him into the tree again,
this time concentrating on his shoulder. Durante still held the gun,
so Michael grabbed his wrist and started twisting.
Durante laughed again and Michael pulled harder
against his neck. Then he eased up, and Durante coughed, his voice
hoarse and dry. "I came here to kill you. You don't think I'm
just going to give up, do you?"
"You couldn't even kill me in my sleep, Durante.
All of your men are gone. You've got nothing left. Give it
"You sent me to prison, Knight. I won't
ever give up trying to avenge that."
"You killed my wife!" Michael yelled. "You
deserved worse than prison!"
Michael yanked on Durante’s wrist harder and pulled
his head back. Durante was smaller and not nearly as strong.
Michael knew he was in control of the situation, as long as Durante didn't
get his gun around.
"You should rot in hell,” Michael seethed.
"So by all means, send me there," Durante said
with a snicker. "Clearly this doesn’t end until one of us dies."
Michael forced Durant's arm into the tree again.
This time he heard a snap and felt Durante jerk upright in pain.
The weapon fell to the ground with a thud. Forcing Durante forward,
Michael kicked the weapon behind him. Then he shoved Durante ahead
of him. Durante fell cradling his broken wrist as Michael brought
the ultrasound up and aimed it at him.
Durante slowly turned and looked up at Michael.
His face was weathered and deeply lined. His eyes were filled with
the insane calm of someone bent on revenge and sure he was going to get
it. Michael wondered if anyone had ever seen anything like that in
his eyes. If so, it could only have been Durante, long ago in that
"I'd love to send you to hell, Durante.
But that's the difference between us. I'm not a cold blooded killer."
Michael said, his voice steel.
Durante laughed. "Then you're a coward.
You won't even kill me for your beautiful bride? You threaten me
with what, an ultrasound? A little toy. Of what concern is
it to me?"
"It concerns you because it means you’re going
back to jail. You’ll get to spend the rest of your life in a small
gray cell with nothing but the clothes on your back and a dirty mattress.
It’s a long way to fall for someone who had millions. You’ll never
get that back, you know. Everything you had is gone now. And
this little toy is going to take away the only thing you were able to get
back – your freedom." Michael pried into Durante's face with all
the intensity he had left and saw the barest flicker of something in Durante's
eyes. There were hints of a hidden emotion, barely visible between
the whirls of anger and the desire for revenge. It was what Michael
needed -- it was fear.
Durante's face became a mask again. "I'll
be out again almost as soon as they shut the cell door, Knight."
"Not this time. You think they’re going
to let you get anywhere near fresh air again, after this? I may not
be able to make you rot in hell, but I can send you to rot in prison!"
Durante's temper flared and in a split second,
he uncoiled from his crouch.
"Michael he's got a knife!" Kitt yelled over the
Michael threw himself to the side and squeezed
the trigger on the ultra sound as he was falling. He heard the knife
thud into a tree behind him as he saw Durante tumble to the ground in an
ungainly, unconscious sprawl.
"Michael, are you okay?" Kitt asked in a hurried
Michael looked around him, seeing the large hunting
knife shaking where it had sunken into the bark of the tree. He took
in a deep breath. "Yeah Kitt, I'm fine."
"I'm sorry. I didn't see the knife until
he moved it. It was too thin to be seen from that angle and at this
Michael smiled in relief. "You saw it when
it counted, Kitt. That’s all that matters."
Michael glanced down at Durante. "Call the
authorities, okay, pal?"
"And thank you, Kitt. For everything."
"You're welcome, Michael. I'm so glad you're
* * *
Somehow Michael's ankle didn't hurt quite so much
and he wasn't nearly as exhausted. The fact that Shawn was marching
in front of him in a foul mood didn't faze him either. She would
get over it. The only thing that mattered right now was that they
were going to meet up with Bonnie, and then they were all going home.
At first Michael thought it was going to be a momentary boost - the thrill
of getting Durante and ending this confrontation. But he was still
practically walking on water.
"Bonnie is approximately one hundred feet ahead
of you," Kitt said over the comlink. Shawn turned to see that he
had heard, but remained silent. Michael's good humor couldn't even
be deflated by the prospect of getting a lecture from Maddock on appropriate
and inappropriate uses of an ultrasound. He would think about that
Michael squinted through the trees and spotted
Bonnie sitting on a fallen log. The sight of her overwhelmed him
and for a moment he couldn’t breath. He hadn't realized that he had
been preparing himself all along for the possibility that he would never
see her again. Michael slowed to a stop, his heart catching in his
throat. He also realized that he had been preparing himself for the
possibility of losing her – of seeing her lying on the ground, her life
slipping away. But there she was, her head tilted down, her soft
brown hair falling in front of her face. He felt weak with relief.
He was so glad that she had decided to wait for them here.
Michael forced his legs to start moving again,
and he slowly stepped into the clearing. Bonnie almost seemed to
sense him more than see him. Slowly, she picked up her head, met
his eyes, and swallowed sharply. In the span of seconds she
was in his arms and he found himself hugging her tightly and rocking her
"I was so worried about you. I thought .
. . are you okay?" she asked in a rush.
"Yeah. I'm fine now."
"You were gone and I didn't know where to look."
"I know. I'm sorry. I needed to be
sure you were safe. I couldn't let anything happen to you, so I had
to get him away from the cabin."
She squeezed him tighter. "I know why you
did it, but don't you ever disappear like that on me again," she said,
her voice muffled against his chest.
Michael drew in the scent of her hair as he cuddled
her to him. It was amazing how just her smell could make everything
seem okay. He had missed her so much. "I think from now on
I'm going to be better about keeping my cell phone charged."
Bonnie gently tapped her forehead against his
chest. "I think I’m just going to come up with a way of implanting
a homing device. You always did need a keeper." Michael couldn't
tell for sure if she was laughing or crying. Most likely it was a
little of both.
"If you want the job, it's yours," he said softly.
Peripherally, Michael was aware of the fact that
Shawn was moving on ahead of them. He knew it was getting late and
they should get back before dark, but after all this time out here wanting
to get home, now he was happy to stay a few minutes more so that he could
hold the woman he loved.
* * *
Michael had ditched his crutches in favor of carrying
his orange juice and toast out to the picnic table himself. He was
surprised that Bonnie had let him do that much. Between the sprained
ankle and the wounded arm, she was not letting him do anything. She
was hovering over his as badly as she used to hover over Kitt. But
for a change, he had gotten a doctor at the emergency room who had suggested
sending him home without any prompting. Michael had had all his usual
arguments lined up, and had been a bit dumbfounded when he hadn’t needed
them. Of course he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
He got out of there as quickly as his crutches would carry him.
“How are you feeling?” Kitt asked, rolling over
to join him.
“I’m fine. It was great to finally get some
sleep.” It was well after 10:00 in the morning. Michael almost
never slept that late.
“I’m sure it was.”
“The drugs don’t hurt either,” he quipped.
“So when are you headed back?”
“Maddock called this morning and wants me back
as soon as possible, but I think I’ll stay for breakfast,” he said impishly.
Maddock had come down last night in the Foundation’s
jet to oversee everything. Michael was pretty sure he just wanted
to see the commotion for himself, and maybe hob-knob with whatever agency
guys were out there. After Kitt had called in, they had been descended
upon by men in unmarked cars and even a helicopter. Durante had been
taken away before the local authorities had even arrived. In a way,
Michael was glad that Maddock had been there. Michael had overheard
him threatening one of the agents with all sorts of publicity. Michael
didn’t know if that meant much or not, but at least the Foundation was
going to do what they could to keep Durante where he belonged.
“Thanks for coming to my rescue, pal,” Michael
“And pass my thanks on to Shawn again.”
“Maybe in a day or two,” Kitt said, judiciously.
Maddock hadn’t stayed long last night, and Shawn had gone back with him
on the jet, ostensibly to get a jump on the cases they had been neglecting.
But Michael knew she was still angry. He had tried to apologize,
but she had brushed it off.
Bonnie came out through the still-damaged patio
door carrying a tray of pancakes, syrup, and berries. She set the
tray down and turned to make another trip.
“I can help you bring things out,” Michael offered.
“Sit,” she said, not stopping.
“I have a sprained ankle, I’m not an invalid,”
“And the doctor told you to stay off it,” she
called on her way back into the cabin.
Michael sighed and picked up a piece of toast.
“She’s going to take care of you, Michael, whether
you like it or not. I’ve found over the years, it’s best not to argue.
Besides, she is your girlfriend.”
Michael gulped down a swallow of orange juice.
“I don’t know which is worse, being smothered by my girlfriend, or taking
romantic advice from a computer.”
"You could find worse sources for advice," Kitt
said primly. "Besides, even I know that you enjoy the attention."
Bonnie was back with a tray of eggs and bacon.
“There’s enough food here to feed an army, you
know,” Michael said, slightly awed.
“I thought that after eating MREs for six days,
you might appreciate it.”
Michael gently took hold of her arm to stop her
from going back into the kitchen for a third time. “I do appreciate
it. But what I’d appreciate more is your company.”
Bonnie glanced back at the cabin. “But the
coffee . . .”
“I’ll survive without it for now."
Bonnie slowly sat down on the picnic bench and
leaned into him. She could say as much with her silences as with
her frenetic attempts to take care of him. Michael wrapped an arm
around her, deciding that breakfast could wait a minute. He found
that he was surprisingly content. The worry, fear, and pain of yesterday
had already started to fade. It was so wonderful to have Bonnie in
his arms and Kitt here with them. He hoped they could both stay for
a while – it would make for a wonderful morning.
Michael surveyed the space that had become his
home. True, he was going to be busy making repairs and fixing things
up – he was going to be patching bullet holes for a while -- but it really
wasn’t that much worse for the wear. He spotted a nest of swallows
in the awning over the boat. Normally he’d knock it down, not wanting
to deal with the mess, but after watching the birds swoop back and forth
a while he decided that this time he’d leave it be.
Michael glanced over at Kitt. Then he gave
Bonnie a quick kiss on the top of her head and let her go so that they
could both eat their breakfast.
His heart wasn’t that much worse for the wear