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Brent Marken let his head sink back into the head rest of the cramped seat, feeling the fatigue of several weeks and his injuries pull at him. His eyes opened quickly as he sensed the flight attendant hovering over him.

"We'll be landing in New York in ten minutes. Do you need any help with your seat belt?"

He hated being so helpless but the heavy bandaging across his left side, that kept his left arm immobile against his chest, made it impossible to grab both ends of the seat belt.

"Please," he intoned softly, trying to hold his arm out of the way while the flight attendant fiddled with the belt in his lap, locking it in place and then tightening it securely. She beamed at him in a motherly way, and he half-expected her to lean forward and plant a kiss on his forehead but instead she drew away, her fingers brushing over his inner thigh suggestively before moving on to check on the rest of the passengers.

He swallowed hard, eyes glancing sideways to the small port hole where only a sea of grey was visible, trying hard to ignore the bumpy ride through the thick dirty-cotton wool clouds as the plane descended. One particularly heavy jolt sent his left shoulder bouncing off the fuselage, and he hissed, wishing he had delayed an hour before taking the last set of painkillers. He sighed. At least he had only one more hour to wait until he could take another dose.

Eventually, the plane passed through the thunderheads, the air less turbulent as they coasted towards a landing at JFK. Touchdown. He breathed a sigh of relief that the end of this flight was close at hand, hoping his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Marge, had passed across the details to his sister correctly. He was tired, and sore, and the thought of spending time at the terminal waiting for Ginny, or finding a cab to take him to her home in Upper Manhattan did not rest easy on his mind.

As he came through the gate he smiled softly in relief when he saw her waiting for him. Her eyes were big and green, glistening with unshed tears as she kissed his cheek.

"Hey," she greeted him softly.

He wrapped his one good arm around her, hugging her momentarily before he let her take his luggage. Together they crossed the concourse, dodging the crowds of people who were too preoccupied with their own destinations to notice his need to maintain a distance. He hissed as one man brushed past him, knocking his bad arm, but he pushed onwards, following Ginny to the small coffee bar and taking a seat. His confusion must have registered as she spoke before he could ask.

"It's the start of the rush hour. If we wait another half an hour before starting out then the worst will be over and we'll make better time. You allowed coffee?"

"Strong and black... no sugar." His words giving her all the answer she needed.

She grinned at him, a female reflection of his grin when he had the heart to find one within him. As he watched her thread through the crowd to order up two coffees, he began to wonder when he had last grinned in that carefree way. Certainly it had not been since before the first of the 'virgin killings', as it had been dubbed by the Press.

How long ago had that been now? Days? Weeks? Certainly not months though he seemed to have been in pain forever.... possibly since the whole thing started twenty-five years ago. He'd been a boy then. Young, foolish, believing he had the world at his feet... and drunk... very, very drunk. Too drunk at the time to change the course of events that would haunt him through a quarter century of his life.

His tired eyes scanned the crowded concourse as he waited for Ginny, his eyes darting back when he thought he recognized a figure in the heaving mass of humanity. He shook his head, knowing his eyes were most likely playing tricks on him, urged on by a fatigued mind that constantly dwelled on a young woman with a single white streak through long dark hair.

Ginny slid into the seat opposite after placing a coffee in front of him, and he dredged up a smile of thanks before taking a sip. It was hot, burning his lips and his tongue, and he hollowed his cheeks in shock, trying to cool the liquid before venturing to swallow it. He grimaced at the heat burning down his throat.

"It's hot." Ginny said with a grimace as she sipped at her own coffee, though hers had at least been cooled by the addition of cream.

"Just figured that out." His smile was a little more genuine this time, and he reached over with his good hand, laying it over Ginny's. "Thanks. For being here."

They spoke for a while and then Brent spotted the men's wash room.

"You mind waiting here a sec... I need to...You know, those airplane facilities are too damn cramped especially when..." He indicated towards his bandaged arm and chest. She nodded, and watched him cross the concourse until his figure disappeared within the crowd of rushing people.

-ooOOoo-

Missing Three Hours:

Jack Malone rifled through the file he'd been handed and then gathered up all the relevant documents, striding swiftly to where the rest of his team worked. In their line of work their hours were often erratic so he was not surprised to see all of them present having only just completed the last of the paperwork from the previous missing person's case.

He dropped the pile of folders onto the conference table, pulled out a photograph and then went up to the expansive white board. Someone, probably Martin, had already taken down the photo of Angela McCormack, and he felt sadness steal over him in remembrance of the small girl that had been found by joggers in a shallow grave in Central Park. The case had been handed over to Homicide, with the last few reports sent in barely fifteen minutes earlier.

He wished he could give his team a small respite; a chance to deal with the grief that followed whenever they 'lost' one, especially when it was a child. The only consolation, for what it was worth, was that they had found the girl. It was far worse when they had to scale down the search, leaving the case open and unsolved, perhaps never learning the fate of that missing person.

Jack placed the photo on the board, wrote in the case number and turned around, unsurprised to see his team already taking their seats with intrigue vying with frustration and grief in their eyes. Each new case was a mystery that needed to be solved with success giving the sort of high that adrenaline junkies thrived on. On another level, each case gave them the opportunity to delve into someone else's life for a short time, and to forget their own.

Jack grimaced, knowing that he had forfeited his marriage for this need to piece together the jigsaw of some other person's life, and find the missing pieces that would lead them to the person. How much had the others given up to be here? Or were they just beginning to learn the cost of being in the FBI?

"Okay, listen up everyone. We have a missing male Caucasian, age 43, six foot, blond/brown hair, green eyes... Sheriff Brent Marken. Arrived at JFK on the 16:35 shuttle. His sister, Virginia Allen met him. They had coffee to wait out the rush hour. He went off to use the men's wash room... and disappeared."

Martin leaned forward in his seat. "Sheriff?"

"Of Cherry Falls, New England."

"The 'Virgin Killer' case. Wasn't he involved in it all somehow?" Martin's eyes creased up in thought as he stared at the handsome face looking back from the white board.

"And that's why we need to find him... plus he's just been released from hospital against the wishes of his doctors, and he disappeared without taking the heavy duty painkillers prescribed to him. Man's going to be in a lot of pain by now... and not the sort that a couple of Tylenol will help."

"Why've we got this one?" Danny Taylor leaned in as well, hands splayed on the table top in front of him. "If he's running then the FBI have other teams--"

"At this moment he's not wanted by the FBI in connection with any crime, and there is no reason to believe there was any foul play--"

"Except that he'd run off without his painkillers," Vivian Johnson's wry tone brought a twist of a smile to Jack's face. They'd both had their share of injuries and knew how necessary those extra strength painkillers could be.

"Samantha, I want you and Danny to go check out the airport. Talk to the coffee bar staff, janitors, taxi drivers... someone must have seen him." His eyes moved around the table. "Martin... as you know so much about it already, you can gather all the info about this 'Virgin Killer' case."

Martin's blue eyes sparkled with curiosity, and Jack wondered if he was ever so resilient, bouncing back so quickly from the frustration of a sour case. Inwardly, he sighed, knowing that each of his team dealt with their feelings in different ways. If this new case had not been made a priority for the Missing Persons Team then Vivian would have gone home to cuddle her daughter, Samantha would have gone to find laughter with friends, and Danny would have worked out his frustrations on the basketball court, or beat the crap out of a punch bag at the gym.

Jack had no idea what Martin would do. He seemed to be the first one in and last one out each day, as if he had no life beyond his job. It occurred to Jack that perhaps he didn't have a life outside of this office. Martin was still the new boy on the team, and new to the city too, having left his family and friends in Washington DC, and New York could be a lonely place for someone new in town.

"You think it's connected." Martin's blue eyes had widened fractionally.

"At his point in time... it's all connected until we rule it out." He turned to face the petite black woman who was his right hand. "Vivian and I will go see the sister."

Samantha stood up, looking down at Danny as he leafed through the case notes that Jack had slid along the table. "Going to be hard getting anyone to remember a single face in a crowd at the airport."

Danny grinned up at her with his usual optimism. "True... they might not recall a single face BUT they might recall a man with a heavily bandaged left shoulder." He passed across a news photo taken five hours earlier of Brent Marken leaving the hospital, running the gauntlet of angry people and of reporters investigating the 'Virgin Killer' case. The bandaging was obvious even beneath the lightweight jacket.

"That might do it," she answered with a smile, and then grabbed her coat, leading the way out of the office with Danny in tow.

-ooOOoo-

Martin barely registered the others leaving as he sat down in front of his PC and began accessing files pertaining to Leonard Marliston, dubbed the 'Virgin Killer'. He already knew a fair amount about this case from the media coverage but that was not the same as reading the official reports, knowing there would be no supposition or sensationalism within -- just the raw facts.

Marliston's first victims had been a young boy and girl, kissing and petting in the boy's car at a well known lover's haunt around the small town of Cherry Falls. The first to arrive at the scene had been the town's Deputy Sheriff Mina, who called it in to the sheriff, Brent Marken. Unlike her boyfriend, Stacy Twelfmann had not died instantly. She had been tied to a tree and slowly sliced with a knife until she died of shock and blood loss. Her boyfriend had been stabbed repeatedly in a vicious frenzy, as if Marliston had worked off his anger on the boy's innocent flesh, leaving him calm and methodical in his torture of the girl.

Martin stared at the photos taken from the scene. He saw blood splattered everywhere that told its own macabre story of how the frightened teens had tried to escape their killer and hence, their terrifying fate. He felt his heart twist in grief for them, his feelings of inadequacy still too fresh from losing little Angie McCormack, even though her body had been placed in that tiny grave before the team had even reached the store from where she had been snatched.

He looked up at the photo on the white board and wondered how Marken must have felt that day, seeing the aftermath of two lives brutally taken, standing amid the blood and gore. He might even have known the parents for it was a small town, and both kids attended the same high school as his daughter... and both were in the same grade. Martin recalled his own grief as he and his colleagues stood just beyond the crime scene tape as the Coroner zipped Angie McCormack's small body into a bag to take to the morgue.

He shook his head, and focused on the new case.

The FBI had become involved when the killer struck again, upping his status to 'serial killer'. This time it was a girl alone in her house after her parents had gone out dining for the evening. They had returned to find their only child nailed to a cartwheel on the ceiling of their reception room; her body slashed and mutilated. She had died just as slowly as Stacy Twelfmann, and just as violently.

FBI agents Bronhill and Majestik had written their reports, attaching a copy of the Coroner's that revealed the killer's signature; the word 'virgin' carved into the flesh of each victim. Though the Coroner could be certain that the word applied to both girls, mainly because the hymen was still unbroken, he could only state that the boy had been sexually inactive at the time of his death. None of the victims had been sexually assaulted by their killer. It had been a major clue, emphasizing that the killer had been close enough to all three victims to know how sexually active they were, so it did not surprise Martin that the killer had turned out to be a teacher at the high school.

As he read on, he could envisage the mounting horror as Marliston turned his attention to Marken's daughter, Jody.

That final night had culminated in a rampage of terror as kids from the local high school arranged a party to remove themselves from the killer's hit list by losing their virginity. Marliston murdered the high school principle, Tom Sisler, and then kidnapped both Jody Marken and her father. However, Jody escaped with the help of her boyfriend, who had come looking for her, and Marliston then killed one of Marken's officers as he gave chase. He slashed his way through the party of kids at the old Lodge, and was only stopped when Jody pushed him off the balcony onto the wrought iron fence below. Even so, he had lived long enough to grab at another kid, intending to take one last victim with him, but several bullets fired by Deputy Mina had ended his violent rampage.

Marken had been found in Marliston's basement, having been dealt two potentially fatal blows from an axe during an attempt to stop the killer and give his daughter a chance to escape. However, evidence showed that he must have disturbed Marliston during the murder of Tom Sisler for he had head injuries that Forensics linked back to an blood covered object in Sisler's office; the DNA testing matched the blood to Brent Marken.

It should have ended there but people wanted to know why. Why had this intelligent, mild and pleasant young teacher at the high school -- Leonard Marliston -- turned into a blood-crazed killer? What had Tom Sisler to do with it? He was the only adult intentionally murdered, found tied to a chair in his office with the words 'Not Virgin' carved into his forehead.

However, anomalies suggested that Marken had been another intended victim.

When Marken discovered Tom Sisler's mutilated body, Marliston had knocked him unconscious rather than kill him outright -- as he had done with officer charged with watching over the kids at the 'cherry popping' party. Then he had kidnapped Marken, binding and gagging him with duct tape, and transporting him to his basement inside an old trunk used by the drama department at the school.

What linked the two men -- Brent Marken and Tom Sisler? He had a feeling that the answer to that question lay in the most recent newspaper accounts that he had yet to read because of his deep involvement in the search for little Angie -- and in Leonard Marliston's past.

The phone rang as Martin pulled up newspaper articles pertaining to the case while he waited for access to the personal records on Leonard Marliston. He picked up the phone just as the Marliston details began to scroll onto the screen.

"It's Jack. Marken's daughter, Jody, is on a flight due to land at JFK in one hour. I want you to meet her and bring her back to the office."

"Will do."

Martin pulled his jacket off the back of his chair and pulled it on as he strode towards the elevator. In his hand he clutched at the Marliston file, quickly printed off in the knowledge that he would have time to read it while he waited for Jody Marken's flight to arrive. He stopped on the threshold of his work area and looked back at the white board. There was something about Brent Marken that caught at his senses. Something in the way he half-smiled; something haunting his eyes, and Martin felt a strange need to discover exactly what that could be.

-ooOOoo-

Jack took a seat on the plush sofa opposite Virginia Allen while Vivian took a seat closer, a notebook lying on her lap. He listened as Virginia recounted the way she had greeted her brother just beyond the arrivals gate, recalling how withdrawn he had seemed with his face lined with the physical pain that he couldn't hide. She had suggested that they wait out the early evening rush, and led him over towards a small coffee bar which had a modicum of privacy in case he wanted to talk.

Virginia leaned forward and picked up her coffee, taking a sip and her mind rushed back to when she had last seen and spoken to Brent...

-ooOOoo-

"It's hot." Ginny said with a grimace as she sipped at her own coffee, though hers had at least been cooled by the addition of cream.

"Just figured that out." His smile was a little more genuine this time even though he'd obviously burned his mouth on the scalding black coffee, and he reached over with his good hand, laying it over Ginny's. "Thanks. For being here."

"That's what sisters are for, Brent." Her expression turned serious. "How's Jody taking all this?"

She didn't elaborate, knowing it had to be a double blow to hear that her parents had finally given up on their sham of a marriage. They could have timed it better, perhaps waited for the dust to settle from the Marliston case before making this decision but Ginny had known the marriage was dead almost from the start. Brent had only married Marge to cast aside aspersions pertaining to his sexual preferences, having been labeled a 'faggot' more than once because of his shyness with the opposite sex. She knew he didn't love Marge but he had known her from second grade, and so she was like a worn, familiar blanket that he could use to hide under.

It took seven years for him to give her the child she craved and Ginny understood why after a drunken revelation from Marge many years earlier. It took an act of sex to have a child... and there had been precious little of that in their marriage. Her thoughts centered back on Brent as he sighed heavily.

"She doesn't know. Jody thought I'd be coming straight home from the hospital. But Marge thought it might be for the best if I... went away." He ducked his head. "She'd barely left my side since..."

He couldn't say it, and Ginny realized that he couldn't yet deal with the fact that he'd almost been chopped into firewood by a man who thought Brent was his father... and who hated him for it.

"She thought she saw Loralee Sherman after the FBI interviewed her, just after I came out of surgery, and she didn't want to leave in case..." His words drifted of again, his eyes taking on a faraway look of remembered horror.

"Jody's got a lot of you in her. This need to protect--"

"I didn't protect Loralee--"

"You were drunk, Brent. You were so drunk you could barely walk let alone... *do*... what she accused the four of you of doing." She grabbed at his fingers. "You didn't rape her... but maybe at least one of the others did."

"I couldn't remember anything at the time. Just images... flashes of moments that were meaningless even after her father made those accusations. Yet I knew what I was doing, I knew what was happening to her... to me... but it was all outside of my own body, and there was no struggling. All I can really remember is that she just lay there... so still. I can't describe... such a contradiction."

"I know." She spoke soothingly as if to a distressed child. "Alcohol has that effect on some people... and drugs."

"I've never taken drugs--"

"You did that night. Tom Sisler slipped them into your drink when you weren't paying attention. He told me that ten years back. Perhaps he drugged her too."

She read the abhorrence in his eyes. "You'd kept in touch with Tom?"

"For a while... not so much after he married Carolyn, but he contacted me when he was offered the Principle's job in Cherry Falls. You were already Sheriff then, and he wanted to know if he ought to take it or not... because of you."

"I had a few misgivings when he took the job. Mostly because of the past."

He leaned back in his seat and wiped his hand across his fatigue-lined face, and they sat in silence for perhaps five minutes, nursing the cooling coffee. Ginny glanced at her wristwatch.

"The main rush will be over soon... and you're tired. You can rest as soon as we get home."

"You mind waiting here a sec... I need to... you know those airplane facilities are too damn cramped especially when..." He indicated towards his bandaged arm and chest. She nodded her agreement, understanding all too well how difficult it was using the plane facilities when able-bodied let alone while incapacitated, and the flight would have been a little bumpy too. As he made to stand she heard him grunt softly with pain.

"Did the doctors prescribe any painkillers?"

"Yeah... but I can't take them for at least another half an hour." He delved down the small flight bag and brought out a small plastic tub packed with tablets, rattling it once before replacing it in the bag. "See, mother?"

She watched him cross the concourse, taking the last few sips of her cold coffee, his figure disappearing in the crowd of rushing people...

-ooOOoo-

Jack nodded his head, as Ginny's eyes lost that faraway look that people tended to get when they were recalling scenes from the past.

"I waited about ten minutes. Thought he might be having a little trouble... because of the arm..." She shrugged, looking faintly embarrassed at raising such a delicate issue. "After that I started to get a little concerned so I went across." Her face took on a pinkish tinge. "It was so embarrassing. I had to ask a man if he wouldn't mind checking the wash room... in case Brent was in difficulty or... But, according to the wash room attendant, no one fitting Brent's description had gone in."

Jack knew that Danny and Samantha would be questioning the attendant to confirm this but he knew, instinctively, that Virginia Allen was telling the truth. Brent Marken had disappeared between leaving the coffee bar and reaching the wash room.

Vivian continued to ask her questions in the hope of prompting some memory. Often, the last person to see the missing person had seen something out of the ordinary but had not realized that it was important.

"Do you recall there being anyone taking more than a passing interest in your brother?"

Virginia shook her head slowly. There had been a few looks but mostly aimed at the heavy bandaging, and there had been the fleeting glances of passers-by... except for one man.

"There was a man. He took a seat about twenty... thirty feet away and took out a newspaper. But I caught him staring across at us the once. Next time I looked up he'd gone so... so it's probably nothing."

"Could you describe this man?"

She shook her head. "White. Dark hair... and he wore a scruffy denim jacket. That's what made me notice him. Didn't seem the type to be reading the Times."

The cellphone in Jack's pocket trilled, and he took it out with an apology, moving away to answer the call. Samantha spoke.

"Jack? We talked to the wash room attendant. He recalls Virginia Allen asking about her brother, and confirms that no one fitting Marken's description came in."

"Ask him another question. Ask him if he recalls a white Caucasian, dark hair, wearing a scruffy denim jacket around the same time."

Silence reigned for a beat while Samantha absorbed the request and though he could hear the question in her tone as she agreed to follow his request, she did not voice her curiosity. When he replaced the phone in his jacket pocket and turned back, he noticed that Vivian was gathering up her papers. She had a strong instinct of knowing when there would be no more answers forthcoming and he watched as she handed over a card with the number for the Missing Person's Unit.

Jack walked to the door with even more questions filling his head, becoming more convinced that Marken's disappearance had something to do with the Marliston case. He glanced at his watch. Marken had been missing for over four hours now, and he hoped Jody Marken might be able to give them a clue where to look for him.

-ooOOoo-

The grave stood alone, with weeds and grass choking the freshly hewn stone as if it had stood there for years rather than weeks, and with the brown and withered remnants of a wreath crumbling against it. No one came here to tend the grave. No one placed fresh flowers each week in memory of the life buried deep within the earth below this neglected marker. Above her were dark clouds swollen with rain that threatened to fall at any moment. Jody looked at the words carved into the pitted surface of the grey slab of granite.

Brent Marken... beloved husband and father.

As she watched, droplets of blood welled from the stone, running in tiny rivulets down the furrows made by the letters, pooling at the base of the stone. A flash of steel glinted brightly as if sunlight had found a tear in the curtain of dark grey sky, and the stone cracked, split by the falling axe, the sound reverberating through her...

Her eyes snapped open, shocked out of her nightmare as the overhead compartment slammed shut. The man gave her an apologetic look as he took his seat, having replaced a novel in his carry-on luggage. She watched him for a moment as he settled, wishing she had taken the time to bring something to read, anything to take her mind off the past two weeks, and off this new fear for her father. She checked her wristwatch as the seat belt sign lit up. A glance through the port hole revealed only the darkness of the moonless night sky. Heavy clouds obscured even the bright lights of the suburbs below even though Jody knew they were perhaps only a few minutes away from landing JFK.

Without volition, her thoughts drifted back, recalling how she had awoken from the first variation of this particular recurring nightmare, that time by the rattle of a trolley in the corridor beyond the ICU room...

-ooOOoo-

Two Weeks Earlier:

She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stared across the bed, ignoring the paraphernalia of tubes and wires, ignoring the heavy, pristine white bandages as she stared at the battered face. Her eyes flicked to the monitor set to one side of the bed, her heart beat slowing back to normal as she watched the steady pulse wave travel across the small screen, and heard the reassuring blip that told her that her father was still alive.

Jody dragged a hand back through her dark hair as images of the past few days came back to haunt her. Once more, she saw the crazed man who had been killing virgins in their small town, watching as he metamorphed into a parody of his mother using a dark, white streaked wig, woman's clothing and fake, bright red fingernails. She heard his insane reasons for the murders he had committed as he applied his make-up, watching helplessly as Marliston forced her father to confess to the greatest sin of his youth; the night he and three drunken friends had raped a girl not much older than she.

But she had already known of his sin from the past, having overheard her father talking to someone on the phone about a Loralee Sherman, and having started her own investigation. Her desire to know had led her to the basement archives in the library where her mother had found her and, under duress, had revealed everything she knew about that night twenty-five years earlier.

It had been hard to believe that this man whom she had known and loved all her life could be guilty of such a terrible crime upon another. In her despair Jody had run to the one person she thought she could trust -- her English and Drama teacher -- automatically helping him to unload a heavy trunk from his car and into his house as she spoke of her feelings of betrayal.

With the trunk poised at the top of the stairs to the basement, his strange words had cut through her misery and self-pity. Perhaps it was some sixth sense inherited from her father but, suddenly, she knew something was amiss.

Marliston gave the trunk a shove and it slid to the bottom of the stairs, cracking against the basement wall at the bottom. He had seemed highly amused as she moved cautiously down the stairs, demanding to know what lay in the heavy trunk that she recognized from school.

"Your father," he had said in a matter-of-fact way. "Possibly mine."

When she saw her father tied and gagged with duct tape inside that large trunk, all her self-righteous anger and self-pity evaporated in fear. Blood ran down the side of his face; his pain-filled eyes shining with fear that, instinctively, she knew was for her as well as for himself. No matter what terrible crime he had committed in the past, he did not deserve this. No one did.

Trapped in the basement, she lost consciousness when Marliston attacked her, discovering on awakening that she had been strapped to a dentist's chair.

Despite her words that he did not need to confess as she already knew about that terrible night, her father had made his admission of guilt; his confession, bringing a lump to her throat as the years of hidden pain and remorse spilled from him.

Now, in her mind's eye she could see it all. She could see the young, shy, strange girl with the white streak of hair within her long dark strands, standing beside her broken down car. She could almost feel Loralee's relief when another car pulled up, recognizing the four boys inside -- especially the one she had secretly adored: Brent Marken, captain of the football team. Jody had seen photos of her father as a young man. He had been so handsome -- and he still was -- with his soft green eyes, his shock of sun-kissed blond hair and his lean and muscular form.

Her mother had once told her how he had been the object of lust for so many of the girls at the school, but she had been the one he chose. Childhood sweethearts -- and apart from that one night -- the only girl he'd ever had sex with even to this day. The bitterness in her mother's tone had never truly registered until now. Had her mother hated the fact that he had been with another, or hated the crime he had committed?

It made Jody's heart ache for him, especially as he and her mother had been estranged for most of Jody's life, sleeping in separate beds, living separate lives. Her father had immersed himself into his job and, eventually, her mother had found solace at the bottom of a bottle, and in the arms of other men. She wondered if they would still even be together if not for their seeming obligation to the child they had created between them --to her.

A soft sigh caught at her, bringing her back from her deep thoughts, and she reached out to stroke his hand, careful avoiding the cannula and IV line taped to the back. He settled immediately but it was a while before her thoughts returned to the basement of Marliston's house...

-ooOOoo-

Although they had split up only a day earlier, her boyfriend, Kenny, had come looking for her, leaving the 'cherry popping' party after deciding that he wanted to lose his virginity with *her* rather than some other girl. They had been together for over a year, and she had deliberately stopped their relationship from taking that final physical step because she had wanted to please her father by staying a virgin until the day she married.

The 'Virgin Killer' had changed all of that. Scared parents no longer fought against the sexual proclivities of their young, with some actively encouraging them to take that final step into adulthood, wanting their children to be safe from the killer.

She recalled with a bitter laugh how Kenny had been jealous of Leonard Marliston, perhaps even believing Jody had formed a crush on the high school's newest teacher. This jealousy had saved her life, bringing Kenny to Marliston's door that night. He had seen her bicycle propped up outside Marliston's home, and he had rung the bell insistently, forcing Marliston to answer the door to him, and refusing to accept that she was not inside despite his claims. Some how, Jody had managed to cry out loud enough to be heard, and Kenny had come to the rescue, locking Marliston out of the house and bounding down the stairs into the basement.

Kenny had sliced through her father's restraints first, leaving him to finish removing the rest while Kenny freed her from the straps holding her to the dentist's chair. Being too intent on making their escape, she barely registered the pain of her inner thigh from where Marliston had been disturbed while carving the word 'Virgin' into her flesh. Then she heard the sound of wood splintering as Marliston used an axe to chop through the wooden front door, knowing they had run out of time.

Marliston had blocked off their escape route.

Her father had ordered them to run, and she had seen his determination to hold Marliston back for as long as he could, no matter the cost. In hindsight, she wished she had stayed; wished she and Kenny had attacked Marliston together and brought him down, but they had been so scared.

She had not been there when her father lost his fight against the younger, deranged Marliston; his head injury contributing to his weakness. However, in her nightmares she knew she would always see the maniacal expression in Marliston's blue eyes, and imagine the rise and fall of the axe, knowing it would bite deep into her father's vulnerable flesh.

Her thoughts returned, carried back to the ICU by the steady beep of his heart beat, and the gentle sound of his breathing. Her eyes moved to the heavy white bandages encasing his left shoulder, arm and chest, all too aware of how her father's life had been saved by the thin metal frame of the dressing mirror that he had dragged across him in a last ditch attempt to protect himself. It had taken the brunt of the potentially killing blows, stopping the axe from severing his arm or biting deep enough to damage internal organs. Even so, he would still have died if Marliston's neighbors had not come to investigate after hearing the shouts and seeing someone race from away from the house. And he would have bled to death if one had not applied pressure with his dressing gown to stem the flow while his wife called for the paramedics.

Had it only been two days ago?

"Jody?"

Her mother's voice drifted from the threshold and Jody turned to her, her lips tightening in readiness for yet another battle.

"The doctors don't expect him to wake up for some time yet, because of the concussion... and you need to sleep in a proper bed."

"I'm not leaving, mom. I know what I saw."

Her mother sighed, pulling out a cigarette and then stuffing it back into the pack in annoyance as she recalled where she was. "A trick of the light... a figment of your imagination. He's dead, Jody."

Jody looked away. The morning after the incident she and her mother had been leaving the police station after being interviewed by the two FBI assigned to the case, and Jody could swear she had seen someone standing on the far side of the street. It was a figure with long dark hair with a single streak of white through it. She knew it was not Marliston for she had seen him take his last breath but what of his mother, Loralee?

Had she come back to Cherry Falls? Had she been hoping her son would grant her revenge for the shame and brutality inflicted upon her that terrible night? Loralee had loved Jody's father from afar, writing poems and love letters that she would never send, but the line between love and hate was fine. She had taken out her pain on the child borne out of that rape, hating Marliston for not being Brent's son, though Marliston wanted to believe that she was wrong.

Jody thought about Marliston's claim that he and her father had the same eyes, but he was delusional for his eyes were blue and her father's that soft shade of moss green. If anything, Marliston looked most like another boy who shared so many photos with her father from his high school years but that boy had left the small town soon after the rape. His rich family had moved away to Washington DC, wanting to escape the small town scandal that might ruin the political career of his father -- and his own political aspirations. Only two of the four boys involved in the rape had stayed in the town: her father and Tom Sisler.

Marliston had murdered Tom Sisler, taking his revenge on one of the four rapists whose actions had brought him life but who had also condemned him to a childhood of brutality and abuse at his mother's hand.

Loralee Sherman's family had also left, unable to face the stigma of their daughter being branded a whore even though she had been the victim. That was the part Jody could still not comprehend. Her father had stood for justice for most of his adult life and yet he had allowed the greatest of injustices to fall upon Loralee. She frowned, but he had been little more than a boy at the time and, perhaps his choice of occupation had been his way of making atonement.

"I know what you're thinking, Jody. That you saw Loralee Sherman on that street."

"What if she had been behind this... urging her son to kill... to give her the revenge she wanted?" Jody looked hard at her mother. "What if she's just waiting for the opportunity to finish what he started?"

Her mother had no answer for her, and Jody thought back to the two FBI officers who had interviewed them that day. Once more the past had been buried. She had honored her mother's request to deny any knowledge of why Marliston had committed those murders and how her father had been involved. Yet, perversely, Jody wanted justice for Loralee but she would wait until she had spoken with her father, needing to know why he had hid the truth all those years before she revealed all the sordid details to the world.

"What they did to Loralee was wrong." She whispered softly as she felt her mother kneel down beside her and take her hand.

"At the time, your father couldn't recall what happened. They'd been drinking all night, and he'd been so drunk. Pieces have come back to him over the years... flashbacks to that night but... with no clear memory, how could he say who was right and who was wrong? Loralee reeked of alcohol so it was just her word against the three other boys."

"I want to know if Marliston was my half-brother."

"Why? What good will it do? Why rake up a past that's best buried--?"

Jody snatched her hand back from her mother's. "You all thought it was buried before... but it wasn't." Her voice softened. "I have a right to know if he was my brother."

Her mother bowed her head, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it, now uncaring that she was in the hospital. Jody felt an impulse to snatch the cigarette from her mother's fingers and crush it beneath the heel of her shoe but her mother's slight nod pulled at her instead.

"All right. I'll--I'll have a word... and see if they'll run a paternity test."

Her mother seemed to have aged a decade by the time she rose back to her feet. She laid her hand on Jody's shoulder and then stumbled away leaving Jody alone with her father once more.

Jody turned back to stare at the handsome yet bruised and discolored features, wondering what other secrets lay hidden deep inside the man she still loved with all her heart...

Her thoughts came back to the present as the flight attendant stopped beside her to check her seat belt was on, and Jody leaned her head back as she felt the plane descend through the thick layers of cloud. The ride was bumpy for a time, and she looked out the port hole in time to see the plane break through the lowest layer, revealing the glow of lights from the city.

-ooOOoo-

As he pulled into a parking lot reserved for official business, it occurred to Martin that Jack could just as easily have asked either Danny or Samantha to meet Jody Marken. After all, they were still in the airport interviewing staff and regular visitors, and chasing down leads.

Sometimes, the way Jack worked confused him, and yet there was intrinsic logic behind all his decisions that made Martin wonder if the man ever played Chess. He had a feeling Jack Malone would be a formidable opponent.

Martin's father played Chess, though infrequently, and tried to instil a sense of the game into his son in the belief that it would make him a better man. Trouble was, his father only knew about winning -- at any cost. For Martin, playing Chess with his father was a lesson in how to lose, and he'd become sick of losing all the time. They hadn't played a game in years, not since he left for college, and Martin wondered if his years on the Chess Team would stand him in good stead should he ever decide to challenge his father.

A smile curved the corner of his mouth. Perhaps he ought to throw down the gauntlet between his dad and Jack, see which of them proved victorious. The smile faded in the realization that, though strong-minded and intelligent like his father, and though filled with an equal desire to win, Jack had more compassion in his little finger than his father had in his whole body. He'd seen that on the night they took that sick pervert, Graham Spalding, on a ride to the Coleman Caves in the hope of finding the missing boy alive. Spalding had kidnapped and tortured Andy Deaver with the intention of abusing and then murdering him. Jack had played up to the man's sick fantasies, his soft voice lulling the man into believing he was sympathetic to his desires -- and even shared them -- describing the boy's soft flesh, offering him fifteen minutes to do whatever he pleased... if he would tell them where to find Andy Deaver.

It had been hard driving in silence, hearing the disgusting words whispered by Jack that made his stomach roil, but Spalding had bought into the lie. He had revealed the location of the boy in time to save Andy Deaver's life. But Martin had also seen the cost Jack paid, averting his eyes to give Jack a measure of dignity when he threw up, and then later when their superiors had berated Jack's actions in taking Spalding on that drive against orders.

On that occasion it had been worth it, and they had laid to rest the souls of over a dozen boys that Spalding had abused and murdered over the years. Spalding would never see the outside of a prison for as long as he lived, though in many ways, Martin wished Spalding had suffered the same fate as Marliston.

Even though he had warned them of his imminent arrival, Martin was surprised to see Danny waiting for him.

"Think we have a new twist on the case." Danny slapped his hand on Martin's back and steered him towards one of the other entrances where Sam stood waiting with a stranger.

Martin eyed the man, recognizing him as the type he saw all the time yet tended to ignore. The man was neatly dressed and well groomed, and by his feet lay a small stack of pamphlets proclaiming to know the way to the light. Martin knew that Jehovah's Witnesses were not the only religious people to frequent the airports and bus terminals, hoping to catch the weary traveler and spread the word of whatever god they worshipped.

"Mr. Simmons, would you mind repeating what you told me... to my colleague?"

"Certainly. You asked if I had seen anyone with a heavily bandaged left arm and shoulder. Well, I saw him. I'd only arrived a few minutes earlier... to take over from George. We were exchanging pleasantries...."

-ooOOoo-

"Charlene wants you and Joyce to join us after the service. She's made--"

Mark stepped back as he saw the approaching man, quickly deciphering the pained expression as he caught sight of the thick bandage strapping the man's left arm to his chest. His initial temptation was to offer some spiritual solace but the aura of menace surrounding the second man stopped him.

"Keep walking, Bren. We have a driver waiting."

Mark had seen people like that one before, and he knew that kind were more trouble than they were worth. George knew it too, and so they stepped back to let the men pass unaccosted. A dark BMW pulled up to the kerb and Mark winced in pain as the injured man was encouraged to get in with a not too gentle push....

-ooOOoo-

Martin nodded as the faraway look left the man's eyes.

"The car pulled away, and that's it."

Danny asked the next question. "What about this second man? Can you recall anything about him? Skin color, hair color, the clothes he wore?"

"White, dark brown hair, casual dress."

Sam gave a small smile, "Denim jacket, maybe a little on the scruffy side?"

"No." He lengthened out the negation, eyes narrowed in thought. "More of a sports coat. Expensive."

It threw out the idea that this man Jack had told them to mention had been connected with Marken's disappearance, but they were used to Red Herrings in their line of work. Martin recalled one of the first cases he had worked on, where they had been searching for a missing child. He had drawn office duty after fouling up his first case with the team and almost getting both him and the missing person killed by the man who had kidnapped her. His punishment had been to collate phone calls from the public after a media announcement concerning the missing child. He smiled softly in remembrance. If every one of those people were to be believed then that kid had clones running all over New York.

Danny asked the next question. "Around what time was this?"

"Well, I was supposed to start at five but I was ten minutes early. George and me... we rotate shifts throughout the evening... two hours on, two hours off."

Martin caught Sam's and then Danny's eye. The time frame fitted exactly, and implied that Marken had left the airport within minutes of leaving his sister's side. There was still no positive proof that he had been kidnapped but it was enough to raise serious doubts that he had gone willingly. A new voice intruded.

"Mark?"

"Ahh!! This is George Cromer. Your young lady here asked me to give him a call. We don't leave the airport until the end of the evening. No point rushing home only to come straight back."

They asked Cromer the same set of questions, showing him a photograph of Brent Marken, and then they listened as he related his version of the events but something about both versions struck Martin. He frowned as he tried to grasp the elusive thought, and then it clicked into place.

"You said you overheard the man calling him Bren... not Brent?"

Danny gave a snort and commented softly. "Bren... Brent... most people drop the 'T'"

"Yes. He definitely said Bren." Cromer raised his eyebrows at Danny. "*Without* the 'T'... and I believe it was deliberate."

"Why?"

"Because he had a polished accent... and he put the 'T' in 'waiting'."

"You're sure?" Martin tilted his head. "I mean, this was one overheard sentence--"

"I like accents... it's why I enjoy spreading the word of GOD here at the airport. You hear so many different tones, languages. I'm quite a scholar--"

"You said he had a polished accent?" Martin watched the man intently, an idea forming in his mind.

"Yes... a New England accent... an educated man."

Danny stepped in. "Can I ask why you recall this so clearly?"

"Because there was something strange going on... and they were being followed..."

-ooOOoo-

George handed over the pile of pamphlets to Mark and agreed to join Mark and Charlene after the service tomorrow. He looked up to see two men approaching. One appeared to be in a lot of pain, with a pale and drawn complexion and George's eyes fixed on the white bandages visible beneath his light cotton jacket. The other man seemed determined to get his friend out of the airport, gripping his forearm tightly and propelling him forward at speed.

He sensed Mark's indecision but the second man's eyes challenged them to interfere so George stepped back to let them pass. He watched as the injured man was pushed into the back of a black BMW, seeing the strain on the man's face and almost hearing the small cry of pain. The car pulled away sharply, and George glanced at Mark, wondering what he made of it all.

Mark shook his head and shrugged. They both knew it was none of their business and any interference would lose them any standing they had with the airport authorities. Neither of them wanted to have any complaints laid against them as that would lead to them being refused access to the terminus. George had no intention of spending an evening standing in the cold night air this winter.

As he walked away, intending to find a quiet corner to read, he almost walked into an agitated man, and then realized that the man had been shadowing the two who had passed them a minute earlier.

"My apologies. Can I interest in some literature--"

"Fuck off."

The man shoved him aside and stormed off, leaving George sighing in resignation. It was not the first time someone had been rude to him while he carried out the Lord's work, and it most probably wouldn't be the last time....

-ooOOoo-

"Can you describe this man?"

"Oh yes... white, dark hair... a little greasy and slicked back. He wore dark pants and a worn denim jacket." Sam smiled at Danny triumphantly. They had their scruffy denim man mixed up in this after all. "Oh, and he had a woman with him."

"Can you describe her?"

"Never saw her face... Hidden behind all this long dark hair... but it had a white streak through it."

Martin smiled wryly and murmured softly, "Loralee Sherman."

-ooOOoo-

Seven Hours missing:

Martin waited patiently outside the arrivals gate, watching for a young woman who matched the photo clutched in his hand. He didn't bother to recheck the picture every time a woman passed through the gate, having already committed the image to memory.

He thought about her face, comparing it to the photo pinned up on the white board and finding little similarity, deciding that she had to take after her mother for the most part. He rolled his shoulders back, trying to ease the dull ache from spending too much time hunched over a PC recently.

He recognized her immediately, and called her name, drawing her attention to him. Her eyes widened a fraction and then she looked a little flushed as he showed her his ID badge before grasping her small suitcase. He carried it for her as they made their way across the concourse.

"Any news on my dad?"

He shook his head, with lips tightened into a thin line. "No. I'm sorry, but we have a few leads that we'll start chasing up."

She nodded and followed him to towards the exit where he had his car parked waiting. Martin drove in silence, wondering how best to broach the subject of her father's part in the 'Virgin Killer' case. He had managed to scan through the newspaper articles during the fifteen minutes while he waited for her to collect her luggage and make an appearance. What he had read filled him with dismay, giving him the answer to the question he had posed back in the office.

Now he knew what haunted the beautiful green eyes.

On the death of her son, Loralee Marliston, formerly Sherman, restated her allegations of rape on that night twenty-five years earlier. She refused to name the four boys involved but it had not been hard to guess who two of the boys had been: Tom Sisler and Brent Marken.

As yet, he had no idea who the other two boys were but, after hearing a description of Loralee Sherman from George Cromer, he had a suspicion that one of those two -- or their families -- had to be involved. Martin wished he could ask Jody Marken how much she knew and see if she would share that knowledge but Jack had insisted that no one question her until she had been reunited with her aunt.

Martin could understand Jack's reasoning. Jody Marken was only seventeen years old, and she had just come through one ordeal only to be thrown headlong into another. They had no idea how fragile her psyche was at this moment, so Jack wanted to proceed cautiously. Still, Martin had a head full of questions but he had a feeling that the answers might have to wait until morning unless Jody volunteered some answers now.

It took almost thirty minutes but, eventually, he pulled up outside the luxurious apartment building in downtown Manhattan that overlooked Central Park. He took Jody all the way to her Aunt's apartment and left her, bidding good night, and puzzled over this task for the whole journey back to the office. Jack could have asked the local Police to carry out this piece of chauffeuring so there had to be a reason why he had asked Martin to do it instead.

When he reached the office he found only Jack waiting for him.

"Where is everyone?"

"I sent them home. Tired minds don't sit well with this kind of investigation." Jack leaned forward in his seat and laid his elbows on the desk in front of him. "I want you to head off too. Be back at six."

"We have local law enforcement searching for Loralee Marliston, and we have officers cross referencing that partial plate Cromer gave against the Licence database searching for dark colored BMWs. Plus I've got a few other ideas--"

"I know, and we can turn them into solid leads tomorrow. Now we need to get some rest." Jack laid his palms flat on the table top.

Martin sighed, knowing Jack was right. He felt the fatigue pulling at his limbs and dragging at his eyelids. This was the hardest part of the job, admitting that they were only human and so subject to the same human frailties as everyone else -- such as a need to sleep and eat.

"What about you?"

"I have a few reports to finish--" Jack sighed deeply. "You're right. They can wait."

He pushed up from his seat and grabbed his coat from a hook by the door. Martin followed him out into the work space. The once empty white board now had two lines intersecting the 'missing' time line, and he recognized both Vivian and Samantha's writing; he read each entry.

16:45: Last seen by sister at coffee bar

16:50: Seen leaving the airport with a second man -- Loralee Sherman sighting??

Martin sighed. It was almost midnight and they had been on the case for less than five hours. He knew the first 48 hours of a missing persons case were crucial but he had a lot of respect for Jack knowing when it was time to push for answers, and when it was time to rest.

They walked along the corridor together and waited for the elevator, finally parting company in the parking lot as they each took to their own cars and drove off into the night.

-ooOOoo-

13 Hours Missing:

His night's sleep had been disturbed by haunted green eyes and, as he entered the office, Martin wondered what he had missed. There was something nagging at the back of his mind but he couldn't quite grasp the slippery thoughts, and every time he believed he had come close to snatching at them, they slithered just out of reach.

He was surprised when he saw both Jack and Samantha pulling on coats. Jack approached him with a pile of reports under his arm, and Martin noticed that one held copies of the print outs he'd made of the 'Virgin Killer' newspaper articles.

"We're heading out to Cherry Falls to speak with the wife. I want you to go with Vivian back to the sister's and see what you can find out. I suspect the key to this case is that twenty-five-year-old rape allegation."

-ooOOoo-

Cherry Falls New England

It did not take long to fly from New York to the closest airport to the town of Cherry Falls, but then came the hour long drive. Jack let Samantha take the wheel of the rental car, declining any small talk, and knowing Sam would not read anything sinister in his silence. There were times when he needed to stop and think, and this was a ripe opportunity, and a good way to fill the empty miles of highway.

However, whereas his thoughts should have dwelled on the case at hand, instead they turned to Martin Fitzgerald. He was the new boy on the team but no longer an untried element. He had come highly recommended for his skills with computers, and excellent cognitive skills too, but everyone had added a shadow of doubt. They pegged him as a 'fast-track' boy, one who would be looking to his influential father to gain quick promotions -- probably at the expense of whomever he worked for.

To his chagrin, he had almost bowed to their so-called wisdom and made a case to refuse Martin as a replacement on the Missing Person's Unit. However, when he met Martin all he could see was a boy trying to come out from beneath his father's shadow, and resenting those who implied otherwise. He could see Martin had a huge chip on his shoulder concerning his father... but then, who didn't? His own father had tried to push him into the same nomadic army life that he had grown up in and, though he'd gone to Vietnam with so many other boys of his age, he had taken the first opportunity to escape army life.

He smiled softly, realizing that he had exchanged one organization for another. Instead of the army, he was in the FBI.

His thoughts turned away from his past to Martin's present and future. The kid was good at what he did, though he still had a lot to learn. There was more to the job than poring through reams of data. There was a psychological element too; using instinct and learned skills to draw information from witnesses -- one of whom might even be the killer of the missing person. Martin had proved he had the ability to learn those skills but Jack knew he would be severely handicapped if he did not also figure out *himself*.

Jack smiled as he recalled the first case Martin had shared with the team, and how he had been completely oblivious to the lustful looks aimed at him by Maggie Cartwright's gay employer. Strangely, it was surprise rather than shock that crossed his face when Jack pointed out that the man had been checking him out. It was almost as if Martin had no idea that he was a good-looking kid... and perhaps he didn't.

When Jack was at college he had seen kids like Martin Fitzgerald; shy, sensitive, with their focus purely on the work. In this modern age he would have been labeled a 'nerd' -- a handsome nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. Jack had read his collage resume... computers, solitary sports, and a member of the Chess club. None of his activities encouraged social contact though he must have left a few behind in Washington DC.

Jack had sensed the loneliness in Martin, and he had sensed the confusion too, recognizing his inability to attract female companionship despite his handsome looks. Jack wondered how long it would take until Martin realized that he sent more glances towards men than women... or if he would ever realize that his preference tilted towards his own gender.

Part of Jack wished he could enlighten Martin now, and save him from wasted years looking in the wrong direction for what he needed. He sighed. Perhaps, in time, he would be able to work his skills on Martin and nudge him in the right direction -- and hope the whole thing did not explode in *his* face when Martin's influential father found out about his son.

"We're here."

Sam's soft voice intruded upon his thoughts and he glanced out in time to see the sign proclaiming the small town of Cherry Falls. Soon after they came into the main street and Jack navigated them to the Marken home.

They pulled up outside a well-maintained home with lush green lawn and a station wagon parked on the drive. Marge Marken opened the door, her eyes full of caution fading to weary resignation as she read the badges held out to her. Although not unduly hostile, nevertheless Jack sensed anger in her as she turned away to leave them to follow her without a word. She took a seat, making no offer to them of either seat or refreshment.

"Do you mind?" Jack indicated to the empty couch, and took a seat when she waved offhand.

"So... what would you like to know?"

"Perhaps we could start with the last time you saw your husband... and why he decided to go to New York."

She stared at him for almost a full minute, and Jack realized that she had been drinking quite heavily even though it was still only morning. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then reached for a packet of cigarettes, and lighting one up. She took a deep drag, head tilted back slightly, eyes closed... and then she began...

-ooOOoo-

It was a small town, with a small town mentality, so Marge knew something was amiss the moment she awoke that day. She saw it in the eyes of the mailman that morning; felt it in his professional detachment whereas he had always been so warm and friendly before. After all, Brent was the Sheriff.

The answer presented itself an hour later when the morning paper dropped onto the porch. She picked it up and stared at the front cover, lips tightening into a grim line as she read the headline: Virgin Killer linked to 25 year old Rape Cover-up.

Slowly she read the article, seeing all the accusations laid out against four unnamed boys, though it was obvious by the references who two of them were: Tom Sisler and her husband. The reporter had interviewed the sheriff from all those years back, and several other people involved at the time, but the most damning evidence came from Loralee Marliston, nee Sherman, the mother of the Virgin Killer.

The article ended with a demand from the father of the killer's first victim that the old case be reopened and those four men brought to justice for a crime that had spawned the killer of *his* child.

Marge gave the ghost of a smile, knowing that her husband's tenure as sheriff had come to an ignoble end for even if the charges laid against him were thrown out for a second time, the stigma precluded him from continuing with his duties. She knew that the only way he would be able to salvage even a shred of his dignity and honor would be if Loralee recalled enough to refute his active participation in her ordeal. But would she do so even if she could? She had no reason to defend him, especially as he had made little attempt to salvage her good name all those years ago. If anything, Marge half expected to see her lay all the blame at Brent's feet, condemning him for not loving her as she had loved him.

She thought about the paternity test that she had requested, having agreed to Jody's demand purely because she knew the outcome would be negative for Brent being the father.

The next week had passed with no end to the accusations and cries for justice even though there was still just Loralee's word against that of the four boys, but times had changed. The victim had found a voice through her psychotic son with the weight of his crimes giving greater credence to her accusations from the past.

Reporters and others hounded her on the street, in the grocery store, even tried to gain entrance to the house. The sound of glass shattering late one evening warned her that feelings were running high even though she could see by the running figures that the vandals had been only kids.

Brent had found some measure of respite from the media harassment through being in the hospital but today he had demanded to be released. The doctors had tried to persuade him otherwise but he had been adamant, so they called her.

Less than thirty minutes before she needed to make her way to the hospital she knew she could not go on like this. For twenty-five years she had kept herself tied in a sham of a marriage but no more. She made a phone call to Brent's sister in New York, and then packed a suitcase for Brent.

She could tell by the sideways glances that he suspected something but Marge had, perversely, not felt obliged to tell him anything. She had already run the gauntlet of reporters on her way in and she knew it would be far worse on the way out. She watched his expression change as he caught sight of the crowd milling about outside, and saw him swallow hard in the knowledge that they were waiting for *him*. As the door opened, the crowd surged forward, some yelling abuse, others demanding answers to questions. Among the angry mob, Marge recognized parents from the high school being urged on by the families of those children murdered by Marliston.

Brent gasped as someone tried to grab hold of him, with their fingers scrabbling at the thick bandaging that still covered his left shoulder and arm. Brent's former deputies punched a hole through the crowd to allow them to reach the station wagon that she had drawn up close to the kerb. She watched him sink into the passenger seat with a sigh of relief, turning his head away from the angry faces and from the fists that pummeled at the side window. He kept his eyes closed until they had picked up speed, and she registered his shock when he realized they were heading away from home towards the highway.

"They've been camped out on the lawn all morning. Thought it might be better if you went away... stay with your sister in New York."

"I shouldn't be leaving town--"

"I bought you a ticket. Flight takes off in four hours."

"Marge? I'm sorry."

She turned her head quickly, and then looked back at the road ahead, steeling her heart from the encroaching memories. Despite his chosen profession, he was such a gentle man. Soft spoken, handsome. She had once been so proud that he chose her to be his wife.

"I love you, Brent. I always did... but I know you'd never have married me if it hadn't been for what happened with Loralee Sherman."

Her words held finality to them, as if she was saying goodbye, and it occurred to her that perhaps it would be for the best if they went their separate ways.

"Jody?" At least he had not tried to deny her words.

"I'll let her know where you are."

-ooOOOo-

"When we reached the airport, the ticket was waiting at the check-in desk. I turned around... and I left without looking back."

She stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray set before her, adding its remains to those of the other two she had chain-smoked while describing her last sight of her husband.

"Did you notice anyone hanging around at the airport?"

"It's an airport. There are a lot of people hanging around."

"But anyone in particular who seemed out of place?"

Her eyes narrowed in thought and she recounted the odd scene as she was leaving...

-ooOOoo-

Despite wanting this, her eyes filmed with tears as she walked away. Their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary was only a few months away but instead of looking forward to the occasion, all she could see were the wasted years behind them.

The door slid open as she approached and she walked straight into a man coming in the opposite direction.

"I'm--" Her words froze at the shock and fear in his eyes. He ducked his head and moved away fast, and she watched him until he disappeared among the small crowd...

-ooOOoo-

 

"He probably recognized my face from the papers."

"And you didn't see where he went."

She shook her head as she took another deep drag on a cigarette.

Samantha leaned forward. "Can you describe this man?"

"Five ten... dark hair... dressed a little casual...scruffy even."

"Was he wearing a jacket?"

"Blue jacket... denim, I think."

"Thank you, Mrs. Marken."

Jack still had questions but it was too much of a coincidence that a similarly described man had been in both airports. They needed to gain access to the passenger roster for the flight and look at all the white males who shared that flight with Brent Marken, and perhaps speak to the check-in attendant at this end to see if she recalled a late arrival fitting that man's description. Even if this man had no direct involvement in Marken going missing, he might have vital information on the man who had been seen leaving JFK with Marken.

He considered asking her about the rape allegation but Vivian had contacted them on route to let him know all they had gleaned from Jody Marken and Brent's sister.

Marge Marken led them to the front door and she stopped with her hand on the latch, staring hard at the door's clean surface before turning the handle. She waited until they were past the threshold before speaking.

"He didn't do it, you know."

"Do what, Mrs. Marken?" Jack waited as she gathered her thoughts, as if trying to decide whether she should say more or not.

"The four of them pulled up outside my home that night. They were egging Brent on to... to... You see, we'd never had sex... either of us. They tried pushing him on top of me. Wanted him to prove he was a man." She gave a short bark of a laugh. "Even if my dad hadn't heard them, and chased them off... nothing would have happened. He was so drunk that *nothing* was going to stand to attention that night. Nothing."

Jack could see the bitter truth in her eyes.

"The others were nowhere near as drunk. They knew exactly what they were doing." Her expression tightened. "Brent hardly recalls any of it, but he blames himself for what happened to Loralee Sherman that night anyway." Her eyes softened in despair. "Always has, and always will... yet he was just as much their victim as she was."

Marge Marken closed the door softly behind them, and Jack stared back at it for a moment before turning away. They had a plane to catch back to New York, and questions to ask before they boarded it.

-ooOOoo-

Twenty Nine Hours Missing:

"Brent Marken, Tom Sisler, Harold McKay and James Adnam-White." Martin read the names off the list as he added them to a corner of the white board. These were the names of the four boys originally accused of raping Loralee Sherman, according to Virginia Allen.

"Is that Harold McKay, brother to *Senator* John McKay?"

He looked back at Vivian and gave a tight nod. "Yeah... and I'm expecting my father to show up any minute. Wouldn't want to see a scandal hit the higher echelon of our political system."

Martin sighed, well aware that he was not just being sarcastic. As soon as someone higher up noticed that particular name on the list of people they wanted to question then his father would be stepping on their toes. Jack sighed too, then carried on.

"So... what do we have? Danny?"

Danny shuffled the papers in front of him. "We have a partial plate on the dark BMW. We've narrowed the search down to 243 possible matches across the state with 105 registered in New York."

"Anything stand out?"

"Twelve of the cars are owned by a private hire firm. They supply both car and chauffeur."

"Make them your first call."

Danny recognized the 'dismiss' in Jack's voice and pushed away from the conference table. He had already been brought up to speed on Vivian and Martin's interview with Jody Marken and her aunt, and Jack had gained nothing substantial from the wife except for the possibility that Brent Marken had been followed to New York by a man in a scruffy, denim jacket. Jack had managed to secure a copy of the passenger list for Marken's flight before boarding the plane to New York so he and Samantha had found time to check through the list but no names had sprung out. Unfortunately, the check-in assistant who dealt with Marken's flight had not been available.

Sam had already left the table, intent on tracking down the name of the man who fit the vague description given by both Marge Marken and Virginia Allen, and who would link them to Loralee Marliston. They had already determined that he was not Leonard Marliston's stepfather, and Loralee had no brothers. Vivian was taking the opposite approach and checking details of extended family members and male friends of Loralee Marliston who might match the description. This had been made doubly difficult as Loralee had not been seen at her home for over two weeks so they could not approach her directly.

Jody Marken thought that she had seen Loralee in Cherry Falls the day after Leonard Marliston's death, and Martin had a strong feeling that she had not been a figment of Jody's overwrought imagination. But why had she gone there? Had she been there to goad on her son, sending him into a killing frenzy? Or had she been there after reading newspaper reports of the teenagers murdered, and determined that it had to be her son doing the killing? Had she come to stop Marliston, arriving a day too late?

"Martin... I want you to take pictures of Harold McKay and James Adnam-White to our Jehovah's Witnesses."

"You think the second guy might have been one of them?"

"It's a long shot but, as you said yourself, whoever it was with Marken had enough familiarity to call him Bren rather than Brent, or Marken."

-ooOOoo-

The visit proved a waste of time as neither recognized the men in the photos, but Martin learned good news by the time he returned. Danny had tracked down the driver of the dark BMW used that day to spirit away Brent Marken and Martin joined Jack behind the one-way glass that looked into the interview room.

"How long have you worked for Haynes Chauffeurs?"

"About four years."

"Says here that you used to be part of the President's security detail."

"Yeah... it's no secret that I got charged with vehicular manslaughter. Case couldn't be proved but I still lost my job. Friends help set me up in this one."

"What kind of clientele do you chauffeur around?"

"Not any of my business. They don't say and I don't ask. I just drive."

 

Danny glanced up towards the mirror then focused back on Jeffrey Keane. "Do you recall picking up two passengers at JFK around 5 pm the day before?"

Keane shrugged.

"Let me refresh your memory. One of the men had a lot of bandaging across his left arm and shoulder."

Keane remained silent.

"You know, impeding a Federal investigation is an offense. Your employers at Haynes might have been persuaded to take you on following the dismissed manslaughter charge..." Danny tilted his head inquiringly, "...but are you so sure they'll keep you on if you go down for a Federal offense?"

Keane bristled with resentment and then capitulated. "Okay... I don't know much anyway. Yes, I picked up two men from the airport and, yes, one was heavily bandaged. The other man didn't seem too pleased to see his friend--"

"His friend?"

"Well, I figured they were friends as they were on first name terms..."

-ooOOoo-

"Get in the car, Bren."

Keane flinched as the injured man was none too gently shoved into the back seat, hearing the cry of pain that he could not prevent from falling. Keane stared at the man's face reflected in the rearview mirror, easily reading the signs of pain and exhaustion

"Ginny's expecting--"

"I'll talk with Ginny."

"What's this all about, Paulie?"

"Don't call me that. No one calls me that anymore."

"Is this about Loralee?"

"Of course it's about Loralee. Everything has been about Loralee for the last twenty-five years. Oh, but you wouldn't know much about that, would you?"

"What do you mean?" Paulie made no answer and the silence lengthened until the injured man spoke again. "Where're we going?"

"You'll find out when we get there."

-ooOOoo-

"They didn't talk for the rest of the trip. I dropped them off outside Carnegie, just as ordered... and that's it. I drove off, never saw either of them again."

"Did they go inside?"

"Might have... might not have... I don't know. Never looked back. I was just paid to go take 'Paulie' to the airport, and then to Carnegie."

"What time was that?"

"Around six, six-fifteen."

"Would you recognize this Paulie if you saw him again?"

The man exhaled hard. "Yeah... yeah, I'd recognize him."

Danny looked at the mirror in triumph. All they had to do was find out who had hired Keane to drive Paulie to the airport that evening, and hope that the trail led them to Brent Marken. Then, with a positive ID from Keane, they would have a strong case should the charge be kidnapping.

Martin grinned at Jack. It was the first positive lead they had. Together they walked back to the Missing Person's office space, to find Samantha grinning broadly.

"You heard about the BMW?"

"Yeah... but I've got something too." Jack had a half-smile on his face as Sam began to beam with anticipated pleasure.

"I checked on the Marliston's financial position. Seems someone has been making regular payments into a trust fund in her name for the past twenty-one years. I thought it might be wages, but she's never worked a single day of her life."

"Inheritance? Insurance policies?"

Samantha shook her head. "I checked all legitimate sources for the income."

"Blackmail?" Martin asked and Samantha raised both her eyebrows in the affirmative, and Jack patted her arm.

"You did good. I believe we now have reasonable cause to speak to James Adnam-White and Harold McKay. Martin? You're with me." Martin saw Sam's faint frown at Martin being told to accompany Jack to Washington DC but Jack had other plans for her. "Sam, I want you to find out if she had any accomplices... check into family, immediate friends. You know the pattern."

She nodded and turned away, leaving Martin to gather up his overnight bag and follow Jack from the office. As he rode the elevator down with Jack, Martin's thoughts centered first on his bag, hoping that he had remembered to pack all he might need this time. They all kept overnight bags at the office as the urgency of their work meant they might need to leave without a moment's notice to follow a case across the country.

He recalled the first time he had accompanied Jack, that time trailing a frightened boy who was unwittingly heading into the arms of a pedophile posing as the boy's biological father. They had laid a trap for the pedophile, and almost lost him when one of the local FBI unit jumped too soon and caught an innocent bystander. Jack had given chase but Martin had cut the man off, barrelling into him and knocking them both into a shallow lake.

He'd ended up borrowing a T-shirt from Danny, either that or putting back on the white shirt he'd worn all day. In some ways it had helped to break the ice between him and Danny, with Danny telling him to pack as if he'd be away for three days rather than overnight in future.

Less than two hours later they were in the air, heading for Washington DC. Jack was asleep in the seat next to him, some how managing to tune out the chatter around them but Martin found it hard to rest.

His father had accused Jack of using him, bringing him on trips to Washington to give Jack a hold over his father. He did not want to believe that of Jack but his father had always known how to manipulate other people's insecurities -- including his. He shuffled in his seat, trying to find a more comfortable position, and then noticed that Jack was not actually asleep.

"Can I ask you..." He sighed in annoyance at his own insecurity. "No... it's not important."

Jack shifted in his seat until he was facing Martin. "It's important, otherwise you wouldn't be so uptight."

Martin glanced at Jack and then looked away. "Why am I going to Washington with you? Why not Sam, or Vivian... or Danny?"

"Because you know the mind set of the people we're about to meet... just as Danny understands the street kids. You've been a part of their world even though indirectly. I can trust your judgment on how much is truth and how much is spin."

"Thought you said all the truth is questionable."

"Yeah. It is, and that's more true where politics and politicians are concerned."

"So I'm not there to field my father?"

"Is that what he said?" Jack sat back in his seat, both of them recalling the one time Martin's father had appeared at the FBI Missing Person's office in New York. "I won't deny the thought crossed my mind... but my reasons still stand. Danny knows the ins and outs of the streets, and you know the ins and outs of politics. Makes you the best person to be at my side in this situation."

Martin sat back. "I'm sorry for doubting."

"You've every reason to doubt."

Jack did not need to add anything more to that as they both knew how often Martin must have been manipulated by his father over the years. The son had rebelled against the father, but the battle of wills was far from over and Martin had a feeling that there would be more confrontations as time went by.

The remainder of the flight was filled with discussion on the case, and the possibility that Loralee had been blackmailing at least one of her rapists all these years. The original charge against them might have been dropped but the fact remained that she had given birth to a child who's paternity could be proved in a court of law.

By the time they reached Washington, Sam would have gained a warrant to check the Marken's financial records, and Tom Sisler's. Martin had a feeling that permission to access McKay and Adnam-White's records would be less forthcoming. He said as much to Jack but saw no surprise on his Team leader's face.

Within another two hours they were seated in a hallway just as before, this time waiting for McKay's secretary to usher them into the Senator's inner sanctum where he had insisted on being present while his brother was interviewed. As Martin had anticipated, his father had arrived only a few minutes earlier, barely acknowledging him before entering the Senator's office.

Martin glanced sideways at Jack, seeing the blank face that hid his frustration so well.

The door opened and Deputy Fitzgerald stepped out into the corridor, moving briskly to stand before them. Martin rose slowly to his feet, alongside Jack.

"I've spoken with Senator McKay and his brother has nothing to add to this investigation."

"You've spoken?"

"I'm sorry for your wasted trip. Perhaps if you'd contacted my office first then I could have saved you the journey."

"I'm sorry, sir, but I have questions to put to Harold McKay concerning--"

"And he has no answers to give. I would suggest you take this investigation in a different direct--"

"With all due respect, we have reason to believe Harold McKay --or the Senator -- may have been paying blackmail to--"

"A trust fund set up out of the goodness of the Senator's heart to support Loralee Sherman's child through college, and proof there was no malice--"

"Or to avoid a scandal."

"Your business here is over, Agent Malone. I suggest you head back to New York."

Much to Martin's disbelief, his father began to walk away and Martin saw Jack's face harden imperceptibly in anger that had no outlet. His father outranked Jack but that did not excuse his offhand comments and rudeness, nor did it excuse his treatment of *him*, barely acknowledging his existence as if he was merely some rookie agent brought along the ride. Martin shrugged off the hand Jack dropped onto his shoulder and stalked after his father.

"Dad?"

His father stopped, but didn't turn, and Martin recognized the set of his shoulders as annoyance.

"How's mom?"

"If you called more frequently then you wouldn't need to ask."

"I've called when I can. I've left messages by phone and email so don't--"

"Don't what, Martin?"

"Don't ignore me like I'm some nobody. I'm your son."

"No. At this moment you are a junior agent of the FBI accompanying your team leader of a wasted venture. How much longer are you going to let Jack Malone use you to get at me?"

"It isn't always about *you*. We have a job to do... a missing person to find--"

"He is using you."

"What? Getting rankled because you can't use me anymore."

"I don't use you, Martin. You're my son, but I expected better things from you."

"So I'm only your son when it's convenient... when I move in the right circles."

"Don't put words into my mouth, Martin. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

Martin bit back the next retort, closing his eyes as his father walked away again. He felt a hand drop on his shoulder and he gave a bitter laugh, once more feeling more compassion from his boss than from his father.

-ooOOoo-

Thirty-Five Hours Missing:

Martin slumped into a seat and stared at the white board. By now they would usually have filled in a few more time intersections but they could not find any trace of Brent Marken beyond the Carnegie Hall drop-off by Keane.

"He's slipping away," Martin murmured, paraphrasing Jack as his eyes focused on the handsome man in the photograph, and that bothered Martin more than it should

Sam stepped up and flipped over a photo to show both Jack and Martin. "Meet Greg Marliston, Loralee's husband."

"I thought we'd already ruled him out? Because he's dead."

"We had... but you're always telling us to make every truth questionable. It seems the original Mr. Marliston *is* dead, but Loralee remarried... her brother-in-law."

"How did we miss that?"

Danny slid into a seat, grinning broadly. "And I have a name from Haynes Chauffeurs. The car and driver were hired by a corporation, AW Technology. Anyone want to guess what the AW stands for?"

"Adnam-White?"

Danny gave Vivian an even larger grin... but there was a twinkle in her dark eyes as she made her own pronouncement. "I believe I have our 'second man' but I need to verify his identity with our two Jehovah's Witnesses."

She placed her photo on the table, and waited for them to look before giving them a name.

"Paul Sisler, younger brother of the lately deceased Thomas Sisler."

Sam opened up a folder. "I've one more thing to add to the party. Financial reports from the Markens reveal nothing untoward. Just a normal small town family with normal small town income and expenses. Two large sums paid out in the past three years, both traced to auto sales." She flipped over the page. "Now, the Sislers are another matter entirely with regular monthly payments made into an account linked via a trust fund to Loralee Marliston."

Jack pursed his lips and Martin could almost read his thoughts. If both Tom Sisler and Harold McKay had been paying into this fund then the chances are that Adnam-White had been too... so why not Marken?

"Danny, I want you and Vivian to take both photos to our airport witnesses and see if we can get a match. Martin, fax a copy of Greg Marliston's photo to Acting Sheriff Mina in Cherry Falls, and ask her to see if Mrs. Marken can make a positive ID, then check with Virginia Allen, and Jody Marken. If the guy was in Cherry Falls hanging around the hospital, then she might have seen him."

As Martin pushed away from the table but paused when he heard Jack hand out orders to Samantha. "Mrs. Marken asked for a paternity test on Leonard Marliston. I want the results, and the comparison against Brent Marken."

"So you think he *was* the father?" Martin felt a shiver of disappointment run through him.

"No. I think Mrs. Marken is telling the truth, that he was too drunk to have raped her... and I think Loralee Marliston knew that too, which is why she is blackmailing the other three and not Marken."

Sam shook her head in confusion. "But how could she prove any of them raped her? The charges were dismissed twenty-five years ago and any biological evidence, if they even bothered with a rape kit if those days, would have degraded by now."

"From nine months after the incident she no longer needed to prove rape. All she had to do was demand a paternity test, knowing one of them was the father, and knowing the ensuing scandal would have ruined their potential careers. None of them wanted to take a gamble on the results, so they all contributed to a 'silence' fund."

"It fits... and I think the catalyst was Robert Marliston, her first husband. I think he worked it all out as the first payments were made within a year of her marriage."

"So Greg Marliston carried on the family business with Loralee... until the son went crazy and started his own personal vendetta against the town." Martin gave a wry grin.

Sam still looked perplexed. "I still don't understand why she didn't blackmail Marken too."

"We've been profiling him since he went missing, and everything we've learned points to a man with a strong sense of duty and obligation. He would have agreed to take a paternity test, and accepted responsibility for the child... but everything Martin's uncovered in the Marliston case makes me wonder if he even knew there *was* a child."

Martin shook his head in wonder. "So, all of a sudden, the skeleton is out of the closet and the only one who could -- and probably would -- corroborate Loralee Marliston's claim of rape is Brent Marken."

"Unless they can persuade him otherwise," added Samantha. "And if they can't?"

No one needed to answer that question.

"Time's running out, so let's get to work."

-ooOOoo-

Thirty-six hours missing 05:00 am

Martin slapped the photo against his thigh as he left Virginia Allen's plush apartment having gained positive ID of the scruffy denim man. All they had to do now is locate Greg Marliston and discover why he had been tailing Brent Marken all the way from Cherry Falls.

He thought about the Marlistons.

On a first reflection, it seemed obvious that Leonard Marliston had put an end to a sweet deal for Greg and Loralee Marliston but Martin had his doubts. It seemed to him that Leonard Marliston's psychotic episode had upped the stakes, making an hereditary link to him even more of a scandal -- one that a certain senatorial family might never recover from. No one liked to admit mental illness in the family, especially families of high standing, and to have the country discover that they were voting for the uncle of a psychopathic killer would end Senator John McKay's bid for re-election before it had even begun.

Of course, a link to the serial killer through a rape allegation against a member of his family would be just as damaging, losing crucial votes from the law-abiding middle-classes.

James Adnam-White had just as much to lose. He was an media magnate who had taken over the family business almost a decade earlier. Currently, he was involved in a hostile takeover bid but should this allegation against him be made public then he would lose vital support from his financial backers.

The Sislers seemed to be the odd one out until Vivian uncovered that Tom Sisler's widow, Carolyn, was the younger sister of John and Harold McKay.

Martin had been surprised having been brought up in similar society to these families where the children were expected to find a suitable marriage partner within the circle of acquaintance. His parents had high expectations of him, and part of the reason why he had moved away was because he had become sickened at the way they insisted on him attending boring events and then listening to them discuss the potential of certain young females irrespective of his likes or dislikes. He'd felt like an object... a material possession that could be used to buy more wealth or status.

Thomas Sisler, though a school friend, had not moved in the same social circles as the Adnam-Whites and McKays so it must have been a shock to her parents when Carolyn insisted on marrying him -- and no other. It made Martin feel sorry for her, wondering if she had ever learned of the terrible allegations made against the man she had obviously loved. However, it was unlikely that she had been completely ignorant of the sordid details but love could be blind, so perhaps she had refused to believe it until Loralee and her first husband started to blackmail the three boys.

 

However, nothing explained why one of them -- working alone or on orders -- had intercepted Brent Marken at the airport. They had kept him out of the loop for decades, most likely because they knew he would pursue a course of justice that would be detrimental to them. However, whatever Marken said would make little difference now that Leonard Marliston had slashed his way through the teens of Cherry Falls.

Or would it?

All Martin could think of was the term his father would use whenever he had done something 'stupid' in his father's opinion: Damage limitation.

It was to the benefit of both Adnam-White and McKay to ensure that the allegation of rape was never connected with them -- or their families in McKay's case. If it was denounced as the ravings of a madwoman then only one of them would be facing ruin should the paternity be proven against them.

Brent Marken posed a threat in that respect, and so did Loralee Marliston who had only been seen twice in the past two weeks. One fleeting sighting in Cherry Falls by Jody Marken, and once at the airport the day before by the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Martin shook his head as he opened the door to his car. Something did not sit right. There was some vital piece of evidence that they had overlooked but he could not latch onto the elusive thought.

He looked up and frowned as he caught sight of a figure standing opposite, caught in the grey light of the dawn. Martin recognized the man immediately, even as he tried to duck away into the morning shadows and shrubs of Central Park.

"Sisler? Paul Sisler?"

Martin called out after Sisler, quickly threading between the sparse traffic and through the gate into the Park. He paused, looking around in the hope of spotting Sisler but, apart from some early morning joggers, there was no sign of the man. He pulled out his cellphone and speed-dialed Jack Malone.

"We got a positive ID on Sisler -- and I just made my own ID outside the Allen apartment."

"Where are you now?"

"Central Park..." he recited the exact details. "Wait! I see him!"

"Wait for back-up, Martin."

"We'll lose him." Martin took off at a brisk jog, the cellphone still open in his hand. "Heading south."

"Martin. Wait for back-up."

He slowed as Jack's voice came through very loud... knowing his boss was shouting to make himself heard. Martin pulled the phone back to his ear, slightly breathless as he acknowledged Jack's order.

"Okay... I'm waiting."

"Martin, I have local units converging on the exits closest to your position."

"Okay... but I can't see him anymore. Not sure which direction he took--"

"Martin?"

-ooOOoo-

"Martin?"

Jack focused intently on the sounds coming through the phone, hearing a thud followed by what sounded like a scuffle. The transmission broke up into static and then cut off to a deathly silence that was all the more ominous. He grabbed his coat.

"Sam? Where are those units?"

"They're sending officers in to Martin's last known position."

He called over his shoulder as he headed towards the elevator. "Tell Danny and Vivian to meet me there."

A small crowd had gathered by the time Jack reached the police officers sent to back-up Martin Fitzgerald and he nodded his approval that they had made every attempt to prevent anyone from damaging a potential crime scene. One of them pointed to the edge of the pathway and Jack swallowed imperceptibly at the sight of Martin's cellphone. He hunkered down and examined it visually, already surmising that it had been crushed beneath the heel of a boot or shoe.

His eyes scanned in every direction, trying to see through the dense foliage either side of the pathway.

"Have you made a search?" Jack didn't need to explain what he thought they ought to be looking for.

"We made a search for three hundred meters in every direction."

Jack sighed, feeling a small glimmer of hope that Martin was still alive as they had not found his body -- yet. At least he had to believe Martin was alive, just as he had to believe any missing person was alive -- until they found the body.

His thoughts turned to their previous case.

Had it been only a few days ago that he had stood not a mile away from this same spot as the coroner removed little Angie McCormack from a shallow grave? At least whoever had attacked Martin -- and Jack would not jump to the automatic conclusion that it had been Paul Sisler -- would not have had time to bury him had he killed him outright. That still left a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of water to drag through if the Forensic boys could not find the possible killer's trail among the many footprints leading into and out of the area.

He glanced up as he saw Danny and Vivian push their way through the growing crowd, shaking his head to let them know that Martin wasn't there.
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Part 2 by Tarlan
Martin awoke to the sound of voices raised in anger. He opened his eyes; slowly becoming aware that he was lying face down on a firm mattress next to another body. With a soft groan of pain, he shifted position and focused on the face lying barely two feet away from his, staring deep into soft green eyes that were clouded in pain despite all the signs that he had been heavily sedated.

With a bitter laugh, Martin realized that he had found Brent Marken but, unfortunately, now they were both missing.

-ooOOoo-

Two Hours Later:

Jack stood back and stared at the map of Manhattan, trying to see some pattern in the colored pins scattered across it. These were all reported sightings of Martin Fitzgerald following the Media announcement barely an hour earlier. He focused on the last known whereabouts of Martin in Central Park and let his eyes move out from there in concentric circles, looking for any sightings that seemed to fit.

Several joggers had come forward, and so had a milk delivery driver who had seen someone matching Martin's description slumped in the back seat of a blue Mondeo.

Samantha stepped up behind him. "Information's come through. Paul Sisler owns a blue Mondeo."

Jack tapped at the sighting from the diary truck driver. "He's heading west... but to where?"

The television caught his eye and he raised the volume so he could hear the report. The newsreporter was standing in front of the yellow crime scene tape that marked the area from where Martin had been taken and the camera panned across the now empty ground. The Forensic team had gathered all the evidence and had left perhaps only a matter of minutes before but they had discovered nothing new to add to the investigation. They could not determine if Martin had been alive or dead when Sisler took him. The reporter was replaced with footage taken earlier while the reporter recounted the events in a voice over.

"Two hours ago, this was the scene following the attack and disappearance of Agent Martin Fitzgerald, son of FBI Deputy Director Fitzgerald. As yet the fate of Agent Fitzgerald remains unknown. Blood found here at the scene matches the blood type of the young agent who vanished while chasing a suspect in the disappearance of Sheriff Brent Marken. Marken, who had only recently been released from hospital following injuries sustained while investigating a series of killings in the small town of Cherry Falls, disappeared from JFK less than two days ago under suspicious circumstances. Detectives from the NYPD are collaborating with the Missing Person's Unit of the FBI, of which Martin Fitzgerald was a member, in the hope of discovering the whereabouts of both men. But, as the hours pass, hope of finding Brent Marken, and now Martin Fitzgerald, alive and well, grow dim."

The scene on the television was replaced by three photos.

"Police have released photographs of three people wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearances: Greg Marliston, Loralee Marliston and Paul Sisler."

Jack listened as the reporter then began to relate the connection between those people and the serial killer that had struck Cherry Falls only a few weeks earlier, hoping to gain new insight from the skewed perspective of the media. They mentioned the connection between Tom Sisler, Brent Marken and the Marlistons, citing the twenty-five year old rape allegation and it struck Jack as odd that the Media had not been able to ascertain the names of the two other boys accused of that rape. Virginia Allen had volunteered that information to him but had then clammed up, refusing to say anything more about the old accusation for fear of incriminating her brother, even though it was all hearsay and so inadmissible in a court of law.

The scene on the television changed again and Jack thought they were showing the last known whereabouts of Brent Marken until he noticed all the cameras and microphones. A mass of reporters pushed and shoved towards the arrivals gate, and Jack groaned softly as the man they were clamoring to interview came into focus.

"Deputy Director Fitzgerald, have there been any new leads in the search for your son?"

"The Missing Person's Unit and local Police are coordinating their efforts and expect to have new information soon."

Another reporter pushed through. "How do you feel knowing that he might be injured or possibly already dead?" She shoved the microphone at Fitzgerald, the camera catching the way he visibly paled but Fitzgerald was a consummate professional, quickly hiding his fear.

"How do you expect me to feel? He's my son."

Vivian stepped up beside Jack, unnoticed until she spoke softly. "We'd better batten down the hatches... storm's about to blow in."

Jack grimaced. Dealing with distraught relatives and friends was part of his job, and he knew he could handle that part under normal circumstances. However, this was not a normal circumstance for Deputy Fitzgerald was also his superior.

-ooOOoo-

It seemed to take all his energy to push his way up through the layers of pain and fuzziness but he could hear an unfamiliar gravely voice close to his ear, and he had a feeling the stranger was talking to him. His eye lashes flickered, letting in stabs of light that hurt his eyes, making them water. Someone moaned, the sound reverberating through his pain-filled body, making him realize it had to be him.

"Brent? Brent Marken?"

He forced his eyes open and tried to focus on the handsome man with deep blue eyes, silently wondering why he hurt so much, and why this man looked so tired and yet relieved to see him awake. He tried to speak but his throat felt too dry, his words dragged hoarsely from him. Something cool nudged against his lips and he heard the man urge him to take a sip. Instinctively, he sipped at the tepid water, sighing as it brought welcome relief to the dryness in his throat.

Brent tried to move, crying out hoarsely as the pain burned through his body, radiating out from his chest and shoulder. He had been shot once, a long time ago when he arrived at the scene of a robbery in progress, but he couldn't quite recall if the intensity of that pain had been as great as this. Had he been shot again?

An image came to him of sharp metal gleaming as it arced towards him, striking into his flesh. Beyond the flashing steel was a face of a maniac, warped in a mixture of anger and pleasure as he brought the axe down once more. Brent could recall there being something in his own hands, something that he clutched onto desperately as the second blow landed, feeling metal bite into his flesh through the thick material of his sheriff's uniform shirt.

After that there was only a hazy memory of some other stranger kneeling over him, pushing down upon his body with relentless pressure as his sight darkened. His eyes opened wide in alarm, recalling his attacker, and the danger to his little girl.

"Jody!"

He tried to sit up, wanting to see for certain that she was all right but he fell back to the bed in agony, unable to react to the memory of her panicked cries. The stranger with the blue eyes tried to hold him down, and his world faded at the edges.

When he next awoke there was heaviness about the air that was reminiscent of a late morning despite the artificial light filling his vision. He moved a fraction but stopped at the first twinge of pain, recalling the agony that had flared through him before. A regular soft click of a clock seemed to echo in the silence of the room but, beneath it, he heard a gentle breathing that was not his own. Brent gazed across the bed and saw a brown-haired head on the next pillow. His eyes traced the square-jaw, pale lips, and the brows that seemed all the heavier for being a dark shade of brown. The man's eyes opened as if he had sensed the scrutiny.

"You okay?"

His voice was low and slightly hoarse, but his eyes were the same vibrant ocean blue that Brent recalled from his last awakening.

"Marliston?"

A momentary pause and then the man spoke. "Leonard Marliston is dead."

Brent frowned as he recalled being told that news once before. "Who are you?"

"FBI Agent Martin Fitzgerald."

"Where's Paulie?"

Martin tilted his head to the far side of the room and, as he did so, Brent heard a clink of metal on metal. He traced the sound upwards, eyes widening as he realized Martin had been handcuffed to the metal bedstead. Then he noticed the dried blood on Martin's neck and on the collar of his rumpled dress shirt. Confused, he tried to raise his hand to reach the handcuff but gasped as pain lanced through him.

"No. Don't move. I'm okay."

"Why?"

Martin shook his head, unable or unwilling to answer. "Thought you might have an answer to that one."

"This is all about Loralee, isn't it?"

Martin nodded and Brent knew what the man wanted to hear. He wanted to know what had happened that night twenty-five years earlier but Paul approached the bed and slumped into the chair close by.

"Started before then, didn't it, Bren?"

"I don't--"

"Tom was your best friend. Had been for as long as I can remember. You used to come over to our house to play when we were all just kids." Paul laughed bitterly. "We would play Cowboys and Indians, and you always had to be the sheriff. Me... I was always one of the little Indians... but I adored you because you would always let me play even when Tom was being mean."

He stopped, as if lost in the past for a moment.

"Harry was the first to mention it. How you barely glanced at the cheerleaders in their tight tops and short skirts. How you never noticed the lusty looks and come-ons they gave you no matter how blatant they were. And then there was Loralee Sherman." He snorted. "She used to sit in the bleachers at practise, scribbling into her little book, adoring you from afar... just like the rest of us."

Brent looked up in despair, wanting to share the heavy burden he had been carrying for years. Some of it had lightened when he shared his hazy memories of that night with Jody but Leonard Marliston had added new pain to the memories when he dropped into Brent's lap the pile of love letters and poems written for him by Loralee -- but never sent. Letters and poems she had clung onto over the years for some unknown reason.

"It was all my fault. We were celebrating, and they kept handing me more beer... and then we got to talking about... about women, and sex. Must have been the drink talking but, next thing I knew, I'd blurted out that I'd never... not even with Marge... even though we'd been going steady since second grade."

"We went driving... had more beer... I was so drunk. I just... couldn't really remember anything too clearly. Could barely even recall her being there. Thought it was some drunken delusion." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Never could hold my drink... not like Tom and the others."

Brent laughed hoarsely in self-derision, recalling the looks on his friends' faces when they realized that he was still a virgin. His memories of that night came flooding back.

-ooOOoo-

"See, Tom, I told you he was a goddamned faggot."

"It don't mean nothing so you shut your mouth, Harry."

Brent didn't understand whom they were talking about but he accepted the beer Tom handed to him, swallowing the gassy liquid and belching. He giggled uncontrollably at the rude sound, knowing how much his dad hated people belching like that. Funny how this beer seemed to be even more gassy than the last one, but then he brushed off that thought as inconsequential.

"Hey... how about we take Bren over to Margie's and he can show us what a stud he is."

Everyone seemed to like Tom's suggestion, and by the time they had forced another beer into him, he was all for going to Margie's house to lose his virginity -- with his friends' encouragement. They pulled up outside and sneaked across the lawn. Brent was surprised to see Margie sitting on the porch as if she had been waiting for them. She pulled him around the corner, steadying him when he staggered awkwardly, and sending a conspiratorial smile back at the others. She had to support him as they made their way to the small shed that Margie had once used as a playhouse, pushing open the door to reveal the floor covered in an old sleeping bag. Brent dropped down, head spinning in confusion as Margie quickly opened her blouse and undid her front-clasping bra, letting the white material fall aside. She sank down in front of him, grabbing his hands and holding them to her firm breasts, molding the palms around the soft mounds. She pushed up against his hands and he could feel the nipples tighten as she moaned softly in pleasure. Margie leaned in and kissed him, her tongue snaking out to brush over his lips before forcing its way inside his mouth.

She pulled away from him, lying down on the sleeping bag and slowly hitched up her skirt to reveal no panties underneath. He stared at the soft triangle of hair, so dark against the whiteness of her inner thighs, blinking in confusion as she spread her legs and enticed him to crawl over to her.

He didn't understand why but there was something strangely abhorrent about it all, and despite her moans of encouragement he felt no stirring inside. He recalled the feel of her hands rubbing over the soft mass of his groin without success, sensing her increasing frustration as he failed to respond to her touch. Her deft fingers pulled down the zipper, easing inside to wrap around his unresponsive flesh.

A light illuminated the dingy interior of the playhouse and Margie froze, pushing him off her and scrabbling to her feet. Quickly, she adjusted her clothing as the first shouts came from the front yard where her father had began to order the boys off his property before he called the Police. As he tried to race back to the car, Brent tripped over, sliding several feet along the grass before Tom and Jim grabbed hold of his arms and dragged him the rest of the way to the car. They shoved him into the back seat.

"Damn it. Even a rabbit wouldn't have had time."

They laughed at nearly getting caught by Margie's old man, and Brent found another beer pressed into his hands. He drank it without thought, too drunk and lightheaded to know he ought to stop.

Then Tom had seen Loralee standing all forlorn by the side of the road next to the junk heap she called a car.

"Damn... that girl is weird... but she's got the hots for you, Bren. You seen the way she stares at you all the time?"

Harry laughed. "You seen her legs? Man, they go on forever. Let's see if she wants to play."

Brent had seen the way she looked at him but he had tried to ignore her, feeling uncomfortable beneath her gooey-eyed stare but now he was too drunk to even notice her standing near to the car window, staring in at him as the others clambered out. He could barely focus, and his head was spinning, sending him diving into a dark abyss every time he closed his eyes. He stumbled out of the car after them but barely managed to get part way towards the others before tripping over his own feet and sprawling onto the hard road.

He could hear voices; Loralee's pleading above the deeper tones of his male friends but time seemed to have become meaningless as he lay there in the road -- until the others returned for him.

She made no attempt to push him off when they lay him down on top of her. Despite all their best efforts and cajoling to prove he was a man, he couldn't get a rise out of his flaccid shaft... any response withered by the alcohol running through his blood stream.

Still they tried, and he'd felt a momentary tingle of pleasure as he felt Tom's hand pulling his soft shaft from his pants, stroking him as he tried to force it inside Loralee's partially-naked body. Eventually, even Tom had to give up, leaving him lying there on top of Loralee in a drunken heap.

With disappointing cries, calling him a 'damn faggot', they had shoved him aside, uncaring that he landed hard on the ground. He lay on his back staring up at the night sky as sounds of grunting and moans of pleasure rose from the picnic table above. One after the other, they took their turn with Loralee -- part of him registering that she made no attempt to fight them off.

His next lucid thought came some time later as brilliant light stabbed into his eyes, and he rolled over, throwing up on the grass beside him, then pushing to his feet and staggering away. They had left him behind, the headlights of Tom's car passing over him as they drove off, leaving him to make his own way home.

There was no sign of Loralee Sherman, and Brent put it all down to an alcohol induced nightmare.

-ooOOoo-

Paul sighed as Brent's voice fell silent.

"No... you never noticed the girls at all, not even Margie, but then she'd been a constant by your side since kindergarten. Practically a sister." He swallowed hard. "But you did notice the boys, didn't you, Bren? That's why you were always a little uneasy around the other guys... in the showers, in the changing rooms."

Paul leaned forward, his face only inches from Brent's as he whispered softly.

"I was listening in that day -- Graduation Day -- while they argued over whether or not you were gay. Tom refused to believe it, said you was just shy with girls... so they concocted this plan to get you drunk and hand you a girl who was willing and able -- Margie."

He laughed and Martin pieced together all the clues from Brent's hazy memories. Marge had been in on the hastily made plan but her father had intervened before it could come to fruition. It had been unfortunate timing for Loralee Sherman, being the right person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps the boys had assumed she'd be more than willing to take Brent's virginity along with her own... because of her known adoration for him.

In her account of that night, they had forced her to drink alcohol that quickly made her insensible. Had it been drugged, just as they had drugged Brent's beer? How much did she truly remember of that night?

It still came down to rape no matter if she struggled or not, and yet every version he had heard, other than Loralee's, had made Brent just as much the victim as she.

But who was right? Or were they all telling the truth but from different perspectives?

Brent sank back against the bed with a whimper of pain, his face white as alabaster with small beads of perspiration doting his forehead. Martin raised one hand and touched the hot, clammy skin.

"He's running a temperature. Have you checked his injuries?"

"What?"

Martin indicated towards the less than pristine bandages wrapped around Brent Marken's shoulder, chest and arm.

"I-- No... I thought he'd be fine."

"I need to take a look." Martin shook the hand that was uselessly handcuffed to the bed.

"Oh no... I can't let you free."

"Then *you're* gonna have to take a look."

Paul urged Brent to sit upright and began to unravel the bandages, wincing every time Brent cried out softly in pain. He hissed as he looked at the inflamed wounds. Martin shook his head slowly, seeing the inflammation that denoted infection.

"We need to get him to a hospital."

"No. No way."

"He needs medical attention -- or he'll die." Martin's eyes narrowed. "Do you want him to die?"

Paul looked confused for a moment. "No. No. That isn't the plan."

"Plan? What plan?"

Paul gazed across at Martin. "My plan." His eyes narrowed in confusion. "Don't you understand? I love him. I always did... but if they get to him first then they'll kill him... just like they killed Loralee."

"Loralee's dead?"

Paul laughed. "I brought you here to see what you'd found out... but you don't know anything."

-ooOOoo-

Forty-Two Hours Missing: 11 a.m.

Danny bounded into Jack's office, his face grim. "I've just been talking to Deputy Sheriff Mina in Cherry Falls. They dragged a Jane Doe from the lake three days ago. Body's badly decomposed, unrecognizable. They reckon she'd been in the water the best part of two weeks."

"And?"

"DNA just came back. Their body... with short, blonde hair... is Loralee Marliston. And they only know that because Leonard Marliston's DNA is on file following the murders in Cherry Falls and made a close match. Otherwise..."

Jack sank back into his seat in shock. Of all the things he had anticipated in this case, discovering that Loralee Marliston had been dead all this time had not been one of them. Part of him had anticipated hearing that she had fallen victim to some kind of accident in the past few days, knowing that Senator McKay and James Adnam-White would want to find some way to silence her, but not this.

"There's more." Jack was not surprised. "The Coroner thinks her hair was cut and dyed *after* her death."

"To misdirect the local Police and anyone else attempting to trace her through the unidentified victim database. We've all been looking for long dark hair with a white streak through it."

Jack sat upright as Danny leaned on the desk towards him.

"Someone's gone to a lot of trouble to fool the police... but whoever killed her didn't know about the DNA sample taken from Leonard Marliston."

"Or they didn't think it would be of any use in the identification process."

It begged the question of who had been posing as Loralee at the airport a little over two days ago? And why? Had it been purely for the benefit of any potential witnesses? Something was wrong with that scenario, though... unless...

"What if Paul Sisler abducting Brent Marken was unexpected. What if he had come along and foiled whatever scenario had been planned?"

Danny frowned and glanced through his notes. "Sisler is the managing director of a subsidiary of Adnam-White's empire." Danny tapped his fingers on Jack's desk. "So it could have been Sisler who arranged for the black BMW, and not Adnam-White. But what does this give us?"

Jack stood up and reached for his coat. "Hope.... that both Martin and Brent Marken are still alive."

"Where are you going?"

"*We* are going to pay another visit to Virginia Allen."

Danny went back to the office to grab his coat and caught up with Jack at the elevator.

"By the way... the labs ran a paternity test on Leonard Marliston. Brent Marken wasn't the father, and neither was Tom Sisler."

Jack made no comment, stepping into the elevator as the door opened and leaning against the back wall as Danny pressed the button to send them to the parking lot beneath the building.

-ooOOoo-

"Have you got a first aid kit?" Paul checked around the small motel room and shook his head when he could not find anything useful. "How about in your car?"

"Yes, of course. I carry one in the trunk."

He raced off leaving Martin alone with Brent Marken. Martin brushed the sweat-slicked hair off Brent's forehead and tried to gauge the man's temperature from touch alone but all it told him was that Brent was hotter than he ought to be. He shook his hand angrily, hearing the handcuff rattle against the bedstead. Some how he had to convince Paul that he meant no harm to Brent but the man seemed almost paranoid in his distrust. He hissed as he looked at the infected wounds. His limited knowledge of First Aid warned him that Brent needed more than just his festering wounds cleaned and re-bandaged: he needed strong antibiotics to combat the infection too.

When he looked back he noticed Brent was awake with his green eyes glassy with pain and fever.

"He's right."

Martin grimaced at the weakness in Brent's voice. "You shouldn't talk. You need to rest--"

"No. Need to say this... to someone... before it's too late. He's right. Never did care too much for the girls, not even Marge. But small towns can be cruel places. Everyone knows everyone else... knows everyone else's business. I spent my school years... being idolized... and I didn't want to disappoint my dad... see his face turn from pride to disgust."

"Yeah... I can understand that one."

Brent gave a small chuckle. "If it hadn't been for Loralee, then I might have moved away... but it was like a rollercoaster ride... I couldn't get off."

Haltingly, Brent told him what happened just a few hours after the rape...

-ooOOoo-

Someone was shaking him, and he tried to push them away, not wanting to leave the warm sanctuary that he had found only a short time before. They shook him harder, refusing to leave him in peace. Eventually, he forced open his eyes and stared up blearily at Deputy Masters.

"Brent? I got to take you in for questioning."

"What?"

"Get dressed, son."

As he dragged himself out of bed he could hear his parents talking to the deputy in shock-tinged voices. He stumbled down the stairs, groaning at the pounding in his skull.

"Dad?"

"It's all right, Brent. I'm coming along with you. We'll get this mess straightened out."

After that the true nightmare began as Loralee's father began to hurl abuse the moment he saw Brent step into the Police station. A deputy restrained him while Brent and his father were ushered along towards the small interview rooms. As he passed one door, Brent looked in and, with shock, he saw Harry seated with his father and a man who could only be the McKays' expensive family lawyer.

What the hell's going on? he thought as Deputy Masters led them to the next room along. He sat down at the table with his dad by his side and waited for all to be explained.

"Brent? Where were you last night between nine-fifteen and ten last evening?"

"Uhh... I was with Tom, Jim and Harry... I think."

"You think?"

"Yeah... we'd been out celebrating... but I kind of ended up alone."

"Where did you all go?"

"Nowhere... everywhere. Driving around."

"Marge's dad said you were there around nine."

Brent felt bile rise in his throat as tendrils of some hazy memory rose inside of Marge trying to seduce him. Was this about Margie? If so then why was Sherman angry with him?

"I didn't do anything with her... even though she wanted me to."

"Do what with who, Brent?"

"Margie."

"What about Loralee Sherman?"

Some thought was nagging at the back of his mind; some image of Loralee lying on a table, still and unresisting. He shook his head, unable to make any sense of the image.

"Did you see Loralee?"

"I--I don't know. I think I did... but I don't remember much of anything."

Brent noticed the look passing between Masters and his father. The Deputy turned to Brent and expelled a deep breath.

"Brent. You've always been a good kid... honest and trustworthy... so I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. But you're in a heap of trouble right now." He turned to Brent's father. "I'm leaving him in your custody. Take him home and sober him up. Bring him back if he recalls anything."

-ooOOoo-

"I learned only later... that Loralee's father had accused us of raping his daughter... and had demanded justice. McKays' expensive lawyer... he made a mockery of those claims... accusing Loralee of making it all up after being caught drunk... with her clothes in disarray... and her neck covered in..." He trailed off, deep in thought for a moment. "The Sheriff had to admit that none of us... including her... had any bruises that would support a struggle. Said she wouldn't be the first to cry rape rather than face her father's wrath with the truth... that she'd been willing... and with no evidence to support her claim otherwise, the charges were dropped."

Brent let his head fall back onto the pillow.

"All I had at the time... were these hazy images that could have meant anything." He sighed. "And... eventually... her family moved away... ostracized by the town."

Silently, Brent recalled his one attempt to broach the subject with the others. They had laughed, saying Loralee ought to be grateful to them. They said they had shown her a real good time.

Even though he could still recall very little, now he knew they had lied and the thought disturbed him.

"When I realized they'd lied... that they *had* raped her..." Brent coughed and took a deep breath against the pain that wracked his body. "I couldn't do anything about it. Would have been my word against theirs... just as it had been Loralee's word against theirs... and I didn't remember enough... then or now... to make any difference."

He fell quiet again, lost in memories.

Eventually, they had persuaded him that Loralee was a nobody, coming from the wrong side of the tracks, and that they had bright futures that would turn to dust before their eyes if they were formally charged with rape. They brought other pressure to bear on him; insinuating about his sexuality and how it had been Tom's hand rather than Loralee's body that got that slight rise out of him. Without one of the others to corroborate what he *thought* he saw, Brent knew he would end up ostracized by the town just as Loralee had, and so he was forced to let it go.

"I was a coward. I should have..."

Paul came back in and dropped his small First Aid kit onto the bedside cupboard beside Brent. He opened it and rifled through the contents.

"There's not much here."

"Let me see."

Paul handed over the small box and Brent closed his eyes as he heard Martin rummage through it.

"You need to boil up some water, then use this wadding to clean the wounds. The antiseptic cream might help too... but I still say we should get him to a hospital."

"If they find him they'll kill him. Don't you understand? They can't afford the scandal should he talk... even if no one can prove what happened that night."

-ooOOoo-

Virginia Allen knew all the right words and phrases to use as she expressed her dismay on hearing that Martin Fitzgerald had become the second missing person in this case. But Jody Marken seemed genuinely distressed.

"Why would Paul Sisler kidnap my father *and* Agent Fitzgerald?"

"I was hoping Mrs. Allen might have some insight. Sisler was seen standing opposite this apartment block in the early morning, and Agent Fitzgerald went missing while trying to apprehend him. Sisler may have been intending to contact you regarding your brother."

"I haven't seen Paul in... simply ages. Brent and the others had been friends all the way through high school... and Tom had been his best friend so I knew his younger brother. But their friendship ended after the incident with Loralee. The McKays and Adnam-Whites moved away within a few weeks. I expect they wanted to distance themselves from any potential scandal, and then Tom went off to university leaving Brent behind."

She opened a small box lying on the coffee table and pulled out a cigarette. Until that moment, Jack had no idea that she even smoked. He wondered if it was a nervous habit, fairly certain that she was hiding something from them.

"Brent turned down a football scholarship and spent a year working for our father... and hated every minute of it. Instead of following a promising career, he became a small town sheriff, obviously in some misguided belief that he could save some other Loralee Sherman." She drew deep on the cigarette and exhaled slowly, watching the curl of blue smoke drift towards the ceiling. "Such a waste."

However, she seemed even less self-assured after Jack informed her that Loralee Marliston was dead, with her eyes darting away nervously. Jody Marken, on the other hand, appeared horrified at the news, wondering if she might have been one of the last to see Loralee Marliston alive.

"We have two witnesses who identified a woman closely resembling Loralee Marliston at the airport at the time Brent Marken left with Paul Sisler."

"How can that be if she was already dead?" Jody asked. She looked fearful for a moment then shook herself visibly. "I had a horrible thought that maybe I only dreamed Leonard Marliston was dead."

Jack leaned forward and patted her hand. "No dream. He *is* dead."

She laughed nervously. "He didn't have a twin... did he?"

Danny shook his head. "No twin... no brothers or sisters."

Relief flooded her eyes but Jack could understand why. She had barely escaped from Leonard Marliston and had witnessed at least one killing -- that of one of her father's deputies as he watched over the kids at the party. Marliston had split the man's skull with an axe right in front of her and her boyfriend, Kenny, using the same axe that he had used upon her father.

With no more information forthcoming, Jack ended the interview. They walked to the car in silence, and only when the doors were shut did Danny speak out.

"Your questionable truth again."

"I know... and all we have to work out is which part is the lie and which part the truth."

"*And* we have to work out what else she's hiding," Danny added unhappily, knowing they were no closer to figuring out why Paul Sisler had taken the missing men, and more importantly, where.

-ooOOoo-

Paul could not handle the task of seeing to Brent's injuries, being too squeamish so, finally, he relented and uncuffed Martin. He stood some distance away with a gun loaded, ready to defend himself should Martin take advantage of the situation. Martin ignored him, pushing away all thoughts of the gun at his back as he tended the injured man.

He washed his hands thoroughly and then dipped a small piece of the wadding into the cooled, boiled water, cleaning away the small amount of yellowish pus oozing from places where the axe had bitten deeper into Brent's flesh. He tried to be as gentle as he could but Brent still flinched and whimpered with every stroke.

Once he was certain the wounds were as clean as he could make them, Martin soothed the inflamed wounds with the antiseptic cream. He covered the worst areas with dressing but there was not enough to strap the arm and shoulder securely. He did find a packet of Tylenol at the bottom of the First Aid kit and popped two from the blister pack, encouraging Brent to take them with a little water. He doubted they could do any more than temporarily dull the edge off Brent's pain but it had to be better than nothing at all.

He noticed that Paul watched him carefully as he flushed the bloodied water down the toilet and then refilled the makeshift basin with tepid water from the tap. Martin grabbed a wash cloth and returned to Brent's side, dipping the cloth in the water and carefully bathing the fevered flesh. Part of him kept a watch on Paul Sisler, uncertain how the man -- who had confessed his love for Brent Marken -- would react to the almost intimate physical contact between Martin and Brent.

"Feels good." Brent's voice was soft and weak.

Martin smiled, aware of the closeness that had built between them over the matter of a few hours. There was something about this man, and the tragedy that had shadowed his life, that pulled at Martin on a mental level even as his body was drawn to Brent on the physical. His fingers seemed to tingle wherever they touched Brent's flesh, and he wondered if this was some variation on the 'hostage' syndrome.

Truth was, though, that he'd been attracted to Brent Marken on some subliminal level from the moment Jack placed the photo on the white board; filling him with needs that he had never consciously noted before. The soft green eyes had seemed to bore into his with a ghostly cry for help that had little to do with his disappearance, as if he held the power to save Brent Marken from the tragedy of his life.

That seemed a ridiculous notion. He knew part of his feelings must have been fueled with the profile of Brent gained from the 'Virgin Killer' case as the Media dug deep into his life, hoping to dig up the skeletons in his past. However, Martin could not deny the strength of his ever-growing attraction to Brent, which in turn made him question his own sexuality.

When had Brent realized that his discomfort with girls had risen *not* from shyness but from a deep-seated longing for his own gender?

What about his own awkwardness with women? He thought about all the times he had been to the singles bars since coming to New York. The women would seem so interested in him, encouraging him to make the first move but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't bring himself to accept their advances. He had come as close as escorting one girl home, even accepted the offer of a coffee, but he had made his excuses and run the moment she started to press him into staying the night in her bed.

It had been different with Sam. He had actually taken the first step and invited her out for a drink but she had other plans for that night and turned him down.

What was the difference?

Martin rinsed the wash cloth and squeezed out the excess water, stroking the soft cloth over Brent's stubbled cheek and jaw, then down the strong neck to wipe at the sweat pooling in the hollow at the base of his throat.

He knew the answer to his question, for why it had been easier to make the first move with Sam. He knew her. He knew she was safe... that she would not expect them to jump into bed together after a couple of drinks. He realized that all he had wanted from her -- and from the others -- was someone to take away the loneliness for a short time; someone to talk to instead of returning to his expensive but empty apartment alone. It would have been more logical to have made that offer of a drink to Danny but he had only just started to feel comfortable with him on a working level.

It had never occurred to him why he had been disinterested in a sexual relationship with her, or with any of the other women who had taken interest in him. He had assumed he had a puritanic streak, something instilled in him since childhood, but now the doubts were rising as he saw the parallels between him and Brent.

How long had Brent lived in subconscious denial of his true needs before realizing that he had wasted his life in a loveless marriage to Marge?

"How is he?"

Paul came close and Martin noticed that Brent had fallen into an uneasy sleep under his tender ministrations.

"He needs a hospital. He needs pain meds, and antibiotics to counteract the infection."

"How long do you think he'll live once they know where to find him?"

"How long do you think he'll live if gangrene sets in? He needs these wounds properly cleaned by people who know what they're doing." Martin could see Paul was caught between the two truths and tried to press his advantage through knowing how much this man cared for Brent. "We can protect him in the hospital. I can arrange for him to have guards posted outside his room... 24/7."

Paul's eyes hardened. "Why should I trust you? I know who you are. Your father's a powerful man in the FBI, probably socializes with the likes of the McKays and Adnam-Whites. You probably even know them... went to private schools with their kids... attended the same high society functions." He leaned in closer. "Are they paying you to find Brent and tell them where he is? Or are you doing it for *daddy*?"

"Yes... Deputy Fitzgerald is my father but, no, I'm not working for him -- or for them. I work for Jack Malone, the head of the Missing Person's Unit in the FBI, and it's my job to find people like Brent... people who've disappeared without a trace."

Martin sat back, his eyes beseeching Paul to listen.

"Jack's a good man. He *can* help... if you'll let him." He looked down as Brent cried out softly in pain, and Martin pressed the back of his hand against the hot and clammy skin. "His fever's getting worse, Paul. If you do love him... If you do want him to live... then you have to let me help him. You have to let me get him to a hospital."

Paul's anger deflated as he reached out to touch the object of his unrequited love. He nodded slowly, accepting Martin's word. Reaching into his pocket, he drew out his car keys and held them out to Martin. Martin let his eyes show his thanks as he took the keys.

"Will you help me carry him to the car?"

Paul replaced the safety lock and tucked the gun back inside his pocket. He helped Martin wrap the bed cover around Brent and then, together, they lifted the sick man and carried him from the motel to Sisler's Mondeo.

Carefully, they placed Brent in the back, lying him across the whole rear seat. Martin stood up after closing the rear passenger door and stared at Paul, unsure if he would be coming along too. With a sigh, Paul stepped back, his eyes firing with menace.

"I'm trusting you."

A silent promise hung in the air between them, and Martin had no doubts that Paul Sisler would be watching and waiting, fully prepared to exact revenge if Martin betrayed Brent. Martin acknowledged the threat with a promise of his own, that he wouldn't let Brent down.

Less than half an hour later Martin pulled into the ER close to Newark and called for assistance. He watched as Brent was taken out of the car and transferred to a gurney, refusing to be parted from his charge for even a moment. After showing his badge and identifying himself as a Federal Agent, Martin requested access to a cellphone and then asked them to bring a police officer.

The nurse handed him a phone and he quickly tapped in a number.

"Jack? It's Martin. I'm okay... and I've got Brent Marken."

-ooOOoo-

Forty-Four Hours Missing:

Jack looked around the conference table as various factions argued over which would be the best course of action to take. His eyes alighted on Vivian's and he knew her thoughts mirrored his own. They did not have time for this. Brent Marken and Martin Fitzgerald were slipping away with every passing hour.

At the head of the table, Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald looked controlled, trying to act professionally, but Jack recognized the lines of strain on his face. No matter what Martin thought of his father, he *was* loved, and not just as an object for his father to use -- as Martin believed. This man was hurting, his single slip revealing how much as he referred to Martin as his 'little boy' during one tense moment. Jack had heard many fathers make that slip, no matter how old the child. It was if a parent never truly forgot those early years when they had nurtured, cared for and protected their young.

Loralee Marliston had been the reason for the conference; the discovery of her body upgrading the case from missing person to possible homicide. By rights, Jack should have been ordered to hand over everything he and his team had collected on this case to the Homicide division of the FBI. However, Jack knew Assistant Director Tony McGraw and they held mutual respect for each other's competence. McGraw had been the one to insist that Jack's team stay on the case while his agents were brought up to speed.

"A woman dressed as Loralee Marliston was witnessed having an argument with a man ID'd as Greg Marliston at the airport less than *three* days ago. This woman was obviously an imposter in light of the recent discovery of the body. This brings the homicide investigation within the boundaries of New York and hence--."

Finally, Jack had enough and decided to get the meeting back on track. He broke into the argument between the NYPD and FBI, who were debating who had jurisdiction over the Loralee Marliston murder enquiry.

"Greg Marliston stormed out of the airport... and has not been seen since."

"Yes... Yes... We know all this." The NYPD lieutenant huffed in anger. "We have an APB out on him and the Media has been broadcasting his picture all over the state."

"What if he never left the airport?"

"What do you mean?"

"Has anyone checked the car parks at JFK?"

There was a moment of silence and then the NYPD lieutenant made a call, setting Jack's suggestion in motion. Jack had no idea if anything would come of it but at least it brought the fruitless argument between the others to a halt and put people's minds back on the case.

As the others trawled through the known data, searching for clues, Jack let his mind float away again.

There were too many anomalies in this case. Marge Marken had seen a man in a scruffy denim jacket enter the airport after she left Brent Marken waiting for his flight to New York. Virginia Allen had seen a man in a scruffy denim jacket covertly watching her and Brent while they waited out the rush hour at JFK. Both women had identified that man to be Greg Marliston and yet, apart from the clothing, none of the stewardesses on that flight had identified his face from the ID photo.

Of course, they might have been mistaken. After all, they saw so many new faces every single day, and someone *had* boarded that plane under Greg Marliston's name, dressed in clothes that matched Greg Marliston's normal attire. But what if they had not been mistaken?

The Jehovah's Witness had positively identified Greg Marliston as the man who rudely pushed by him... which means that Marliston had been at JFK less than an hour after Brent Marken's plane landed.

Jack pondered over this, coming to a new conclusion. What if Greg Marliston had never been on that flight but, like Loralee, the seat had been taken by an imposter? But that would mean that Marge Marken had lied about seeing Greg Marliston at the airport close to Cherry Falls.

Jack recalled how Marge Marken had chain-smoked all the way through the interview. At the time he had put it down to the stress of the past few weeks, and then to the added stress following the disappearance of her estranged husband. But what if her nervousness had come from another source?

Jack began to relate his thoughts concerning Marge Marken to the investigators present in the room. When he glanced towards Fitzgerald, he half expected to see the man fuming, believing that Jack was about to send them off on another wild goose chase but instead he saw begrudging respect.

Jack looked away... almost embarrassed by the silent approval from a man who had treated him so shabbily earlier. He turned to Vivian, wanting to question her about another piece of information when the cellphone vibrated in his pocket.

"Excuse me."

Jack moved several feet away from the table to answer the call, his mouth dropping open slightly in shock as a familiar voice came onto the line.

"Jack? It's Martin."

"Martin!! Where are you?" Jack noticed all eyes turn to him, and saw Fitzgerald rise from his seat with eyes full of hope.

"I'm okay... and I've got Brent Marken."

"Where?" Quickly, he strode to the table and grabbed a pen, scribbling the details down onto a piece of paper. "Stay where you are. I'll have officers on the way to you immediately."

"Agent Malone?"

Fitzgerald was right beside him, and Jack handed the cellphone over to him, seeing the surprise in the Deputy Director's eyes.

"Martin?" He grinned shakily, and Jack looked away as a film of tears glistened in the man's eyes. "Are you injured?" Fitzgerald closed his eyes in relief at the answer. "I'm handing you back to Agent Malone."

While Jack gave Martin some last orders before disconnecting the call, he saw Fitzgerald break the news to the others. He wished Martin could have seen the look on his father's face as he took that call, for his father's strained words had lacked any verbal indication of his joy at knowing his 'little boy' was alive and well. There was no doubt in Jack's mind that Martin would misinterpret this as a lack of caring as the two seemed destined to misunderstand each other.

Both missing men were in a hospital just outside of Newark and Jack quickly discovered the benefit of having a Deputy Director of the FBI on the case. Fitzgerald made arrangements for them to be taken to Newark by helicopter and, within fifteen minutes they were airborne. Soon after, they were landing on the helipad on top of the hospital.

They were directed straight to the ICU where Brent Marken had been hooked up to various equipment to monitor his condition, and with an IV tube feeding strong antibiotics directly into his bloodstream. Beside him, Martin was asleep in a chair, having finally given in to the exhaustion of the day and to his own injuries. A white bandage around his head lay testament to the fact that he had not been taken from Central Park without force.

A white-coated doctor appeared and Fitzgerald introduced the small party, but the doctor turned to Jack.

"He refused to leave his duty station until you arrived, Agent Malone."

"How is he?" Fitzgerald looked back at the doctor, then added, "He's my son."

"I'm sorry. I wasn't aware you were family. He took a blow to the head, and he may have a mild concussion but, otherwise, he's fine. Just needs to take it easy for a few days."

"And Marken?" Jack asked.

"These half-healed wounds got infected. We'll keep him here in ICU overnight to see how he reacts to the antibiotics. If he shows improvement by morning then we'll move him to a private room."

"Can we question him?"

"Not until morning. He needs to rest."

Jack nodded his thanks and watched as the doctor made a few notes before leaving to see to his other patients.

Jack tried not to watch as Fitzgerald covertly touched Martin's hair, wishing he could afford the man some privacy. Having children of his own, he could understand the man's need to affirm his son's living presence after these past traumatic hours.

-ooOOoo--

Martin awoke at the gentle touch on his hair and pushed back from the bed where he had rested his head intending to close his eyes for only a minute. His gaze took in the pale, drawn yet still handsome features of Brent Marken, feeling relief flood through him that Brent was sleeping peacefully. It was then that he realized that he was not alone in the room with Brent. Martin turned his head as a familiar voice called his name, blinking in surprise when he saw his father standing over him.

"Dad?"

His father's presence confused him as he had not exactly sounded overjoyed to learn that he was alive and safe. Martin tried to stand but was surprised at how weak he felt. The rational part of his mind told him that he'd probably been running on adrenaline alone since waking up in the dingy motel next to Brent.

"Martin?"

Another familiar voice, and Martin turned to face Jack Malone, smiling in relief. Although he'd not been on the team long, he had come to trust Jack implicitly.

"Martin, what happened? And where's Paul Sisler?"

"Sisler let us go when he realized Brent needed a hospital. Jack... he never intended to hurt him... or me. He thought he was protecting him. I can't tell you much more than that... just that he believed Brent was in danger, and that's why he took him from the airport."

"Did he say who he needed to protect him from?"

"McKay and Adnam-White."

Jack looked at Martin's father and saw guilt fill the man's eyes at how he had obstructed their attempt to interview McKay not long before Martin went missing.

"Well, Agent Malone. It's apparent that your involvement in this case is over. Both missing persons have been located--"

"What about Greg Marliston?"

"He is part of an ongoing murder investigation. I will expect you to hand over all pertinent data to Assistant Director McGraw effective immediately."

Jack remained silent for a moment, and then answered politely, "Yes, sir."

 

"I'll have the helicopter return here after taking me to Newark International -- to take you and Agent Fitzgerald back to the Missing Person's Office where I expect Agent Fitzgerald to write a full report." Fitzgerald turned and walked away, only looking back when he reached the threshold of the ICU room. "Martin? I expect you to call your mother... today."

Martin fumed, part of him angry on Jack's behalf, and the other part of him resentful for his father's lack of parental affection. He couldn't understand this need for his father to always be in control. Would it have hurt him to show that he cared that his son was alive? Would it have damaged his position to acknowledge that he was his father as well as being his superior?

When his eyes flicked to Jack he read sadness there, and he hoped it was not pity for him but rather for the offhand way in which his father had dismissed them both from the Brent Marken case.

Martin looked back at the man still sleeping beside him, and he sighed in frustration. He had made a promise to ensure Brent would be protected, asking Sisler to place his faith in Jack Malone but Jack could do little to help if they were no longer involved in the case.

"Will Assistant Director McGraw provide a twenty-four hour guard?"

"Arrangements have already been made."

Jack moved to the window that looked out into the corridor. Beyond he could see the nurses going about their duties with quiet efficiency, and he watched as a uniformed police officer took a seat just a little way along from the door where he would have a good view of anyone coming in any direction.

Martin knew someone would contact them once the helicopter was ready for them but he found he did not want to leave Brent Marken's side. However, his father's orders had been very clear.

"Am I on light duties or on a leave of absence after writing up the report?"

"I can give you a few days if you need it." Jack's eyes narrowed a fraction. "Where do you want to be?"

"Here."

"I can't do that officially. Missing Person's is no longer on this case." Jack sank down into the second seat placed beside viewing window. "They pulled Loralee Marliston's body out of the lake in Cherry Falls. She'd been dead two weeks."

"But how can she--?"

Martin stopped mid flow as Jack raised a sardonic eyebrow. "So Sisler was right. They are out to silence anyone who could start a scandal."

He looked back at Brent in concern, now more certain than ever that he needed to stay close to the injured and so vulnerable man. To keep my promise to Sisler, he thought, hoping to convince himself that there was nothing more to it than that.

Martin listened carefully as Jack outlined all the information gathered since earlier that day and, silently, he wished they had been left on the case. Although they had fulfilled their objectives, he felt a need to see this through to the end, and one look into Jack's eyes told him that Jack felt the same.

"This isn't the first time we've had to hand everything over and walk away... and it won't be the last."

Martin sighed, realizing the truth of Jack's words. Only a few days earlier they had handed over all their paperwork to FBI Homicide after little Angie McCormack was found murdered. This time was no different except they had found their missing person alive, and yet Martin could not help but feel that he had a personal stake in this particular case.

An orderly leaned in and caught Jack's attention. "Helicopter's ETA is five minutes."

Jack nodded and let out a deep breath, pushing back to his feet. He held out an arm which Martin took gratefully. The room seemed to reel for a moment but Jack's arm remained solid beneath his, waiting for him to regain his equilibrium.

Martin took one last look at Brent Marken. He felt a butterfly sensation inside him as his eyes trailed over the handsome face, memorizing the curl of blond eyelashes fluttering over the hidden soft green eyes. His own eyes traced the bow of the top lip before being drawn to the fullness of the slightly pouting lower and he clamped down hard on the strangest urge to press his own mouth against Brent's; like a prince to his sleeping beauty.

Slightly shaken by the thought, he hoped Jack had not noticed his temporary distraction, or had put it down to his head injury. With a dull ache in his chest that held no truly physical cause, Martin turned away and followed the orderly along the corridor, barely aware of Jack's hand hovering close by in case he needed support.

-ooOOoo-

Later that afternoon:

Brent awoke to the strangely familiar sounds of monitors, and was confused by a sense of deja vu when he saw Jody sitting next to him. Yet he felt there should have been someone else seated there; someone with deep blue eyes who spoke assurances to him in a gravely, low voice.

"Daddy?"

As he looked into her pale, tired face, part of him cried for her loss of innocence; a loss more damning than her virginity. All of her life he had led her to believe that he stood for justice and now she had discovered the worst of the skeletons hiding in the darkest corners of his soul, and he felt bitterly ashamed.

"I'm sorry he hurt you. All my fault."

"No. No, it wasn't... and I'm okay."

He had made a confession that night in Leonard Marliston's basement, professing to have known exactly what he had been doing when they raped Loralee. He had even made no attempt to destroy Marliston's delusion that he was his father. All in the hope that Marliston would be appeased and let Jody go, especially if he thought they might be brother and sister... but to no avail.

Had Jody believed every word spoken?

He wished he could explain why it had happened to Loralee that night, and how her ordeal had played on his mind for all these years, sucking all the pleasure from his life. He had punished himself further by casting aside all his dreams of leaving the small town -- with its narrow-minded morals -- far behind, and allowing his parents to push him into a loveless marriage.

After a year working in the family business, his need to find peace through finding justice for others -- the justice he could not give to Loralee -- had eventually led him into law enforcement. His estrangement from his father had resulted from that decision, so he had not been surprised when his father left everything to Ginny on his death.

In time, the memory of Loralee faded, only brought back to mind when Tom Sisler came back to the town as the Principal of the High School. Brent made no attempt to renew their friendship, trying to push the past firmly behind him, and yet the past would come back to haunt him, over and over, and in so many different forms.

Brent recalled all his fears on the day Jody was born; the joy of her birth overshadowed by how fragile she was as he held her tiny form in his arms. Perhaps she understood now why he had always been so protective of her: wanting to know where she was, who she was seeing. Wanting her to contact him if ever she found herself in any difficulty.

For years he had visions of her standing by the roadside on a dark evening beside a broken down car. He saw her accepting the help of someone she felt no fear from, only to discover that person was a monster in disguise -- just as Loralee had discovered that night. His fears had been realized when Jody ran to Leonard Marliston on that fateful night, believing he was someone she could trust.

"Aunt Ginny told me everything that happened that night. How Tom Sisler slipped drugs into your beer so you didn't even know where you were or what you were doing... and I believe her."

"You don't know--"

"I know enough about macho games... and about you... to know this is not something you would have done knowingly."

Jody reached out and squeezed his hand gently and he felt some of the years of burden lighten from his shoulders. He couldn't expect instant forgiveness from her despite her words but he knew she had at least accepted Virginia's account as the truth.

"Daddy, I have to go back to Cherry Falls... now I know you're safe. Kenny's still in the hospital and I promised--"

Brent shushed her. "It's okay." He squeezed her hand, smiling softly at her. "I'll be fine."

"I'll be back in two days... or perhaps you can ask them to transfer you back to Cherry Falls hospital?"

"I'm not going back. Least not for a while yet. Not until I can straighten out all this."

"I'll phone as soon as I get home." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, daddy."

"Love you too."

The last of his energy drained away as soon as she left his room, and he closed his heavy eyelids, falling into a dreamless sleep.

-ooOOoo-

6:15 PM Newark Airport

Officer Hillman stretched as he waited for the flight to be called. Beside him, Jody Marken sat in silence, and he assumed she was thinking about the past few days. He had been tasked with escorting her to the airport and seeing that she made her flight but he had to admit that he would have preferred being the one given guard duty over the girl's father. Babysitting some slip of a girl was not his idea of real police work.

Eventually the flight was called and he gave a sigh of relief as he accompanied her to the gate. He watched her walk through and he gave a perfunctory wave as she disappeared down the corridor beyond...

-ooOOoo-

Three hours later:

"And you don't recall seeing anyone acting suspiciously?"

"No, sir."

Jack looked across at Danny but could see he had no questions to ask at this time. They let Officer Hillman leave on condition that he make himself available for further questioning at a later time.

Jack walked up to the white board and he stared at the pretty Marken girl who had never boarded her flight home, wondering who should break the news to her father.

-ooOOoo-

It had taken a little longer than he had anticipated but Martin managed to write up his reports and hand them to Jack by late afternoon. Now, he was back in his small but well furnished apartment, lying on his bed and gazing up at the ceiling.

He had spoken to his mom... not because his dad had practically ordered him to do so, but because it was the right thing to do. She would have seen the Media reports of his abduction from earlier that morning, and she would have been frantic with worry. It didn't matter that she would have seen the later news cycle that told of his safe return for he knew she would keep on worrying until she heard his voice or saw his face.

Martin smiled at the remembered love and relief so evident in her voice as compared to the cold efficiency displayed by his father. As always, she had tried to make excuses for his dad, and he had brushed them aside, not wanting to spoil this time with his mom.

As he lay there, he felt a little guilty and annoyed in knowing that his dad had been right about one thing. He ought to phone his mom more often, just to let her know that he was doing okay, realizing that his excuses sounded feeble even to him. He did work strange hours -- long hours -- but there were always moments during a day when he could take a few minutes to make that short call.

Once he had exhausted all thoughts along those lines, inevitably, they turned back to the case -- and to Brent Marken.

He thought about this stranger who had come into his life, wondering what had made Brent different from all the other missing person cases he had handled since joining Jack's team. They had to profile every single one of their cases -- adult and child alike -- delving into their lives in the hope of discovering something that would lead them to that person. Brent Marken had been no different though it was rare for any of them to have foreknowledge of the missing person. However, he had been following the events of the 'Virgin Killer' murders as the small town came to grips with the idea of having a serial killer among them.

Martin knew his initial impression must have been formed from the way Brent had handled the events in Cherry Falls. Brent's investigation had led them to the truth, even though it had been an ugly truth involving his past... and no one could fault his heroism as he all but gave his life to buy his daughter time to escape from the clutches of the killer. Martin had seen the damage caused by the axe on Brent's body, and he wondered if Brent would bear those scars with honor or as a symbol of past failures.

It had to be hard being torn between the heroism of the present and the sins of the past. Certainly, the towns people were equally torn concerning Brent Marken.

As part of the investigation into Brent's disappearance, Martin had watched the last footage of Brent on the Media channels. He recalled the scene as Brent left the hospital in Cherry Falls, with reporters surging forward demanding a statement and angry parents hurling abuse in the background. Yet, within a few days, the small town had clammed up tight, refusing to discuss that incident from Brent's past as they rallied around to protect him instead. It was a testament to his popularity, as if no one had truly wanted to believe he could be a rapist despite Loralee Marliston's implication that he had been among the four boys who raped her, along with Tom Sisler.

FBI agents had gone through all the records held in the library archive and within the Sheriff's department but, as no charges were ever laid against the boys, there had been no names mentioned. Only the old sheriff, his deputies and the families involved had known all the details, and none of them were talking any longer. Of course, it was likely that McKay and Adnam-White had bought off certain individuals years ago, just as they had paid Loralee for her silence.

It also seemed likely that the renewed accusations she had been sent to the Media had been an attempt to gain even more money now that the son conceived out of that rape had gained notoriety as a serial killer. However, her threat had backfired, forcing the hand of one of those powerful families to silence her permanently -- and now they had killed once, it would be easier to kill again, and clean up all the potentially harmful witnesses.

Martin frowned, wondering how Paul Sisler had found out about the plan to dispose of the Marlistons and Brent Marken. He had few doubts that Greg Marliston would show up dead eventually... though they could have dumped his body anywhere. Although Sisler worked for a subsidiary of Adnam-Whites empire, it was unlikely that the information had come from that source, especially as he had been involved in making the funeral arrangements for his murdered brother over the past two weeks.

"Of course!"

Martin wanted to smack himself on the head. He had forgotten that Tom Sisler had been married to Carolyn McKay so it was possible that he had overheard a discussion between the McKay siblings.

Even though it was all conjecture, Martin reached for the phone, intending to pass along his thoughts to Jack in the hope that he would, in turn, pass them onto McGraw. He cursed with shock as the phone rang almost as he touched it, and snatched it from its cradle, a smile forming at the coincidence as he heard Jack's voice on the other end of the line. But then Jack's words sank in.

"Missing? Does Brent know?"

"I'm heading over to Newark right now. Wanted to know if you felt up to accompanying me."

"I'm climbing the walls here... too much time to think."

"Then I'll drop by on route. Ten minutes, Martin."

"I'll be ready."

-ooOOoo-

Jack glanced at Martin covertly as they drove through the lighter evening traffic towards Newark, wondering if Martin realized that he referred to Brent Marken with a familiarity usually reserved for family and close acquaintances. But then, Martin had spent several fear-filled hours with Brent Marken that morning, possibly afraid for both of their lives, and Jack knew how quickly friendships could develop under such circumstances.

He thought about his decision to bring Martin along even though his junior agent should have been granted at least this one night of rest before being thrown back into a case. His decision had hinged on the fledgling friendship that he had been considering only moments before. He had a feeling Marken might be more inclined to share information if Martin was there, for there could be only one reason why Jody Marken had disappeared so soon after her father had been recovered.

Although he still had no proof of their involvement, Jack's instincts told him that the McKays and Adnam-White would want Marken to remain silent. In truth, he was convinced that they had meant to kill him, having already disposed of Loralee, but their plans had been foiled by Paul Sisler's timely intervention. He knew it would still be in their best interest to kill Marken. However, that would not be an easy task while Marken was in the hospital under police protection, for security was too tight. The next best option would be to threaten the life of someone Marken loved -- someone like his daughter, Jody.

Jack expected to discover that Jody's kidnapper had already contacted Marken, ensuring his silence, and Jack knew it would be up to him and Martin to convince Marken that whoever had taken her had no intention of letting her live. Like her father, she knew too much that could be damaging to them. All 'they' needed to do was keep her alive long enough to lead Marken to his death.

It was for this same reason that Jack had requested additional Police protection for both Virginia Allen and Marge Marken. Both of those women also knew more than enough to give weight to Loralee's accusations and, therefore, force a scandal upon them.

His cellphone trilled just as they were sliding into a parking bay outside the Newark hospital, and Jack answered, recognizing Tony McGraw's voice.

"We found Greg Marliston."

"Alive?"

"No. His body was snared in a fishing net off the coast of Hong Kong. He'd been in the water at least a day but the estimated time of death is a little suspect. Coroner seems to think he might have been frozen. And we haven't yet figured out how he got there."

Jack frowned as a half-remembered story flashed into his head.

"Is it close to the airport?"

"About ten miles from where they found the body."

Jack could hear puzzlement in McGraw's voice.

"Then what are the chances that he might have been killed at JFK and his body stashed behind the landing gear of a plane heading to Hong Kong?"

There was silence at the other end as the agent took in this scenario, but Jack knew it was feasible as he recalled that story of two frozen corpses found in a field close to London Heathrow. British detectives had realized that the field lay directly beneath the flight path of planes landing at the busy international airport, and quickly surmised that the two unfortunate men had planned to illegally enter the UK by stowing away behind the landing gear. Unfortunately, it had not occurred to them that the plane flew at high altitude and so they had frozen to death, their bodies tumbling from the plane when the landing gear was lowered upon arrival at Heathrow.

Jack had a feeling someone else knew of that story too, and had thought it a seemingly perfect way to dispose of the body by hiding it on a plane that approached the Hong Kong airport over the sea. Greg Marliston's body would drop into the vastness of the South China Sea where they presumed it would have quickly become a meal for the sharks. They could not have anticipated that the body would be snared by a local fisherman.

"A little far-fetched but then, we found Marliston's car at JFK so maybe he never left there alive. I'll pass along that scenario... and get my people to check out who might have had access to a plane heading to Hong Kong."

The line disconnected and Jack turned to see a look of amazement in Martin's eyes.

"You really think that could have happened?"

Jack knew Martin was talking about the scenario he had suggested to McGraw. "I know it could have... and if it pans out then there is every chance they will use the same method to dispose of Jody Marken."

"You think she's dead?"

"No. Not yet."

"Could they be holding her at Newark?"

"Possibly. But if they have access to planes then they might have transported her anywhere in the world."

"I don't recall Adnam-White having any subsidiaries attached to the airport. Apart from the Media services, he's mostly small parts technology... building components used in the manufacture of household appliances. The takeover bid is for a transportation firm which has offices at the airport but its highly unlikely that they'd be involved due to the nature of the takeover. The management are fighting the bid tooth and claw, trying to dig up the dirt... anything to stop the takeover."

"But Adnam-White wants the firm under his control so he can reduce transportation costs?"

"You got it. It's an important deal to him... so he can't afford a scandal right now."

They stepped out of the car and made their way up to the ICU, waving their ID's at the police officer on guard duty just outside Brent Marken's room. Inside, they found Marken awake and staring at the ceiling as if deep in thought. He looked towards the door as Jack entered; his green eyes hardening, lips tightening.

Just as Jack feared, it looked as if Marken had already been informed of his daughter's disappearance and was determined to keep silent as promised. However, as Martin stepped into the room from behind him, Jack saw those eyes widen slightly and then soften as Martin greeted him.

"Brent." Brent's smile widened almost imperceptibly. "How are you feeling?"

"Doing fine... thanks to you."

Martin gave a soft, almost shy smile as he took the seat closest to where Marken lay. He indicated towards Jack, introducing him with a small measure of pride in his voice that made Jack feel good inside. Marken seemed to register that warmth for some of the hostility had left his eyes by the time they met his once more.

"I want to help you find your daughter but I can't do that unless you're willing to trust me."

Marken said nothing, and neither did his expression change, giving no clue as to how he had received Jack's words.

"We know all about Loralee Marliston. We know the names of all four boys involved that night." Jack noticed the slightest wince of pain cross the handsome features. "And we also know that you were not responsible for what happened."

"You don't know that."

"I pride myself on being a pretty good judge of character, and everything I've seen and heard about you supports that judgment."

Jack saw that he had Marken's full attention. From Martin's report it was apparent that Paul Sisler believed Brent Marken was a closet Gay, either in denial of his sexual preference, or knowingly denying himself the chance to be with his preferred gender.

From the profile Jack had built up with Danny, Vivian, Sam and Martin, Jack would be willing to bet that Sisler was right.

Confused by his sexuality, and afraid of the repercussions should he be branded a homosexual, Brent would have tried to play along with Marge's attempt to prove he liked Girls. However, her seduction of him had been interrupted by Marge's father. If it had been the other way around, and it had been Brent Marken making all the moves on Marge, then Jack would have had more difficulty believing he could be innocent of trying to force himself onto Loralee.

The story that Marken had related to Martin -- which had, in turn, been related to him via Martin's report -- held far too many truths to be questionable. It was backed up by the accounts and actions of others both directly and indirectly.

He thought about Marken's nature from the profile. Marken was the kind of man who treated his obligations and promises seriously so, no matter what the state of his marriage, Jack doubted the man would ever stray... unlike his wife.

"You're not the type to prey on the vulnerable and the weak. The opposite, in fact." Jack let the silence ride between them for a moment, wanting Marken to fully digest his words. "Do you know who has taken your daughter?"

Marken turned his face away, still unwilling to share any information despite Jack's friendly overtures towards him. Jack looked to Martin, silently giving his permission for the younger man to try and get through to Marken.

"Brent?"

Just the slightest head movement but Jack saw that Marken could not help but acknowledge Martin's voice, as if he was drawn to him out of more than just respect for someone who might have saved his life.

Martin leaned forward. "They killed Loralee... *and* her husband, Greg Marliston."

Brent chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully. "Paulie seemed to think they wanted me dead too."

"I think Paulie was right."

Martin reached out and touched Marken's hand in a gesture that spoke volumes to Jack. It was an intimacy that most men would have shaken off in confusion, and yet Marken seemed to relax under Martin's touch.

"You know they're going to kill her."

Marken closed his eyes at Martin's words, and turned his head away. "Not while I live... and stay silent."

Jack took a step forward. "Is your wife involved with them?"

Marken's eyes snapped open. "What do you mean?"

"She may have already lied to us once. She told us she saw Greg Marliston at the airport after she left you by the departure gate. We have several witnesses who positively ID'd him at JFK... and yet no one on your flight recalls seeing him, only someone dressed similarly."

"Maybe she was mistaken... saw someone who resembled--"

"No. I spoke to Deputy Sheriff Mina. Mrs. Marken ID'd him without any trace of doubt."

Marken looked away but Jack could tell his thoughts had turned inwards, but they were interrupted when a nurse stepped into the room with two orderlies.

"We're moving Mr. Marken to a private room."

"I thought you were going to wait until morning?"

"His condition has stabilized and, frankly, we need the bed in ICU."

They were told to wait outside while they unhooked Marken from all the monitors, but no one objected as they accompanied the orderlies on the transference to a private room several floors above. The Police guard smiled grimly as he tucked himself into the corner of the overcrowded elevator and they rode the elevator in silence.

They had to wait outside as the nurse and orderlies settled Marken into his new room, and then were given permission to enter, on one condition. Marken needed rest so they had fifteen minutes to conclude their business with him.

Martin settled down on the seat beside Marken without a second thought, unconsciously straightening the light cover placed over the injured man. Jack could see from the paleness of Marken's complexion that the room change had caused him some physical pain but Marken remained uncomplaining.

He still had that one question uppermost in his mind. How was Marge Marken involved in all of this? Had she lied deliberately to cover for the person who had occupied Marliston's seat on that flight, or had she merely been told to say she saw Marliston at the airport?

Marken spoke softly... and Jack strained to hear him.

"I think they wanted to frame Marliston for my murder. Having him at both airports makes it look like he was following me. Takes just an extra nudge to point the finger of accusation at him after I turn up dead... motive and opportunity."

Jack took a seat. "Why kill him then?"

"Because Paulie got to me first... and maybe he spotted them."

"Them?"

Jack watched as Marken's eyes slid away. "I didn't see anyone at the airport. Only Paulie and Ginny."

"Your sister."

He knew the man was lying to him and wished he could break through the silence to get the names he needed. Without hard evidence -- or a witness -- they had no reason to detain any of the McKays of Adnam-White for questioning, and no just cause for gaining search warrants. However, Marken would only admit to having seen two people he knew at JFK.

Jack frowned as an ugly possibility reared its head. What if Virginia Allen had been in on the abduction? What if she had been the imposter pretending to be Loralee Marliston? Certainly she had the opportunity for she had waited at least fifteen minutes before making it look as though she was concerned for her brother's whereabouts.

The more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed. Having been forewarned of her brother's arrival in New York, she could have made all the necessary arrangements to have him kidnapped. It would also explain her lack of ease when they questioned her last. Both he and Danny knew she was hiding something. Could this be it?

Also, what was Paul Sisler doing outside her apartment building earlier this morning? Had he come to let her know her brother was safe? Or had he come to warn her to stay away from Brent Marken? Jack realized that this was one question Marken might answer and so he asked.

"Ginny already knew I was with Paulie. He'd just left her with the news when Martin showed up... stupidly hung around, intending to go back and see if there was more information. Didn't expect to get spotted... chased."

"Is that why he took Martin? For information?"

"I suppose so... was so sick I just can't remember much more."

The nurse stepped into the room. "Your fifteen minutes are up... now."

Reluctantly, Martin stood up, gently touching Marken's good shoulder in a reassuring gesture. Jack saw the look that passed between them: a mixture of want and confusion, knowing that neither man truly understood the feelings they each held for the other.

When they reached the car, Jack slid into the driver's seat and waited until Martin was settled before pulling away. They rode in silence for a while, and then Jack outlined his plan for the coming day.

"I want you to go back to the hospital tomorrow and stay with Marken. See if you can get him to talk... but don't push it. Both McKay and Adnam-White are rich and powerful enough to have any number of people in their pocket... and we don't want to force their hand until we're ready."

"Sounds like babysitting duty."

"You want me to give it to Sam or Vivian?"

"No!" Martin looked away, momentarily embarrassed by his outburst. "What about the rest of the team?"

"I've got Sam and Vivian working with McGraw's people at Newark airport." Jack glanced at Martin before focusing back on the road ahead, smiling softly at further confirmation that Brent Marken had gotten to Martin. However, his thoughts sobered as he recalled that Marken had a wife, even if they were estranged. "I'm going back to Cherry Falls. I'm planning to have another talk with Mrs. Marken... and I'm taking Danny with me this time."

"Do you think she's in on her own daughter's kidnapping?"

"No... but I do think she knows far more than she's letting on."

-ooOOoo-

6:15 a.m 12 Hours Missing

Martin stared at the bedside clock. He had slept on and off through the night but his dreams had been weird, filled with strange imaginings.

In this last waking dream he walked into his bedroom to find Brent lying naked on his bed beneath the thin cotton sheets. The window was open, and the curtains rippling in the cool, pre-dawn breeze like some erotic effect in a vampire movie he had seen as a kid.

He approached the bed, looking down at the sleeping figure; his eyes were drawn to the handsome face. Weeks of pain and stress had eased away in sleep, and the strong moonlight had bleached away the years leaving Brent's features open and vulnerable.

A gentle sigh filled the room as the sleep-softened lips parted, the pale lashes flickering as the sleeper awoke. Brent stared up at him without fear, and without confusion, as a welcoming smile lifted the corners of his tempting mouth. The sheet swept aside in invitation, and seemed to billow in slow motion high above them as Martin crawled naked onto the bed, before it slowly floated down upon their entwined bodies.

Brent's gentle hands smoothed down his back in long, languid strokes, igniting every nerve ending they passed over, and sending delicious sensations racing through him. He pressed harder against Brent's heated flesh, chest to chest, groin to groin, hips rolling sinuously, pelvis thrusting slowly as promises of ecstasy radiated its desire, turning his blood to liquid fire.

He had awoke with a gasp of pleasure as his semen spilled onto the crumpled bed sheet beneath him, trembling at the power of his release.

How long had it been since he'd had a wet dream? Years, perhaps? Though all he had ever recalled from those past dreams were nebulous figures who could have been man, woman or succubus for all he knew. This was the first time the lover in his erotic dreams had been given substance, and Martin could not deny that this lover had been Brent Marken. He had seen Brent so clearly; every line of bone, every curve of muscle... even the heavy scarring across his left shoulder and arm... and his eyes, a clear green corona around dark pools of desire.

Also, he could not deny that he had sensed no inner abhorrence, instead he had welcomed the feel of Brent's body pressed up against his own. The pleasure of their coupling had been far greater than he had experienced in reality, though he had far too few experiences to draw upon compared to his university friends.

Though his erotic dream would have heightened awareness, Martin knew deep down inside that most of his pleasure had come from the sense of freedom and joy he had felt at taking *this* man in his arms.

He wondered if his previous dream lovers had also been men, with their forms hidden by his unconscious denial of his needs. Some how, Brent Marken had broken through that denial, opening his subconscious to new possibilities, and in turn, revealed those hidden desires to him. But why Brent?

The words of an old song came back to haunt him...

Am I really hard to please? Perhaps I have such special needs I wondered what was wrong with me My friends all fall so easily But today I fell in love with someone I hardly know And I let myself imagine that he could love me so...

He had felt that way for most of his adult life, unable to find anyone he *wanted* to love even though his friends were always mooning over one girl or another. He had put it down to a number of things -- studying, family issues, then work -- but now he wondered if he had been looking in the wrong direction for what he wanted. Certainly, he felt different today, as if his eyes had been opened and suddenly he had walked into sunshine after spending years in the shadows.

He had one more certainty -- that he wanted to see Brent. He wanted to know if his feelings for Brent, as revealed in his dream, were the truth or whether his dream lover could have been *any* man. Yet, even as he questioned these feelings he knew that what he felt was real. He could feel it in the tingling of his fingertips from remembered touches, and in the way his heart skipped at beat at the mere thought of Brent Marken.

Martin dressed quickly, pulling on pants and shirt and then discarding the shirt for a T-shirt when his hands refused to steady long enough to do up his tie.

Halfway through the Lincoln Tunnel, the last line of that song struck him again. Even though he knew Brent had a preference for his own gender, by his own admission, Martin had no reason to believe that Brent could want him. He could have imagined the softening in Brent's eyes and the welcoming smile... or maybe he had merely confused proffered friendship for hidden desire.

As his thoughts fell into despondency his other, darker dreams from the night returned. Every one of them held scenes of death but Martin recalled reading that it was a premonition of change rather than physical death. Certainly, he felt as if his life had been turned upside down by this night's revelation.

By the time he reached the hospital, he felt afraid and foolish but as he stepped into Brent's room, he saw clear, green eyes turn to him and soften with warmth and welcome. Perhaps Brent's desire was not a figment of his imagination after all.

-ooOOoo-

When the door opened softly Brent turned his head expecting it to be the nurse again but he smiled with pleasure as he saw Martin Fitzgerald hovering on the threshold. Then he recalled why Martin would be here.

Jody was missing, and though he knew who had taken her, he could do nothing about it. All he could do was watch his own back for as long as he lived he posed a threat to them so they would keep Jody alive to ensure his continued silence. However, he knew they did not intend to keep her alive forever and, even now, they had to be watching and waiting for an opportunity to silence him permanently.

Despite reassurance from A.D. McGraw, who had visited him yesterday, Brent knew that he was more vulnerable to attack now that the doctor had moved him out of ICU. In ICU there were surveillance cameras placed inside rooms as well as in the corridors but here the cameras monitored just the corridors. Also, in ICU he had been hooked up to several monitors but the nurse had removed even the cannula this morning, saying that he no longer required a drip and could finish the course of antibiotics orally.

If it had not been for his shoulder wounds requiring closer attention for the next few days, Brent might even have been discharged. Instead, the doctor wanted to ensure he had no further relapse through lack of medical attention for the healing wounds.

"See they've removed the drip."

Martin sat down on the seat beside him and reached out, touching his hand, and Brent felt a pulse of desire surge through him. The embarrassed part of him wanted to snatch back his hand, afraid that Martin would see the longing in him and be appalled. Yet another part wanted to bask in that touch, having spent too many long years sleeping alone, unwilling to break the vow he had made to Marge even though she had taken more than a few lovers over those years of estrangement.

He thought back through the years to the months following Loralee's accusation. Despite the charges being dropped, nothing had been the same after that. His so-called best friends had moved away without a word, and others avoided him, whispering behind their hands that he was one of those boys that liked boys.

Most people believed he had turned down his football scholarship but, instead, it had been withdrawn after those whispers reached the ears of the wrong people. He had no option but to take the work his father offered in the family business but he had hated every minute of it. Building patios and digging out the foundations for house extensions had not been the way he had envisaged his life.

What he had hated more was the way other workers treated him, even men he had known for years through his father. He could see the wariness in their eyes whenever he used the washroom at the same time, the way they turned their backs as if they thought he'd be checking them out the same way they wolf-whistled the girls who passed the site.

Everything had been so confusing though, with his father openly stating that he wished he *had* raped Loralee as then they'd all know he was a 'real' man. The atmosphere at home had become almost unbearable, and he had never been so despairing and desperate for an answer to his predicament... and then Marge had offered him a way out.

Attitudes towards him changed the moment he placed a ring on Marge's finger. He was welcomed back in the fraternity of straight society as if there had never been even a shadow of doubt about him. Their parents had helped then set up in a home of their own and so life went on for another few months.

However, the cracks in their marriage had shown almost immediately, though they plastered on the smiles, determined to make the best of the situation. The truth was, he felt no stirring of desire for the woman who shared his bed. When she tried to seduce him on the night when they had been accused of raping Loralee, he had assumed his lack of response had been due to the effects of alcohol but now he knew the truth. He felt nothing for her sexually... or for any woman... but he made the effort to please her in bed, wanting to at least give her the child she craved.

Eventually she fell pregnant, and he found more and more excuses to avoid sex until they no longer even shared the same bed. Within a year of Jody's birth, she started to turn to other men for sexual comfort and companionship, and though he knew all about these men, he said nothing. Filled with guilt, he felt that he owed her this, that she had a right to seek solace outside of their marriage if he could not provide it. However, he could not offer himself the same solace. He had made a vow to keep only unto her for as long as they both should live... and he had kept that promise.

It had been an easy promise to keep, especially after he left the building site and took up a deputy position within local enforcement. He found that he enjoyed the work, and took pleasure assisting people with problems and dealing with the scum who wanted to hurt others. He found it strangely cathartic protecting others, as if each person he helped bleached a little more of the stain from his own soul.

Now he was unsure of everything. Marge had asked him to leave --their sham of a marriage finally drawing to an end -- but what about the vow he had made? He had made that promise to death do us part, though he supposed that vow would be annulled along with his marriage.

For the first time in all those long years, Brent felt a stirring of hope within him... and desire too. For the first time he wondered what it would be like to make love with someone whose lightest touch was enough to set his stomach fluttering and his blood surging through his veins.

But why this man? Why Martin Fitzgerald? What was it about Martin that sang to his blood and his heart? Could it be merely gratitude to the man who had saved his life by convincing Paulie to bring him to the hospital? And then he recalled that, despite his fever, he had been mesmerized by this man from the first time he looked into the most beautiful, clear blue eyes that he had ever seen.

Those eyes were staring deep into his soul right now, reading him like an open book, but Brent saw no disgust darken them. Instead, he saw desire returned in full measure. Martin leaned over, his soft lips brushing over his tentatively before he pulled back, with both of them breathing hard as if they had raced a marathon rather than share a first gentle kiss.

"I shouldn't have--"

Brent pressed his fingers against Martin's lips, knowing what he was going to say. They were both law enforcement, so they both understood the need to retain a formal relationship while Brent was part of Martin's work.

"When this is all over..." Brent let the words trail off, knowing Martin would not need to hear the rest spoken aloud, and saw the answering smile. When this was all over, when they were no longer obligated by duty, then they would explore this new facet to their relationship. Until then, they had to concentrate on Jody to ensure her safe return.

The slightest thump came from the corridor beyond, only heard because Martin had left the door ajar, and they both turned at the sound with puzzled expressions.

Martin left Brent's side and, cautiously, looked along the corridor, expecting to see a nurse retrieving fallen items but, instead, he noticed the empty chair where the guard had sat. It was possible that the Police officer had slipped away to get a coffee or go to the men's washroom, taking advantage of the early morning visit from an FBI agent. However, Martin's sixth sense kicked into high gear, mirroring his own, and he turned back to Brent.

"Got a bad feeling about this. Can you walk?"

Brent nodded and pushed back the covers. Martin spared a glance as Brent rose to unsteady feet, mostly keeping surveillance on the corridor beyond as he waited for Brent to take those few steps towards him, but it became obvious that Brent would need support. Martin frowned, slipping off his jacket and pulling it over Brent's right arm but leaving it draped over the injured left shoulder. He drew his gun and took off the safety, and then pulled Brent's right arm over his shoulder, wrapping his own arm around the lean waist. Together, they stumbled to the door, pausing only for the time it took for Martin to verify that the coast was clear, and then they slipped out, making best speed towards the elevator.

Luck remained on their side as the elevator came almost immediately, and Martin swore as a man came running towards the slowly closing doors, stabbing at the buttons in desperation. He pressed for the ground floor, hoping that they would reach it before the hitman but it stopped on the second. As the door opened, Martin held the gun ready, his heart beating frantically in his chest as he wondered if this would be friend or foe. He breathed a sigh of relief when two nurses entered, valiantly ignoring their perplexed expressions as they eyed both him and Brent.

The elevator stopped again, and Martin began to silently curse their change of luck, knowing that the delay would have given the hitman time to reach them... but the elevator wall slid open behind him rather than in front as expected.

With shocked relief, Martin realized the nurses had access to Surgery on the mezzanine level and he waited until they had forgotten him and Brent before he followed them out.

"There."

Martin looked to where Brent indicated and saw a door leading to a little used stairwell. He had to take more of Brent's weight as they descended to the ground floor, and then Martin cracked open the door a fraction. He was surprised to see that they were at the back of the hospital near the parking bays reserved for Police and other government officials. Breathing heavily from the exertion, Martin forced them to move swiftly through the exit and car park, wanting to cover the open ground as quickly as possible.

His head snapped around at the sound of metal hitting metal, and he cursed loudly as he saw the hitman taking aim at them again. He scrabbled for his keys and unlocked the car, almost bodily throwing Brent into the back seat, trying hard to ignore the soft cry of pain as they were both dead if he did not get them out of there right now.

The car started first time, and Martin silently gave thanks to his father for doing one thing right by forcing him to accept this new car for his last birthday. His old one had kept failing on him at inopportune moments but he hadn't had the money to get it fixed.

Within moments he was out of the parking lot and heading towards the New Jersey Turnpike, knowing the hitman had not been in a position to follow them.
Back to index
Part 3 by Tarlan
Same Time
14 Hours Missing:

The town of Cherry Falls had taken its name from where the wide meandering river dropped several feet on its journey to the Atlantic. In late spring, the overhanging Cherry trees would drop their blossoms into the river where they would gently flow away, often catching on the small water-worn rocks to form a light blanket of pink blossoms over the fall.

The small tourist brochure assured Jack that it was just only one of the many beautiful sights that New England had to offer. He had picked up the brochure while he and Danny were waiting for their flight to be called, welcoming the slight distraction after what seemed like weeks without a single break.

"Angie McCormack's funeral is tomorrow."

Jack gave a noncommittal sound. How many cases ended with a funeral? Jack turned his thoughts away from such questions, knowing they served only to torment him with the ones who slipped away; the ones they never found -- or never found alive.

When they pulled up outside the Marken residence, Jack leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. He was tired. Too many cases in close succession had left him with little time to sleep.

"Jack?"

Jack could hear the concern in Danny's voice and he offered a small, reassuring smile. He thought about why he had brought Danny along this time rather than Sam. On the last time they interviewed Marge Marken, she seemed a little hostile, and it had taken Jack a while to realize that most of the hostility had been aimed at Sam. The problem was that Sam was young, intelligent and beautiful with a good figure and blonde hair. All the attributes that the Media insisted were the most important, and here was this Media dream woman turning up at the home of a woman discontent with her life.

All the small details he had picked up about the Marken's formed a profile of a woman who had manipulated a boy into marriage by playing on his confused sexuality. Like so many others, she had thought he could change... that she would be the one to change him. She had locked him into marriage, keeping only unto her until death they do part, only to realize that she had trapped herself too.

Jack thought about the long years both had endured in this loveless marriage with Brent Marken caught by the vows he had made on their wedding day, and Marge by her standing in the small community. People like the Markens did not get divorced except under the most exceptional circumstances. They carried on with the sham of their lives unto the bitter end and died filled with regrets.

Leonard Marliston had provided that exceptional circumstance, and then the accusations of his mother had brought down Marken's standing in the community, albeit temporarily. However, Marge would have glimpsed her freedom from their stagnant marriage, perhaps seeing a chance to start over with a new life and love.

He thought back to her recollection of the last day she saw her husband, and how she had made up her mind to pack his bags and send him away only half an hour before picking Marken up from the hospital.

No one knew that Marken would insist of leaving the hospital against the doctors' advice so his wife had probably been telling the truth when she said all the arrangements were finalized with Virginia Allen only a half an hour earlier. However, it was not the sudden decision that Marge had implied for when he had questioned Virginia Allen, she let slip that she and Marge had talked about the end of her brother's marriage, and arranging for him to recuperate in New York, several days prior to that.

Once more it came down to one of those truths that had to be questioned very carefully because it had been concealing lies.

"You ready?"

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yeah."

Together they made their way to the door and waited for Marge Marken to answer it. Her eyes held the same wariness as before though, this time they were also marred by shadows of sleeplessness. She led them to the same room as before but, this time, she seemed a little more attentive to their needs. Jack gave a secretive smile as Marge made far more effort to welcome them this time, knowing he had profiled her right in his mind.

"When did you realize your daughter was missing?"

She took a deep drag on her cigarette, exhaling slowly. "I started getting concerned when she didn't come straight home."

Danny frowned. "Her flight took off at 6:30. Even with a fast checkout at the airport, she wouldn't have reached home until at least 8:30 p.m."

Instead of confusion, Jack read fear in Marge Marken's eyes. Police records showed that she had started making inquiries after her daughter at 8:15 p.m. Quickly, she covered for her momentary panic by saying Jody had promised to call as soon as she left the plane, but Jack had already filed away her immediate reaction for it spoke volumes to him. It told him that Marge Marken had known about her daughter's abduction before 8:15 p.m.

But had she known of the abduction *before* it took place, or had the kidnappers contacted her soon after?

In either case, it would have been in the best interest of the kidnappers if no one knew Jody was missing, so what had prompted Marge to start making those inquiries?

Of course, he could be mistaken. Perhaps she had been telling the truth. Maybe Jody *had* promised to call, and her mother had waited for as long as she could stand before making inquiries. Marge would not be the first mother to worry ahead of time as he recalled his wife fretting whenever one of their kids was delayed without any notice, seeing the worst in every situation.

Once more their interview had come to an end and, despite Danny's presence, Jack felt they had not gained much more than a little supposition. He thought about his other reason for coming to Cherry Falls, wanting to look at the lake where they found Loralee Marliston's body. It was supposed to be a beautiful and yet remote spot several miles south of the town, and he decided that he ought to avail himself of the facilities being they made that journey.

"Would you mind if I used your washroom?"

"No... go ahead. Second door along on the left."

She waived him in the general direction of the downstairs washroom, and the put him out of her mind as she focused back on Danny with a coy smile. Jack raised an eyebrow at Danny, knowing he would understand the other reason for Jack leaving the room. He was giving Danny time to try and charm a little more information out of her so he took his time locating the washroom.

As he relieved himself, he glanced around the surprisingly spacious room but something caught his eye, and after zipping up his pants, he bent to take a look at the small stain just under the edge of the washbasin. It looked like a droplet of dried blood. Carefully, he checked for more and found several more droplets splattered about the room. Taking hold of a wad of bathroom tissue, Jack opened the small cabinet above the sink and saw an opened bottle of permanent hair colorant.

On their own, these things were explainable as it was obvious that Marge Marken dyed her short hair to cover the encroaching grey. However, the bottle had a single strand of hair plastered to it... and it was very long and dark.

-ooOOoo-

15 Hours Missing: New York

Martin drove around for almost an hour before he was convinced that no one had tailed them from the hospital. He pulled over into the parking lot of a McDonalds and found a space that would conceal the car from the road, just as an extra precaution.

Brent sat up straighter in the back seat, and Martin noticed that his face was still pale and pinched with pain. In the rear view mirror, Martin saw him look towards the fast food place then back at Martin's reflected eyes.

"Hungry?"

"No. Don't think I could eat even if I was." Brent gave a ragged sigh. "I didn't think they'd try for me at the hospital."

"Despite the guard, I don't think McGraw did either."

Martin pulled out his cellphone and tapped in a number. He needed to get Brent to a safe house and as Jack was out of town, that left calling A.D. McGraw for help. McGraw's secretary picked up the call but Martin insisted on speaking only with the A.D. He waited nervously as his call was transferred, giving a gentle sigh of relief as he heard the familiar voice pick up.

"A.D McGraw, it's Agent Martin Fitzgerald."

"Fitzgerald! Where the hell are you? We have an 'officer down' at the hospital and no sign of Marken--"

"I've got Brent Marken... and I need a safe house. It was a hit, Sir."

There was a moment's silence as McGraw took in the information and then he reeled off an address and directions. "You got that?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Then proceed there directly and--"

"Sir, Marken will need his medication."

"Arrangements will be made."

"Yes, Sir."

The line went dead as the A.D. hung up, and Martin caught Brent's eyes in the mirror once more.

"You trust him?"

"Haven't got much choice."

"So you don't trust him."

Martin grinned and looked over his shoulder. "I don't know him... but Jack trusts him, and I trust Jack."

Brent nodded. "Okay."

"You okay in the back or do you want to ride up front?"

Brent's answer was to slide across the seat and get out the car. Martin leaned over and opened the passenger door, smiling softly as Brent settled into the seat next to him. He started the engine and glided back out onto the highway, heading towards Clifton where the A.D. had given him details of a safe house used by the FBI. Martin knew it would take at least forty minutes to reach Clifton but it felt good to be heading *some*where rather than *any*where.

His thoughts went back to Paul Sisler. He had put Sisler's claim that someone was out to silence Brent mostly down to paranoia until learning the fate of Loralee Marliston, and then her husband Greg. Having more than one prime suspect made the case harder, especially as all of those suspects had a 'hands off' label slapped on them because of who they were. His own father, in the capacity of Deputy Director of the FBI, had already intervened once to prevent them talking to Senator McKay and his brother. No one else had permission to approach either the McKay's or Adnam-White unless they had a damn good reason and had cleared it through the Deputy Director for fear the Press might pick up the scent and bring a scandal upon those two powerful families. Martin had no doubt that these men would bring multi-million dollar lawsuits against the Bureau should that happen.

He thought about the promise he had made to Sisler; not truly appreciating how important that promise would be to him until the moment Brent came into danger at the hospital. However, he had more than Brent's physical well being to protect. There was his mental state too, and Martin knew Brent was filled with fear for his daughter.

Silently, he hoped Jack was having some luck with Marge Marken this time around, though part of him hoped that Jack was wrong -- for Brent's sake. After all, if these men were rich enough to buy someone to kill Brent at the hospital then they were rich enough to hire a Greg Marliston look-a-like to fool Marge Marken at the airport.

"I've been shot at a few times during my years in law enforcement. Mostly some perp passing through, and looking to rob the liquor store on Main Street, or the gas station out by the old water mill."

Martin glanced sideways as the softly spoken words reached him, gaining an impression of Brent leaning against the door, turned towards him in his seat. He waited, knowing the words were an opening to the deep thoughts that were bringing such mental anguish to Brent.

"They didn't know who I was. Didn't care either. I was just a man in a uniform out to stop them."

He fell silent again for a moment but Martin understood what was troubling Brent even before he continued on in a whisper, but he could think of no words to offer in solace.

"Just never been personal before."

-ooOOoo-

Brent stared out through the windscreen, almost mesmerized by the road flashing beneath them as Martin drove steadily towards Clifton. Less than a month ago, he had been going about his every day duty in the small, quiet town of Cherry Falls; living his small town life from one bleak day to the next, immersing himself in work as a substitute for his marriage.

The only ray of light had been his beautiful daughter, and she had been the only reason he went home each night. He had loved her from the moment the nurse placed her tiny, squawling form into his arms; his knees weakening until he collapsed into the seat behind him. Her cries has stopped as he rocked her, and he had sat for almost two hours, motionless like a statue, watching her take each new breath until she awoke crying for her mother's milk.

Years flashed by in his mind, filled with small remembrances: reading bedtime stories, playing in the back yard, her first day at school, her first boyfriend.

They had always been close as Marge had drifted away, hating motherhood from the first and quickly giving up on breast-feeding. He had been the one to go to Jody in the middle of the night when she cried for milk, or when she had bad dreams. He had been the one to take her to school each day and pick her up each afternoon as her mother had insisted on returning to work and could not spare the time. Being the Sheriff had made it easier for him to do as he could set his own times, or send one of his deputies to pick up Jody if he was going to be delayed for any reason.

He knew Marge loved Jody too but her disappointment with life, and with him, had driven her to seek solace outside of their small family.

"After Marliston started killing the kids in town, I tried to teach Jody a few self-defense moves. Like how to disarm a knife-wielding perp."

He laughed derisively, recalling how they'd ended up in a tangle of limbs of the front room floor. The lesson had been cut short by the ringing of the telephone, heralding the loss of another young life to the Virgin Killer. It had been enough though in the end as Jody recalled using the throw he had shown her to send Marliston plummeting onto the railings below the window.

"She doesn't deserve this... not after Marliston. It's not right. I'm the one to blame. I'm the one they want."

"And you know she's dead the moment they get you." Brent caught the flick of concern Martin sent his way. "You have to keep safe, Brent. And if you've any idea where she is or who has her then you've got to tell... then let Jack and the team do their jobs."

Brent shook his head. "I don't know who has her, and I don't know where. Marge wouldn't say who'd contacted her when she passed the message on."

They fell back into silence, knowing they had so much to say to each other but aware that those words had to remain unsaid until they could put the present trauma behind them. Martin slowed as they approached a nondescript house among many on the outskirts of Clifton, and pulled up onto the drive. The front door opened and two plains-clothed people came out and pulled open the passenger door, assisting Brent from the car and taking him inside.

"Agent Fitzgerald, Jack Malone wants you to contact him right away."

Martin nodded and looked to Brent almost as if he was asking his permission to step away from his side. Brent nodded and started to sink onto the couch but one of the agents took hold of his good arm.

"You'll be more comfortable in the bedroom. I'm a doctor and I need to check your injuries."

Brent let out a deep breath and nodded once more, allowing the doctor to assist him to the bedroom. Martin came back in just as the doctor helped Brent to remove his hospital gown, and Brent felt strangely shy even though he knew Martin had seen all the damage to his chest and arm.

"Agent Fitzgerald, would you mind supporting Sheriff Marken while I check and dress these."

Martin sat down behind Brent and encouraged him to lean back against him, and Brent could not help the shiver of pleasure that raced through him at Martin's touch. He could feel the agile fingers at his waist; could feel the soft cotton of the T-shirt pressing against his naked back, and he could feel the rise and fall of the strong chest as Martin breathed perhaps a little too shallow and quickly.

It did not take long before his injuries were covered and bound once more, and Brent breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor stopped poking and prodding at the sore wounds. He watched as the doctor loaded a hypodermic; wincing as the needle slid into the vein.

"Just a painkiller and a mild sedative combined. Should help you rest more comfortably."

The doctor's eyes flickered up to the man still braced behind him, and Brent felt Martin shift position, slowly lowering him until he was lying almost flat on the bed. His eyelids grew heavy but Brent kept his focus on Martin for as long as he could, wanting to take the sight of those warm blue eyes into his dreams in the hope that they would keep the nightmares at bay.

-ooOOoo-

15 Hours Missing Cherry Falls

Jack watched as the first of the Crime Scene Investigation team set foot inside the spacious bathroom. The woman set to work immediately, intending to comb every square inch of floor and check every item in the room. She placed the hair colorant bottle, with its dark strand of hair still attached, into a plastic bag and sealed it. He knew that more than an hour later she would still be following a set routine to gather as much evidence from the possible crime scene as possible.

Jack turned his attention to the white-faced Marge Marken, seeing the fear written so plainly across her features as she was asked to accompany FBI agents to the Sheriff's office. Special Agent Harris -- McGraw's agent in charge of the Loralee Marliston murder investigation -- beckoned Jack to join him.

"Want to sit in on the questioning?"

Jack nodded, barely mumbling his agreement, hoping Marge Marken would be more forthcoming about her daughter's disappearance now that she had become a prime suspect in the murder of Loralee Marliston. He motioned for Danny to stay at the Marken's residence, wanting to know if the CSI uncovered anything more. He left the rental for Danny and climbed into Harris's car, lost in thought as they tailed the car carrying Marge Marken.

Upon discovering that strand of hair in the bathroom, Jack had pulled out his cellphone and set the wheels in motion, agreeing to keep Marge Marken occupied until Harris's people could get there. No one wanted to risk Marge figuring out something was up and taking flight before they could investigate fully.

Once at the Sheriff's Office, the FBI agents commandeered an interview room, and Jack sank into the seat beside Harris and across the table from Marge Marken. They went through all the normal procedures to ensure Marge Marken knew her rights, not wanting to lose anything over a legal technicality, and Jack sat back as Harris started in on the questioning.

"Did you know Loralee Marliston?"

"Not really... I mean... she was at the same school but she kept herself to herself." Marge reached for the packet of cigarettes placed in front of her. "You mind?"

"No... go ahead."

Jack could see that her hands were trembling as she took a cigarette and lit it, drawing the first breath deeply into her lungs then letting it out slowly.

"Has Loralee Marliston ever been in your home?"

"No... not to my knowledge." Her eyes slid to the left, a familiar sign that she was lying, and so the questioning went on with Harris proving a highly skilled interrogator as he cross-questioned Marge, allowing her to tangle herself within her own web of lies of half-truths.

Jack's cellphone rang and he excused himself, moving outside of the room before answering and even then, still speaking in a soft, low voice.

"Jack... they just tested for blood... sprayed everywhere then turned out the lights."

"And?"

"Bathroom lit up like my childhood bedroom. Blood splatter everywhere."

Jack recalled Danny mentioning that he'd had a love for things that glowed in the dark as a kid... and he knew the chemical the CSI team would have sprayed would have reacted in a similar way if it found any trace of blood. But was it human or animal blood? And if human, was it Loralee's?

"Fits with the head trauma that killed Loralee Marliston," Danny added, and Jack recalled the Coroner's report that death had been caused by blunt force trauma to the back of the skull. "They found a possible murder weapon... a small rock that had been smoothed and had a design painted onto it."

"Okay. Keep me informed if anything else turns up."

Jack watched as one of Harris's men slipped into the room with a sheet of paper, knowing that it would contain the same information that Danny just related to him. He followed the agent into the interview room and quietly retook his seat, watching carefully as Harris confronted her with the new evidence.

-ooOOoo-

16 Hours Missing New York

Sam handed a sheet of paper to Vivian. "What do you make of this?"

One of McGraw's agents assigned to the Greg Marliston murder case came over to see what Samantha had discovered, and he looked over Vivian's shoulder and frowned. The diminutive woman glanced upwards, giving him a pointed stare that said 'back off', and saw the flush of embarrassment rise in the man's cheeks. He stepped to one side and tapped the name on the computer printout that had grabbed Sam's attention.

"Same stewardess that was on the Marken flight... though it's not unusual for them to take different assignments rather than stick to the same air route."

Vivian shook her head, seeing far more than the other agent. "No. Not unusual, but a coincidence that she just happened to be the *only* one who'd had a clear visual of the man sitting in Marliston's seat on that flight... and the *only* one who could adamantly swear that he was *not* Greg Marliston. The other two followed her lead."

"Marliston was a last minute booking, taking his pick of seats on a fairly empty flight," noted Sam. "No one sat close to him, and they flew with minimum staff. So no one questioned her word at the time, taking it as the truth from a third party with no connection to Marken or Marliston." Sam frowned. "But here she is again."

"Could still just be a coincidence," Agent Danzig added.

"But what if it isn't?" Vivian stared hard at both agents, waiting for their response, which Danzig gave.

"We pull her records... check out who she is, who she knows..."

"How tall she is," added Sam with a slight smile, which Vivian picked up on right away and added sardonically, "And if she has a long dark wig with a streak of white in it."

Vivian's cellphone trilled so she pulled it from her purse. "Martin? I thought you were taking an easy day?"

Her soft smile faded, her dark eyes seeking Sam's. "Okay. How long ago was this? Stay there for now... but keep me apprised of the situation. I'll let Jack know what's happened." New thoughts struck her as she listened to Martin confirm her 'orders'. She called his name urgently before he could break the call. "When he wakes up, ask Marken if he recalls anything unusual about any of the flight attendants." She gave a slight smile. "No. It might be nothing... just ask him though."

She ended the call and replaced the phone in her purse, her mouth a tight line as she looked into two inquisitive faces.

"Someone tried a hit on Brent Marken at the hospital. Martin was there at the time. He got him out and to a safe house." She turned to Danzig. "Can you get a photo of Sarah Jacobson over to the safe house? It might jog Marken's memory."

"And in the meantime, we start digging for information on Sarah Jacobson."

-ooOOoo-

20 Hours Missing New York

Jack stepped off the plane at JFK with more questions than he had answers to. The questioning of Marge Marken had not gone well as she had clammed right up, refusing to talk until she could have a lawyer present. Jack was not sure what to make of that but he knew they could not charge her with anything until all the Forensic evidence had been taken. After all, she was not the only person living in that house at the time of Loralee Marliston's murder, and her fingerprints had every right to be plastered all over the house and bathroom.

Jack considered the other possible suspect: Jody Marken.

From the talks with Marge Marken it was obvious that Jody was very close to her father. Loralee's son had tried to kill him, and had almost succeeded, and here was Loralee in the Marken residence. Could that alone have been enough motive for Jody to murder Loralee?

Unfortunately, until they had substantial evidence from the murder scene that implicated the killer, both mother and daughter would remain at the top of the list of suspects. He raised a small smile for Vivian and she fell in step beside him as they moved through the concourse with Danny just a few steps behind.

"Have you brought in Sarah Jacobson yet?"

"She's on a flight due to arrive at Newark in just under the hour. McGraw's made arrangements for his men to pick her up as soon as the plane lands."

"Find anything else that could link her to Marken or Marliston?"

"No... though I have to admit I could use Martin's searching skills right now. Boy has a knack for knowing what to look for on a computer."

Jack smiled. "If the man can't get to a computer then maybe we can get a computer to the man."

They reached the car and Jack placed his overnight bag into the trunk alongside Danny's. He slid into the passenger seat while Danny climbed into the back, leaving Vivian to drive. The combination of murder and abduction cases had taken its toll and he sighed, knowing they had still to make any concrete connection between the McKays and... or... Adnam-White.

Vivian answered his next question before it could shape itself into words.

"Martin's still waiting for Marken to wake up. Seems the doctor gave him a light sedative. Danzig had a picture of Sarah Jacobson sent over at my request, to help jog his memory." She drove on in silence for a moment. "Oh... and McGraw says that theory of yours panned out. French Forensics managed to get on board the plane at the Paris stopover and found enough DNA and fiber evidence behind the landing gear to know some *body* had been there."

"When will we know for certain if it was Greg Marliston?"

"They're pushing it through the lab as quickly as they can... though fibers found on the plane match the clothing on Marliston's body so DNA testing is just a formality."

"Next question has to be 'how did he get there?'"

"Coroner's report says the blow to his skull wasn't enough to kill him. He froze to death."

Jack grimaced at the thought of Greg Marliston awakening in an icy tomb, his thumps and pleas for help going unheard. One of his first missing person cases had involved a child who was later discovered frozen inside a meat locker at his father's factory. Jack still had images of the child curled up on the floor with evidence of his attempt to attract help strewn about his frozen corpse. Thinking of the child's frantic calls for help going unanswered had fueled many of his nightmares in those early days.

Vivian smiled ruefully, as if aware of this traumatic case from the past. "Only good news is, judging by the lack of any evidence of movement, he never regained consciousness."

Jack sighed partially in relief, knowing Greg Marliston had not suffered beyond the blow that sent him into unconsciousness. He stared out the window as they moved through the afternoon traffic, only half-listening as Danny related all they had discovered in Cherry Falls.

They had no new leads in the search for Jody Marken, only more questions, including the possibility that she had not been abducted at all. Jack was aware that she could have staged the whole thing after realizing that the Police had identified the body of Loralee Marliston... though Jody had appeared genuinely horrified at learning of Loralee's death.

"You all right, Jack?"

"Tired."

"Headache?" He mumbled his answer. "Well, it's about to get worse." Jack stared at her profile, waiting for the bad news. "Deputy Director Fitzgerald just learned Martin was involved in getting Marken to safety. Seems he's not concentrating on the 'hero' angle... but more on the 'why did you have my son on active duty in the line of fire?' angle."

Jack let his head drop back against the head support, closing his eyes to block out the sight surrounding them. Danny's voice floated from the back seat.

"He out for blood?"

"Sharpening his rapier mind as we speak."

"Damn," cursed Jack softly.

Her voice was low and earnest as she responded to his curse. "He's worth it, Jack."

Jack did not need to ask who she was referring to, but knowing she was right. Martin had slotted into the team perfectly from the very beginning -- although Jack recalled having to rein him in after he stepped outside of protocol on that first case and almost got himself killed. The team had been lacking in the computer skills' area with a succession of agents failing to meet Jack's high standards, until Martin joined them. He had quickly proven his worth when he managed to locate a pedophile working from a server in Texas, intercepting instant messages that led them to the missing boy before he became a victim.

"He's going to report in as soon as he's spoken with Marken."

Jack nodded, and the rest of the journey passed quickly as they dissected the case anew.

-ooOOoo-

Martin glanced at the clock on the wall and double-checked the time against his wristwatch, surprised to note that four hours had passed while Brent slept. He had managed to grab a couple of hours sleep too though the rest had not left him feeling any better. His head ached and he could feel the tension crackling in his too-taut muscles. He tried to ease his neck pain by rolling his head from side to side, but to no avail, and the movement only served to set his head throbbing all the more.

"Here... take these. Doctor left them for you... said you might need them when you woke up."

Martin accepted the two painkiller tablets and a tumbler of water.

"How's Brent... Marken?"

"Still sleeping, but starting to get a little restless so I figure he might wake up any time now."

Martin nodded and moaned softly as he rose to unsteady feet, realizing that the escape from the hospital had probably used up the last of his reserves leaving him feeling weak. He stumbled towards the bedroom and checked in on the sleeping man, finding a smile rise to his lips despite his aches and pains.

The mid-afternoon sunshine had found its way through the cracks in the blinds, striping across the pale flesh of shoulder and abdomen of the man lying motionless upon the bed. Golden light glowed off his sun-kissed blond hair, making it shine like bands of gold, and glinted off the tips of the long, pale lashes that fluttered softly as Brent slowly surfaced from his deep sleep.

As Martin watched, the handsome features creased in the pain that would be Brent's constant companion -- though time would mute it to a dull ache as his injuries healed. Martin thought about the raw wounds lying beneath the pristine white bandage, marveling anew at how close Brent had come to dying at Leonard Marliston's hand, and yet he had survived through sheer luck.

Eyes opened, the green almost vanquished by the dilated pupils before the sunlight banished the darkness, shrinking the pupils almost to pinpoints. However, as those eyes focused on him, Martin saw the pupils try to turn the tide of battle, dilating rapidly as a soft smile teased at the corners of Brent's mouth. Martin's heart seemed to skip a beat in knowing he was the cause of Brent's pleasure. However, a huge yawn spoiled the effect... but the lazy grin that followed more than compensated and Martin found he was grinning down at Brent.

Brent's eyes drifted towards the window, and he frowned. "How long have I slept?"

"About four hours."

"Jody?"

Martin sighed as the magic of that waking moment passed and he was reminded of his duty. "Still missing. And I need to ask you some more questions."

Brent started to struggle to sit up, and Martin quickly moved forward to assist, piling the pillows behind as Brent leaned forward. Brent leaned back with a sigh, fatigued by the effort it had taken to complete the small task. Martin pulled the photo from the folder he had placed on the bedside cabinet a few hours earlier. He held it up to Brent and watched as he took in the pretty features with short, brown hair cut into a neat bob.

"She looks familiar."

"Sarah Jacobson. She was the attendant on your flight to New York."

"Yeah... that's where I've seen her before."

"Do you recall anything unusual about her? anything she might have said or done that seemed a little odd?"

"No... I don't think... Though there was just one thing... But I might have been imagining..."

-ooOOoo-

The flight had been half-empty and Brent had been thankful that he had not been squashed into one of the small seats with someone pressed up beside him. As it was, there was a spare seat between him and another passenger -- who sat in the aisle seat -- though Brent wished he had asked for a seat on the other side of the plane. As it was, his damaged left shoulder was perilously close to the fuselage and the turbulence set his shoulder and arm throbbing whenever the plane juddered. He wished he had delayed taking his pain medication so he would have the maximum benefit of it right now and could only be grateful that the flight would be mercilessly short.

When he left the hospital only a few hours earlier, he had not expected to be going anywhere other than his own warm bed. It had been a shock seeing all the angry people gathered around the exit, along with dozens of reporters, and he wondered who had leaked his release from hospital. They surged towards him, trying to push through the small cordon of deputies that protected him from the worse, though several people managed to reach between them to grab at him, sending pain radiating through his body.

By the time he had reached the car, he knew he had to be looking ashen, but he had not let out the breath he'd taken until then, sighing in relief as Marge pulled away, leaving the angry crowd behind. He had closed his eyes for only a moment, expecting to see familiar streets as they headed for home, and was shocked when he realized Marge was heading out of town and onto the highway.

After twenty-four years of marriage it felt strange to know that it was all over, with hardly a word passing between them as Marge drove to the airport for they had nothing left to say to each other. One hour and forty minutes later he sat alone by the departure gate with his ticket clenched in one hand and a small flight bag at his feet; the suitcases Marge had packed already checked in.

Curiosity had made him look inside the small bag, and he gave another wry grin as he recalled the contents. Marge had packed water, a sandwich, a copy of the Cherry Falls newspaper and the novel he had been reading, that had lain by the side of his bed at home untouched since Marliston's attack on him. Other more personal items were also included, adding finality to their parting -- his ID cards, important financial documents and address book.

He had taken two of the painkillers and then dropped the small container into the bag, and now they made a siren's call to him, one that became harder and harder to resist as the plane flew through the stormy skies towards New York. At least the storm had not delayed the flight unduly so the ordeal was almost over.

A melodic sound filled the cabin and Brent looked up as a pleasant voice informed them that they would be landing in fifteen minutes. He let his head sink back, hardly aware of the man in the aisle seat getting up until he sensed a presence hovering above him.

"We'll be landing in New York in ten minutes. Do you need any help with your seat belt?"

The pretty, brown-haired attendant was one of only three cabin staff on this lightly filled flight, and not the same one who had helped him with his seat belt earlier. He felt embarrassment flush his cheeks, not only for his helplessness but also because the seat belt sign had been lit for most of the flight but he had not been able to get comfortable with it fastened.

He mumbled, "please," and tried to raise his arms out of the way to give her room. More embarrassment flooded though him as her hands slid down and under first one cheek, and then the other, in search of the belt ends when he was certain the straps were hanging loose. She seemed to fumble in his lap as she locked the belt, with her hands rubbing over his groin. Her fingers trailed across his inner thigh as she tightened the belt and then moved away with a smile that could almost be described as lascivious.

-ooOOoo-

Brent looked back at Martin. "As I said, I might have just imagined it... but she seemed overly familiar."

"Had you ever seen her before the flight?"

Brent shook his head slowly. "No. I'm pretty good with faces. I'd recall her if I'd seen her before."

"Did you see her in the concourse *after* the flight?"

"I thought I saw her before I went to the washroom. She'd changed out of her uniform into a dark, tight-fitting skirt and low-cut top. She was buying coffee, and sat just a few tables up. I noticed her look across once or twice but then, she probably recognized me from the flight."

"Did she have anything with her?"

Brent thought hard, but he had been so tired, hurting and shocked after Ginny's revelations about that night with Loralee, that he had not been able to concentrate beyond the coffee in his hand. He tried to picture her as she walked to her table with coffee balanced in one hand and...

"She had a purse... about eight by ten inches... and long red nails." Brent's eyes widened in shock, suddenly aware of what had been wrong with the image of the woman in his head. "On the plane... they'd been neat but short... but she'd stuck on these long red nails, just like..."

"Just like?"

"Just like Marliston wore when he dressed up as Loralee."

Images of those long red nailed fingers curled around the handle of the axe came flooding back to him, and he swallowed down the bile that rose into his throat. All that woman had needed was a long dark wig and she would have looked just like Marliston's impression of his mother, Loralee.

-ooOOoo-

22 Hours Missing FBI Headquarters, New York

Jack and Vivian stood inside the observation room and watched as Sarah Jacobson took a seat. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she was scared, having been escorted from the returning Hong Kong flight as soon as it landed in Newark. She had already been through the trauma of having the return flight delayed in France for some unknown reason. She still wore her stewardess uniform with the bright logo of the Airline Company emblazoned over one breast.

Jack had seen her employment record. She had joined the airline only a few months back but had spent most of her time on the same domestic flight while she trained. Jack realized that she must have flown that same route more than a hundred times before being given the opportunity to fly to Hong Kong. Having flown it four times over the last week, on two separate trips, he could understand her eagerness to fly to more exotic locations.

McGraw had chosen to conduct this interview personally, flanked by Agent Danzig. He gave the young woman a reassuring smile that was meant to disarm her, and Jack had to smile when she relaxed slightly. He started the tape running for the interview and spoke clearly, stating the date, time and those present.

"Am I in trouble?"

"Have you any reason to believe you might be in trouble?"

Her eyes shifted away nervously but McGraw brought her attention back as he opened the file set in front of him and removed two photographs. One was of Brent Marken and the other of Greg Marliston.

"These photos were shown to you before. I'll ask you again. Do you recall seeing either of these two men on the flight?"

She looked at the one of Brent Marken and nodded, stretching out her hand to point to the photo.

"And this man?"

Her head shake said 'no' but the rest of her body language seemed at odds with this, so McGraw pressed her. "Are you certain? He sat twelve rows back from this man."

"I don't recall seeing--"

"Did you see either of these men *after* the plane landed... perhaps on the concourse?"

"No. I wanted to get away quickly as I was tired so I went straight to the apartment I rent with three other attendants."

"Can anyone verify this?"

"No. They were all working."

"So you didn't get changed and, maybe stop for a coffee at the bar on the concourse?"

Jack saw her eyes widen perceptibly. "No," she stuttered. "I went straight home."

"Then you'd be willing to take a polygraph to that effect?"

Her lips parted in shock and Jack saw her swallow hard. "Do I need a lawyer?"

"Do you think you need a lawyer?" McGraw gave another soft smile and leaned forward on his elbows. "Sarah, I think you know more than you're telling us. I think you went to the coffee bar in JFK and I think you saw Brent Marken there." He paused, letting that sink in. "And I think that you went there deliberately." He let the silence stretch between them. "Did someone ask you to follow Brent Marken?"

She stared at him, unblinking, but her lips were trembling just slightly, though enough to show her fear. She swallowed nervously, opened her mouth to speak, closed it... and then answered in a rush.

"I was just meant to watch him on the flight... make sure he was okay." She laughed nervously. "Wasn't such a hard job. He's cute."

"Who asked you to watch over him?"

She hesitated. "I-I'm not sure. I'd been on that flight for the past month as part of my training. He approached me a few days earlier and said he'd put in a good word for me to get one of the Far East flights if I watched over his friend... and made sure he was comfortable."

"Was he a regular passenger?"

"I'm sorry?"

"The man who approached you. Was he a regular on that flight?"

"No." Jack saw her features close and her eyes shift away, and he knew from the abruptness of her answer that she was not telling the whole truth. Also, he recognized that she was about to clam up but McGraw was equally astute and changed the subject.

"Why did you go to the Coffee Bar? Was that also part of the...request?"

Her cheeks flushed and she looked back at McGraw. "He gave me some clothes. I was just supposed to be seen in them. That's all."

"And a wig?"

Her eyes widened in surprise, and she nodded. "A Morticia Addams wig."

McGraw smiled at the description. "Did he say why he wanted you to be seen in them?"

"Just for a joke. He said it was a long-standing joke they'd had over The Addams Family. It was supposed to cheer his friend up. That's all." She shook her head almost in disbelief of her own words. "I suppose he thought his friend would need cheering up after the flight. It was pretty turbulent up there, but there wasn't much more I could do to make him comfortable except turn a blind eye to him not keeping his seat belt on even though the sign was lit for the whole flight."

"Brent Marken didn't see you all dressed up though... in the wig... but someone else did." McGraw pushed the photo of Greg Marliston towards her. "This man."

Jack saw both relief and tears fill her eyes. "He was so angry. The creep thought I was his wife or something. Said he'd been trying to find 'me' for weeks. I thought he was going to hit me when he realized I wasn't her."

"And then he stormed off."

She lowered her head, staring at the tabletop dejectedly and she nodded.

"Please speak up, Miss Jacobson."

She looked up at him with tear-filmed eyes. "Yes. He stormed off."

"Why did you say you'd never seen him before?" McGraw asked softly.

"I thought he was going to report me to Airport Security. I thought he might not recognize me if I quickly changed back into my own clothes. I was scared. I've only just got this job and I like it."

"Was this man," he tapped the photo of Greg Marliston, "on the flight?"

Tears were streaming down her face by now as she nodded. McGraw handed her a Kleenex and waited while she dried her cheeks.

"Please answer the question aloud. Did you see this man, Greg Marliston, on the same flight as Brent Marken?"

"Yes."

"And did you see Greg Marliston again *after* he stormed off having seen you dressed up?"

"No. I swear to you, I didn't see either of them again. I got a call asking if I wanted to substitute for another stewardess on the Hong Kong flight that took off later that evening... and I took it." She swallowed. "I just wanted to get as far away as possible."

McGraw nodded, his eyes shifting to the one-way mirror to let Jack know that he was happy with that answer. He looked back at Jacobson.

"Okay. Let's talk about the man who asked you to watch over his friend and pretend to be... Morticia Addams."

Jack saw the girl's nervousness reappear. "I think I need to speak to a lawyer."

McGraw stared hard at her for a moment and then relaxed back in his seat. He knew the rules. Anything she said beyond this point would be inadmissible, reducing their chances of being able to act on any names or details given should warrants become necessary. They would have to wait until a lawyer had been appointed before they could continue with the interview, but Jack felt they had enough information to start piecing together a list of possible suspects.

Whoever had approached her was no complete stranger or she would never have considered his request, and he had to have connections to make good on his promise. Jack determined that this man might not have been a regular on that flight but he must have had some association with it... perhaps another member of the flight crew, or someone in baggage handling or catering? Or even in cargo handling?

Jack turned to Vivian. "Have we a list of cargo carried on that flight?"

"I'm sure Martin pulled a full manifest off the computer when we were searching for Brent Marken."

"I need to see it."

Within fifteen minutes, Jack was seated at his desk running his finger down the page containing all the relevant details for that flight. He paused at one particular entry for five thousand components being transferred to an electronics factory just north of Cherry Falls. A quick flick through the additional papers Vivian had printed from the computer revealed the shipping details of that consignment. He tapped the page hard in triumph and strode out to the team.

Danny was talking on the phone; his intense expression telling Jack that he was not getting the answers he needed. Vivian was scanning through security tapes in the hope of spotting Jody Marken on one of the security cameras scattered about the airport, and Samantha was tracking down Airport employees who might have been around at the time of Jody's disappearance.

So far, the Jody Marken case had been even more frustrating than when her father had been missing for they had no sighting beyond the moment she stepped through the departure gate into the corridor leading towards the airplane. The scheduled flight had been almost empty of passengers but it still flew as it had taken onboard cargo in lieu of baggage. However, it meant that no one had seen Jody between her leaving Officer Hillman and reaching the stewardess welcoming passengers onto the plane.

The white board showed no marks beyond the time when she went missing though several lines crossed the timeline for the preceding twenty-four hours. They had questioned Virginia Wells concerning her niece, and had spoken Brent Marken over his last sighting of his daughter before she headed for the airport.

Marken had seemed positive that she had every intention of returning to Cherry Falls to see her injured boyfriend, Kenny. Her boyfriend had received a serious knife wounding from Leonard Marliston while trying to protect Jody from the psychopathic killer.

Only one question mark hovered over one of those intersecting lines: Paul Sisler. According to Brent Marken, Sisler had been to see Virginia Wells, to let her know that he was 'safe' and to get the pain meds that Marken had left in his flight bag. Jack frowned slightly; wondering what had happened to those tablets, as they had never reached Marken.

Jack could read the frustration on every face but he hoped to change that imminently. They finished whatever task they were doing and came over, taking their customary seats around the conference table. Immediately, Jack found his eyes drawn to the empty seat that Martin usually took, recalling the phone call he had from Deputy Director Fitzgerald an hour earlier. His ears were still burning from the verbal reprimand but Vivian was right. Martin *was* worth it.

Jack pushed those thoughts aside and concentrated on the new information he had uncovered.

"Our four-times-daily flight has a regular customer. Wright Transportations Limited, shipping electronic components for AW Technology."

"Isn't that the same company caught in the hostile takeover bid from Adnam-White?" Asked Danny.

"The very same." Jack raised both eyebrows.

Sam leaned forward with a glint of eagerness in her eyes. "Anyone want to bet the man who used Sarah Jacobson is connected to it?"

"Not takers here," Danny grinned. "And whoever it is might have had access to the Hong Kong plane too."

"Greg Marliston didn't get up behind the landing gear under his own steam," added Vivian wryly. "And he didn't tie himself in there so he wouldn't fall out during take-off."

"I was wondering about that," said Sam.

Vivian let them know the details obtained from the French Forensics team. "Whoever hid his body up there knew the rope would be severed when the landing gear retracted. So, when the wheels were lowered on approach to Hong Kong, there was nothing stopping his body from obeying the laws of gravity."

"And becoming shark meat," added Danny.

Jack interceded before they were sidetracked any further. "The first set of questions are..." He looked around the table. "Who knew Brent Marken would be on that flight? How did they find out? Why did they want him watched over? Why did they want him to believe he had seen Loralee Marliston at JFK?"

Vivian was the first to speak up. "Marge Marken booked the flight. Virginia Wells met the flight. Sarah Jacobson was tasked with watching over him *on* the flight so all three of them must have known he was going to be on board that flight."

Sam stepped in. "The air company's database would have passenger booking details... but those are supposed to be restricted. Someone with access could have told Sarah Jacobson that he would be on that flight. Or maybe she saw him at the airport before the flight boarded?"

Danny spoke up. "If they knew Loralee Marliston was already dead, then they could have been trying to throw off the scent for her disappearance. Make it seem she was still alive two weeks after her murder."

Jack shook his head. "Possibly... but I think there's more to it than that. And there's also Greg Marliston to consider. We need to bring Brent Marken in on this... and Martin will be the one to help us do that."

-ooOOoo-

Martin ended the call to Jack and returned to the bedroom where he had left Brent resting quietly.

"Any news on Jody?" Brent looked up hopefully as Martin took a seat beside the bed.

"No. But it seems someone asked that stewardess to watch over you and dress up like 'Morticia Addams', to use her own words. Offered to get her posted onto a more interesting flight route in return."

"Morticia Addams?" Brent sighed. "Yeah, I suppose Loralee did look a little like her. Maybe that's why the others thought she was creepy."

"Her husband, Greg Marliston. He *was* on your flight to New York seated twelve rows back from you. Apparently, he saw that stewardess all dressed up like Loralee and thought it was Loralee. Got annoyed when he realized it wasn't her."

"Is that why he was on the flight? Was he following me in some vain hope I'd lead him to Loralee?"

Martin frowned in confusion. "Why would you think that?"

"Just something her son said, about her having all these love letters and poems she'd written to me. He shoved several into my face, and the dates were just a few years back rather than... I thought they were old letters from before the... the rape."

"They were recent?" Martin leaned in closer. "How recent?"

Brent reddened in embarrassment. "My Deputy Sheriff... Mina... She brought one into the hospital that was barely a year old. She thought it weird that Loralee had been holding this torch for me all those years. I thought so too considering what had happened back then."

"You know, this explains why he arrived at the airport all disheveled, and booked a late seat for your flight."

Brent picked up from Martin. "He didn't expect me to discharge myself from the hospital against the doctors' advice... and he didn't expect Marge to drive me straight to the airport from the hospital."

Martin continued. "And he didn't expect Marge to leave you there to wait alone, which is why it was a shock when they came face-to-face."

"I didn't see him on the flight... but then, I wasn't looking to see anyone. I was kind of preoccupied trying to get comfortable in those damn seats so I might not have noticed him walking right past me."

"Your sister saw him on the concourse close to the coffee bar. She thought he was watching you... but she didn't think much about it until after you disappeared." Martin gave a lopsided grin. "It also would explain why Marliston got so angry with the Loralee look-alike. He thought he'd found Loralee, but instead he lost you."

"Doesn't explain why she was dressed up like Loralee."

"Jack and the team have a theory that it might have been partly to cover up for Loralee's murder... having someone witness seeing her at JFK two weeks after her disappearance."

"You know, I had this dream in the hospital. It was night, and I woke up in the ICU. Everything was dark and quiet except for the hums and beeps of the monitors... and that's when I saw her. She was on the other side of the window. She seemed to stare at me for the longest time, and then I blinked and she was gone. I thought it was all a dream, but what if she *had* been there? Watching me sleep."

Martin realized that he had to pass on this information onto both Jack and A.D. McGraw as it made two possible sightings of Loralee Marliston in Cherry Falls perhaps only the day before she was murdered and her body dumped into the lake.

His cellphone rang and Martin answered it, smiling when he recognized Jack's voice. Quickly, he related all that Brent had just told him but he turned a worried glance in Brent's direction as Jack let him know the Forensic results from the Marken bathroom. Martin put the phone back into his jacket pocket and turned to Brent with a grave expression.

"Forensics found blood splatters in your bathroom, and traces of blood on a painted stone. The blood is Loralee's and the stone matches her crushed skull. Loralee Marliston was murdered in your home."

-ooOOoo-

Brent could barely believe what he had just heard and he stared up at Martin as if he expected the man to start laughing at any moment and tell him it was all a hoax. However, Martin's expression held a deadly seriousness mingled with compassion.

"I didn't think this nightmare could get any worse," he whispered hoarsely. He accepted the fingers that entwined with his own, drawing strength from Martin's support. Brent tightened his grasp and used Martin to lever himself into a sitting position. Martin's eyes held confusion but Brent looked deep into the azure blue.

"I can't stay here. I can't just lie here while someone destroys what's left of my life." He let his eyes show all the misery he had bottled inside for years. "I was the cause of all this, and I've got to be the one who ends it."

"You can barely stand let alone go chasing after--"

"Martin, until they fire me I'm still the sheriff of Cherry Falls, and I owe it to the people there to find out who did this... and to find my daughter."

Brent swept aside the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"And what if it turns out to be someone you know who did this? Like your wife, or even Jody?"

Brent blanched at the thought of Marge or Jody being involved in the murder. He looked back at Martin imploringly, never feeling more lost than he did at this moment but knowing he *had* to do something -- anything -- rather than lie here and wait for the rest of his world to crash around him.

"No matter the outcome, I just need to end this," he choked on the words and turned his head aside as tears of pain and remorse burned in his eyes. "GOD! I should have done it twenty five years ago."

A strong arm wrapped around him while Martin's other hand cradled his head against Martin's shoulder.

All Brent could think as the tears fell was that he wasn't supposed to be blubbering like a child. He was a grown man, for chrissakes, but it didn't seem to make any difference. Weeks of pain and trauma had finally breached what remained of his control and he sobbed into Martin's shoulder. So many regrets filled his head, of moments lost and lives ruined because he had been too scared to stand up for Loralee all those years ago -- and to stand up for himself. He had lived these years in quiet desperation, trying to make amends for his failures and trying to make the best of what he had. The only good thing to come of it all had been Jody... and now even she was tainted by his past.

Eventually, he had no more tears left to cry and yet Martin still held him tight, refusing to relinquish his hold until Brent pushed away.

Unable to meet Martin's eyes, Brent stared at the wall beyond. "I'm sorry--"

Warm fingers pressed against his lips, quickly replaced by a hot mouth as Martin pressed his lips to Brent's, and Brent wanted desperately to sink into the pleasure and comfort offered so freely, and to lose himself in Martin's sweetness. Strong fingers of one hand carded through his hair while the flat of Martin's other hand ran the length of his spine, sending licks of fire through his blood.

Brent drew back from the kiss, momentarily caught in the maelstrom of desire swirling in Martin's eyes before he found the strength to pull away altogether. Thoughts tumbled around his head as he wondered how this could be so wrong when it felt so good and so right being in Martin's arms. It gave him renewed strength to face the past, and to face himself.

"I have to put the past behind me... and the only way to do that is to do what I should have done twenty-five years ago."

Martin looked confused. "Loralee?"

Brent shook his head sorrowfully. "I can't do anything for Loralee now... or for her son."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"Admit I'm... that I prefer men to women. If I'd accepted the truth back then... then none of this would have happened."

"And what of Loralee's murderer?"

"I--I have to see justice done... no matter the personal cost."

Martin nodded. "Okay."

"Will you help?"

"Yeah. I'll contact Jack and tell him we're coming in."

-ooOOoo-

25 Hours missing: New York

"Jack?"

"Viv."

"You look exhausted. Maybe you should go home and get some rest."

"Had a call from Martin. He and Brent Marken should be here any minute."

"Brent Marken?"

"Said he's willing to tell us everything he knows."

"Why the sudden change of heart? You said he wouldn't say a word in the hospital."

"I don't know. Maybe he's tired of hiding after all these years and wants to get it all out in the open."

"Repent his sins, say a couple of 'Hail Mary's', and move on."

"Personally... I don't think the man has too many sins to repent. I think he's just as much as victim as Loralee, and paying as high a price because of it." Jack leaned forward on his elbows. "They raped him, Viv. The moment they picked him up off the road and tried to force him into a sexual act with her, they raped him just as surely as they raped her. There were two victims that night... except he's the only one still paying."

Vivian sat down and stared at the haggard man seated opposite. She knew she looked just as tired for the past few weeks had been draining on all of them. First with little Angie McCormack, and then by this complex case that spanned a quarter of a century.

She sighed deeply. "Forensics came back on the Marken Station Wagon. Clean as a whistle."

"Deliberately clean?"

"No... there was enough accumulated dirt from several years usage... but no traces of blood, human or otherwise." Vivian shook her head. "Whoever dumped Loralee Marliston's body, they didn't use that car. However, they did find blood and hair in the drain with DNA that matched Loralee Marliston." Vivian shuddered. "Still makes me cringe knowing someone cut and dyed her hair *after* they crushed her skull." Vivian took a seat. "But it explains why Forensics thought it was old dye. Whoever did it didn't want to get too close to the scalp so they left the dark roots showing... made it look as if the hair had grown out some since being dyed."

He frowned. "Didn't Mrs. Marken's profile mention her working as a beautician at a Funeral Parlor just before she married?"

"I *was* wondering when you'd notice that."

Jack smiled, seeing the teasing glint in Vivian's dark eyes. "To be truthful... I hadn't thought about it until now."

"Well... McGraw's agents had, and they believe it's enough to bring her back in for questioning."

Jack nodded. Marge Marken had demanded a lawyer the moment Agent Harris confronted her with the murder weapon. He looked up as he caught sight of Martin escorting Brent Marken towards his office, his eyes flicking to Vivian. Martin tapped on the glass.

"Jack?"

Jack noticed how quick Martin was to see to Marken's comfort and he felt a momentary twinge of concern. He *had* hoped Martin would figure out what he wanted from a life partner and would stop wasting his time pursuing the wrong gender, but this was one hell of a bad time for him to work it out... and an unfortunate choice. It wasn't that Jack had anything against Marken -- quite the opposite -- but it didn't look good for Martin to become involved in a man who was the father in their current missing person's case, and whose wife was the prime suspect in an ongoing murder investigation. It did not matter that Brent Marken had a cast iron alibi in both cases, being hospitalized due to his injuries. He was still an integral part of both investigations and Jack did not want to see that position compromised by the relationship developing between the two men.

"I want to help."

Brent looked straight into his eyes and Jack nodded, seeing the truth clearly written there. "Will you tell me about the phone call from your wife after Jody went missing?"

Marken closed his eyes momentarily as he gathered his thoughts, and then opened them, taking on a far away look as he recalled the phone call...

-ooOOoo-

"Brent?"

"Marge?"

He frowned, having not expected to hear from Marge so soon after their parting for he had sensed that she wanted to put as much distance between them as she could. He felt a little guilty at that thought. Just because they had separated, it did not mean there was no caring left between them, especially as he had not long been found -- having been missing for almost two days.

"What's wrong?"

"It's Jody."

His heart fluttered uncomfortably, his hackles rising as he recognized the fear in her voice and knew it was for their only child. Jody had returned to Cherry Falls to check on her boyfriend, Kenny, who was still recovery after Leonard Marliston's attack.

"What's happened?"

"They've taken her, Brent... and they say they'll kill her if you say anything."

"Who? Who's taken her?"

"You know who has her. She's my baby, Brent. Don't let them hurt her."

-ooOOoo-

"And that's all I know. She hung up."

"So, who has taken Jody?"

"My first thought was she meant Harry or Jim... but the more I think about it, the less sense it makes."

"Why?" Asked Martin. "They do seem to be the ones with the most to lose should a scandal break."

"That's just it. Loralee's dead... and without her there's nothing. No claims of rape, no case to build because I still don't remember much from that night, only images that could be anything -- or nothing. All I could do is raise a scandal that would destroy my family and reputation more than theirs." He snorted softly. "Especially after their lawyers get through with me."

"But somebody tried to kill you at the hospital. So you're more of a threat than you believe," added Jack.

"Yeah... I know." Brent sighed. "But I keep thinking I've overlooked something important."

Jack pulled out a photo of Greg Marliston. "Do you recall seeing this man before?"

"It's Greg Marliston." Brent gave a wry smile. "I've seen photos of him plastered across the news."

"But you don't recall seeing him on the plane or in either airport?"

Brent concentrated hard on the photograph but no new memories stirred. He shook his head in frustration. "I was so tired that day... in pain... and with that bomb Marge dropped on me too." Brent looked straight at Jack. "I should have seen him. I'm a cop for chrissakes! I'm supposed to notice people and..." He shook his head and looked away. "I should have seen him."

"What happened after you left your sister in the Coffee bar?"

"I needed to use the john. With so much turbulence on the flight I didn't even consider getting out of my seat, let alone squeezing into the airplane washroom. I went in, did what I--"

"You went into the washroom?"

"Yeah. I was standing at the urinal afterwards, having trouble with my..." Brent looked embarrassed for a moment, "errh... with my zip. And that's when Paulie came up behind me." Brent stopped and chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully. "I hadn't seen him in years but he reached round, straightened me up and then started pulling me towards the exit. He seemed a little furtive when we walked out onto the concourse, and I could hear all this commotion near by... but he dragged me off in the opposite direction."

"This commotion. Can you recall anything about it?"

"Not really. Just raised voices... though, at the time, I thought I saw someone who looked like Loralee but it must have been that stewardess from the Coffee bar."

"What happened to your sister?"

"I looked over to the bar, but I couldn't see her."

"Okay." Jack shuffled some papers around and pulled out another photograph. He placed it in front of Brent. "Have you seen this man before?"

"Yeah. Several times, though I pulled him over for a traffic violation a few months back. Driving over the speed limit. I gave him a ticket." Brent closed his eyes. "Wayne? Dwight?"

"Wright. His name is Wayne Wright."

"Yeah. Wayne Wright. I remember now. I'd seen him in town once or twice over the past few years. He used to stay at the motel on Orchard Street but then he stopped using it so I figured he'd found some place cheaper outside of town."

"What else can you remember about him?"

"I know he has his own transportation company. That's about it."

"Did you see him at JFK?"

"No."

Jack nodded and started placing the photos back into the files. "Thank you."

Martin helped Brent back onto his feet and led him outside. Brent could see Vivian Johnson and Jack Malone talking and he knew it had to have something to do with what he had just told them. Part of him wondered what that could be and he thought back over everything he had said to them but could see nothing amiss. However, Brent knew from personal experience that witnesses often had differing accounts of the same event, taken from their own unique perspective. Perhaps someone else's account differed from his and they needed to question why.

He slumped into a seat and watched Martin take another and pull in close to a computer. Brent had to smile when he saw the expert touch on the keyboard, watching streams of data start to flow down the screen.

"This is a list of all consignments handled by Wright Transportations over the past week. I'm going to narrow down the search parameters to look for a specific flight. Bingo!" Martin turned to Brent with a triumphant grin. He looked back and made a few more keystrokes before reaching for the paper spewing from the printer. "Be right back."

Brent watched Martin duck into Jack's office and hand over the sheet of paper. Then he turned his attention back to the desk where Martin worked, noticing very few personal items amid the manuals and folders piled up high. He looked at the monitor and saw the information on a flight to Hong Kong a few days earlier, wondering at its significance... and then he recalled that they had found Greg Marliston's body in the South China Sea. He thought back over Marge's words:

'They've taken her, Brent... and they say they'll kill her if you say anything.'

Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps it *was* Harry and Jim behind his daughter's kidnapping and *his* attempted murder. So why did he have a feeling that it was someone else that Marge had been referring to? He tried to recall the last time they spoke more than a few cold sentences to each other, trying hard to remember the details of that conversation.

It had been the day before Leonard Marliston's final night of terror. Marge had been drunk as usual, with her clothes reeking of cigarettes, alcohol and the smell of tacos, so he knew she'd been at the Gold Digger Bar outside town again.

-ooOOoo-

"Never guess whose skinny ass showed up in the bar tonight."

Brent looked up from his newspaper in disinterest as Marge weaved across the room and leaned in close. He wrinkled his nose up at the overpowering scent of stale cigarettes, gin and Mexican food.

"You're drunk."

Either she didn't hear his soft, disgusted words, or she didn't care as Marge carried on regardless.

"Miss Congeniality herself... and the man she's fucking who isn't her husband."

"Guess you both have so much in common," he replied sarcastically.

Brent's head snapped round at the stinging slap to his cheek. He grabbed her wrist as she went to deal a second blow, stared at her hard until she backed away.

"Bastard," she hissed before stumbling up the stairs, slamming the bedroom door behind her.

-ooOOoo-

Miss Congeniality? he thought.

"Carolyn Sisler," he murmured, and then the rest fell into place. On the next afternoon he had driven out to the last known address for Loralee Sherman -- the old abandoned place giving him the creeps -- and when he had driven away from there he had been convinced that someone else had been there too, watching him.

On the way back from the old Sherman place he had passed the Gold Digger and, coupled with Marge's words from the previous evening, he had recalled the last time he had patrolled this stretch; when he had recognized the new Mondeo in the parking lot as the one he'd pulled over a few months before. He had also noticed the Sisler's Buick tucked away in the corner and had assumed it was Tom Sisler, even though it was a school day.

But what if it had been Carolyn instead, meeting her lover? And what if the lover had been Wayne Wright?

Brent pushed up from the chair and moved slowly to Jack Malone's office, suddenly aware of whom Marge could have been referring to when she said 'they' had taken Jody. He tapped on the glass and waited for Malone to bid him enter. Martin gave him a questioning look but, otherwise, he remained silent and waited.

"I'm not certain but... I think Wayne Wright is having an affair with Carolyn Sisler. I have a hunch that's the 'them' Marge was trying to warn me about."

"Carolyn Sisler is Senator John McKay's sister," added Martin in a low voice.

"It makes sense. Wright's fighting to save his company from being taken over by Adnam-White. Carolyn tells him all about Tom's little indiscretion from the past and names James Adnam-White as one of the other boys involved. If Loralee's story is believed then Adnam-White will lose his backers, and perhaps a whole lot more besides. But no one is going to corroborate her story -- except possibly for you." Jack looked at Brent.

Martin took up the story. "So Wright decides to put some pressure on Adnam-White. He can't find the real Loralee so he hires a look-a-like with the intention of taking photos showing you meeting with her, which he can then use as leverage against Adnam-White."

Brent shook his head. "I don't see how that could work. Wright has no control over Loralee Marliston or me. He couldn't stop either one of us from talking to the Press."

"Couldn't he?" The silence filled the room for a moment while Brent digested the implications behind Jack's softly spoken words.

"If you think he only kidnapped Jody to ensure my silence until he *wanted* me to talk, then why the hit on me at the hospital?"

Jack pulled out the financial supplement of his morning paper that highlighted a small entry partway down the first page. Brent read it quickly, seeing written confirmation that Adnam-White had pulled out of the hostile takeover bid less than one hour before the attack on him at the hospital. Brent felt his stomach flip with fear, aware that both his and Loralee's deaths might have been a condition of Adnam-White pulling out of the deal. Loralee was already dead. But what of Jody? Had Wright already had her killed now she was no longer needed?

"We found security footage of Greg Marliston heading towards the primary offices of Wright Transportation. Who wants to bet that's where he met his killer?" Vivian added grimly.

"Jack?" Samantha stuck her head round the door. "NYPD just picked up Wayne Wright. They're bringing him in for questioning."

-ooOOoo-

Sam looked across at the handsome man seated almost too close to Martin. She could see the lines of pain drawn across his face; its source evident by the left arm strapped tight to his body. His eyes were a warm forest green, tinged with gold and darkened with pain but they softened whenever he looked at Martin.

Her covert gaze shifted to Martin, seeing his response as he gave out signals that seemed to scream 'Take me, I'm yours'. It was a shock as she recalled turning down an invitation to go for a drink with Martin purely on the grounds that she thought a sexual relationship between co-workers undesirable. But if Martin was gay, then all he had wanted that day was company -- friendship -- and she had brushed him off.

She thought about his strained relationship with his father and wondered if this was the cause. Perhaps Deputy Director Fitzgerald was ashamed -- or unaccepting -- of his son's lifestyle? And yet, some how, Sam had the impression that this was all new to Martin, and to Marken too, though Marken wouldn't be the first man they'd come across who was living a double life, being both married and gay.

Her thoughts turned to the case she was working on with Agent Danzig in Homicide, trying to piece together the last few weeks of Greg Marliston's life and, in particular, the last twenty-four hours.

In the course of the investigation, she and Danzig had uncovered a letter from Loralee to her husband dated just the day after Deputy Sheriff Mina took down her son. It contained barely a mention of Leonard Marliston except in vituperation as Loralee cursed him for almost killing the love of her life: Brent Marken. She spoke of seeing Marken out at her parents' old home, and of watching him through the broken shutters as he stared at the abandoned and dilapidated house.

She described the way his hair shone in the sunlight, as golden as she remembered from their youth. Her words had been poetic as she went on to describe the bow of his lips, the green of his eyes and even the shape of his fingers, giving Sam the impression that she had watched him through binoculars... or had written from the heart and memory.

Loralee referred to him throughout the letter as 'My darling, Brent', and spoke of seeing him in the hospital, with their eyes meeting to share a moment of ecstasy at their long awaited reunion.

'For the eyes are mirrors to the soul, and he is mine, and I am his. Our hearts will beat as one, our bodies will move as one, and never be parted no more.'

It was all a delusion for Brent Marken had barely been aware of her presence at the hospital that night, believing her to be an image conjured up from his nightmares. His mind would have been fogged with drugs to counteract the pain from his wounds. However, his eyes would have been dilated from the drug's effects as he tried to focus on her face, so perhaps to her they had seemed to hold a passion-glaze as she stared at him in return.

Sam knew Greg Marliston had taken the next flight out to Cherry Falls for she had found his name on the passenger list. He had rented a car at the airport and he had stayed in the small town, paying for his board by credit card while he searched for his wife. Eventually he must have taken to watching over Brent Marken in the hope that Loralee would not have strayed too far from her phantom lover's side. A frame by frame scrutiny of the footage taken of Marken leaving the hospital had revealed Marliston standing in the crowd, most notable by his stillness while others around him were shouting and gesticulating. The same angle taken moments later -- as Marge Marken drove off -- showed no sign of him. Sam believed he must have gone to his own car, intending to trail Marken back to his home only to discover that Marge Marken had no intention of bringing her injured husband home.

She could only imagine Marliston's frantic race to catch up with them once he had figured out where they had gone -- or had he simply taken a gamble when he could find Marken no place else? Certainly he would not have expected to come face to face with Marge Marken as she hurried away from the airport, unable to even wait by her estranged husband's side until the boarding call.

The flight had been half-empty, so obtaining a seat had not been difficult.

Normally, it would seem suspicious that a law enforcement officer such as Sheriff Marken could spend time in the waiting lounge and then spend almost an hour-long flight with so few passengers, and yet not notice Greg Marliston. However, Marliston had not wanted to be seen by Marken and so he would have remained out of his line of sight. Then he would have taken advantage of Marken's distraction -- as he tried to settle his injured frame into one of the small seats -- to slip past him on board the airplane.

On arrival at JFK, he would have followed Brent to the coffee bar, hiding behind a newspaper while he covertly watched the brother and sister.

Sam wondered how he must have felt on seeing the Loralee look-a-like. How relieved he must have been when he thought he had found Loralee after two weeks of fruitless searching, and how that relief would have turned to anger when he realized this Loralee was an imposter. By then, Paul Sisler would have swept Marken out of the airport, and Marliston would have been left staring in frustration as the black BMW disappeared within the stream of cars heading away from JFK.

Marliston's only lead would have been Sarah Jacobson but she had disappeared into the crowds in fear of losing her job. Yet he had been caught on camera heading towards the Wright Transportation offices rather than looking for the offices of the Airline Company.

There could be only one reason why, and that was because Sarah Jacobson had told him where to go in search of answers.

"Sam, Martin." Sam looked up as Jack called her name and she followed Martin into Jack's office. "Judge Rollins has just agreed access to Wright Transportations employee records. I want you both to work on this. Once we have photos of every Wright Transportation employee at JFK and Newark then it'll be time to bring Sarah Jacobson back in for questioning... and see if she will make an ID on her mystery benefactor."

-ooOOoo-

26 Hours missing, FBI Headquarters, New York

Because of the link between the cases, McGraw asked Jack to sit in on the Wayne Wright interview. As a mere formality, Jack identified himself to the device recording the interview and then fell silent, allowing McGraw to take the lead.

He took a moment to gain a first impression of the man who might be both a kidnapper and a murderer. Wayne Wright was an average looking man in his mid-forties with brown hair, hazel eyes and a body that was prone to middle-age, and yet he was in better shape than many men his age. His eyes appraised Jack in return, allowing Jack to see the intelligence lurking behind there.

As it was, Wright had insisted on having a lawyer present from the outset, which had delayed the start of the questioning. Both lawyer and client wore suits with a total ease of familiarity so Jack could see that Wright was not the type to get his hands dirty. Inwardly, he knew that if Wright had anything to do with either Jody Marken's disappearance or Greg Marliston's murder then it was most likely that he had acted through a subordinate. He knew from experience that it would make any case against Wright far harder to prove, unless they could identify that subordinate and get that person to testify against their employer.

To this end, Sam and Martin had run down a list of all Wright Transportations employees, with Brent Marken checking the list too, in case a name or face should trigger a memory, but nobody had stood out. At this moment, Sam and Danzig were in a separate interrogation room having requested a second interview with Sarah Jacobson, with her lawyer present.

However, no matter the outcome of the second Sarah Jacobson interview, Jack knew this interview with Wayne Wright would be a pointless exercise. They had nothing to link him directly to either case except for his opposition to Adnam-White's hostile take-over bid of his company, and an unproved rumor that he was having an affair with Carolyn Sisler. Neither of these constituted an offence, and neither would be sufficient to hold Wright in custody pending further investigation.

***