Stringfellow Hawke watched Caitlin O'Shaunessy sleeping beside him and gently stroked her red hair back over her shoulder. He was still more than a little bemused at the change in their relationship. His arms instinctively tightened around her as he remembered how close he'd come to letting her walk out of his life; driven by his fear that she would die like so many others in his life, he'd hurt them both by insisting on a separation that had lasted weeks and had only ended the day before. He smiled. She had given him a second chance and now…there would be no more pretending it was just friendship between them.
There was a sense of rightness about it that helped settle the fear that was still with him. He slipped out of the bed, pulled on a pair of jeans and headed downstairs to let Tet out to wander on the mountain outside the cabin whilst he made breakfast. It was just coffee and toasted bagels but he found himself arranging everything on a tray alongside a small vase with a large daisy before carrying it up to Caitlin.
She opened her eyes sleepily at the sound of Hawke approaching the bed and took in the breakfast tray with a bemused smile. 'You made me breakfast?'
Hawke put the tray on the bedside table and sat on the bed next to her as she struggled to a sitting position. He leaned over and kissed her. 'Good morning.'
She let out a shaky breath. 'Good morning.'
'You OK?' Hawke asked.
She smiled up at him and smoothed the worry line that had appeared on his forehead. 'More than OK.'
'You're sure your shoulder is fine?' It had been badly damaged when she'd taken a bullet that had saved his life and although it was mostly healed, she'd admitted that it still ached.
She nodded trying to ease the anxiety in his voice and saw the flicker of guilt in his serious blue eyes. 'Don't worry, Hawke, next time you can take the bullet yourself and then you can be the one who gets grounded.'
Hawke's lips twitched. 'Thanks.' He handed her the mug of coffee and she shifted so he could sit on the bed next to her, his arm around her.
She took a gulp of coffee and noticing the way his eyes were pinned to the mug, her lips twitched. 'Want to share?'
He smiled and took the offered mug. He took a gulp before he handed it back and gave into the urge to ask the question that had been bugging him. 'Cait?'
'You know I'm more than glad you're here but…
'Why'd did I come back?' She asked.
Caitlin sighed. 'My mother confessed she'd talked to you after I got shot and asked you to make sure I stayed in Texas.' She smiled sadly. 'We had an almighty row and I walked out.' She sighed. 'I spent sometime thinking about…everything before I decided I didn't really have anything to lose coming back.'
'Have you spoken with your folks since?' Hawke asked quietly.
She shook her head and handed him the mug. 'I told my sister Erin what I was going to do.'
'I guess your family aren't going to be pleased.'
'They'll get over it.' Caitlin murmured.
'What? You coming back to LA or being with me?' Hawke asked wryly.
She shifted to face him fully. 'They gave you a hard time when I was at the hospital, didn't they?'
'I understood. I got their daughter shot.' Hawke muttered hiding his face in the mug.
'I got me shot.' Caitlin pointed out.
'Saving me.' He returned.
She rolled her eyes. 'I can see we're going to be arguing about this one for a while.'
'A while, huh?' Hawke tilted his head. 'I kinda like the sound of that.'
'Me too.' They both smiled.
Hawke cleared his throat. 'You know if you want to win some brownie points for me with your parents, you could call them. Let them know you're safe.'
'I'll call them.' Caitlin promised.
He leaned in to kiss her again. The sound of an approaching chopper had him changing direction and he gave her a chaste kiss on the forehead as he hurriedly shuffled off the bed.
'Who is it?' She asked. His hearing was astounding and she knew he could tell the difference between the choppers that regularly landed at the cabin.
'Dom.' Hawke answered. 'He's meant to be in Arcotta Bay.'
Caitlin's fingers pleated the sheets. 'Are we going to tell him? About us?'
Hawke tugged a sweater over his head and sat back down next to her. 'I was planning to.'
'You think he'll be OK about it?' Caitlin asked. Dominic Santini was the closest thing to family Hawke had, having taken him and his older brother in after the death of their parents. She'd grown fond of Dom, thought he'd grown fond of her but she couldn't help wondering what his reaction would be to her changed relationship with his surrogate son.
Hawke smoothed her hair out of her eyes noticing with surprise the nerves shining there. 'He's going to be thrilled.' He reassured her.
'I'll grab a shower and get dressed.' Caitlin said tugging the sheet from the bed as a makeshift cover.
Hawke watched her disappear into the bathroom before heading downstairs. He walked out to greet Dom, ducking under the slowing rotors to open the cockpit door and help the older man out. They got clear of the chopper before Dom opened his mouth to yell at him.
'Are you OK?'
Hawke nodded and brought them to a halt on the porch just outside the cabin. He wondered at the concern darkening Dom's eyes. 'Sure. Why wouldn't I be?'
'Why?' Dom bristled and he stabbed a finger into Hawke's chest. 'Why wouldn't you be? Did you or did you not tell me you were going to call me, huh?'
Hawke's confusion cleared abruptly as he suddenly remembered his promise to call Dom. Hawke pushed a hand through his hair as Dom continued reaming him out; the older pilot had been worried when he hadn't heard anything and hadn't been able to raise him especially after the events of their most recent Airwolf mission and General Bening deciding to come after them. It had brought him back from his vacation in Arcotta Bay early.
'Sorry, Dom.' Hawke said. 'I kinda got distracted.'
Dom grunted, only slightly mollified by the apology. 'Distracted?' He barked.
Hawke cleared his throat and leaned a shoulder against the porch post, hoping for nonchalant. 'Caitlin's in the cabin.'
'Oh?' Dom started smiling. He'd figured all they needed was just to get together and talk the whole thing out…and he was suddenly aware that talking wasn't the only thing the couple had done. He wasn't sure exactly what clued him in; the hint of colour in Hawke's cheeks, the fact the younger man was delaying him outside the cabin, his comment of being distracted. 'Oh.'
Hawke sighed a little nervous at the overtones in the simple word.
'You and she,' Dom's voice trailed away and he gestured vaguely, 'the two of you…?'
Hawke nodded quickly at the unspoken question. He folded his arms at Dom's serious expression; he'd thought the older man would have been pleased and the lack of approval was twisting his gut.
'Are you sure about this, kid?' Dom asked. 'Because if you're playing around here…'
'I'm not.' Hawke replied quickly.
'She cares about you.' Dom pressed.
Hawke met Dom's eyes firmly. 'I know.' He was almost pleased that Dom's concern seemed to stem from worry that Hawke would treat Caitlin's feelings lightly. 'I'm not going to hurt her, Dom.' He glanced back at the cabin. 'Not again.'
Dom nodded. 'So you're together, together?'
Hawke nodded and relaxed a little seeing the beam spreading across Dom's face.
'That's great, kid.'
'So, you…you're OK with our…being together?' Hawke couldn't help checking.
Dom tried to reassure him. 'I always hoped you two would stop hiding behind the friendship thing. Not to mention that she's good for you, huh?'
'Yeah.' Hawke agreed.
Dom gave a pleased nod. He sent a darting look toward the cabin. 'Well, I'll get going, give you two some space. Tell her hello from me.'
Hawke caught Dom with a hand on his bulky shoulder as he turned to leave. 'Thanks, Dom.' Dom pulled the younger man in for a quick hug before he climbed back into the Santini chopper. Hawke watched Dom take her up. The older man's comments about Bening had him frowning and he glanced back at the cabin. He'd better tell Caitlin.
Caitlin was sat on the bed wrapped in one towel and drying her hair with another. Her eyes met his anxiously. 'Dom left?'
'Yeah.' He sat beside her and took her hand.
Caitlin bit her lip. 'Did you tell him?'
He nodded and his fingers tightened on hers momentarily reassuring her. 'Like I said he's thrilled. He thinks you're good for me.'
'I knew there was a reason why I liked him.' Caitlin said smiling.
Hawke smiled back.
'What's wrong?' Caitlin asked seeing his smile fade.
Hawke sighed and filled her in on the recent mission and aftermath.
'So Bening is coming after us.' Caitlin's calm acceptance almost had Hawke smiling. 'You'd think he'd be more grateful to you rescuing his family.'
'I think he just sees that Airwolf is a powerful weapon that he doesn't have.' Hawke concluded.
'Well, she is the world's most technologically advanced helicopter.' Caitlin commented. 'Not to mention its only mach capable one.'
She smiled. 'He won't get her, Hawke. Not whilst she has you.'
Hawke pulled her into a hug and hoped as her arms tightened around him that her confidence was justified.
Two weeks later, Hawke watched Caitlin walk into the hangar from his vantage point on the ladder. He jumped down wiping his hands on a cloth as she approached before he picked her up and spun her around before kissing her thoroughly. Dom sniggered from his position under the Ranger, happy at the way things had been progressing between the couple since they'd gotten together.
'I missed you.' Hawke said as he finally let her go.
'Kinda got that impression.' Caitlin smiled and wiped her lipstick off his mouth. 'Stunt go OK this morning?'
'Perfect, although Dom's threatening never to work with the director again.'
'The man's an idiot,' grunted Dom.
'How was your physio?' Hawke asked as they wandered over to the coffee pot arm in arm. It had been a peaceful couple of weeks. They'd settled into the normal routine of the air service; stunt flying, flight instruction, the odd charter. The only Airwolf activity had been an upgrade to her systems under the watchful eye of Karen Hansen. And all the time they were waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Bening to make a move.
'OK.' Caitlin said. She shook her head as he offered her a mug of coffee and glanced at the clock. 'You going to be ready to head to the cabin soon?' She'd rented an apartment by the beach but most nights they'd ended up at the cabin.
Hawke nodded as he sipped his coffee. 'Another half an hour?'
She nodded and sighed, looking over her shoulder at the office. 'I guess I'll get us caught up on some paperwork.'
'You're a star.' Dom yelled.
Hawke dipped his head for another kiss before he headed back to the Ranger. The phone rang and Caitlin picked up the extension in the hangar.
Hawke turned at the mention of the FIRM's deputy director. It had been Michael who had originally offered Hawke the deal to find Hawke's MIA brother if Hawke would fly missions for him. It had been a surprise to both men that they'd ended up friends.
'Sure. I'll tell them. Yeah, see you soon.' Caitlin hung up and met Hawke's inquisitive eyes. 'Michael wants to see us at the cabin ASAP.'
Hawke and Dom exchanged a look.
'Looks like the game's started.' Hawke noted and started back to the lockers to change out of his overalls.
The sky was darkening by the time they landed at the cabin. Michael was already there along with his usual aide Marella. They were both dressed in all-white although Michael had eschewed his usual three piece suit for casual pants and a sweater. A short time later they sat around a camp fire after a simple fish supper; Dom was perched contentedly on a camping stool with Michael and Marella sharing the porch steps. Caitlin and Hawke had made do with a rug on the ground. Hawke relaxed as they all sat watching the flames flicker in the comfortable silence of old friends.
Michael cleared his throat. 'Well, as much as I hate to ruin the evening, we need to talk business.' He said seriously. 'As of nine hundred tomorrow a new joint task force of the Army, Airforce, FBI and NSA will be formed with one specific purpose; to recover Airwolf. The FIRM has been given one month whilst the task force is established in which to recover Airwolf.'
Hawke frowned. 'Bening?'
'Bening.' Michael confirmed.
'A joint task force?' asked Caitlin. 'You mean these guys are working together on this?'
'Yes.' Marella confirmed. 'But actually that plays in our favour.'
'These guys don't play nicely together.' Michael elaborated.
'Politics.' Hawke muttered.
Michael nodded. 'A joint task force isn't the smartest tactical move.'
'Why did Bening agree to it?' Caitlin asked.
'He was over-ruled by his Commander-in Chief.' Michael said with a smile.
'I kinda feel bad that I didn't vote for the guy now.' Dom said with a delighted laugh.
'You should. He also insisted on giving the FIRM the opportunity to recover Airwolf within a month.' Marella added.
'But doesn't that mean we're going to have to have two sides of attack – the FIRM and this task force?' Caitlin asked.
'That was probably why Bening agreed to it but he also convinced the President that the FIRM's record for retaining top secret aircraft was flawed.' Michael fingered his cane. 'Although the FIRM has been given time to recover Airwolf, once recovered we're supposed to hand her over to Bening.'
Dom whistled. 'The Committee must be furious.'
'Furious is an understatement.' Michael's eye twinkled.
'So what does that mean?' Caitlin asked. 'Are they sending a team after us or not?'
'Not.' Michael stated. 'Their official position will be that they stand a better chance of recovering Airwolf through diplomacy.' He stroked his moustache.
'You?' Hawke asked amused.
Michael inclined his head.
'And their unofficial position?' Caitlin asked.
'Unofficially, all the FIRM's resources are at our disposal to prevent Airwolf falling into Bening's hands.'
Dom's eyebrows rose. 'You're kidding.'
Michael shook his head and raised his glass to the pilot. 'Whilst the Committee dislikes Hawke having Airwolf, they much prefer him to Bening.'
'Bening really pissed off Zeus, huh?' Hawke commented.
'I can't remember the last time I saw Zeus go that particular shade of purple.' Michael agreed with a smile.
'So we know about the task force, so what now?' Caitlin asked.
'We need to get a line of attack on Bening and fast.' Michael said.
Marella sighed. 'Unfortunately, we don't have anything on him yet. Bening's kept his record pretty clean. There are a few suspect military decisions in 'Nam but nothing that warranted court martial and it's generally accepted that Bening on the whole was a good General if a little ruthless.' She sipped her wine. 'I'd put his MO as more of a full frontal assault.'
'We think he's going to come after you, Hawke. It'll be fast, personal and hard.' Michael said.
'He's already tried using Saint John,' Hawke noted.
'I'm already working on making sure I can get to any information about your brother.' Michael reassured him. 'But I think he could try closing down Santini Air.'
'What?' Dom's eyes blazed.
Hawke sighed. 'He'll know that losing your business will hurt you and what hurt's you…'
Dom harrumphed. 'It's only a business, kid. I'd take you over it any day of the week.'
The two men smiled at each other and Michael cleared his throat to regain their attention. 'I've already alerted the FAA to the prospect of Bening calling a spurious investigation and they've agreed to work with me. They're not happy at the idea that Bening would use them.'
'He doesn't need to use the FAA though.' Caitlin said. 'The business stands on its reputation. He could try a smear campaign.'
'We'll have to deal with any dirty tricks if and when they come up.' Michael said. He looked over at the redheaded pilot. 'Of course, Bening could come after you. He could try a physical attack, maybe a kidnapping.'
Hawke's eyes iced over. Marella shivered and instinctively inched back from him. Caitlin, she noted, simply slid her hand over his.
'He can try.' Hawke said. His tone was conversational; his whole body was tensed for a fight.
Dom nodded, his own eyes glinting dangerously.
'I think coming after me that way will be a last resort.' Caitlin said calmly. 'By trying to get Airwolf officially, it binds him a little in the methods he can use. Too many people are watching.'
'I agree.' Michael said watching Hawke relax a little with the analysis.
'What about Half-pint?' Dom asked.
'The official record now states clearly that Le is not Saint John's son and whilst I don't think Bening would think twice about using a child, I don't believe he'll think Hawke will be bothered about a boy who isn't a direct relation.' Michael said.
'He could still go after you Michael.' Caitlin said. 'After all you guys are friends.'
'Yeah, why not go after both of you like that fella Bogard?' Dom asked.
'He doesn't consider me a threat.' Michael said a little peevishly. 'And he thinks the deal is the only thing tying Hawke and I.'
Marella nodded in agreement. 'Bening's not really worried about us or in the wider sense the FIRM. If anything he considers us a nuisance, nothing more.'
'So that's it?' Dom asked. 'That's all we've got?'
'For now.' Michael allowed reluctantly. 'Like I said, we need to get a line of attack on him and quickly. If the task force establishes itself…' he shrugged, 'it could become more difficult to deal with than simply removing Bening.' He caught Hawke's disgusted impression. 'Besides, one of our best advantages is your ability to think on your feet in a tactical situation.' He laid his empty wine glass to one side. 'We should go. We'll be in touch.' He said motioning at Marella who made a face and reluctantly got to her feet. A few minutes later, the FIRM helicopter was taking to the air. The fire bent under the back draft but quickly recovered as Dom added another log.
'I don't like it, String.' The older man said. 'We're waiting around to be picked off like sitting ducks.'
'I don't like it either Dom.' Hawke's fingers tangled with Caitlin's.
'So what are we going to do?' Dom pressed him.
'I know one thing,' Hawke said, 'we're not going to wait for Bening to make his move.'
Dom beamed. 'Now you're talking.'
'And exactly what is it we're going to do?' Caitlin asked her voice tinged with exasperation.
'We'll think of something.' Hawke said and kissed her knuckles.
He was desperately trying to think of that something when Dom found him the next day sitting on the porch bench looking out at the sunrise over the lake. He sat down beside him and handed him one of the mugs he held.
'I didn't mean to wake you.' Hawke said.
'I was awake.' Dom said simply. 'Caitlin's making breakfast.'
Hawke took a gulp of the coffee letting the hot liquid warm him from the inside and caught the older man's speculative gaze. 'What?'
'I figure you'll tell me when you're ready.' Dom said.
'I thought so.' He said smugly.
He sighed. 'I was wondering whether I should hand Airwolf back.'
Dom almost choked on the coffee. He swiped a hand over his mouth. 'You are?'
'It's just…I was wondering if it was worth risking everyone,' the glance to the cabin door gave away exactly who he was thinking about, 'everyone else in my life just to keep Airwolf, just to find Saint John.'
Dom sighed. 'Keeping Airwolf from Bening isn't about finding your Saint John, String.'
Hawke raised an eyebrow.
'It's about doing what's right.' Dom said firmly. 'Airwolf can't fall into the wrong hands, she's too dangerous.' He gave a small laugh. 'Hell, I worry about us having her sometimes.'
'You do?' Hawke asked surprised.
'She's quite a responsibility, String.' Dom pointed out. 'But we do alright and besides, she's yours, huh?'
'What do you mean?'
Dom shook his head. 'I mean she's yours. Cait knows it. I know it.' He chuckled. 'And I swear she even knows it.' He slapped Hawke's shoulder. 'And if you're honest String, you know it.'
Hawke's lips twitched but his blue eyes remained serious. 'She's not more important to me than you or Cait.'
Dom's eyes widened. 'I'm pleased to hear it, kid but here's the thing…we wouldn't hand her over to Bening anymore than you would. When we fly her, we trust her to care of us and in return, well, it's only right we take care of her.' He held Hawke's gaze for a beat before rising. 'Come on, String. Let's go and get some breakfast. We can worry about Bening on a full stomach.'
'Right.' Hawke said getting to his feet and following the older man back into the cabin. Their conversation remained in Hawke's head though and he was thinking about it as he drove to the Lair to check on Airwolf. He stopped the jeep just inside the entrance and took off his sunglasses looking at the helicopter.
Airwolf was stood in a shaft of sunlight. Light glinted off the steel rotors and her tail. Her black armour gleamed dully, her white underbelly hidden in shadows. With the chain guns and cannons hidden, she looked almost benign, but there was something in the sleekness of her flank, the dark windows and sharply angled nose that hinted at the predator.
Hawke got out of the jeep. He walked over to her and laid a hand on her wing.
'Want to go flying baby?' He asked softly. The hiss of hydraulics brought a smile to his face. He went to get changed.
Within minutes, he was taking her up, clearing the confines of the Lair and out in the open sky. Airwolf vibrated underneath him and he took her to mach speed with the flick of his thumb. She zipped across the Valley with a banshee shriek. He pulled her up and sent her looping back at an easy, lazy pace. He handled her almost without thought, with an instinctive knowledge of where she would need balancing, where to give her rein, where to push, when to pull. She automatically corrected her systems and her operations for optimum use. And underneath the sheer freedom of the flight was that invisible connection between machine and pilot.
He brought her to a halt over the Lair and lowered her slowly back to the ground. He sat in the cockpit as the rotors gradually came to a halt and there was silence.
Dom was right, he thought running a hand over the front console, Airwolf had been his from the moment he'd set eyes on her. There had been an automatic, deep-in-the-gut, recognition between them; kindred spirits; both of them born to fly.
Hawke leaned back in his seat. He'd fought for his place as her lead test pilot, he'd hungered for it, he'd campaigned for the job in a way that he had never done before or since. He'd gotten his place, taken to her to the skies and sent her flying for the first time in her existence; Airwolf was his.
Moffett, Airwolf's creator, had recognised it and had hated it. He had done everything to drive Hawke from the programme and finally, he'd succeeded. Such a petty argument, thought Hawke, in hindsight. Accusations that Hawke wasn't pushing Airwolf to her limits, falsified test data and he'd fallen for it. His pride had pushed him into the argument and out of the programme.
He'd missed her, missed the thrill of flying her until Michael had offered him the job to recover her when Moffett had stolen her. When he'd set the price for his help as the return of Saint John, he'd knowingly set the price high and deep down he'd known finding his brother would take time. Had he always meant to keep her? He frowned.
The sudden beeping from the comms system pulled him out of his musings and he hit the buttons to receive the incoming transmission.
'Hawke, I've been trying to reach you.'
The urgency in the other man's voice had Hawke frowning. 'What's happened?'
'I got a tip-off. Bening isn't going to give the FIRM the month. He's going to hit Santini Air with the task force in,' Michael checked his watch, 'ten minutes.'
'Hit, what do you mean hit?' Hawke pressed the start buttons for the engines, started bringing the systems online.
'I mean, hit. Tear the place apart and take anybody there into custody.' Michael leaned into the video picture as if trying to push himself through the lens. 'I can't reach Caitlin or Dom, they're not picking up. I think Bening did something to the phone lines.'
'Keep trying.' Hawke urged him, securing his helmet. 'I'm on my way.' He took Airwolf up faster than he had before.
He deployed weapons and threw her into mach speed. They would reach Van Nuys before Bening. He tried radioing the air service; no reply. He tried the Ranger and finally, Dom answered.
'String, what's up?'
'Dom, Bening is going to hit Santini Air in a couple of minutes. Where's Caitlin?'
'At the hangar.' Dom's said fearfully. 'I'll go and get her.'
'No. I'm almost there. Get yourself clear. Head for the FIRM. We'll meet you and Michael there.' Hawke radioed back. He slowed approaching Van Nuys. He didn't want a mid-air collision with another aircraft. He ignored the summons from the Van Nuys control tower. He swung around and brought Airwolf down in front of the Santini Air hangar. Caitlin was already running out of the hangar, shielding her eyes, having recognised the distinctive howl of the engines. She opened Airwolf's door and climbed in. Hawke immediately took off.
'What's going on?' asked Caitlin moving to the engineer's console and putting her helmet on. The radar scan started to flicker before he could answer. 'Hawke, we have incoming. Two F4s and six army helicopters outfitted with sidewinders.'
'Give me turbos.' Hawke said. 'Try and deflect their radar.'
'Turbos.' Caitlin pressed the lever forward.
Hawke dived and headed for the city. The army wouldn't fire over LA. He hoped.
'Hawke, the helicopters are veering off but we're not shaking the F4s. Incoming communication.'
'Airwolf you are instructed to set down. Over.'
'Do we respond to them?' Caitlin adjusted their radar profile again.
'No.' Hawke replied.
The urban landscape raced by under their feet; buildings and roads, tracks and tower blocks.
'They've got a missile off. Deploying sunburst.' She registered the explosion.
Airwolf climbed and dived as Hawke followed the course adjustments Caitlin gave him threading Airwolf through an obstacle course of passenger jets and light aircraft, hopefully keeping the helicopter from the sight of any civilians. They hit the open countryside with the F4s still giving chase.
'What now?' Caitlin asked. 'We can't fire back at them and they can keep up with us.'
Hawke scanned the countryside coming up. Why couldn't there be a B52 bombing run when you needed one?
'Dammit!' Caitlin said. 'We've got two missiles incoming. Deploying…'
'No.' Hawke's eyes narrowed. 'Give me hellfires. All of them.'
'Hellfires. Missiles intercept in ten, nine, eight…'
He dived suddenly, sharply into a canyon.
The ground rushed up at them.
He fired their complement of hellfires at the ground.
The fireball mushroomed out of the canyon. The F4s checked radar. Clear. They confirmed the kill.
Dom paced anxiously in Michael's office and gestured at the video phone. 'Try them again.'
'Dominic, I've already tried them a dozen times.' Michael's patience was wearing thin.
'I don't care.' Dom exploded. 'Try them again.'
Michael shot out of his chair, temper in his eye. 'Dammit Dominic…'
The door burst open and Marella swept in. 'Sir, there's…the airforce have just…'
It took Michael less than a second to register the tears in her voice and her eyes; Dom started shaking his head.
She took a shaky breath. 'The airforce just confirmed Airwolf was destroyed by two of their F4s.'
'No.' Dom shook head sharply at Marella. 'I don't believe it. They would have made it. They have to have made it.'
Michael slumped into his chair. He couldn't think, couldn't speak. He looked over at Dom who was slowly collapsing into a chair like a deflating balloon. The older man lowered his head into his hands. Marella looked at him and then at Michael helplessly. He shook his head. What could they say? Marella walked over. She laid a hand on Michael's shoulder as his head bowed sorrowfully. Footsteps had Marella's head turning towards the door. Zeus and two other Committee members rushed into the room.
Zeus took in the despondent grief and swallowed hard. 'Archangel.'
Michael looked up at him.
Michael lifted a hand weakly from the desk, opened his mouth to speak…Dom's head suddenly lifted. He whirled out of his seat and pointed to the window. Marella and Michael spun round and blanched.
Airwolf looked back at them through the pane of glass
Dom walloped Michael on the back and grinned. 'Didn't I tell you?'
Michael rolled his shoulder and glared at the older man who was signalling out of the window but looking at his wide gap-toothed smile didn't have the heart to yell at him. A similar grin was spreading across his own face.
'She's incredible.' Zeus said coming to stand by the window. She was so close her rotors were missing the building by inches.
'Yes she is.' Michael got to his feet and saluted the equally incredible pilot.
'How did he get past the security defences?' Zeus wondered out loud.
Dom finished his hand-signalling with Hawke. 'Well, I've got to go. It looks like the communication system shook loose. We'll have to repair her.' Airwolf was already backing away from the window, swinging away from the building returning to the open sky where she belonged.
'I'm coming with you.' Michael said. He put a hand on Marella's arm to get her attention as her dark eyes were firmly fixed on Airwolf. 'Marella, get a team over to Santini Air and check out what damage if any Bening caused.'
'Michael, is there anything we can do?' Zeus asked as the two men went to walk out.
'Yes, call the President and tell him that Bening almost destroyed Airwolf today and ask him what happened to the month we were supposed to get.'
Michael nodded and followed after the pilot.
It didn't take long before Dom led a blindfolded Michael into the Lair but he deserted him at the entrance as soon as he laid eyes on Hawke and Caitlin. He hurried over and swept the younger man up in a hug and then pulled a smiling Caitlin into it. He released them with damp eyes.
'I knew you'd make it.'
'Yeah.' Hawke patted him on his shoulder and his blue eyes slid to the white-suited figure standing in the Lair entrance and widened. 'You brought him here?'
'Now, now. It's fine. He's blindfolded and everything.' Dom jogged back to Michael and brought him forward.
Caitlin slid her arm around Hawke's waist and his arm went around her shoulder as they exchanged an amused look at the two bickering men.
'Dominic, remove this blindfold now.'
'Well just hold still, will ya?'
Michael blinked at them. 'Hawke, Cait. It's good to see you.'
'Wish I could say the same.' Hawke said taking Michael's outstretched arm for a manly handshake and glaring at Dom who looked at the ground.
'I insisted on coming.' Michael looked around the Lair with interest. Only Hawke would hide a multi-million dollar aircraft in a cave. His eyes caught secure metal boxes stacked in one corner – spare armament and equipment he guessed. He saw the small generator that powered the security system behind another rock formation but it was Airwolf who caught his attention. Sunlight cascaded down the funnel, bathed her in light. Metal glinted, armour gleamed. 'She really is beautiful.'
'Best admired at a distance, Michael.' Hawke's tone was easy with no edge and Michael figured he wasn't that upset about him being in the Lair, indeed probably understood why they needed to confer immediately.
'Bening surprised us,' Michael began.
'Yes he did.' Hawke agreed.
'Almost had us too.' Caitlin drawled.
Hawke nodded with chagrin. 'He knew I'd race to Santini Air to rescue you and those F4s were close to taking us out.'
'They thought they had taken you out.' Michael said.
'That was the idea Michael.' Hawke waved a hand at Airwolf. 'Saint John used to call it the old crash and burn trick.'
'That won't work twice.' Dom said.
Hawke nodded his agreement. 'They'll check more carefully before confirming the kill next time.'
'So what now?' Dom asked.
'Well, we can't wait for Bening to make another move.' Hawke said, rubbing his chin. 'We need to go after him and fast.'
'What do you suggest, Hawke?' Michael asked.
Hawke's eyes flickered to Dom. 'We need to close Santini Air right now.'
'Close Santini…' Dom gestured at him. 'Kid, I have contracts…'
Hawke's blue eyes shone with regret. 'I know Dom but if any of us are at the airfield we're too much of an open target for him.'
'Dominic, the FIRM will cover any losses and compensate any of your customers.' Michael reassured him.
'You can always tell them a family emergency came up.' Caitlin added. 'Most people can't argue too much with that.'
'That's a good idea.' Hawke said. 'We should spread the word we've all gone to Italy or somewhere to deal with something like that. Puts us underground.'
Dom harrumphed. 'And how long am I supposed to be closed down for?'
'As long as it takes.' Hawke said evenly. The two men looked at each other across the Lair.
Dom sighed. 'So we close down, then what? We hide out here with the Lady?'
'Then we go after Bening.' Hawke gestured at Michael. 'We're going to need FIRM ids.'
'Sure.' Michael said. 'Do I get to know why you need them?'
'We're going to have to find Bening's weakness and the only way to do that is if we have official ids to get people to talk to us.' Hawke said.
'So the plan is…' Michael began.
'The three of us effectively disappear off the scope. We'll go and investigate Bening, see what we can come up with. Try and get him before he can get us.' Hawke pointed at Michael. 'We'll need you at the FIRM providing cover and back-up.'
'Done.' Michael said, tapping his cane on the ground for emphasis. 'Let's hope this works.'
'It'll work.' Caitlin said confidently.
'It has to,' Hawke added, 'because we're damn well not going to lose Airwolf to Bening.'
Morning sunlight filtered through the trees in the clearing. Something clattered by the campfire and Hawke came awake quickly. He frowned and turned his head to see Dom preparing coffee. He eased away from Caitlin and got up. Five minutes later he was sat next to Dom by the fire.
'It's not like you to be up first.' Hawke said keeping his voice low; he didn't want to disturb Caitlin. He took the cup Dom handed to him with a nod of thanks.
'Yesterday's been kind of preying on my mind. Thought I'd lost you, kid.' Dom admitted huskily.
'Nah.' Hawke teased him. 'If I hadn't showed up you'd have come after me.'
Dom snorted but the deep lines in his craggy face eased. 'How did you get right up to the building like that without the FIRM's defences triggering?'
'All the codes and frequencies were included in the computer.' Hawke gestured with the mug. 'I figure Michael included them during the upgrade.'
'I wonder why.' Dom thought out loud. Michael rarely did anything without a reason.
Hawke shrugged. 'Beats me. I don't think it was for us to wave at him through his window though.'
'You should have seen the look on his face.' Dom chuckled. 'It was like he and Marella had seen a ghost.'
'Probably brought back bad memories for Marella and him.' Hawke said with some regret.
'What do you mean?'
'By all accounts, when Moffett stole Airwolf, he positioned her right in front of the control tower window before he blew it up.' Hawke said.
'Hell.' Dom shook his head. 'No wonder he went as white as his suit.'
Hawke threw a branch onto the fire and his gaze drifted to the woman sleeping bundled up nearby.
'How's she doing?' Dom asked.
'I had to practically force painkillers down her last night.' Hawke growled. 'Physically,' he gestured at the camp, 'she hasn't recovered enough to handle this and she can't do it for long.' He sighed and massaged the back of his neck which was aching. 'None of us can.'
Dom heard the worry and patted Hawke's arm. 'She'll be OK. We all will be.'
'Yeah.' Hawke got to his feet. 'We just need to take Bening out.'
'Easier said than done, kid.' Dom said draining his mug.
Hawke got to his feet. 'I'll wake Cait. We need to get started.'
Michael answered the intercom on his office desk in an absent-minded way. He was in the midst of reading the latest tactical reports on a dozen situations that were ongoing, a large cup of coffee sat half-drunk and going cold on his desk. He'd discarded the jacket to his suit and had rolled up his sleeves, loosened his tie. It had been a long day and a longer night getting everything done to ensure the Airwolf team had all they needed to disappear and proceed with their mission. He didn't mind the tiredness; it felt good, reminding him that they were on the offensive now. His eyebrows rose as Laura told him who was waiting to see him.
'Send him in.' Michael got to his feet and rolled his sleeves down. He was fastening his last cuff-link when the door opened and Laura showed in his visitor, a dark haired man nearing sixty with a face hardened and lined by a life in the business.
'Robert!' Michael stretched his hand out and welcomed the other man inside, indicating the small seating area in front of his desk.
Special Agent Delaney shook Archangel's hand and smiled. 'It's good to see you again Michael.'
'How long has it been?' Michael sat down in an easy chair opposite Delaney. 'Laura, can you organise some tea please, and that will be all.'
'Yes sir.' Laura discreetly disappeared.
Delaney watched her go and brought his attention back to the white-suited spy in front of him. 'It must be ten years ago. The China incident.'
'Ah yes.' Both men stopped as the door opened and Laura returned with a tray filled with china cups and silver tea-set. She set it down and left again.
Delaney shook his head. 'Where do you get them Michael?'
Michael ignored the question and poured the other man a cup of tea remembering he took lemon and not milk. He handed the cup and saucer to Delaney and then did the same for himself. 'Not that it's not good to see you Robert, but why are you here?'
'I recently got assigned to a new task force.' Delaney said.
'Oh?' Michael showed no other reaction than mild curiosity. 'You're the NSA lead?'
Delaney nodded. 'Which goes to show you how seriously the NSA is taking this.' He took a sip of his tea.
'It does. You're one of their best operatives, Robert.'
Delaney took a sip of his tea. 'Good enough to know that you arranged Hawke's disappearance yesterday. Something Bening seems determined to overlook.'
Michael's good eye twinkled at him. 'The FIRM is simply looking after its investment, Robert.' His gaze cooled. 'Something we would not have needed to do if Bening hadn't decided to blow Airwolf out of the sky.'
Delaney spread his hands. 'A totally military operation. You know how these guys are; shoot first, ask questions…'
'Never.' Michael supplied the finishing word.
'You and I, however…' Delaney smiled and his tanned face creased with well worn laughter lines. 'We've been in the business a long time. We know the value of questions and answers.'
Michael smiled back. 'Is there a particular question I can help you with?'
'More like an answer you may need.' Delaney returned and stroked his tie. 'Did you know I'm retiring at the end of the year?'
'I'm sorry to hear that.' Michael said with sincerity. Delaney was one of the best in the business.
Delaney put his cup down and clasped his hands over a flat stomach he worked damned hard to maintain. 'It's time. You know, one of the reasons why Bening asked for me was my history with Stringfellow Hawke when he was an operative and flying normal helicopters.'
'You worked together,' Michael remembered, 'on the Honduras thing.' Both the FIRM and the NSA had been after the same target and had not been inclined to cooperate. The record credited the NSA and Delaney. Hawke had been typically close-mouthed on what had gone on but on paper it would seem Delaney had bested him. Michael shrugged easily. 'That was a long time ago.'
'I remember it like yesterday.' Delaney smiled and picked up his tea again. 'Did Hawke tell you he saved my life?' He asked conversationally. He could have been asking Michael about the weather.
'No.' Michael said. 'He didn't mention it.'
'Just as I know he didn't mention that it was his plan that helped resolve the situation.'
Michael frowned. 'You took the credit for his plan?'
Delaney spread his hands wide. 'Let's just say I didn't correct the assumption that was made and Hawke never challenged it.' He sighed. 'You know what the political game is like Michael. Once the NSA had the credit it would have been bad form to have admitted it wasn't the truth.'
Michael took a breath; it wasn't the time to get upset about machinations that had happened years before.
'I remember Hawke never had time for the politics.' There was a question in Delaney's eyes.
Michael nodded in agreement. 'Still doesn't.'
'He had an unswerving sense of right and wrong.' Delaney mused. 'I don't know a better man to have Airwolf.'
'I agree with you.' Michael said.
'Of course I don't choose who gets her,' Delaney pointed out, 'despite my own feelings about Bening and the NSA's misgivings about the General.'
Michael smiled in understanding. So, Delaney wanted Hawke to keep Airwolf, maybe even felt he owed the pilot, and the NSA agent had little to lose in getting involved; he was retiring and the NSA in any case considered Bening a security risk; this was getting interesting.
Delaney sighed and looked at his watch. 'I should be going.'
'It's been good to see you again, Robert.'
Delaney nodded and got to his feet. 'I'm sorry, I hardly touched my tea but it's been a pleasure, Michael.'
'As always, Robert.' Michael got to his feet and walked the other man to the door where they shook hands with a quiet solemnity. He watched Delaney leave and went back into the room where he carefully examined the cup Delaney had used. He found what he was looking for on the bottom; a tiny microdot. He called for Laura.
'Bob Delaney?' Hawke looked at Michael on the video link and frowned. They were all crowded into the front of the Airwolf cockpit for the communication. 'He's good.'
'Very good.' Michael said. 'He provided me with everything the NSA has on Bening.'
'Why?' Dom asked mistrustfully.
'Seems someone called Hawke saved his life once.'
Dom and Caitlin looked at Hawke.
He shrugged. 'That was a long time ago, Michael. Are you sure the information is solid?'
'Solid as a rock.' Michael gestured at them through the lens. 'I checked it myself. I don't think Delaney likes Bening.'
'Like I said, he's good.' Hawke said.
'So what exactly did he give us, Michael?' Caitlin asked.
'The NSA has had Bening under surveillance for some time. They believe a lot of the money he's collecting to fund his political ambitions is coming from unfriendly quarters.'
'Terrorists?' Dom asked horrified.
'At least three known foreign groups,' Michael confirmed, 'and a white supremacy organisation here in the US. It's all carefully hidden behind dummy organisations but you follow the money and the signs are all there.'
'Unfortunately,' Marella said moving into view, 'Bening could claim he had no idea about the true nature of the companies he received donations from.'
'But it could still give us leverage with the President. If we can show him Bening isn't someone he should be trusting, it may lead him to rethink his strategy regarding Airwolf.' Michael concluded.
'Anything else?' Hawke said impatiently.
'The NSA dossier also gives us a possible avenue we can use to go after Bening.' Michael said. 'Once they suspected Bening, they did a deep background check on him. It's more detailed than the one currently held by the FIRM.' He nodded at Marella sitting by his side.
'Professionally it substantiates the FIRM's findings. Ruthless but nothing we could get him on.' Marella tapped the folder in front of her. 'There is however one very suspect incident in his personal life.'
'Well don't keep us in suspense,' Dom gestured at the screen, 'what is it?'
'Bening was a suspect in the murder of his wife, Katherine, in sixty-one.' Michael said.
'Katherine was murdered in the garden of the family home, shot to death with one bullet between the eyes. Clear military kill shot.' Marella expanded. 'But there was no evidence linking Bening to the murder and he had a cast iron alibi.'
'Got one of his boys to do it.' Caitlin concluded.
'That would be my guess.' Marella sighed.
'But,' said Caitlin leaning forward excitedly, 'it still gives us a possible line of attack on Bening. If we can prove he ordered the murder of his wife…'
'We can discredit him.' Marella concluded.
'Better than that we can jail him.' Caitlin returned. 'But it's a very cold case. It'll take a lot of digging to get to the truth.'
'But you could do it?' Marella asked.
'Maybe we should just leave you two to it.' Michael said interrupting.
'Y'all feel free to jump in any time.' Caitlin said her cheeks heating at the indulgent amusement in Hawke's and Dom's eyes.
'The murder thing…it's a long shot.' Michael warned them.
Hawke glanced back at the screen. 'It's the only one we have unless you can make the money trail stick; get Bening to admit he knows the true identity behind the contributors.'
'I agree.' Michael said. 'I'm sending you all the information we have. In the meantime, you guys need to keep a low profile.'
'Don't worry, Michael.' Hawke said. 'We got the message yesterday.' He shifted abruptly. 'Send us that info on Bening's wife. We'll take that angle, see what we can dig up.'
'Right.' Michael stroked his moustache. 'Marella and I will work the dirty campaign money.'
'Sounds like a plan.' Dom commented.
Michael leaned back in the white leather chair. 'Good luck.' The video image winked out.
Detective Leo Ballard watched the pretty redhead walk into the large room that held the Campton homicide division and start to make her way through the maze of desks. She kept an easy pace, slapping what looked like an archived file against a shapely denim covered leg. She had the gait of an experienced cop. She was headed for the captain's office, Ballard deduced and gave himself a mental pat on the back when she knocked on the captain's door and entered at his audible yell.
'You're dribbling.' His partner threw a paper ball at him, his brown eyes laughing at the younger man across the desk.
'I am not.' Ballard denied heatedly and pushed a pencil into his blond curly hair.
'Yes you are.'
'You have to admit, Ben, those legs…'
'I don't have to admit anything. I'm old and Ruth would have my hide.' Ben Thorn finished updating the latest arrest record and neatly filed it in his outgoing stack. He glanced across the desk and sighed. His partner's desk was the antithesis of his own; cluttered, with files stacked high and scribbled pieces of paper covering the wood. There were empty mugs of coffee that had been standing on the desk God only knew how long. 'You're a sloth, Ballard.'
'Yeah. Tell it to my ex-wife.'
A movement caught Thorn's eye. 'Don't look now but she's coming out of the captain's office.' He hissed and then his eyes widened. 'With the captain.'
Both men stood as the pair got closer to their desk.
Captain Henderson resolutely ignored the mess on Ballard's desk. 'Thorn, you worked the Bening case back in sixty-one?'
'I was rookie in uniform, Captain. I worked a lot of cases.'
'Maybe this will prompt your memory.' The redhead opened the file and brought out the photo of the murder victim. 'Katherine Bening. Your unit responded to a neighbour's call that she'd heard gun-fire? You found the body.'
Thorn fingered the photo. 'Yeah. I remember now. Nasty business.'
The Captain cleared his throat. 'I'd appreciate it if you could spend some time with the agent here, taking her through what you know.'
Thorn's brown eyes narrowed. Agent. This young thing was a fed? He was getting too old. Whilst he was contemplating his mortality, his young partner was agreeing to the interview with a charming smile.
'We'd love to help in any way we can,' concluded Ballard, his green eyes smiling at the redhead.
Thorn threw him a dirty look and was surprised to see the amusement in the fed's eyes when he turned back to her. The feds he knew had no sense of humour.
'I'd sure appreciate your help.' She said in that Texan tinged voice.
He shrugged. 'It's fine with me. You want to use one of the interview rooms?'
'How about the diner down the street?' She suggested. 'I'll spring for coffee and pie.'
Thorn checked with his captain who nodded his agreement.
She turned and shook the captain's hand. 'Thank you for all your help.'
'My pleasure.' He left her with the two detectives and the door to his office closed.
'I'm Leo and this grump is Ben.' Ballard introduced them and held out his own hand.
She took it and shook it firmly. 'Caitlin. Shall we?' She gestured at the door.
'Lead on.' Thorn said.
Two minutes later they were installed in the old diner ordering pie and coffee. The booths were well worn red leather, the table tops Formica.
'They don't make places like this anymore.' Caitlin noted as the detectives settled across from her. They were a study in contrasts, she thought. Ballard was the epitome of the young all-American male; blond-haired, green eyes, with a natural tan and a body that indicated he worked out. Thorn on the other hand was a Sidney Poitier look-alike. Brown eyes so dark they could be taken for black and his afro cut short and close to his head. He'd aged well but the lines on his face hinted that he was nearing retirement.
'No they don't.' Thorn agreed. 'Can I ask why you're so interested in the Bening case?'
'Routine security check.' Caitlin murmured taking a sip of her coffee. 'What can you tell me?'
'I'm not sure I'm going to be much use to you.'
'Let me decide that.' Caitlin smiled encouragingly. 'Your report indicated you responded to a radio call for available units?'
'Yeah.' Thorn sent his mind back. 'It was a wet night. Rain was pouring down. I was grateful to be riding shot-gun with the sergeant. It wasn't a night to be walking a beat. Call came in. We responded.' He sighed. 'We stopped in at the neighbour who'd placed the call. She was a young, dizzy thing. We were pretty sure she was stoned on something but she was insistent that she'd heard gunfire.'
'So you checked it out.'
'So we checked it out. The place was locked up at the front. We went round the back. Lady was down in the back garden. Single gun-shot wound to the head. Back door of the house was open. We searched the house; it was clear. We secured the perimeter. Waited for homicide.'
'A Detective Mason?' Caitlin checked.
'The husband came under suspicion I believe?' Caitlin smiled her thanks at the waitress as the pie arrived.
'I guess the security check is about him?' Thorn asked. She didn't respond just forked some pie into her mouth. He sighed. 'Yeah, the husband came under suspicion. He'd been an infantry man in the army, had the background to make that shot. Plus I seem to remember Mason uncovered evidence the wife was having an affair. I've seen people killed for less.'
'But the husband had an alibi?' Caitlin asked.
'Yeah. Talking to a bunch of Washington diplomats at a big posh event in the middle of town.' Thorn shook his head. 'Old Mason never stopped believing that he was involved in some way.'
'Why was that?'
'Mason was a good detective. He had good instincts.' Thorn said digging into his own pie. 'I saw Bening when he came in for questioning. He was cold. Sent shivers down my spine but there was just no evidence.'
'There was a daughter?' Caitlin prompted.
'Not in the house at the time. I believe they located her staying with friends for a sleepover or something.'
'Any forensics?' Caitlin asked.
'Hell, not much back in those days and the rain washed away most of the evidence.' He nodded at the folder. 'You have everything we had right there.'
Caitlin nodded and pushed the remainder of her pie away. 'What was your take on what went down?'
'I was a rookie.'
'You're not anymore.'
'She's got you there, partner.' Ballard spoke up for the first time, happy to watch her smile flit across her face in response although her eyes stayed determinedly attached to his partner.
Thorn sighed. 'If I had to go back over it, it was definitely a hit. Vic was lured out into the garden and shot. Husband had cast iron alibi. I would be looking for a paid assassin, a friend or known associate of Bening, same as Mason did.'
'Mason had two suspects but neither was charged.'
'Vaguely remember that.' He shrugged. 'I don't think it came to anything because like I said, we had nothing in the way of evidence.'
'Was there anything that seemed strange to you?'
'Nothing although…' Thorn frowned, trying to pinpoint something fluttering at the corner of his mind. 'There was one thing. She was dressed as if to go out to the party. Nice dress, stockings, good shoes, make up had been done. It seemed strange to me.'
'Well, it looked to me like she'd just finished dressing to go out, heard something in the garden and then bang. Dead.'
'But the gunshot was heard at just before ten right?'
'Right.' Thorn put his fork down. 'It just doesn't add up.'
'I don't see why not.' Ballard picked up his coffee. 'Maybe she was due to attend the posh thing with her hubby. They argued. She stayed at home.'
'You ever live with that ex-wife of yours?' Thorn asked exasperatedly.
'What? What did I say?'
Caitlin took pity on him. 'If that's the way it played out, most women would have changed their clothes.'
'But not all?' Ballard said smiling at her charmingly. 'What about you? Would you change?'
Thorn rolled his eyes and set his cup down. 'We'd better get back.'
'There's no rush.' Ballard said.
'Say goodbye to the nice lady, Ballard.' Thorn muttered.
Caitlin got to her feet as the detectives slid out of the booth. 'Thanks for all your help. If you think of anything else, you can contact me on this number.' She scribbled on a napkin.
'I'm not sure how much help I was.' Thorn said taking it and shaking her hand.
'I think you were more help than you realised.' Caitlin held out her hand to Ballard who took it and kissed her knuckles.
'It was our pleasure.'
Caitlin smiled and tugged her hand free. 'It was nice meeting you.'
Thorn slapped Ballard on the back and they walked out of the diner. Outside, Thorn pulled his coat tighter against the chill wind.
'What do you think all that was about?' Ballard asked.
'I don't know but one thing I'm certain about.'
'It has nothing to do with a routine security check.'
Inside the diner, Caitlin slipped into the booth next to the one she had just occupied. Hawke sat opposite; he had listened to the whole exchange. She wondered at the scowl on his face.
'I thought that went well.' She said suddenly uncertain.
'Yeah.' Hawke tapped the side of his mug and leaned forward suddenly. 'Cait, you know if you want to be a cop, I'm OK with that.'
She stared at him. 'What makes you think I want to be a cop?'
He shrugged. 'You're a natural.'
'Sure, I used to be a cop.'
'You could still be a cop.' Hawke insisted.
'I don't want to be a cop.' Caitlin replied.
Hawke was beginning to feel like an idiot.
'What's this about really?' Caitlin asked.
'I told you…'
'Do you…' she steadied her voice, 'do you think this…us isn't working?'
'No. No.' The denial was quick and sincere. 'I just want you to be happy.'
'Have I seemed unhappy?'
'Before you got shot you were thinking of leaving.' He pointed out.
She smiled. 'The only reason I was thinking of leaving before I got shot was because I figured you didn't see me as anything more than a friend.'
'So you're happy?' Hawke felt the tightness in his chest easing. 'Being here?'
Caitlin bit her lip as she realised he wasn't asking the question he wanted to; whether she was happy being with him. It had never occurred to her that he might not be sure of her. She leaned across the table and kissed him. 'I'm happy. At least,' her lips twitched, 'I am when you're not brooding about whether I might be happy or not.'
Caitlin leaned back and gestured at the door. 'Come on. We should head back and get Michael tracking down some of the names in the file. I'd like to see if we can arrange to see Detective Mason.'
He nodded and they walked out of the diner together to make their way back to their campsite outside the town. When they contacted Michael, much to Caitlin's disappointment they quickly learned that Detective Mason had died in a car accident but his widow was still living and they arranged to visit her the next day.
The journey took Hawke and Caitlin out into the suburbs of the town. It was a long shot that she would have any information but there was so little to go on they had to try. Hawke pulled up in front of the white picket fence and looked at the house they'd been directed to. It was painted a pretty green colour with the trim in white. Roses climbed around the porch where a swing stood ready. The front garden was trimmed and teeming with a riot of flowers. It looked like a picture postcard for suburban America.
'Pretty.' Caitlin said.
Hawke nodded. It reminded him of the home he'd had with his parents growing up.
The softly asked question brought him back to the present. He glanced over at Caitlin and saw her looking back at him concerned.
He sighed and gestured at the house. 'My folks had a similar place.'
'I can go in on my own.' Caitlin suggested.
Hawke shook his head. 'I'm OK and besides Mrs Mason's expecting us both.'
Caitlin nodded and he shoved his memories aside as they got out the car. They headed up the neat path and rang the doorbell.
Mason's widow was an eighty year old lady who told them to call her Amelia. Small and spry with wispy white hair cut short and rheumy blue eyes that were as sharp as a tack. She welcomed them like old friends, warmed under Caitlin's sweetness and melted as Hawke dropped his impassivity to turn on the boyish charm that he usually kept well-hidden. They sat together on the sofa stroking a Labrador called Rusty who had adopted them as soon as they had walked through the door.
'You make a very sweet couple.' Amelia said passing them a plate of cookies.
Caitlin shot Hawke a darting look but he simply smiled at Amelia and took another cookie; he's already had several. He didn't see the point of denying their relationship.
'And you work together?' The old lady continued.
'That's right.' Caitlin confirmed.
'But not as federal agents.' Amelia concluded. She smiled at their sudden withdrawal before they caught the amusement in her eyes. 'My husband worked with plenty of federal agents during his time on the force. You two don't fit the usual mould.'
Hawke rubbed his chin. 'We kinda subcontract to a federal agency.'
Caitlin smiled. 'Pilots.'
'Pilots.' Amelia's face was alive with curiosity. 'So how did you get involved with one of my husband's old cases?'
'General Bening was a suspect in the death of his wife. We need to find out if he did it so we can stop him gaining control of an important piece of military hardware.' Hawke said simply.
'Bening.' Amelia pursed her lips. 'The Katherine Bening case.'
'That's right.' Hawke patted the dog. 'You remember it?'
'Bill used to discuss most of his cases with me.' Amelia's eyes fogged with memories. 'He used to say that he solved the majority of them just by talking them through with me.' She sighed. 'Besides, there were maybe twelve cases Bill brought home with him when he retired. The Bening murder was one of them.'
'What did he think about it?' Caitlin asked gently.
'He thought the husband did it, but he couldn't prove it.' Amelia nestled into the cushions of her armchair. 'The day he interviewed Bening he told me he'd looked the devil in the eye.'
'Sounds like Bening.' Hawke muttered. 'Do you remember anything else?'
'Well, now let me see.' Amelia frowned. 'Well, there are a couple of things. Bill could never understand how the neighbour had heard the gunshot. It was as he put it highly improbable. I forget now why.'
'And the other thing?' Caitlin prompted.
'Timing. Bill used to say the whole problem with the case was the timing.' Amelia shook her head. 'Can't remember why he thought that either. It's probably in his notes.'
'You wouldn't still have your husband's notes?' Caitlin asked.
'Of course.' Amelia said getting to her feet. 'Come with me.'
She led them to an attic at the top of a third flight of narrow stairs. The whole room had obviously served as Bill Mason's home office. Pictures of Bill in uniform cluttered the walls along with certificates and police memorabilia. The rest of the wall space was taken with bookshelves on one side, filing cabinets the other; a desk took up the wall at the far side.
'I suspect you might find what you're looking for in here.' Amelia said gesturing. 'Bill was an organised man.'
The old lady nodded. 'I'll leave you to it and make us some lunch.'
Amelia waved the embryonic protest away. 'Please. It's no trouble and besides then I get to find out if you discover anything. OK?'
'OK.' Caitlin agreed.
Amelia disappeared down the stairs.
Caitlin looked at Hawke and then at the room. 'Where do we start?'
Hawke shrugged and gestured at the filing cabinets. 'You take them; I'll take the desk.'
She made a face at him but headed over.
A couple of hours later, Hawke replaced the folder he'd been flipping through and went to sit next to Caitlin who was sat cross-legged on the floor, papers strewn around her reading a journal.
'What have we got?' He picked up one of the pieces of paper and looked in bemusement at the close cribbed handwriting. It was part of the autopsy report.
Caitlin sighed and rubbed her forehead. She held up the journal. 'Bill Mason's personal journal on the Bening case. It's fascinating. He was reinvestigating the murder when he retired.'
'Amelia said as much.' Hawke noted.
Caitlin nodded and put the journal down and searched the floor, her fingers nimbly picking out one sheet from what seemed to Hawke to be a mess. 'You remember what she said about the neighbour hearing the gunshot? Well, take a look at this. It's Mason's sketch of the ground plan of the two houses. This,' she pointed at a stick figure on the left side, 'is Katherine Bening's body. This,' she pointed at the front room of the neighbouring house, 'is where Veronica Hilly claimed she heard the gunshot.'
'She was at the front of the house, Katherine was shot out the back and she heard it.' Hawke remembered the word Amelia had used. 'Improbable.'
'Highly unless she had hearing like yours.' Caitlin briefly smiled at him before stabbing the sketch with her finger again. 'But factor in that she told Mason she was watching the television, the weather with its heavy rain falling on the shingles and…'
'And she couldn't have heard the gunshot at all.'
'Right.' Caitlin sighed. 'Mason came to the same conclusion just before he died.'
'The neighbour lied.' Hawke concluded. 'But did she do it intentionally or did she really think she'd heard a gunshot? Maybe she heard a car backfiring in the street and overreacted.'
'Good questions. Mason had the same ones and guess who Mason had arranged to visit with to get the answers?'
'Only before he could see her, he was killed in a car accident.' Caitlin took a shaky breath. 'I think Veronica helped Bening establish his alibi. Maybe they were having an affair, maybe she did it for money, who knows? When Mason set up the interview with her…'
'He signed his own death warrant.' Hawke said, the fury building in his eyes.
'Veronica must have tipped Bening. He has the ability and the power to pull something like that off.'
'I think we should make sure Amelia isn't aware of this.' Hawke said taking a deep breath of his own. 'It is only a theory.' She nodded and he tapped the sketch. 'If the neighbour's evidence is thrown out…'
'Then the time of death is up for grabs.' Caitlin said reaching for the autopsy report Hawke had picked up. 'Now I know why this,' she held up the report, 'wasn't in the original police record. Listen to this; last meal was eaten approximately eight to ten hours before death and appears to be a citrus fruit possibly grapefruit. Time of death is listed between six pm and ten pm due to anomalous body temperature readings possibly caused by cool weather conditions and rain.' She put the report down. 'Bening's statement says that he left the house at six pm.'
'You think he murdered her before he left.' Hawke deduced.
Caitlin nodded. 'I think so.' She sighed. 'Ben Thorn pointed out yesterday the inconsistency in her dress, and a woman not eating all day to fit into a special outfit for a party kinda makes sense. I think they were supposed to go together to the event in town that he ended up using as his alibi. Only something happened. They argued…'
'And he kills her.' Hawke frowned.
'I think he didn't kill her in the garden either. I think he killed her in the house and organised some of his buddies, maybe the two suspects Mason had identified, to help set the stage for the murder to be found. He had them clean the house, put the body in the garden and tell Veronica when to call the police all whilst he was out eating rubber chicken.'
Hawke shook his head. 'This is all supposition.'
'Right.' Caitlin sighed and met his eyes. 'There is one person who can tell us the truth…'
Hawke nodded in agreement. 'Yeah, looks like we shouldn't call before visiting.'
'Lunch is ready!' Amelia's voice drifted up the stairs.
Hawke helped Caitlin gather the papers back into a battered folder before they trooped downstairs and washed up for the simple lunch of chicken salad and crusty homemade bread rolls.
Hawke surreptitiously fed the Labrador, raised his head and found himself looking straight into Amelia's knowing eyes. He cleared his throat. 'Amelia, would it be OK if we took Bill's notes on the Bening case? I think we may need them.'
'Of course.' Amelia said, patting his hand. 'You take anything you need.'
'Thank you.' Hawke smiled at her. His gaze slid to Caitlin who was finishing loading the dishwasher and she nodded before heading back up the stairs to retrieve the notes.
Amelia gave a chuckle. Hawke glanced at her.
'Bill used to say that a couple who could communicate without words were like swans.'
'You and Bill communicated without words?' Hawke asked, ruffling Rusty's head and missing Tet.
'All the time.' Her eyes met his sadly. 'Still do.'
Hawke reached over and took her hand, holding it gently. Her arthritic fingers closed around his.
Caitlin came back into the kitchen and her eyes softened at the picture they made. She cleared her throat. 'We should be going. Amelia, thank you for all your help.'
Amelia hugged Hawke at the door. 'You're always welcome here.'
'We'll come back and visit.' Hawke promised. He stepped out of the way to allow Caitlin to say goodbye.
'Bye Amelia.' Caitlin started to pull away and stopped as the elderly lady whispered something in her ear. She smiled and nodded in response before joining Hawke. They walked down the path and back to the jeep, glancing back to see the front door closing.
Caitlin and Hawke got into the jeep and pulled away.
'What did Amelia say to you?' Hawke asked.
Caitlin smiled and indicated left. 'Girl talk.'
'Girl talk?' Hawke questioned.
She laughed but suddenly went rigid as her eyes glanced in the rear view mirror. 'We've got company.'
'Bening?' Hawke asked resisting the urge to turn around and stare.
'I don't think so.' Caitlin murmured. 'I think it's Thorn and Ballard.' She sighed and shifted in her seat. 'I didn't think Thorn quite swallowed the whole routine security check thing.'
'Are you going to lose them?' Hawke asked.
His confidence that she would had her smiling. 'Actually, I was thinking…'
'What?' Hawke asked.
'I'm thinking that if Bening killed Mason to keep this a secret, we could do with a little back up.'
She glanced over when Hawke didn't reply.
'You think we can trust them?' He asked.
'Nothing cops hate more than a cop killer.' Caitlin commented taking another turn.
'I don't like the idea.' He said.
'OK.' Caitlin swallowed her disappointment. 'I'll lose them.'
'No…' Hawke sighed. 'I might not like it but it's a good idea.'
Caitlin looked at him in surprise. 'Should we stop?'
'Are they keeping up with us?' Hawke asked.
'Then let's take them out to the Lady.'
'Why?' She looked over at him, her blue eyes puzzled.
He shrugged. 'Because if we're going to get them involved, they need to know what they're getting into and besides, this way they can't run back to the police station and start a search on us.'
In the car behind, Ballard was frowning. 'I think this is a mistake,' he said.
Thorn sighed. 'That's the fifth time you've said that.'
'Where are they going?' Ballard drummed his fingers against the door handle. 'We're ten miles outside Campton now.'
'Ballard, shut the hell up.'
'We should head back and run a trace on them.'
'With what?' Thorn said. 'Did you catch Caitlin's last name?'
'And that car's a rental, probably gotten with a false id.' Thorn shook his head. 'We have zip to use as a trace. If Amelia hadn't called me, we wouldn't have even been able to pick up their trail. Whoever these guys are they are obviously being careful not to alert Bening to what they're doing.'
'Whoever they are?' Ballard winced. 'You don't think they're feds?'
Thorn shot him a look.
'Well, who do you think they are?' Ballard asked.
'I'd swear she was a cop.' Thorn sounded disappointed.
'Yeah she's got the moves,' Ballard outlined the curvaceous shape of a woman with his hands.
Thorn rolled his eyes. 'They definitely seem to be partners. He was backing her up in the diner yesterday.'
'Are you the most unobservant detective ever?' Thorn waved his hand at the jeep in front. 'He was in the booth next to us.'
Ballard snapped his mouth closed. 'Maybe they're military?'
'I think he could be ex-army. I noticed he was wearing a POW bracelet.' Thorn continued. 'But not both of them. The army tends to frown on fraternisation.'
'Fraternisation? You think they're a couple?'
Thorn gave a long suffering sigh.
'You could be wrong about that.' Ballard muttered.
'Give it up, Ballard.' Thorn said as he followed the jeep off-road and hoped his car's suspension was going to take it. 'The only thing we know for certain is that they're reinvestigating Katherine Bening's murder.'
'You think Mason was right about it being the husband?'
Thorn nodded. 'Bill Mason always believed Bening killed his wife. He just couldn't prove it.'
'Mason was the guy who supported you becoming a detective, right?' Ballard asked.
Thorn nodded. 'He was a good detective and a great man.'
Ballard glanced over at the stern profile and gestured. 'You'd better slow up, they're stopping.'
They waited until the couple had exited the jeep and disappeared down a trail. Thorn brought the car to a halt behind the jeep. They got out cautiously and took out their weapons as they made their way around the jeep. Thorn signalled for Ballard to circle around whilst he took the trail. The pathway was eerily silent and he could the sound of his own breath – fast and harsh. He paused as the pathway opened out to a clearing and waited until he could see Ballard on the other side. They nodded at each other and simultaneously jumped out into the clearing.
There was nobody there.
Thorn spun around. The fire was still going; the campsite set up; there was some kind of strange helicopter under a camouflage net. 'Damn. Where'd they go?'
'You looking for someone?' The Texan drawl had them spinning back to the entrance of the pathway. Caitlin's gun was balanced lightly in her hands but it was steady as a rock. 'Drop the weapons.'
'Easy now.' Thorn said as he gestured at Ballard and both of them slowly placed their guns on the floor.
'Take a step back and turn around.' She instructed.
'Where's your partner?' Thorn asked angrily following her orders.
'You think he means me, Dom?' Hawke asked lazily.
'I don't think he meant me.' Dom replied laughing.
Thorn's head whipped around to see both men leaning against the helicopter, their guns trained on the detectives. They must have hidden under the camouflage net he thought in disgust.
'Detective Thorn, Detective Ballard.' Caitlin said as she picked up their guns. 'What brings you here?'
'Look, this is just a misunderstanding,' Ballard began.
'So you weren't following us from Mrs Mason's house?'
'We were following you.' Thorn admitted. 'I didn't think this was just about a security check.'
'Yeah, Cait didn't think you swallowed that. She said you were a good detective.' Hawke said. He nodded at Caitlin and she handed the detectives their weapons back; the Airwolf crew put theirs away.
'And you are?' Thorn asked putting his gun away slowly. This guy was obviously in charge. He was used to being in dangerous situations from the way he carried himself and the impassive expression.
'Hawke.' Hawke waved at Dom. 'This is Dom. You know Caitlin.'
'It's good to see you again,' said Ballard winking at the female pilot.
'And exactly what are you?' Thorn asked.
Hawke shrugged and showed him one of the FIRM ids Michael had given them.
'The Federal Independent Reconnaissance Multi-agency,' read Thorn. 'I've never heard of it.'
'You see, String' Dom said gesturing at Thorn, 'I told you these ids would be useless.'
Caitlin bit back a smile. 'The FIRM was established around the same time as the Constitution. It was a combination of a number of groups who together had the responsibility for ensuring the success of Federal US interests abroad and at home by any means necessary. With the establishment of the CIA, the FIRM was effectively moved under its auspice but in reality it's retained complete independence along with a number of other intelligence agencies the US government prefer not to advertise.'
'So you're spies? Like James Bond?' Ballard asked and was mildly alarmed at Dom's snort of laughter.
Caitlin smiled. 'Kinda. Let's just say we're working with the FIRM on this.'
'This being?' Thorn asked.
'Why don't you take a seat and we'll fill you in?' Caitlin suggested.
Thorn looked at her. 'Why?'
'Because she thinks you can help us get Bening.' Hawke said.
'And I would do that because…?'
'Because Bening killed his wife,' Caitlin said, 'and because we have reason to believe Bening killed Bill Mason.'
Thorn stilled. 'I'm listening.'
'So take a seat.' Hawke ordered.
Thorn held off until they were all sat round the fire with camping mugs filled with coffee. 'OK. I want to know everything.'
Hawke gestured at Airwolf. 'Bening wants the helicopter.' He said simply. 'We're going to make sure he doesn't get his hands on it.'
'Why not?' asked Thorn.
'Because you don't hand the devil a weapon he could use to start Armageddon.' Hawke replied.
Thorn's eyes slid back to the shape under the net. 'Not just a helicopter.'
Hawke tilted his head in acknowledgement.
'Look, Detective.' Caitlin got his attention. 'All we want is to make sure Bening is put away for a very long time.' She filled him in on what they had discovered in Bill Mason's notes and showed him the file Amelia had allowed them to take. Hawke and Dom remained silent; neither man had the patience for detailing the evidence and it was clear Caitlin's cop-like approach had more of a chance of convincing Thorn and Ballard.
Thorn frowned at the sketch of the houses. 'Bill did it, didn't he? He found the flaw in the murder.'
'We think so.' Caitlin said softly. It looked like Mason had meant more to Thorn than just a fellow cop; his dark eyes were shattered and filling with a righteous fury.
'But there's still no hard evidence.' Thorn asserted. 'Either to get Bening for his wife's murder or to connect him to Bill Mason's death. It's possible that you're wrong about that.'
'I don't think so.' Caitlin insisted. 'I don't believe in coincidence. I think Mason incorrectly assumed that Bening and Veronica Hilly would no longer have a connection to each other to reinforce their lack of association which was needed for her to be a credible witness. Only Bening is a long term strategist. He would have planned for this and made sure Hilly would contact him if there was any danger.'
'That's Bening.' Caitlin shot back. 'We have someone running down background checks and I'll bet you fifty bucks that there's some tie between Bening and Hilly.'
'I don't think I'd take that bet, Ben.' Ballard said looking at Caitlin admiringly. 'I think the lady's called this one right.'
'So do I.' Thorn sighed putting down the autopsy report. 'You did a good job at sifting through a cold case. Are you sure you're not a cop?'
'Ex-cop,' Caitlin admitted colour staining both her cheeks, 'and I had help.'
Hawke shrugged and winked at her. 'You did all the leg work.'
'So you said you wanted our help?' Ballard prompted.
'We need hard evidence to connect Bening to his wife's murder.' Caitlin stated.
'And Bill Mason's.' Thorn reminded her.
Hawke sighed. 'If we can get him for that too, we will.'
'How do we get him?' Ballard asked.
'Good question.' Dom stated.
'Veronica Hilly is the key.' Thorn said.
'If we could get her to confess that she helped him establish a false time of death then we would have leverage to bring him in for questioning again.' Ballard murmured. 'Maybe we could get a confession from him.'
'Bening would never confess.' Caitlin said. 'He's protected this too long. So has Veronica Hilly. She'd be looking at accessory charges, obstructing justice. That's jail time.'
'We need to find another way.' Hawke agreed.
The incoming communication alarm sounded from the Airwolf cockpit. The Airwolf team moved straight away; the detectives following them curious. Dom climbed in to the engineer's console and answered the summons whilst Hawke took the pilot's seat, Caitlin stood in the open doorway, Thorn and Ballard just behind her.
'Hawke.' Michael's face filled the video screen.
'Michael.' Hawke acknowledged. 'What do you have for us?'
'The three names you gave me turned up some interesting material.' Michael moved and Marella came into view.
'Hawke, the suspects in the case, Tim MacIntyre and Roland Higgs, served with Bening. He was their commanding officer. MacIntyre died two years ago from cancer but Higgs is still around and guess who his employer is.' Marella said.
'Bening.' Hawke folded his arms.
Marella nodded. 'Higgs is employed as a security consultant for Bening's homes.'
'There's more.' Michael added. 'Higgs has ties to the white supremacy organisation that contributed to Bening's campaign fund.'
'And,' Marella argued, 'he was Veronica Hilly's brother-in-law.'
'Brother-in-law?' Hawke exchanged a look with Caitlin.
Marella nodded. 'Her half-sister Gillian died the year before Katherine Bening. It's possible a connection wasn't made because Veronica and Gillian didn't share the same surname. Anyway, apparently both Bening and Hilly attended the funeral. Two months after the funeral, Hilly moved into the house next door to Bening.'
'So her evidence, Hawke,' Michael cut in excitedly, 'about hearing the gunshot…'
'Is fake. Yeah we worked it out another way, Michael.' Hawke's lips twitched at their downcast faces and explained shortly how they'd come to the same conclusion and the involvement of Thorn and Ballard.
'Hilly still lives in the Campton area.' Michael noted. 'We're transmitting the address and coordinates to your onboard computer. If you can get her or Higgs to cooperate…'
'That's the rub, Michael.' Hawke commented. 'We don't think they'll give this up easy.'
'And I agree.' Thorn said. 'In my experience, if you've gotten away with murder for a long time and your secret is safe, you have to have a really good reason to jeopardise everything by risking discovery.'
'We need to go a different way with this.' Hawke rubbed his chin.
'What do mean go a different way?' Dom asked.
Hawke met Caitlin's eyes seeing her make the connection.
'We need Bening to go after Hilly and Higgs.' Caitlin said. 'Make him think that they are going to give him up and catch him in the act of trying to eliminate them.'
'That's what I was afraid you were going to say.' Dom muttered. 'How do we even know that it would be Bening that would go after them?'
'I think he might just be crazy enough to risk it.' Hawke said.
'But we need to plan this carefully,' Thorn interjected, 'or his lawyer will claim illegal entrapment.'
Hawke frowned. He wasn't worried about illegal entrapment. It seemed to him that the situation with Bening was likely to end with one of them dead and he knew which outcome he preferred. He kept his thoughts to himself though.
'This is going to take sometime to work out,' he said interrupting a debate on what constituted entrapment.
Michael nodded. 'I agree. We'll talk again later.'
The video link winked out.
'Do you guys need to call in?' Caitlin asked Thorn and Ballard.
'We're off duty today.' Ballard said smiling at her. 'You were just so intriguing we couldn't help follow up.'
Dom's eyebrows rose and he looked over anxiously at Hawke who had tensed imperceptibly.
Hawke cleared his throat. 'I have a plan.' He said getting out of Airwolf and making his way back to the campfire. The others followed and Hawke briefed them. The discussion took time as they tweaked Hawke's initial plan which they all agreed had a good chance of working.
Dom kept a worried eye on Hawke as Ballard continued his blatant admiration of Caitlin despite her lack of response. He breathed a sigh of relief when the discussion concluded and Thorn stood up to leave. Hawke had been his usual brusque self but he hadn't been any worse than normal with the detectives than he was with any outsider. He stood up and shook hands with the detectives.
'You'll contact us when you have the information ready?' Thorn was asking Hawke. The pilot nodded, his eyes narrowing on Ballard who was kissing Caitlin's hand in farewell. Thorn stuck his hand out to Hawke hoping to distract the man from his partner.
Hawke shook it and gestured at the trail. 'I'll walk you both out.' He ignored the worried look Dom and Caitlin exchanged behind him.
It was a short walk. Thorn shook hands with Hawke again and reluctantly moved aside to let his partner do the same.
Ballard smiled charmingly. 'I just wanted to say thanks for bringing us in on this. It means a lot especially to my partner here.'
'No problem,' Hawke took Ballard's outstretched hand.
Ballard winced at the strength of Hawke's grip, tried to let go and found he was held fast. He glanced up and swallowed hard at the ice staring back at him.
'Just so we're clear,' Hawke said easily, 'Caitlin's off limits.'
'Got it.' Ballard said.
Hawke nodded and let go of the other man's hand. 'We'll be in touch.' He watched the car drive away before turning back to the trail. Caitlin was stood at the entrance. Her arms were folded and there was a dangerous light in her eyes.
'Caitlin's off limits?' She repeated.
'Ah…' Hawke sighed. 'You heard, huh?'
Her head cocked to one side. 'You know you're kinda sweet when you're jealous.'
His eyes narrowed on hers abruptly and he caught the mischief she'd been carefully hiding. 'Sweet?' He growled.
Caitlin swallowed her laughter. 'Maybe not sweet. Cute, though, definitely cute…' She shrieked as Hawke reached out to grab her…
Dom's voice had them breaking apart like teenagers. They smiled at each other ruefully and headed back to the camp. Dom was standing by Airwolf, the cockpit door wide open. 'It's Michael.' He said gesturing before shifting to allow Hawke to get to the comms system. He noticed the spy was in his limo.
'The FBI has Higgs under investigation.' Michael said not wasting time on pleasantries.
'His role in the white supremacy organisation. They think it's a paramilitary group that has been responsible for several racially motivated contract killings across the US.'
'Isn't the FBI part of the task force?' Caitlin asked.
'Left hand, right hand.' Michael muttered. 'I've just had a meeting with the special agent in charge, Graham Harris and he's been trying to find a connection between Bening and the group for years. In fact,' he stabbed a finger at the screen, 'he believes Bening is the brains behind the group.'
'Militant right wing,' Caitlin murmured, 'certainly fits with his politics.'
'He's happy to help us get Bening in any way he can.'
'Good because it fits perfectly with the plan…' Hawke broke off abruptly Tet appeared momentarily in the screen. 'Michael, what are you doing with my dog?'
'That was the other thing I had to tell you.' Michael stroked his moustache. 'Your cabin was hit an hour ago.'
'Oh my God.' Caitlin murmured.
'What's the damage?' Hawke asked.
Michael knew the lack of expression was a sign that Hawke was furious. 'Bad,' he answered, 'but it is mainly structural. The upper deck will need rebuilding and a lot of the furniture is trashed. The art, cello and all your personal items are OK. We'd moved those into storage like you asked.'
Hawke gave a brief nod of acknowledgement. 'Tet OK?'
Michael gestured and the dog jumped up to sit next to him.
Caitlin smiled and exchanged an amused look with Dom at the incongruous image of the spy with the mutt, even Hawke's expression softened minutely.
'As you can see,' Michael said, 'he's fine. More so than the agent I left there to watch the place.'
'Bruises mainly.' The spy patted the dog. 'She credits Tet with saving her life. He dragged her from the cabin before the helicopters shot it up.'
'Well how about that?' Dom said with a laugh.
'I thought it best if he remained with me in the circumstances.' Michael concluded.
Hawke nodded and dragged his mind back to their original subject. 'If the FBI are willing to play ball, we've got a plan.'
'Let's hear it.' Michael said. He listened as they filled him in. He pushed his glasses up his nose when they finished. 'It could work. I'll set it up.'
'Good. Call us later to confirm.' Hawke acknowledged Michael's nod of agreement. 'And Michael,' he added as the spy reached forward to disconnect the link.
Michael looked questioningly down the lens.
'Take care of my dog.' Hawke said gruffly and pressed the buttons to severe the connection before Michael could reply.
Bening banged the conference table and the chatter around the room ceased abruptly. He sighed. The morning briefing session for the task force was supposed to start but both the NSA and FBI representatives were still missing. He was about to begin when the door burst open and Robert Delaney rushed in.
'My apologies.' Delaney said inclining his head at General Bening before sitting down at the table and unpacking his briefcase. 'I was delayed.'
Bening's grey flinty eyes shot back to him. 'Delayed?'
'Yes.' Delaney said and blew some dust off his folder which landed on Bening's sleeve. 'Once again I apologise for interrupting, please continue.'
Bening frowned. 'We were just about to start.' He looked around at the assembled team. 'Anybody know where the FBI are?'
Bening swallowed his anger. 'Let's begin.' He turned and nodded at the airforce commander, Martin, sitting to his left.
'I have a shortlist of three pilots for the team. All are naturally talented with combat experience. They possibly stand the best chance against Hawke in the air.'
'I have another three names to add to those,' said Armstrong, an army General and contemporary of Bening's. 'But I still believe that Hawke is unbeatable in the air and in that machine.'
'Luckily, we all don't share such a defeatist view.' Bening began.
'That's because you've never served with Hawke. I'm telling you that boy is to flying what Mozart was to music.'
'General Armstrong if you would like to be excused from the task force, I'll personally make the request for you to the Commander in Chief.' Bening snapped.
Armstrong bristled and went bright red. 'That won't be necessary.'
There might have been an awkward pause but the door was flung open and the FBI agent, Scott Oglivy rushed through.
'Sorry,' he said taking a seat, 'but I thought you'd want to know; we've found them.'
'You have?' Delaney asked.
'Yeah, they're in a town called Campton.' Oglivy said pulling the files and a video from his briefcase. 'It was an amazing stroke of luck.' He pushed the video into the player and pressed the remote to project the images up onto the back wall. 'Apparently, one of our special agents is working with the Campton PD tracking down some members of a white militant group that have been operating here in the US.'
'Really.' Bening said focusing his attention on the video.
The film was shaky and obviously taken from a helicopter. It showed a normal suburban house below it, lit up by spotlights from another couple of choppers that were circling. A number of police and law enforcement agency vehicles were parked in the driveway and road, the blue and red lights strobing across the lawns. There were a number of people on the ground with the neon FBI on some of the windbreakers distinguishing the agents from the Campton PD. In the midst of the chaos of cars and people, the front door of the house opened and a handcuffed man was escorted by officers from the building, swiftly followed by a woman.
Bening shifted in his seat, frowning deeply.
'Here it comes.' Oglivy said.
Suddenly, the camera swung to the neighbouring house and the shouts of surprise on the ground could be heard as a dark shape lifted up from the ground; Airwolf. It moved forward barely clearing the gathered vehicles; the officers and agents could be seen ducking to avoid the white belly. An eerie shriek reverberated through the speakers and the film rocked as the chopper was caught with the backwash as Airwolf went to mach speed. Suddenly, the film went to fuzzy static.
Oglivy switched it off. 'We think they hit us with some kind of jamming device but we got what we needed. We know where they are.'
'No,' Bening corrected him, 'you know where they were.'
'Yes, but it's a great lead. It looks like Hawke was going after the same two people we have in custody.' Oglivy said.
'We can't know that; they were in the neighbouring house,' objected Bening.
'Hawke wasn't likely to warn them by landing in their backyard.' Armstrong retorted. 'The question is why is Hawke in Campton and why is he interested in these two people. Who are they?'
'Roland Higgs and Veronica Hilly. Higgs used to be married to Hilly's sister. I don't have all the details on either of them yet.' Oglivy replied.
Delaney pursed his lips. 'Didn't you used to live in Campton, General Bening?'
'Yes.' Bening admitted. 'In the late sixties.'
'Well,' Delaney spread his hands, 'that's obviously why Hawke headed there.'
'But why these two people?' Armstrong pressed. 'Do you know them?'
'I don't,' Bening said, 'but I intend to. Oglivy, make the arrangements with the special agent in charge. I will head to Campton and interrogate them personally.'
'But sir…' Oglivy's protest died at the stern look the General gave him.
Bening surged to his feet. 'I'll be en route to Campton if anybody gets an update.'
The assembled group were left looking at each other with bemusement. Oglivy and Delaney exchanged a satisfied look and the FBI agent got to his feet.
'I'd better go make those arrangements.' He said leaving the room.
'OK, Delaney.' Armstrong said. 'What's going on?'
'Ah, a military man asking questions.' Delaney said with a smile and began to pack up. 'I'm impressed.'
'What's going to happen in Campton, Delaney?' Armstrong asked his dark eyes gleaming remembering what a brilliant strategist Hawke had been.
'I don't know.' Delaney smiled. 'But I would bet that Bening does.'
Martin and Armstrong looked at each other.
'You want to share what you do know Delaney?' Martin asked.
'Like why you and Oglivy are exchanging pleased smiles?' Armstrong added
Delaney spread his hands. 'Honour among spies, maybe?'
Armstrong gave a long-suffering sigh at the spy double-talk and stood up. 'Tell me one thing Delaney, how close is Hawke to ending this debacle?'
Delaney hesitated and picked up his briefcase before relenting. 'Put it this way, I don't think you'll be needing those pilots.'
In Airwolf, Hawke scowled at the communication system. Dom watched him fidget with a frown. 'Caitlin's right where she supposed to be String. The tracer signal is coming through clear and strong.'
Hawke shifted restlessly and Dom grabbed his seat as the helicopter lurched with him. 'You have to stop fretting String.'
Hawke sighed, automatically righting their position. 'I know. I just don't like that she's going to be without one of us backing her up.'
'We're backing her up and she has Ballard.' Dom argued.
'Yeah that makes me feel better.' Hawke commented.
'She'll be fine.' Dom tried to reassure him.
Hawke resisted the urge to sigh again. He'd accepted that Caitlin was needed outside of Airwolf reluctantly. He wanted her where he could see her but she had pointed out that it would take more time before her shoulder would stand-up to flying Airwolf and besides, Hawke was too recognisable to Bening and Dom just too old to play the part required to complete the mission. He pushed the thought out of his head. He needed to be focused. Bening had just arrived at Campton police station; Airwolf had tracked his progress thanks to the surveillance dust Delaney had managed to plant on him staying out of sight, they knew where he was heading after all.
'Bringing up the audio surveillance now.' Dom murmured.
'…in this matter, Agent Harris but I am taking custody of your prisoners.' Bening's voice came stridently through the speakers.
'You have no jurisdiction.' Harris replied.
'It's a matter of national security.' Bening began.
'So is the reason why I have them locked in a cage.' Harris's voice was a growl.
'You can ask the FBI director, my mission takes priority.'
'Well, unless I get a call from him, these prisoners are mine.' Harris said.
'How about a call from your Commander in Chief?' Bening said threateningly. 'Whether you like it or not Harris, I'm taking these prisoners.'
The discussion continued for some time before Harris caved and arrangements were made to transfer the custody of the two prisoners to Bening with the caveat that the Campton PD and FBI would provide a security escort to the airfield where a plane was waiting to take Bening back to Washington.
Airwolf tracked the cars back to the plane. Hawke and Dom silently monitored the prisoners getting onto the plane accompanied by Bening. The plane took off and all the while Airwolf followed unseen, undetected like the predator she was.
'Bring the audio back.' Hawke instructed.
'…dismissed.' Bening's voice again.
'Yessir.' The sharp acknowledgement of the command jarred with the knowledge that it was Ballard who made it.
'Arthur, what the hell is going on?' Veronica's breathless feminine voice drifted through the cockpit.
'What did you tell them?' Bening's voice was harsh and low.
It was Higgs who answered. 'Nothing. We told them nothing.'
'Honestly, Arthur, do you really think we would say something?' There was more confidence in Veronica's voice.
'You were arrested because they linked you to the Free America movement.'
'Well we didn't tell them nothing, I s., boss.' Higgs stuttered.
'Higgs when you stutter I know you told them something. What is it?' Bening's voice was low, dangerous.
There was a smacking sound, a grunt and a faint cry.
'Keep your mouth shut, Ronnie. You understand me? If you bring that guard back in here, I'll do more to you than bloody your lip like I've just done to Higgs here.' Bening threatened. 'Now, Higgs, you'd better start talking or I'm going to leave you with one tooth and if you think the army are going to be worried about two prisoners turning up a little beaten, think again.'
'They were asking about the money.' Higgs sounded sulky.
'The money?' Bening's voice had grown thoughtful.
'Yeah. About whether you knew a donation had come from the Free America movement. I told them though boss, that the donation was my idea, that you didn't know.'
'So that's their game.' Bening laughed. 'Well, let them try and tie me to the movement. There's no evidence.'
'That's not what they asked me.' Ronnie's voice piped up timidly. 'They were asking me all kinds of questions about the night you shot Kathy. But I told them the same as I did back then that I heard the shot just like you told me.'
'Bingo.' Dom murmured.
'Cait, do you copy?' Hawke radioed.
'I copy.' Caitlin confirmed from her position as pilot in Bening's plane. 'I'm declaring the in-flight emergency and returning to Campton. Copy.'
Hawke breathed out slowly at the sound of her voice. 'We copy, Alpha-Tango-Charlie-Zero.'
They switched back to the audio surveillance and heard her make the announcement. Bening erupted and called Ballard through to the seating area.
'What the hell is going on?'
'Sir, the pilot has identified a problem with one of the engines. We need to set down to repair the problem and Campton is nearer.'
'What are we going to do now?' Higgs whined.
'We are going to Campton and I'm going to arrange alternative transportation, a vehicle. You two will escape on the way to Washington and disappear.'
'But Arthur…' Ronnie seemed shocked.
'I'll make sure you're OK, Ronnie.' Bening soothed. 'Haven't I always made sure you're OK?'
'He's going to have them eliminated.' Dom concluded in a quiet voice.
'That would be my guess.' Hawke said.
The journey back was short and they were soon watching the plane make its descent. Hawke tensed. The vital moment was going to play out on the ground in the next few minutes.
The plane taxied to a halt at the end of the runway and two vehicles raced to meet it. Hawke could see Ballard escorting Higgs and Hilly down the steps onto the tarmac, Bening following them. They came to a halt as the vehicles pulled up. Two police officers got out the first with Detective Thorn; Harris and Oglivy got out the other. All of them took defensive positions behind their vehicles and raised their guns.
'What's going on here?' Bening asked.
'Bening, you're under arrest for the murder of your wife, Katherine Bening.' Thorn stated clearly.
'That's quite a theory.' Bening said conversationally.
'It's more than a theory.' Thorn asserted calmly. 'We can link you to Higgs and from Higgs to Ronnie here prior to the murder. We can prove with science that she could not have heard the gunshot if events had happened as they were staged. Your alibi just went up in smoke.'
'You don't have the evidence…'
'As of five minutes ago I don't need it.' Thorn said. 'I have your confession.'
'Sorry, buddy.' Ballard's easy going tone had an edge. 'But the plane was bugged.'
Hawke saw Bening whirl around to face Ballard. He'd taken a step back behind the steps, providing himself with some necessary cover in case Bening reached for his gun.
Bening focused on Oglivy. 'You set me up.'
'No, Hawke did that.' Ballard commented. 'We just get to enjoy the look on your face.'
Bening moved and faster than anyone anticipated. He grabbed Hilly and thrust his gun into her neck. 'I believe everyone knows I'm capable of shooting her.'
'Go ahead.' Thorn said. 'She's hardly an innocent is she? She tipped you off to Bill Mason.'
'Yes she did but I still don't think you'll want blood on your hands, Detective.' Bening said.
'You bastard.' Thorn said the anger vibrating in his voice. 'You had him killed.'
'He was a nuisance.' Bening bit out. 'He wouldn't let it go. He had to be stopped.'
'Drop it, Bening.' Harris yelled. 'You have nowhere to go.'
Bening threw Hilly at Ballard and raced for the steps to the plane. He was sent flying backwards by a karate kick; Caitlin had taken position at the plane door. He barrelled back into Ballard, they tussled as Ronnie used the opportunity to make her getaway.
Harris aimed and fired. Bening shifted at the last minute and Ballard blanched as the bullet hit his arm. The detective went down and Bening shot back.
All the law enforcement dived for cover as bullet after bullet ricocheted into metal and glass as Bening ran after Higgs who had used the distraction of Bening's previous move to make a run for it down the runway to a parked A-10 helicopter. He was at the controls, the rotors were powering up.
Hawke raised Airwolf up and eased her over the hangar. He sent a barrage of chain gun fire at Bening. Bening and Higgs were army trained though; gunfire didn't deter them, Bening threw himself into the chopper and they took off. Ronnie was a different matter; she turned and ran across the adjoining field.
Caitlin's fingers pressed Thorn's hand against Ballard's wound even as she relinquished her place by the injured but conscious detective to him. She took off after the escaping Ronnie as Airwolf followed after the escaping chopper. It was a hawk following a sparrow, she thought. Deep down, she had always known that Hawke would deal with Bening on his own terms but maybe…maybe she could get some justice for Katherine Bening and Bill Mason by bringing in Veronica Hilly…
Justice or vengeance; Hawke had made the choice before more than once and had lived with those decisions every day. 'Give it up, Bening. It's over.' Hawke radioed.
The A-10 went into an evading manoeuvre that ducked them under Airwolf bringing the helicopter up behind her.
'He has to know he can't win.' Dom said confused. 'He has no firepower or speed. We can take them out anytime.'
Hawke hit the turbos and gained some distance before taking her into a climb and turned mid-air into a dive coming back down behind Bening.
'You can't win, Bening.' Hawke radioed again. 'Land the chopper or we'll land it for you.'
'I win so long as you don't.' Bening taunted.
The A-10 veered and turned; it headed straight for them.
'String!' Dom's voice was frantic in his ear but Hawke was already targeting the helicopter; he fired the missile. The A-10 exploded over the hillside, a burning ball of steel. Hawke circled back to the Campton airfield.
Caitlin kicked the legs out from under Ronnie and before she could get up, sat on her. She was breathless as she slapped the cuffs on. The older woman had put up quite a fight. Caitlin tested her jaw still worked; Ronnie had quite a right hook. Campton PD officers took hold of her and Caitlin let them; the collar was hers whatever the record showed. Caitlin could hear them reading the woman her Miranda rights as she was led to the waiting police vehicle and the approaching sirens of more law enforcement hurrying to provide them with back-up. She scanned the sky worriedly, rubbing her shoulder. It ached badly from her exertions. She heard Airwolf before she saw her. She grinned as Airwolf screamed overhead and swung round to land next to her.
Caitlin ran over and ducked under the slowing rotors. Hawke opened the door just as she reached for it and stepped out to hug her. For a long moment, they held onto each other before Hawke framed her face with his hands and kissed her gently. Dom smiled at the sight of them as he came round from the passenger side. Thorn and Ballard came over to stand next to him. Thorn held his hand out and a pale and bloodied Ballard scowled. He awkwardly took out his wallet and laid a crisp ten dollar bill in the older man's hand. Dom chuckled and patted Ballard in sympathy.
'Are they going to stop any time soon?' Ballard asked in disgust.
Hawke felt Caitlin smile and raised his head to look at the younger man. 'How's your arm, Ballard?' He kept his arm firmly around Caitlin's shoulder.
'Hurts like hell but I'll live.' Ballard replied.
'Bening?' asked Thorn.
'His helicopter had an unfortunate accident.' Hawke said.
'Yeah, it flew into a missile.' Dom completed with a laugh.
Thorn's lips twitched. 'That is unfortunate.'
Hawke cocked his head; Airwolf was beginning to draw attention and Oglivy was headed their way. 'Time to go.'
Dom handed Thorn a computer disc. 'The whole confession including the stuff on the ground about Detective Mason. You can use it to convict Veronica Hilly.'
'Thank you.' Thorn said sincerely.
Hawke nodded and let go of Caitlin so she could walk round to her place in the co-pilot seat. She ignored Thorn's outstretched hand and gave him a hug. She kissed his cheek. 'Thank you for all you've done.' She said.
Ballard grinned cheekily at Hawke as Caitlin turned to him. She rolled her eyes and gave Ballard the same treatment as his partner. He held onto her when she went to move away. 'If you ever get tired of Hawke…' he began.
Caitlin smiled and took the final step towards Airwolf. 'Don't hold your breath.' She climbed in and was grateful as Thorn closed the door behind her. She looked over at Hawke who was looking at her concerned as the rotors started to whir and the engines came on line.
'It took a knock.' She admitted, reaching for the heavy helmet. Hawke beat her to it and helped her before putting on his own.
Patrol cars were pouring onto the runway. Hawke grasped the cyclic and took Airwolf up and into the blue sky. The local police had no more than a moment to admire the sleek lines and sheer power of the machine hovering in front of them before Airwolf shot away at mach speed.
The nightmare crept up on Hawke slowly. The jungle was dense and packed; hot and humid. He could feel the shirt sticking to his back, a trickle of sweat running down his forehead and he could smell the stink and fear of the other men who waited with him. His eyes scanned from side to side, watching, waiting for the sniper, a hidden snake, the threat the jungle promised. He could hear the choppers coming to get them, the steady hum of the rotors cutting through the air, the whine of the engines. A cut down his neck stung badly; the blood had dried but was attracting flies which buzzed around him. Not long now…not long now. They were up and running. Legs pumping, heart pounding, lungs gasping for air. Just a short distance to safety. Bullets on the ground, zinging through the air. His arm stretched out for the rope, he was so near, so near...
Hawke bolted upright. The crackle of the fire snapped his eyes to the smouldering blaze. He took a deep breath. It had been two days since their showdown with Bening and they were still sleeping rough whilst they waited for a political decision over the continuance of the task force. Michael was trying to convince the President that the government should return to the unofficial policy of leaving Airwolf with Hawke and under Michael's oversight whilst the FIRM fulfilled their part of their bargain they had made with Hawke over Airwolf's recovery from Moffett. The wait must be getting to him, Hawke thought. He hadn't had that particular nightmare, relived that particular memory of 'Nam for a long time.
Hawke rubbed a hand over his face and settled back onto the ground next to Caitlin. She was curled up under the blankets they shared, a hand outstretched toward him. His heartbeat slowed as he watched the steady rise and fall of her breathing. He clasped her hand with his own, needing the reassurance of touch after the nightmare. She stirred and opened her eyes, blinking sleepily at him.
'Hawke?' She whispered.
'It's OK.' His voice caught in the back of his throat. 'Go back to sleep.'
Caitlin shifted position, cuddling into him and her breathing became deep and even. He let it lull him back into dreams. He was dozing when the beeping of an incoming call shoved him back into consciousness. He rubbed his face in a futile effort to clear the fog in his head, inched away from a stirring Caitlin and wondered how the hell Dom who was still snoring away could sleep through the noise. He climbed into Airwolf's cockpit and punched the button to silence the incessant siren. Michael's face appeared on the video screen.
'Morning, Hawke.' Michael seemed to take note of the rumpled appearance of the younger man and raised an eyebrow. 'I didn't wake you, did I?'
Hawke scowled. 'What do you want, Michael?'
'I thought you'd want to know as soon as possible.' Michael grinned. 'The President has disbanded the task-force.'
'Good?' Michael raised his eyebrows. 'That's an understatement even for you.'
Hawke stared down the video link.
Michael cleared his throat. 'The President has also officially declared, once and for all, that you and Airwolf are my problem. The FIRM is being held responsible for the ultimate safe return of Airwolf.'
'The other agencies?'
'Told to keep their distance so long as there is no evidence that Airwolf is being used against US interests but I think it will help if we keep the Lady quiet for a while.' Michael smiled. 'In the meantime, you can come back in.'
Hawke nodded in relief. 'I'll see you soon, Michael.' He disconnected the call before the spy could say anything else and turned to see Caitlin standing next to him an amused look on her face. She solemnly handed him a mug.
'Figured you needed coffee.'
He took the mug but grabbed her too, pulling her into a long, slow kiss. 'I needed that more.' He said releasing her. He motioned at the lump of blankets that hid Dom. 'What do you say we wake him and go home?'
She smiled. 'Sounds good to me.'
They were all in high spirits as they approached the Lair. Dom ran the scans automatically, laughing at Hawke and Caitlin's banter over Hawke staying at her place whilst he got the cabin repaired. Dom's laugh fell away as he registered the results on his monitor.
'Uh…String?' Dom punched in another scan to double-check the findings. 'We have company down there.'
'Company?' Hawke glanced back at Dom and saw the other man's worry.
'One person and there seems to be a whole pile of equipment down there…'
'One person.' Hawke frowned, a thought occurring to him. 'I'm going to take her in.'
'Are you sure that's wise?' Dom asked. 'We could get trapped…'
Hawke was already positioning Airwolf above the opening, lowering her down. He nodded to Caitlin to release the landing gear and set the helicopter down with the merest bump. He looked out at the sight in front of him; his blue eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. He yanked his helmet off and jumped out, shoving his sleeves up as though preparing to hit the man waiting for them. Caitlin and Dom followed anxiously.
'What the hell are you doing here?' Hawke asked and gestured at the raised platform and bank of terminals and equipment in front of him. 'And what the hell is this?'
'It's a present.' Michael said, swinging his legs off the rail and spreading his arms out over the semi-circle of technology. 'Improved security system, communication system complete with scrambler and video link using the most up to date satellite technology, computer terminal with direct wireless access into the FIRM's own databases and into the intelligence network itself, new diagnostic machines to help with Airwolf's maintenance. All run off a brand new generator.' He smiled. 'Everything you need.'
Hawke folded his arms and rocked back on his heels. 'You left a homing beacon when Dom brought you, didn't you?'
'Yes.' Michael admitted unashamedly.
'You know you've compromised the Lair.' Hawke said. 'You had to have technicians up here to install all this junk.'
'They had no idea where they were.' Michael said forcefully. 'And I checked to make sure they didn't leave any kind of tracer like I did.'
Hawke's jaw firmed. 'Michael…'
'I swear I will take the secret of Airwolf's Lair to my grave before I reveal it.' Michael said. 'Besides, if anybody else discovers Airwolf, I lose the ability to use her.'
Hawke eyeballed him for a long moment. He and Michael had come along way in terms of trust but…he glanced back over his shoulder and scowled at the blatant amusement on Caitlin's face and the hopeful expression on Dom's; he was probably dying to play with the new toys. He returned his stare to Michael.
'The second, and I mean the split second, you give me a reason to distrust you, I move Airwolf.' Hawke said bluntly. 'And no more uninvited visits.'
Hawke sighed. 'And I still don't see why we need all this stuff.' He waved an arm encompassing the new equipment and raised area with its steel floor and bright yellow railing.
Michael leaned on his cane. 'Come and take a look.'
Hawke felt Caitlin's arm slip into his and he let her pull him up the ramp as Dom bounded past them. As Michael started to demonstrate the new consoles, Hawke leaned back on a multi-million dollar sensor and watched them all with a well-hidden contentment.