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A Match Made in Heaven

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The two detectives turned in unison, yelling, "Lieutenant!"

Beaumont looked up from where she was speaking to Annie and suppressed a smile.  It was bad enough that her two best detectives were being suspended – for breaking their suspensions, while on suspension – after saving a young woman's life and solving a murder, but the Chief was still upset and Lieutenant Grayson had been assigned to keep them company over the week.  Even Jessup wouldn't have deserved that.

It took some fancy talking on her part, but Joanna managed to get the Chief to pull Greyson off.  Lundy and LaFiamma would still be off duty, with no pay, but the confinement was lifted.

Annie grinned up at her.  "Don't you think it's time you told them?"

"Yeah, if I don't they're liable to take Greyson out and dump him in the desert for the coyotes."

"Wouldn't blame them," Annie replied under her breath.

The lieutenant gave her a disapproving frown that couldn't hide her agreement.  "Sorry, Greyson," she told the IA detective, "but I've already talked to the Chief, and you won't be staying with Lundy and LaFiamma."

"Well, that's not what I heard," the man huffed.

"Feel free to use my phone to call," Beaumont said, waving in the direction of her office.  "They'll be off-duty," she continued, scowling at the two detectives, "with no pay, for one week.  They will not carry guns, and are confined to the county limits.  Is that perfectly clear?"

"Perfectly, Lieutenant," LaFiamma said.

"There goes Paris," Lundy told his partner sympathetically.

"Yeah, and New Orleans."

"Oh, and one more thing," Beaumont added.

Lundy tried not to grin as his partner responded.  "Yeah, Lieutenant?"

"You will not involve yourselves with any kind of law enforcement – no cases, no helping out, not even the dog catcher.  Clear?"

"Sounds good to me," LaFiamma said, swinging his jacket over his shoulder.  "A week of sleeping in late, working out at the club…  I wonder if Sandy's still teaching water aerobics—"

"I can patch the barn, get some riding time for a change," Lundy interrupted.

"I'm going to make that call," Greyson growled, marching off like a kid just tossed out of the playground sandbox.

"Get outta here," Joanna told them.  "But remember what I said -- don't do anything!"


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Twenty-four hours into his suspension Joseph LaFiamma was bored.  The first day he slept in late, had a nice breakfast with Sandy, worked out at the club, took Terri to dinner and a movie, then…  Hmm, he sighed smugly.

He sighed.  Now it's day two and I can't get back to sleep.  I wonder what Lundy's doing, he pondered, staring at the ceiling.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Levon Lundy smiled up at the new rafters.  One day and the repairs on the barn were taken care of.  He was definitely going to enjoy this suspension.  The place would get fixed up, the gelding would get exercised and he'd be pleasantly saddle-sore for a few days.

I bet ol' Joe is already pacin' the floor, the Texan thought as he steadily curried the sorrel, enjoying the way the animal's coat began to shine.  This'll do him good.  The boy's never learned to relax, take life slow 'n' enjoy the important things.

The phone rang, interrupting the internal monologue.  Picking up the old black receiver that hung on the wall of the barn he said, "Mornin', LaFiamma."  Tossing the curry into a bucket, he fished out a mane and tail comb and started to work.

"How'd you know it was me?"

"Who else would be callin' me at six in the morning when we're on suspension?"

 "I'm not gonna to make it, Lundy."

Levon wrestled through a snarl in the gelding's mane before he said, "I thought you were goin' t' sleep late, work out, oh, and there was a girl, Sandy, I think ya said?"

"I can't sleep late.  Five-forty-five and bing!  My eyes are open.  I worked out yesterday and Sandy said she'd only have breakfast with me.  She's seeing some CPA now."

"Tough break."

"What're we going to do?"

"We aren't goin' t' do a thing.  You heard the Lieutenant – we get involved with helpin' an old lady across the street she'll skin us alive."

"Lundy, I have to do something.  I'll go crazy sitting around here!  Probably end up watching soap operas!"

"You ever go fishin' up there in the city, LaFiamma?" Lundy asked, finishing up the horse's forelock.

"At the market," was the sarcastic reply.

"About what I figured.  Why don't you pack somethin' you don't mind gettin' dirty – you do have some of those, don'tcha?"

"I don't know.  I'll check."

"Meet me here.  We'll go fishin' for a couple a days.  I was goin' anyway.  Guess it won't ruin the trip if I haul you along, too."

"Gee, thanks, Levon."

"You're welcome.  Two hours."  He hung up the phone and patted the horse's withers.  "Looks like we're gonna have some company, boy."

The gelding snorted and shook his head.

"Yeah, I know.  We'll never make a Texan out of him, but I've gotta try."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"You didn't tell me you'd be bringing along a horse, too," LaFiamma grouched.

"Didn't think the saddle would fit you."

"Oh, funny, Lundy, very funny."

"Besides I'm not bringin' a horse, I'm bringin' two horses."

The Italian gaped at his partner, disbelieving horror frozen on his face.  "What?"

"How else are we goin' t' get up t' the good fishin' spots?"

"We could walk!"

"Too far."

"We could go someplace else!"

"Not enough time."

"Ah, come on, Lundy.  You know I don't like horses.  They don't like me!"

"Y'all don't have to like each other, LaFiamma.  You just gotta sit there and hold on."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I hate this!  I really do, Lundy.  I should've stayed home and watched the soaps!"

The Texan smiled smugly as he gave his gelding a free rein to find a path up the rocky side of the wash they were riding in.  "Hang on, this is goin' t' be a little rough."

"What do you think I've been doing back here all this time?"

The two horses cleared the wash with three lurching strides, LaFiamma white-knuckling the saddle horn on the way up.

Lundy's grace in the saddle couldn't be denied and the Chicagoan sighed heavily. One of these days, partner, he thought.  I'll find a way to get even – bet on itWhy Texas, uncle Mike?  Why not Hawaii?  Or California?  Someplace where there aren't any damned horses!  And no cowboy partners!

"Cheer up, LaFiamma, that's the worst of it."

"Glad to hear it."

"Yeah, there's a great campin' spot 'bout a hour from here."

"An hour?"

"You gonna make it?"

"Yeah, I'll make it, but I won't tell you what certain parts of my anatomy are going to feel like when we get there."

Lundy chuckled.  Joe was being a much better sport about this than he had expected.  The man could let himself enjoy some of the simple pleasures.  It just took some extreme circumstances, that was all.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy filled two cups with the freshly brewed coffee and handed one to his partner.

"You know," the dark-haired man said, leaning back against a flat boulder and carefully stretching out his legs in front of him, "it is peaceful out here."


"Don't get me wrong.  It can't compare to Chicago at night – all the activity.  That's electric, man.  But this is… different.  Kinda nice."

"I found this spot just after I joined the HPD.  When I had days off Caroline and I would come out here to ride and fish."

LaFiamma watched his partner's face, the firelight casting shadows across his features, making them hard to read.  He spoke about his wife so infrequently that the Chicago cop was reluctant to respond, but he knew he had to say something.

"She must have really liked those times," LaFiamma finally said softly.

"Yeah, she did.  She liked gettin' away from the city.  This is mostly state land 'round here.  There are a couple of fancy cabins up by the river, but we never ran into the folks who lived there."

"She liked to go fishing, too, huh?"

"You bet.  She was better at it than I am.  More patience.  But, I'll show you a thing or two," the blond said with a evil grin.

"Only if I can walk tomorrow, and the way I feel right now, that's one helluva big if."

"Ah, you'll be fine.  A good hike'll work out the stiffness."


"Don't worry, it's only 'bout forty minutes."

The Italian groaned loudly.

"We could ride," Lundy offered.

"No!  No problem.  I'd like a good hike.  I haven't been hiking in years.  We'll walk."

"Okay," Lundy said, tossing the remainder of his coffee into the flames.  "I'm goin' t' check the horses and turn in.  G'night, Joe."

"Huh, Lundy?"


"God, I hate asking this," he muttered under his breath before he cleared his throat and tried to sound as off the cuff as possible.  "Is there, huh, anything that I can do about— Well—"

"Tell ya what, LaFiamma, I brought along some special hot water bottles.  Mother Minnie made 'em up.  Fill up the coffeepot with some water and let it get hot.  When it is, you fill 'em up and wrap 'em around your thighs.  It'll work wonders."

"Thanks," the Chicagoan grumbled, reaching slowly for the pot.

"Don't worry, I've been like that a time or two myself.  It'll pass."

"Glad to hear it, because I've got my doubts."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The two detectives sat in the shade of a small stand of oaks, leaning back against rough trunks and letting their fishing lines drift lazily in the slow-moving river.  Lundy had already caught three good sized trout – plenty for dinner, as he kept reminding LaFiamma.

The Italian shifted and re-cast, determined that he wasn't leaving until he caught something.  If I don't, I'll never hear the end of it!  It was bad enough I needed the hot water bottles last night!  I wonder what he's using for bait?  He shifted to recast.  Damn.  I'm going to need those hot water bottles again tonight, too.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dominique Gierard braced her forearms against the rough rocks, adjusted her field-glasses and watched Simenson watching the two fishermen.  Who are those guys? she wondered, pushing a strand of her long black hair off her forehead.

Just what I need, a couple of civilians caught in the middle of a government-sanctioned hit.  How did I let Callihan talk me into working stateside?

The blond seemed to know the area, and Dom watched him pointing in various directions, talking, while the dark-haired man listened.  It was the blond that Walter Simenson had taken an interest in.

But why? she wondered.  He must not think they're a threat to the meeting or he'd have sent his soldiers out to kill them by now.  So why the hell does the blond have him glued to the binoculars?

She mentally ran through the file she'd read on Simenson when Callihan had given her the case.  The Vigil were very thorough.  The Texan was an outrageously rich man, involved in oil, international banking, cattle and several other businesses.  He was also the broker for a three-pronged international crime syndicate of drugs, guns and cash.  Syria, South Africa, Columbia and the United States, a deadly combination for a lot of people.

In addition, Walter Simenson came from one of the most prestigious Texas families.  He attended the best prep schools, but in 1941 he'd lied about his age and joined the Army.  He married in 1946, after returning from Europe.  Viola Whitehead had died in 1969 after suffering a stroke a year earlier – when news arrived that their only son, Kevin, had died in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.

Walter had spent a year in a sanitarium following his wife's death, and over the years since, he had been questioned concerning the mysterious deaths of several young men who looked like the boy.  Dom paused, recalling the boy's picture.

"Jesus," she breathed aloud.  The blond was nearly a ringer for the kid, even if he did look a lot closer to his early thirties.  Still, it could explain the interest.

Just what I need, she sighed silently.  I hope to hell ol' Walt leaves this guy alone.  How the hell did a class-A psycho end up running a multi-national, multi-billion dollar crime syndicate anyway?  You're going to owe me for this one, Callihan!  None of my overseas operations ever ended up like this.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


LaFiamma shifted awkwardly on the hard ground.  Despite the additional saddle blanket that Lundy had given him it was still dammed uncomfortable.  At least he'd managed to catch a couple of fish before Lundy decided it was time to head back.  Dinner had been great, the Texan proving that he could fry up fish with the best.

Now, if I could just get comfortable, I might actually enjoy this, LaFiamma though as he reached under the sleeping bag and blankets to pull out a rock.  That done, he readjusted the two hot water bottles he'd wrapped around his thighs.  They were almost cold now, but offered at least moral support to his sagging spirit.

Several minutes later, LaFiamma had just made up his mind to get up and find another patch of dirt when a hand descended across his mouth and the cold barrel of a gun pressed against his forehead.

Opening his eyes, Joe saw the man's head shake – a ski-mask obscuring all of his features except his eyes, which started out with malicious contempt.  A shadow crossed the campsite and the detective heard a low whistle followed by a soft groan.  He opened his mouth to speak, but the revolver swung down, the man firing.    The detective felt the dart enter the rubber bag on his thigh, the tip just pricking the skin on his leg.  He groaned.

The men moved off, dragging Lundy's body between them.

The world blurred into a swirling mustard yellow.  Not again, the detective thought.  Gonna lose another partner…  Not again!  Lundy!


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The sunlight pressed against LaFiamma's closed eyelids.  He forced them open, hoping it was all a bad dream, but when he stood, looking around the empty campsite it became all too real.  Lundy was gone.  It wasn't a dream.

His stomach clenched.

Pivoting to take in the full 360 degrees of countryside, LaFiamma fought back a rising panic.  One of the horses nickered.  How could he find his way back to the Jimmy?  How could he find Lundy out here in the middle of nowhere?

And, even if he did manage to find the Jimmy, where would he go?  He didn't know who had grabbed Lundy, hell, he didn't even know where they were.  He took a deep breath, forcing his thoughts to slow.

Lundy's out here someplace.  I have to find him.

It's impossible!

He kicked at a clump of dirt and shoved his hands into his pant pockets.  Levon forgot to mention that he should bring a heavy coat.  It was getting cold.

Damn it, Lundy!  Why did you do this to me?

Okay, okay, LaFiamma told himself.  Get a grip.  Think.  Where could they take him?

How should I know? another part of his mind yelled.  I don't know where we are! Those guys were professionals!

Professionals.  They were professionalsThink, LaFiamma, why would professionals hit us out here in the middle of nowhere?  Lundy said there were cabins out here someplace.  Did we stumble across something without knowing it?

He swung around to stare in the direction that they had taken to find the river and found himself staring at the rising sun.  East.  The river is east.

He closed his eyes and recalled Lundy pointing in the direction of the mentioned cabins.  Northeast.  Okay.  Now we're getting someplace.

But they could have cars!  I don't know where they went!

Maybe I can get help at one of the cabins.  A phone.  Call HPD, get some guys out here.  His brow furrowed.  Swinging to look down at the ground where he'd woken up, he forced himself to concentrate around the growing headache.  I was laying there, my head was pointing west.  Think.  Which way did they go when they left camp?  Think, damn it!

East!  They went east!  Back toward the river and the cabins!  That's all I got.

The Italian quickly packed the equipment back into the backpacks and saddlebags.  He grabbed a saddle and approached the waiting horses.  Now, how the hell do I do this?


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dom had followed the men through the darkness, reaching the campsite just after they had taken the blond.  After checking the other man she trailed the pair back to Simenson's cabin.

Damn lucky, she thought as she left the camp.  That hot water bottle saved his life.  I guess there's a silver lining to being saddle sore after all.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The rising sun lit the horizon, and Dom zipped her jacket up as she watched the two men drag Lundy into Simenson's house.

Well, what to do.  I can go back for that guy, or I can stay here and hope to God this doesn't upset the timetable.  City Boy won't be able to find his way out of here without help.

Of course, if he comes looking for his friend he might get them both killed and destroy the timetable in the process.

Okay, so I should go get him, she admitted to her conscience.  But—

No, no buts, just go get him and get it over with.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I take it you're new to horses."

The detective swung around, dropping the saddle as his hands moved instinctively for the twin revolvers that were still sitting in their case in his apartment.

We should've brought the guns, Lundy!

The woman raised her hands away from her body, palms facing out to show him she wasn't a threat.

"Who are you?"

"Call me Dom."  She walked over and paced through the campsite.  "Two men.  They used a tranquilizer dart on your friend.  You feel okay?"

"Yeah.  I'm okay."

"You're damned lucky is what you are."  She paused, looking down at the discarded hot water bottle.  "That bag saved your life.  You still look a little wobbly to me.  We should get saddled and out of here."

"Who the hell are you, lady?  Where's Lundy?"

"Is that your friend?" she asked, adding a drawn out, "…Mister?" to prompt his name.

"LaFiamma, Joe LaFiamma."

"Well, Joe, let's saddle up and I'll explain what I can while we ride."

"No way, lady.  I have a missing partner out here somewhere, and if you aren't going to level with me, up front—"

"Look!  You don't know who I am, your friend was hauled out of here in the middle of the night and you're worried.  I understand that.  I want to help, but I can't waste time trying to convince you I'm on the level.  Lundy doesn't have the time either. Now, are you going to let me help?"

Every fiber of his mind screamed that this could be a trick, but something in his gut told him to trust her.  "Do I have a choice?"

"Sure, you can go it alone and probably get yourself killed."

"I don't trust you, lady, but I don't see another option – yet," he told her.  "But, if you mess with me, I'll—"

"We're wasting time," she interrupted, moving over to pick up the saddle.  She tossed it on the saddle blanket already resting on the gelding's back.

She's an easy woman to look at, LaFiamma admitted to himself while he watched her saddle the two horses.  But not in the ways that usually attracted me.  Her long black hair was held back in a single braid that brushed along the top of her belt.  Disconcerting almond-shaped gray eyes watched him while she tied the gear onto the saddles.  She was slightly tall, probably five nine or ten, he decided, and in her late twenties to early thirties.  Nice figure.  In shape.  Her features were pleasant, the kind that the right make-up and clothes could make startling or plain, and hinted at an interesting mix in her family tree.

Most interesting to the detective was the fact that she moved silently, though he didn't think she was trying not to make noise.

What am I doing? he asked himself.  I don't know who the hell this woman is!  Lundy's missing; I have to find him.  A cold breeze picked up and he shivered.  Where are you, partner? he asked silently.  Please, please, be okay, man.

"Ready?" she asked.

"As I'll ever be."

She swung up onto Lundy's gelding, the horse tossing his head slightly at the unfamiliar rider.  She quieted him with a gentle pat on the neck and a few words, spoken in French.  "Follow me," she directed, then reined the animal back toward the river.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Who the hell took my partner?" LaFiamma asked after they passed the river in silence.

"Walter Simenson."

LaFiamma frowned, the name sounding familiar.  Then he remembered.  "The oil guy?  Why?"

"That's the second time you've said 'partner,'" she said and watched the Italian cringe at his slip.  "You two cops?"

LaFiamma contemplated lying, but changed his mind.  "Yeah, Houston PD."

"You're carrying badges?"


"What're you doing up here?"

"We're on suspension."

She looked back over her shoulder at the detective, a small smile playing on her lips.  Why doesn't that surprise me? she mused.  "Simenson isn't too fond of police officers."

"Why the hell would he want to kidnap Lundy in the first place?"

"Your partner looks like his dead son.  That's if I'm reading this right."

"Why would a man like Simenson kidnap someone just because he looks like his dead kid?"

"The man has spent time in three of the finest mental hospitals in Texas over the years.  All of his visits revolved around issues with his wife and son.  Seems a few of ol' Walter's crackers fell out of the barrel a long time ago."

"This is great.  What does he want?"

"The old man's got an obsession about the kid.  I don't know exactly why he took your partner.  Maybe he wants a chance to make up with his dead son; maybe he wants to kill the boy.  I just don't know."

Jesus, Levon.  What have we gotten into this time? the Italian thought as he continued to follow the woman.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


By the time they reached a position above Simenson's cabin in the foothills, Dom had dragged the story of the detective's suspension out of LaFiamma.  She had also learned a great deal about the man and his partner, which was what she wanted if she was going to work with him.  And what she learned was that LaFiamma was short-tempered, but he felt things deeply.  He and Lundy were close, although he seemed reluctant to admit it.  The detective was bright, inventive, and loyal – if not entirely predictable.  He could be counted on if things got rough.  She decided to have KARL pull their files for a closer look when she got back to the cabin.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Look, I answered all your questions, now I want a few of mine filled in," LaFiamma said as he eased off the horse and joined Dom in a small cave-like cleft between two large boulders that afforded a clear line of sight to a building below.

To call the place a cabin was euphemistic at best.  The rambling structure was actually a large ranch-style mansion.  Nestled on a natural rise, and surrounded by a split rail fence, LaFiamma wondered what forms of security were being used, besides the passive surveillance he saw.

"As far as I know, you might be a part of this," he told her.  "I think I should find someplace to call HPD and have them send some people up here."

"Waste of time.  See that chopper?" she asked, pointing to a well-cared-for Huey on a landing pad about a hundred yards from the house.  "First sign of visitors, Simenson'll be out of here, with your partner.  Or, if he's forced to leave him behind, it won't be in a condition where Lundy will be able to talk." She turned to face the detective.  "You try something like that and I'll have Uncle Sam put you up for a few days."

"Put me up?"

"Protective custody.  Admittedly an underhanded way of getting you out of my way, but I need your cooperation, not your interference."

"You're a fed?"

"Something like that.  The point is, your partner's in deep cow-pies here and I can't risk compromising my assignment to get him out."  She stopped when LaFiamma began to protest.  "Look, I don't want an innocent man caught in the middle of this either, so, I'm asking for your help."

"My help?"

"Between the two of us, I think we should be able to get Lundy out without my having to compromise the mission."

"It sounds like a war."

"It is."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


          "Wait, wait, you're making my head swim!" LaFiamma protested as they sat near the fireplace in the small cabin Dom had rented in order to get close enough to watch Simenson.  They had retreated to the cabin once she had arranged several small, sophisticated devices that she assured the detective would let them know if anyone left the house.

Dom took a deep breath and said, "It's like a pyramid, with Simenson at the top and Rudd, Hernandez and Akmed as the three corners of the base.  The only thing is, those three men are not connected in any way.  They all broker through Simenson.  Gold and diamonds from South Africa buys guns from Syria, which get exchanged for drugs from Columbia, which are then sold by U.S. contacts for more cash.  All of it, the money, guns and drugs move through Simenson to all three men as they need them to run their organizations in their respective countries."


"I told you it was a war."

He scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck.  "And Lundy's caught right in the middle of it."

"I'm afraid so."

"We have to get him out of there."

"Not until the remaining secondary contact arrives.  I have to take out Simenson and the men who report back to Rudd, Akmed, and Hernandez."

"Why?  Why not just take out the top men?"

"If this goes off right, it will.  All three will assume that the others had something to do with the hit.  They're all responsible to syndicates in their own countries, and those folks aren't going to be real happy about losing millions of dollars worth of business."

"They kill each other off and there's no way to implicate Uncle Sam, I guess."

"You've got it."

"You're an assassin."

"Among other things."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dom sat back and reviewed the two detectives' files on the computer's split screen.  She smiled.  It was a match made in heaven.  Boy, I'll bet they just loved each other when they met, she mused.  Seems like they're pretty close now, though.  Could make LaFiamma reckless.  I'll have to watch him.  If he thinks I'm endangering Lundy, he'll screw this up for sure.

I just hope to hell he's all right.  From the looks of these files they've been through a lot.  I don't want to end up at a funeral.

She patted the top of the computer terminal before she logged out.  "Thanks, KARL."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy watched the older man as he paced in front of the large picture windows.  Testing the ropes that held him in the stiff-backed wooden chair, he found them expertly tied.  The detective's head pounded, but he forced himself to maintain a neutral expression while he waited for the man to finally speak.

"Why, Kevin?" Simenson finally asked softly.

"Excuse me?" Lundy replied.

"Why?  She loved you so much."  The man turned to stare at the blond.  "And you killed her."

"Uh, I don't know what you're talkin' about, sir."

"Liar!" Simenson yelled, brown eyes flashing dangerously.  "I won't let you deny your mother, you whelp!"  He drew his hand back and savagely slapped Lundy across the face.  "Not in this house!"

Levon shook his head to clear his vision and licked the blood off his lips.  The man's nuts, he thought.  What the hell've I gotten myself into?  He watched the older man carefully as he said, "I'm sorry."

"No, you're not!  Not yet, but you will be.  I'll make you sorry you ever went away.  She begged you not to go, begged and begged, but you had to leave.  Night after night after night, I listened to her sobs.  All she wanted was a letter from you, but not a single one ever came.  You killed her.  You'll be sorry, Kevin.  Very, very sorry."  He motioned and a man walked up from behind Lundy to join them.  "Take him out to the barn.  I won't have him sleeping in this house, soiling her memory.  I want him punished.  See to it."

The man nodded.

"Don't kill him, not yet.  She suffered long and hard for him, and I won't have him go easy.  Understand?"

The man nodded a second time.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


LaFiamma tossed restlessly, listening to the woman working on the computer in the other room.  He envied her the ability to do something.

Although he still couldn't bring himself to trust her completely, he did believe her.  She was a federal agent of some sort.  Probably NSA, he decided.

She was here to kill Simenson and God knew how many others.  And, she could do it, too.

Whether or not she could do it and still get Lundy out, was left to be seen.

That's why I'm staying here, he told himself.  To make sure Levon gets out of this crossfire.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy ground his teeth together to stop them from chattering.  The barn was unheated, empty and cold.  The silent bodyguard had dragged him out and promptly worked him over in the most professional manner he'd ever been privy to.  He was no bar-brawler.  And when the Texan was finally lying on the ground, semi-conscious and hurting all over, the man simply took his arm and handcuffed him to a tether ring an elephant would have trouble pulling out, then left.

Now it was cold.  Damned cold.  What the hell's goin' on here anyway? he asked himself.  LaFiamma—

The thought stalled.  He had no idea what had happened to his partner.  No one had mentioned him, and they didn't seen inclined to leave loose ends.

God, please, don't let him be dead.  Don't take him away, too.

Why did I ever drag him out here anyway?  Just me wantin' to show off, make him suffer a little for my amusement.  And it's probably got him killed.  Why do I end up killing the people I care the most about?

The groan of the door opening still the silent thoughts.  The same man entered, this time with the old man.  Lundy christened the bodyguard Boris after the villain on LaFiamma's favorite cartoon.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Ready for breakfast?" Dom asked when LaFiamma exited the cabin's bathroom, showered and changed.

"You cook, too?"

"I passed all my survival skills classes."


"Come on."  She slid the thick omelet out of the pan and handed him the plate.

He sniffed at the fluffy yellow lump and heard his stomach growl in response.

"Coffee's on the table," she added.

He carried the plate over and sat down.  He poured two cups.  "So, what were you doing last night on the computer?" he asked.

"I checked the files on you and Lundy."

"What?" he responded, more amazed at her honesty than the information.

"I have to know who I'm dealing with.  You'd do the same to me, if you could."

"True enough," he said softly.  "And?"

"You have good records."  Carrying a slightly thinner version of his omelet over, she slid into the chair across from the detective and nodded her thanks for the poured coffee.  She poured sugar and stirred.  "Today we have to see if we can find out what ol' Walt's doing to your partner," she said, unwilling to elaborate further on the computer check.

"Damned right we will."

She ignored the comment.  "Rudd's man arrived day before yesterday.  Akmed's came in yesterday morning, before Simenson spotted you two.  And, Hernandez's representative should be in sometime today.  With any luck I'll be finished here by tomorrow afternoon.  I'm surprised someone hadn't gotten around to this a hell of a lot sooner."

"How're you planning on getting Lundy out?  You are planning on getting him out, right?"

"First we see what's happening, then we improvise."

"Fine, as long as we get him out."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy leaned back against the wall of the barn.  He didn't know what time it was, or how long the two men had stayed, but he did know that he was losing ground fast.  Boris was an expert in pain, and the detective was sure that the man could keep him alive for days like this, but it wasn't an existence the Texan looked forward to.

The old man seemed rushed, like he had a schedule to keep and having to take the time to torture Lundy was a problem.  The thought did little to raise Levon's spirits.

He coughed and grimaced, spitting out the blood that filled his mouth.  Well, maybe not days after all, he thought as a growing gray fog enveloped him.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


LaFiamma fretted as he sat in the crevasse of the large boulders that looked down on the ranch house.  The formation was very nearly a cave.  He nodded in approval of her choice of vantage points.  Even if Simenson's men went looking, they'd need infra-red to catch sight of them in the shadowed nook.  Dom had left the detective waiting while she slipped onto the grounds to see if she could locate Lundy.  That was two hours ago.

Another hour and I'm going down myself, he decided.  I can't wait anymore than that.  Hell, Lundy might be dead.

He sucked in a breath and waited.  Had he heard something?

"Shh, I could hear you thinking all the way outside."

"Jeeze," LaFiamma hissed, scrambling around to face her, unconsciously thumbing off the safety on the Beretta she had loaned him.

She moved over to sit down where she could watch the property.

"Anything?" he asked.

"Yeah," she sighed.  "I don't know if we'll be able to wait until Hernandez's man gets here."

LaFiamma shivered.  "Why?" he forced himself to ask.

"Rand Toddson," she said, then added in response to the detective's blank expression, "he's known internationally for his ability to extract information from unwilling sources."


"He's alive.  They have him in the barn.  He didn't look good."

"You said that Simenson might've done this before?"

"Once in Germany and once in The Netherlands while he was traveling abroad on business.  Three possibles here in the States.  The foreign governments couldn't find enough evidence to hold him in their countries.  Besides, the man has some very highly placed connections.  Same for the local authorities.  Ol' Walt's a very careful man.  You're the first loose end they've left behind."

"What happened to the victims?"

"Same pattern."

"Which is?" he demanded.

"They were tortured for several days, then killed."


"His wife had a stroke, but she lingered for nearly a year."

"How did the other two victims die?" he repeated.

"Lethal injection of a drug that attacks the central nervous system.  It eventually causes hemorrhages in the brain that mimic a stroke.  It's slow and it's painful."

"Oh my God."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy wasn't sure if the visions he'd seen were dreams or hallucinations.  He knew he had a fever, but beyond that and the pain he felt, nothing seemed real.

It's all a nightmare, he decided.  Maybe I'm in hell.

The detective pulled weakly at the cuffs that still held him fastened to the barn wall.  Had there been a woman there?  Where was LaFiamma?

The detective's name made Lundy's stomach clench.  I got 'im killed, I know it.  Why the hell do people keep dyin' because o' me?  They should 'a known better 'n t' give me a partner.

"LaFiamma?" he mumbled, his eyes slipping closed.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I don't like it!  He's a cop!"

"What he is doesn't concern you," Simenson snarled as he seated himself behind the large teak desk in the polished den.

"Anything that might endanger my employer's concerns is my business, Simenson," the South African said.

"Anything but this.  And, if you continue, I'll be forced to ask you to leave.  Mr. Hernandez's man is on his way.  We will conclude our business today and I will take care of Kevin before I leave for Zurich."

"Fine, but I will voice my concerns to Mr. Rudd when I return to South Africa."

"Do whatever the hell you want, but for now, this is my home and I'll do as I damned well please.  Now, if you'll excuse me."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"What are we waiting for?" LaFiamma challenged.

Dom nodded at a faint cloud of dust that spiraled lazily into the clear morning sky at the horizon.  "Must be Hernandez's man.  We wait."

"Hell with that," the Italian said under his breath as he stood.

He managed two steps before he felt his feet being swept out from under him.  Falling to the ground, his anger mounted, but the bite of a cold blade resting alongside his neck kept it in check.

"Now, listen to me," Dom hissed quietly.  "I have a job to do.  We wait.  Your partner's in trouble, but if we go in there half-assed, we're all going to die."

"You said yourself that Lundy's in bad shape," the detective argued.  "I won't lose another partner because you won't move in to help him in time!"

"You're cops, you know the risks.  This is no different than one of your operations.  The priority rests with the mission.  We're expendable."

"That's my partner down there with that madman!  Can you understand that?  That makes it different.  He's not expendable, not to me!"

A soft beep from one of the sensors she had set-up interrupted the argument.  "Look, either you give me your word you'll do this my way, or I take you out of action right here."

LaFiamma paused.  He knew she could make good on the threat, but at the same time, he also knew that, given the chance, he would do whatever it took to get Lundy out alive, mission or not.  He nodded – better to play along and wait.

"Come on."  Dom moved to crouch in the shadows of the clef.  The car was slowly winding its way up to the house.  Simenson exited from the rear sliding glass doors with Toddson.  They walked briskly across the landscaped patio and yard to the barn.

"Damn," she breathed.  I'm going to hate myself if this guy dies, but I just can't risk moving too soon.  I'm going to have to watch LaFiamma, he's getting a little too wired.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Conditioned to the sound, Lundy looked up through bruised, slitted eyes when the door moaned open.  The two men moved inside.  Simenson waited while Toddson efficiently disconnected the detective from the wall.

"Toddson told me about your shield."

So, Boris has a name after all.  "I told you I was a cop," the blond slurred.

"You did this just to spite me, didn't you?"

"No, sir."

"Bring him."

The tall, well-muscled man nodded and jerked Lundy along.  The detective staggered for several steps before his strength gave out and he slumped to the ground.

"Get up," Toddson growled, yanking Levon to his feet.

"Go t' hell," the Texan said, blood flecking across his lips.

Toddson back-handed Lundy, snapping the detective's head back.

Simenson stopped, turning on the pair.  "Rand!  You will not touch Kevin unless I order it!"

"How many times do I have t' say it?  I'm not Kevin!"

"Enough!  I won't stand for you denying your mother, not under this roof!"

"I'm not denyin' anyone!  My name's Lundy, Levon Lundy.  I'm a Houston police officer.  I was out here camping with a friend—"

"Enough!  Take him!  Take him and see to it he knows who he is!  I want him to beg to admit it!"

Toddson nodded.  "I might kill him.  He's weak."

"Then it will be over and I can turn my attention back to my business.  This is too much for me.  The South African is hounding me, Hernandez's man is late.  No one can maintain a schedule that way!"  He glared at Levon, anger and a wild frantic look fighting across his face.  "It's all your fault, Kevin.  It's all been your fault!  Make sure he's given the drugs."

"Yes, sir," Toddson said.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"That's Lundy," LaFiamma hissed, leaning forward slightly, his body tensing.

"Easy, let's see what they're doing," Dom said.

The pair watched Rand Toddson half-drag the blond detective to the house.  Luncy was in poor shape, that much was clear.  Dom sighed silently.

"Now what?"

She checked the progress of the approaching car.  "He'll be here in twenty minutes, then we move.  It'll look sloppier than it should, but it might save your partner's life."  She paused, scanning the horizon.  "Hello."


"More company.  Who the hell is that?  Your people?"

"Not likely.  We aren't due back for a few more days."

"I hate surprises."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy twitched from the jolt of electricity that entered his body and fought back a scream.  His vision, reduced by a tight black ring, continued to constrict, but he was still focused on his tormentor.  Toddson grunted and fingered the various instruments of his trade.

The muscle-man couldn't understand the insanity that drove Simenson to slowly kill the detective, but he didn't mind the diversion.  However, with nothing specific to extract from the man, it was difficult to determine where the blond hung between life and death, and that rendered the process somewhat boring.

Lundy's head lolled drunkenly and he muttered LaFiamma's name.  Toddson, tiring of the electric stunner, set it aside for the thin kangaroo hide whip he'd used on the man before.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Yep, that's Hernandez's man," Dom said as she watched a dark Latino exit the car.  The unexpected visitor was approaching more slowly.  A sensor beeped quietly.  "Now what?"

She scanned the grounds with a pair of high-powered binoculars.  When she finished and had found nothing, she repeated the process, this time swearing softly under her breath.

"What?" LaFiamma asked.

"Trouble.  Looks like I'm not the only one on this case after all."

"Care to explain?" the detective asked tersely.

"Soviet man, Sergie.  The car in the distance must be his ride out of here."

"Oh, this is great.  First Lundy's grabbed by a psycho and ends up in the middle of a government hit and now the Russians are here, too?"


"All I know is this, I'm getting Lundy out of there, and if you or the Russians get in my way—"

"Joe," she said, interrupting, "I'll do my best."

He stared at her, trying to gage the sincerity of the words.  He shivered internally.  This was a lot bigger than he thought.  International crime rings, Russian spies, American hit-woman…  Way too big!  Jesus, it makes Uncle Mike's operations look puny!


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Simenson looked down at the unconscious detective and handed Toddson a prepared hypodermic.  "Give this to him and take him back to the barn.  I'll want to see him in an hour, then you can take him out to the desert and leave him where he won't be found."

"Fine by me."  The man took the hypodermic and injected Lundy with its contents.

The intercom in the room buzzed and Simenson moved to press the small button on the machine.  "Yes?"

"Mr. Hernandez's man is here," stated a female voice.

"Good, bring drinks to the pool."

"Yes, sir."

Simenson turned back to Lundy.  "You took the only thing I ever loved away from me, Kevin.  You took away the one person who ever loved me.  Now you'll die, just like she did – in pain, writhing, calling for help, but there won't be any."  He turned and stalked from the room.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Okay, looks like they're meeting by the pool, let's move," Dom said.

LaFiamma checked the Beretta and nodded.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy sucked in a breath as the injection site began to tingle.  Glancing around, he realized that he was back in the barn, his arm burning.  The fire quickly spread until it felt as if his whole body was on fire.  He fought against the cuffs as the burning sensation was joined by a razor-sharp pain that sliced through his body.  He swallowed a groan of pain and ground his teeth together.

Toddson chuckled.

LaFiamma?  Where're you, partner?  Damn it, Joe, where t' hell are you?

Toddson laughed louder and Levon glared at him defiantly.  "Twenty-four hours, Jack," the muscle-man told him.

"Yeah?" the detective managed through his gritted teeth.

"That's what the old man told me.  Twenty-four hours of increasing pain, then – boom!  Your brain explodes!  Man 'o man, I'm going to have to get me some of this shit.  It'll work wonders on a reluctant talker."

"Why's he doin' this?" the detective asked, then lapsed into a fit of coughing.

Toddson waited until the coughing ended before he said, "Fuck, like I'd know?  I just work for the man.  This whole thing's been one big waste of time for me.  Except finding out about this drug of his."

"Can't say I feel sorry for ya."

"Naw, I guess you wouldn't.  Tell you what, I don't have anything against you personally.  I could kill you quick."

"Don't do me any favors."

"Have it your way."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The Italian moved behind Dom, trying to keep up with her and not trip over his own feet on the rocky slope.  She was like a big cat, silent, fluid and sure-footed.  The truth of her identity and skills shook though him.  If they got out of this alive, he was going to see if he could get her to show him a few of the moves he'd seen.  If they got out alive.

They paused, sinking down behind an oleander hedge.  Simenson and the three contacts sat at a square glass table next to the pool, the crystal blue water casting wriggling reflections across their features.

The scream and the first man's silent drop to the concrete deck froze the detective momentarily.

The scream was Lundy.  A second cry, softer than the first, echoed across the landscape as Dom swung her silenced weapon up and fired into the matching hedge across the pool.  LaFiamma watched as a hand dropped out from under the bushes, blood running down off the fingertips.

"Damn it, Sergie.  That's two," she said softly.

The remaining three men were scrambling for cover even as she turned the weapon on them.  The laser site moved with calm efficiency to the back of the Arab's head.  She squeezed the trigger and the man flew forward, his face exploding away as he fell.

LaFiamma headed for Simenson, who, along with the South African representative, was heading for the cabana at the far end of the pool.  Dom chose the easier shot, catching the man in the throat, the force of the shot spinning him into the pool where the clear blue water clouded with red.

Simenson reached the building just before LaFiamma's shot gored a chunk of wood out above the door.

No time, the detective thought, I have to get to Lundy.

"Three and four," Dom whispered to herself, already moving again.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The intercom in the barn buzzed sharply.  Toddson smiled down at the detective as he writhed in the cuffs.  The drug was well on its way to killing the man, but the obvious pain the blond was enduring excited the muscle-man.  He moved reluctantly over to the machine.  "Toddson here."

"Rand!  Get out here, we're under attack!  And kill Kevin!"

The dark-haired man spun, drawing his 44.  He stopped.  LaFiamma blocked the doorway, his attention split between the man and his tortured partner.

"Friend of yours?" Toddson asked.

"You bastard."

The man shrugged.

LaFiamma raised the Beretta.

Toddson knew the look in the man's blue eyes.  He was going to kill him.  It was try or die.  He swung the 44 up and fired, but not at LaFiamma.

Lundy groaned and bucked against the handcuffs as he was hit.

The Italian squeezed the trigger and the muscle-man grunted as a bullet tore through his chest.  He dropped his gun.  LaFiamma's second shot entered just above the man's right knee, dropping him on that side.

Toddson smiled up at the detective defiantly.  "Your friend's quite a fighter.  Be sure to have him tell you everything I did to him before he dies.  Some of it's quite interesting and enjoyable."

LaFiamma had heard stories of people becoming so enraged that they saw red, but he'd never fully appreciated the idiom until that moment.  Slowly, carefully, he centered the Beretta's sites of the man's forehead.  The man's bravado faded slightly as the Italian smiled sadistically and squeezed.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Dom moved quickly to the wall of the cabana.  She knew the car would arrive soon.  Too many crashers at this party, she thought.

Simenson was moving around inside.  He's probably armed by now, she knew.  She listened, then hit the door low, entering in a crouch.  The oil-man held a small 38 Smith and Wesson.  Swinging toward the sound of her intrusion, he paled.

Dom stood.




"You're a fucking asshole, that's why.  By the way, Callihan sends his regards."  With that she raised the laser-sited revolver and fired.  The bullet entered Simenson's forehead and she watched dispassionately as he fell.

Checking to make sure the job was finished, she smiled thinly.  "And, that's five. Too bad Sergie had to get in the way."

She ran back to the barn.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


LaFiamma found the keys to the handcuffs in Toddson's jacket and released his partner.  The earlier screams were now replaced by a constant low moaning.

"Lundy?  Can you hear me?  Levon?"  With the lack of response, LaFiamma wrestled his partner around so that he could lift the injured man.  His eyes were closed, his head tossing from side to side, and he was wet from sweat.

Lundy coughed violently, blood frothing across his lips.

"Oh, God.  Please, Lundy, just hold on, huh?  We'll get you out of here.  I promise, partner."

The blond coughed again, his eyes fluttering open.  LaFiamma?  Joe?  Am I dead?  Caroline!  Help me!  "Joe?" he choked out.

"I'm right here.  You're going to be fine.  Help's on the way."

"Wrong.  Trouble's on the way," Dom said, running into the barn.  "Come on, we have to get him into the house.  Sergie's ride'll be here in less than three."

"But Lundy's—"

"In the house!  Now!"

LaFiamma hefted the wounded man and followed her to the house.  Laying Levon on the first couch he found, the dark-haired detective yanked a white linen tablecloth off a nearby table and used it to staunch the flow of blood from the man's chest.

"LaFiamma," he gasped out.

"Shhh, don't talk.  I think you've got a collapsed lung."

Lundy shook his head.  "Listen, s'portant."


"Drugs… twenty-four hours… dead."

"You've been drugged?"

Lundy nodded weakly.


The woman slipped around the corner.  "Shh."

"They've already given him the drugs."

"Shit," she hissed.  "Look, they're just about in the drive.  There're three of them.  I'm gonna to try 'n' talk to them.  They're a pain in the ass, but they're professionals – they aren't stupid.  At least I hope they aren't.  If this doesn't work, shoot to kill.  He'll have to wait."

"Wait!  I—"

"This doesn't work we'll all be dead!"

The tone of her voice convinced him.  "We'll be back," LaFiamma promised his partner as he checked the Beretta, then followed the black-haired woman.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The three men climbing out of the charcoal sedan looked like Russians.  LaFiamma wasn't sure why, but they did.  "It's like something out of a bad movie."

"Tell me about it."

She called out in what he assumed was Russian and the threesome stopped.  Two carried Mac 10's, the other an assault gun.  They looked around with trained eyes.  She spoke again and the one with the assault weapon replied.  He didn't sound happy.

The conversation lasted for less than a minute before the man with the assault gun motioned to one of his companions.  The second left, returning with Sergie's body, which he placed in the trunk of the sedan.  The leader and Dom exchanged a few more words before the men backed slowly into the sedan and pulling out in a cloud of dust.

He watched her visibly relax.  "Come on," she told him. "Simenson must have the drugs in the house."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


They split up to search the house, LaFiamma working his way through the first floor until he was back in the room where he'd left Lundy.  He heard a whoop from Dom a moment before she emerged at the top of the stairs, holding up a pair of vials.

"Got 'em!"

"How do we get him out of here?"

"Why don't we borrow a limo?" she suggested.

"You drive."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


LaFiamma slid into the wide backseat of Simenson's white Limo, then helped Dom maneuver Lundy in.  Propping him up against the seat, the detective pulled the blond's legs in and caught the woman's glance.  "Hurry," he said softly, surprised to find worry in her gray eyes.

She paused for just a moment before she shook her head slightly and said, "Sorry, too familiar."  Shutting the door she moved to the front and, with a single look over her shoulder at the partners, drove off.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy coughed.

LaFiamma shifted slightly, holding the Texan against his chest.  Lundy's breathing had become one long, deep wheezing gasp.  And with each battle for a breath the detective grew weaker.  Much longer and he wouldn't have the strength to take another breath.

"Dom," he said, trying to keep his voice calm, "how much longer?"

"We're on the outskirts of Houston.  Closest hospital, about five minutes."

"He hasn't got five minutes," the detective snapped.

She glanced up to look at him in the rear-view mirror.  "Don't give up now, Joe."

Turning his attention back to his partner, LaFiamma found himself breathing along with the blond.  A long, slowly drawn gasp, held for a moment, then the equally slow, painful forcing of the breath back out – again and again.  It made LaFiamma's head spin.

"Lundy, I swear, you stop breathing and I'll give you mouth to mouth," he threatened when the blond paused slightly longer than usual before he began to exhale.

Levon managed a thin smile.

Looking out the tinted car windows, LaFiamma watched the Houston skyline grow larger.  "Just a couple more, Lundy.  We're almost there."

The blond shuddered slightly and the Italian looked back.  He felt his muscles constrict.  His partner's face was a sickly gray, his lips blue.  Panic flashed in the brown eyes that locked on LaFiamma's blue.

Lundy tried to breathe again, but the exhaustion had left him without the resources.  Instead, he opened his mouth slightly and then closed it, brown eyes filling with unshed tears.  He smiled weakly at LaFiamma and shook his head slightly, then mouthed a single word:  Sorry.

"Lundy!"  The detective shook his partner's shoulders.  No response.  He looked up and saw that Dom was parking at the hospital's emergency entrance.  She let out a long blast on the horn.

"Hurry, he isn't breathing," he told the two orderlies who opened the car door and looked inside.

They reached in and took the Texan, LaFiamma feeling lost and afraid now that the weight of Lundy's body was gone.

"Come on," Dom said quietly.  "Let's wait inside."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"Joe, why don't you let me pace for a while and you can sit?" Dom asked after she returned from making a call.

LaFiamma contemplated a nasty reply but knew she had a point.  He'd been walking around the waiting room for nearly an hour.  The people who were already there when they'd arrived had left after fifteen minutes of the detective's nervous wanderings.

"Sorry," he mumbled, then dropped into a pale peach-colored chair to wait.  "Don't you think they should've come out here to talk to us by now?"

"Joe?"  A very worried police lieutenant joined them.

"No word yet, Lieutenant."

"Just what the hell happened out there?"

"Huh," the detective stalled, unsure if he could explain it to her, even if he wanted to.  A nurse walking in to join them ended his efforts.

"Mrs. Lundy?" she asked, looking at Dom.

"Mrs.?" Joanna nearly squeaked, losing what was left of her composure -- a rare occurrence.  "Just who the—?"

"I'll explain everything, Joanna, later," LaFiamma said firmly.  "How's Lundy?"

The nurse looked vaguely confused, but she'd seen plenty of confused and bickering families during her time at the hospital.  "Mr. Lundy's been placed in the Intensive Care Unit.  Dr. Costigian would like to see you in her office."

"This is my husband's partner.  They're detectives.  And his lieutenant.  Could they accompany me?" Dom asked.

The nurse nodded, her expression sympathetic.

For the first time, Joe noticed the Hopi design wedding band on Dom's left ring finger and wondered if it had been there all along or not.

After getting directions from the nurse, LaFiamma, Joanna and Dom left the waiting room for the elevators.

"You married, huh?" the Italian asked as the door slid shut.

"Used to be.  He's dead."

"I'm sorry," Joe said softly.

"Would someone like to tell me what's happening, please?" Joanna asked.

"Your detectives ended up in the middle of a federal operation," Dom said, her voice matter-of-fact.  "The nurse just assumed that I was Lundy's wife and it's easier to let people think what they want."

"A government—?"  She looked accusingly at LaFiamma.  "I thought I told you two no police work?"

"It wasn't like I had a choice, Lieutenant.  Simenson kidnapped Lundy and the Russians— And Dom, huh—"

The elevator doors opened and they stepped around several people getting on.

"Wait a minute," Joanne said, reaching out to grab LaFiamma's arm.  "Simenson?  Walter Simenson?"

"The very same," Dom confirmed.

"Why would he grab Lundy?"

Dom paused outside the doctor's office.  "I'll explain as much as I can once we hear what the doctor has to say about Lundy.  It really wasn't their fault."

"I can't wait," Beaumont muttered under her breath as they entered the doctor's office.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"How long will he have to stay in ICU?" LaFiamma asked.

"It depends on how quickly we can clear up the majority of the pneumonia now that we have the lung inflated.  He's a very lucky man.  If you hadn't brought him in when you did, he wouldn't have made it.  With the drug and its anti-agent, we had no problem countering the effects of the injection, thank goodness.  We'll eventually want to do a CAT scan to make sure he didn't suffer any brain damage."

"When can we see him?" Joanna asked.

"Right now I'd like to hold visits to immediate family members only, and then only for five minutes."

Joanna and LaFiamma shifted uncomfortably.  "That would be detective LaFiamma and I," Dom said.

"Oh," the doctor said, his eyes rounding slightly.  "I didn't recognize the family resemblance until now."

LaFiamma blushed slightly.  "Thanks, sis," he said softly.

"Don't mention it."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"I never noticed the assumptions that people make about relationships until now," LaFiamma said as they waited for the elevator to carry them to the seventh floor. "I mean, when I'm out with a woman, everybody knows I'm on a date."

Dom grinned.  "For some reason people seem see me in the way that best fits the situation.  It's saved my life more times than I can count so I don't think much about it."  She watched him nod.  A shadow flickered across his face.  "What's wrong?"

"Huh?  Oh, nothing."


"A little," he admitted.  The elevator door opened and they stepped into the wide, well-lit corridor.  A blue and white sign directed them to the ICU nurse's station.

A pretty Hispanic nurse looked up from where she was writing in a file.  "May I help you?"

"We're here to see Levon Lundy," Dom said.

She scanned the list of rooms.  "He's in 723; that's at the end of the south wing, on the left."

"Thanks," Joe added.  Walking along the carpeted hallway, he watched Dominique.  "How do you deal with it?" he asked as they paused outside Lundy's closed door.



She studied the detective for a moment, unsure what it was he was really asking.  "You've killed in the line of duty."

He nodded.  "Do you mind?" he asked, inclining his head toward the door.

"No, go ahead.  You can have my five minutes, too."



* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


The blond lay unnaturally still in the hospital bed, raised at the head so that he was nearly seated.  Eyes closed, the bruises stood out on his pale skin, drawn taut across the cheekbones.  Various monitoring machines filled the room with sound.

LaFiamma walked slowly to the bedside.  Reaching down, he stopped short of actually touching the injured man's shoulder.  "I told you we'd get here in time," he said softly.  "You're going to be fine, you know.  The doctor said it's all but beat."

Brown eyes, unfocused and slightly glassy, opened.  Lundy coughed slightly and wheezed.  He looked up at his partner.

"How're you feeling?" LaFiamma asked.

Lundy nodded slightly.

"You know, I appreciate all this, but you really didn't have to go to all this trouble to save me a horseback ride back to the Jimmy."

Levon smiled and coughed again, the effort contorting his face into a mask of pain.

LaFiamma reached out and took his partner's hand, feeling the fear and agony the man felt in the panicked grip.  "Easy, partner, easy."

Easing back against the pillows, Lundy cleared his throat and asked, "Simenson?"

"We got him."

Levon nodded.  "I saw," he panted, "Toddson."

LaFiamma shivered.  "I didn't mean to do that, Lundy.  I— I don't know—"

"No… wanted t' thank ya… Joe—"

"I've never done anything like that," LaFiamma said.  "I lost it.  It was like I was on automatic.  I didn't feel anything.  I just wanted him to die, slow."

"'S okay… I understand…  Kind 'a glad."

The Italian searched his partner's face.  Lundy did understand.  The absolute lack of feeling, or maybe it was just an utter hatred or anger; whatever it was, the detective prayed he never felt it again.

"I didn't think you were going to make it," Joe said softly.

"Too stubborn t' die."

Joe smiled.  "There's someone you're going to have to meet when you're feeling better."


"Yeah, she's the one who got Simenson."

"I 'member…  She was in the barn."  Lundy's eyes fluttered, finally closing.

LaFiamma nodded and squeezed his partner's hand more tightly.  "Get some rest, partner.  You're gonna be fine."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


"When'd she leave?" LaFiamma asked Joanna.

"I don't know.  I was talking with the nurse and when I went back to the waiting room, she was gone."

"If she's the kind of agent you suspect, that's not much of a surprise," Annie added.  "How's Levon?"

"He was awake for a while.  I think he'll be okay."

"How about you?" Annie asked.

"Me, too."

"I'm going to head back to Reisner," Lieutenant Beaumont told them.  "Call me if anything happens.  I'm going to try and run this mystery woman down."

"Good luck," Joe said.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Three days later Lundy was making great progress.  The lung was holding its own, the antibiotics holding the pneumonia to manageable levels, and there were no apparent effects from the drug.  LaFiamma was at home, cleaning his guns in preparation to returning to duty the following day.  He smiled.  It had been a close call, but tomorrow Lundy would be moved to a regular room, and soon it would all be behind them.  There had been no word from Dom, and Joanna had been unable to locate any information on her.

"Not surprised," he mused out loud.  Growing more serious, he wished his own feelings of guilt and fear would disappear as effectively.  He was still having nightmares, instant replays where he watched himself slowly execute Toddson.  He sighed.

A knock on the door revived him from the growing depression he was slipping into and the detective opened it with little thought.

"Jeeze, LaFiamma, you're going to get yourself in trouble throwing your door open to strangers like that."

"Dom!" he said, genuinely happy to see her.

"Hi, how's Lundy?" she asked, stepping into the apartment.

"Fine, he's gonna to be fine, but you know that.  The nurses told me someone's been calling regularly to check on his condition.  I guessed it was you."


"You out there covering your tracks?"

She nodded.  "I had to make sure Simenson's organization was finished for good."

"Is it?"


"Amen.  What now?"

"Now I go after the top men."

"I thought they'd take care of themselves."

"Let's just say I'm the cautious sort."

He snorted.  "Then why come back here?"

"I wanted to say goodbye, and I wanted a chance to meet your partner."

"He'll like that."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Lundy looked up from where he had been scowling at the tray of what the hospital staff euphemistically called "food."  LaFiamma was grinning at him.

"Whatcha grinnin' at?  How do they expect a man to heal-up if they give him this kind of, of—"

"I have a surprise for you."

"What?  You develop brains and common sense over the last couple 'a days?"

The old Lundy was back.  The Chicagoan felt a warm tickle of relief surge through him.  "No, you hick.  I have someone who wants to meet you, hell if I know why.  Lundy, this is Dom, I, uh, don't have a last name."

"You usually don't--" the Texan muttered under his breath, stopping when he saw the woman who entered his room.

"Hi," she said.

It was her.  The blood drained from his face and he gripped the bedside table where the tray sat.  She had been real.  He had wanted to die.

"Hey, you okay, partner?" LaFiamma asked, concerned.

"Huh?  Uh, yeah, yeah, I'm fine.  Huh, Joe, could you leave us alone for a minute?" the blond asked in a near whisper.

Confused, the Italian nodded.  "Sure, I'll, er, go get a cup of coffee."

Lundy waited for the door to close before he said, "I thought you were a dream.  I was hoping that was a dream.  A nightmare."

"You weren't in real good shape.  Things like that happen."

Lundy nodded, the memories flooding back into his mind.

Dom walked over and took a seat on the foot of the bed.  "I'm glad you're going to be okay."

"Much obliged," he replied, looking away.  "Guess I should thank ya for not killin' me."

She smiled.  "No need.  I wouldn't've anyway."

It was so clear.  Lundy remembered being cuffed in the barn, Boris having just finished with him.  Pain, guilt and desperation welled up inside him.  He screamed, fighting to get free or get himself killed.  It did nothing to affect the muscle-man.  Toodson left.  Lundy lost control.  A shadow moved across his vision, then there was a woman, this woman, keeling next to him, holding him, soothing him as he cried.  He'd begged her to kill him.  She'd cried with him, refusing and promising to return.

He had clung to that promise -- consciously at times, unconsciously at others.

"I wanted to take you out then," she said softly, clearly fighting her own guilt.  "But I had to wait.  The mission was vital."

"Simenson was a dangerous man," Levon said.  He reached out a hand and she took it, holding it in a firm grip.  Pulling her closer, he drew her into a long, forgiving hug.  "Thank you," he said as he released her.  "And thank ya for lookin' out for LaFiamma, too."

"He's quite a guy."

"I know.  Damned good partner, too, but don't tell him I said that."

She smiled and laughed.  "I won't."  She shook her head.


"Nothing, you just remind me of a couple of other guys I know – a pair of Los Angeles cops."

There was a soft knock on the door.  "Can I come in?" LaFiamma asked through the slightly cracked the door.

"Sure thing," Lundy called.

The Italian stepped inside, looking at the two smiling faces.  Whatever they'd shared it seemed to have done them both a world of good, and that was enough for him.  "So, you going to eat that stuff or wait until it turns to rubber?"

"I think it already has.  Can't you sneak somethin' in here that'll put me on my feet again?  How about some of Chicken's ribs?"

"They'd arrest me for contributing to the delinquency of a patient," LaFiamma countered.

"Some partner you are," the blond grouched.  "Won't even risk a little ol' nurse bawlin' ya out to help a friend."

"'Little ol' nurse?'  Have you seen the women who work on this floor, Lundy?  They're bigger than Chicken!  Probably meaner, too."

Dom started laughing and the two detectives quickly joined her.  Lundy finally grabbed his sides and begged them to stop.

Dom wiped her eyes, saying, "Well, gentlemen, it's been… an experience."

"Will we see you again?" they asked in chorus.

"Who knows?  It looks like I'll be spending more time in the States.  I might turn up."

"Be careful," Lundy told her.

"Yeah," LaFiamma agreed.

"You guys, too.  And be good to yourselves."  She slid off the bed and headed for the door.  "You're lucky, you know."

"How do ya figure?" Lundy asked.

"It isn't many people who end up in a match made in heaven," she said, touching her finger to a non-existent hat and sliding out the door.

"What do you think she meant by that?" LaFiamma asked, a slight brush of rose clinging to his cheeks.

"I don't have a clue," the blond replied.

"No, me either."

The End