Cary Anne Conder

 

CHAPTER ONE


10 April 1990

Seated at the counter in the airport restaurant, the Skycap slowly sipped his coffee. The coffee was just as he liked it: scalding hot, black, and strong enough to melt a spoon. At the end of his shift, he debated whether or not to remain and pick up some additional tips from the last flights in from the mainland. Every little bit helped to pay the bills. His only means of income were three part-time jobs whose hours encompassed his day from eight in the morning until ten or eleven at night, six days a week. With these he managed to make ends meet. Just. The hours left him with little or no time for socialising.

He snorted soundlessly. Were it not for the run-down, ancient streamliner trailer he had inherited from an old acquaintance, he would never survive on his own. Partying was, for the most part, out of the question.

A loner by choice, he claimed few friends amongst his peers at the airport. Nor was he particularly gregarious with his associates at his other day jobs. Most found him recalcitrant, even bad-tempered, and avoided him. That suited him just fine.

The Skycap was tall and gaunt. At one time his frame had possessed an iron quality from lifting weights. He had been considered the epitome of Italian masculinity. His hot-blooded heritage had once been a matter of extreme pride. Now his recent past loomed too close, his pride warped, damaged by what he had been forced to endure. That he had suffered repeated degradation as a direct result of his own lawlessness meant nothing to the Skycap. His hatred for those who had testified against him knew no bounds, but they were beyond his reach. Someone else had seen to that.

Greying hair and a receding hairline accentuated sharply angular features. He resembled nothing short of a caricature of Peter Cushing at his most villainous. Most people tended to give him a wide berth when they encountered him outside the workplace. And that was the way he liked it.

The airport noise level abruptly increased. The voice of the female announcer echoed mechanically, her forced cheerfulness marginally annoying as she announced the arrival of the eleven twenty-five flight from Seattle, Washington. Deciding the day's workload had taken sufficient toll the Skycap remained at the counter, watching the deplaning passengers with sarcastic indifference.

Tourists! They were all marks looking for someone to take them for whatever they carried. The sound of children's laughter grated on his nerves. The Skycap cringed at the sharp decibels that ricocheted off the narrow confines of the umbilical access. It reverberated into the open area around the baggage carousels, impinging painfully upon the hearing of other, weary transients. A family of five emerged into the open floor area. The father and his two sons headed directly for the appropriate carousel to await the arrival of their luggage. The mother remained off to one side, corralling her energetic daughter. The Skycap continued to drink his coffee, watching the family distractedly from the corner of his eye.

"Mom," voice a piercing note, the child pointed in the direction of a group being met by a tour guide. The guide was draping leis over her party's heads. "How come they get flowers and we don't?"

The woman smiled indulgently. "They're probably with a holiday tour, dear. It's most likely in the cost of their trip."

"But I want flowers," pleaded the child in an annoying, piping, shrill voice.

"Perhaps tomorrow. Your father and I'll see about picking up some leis, if you really want one," responded the woman with strained patience.

"That's not fun," complained her daughter with the juvenile petulance of an over-tired youngster who had been confined to the restrictive space of an aircraft for several hours.

The Skycap glanced up. The continued complaints irritated him. Unexpectedly his attention focused. In disbelief he stared at the woman, scarcely daring to breathe. Then he stood and moved rapidly from view. A cruel, anticipatory smile twisted one side of his thin-lipped mouth. Satisfaction oozed from him with oily emanations akin to the slime trail left by garden slugs. Having assessed the situation, he slid from the nearest exit and secured himself a spot in the shadows. There he would watch the exits without being remarked.

"You're going to have to wait, Sera," insisted the child's mother.

"But, Mom," Sera whined.

"Sera, that's enough," hissed the woman sharply. She glanced up apologetically at the other people milling around the floor area. "It's not as though we're here on holiday."

"Mom! We got it," called one of her sons.

"Thank goodness," she sighed.

The two boys returned, pushing two baggage carts in tandem. With undisguised relief the mother picked up Sera and unceremoniously plunked her daughter in the seat in the rear of the first cart. Sera squirmed, rebellious over the confinement.

"I don't wanna sit here," she informed her mother. "This is for babies."

"Sera, that's enough. Be still and be quiet." Her mother ordered in a tone that brooked no further disobedience. Sera opened her mouth, caught her mother's look, and fell into a pout instead. "Daniel. Where's your father?"

"He said he'd meet us outside, Mom," replied the eldest boy. "He's gone to get the car."

"All right," acknowledged their mother. "Let's go."

The Skycap shifted impatiently in the shadows. The father had emerged and disappeared in the direction of the rental car lot, but there was no sign of the others. More tourists poured through the doors. Cab after cab, hotel limousine after hotel limousine, arrived, loaded and departed. Several rental cars drew up and left in rapid succession. Most were driven away by businessmen. The Skycap knew the type. They frequently tipped well. Some talked too much, but most were quiet to the point of being sullen.

A dark blue compact bearing Tilden plates drew up just as the woman and her three children stepped from the terminal. The husband emerged from the driver's seat. He had two leis in hand. These he draped around his wife and daughter, making much of the child in the process. The Skycap slipped away to the employees' parking pot to pick up his own vehicle.

"David," admonished the woman. "You shouldn't have."

Her husband smiled indulgently. "It solves a number of problems, Sharon. And they didn't cost very much."

"I suppose." She joined him in lifting the luggage into the trunk of the car. Half her attention remained on the now squabbling youngsters.

"I'm going to sit in front with Mom and Dad," Daniel announced imperiously.

"You always sit in front," groused the younger boy.

"I wanna sit in the front," Sera added her piece. She reinforced her statement by attempting to scramble out of the luggage cart. Her intent was clear. She planned to push past her brothers, with an eye to climbing into the coveted area of the car before they could prevent it.

"Sera." Her younger brother grabbed her arm in an effort to keep her safely trapped in the cart.

"Let me go, Chris."
Sera attempted to jerk free from his hold. The luggage cart tilted dangerously. Sera squeaked in surprise. Chris hurriedly leaned into the cart, keeping it upright.

"Chris," Daniel moved to interrupt the sibling altercation. "Let go of Sera."

Sharon looked up from behind the raised trunk lid and frowned. Obviously she had been through this routine numerous times in the past. Her husband grinned at her and moved from behind the car. His voice carried clearly to his squabbling offspring.

"That's enough. All of you." He glared at them. "Daniel, you'll sit in the back with the others. And that's the end of it."

"Ah, Dad," Daniel grumbled.

"You'll do as you're told, young man," enforced his father. "I'm relying on you to help with this move. Not create additional problems for your mother and I by throwing your weight around. Now, help Sera down. It's late. We could all do with some sleep and we still have to unpack when we find the address."

"Particularly as we've all added three hours to our clocks," inserted Sharon for her husband's benefit only.

Daniel's shoulders slumped with resignation. While Chris steadied the cart, he helped Sera out. All three hovered around the rear door. David slammed the lid. As he walked up the side of the car, he examined the children.

"You boys take the window seats. Sera, I want you in to middle so I can use the rear view mirror."

There was such a note of finality to those instructions that none of the three dared contradict him. As they piled into the car, their parents exchanged weary looks.

"I don't know, David," said Sharon. "There are definitely times when I think we bit off more than we could chew, deciding on three."

Her husband leaned on the roof of the car. His eyes gleamed with tired humour. "What's this 'we decided' business? Since when was I consulted on you-know-who?"

"David."

Sharon playfully threatened to throw her purse at him in retaliation. David's grin broadened to impish proportions. The reaction was somewhat incongruous with his age, and was heightened by the liberal sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose.

"Get in the car, dear," he advised.

They drove down the ramp from Honolulu International, merging smoothly with the flow of traffic. Their progress took them in the general direction of the downtown core. Neither parent paid particular attention to the vehicles around them. They missed the two-tone blue and white pick-up that drew out, one car behind them.

The heady perfume of the lei plumeria blossoms filled the interior despite the open window on the driver's side. Sharon inhaled deeply. She closed her eyes, revelling in the old familiar scents. In the back seat, Sera pluck impatiently at the blossoms until the back seat and her brothers were speckled with a fine sprinkling of lemon yellow and white petals.

* * *

His prey was unaware and unworried. The Skycap felt secure. They would suspect nothing until the actual moment he moved. He held a steady speed, braking at lights, and, once, daringly drawing alongside them. The rental turned off up a winding street. The route led to a relatively new condominium development. Face twisted out of true with irritation, the Skycap slowed and stopped, watching as the Tilden car disappeared through the gates of the complex. Security was tight in those buildings.

Aware it would be almost impossible to successfully penetrate the security system without alerting the local police, he gritted his teeth with frustration and thumped the steering wheel several times. This meant he would have to wait to carry through his plans. However, the delay meant there was more time to prepare the finer details. Spinning the wheel, he burned a U-turn and drove back toward the main feeder through the city. The Skycap was far from concerned. He had waited more than twelve years already. A little more time was of no immediate consequence. Not once in the past eleven years had he expected to be afforded this opportunity. The anticipation itself would carry him through the remaining hours or days it took to exact his retribution.


CHAPTER TWO


11 April 1990


An overcast sky failed to dim the brightness of the day. Glare danced along the tops of the breakers and glittered with gem brilliance off white crests as they foamed in to crash onto the sand. Three children in T-shirts, shorts and sneakers raced up the beach. Their high-pitched voices merged with the shrill crying of frigate birds and cormorants high overhead.

"Daniel," Sharon called from the edge of the parking lot. The oldest boy spun around in mid-stride, halting with a curious, backward hopping motion.

"Yeah, Mom."

"Don't go far," his mother cautioned. "We're leaving shortly."

"Okay."

David rotated his shoulders to loosen muscles that had stiffened during the flight from the mainland the previous evening. "Give them some free rein, Sharon. You're only a child once."

His wife shaded her eyes against the glare and inhaled deeply, savouring the smell of warm sand and the tang of salt. She toed the sand edging the parking lot.

"I suppose," she conceded at length. "It's just---I can't forget the past as readily as I'd like."

Taking her hand in his, David led her down the beach. Few cars passed along the highway behind them. Gaps in the traffic were considerable. Often as long as ten minutes passed before another vehicle whipped by. The interludes were peaceful, the sea and breeze a soothing balm.

"I wish he'd been home," commented Sharon wistfully.

"All that anticipation," chuckled David, "and a fizzled ending." He automatically glanced over his shoulder to check on the children. "If the neighbours were correct, and he did go fishing at first light, he ought to be home sometime around noon. Fishing's never very good at this time of the day. Unless you're deep sea fishing."

"Maybe." Sharon's face lit up. "He's definitely in for a surprise."

The only sound disrupting the thunder of the waves was the cheerful chatter of the two boys as they constructed a sandcastle. Sera was head down, captivated by a clutter of storm shattered, sun-bleached shells which banded the beach.
David became practical. "Time to see about an early lunch for the hungry horde."

"Hmmm," she concurred absently.

Arm in arm, they sauntered back towards the car. Sharon peered up the beach as another vehicle drew into the parking lot beside their car. She located the children. The short respite before this intruder's arrival had been worthwhile. Both she and David needed the time, however brief, in which to reorganise their plans.

"Do you suppose there's time to take them over to Sealife?"

"I don't know." David glanced at his watch. "Maybe. We could have lunch there."

"Sounds good." She paused. "It's a shame about the Whaling Wall. Fancy letting anyone build that close to it."

"There's no accounting for builder's logic," remarked her husband.

"You can say that again." Sharon scowled. "I don't know what all the fuss was about, anyway. Do you remember the mural in Victoria? I thought it did wonders, brightening up that blank wall on the side of Clancy's restaurant."

"You and a number of others," he concurred. David shrugged. "Sometimes it's fighting a losing battle against developers."

"Now, I wonder what's caught their interest?" Sharon mused. She directed her husband's attention toward the children.

David stared up the beach. Sera had apparently discovered something worth showing her brothers, for all three were squatted near some bushes, poking at something buried in the sand.

"It could be almost anything." David raised his voice. "Daniel! Chris! Sera!" Three heads lifted in unison. The boys stood, but Sera paused long enough to gather up her prize.

"Coming," responded Daniel.

Their eldest son took a single step in their direction and froze. Fear filled his face. A shadow fell across Sharon. Startled by the warning prickle the shadow invoked, and by her son's abnormal behaviour, she spun. Her husband fell past her into the sand. Sharon barely had time to realise David was unconscious, a spot of blood welling up behind his right ear, before her husband's assailant descended upon her. She leapt back in terror as she recognised their attacker.

"Daniel, run!"

There was enough of his father in Daniel that he obeyed instantly. Pausing only long enough to grab his brother and sister by the hand, he fled. Sera cried as he yanked her after him. Her newest treasure tumbled from her grasp. The trio tore up the beach, fleeing the scene. The sharp report of a pistol rent the air, but the expended bullet passed nowhere near them as they dodged into the thick screen of shrubs flanking the rock point. Plunging under cover, the children paused to regain their strength.

In the instant following Sharon's scream, the man backhanded her sharply across the face. She staggered and fell in a dazed heap. The man's arm swung up. Realising what he was about to do, she booted his leg, spoiling his aim. Her assailant cursed loudly, swung about, and kicked her solidly in the ribs. Stunned, she was unable to collect herself in time. The man flung her onto her face. One knee planted squarely in the small of her back, he yanked her hands behind her and lashed them together. Then he dragged her roughly up the slope.

Sharon struggled briefly in an effort to break free, but the ropes were too tight. The tarmac scraped the flesh on her legs through the fabric of her lightweight cotton slacks. Unconcerned, her captor flung her hard against the front bumper of his car. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a taxi sign before her breath exploded from her. She slithered helplessly to the asphalt. Pain was an all-encompassing universe along her back and left side, now. It came and went in rapid waves in time to her breathing. Footsteps receded. Sharon lay still, retching dryly and fighting to draw another breath. When she was next able to concentrate on what was transpiring, she witnessed the man dragging her still unconscious husband up onto the pavement. He callously dropped David beside her.

Straightening, their assailant rapidly surveyed the highway and surroundings. No one was in sight. He casually reached into the left pocket of his windbreaker and pulled out a hand-sized case. He squatted beside her husband. A syringe and a vial of clear fluid occupied the Styrofoam lined compartment. Sharon watched in horror as their assailant bent over her husband and rolled up his left sleeve. From the corner of his eye he caught her stare.

"It's okay," he casually informed her. "I ain't gonna kill him. Not yet, anyway. Neither of you're getting off easy, lady. This is just a little night cap to make sure you don't give me any trouble while I put you in safe storage."

His maliciously grin sent Sharon's heart leaping. Her pulse raced. With calculated precision, their assailant depressed the plunger. The tranquilliser entered David's vein smoothly. Knees drawn up to her chest, Sharon waited fearfully. The man removed the syringe, swabbed off the spot and refilled the needle's reservoir. He leaned over her. Expert fingers twisted her arm about, seeking a vein. Finding one, he thumped it until it rose enticingly. Before inserting the needle, he reached out. With surprising gentleness, he tilted her face up to study her expression. Sharon squeezed her eyes shut, determined not to grant him the satisfaction of witnessing her terror.

"Not so brave now, are you," he taunted. He released his grip on her chin. The needle pricked sharply as it entered the skin. "You owe me, lady. And now you're gonna pay."

Sharon's eyes flew open. Hatred flared, naked and searing but her captor was unaffected. He smirked, watching her carefully as he depressed the plunger.

"You're gonna suffer, just like I suffered, you bitch! First your brats, then your husband. And, last of all, you." Sharon felt herself sliding away as the drug took effect. His last words inserted themselves into her fading consciousness. "Then, when you've lost everything like I did, I'll let you---"

Her eyelids fluttered shut before he could finish. He was unconcerned. There would be plenty of time later to explain to her the living hell she was going to live through when he had finished with her. Once he was certain she was beyond resistance, he dragged the unconscious bodies into the back seat of the stolen cab, and concealed them beneath a blanket. Thus far he had been exceptionally fortunate. It was lucky for him they had elected to visit old friends mid-week, prior to the long weekend rush. Extremely lucky their plans had altered so suddenly. He smirked to himself at the irony. A stray consideration intruded upon his daydreaming. He stared along the beach at the line of footprints that were now rapidly vanishing beneath the intruding waves.

"Ain't no use hiding," he crooned quietly. His eyes gleamed with cruel anticipation. "I'll be back to deal with you later." He climbed behind the wheel. Metre flag flipped into the off-duty position, he drove away.

Three pairs of eyes watched in bewilderment. A solitary finger hastily scrawled in the sand beneath the branches of a nearby bush. Hatred formed in a tiny coal in an eleven-year old's heart. As soon as the car left the parking lot, Sera tugged urgently at the back of her brother's Batman T-shirt. He made no effort to push her away.

"Daniel," she whispered fearfully. "What are we gonna do?"

Daniel stared after the vanishing taxi until he was positive it would not return. He sensed the perils inherent in their having returned to such close proximity to the parking lot. At the same time, he felt it was far out-weighed by the information he had secured concerning their parents' abductor. He drew Chris to his side.

"Chris." Daniel pointed to where their mother's clutch bag lay, abandoned, at the edge of the parking lot. "Go get Mom's purse."

"I ain't going out there," retorted Chris. "You're the oldest. You go."

Daniel considered the options. He could continue to argue the point, but it was far simpler to concede. "Okay. But you two keep good watch. If you see anything, anything," he emphasised heavily, "yell."

Memory of the shot was foremost in his thoughts as Daniel crept from cover. Crouched at the edge of the thicket, he surveyed the landscape. Then, taking a deep breath, he launched himself across the intervening sand in a scrambling run. Bent double, he whirled without stopping, fielding the purse on the move.

Seconds later he was back under cover. His chest heaved as he dropped down beside his brother and sister. Opening his mother's purse, Daniel scrounged inside. Their mother always carried a tiny pen and a scratch pad. Locating them, he took them and copied down the information he had written in the sand. Some of it had been obliterated by his mad dash, but he remembered enough to fill in the blanks. Chris and Sera watched in silence.

"Now what?" Chris demanded imperiously as Daniel finished.

His brother threw a single glance in the direction the taxi had taken. He got to his feet. Pad and pen secured back inside the purse he handed it to Sera. She accepted it without question, grasping it as though it were a security blanket.

"Now we walk," he informed them.

Squaring his shoulders, Daniel led off up the beach without looking back. Sera hesitated. Her lower lip trembled with misery and confusion. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before. She was frightened, but shock was already disassociating her from reality. When her brother was several yards away, she raced after him.

"Where are we going?" Chris shouted without moving.

"Back to that house up the road," Daniel called over his shoulder.

"But that's miles."

"It's not that far, Chris." Daniel paused to glare at him. "Come on, Chris. Besides, who else can we go to?"

"The police," whispered Chris angrily, knowing Daniel was right.

He continued staring off into the distance as his brother and sister moved on. A tiny part of him insisted that if he concentrated long enough and hard enough, their parents would miraculously return. If they waited right here, they would come back and everything would be as it had been earlier in the morning. Shoulders slumping in the face of harsh reality, Chris finally accepted the truth. He sprinted after Daniel and Sera, catching up with them just as they clambered up the rock spit.

The headland effectively divided the public beach access from that belonging to the private homes beyond. Head down, shoulders defiantly hunched, Chris brought up the rear as they made their way back to the house up the neighbouring beach.

CHAPTER THREE


As the bow dipped, salt spray plumed up on either side. The ketch sliced through the water like a hot knife through butter. Refracted sunlight threw back myriad miniature rainbows around the prow. Sails overhead bellied, catching the late morning breeze. On deck the captain shaded his eyes against the glare, balanced with the casual ease of a man well versed with the rolling deck of a ship.

Age had thinned and refined him. Although he had failed to bald, his hair had greyed heavily with the passage of time. His eyesight was just as keen, though, his hand firm. He still jogged five miles every other day along the beach below his home. Nor was his mind anything less than the steel trap it had been when he was the head of Five-O. He was older, but to native Hawaiians on both sides of the law Steve McGarrett still epitomised what it meant, physically and psychologically, to be a police officer.

His sole aggravation in his reflection with aging was with his general physical slowing. Others might not have noticed, but he had. Not that it ought to particularly concern him. The mind, in his assessment, was more important. Even now he was capable of coolly judging a given situation at a moment's notice. Mobile features still possessed that ability to alter in a flash from welcome humour to a chilling grimness in the face of adversity. The wind flicked fickle fingers across his brow, tossing his cowlick over his eyes.

The morning's fishing had been an excuse rather than a serious endeavour. He never admitted this to his wife, but he rather suspected she recognised the signs of restlessness when they arose. His general restiveness was indicative of a man accustomed to activity being regulated to a relatively sedentary existence by retirement. It mattered not that Honolulu's Police Department still found recourse to request his presence on occasion as a guest lecturer at the Academy, nor that the Naval Department called upon him for assistance with various special Reserve projects. McGarrett quite frankly missed the perilous life he had led as a cop, with all its accompanying agony and anguish.

He was yanked rudely away from the past as his stomach knotted up. He frowned. The sensation was one he had been afflicted with as an officer whenever something went wrong on a case. Automatically changing tack, he headed for home.

By the time the slim vessel slid softly into her mooring, the feeling had faded marginally. He skilfully manoeuvred alongside the dock. As the Feckless Miss settled gracefully against the wharf, McGarrett leapt lightly ashore to make the stern line fast. He snubbed it around the nearest bollard. Forward momentum abruptly arrested. The yacht lurched and bobbled, stern skewing slightly, before finally settling to rest. By that time he was back aboard, moving forward to take care of the bowline.

There were only three or four other owners in sight as he concluded his chores. He was thankful for such small favours. All too often they wanted to stop and shoot the breeze. He was late in and wanted to be home, catch stored, and lunch prepared, before Amanda arrived home. Fortunately, he succeeded in stowing the sails and spare lines, and locking up the wheel and cabin without interruption. Collecting his bucket of fish, McGarrett strolled purposefully up the dock.

He drove home from the marina with his window rolled down. The tropical breeze tousled his hair repeatedly. It flipped his cowlick back and forth across his forehead, caressing him softly with a lover's fingers. And Steve McGarrett did love the Islands. He had given the best years of his life to protecting them and their inhabitants from the criminal element.

Thoughts wandering, McGarrett began estimating how much time was entailed in storing the fish and preparing lunch. He was unaware he was doing so until a long absent, strangely familiar sensation, once more tingled a warning along his nerve endings, interrupting his concentration. Expectation rose. Something was decidedly amiss with the day.

As he drove up the driveway, McGarrett noted with satisfaction that old instincts had played fairly. Three wholly unfamiliar youngsters perched on the stone wall fronting his house. The eldest rose slowly as the car drew up. McGarrett got out and stood, not quite knowing what to make of the trio. He knew most of the local children on sight, as well as their names. And they knew and, in most instances, respected him.

"Well," he managed finally when none of the three ventured a word, "what are you doing here? Are you lost?"

"No, sir," replied the oldest boy nervously.

No further explanation was immediately forthcoming. McGarrett delicately probed for information. "Have you been waiting long?"

"I don't know, sir. Almost an hour, I think. I forgot to check the time---" The boy looked strained and frightened. "Please, sir---"

Before he could get any further, his sister unaccountably burst into tears. Feeling incredibly displaced and awkward in the face of the child's grief, McGarrett attempted to comfort her. He dropped to one knee in front of her.

"Here, now," he soothed. "What's wrong?"

She wailed back, "Someone took Mom and Dad!"

Unexpectedly, and to his utter astonishment, she flung her arms around his neck. After a brief moment, McGarrett managed to return her hug. Neither he nor his wife had relished attempting to start a family for they had married late in life. Children simply did not fit comfortably into their lives. Now, here were three strangers infringing upon his ordered existence, throwing everything out of kilter.

McGarrett belatedly concluded the child had absolutely no intention of releasing her hold on him. Reluctantly lifting her in his arms, he stood. She promptly wrapped her legs around his waist and buried her teary face in his shoulder.

"I suppose you better come in. I'll take you to the police as soon as I've changed," he tendered. Steve McGarrett had absolutely no idea how he was going to explain this to his wife.

"Thank you, sir," responded the oldest boy in a voice only marginally above a whisper. His words were thick with emotion. The second boy merely stared guardedly up at McGarrett, his expression informing Steve that he did not entirely trust him. McGarrett gestured to his car.

"Your sister appears to have me at something of a disadvantage. Would you boys mind bringing in my gear from the back seat, please?"

"Certainly, sir," agreed the older boy, his voice a little firmer. "Chris. Come and help me."

Unusual steel was surfacing in the eldest boy, fascinating McGarrett. He forced himself to concentrate as he delved into his jeans for his house keys. Although he knew he had never met these three before, he could not shake the impression that he ought to know them. Opening the front door, he stepped aside to allow the boys to pass. They placed the tackle box and pole in the alcove he indicated then lugged the bucket into the kitchen.

Crossing the entrance and descending the steps into the sunken living room, McGarrett placed his bundle firmly on the couch. Surprisingly, there was no need to forcibly extricate himself from the girl's grasp. The instant her bottom contacted the couch, she released him. The manner in which she watched his every move put him in mind of a cornered wild animal. The comparison troubled him deeply.

The oldest boy remained in the kitchen, silently helping McGarrett with the fish. Chris wandered into the living room. The intensive study he afforded the McGarretts' possessions reminded Steve of a soldier reconnoitring a bivouac site for enemy booby-traps. Steve's attention centred on the boy when Chris came to a standstill in front of the low bookcase to the right of the hearth.

His interest appeared to be captivated by three photos of Steve and his associates at Five-O during the course of his tenure as departmental head. Framed in maple wood, they had been presented to him upon his retirement.

"That's it, sir," announced the older boy.

McGarrett turned. The last of the fish had vanished into the freezing compartment. He rested a hand on the boy's shoulder in gratitude.

"Thanks, son."

"You're welcome, sir," replied the boy solemnly.

A furtive movement distracted McGarrett again. Pivoting, he discovered the girl had joined Chris at the bookcase. The youngsters were avidly discussing the pictures in quiet undertones. They were plainly arguing about something. McGarrett could not think what could have set them off. The photos had been shot inside his office, at the Iolani Palace, and depicted very little of the office interior, apart from the rich panelling covering the wall behind the subjects.

"Chris! Sera! Sit down," ordered the oldest boy sharply. "Don't be rude. This isn't our home."

Burying his amusement at the eldest boy's authoritative tone, McGarrett requested they sit tight until he returned. He hurried through washing and changing, concerned about the time, and his wife's impending arrival. He checked the clock. Since the moment he had driven into the yard, twenty-five minutes had passed. It had just turned twelve-fifteen. Occasionally, Amanda was late. The Admiral sometimes required her services over noon. But when such instances arose, she generally called to forewarn him.

McGarrett dared not continue putting off taking the children to the police. When he emerged from the bathroom, hair still wet, there was a heated argument beginning in the living room. Hearing his footsteps, three heads turned in unison. Silence crashed down.

"Is something wrong," he asked.

"No, sir," responded the eldest firmly, glaring at his siblings.

"Daniel," Sera insisted he explain.

"Be quiet, Sera," commanded Daniel officiously. He met and held McGarrett's steady gaze unswervingly. "Shouldn't we go to the police now, sir?"

McGarrett agreed. "Give me a second to leave my wife a quick note, and we'll be on our way."

Sera and Chris grouped around their brother as he moved in the direction of the front door, Sera clutching a scuffed purse to her chest. Steve hastily scratched a message for his wife on the telephone note pad. As a final concession, he double-checked to make certain the answering machine was still switched on.

"All set," he announced. As he opened the door, he glanced from one child to the next. "Do any of you have any idea who the man was who kidnapped your parents?"

"No. But Daniel wrote down the number of the car," said Chris somewhat defensively.

"Did you now?" McGarrett was instantly intrigued. The parents had instructed their offspring well. "Do you still have the information?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel admitted sombrely.

"Let's go."

They reached the car just as Amanda drove up. When she alighted from her vehicle, she appeared incredulous at the sight of the children. Leaving Daniel to usher his brother and sister into the rear seat, McGarrett took his wife aside and rapidly explained.

"Oh, Steve. How terrible for them," exclaimed Amanda sadly. She stared past him at the children. "Do you suppose HPD will have any luck locating them?"

"I don't know," he admitted truthfully. "They would have been better off approaching someone who was home, rather than waiting for me."

His wife frowned. "Why did they elect to sit on our doorstep?"

"I must be slipping." Steve was confounded by that unusual lapse. "I never even thought to ask."

"You've been off the force too long, that's all," Amanda consoled him. "Go on." She gave him a little push. "I'll see you this evening."

When he reached the vehicle, McGarrett discovered Daniel in the front seat. The younger pair sat in the rear. Sera studied Amanda with the unguarded curiosity only a child can possess.

"Ready to go?" Steve asked as he got behind the wheel.

It was a rhetorical question. He did not expect an answer. Nor did he receive one. It was a conscious struggle not to have the children direct him to their parents abandoned vehicle so he could inspect the crime scene. The less people muddied the area around the car, the more likelihood the lab boys would find a good set of foot or finger prints to utilise in confirming the identity of the kidnapper at a later date.

As they drew out onto the highway, he noted all three had fastened their seat belts. A law in Hawaii, few other states required it. By their actions and their accents, he could label, within three states and Canada where the children had most likely been raised. That they were 'haoles' went without saying.

"Let me guess," he said, attempting to preoccupy their thoughts with something other than their present dilemma. "California."

"No," replied Daniel stiffly.

"Washington," guessed McGarrett again.

"Yes," squealed Sera. She bounced up and down on the back seat beneath the seatbelt restraint. "We're from Spokane."

McGarrett filed the information for future reference and pursued further details. "What does your Dad do?"

"He's an investigator," preferred Daniel.

"Insurance?"

"No," Daniel enlightened him. "He's a private investigator."

"Oh."

McGarrett possessed an exceptionally low opinion of most private detectives. Problems arising from the involvement of investigators hired to prove infidelity in spouses had led to more than one murder case, over the years, in which Five-O had become embroiled. Although he had not meant to, he suspected he had allowed a somewhat disparaging note to enter his voice. Beside him, Daniel went stiff.

"My Dad doesn't take marital cases," he declared with righteous indignation. Anger produced two red spots on his cheeks. He spoke as though repeating something he had overheard fairly frequently at home.

Recalling a military phrase he occasionally heard bandied about by the Non Commissioned ranks off Canadian vessels when they put in at Pearl, McGarrett realised he had, in effect, been told. He lapsed into silence as they descended the north shore road into Honolulu. They passed the Ala Moana shopping centre and turned toward the core.

At length he ventured, "Where are you staying?"

"Up there." Daniel pointed to their left and slightly south in the direction of the Punch Bowl. "Dad got us a condo up there until we can find a house Mom likes."

"Housing's fairly expensive in the Islands," commented Steve without thinking.

"We know," muttered Chris. He sounded angry that this person, who was supposed to be helping them, had the audacity to pry into their private lives.

"Mom's got some money put by. She and Dad figure they'll probably be able to purchase a house outright," said Daniel slowly, attempting to be polite. His voice betrayed recollection of the morning's disastrous events.

As they turned onto the boulevard leading to HPD, McGarrett acknowledged the information. He would have to see about extracting the home address from the children later. To have ascertained they were in the process of taking up residential status in Hawaii was interesting. So was the information concerning their mother's apparent affluence. That alone could well be an important lead to who was responsible for the kidnapping.

His thoughts came up short. It took considerable effort to remind himself that he was no longer a cop, actively involved in an investigation. The momentary disassociation with the present bothered McGarrett immensely. Something about this case told him matters were taking on astronomical proportions. He wished he were still on the force. Deep down, he hoped the present investigating team would be up to the challenge with which they were about to be presented.

CHAPTER FOUR


Sight of the Iolani Palace never failed to arouse memories of the past. He resolutely turned his back on the building. Car parked in the Visitors' lot outside HPD, McGarrett ushered the children through the front entrance.

The Duty Desk Sergeant scanned the logbook lying on the desk before him. He had gone through this routine perhaps fifteen times since lunch, and was heartily bored. Even given the rise in weapons' related crimes on the streets, and the drastic increase in the number of fellow officers how were injured during the course of making arrests, he would far rather have been out patrolling the streets. By car or on foot, it made no difference. Anything was preferable to desk duty. A light pattering caught his ear. Before he looked up he had already registered the sound as the clatter of a child's sandals on the linoleum.

The child was a young girl. Her sandals clattered noisily on the tiles as she hurried to keep pace with the man whose hand she clutched. Two boys wearing sneakers brought up the rear as the group approached the desk. Recognising the youngsters' companion, the Sergeant's face wrinkled up with a smile.

"Well, McGarrett. What brings you here?" He asked familiarly. "Slumming?"

The seriousness of McGarrett's mien reflected in his voice when he spoke. "Business, Ted."

Following Steve McGarrett's nearly invisible gesture, the Sergeant took in the silent trio. The children hovered in a defensive knot two paces behind the ex-cop. The only outward show of interest from the shouted Sergeant was in the marginal upward movement of his eyebrows.

"Do you have anyone who can handle a missing persons?" McGarrett wanted to know.

Ted blinked sharply. He identified that tone as one that the other had employed as head of Five-O. Confirming they did, the Sergeant glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the squad room.

"Sure, McGarrett," he reinforced that affirmation. "Hey. Lieutenant."

Several heads rose behind the various desks at the penetrating shout. There was a stirring at the back of the room.

"Yo," came the response.

"You got a moment?"

"Sure." Someone detached themselves from the group of five plain clothes individuals huddled around the office coffee machine. "What have you got?"

A man in his early thirties appeared. He was nearly as tall as McGarrett, with high cheekbones, light brown hair fried to blond by the tropical sun, and hazel-green eyes. His demeanour reminded Steve of days gone by.

"A friend of yours with a problem," the Sergeant replied as the Lieutenant approached the front desk.

The detective's interest intensified as he identified the person on the opposite side of the counter. "Steve."

"Hi, Jonny." McGarrett greeted the younger man warmly. They shook hands. "Heard you finally made detective status."

"Yeah. Well---Ben's judgement, though others didn't agree." Jonny Mattheson studied McGarrett's companions. Instantly assessing the degree of priority his friend's request required, he gestured. "There's an office free down on the right. Ted. Hand me that tape recorder."

With a nod, the Duty Sergeant drew the cassette recorder from beneath the counter and passed it across. Meanwhile, McGarrett led the children down the hallway, passing the work desks and curious stares, and located the designated interrogation room. He saw the trio seated at the long, low table, but remained standing near the windows. The Lieutenant entered and closed the door. He set the recorder on the table. Switching it on, Jonny perched on the corner of the table, attempting to convey a relaxed atmosphere and thereby encourage maximum cooperation from the children. Experience had taught him this generally worked. Fascinated as he was by the out-sized handbag the girl held clutched against her front, the Lieutenant refrained from making any allusions to it when he spoke.

"All right. I'd like to hear your account first, Steve." McGarrett nodded. Jonny directed himself to the children next. "Then I want you three to tell me, in your own words, exactly what happened."

With Jonny listening intently, McGarrett swiftly explained how he had arrived home to discover his unexpected guests. He spoke concisely, impressing the children with his ability not only to recall their first names, but also with his accuracy in remembering their reactions when they had met. As McGarrett concluded his report, Jonny turned to the youngsters. He was now exceptionally intrigued.

"What made you go to Steve's house?" He wanted to know. "Surely there were other people at home? You could have gone to them for help instead."

"I decided we should go there because we drove up there this morning," explained Daniel quickly. His gaze slid to Steve, returning to the Lieutenant after having briefly rested on the older man. "We were supposed to surprise you, sir, but you weren't home. When Mom and Dad were kidnapped, I thought we should go back to your place for help."

"Why would your parents want to surprise me?" Steve's confusion was complete. There were no mainlanders with whom he was acquainted who had three children.

Daniel appeared taken-aback by McGarrett's unconcealed bewilderment. Sera sniffled. Chris' hands clenched. All three struggled hard against crying.

"But you have to know them," protested Daniel. "They said they knew you. They even told us your name."

In the face of the elder boy's insistence, McGarrett's intrigue intensified. Before he could say anything, Jonny intervened with more relevant matters.

"We'll worry about that later. What did the kidnapper look like? Can you remember?"

"He was tall," said Daniel after only a moment's hesitation. "Kind of like you, sir," he nodded to Jonny, "but skinnier."

"And he had mean eyes," declared Sera.

"Sera, hush," ordered Daniel softly. He looked embarrassed by his sister's statement.

"That's okay," insisted Jonny. "Every little bit helps. Now, was his hair light or dark?"

"Kinda grey," said Daniel.

"Did he have a moustache or a beard?"

Daniel's face scrunched up as he strove to recall what he had seen. "Yeah. He had a little moustache."

"Little?"

"Thin. Like someone had drawn it with a pencil."

"And he was bald on top," inserted Chris decisively.

Daniel rested a meaningful look on his brother and sister over their interference. His expression effectively silenced them. Although the children continued to prefer addressing their remarks to McGarrett, Jonny was not unduly putout.

"Chris is right, sir. The man was going bald."

"What were you doing on the beach," Jonny Mattheson asked the children.

"We were shell hunting," said Sera.

"And building sand castles," admitted Daniel with a hint of chagrin.

"And your parents?" Old habits died hard, and he could not help interrogating the children. Fortunately Jonny did not appear to mind.

"They were just talking. I guess they were trying to figure out what to do until you got home, sir."

"When did this man attack your parents?" Jonny put them firmly back on track once more.

"Just as we were called back to the car. I saw this guy hit Dad from behind. Dad never even knew he was there."

"He hit Dad real hard!" Sera whimpered. Tears welled up and trickled slowly down her cheeks. "Dad fell down! He didn't move!"

Sera's nose began to run. She sniffled hard. Prepared from long experience, Jonny pulled a Kleenex from his trouser pocket and passed it to her. She continued to sniffle, rubbing the tissue aimlessly back and forth across her face.

"We heard Mom yell at us to run," put in Chris.

"Which you did," stated McGarrett.

Daniel nodded. "She sounded really scared, so I grabbed Chris and Sera, and we ran down the beach and hid in the bushes."

"We hid," said Sera with a snuffle, "but I lost my shell."

"The man shot at us, too," Chris added fiercely.

McGarrett's amazement escalated. A kidnapper who attempted to kill three children was definitely someone to take seriously. HPD would have to deal with this case with kid gloves. It would be ill-advised to risk the youngsters being reduced to hysterics by some badgering, unfeeling member of the press in search of a hot news item, too. Jonny appeared to have arrived at the same conclusion.
"He shot at you?" Jonny demanded with deadly earnest. "Are you absolutely positive?"

Daniel fearlessly locked gazes with Jonny. Then with calculated indifference he turned to McGarrett. It was highly evident he trusted the older man far more than this Lieutenant who was questioning his statement. Steve's expression, however, placed Daniel immediately on the defensive.

"Chris is right," Daniel retaliated. "I know. Dad's been teaching me to shoot."

"'Sides," added Chris, a bit in his voice, "when we crawled back to see what he was going to do to Mom and Dad, we heard him say he was going to get us, too."

Their unabashed audacity so shocked Jonny he nearly lost his balance. "You did what."

"Well," objected Daniel with a note of self-righteousness, "we had to get the number and licence of the cab."

"Did you?"

"Yes. It's on the pad in Mom's purse." Daniel glanced at his sister. "Sera. Give them the purse."

Sera reluctantly handed the clutch bag to Steve McGarrett. He smiled in an effort to ease the strain she was under. One side of Sera's mouth twitched in response. He felt relieved. While he rifled through the contents in search of the pad, Jonny continued his line of questioning.

"What else did you see or hear?"

"The man used a needle on Dad and Mom after he tied them up." As Daniel informed them of that additional bit of news, his voice reflected a slight quiver.

"A needle? You're sure?"

It was evident from the Lieutenant's expression that the entire incident was taking on nightmare proportions. He was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a grasp on reality. At the same time, he found himself wondering who this maniac was who had accosted and abducted the parents, and why.
"Yeah." Daniel's composure was beginning to crack despite his best efforts. "I heard him tell Mom it was just to make them sleep so they wouldn't give him any trouble. He said he was gonna come back and get us. And then, when we were dead, he was gonna kill Dad."

"Did your mother say anything at all?"

"No." Daniel's fists clenched until the knuckles turned white. His face drained of colour. "The man told Mom when we were dead, he was going to deal with her. Then he put them in the taxi and drove away."

"That's when you decided to walk back to my place?" McGarrett paused in the midst of his search to look up.

"Uh huh," affirmed Daniel.

McGarrett finally located the note pad. As he pulled it free to pass to Jonny, something tumbled from the back. Somehow, McGarrett caught it. The deft act of fielding the item won him Jonny's appreciation. With a flash of a grin over the speed with which the he had managed to retrieve the tumbling item mid-air, the Lieutenant left the office. Jonny located an available patrolman, passed along the information concerning the kidnapping, and ordered out a detail to locate the rental car. When he returned to the room, he spoke before realising Steve McGarrett was preoccupied.

"Too bad Ben had to attend that seminar in D.C., Steve. Guess we could both use---"

Discovering McGarrett standing motionless, wholly oblivious to his reference to Ben Kokua, present HPD Special Investigation's Division Head, Jonny halted. Steve appeared entranced by the small portrait he had saved from premature breakage.

"Something wrong, Steve?"

As though dazed by an unexpected blow, McGarrett shook his head. Daniel glanced from one man to the other. Steve appeared incapable of tearing himself away from the photograph. Jonny closed the door and came across the room, halting between his friend and the children.

"Mom had that taken especially for you, sir," put in Daniel helpfully.

Head slowly rising, McGarrett studied each child in turn. He was thoroughly bemused. It was apparent to Jonny that his friend was searching for something in the three children that he had, by some miscalculation, earlier overlooked.

For Steve, the pieces of the puzzle were dropping into place with exceptionally loud clicks. Small wonder the children's mother had sufficient money 'put by', as Daniel had parroted, to purchase a house outright.

"Daniel," managed McGarrett finally, "what's your full name?"

"What's wrong, Steve?" Jonny wanted to know.

He had never, in all the years he had known Steve McGarrett, seen the man so completely off base. McGarrett impatiently gestured to him to wait. Daniel missed the exchanged. He grimaced, his expression speaking eloquently of his patent dislike for the moniker his parents had visited upon him at birth.

"My name's Daniel Stephen Matthew Stanton."

"Matthew Stanton," sputtered the Lieutenant. He blinked hard. The coincidence from his past was incredible. Right down to the boy's last Christian name.

"Chris is Christopher Benjamin," continued Daniel. When he came to his sister's name, his face twisted out of shape as though he had tasted something decidedly obnoxious. "And Sera's really Seraphine Charlene."

Jonny grew completely still. Chris wriggled his nose expressively. "Dad once told me I was named for a cop he had known."

Jonny found his voice with difficulty. "You were?"

"Yeah." Chris' expression hardened until his features appeared immeasurably older than his nine years. "I wish I was a cop. I'd find that man. Dad's gonna teach me how to shoot, too. Just like Daniel. But I have to wait until I'm eleven."

In a moment's aberration, McGarrett wondered at the logic of the father. But something in Chris' tone inferred their parents would only expand their offsprings' education in that area if and when they proved themselves suitably mature to handle the accompanying responsibility.

"Mom said we had an uncle who was a policeman, too. But we don't know where he lives now. He used to live in Los Angeles, but he moved away," Chris rattled on, oblivious to having momentarily lost his audience with that initial statement. "We lost track of him 'cause he left and no one would tell them where he went."

"What are your parents' names," demanded McGarrett.

"David and Sharon," said Daniel. Steve's reaction was confusing and unnerving, causing the boy to stutter as he answered.

Without waiting for further information, and before Steve could evade him, Jonny snatched the photo from McGarrett's hand. While the Lieutenant stared at the portrait, McGarrett quietly snapped off the cassette recorder. His companion was as mesmerised by the picture as he had been, and small wonder.

Resembling cherubs, the three children were perched on tall stools directly in front of their parents. Jonny ignored them, concentrating on the parents. Hair had lightened to pale strawberry blond, but the tight curls the children's father sported struck an all too familiar chord. Blue eyes reflected a hint of mischief. A beard concealed the lower half of his face. Jonny estimated he had gained between ten to fifteen pounds over the years, resulting in a thicker waistline. He looked comfortably happy. At his side was a woman who had altered little. Her hair was a shade darker, almost as short as her husband's was. A few more lines at the corners of mouth and eyes accentuated shadows in the hollows of her face. Her figure had filled out with childbearing, but Jonny would have known her anywhere. He met McGarrett's gaze at long last, with a haunted look.

"No." Jonny protested, feeling betrayed. "It can't be."

Steve's shoulders drooped slightly. Taking into consideration the couple's blatant return to the Islands, he could no longer perpetuate the lie.
"It is," he averred softly.

"But---Danny's dead," Jonny objected in a daze. "I---we saw him buried."

"The grave's occupant happens to be an unclaimed derelict who died the same day as the explosion. For six months even I didn't know the truth."

"How did you find out?"

"Pure coincidence brought the three of us together again. I'm sorry, Jonny. I wish I could have told you years ago."

"So Charley didn't die in Seattle." Jonny unwound.

"No."

"You weren't, by any remote chance, responsible for the removal of that headstone from Danny's grave, were you?"

McGarrett admitted to being caught out. "I made the request through legal channels and arranged for it to be hushed up."

"Getting a bit beyond your present capacity, weren't you?" The conversation helped Jonny to absorb the shock caused by the revelation, and roll with the blows. "So just why did Danny and Charley have to disappear?"

Astonishment and fascination over-riding their grief, the children listened as Steve McGarrett hastily glossed over the incidents which, twelve years earlier, had sent their parents into hiding. By the time Steve concluded his recitation Jonny was beyond amazement.

"But what brought them back?" Eyes fixed on a point somewhere beyond McGarrett, Jonny muttered. "Why, after all these years, would they elect to put themselves and their kids in jeopardy? It just doesn't make sense, Steve. It isn't like either of them. They were always so cautious. Well, Danny, anyway."

"Andre Larouche died five years ago," mused McGarrett, more to himself than to anyone in the room, "killed in that prison uprising on the east coast. His organization fell apart immediately after he was sentenced. There was no reason for them to remain in hiding."

"Sir?" Daniel waited until he had McGarrett's undivided attention. "Is that why Mom and Dad said we would have to get used to having a new last name?"

McGarrett's face froze. "Did they say what name they were going to use?"

"No."

"Odds on they were reverting to Williams," reflected Jonny wryly. Steve failed to rise to that comment. "That sister of mine." Jonny's voice abruptly hardened. "Since The Rose can't be responsible, who is?"

"We'll know that if and when these kids identify a mug shot," replied McGarrett, pulling himself back to the present with considerable difficulty. "It has to be someone out of Charley's past."

"That's a hell of a lot of people over a two year period," countered Jonny.

McGarrett's denial was firm. "Daniel said the kidnapper appeared far more interested in his mother. That indicates whomever's responsible bears a massive grudge against her rather than Danno." Steve paused. It had been years since he had employed that familiar nickname. The word rolled off his tongue smoothly, sounding warm, and setting his adrenaline flowing. "Trim out some of the others. Daniel?"

"Sir?"

The boy looked up eagerly. Excitement caused his blue eyes to sparkle in much the same fashion as his father's had under similar circumstances. The short-cropped thatch of sandy blond curls amplified his likeness to his paternal parent, an impression spoiled only by the oval features and high cheekbones that he had inherited from his mother.

Chris was a bit of an oddball in the group. He had his mother's soft, wavy, light brown hair, round features and a pair of improbably green-brown eyes most likely inherited from some distant ancestor. On the opposite end of the scale, Sera's light brown tight curls and bright grey-blue eyes made her an almost perfect double for Shirley Temple. Albeit, in the dark spectrum.

"Did you understand what the Lieutenant and I were discussing?" Steve broke off his appraisal.

"Yes, sir."

Daniel rested a knowing look on Jonny. Years seemed to fall away as Jonny Mattheson recalled his sister's expression when confronted by much the same adversities.

"You're our Uncle Jon, aren't you?" To Daniel's demand, Jonny nodded. "Mom said you must have moved, but Dad thought you might have gotten killed in the line of duty. He couldn't get anyone to tell them for sure, though."

Absently Jonny inquired, "How on earth did they manage to find out what I was doing?"

With wry amusement, Steve McGarrett brought Jonny up to speed. "It seems they settled in Spokane. Danno took out a licence as a Private Investigator."
"So he could check up on me without my being aware of it," concluded Jonny.

Daniel shrugged eloquently. "I guess so."

"I was in LA for five years," continued Jonny for the childrens' benefit. "But the Islands kind of get in your blood."

"That's what Mom said," put in Chris.

Steve reached a quick decision. Much to the children's amazement, McGarrett placed a quietening hand on Jonny's nearest shoulder. "I'll take them home tonight. Can you make other arrangements for tomorrow, Jonny, to cover until we locate their parents?"

"Sure." Jonny waited for the hand to fall away before moving. "Do you really believe the kidnapper's going to make another try at them?"

"I've got a gut feeling he will. Remember what Daniel said about him shooting at them," reflected McGarrett. He turned his back on the room, studying the view outside. "Get them off Oahu, Jonny. I want them well hidden. This bastard sounds like a real sadist. He obviously doesn't care who gets hurt in the process. He just wants revenge. We can't take any risks with these kids' lives."

"No problem." Jonny set the tape recorder on rewind. He noted the time. It had just gone four. "I'll bring over some mug shots this evening of everyone whom Charley had a run-in with, Steve. I should have an address by then. I'll get copies made of this picture first thing tomorrow to go out with every foot patrol and cruiser, along with the mug shot. If the kids luck out." Jonny's expression grew distant for several seconds as he stared once more at the portrait. "You're really going to have to fill me in on the details sometime."

McGarrett pivoted slowly to face the room. "Yeah, Jonny. Once we find them, I'll do that."


CHAPTER FIVE


Amanda could not say what dictated the expectation, but she rather suspected her husband would return with the three youngsters in tow. She held off supper preparations with that specific thought in mind. Having exchanged the business suit she had worn to the office in favour of a sleeveless, kelly green and white day dress and a pair of open-weave tennis shoes, Amanda drifted into the living room. She spent several minutes pottering around, checking on the condition of her houseplants. Eventually, she discovered herself standing in front of the bookcase at the side of the hearth.

She knew Steve missed being employed full time. That gap, more than anything else, led to his frequent, early morning sojourns on the Feckless Miss. Amanda enjoyed the occasional sail. But she was not particularly comfortable with the brisk winds and exhilarating pitch of the deck her husband relished. She preferred relatively flat seas and a gentle breeze.

Her eyes passed over the photographs and came to rest on an ornament nestled between and slightly behind the pictures of her husband's first two teams of associates. No more than four inches high, the ornament depicted a whimsical scene of a bay colt shying away from a kitten. The tabby was partially concealed beneath a bush sprouting through a split-rail fence. Back arched, fur standing on end, the miniature tiger spat up at the incautious intruder.

Several times in the past, Amanda had been tempted to inquire who had presented her husband with the ornament. The object was totally at odds with his personality. She knew he could not have purchased it himself. But something kept her curiosity in check. It clearly meant far more to him than anyone suspected. Amanda's intuition insisted it had to be connected in some mysterious fashion with Dan Williams.

Her thoughts drifted back across the years. Amanda had never personally met Danny. But she had heard about him through the news media. In all the time she had known Steve McGarrett, he had never once spoken of his long-term partner. Whenever she caught Steve staring at the photos, there was a peculiar expression about him that indicated he still suffered from the loss.

Pulling herself resolutely away from the past, Amanda drifted out into the back garden. As she wandered down the winding pathway in the direction of their stretch of beach, she found herself recalling how she and Steve had met.

It would be eleven years ago next May fifteenth. Her boss had invited her to attend one of the Officers' Mess functions. The Admiral had elected to blatantly over-look the fact that she was a retired member of the Non Commissioned ranks. Amanda was his personal secretary, civilian, now. As a Senior Staff Officer, he felt completely justified in having her there to hobnob with his officers, close friends and colleagues.

Steve McGarrett had arrived resplendent in his Naval Reserve Officer mess dress kit. The Admiral had introduced them, and abandoned them. They had hit it off almost instantly, a love-hate relationship that had blossomed rapidly. Towards McGarrett's retirement, it had grown into a far more serious affair. A smile caught at the corners of Amanda's mouth. There were times, even now, when Steve tended to forget himself, and attempted to pull rank on her.

Her amusement faded a fraction. Although Steve was proud of his years on the force, he seldom brought up the topic at all. When he was pushed into speaking about it, he tended to gloss over details as much as possible. What little Amanda knew concerning his exploits and experiences, she had gleaned through reading or having heard on radio or television. Even their visitors unconsciously refrained from imposing upon their friendship with her husband, never dredging up the past. It was almost as though everyone instinctively sensed McGarrett's preference for letting the past deal with the past. Amanda went back indoors.

Deciding a cool drink was just the thing she took down a glass and opened the fridge. The sound of a car in the driveway caught her ear. Closing the fridge and setting aside the glass, Amanda went to the window. It was her husband. She met him at the door. As she had expected, the three children had accompanied Steve home. Sera still clutched the scuffed purse as though it were an anchor.

"Well?" Amanda inquired.

"House guests," Steve explained with more than his usual penchant for the understated.

"I rather gathered that," she commented. As the children filed silently past her into the house and made their way into the living room, Amanda smiled at each of them in passing. "Will they be staying long?"

"Jonny's dropping by this evening with some mug shots, in the hopes they'll be able to identify the kidnapper," Steve told her.

Amanda made the connection. "Jonny Mattheson?"

"Yes," her husband confirmed. "Their uncle's making arrangements for them to move off Oahu tomorrow until HPD locates their parents."

"Oh!" Startled by the statement, Amanda mentally back-pedalled, "They have relations in the Island?"

Her husband seemed suddenly distant. Steve remained standing in the middle of the entrance alcove, watching the children, the front door still open. Amanda closed the door behind him. Turning, she discovered her attention also drawn to a study of the youngsters.

The youngest boy had drifted across the sunken floor space, his sister in tow. Sera deposited the clutch on the couch in passing. Much to Amanda's amazement, Sera joined Chris as he halted in front of the bookcase. Even as she had done earlier, the duo studied the three photos critically. Their behaviour threw her off-balance.

Quite suddenly, Amanda felt she ought to have known them, particularly the eldest boy. He remained halfway between the entranceway and the top step down into the living room, as though awaiting instructions. The boy's profile teased her memory, but his youth succeeded in throwing her off when she sought to place him.

"Steve," demanded Amanda when he had failed to respond to her earlier question, "whose children are they?"

Without speaking, he left her side. Silently, he urged his juvenile shadow across the room. Upon reaching the other two children, Steve rounded them up as well. He directed them toward the patio.

"Daniel," he requested quietly, "would you take Chris and Sera out into the back garden? I need to talk to my wife alone."

"Yes, sir."

Sera attempted to collect her mother's purse, but Steve caught at her. "Leave it, Sera. No one's going to steal it," he assured her. Sera studied him with wide, round, guileless eyes, before deciding she did not quite believe him. McGarrett let it ride.

"Don't go far," called Amanda.

"We won't."

Daniel's expressive blue eyes turned on them for but a second before complying with Steve's instructions. Amanda watched until the trio had vanished into the garden. Then she returned to the kitchen and poured two tall glasses of fruit juice. Taking the glasses into the living room, she joined her husband on the couch. Steve gathered his thoughts while his wife absently watched the youngsters drifting about the grounds. For a long time, Steve said nothing, only sat, glass in hand, deep in thought.

"Do you remember Dan Williams," he finally ventured.

Caught off-guard, Amanda's attention snapped back to her husband. This was the first time in all of their years together that he had ever mentioned his partner in more than a passing context. His voice was strangely devoid of emotion.

"Yes," she tendered hesitantly. She unwittingly glanced at the photos, barely catching herself in time.

When she guiltily returned her attention to Steve, she found his gaze fixed on Daniel. The boy chose that moment to step into a brilliant patch of late afternoon sunlight. A smattering of freckles sprang into view across his nose, adding to his charm. The hairs on Amanda's neck stood on end. She knew who the father was. It was as though someone had walked across her grave. She buried a shiver.

"But how is that possible? He's dead," she protested, employing much the same tone Jonny had used earlier. "It was in the news---"

The set look of Steve's face caused her words to die mid-sentence. She carefully set her glass aside. "Tell me," she requested.

With visible effort, her husband dragged his attention back into the room. Step, by painful step, Steve quietly outlined, in capsulated form, the events of Seventy-eight. Amanda read the hurt and betrayal in his voice as he narrated the manner in which the then District Attorney had deliberately concealed the truth concerning Danny's death. Seventy-eight, the year that had seen the dissolution of a long-standing partnership, had probably been the hardest of Steve McGarrett's tenure as a police officer. It was small wonder he was still hurting.

When Steve was done, it was as though a massive weight had lifted from his shoulders. Many of the shadows that had existed for so long in the corners of his eyes were dispelled. Amanda sensed there was much remaining unsaid, but she wisely allowed matters to lie as they were. They were once more watching the children. Sera seemed fascinated by something amongst the flowers. Her brothers dutifully joined her, pointing at whatever it was and discussing it.
"Things were never quite the same afterwards, were they," asked Amanda finally.

"No," Steve admitted.

Although he had plainly accepted the situation deep within himself, at some point in the past, this was the first time she had ever heard him admit it out loud. Such a declaration would go a long way to healing the rift that had developed between him and those directly responsible.

"I'm sorry, Steve. It must have been awful for you."

"That's past," he declared rather sharply. "This isn't."

His fierceness as he uttered those words stabbed at Amanda. She caught the swiftly buried fresh agony. Dan Williams and his wife were in serious trouble, and Steve was no longer on the force. Amanda knew he felt his hands were tied. He desperately wanted to assist in finding them. She suspected they would be seeing rather a lot more of Jonny Mattheson than usual in the near future. It was entirely probable the new Lieutenant at HPD would do his utmost to involve his old friend in the case, calling upon his advice and expertise whenever possible.

"Do you know who the mother is?" Amanda discovered she was forcing the question to the surface. It was difficult to pretend she had not felt Steve's pain. Getting him to talk about it would go a long way to helping him deal with both the past and the present.

"Charlene Mattheson," replied Steve shortly. He got to his feet and went to the screen door, still carrying his untouched drink.

"Jonny's sister?" Amanda felt the world rock beneath her feet. "Good God, Steve. How is that possible?"

"The story gets longer. I still owe Jonny a complete explanation," he replied. Steve paused as though to steady himself. "I've told him only a fraction more than I've told you. Suffice to say, due to Charley's connection with Danny, her life was threatened as well. She was also pregnant at the time of what we believed was Danny's death."

He emphasised that last word with sour humour. Amanda joined Steve at the patio door. She slid an arm about his waist as he continued. While her husband spoke, she watched Sera. Amanda noticed the child continued to cling to the purse. She made a mental note to see about attempting to extricate it from the Sera's care before they sat down to supper.

"Charley didn't tell anyone before, or after the funeral, about the baby. Larouche tried to kill her in Seattle, but missed by a hair's breadth. She was riding an incredible string of luck that summer. We let the reports of her death ride to protect her. Unfortunately, Larouche discovered she had returned to Honolulu and very nearly succeeded in killing her after Daniel was born." Steve shook his head. "The entire situation is far more complicated than I'm making it sound."

"Then don't say anything more." Amanda forced a smile. "I suppose she accidentally discovered Danny was alive. From what I've heard about Dan Williams, he would never have abandon her when the DA sent him away with a new identity."

"Basically." Beneath her arm, Steve's muscles suddenly tensed. "Damn it all to hell."

"Steve?"

He shook his head, cutting her off. "This whole bloody mess isn't fair. Charley was right. No matter how hard they try to lead a normal life, things get screwed up. They're God-along-knows-where, in the hands of some sadistic bastard who's holding a grudge against her. Those three kids are alive now only because their parents thought to train them to obey orders unquestioningly. That alone isn't normal. How many kids do we know are forced to live under those restrictions?"

The question required no response. She kept silent. Steve's head turned. When he looked down, a myriad of emotions reflected back from the depths of his eyes, sharply delineating the planes of his face. For a moment, she found herself adrift as she struggled to read them. Old instincts did indeed die hard. She heard it in his voice. Understood some of it from his expression. The hunger was on the trail once more.

"Whoever kidnapped them, also shot at those kids. How he missed, we may never know. That beach is wide open. What I do know about Charley leads me to suspect she somehow deflected the kidnapper's aim. That being the case," he mused out loud, "she probably suffered for her actions."

Amanda looked away. An ember of fear flickered and died in her breast. "I guess they're right," she remarked, almost to herself.

"Who's right?" Steve wanted to know. "About what?"

When McGarrett glanced back down at his wife, he was startled to hear tears edging her words and blurring her green eyes.

"Amanda?" He turned her full about to face him. "What's wrong?"

She smiled sadly up at him. "You can take the cop off the beat, but you can't take the force out of the cop."

"Amanda---" He tried to apologise.

She shook her head, silencing him. "It's alright, Steve. I understand. I really do. I hope to God you find Danny and Charley. I'd hate to see those kids orphaned."

The sun was sliding from sight, turning the sky above the mountains to orange and pale pink. Attenuated shadows lay across the lawn like the stick figures on a child's sketchpad. Beyond the reef, an outrigger was being driven northward. Paddles flashed with precision timing against the creeping dusk as the crew leaned into their strokes.

"I better get some supper on," said Amanda at last. She knew her husband was not about to respond to her previous statements. "Call them in, Steve. It's getting late. They've had a long, hard day already. And it's going to get longer for all of us before it's over."

Steve was only partially conscious of her words. He continued to stare at the ocean. Somewhere on Oahu the lives of his two closest friends hung in the balance. He intended to do whatever lay in his power to assist HPD in finding them, and bringing their kidnapper to justice. An unexpected spate of high-pitched laughter cut across his maundering. Placing his glass on the kitchen table, he stepped outside.

"Who's hungry?"

In response to his summons all three children chorused, "Me! Me!"

Sera bounced up from her crouch in front of a lower flowering shrub, and raced toward the house. Daniel and Chris trailed her in more slowly. As he stepped inside, last in line, Chris paused to stare up at Steve McGarrett.

"Do you think Uncle Jon will find Mom and Dad?"

There was a wholly uncharacteristic flatness to the Chris' question. McGarrett squatted to put himself on eye level with Chris. The set quality to the boy's mouth reminded him of Charlene at her most stubborn.

"I do. In fact, if you three can pick out the man responsible from the photos your uncle's bringing over this evening, I guarantee we'll have your folks back even sooner."

The undaunted fashion in which Chris stared Steve down was totally at odds with his age. His expression almost unnerved McGarrett. Despite the discrepancy in physical appearance, Steve felt the clock turn back twelve years. It could well have been Danny standing there. The moment fled in the wink of an eye. Accepting the statement, Chris went turned away

After supper, Steve turned on the television in the den for the children's benefit. Apparently feeling himself elected titular head of the family in their parents' absence, Daniel remained in the kitchen to assist the McGarretts in clearing away the dishes. He and Amanda were stacking the last of the dried plates when the doorbell rang. Steve answered it. Jonny stood outside.

"Hi, Steve."

"Come on in, Jonny. Did you bring the photos?"

Jonny entered without replying, but Steve caught sight of the familiar, thick folder tucked beneath his left arm. The younger man wore a short-sleeved cotton shirt, blue jeans, Nikes and a windbreaker. As Steve closed the door and took his jacket, Jonny quickly scanned the living room.

"Where are they?"

"Watching TV," replied Amanda before Steve could say anything. "All except Daniel. He's been helping with the dishes."

Recalling his own abortive attempts at avoiding household chores, Jonny raised an inquiring eyebrow. There had also been the occasional disastrous results when he had helped out. Daniel emerged from behind the counter. It was all Jonny could do to prevent a smile from breaking out at the sight of his nephew. The lad was wearing a rather over-sized apron to protect his clothing. Someone, probably Amanda had drawn it up beneath his armpits to fasten it and prevent his tripping over the front.

"Hi, Daniel."

"Hi, Uncle Jon." Daniel came boldly forward and gravely shook Jonny's extended hand.

"How are you doing? Steve and Amanda looking after you well?"

"We're fine. It's nice here."

'Which', concluded Jonny from his nephew's forced politeness, 'means they're all bored to death.'

He led Daniel into the living room. Shifting aside the doily and decorative glass dish sitting on the coffee table, Jonny set down the folder. Steve joined him, but Amanda returned to the kitchen and set another batch of coffee to brew. Jonny opened the cover to reveal the first page.

Rather than risk insulting his eldest nephew, Jonny asked, "Do you know what these are?"

Daniel nodded solemnly. "Dad's told us about them." He stared at the faces that glared or sneered off the first page. "Did Mom really know all these guys?"

"I wouldn't exactly put it that way," deflected Jonny.

"It might be better to say your mother had the misfortune to run afoul of them, at one time or another, through no direct fault of her own," amended Steve diplomatically.

As he spoke, McGarrett discovered himself staring at the array of photos. Jonny had exhibited a degree of cunning in culling them. He had mixed a liberal sprinkling of pseudo-mug shots with those of actual criminals. Of the latter, several had never associated with Charlene and four had died during altercations with the police.

Of the four, Willy Wilkes had been the worst. There had been good reason for Charlene to hate and fear the man. Yet there was no doubt Wilkes was dead.

'No one knows that better than me,' reflected Steve.

He had been the one forced to shoot Wilkes in a bid to rescue Charlene. Jonny caught McGarrett's eye as Daniel turned to the next page. In unspoken accord, both men moved out of earshot for a private conversation, leaving Daniel undisturbed to peruse the album.

CHAPTER SIX


With one eye on his nephew, Jonny quickly filled in Steve on the proceedings since the retired head of Five-O had returned home. McGarrett listened attentively. His mind swung into full gear with ease, despite the years since he had worked on a case.

"The squad car located their vehicle right where the kids said it was. At the public beach access just up the road. We're dusting it for fingerprints now, Steve, but I doubt we'll find any. Other than those that ought to be there."

"No other physical evidence in the area?" McGarrett considered all avenues.

"Two watches and two pairs of shoes; a man's and a woman's. And a man's wallet."

"Danny and Charley's."

"No doubt about it. The ID in the wallet had Danny's picture on the driver's licence made out to a David Stanton. You didn't tell me he grew a beard." Not expecting a response, Jonny went on, "The wind blew away any footprints, though." He blew out his cheeks with exasperation. "This guy's real slick, Steve."

"Not slick enough," countered McGarrett. "He missed the kids."

"I guess I should be thankful for small mercies." Jonny's eyes rested briefly on Daniel. "I took the liberty of having the condo searched, just in case. Collected some of the kids' clothes, too. The suitcase is in my car."

"Thanks."

"No thanks necessary," deflected Jonny. "The kids are going to need more than one change of clothing. By the way, I also closed out their Tilden account. No sense running them up a horrendous bill."

Steve noted Jonny avoided pre-determining the outcome of the investigation. There was always an element of uncertainty with a case of this severity. More so when it involved close associates and family. Cases of this nature never bore second-guessing. If nothing else, Jonny had certainly adapted to that aspect of his job over his years on the police force.

Daniel was taking his duty very seriously. He carefully turned the pages, one by one, allowing several minutes to examine each picture. From the corner of his eye, Steve caught sight of Chris and Sera as they quietly emerged from the den. Jonny saw them, too as they joined their brother. As one, the trio worked their way methodically through the photos, quietly conferring from time to time. The men waited patiently. It never paid to rush a witness, no matter how desperate the circumstances.

Suddenly, there was a decided hesitation. The pause was brief. Almost too quick to catch, thought Steve, unless you knew what to expect. Daniel turned another page, but McGarrett sensed the examinations were a merely formality, now. Even Chris and Sera appeared to be awaiting the conclusion of what was proving to be a now rapid pan of the remaining photos. They were prepared to finger the guilty party.

Amanda returned to the room. She carried a tray laden with several glasses of juice, three cups of coffee, and the necessary condiments. She set the tray on the empty corner of the table just as Daniel finished scanning the final page.

"Well," asked Jonny expectantly.

Daniel flipped back several pages. "That's him," he declared angrily. "That's the man who took Mom and Dad."

Chris and Sera were in complete agreement, their heads bobbing several times to reinforce their elder brother's declaration. Steve and Jonny quickly crossed the room and inspected the photo. The image staring back at them sent a stab of fear knifing through McGarrett. He felt a rapidly buried, reflexive hunching of Jonny Mattheson's shoulders before his companion could control the reaction.

"Tonio." Jonny's head snapped up. He and Steve shared a wordless exchange before he blurted, "Jesus Christ, Steve. It couldn't be much worse."

The words slipped out, unguarded, before he could retract them. The children stared at him. Sera's lower lip quivered. Steve was inclined to agree with Jonny's assessment, but had wisely kept silent. Catching her husband's eye, Amanda picked up her coffee and gestured to the youngsters.

"Bring your juice. We'll leave your uncle and Steve to talk in private. You can show me what you like to watch on TV, and tell me about your home on the mainland," she suggested.

"Mom and Dad said Hawaii's our home, now," countered Chris with a fierceness that indicated he was not about to budge.

"Chris," Daniel counselled caution, and gave his brother a nudge to reinforce his words, "Come on."

When Chris attempted to stare his older brother down, he failed. He reluctantly traipsed after the others. His mannerisms clearly conveyed his preference to remain and listen to the discussion. It was equally evident Chris felt he and his siblings were being patronised. And they were. But neither of the older men was willing to discuss Antonio Nicholaidis' unsavoury past in the front of the children.

No sooner was Jonny positive the children were out of hearing, than he leaned toward Steve. "I've ordered the helicopter to be at the nearest helipad south of here first thing in the morning. Do you know the one?"

"Yes."

"Can you have them there by seven-thirty, Steve?"

"No problem." McGarrett's fears now reflected Jonny's. "Have you found a secure place for them?"

"About as secure as I can get on such short notice," Jonny confirmed. "Trina's parents have agreed to take them until this mess is wrapped up."

"Trina?"

"Katrina Rawlins," explained Jonny. He reddened mildly beneath McGarrett's scrutiny. "My fiancée. Her folks live on Kauai."

"Congratulations again," tendered Steve warmly.

"Thanks."

Jonny appreciated the good wishes, accepting it with as much grace as was possible, given the present situation. He continued with the problem at hand. "Tell me honestly, Steve. What do you think their chances of survival are?"

McGarrett locked gazes with him. "You knew Tonio better than I did."

That unexpected jab got Jonny's dander up. "God damn it, Steve. Just this once, help me out, will you? I need your honest assessment of the situation. I want Steve McGarrett, the cop, to give me a straight answer. Up front."

Slowly getting to his feet, Steve crossed the room. He halted in front of the low bookcase and stared at the photos. His guts knotted up inside when he attempted to consider all the possible scenarios. None of them did anything to alleviate his fears. He knew each one relied upon whether or not Tonio recognised Danny.

Picking up the centre photo, McGarrett studied the composition. Given Danny's beard, something he had cultivated during his initial disappearance in March of Seventy-eight and retained ever since, it was highly doubtful Tonio would make any connection between him and Five-O. Apart from having encountered Danny once outside Diedre Streit's home, Tonio had seen him only one more time; as a witness during the trial.

An incident from that particular case resurfaced. Steve replaced the photo. It was getting extremely dark outside. The gathering gloom enshrouded the interior of the house ahead of the encroaching night. McGarrett turned on some lights before posing his question.

"Jonny, do you remember the day your sister returned home from Danny's, back when you were running drugs for Diedre Streit?"

Jonny responded slowly. "Yes."

"Why did Charley react so violently to Tonio's advances?"

That question out of left field threw Jonny out of step. Steve watched him mentally back-pedalled until he caught on that period in his family history into which McGarrett was probing. It required several minutes of thought to dredge up a complete explanation.

"Charley used to date this jock she met during her last year at school," began Jonny. His voice betrayed a slow anger at the recollection. "While Mom and Dad were still alive, he always acted the perfect gentleman. Then, not long after the accident, she went out to a beach party with him. All she wanted was someone to lean on. Bud made a pass at her. Charley wasn't interested, but the jerk didn't believe her. He was positive she really meant 'yes' and was just playing hard to get."

"Date rape?"

'Date rape and acquaintance rape,' thought Steve McGarrett, 'Strange how far we've come.'

In recent times, society acknowledged such occurrences. It was no longer dismissed, or acceptable to excuse it with 'the woman had led the man on'. His own tone left no doubt in Jonny's mind as to where McGarrett's sentiments lay.

"She never admitted as much," replied Jonny pensively. "Not specifically. But even if he didn't, it must have been close. I do know she wound up walking home from Makaha. And that's quite a hike. Bud never dropped by again." He frowned for a moment. "He did call once, but Charley refused to speak to him."

"I'm not surprised."

Steve McGarrett considered the revelation. It was small wonder Charlene had always appeared slightly withdrawn and awkward around men. And a marvel Danny had ever managed to get close to her. McGarrett could not help wondering whether or not she had mentioned that particular incident to her husband. He shoved the incidentals firmly aside. They would deal with that problem only if it arose.

"All right, Jonny," Steve announced bluntly, "This is how I read it. If Daniel's correct in what he told us they overheard, our Italian stallion is on a vendetta against your sister."

Jonny's face fell. He had expected this would be McGarrett's assessment. Yet, deep down a part of him had been determined to deny the inevitable. What that statement inferred was terrifying.

"He's going to want to make her suffer for as long as possible." Jonny finally managed to openly admit it. He saw Steve yank himself out of the morose turn his own thoughts had obviously taken.

"He'll almost certainly drag it out for as long as he believes he's safe. It's really going to boil down to how strong Charley is emotionally. On whether or not he manages to crack her resistance. If he intends to use rape as one of his means of tormenting her, given her past experiences I wouldn't want to lay odds on how long she'll hold out."

"Are you referring to how she reacted to Wilkes?" Jonny asked.

When McGarrett nodded, Jonny drew a deep breath to steady himself. He knew he was on the verge of losing it. He could feel his nerves beginning to shake with delayed reaction; too many adverse revelations, too fast. His system desperately needed time to adjust. But time was now the enemy. There simply was not enough of it.

"And then he'll kill them," he concluded in a whisper.

"In due course. When it suits him. Or when he's pushed to it. I doubt he'll allow them to live long. Kidnapping's a Federal Offence," said Steve harshly. "If Tonio's vendetta hinges on Charley having been instrumental in sending him to prison, he's not going to want to serve more time for dishing out his own brand of retribution. Especially as this appears to hinge on his making her pay the debt he seems to feel she owes him."

Jonny stared down into his now empty coffee cup. He felt as drained as the contents. Steve returned to sit on the opposite end of the couch, as caught up in tackling the problems of tracking down Tonio as Jonny was.

"It's always so simple when it's someone else," reflected Jonny soberly.

McGarrett knew exactly what he meant. He had been in this same, unenviable position himself, numerous times. Three of those alone had involved Charlene. The past pressed urgently forward, temporarily taking control. Once more, he was Steve McGarrett the cop, the head of Five-O. Around him the living room faded, over-laid by memories.

Glancing sideways, Jonny correctly interpreted his companion's silence. He was considerably relieved when Steve managed to draw free of whatever was troubling him, and bring them full circle, back to business. They began planning how best to pursue the now rapidly cooling trail. They were so wrapped up in their conversation they were wholly unaware of Amanda's presence when she emerged from the den with the children.

"Steve?"

Startled out of deep concentration, both men looked up. "Yes, Amanda," he responded.

He registered the absence of the purse in Sera's grasp in that instant. His friend's daughter had been determined it was going to accompany her no matter where she was. Sera had even gone so far as to tuck it beneath her legs throughout supper. Steve was faintly amused, and gratified, that his wife had, through some unknown agency or logic, managed to convince Sera to leave the purse in the den. Amanda was staring fixedly at him.

"Steve, it's after nine," she informed him tightly. "I don't care if you two plan to sit here all night discussing the case. These children need their sleep."

Putting on a brave face, Jonny leapt to his feet. "Be right back."

By the time he returned from the car, carrying an extremely heavy, forty-pound suitcase, the children were nowhere in sight. Amanda directed him to the den where Steve had folded out the hide-away bed. While Jonny went through the luggage with his nephews and niece, Amanda broached the problem of sleeping arrangements with her husband.

"The boys can use the den, Steve," she said, "But where do we put Sera?"

"I'll use the couch," he offered quietly, listening to the children's chatter. "I've a feeling Sera's going to need a woman's company tonight."

"You're all heart, dear," said his wife. She cast a soulful look toward the ceiling. She did not look forward to the experience.

It also did not help matters that the couch seemed to be Steve's favourite place to crash, no matter what the excuse. He had once admitted to it being a holdover from his years at Five-O. During that time he had frequently spent late nights working on an over-burden of paper work, dropping off to sleep on the office sofa only when too tired to remain awake any longer. It had been his only defence against what might otherwise have resolved into an insurmountable workload.

Jonny emerged from the den at that moment, three wide-eyed waifs in tow. Each child held aloft a toothbrush. Daniel carried the tube of toothpaste as though it were a banner of defiance. As one, they trooped into the bathroom. The water came on.

"Well," commented Jonny with a minor degree of satisfaction as he returned to the living room, "that's that, then. Another administrative triumph. Are you sure everything's alright for this evening?"

"Go home, Jonny," Amanda firmly insisted.

He flung up his hands in defeat. "I can take a hint."

"Hint, nothing," she countered with mock rage. "You cops are all alike. Out. Get some sleep."

"Yes, ma'am." Jonny flashed a cocky, imitation salute. Amanda reacted by threatening to throw him out. Jonny backed hastily toward the front door. "See you in the morning, Steve."

"Seven-thirty," confirmed McGarrett.

"You got it."

In the face of Amanda's mock fury, Jonny all but launched himself out the front door. Steve closed and locked it behind him. Emitting an air bordering on exasperation, his wife cleared away the remaining dishes and disappeared into the master bedroom. Only then did Steve realise Jonny, in his haste to vacate the premises, had neglected to take the mug shot file with him. Before he could rectify the oversight, he heard Jonny's vehicle draw away. Upon due consideration, Steve decided the morning would be soon enough for the return of the folder.

CHAPTER SEVEN


Water dripped incessantly somewhere nearby, each droplet falling in an annoyingly erratic pattern. The air clung to her. Damp, coldly clammy, it raised goose bumps on her unprotected flesh. Her feet felt like ice. Charlene struggled to open her eyes. Eventually she succeeded, but only by forcibly peeling apart each set of eyelashes. They felt gummy, as though they had been taped shut.

The scene surrounding her was thoroughly disorienting. She squeezed her eyelid shut, and scrubbed at them irritably, waiting several seconds before re-opening them. Her mouth tasted tinny. Someone appeared to have stuffed cotton batten between her ears, and her nose was clogged. In light of her present environment, Charlene was not unduly surprised to discover her sinuses were congested. She blinked. It was as though her eyeballs were rolling in grit. Her visual perception was foggy, too. She forced herself to focus.

Everything was lit by a dull red glow. Staring about the interior of the room, Charlene discovered the light came from a solitary red bulb suspended from the ceiling, screwed into a construction worker's lighting extension. Reassured that she was not going insane quite yet, she turned her study to the remainder of her cell.

Metal walls met her gaze in every direction. They sloped inward and downward from ceiling to floor, and tapered in to a point where a fourth wall should have been. Massive metal girders ribbed the two opposing sides. Spaced at approximately four-foot intervals, these ran from ceiling to floor, forming a sort of squared-off horseshoe. 

Everything was rust flecked. The dripping water came from condensation that gathered on the roof. It took little imagination to determine the room was the bow compartment of an old ship.

Having taken stock of the location, Charlene sat up. Weight dragged at her wrists. To her utter horror, she discovered both she and her husband had been manacled to separate braces with heavy-duty chains. The nightmare had returned to grip her full force. A soft moan escaped her. Once again drawing her knees up to her chest, she buried her face in them and struggled against the over-lapping past and present. Sanity was a long time in returning.

When at long last she was able to take command of her senses once more, Charlene turned her attention to examining her bonds. One length ran from the wall to her right ankle. A padlock secured a loop around her right leg. The remaining links extended to her left ankle. This was also padlocked in place. From between her legs ran a second length of chain, extending up her back. With her fingers she traced the chains, determining they were connected to a similar section running from wrist to wrist behind her. Around her waist was a leather strap, secured at the back by a thick wire that ran through one chain link. Now she could attribute the bruising down her back to something other than Tonio's mistreatment.

The manner in which she was bound permitted her sufficient freedom to extend both arms simultaneously to three-quarters their normal reach. Her feet were only allowed half a normal stride. Danny was in much the same predicament, his leg fastenings a mirror image of her own.

Charlene's concern escalated. Her paramount fear was for her husband's physical condition. She crawled across the floor and gently lifted his head into her lap, doing her level best to examine him in the dim light. His respiration was shallow but steady, his pulse firm, if slow. There was a sizeable lump and bruise behind his ear where Tonio had butt-stroked him with his pistol. Apart from that single visible injury, there appeared to be nothing else wrong with him.

"David?"

Charlene made an effort to rouse him. Her fear increased when he failed to respond. Again she called his name. This time, however, she elected to use a name out of their pasts that his subconscious might respond to more quickly.

"Danny."

Still he failed to answer her summons. With considerable difficulty she reviewed her return to consciousness and the last minutes on the beach. Heart thumping wildly she hastily shoved up her right sleeve. There were three needle marks in her right arm but none in the left. Gently working up Danny's sleeves, Charlene investigated the flesh with shaking fingers: four injections. She shivered violently. Tonio had wanted her to wake first. To what purpose, she could only guess. Shifting around until she could lean against the hull plates Charlene made herself as comfortable as possible. Drawing Danny back against her, she rested his head against her chest.

Except for the dripping moisture, the ship was as silent as a graveyard. Not even a rat squeaked. The analogy caused vivid images to run rampant through her brain. She squashed them. There was no sensation of movement to suggest the vessel rested on the water. Gradually it dawned on Charlene that their prison probably reposed in some junkyard awaiting demolition. The likelihood of anyone stumbling on them by accident, or even hearing her should she scream for help, was marginal at best. The chill ate at her, feeding her fear.

With no reference to calculate the time, or determine how long they lain unconscious, Charlene automatically glanced at her watch. It was gone. She lifted Danny's arm. His was also missing. A tiny, nauseous pain set root high in her breast and began gnawing at her. She gulped air. Fought down panic. There was no means left by which to orient her, no day, no night.

She wanted to jump to her feet, to race madly about the interior of the hold in an effort to flee the terror besetting her. Eventually her brain took control again. It was cold in the ship, she reasoned. Cold had to mean night. Heat should build up during the day beneath the tropical sun. Considering her infant theory, she discovered the revelation pleasing. There was, after all, a tenuous means of keeping track of the passage of time.

Three needle marks probably meant she had regained consciousness shortly after midnight. That made sense. To move them safely, Tonio would have had to use the cover of darkness to conceal his actions. The later the hour, the fewer chances of being caught. Charlene stroked the backs of her fingers down Danny's cheeks just above his beard line. A tiny tear welled up in the corner of one eye. Tilting her head, she rested her face against the crown of his head. The fingers of one hand gently clenched in his sandy curls.

Time, other than a crude approximation, lost all meaning. She dozed. Woke with a start of fear. Dozed again. Waking a second time, Charlene angrily shook her head hard. Whatever drug Tonio had used still gripped her system. No matter how hard she struggled against its effects, she found herself slipping repeatedly in and out of reality. Twice more she lost the fight.

The final waking brought her to full consciousness, heart racing. Somewhere, not far away a watertight door squealed loudly as it was forced open. Its hinges were badly in need of oiling. Charlene waited expectantly. Despite the futility of her actions, she wrapped her arms protectively around her husband. A second door squeaked. This one was closer. Footsteps echoed hollowly. There came a chunk of a lever being raised. The compartment door swung open. She barely refrained from cringing.

"My, my. Isn't this touching?"

Tonio stepped over the sill and stood studying his prisoners. He oozed satisfaction. In Charlene he read a level of awareness and balanced it against her reaction to her helplessness, revelling in the power he held over her. With complete lack of concern, he turned and lifted a large plastic pail into the compartment. Carrying it to a point just within their reach, he set it down.

"Thought you might want some water," he commented smugly. "Don't want you dyin' before it's time."

His attitude infuriated Charlene. Anger washed over her like a dose of ice water, sweeping aside her fear. Laying Danny carefully aside, she rose to her feet.

Tonio appeared faintly amused by the manner in which she placed herself between him and her unconscious husband. At the same time, her outward cool shook him. She might know she was at his mercy but she continued to defy him, bearing herself with the same staunch defensiveness that had annoyed him years before.

"Still the stuck-up little bitch," he commented, moving away from the bucket.

"You always were a cheap bastard, Tonio," reflected Charlene. Her eyes glittered. The degree of hatred and inner strength surprised him. He reassessed his appraisal.

"Yeah. A real cold fish." He gestured contemptuously. "What does he see in you?"

"You'd be surprised."

Charlene's contempt grated on Tonio. She studied him critically. Time had not dealt kindly with the Italian. His features had thinned to hatchet planes. A scar stood out whitely along his left jaw. Hollow cheeks accentuated the dark, burning rage and anticipation in his eyes. There was a pallid, greyish quality to his flesh that put Charlene in mind of a corpse. She shuddered before she could prevent herself.

"Scared?" Tonio was almost surprised by that revelation.

"And I'll bet you never have been," she retaliated. Her nostrils flared.

Tonio reached out and grabbed her nearest arm before she could react. If all else had changed, he proved he still possessed a vice-like grip. Charlene swallowed anxiety. To his bewilderment she remained absolutely still after her initial reaction. Her chin rose and stiffened. Eyes burning coals, her jaw clamped firmly against fear.

"How did you manage to keep him long enough to have three brats?" Tonio mused out loud, his question rhetorical. He continued to study her.

He sounded genuinely puzzled. To him, Charlene had always presented the perfect picture of the Victorian female: cold as ice and just as unapproachable. It seemed incomprehensible that she could actually be soft and loving. Charlene refused to grant him the satisfaction of a reply.

Reaching out, Tonio caressed the line of her jaw, his finger stroking her flesh. Charlene's spine convulsed beneath his touch. She checked the shudder of revulsion. Grasping her chin between thumb and forefinger, Tonio tilted her head up.

"You know, I took considerable pains to ensure I had everything just right before bringing you here. And you haven't even commented on your accommodations."

Charlene had sufficient presence of mind to know that if she attempted to jerk free Tonio would tighten his grip. She forced herself to remain absolutely still. Provoking him now would probably lead to additional, possibly unnecessary, anguish for both she and Danny.

"Answer me, bitch."

Tonio's fingers tightened, bruising the flesh. Closing her eyes against the tears the pain caused, Charlene was unprepared for his next move. Without warning, he thrust her backwards. She lost her balance and fell, bruising her tailbone on impact. Pain exploded up her spine as she landed on the chain. With a muffled groan Charlene rolled onto her side, legs drawn up. When at last she opened her eyes, she discovered Tonio towering over her, gloating. She raised herself on one elbow. Strove to ignore the throbbing waves of pain clawing at her back.

"You know, I couldn't believe my luck when I saw you at the airport," he crooned, looming nearer. "If I had left like I had originally planned---"

"Too bad you didn't," she bit out.

Venom dripped from her tongue. Her reaction shocked Tonio, pinning him where he was. Then he took a single step back, staring down at her as though she had altered into something wholly incomprehensible. Suddenly he comprehended she was gaining the upper hand. Reaching out, Tonio wrapped his hand in her blouse front.

"Do you know what you did to me?" Without waiting for a response to his demand he continued, "Do you? Do you have any idea what the pen's like?"

Charlene's terror flared. She had heard stories. Had read articles on prison life, even seen documentaries. Tonio, with his darkly handsome features and slender frame, would have been a made-to-order target for the inmates. An attack against his masculinity would have been the ultimate blow to Tonio's pride. She suspected it had warped him. The depths to which he must have stooped just to survive his sentence had driven him over the brink to insanity.

"Yeah," he said, reading the knowledge in her eyes, "You know. Don't you?" Charlene shut her eyes and bit her lower lip. "Don't you?"

Something struck her hard across the face. Her teeth met through her lower lip. Charlene gasped. Blood trickled from the cut, compounding the metallic taste left behind by the sedative. She stared up her captor. Tonio straddled her, hand raised to hit her again.

"Yeah." His eyes narrowed speculatively. "You sure as hell do know. You always were a smart bitch. Too smart for your own damn good. Too bad your cop lover got blown up."

At those words, Charlene started and nearly glanced in Danny's direction. She caught herself just in time. Closing her eyes, she regained control. Then, slowly, she reopened them to meet Tonio's gaze.

"Ka-boom," expounded Tonio, dramatically waving his arms. "Splattered cop. Wish I could have been there to see it." He thrust his face closer. "Did you cry for him? Did you?" He straightened. "Yeah. I'll just bet you cried your pretty little eyes out over him. Bitch."

At that Charlene turned her face away. His fingers tightened in her blouse. He jerked upward sharply, causing her head to snap back on her neck. The resulting pain sent a flare of sparks through her brain as it rattled against the inside of her skull.

"You look at me when I'm talking to you," he ordered.

Slowly, deliberately, Charlene forced herself to meet his gaze once more. Her actions apparently satisfied Tonio temporarily. He let her hang there. Motionless, supported from the waist by the fabric of her shirt, he studied her once more for signs of weakness. What he saw was a wholly expressionless facade.

"What did that cop have that I don't?" Rage taking control, he glared across her. "What does he have," Tonio jerked his chin in Danny's direction, "that I ain't got? Huh? Sure didn't take you long to forget that cop after he died, did it?" Tonio snorted scornfully. "That oldest brat of yours, now---he looks a hell of a lot like your first lover. Just about the right age, too. How old would he be? Eleven? Almost twelve?" Eyes narrowed speculatively as Tonio's mouth curved wickedly. "That kid's the cop's, ain't he?"

Somehow Charlene kept silent. She found she was listening to the rapid patter of her heart as her blood thundered through her veins. Tonio's face contorted with rage at her continued silence.

"Does he know?" Tonio shook her again, but this time she was prepared. "Does he?" Charlene's expression remained frozen and unrelenting. "I'll just bet he don't. Maybe I should tell him. What do you think? How's he gonna react to that, huh?"

Obviously, Tonio no longer expected a reaction. He chortled at her helplessness and considered his next tactic. Charlene watched the emotions flit across her captor's face. Her stomach churned. Bile curdled her taste buds. She swallowed heavily, waiting in fear.

"Ain't gonna really matter in the end, anyway, will it? 'Cause he's gonna be dead." Tonio considered his latest statement. "Then again, maybe you want him to die thinkin' you loved only him and no one else."

In the face of so cheap a blow to her pride, Charlene's upper lip curled the barest fraction in disdain. Tonio either missed her react, or elected to over-look it. He rambled on.

"When I get finished with you," he informed her slowly, savouring the words as her fear mounted, "you're gonna know---intimately---everything I went through because of you. Do you hear me, bitch? Everything."

Then, with calculated precision, Tonio released his hold. Charlene fell flat. Before she could react to that sudden freedom, he was astride her. Using his legs to pin down the chains restraining her arms, Tonio took hold of her blouse by the neckline and casually tore the fabric from neck to waist. Panic was a rising tide she could no longer stem. She squirmed vainly, fearing the worst. Tonio watched her, relishing her swelling terror, the anguish contorting her features. Having ripped open her shirt, Tonio ever so slowly stroked one fingertip along her right breast above the line of her bra cup. Fear she had held in check for more than twenty years flared, weakening her resolve to control her reactions. Charlene fought a losing battle. She countered instinctively in the only possible fashion.

Before Tonio knew what was happening, she centred what remained of her courage. Chin tucked in, she snapped up from the waist. Her forehead smashed into the bridge of Tonio's nose. Charlene briefly saw stars. Her assailant grunted and fell backwards. Stunned, he staggered upright and floundered about the compartment, one hand covering his shattered nose, while the other blindly sought support. Encountering the hatch wall, he slumped against it.

"You bitch," he swore thickly. "You God damned bitch. You busted my dose."

"Good," she retorted hotly, without thinking.

All energy sapped by that final futile act for self-preservation, Charlene lay, breathing heavily. Tonio's hand cupped. Blood dripped in thick, dark red clots through his fingers, spattering the floor and his clothing.

"Son of a bitch," he cursed again. Pulling up his shirttail, he dabbed cautiously at the flow. "You'll pay for that too, you bitch. I'll be back. And when I do, you won't be so high and mighty when I get finished with you."

Tonio staggered to the hatch and dropped to sit on the sill. He stared at her. In between gasps of pain, he informed her, "You think about that. You hear me?"

His nose continued to bleed, dripping off his hand onto the knees of his pants and the floor. Tonio tilted his head back in an effort to stem the bleeding. He gagged, choked, and sat up.

"Damn you." He drew a ragged breath and spat blood onto the floor. "You think your kids'll get help, don't you? Think about this 'till I come back! McGarrett ain't a cop no more. This Island's wide open. Ain't nobody ever gonna find you two. Never."

On his feet once more, he stepped over the sill and slammed the watertight door behind him. Charlene listened to his fading footfalls. A muted rumble overhead, as though separated by several decks, announced Tonio's departure from the vessel.

Slowly she sat up. A tiny shred of relief and hope returned. She had won a small battle. But her continued defiance had only bought them a measure of time before Tonio returned to carry through whatever scheme his twisted psyche had dreamed up. As she considered that, she tied the torn ends of her shirt together, fashioning a halter-top.

"Sharon?"

The croaked summons dragged her out of despair. She crawled to Danny's side. He groped for her, groggy. One eye remained stuck shut. Moistening an end of a shirt tie with water from the bucket, Charlene gently wiped away the glue. Danny caught at her wrist. The instant he encountered the shackles, he shook free of the dregs of the drug.

"Sharon."

He struggled upright, staring at her. Old habits died hard. She saw him coolly assess the situation. The condition of her face and clothing spoke eloquently of what must have transpired before he had regained consciousness. It angered him. He reached out to pull her to him.

"Are you alright? Are you hurt?"

"I'm okay," she told him shakily. "He's gone, for now."

"Did he beat you," asked Danny, tilting her face to examine the extent of the bruising. She smiled raggedly.

"He only hit me once," she informed him. She cautiously touched the swelling on her forehead, inspecting the damage. The lump felt the size of a golf ball beneath the skin. "You might say this wound was honourably received."

"What did you do?" He was almost afraid to ask.

"I think I broke his nose," she stated with shaky satisfaction.

"Did you really?" Danny's voice was filled with admiration. Charlene nodded and was rewarded with a crooked smile from her husband. "Sharon---"

Charlene raised a hand. Placing a forefinger over his lips, she silenced him. It took every ounce of control to hold Danny's gaze for that brief second before she began to cry. Even his tender concern failed to give her back the courage she so desperately needed at that moment. He rocked her back and forth, striving to understand what was wrong beyond the obvious, and ease her anguish.

"Danny."

His original name, a whisper from the past, and unspoken in almost twelve years, astonished him. He stared down at the top of her head, wondering what had dragged it from her now. Charlene's shoulders shook.

"Danny," she whispered again, "he knows. He kept you sedated until he could tell me why he's doing this."

"What?"

"He knows who I am."

Fear knifed through Danny. Thoughts racing, he struggled to put the pieces together. He had so little to go on; the aborted surprise visit to Steve's house, the walk on the beach with the children playing in the sand, then pain and unconsciousness, until this.

"Who is it?"

"Tonio." Charlene had to force out the words. "Danny, it's Tonio."

"Damn."

Of all the people whom they could have had the misfortune to run afoul of immediately upon their return to Hawaii, Tonio was among the worst. From the moment they had made their decision, Danny had feared he would encounter someone with a personal grudge against him, a holdover from his days with Five-O. But this---Charlene's dry sobs eased. She gazed up at him once more.

"Did he recognise me?" Danny wanted to know.

She shook her head heavily. "No, thank God. He thinks you're dead."

A flash of terror reflected in the depths of her eyes. Danny tightened his hold on her, hating Tonio for subjecting them to this. He cursed himself for acceding to the desire to return to the one place both he and Charlene had always considered home. But with Andre Larouche dead, and his organization long since shattered, neither they, nor the FBI, had thought there existed any reason to prevent the family's return to the Islands. Sensing Charlene's growing anguish, Danny's anxiety escalated.

"What's wrong, Charley?"

Charlene's desperation mounted. "He's going to kill the children."

"My God, no." Danny stared down at her. "Are you certain?"

Her expression turned bleak. "He told me that's what he was planning."
"Has he gone mad?"

Danny failed to see any logic in the deaths of three innocent children, whether they were his or not. Charlene tucked her head against his chest.

"I don't now. I think so. He said he was going to kill them, and then, it would be your turn. Oh, God, Danny. What are we going to do?"

CHAPTER EIGHT


12 April 1990

A thin, pale strip of sunlight inched across the living room floor. Its questing finger sought the face of the sleeper ensconced on the couch. Steve's internal alarm seldom failed him. This morning was no different. He came instantly awake, aware of nerve endings tingling a warning. His eyes flew open. Not more than a foot away, a face was staring back at him. Startled by McGarrett's sudden move, the small, hunched body over-balanced and fell backwards, landing with a muffled thud. The coffee table moved an inch back with a faint squeal of protest. Steve propped himself up on one elbow.

"Chris?" Intrigued by the boy's curious behaviour, McGarrett hastily blinked sleep from his eyes. "What are you doing out here?"

"Waiting for you to wake up," responded Chris.

"Why?" Steve asked, puzzled.

Chris shrugged noncommittally. "I dunno."

Feet to the floor, Steve sat up and studied his fellow early riser. Chris wore only his pyjama bottoms. His arms were wrapped around his bare upper torso in a futile effort to keep warm. From the determined set of his chin, Steve assumed Chris was clenching his teeth to prevent them chattering out loud.

Curious, Steve asked, "Do you do this to your father?"

"Sometimes," Chris reluctantly admitted.

A smile tugged at one corner of McGarrett's mouth. Blanket wrapped about his shoulders, he stood up. Apart from himself and Chris, the household slept on.

"Why don't you get something warm on and then help me make some coffee?" McGarrett suggested.

He had to get the boy moving to warm him up. The day would only warm with sunrise. Until then, the over-night damp would continue to permeate the house. Chris padded obediently back into the den. He returned moments later, buttoning up the front of his pyjama jacket. Steve awaited him in the kitchen, blanket wrapped around him like a crude toga. Under his direction, Chris pulled the coffee canister to the front of the counter and opened it. McGarrett put a fresh filter in the holder and filled the pot with water. With round-eye solemnity, Chris followed his every move. Acutely aware of his audience, Steve measured the grounds, fitted the filter in place and poured the water into the reservoir.

"That ought to take about five minutes," he announced, having flipped the "On" switch.

Quietly drawing out two chairs at the kitchen nook table, Steve gestured for his companion to sit down. Chris slithered onto one seat. The intensity with which he continued to watch McGarrett momentarily unnerved Steve McGarrett. Steve sat down. Neither of them spoke for several minutes.

"Mom and Dad are gonna die," declared Chris bluntly, "Aren't they?"

Steve blinked sharply in the face of that harsh stab. "What makes you say that, Chris?"

Chris began doodling aimlessly on the tabletop. With one finger, he scooted around a crumb that had somehow eluded the previous evening's cleanup.

"Debby Kiley lived down the road from us in Spokane," he said slowly. "She was eighteen. She ran away from home last year, right after Easter. The police found her last month near Seattle."

With unerring accuracy Steve McGarrett put the pieces of information together and filled in the gaps in that statement. Apparently Debby Kiley had fallen victim to Seattle's infamous Green River Killer.

"I know you and Uncle Jon don't want us to know Mom and Dad won't be coming home 'cause you're scared we're gonna get upset," continued Chris relentlessly, with a practicality far beyond his years. "Sera's just a little kid. She'll get scared and cry. But you can tell Daniel and me. We won't cry.

Steve leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table between them. "Chris, your uncle and I are doing everything in our power to get your parents back. Your Dad and I worked together for over ten years. I'm not about to lose good friends like him and your mother to someone like Antonio Nicholaidis."

"How did you meet my Mom?"

Gazing over Chris' head, out the sliding doors to the patio, Steve carefully considered his next words. The sun was sending its first full rays through the grounds. Palm trees and flowerbeds were bathed in the light as though illuminated by specially positioned stage fresnels.

"I met your mother and your uncle in Sixty-eight, immediately after your grandparents and your Aunt Priscilla died," he began.

"We had an aunt, too?"

McGarrett nodded. "Your grandparents and Aunt were murdered by the same drug organisation which Tonio used to work for."

"So, how come he's not in jail," demanded Chris.

"Because he's finished serving his sentence." Steve strove to simplify his explanation without stooping to patronising his audience. "The courts set a pretty stiff sentence. Tonio received fifteen years, with time off for good behaviour. The woman who ran the organisation, and ordered the deaths of your grandparents, received life imprisonment with no chance of parole."

"I wish they did the same for that Nicholaidis guy," declared Chris, furious. "Then he wouldn't have hurt anyone any more."

Steve held Chris' burning gaze. He rested a hand over one of the boy's, determined to make him understand. "The police are doing everything they can, Chris."

"It's not fair," mumbled Chris. His words were barely coherent. "I don't want to leave. I want to stay here and help you and Uncle Jon find Mom and Dad."

The smell of brewing coffee was filling the kitchen. Chris looked slowly around the interior of the house in the wake of his declaration. Drawing his hand from beneath Steve's, he went to the patio door and stared outside.

"Chris." McGarrett attempted to regain the boy's attention. Failing to receive a response, he joined him at the screen door. "Chris, you, Daniel and Sera are in just as much danger as your parents. Tonio hates your mother because she never liked him. She compounded the problem by being directly responsible for the sentencing of him and those who employed him. He's out for revenge. And I doubt he'll stop to consider how young you three are. Or that you're latecomers to this vendetta of his. By getting you off Oahu, the police won't have to be constantly worried about the three of you. Do you understand?"

Chris' face turned up. He stared stoically at Steve, measuring and weighing those words against his own desires, in much the same fashion McGarrett had seen his father do. Finally, the boy's shoulders slumped in defeat. McGarrett did his best to console the dejected youngster.

"You do understand, don't you, Chris? It's for the best."

Chris reluctantly agreed. Something scuffed across the tile floor. As one, they turned. Amanda emerged from the bedroom, drawing on her housecoat. Catching sight of the pair in the kitchen, she paused in the midst of tying her belt to study them. Then she joined them.

"The coffee smells delicious, Steve." Amanda glanced from her husband to Chris and back again. "Am I interrupting something private? Or can anyone join in?"

Steve shook his head. "I think we've had our man-to-man chat." With a tiny nod Chris concurred. "It's almost six-thirty, and we've a twenty minute drive ahead of us."

"Would you get Daniel up, Chris?" Amanda requested. "I'll start some breakfast. What sort of things do you normally eat?"

"Depends," he replied evasively. "Sometimes we get eggs and bacon and toast. Sometimes pancakes. Mostly, we have cereal and toast and jam and juice."

"Sound good to me," commented Amanda. "Your sister's in the bathroom already, so you boys are going to really have to get a move on."

Chris stared up at Steve as though hoping McGarrett would countermand that directive. When McGarrett remained silent, the boy conceded. "Yes, ma'am."

Amanda watched the hesitant departure with a flicker of amusement. As soon as Chris had vanished into the den, she turned to her husband.

"Well," she remarked, "that young man's certainly a handful."

"I believe the term's precocious," responded Steve. "How did Sera sleep?"

"Restlessly," he was told. "Can't you tell?"

Realizing Amanda had slept little herself Steve made a show of critically surveying the almost non-existent shadows beneath her eyes. But the way in which she shifted her shoulders suggested she had really suffered from a tiny body either pinning her in an awkward position in her sleep, or unintentionally pummelling her during the night.

"Terrible," he allowed after a reasonable pause.

With a soft laugh Amanda gave him a gentle push. From the den they heard the sound of both boys in full spate. Highly amused, Amanda now inspected her husband's unorthodox attire. She barely refrained from making an outrageous comment.
"Steve," his wife managed to choke down a laugh, "Get dressed."

Breakfast was rapidly consumed. The suitcase was repacked and stowed on the back seat, this time with Charlene's errant purse, less contents, tucked inside. Chris and Sera were strapped in on either side of it, while Daniel was belted in the front. After due consideration, Steve elected to leave the mug shot file at home and have Jonny send someone to pick it up later. Amanda kissed him good-bye as he prepared to leave. She watched the car drive off with considerable misgivings.

Traffic was relatively light. Rush hour had not yet gone into full swing, for which McGarrett was thankful. From the corner of his eye he caught Daniel studying him as surreptitiously as was possible for someone of his tender years.

Daniel suddenly probed, "What do you do?"

Steve responded readily. "I give lectures from time to time at the police academy. Occasionally I go fishing."

"Don't you work," Sera piped up from the rear seat.

"Sometimes," replied Steve, amused by their curiosity.

They reached a section of curving highway. Not far ahead of them, in a small cul-de-sac alongside the road, a car drew out of a parking lot in front of a roadside convenience store. McGarrett slowed as he closed on the vehicle, waiting for it to speed up. But the driver appeared intent upon maintaining a pace just below the legal speed limit. Glancing at the time, Steve realised he was going to have to pass the other car soon, if they hoped to make their rendezvous in time. Ahead the road straightened again. The opposite lane was clear of on-coming traffic.

Signalling, McGarrett accelerated and pulled out. As they drew alongside, the other car suddenly swerved into them. The vehicles slammed together. Metal shrieked in accompaniment to Sera's thin scream of fear. The stripping tore from the side of the coupe. McGarrett clung grimly to the wheel, desperately holding the lighter sedan on the road. He barely had time to spare the other driver a glance.

Tonio was far more intent upon pushing them off the road, than in identifying his opponent. Yet, McGarrett suspected the Italian was fully aware of whom he battled. The cars collided again. The coupe rocked, losing ground against the larger, older model vehicle. Sera began to wail.

"Sera," yelled Chris, fear pitching his voice abnormally high, "Shut up."

Daniel clutched at the armrest between him and Steve with one hand, while his other clung to the door. The coupe's rear fishtailed. McGarrett desperately turned the wheels into the skid. They righted. He saw the corner and hit the brakes. Tonio chose that instant to broadside them one final time. The coupe slid sideways. It slowed as it left the pavement, but refused to halt.

"Hang on," shouted McGarrett.

Aware of the futility, he pumped the brakes fiercely. He was unable to close his eyes, watching impending doom loom before them. Brilliant ocean blue filled the windshield. Daniel vainly flung himself forward over his knees in some unrehearsed drill. The car came to an abrupt halt, resting on the cliff edge, its weight precariously balanced atop a large mound of rubble and rocks left behind by a grader. The front wheels were suspended in space.

"We've stopped."

Gasping with relief at this brother's statement, Daniel reached for his seatbelt. McGarrett halted him before he could unfasten it.

"Don't anyone move," he ordered harshly, staring into the rear view mirror at the others. "Chris. Sera, sit absolutely still."

CHAPTER NINE


All three children went deathly pale. Tears trickled down Sera's cheeks. The suitcase now rested on the drive shaft hump, half on, half off the seat. Steve could feel Chris' feet digging into his spine through the seatback between them. Daniel looked carefully at McGarrett, turning his head with exaggerated caution.

"Now what do we do, sir?"

Several possibilities raced through Steve's mind on he heels of Daniel's question. He surveyed their location. The prospects augured against any injudicious movements. Just over half the coupe's weight rested beyond the cliff edge. Any precipitous action would send them onto the wave washed rocks below.

"Chris," Steve ventured, "See if you can wind down the window. Carefully."

Chris obediently eased the window open. The instant the glass began to descend they were inundated by a multitude of sounds: wind, wave, and seabirds. And the muffled growl of a car engine. McGarrett's attention was riveted on the rear view mirror. The battered tan and cream Lincoln Continental was returning. Terrifying the children further by apprising them of the renewed threat would serve no purpose. 

Tonio sat for a long moment at the side of the road, obviously enjoying their dilemma. As he reached out to put his car in gear, a tow truck appeared from up the coast. Aware he now had an audience, Tonio snarled. With a squeal of rubber, he vanished up the highway, passing the tow truck without slowing.

The truck skidded to an abrupt halt several feet beyond the teetering coupe. Hastily, reversing, the driver pulled off directly behind the vehicle and set his brakes. He climbed out.

He yelled to the occupants, "Are you okay?"

"Help," screamed Chris.

"Easy Chris." McGarrett's anxiety mounted concerned the frantic children might precipitate their forward movement over the edge in their excitement that rescue was at hand.

"Chris, Sera, don't move," shouted Daniel.

"Jesus Christ, buddy," called the driver. "How many kids you got in there?"

Cautiously turning his head, Steve shouted back, "Three. Two in the back, one in the front."

"Okay. Nobody move an inch. Don't even breathe hard," the driver advised. "I'm gonna try to attach my front tow cable to the underside. I haven't got enough to use the rear bumper, and that edge doesn't look too stable. I'm not going to be able to pull you back onto the road but I should be able to hold the car steady so you can climb out the windows. Okay?"

"Understood," Steve acknowledged. "While you're running out the cable, see if you can get in touch with Lieutenant Mattheson, HPD, on the police band. He's just up the road. He was expecting us to meet him."

"I'll do my best," replied the driver, "but I think you should consider getting out of that car your number one priority."

Steve did not bother to respond. He watched the other man climb into the cab of his truck and activate the winch. Before climbing out again, the man picked up his handset. He spoke for several minutes. Time hung by a thread. Beneath them, gravel shifted ominously. Several small rocks broke free and fell, clattering off lava protrusion on their way down to the sea. McGarrett did his level best to ignore the sounds. With each shift of the car, Sera sobbed.

His time split between the truck driver and the children, Steve missed the man when next he glanced into the rear view mirror. Something rattled on the underside of the coupe. Heart in mouth, McGarrett waited. The car rocked gently. Sera whimpered as the nose dipped, and rose again. Daniel clutched convulsively at the door handle.

"Easy," soothed Steve quietly.

The driver rose behind the trunk, dusting off his front. "Okay," he shouted. "I'm going to take up the slack. Stand by."

Steve watched nervously as the winch ground in reverse, slowly reeling in the excess cable. The noise was barely audible above the crash of waves below. Should the driver fail to shut down the winch at just the right instant, the car would over-balance. The vehicle's dead weight would either drag the tow truck over the edge with it, or the cable would snap. Either way, the results would be the same.

The man knew his business. He slowed the drum, easing in the final inches of slack. There was a short sharp jerk just as he shut it down and set the brake. The coupe rocked slightly and settled. The driver returned to the cliff edge. He measured the distance from the overhang. McGarrett knew what the man wanted.

"Okay, son," he said, glancing, at Daniel. "Nice and slow. Unfasten your seatbelt and slide into the back with Chris and Sera."

"What about you, sir?"

"Go on, Daniel," McGarrett urged. He forced a smile. "I'll be okay."
Anxiously licking his lips, Daniel depressed the release. He grasped the shoulder strap, preventing the belt from snapping back into its side pocket. Once the shoulder harness was eased back into its holder, the boy inched around until his knees were on the seat. Before he slid between the bucket seats, he paused to stare at Steve one more time.

"Go on, son," Steve repeated.

The coupe rocked dangerously as Daniel's weight shifted. The car settled again once the boy reached the back seat. McGarrett was sweating profusely. The thin, distant wail of a siren insinuated itself into the gaps between the voracious snarls of the waves below.

"The cops are on their way," shouted the truck driver unnecessarily. "Can you hang on until they get here? I'd rather have some more weight to add to the back end of this car before anyone moves again."

"Kids?"

The three children were startled when McGarrett actually asked their opinion. Daniel recovered first. He nodded carefully. Chris added his consent. Sera stared at her brothers. She chewed her lower lip for several seconds, before deciding that if her brothers were brave enough to wait, so was she. She nodded.

"We'll wait," McGarrett advised the man.

A standard police cruiser and an unmarked car drew up on either side of the tow truck on the verge. Jonny sprang from the unmarked sedan. Running forward, he skidded to a halt at the very edge of the cliff.

"Steve!"

"We're okay, Jonny."

"Son of a bitch," exclaimed one officer. "How the hell did this happen?"

The other uniformed officer was inspecting the skid marks on the highway. "Looks like someone intentionally ran them off the road."

Jonny gestured imperatively. "You two lean on the trunk. We'll grab the kids as they climb out."

"Okay, Lieutenant."

The two officers carefully rested their combine weight on the back of the coupe. The front rose until the rear chasse touched the ground. Jonny moved around to the right side.

"Can you open the other window?"

Leaning across his sister, Daniel gradually wound down the window until it was flush with the doorsill. McGarrett mentally heaved a sigh of relief that the rear windows were not set for child-protection. Jonny held out his arms, but Daniel reversed into the centre. He unfastened Sera's lap belt.

"Okay, Sera," he instructed, "Take it real slow. Uncle Jon's waiting to catch you."

Sera sat tight. She shook her head hard. Her face was as white as the stripes on her red and white band sun top. Her lips compressed against fear, she refused to budge. Daniel tugged at her.

"Sera, come on," he pleaded.

"Leave her, Daniel," requested McGarrett.

"Sera." Jonny inched nearer. "Sera, come on, honey. You can't stay there."

"No!" Fiercely determined she crossed her arms and stared forward.

"Sera," Chris insisted. "You've gotta try. The car's gonna fall. You don't want to fall, too, do you?"

Terror peaking in the wake of Chris' announcement, Sera wailed, "I don't wanna fall!"

"Then you've got to climb out the window," urged Daniel.

Steve kept silent and prayed the boys would be able to encourage their sister into action. Daniel knelt on the back seat, staring out at his uncle. Jonny was fearful the boys would elect to climb to safety ahead of Sera, leaving McGarrett to deal with the terrified girl. Instead, Daniel reached behind him and shifted the suitcase up between himself and his sister.

"Here," he demonstrated. "I'll show you how easy it's gonna be."

Jonny watched in amazement as his nephew eased the suitcase onto the sill. Understanding the boy's motives, but not entirely approving of them, Jonny grasped the sides of the case and lifted it free. The car rocked slightly. A shower of gravel pattered into space.

"Now," Daniel firmly instructed, "it's your turn, Sera."

His tone left no room for disobedience. She stared at him before resolutely shifting position until she was kneeling on the seat. She paused.

"I'm scared, Daniel," she told him.

"Just take it nice and slow, Sera," cautioned Steve, "and everything will be okay."

At his reassurance Sera stood up and thrust her upper torso out the window. Daniel steadied her. As Jonny held out his arms, she grabbed for him. The car teetered dangerously. Emitting a squeal of fear, Sera grabbed the doorframe on either side of her. Daniel hastily sat down. Chris gasped. It was all Steve could do to hold perfectly still in the face of impending disaster until the vehicle settled once more.

"Easy, Sera," cautioned Jonny quickly. "Take it nice and slow."

Eyes squeezed shut against the perilous drop below, Sera reached out with exaggerated care. Taking a firm hold, Jonny supported her weight as she inched forward until her knees were on the sill. Then he lifted her clear.

"There you go," he announced. "Safe and sound."

When her uncle swung her away from the edge, Sera burst into tears. Jonny ran to the patrol car and set her down on the front seat.

"It's okay, Sera," he soothed her when she continued to cling to him. "It's over. Let go. We still have to get your brothers and Steve out."

By the time he returned to the scene, Chris was free. The truck driver supported the boy as he walked across the gravel shoulder to join his sister in the patrol car.

"Two down, two to go," muttered one of the patrolmen.

The tow truck's tires slipped several inches on the gravel. The car shifted forward slightly, stressing the tow cable to its limits.

"Better hurry it up, Lieutenant," called the second officer. "Doesn't look like this thing's going to hold much longer."

Jonny dared not take his eyes off the side window. Daniel stuck his head out. "Ready, Daniel?"

"Yes, sir."

With exaggerated care Daniel eased out of the window, clearing the car up to his waist. He rested one knee on the sill for additional balance and extended his arms. Jonny smoothly drew him clear.

"There you go."

"Thanks, Uncle Jon." As Jonny set him down, Daniel pushed free. "I'm fine, sir. Help Mister McGarrett."

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"Uh huh."

With that affirmation, Daniel confidently took two steps and promptly sat down hard, legs shaking with reaction. His expression would have been laughable under different circumstances. The truck driver hurriedly gathered him up and carried him over to join his siblings. As he passed his vehicle, the man glanced at the winch. Several strands of cable were frayed. More popped even as he watched. He rushed back to the rear of the coupe.

"We've run out of time. The cable's going."

"Steve," Jonny bellowed in desperation, "there's no more time. Get out of there."

"On my way."

McGarrett released his seat belt, pivoted smoothly and slid through the gap. A detached portion of his mind marvelled at how easily he achieved the rear seat, considering the low ceiling. The coupe lurched another inch. McGarrett popped the door lock. Without pausing to think through his actions, he flung open the door and leapt out and to the left. His leading foot slipped on loose gravel, throwing him onto his face.

He was dimly aware of someone, somewhere, yelling sharply. McGarrett hugged the ground, listening to the nerve-wracking snap of the tow cable. The line snarled through the air, popping at the end of its trajectory like a coachman's whip. Rolling onto his side, Steve witnessed an incredible sight. His coupe's rear end tilted slowly skyward as the weight of its engine dragged the front end down. With the majestic grace of a dying ship sinking at sea, the car slowly slithered over the drop. For a long second there was nothing, only the sound of wind and wave. Then, far away, the ear-cringing crunch of metal and glass on rock rang out.

"Steve!" Jonny reached his side. "Are you okay?"

McGarrett managed a shaky nod. He was furious with himself. "Slowing down in my old age," he commented.

"Was it Tonio?" Jonny chose to overlook the sharp edge in his companion's voice.

"Who else?" Steve looked around, locating his charges. "That bastard's serious, Jonny. He really wants those kids dead."

"Gilles." Jonny enforced his summons with a wave of his hand. The senior patrolman joined them. He appeared startled when he realised whom they had rescued.

"Jesus Christ, McGarrett! What the hell happened here?"

Jonny cut him off. "See the kids meet the helicopter. Take the suitcase, too."

Although clearly wishing to satisfy his curiosity, Gilles training, nonetheless, took over. With a nod to Steve McGarrett, he retrieved the children's luggage. His partner was waiting at the cruiser, talking to the children, when Gilles arrived. Slinging the suitcase into the trunk, the senior officer urged Daniel into the back seat with his siblings. Lights flashing, the patrol car swung out onto the highway.

Jonny studied the tow truck driver speculatively. The man was writing out a report in his logbook, probably so he could claim a write-off for the snapped cable and lost hook.

"We're going to have let this leak to the news service, Steve," remarked Jonny softly.

"The moment Tonio hears those kids are alive---" began McGarrett bitterly.

"What I meant to say is," countered Jonny harshly, "we're going to have to see to it the networks receive word of their deaths."

McGarrett's thoughts raced. He wondered what Amanda's reaction would be. "And me?"

"We'll say you survived by some miraculous turn of events," said Jonny, thinking fast. "Your seatbelt broke and your were thrown clear as the vehicle went over. Or something to that effect."

"Thrown clear as the car went over the edge?" McGarrett shook his head dubiously. "I don't believe Tonio'll buy that." His expression froze. "Even if he does, what about Charley and Danny?" He locked gazes with Jonny. "Tonio'll pass that on to them just as soon as the papers hit the street."

"I know," Jonny bleakly acknowledged. His eyes dropped away from Steve's, unable to hold the piercing gaze. "But if we don't carry through with it, he won't rest until they are dead, Steve. I, for one, don't want my staff split between protecting those kids, and searching for my sister and Danny."

He swung away, staring over the precipice at the shattered wreck far below. Waves crashed against the shore, throwing spume across the vehicle. There was little remaining of the Eighty-nine coupe.

"Charley should figure it out as soon as she sees your name on the report. And if she doesn't, I'm positive Danny will." Jonny looked up, clearly as upset by the lack of alternatives as McGarrett was. "We haven't any other choice."

"I don't like it." Steve fell silent for several minutes before venturing another comment. "I'd suggest keeping your name out of the papers. No use complicating the situation."

"I had already planned to," replied Jonny. "You know the line."

"A police source stated."

"That's the one."

"If you can keep this under wraps until three," suggested Steve, "it shouldn't make the evening edition. Tonio's going to want a hard copy in black and white with which to taunt them."

"We'll see," said Jonny noncommittally.

"Every day we can squeeze is another day of life for both of them," Steve reminded him bluntly. "Daniel said Tonio was going to kill Danno after the children were out of the way."

"I know," Jonny spoke reflectively, more to himself than to his companion.

"And there's the truck driver," Steve continued.

"I'll handle him," declared Jonny.

There was an edge to Jonny Mattheson's voice that McGarrett recognised. It was the same sharpness he had employed over the years when close friends and acquaintances had been involved in circumstances of extreme gravity. Leaving Jonny to speak to the driver, Steve walked stiffly to the unmarked car and got into the front passenger seat. He inspected his hands. They were beginning to sting. Blood oozed from a number of abrasions in his palms, and road grit had been driven deep into the cuts. The knees of his pants were torn and blood stained the ragged edges of the fabric.

To his astonishment, McGarrett discovered his hands were shaking. Clasping them tightly together to still them, he silently cursed himself. Then he swore again. Just because he had been a cop, he remorselessly reminded himself, did not mean he was exempt from suffering the onslaught of shock in the wake of an accident. Past experience alone had taught him as much.

Steve stared out the windshield up the highway. Four cars were approaching around the corner from the north. Another appeared in the rear view mirror. He glanced at his watch in wonder. Total elapse time from accident to rescue could not have been much more than half an hour. In that entire time, no vehicle, other than the tow truck, had passed the scene.

CHAPTER TEN


After the bone-gnawing, damp chill of the night, the initial warming inside the ancient ship came as a welcome relief. As the day progressed, however, they began suffering the debilitating effects of heat within their confined quarters. Tonio had left no food. Nor did they expect any. What water there was grew tepid, flat and tasteless. They lay as still as possible, conserving energy and keeping talk to a minimum as the hours dragged by.

It was impossible to find an over-all comfortable position. Chain links dug into their backs and dragged at their wrists. There was the constant chafing of rough metal against flesh. Charlene had already developed several nicks and scrapes on her wrists, incurred during her struggle with Tonio. Compounding this, in contrast to that relatively minor irritant was their growing thirst. It became increasingly difficult to ignore the constant dripping condensation. The sound served as a perpetual aggravation, augmenting their awareness of their thirst as they rationed their fluid intake.

They dozed much of the time. Danny's nearness bolstered Charlene's courage. Although she knew he suffered from the additional warmth of her body pressed against his, he refused to allow her to move out of his grasp. Sand that had infiltrated her clothing on the beach continued to itch. She suspected Danny was plagued by the same irritant. Her hair stuck to her forehead. Sweat trickled down her face. It soaked the remnants of her thin blouse between her shoulder blades, formed sticky pools between her breasts, and caused the flesh on the backs of her knees to glue together whenever she drew up her legs. It was all she could do to keep from mopping her forehead against her husband's shirt.

Throughout his lucid moments, Danny mulled over their predicament. He could never recall having been so at the mercy of another person. Close friends and colleagues had suffered through this sort of thing repeatedly in bygone years. He struggled not to recall the past, to allow his thoughts to drift freely. The attempts proved fruitless. Charlene's presence was a constant reminder of the danger they were in. He could not tear himself away from the probably outcome.

The breathless quality of the ship's stagnant air gradually faded, heralding the arrival of evening. They recovered slowly. The air in their prison was now slightly acrid from their need to relieve themselves in the previous hours. Come the morning it would undoubtedly smell a lot worse. In striving to ignore the foul odour Charlene discovered she was staring up at Danny with a curiously disassociated air. He managed a ragged smile.

"Always did want to get you alone, and away from outside disturbances," he commented with a touch of dry humour.

Struggling to match him jest for jest she countered, "Isn't this taking things to the extreme?" 

Danny brushed aside her sweat-tangled bangs and ran the backs of his fingers gently around the curve of her face. Reaching up, Charlene caught his hand in hers.

"When?" She dared to put their mutual fear into words.

Danny stared down into her eyes. Fear crouched there. He turned his attention to the outline of the hatch and shook his head.

"Try not to think about it, Charley. It only makes it worse."

"I can't help it, Danny," she countered desperately. "What's he been doing all day? Suppose---"

"Don't." Danny placed a hand over her lips, hushing her. Her eyes questioned. "No matter what he says, no matter what he does," Danny enforced fiercely, "don't dwell on it. I love you, Charley. I always will. I'll always be here for you, no matter what. Nothing can come between us. Remember that."

She accepted his declaration, adeptly reading between the lines. "I'm scared," she whispered.

"I know." Danny took tight rein on himself as she admitted that. "I'm scared, too."

Looking away, Charlene felt his pain. How difficult it was for him to reveal that weakness. She stared at the open portal in the inspection hatch.

"I wish Steve was still on the force." To that Danny remained silent. Charlene stared up at him once more. "Do you think they'll find us, Danny?"

He shook his head, mute, acknowledging his doubt. Charlene buried her face in his chest. When he tightened his grasp around her shoulders, Danny felt her forcibly swallow her anxiety. Eventually, they dozed again.

The hollow clatter of a watertight door woke them. Charlene stiffened in Danny's arms. As the sound of approaching footsteps grew louder he held her against him. Danny's attention sharpened. It was evident to him that Tonio was deliberately dragging out his arrival, making as much noise as possible as he neared the compartment to height the suspense.

Furious, Charlene observed, "He's trying to frighten us."

Danny shook her gently. "Good girl." He encouraged her objectivity. "Hang on to that thought."

The door slowly opened. Tonio stepped over the sill and stopped. He stared at them, gloating over their vulnerability once more. Charlene attempted to shift her weight, but a slight tightening of Danny's fingers stilled her. She focused on the tape on the bridge of Tonio's nose. That she had inflicted some damage on him pleased her.

"Should have some real interesting news for your two tomorrow," commented the Italian. He seated himself on the doorsill. "Yeah. Real interesting."

Danny's expression was positively murderous. Given a different set of circumstances, Charlene would have feared for their lives. But their captor chuckled when he read Danny's mood then winced as his broken nose pained him. He touched it thoughtfully.

"Think you're real tough, don't you?"

Neither of his victims responded. Tonio stood. Reaching out, he picked up something from beyond the door. Danny twitched a fraction at the sight of the object as it came into view. Charlene's nerves prickled. Butterflies filled her stomach. Tonio stalked across the compartment, relishing their fear, and dragging out the moment. He held the length of industrial weight hose in front of him as he advanced.

"Know what this is?" He thrust it in front of Charlene's nose. She turned her face away. "Yeah. You got a right to be scared. In the pen they use it on you when you don't co-operate."

"Damn you." Danny snarled back, his control close to snapping. "Leave her alone."

Tonio's arm swept up. Danny tensed, waiting for the blow to fall. It never came. Instead, Tonio backed up three paces. Bending down, he took up a wrap on the chain fastened to Charlene's leg. He watched the play of emotions, avidly dwelling on the suspense. Without warning his muscles tensed.

Charlene cried out as Tonio yanked. She was forcibly extricated from her husband's arms before he could release her, and dragged backward across the metal plating. Bits of rusty metal stabbed at her flesh, tearing small cuts along the length of her body. Tonio continued to pull until she was well out of Danny's reach.

"Now," declared her captor slowly, staring down at her, his eyes glittering with anticipation. "Now you're gonna learn what it means to disobey me."

Reading the other's intentions, Danny lunged to his feet as Tonio swung. Unable to close on their captor, he could only watch as the length of rubber hose connected with Charlene's shoulders. Curled into a compact ball in the wake of that initial strike, she wrapped her arms as far over her head as was possible in an effort to protect the most vulnerable portions of her anatomy.

"Stop it!" Danny shouted helplessly. "Damn you, Tonio! You cheap punk!"

Tonio halted in mid-swing and slowly turned to face Danny. "What did you call me?"

Now he had the ex-pusher's undivided attention, Danny took a deep breath. In this much he had momentarily drawn Tonio's attention away from his wife. It was now up to him. He desperately needed to distract Tonio from his attack. Blue eyes ice cold, Danny prepared for what would undoubtedly follow.

"I said you're a cheap punk," he repeated. "And a coward."

Tonio laughed hoarsely, unaffected by the insults. "That's what I thought you said. You know nothing."

"Maybe," countered Danny, half his attention on Charlene. She had remained curled on her side. But she was waiting, listening. "Then again, perhaps I know more about you than you realise."

The pusher toed Charlene's still form thoughtfully. "Did she actually tell you about me?"

"Charley doesn't need to tell me anything about you," Danny informed Tonio. "I'd say I probably know more about you than she does."

"That a fact?" The pusher shifted his weight back slightly as though striving for a better angle at which to inspect Danny. "What would you know about me? You ain't nothin' but a lousy PI."

"You ought to research your victims more fully," said Danny mildly.

Charlene chose that instant to roll onto her back. Distracted, Tonio glanced down just in time to witness his victim snapping both legs up between his own legs. Pain exploded in a red cloud through his brain. His breath left him. He doubled up. Charlene hastily shoved herself along the floor on her back until she reached Danny. She ignored the additional scratches and scrapes added to those already marking her body.

Staggering in tiny circles, Tonio whimpered a high note in agony. Arms out-stretched, he blindly sought support. At length his questing hands finally located the doorway. He sagged over the sill and vomited onto the floor on the far side. Charlene bumped into Danny's legs. He helped her to her feet.

"Why, Charley?" Frustrated, Danny whispered aware his efforts to protect her by distracting Tonio were now useless. "Why didn't you leave well enough alone?"

Charlene remained stubbornly mute. She refused to tell him she knew she should not have panicked. She was aware she would pay for her actions. But she could not bring herself to allow Danny to reveal his real identity. She watched Tonio with the expectancy of a caged animal. Every avenue for survival had to be allowed for.

The Italian gradually recovered. When at last he turned to face them, his features were contorted beyond recognition. Black rage radiated from him. He drew himself slowly upright. Crossing the floor, he reached once more for the chain fastened to the ship's rib. He tightened the length gradually, handhold by handhold, inching Charlene back across the floor. This time she refused to permit Danny to interfere. She took each successive step bravely as Tonio drew her in, waiting for the jerk of his hand before acquiescing. As he dragged her up in front of him, Charlene defiantly raised her chin. Tonio locked gazes with her.

His next actions were carried through with brutal deliberation. Tonio performed the task with methodical calculation, confining his blows to her upper torso and buttocks. No matter which direction Charlene writhed in her efforts to evade the repeated lashings, it proved to be in vain. She gritted her teeth and swallowed her cries. When she could no longer deny the agony, she was too weak to so much as whimper in protest against the continuing abuse. She sagged at Tonio's feet, a grotesque caricature of a rag doll. Head bowed forward Charlene numbly accepted the remainder of the beating he rained down upon her.

Danny watched impotent, forcing himself to remain silent while their captor beat his wife senseless. Should he dare say or do anything, it would only serve to provide Tonio with additional incentive to pursue tormenting them both further. Nor could Danny make himself look away. Hatred overwhelmed the old cop instincts. He knew if he were freed in the ensuing hours, he would track Tonio down and kill him with his bare hands. All the while, their captor held Danny's gaze. Reading his prisoner's thoughts, his expression taunted Danny, daring him to say or do something to prevent what was happening.

At length, Tonio tired. Reaching down, he took hold of Charlene's nearest arm. Raising her up, he inspected the bruises already forming on her back, arms and legs. Livid welts raised ridges across her flesh in a criss-cross.

"Ain't gonna be quite so feisty next time, are you?" Tonio reflected.

He studied the manner in which she dangled in his grasp, completely at his mercy. Satisfied with the results, he released his hold. Charlene dropped back to the floor with a dull thump, resembling nothing more than an untidy bundle.

"You stinking bastard," bit out Danny softly. His eyes glittered dangerously.

Tonio leered at him. "I'll leave you two alone, now. I'm sure you'll have lots to discuss, and time's gettin' short for you."

Without waiting to see what, if anything, Danny would do, Tonio stepped out. He took care to avoid the noxious spew immediately outside the door. He turned. The watertight door swung shut with a clang that rang like a death knell.

As soon as the door was closed, Danny dropped to his knees. Uncaring whether or not Tonio had remained to watch the show, he leaned forward until he reached the full extension of his manacles, struggling to reach his wife. She lay just out of reach.

"Charley," Danny called urgently. "Charley!"

There was no immediate response. Every few minutes, Danny repeated her name, determined to get through to her. How long he fought to summon her back to him, he was uncertain. But finally Charlene moved. There was a tiny gasp, followed by a muffled whine. Ever so slowly, she drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

"Charley!" Danny said her name one more time.

A brief pause ensued before she adjusted her weight again. Moaning softly, despite her best resolve not to let him know just how much pain she was in, Charlene managed to roll onto her stomach. When she looked up and saw the desperation in Danny's eyes, it was almost more than she could bear.

It was evident he blamed himself for not having interfered. He extended a hand, beseeching her to make an effort to work her way back to his side. Charlene gradually brought up one leg. Digging her toes into the deck plates, she pushed. Inch by pain filled inch she made her way across the deck until she was close enough for him to gather her into his arms.

"Oh, God, Charley. I'm sorry."

His voice betrayed his anguish. Charlene found she lacked sufficient energy to even shake her head. He cradled her body against him and rocked her back and forth. Centring her remaining strength, Charlene raised her right hand. Pain lanced up her side, but she persevered until she and hooked her fingers in his beard. If her actions caused him any discomfort, he gave no indication.

"You couldn't help it," she whispered.

"I could have tried."

"There wasn't anything you could have done after I kicked him in the crotch," she countered as sharply as possible. Every breath, every word, brought a flare of fire across her back and along her ribs.

"You never should have married me," he said.

Charlene's anger swelled. "Don't you dare start that again, Danny Williams," she ordered. "Don't you dare. Do you hear me?"

"Charley," he began.

"No! Don't you 'Charley' me," she retorted, cutting him off.

She struggled to ignore the pain she was causing herself in her determination to break him out of his misery. He had been a cop, a damn good one. Now he was the helpless prisoner of a sadist. And there was no outward possibility of escape for either of them. She thrust that thought aside. She needed his strength to keep going, just as he needed her reassurances of her love for him in the face of the torture Tonio was subjecting them to.

"Danny," she continued, "I love you, too. You have no idea how lost I would be without you. Don't you ever even so much as consider leaving me, for any reason. Do you hear me?"

He hugged her fiercely in response, taking care not to squeeze too hard. Not daring to meet his gaze, Charlene closed her eyes. Tears were too close to the surface. The hair of his beard scratched the palm of her hand as he rubbed his cheek against her hand.

"I just wish---"

She broke off. The thought was so trite, so out of place with their present condition, as to be ridiculous.

"Wish what," he pressured.

Blinking back the tears that threatened to flow, Charlene tilted her head in his arms and stared up at him once more.

"It's not important," she managed.

Danny's expression hardened. "You let me be the judge of that," he declared. "Now, tell me."

A wan smile lit her face as she tugged at his beard ever so gently. "I just wish I could see you once more without this."

Danny gently removed her hand from his beard and tenderly kissed the inside of her wrist. He knew those words were the closest Charlene would ever come to admitting she suspected they would not escape their captor. Nor survive the plans Tonio had in store for their future. He stared down at her with renewed sadness.

The gnawing in Charlene's middle went unnoticed in the face of the pain throbbing through her frame. She turned her face against Danny's chest to hide the tears she could not longer stem.

Danny felt a spreading dampness through the thin fabric of his shirt. Rocking her and stroking her hair, he strove to comfort her in the face of his growing fear. Twelve years ago they could have relied upon Steve McGarrett and Five-O to rescue them. Now, not knowing who was in charge of HPD, Danny could not find it in himself to believe they would live much beyond the end of the Easter weekend.

"It's Easter in two days," she whispered suddenly. "I wonder if anyone will think to buy them something."

"Shhh." Danny pressed his lips against the crown of her head, and tasted salt. "Knowing Daniel, he took Chris and Sera back to Steve's. I'm sure he'll see they enjoy themselves."

"Do you really think so?" Charlene wanted to know.

"Yes."

Eyes shut once more, Charlene attempted to thrust back the waves of pain washing over her. Gradually she slid down into a twilight realm between unconsciousness and sleep. As he felt her body relax, Danny was exceedingly grateful. He continued to stroke her hair, unwittingly counting the few strands of silver amongst the brown. Each one stood out like badges of courage. He thought back to their years in Spokane.

Prominent in his thoughts was the day he had caught Charlene in the bathroom, plucking the grey hairs she had discovered. He had teased her until she had casually pointed out she never dyed her hair, even though she was close to forty.

He had countered by telling her she had legitimately earned every single one. Memory of her sour expression rose in his mind. A sad smile twisted the corners of his mouth. They had been cheating death every day of the fourteen years they had been together. He wondered whether or not the Reaper had finally decided to exact payment for the outstanding debt.



      

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