CHAPTER TWENTY


He woke instantly. A cold sweat stood out all over his body. The sight of the wood panelling on the walls further disoriented him. He grappled with memory, struggling to make sense of his surroundings. The old nightmare had returned for the first time in years. Sensory depravation: no sight, no sound, no tactile sensation of any kind. That military set-up could well have ended Steve McGarrett's career. Instead, it had achieved its aims, although Steve had spent months recuperating mentally.

Somewhere nearby something was ticking with an irregular, irritating beat. Swinging his feet to the floor, Steve sat up. The easy chair was empty. He glanced at the wall clock. It was five forty-two. He stood, stretched and brushed his cowlick off his forehead. He seldom encountered anyone who could beat him to an early rising. Chris had been one. And Jonny seemed to have developed into another exception to the rule.

When he stepped from the office, a policeman at a nearby desk glanced up. McGarrett raised an eyebrow. Seeing the man was in the process of transcribing shorthand into a more legible report format on an aged manual typewriter, he smiled. He looked over his shoulder meaningfully and raised an eyebrow in silent question. 

"He's in the locker room, sir," the man informed him.

"Thanks."

Steve made his way down the back passage. A minor cacophony of noise assailed his ears the instant he opened the door. The air inside was clammy with warm moisture from off-duty officers' showers. Several men in various stages of undress were exchanging jests. A couple of them looked up from their running commentary when they felt the influx of cooler, outside air. McGarrett closed the door behind him.

"Hi, McGarrett," called someone. "Wife toss you out last night?"

The remark sent a ripple of polite laughter through the gathering. Steve merely waved a hand in reply and went in search of his companion. Jonny was standing in front of a time-crazed mirror, diligently removing twelve hours' growth. Catching sight of Steve's reflection over his shoulder, his hand paused above his chin.

"Hi. Thought you wouldn't be too far behind me. I've a spare towel in my locker if you'd like to shower."

Steve considered the offer. Twenty minutes later, showered, shaved, and with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, he stood beside Jonny in the briefing room. The room was gradually emptying of the day shift, their morning briefing concluded. Several studied the pair at the front, speculation rife, but no one intruded on their discussion.

"The Captain regrets he can only loan me six guys and one dog," Jonny sourly reported. "What the hell does he expect me to do with that pittance of manpower, Steve? It's ludicrous."

Accustomed to limited resources at the worst possible times, McGarrett could only commiserate. With a heavy sigh Jonny spread the sheets on the table before him. The door opened. Their team entered. Each man judged the atmosphere of the task that lay ahead the minute they identified the ex-chief of Five-O. They silently grouped around the table, studying the city map on the wall behind Jonny. Several surreptitiously glanced down at the array of papers covering the tabletop. Jonny kept the introductions to a minimum.

"What's the scenario, Lieutenant?" Sergeant Norlan, the team leader asked.

Flat of one hand resting on the table, Jonny was brief. "We have two kidnap victims being held somewhere on the Island." 

Heads turned. Looks were exchanged. McGarrett read what was passing through their minds. On the surface, the information appeared tenuous at best, the ground to cover, extensive.

"Ransom demands?"

To Norlan's question Jonny replied, "None."

Concerned by the curt note in Jonny's voice McGarrett moved forward. "We don't expect any."

"That's crazy," commented someone. "A kidnapping means a ransom. Right?"

"Wrong," countered Steve firmly. "In this instance, the kidnapper has a grudge against one of the victims. As far as we've been able to ascertain, he means to kill off the primary victim's family members, one by one. It's possible he's planning to conclude with his primary victim. On the other hand, he may well opt for releasing them. At this time, we just don't know."

"Great," expounded someone else, sotto voce. "How many are there in the family?"

"Five," replied McGarrett, "including the victim." The speaker looked quickly away as he was singled out. He had not meant for McGarrett to overhear his remarks. "As far as the kidnapper's aware, he's already managed to account for three."

Thoroughly intrigued by that, the Sergeant requested, "Would you mind clarifying that, Lietuenant?"

Jonny caught Steve's eye, indicating he would respond. He took time to look over his squad as he spoke. "Last week we arranged for the kids to be moved off Oahu to somewhere safe. The kidnapper tried to run Steve off the road while he was transporting them to the helicopter. That's just how unpredictable this guy is."

Several team members blinked sharply. The intensity of their expressions indicated they had heard of the incident in which Steve was involved. It had been all over the station by mid-afternoon that same day and on every late night news network. Tramp's handler unwittingly tightened his hold on the leash. The dog's claws ticked loudly as he shifted.

"The report listed all three killed," said the handler.

Jonny shook his head. "That was a smoke screen to throw our man off the scent and to protect the kids from another attempt. Unfortunately it also means time is running out for the parents."

Steve did not miss the manner in which Jonny avoided detailing the personal connection between the missing parents and him. Instead, he thrust several reproductions of a mug shot across the table at his team.

"Take these. Memorise this man's face. His name's Antonio Nicholaidis, ex-con, ex-pusher. He used to work for Diedre Streit, in case any of you can remember that far back."

The Sergeant and one other member of the squad flashed Jonny a grin in response to his mild dig. Jonny added, "We also have a report that he's suffering from AIDS. So, watch yourselves."

"Sounds like this guy's gone off the deep end," muttered someone behind Norlan.

"Great," commented the dog handler. Tugging on the lead, he glanced down at his four-footed partner. "You hear that, Tramp? Don't you go biting this guy, okay?"

Head cocked the dog whined. Someone cracked a joke which was not meant for either Jonny or Steve's ears. But neither could fail to overhear it. Jonny allowed it to slide. Appearances were deceiving. He knew these men and trusted them to do their job. That was all that mattered, not an appearance of seriousness with which the public expected them to greet their task.

"Lab reports on metal flakes discovered in the cab used in the kidnapping indicate Nicholaidis is probably holding his victims in an abandoned building at a marina, dockyard or scrap yard. You're going to have to work as a group. Jim.

"Sir."

"Make good use of the dog. Tonio is, if nothing else, exceptionally devious in the way he thinks. Start with the places on the list, and go from there. Comb each area from top to bottom. Don't leave any hole or hold unsearched."

"That's a hell of a lot of ground to cover, Lieutenant," someone protested mildly.

"And time's short," Jonny acknowledged. He met each one's gaze. None of them ever recalled seeing him appear so frustrated and angry. "You've got your orders. Let's get on it."

"Just my idea of how to spend Easter Sunday," muttered the dog handler as they left the room.

Jonny picked up his mug of cooling coffee and went to the window. There were dark shadows under his eyes that emphasised his despair. Both he and Steve were aware of how difficult their task had been made by the lack of information.

"God, I hope we find them," he said finally.

Before McGarrett could respond there was a tap at the door. One of the uniformed secretaries stuck her head around the corner of the frame. She gestured to Jonny.

"Phone call for you, Lieutenant."

"Transfer it in here, Philippa."

She nodded and disappeared, closing the door behind her. Moments later, the phone inside the lectern rang. Jonny picked it up.

"Lieutenant Mattheson speaking." As he listened, his seriousness faded somewhat. "Hi, Amanda. Yes. He's right here." Jonny extended the receiver to McGarrett. "The boss wants to talk to you."

Steve's face froze at that remark. Then he grinned good-naturedly and took the phone. Jonny moved to the wall map. He stuck a pushpin into it to annotate the team's first search point while listening to the conversation behind him.

"Amanda? How are things?" Steve paused. "I see. They are? Good. Say again? I couldn't hear you over the shouting."

Jonny's head snapped round. "Are those brats actually fighting? You'd think they would be too worried about their folks to argue with one another."

"Sibling rivalry," responded McGarrett to Jonny's question. His grin broadened as he listened to what his wife was saying on the other end of the line. "No doubt." The smile vanished in a flash. "We're doing our best. We've got a lead. No, it's not solid. We'll see. All right. Do they want to speak to Jonny? Fine. Take care. Don't let them run you ragged. And tell Sera we'll see about replacing her Easter egg."

As Steve hung up Jonny gave up all pretence of being occupied with the case. "Well?"

"They're fine," replied Steve. "In order of priority; Daniel keeps insisting he wants to return to Oahu to assist us in the search to find their parents."

"Just like his mother," remarked Jonny.

"More like his uncle," countered Steve. His words brought back the past in a rush. Jonny scowled. Steve continued. "Chris is positive he knows exactly how to deal with the situation. He wants a gun so he can shoot Tonio in a very sensitive portion of his anatomy."

"You're putting me on," blurted Jonny, astonished. Steve shook his head. Jonny barked a short laugh. "The kid's nothing short of imaginative. What about Sera?"

"Sera says Chris stole one of her Cadbury Easter eggs, and she wants another one," concluded McGarrett.

"I'll just bet." Jonny sighed. "Kids." He idly swirled the dregs of his coffee around the bottom of his mug. "Are you and Amanda glad you elected to by-pass that marital option?"

"Sometimes," his companion admitted.

"Like now?"

But Steve's thoughts had out-paced the moment. He stared down into his coffee cup and wished Ben was back. With a start he realised the cup was empty. He could not recall having drained the contents. Catching his return to the present, Jonny casually relieved him of the mug.

"I'll get us both another cup," he offered. "Want a donut? There's usually a fresh batch in about now."

Steve nodded. Jonny slipped from the room, quietly drawing the door shut behind him in deference to his friend's mood. Donuts and Danishes had brought back old memories. Clenched fists resting on the windowsill McGarrett stared out at the city, and allowed himself sink into deep thought. He had been this route numerous times in the past, he reminded himself. But each time he had been the investigating officer. Now he could only wait, and rely upon the unknown quantity presented by Jonny Mattheson and his team.

Impatience was an enemy to be conquered. He wrestled with it, battling to rein it in. There had been times over the years when he had advised other retired members of the force to stay out of the way and allow the active officers to do their jobs. It was peculiar finding he was in need of counselling to do the same. The thought failed to make matters any easier to accept.

"Where are you, Danno?"

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


"Here you go, Steve."

Jonny returned with two mugs of coffee and several donuts precarious balanced in his hands. The morning dragged slowly. It reminded McGarrett of his years at Five-O. They reviewed the team's findings as they reported in from the first marina, one of three where Tonio had held down part-time employment. Their quarry had failed to return to work Wednesday, so his employer had written him off the books. Jonny made a notation on the wall map. The search continued.

The team was covering ground at their second objective at a quarter to eleven when the desk phone rang in the briefing room. Steve barely refrained from reaching for it. Seeing the twitch in his companion's muscles, Jonny laughed.

"Force of habit," he needled. Steve could not help but return the grin. Jonny answered the call between the second and third ring. "HPD. Lieutenant Mattheson speaking." Jonny listened. "Yeah, Jerry. How are you doing? What? What have you got? Say again?" His face froze. "You're sure?" His grip tightened perceptibly on the phone. Not another muscle moved. "Where are you? Okay. I'm sending someone over right away. And Jerry? Thanks."

Watching the flash of emotions cross Jonny's face toward the end of the conversation, Steve sensed there had been an unexpected, substantial break-through in the case stalemate. Incredulous joy suddenly suffused Jonny's features, mingled with a degree of uncertainty. McGarrett felt a slight easing of the tension in his own shoulders. He waited expectantly until Jonny hung up before voicing his suspicions.

"Charley?"

"Yes!" Jonny's hand remained resting on the receiver. "She's over at the General. Somehow she escaped. A couple of kids found her early this morning. Jerry says she's fine."

Relieved, Jonny plunked himself down in his chair. His gaze fixed on a point in middle distance and remained there, staring right through Steve McGarrett. After a long pause he blinked hard and looked up at his companion as though only just remembering he was there.

"Would you go, Steve?" He implored. "I'd drive over, but---"

The extent of Jonny's uncertainty telegraphed itself to McGarrett. He well understood the other's hesitation that over-rode his obvious desire to see his sister again.

"Of course," he agreed. "You have to remain here and continue coordinating the team. We still have to find Danny."

"Call me as soon as you have a full report," requested Jonny with considerable relief. "Jerry Offutt refused to say much over the phone."

"On my way."

Steve was out the door before Jonny could pursue the matter further. The drive to the hospital alone allowed McGarrett for more time than he liked in which to mull over the reporting officer's refusal to impart more than the basic details. He was afraid to permit his thoughts to slide through Charlene's probable physical and mental condition. He parked the car near the entrance and went inside. A patrolman was waiting near the front desk.

"Are you Offutt," asked Steve.

The man looked up from speaking to a nurse. Clearly the last thing he expected was the appearance of this stranger on the scene. "Who wants to know?"

"Steve McGarrett," tendered Steve. "Jonny Mattheson sent me to speak to his sister."

"McGarrett, is it?" Even as he spoke recognition surfaced in the officer's eyes. He shook Steve's hand. "I remember when you ran Five-O." He inclined his head in the direction of one passage. "This way."

Side by side they headed down the hospital hallway. Heads turned as they went by. Enough of the older staff recalled McGarrett. Eyebrows lifted. A couple halted and conferred on his presence in their midst.

"They moved her upstairs from Recovery about ten minutes ago," Jerry explained as he led the way to the elevators. They circumvented several groups of nurses and doctors, stepped aside for a wheelchair patient. Jerry pushed the Up button.

"Has she told you how she escaped?"

"Have you known Lieutenant Mattheson long, sir?" Jerry adroitly avoided McGarrett's question.

The elevator pinged. The doors opened. They stepped inside. Steve caught Offutt studying him from the corner of his eye as they rode up. He decided to play along with the question and answer game.

"Since Seventy-six."

"Then you'd know his sister," said Jerry.

Understanding the vein of Offutt's questioning, Steve refrained from responding to what was apparently a general comment. The elevator slowed to a halt. The doors opened and they stepped out. Jerry paused to catch his bearings.

"Her room's just up here."

As they reached the ward, the door opened. A young resident emerged. Seeing Jerry and his companion he halted, eyeing Jerry's companion for a minute.

Jerry requested an update. "What's her condition, Doc?"

"Much better."

"Doctor Turney, this is Steve McGarrett. He's a friend of Charlene and her brother," explained Jerry.

The intern's eyebrows shot up then curved down as his eyes narrowed. He glared at the officer. "You were aware of this woman's identity and neglected to inform us? Is that standard procedure, Officer Offutt?"

Jerry appeared momentarily taken aback. "I didn't know who she was until half an hour ago, Doc. Honest," he apologised. "Nor that she had family on the Islands. The moment she told me who she was, I called the Lieutenant. He sent McGarrett over to talk to her."

"Charlene's brother is a member of HPD," explained Steve.

"I see." Turney straightened his shoulders. His officious behaviour irritated McGarrett. "I'm not entirely certain she's up to intensive questioning, Mister McGarrett."

"Charlene Williams and her husband were victims of a kidnapping last week," countered Steve tightly. "Her husband's still missing. Charlene's the only one who might be able to tell us where he's being held. And we're running out of time."

Stymied, the resident's lips compressed in a disapproving line. "Alright," he conceded. "You can see her. But don't tire her out." He turned to Jerry. A hint of sarcasm coloured his next statement. "Would one of you mind dropping by Administration before leaving and fill out the necessary forms?"

"Sure, Doc," replied Offutt congenially, attempting to soothe the intern's ruffled feathers. "What do you need to know?"

"Oh, nothing particularly important," countered Turney. "Just some unessential facts, such as her full name, address, next of kin, any known allergies. That sort of thing."

McGarrett kept silent. He was unimpressed with the intern's reaction to being left out in the cold. However, he was not about to step in where he felt Jerry Offutt perfectly capable of dealing with the situation.

"Sure, Doc," Jerry repeated, wisely electing to let the verbal barrage roll off his shoulders.

As soon as Steve determined Jerry had defused the potentially volatile moment asked, "What was her condition when she arrived?"

Turney's glare intensified. "You haven't told him?"

"I haven't had time," explained Jerry defensively.

With a jerk of his head, the intern drew them down the hallway into a quiet alcove. He pulled the metal folder from beneath his armpit and opened it.

"She's been through a particularly traumatic ordeal, Mister McGarrett. Quite frankly, we're surprised she's making such a rapid recovery." Turney scanned the dossier he held for details Steve suspected he knew by heart. "She was unconscious at the time of discovery. The medics report her hands were bound behind her back, and she was scantily clad."

"How scantily?"

"Bra, panties, torn shirt."

"Have you determined what happened to her?"

The resident frowned, annoyed by Steve's pointed interrogation and continued interruption of his recitation. "I'm getting to that. It appears to have been induced by an injection that was a combination of a hallucinogenic compound and a powerful sedative. The exact chemical composition is in the report being typed up for Officer Offutt." The intern glanced up momentarily before continuing. "She's sustained considerable bruises and contusions to her upper torso. We also discovered a deep gouge along her left hip."

"What caused the bruising?"

"She was beaten with a blunt instrument," stated Turney flatly, making no effort to gloss over the brutal details.

He looked up once more. Steve McGarrett had gone absolutely still. His expression had frozen into a deadliness that shocked even Jerry Offutt. The resident yanked himself away with visible difficulty and hastily redirected himself to the report.

"Doctor Schaerer, the attending physician, is of the opinion that the injuries were inflicted with a length of industrial weight rubber tubing, probably a hose. The placement and manner in which the blows were delivered appear consistent with that hypothesis, being the type of marks frequently seen on prison inmates."

He paused again, waiting to see whether or not his audience was successfully digesting the barrage of medical information. McGarrett encouraged him to continue.

"She was considerably dehydrated, and suffering from malnutrition. We've been treating both conditions successfully. Fortunately, she has amazing recuperative powers."

"Charley always did have," reflected Steve. "How is she now?"

"As I said earlier, recovering." The intern deflected Steve's question and closed the dossier. "Ask Officer Offutt. He sat with her this morning while she went through withdrawal. I'm afraid we couldn't ease her through the additional trauma because of the sedative used in conjunction with the narcotic."

The thought of Charlene being subjected to 'cold turkey' treatment for drug addiction made the situation doubly difficult for Steve to stomach. His hatred of Antonio Nicholaidis increased. On the verge of letting the resident leave, Steve's thoughts abruptly drew up short against an additional concern.

"Was she sexually assaulted?"

"Not that we've been able to determine," replied Turney. The manner in which he rapidly addressed the question indicated he would have been surprised had McGarrett failed to inquire. "Our examinations reveal she hasn't had intercourse for at least a seventy-two hour period. That may not be valid, however, in light of her being married."

Steve's relief was clearly evident. "Did the lab perform a complete blood screening?"

"Of course. It's standard procedure, these days."

"They turned up nothing unusual?" insisted McGarrett.

"No. Her white blood cell count's a bit high," explained the intern. "But that's to be expected, given her present physical and psychological condition. Is there something in particular we should be aware of?"

"Not at this time," countered Steve firmly. "Is there anything else we should know?"

The resident shook his head. For the first time, he felt cornered. It was not a particularly comfortable sensation. "No." He glanced at the time in an effort to extricate himself from the inquisition. "I really must finish my rounds."

"Of course." McGarrett released him. "Thank you for your time, Doctor."

"If something comes up, contact me through the Duty Nurse," concluded Turney. "Officer Offutt. I'd appreciate that information when you have the time."

"Sure, Doc," Jerry assured him.

As soon as the intern departed, Steve turned to Jerry. "Can I have your pad for a moment?"

"Sure."

Puzzled, Jerry pulled it out, along with his pen. His confusion faded as he watched McGarrett hastily scribble down Charlene's particulars. When Jerry read what McGarrett had written, he grinned.

"Thanks."

"You're certain you don't mind taking care of this, Jerry," McGarrett asked as he returned pad and pen.

"No problem at all, McGarrett," said Jerry.

"It's appreciated," Steve told him.

"Anytime," responded Jerry with a slight grin. He pocketed the information. The smile faded as he led Steve to the ward. "She's in here. She's had it pretty rough, McGarrett," he warned. "Go easy. Okay?"

"I'm aware of what she can take, Jerry," said Steve. "Thanks for staying with her."

"I'd do it for anyone, McGarrett," Jerry deferred soberly. "She's one tough little lady. I'd give my right arm to get my hands on the bastard who put her through this."

"You'd better take a number," Steve informed him bluntly as they paused outside the door. "The line forms immediately behind Jonny and me."

Jerry reflected on that statement. Discounting Lieutenant Mattheson and Steve McGarrett he would be fighting for space at the back of a line that included the surviving members of Five-O; those from the time when Charlene and her brother had first come in contact with the department, at least. Not to mention every last cop on the beat that had known Dan Williams.

"Guess there wouldn't be much left for me to have a go at, would there?" Jerry considered. As McGarrett shook his head Jerry rested a hand on the door. "Let me go in first, would you?"

"Certainly."

Steve was intrigued by the patrolman's request. It took little guesswork to realise the man had developed something more than a professional interest in Charlene. But then, she was that type of person. Not beautiful exactly. She had class and an openness that seldom failed to win her friends. Once a person got to know her, they seldom forgot her, for better or for worse.

Jerry pushed open the door. Shooting McGarrett an apologetic look in passing, he stepped past him. Steve waited patiently, just out of sight, until Jerry had had the opportunity to speak to Charlene and make the introductions.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


Someone had thoughtfully opened the curtains to let the sunshine in, and elevated the upper third of the bed so Charlene could look out at the scenery. Sunlight spilled across the floor through the Venetian blinds like lemon lozenges. Jerry paused in the doorway to allow his eyes time to adjust to the brightness. The flowers he had bought between calling HPD and McGarrett's arrival were resting in colourful profusion on the bedside table. Charlene was absently running her fingertips softly across the petals of a white chrysanthemum.

"Hi, Charlene," he called with forced cheerfulness.

Startled, she looked round. "Oh, hello. Back again so soon?"

"Couldn't stay away," he informed her pleasantly. "I brought you a friend."

She appeared curious. Jerry shifted aside and obliged by holding the door to allow McGarrett to enter. The instant she recognised his companion, she appeared to forget all about Jerry's presence. Jerry had half-hoped McGarrett would prove to be merely an old acquaintance. Instead, it was obvious from the manner in which the colour flooded into her face that Steve McGarrett was a very special, very close friend. Her features grew animated with unconcealed joy. She held out her arms.

"Steve!"

At her exclamation, McGarrett swiftly crossed the room to her bedside. "Hello, pretty lady."

She collapsed against him in a spontaneous gesture that reflected her relief over his arrival on the scene. Suddenly out of place in the face of Charlene unconcealed delight in her reunion with Steve, Jerry quietly withdrew and gave them the privacy they required. He softly closed the door behind him.
"Charley," Steve returned her greeting. "How are you feeling?"

"This shits, thanks," she informed him.

McGarrett was amused by her choice of mild expletive. In the past he had never heard her swear, except under extreme duress. He hugged her warmly. She grunted softly when the pressure he exerted on her bruised body caused her some discomfiture. It was as though she were striving to reassure herself that he was really there.

"Everything's a mess, Steve," she said sadly.

"Easy, pretty lady. It could be worse," he commented.

"I don't see how," she replied.

He was finding it difficult to equate this battered, mature woman with the lively, somewhat shy person he had come to know in the Seventies. It took every ounce of restraint to keep from staring at the livid bruises mottling her face, arms and shoulders.

"What are you doing here?" Her inquisitive nature finally asserted itself, to McGarrett's relief. "I thought you were retired?"

"I'm helping HPD in an advisory capacity," Steve replied evasively. "They thought I'd be of use, considering my familiarity with the particulars of this case."

"Oh," she responded. She was clearly curious about his sudden recalcitrance, though she made no effort to inquire further. 

Deep down, something suggested he withhold bringing Charlene up to date on her brother's activities. Yet Steve felt the timing was wrong and decided he would wait until they found Danny before acquainting them with Jonny's new position with Honolulu's Police Department, not before.

"Charley," he said, "we need to know exactly what happened."

Steve released her. His hands fell to the raised top railing of her hospital bed. Although Charlene abruptly turned away from him in the face of his inquiry, he knew it was merely to prevent his reading her expression. The blunt reminder of the reason for his presence in the room had temporarily erected a barrier between them. He was not unduly concerned. They had been through this together enough times in the past for him to understand what she was feeling. The way Charlene lay back, studiously staring out the window, meant she was merely gathering strength and courage. Once she had bolstered her nerves, she would be prepared to narrate the facts. He waited patiently.

"We wanted to surprise you," she began suddenly.

"You always were one for surprising people," he commented, striving to cheer her up by making light of her statement. Charlene caught his inference to her prior exploits during her pregnancy with Daniel. Including her belated revelation that she was pregnant with her first child.

"I'll remember you said that," she managed with the barest hint of a pained smile touching her lips.

Her reaction sent a knife into Steve's gut. The blade twisted in the face of her brave attempt. He felt he had over-stepped himself somewhat, considering her latest, harrowing ordeal.

"I shouldn't have said that," he managed. "I should be apologising for my absence, instead. If I hadn't decided to go fishing on the spur of the moment, I would have been home Wednesday when you arrived, and this might not have happened."

Charlene shook her head weakly, turning back to face him, now. "No. It wouldn't have mattered, Steve. Tonio told me he was determined to make me pay for what happened in Seventy-six. No matter what the cost, or how long it took. He simply never expected to have that opportunity after the news of my supposed death broke in Seventy-eight."

The last thing he had expected was for her to dredge up the apartment explosion in Seattle. McGarrett's grip tightened on the railing. It was obvious Tonio had failed to learn from Diedre Streit's experiences with Five-O. 

Diedre had maintained the Mattheson family were bad luck for the criminal element and had ordered her organisation to keep their hands off the surviving pair. Perhaps knowledge that the special investigations' department of HPD had been re-amalgamated with the force due to financial restraints had spurred the Italian into pursuing his desire for revenge.

"Oh, God, Steve." Charlene's eyes were wide and dark with immeasurable grief and terror. "He threatened to kill the children. He knows they went back to your house."

"Easy Charley." Steve took both of her hands in his and squeezed warmly. "They're fine. HPD moved them off Oahu. They're staying with friends until this is over."

But his efforts to soothe her failed completely. Her panic continued to mount. "He's sealed the compartment. Danny's still in there."

McGarrett caught on that. He released her hands. Demanded, "What compartment?"

Charlene clutched at the air. When he struggled to restrain her, she fought to free herself. He suspected if he removed his hands now, she would climb from bed in her anxiety and fear for Danny's safety. He shook her once, hard, determined to halt her efforts. Fearful she would hurt herself. Recognition returned to her face.

"What compartment, Charley? Where is Danny?"

"The bow compartment," she moaned. "In a ship."

"Where? What ship?"

"I don't know," she wailed. "Oh, God, help me! Steve, I don't know."

"Charley." He shook her again, this time more gently. "Settle down. Think. We need your help. Danny needs it. Is it an old ship? Or a new one?"

With considerable effort she regained control under his interrogation. "Old. The walls are rusty."

"Good," he encouraged. "Was it on the water? Could you feel any sensation of movement at all?"

"No."

"How were the walls painted?"

"I don't know. There wasn't much light. Just a red bulb in one of those construction extension cages," she said. She failed to bury the frantic note rising in her voice once more. "Steve! Tonio sealed the door!"

"It's all right, Charley. I heard you the first time. Easy, now," he soothed. "How did you manage to escape?"

Beneath his hands she began to relax marginally. She remained frightened and intensely concerned for Danny's safety, but there was that familiar determination setting in.

"Tonio separated us when he found out who Danny was."

"How did he find out?"

"He---" Charley's eyes dropped away, "he was going to give me a dose of some drug. Danny tried to stop him by getting him talking. It---just came out, I guess. Tonio got mad. He hit Danny. When I tried to stop him, he knocked me down and drugged me." Accelerating panic jolted Steve. "I woke in a shack somewhere. I don't know where. The hinges were made of rubber. I managed to cut one with a nail and forced my way out. I fell down a hill---I think." Charlene shook her head slowly from side to side as though dazed from a blow to the head. "I don't remember, Steve. I don't remember!"

"It's okay, Charley," McGarrett insisted. "We'll find Danny. I promise." 

His fingers slid up her wrists, encountering the gauze and tape. Without thinking he glanced down. Sight of the bandages aroused a deep-seated fury seldom witnessed by even his closest associates. McGarrett at his deadliest had been a cop to contend with. Steve McGarrett, HPD advisor, was a frustrated ex-cop who desperately wished he dared give in to his basest desires to personally hunt down Antonio Nicholaidis and make him pay. He slammed the lid on his thoughts and looked back at Charlene.

"Soon, Steve," she insisted, desperate. "It's got to be soon. Tonio didn't give us any food. And there wasn't much water left."

"We will, Charley. I promise."

Tears blurred her eyes. They welled up, unchecked, and trickled down her cheeks. Steve drew her to him and held her there as though she was one of her own children.

"He kept us chained up in there like animals." Charlene swallowed thickly. "He's insane, Steve. He must be. He was never nice, but I don't ever remember him being this bad."

"I know."

A slight shudder rippled through Charlene as she gradually regained control of herself. Steve felt her stiffen slightly. She pushed away from him. He allowed her to draw free of his grasp. Two shuddering breaths later she was reasonably calm and controlled.

"I've got a call to make, Charley," he told her once certain he could trust her to stay put.

He was gone before she could say anything. Charlene did not want to be left alone now, but she made no attempt to call him back. For the first time in her life she was terrified almost beyond hope. The sight of Steve McGarrett had begun a resurrection of faith. His confidence and ability to deal with all sorts of situations was rebuilding her defiance while she anxiously awaited his return.

There was no sign of Jerry Offutt in the corridor outside. Swiftly getting his bearing, Steve made his way to the nearest nursing station. The Duty Nurse studied him as he approached the desk.

"I need to use a phone," he informed her.

"There are pay phones in the main waiting room downstairs, sir," she replied somewhat pointedly.

"This is a police matter," countered McGarrett.

Something in his manner caused the nurse to back up and reconsider the request. With a short nod she directed him to the wall phone around the corner, where the desk met the wall.

"You can use that one. But don't hold up the line."

Without dignifying her instruction with a response, Steve called the HPD operator. At his request, he was instantly put through to the briefing room.

"HPD. Lieutenant Mattheson speaking."

"Jonny? Steve."

"How is she?" Jonny instantly demanded.

"Recovering," McGarrett told him.

His tone was all business, and he was gratified when Jonny caught that and refrained from pressing for further information concerning his sister's condition. Not about to give him an opening, just in case, McGarrett directed him back to the problem at hand.

"Do you have those files handy listing Tonio's past and present employment?"

"Right here, Steve. What have you got?"

"Is there a scrap yard amongst the businesses which deals with ship demolition?"

"I believe so," Jonny replied slowly. Steve heard papers being rapidly shuffled. "Yeah, got it. Bougainvillaea Boneyards." There followed a weighty pause. "They belonged to Streit Enterprises, through several holding companies."

"Are you positive?"

"Damn right. I made a couple of drops there, way back when." 

"Take it easy, Jonny," McGarrett quickly advised. "Diedre Streit isn't involved with this in any way.

Jonny was not about to let sleeping dogs lie. Steve could read it in his tone of voice. He had not forgotten the first incident which had brought him and his sister into contact with Five-O. 

"Then why is Tonio working for them?"

"Who else would hire an ex-convict, except people who were aware of his past and had dealt with him before he was sentenced," responded Steve to Jonny, reasoning with him. "Don't go rushing to conclusions, Jonny. Diedre's the one who put us on to that information concerning Tonio's health problems."

"Yeah," Jonny grumpily conceded. "I suppose. Are you coming back to the office?"

Steve considered the request. "Can you pick me up here on your way out to the yard instead?"

"Sure." Jonny's tone was somewhat milder. "I should have known you'd want in on this. Do you still have a licence to carry?"

"Yes."

"Good. How's your aim?" Jonny waited for a reply. When Steve refused to respond, he laughed. "See you in fifteen to twenty." 

"Jonny." Steve caught him before he could hang up. "Make sure you have the paramedics standing by. And have someone with the team who knows how to handle a heavy-duty acetylene rig. The Base would probably be your best bet."

"What---" Jonny caught himself in time. "All right. Make sure you're ready to go when I arrive."

"I will be."

The connection clicked sharply. Hanging up the phone, Steve nodded a thank-you to the nurse. She scowled back at him. He returned to the ward. Charlene was rolled on her side, back to the door when he entered. He was shocked to discover her methodically shredding the petals from a flower with short, jerky motions. Charlene loved plants. Her actions deeply disturbed him. He had never known her to react in such a brutal fashion. It only served to emphasize her turmoil and anguish. That gnawed at him. The last time he recalled her being this miserable had been at Danny's funeral, when everyone at Five-O believed him dead.

Walking softly around her bed, Steve halted between Charlene and the window. In so doing he forced her to acknowledge his presence. Tattered petals forlornly littered the table, were scattered across the floor in a garish travesty of colour. Eyes focusing on Steve, Charlene stopped mutilating the flower. She extended a hand, palm up, silently pleading for consolation. Her expression beseeched him to ease her pain, her silence indicative of her inability to openly admit the depth of her despair. Gently he took her hand in his. Her fingers curled slightly, but there was no strength in her grip. 

"I have to go, Charley," he quietly informed her, cautiously studying her reaction to his words. "There's a squad car coming for me."

Hope sprang anew, was swiftly shielded. Charlene had been hurt too many times to allow the past to be swept away by dubious possibilities. Steve was determined to ease her anxiety before he departed.

"We think we know where Danny's being held."

"Be careful," she whispered. "If anything should happen to you because you're trying to help us---"

"Shh," he firmly ordered her. Concern for his welfare, particularly in light of her condition deeply touched him. "Nothing's going to happen to me."

"Don't say that," she admonished.

Affected by her expression of concern far more than he dared let on, Steve bent down and kissed her cheek. As he straightened, Charlene stared up at him as though determined to memorise every facet of change time had wrought on him throughout their years of separation. He patted her hand awkwardly and left.

Her gaze drifted to the scene beyond the window. She stared at the brilliant blue sky. Tiny puffs of white clouds scudded across the visible expanse. Her lips moved in silent prayer.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


Seated sideways, feet on the ground outside the forward 
Passenger-side of the police van, Norlan watched Jim Raxton turn Tramp loose in the junkyard. The dog bounded away, tail wagging, eager, nose to the ground. Casing back and forth, the police dog scurried around and over piles of scrap metal, rusting hulks of vehicles, and mounds of litter left behind by trespassing vagrants and teenagers. For what it was worth, Tramp appeared to be growing as frustrated as his fellow officers were.

Dust swirled in tiny clouds before the ever-present spring breeze. An occasional gust drove grit into everyone's faces. The men flinched and the dog sneezed repeatedly. Tramp finally came to a complete standstill in the middle of the main aisle. He stared expectantly at his handler.

"Nothin', Serge," announced Raxton.

At a snap from Jim's fingers, Tramp returned to his side. He thrust his dirt-encrusted nose into the Raxton's hand, whining as though seeking confirmation that no one was angry at his failure to find what his handler sought. Raxton offered the police dog a treat. Then he balled up the article of clothing they had secured from the Williams' condo and stuck it back inside the plastic bag for safe keeping.

"Bring him in."

With a gesture to enforce the order, Norlan drew out the list of suspect locations. One of the other officers, leaning against the side of the vehicle, bent over his shoulder to scan the names. 

"My bets are on the second to last place."

Norlan glanced up. "You guys already taking bets on where he is, Julio?"
The patrolman came from an unlikely lineage, and possessed an even stranger name. Half Puerto Rican, half- Irish, Julio O'Rourke was more often than not truer to his paternal bloodlines. An avid penny-ante gambler and competent member of the force, he frequently proved out on his hunches in both areas. Eyes crinkling at the corners with humour, Julio spread his hands in a time worn gesture.

"Me? Bet? Come on, Serge."

Before Norlan could dignify that with a reply, the radio beeped. "Mattheson to Sergeant Norlan. Do you copy?"

"Yeah, Lieutenant. I read you," Norlan responded. "Nothing on the Filmor Recycling Depot."

"Noted," said Jonny shortly. "I want you to pack up the team. We'll meet you at Bougainvillaea Boneyards."

"Say again, Lieutenant?"

"Bougainvillaea Boneyards. It should be almost the last address on your list."

Norlan did not need to scan the sheet. He knew right where it was. Julio was wearing what the other men termed his "shit eating grin'. It was not a particularly tasteful description but in this instance was highly appropriate.

"Understood," Norlan acknowledged sourly. The address was right the way across the opposite side of the city from their present location. "It'll take us roughly twenty minutes to reach that location."

What he heard next dumbfounded him. "Sergeant, is there anyone on the team familiar with the use of acetylene equipment?"

The Sergeant's finger froze momentarily before depressing the switch. "Would you mind repeating that, Lieutenant? Did you just ask about cutting torches?"

"Yes. Acetylene equipment," repeated Jonny fiercely. "McGarrett requested it."

Hanging over the top of the passenger door, Fred Jeffrey raised a hand, one finger extended, indicating he was acquainted with the gear. Norlan nodded his thanks and depressed the switch.

"That's an affirmative, Lieutenant. Jeffrey know how to use the stuff."

"Would that be heavy-duty equipment or standard cutting torches?"

Norlan met Jeffrey's eyes. His fellow officer indicated both, and that he knew exactly where to get what was required. Norlan quickly passed along the information.

"Okay. See if you can locate what we'll need to penetrate a ship bulkhead," ordered Jonny. "And make it fast."

"On our way."

The men stared at Norlan, dumbfounded by the announcement. He glared at them. "You heard the man. Let's go."

They virtually piled into the van, Tramp wriggling between them in his desire to get going. He barked to further express his excitement. Julio hopped behind the wheel and started the engine. Norlan glanced at him sharply as his companion gunned the engine.

"Patrolman," he advised, "kindly remember you are not Pedro Rodriguez."

"Pedro who, Serge?" As Julio spoke he threw the van into a violent reverse and spun the wheel to bring them back around facing the gate.

"Serge," Fred Jansen called from the rear of the vehicle, "Your age is showing again."

"Shit," exclaimed someone in the back seat as Julio competently controlled their skid, halting them with the front end aimed at the opening. He floored the gas. They roared out of the recycling depot, leaving behind a thick cloud of dust which was whipped away in their wake. The yard's security guard grumbled under his breath as he went out to close and lock the gates.

* * *

Steve stepped out of the elevator and nearly ran down a familiar figure in the hospital hallway. The newspaper reporter drew up short. Recognising Steve McGarrett, he grinned.

"Say, McGarrett. I've been meaning to call you. What's this about you working with HPD on a kidnapping?"

Steve's expression went blank. "No comment."

"Aw, come on, McGarrett. You might have been able to get away with that as head of Five-O. But you're a civilian these days."

"You heard me, Rob."

"McGarrett, I've got a job to do. Gimme a break will ya? What's my boss gonna say if I go back to him with a line like that?"

"Same as always," said McGarrett flatly.

Jonny drove up outside. Steve evaded Rob and headed for the car, slipping into the passenger seat. At the instant the reporter identified Jonny and made a beeline straight for the vehicle.

"Hey, Lieutenant Mattheson. Why are you picking up Steve McGarrett? Are you working on a case?"

Ignoring the approaching newsman, Jonny pulled away from the curve. Tight-lipped, he asked Steve, "Who was that?"

"Reporter for one of the local papers."

To McGarrett's relief, Jonny trusted him not to leak any information on the case until HPD was good and ready. As the drive progressed, however, Steve sensed his companion's mood taking a turn for the worse. Jonny broached the silence abruptly. 

"I've got someone bringing up a few personal items and clothes for Charley," he said as soon as they passed beyond the Ala Wai.

"She'll appreciate that," commented Steve. He remembered from past experience just how draughty hospital gowns could be.

Another lengthy silence ensued. Steve sensed Jonny was struggling to form the correct questions. He could almost visualise him creating a sentence, erasing it and trying again. Eyes fastened on the road Jonny finally got the words out.

"Tonio beat her, didn't he?"

To that Steve McGarrett nodded. There was no sense attempting to avoid admitting the truth. Jonny would discover it for himself, sooner or later. Far better that he was prepared for the worst when he finally saw her again, face to face.

"How serious is it?"

Drawing a long, slow breath, Steve considered his words carefully before speaking. He made no effort to gloss over the details. Jonny would not appreciate it later.

"She's got bruises over her entire upper torso, her arms and her thighs." He pretended not to hear Jonny's swift inhalation of horror. "She's got a lump the size of a golf ball on her forehead. No determining where she came by that. She didn't say. And the doctor reported a deep gouge in one thigh. I didn't ask where she got that particular trophy, either."

"Did---did he---" Jonny's hands tightened on the steering wheel as he forced out the question, "did he rape her?"

"According to the doctor, no."

A barely audible sigh of relief escaped Jonny. They turned up a dirt road. Beyond a tangled hedgerow formed by shrubs gone wild with neglect, Steve caught sight of several ancient trawler hulks resting on blocks.

"They're certain?"

"The resident I spoke with assured me the lab had performed a complete blood screening." Jonny cast him a sharp look. Steve continued, "It's general procedure these days."

"The virus won't necessarily show that quickly, though."

"No," Steve concurred. "But it's a start."

Jonny nodded. "We're here."

With that, he pushed aside his concern for his sister and turned to the problem of finding Danny. Within minutes of their arrival, the team drew up. Norlan got out and came up the side of the car. He bent to speak to Jonny.

"Well, Lieutenant?"

Jonny waved an impatient hand at the closed gate. "Open it up."

Striding up to the gate, the Sergeant rattled it against the locking chain until the security guard appeared. The man looked angry, until he caught sight of the blue uniform. Then his face fell. Steve hid a wry smile. This individual had plainly been through this a number of times since coming to work here. When the guard saw the size of the investigating team, however, he looked surprised. 

"What appears to be the problem, officer?"

"We have a search warrant," called Jonny. He waved the writ out the car window. "Open up."

Muttering under his breath, the guard dug in his pocket for the keys. Padlock removed, the chain fell away with aloud clang. Norlan stood aside as the gate swung inward. Jonny and Julio drove slowly through and parked in a large open circle of ground just beyond. The rest of the team jumped from the van.

"Turn the dog loose," Jonny ordered.

Raxton pulled the sweater from the bag. He held it under Tramp's nose. "Remember this, boy?" The dog sniffed it eagerly. His tail wagged fiercely. "Go find him, Tramp!"

As Tramp took off like a shot across the yard, the security guard joined them. He eyed McGarrett warily. Steve remained completely impassive beneath that scrutiny.

Again the guard asked, "What's this all about, officer?"

Jonny allowed his gaze to fall on the man. "Do you know Antonio Nicholaidis?"

"Tony? Sure. I put him up right after he got out of jail."

The guard glanced at the dog. Tramp had come to a standstill and was intently snuffling a spot on the ground. Suddenly, the dog took off out of sight, hauling Raxton along in his wake, the rest of the team followed hot on their heels.

"What's he done?"

"Has he been around in the past two weeks?" Jonny continued his line of inquiry.

"Yeah. He drops by some evenings. We sit and shoot the breeze," commented the man. "Sometimes we play a game of chess. Helps me pass the time."

"Any particular reason that he comes out here?" McGarrett inquired, taking a sudden stab.

"Sure."

The guard jerked a thumb in the direction of a rusting fishing boat sitting at the far side of the lot. Even from where he stood, Steve could tell the screws and almost every other useful piece of equipment had been removed. Raxton's head appeared above a line of scrap not far from the trawler.

"Tony's got some wild scheme about making that hunk of junk over into a floating fast food joint." The guard laughed nervously. "I keep tellin' him he's nuts. It'll never float. But the guy's determined. He's been working to renovate it almost every night for the past week."

"Steve," Jonny prompted.

"Yeah."

As one, they broke sprinted across the open ground. The guard hovered, indecisive, before electing to remain safely on the sidelines. If Tonio was in trouble with the law again, he wanted no part of it.

Steve and Jonny went up the wood stairs to the main deck, two at a time, no thought given to personal safety. Age slowed McGarrett, but he was only a couple of steps behind Jonny Mattheson. Once on deck Jonny turned and let loose a piercing whistle. It proved unnecessary. Tramp appeared at that instant. The dog vaulted up the stairs. Tail wagging madly, lead snaking in his wake, the shepherd vanished through an open access. They followed him.

It was pitch dark below deck. No daylight penetrated beyond the first two feet inside the hatch. For some reason, all the portholes had been painted over some time in the past. Steve and Jonny came to a halt. The team appeared, skidding to a stop in the doorway. Each man attempted to see beyond that minuscule square of illumination and adjust to the darkness below.

The Sergeant turned, hand out. "Anyone got a flashlight?"

Julio obligingly produced the necessary equipment from his belt. They moved forward, heads low to avoid unexpected intrusions above. Tramp's excited bark rumbled out of the depths. It echoed hollowly through the rest of the ship.

"He's found something," exclaimed Jonny.

Despite the revelation, no one felt inclined to hurry. They continued on down a second set of steps. When their route led into the bilges, Jonny halted at the top of the final flight of stairs. His team grouped about him.

"Serge," he swiftly instructed, "send someone back topside to call the paramedics and guide them down here once they arrive. And I want that cutting gear down here right away."

Tramp's incessant barking echoed through the empty vessel, amplified by a ship whose fittings had been removed and sold off. Long familiar with ships of this type from his service in the Naval Reserve, Steve McGarrett pinpointed the location.

"Definitely sounds like the bow compartment," said McGarrett grimly.

Jonny's head jerked round. He stared at Steve, but refrained from inquiring. As soon as Norlan delegated the tasks, the others pressed on into the bowels of the ship.

"Watch your step," cautioned Steve as his hand encountered a thin section in the rusted handrail. "The metal's pretty thin in spots."

"Thin," exclaimed someone quietly. "It's damned transparent, McGarrett."

Tramp's barking was increasing in volume, now. The men worked their way to the bow. They reached the last hold but one and found the dog standing on his hind legs. He was pawing at the hatch.

"Good boy, Tramp!" Raxton praised his four-footed partner.

The dog dropped back to the floor at those words. Instead of returning to his handler, however, he nosed about the far corner. Curious, Raxton went to investigate. What he saw caused his eyes to widen. He grabbed Tramp and pulled him away.

"Hey, Lieutenant. Take a look at this."

Jonny joined them. Several discarded, broken hypodermic needles lay in a shattered heap. Not far away was a length of bloody rubber hose. The hairs on his neck rose and crept. Jonny spun.

"Bag those for the lab."

Steve went immediately to the watertight door. As Charlene had informed him, it was welded shut. Only the inspection hatch stood open. There was no cover on it. Skeletal bare hinges paid mute testimony to there having been one. Peering through the tiny opening, McGarrett struggled to see what lay beyond.

No less anxious Jonny asked, "Anything?"

"I can't tell." Steve reached one hand behind him. "Pass me a flashlight."

Someone slapped one into the palm of his hand. Wriggling it through the inspection portal, Steve turned it on. He stared past his arm as he worked the circle of light around the interior. The pale beam caught on something. He strove for a better view and failed. Cursing to himself, he struggled to adjust to the peculiar angle. The object appeared to be a mound of rust and dirt stained fabric. Suddenly, it shifted.

"Danny," he shouted without thinking. "Danno!"

The shape moved slowly. Shoulders, then a head rolled into view. Steve kept the beam turned slightly aside so as not to dazzle the prisoner. Barely recognisable, Dan Williams struggled to stare across the chamber.

He croaked back, "Steve?"

"It's alright, Danno. We'll have you out of there soon. Hang on." Steve whirled. "Where's that damned cutting gear?"

"On its way," Jonny assured him. "I'll go give them a hand getting it down here."

The sound of clanking and thumping intermingled with the frequent, colourfully descriptive curses of the two officers responsible retrieving the equipment from the van filtered through the interior of the stripped vessel in muted rumbles. McGarrett and the remainder of the team waited impatiently until the trio appeared. The paramedics were right on their heels.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


The interior of the hold closed around him. The air grew stuffy with the accumulation of the day's heat. Something about the lack of air hinted at a gathering thunderstorm. Danny leaned forward until his head rested against his drawn up knees, the most comfortable position he could find. When he rubbed the back of one hand across his chapped lips, he tasted blood. The chains had chafed raw marks around his ankles and wrists.

Danny did his best to block out the over-powering stench of body wastes assailing his nostrils. Awareness of the odours gradually faded as his olfactory senses acclimated to their presence. Dehydration was exacting increasingly debilitating effects on his body. His stomach ached with a hollow, constant gnawing pain in his midriff. When that eventually faded, he knew it would be only a matter of hours before he would be too far gone to recover even should help arrive. Even his hatred for Tonio was seeping away.

In the overwhelming darkness he caught the sound of voices. He was positive he was hallucinating for two sounded familiar. Only by slipping into a semi-comatose state had he survived thus far. Now the noises drew him inexorably back, insistent, reverberating around the confines of his enclosure. A white spot danced into the interior. It traced a probing path across the deck plates immediately beyond his left shoulder. With abstract curiosity he watched it until it pinpointed him. The light paused.

"Danny? Danno!"

The demanding voice was so hauntingly familiar it pierced his delirium. With considerable effort Danny concentrated, finally realising what he had heard was not an aberration. It belonged to an old friend. He struggled to raise his head, to stare in the direction of the door. By following the line of light up to the tiny opening, he discovered a hand had been thrust through the hole, a flashlight gripped in its fingers.

"Steve?"

It proved almost impossible to force the solitary word past cracked and bleeding lips. Steve's reply failed to register, but the hand abruptly withdrew from the opening. More voices rumbled through the ship, distorted by the hollow interior until they were indistinguishable. Strange as it seemed, Danny was positive he heard a dog whine. A series of sharp clanging followed. He shook his head, striving to drive away the cobwebs. His throat was too dry to attempt a call to those outside his prison. He could only wait and hope.

A peculiar popping bounced across the stagnant air, followed by a muffled, throaty roar. Determined to regain his grasp on sanity, Danny attempted to place the sound. Knew it was something he had heard it not long ago. Slowly his befuddled thoughts centred and he had his answer.

Across the hatch a red patch appeared in the bulkhead to the left of the hatch. The glow spread. Turned white and pierced the thick metal. Sparks shot through. Hot metal particles flared, affording sporadic illumination. Weird, dancing shadows were cast across the walls. He watched with a strange detachment as the red line advanced across the metal. The torch cut along the top of the plate, moved around the corner and drew a straight line toward the floor. It turned another corner. Time seemed suspended. His focus on reality centred on the flickering red and white sparks spattering through the cut. His entire being concentrated on the event until a thread of logic intervened, ordering him to look away before he blinded himself.

With a jerk, he forced himself to obey logic. His action set his head swimming. Danny bent forward over his knees once more as everything went black. He drifted beyond his body, detached and unconcerned by progressing events, until the clatter of falling metal striking the floor jarred him back to the present. Bemused, he considered the phenomenon. There was a scuffling in the darkness at the far end of the hold. Light stabbed into his prison. Dragging his head up, Danny watched as a figure clambered quickly over the metal ribbing to his side.

"Danno?"

"Steve. What---" Danny's confusion over his friend's presence exceeded his delirium-induced detachment. He struggled to understand why McGarrett was there.

"That's twice I've been asked that question in the past few hours," his friend gently chided.

Gesturing feebly in the direction of the empty shackles beside him, Danny attempted to convey information. It took a supreme effort to produce each syllable. "Charley."

"Charley's fine, Danno," said Steve. "She was found early this morning. She's at the General."

"The children?"

"They're fine, too."

As paramedics clambered through the opening behind him, Steve McGarrett gently inspected his ex-partner. Two industrial strength torches lit the interior as the medics set their first aid equipment on the floor. McGarrett shifted to the opposite side of his friend, watching the medics work.

The skin was drawn taut across the planes of Danny's face. A disturbing grey tinged his flesh and his lips were severely cracked. Blood had clotted in places along them. Even the tight curls on his head, almost brown with dirt and sweat, had gone limp in reflection of Danny's depleted condition. His clothing was sweat soaked and had plastered itself to his body. Blood stained both shirt and trousers in several places. McGarrett suspected the blood was from Charlene.

Something rustled underfoot. McGarrett glanced down, momentarily distracted as the rescue team grouped about the entrance to the hold. Brought into view by the additional light were several pages of a newspaper. Steve's jaw settled into a granite line. He dragged his gaze away from the damning article.

"Your kids are fine, Danno," he reinforced his statement, determined to reassure his friend. "I sent them to Kauai."

The torment Danny must have suffered upon reading the article thoroughly infuriated McGarrett. Smouldering embers of rage leapt into bonfire proportions in the face of Tonio's calculated cruelty. 

"Thought as much," whispered Danny weakly. He forced a warped grin and clutched at Steve's sleeve. Chains rattled against the deck plates. "Tell Charley."

"I have," acknowledged Steve. But in that instant, he was uncertain whether Danny was referring to the survival of the children, or that of himself.

"Tonio," forced out Danny.

"Excuse us," insisted the medics before McGarrett could reply. 

Ushered firmly aside, Steve barely had time to rest a hand on Danny's shoulder in passing before moving out of the way. There was a studied quality to the paramedics as they set up their equipment. Sight of the shackles, however, set them back on their heels.

One of them called out, "Has anyone got a hacksaw or lock pick?"

"McGarrett?"

Steve glanced over his shoulder. Raxton was leaning through the opening, waving something in his direction.

"What have you got?" he called.

"Tramp found these at the foot of the ladder to the upper deck. Might just do the trick," suggested Raxton.

Steve clambered back across the ribs to the opening. Jim was holding a ring with several keys attached. Tonio's vindictiveness far exceeded the bounds of sanity. 

'Why else,' mused McGarrett, 'would Tonio have stored the keys in an accessible spot after welding the door shut?'

"Where did you find them?"

"They were hanging on a hook under the third to last step," said Raxton as Steve took the keys. "Doesn't make much sense, does it?"

"None of this does," replied Steve coldly, "unless you equate what's happened with insanity."

"You got that right."

Raxton withdrew into the outer compartment. To McGarrett's amazement Jonny Mattheson made no move to intrude. Steve made his way back to Danny's side. While the paramedics set up the intravenous drip and went through their routine, preparing Danny for evacuation, McGarrett worked the keys in the locks. Three fit. One by one, he unlocked the shackles. As the last length fell to the floor, a hint of a tremor of relief shuddered through Danny's body. The medics closed up their cases.

One asked, "Would you mind lending a hand with these?"

Steve cast a look at the kits. "I'll help you transport my partner, if you don't mind.

At his blunt statement the pair held a quick, quiet conference. They agreed. One took the equipment. Since it was impossible to get the stretcher into the hold, Steve and the second medic hoisted Danny to his feet between them. A wavering beam of light passed across a white scar on the far wall. Steve's jaw clamped down hard as he recognised the fresh scoring. Add one more item to the list of grievances he had to settle with Antonio Nicholaidis.

The exertion of crossing the short distance to the wall and being passed through the opening proved too taxing. Danny collapsed on the far side. Waiting officers hastily lifted him onto the waiting stretcher with an incredible display of solicitude. After covering him with several layers of blankets, they strapped him down. Four officers promptly manhandled the stretcher out of the rusting vessel and into the open. McGarrett anxiously brought up the rear.

Dust particles gathered in swirling dervishes. Madly chased across the open ground and dashed themselves to death against mounds of rubbish. Someone conscientiously held a hand immediately above Danny's face to protect him from wind-borne grit. When they reached the ambulance, Steve paused.

"Where are you taking him?" he asked the medics while the officers loaded the stretcher into the vehicle.

"Kamehameha," said one. The medics hastily stored their gear. "It's the closest."

"Keep us posted," ordered Jonny quickly as the first of the medics scrambled inside. He looked at McGarrett. "You going with them?"

"I promised Danny I'd let Charley know we had found him," said Steve.

He watched the ambulance draw away with mixed feelings. He was torn between his initial desire to be with Danny, and the over-riding knowledge that Danny had elicited a promise from him to return to Charlene. Jonny looked incredibly relieved by Steve's decision.

"Thanks, Steve." McGarrett followed him to his vehicle. "I'll drop you at the General and then swing back to Kamehameha for an update on his condition."

Steve nodded absently. There was nothing worse than being split between two friends at two different locations. Jonny paused long enough to give his team leader additional instructions concerning the wrap-up of the crime scene.

"Get the lab boys out here," he ordered swiftly. "I want that old tub gone over with a fine toothed comb for anything that might give us a lead on where Tonio's gone into hiding."

"You got it, Lieutenant," responded Norlan tightly.

From the corner of his eye, Jonny saw Steve get into the car and close the door. A storm was brewing just off the coast. Black, bulging clouds were pushing in across the coast, preceded by rising winds. Tramp whined, nose up to scent the air. From time to time the dog sneezed as dust continued to clog his nostrils.

"See if Tramp can find anything else before this storm breaks."

"Sure, sir."

"And post a couple of men here when you're done. Just in case that bastard comes back," Jonny concluded.

"You got it."

At the Sergeant's nod, Jonny jumped into the car. Gunning the engine, he peeled out in a spray of fine gravel, up the incline onto the dirt road beyond the gate. En route they passed Julio who was busy interrogating the guard. Neither favoured the passing sedan more than a fleeting glance.

"He'll be okay, Steve," said Jonny as they turned out onto the paved highway. "We reached him in time."

"I know."

Relief was coloured with anguish. The lines in McGarrett's face deepened. He found himself thrown back to that minute when he had squatted at Danny's side. All of his associates had, at some point in their careers, been subjected to life-threatening moments. He had even lost one member of his department, and himself been the victim of several unsavoury experiences.

His thoughts shied abruptly away from the memories and lurched up against the present once more. The past was past. It was all gone. Yet, they seemed to be continually plagued by the spin-offs of the fallout of those past events. Irritated by the morose turn his thoughts had taken in the wake of Danny's rescue he glowered out the side window.

"Steve?"

Jonny attempted to catch his attention, to draw him out of the morass into which he was rapidly sinking. McGarrett resurfaced with difficulty. They were passing the turn-off to Kamehameha. Immediately ahead of them the ambulance's red light cut the gathering gloom of a stormy late afternoon.

"I'm okay, Jonny," Steve managed to say.

"Sure you are," retorted Jonny with a troubled look.

"I'll be alright."

"Good," declared his companion after a suitable pause. McGarrett stared at him, puzzled by that declaration. "I need you to help me decide how best to deal with my sister."

Steve considered the alternatives. "If they're willing to release her this evening," he suggested at length, "I'll take her home with me."

"And Danny?"

"It's going to depend upon what the doctors decide," replied Steve soberly. "I can't see them letting him go anywhere for some time."

"I'll lay you odds on they won't keep him there past tomorrow morning," countered Jonny flatly.

When the corner of his companion's mouth twitch, Steve felt a trace of infectious humour as well. Although he was not about to admit his sentiments paralleled Jonny's, Steve was inclined to agree with him. Given both Danny and Charlene's history, it would have been foolish to expect any different reaction from his old associate and partner. 

"We'll see," Steve deferred with the wisdom of years on the police force.

Street signs flashed past. Traffic was minimal, but growing as holidaying natives began filtering home from the Island beaches. They turned up the road to the General and drew into the parking lot. Steve unconsciously glanced in the direction of his wife's car as he climbed from the sedan.

Jerry Offutt was back. He was hovering outside Charlene's door, speaking softly to the officer whom Jonny had assigned as security detail. Seeing McGarrett approach hope lightened Jerry's concern. 

"Back again?" McGarrett asked, keeping his tone congenial.

"Just thought I'd check on how she's doing," responded Jerry. "Did you find him?"

Steve nodded. "He's going to be okay."

"That ought to cheer her up," reflected Jerry. A physician came up the hall. Jerry gestured to the man. "Doctor Schaerer, this is Steve McGarrett. He's a close friend of Charlene's."

"Mister McGarrett. I'm pleased to see so many people concerned for my patient's welfare. She's been through a very trying experience."

"It isn't the first time," Steve informed him.

"Well," put in Jerry firmly before the doctor could reply, "I hope it's the last."

McGarrett ignored the remark. "Is she well enough to be discharged, Doc?"

Schaerer frowned. "I would have preferred to hold her for an additional night for observation. But," he admitted, "she might do better at home. She'll need someone to keep an eye on her and ensure she maintains her present level of fluid intake."

"I have very little to occupy my time at present," Steve informed him.

"Fine." The doctor visibly relaxed. "I'll write out the instructions for her dietary needs and leave it with the Duty Nurse. Would you see to it the paperwork's filled out before you go?"

"Of course."

Nodding to Jerry, the doctor departed. Jerry shifted his weight uneasily. McGarrett's intrigue grew. Offutt was in his late forties. He had married once and was presently divorced. The single child from his marriage had died at eight months, a victim of SIDS, which probably explained the sudden, irreconcilable rift that had developed between Jerry and his wife. Without quite knowing why he had developed the suspicion, McGarrett found himself forming a theory that Jerry Offutt had, unaccountably, fallen for Charlene Mattheson.

On the heels of Steve's discovery concerning Jerry, another idea intruded. It diverted him from the previous train of thought. He knew he would have to discuss the nebulous plan with Jonny soon. If Jonny were agreeable they would then have to broach it to Danny the moment the doctors felt he was up to returning home. What McGarrett was planning would require additional manpower, although not that many more. But it went beyond what the three of them could adequately supply.

"I'll have Jonny call you later this evening, Jerry," said Steve.

The rapidity with which that statement fell in the wake of the doctor's departure yanked Jerry out of his own distraction. "For what purpose, McGarrett?"

"I'll let Jonny discuss that with you," deferred Steve. "By the way, you haven't mentioned anything to Charley concerning her brother, have you?"

Jerry shook his head. "No. I haven't had time to really talk to her since I called the Lieutenant this morning. And I've been off-duty, catching up on some sleep until recently. Why?"

"Jonny would rather surprise her."

"Oh."

Not bothering to enlighten him further, Steve pushed open the door to the ward and stepped in. Charlene was lying, curled up on her side, facing the door. She was dozing in a fading sunbeam that streamed across her bed. As the door clicked softly shut behind him, her eyes flew wide. Fear stared out at him, until she identified who had entered the room. Then she rolled onto her back. Reaching out, Charlene used the controls to elevate the upper portion of the bed.

"Hi," he said, studying her actions. 'No,' he thought grimly, 'she definitely isn't going to recover from this quickly. Am I doing the right thing?'

"Hi, yourself," she responded cautiously.

"We've found him, Charley." He watched joy spring to the surface, only to be ruthlessly checked.

"How is he?"

"Weak, thirsty. Worried about you."

"Steve!"

When she snapped at him irritably, McGarrett was so relieved at hearing that rebellious note in her voice that he chuckled. His reaction startled Charlene. She glared at him. 

"He insisted I come directly back here to tell you he's alright," said Steve with a broad grin.

"Thank God."

Charlene stared up at the ceiling, fighting down the tears that sprang to her eyes. Blinking hard several times to clear them, she looked away out the window at the encroaching darkness. 

"And Tonio?"

"No sign of him," Steve regretfully informed her.

"Damn," she muttered angrily. Her head swung back to him again. "How soon can I get out of here?"

"I thought you'd never ask," he said, grin broadening into a smile. "Your doctor informed me you can go home this evening. If that's what you really want."

"I do," she announced with undisguised relief.

"Get dressed," he instructed. "I'll get the papers signed off."

Even as she pushed back the bedclothes, she asked, "What about Danny?"

"I'll call the hospital from the house," he said, sobering somewhat. "But I doubt either of us will be allowed to see him until tomorrow. He was pretty weak, Charley."

"Where is he?"

"Over at Kamehameha."

"Oh, great," she muttered. "Why couldn't they have brought him here?"

Ever realistic, McGarrett said, "Because Kamehameha was closer."

Her stubborn streak surfaced and, to Steve's complete surprise, was instantly buried. "You're positive he's going to be okay?"

"Absolutely," he declared, mentally crossing his fingers. It never paid to lie to Charlene.

"Let's go home, then," she said.

Steve was relieved to discover she had not completely forgotten her previous experiences with him. It was a breath of fresh air to hear her willing to let him take the lead unquestioningly. Sitting upright, Charlene flung off the bedclothes with vigour reminiscent of years gone by. McGarrett noticed she was wearing a lightweight cotton night gown that fell just past her knees. Charlene slipped from bed. He reached out automatically to support her, but she moved past him to the small locker that held the few personal effects one of the HPD officers had brought on Jonny's orders. Reassured that she could function unattended, Steve left to take care of her out-clearances. Within half an hour, they were on their way down the highway, heading for the north shore.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


16 April 1990

Waves curled lazily toward the land and broke beyond the reef, booming up in a plume of white against the dawn. Ripples slithered up the beach, drawing away again with timeless energy. The storm had come and gone overnight, leaving in its wake the exhilarating scent of air temporarily scrubbed clean of humanity's pollutants.

Steve pounded along the firm sand at the merge, maintaining a steady rhythm. Distance rather than speed was his goal. Despite the years between him and retirement, he continued to run nearly every second day. If nothing else, it kept him trim, while keeping him occupied first thing in the morning. He would have run every day, had his doctor permitted it. But he had been advised against it due to the possibility of progressive deterioration in knees and ankles from the excessive pounding.

Behind Steve, along the curving beach, his footprints were already vanishing beneath the incessant wash of water. As he approached the back yard, he slowed to a walk, breathing steadily. Finding an open patch of grass, he went through his cool down. He was just finishing when a movement caught his eye. He turned.

"Still jogging, I see," commented Charlene.

She was dressed in a pair of lightweight slacks and blouse, a sweater thrown around her shoulders for additional warmth. In each hand she held a steaming mug. Steve straightened and performed a final stretch. He felt good.

"Coffee?" She offered him a mug.

"Thanks."

He accepted it. As he sipped the contents, he studied Charlene. There were dark circles under her eyes. She might not admit it, but he knew she had spent a restless night. 

"Let's go sit on the patio," he suggested.

Charlene trailed in his wake as he walked up the meandering path between flowerbeds and shrubs. She sat down, back to the house. Steve picked up his towel from another chair and hung it around his shoulders. He did not miss the manner in which her eyes roved critically across the profusion of blossoms.

"This is really lovely, Steve."

"Thanks." He dabbed sweat from his brow with the corner of the towel. "No credit to me, I'm afraid. This is Amanda's hobby." 

"Your wife?" Steve nodded. Charlene sipped her coffee thoughtfully, then grimaced. "I never could get the knack of making this stuff. It tastes awful, doesn't it?"

"No worse than what we brewed at Five-O," he told her. "Perhaps you should have made tea instead." When she wrinkled her nose with recollection, he smiled. His eyes twinkled. "Actually, it is on the strong side. But that's how I like it."

"I remember that horrible stuff you lot used to brew at the office."

Steve laughed. "You're right, it was pretty bad."

"I'm surprised you didn't all come down with ulcers," she reflected. "Especially you."

The quiet little dig about his extensive, self-imposed work hours brought a momentary widening of his smile. McGarrett glanced towards the ocean. The sun was creeping up the horizon, chasing away the grey. Thin fingers of sunlight crept across the landscape. Delinquent raindrops slithered down the leaves as the morning breeze began to pick up. The chill was rapidly leaving the air.

"It's always so beautiful here," said Charlene, more to herself than to her companion. She caught herself growing maudlin and yanked herself away from the past. "When's your wife due back? I'm anxious to meet her."

"This afternoon sometime," replied Steve. Seeing Charlene's restrained curiosity, he enlightened her. "I suggested she go to Kauai for the weekend."

"Why Kauai?" Charlene's bewilderment was momentary. "Oh! You were afraid Tonio might go after her." She stiffened. "Tonio said---"

"He told you he was going to kill your children," Steve went directly to the heart of her fears.

"Yes."

"I suppose you ought to hear this from me, rather than wait until one of your offspring elects to elaborate on the incident," he conceded.

Charlene froze. Then, very carefully, she set her mug down on the small table between them. "What happened?"

"It was decided to send the children away until we could locate you and Danny, and bring Tonio in. We were on the way to meet the HPD helicopter," Steve explained, "when Tonio tried to run me off the road. HPD aired an erroneous press release detailing their deaths. They're all safe, staying with friends off Island."

"What do you mean, tried to run you off the road?" Charlene's expression indicated she suspected he was glossing over facts. She left him no alternative but to elaborate further.

"It was touch and go," he admitted ruefully. "The kids came through with flying colours."

"Flying colours, indeed," she sorted. "What you mean is, they're three of the most precocious brats around. Admit it."

The left side of Steve's mouth quirked with barely controlled mirth. "Just remember. You said it. Not me."

Charlene rolled her eyes meaningfully. She picked up her coffee and sipped it, considering what he had left unsaid. The one thing she could always count on from Steve McGarrett was the truth, even if it was severely abridged to prevent her worrying herself sick about events over which she had no control. She appreciated his concern.

"Thanks for looking after them," she said finally.

"You're welcome."

"You and Amanda have none of your own?"

He shook his head. Charlene looked away. But not before he had caught her amusement. She studiously bit her tongue and refrained from further comments.

"So," she asked after a lengthy pause, "what now?"

"I'm calling the hospital later this morning to find out when they think Danny can be released," he said.

"Today?" Charlene half-rose, eagerness brightened her face.

"Easy, Charley." Steve reached out a hand. She settled back into the chair. "It's going to depend upon what the doctor says. He was very weak and dehydrated when we reached him."

Catching something in his tone, Charlene's eyes narrowed speculatively. "What is it, Steve? Why do the police want Danny out now, if he's not really well enough?"

"We don't want to drag him out of hospital against medical advice to the contrary, Charley," Steve firmly assured her. "But it would be far easier to protect him if we have you both here."

"If he remains in the hospital with all the orderlies, interns and nursing staff," she voiced her understanding, "there's a possibility Tonio might slip in and finish the job. Do you really believe he's going to try again?"

"What do you think?" He turned the question neatly back into her lap.

Staring down at her wrists, at the scabs encircling them like mock bracelets, Charlene's shoulders sagged. She had hoped it would be over. And yet, at the same time she was fully aware it would not be finished until Tonio was safely back behind bars.

"Charley." Steve laid a hand on her right arm. "I have to ask you something."

He appeared strangely ill at ease. He eyes shifted back and forth as he searched her face. The mobility of emotion in his expression surprised her. Charlene had known him as well as anyone, aside from his wife. She had never seen him react this way before.

"What is it, Steve? What's wrong?"

"I want you to search your memory of the past six days and answer me truthfully," he insisted.

"All right."

As she straightened her shoulders and steeled herself for what was to come, Steve knew there was no easy way of posing the question. He went right to the heart of the matter.

"Do you have any reason to believe Tonio sexually assaulted you while you were unconscious, or under the influence of the drugs he administered?"

The personal nature of the question rocked her. McGarrett could see thoughts racing through her mind. She turned her head away. It was evident in every line of her body that she feared what lay behind his question. She raked her upper lip with her teeth and rubbed her hands together as she considered the distasteful possibility. Suddenly, she shivered convulsively. She wrapped her arms around herself for additional warmth. The terror of the disorientation foist upon her by the drugs Tonio had given her, was resurfacing. Charlene grappled desperately with her fear.

"Charley?" Steve insisted upon a reply.

She managed a hesitant shake of her head. "No, Steve. I'm fairly certain he didn't."

"Why are you certain?" He pressured, refusing to let up until positive he had chased some of the phantoms of suspicion from her mind, as well as his own.

"Because of the way he talked. Of what he said. I suspect it's the last thing he had planned. And he wanted me awake and fully aware when he---"

The words broke off. Swallowing hard, Charlene abruptly thrust herself to her feet. She halted with her back to him, staring down the lawn at the ocean. Steve rose. Standing behind her, he wrapped his arms around her, lending her the illusion of emotional warmth she actually needed from Danny.

Now was not the time to inform her she might have to endure years of blood tests to confirm her health. Nor was he the person to break that news to her. He had already cautioned Jonny against unwittingly bringing it to light. This was Danny's responsibility. Not theirs. No matter how much they cared for Charlene, she would need her husband's support when the time arrived for her to be told. Steve could and would offer her his morale support. It might be minuscule compared to what she really required at this time, but it was all he had to give her.

Charlene accepted his comforting presence. She leaned back against him. Although she would never be able to reveal it to him, Steve McGarrett filled a peculiar niche in her life. A position somewhere between father figure, uncle and older brother. In the past, she had known she could rely upon him to be there to help, no matter how serious the situation. Although Danny now filled that place and so much more in her existence, Charlene was gratified to find Steve still there. Someone she could turn to, an anchor in a sea of uncertainty and fear. Tension gradually seeped out of her. When Steve sensed she had faced her fears and temporarily conquered them, he released her.

"I've got to shower and change," he apologised and drew away. "If you'd like something to eat, feel free to rummage."

"Thanks," she replied.

Runners squeaking slightly on the flagstones, Steve went indoors. Charlene remained standing at the edge of the patio, watching the ceaseless action of the waves. Her thoughts drifted. Repeatedly broke on the shoals in her mind, confronting the doubts and anguish planted there by Tonio. Eventually it drove her indoors in search of something to distract her.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX


Every time he shifted his weight or the doctor tested another portion of his anatomy, his muscles ached abominably. The worst were his stomach muscles. Danny reflected on the incident with distaste. It would have been far wiser to have suffered the injustice and remained silent. Years as a policeman had taught him that much. But it had proved to be wholly different when forced to watch the sadistic Tonio beating Charlene until she was unconscious.

Unable to help himself, Danny groaned at the memory. It was more than he could presently bear to recall it. The doctor paused in the midst of kneading his stomach. 

"Does that hurt?" He inquired professionally.

"Only when I laugh," Danny countered, attempting to make light of his injuries.

Dwelling on past wounds did not help to heal them any faster. In fact, past experience dictated that maundering frequently aggravated wounds, mental and physical, dragging out convalescence far longer than was healthy.

He rolled his lips against one another experimentally. A thin coating of zinc ointment covered them. It tasted terrible when he unwittingly ran his tongue across them, but it would help them heal. Plus, the hospital had been pumping fluids into him every hour. As a result, he felt like a leaky rowboat badly in need of bailing. When he rolled onto his side for the doctor to examine the galls left by the chains on his backside, the gurgle of fruit juice and water rumbling around his stomach was clearly audible.

"I see we're rebuilding your fluids, Mister Williams," remarked the doctor with the barest trace of dry humour in his voice.

Danny glanced up. As he had suspected, the man was smiling, clearly having overheard the sloshing liquid. When his patient refused to react, beyond appearing bemused, the physician concluded his examination.

"Well," he declared, "I'd say we're all done here. Your recuperative powers are more than adequate. Particularly in a man of your age."

Danny could not help wondering at that dig. Certainly he was over forty. But he did not, by any stretch of the imagination, have one foot in the grave. He bit his tongue against voicing those thoughts. Had Tonio succeeded, he would have had more than merely one foot in a cemetery plot. The doctor moved away. Pausing at a nearby cabinet, he began scribbling something on a note pad.

"I really would have preferred to have you stay another night," he commented. From the corner of his eye he witnessed the tensing of Danny's jaw and shoulder muscles. In the face of that subdued nature, the doctor continued, "However, I understand from the police that there are extenuating circumstances. I'm releasing you this afternoon into their care. If you'll get dressed, I'll write up the necessary prescriptions and instructions."

"Thanks, Doc." Dan Williams sat up and swung his feet over the edge of the examination table.

"Just ensure you follow the directions to the letter," warned the physician. "Take it slow, until you recover your strength. I expect to see you back here next Monday for a follow-up examination."

The doctor left without allowing Danny to put in another word. Danny picked up a pair of slacks and drew them on. He was zipping them up when there was a rap on the examination room door. The door opened a crack.

"You decent, sir," called an unfamiliar voice.

"Always," shot back Danny without thinking.

A police officer pushed the door open, stepped in. He grinned from ear to ear in the face of Danny's timely retort. Taking in the way Danny leaned against the examination table, he nodded.

"The Lieutenant sent me up to get you. There's a car waiting," explained the officer, "so as soon as you're ready to go, we can get out of here."

"Thanks."

"No problem."

Danny would far rather have had Steve collect him. But HPD was taking no chances. They had sent the head of the investigating team to escort him to wherever it was they planned to hold him and Charlene until they caught Tonio.

The officer leaned against the wall alongside the door, watching every move Danny made. He saw, but refrained from commenting upon, the slight hesitations noticeable in Danny's actions as he drew on his shirt and buttoned it up. The long term confinement and restraints had considerably impaired his ability to move freely.

Those members of HPD who had known Dan Williams, had been elated to hear he was alive, married, and had returned to the Islands. They were also hell bent on locating Antonio Nicholaidis. Even those unfamiliar with Danny were determined to make Tonio pay for what he had subjected one of their own to, even if the officer concerned was retired. Every street contact and snitch was primed. The instant the information became available, the police would know.

Danny was acutely conscious of the other's intense scrutiny. He strove to ignore it as he finished dressing. The door opened again. A nurse entered. She scowled at the officer before moving across the room to confront Danny.

"Mister Williams." Danny looked up. "Doctor Ethan said to make certain you follow his instructions to the letter."

She stuck out her hand. Reluctantly Danny accepted the prescription. Rapidly skimmed through the details. He stifled a groan: more fruit juice and water, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. The latter he could handle. But he was presently so waterlogged he doubted he would be able to face much more liquid content. Folding the sheet, he tucked it in his pocket. 

"And no tea or coffee for the next twenty-four hours," the nurse concluded.

Danny nodded obediently. The officer moved forward. "Ready to go?"

"Lead on." Danny gestured.

"Mister Williams." objected the nurse, attempting to intervene. "The wheelchair's not here yet."

Danny stared at her blankly for a moment. Slowly he straightened. He countered, "Nurse, I may be stiff, dehydrated and tired. But I am not an invalid."

"Sir," she argued, "it's a hospital policy---"

"I'd rather walk."

Without waiting for her reply he gathered up his belongings. They paused outside to get their bearings. The nurse trailed in their wake, highly agitated by the breach in regulations. She refused to leave Danny's side, even when the officer relieved him of his bag. But Danny was resolved to depart the building under his own steam.

Only when the elevator doors had closed, abandoning the frustrated, anxious nurse on the upper floor, did Danny actually relax. Only then was he aware of just how weak he really was. By the time the elevator had reached the ground floor his legs were beginning to tremble. He forced himself to keep moving.

Immediately outside the entrance he paused once more. Allowed his eyes time to adjust to the bright sunlight beyond the protective overhang. The policeman halted patiently. Just the other side of the walk waited an unmarked sedan. Danny stepped into the sunshine. Seeing him and his escort emerge from the shadows, the driver got out and leaned on the roof.

"Someone named Williams ordered a cab?" A cheesy grin splitting his face split from ear to ear, Jonny asked, "Or was that Stanton?"

"Jonny!"

Danny paused at the sight of his brother-in-law. Then he stepped out to meet Jonny as he came round the car. Jonny gave him a bear hug.

"Jesus, Danny. It's good to see you," Jonny exclaimed.

Danny slapped his shoulder familiarly. "Thought I heard your voice yesterday, but---"

"Given the condition you were in," cut in Jonny eagerly, "I'm surprised you even managed to recognise Steve, much less take notice of the rest of us."

Danny swayed slightly. He put out a hand, steadying himself and shook his head, irritated, as a wave of vertigo rushed over him.

"Whoa. Easy." Jonny put a supportive hand beneath his elbow. "Come on. Get in. You're not up to this sort of thing yet."

"Give me a day or two," said Danny fiercely.

"Yeah. Sure. I've heard that before, too," commented Jonny.

The officer handed Jonny the over-night bag then opened the front passenger door so Danny could slide in. When Danny attempted to object, the officer remained firm, his expression daring the convalescent to argue. Sighing, Danny resigned himself to being treated with kid gloves for a couple days or more. Jonny hopped in and started the engine. As they pulled away from the curb, Danny glanced at his companion.

"Where are we going?"

"Steve's."

Danny was intrigued. "Charley?"

Jonny's mouth twitched repeatedly. Intrigued, Danny swivelled as far as the seatbelt restraint would permit. "What's tickled your funny bone," he probed. Jonny remained stubbornly silent. "What gives, Jonny?"

"Charley doesn't know," said Jonny simply.

"Know? About what," Danny wanted to know. Pure mischief surfaced in Jonny's eyes when he glanced sideways. "You haven't seen her since they found her, have you?"

"Nope." Jonny braked smoothly to avoid a jaywalking tourist. "I've purposefully avoided visiting her. There were more important things to occupy my time than renewing acquaintances with my lovely resurrected sister anyway."

"Such as?"

"Finding you, for one." Jonny slowed as they approached a red light. It changed to green before they came to a complete stop. They continued on, accelerating as they passed through the intersection. "And tracking down Tonio."

"No one's told Charley you're here?"

"Steve made certain of it."

"Do you think she's up to dealing with the shock?" Danny stabbed with a bare hint of amusement in his voice.

Jonny raised both eyebrows. His expression was positively fascinating. "You know her better than I do," he countered with a swift, verbal repartee.

The adeptness with which the swift undercut was delivered left Danny momentarily speechless. Upon reflection, he suspected Jonny would not be in such a cheerful mood if Charlene had been anything but up to the shock of meeting her brother after nearly twelve years separation. Nor would Steve have permitted either of them to be subjected to more emotional stress than he was positive they were capable of handling at this time.

"Touché," he said, rediscovering his voice. "Would you mind explaining what Steve's doing assisting HPD? I was told he had retired."

"Oh, he did," Jonny affirmed. "But he's familiar with Tonio's habits and, well, I guess I could rely on him to provide a different angle of attack whenever it appeared we were grinding to a standstill."

"I see." Danny fully appreciated what Jonny was referring to. Very little had ever managed to slip past Steve McGarrett. The man had a mind like a steel trap, constantly in motion when posed a problem.

When next Jonny glanced at him, Danny caught a peculiar look of concentration on his face. His companion looked quickly away, paying far more attention to his driving than was absolutely necessary. They circumvented the north shore. The weather was pleasant, not too hot or too cold. A mild breeze was finding its way through the opening where Jonny had cracked his window a fraction.

They passed the lookout before Danny ventured, "What are you doing back in Honolulu?"

Jonny's shoulders twitched. He shot Danny a look of amusement. "I'm in charge of Missing Persons."

"Here?"

"Here." Jonny's eyes fairly danced, now. "Five-O was assimilated into HPD in Eighty-three. I guess you could say I'm responsible, under Ben's guidance, for doing what you used to do under Steve's direction."

Danny was speechless for a long time. They turned Southeast, entering the shadow of the Koolau Range. It had never dawned on him that Jonny might consider transferring from Los Angeles back to Honolulu. And yet, mused Danny, both he and Charlene should have guessed he would do just that.

"Surprised?"

"Damn right!" Danny responded with undisguised emotion to that question. He shook his head. "We should have known."

"Maybe." Jonny glanced at him again. His brow wrinkled.

"Something wrong?"

"I'm trying to figure out what's different about you this morning," Jonny finally committed himself to saying. They reduced speed behind some slower traffic and Jonny used the opportunity to lock gazes with his brother-in-law. "You shaved."

"Pardon?" Danny automatically raised a hand to his chin. He grinned. "Oh, that. Charley never was particularly fond of it. But it was part of my cover."

"Good thing you didn't suntan on the mainland," needled Jonny.

The thought of power tanning had always struck Danny as somewhat ridiculous. Quite aside from it being proven unhealthy, with his fair skin and freckles, he tended to be a sunburn looking for somewhere to happen.

"And you're worried about me being too much of a shock for Charley to handle," concluded Jonny. "How's she going to react to you with your bare face hanging out after---what? Twelve years?" 

"About that," said Danny as he considered the question.

"Well?"

"She'll probably be speechless with joy."

"Right." Jonny tapped the steering wheel absently for several minutes. Then, he abruptly thrust a hand into his pants pocket. "Here. I've got something of yours."

Danny silently extended his hand. His watch dropped into the palm of his hand from Jonny's fist. Something small tinkled on the watch back immediately afterwards. Danny stared at the second item. His wife's solitaire flashed in a stray beam of sunlight.

"Where---" Unnoticed, his watch slid into his lap.

"Steve got it from Tonio's girlfriend," said Jonny carefully. "Or maybe I should say ex-girlfriend. Sounds like she was pretty mad when she discovered where he had picked it up."

Danny clenched his fingers around the band until his knuckles turned white. He gritted his teeth with restrained rage. He knew how his wife felt about the engagement ring. There were far more memories tied up in it for both of them than anyone else would ever suspect. This would account for her final word shortly after they were separated.

"Damn that bastard," he muttered under his breath, furious with this new revelation.

With considerable relief, Jonny announced, "Here we are."

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN


They drove down a driveway to a nicely apportioned, ranch-style building. The exterior was white, offset with wood accents along the eaves and around the windows. The roof, fashioned of terra cotta tiles, was designed to provide ventilation and aid in rainwater run off. The front door was stained dark red mahogany. Raised geometric shapes created from separate blocks of wood enhanced the exterior surface. Further embellishment had been added in the way of a brass doorknocker and large, curved brass door handles. Functional wood shutters stood open to the day. A vehicle sat beneath the shade of a double carport.

A profusion of trees, flowering shrubs and plants had been strategically positioned about the grounds to break up the park-like monotony of the lawn surrounding three sides of the residence. Through a break in the thick hedge running up to the side of the house, Danny caught a fleeting glimpse of a path leading down to the beach. The entire setting was an impression of Danny's former partner.

As they got out of the car, the front door opened. Steve came out to greet them. He studied Danny critically for several breaths, as though reassuring himself of something. Then, the familiar warm smile spread across his face.

"Danno, you look a hell of a lot better than when I last saw you."

"Thanks. I think," replied Danny.

They exchanged cautious handclasps before Steve broke down and engulfed him in a bear hug that made Jonny's earlier one seem nothing more that a puff of wind. As Steve released him, Danny stared past his shoulder toward the house. His friend's smile broadened measurably, knowing what the object of Danny's search was.

"She's out back. On the patio."

Steve led the way through the house. No one spoke as they approached the patio doors. Danny's eyes raked the scene beyond the screen, locating Charlene in short order. She was sitting with her back to the house, eyes partially closed against the glare. A book lay on the ground alongside her chair. To all intents and purposes, she appeared to be enjoying the sun and the late afternoon view.

The levels to which Charlene's patience had been elevated by the passage of years completely amazed her brother. Years ago she would have been hovering in the living room at the very least, anxiously waiting to see if Jonny would bring her husband home. When Jonny opened his mouth to call to her Steve held a finger to his lips. Jonny swallowed his summons. They waited expectantly as Danny stepped softly out onto the flagstones.

* * *

Charlene had required little excuse to set aside the book. The plot had been interesting, if a touch on the bland side. It had served its purpose, putting a polite barrier between her and Steve when he had insisted upon drawing out of her every nuance she could recall of her days in the ship hold. While she appreciated Steve's concern and the reason for him getting her to talk about her experience, she wanted time alone. Seeing her determination, Steve had eventually left her in peace. Now she found herself dozing in the shade, listening to the birds, the rustling of palm fronds and the hush of waves on the beach beyond the foot of the garden.

Her thoughts drew up short as the hairs on the nape of her neck rose and crept. Without thinking, she darted a nervous glance over her shoulder. Someone had emerged from the house. Her pulse quickened. Despite sun-dazzled eyes Charlene knew who it was. She came off the deck chair with a speed that took Danny's breath away, nearly upsetting the low table at her elbow.

"Danny."

The greeting whispered from her lips. His arms enfolded her. Face buried in his neck, Charlene wept unashamed. Her hands clutched at his shoulders while Danny stroked her hair. Lips pressed against the crown of her head, he murmured quiet endearments. At long last, Charlene raised her head. Her right hand reached up to touch his cheek, and halted.

"You shaved," she exclaimed with undisguised delight.

Danny's chuckle was deep and throaty. "Didn't think you'd notice."

"Oh, you!"

She gave him a slight push, stepping clear of him at the same time. He promptly poked her in the ribs. Her arms snapped protectively down against her sides, knocking his hands away. She backed two steps. There she hovered, eyes locked with Danny's as she studied his face. Expression altering, he reached out, took her hand in his, and drew her back against his side. One arm around her shoulders, Danny led her down the path toward the beach.

"I think they're going to be a while," reflected Jonny marginally hurt at being overlooked or forgotten by his relations, even only temporarily.

"Looks like," McGarrett concurred, "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Got any coffee on?" Jonny countered as they withdrew into the kitchen. Seeing McGarrett's lop-sided grin, Jonny's nose twitched with subdued humour. "Okay. I know. Stupid question to ask an ex-cop."

"How do you take it?"

"Milk and sugar." Jonny plunked himself down at the table. "Think they'll be alright out there?"

"The men you assigned to patrol the grounds are nearby," said Steve as he joined him.

They found themselves trying not to watch the clock, all the while acutely conscious of time slipping away. There were plans of attack to be drawn up. Time was of the essence. Yet they would not interfere with Danny and Charlene at this moment. 

* * *

In leaving the tailored lawn for the expanse of pristine white sand, Charlene and Danny sought seclusion for their conversation. Wind and wave were excellent foibles. Both were aware of, and paid no heed to, the blue uniformed guard tracking their progress along the beach. The officer remained well back, keeping beneath the shade where palms and grass met sand.

"Are you all right?" The first words Danny uttered were for her welfare as they turned parallel to the ocean. His eyes traced every visible bruise and scrape on her upper body.

"I should be asking you that," she countered, adeptly avoiding answering his question.

"Charley," he insisted.

"I'm fine, Danny. Really." Charlene leaned her head against him. Knowing what he intended to ask next, she beat him to it. "He didn't rape me."

Such incredible relief emanated from Danny that she straightened. In that same instant, she felt a continued tenseness about him. He turned distant, troubling her. She paused, drew from his grasp to stare up at him in wonder and confusion.

"What is it Danny? What are you and Steve hiding?"

"Nothing."

It was as though a shutter had dropped over his soul, blocking her out of his confidences. Instead of encouraging her to speak, he appeared to want to let the topic drop.

"Danny Williams." His reactions were producing exactly the opposite effect to what he desired, which he knew he should have expected. "There's something about Tonio which you and Steve are trying to conceal from me. Isn't there?"

At her demand for the truth her husband appeared to draw still further into himself. He could not meet her eyes. Thoroughly frightened now, Charlene gripped his hands.

"Stop it, Danny," she entreated. His behaviour was far more terrifying than all of Tonio's tormenting. "We've been through far too much together over the years for you to start withholding the truth from me now. What is it? What aren't you telling me?"

An insidious numbness crept through him. Danny wished he could avoid bringing up the possibility of her having been infected with HIV. At the same time, he was forced to acknowledge Charlene had every right to know the truth.

"Danny," she entreated him.

In the face of his continued recalcitrance Charlene was growing frantic. He reached out. Gently lifting her chin until their eyes met, he searched her face as though seeking forgiveness. 

"I wish there was an easier way to break this to you, Charley," he managed. "But there isn't."

She waited expectantly, sensing the importance of what he was building up to. When he paused again her heart fluttered.

"Get to the point," she urged in desperation. The rush of anguish that flooded his features stunned her. His hand fell away from her face.

"Charley," Danny fought to get the words out, "Tonio has AIDS." His eyes fell to the sand between their feet, before returning to rest on her once more. "He as much as admitted it to me Saturday when he took you away."

"Oh, my God." Her expression indicated Charlene instantly made the connection between Danny's anguish and his words. "No wonder he hates me so much. That's why he didn't kill me, isn't it? He was planning all along to infect me with the virus and leave me alive. Wasn't he?"

Reaching out, Danny silently pulled her against him, rocking her comfortingly as he had in the hold. She was so completely still it frightened him. He wondered if indeed she could assimilate this latest attack, launched from a wholly unexpected quarter. Especially as it was something neither of them could fight should their fears came to fruition.

"The needles," she muttered. "There's a possibility I've got it, then."

"Yes."

"They tested several blood samples---" she began hopefully.

"It might not show up for years, Charley," Danny reminded her.

Her face crumbled. "Damn him. Damn him."

She stamped a foot in the sand. Then, before he could stop her she thrust out of his grasp and pivoted to face the ocean, feet in the surf. Wave rippled in, eroding the sand from beneath her toes.

"Even after all this time---"

"There may be nothing in it." Danny knew it was a lame effort to ease her fears, but he had to say something, anything. 

"I know," Charlene conceded. "And yet, it's going to mean years of testing, every six months, to make certain I'm clean. And each time we're both going to die a little with anticipation of what the results will reveal."

"If that's all there is to it, Charley---"

"And then there's you. Don't you understand?" She declared fiercely, "Even if the police catch him, Tonio's won."

"Charley."

At first she refused to acknowledge him. But when Danny spun her around to face him once more, he knew from her expression that she was listening when next he spoke.

"Will you listen to me?" He gave her a tiny shake. "It isn't that serious. Almost every needle he used on us is accounted for."

"What?"

"The police discovered them just outside the compartment where he held us," he informed her. "The lab's testing them for any trace of the virus."

Ever ready to catch an errant detail she countered, "What about the last one?"

When she referred to the one used to inject her with the narcotic Danny could only she his head, mute. Two tiny breaths shuddered out of her. Charlene wrapped her arms around her shoulders and stared down at the sand between their feet. A faint laugh choked in her throat.

"It's ironic, isn't it?" Her head rising once more she said, "I'm the one who supported the campaign to allow children infected with AIDS to attend school with healthy children."

"Charley." Danny said softly. "Tonio only wins if we allow him the victory. We've had twelve good years together. I wouldn't have missed those for the world. I think that's a excellent foundation on which to weather the ones to come, don't you?"

"What about the other two?" She retaliated with a hint of her old spirit reviving.

"Those, too," he conceded wryly, glad to see some of the fight returning in her. "I wouldn't trade them for anything."

"You're certain?"

"Absolutely." As she slid up against him, Danny hugged her. "Besides, life's always an adventure when you're around." She stiffened again, but he forced an easy laugh. She relaxed. "Better?"

"A bit."

The manner in which she spoke let him know she was drawing from him the strength to go on. The firmness in her arm around his waist communicated the extent of her appreciation for his love and continued support.

"Danny?" 

"Yes?"

"I don't want the children to know," she said. "Not unless I test positive." When Danny hesitated too long in producing an answer, Charlene insisted. "Promise me. Please Danny."

"All right, Charley," he conceded. "I promise."

Unabashed in front of their bodyguard, Charlene drew Danny's head around and down and kissed him tenderly. "I love you, Danny Williams," she declared.

He sensed she did not expect a response. The officer shifted out into the sunshine and shaded his eyes for a better view of them. Danny read the signs.

"We've wandered too far," he said. "Let's get back. Steve's going to wonder where we've gone."

"I can tell our shadow's getting antsy," Charlene noted.

As they turned toward the house, he sensed his wife's anxiety was not entirely relieved. Knew from experience that she was capable of dealing with most situations in a manner that was rivalled by few others outside the police force.

Of course that did not mean she was no longer troubled by the fresh input of information. The extent of Tonio's vindictiveness was such that even Danny still had not fully come to terms with it. Life kept throwing curves at them in a manner that was irritating almost beyond acceptance. He prayed this would be the last underhanded blow either of them would be forced to deal with. Without conscious thought his free hand slid into his trouser pocket. Danny withdrew the engagement ring.

"Here," he said softly. "This is yours."

The moment he slid it back onto her left hand Charlene's face lit up. Her expression was incredulous. He raised her fingers to his lips before releasing her hand.

"Where did you---"

"I'll let Steve tell you. Apparently he recovered it."

Blinking back a sudden rush of tears, Charlene curled her fingers around the ring. Danny gave her a tiny squeeze and checked his wristwatch. Only twenty minutes had passed since they had begun their walk. It seemed like years.

Their guard was clearly relieved when they started back to the house. He surveyed the grounds critically. Quite frankly there were far too many spots in which someone could lie concealed. As soon as they were on the flagstone walk he melted back into the foliage and began his rounds. From experience Danny knew he would eventually meet up with his partner, possibly near the driveway.

Steve heard the faint sound of sand grating on the flags and got to his feet. Jonny rose as Charlene and Danny appeared. Flashing a mischievous grin at McGarrett, Jonny indicated he would remain in the shadows until the right moment presented itself.

"Everything all right?" Steve asked as he searched Charlene's face. He noted the distant look in her eyes, the worry pinching the corners of Danny's mouth, and knew the question had been broached.

"I'm certain it will be," said Danny.

"Well, if you've both finished your tête-à-tête---" inserted Jonny.

Casually emerging from behind the kitchen wall, his voice held the exaggerated, aggrieved, somewhat petulant note of impatience of a long-lost relation having been over-looked. Leaping back at the unexpected sound of her brother's voice, Charlene knocked Danny off-balance. Steve caught at her to steady her as Danny recovered his balance. Eyes round, mouth wide, Charlene stared at Jonny, incredulous. Danny watched as joy sprang to her face.

"Jonny!"

She fairly squealed with delight. Grabbing her brother, she hugged him, momentarily trapping his arms against his sides. Then she released him and whirled him around in a circle. She concluded by kissing him soundly on the cheek. Immediately after that, she thumped him solidly in the shoulder with her fist.

"Ow!" Jonny rubbed his arm. "That hurt, Charley."

"Where on earth did you vanish to? We tried to keep track of your movements, but you literally dropped off the face of the earth. None of Danny's contacts would give us any information concerning your whereabouts," she blurted. "What the devil have you been doing?"

As she hugged Jonny a second time, she encountered something hard beneath his left arm. Releasing him, Charlene reached down and flipped back the left side of her brother's jacket. Sight of the weapon in its shoulder holster apparently told the story. She released her grasp on his lapel. Danny put an arm around Charlene's shoulders.

"Charley," he remarked, "you're catching flies."

Abruptly aware her jaw had remained open on the heels of her discovery, Charlene snapped her mouth shut. On a more serious note, she concluded, "What is that?"

"My weapon," her brother replied simply.

"My weapon, he says." She snorted and blinked slowly, conveying a determination to get a reply to her question. "What do you mean by that?" 

"You forgot," Jonny told her. "I'm a cop."

"If I may," put in Steve before Jonny could go any further. "Charley, may I present Lieutenant Jonathen Mattheson, Honolulu Police Department, Missing Persons Division."

"Are you serious?" She barely managed to get the question out. Her brother nodded solemnly. The look on his sister's face was quite comical. "Well," she said, "belated congratulations."

"Now ask him where your children are," suggested McGarrett. An element of mischief surfaced in him that Charlene had never suspected existed in one-time head of Five-0.

"Jonny?"

Prompted by Steve McGarrett, she stared at her brother. Her expression was such that he was positive it would have ripped the truth from any erring child. As in the past, he discovered himself succumbing to her insistence.

"With my fiancée's parents," he sheepishly admitted.

"Your fiancée?" Charlene was not alone in voicing her astonishment. Danny reached out to shake Jonny's hand. Charlene continued, "Is she here, too?"

"Katrina's been on Kauai," Steve replied.

"With your wife?"

"Sort of," replied Steve. "The other way around, actually. They've been assisting Katrina's parents in caring for the children."

"All things considered," Jonny rapidly filled in, "Steve and I thought it for the best. The kids needed someone they could trust to turn to. Since I didn't have the time, and it wasn't safe for them to remain here, Trina's folks were only too happy to have them over the Easter holidays. They've raised four of their own, after all. Trina wanted to spend the long weekend with her parents, so it sort of worked out all round."

"And Amanda?"

Steve pointedly refused to rise to the bait. Instead, he deferred, "Amanda will be in later. We'll talk about it then. In the meantime, Jonny and I would like a private word with you, Danny."

"I suppose this means I'm about to be abandoned again."

Steve McGarrett merely raised an eyebrow to that rhetorical question. When Steve adeptly out-manoeuvred her, Charlene pouted at being excluded from their proposed discussion. From their expressions, she knew she would be unable to argue her way into their discussion circle.

'Police business intrudes once again,' she mused. 'It's incredible. Steve and Danny are both retired, and yet it's strangely comforting to see the old routine reasserting itself.'

With a feigned sigh of resignation, she kissed Danny's cheek and slipped indoors, leaving the men to their conversation.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT


Jonny left at seven forty-five with excuses that he had paperwork to catch up on at the office. He caught Steve's commiserating look as he slid into his vehicle. The hours of a detective were long and arduous. Particularly when the boss---in this instance, Ben Kokua---was absent, for whatever reason. Fortunately, Jonny was young and fairly unaffected by the stress that caught up with most officers by the time they hit their early forties.

With a farewell wave, Steve, Danny and Charlene returned to the house. Charlene cast one final glance over her shoulder just as her brother's car turned onto the road at the end of the drive. There was so much to catch up on. Burying a sigh of irritation, she wandered into the living room. Her eyes slid across the decor, admiring the layout and the furnishings. There was a definite atmosphere that spoke of Steve McGarrett. Liberally sprinkled amongst that was the hand of a down-to-earth woman.

Several large paintings on the walls illustrated island scenery. The representation above the fireplace was of storm driven waves crashing against lava protrusions. A sand and beige rug carpeted the floor across the entire sunken floor space. This complimented the high-back couch with its autumn and coffee coloured brushed cotton. Padded, rolled arms and warm brown wood accented the couch. A matching chair and ottoman counter-pointed one side of the conversation area, while a red-brown swivel rocker balanced the grouping. The coffee table at the centre of this was a fairly solid commode stained to tone in with the couch. Its surface was inlaid with carving and protected by a sheet of glass. An ornamental dish occupied the top. 

A built-in wall unit to the left was filled with an assortment of books on various factual and fictional items. A stereo unit tucked into one nook in the sectional. On either side of the fireplace rested, respectively, an octagon-shaped occasional table and a low bookcase.

The bookcase caught Charlene's eye. It was filled with what could only have been Steve's reference manuals from his years on the force. Resting on top were three photos in maple stained frames. She studied them curiously and her mood lightened. A number of good memories were associated with the setting and focal point of the camera's attention. The closest portrait momentarily entranced her. Not being familiar with any of the subjects apart from Steve, she wondered what his last partners had been like.

Behind her, Charlene caught the muted rumble of voices.
Danny appeared to be relaxing, for which she was immensely grateful. She reflected it would have been a far more pleasant atmosphere had the previous six days not continued to intrude, raising its ugly head at every available opportunity.

"I've got something for you, Danno," she heard Steve say from just behind her left shoulder.

Curious, Charlene turned away from the bookcase just in time to see him hold out his hand. "Jonny asked me to give this to you after he left."

When Danny accepted it she saw Steve had handed him a handgun in a shoulder holster. Danny flicked off the safety strap, drew the weapon from its holster. Releasing the catch, he flipped the chamber open, automatically checking the interior before closing it up and returning it to its holster. The unconscious, practised ease with which he performed the entire movement reminded his audience of his days with Five-O. Charlene felt her heart thump in her throat.

"Thanks, Steve."

"We thought you'd appreciate having it," commented McGarrett congenially, "given the situation."

He cast a regretful look in Charlene's direction. She forced her thoughts away from weapons, away from the images they conjured of the late afternoon patio conference. Whatever the three men had discussed obviously still preoccupied both her husband and Steve.

Her gaze returned to the photo whose subjects she had never met just as headlights flashed across the living room window. Steve straightened away from the counter against which he had been leaning. Before he had crossed the room, the front door opened.

"Steve?"

Interest pricked, Charlene waited for the woman to appear. There was no doubting the identity of this newcomer however. Steve McGarrett swiftly crossed the upper floor to greet his wife. Danny joined Charlene as Steve returned.

The woman on his arm was taller by half a head than Charlene. Her hair had been allowed to turn grey gracefully. She carried herself with confidence and, Charlene assessed shrewdly, with the brisk, measured stride of someone familiar with either the police force or the military. Startling green eyes met Charlene's blue-grey ones. Held them with friendly curiosity while Steve directed his companion to his friends. 

"Charley. Danny," he said. "I'd like you to meet my wife. Amanda, this is Dan and Charlene Williams."

"Hello," they responded in unison.

"I'm so pleased to meet you both at long last," Amanda greeted them warmly.

Danny smiled, while Charlene continued her objective study. Amanda descended the steps to the living room to shake Danny's hand. As she kissed Charlene on the cheek, she demonstrated the same competent ability Steve possessed to measure a person.

"Thank you so much for looking after the children," Charlene managed.

"It was no trouble at all," deferred Amanda.

When Charlene wrinkled up her nose expressively, Danny laughed. "Try again."

Amanda feigned a hurt look in the face of their disbelief. "You don't believe me. They really are wonderful children. And terribly bright."

"Yes," Charlene acknowledged sourly. "And a terrible handful, too."

As Amanda conceded the point, Steve collected her over-night bag and carried it into the master bedroom. He returned and disappeared into the kitchen to make coffee. Charlene adjusted her weight. She felt strangely awkward in Amanda's company. The woman was a wholly unknown quantity, projecting a somewhat unfathomable element. Not being familiar with Amanda's background, Charlene could not adequately judge her own position in this new equation. She turned to Danny, and her elbow bumped the bookcase. Something rattled and clinked.

"Nuts," she muttered.

"Are you alright?" Danny quietly asked. Charlene nodded. Rubbing her elbow to alleviate the fresh bruise she had just added to the ones presently fading from her arm, she looked around for the item that had fallen over.

The photos remained standing. But something that had been obscured by two of the frames now protruded between them. As she picked it up to set it straight, Charlene's delight was unbounded.

"Steve," she exclaimed with unconcealed delight, "You kept it."

In the entrance to the kitchen, Steve paused. "Kept what?"

Charlene displayed the figurine. At her side a change came over Danny. She looked up, saw a peculiar light in the depths of his eyes. She set the ornament back in its place.

Without missing a beat, Steve McGarrett asked, "Shouldn't I have?"

When Charlene's gaze returned to them, he and Danny were startled to see tears glistening on her eyelashes. Irritable that her emotions were getting the better of her, she rubbed a hand beneath her nose, struggling to control the flood of sentiment.

"Charley?" Danny touched her arm. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." She gave him a little push, took two steps, hovering there, clearly wanting to go somewhere, anywhere. But she did not want to be alone. 
Concerned, Danny watched her. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she countered. "Really."

Amanda understood instantly. Taking the situation firmly in hand, she rested a hand on Charlene's forearm and glared at Steve and Danny.

"Men," she snorted. "Come along, Charley. Let's you and I get some fresh air and have a little chat."

Steve hid his amusement. Danny's eyes followed the departing women with a hint of confusion. Charlene made no effort to draw free of Amanda's guidance as they disappeared outside. Once they passed from view he turned to Steve.

"What was that all about?"

McGarrett shrugged expressively. "Charley's been through an unusually harrowing experience, Danno. She's obviously in need of female companionship at the moment. While she was in the military, Amanda counselled some of her junior staff. I'd say she read the signs." At the change in Danny's expression, Steve's mood turned serious. "Not denying the fact that you haven't." His brow furrowed. "I can't think what set her off, though."

One finger running delicately along the china colt's spine, Danny thought he knew the reason. Knew, too, that Steve would reach the same conclusion shortly. He forced himself away from thoughts of Maui. Too many memories kept surfacing of late. The women had settled at the patio table. He could just make out their voices. They were obviously in the midst of an intense discussion.

Concerned, he asked, "Will they be alright out there?"

"They should be," stated Steve. "There are rotating patrols on the grounds, and a cruiser driving by roughly every hour or so. As long as they stay on the patio, they'll be fine."

Guilt struck deep at Danny. "Are we doing the right thing, Steve?"

McGarrett countered, "In what?"

"I've never liked the idea of keeping Charley in the dark," Danny continued as though his friend had not spoken.

Steve joined him at the side of the room. With one elbow resting on the shelf that ran across the front of the hearth, Steve McGarrett contemplated the scenario they had drawn up earlier.

"We don't have many options open to us, Danno. It's a safe bet Tonio knows by now Charlene escaped."

"But he may not be aware that I'm free."

"Either way, there's little else we can do to get him out in the open," said Steve, ever the realist.

"I suppose." Danny glumly mused over the truth behind that statement.

He watched the women's silhouettes through the screen, his thoughts tumbling over each other in rapid succession. To catch a crook one sometimes needed special bait. No. He definitely did not appreciate the old roles into which circumstances had once again thrown them. Danny's legs began to tremble with the strain of standing for so long. Without a word, he crossed the room and dropped onto the chair. Steve disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned, he was carrying two mugs of coffee. They sat in companionable silence, side by side, sipping their drinks and waiting for the women to return.

* * *

Huddled beneath the protection of two coarse wool blankets, cast-offs of the military, Antonio Nicholaidis shivered and sweated and cursed his misfortune. Time was growing increasingly short. Before long he would be too sick to carry through the rest of his scheme. The virus was unrelenting. He knew he was running a high fever. Each tremor that racked his body seemed to pulse in time to the gusts of wind whipping off the ocean. Although the breeze was not particularly strong, the walls of the ancient fishing shack shuddered. Sometimes they bowed visibly. Drafts stabbed about the interior of the hut. Tonio curled into a tiny ball on the crude bed he had fashioned for himself atop some old packing crates.

Only luck had prevented him walking into the police net cordoning off the scrap yard. If a flash of lightening had not illuminated the scene at just the right moment, if the cop had not moved in the shadows, Tonio knew he would have been caught. As it was, he had frozen against a stack of old sheet metal, waiting for his night vision to be restored, before slipping away, back through the gap in the fence and hedge.

A quick survey of the abandoned shed near the gravel pit confirmed Charlene had also eluded him. He dared not return to any of his old haunts, now. Infuriated and stymied, Tonio tossed and turned. Whether or not Williams died was irrelevant. Tonio knew he himself was dying by inches as a direct result of Charlene's interference in Seventy-six.

'Those damned Matthesons! Most of all Jonny's bitch of a sister!'

It was her fault. If it had not been for her, Tonio angrily considered, he would never have contracted AIDS from those perverted fairies in the pen. By rights he should have been relaxing on some beach in Buenos Aires, enjoying the sun and the dames. For that reason alone, his all-encompassing passion was to leave Charlene with the same legacy of pain and suffering which he had incurred. There had to be a way to finish the job.

Blankets wrapped around him to ward off the chill in the air, Tonio sat up. Hunched over his knees he racked his brains for a solution to his problem in a reconstruction of his past. Surveying the interior of the shack, he retraced his movements. He had taken a great risk knocking off the Walk In Clinic pharmacy. But it had been the only place he could appropriate the necessary drugs to immobilise his victims. That, coupled with snuffing the mule for the stash he had planned to inject into Charlene, he had run a constant risk of being picked up. But he had taken steps to avoid the police, leaving no fingerprints at the clinic. No one could state with certainty that he had been in the company of the dead runner.

Nor had he been foolish enough to remain at his original residence. This old shack might not be particularly cosy, but it was liveable. It was a good thing he had stocked his hideout with canned and freeze-dried goods immediately after the kidnapping. That decision now ensured he would not have to appear in public where the cops were liable to spot him. Then things had turned sour.

"Damn pigs," muttered Tonio.

Reaching out, he snagged the spare copy of the same paper he had left in the ship's hold. The children's escape on the beach had started his run of bad luck. The little buggers sure could run. He knew they were the reason the police had eventually found Williams. For that reason alone he was glad they were dead. What was it Diedre Streit had once said?

"Nits breed lice," he reflected. "Yeah. Damn rights they do. Should have squished the little bastards on the beach. Never should have let them escape the first time. Wished I could've seen their faces when the car went over."

He sneered, relishing the memory of the fear on their faces as he had prepared to send them over the edge. Then the tow truck had intervened. Even so they had died. All three must have experienced incredible terror as the car had plunged over the edge. The anguish McGarrett suffered in that instant when he realised he had failed to protect them served as sauce to the images Tonio conjured in his mind.

"Too bad, big man. They were smart little buggers, all right." Tonio slammed a fist weakly against the side of the crate. "Just like their mother. But you'll pay, bitch. You still owe me. I'll make certain you pay, if it's the last thing I do."

The sound of the wind began to abate. Tonio stared at his watch. It was three o'clock in the morning. Rolled up on his side once more, he dozed. He woke with a start as the first fingers of dawn peeped through the gaps in the wallboards. With his waking, the final elements of his plan coalesced. He knew how to achieve his desired solution. As he took his injection of medication, a cruel smile curled his lips into a derisive sneer, and the light in his eyes was that of a madman.



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE


26 April 1990

Elbows on the desktop, Steve McGarrett leaned forward. Chin resting on one fist, he stared down the length of the room at his two companions. Danny and Jonny had their heads together, in serious discussion concerning some item or other one of them had pinpointed in the files spread across the woodwork between them. There were dark shadows under Danny's eyes that belied his forced cheerfulness. Steve reflected on the previous week and a half as he struggled to re-immerse himself in the case.

It had been Danny who had appeared to recover first. Working with Steve and Jonny on the case in search of the elusive Tonio had gone far to put the nightmarish experience behind him. On the other hand, Charlene had appeared to start at every sound or movement she caught from the corner of her eye. After four days of it, she had discovered for herself what she was doing and made a conscious effort to stop it.

Having houseguests meant Steve slept light. Consequently he was intense conscious that Charlene and Danny were suffering from recurring nightmares. There was little he could do except be there for them, to lend them the moral support anyone required under the same circumstances.

With Danny working at HPD, Charlene was left with far too much time on her hands. By mutual agreement, it was agreed the children would remain on Kauai where Katrina's parents registered them at the local school so they could conclude their term. Charlene used the interlude to swim, take long walks with guards in tow, and read. The bruises rapidly faded from her body and she began to acquire a tan. Her battered psyche, however, would take far longer to recover from the abuse she had suffered. And Steve was well aware Charlene knew this. She had been this route before.

Amanda did her best to keep Charlene preoccupied whenever she was home from work. Taking Charlene shopping for food, clothing and accents to the condominium proved something of a chore, however. Charlene balked at unexpected turns as she identified people from her past, evidently fearful of being recognised in turn. She reluctantly admitted to Amanda that she was in no hurry to renew acquaintances, heartily relieved each time they returned home. When Steve spoke to his wife about the incidents, Amanda reassured him and Danny that this condition would eventually disappear.

Sunday, Steve had taken them out on the Feckless Miss. With some amusement he had allowed Charlene the opportunity to try her hand at the finer arts of sailing. She had capitulated to his expertise in that field with good humour. Reefing sails was not her forte. Several times she had nearly wound up in the water, to everyone's amusement. Toward late afternoon, with Danny beginning to show signs of sunburn, Steve brought them home.

Over the past three days, Charlene had begun to display indications of increasing restlessness. She had broached the subject to Danny, requesting permission to visit the condo and clean it up. Her abrupt silence in the face of their vocal opposition worried all three men. Steve knew only too well what Charlene was like when backed into a corner.

'And that's something Tonio should have remembered but evidently hadn't,' reflected McGarrett.

At the opposite end of the long table, Danny glanced up unexpectedly and caught Steve's eye. "Penny for them."

Steve shook his head. "Just thinking."

"About Charley?" Steve nodded. Danny frowned. He concluded collating another batch of reports on suspected sightings. "I'm going to have to find something more productive for her to do, Steve. And soon." 

In the middle of their conversation Jonny got to his feet and stabbed a series of pushpins into the board with unwarranted viciousness. His actions directly reflected all their pent-up frustrations. McGarrett pushed his spine back against the swivel chair, tilting the upper portion until he heard several vertebrae click back into place. He was stiffening up after several hours hunched over the desk. The sensation was an old one. Strangely enough, he enjoyed it.

"Are you afraid she'll resort to something she shouldn't?" Jonny glanced over his shoulder.

Danny scratched his forehead reflectively. His brother-in-law remained standing to one side of the large map. The overview depicting Oahu was fairly bristling with coloured pushpins. Their profusion was an added frustration.

"I've never been able to keep more than half a step ahead of her," he admitted sourly. Charlene was definitely not someone anyone should attempt to second-guess, except perhaps Steve McGarrett.

"You surprise me," commented Jonny with a daunting gleam in his eye. "I'd have thought if anyone was capable of keeping my sister in line, it would've been you."

"You've got a hope," shot back Danny. They all laughed. Danny sobered first. "Seriously, though, Steve. Is there anything at all we can set her at to keep her occupied?"

Jonny shook his head ruefully and turned to Steve as Danny sought his old partner's assistance. McGarrett appeared to be somewhat at a loss, also. Their reunion had left all of them feeling no time at all had transpired since their separation. But he could not, for the life of him think what they could task Charlene to do, thereby keeping her busy and out of trouble, while still under police protection.

"If all she does is clean up the condo, Danno," reflected Steve finally, "it might be a good idea to let her get out and about. The officers assigned to her should be able to protect her."

Dubious, Danny voiced their chief concern. "And if Tonio's playing a waiting game?"

"All the better," declared Jonny savagely.

"I don't think any of us is going to hear the end of this when she figures out what we're up to." Danny thrust aside the folder on the tabletop and drew his mug to him. "You do realise that, don't you?"

"Look at it this way, Danny." Jonny bluntly laid it out. "Ben hit it on the nose during his call from D.C. this morning. If Tonio makes another move against Charley, it'll mean he's failed to carry through the final stage of his plans. It'll confirm she's clean."

Danny was reluctantly forced to admit there was that unwholesome aspect to take into consideration. He was thoroughly convinced Tonio meant every word he had uttered the night he removed Charlene from the ship's hold. The entire unsavoury situation left Danny warring with his conscience. One half of him wanted them to catch Tonio and put him away before he harmed Charlene, or anyone else. The other half of Danny actually wanted to see the Italian make a move against his wife. In a perverse turn they all knew it would set their minds at ease, proving to her, and them, that she was not infected with AIDS. Danny wrenched himself away from the looming gulf in his mind. A knock at the door announced the entry of one of the secretaries. She slipped a report into the In-basket and disappeared without a word. Jonny picked up the folder.

"Ah, good." He caught the eyes of his companions. "See what you make of this." After a quick flip to get re-acquainted with the contents, Jonny began, "A Walk In Clinic on the East Side of the Island was broken into by suspects or suspect unknown. The only stock items reported missing were a dozen ampoules of sedative and a box of hypodermic needles."

The air in the room seemed to have gone unseasonably cold. Danny suppressed a shiver. He knew if they cross-referenced the spent containers taken from the hold of the trawler with those stolen from the clinic, they would match perfectly.

"Tonio," declared Steve with conviction.

"My thoughts precisely," said Jonny. He replaced the file and picked up another from his 'Pending'. "Now, listen to this one. Chris Farnham, known fence and mule for one of the local drug pushers was found dead of an over-dose in the alley behind the Blue Lagoon bar."

"Chris Farnham?" Danny mentally juggled the name. "That sounds familiar.
"It does, doesn't it?" Steve agreed, searching his memory.

"It should," commented Jonny bitterly. "Chris was one of the crowd I used to run with."

"Curious," remarked Steve. "When did this happen?"

"Funny you should ask," said Jonny. "He was discovered at one-thirty in the morning, April eleventh."

"The day Charlene and I had our initial run-in with Tonio," said Danny tightly.

"Right."

"Could be we've just discovered some extra information to add to this case."

Steve nodded an affirmation to Danny's statement. Jonny concurred. The pieces fit smoothly into two of the gaps in the picture they had been constructing on their adversary's movements. A black scowl creased his face.

"So," he declared, "now we know where he got his hands on the drugs. All we have to do is locate the slippery bastard." He turned to the final page of the report. "On a final note, Danny. Not all of those hypos were from the boat where you and Charley were held. There was a hypo in the bushes outside her last prison. It tested negative as well."

"Batting a thousand," muttered Danny to himself.

"Ought to make my sister rest a little easier, anyway."

The phone rang. Jonny picked it up. "Mattheson." Jonny's expression went completely blank. "What? Yeah. Charley, you shouldn't---I know you're bored. That doesn't mean you have to go running around making a target of yourself. Damn it, Charley, will you just listen to me for once." Obviously she refused to listen, for he sighed heavily. "I suppose so. Just---watch yourself, will you?"

Jonny slammed down the receiver. Danny leaned forward. "What was that all about?"

"Nothing. Everything. How the hell do I know?" Jonny flung up his hands. "How the hell do I tell my sister she can't do something, Steve?"

McGarrett straightened in his chair. "What's wrong?"

"It's Charley. She's going over to the condo, and then she wants to go shopping."

"Damn," Danny swore. He was at once worried and furious with his wife for her continued stubbornness despite the inherent dangers in what she was about to do. But there was no tying Charlene down once she set her mind to something.

"Easy, Danno." Steve got to his feet and went to the window to stare outside. "She'll be all right. And this is probably the break we've needed. Jonny, can you set up a net in short order?"

Jonny nodded. "Sure."

"Good." Steve made no effort to conceal the grim pleasure at the situation. "Now we wait and see if Tonio takes the bait."



CHAPTER THIRTY


Tossing the last, limp celery stalk into the garbage bag, Charlene tied off the neck and set it beside the door. Jerry Offutt watched her with amusement as she surveyed the interior of the condo one final time. She had gone over the place from top to bottom, vacuuming and dusting, unpacking the remainder of the articles in the suitcases and hanging everything up. She had finished off by removing all of the deceased perishables smelling up the refrigerator and deodorised the interior with baking soda. Her disgust with the waste was evident.

"Is that everything, Charlene?" Patience itself, Jerry waited for her to finish.

"Looks like," she admitted.

Charlene retrieved her purse, picked up the garbage and opened the door. Jerry checked the hall. He gave her the 'all clear'. They passed the disposal chute en route to the elevator. Charlene barely broke stride in passing to open the trap and deposit the bag. Hitting the squelch button on the radio riding at his hip, Jerry informed his partner they were on their way down before boarding the elevator.

"Home," he asked Charlene as they stepped into the lift. To Jerry's question, Charlene shook her head. "There's a couple of things I want to look for in the International Market to send to friends in Spokane."

Jerry argued the wisdom of her decision. "Can't this wait until after the case is wrapped up, Charlene?"

"I want to do this now, Jerry. I promised my friends they'd have those gifts by the end of this week," she countered with the proverbial mulishness her family and closest friends knew of old.

"I'm sure they'll understand if you hold off," he insisted. "There's no logic in making a target of yourself."

"Jerry, I'm going shopping," she insisted. Her jaw set in a stubborn line that he had come to identify over the previous few days as being indicative of Charlene at her worst. She was not about to be deterred from her chosen course.

"Can't it wait?" Jerry attempted to reason with her.

The elevator reached the garage level and they disembarked. Charlene purposefully refrained from answering him until they were halfway to the car. By then her companion was growing openly impatient with her studious silence.

"For God's sake, Charlene," he exploded. "Do you have to be so damned stubborn?"

"Stubborn? I didn't think you had noticed," she retorted with biting sarcasm.

"Charlene!" Jerry begged her to be reasonable. "For the love of---What are your brother and McGarrett going to think when we report in on our next destination? What about your husband?"

"Jerry, I am fed up to here," expounded Charlene, flipping one hand sharply above the top of her head in a highly descriptive gesture, "with being forced to exist, cooped up like some flipping criminal. I'm not the one who's at fault here."

Jerry's partner looked up as the sound of the argument reached him. He was justifiably uneasy and extremely uncomfortable being caught in the middle of her tirade against his partner. From the expression on Jerry's face, Ken Donnelly knew his partner was fast losing patience with Charlene. Nor did either of them envy Dan Williams. The ex-cop had tied into a real live one when he had married Charlene Mattheson. It was a wonder their marriage had lasted twelve years.

"Jesus Christ, woman! Be reasonable!"

"I'm tired of being asked to be reasonable." Charlene halted a short distance from the car. "That bastard has terrorised and tried to kill my children. He almost killed my husband, and he put me through an experience for which I'd personally like to kick him where it counts. I refuse to have my life reduced to bare existence as well."

With those words, she yanked open the passenger-door and got in, slamming it behind her with sufficient force to rock the car. The thump echoed hollowly about the entire underground parking area.

"So," Ken asked his partner helplessly. "Where to now, bradda?"

"The International Market," growled Jerry angrily.

He made one concession that Charlene wholly supported. As soon as they had cleared the parking area, he informed Despatch of their destination. The information was passed directly to Jonny. Both Jerry and Ken were surprised when they failed to receive a call back ordering them to take Charlene directly home despite her decision to go shopping. Ken discovered he was glancing repeatedly into the rear view mirror. But traffic was at its peak. He was unable to ascertain whether or not they were being tailed.

As usual the Market was a bustling nightmare of tourists and shopkeepers, university students, businessmen, and pickpockets on the make. Both officers knew the minute they entered the crowd it would be almost impossible to adequately protect Charlene. Locating a spot two blocks from the Market, Jerry parked the vehicle. They got out.

"Well," gestured Jerry impatiently, "it's all yours. Got anything specific in mind?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," Charlene flippantly informed him.

She plunged into the crowd like a swimmer breasting the combers off Makaha. Jerry surreptitiously signalled Ken. His partner nodded and fell back while he remained within arm's reach of Charlene. Ken faded into a spot in the shadows from which he could watch them without being seen.

Spotting a store that sold the ubiquitous kukui nut necklaces, earrings and pendants, Charlene halted and began browsing through various pieces and prices. Both her guards were grateful when Charlene made her purchase quickly and moved on. As Ken was about to step into the crowd to follow Charlene and Jerry, he caught sight of a figure shadowing them.

The man was stealthily working his way through the milling crowd of shoppers, rapidly closing the gap on the pair. A break in the crowd allowed him a clear view of the stalker.

"God damn it," Ken cursed, and began elbowing his way frantically through the press of bodies. He pulled his radio from beneath his windbreaker. "Donnelly to Offutt! Jerry! I've spotted him. He's closing on you!"

Before Jerry could react Tonio cannoned into him, knocking him off-balance. The officer staggered sideways, struggling to regain his footing. Again Tonio shouldered him, this time sending him staggering into a narrow break between stalls before he could counter the attack. Teeth bared in a fierce snarl, Tonio followed.

Between one breath and the next Jerry sensed the descending knife. He twisted sideways, presenting the smallest target possible. In that he nearly succeeded in evading his attacker. At the last second, Tonio changed the direction of his blow, bringing the blade up into Jerry's back. Jerry's entire left side went numb. All feeling left his legs. He collapsed, sprawled against a wall.

Tonio made no effort to finish the job. His principle quarry was escaping. He slid back into the crowd before anyone in the vicinity realised what had transpired. Caught up in the press, Ken physically shoved people aside to reach his partner, all the while talking into his handset.

"Officer down! Officer down!" He anxiously reported, finally clearing the stream. He reached his partner. Knelt beside him. "Get me Lieutenant Mattheson immediately."

"This is Mattheson. I copy that, Despatch," came back Jonny's voice. "Donnelly! What's happening?"

"We're at the International Market. I've located our suspect. He's just knifed Jerry and is after Missus Williams."

"Copy that." There was a click. Then, "We're just up the block. Which way are they headed?"

Ken stood, studying the crowd in an effort to locate Tonio. He found the Italian weaving expertly through the milling population in the square. Of Charlene, there was no sign.

"Damn!" Depressing the switch, Ken reported. "No sign of Missus Williams. I think she's bolted for the nearest exit. Can't be sure."

"Which way's the suspect headed?"

"Towards the Kanekapolei exit."

"Okay. We're on it. Stay with Jerry."

"Understood."

Ken squatted beside his partner, listening to the exchange as Jonny Mattheson ordered all units to be on the look out for Charlene and Tonio. He examined Jerry's injury. Blood burbled from the entry point, suggesting a pierced lung.

"Bad?" Between one gasp and the next Jerry asked for the truth on his condition.

"Might be. Depends on whether or not he hit anything vital." Ken prevaricated, waiting for a break in the rush of orders between members of the team searching for their missing quarry to call in their requirements. "Donnelly to Despatch. Tell the medics we're about a third of the way up from the Kalakaua entrance. Jerry's bleeding pretty badly."

"Copy that, Donnelly. Paramedics are en route."

Ken hastily removed his windbreaker. Fashioning a pillow from it, he slid it beneath his partner's head. Jerry clutched at his arm for support.


"Where's Charlene?" Jerry asked between gasps.

"No sign of her."

"Smart lady," whispered Jerry. "Observant. She must have spotted him when he took me out, and escaped. Get the bastard, Ken. I'll be okay."

"The Lieutenant's already on it, Jerry. I'm staying with you, as per orders," countered his partner fiercely. An ambulance siren split the air, its warble rapidly approaching the market.

* * *

It was Tonio's abrupt side step into Jerry Offutt that had caught Charlene's eye. Jerry's assailant was wearing dark sunglasses and a hairpiece that took ten years off his age. Even so, Charlene pierced Tonio's disguise in an instant. Dumping her purchases on the nearest counter, she ran. If Jerry successfully dealt with her pursuer, she reasoned, she would know soon enough. For the moment it was far more important to put as much distance between her and that spot as possible. If she found an adequate bolt hole, all the better.

Two groups of tourists blocked her path. She bobbed rudely between them, neatly slipping through the knot they formed, ignoring complaints from several elderly people on whose toes she trod in her desperation to get by.

Bursting from the exit, Charlene hovered indecisively on the street. It was plainly easier to be the pursuer, rather than the quarry. She had so little time in which to plan. She raced along the sidewalk in the direction of the waterfront. It was more open there. And there was always the chance she would encounter a couple of police officers on their beat. If she was fast enough, and her strength held out, she might actually make it as far as Fort Derussey. Behind her came the pounding of Tonio's runners on the pavement. Her sandals slipped on the heat slick sidewalk.

"Great going, Charley," she panted to herself in anger. "Just great. That's what you get for acting the tourist. You might have thought ahead and worn runners instead."

Skittering around a corner, Charlene saw what appeared to be a shortcut between two buildings. She dodged into it and skidded to a halt.

'A blind alley! Damn.'

Several galvanised garbage cans and a couple of plastic pails lined one wall. Cardboard cartons littered the avenue and a massive metal dumpster stood against the building to her left.

"Damn! Damn! Damn!" She swore a litany.

There had been too many changes and too many years between her and this city. New developments had sprung up everywhere, throwing off her sense of direction. Casting about, Charlene chose what appeared to be the best course of action. Without pausing to consider the consequences, she went up and over the side of the dumpster, dropping in amongst the garbage. Refuse piled to within two feet of the top stank in the heat. Flies went up in a cloud, settling the minute she stopped moving. She struggled to calm the wild beating of her heart so she could hear what was transpiring beyond her refuge. A number of the flies attempted to land on her face. Charlene batted at them, shooing them away. They returned several times before electing to move away.

The rapid patter of footfalls burst on the scene and halted. Tonio moved forward hesitantly, heading in the direction of the smaller canisters. Several lids clanked. She heard him kick a couple of the larger cartons. Then a lengthy silence followed.

It would only be a matter of minutes before he figured out where she was. Glancing up, around the lip of the lid blocking off half of the top, Charlene caught sight of a fire escape ladder immediately overhead. In the alley a tin can clattered once and was still.

Something caused her internal alarm to clang. Charlene's heart launched itself into her throat and she acted on instinct, leaping to the top of the dumpster. As she left her hiding place she looked down over the side. Tonio was just reaching up to peer inside. He paused. Leered up at her.

"Ain't gonna do you no good, Charley," he called, smug, satisfied that he had cornered her. "I won't kill you, so why not make things easy on yourself?"

Charlene leapt upwards. Her feet were on the bottom rung of the fire escape before she realised she had made contact with it. As she scrambled up, it jerked sharply beneath her. At the top she paused and glanced down. Tonio had made the initial jump. While she caught her breath, he drew himself up onto the bottom rung. As soon as his footing was secure he fumbled out a hypodermic.

"Come on, Charley," he crooned. "It ain't gonna hurt. You'll soar like the birds for a couple of hours. Then it'll be all over and you won't see me no more."

"Go suck eggs," she advised him rudely.

Tonio turned beet-red. He slashed at her exposed feet. Charlene flinched as he swung. Instinctively tightening her grasp on the top rung, she drew her feet up beneath her. The needle missed. She had to get away.

A hand came down on top hers. In spite of herself Charlene let out a short scream. She fought the instinctive urge to release her grasp on the rung and stared up at the new threat above.

"Charley, it's okay."

"Danny!" Charlene gasped with relief. Her face white as a sheet, she scrambled over the railing to his side. "Where did you come from?"

Then she spotted the two-way radio her husband wore over his left hip. His weapon was drawn and ready. He depressed the send button. "Jonny, I've found Charley. Tonio's here, too."

"Be there in two shakes," was the reply.

Charlene looked back down the ladder. She caught the flash of white as Tonio's face turned upward. Sight of Dan Williams halted to pusher. He glared up at them for a full minute before electing to toss the needle away. It landed on top of the refuse in the dumpster. Danny marked where it fell.

"You ain't gettin' off, bitch," Tonio informed Charlene. "And you better keep lookin' over your shoulder. Both of you, 'cause when you least expect it, I'll be there."

With that he pushed clear of the ladder and landed amid the garbage. He scrambled over the side. Danny drew Charlene away, toward the entrance into the building before attempting to explain his presence.

"The moment Jerry told us you were on your way to the Market, we headed down here."

"Just in case," she put in, glancing over her shoulder toward the alley as Danny directed her indoors. The fire door clicked softly shut, momentarily compressing the air about them in the passage. "How is Jerry? Will he be okay?"

"Medics are on the scene, but I'm sure he's going to be fine."

"Good." Charlene frowned. "So---what are you doing here?"

"We couldn't take a chance on anything going wrong," he said.

His wife stopped dead in her tracks. Stared at him, furious. She blurted, "You set me up!" Pivoting, she drove a solid punch into her husband's arm. "Didn't you?"

Accustomed to her response when he kept things a secret from her until the last minute, Danny winced. But in the face of her accusation Dan Williams flushed red to the roots of his hair. His gun hand curled over his bruised left shoulder. He nodded.

Charlene demanded, "So whose idea was it? Yours, Steve's or Jonny's?"

"Yes," he replied, magnanimously spreading the blame all round.

Teeth gritting in anger, Charlene whirled and stomped down the stairs to the main entrance. Danny trailed in her wake, wisely giving her time to blow off steam. He knew she understood their motives and would very shortly forgive them their somewhat heavy-handed tactics.

* * *

As Tonio scrambled out of the dumpster, Steve McGarrett appeared at the mouth of the alley. The pusher paused at the sight of his nemesis. Then because he knew McGarrett was no longer a cop, he stalked slowly toward the retired head of Five-O.

McGarrett ordered, "Stop right there, Tonio."

"No way, McGarrett," retorted the pusher.

On the heels of his declaration, Tonio snapped his switchblade into view and dove across the intervening space. Not quite prepared for the unorthodox attack, McGarrett went down beneath the impact of the Italian's body. They rolled over and over in the filth of the alley, finally fetching up against the brick wall of the opposite building. Steve lost his grip on his weapon. The pistol tumbled away, vanishing amongst the trash. Tonio slashed. Fire lanced up the underside of Steve's arm. He struggled to keep the knife at bay. Another scoring took him across his left thigh as Tonio employed every trick in the book to finish him.

Unable to get a clean hit on his opponent, Tonio began to whine with insane desperation. Throwing all his weight to bear, he strove to bash McGarrett's head against the asphalt beneath them. Steve brought his right forearm up beneath Tonio's jaw in turn, striving to push his enemy clear. An arm appeared from above, seemingly out of nowhere. It hooked beneath Tonio's chin just as Steve's grip slipped.

As the arm tightened, dragging the weight from atop him, Steve pushed back, getting clear of the scene. Tonio writhed and broke free of the new threat. He rolled and bounced to his feet with an exhibition of agility wholly at odds with his age and the disease eating at him. On the way up he somehow located and retrieved his switchblade.

"Always the punk," reflected Jonny Mattheson with cool deliberation, strangely unaffected as he finally confronted his school years' nemesis.

"Come and get me, pig!"

Tonio took a swipe at Jonny. Jonny shifted back, hands held out from his sides, watching for an opening. Although Tonio was breathing heavily, chest heaving, Jonny was no less weary from the exertion of the chase. Yet, Jonny knew was in far better condition then his old adversary.

"Why don't you use your gun, pig?"

Tonio lunged, pivoted and kicked out. Jonny evaded his attack with ease, slipping away from the blow. The Italian altered his tactics halfway into his move. Part way through his pass he pushed off and slashed out. Pain flared across Jonny's right arm. He ignored it, but Tonio smirk in triumph.

"First blood to me, cop."

From the corner of his eye, Jonny caught sight of the fire escape landing. It was empty. Danny and Charlene had disappeared. Steve was leaning against the dumpster, left arm pressed against his side. His left hand clenched the top of his thigh in an effort to staunch the blood staining his pant leg. To Jonny's relief, the flow of blood appeared minimal. Steve's injuries were not that serious.

"I'm okay," Steve said firmly. He proved it by straightening and moving away from his support.

Aware of the possibility of double indemnity, Tonio feigned another strike. Jonny yanked his attention back to the confrontation. Just in time he twisted clear. His opponent appeared confident, if pale. Tossing his knife into his left hand, Tonio feigned again. Again he altered his direction at the last possible second. The knife struck home. Somewhere nearby a woman cried out. Jonny managed to get clear before any serious damage could occur, but now a ragged red line of fire scored his midriff. Every breath he drew sent stabs of agony through his body.

Despite the pain, Jonny sensed his injuries were not as serious as they looked. On the other hand, if the altercation drew out much longer, blood loss would gradually wear him down. He continued to wait for just the right moment. Knew it was coming. However tired he was, Tonio was tiring faster. His opponent was acutely conscious of his own weakness as well. Desperate, he closed with Jonny fast, slamming him back against the building behind him. Jonny grabbed, finding Tonio's knife hand by pure instinct. They twisted as one. Jonny angled his body clear of the questing blade.

In his effort to break Jonny's hold, Tonio unwittingly shifted into rather than away from Jonny. Manoeuvring his adversary around behind him in one swift motion, Jonny locked Tonio's arm against his side. He squeezed hard. Tonio whined. From one second to the next the whine altered to an agonised scream. The switchblade vanished into a pile of rubbish without a sound. Whipping Tonio around, Jonny slammed a fist into the Italian's face.

"That's for the kids," he stated with fierce satisfaction.

Tonio staggered. Losing his balance, he sat down hard. Jonny grabbed a handful of shirt, twisting the fabric until he had a good grip. He pulled his opponent off the ground. Seeing Jonny's fist drawn back, Tonio attempted to fend off the blow but Jonny moved too fast.

"And that's for Danny." A second round connected with Tonio's jaw with a solid crack.

Tonio sagged, one arm feebly upraised in silent protest. With his remaining strength, he kicked out weakly. Jonny avoided the counter-attack with ease.

Now downstairs, Danny and Charlene rounded the mouth of the alley just in time to see the first blow fall. As the second pile driver landed, Charlene gaped in astonishment. She had never seen such fury in her brother. Jonny raised his fist again, announcing, "That's for my sister."

Charlene cried out in protest. "Jonny, stop it."

Her brother failed to hear her, either because of the height of his rage, or because he was electing to pretend not to have heard.

"Jonny." Steve shouted, as incredulous in the face of Jonny's rage as Danny and Charlene were. As Jonny prepared to beat his old enemy to a pulp, Steve moved forward. He grabbed the upraised fist. "Jonny. Lieutenant, that's enough."

"What?" Jonny turned. His expression was curiously distant.

"I said, he's had enough," Steve repeated sharply.

McGarrett enforced his statement, maintaining his grasp on Jonny's arm until the younger man's eyes refocused. He carefully inspected Jonny's knuckles and was pleased to see the skin had not split. Nor had Tonio's blood spattered his skin.

Dragged back to reality by Steve McGarrett's commanding tone, Jonny turned slowly back to his prisoner. He stared down at his prisoner, contempt in every line of his features.

Tonio sagged in his grip, shaking his head weakly from side to side and struggling to regain his wits. Blood spattered the ground from his nose. Barely healed after Charlene's unexpected attack, it had shattered beneath Jonny's pounding. As the light of reason returned to Jonny's face, Steve released his hold. Tonio slowly pulled himself together.

"Pig," he muttered.

He rolled his eyes in the direction from which he had heard Charlene's voice. She was staring in disbelief at the plainclothes officer straddling him. Puzzled by her reaction, Tonio stared back up at the policeman above him. And as he did, Jonny and Steve McGarrett's exchange suddenly took on meaning. Tonio found himself trapped in the irony of the moment as he stared up at his captor.

"Is that you, Jonny-boy?" Faintly incredulous at the ironic twist of fate that had brought him to this role reversal, he eyed the cop.

"That's right, Tonio," said Jonny thickly, giving his prisoner's shirt front a sharp jerk, "It's Lieutenant Jonathon Mattheson. And don't you forget it."

Tonio spat blood at Jonny's feet. The globule missed. Tightening his grasp, Jonny hauled Tonio to his feet and turned his prisoner toward the street just as their backup appeared. The two officers stared in awe at the spectacle. Jonny rested a battered grin on his sister, suddenly aware of a crowd of spectators having gathered. 

"You okay, Charley?"

"Just fine, Jonny," she assured him.

Danny nodded to his brother-in-law, assuring him Charlene was telling the truth. "I think you'll find some interesting evidence in the dumpster."

"Oh?" Jonny glanced back at Tonio.

"He dropped a hypodermic."

Charlene glared at Tonio. Then, with considerable deliberation, she slipped her arm through her husband's. No other statement was necessary. Tonio's muscles bunched. His lips drew back off his teeth in a snarl of hatred. For once, Charlene was wholly unaffected. Tonio realised he would never be able to intimidate her again.

"Bitch," he growled.

Chin lifting the barest fraction, Charlene turned to her brother. "How long do you think it'll be before we can bring the children home?"

"As soon as Tonio's back behind bars," replied Jonny. From the looks on Steve, Danny and Jonny's face Charlene knew she probably should have kept quiet. But this was her way of striking back at her tormentor.

A peculiar gurgle emerged from Tonio's mouth as he realised the news item about the children's deaths had been a cover up. He squirmed madly, fighting to break free of Jonny's grasp. The police officers moved purposefully in to assist Jonny, one of them removing a set of handcuffs from his belt. Insanity reduced Tonio to snapping and snarling like a rabid dog in an effort to make someone pay for his condition. Charlene's fascination turned to horror as she watched. She had always suspected Tonio had been unbalanced. His reactions now proved it. From the moment Danny had told her about Tonio's condition she had been certain the ironic twist of fate in prison which had struck at his sexual prowess, had pushed him over the edge. But she had never witnessed anyone reduced to such a demeaning state. Frightened, she leaned into Danny, and felt him give her shoulders a reassuring squeeze.

"Let's go." He urged her away from the crowd.

"Don't let him bite you," McGarrett quickly cautioned the officers as one barely avoided Tonio's teeth. "He's got AIDS."

"Oh, great," commented the one officer to his partner. 

They removed Tonio from Jonny's custody and thrust him up against the wall, pinning him there while they secured him. As Tonio was cuffed and his rights were read, Jonny's mood visibly lightened. A wry twist caught the side of his mouth as he and Steve stepped aside. At Jonny's expression, Steve cocked his head inquisitively. The young detective locked gazes with McGarrett. A mischievous light filled his eyes. The uniformed officers concluded cuffing Jonny's collar and began leading him away. As the trey passed Jonny and his companion, Steve saw Jonny's mouth curve in a faint grin.

"Book him," said Jonny fiercely.


End

 

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