I just can't let it go. After running tests on the residues and discovering the explosive components, I work on everything else that hits the lab. When I have to take a leak break, I look in the staff room phone book. Brookes Stables are listed but way out of Manhattan. Could a little guy make a trek like that? His bike is still at the house so he'd be hoofing it.
Finally, I call Don and let him know about the stable.
"Thanks, Danny. I'll pass the info on to Malone and his squad."
That makes me feel better. But in the back of my mind, I wonder about it off and on through the afternoon. The kid has to be feeling like absolute crap. What I'd like to do is talk to Mac but I can't bring myself to brave the lion's den. Besides, he and Lindsay are working on something and I just don't need the grief.
Now I'm home but not even the hockey game on ESPN can keep my attention. It's just eight when a knock on the door surprises me. Taking a quick look through the peephole, I feel a warm glow at the sight of Don dropping by like he used to do when we still hung out together.
"Don, you didn't need to stop by." I swing open the door and hesitantly beckon him in.
"I need a beer and my fridge is empty." His smile is tired and he pulls at his tie to loosen it. "A break on the case would be nice, too."
"Sure, take a seat." I wave him to the sofa and go to the kitchen for his beer. He's thrown his coat over the ottoman and is watching the game through half-closed eyes when I get back.
"Cheers," he toasts and takes a long swallow.
"You find the kid yet?" I ask to fill in the awkward silence before sitting down as far away from him as my sofa will let me.
"No, and the 18th is being real pissy about it." His grimace reminds me of the automatic contempt of the morning. "Captain Nestle's balls are in a twist. Sorry you had to take his abuse earlier."
I shrug. "Nothing new there. The stables pan out?"
"Malone has a Danny too. I talked to him earlier." Don grins at me and I blush a little at the sudden inappropriate thought of being 'had'. "He says his teammate Fitzgerald keeps a couple of horses at that stable." He runs a hand through his hair. "Isn't that kinda odd? How can an FBI agent afford horses?"
"Nah, Martin Fitzgerald comes from a rich family. Did they check it out?"
"He said he'll call and have Mrs. Brookes and her son look over the buildings to see if he's there." Don looks kind of uneasy and I wonder if he's feeling what I am. "Damn, I don't like it. You think he might run there?"
And my thoughts coalesce as I jump to my feet. "Yeah, I really think he would. You want to go find out?"
"Yeah, you drive. I just had that beer." He joins me, pulling on his coat again. "You need a heavier jacket than that old thing, Danny. It's getting colder since the fog rolled in."
"You're a worry wart, Don." I wrap a scarp around my neck to appease him and make sure my gloves are in my pocket. Once we're on the road, I see what he meant.
The fog swirls around the street lights like a spooky halo. Traffic is light so we make good time north. But not as good as we would have in better weather. The pavements are just slick enough to make me worry about hydroplaning. But I ease off the gas and keep a sharp eye out for the crazys.
Don tunes the radio to the game and we listen while the Rangers get their asses handed to them by the Philadelphia Flyers. It feels good to banter back and forth. It's been a while since we did that and I feel kind of bittersweet about it. I don't dare get too comfortable though. It's not safe for either of us.
********* Don Flack *********
I still think there's something wrong with Danny. Listening to the hockey game with him reminds me of better times, times when we clicked on all cylinders. Sometimes it seems like he's forgotten whatever is bothering him, then . . . wham . . . he's back to carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
We make good time and I direct him to the two-lane road off the main highway which should get us to the stables. Part of me is hoping we'll meet Danny Taylor, while part of me is thinking about how damn spooky the fog is out here where the open ground seems to be breeding a thicker, more eerie mist. Danny must think the same thing because he's going slower than usual.
When the two deer leap out in front of us, I jump and press the floorboards like I have a brake on the passenger side. Thankfully, Danny hits the real brakes and the deer keep on going.
"Damn wildlife," he shivers a bit before bringing us back up to speed.
"Who knew Manhattan would be safer than Podunk-Central?" I relax a little but keep a wary eye out for more wildlife. "I think the next turn is ours. The last four way was 280th. According to the map, the next one is 316."
"Yeah, funny how they skip so many numbers." He's peering ahead through the thick fog like he can actually see anything but dirty white.
"City boy," I poke him in the side and enjoy his irritated look. And I decide to ask the question that's been bugging me. "Danny, what's wrong? Did I do something to offend you? I miss my best friend."
His fingers tighten so hard on the wheel, they turn white. "Nothing's wrong, Don. You're my best friend, too. I've just been thinking about . . . things. It's been kind of a cluster fuck kinda year."
I snort and punch his arm gently. "You can say that twice, Danny. But we're okay, right?"
"We're good." His smile is still subdued but his shoulders have relaxed a little so I back off. "Is that 316?"
I unbuckle my seat belt so I can open the door to get closer to the road sign. There's no breeze I can feel but the fog is moving anyway. Shivering, I duck back in the car. "Yeah, it's 316. We should be there in a few moments."
"I'll let you talk." Danny makes the turn and goes about 30 mph down what's little more than a gravel lane. "Your badge will get us further than mine will."
"You earned that badge, Danny Messer and don't let anybody tell you different." I can tell he doesn't really believe me but his smile is a little brighter. I'll work on his self-esteem after we wrap this case up.
A big sign suddenly looms up ahead. The arrow points to the left and Danny turns in carefully. Where are streetlights when you really need them? The lane is deeply rutted and Danny slows even more but there is finally a light up ahead. I breathe a sigh of relief and get ready to jump out.
Just as Danny pulls in to a gravel space, a figure runs in front of the headlights. He slams on the brakes and I jump out with a shout. "Hey, be careful."
All I get is an impression of wide eyes and blond hair in a too-young face before he veers beyond the headlights at a run. Could it be the boy?
"Chris?" I call out and he hesitates before disappearing into the fog.
********* Martin *********
"And then the dragon sneezed all over the knight, turning his armor instantly into a rusted tin can. The princess clapped her hands and gave Sir Grim a swift kick in the shins. "That's for trying to rescue me, you big bully."
She dusted off her hands, picked up her basket of freshly gathered dragon's breath and smiled at the blue dragon. "Come on, Sneezle, I'll bake a fresh batch of cookies for our tea." And Sneezle picked her up in his great big claws and put her on his back for the flight home to his dragon's cave. The end for now"
"That was a good one, Daddy." Vin is still awake and those big blue eyes are sparkling up at me. "Sneezle rocks!"
I chuckle and drop a kiss onto his hair, savoring the scent of freshly bathed little boy. "When you get bigger and read harder books, there's a great collection of stories by Patricia Wrede about dragons. You'll like them."
"It's getting easier, Daddy. Ezra says I'll like the next book in the 'I Read' series. It has a horse in it." He looks up at me and makes one of those lightning changes in topics he's so good at. "Do you think Dad has found the little boy he's looking for?"
"He would have called to let us know if he had." I reassure him while saying another silent prayer for the lost child.
"Did Dad ask Mother Earth to find him?" Vin's little face scrunches up. "That would be a lot easier than driving here and there, 'pecially if you don't know where he is."
I freeze and then blink. "That's a good idea, Vin. Let me get my phone and call Jack."
He sits up in bed and grins at me. "We can do it ourselves, Daddy. Mother Earth, could you bring Chris Larabee here?"
//goodness// is all I hear before a short blond appears in front of me.
He's got his arms over his head in a protective stance and he's hunched over as if to avoid a blow. "No-o-o."
I jump up and reach for him before pulling my hand back. "Chris . . . Chris, you're safe."
Wild eyes peer out from his hands and he gradually straightens up while looking around Vin's bedroom. "How? Where? . . ."
"My name's Vin and this is my Daddy, Martin Fitzgerald." Vin's piping voice brings the young man's eyes to him.
It's odd but I can see a silent connection establish itself the moment blue eyes meet hazel; the defensive curve of young shoulders eases and the frown smoothes out. He's still grubby and wary but no longer terrified.
"How did I get here?" His voice is rough and he keeps swallowing like it hurts. "I was out at the stables when . . ."
Suddenly he's shivering and I take a step to wrap him in a hug. "Vin thought to ask Mother Earth to find you for us. I work for the FBI missing persons unit here in New York. Are you hurt anywhere, Chris?"
He doesn't relax completely but he does accept the hug. "Um, I ache kinda and I'm tired but I'm okay." He stills and his head comes up. "But a guy was hunting me and a cop called Danny found me first but then there was guns and fire and . . . I think he got shot instead of me."
Oh no, I think with a squeezing of my heart. "Come out to the living room so I can call in. Vin, wear your slippers."
"Yes, Daddy." He's already out of bed and his hand reaches for our guest's. "C'mon, Chris. We'll get you some cold water for your throat."
"How'd you know it hurts?" He takes the little hand gingerly and lets himself be led out to the living room.
"It sounds raspy and it hurts you to swallow." Vin says matter-of-factly. "I had a cold a couple of months ago and I did the same thing."
The muted chuckle from our guest makes me smile. I have the best little boy in the whole world. Heading to the hall table where the wooden bowl sits that we throw in all our gear after a day's work, I grab my phone, hit speed dial one and wait impatiently. Vin's voice comes from the kitchen where they're raiding the fridge.
"Martin, is something wrong?" Jack's voice sounds a little gravelly.
"I've got Chris Larabee here in the apartment. Vin asked Mother Earth to find him and bring him here. Where's Danny?"
"Wow, I think we're out of a job. Danny's here."
"Chris says he was at the stables when someone came hunting him. A cop named Danny may have taken a bullet meant for him. Who else knew about the Brookes?"
"Damn, Don Flack was the one who told us about the stables. It was a CSI tech who came up with the lead, Danny Messer. Let me get back to you in a few minutes, Martin. Tell Vin he gets an extra scoop of fudge mocha ice cream tomorrow." Jack's voice is so proud before he hangs up.
//cold man shot Danny// Mother's voice is sorrowful //sent him to Janet//
"Thank you, Mother." I close my eyes and say a brief prayer for the CSI.
********* Mac *********
The call from Malone surprises me but it's followed by Don's panicked call from the stables. I call Stella so she's ready when I pick her up. We've got a crime scene, a dead body and a missing CSI. Shaking my head, I wonder what else can go wrong when a voice inside my head confuses me even further.
//too slow . . . here//
I blink at Don and look down at the dead body. I've got ground under my feet instead of carpet.
"That's Mother Earth talking to you and bringing you here." Don says that so matter-of-factly. "She took Danny to a doctor."
//Janet says he's alive and the bullets are out//
Bullets? I clear my throat in time to see Stella materialize beside me. Her eyes are as wide as I've ever seen them. Her mouth is opening and closing but no sound is coming out.
"Mother, we need some lab kits. They're in the CSI lab marked Kit 1 and Kit 2." Don is still being stoic but his hand is shaking when he rubs his chin.
And the kits appear almost instantly. I shake my head hard. "Um, thank you, Mother. Is the Janet you mentioned the doctor taking care of Danny?"
//yes, she's very good//
I clear my throat again. "Thank you, again. Could you ask her to preserve the bullets she took out of his body."
"My God, could it get any stranger?" Stella finally finds her voice. "What the hell happened here, Don?"
Don's voice is almost mechanical in his recitation of the facts as he knows them. While he's talking, Stella and I get into our sterile gloves and booties. She starts taking photos while I go through the body's pockets. He's carrying a billfold and when I flip it open, I want to curse out loud. There's a detective shield from the 18th. And it's the real deal, not a fake. Don's voice falters then picks up speed.
//don't worry, Donald, you did what you had to do to save Christopher and Daniel//
His eyes come to me and finally a slight smile appears. "This could be an interesting trial, Mac. Has a sentient planet ever been a witness before?"
"Mother, how is Danny doing?" Stella is bagging Don's gun after first taking care of the shooter's weapon.
//needs blood . . . Janet says he's doing as well as can be expected . . . is that good//
Don's eyes crinkle and he rubs his chin again. "Mother, can you take me to him? We have the same blood type, b negative. I'll find out what she means and let you know."
//yes . . . now//
And Don disappears without even a shimmer. My continuity of evidence is all over the universe with this case. A friend of mine down in DC had been involved in the mess left over from an extra-terrestrial case when the planet first became sentient. I need to give him a call and find out how he coped.
I want with every fiber of my being to go with Don and see Danny for myself. But my duty is here and I have to finish this scene or the corruption trail we just found won't go any further. I want the bastard behind this. No matter how far up the chain this goes, I will get them all.
The end of part 19