“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Section I – En route to Paris; December 16 – ? POV/Brian
I don’t think I exhaled until I’d had my second shot of scotch on the flight from Paris to Munich. Lane didn’t bat an eye; he just signaled for the stewardess to leave the bottle and go away. I leaned back in the plush seat, took a deep breath, then set the glass down very carefully. I didn’t want anything to happen to the glass. After all, without it, I’d have been reduced to drinking directly from the bottle and that would be pathetic. I’d finally reached the point where I thought I could probably take the third glass a little bit slower. The panic I’d been feeling since I woke and found the bed empty next to me was dulling with the alcohol.
But I would need a third. Definitely. So far Lane had been perfect. He’d met me at the airport and said little beyond volunteering the connecting flight information and offering suggestions for food, which I didn’t want, and scotch and a private room for calling Pittsburgh, which I did. I’d left word with Cynthia to contact Micky and Mel about what had happened at John’s office, and given her instructions to see what they could do to help him. He’d seemed to want me to proceed out of town without delay so I did. Cynthia got word to me that the couple who had appointments with him were identified as some kind of government employees and they supposedly left the office without incident. I knew that was untrue, since I committed an incident all over the one agent and left evidence of same in the men’s room.
Mel was stonewalled when she tried finding out exactly what federal agency sent those two clowns to John’s firm. Cynthia reported that Mel was going ballistic until she had a major break in the form of Brandon Keane, who came into her office with a text message and picture that he’d received from the cell phone of Hunter Bruckner-Novotny. It showed John O’Keefe being forced into a Jaguar by the female agent. Baby Hustler also managed to get a shot of the license plate on the car. Hunter was still doing his junior spy number with excellent results, except that now he was among the missing along with John. Last thing I’d heard was that Micky O’Keefe was going into court with a writ of habeas corpus to get her husband released, while the CIA and FBI were still insisting they didn’t have him, and the other branches of government were trying to determine whose tag number the car belonged to.
Lane listened to me discussing the tail end of this with Cynthia when he came to get me for the connecting flight. He had started to withdraw but I waved him in – no sense standing on ceremony – and he said, but of course someone had tried tracing John and Hunter’s cell phone signals. I stared at him, dumbfounded, then repeated the idea briskly, before signing off, as it was time for the next flight. I looked at him. “You’re smarter than I thought you were, aren’t you?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’d almost have to be smarter than that, don’t you think?”
I supposed that was true. I never gave him much credit for brains, but then again, he encouraged that impression. Now, as we sat together in the comfortable cabin and drank ourselves into a stupor, I gave some thought to the man as an individual, as opposed to an accessory to Danny.
We hadn’t had a good start, Lane and me. I didn’t like the way he came sailing back into Danny’s life at a time when he and I were still feeling our way. Totally apart from the way that Lane went after Danny, trying to get him back into his life as his partner and lover – I had to respect the man’s taste for that – was the way that Lane highlighted my own insecurity about what I had to offer Danny. Lane promised love, success, and collaboration on the types of movie and theater projects that Danny was longing to do.
Compared to all that, what could I offer? I was never completely clear on why Danny and Lane broke up. I told his sister in my dream – if a dream it was – that Danny loves me. And I believe that he does, just as I know that I love him. But, if I’m honest with myself, and I try to be, I have to say that Stephen Lane, or at least, Etienne Lanier, loves Danny. So, loving someone isn’t any guarantee against losing him.
Damn. I looked at Lane. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he was a striking one. His body was good, long and lean. Another big one, I couldn’t help thinking, considering those long legs that were longer by a couple inches than even mine, and I had damn long legs. His thighs were thicker than mine, and I recalled that he too played soccer. Rode horses too, Danny told Emmett during one of their gossip sessions while I tried working. Like that was possible when the two of them got going. I remembered Emmett squealing over the revelation that now the former poor little French boy was rich, he not only had a ranch in the French countryside, he had another, larger one in Ireland where he bred horses. I suspected he got the second one just to tempt Danny. I know I was intrigued by the idea and I wasn’t anywhere near as fucking Irish as the O’Keefes.
Completing my survey of the man, I had to admit it– I wouldn’t kick him out of my bed. His shoulders were broad and well muscled. His face was a bit craggy but on him it looked good. No doubt he and Danny made a great contrast as a couple, Danny with his classic beauty and Lane with his raw masculinity. In the movie they did the year Danny was hurt in the accident, they played brothers in arms, soldiers in a mercenary unit, both supposedly in love with the same woman but with a strong homoerotic undertone. Another actor played the leading man, but Lane and Danny stole the show in scenes that Lane had written as filler.
Seeing that he was just listening to something on his headphones, I decided I could interrupt. Hell, even if he were working, I would interrupt.
“Lane...mind if I ask you a question?”
He opened his eyes. He really did have the saddest fucking face at times. Like a basset hound. Not that he looked like one exactly, it was just that you’d look at him, and all of a sudden, you were reminded of that old dog your granddad had when you were a kid. Very good face for commercials actually. He raised one of his eyebrows at me and smiled and it changed his looks completely. I could see what made a young Danny follow this guy to France. Definite sex appeal.
“Yes, Brian? You perhaps were going to say that I could be as stupid as you thought?” Amusement danced in those blue eyes and I lifted my glass at him.
“Touché,” I raised my glass in a salute. “But that isn’t what I was going to say. More of a question, really, and feel free to tell me to fuck off if you want.”
He nodded solemnly then crossed his legs and put his headphones down. “Not that I ever felt the need for permission, especially yours, you understand, but of course, it is always so much easier to tell someone to fuck off if one is given advance permission. Ask away and I shall endeavor not to tell you to fuck yourself, since you have been so kind as to remove all hesitation.”
I rolled my eyes. Such a Frenchman. The amusement still glinting in his eyes stopped me from giving up as he no doubt expected me to. “Fuckhead,” I said pleasantly.
He smiled warmly. “Danny used to call me that all the time,” he confided. “You remind me of him sometimes.”
That surprised me. I really didn’t think Danny and I were much alike. “How so?”
The warmth in his smile increased. He leaned back and uncrossed his legs, stretching them out so that they extended into the aisle past my own. He tipped his head back and stared up at the ceiling.
“Danny and you both look honestly at people, you see past their masks. He does it to search for what is good that might be hidden, and of course you do it to seek out the bad side that the person is trying to hide, but you are each more perceptive than is always comfortable. With Danny, I was driven to be better than I am, with you, I suspect that I would be more devious, in an effort to stay one step ahead of you all the time. But the tools that you each use to gain your ends, your charm, your sex appeal, those are the same. I think Danny is more natural and open about it and you are more seductive and sly.”
I scoffed. “I’m about as sly as a hand on a crotch, Lane, when I see something I want.”
He raised that eyebrow again and glanced down at my legs, which were about an inch away from his. I hadn’t been conscious of moving them...no, I really don’t think I had been, but I was sprawled somewhat wantonly in the seat, in a way that could be seen as – perhaps – inviting action. That is, it could be if this weren’t Lane and me, two men who most certainly were not attracted to each other.
Fuck, face it, Kinney, I told myself, as I felt my face redden, your legs are spread like a rent boy waiting for action on a mattress in the Liberty Baths. Willing my color to die down, I crossed my legs and sat up straighter, then swallowed my drink in one gulp. Maybe it was time to just start guzzling from the bottle after all.
“How did you lose him?” The question was out before I was even conscious of forming the thought much less opening my mouth to speak. There was silence for several beats and just about the time I’d decided he wasn’t going to answer and I should grab the bottle instead, he spoke.
“It wasn’t any one big moment. No chance to make the dramatic gesture like jumping on an airplane and following him halfway around the world, in case you are wondering. If there had been, I would gladly have done it, no matter the cost. Big gestures, they always came easily to me. But, the little ones, they were harder. Staying home on any specific night and watching a movie instead of going to a party where it would be expected that we would have sex with others, knowing that he didn’t really like threesomes or foursomes, or more. Oh, he did them. There was no one better. But he preferred just us. And me, I preferred that too. But I didn’t trust it, didn’t trust just me being enough. So, I always sought more excitement. And, to be honest, I loved him being the Dark Angel. Secretly, I thought he did too, more than he ever admitted. More than that, I think he needs that outlet. I think that he would explode without it. I didn’t realize until too late how that part of Danny...and don’t mistake me, the Dark Angel is very much a part of Danny...but what I didn’t know was how much the darkness worried him. He does not like to spend too much time there for fear that it will take over.”
I shook my head. “You make him sound as though he has a split personality.”
Lane shook his head vehemently. “I wouldn’t call it that, non. He does not require integration, after all. He is perfectly well integrated. But...he needs someone who lets him be the person he chooses to be when he wants to be it and who accepts each person that he wants to be. He is the Choir Boy, the Athlete, the Artist, the Dark Angel, the Intellectual...so many facets of one man, yet all them our Daniel, or rather, for me, my David. He once told me he loved being with me because with me he could escape the expectations of being Daniel and could be David. For a time, that was an idyllic life, the one that David had with me, our music and our acting.” He smiled that self-mocking smile again. “Looking back, it is so easy to see where things went wrong. At the time? Not so easy. I was like a blind man, stumbling always in the wrong direction.”
“Not quite how I’ve heard it.” I sipped from my glass and considered Lane’s performance. He played the broken-hearted lover so well, but, as Danny had noted, he’d had years to perfect the role. “Most of the stumbling you did was into other beds, wasn’t it? And it was more like running, not stumbling.”
Rather than get annoyed, Lane merely grinned and lifted his hands up in a disarming gesture. “What would you have done if it were you and there were unlimited men? I am older now and I look back and see that perhaps David was not as enamored with the night life as he seemed, that perhaps he was going along with it for my sake. But I cannot think he ever believed that anyone mattered more to me than he did. What I do think is that Daniel, as David, kept a distance between us on purpose, because he always knew that he could not make that final commitment to me, so it was easier to let things go along the path that they were on, let me be the bad one. Etienne was the slut, yes, but Etienne was given full permission to be the slut, and it was done with Daniel’s full knowledge and often with his participation.”
This was not quite how I thought it had happened. “But in the movie....”
That wide smile was mocking now. “A movie is a movie, not a documentary, Brian. Do you think the viewing public would have fallen in love with a love story that had no romance? With a gay couple who fucked freely, even when they professed to love each other? It is difficult for the straight world to understand that, is it not? Do Danny’s friends and family understand your non-monogamous relationship or do they worry about him? I ask about him because you are the one they see going to Babylon, yes? His little indiscretions are no doubt conducted in New York or LA or London, during the times when he is traveling. You have the misfortune of being the stay at home partner. It must not be easy.”
It wasn’t. And he was right. While Danny and I had reached an understanding about our sex lives, I knew that the gossip mills were busy whenever I forayed into the backrooms at Babylon, and these days, I tended to avoid them. Not that I was going without. I still had anonymous sex, just not any where near as often as I used to have it, and I sure as hell don’t attend any orgies without Danny. I wondered why I let the idea bother me so much.
After all, we had attended some orgies together. Watching him fuck the brains out of other men was arousing as hell to me. And I knew that Danny loved seeing me in that setting. Yet, Lane was right. It wasn’t something I expected any of his straight family or friends to understand, which was why I was careful to be discreet. I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t respect my relationship with Danny. After all, even my friends would probably think such activities were all my idea and draw the wrong conclusions from them and I no longer disregarded the opinions of family and friends as I did when I was younger. I remembered how they judged me in my relationship with Justin, how they thought all the tricking was my idea, that I somehow coerced Justin into it. Yeah, like any man, much less any gay man, had to have his arm twisted when it came to having sex. Which brought me back to Lane.
I looked at him skeptically. “So it’s not your fault that you played around.”
Lane rolled his eyes. “Brian...has Danny ever asked you for fidelity?”
I started to answer but stopped to think. He was right. Danny had never asked me for fidelity either; and I found myself wondering whether he’d been protecting me from eventual failure the way it had always seemed or if he was the one who wanted the freedom to go to other men. True, I’d offered Danny monogamy, but I had to admit, I was glad when he’d smiled and turned it down, pointing out that neither of us was ready for it. He’d also said that it just wouldn’t be practical, the way we were apart so often. At least, he’d said neither of us was ready for it, but the implication was always that I was the one who needed the freedom to cat around. Again, there was that Choir Boy aspect of Danny, the churchgoer, who was just so good. Even though I knew he loved a threesome as much as the next guy, and was far from a saint...thank God he was far from a saint...I’d always accepted that he was as devoted to me as I was to him. At least in all the ways that it counted.
Lane was making me question that.
“You frown, Brian, because you ask yourself, why doesn’t Danny make me promise I will not sleep with other men? And I will offer you some advice that does me no good to give you, because I would like very much for you and Danny to be the good friends and for Danny and me to be the lovers. But, as much as that would please me, I think that I have come to this odd point in my life when I want more to see Danny happy than to make myself happy. The good Emmett says I am finally learning what love means, and not much good it does me if it helps me to help you to the man I love, but what do I know? Emmett is the expert, not me.”
Lane shrugged comically and I had to laugh. “Well, if falling in and out of love on the average of five times a month makes someone an expert on love, then Honeycutt is your man,” I assured him, wondering when the two of them had a chance to discuss love. Still, I found myself waiting for the Frenchman’s advice more avidly than I cared to admit.
“My advice to you is to not follow what Daniel says with his words, but to watch what he does, if you wish to know what he wants. Know also that he values trust more than anything. If you lose his trust, it is almost impossible to gain it back.”
Well, there was a gut punch. Keeping my voice level, I noted, “Almost but not impossible then?”
The blue eyes were surprisingly empathetic. The look of a man who has been in the hell you’re in and can still remember the pain. “Danny’s is a most forgiving and loving nature. And....he has loved you for a very, very, long time. When I say that Danny does not ask for fidelity, I think it is because he is afraid he can’t give it, not because he doesn’t want it. He needs to learn that it is a two way street. If he is willing to accept that you do not have to be perfect, then maybe he can accept that you don’t expect perfection from him either. I think you’ve already shown that to him a little bit.”
“How so?” I would be glad to hear of any bright spots.
Lane’s smile was a sly one this time. Watching him like this, seeing the subtleties of emotion conveyed with the smallest of shifts in expression, I was reminded that he was in fact an acclaimed actor. Better suited, perhaps, for the screen than the stage, where the camera could pick up such nuances. But he was certainly playing me in this scene, and despite being conscious of it, it was working. I waited to hear his next line, inclining my head slightly to encourage him.
“Well, there was that small incident last summer, near his birthday, when Daniel had a close encounter with me. Many men would have been angry over that. According to Daniel’s code, after all, a prior lover should be off-limits. Believe me, I have explored the possibility of some intimate time with Daniel and I always get turned down. Sometimes with a smile and a joke, sometimes with a sharp word and a frown, but always, he turns me down, That day...I am not sure I even had to initiate anything. I mention this not to make you angry with Daniel, and only because I am sure he told you himself, yes?”
I nodded, thinking back to the summer, when Danny had been missing for almost a full day shortly before his birthday. He’d injured his head, causing a slight concussion, which was always a worry with him since he had a history of head trauma, and on top of that, Lane had arrived giving him bad news about the death of one of Danny’s old lovers. Danny had coped as he often did, by resorting to mindless sex, and used Lane to supply it. I found him later that night in a bar, looking like the world’s hottest rent boy – but telling all the world to fuck off. It was a very Dark Angel look, and as soon as he saw me, he was in my arms, wanting nothing more than to have his brains fucked out in the back room – the first time we’d ever fucked like that in public. It was one of my hottest memories, in fact.
Did I mind that Danny had allowed Lane to suck him off earlier in the day? Not when it had led to one of my hottest nights, I didn’t. I told Lane as much and he laughed ruefully, but I sensed that he was a bit chagrined. Perhaps on some level he’d hoped that Danny hadn’t told me about the incident in his limo? If so, he made a quick recovery and was philosophical about it.
“With you,” he said, “I think Daniel would have his best chance of being happy being faithful, but I also think that he would find that there is little that he would not forgive you, Brian Kinney. Which is both a blessing for you, and a burden, to some degree. Because the more trust he puts in you, the more crushing his disappointment and disillusionment if you let him down. He never expected as much from me and our love, as he does from you and your love. That is why he forgives me now and lets me have a place in his life. But for you...there is only one other in his life who has ever mattered as much. I don’t know how Danny will overcome being let down by that man, the hero of his life.”
Lane didn’t have to say who that man was. We both knew. It was Danny’s brother Luke. We fell silent as we contemplated the impact on Danny of finding Luke alive after all this time. What possible explanation could Luke offer?
Section II – Scotland; December 17. POV/Peter Linton
I stretched in the light from the early morning sun coming through the large bow window. I loved this house, although that hadn’t always been the case. At one time, I viewed it more as a prison than the treasured home and retreat it now was. What a difference having a purpose in life made. It made everything sweeter – even love. But nothing would have been possible, the purpose, the love, this peaceful existence in a house located in what surely was a corner of heaven on earth, if it were not for the peace of mind that I’d gained in this new life I’d been given.
My morning exercises complete, I walked back over to the bed and looked down at the sleeping man who was responsible for my hard-won peace: Luke O’Keefe.
Watching him, I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. In sleep, he looked so young, so innocent. Impossible to believe he was the same man who kept the highest level operatives of several different countries’ intelligence agencies in line. Not that he was the top official. That person was even more incongruous and I’d been sure that he and Red were pulling my leg when I met their superior.
I had no trouble accepting that the best man for any job might be a woman, but believing that the best person to mastermind an international organization of agents comprised of top soldiers and undercover operatives was a retired Canadian schoolteacher whose most remarkable skill seemed to be that of quilting...no, that was beyond my credulity.
Red had merely smirked and told me she was very good at undercover work, which comment had earned him a painful reprimand from Thyme. Thyme, that was the woman’s name, Thyme Summers, had administered the same pressure point grip that I’d learned in a Buddhist Monastery in Tibet some thirty years earlier. The big man was down on his knees in the blink of an eye, begging for her to let go. She calmly requested an apology for his crudeness as a condition for his release. She got it.
I enjoyed the show immensely, especially the demonstration of that particular hold’s effectiveness on someone Red’s size, as well as the proof that Red actually knew how to apologize. I’d never tried it in our sparring because it was so painful, but their Miss Thyme had no such compunction it seemed.
“Thyme here is from Seesus. CSIS, if you want the proper name. She makes sure all the rest of the boys behave, though not usually using such direct tactics,” Luke had explained, grinning as he completed the more formal introduction. “Linton was with M15 and the SAS, Williams was his boss with one of them somewhere along the way, so that works well, don’t you think?”
At the time, I’d been still convalescing, but her keen blue eyes had twinkled as she looked at me speculatively. “I do and of course you had this all planned, is what I am thinking, Luke. As opposed to you doing what you wanted to do first, and leaving the thinking to the rest of us for later.” Red had laughed at that, one of his loud, barking laughs and Luke had looked sheepish but for all the woman’s sharp way of looking at me, it had been one of the first times since Luke had rescued me that I felt some hope that I was going to be useful again. Not that I wasn’t grateful to be alive and happy to be with Luke. I was...ecstatic on both counts. When I wasn’t in a blue funk, that is. The trouble was, I’d been trained to be a physician and a soldier, and except for the years I babysat Edward, I was used to using my brains and my skills in some way that I felt helped mankind. Even during the “Edward Years” as I’d come to think of them, I’d done research and was not totally without some redeeming social value. Besides, keeping Edward in line was a full-time job and constituted a public service of sorts.
Once I recovered from my injuries, I found it increasingly difficult to fight depression over what I perceived as the limitations of my life in isolation. Luke and Red left Scotland on a regular basis. They were gone on missions that I knew little about but I strongly doubted they were merely helping orphans in Afghanistan, laudable as that was. The injuries they returned with were suspicious to say the least. I treated them and was happy to be useful, being assured by both of them that my skills were superior to those of the doctors they normally sought out, but I sensed that they were keeping back most of the details of what they did.
“It isn’t because we don’t trust you, Linton,” Luke had tried explaining once, when he found me sulking by the beautiful loch that separated his property from his nearest western neighbor. “It’s for your safety. If something should happen and this place be found, I don’t want you to be compromised. The less you know, the better.”
“Just the little man at home, knowing nothing but keeping the home fires warm, is that me?” I’d asked. Despite my level voice, there must have been enough acerbity in my voice to cause the hurt in those green eyes before the shuttered look came over them and he looked out over the water instead of at me.
“Are you that unhappy here, Peter?”
I hadn’t known then how much rested on my answer. Later I learned that Luke was needed for an especially critical mission but would not go unless my health would permit me to participate, and Thyme Summers agreed to my being part of the team. At the time, I only saw it as an issue between us as two men. We’d been living together for eight months and it had been an almost platonic relationship while my body healed. We’d needed to get used to each other again. I’d spent twelve years living as a shadow, posing as a servant, for reasons there was no need to go into now, while Luke had risen higher and higher in his chosen profession. He had grown used to giving orders while I’d been taking them, yet between us, that had never been the dynamic. We were, at heart, equals, with me perhaps slightly more equal, I recalled with a smile.
I’d reached out a hand that day at the lake, and stroked his sun browned cheek. “I can’t be unhappy to be here with you, after more than a decade in hell, Luke, but I don’t want to just be your kept man. I was that for Edward for too long to ever want that again.”
His eyes flashed. “You can’t compare me to him!”
I smiled. These O’Keefes and their tempers. “No, you aren’t like him but this existence is like that one, if I’m not to do anything but play at being a doctor and wait for you to need me.” He frowned and I knew that his quick mind had already connected the dots.
“The thing is, Peter, that there is more for you to do,” he’d said slowly, surprising me. “I’ve just been dragging my feet bringing it up, because I’ve wanted to make sure you’re ready physically. I almost saw you die, before we ever got any time together. We still haven’t....”
I refrained from smiling but the sight of the tough Green Beret Colonel blushing almost overcame my composure. And I was the fair-skinned one, I thought gleefully.
I moved closer, until I was kneeling next to him, my hand leaning on the tree trunk behind his back. “What is it we might do that you’ve been hesitant to...suggest, Colonel O’Keefe?” I asked softly, brushing a wayward curl back from his brow.
The years had been very good to my tall green-eyed boy. When he wasn’t wearing one of his disguises, one could enjoy the clear green of his long lashed eyes, the lines around them new but more a function of time spent squinting into a far horizon or crinkling in amusement at life’s vagaries than of old age’s crow’s feet. His hair was longer than in the early days of our friendship, which permitted gestures such as the one I’d just made. Unlike the wig he often affected, his own hair had no gray in it, and he was amused to learn from his brother John’s letters that both of his older brothers had a good amount of gray on their heads. Despite the slight physical changes, he was still the image of a fit, muscular man in his prime, and as he looked up at me now, I felt transported back twenty years to a hotel room in Germany.
The attraction between Luke and myself was different than I’d ever felt with any other man. I’ve known men who perhaps were more beautiful in some objective sense – one need only look to Danny O’Keefe for an example – but I’ve never known a man who aroused me more powerfully and that was due in large part because of how much Luke was aroused by me. That sounds egotistical when put like that and it is not at all; it is a humbling feeling in many ways, to hold this big beautiful creature in thrall. I felt that way when we first made love and I felt that way when we came together again, by the Loch, next to a tree some twenty years later. Scarred, older in more than years, it gave me my life back and I finally felt like I was Peter Linton again. George Main was dead, may he rest in peace.
I met Thyme Summers the next day and began my service as one of her Ghost Soldiers.
That was months ago, and after some rough patches were overcome, I’d found my niche in their group. I was peacemaker, researcher, strategist, and, thankfully, field agent, so I finally got to keep a watchful eye on Luke and Red and cover their backs when they went out on missions. And there were missions– many of them. Today was the beginning of a long awaited vacation of sorts. Luke had gotten in the night before and collapsed shortly after being debriefed. Thankfully he was uninjured. Red had been in residence for several days and had been burning off excess energy laying in firewood. For once we were expecting a quiet holiday with nothing to do but enjoy each other’s company and relax. Looking at my sleeping lover, I smiled and thought about how best to get started on doing just that.
God was on his game the day he made Luke O’Keefe, I thought, easing the coverlet away slowly, careful not to awaken my sleeping giant just yet. While I was still sensitive about the changes twenty years had brought in my appearance, Luke’s genuine enjoyment of my body had done much to restore my confidence. I, on the other hand, had only pure delight in what I saw as the improvements that time had wrought in his youthful beauty. The long body had added breadth to the muscles, and his naked back was a sculptor’s dream, all curves and mounds of sinew. The long legs, with the perfect line of muscle running down the thighs, cried out to be stroked, licked, caressed. I now knew every inch of those thighs, how sensitive they were, how he loved to have them kneaded as I fucked him. I considered that now, hardening with the thought, and I reached for the nightstand drawer.
“About time. I thought you’d never make up your mind,” a sleepy voice said from deep in the pillow. I leaned forward and kissed the back of his neck, causing him to grind back against me, rubbing his ass tantalizingly against my cock.
“I didn’t want to wake you before you’d gotten all your beauty sleep. Feeling rested now?” I nuzzled behind his ear.
“Fuck yes.” He rolled over, pinning me to the bed.
“Best out of three is it going to be?” I gave my most angelic smile up at him even as I moved my hips suggestively beneath him.
“You are much too energetic for this early in the morning,” he pronounced, before rolling back over and spreading his arms and legs wide. “I surrender. Have yer wicked way with me, Peter Linton, ye wicked mon.” The green eyes twinkled beneath those sinfully long lashes. I leaned up on my elbow within the curve of his arm, fully intending to proceed with the ravishment in due course, of course, after I surveyed the field of battle, so to speak. Spread out like that, he really was such an impressive sight, head to toe, all six foot, nine inches of him. I skimmed my hand over his muscled torso, the firm stomach to the rise of the sharp pelvic bone on past the soft skin leading down to the hard ridged cock rising up from its nest of black curls. His breathing sped up as I cupped his heavy balls and lovingly weighed them in my hand as I guided his cock into my waiting mouth, his hips arcing up to meet me.
“Peter...yes...” I loved the soft gasps I could elicit from this hard man, from whom no amount of harsher torture could wring a sound. I pressed a finger inside him, reaching for his sweet spot. I pressed just lightly as I lifted my mouth away, causing him to moan his frustration.
“Quick, fuck me, you Limey bastard, before I break your hand,” Luke laughed grabbing me by the shoulders and pulling me up to his mouth for a kiss.
“Your wish is my...” He didn’t let me finish, he was too busy plundering my body. Or rather, assisting rather energetically in the process of my plundering his body. Redraven, while in a period of abstinence himself which tended to make him more sour than usual, commented that in bed we must look like an English Terrier fucking a Great Dane, given the large disparity between my height and Luke’s. I tend to top more often, a fact that shocked him when he picked up on it somehow; Red seeming to feel that with height came sexual dominance. I’d suggested to Luke that it might help if Red understood that position did not mean dominance or submission necessarily, but Luke had just laughed and said that Red already should know that, given some of his sexual partners. I’d asked him to explain but he told me he wasn’t one to talk about others’ sex lives even if Red did, though he was sure I would pick up on it soon enough on my own, clever man that I was. In any event, Luke’s only real objection to the comment was being likened to a Great Dane as opposed to an Irish Setter. My objection was that Red seemed to see our relationship as unequal, or think that it diminished Luke somehow to bottom, but Luke assured me that Red really hadn’t meant it that way.
“Trust me, English, Red is the bottom boy in his main relationship and he likes it that way just fine...same as me.” With that oblique comment, I’d had to be content, as Luke had very effective ways of distracting a man.
Lying in Luke’s arms after we’d made love, I thought back to that conversation and Red’s situation. He made his home here with Luke, and now Luke and me, but was gone from it more than both of us together. I knew better than to ask questions but I worried that my addition to the mix had pushed him to the side. I remembered our very first mission together, when Redraven had been taken captive while doing reconnaissance on his own and I always worried that my being teamed with Luke, his usual partner, may have left the man unprotected. Luke assured me that he and Red were beyond issues like that, that their closeness transcended jealousy or even loneliness. If Red wanted more of Luke’s time, he’d have it, simple as that. And they really were as close as two men could be without sexual intimacy, and that was missing only because Red was as completely heterosexual as a male could be. He wasn’t against it, just wasn’t interested in it, not when women could be found. I suspected that when women couldn’t be found, he may have engaged in some tension relieving male bonding, but never with Luke, whom he saw as a family member. I found that I now fell into that same category as Luke’s partner. I was his brother. It was a position of honor, and I felt it keenly, having never been as close to my father’s other son.
Luke was a natural leader and an excellent tactician, but as a soldier he lacked one thing, the ability one needed to distance oneself from the killing that is part of a soldier’s life. He killed when he had to, but it took a lot out of him and many a mission was made more complicated in order to avoid what anyone else would have viewed as necessary losses, for either side. As he rose in rank, the toll that the deaths took on him increased, as did the pain he felt when civilian losses occurred. Luke really abhorred civilian casualties and we spent down time doing exactly what he’d told his brother John was his full-time occupation, rendering medical and engineering aid to children and families in the ravaged hill villages of Afghanistan. Red was a very able medic, I found, while Luke was a brilliant engineer. And me? I found more use for my medical skills than I’d ever imagined I’d have since my early days in the clinic in one of London’s worse slums. But we stayed on the move, never wanting to give our identities away. We taught our simpler skills to the people, especially the homeopathic medical skills that Red and I both knew, and then we left, hoping that we wouldn’t be responsible for bringing on the next wave of devastation.
While humanitarian aid was part of what we did, the focus of Luke and Red’s lives, and now my work, was counter-terrorism intelligence work. We were part of a multi-national task force helmed by a former head of CSIS, working in conjunction with security special forces from countries allied in the Persian Gulf wars. From the US, there was Luke’s former commanding officer, Charles Hunter, now believed to be a semi-retired four star general, but actually a very active intelligence agent, and my own former boss, a previous head of M15, Colonel Nigel Williams. Red was the only one who maintained an active duty status, as a Green Beret Major, but he was assigned to Hunter in a supposedly administrative position, helping the man write his memoirs. When necessary for his cover, he was “loaned out” on various diplomatic missions.
Thinking about how different my life had become in just two years from the hell it had been, I sometimes had trouble believing it was true, that something wouldn’t happen to take it all away. I’d given up believing in happy endings so long ago that I still didn’t quite trust in this one. I found myself waiting, and watching, for something to happen. Luke laughed at my concerns whenever I voiced them, but Redraven would look serious for a change and tell Luke not to be an ass.
“I’ve told you before and I’ll keep telling you, you dumb fuck Mick, a man gets those feelings for a reason. Even that big old queen friend of yours had to practically sit on you to get you to listen, and look how accurate he was. English here has pretty good instincts for an uptight, upper class, overbred...”
“We get the point, perhaps we can move on from my lack of native antecedents?” I’d interjected dryly.
“Hey, he’s defending you,” Luke had protested, a twinkle in his eyes. “You should hear it when he’s tearing someone apart.”
“He’s here now, ain’t he?” Red had shot back, and then proceeded to nag Luke for another thirty minutes.
Those anxious thoughts were clamoring for attention once more. I was bothered by the thought of ends left dangling, others tied off prematurely. When I gave John O’Keefe my Will and final papers, I truly thought I was going to my death. Luke hadn’t appeared, I was suffering from multiple wounds received in a battle with Edward’s minions and there was still Danny and his lover to find and rescue from Edward. The O’Keefe brothers, John and James, big and strong as they were, were recovering still from the shock of having been in a deadly battle on the streets of an American city and were far from ready for another fight; moreover, they thought the worst was behind them once we’d reached the gallery. I knew better because I knew Edward better than anyone could ever know my brilliant, charming, insane cousin. He’d been obsessed with Luke’s brother Danny for almost ten years, and if he couldn’t have him for his own, much as he disliked being a cliche, he would rather die, taking Danny with him, than let Danny go, free to love another man.
It almost came to that, but we were able to stop Edward just in time. Danny and the great love of his life, Brian Kinney, escaped with survivable injuries, and I was mourned as a dead hero. The only workable ending, really, except.... I learned that day that I had a child. A little girl with her mother’s fiery green eyes and my stubborn chin, the Linton chin. And her uncles’ curls. Danny’s and Luke’s unruly curls, I thought, picturing Briana O’Keefe as I’d last seen her, dancing at the Babylon Benefit, short curls framing her pretty face. I’d never seen Angel with short hair, only the long black hair that pulled her natural curl out to a thick wave. I felt a pang at the thought of never holding the child again, never acknowledging her as mine, even though I knew Danny to be doing a wonderful job of raising her, loving her.
Which brought its own pang. What did Danny think when he learned the truth about Briana? Did he understand that I didn’t know? All those years when I helped him with the child, finding nannies and responding to panicked late night calls for help with a fever – did he think I was shamming him? Or did he understand that I’d been tricked also? I found that it mattered a great deal to me and I spent many a long afternoon staring out over the loch, worrying over what Danny thought of me: mourned friend and rescuer or unmourned betrayer and seducer of sister? Even in my thoughts, the idea of me as a seducer of women was one to raise a laugh – if anyone had been seduced, it was me, I thought wryly. Angel O’Keefe did not know how to take the word “no” seriously, and there was bound to come an occasion when even the most forceful minded no becomes a maybe. And everyone knows what “maybe” really means. Angel certainly did, I thought, remembering her sweet, triumphant smile.
Thyme had asked whether I wanted information on the family – Luke kept tabs on them, I knew – but I refused. That smelled of Edward to me. Spying on them from afar. I gave up my rights to be part of Danny and Briana’s lives when I handed that Will to John and “died,” and quite frankly, I felt that Luke had forsaken that same right. To watch from afar was like keeping a wound open and just tempting fate. Sooner or later infection would set in. Of course, my contrary mind pointed out, sometimes exposing a wound to fresh air was the only way to heal it, keeping it covered just let it fester.
My mind was not usually contrary like that, and I blamed it on my exposure to Luke and Red, with their constant banter. At least, that is what I told myself. .
For once, I was glad when Red came barging into our room without knocking, as I was more than ready for a distraction.
“Get out of bed, men. We’re gonna be out of here in thirty minutes, meeting with the boss lady and her two minions. Word just came in and it’s important. I’m getting the copter ready now.”
“Wha...?” Luke lifted his head, his eyes sharpening within seconds. “Wait! What’s going on?” He was already swinging his legs around one side of the bed as I moved to get out the other.
Red paused at the door. His eyes wore their usual mission ready dark, expressionless shields, but I thought I could detect a hint of…what was it? Concern, worry, as his gaze rested on Luke. Perhaps those, which would make sense if a dangerous mission beckoned, but there was something more, almost a look of hurt, which might explain the rather more brusque tone Red was using. Strange, and something to get to the bottom of before a mission started. I wouldn’t want there to be something off between these two, as that could throw everything awry.
Come to think of it, this was an unusual summons, given that we were all promised the holiday off. Luke clearly thought the same.
“How serious is it, Steve?” Luke asked quietly, now that he’d gotten his best friend to hesitate in his urgent preparations.
“It ain’t the world ending, if that’s what you’re asking, but it’s damn serious...” Again, Red seemed torn about what to say, or perhaps as to whether he should say anything now. I decided to speak, taking command, as it were, since between these two, it was sometimes hard for one or the other to make a decision when it wasn’t immediately life-threatening. Then they had no problem, they worked like a single-minded entity. It was times like this, when one of them had interests that might not be equal to the other’s, or one of them might fly off the handle that the other grew protective.
Which gave me a clue to what was wrong. My intuition told me that it would be better to get Luke moving along and question Red alone, however, rather than have a showdown now.
“I think the best thing to do, Luke, is let Red get the helicopter ready while you shower here and I’ll use the guest shower. We’ll be ready in fifteen minutes, Red, and then Luke can help you finish checking over the helicopter while I gather some overnight things for the three of us, okay?”
Red nodded, a faint gleam of gratitude in his eyes while Luke grumbled at being rushed without knowing why. I followed Red into the hall, grabbing his arm as soon as the door closed behind me.
“Is it Luke’s family?”
He’d started to growl at my familiarity but as soon as I spoke my question, he stopped. Glancing at the bedroom door we’d just come through, he nodded once, sharply.
“Yes, and I don’t like not telling him immediately. But he’ll be insane if we tell him and I have to get him to England, then on to Germany most likely. Danny’s been grabbed, by Brenda O’Keefe, working with Arabs. That’s the short of it.”
“What do they want?”
“We don’t know yet; they haven’t made contact. Thyme just filled me in from what she was able to get from John’s connections...he’s been grabbed too. By the US Government, which is all fucked up! He’s been watched by several parties from the sounds of it. And now someone’s grabbed him but we don’t know yet quite who, though Thyme’s working on it. Knew it was a bad idea for Luke to send him regular contacts. Must have gotten sloppy. Or Johnny boy did, though he’s anal as anyone in the service, I’ll grant him that. Damn, I’m gonna kill the folks that grabbed him. Fucking Patriot Act, my ass. Unpatriotic is what it is. Fuck, we have to hurry, you get ready like you said, just help me keep Luke in line until we reach Thyme and...”
“And fuck that. Why aren’t we going directly to help my brothers?”
We turned. Luke was standing in the doorway, a towel over his shoulder but nothing else on, his face set and furious.
Before Red could get into a shouting match with him, or worse, and he looked fully willing to do so, both of them being the type of men who released anxiety through physical exertion, I knew I had to stop them. So, I stepped in between the two bristling giants. Sometimes I needed my head examined.
“Calm down. Running off half-cocked, not to mention undressed, won’t help either brother, especially since they aren’t in the same place, are they, Red?” I kept my voice even and low, which I’d found usually worked to sooth Luke, and Red, when their tempers flared. I didn’t dare tell either that it was a technique I’d honed on Edward years ago.
“Nope, John’s still in Pittsburgh, least he was the last we heard, and Danny was grabbed in Munich,” Red drawled, his arms folded over his chest.
“Who are we going to meet now?” I asked, a hand on Luke’s arm, trying to steady him. I had my fingers on his wrist and his pulse was flying.
“From what all I know, I think all three.” I looked at Luke, who appeared stunned. For the three main heads of the organization, Thyme and her two assistant directors, to come together at one location, was unprecedented.
“I don’t know everything. I just know that Thyme has involved herself...because John was able to get word out to alert our gang. Otherwise they’d still be in the dark. But it seems that operating independently of each other, a US government agent who disapproves of our charter was trying to locate the whereabouts of Luke O’Keefe at the same time that Danny learned that you and Luke were alive, or might be alive, or had been alive, whatever he was told, he took off from Pittsburgh like a bat out of hell, but not before turning to the one person he thought he could trust to help him find Luke.”
I stared at Red. “I don’t understand. Wouldn’t that have been you?”
The man looked guilty. “It should have been. It had been. Only when Danny had come to me, years ago...”
“I made Steve take him on wild goose chases, nice little camping trips in Afghanistan, where there was no chance of him ever running into me or news of me. He took Matt and Mark too. Once Jamie went. All safely supervised by Red at a time when I was nowhere near the country and in areas where they would be told I was gone. For good. Danny went a couple of times. Almost got himself killed one of those times. When he thought he almost got Steve killed also, he finally gave up. Steve convinced him there was no chance I’d survived.” Luke’s voice was bitter.
I finished dressing and was quickly packing as I listened to him talk. I could always get a shower later. We obviously needed to get going. I gently steered Luke into a fresh shirt. He put it on automatically. Seeing what I was doing, Red grabbed a pair of jeans from the closet and tossed them over so I could get Luke to step into them.
“Danny didn’t call Red this time because I made him someone Danny no longer could trust. Though who the hell had to tell him I was alive? I didn’t want him knowing! He’s got to be hating me. He must have felt he had to find me to tell me to fuck off. But to contact Brenda? My God, she’s fucking insane and has been for, I don’t know how long. I paid her to leave my family alone ages ago.” Luke started pacing the room, his long legs making it an exercise in frustration since he could only get a couple of paces before having to turn around.
“If she’s got Danny, she’ll get him killed.” He turned bleak eyes to us.
“No, she won’t,” Red told him firmly. “We’ll kill the bitch first and take him back. Come on, put your boots on, stop your freaking out and let’s go.”
Luke sat down on the bed and let me put his boots on him, his hands clenching into fists on the sheets. He was filled with pent-up energy and I could see what Red meant about him being a mess in the helicopter. I wasn’t eager to be with Luke in a small, confined space for any length of time. No room to pace in a helicopter.
“Who has John and why?” he asked as we headed down the stairs. I listened as Red patiently repeated the little that he knew. This sense of needing to be in two places at one time was giving me a terrible feeling of déjà vu. I was worried for Danny, even as, like Luke, I feared his reaction to seeing me, to his learning I was alive. Did he even have a reaction to my being alive or would he focus on Luke? I felt worried for Luke’s sake but also a small part of me wondered if now, finally, the loose ends would be fixed.
Sometimes, though, that unpleasant voice in my head that always sounded like Edward, said, loose ends are simply snipped off.
That will not happen to anyone in Luke’s family. I will not permit it.
I buckled my seatbelt and tried to think of a way to prevent Luke from causing the helicopter to crash.
Section III - London; POV/Luke
We made good time getting to the London headquarters. Red was able to land the bird right on the roof of what people in that neighborhood believed to be some type of special care hospital. Linton had been amused the first time he’d been there, something about him and the place going way back. Seemed his first job out of medical school had been in the same building, when it really was a hospital. Small world and all that. I know it gave him a homey feeling to return to the place, once I weaseled out of him the story of how his cousin had closed the place down to try forcing young Peter’s hand. Had to hand it to him, joining the military rather than knuckling under to such pressure. Which is what made it an even bigger shame that he eventually did have to give in to the bastard in the end. I wished I could break Simon’s neck all over again.
When the three of us entered into the main strategy room, the atmosphere was far from encouraging. Part of me had been hoping we’d find out it was all some sort of cruel drill, a mind game of the sort that Williams was fond of – what would O’Keefe do if his family were taken hostage, how would he react, would he still be a reliable agent? Red had been silent on the way here but I knew the dilemma that faced him in a situation like this, hell, it was the dilemma that faced me any time I had to send him or Linton on a mission really – can I place the needs of country ahead of my friend’s needs?
After twenty years, the answer was a clear, fuck no. I would not place the needs of my country, nor the alliance of countries that I served, ahead of my brothers, especially not ahead of Danny, any longer. I’ve done that for too long and I was tired of it. Maybe it was this past year of having a life with Peter, but I no longer was willing to live as a fucking machine, watching the men I loved go off to die possibly, and know that it would be my fault. This situation could well come down to Red and me making different choices between family and duty, and I recognized that. I wasn’t sure if he’d realized it yet. Peter probably had; hell, he’d probably figured it out after the first few minutes. And the hell of it was, I didn’t know which way either of them would decide when it came down to it: Peter because he’d already lost too much by placing his allegiance to a man before his honor, and Red because he valued honor so highly, higher than any allegiance to any man, even me.
With Peter, as much as we’d both comforted ourselves with the thought that he did what he had to with Simon in order to help me, that he did it to protect my little brother and sister, in the end, it still came down to the same thing, he was serving Edward’s whim. And as for Steve...I just didn’t know. He was his own man, always has been. Our friendship means everything to him like it does to me, but so does his honor. And there the fact that he’s Thyme’s man as well. Even if he wouldn’t go against me for the Alliance or even country, would he do it for her?
Williams, Hunter and Summers were at the round table when we arrived, and they stopped their conversation as soon as we made our entrance. We’d let ourselves in by a back entrance to the building and were able to bypass the guarded doors by using secret, coded ones, our security clearance being as high as it got. It was easy to tell from their faces that my forlorn hope that this was simply an elaborate ruse to get us to the Alliance Christmas Party was a no go – six guards, two from each nation stood at attention at equidistant points from the single door to the room. My mind automatically cataloged their fire power. I was surprised to see that they had tazers as well as the usual artillery. Thank God I’d changed in the copter so as to appear in my false guise as the Scottish Colonel, I thought, since they had outsiders present, an unusual occurrence for one of our meetings. No one below Williams’ and Hunter’s level knew that Luke O’Keefe was alive. Glancing meaningfully at the guards, I raised an eyebrow then cleared my throat. I really hadn’t expected them to have a small squadron with them in their inner sanctum.
Red’s face was blank but I could tell from the tension in his posture that he wasn’t pleased by the reception committee either. This was the inner strategy room. There was no one higher than us in the organization, other than the three people we were meeting. It suddenly occurred to me that the three of us were alone on the second tier of authority – as far as we knew. Maybe there were other teams as high as ours, or higher? Difficult to fathom, given the types of missions we did, and the level of secrecy we’d achieved, but one never knew, not really. After all, of the three of us, only Red was known to be alive. Others could be in the same situation Peter and I were–literally ghost soldiers, operating in the nether land that was bureaucratic nullity. According to the records of the United States Government, I was dead – therefore, for all legal purposes, I was dead. If one of these boy soldiers were to shoot me down right now, there would be no repercussions.
Except from Steve and Peter. They’d take quick and deadly revenge, just as I would if any of these boys foolishly decided to hurt my friend or lover. I stared at Thyme, and my look was probably colder than she’d ever seen it.
“Expecting more company or was there perhaps something wrong with my last expense voucher?” My Scottish accent was as thick and dry as I could make it.
“Colonel MacNeill, how nice of you to be so prompt,” Thyme Summers began, ignoring both my oblique reference to their show of force and my coldness. “Please, have a seat. Major Silver, Major Redraven.”
“I prefer to stand.” I stood at attention, my eyes not leaving the armed men opposite me. I knew that Red and Linton would keep watch on the other two sets. I was not pleased by this reception. I wanted to get to work on rescuing Danny and John and dealing with some baby soldiers was not the way to do it to my way of thinking, but nothing could be discussed as long as they were in the room.
“I told you he would take these gentlemen the wrong way,” Charles Hunter turned to Williams and chided him. He’d been my commanding officer’s superior way back in my Fort Bragg days, and when he needed someone for special duty in Afghanistan, Harris had recommended me. I, of course, brought Red along. With a brief pause for Desert Storm, we’d been focusing our work on Afghanistan ever since– roughly twenty years. Hunter was aptly named. He looked and sounded like a genial old man but he was a shrewd and relentless predator, and terrorists and the men who funded and trained them were his prey.
Thyme Summers rolled her eyes. She was another who liked to affect a misleading appearance, often adopting the manner and dress of a mild-mannered schoolteacher. She was far from it, as anyone who crossed her soon learned. She was the director of one of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world – but she preferred to be mistaken for a secretary. As she’s pointed out, that error has saved her life on more than one occasion. I told her once that she would never fool me, since I’ve seen how she wields a whip. That was the first and only time I’d seen Steven Redraven blush. Thyme had just laughed and told Red he shouldn’t barge into other people’s bedrooms if he didn’t want turnabouts to happen. There was no sign of that laughing woman today, though I thought the whip-wielder could be seen in those steely blue eyes.
Of the three, Nigel Williams most looked the part, being tall, handsome, debonair and ultra-suave. I suspected that he once had the hots for Peter; but I would never say as much to my lover, as he’d be horrified by the suggestion that he was wanted for anything other than his brains and skills, which are considerable. Peter can never believe that despite his age, he is still amazingly attractive. The truth is, once he recovered from his injuries and shed that horrible George Main shell, Peter regained his youthful looks, and once again appeared far younger than his age. When he was almost thirty, he couldn’t buy a beer without ID. Now, at fifty, he looks about forty, and a fit forty at that, with his ash blond hair falling over his forehead and his muscular build. The short beard he grew to hide his distinctive chin suits him, and the tan he has from being out in the sun makes his light gray eyes appear even more striking. Even now, Williams was eying him intently. My mood was already evil, all I needed was for the Brit to say something provocative to Peter and I would snap.
As it was, my tone was sharp when I addressed Thyme.
“Why are we here? I understand you have serious news involving certain persons of interest, Thyme. Shouldn’t some action be taken? Instead of your toy soldiers lining up in here?”
Red moved forward but stopped. Linton had put a calming hand on him...amazing that he stopped for that, I noted with a part of my mind, while part of it was focused on the guards and the main part was centered on the woman in control of all of us. I knew I was out of line but the way I was feeling, that comment was mild. Outwardly, I knew I looked perfectly calm; I also knew that the two men with me were under no misconception as to my true state of mind.
“Sit down, Lain.” Thyme spoke quietly, firmly.
“I’d rather stand, thank you.”
“I have something to show you and I prefer that you sit to watch it...please.”
We locked eyes. I didn’t want to have a fight with her about something this stupid but I was so full of pent up energy, I wasn’t sure I could sit...and I didn’t like the idea of sitting with those soldiers in the room. I sensed threat from them. I looked to Red for help reflexively...I didn’t want to put him in the middle but it was an automatic thing. I knew he’d understand. I couldn’t sit with six men with weapons standing over me.
“Madame Summers, with all due respect...we’re Green,” Red almost said Green Beret but remembered my cover in time and smoothly continued, “ boys fresh out of boot camp no longer, not like these shiny new guards you’ve got here. We’re old Special Forces men...all three of us, one way or another...and that makes us jumpy. Ain’t no way any of us are going to be able to sit all cozy with your green, wet behind the ears, soldiers standing over us like boy scouts waiting to make their first...badge.” Red paused significantly before choosing his last word carefully,
“This is insubor...” Williams started to bluster but Linton quietly stepped forward.
“I object to sensitive topics being discussed before a large group like this. If this involves one of our group’s confidential information, then I believe it would be ill advised to have it discussed before a group that, however well vetted by yourselves, is not known to the three of us. If you are indicating that the need is here for security reasons, then perhaps you would like to offer an explanation first for your precautions? If there is a security breach, then by all means, I suggest you check us for weapons. But I do note that we have come here voluntarily at your request, and indeed, at your peremptory request, so to be addressed at gunpoint is rather disconcerting.”
Linton was giving me time to calm down with his slow, deliberate delivery, as had Red, but the problem was, I couldn’t calm down, not when I knew that somewhere, Danny and Jackie needed me. Although I wasn’t supposed to know that. Fuck it all. I sucked in my lip and stared at Thyme. She shook her head.
“Nigel, Charles, I believe we can dispense with our young friends for the time being, although, gentlemen, I assure you they are far from ‘green’ and must assure them that no insult was intended. Major Redraven is just so vastly experienced that he would no doubt consider General Hunter wet behind the ears if the truth were to be told, but I trust he won’t tell it here.” There was a general chuckle from the boy soldiers as they relaxed their stances and at nods from the three leaders, the soldiers stood down.
Thyme continued, “I’m sure Col. MacNeill and his friends can be trusted to be on their best behavior.” She nodded to the guards and they marched out. I felt some of the tension in my body release. I glanced at Red. His arms were crossed over his chest and his face was still set – he was furious, I realized. How ironic. Here I was, finally relaxing a bit because of this slight show of faith, even though I didn’t know why the hell there’d been any lack of faith in the first place and Red was mad as hell that it was confirmed that the little show of might had been due to a lack of trust in us.
We were different that way, Red and me. I was always quick to get mad and then get over it. He was slower to get mad, but once there, he held onto it with tenacity. Thyme was in for it. I didn’t see any reason to be so furious now that the soldiers had been sent away. But then, I wasn’t sleeping with the woman who’d been ready to tazer us, either.
“Would you like to explain that little demonstration, Madam?” Red asked tightly.
“Not at the present. What I would like is to finally get to the subject of Luke’s family, if we may, and if you three would finally sit your asses down in some seats,” she said tartly, her blue eyes shooting icicles back at him. “We’ve wasted enough time over egos. Luke, I have to ask you...exactly what is your relationship to Danny O’Keefe?”
I had to blink at that question. I sat rather heavily. I looked over at my friends. Peter was looking at Thyme, obviously trying to figure out what she was getting at, good for Peter...but Red...Red was staring at the table. That made me blink.
“Red? What the fuck?” I was embarrassed that my voice broke. “What is going on?”
His dark eyes looked up and for the love of God, he looked as upset as I was feeling. “Damn it...” He looked at Thyme and glared. “Couldn’t you just fucking tell the man what’s going on?”
She looked at him calmly. “We need to know what’s involved, Red, you know that.”
“The kid is as good as his boy either way so it don’t matter,” he argued. I felt lost listening to them. What were they talking about? Danny? Of course he was like my boy, I couldn’t love him more than if he were my own son. Then it struck me.
“Jesus, Mary and bloody Joseph! Are you wasting time asking me if Danny is my son? Is that what the fuck this is about? While the boy is being held captive somewhere and God only knows what those nutcases might be doing to him? Is that what this is about?”
“Well, O’Keefe?” Williams leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers as he looked at me. “Is he?”
I couldn’t believe that pompous ass. “I was barely fifteen when Danny was born,” I told him through gritted teeth. “You do the math. I would have to have been fourteen when he was conceived.”
“That doesn’t really answer the question, son,” Hunter pointed out, in his kindly grandfather voice.
I turned to Red. “Steve, would you please tell these idiots that Danny is my brother.”
Before he could answer, Thyme interjected, “I can appreciate that you and Major Redraven go back a long way, but the fact is, he met you several years after the birth of Daniel O’Keefe. The only people who could verify his paternity are dead...other than you and presumably the young man’s mother....”
“The ‘young man’s mother’ is dead!” I shouted, finally losing it. I jumped to my feet. Red jumped up as well, putting his arms around me in a bear hug but I broke free. I whirled around and growled at him. “I’m not going to hit anyone, unless it’s you if you don’t get your hands off me, Red. I want to know what the fuck this bullshit has to do with anything and where the hell my brother Danny is...and my brother John, or are they both fine? I’m thinking they must be or three such intelligence experts as ye’selves wouldn’t be wasting this much time on whether I was getting my end away as a wee lad and impregnating the cheerleaders. Jesus Christ.” I ran my hand through my hair and looked at the ceiling – God didn’t seem to be listening today. But a calm voice cut through my jumbled thoughts, like a breath of cool air.
“There is a point to this interrogation, correct? This allegation has not come out of thin air but is directly connected to young Daniel’s situation, I must presume, which we may as well admit to knowing a small bit about from Major Redraven, so can we please start this briefing and stop with the mysterious hints? I am sure the Colonel would be much more forthcoming if you would explain the significance to you of knowing for certain his youngest brother’s paternity–and I am just as certain that he is saying to you, although not in so many words, that indeed, Daniel David O’Keefe is the son of Patrick and Rose O’Keefe.”
Peter’s voice was so calm and reasonable, it was like an injection of common sense into the room. I felt his cool fingers touch my wrist and knew he was not just taking my pulse...though he was no doubt doing that, the eternal physician...but he also was sending me support directly to my pulse point, almost like he was willing my heart to slow to a calmer rate like his. I took a deep breath. Then another.
Thyme spoke. “We’ve received a demand from a terrorist cell. They’ve asked for the release of certain prisoners we’re holding for trial, in exchange for their release of one Terrell Jennings, an opera star of some renown. For the release of his traveling companion, Daniel O’Keefe, they will not even negotiate with us. They state that they will only, and I quote, ‘speak to his father, the murdering bastard, Luke O’Keefe, who is alive and we know it.’ When told that their information was in error, that Luke O’Keefe was both dead and that Daniel O’Keefe was the son of Patrick and Rose O’Keefe, we were told to check on the interrogation transcripts of a certain John O’Keefe, being held by the Delta Group of the Magma Division of the HSA, the Homeland Security Agency’s Brute Squad. We were just able to get those tapes from early yesterday morning, using an inside man, and indeed, the transcript reveals that your brother John was administered a level four truth serum, and while under its influence, stated that Danny was not his youngest brother, thus confirming the claims of your ex-wife, Brenda O’Keefe.”
Red snorted. “That bitch wouldn’t know a...” I shot him a look and he lowered his comments to a mutter. Meanwhile, Peter was tapping his fingers on the table as he looked up at the ceiling, his eyes fixed on a water mark as though it held the answers to the universe.
“Are we boring him?” Williams asked, looking slightly irritated at Peter’s seeming lack of interest. I knew better. Indeed, no sooner had he spoken than Peter looked down and blinked at him.
“Not at all, old chap. Just figuring this out,” he nodded briskly at Williams then looked at Thyme. “It’s like the old riddle. You know, the one about the man and his son being in a car accident and the man being killed. And the son is rushed to the hospital where he is wheeled into the surgery for a life saving procedure...
“When all at once, the doctor says, I can’t do this surgery, that’s my son! And you believe that answer explains John O’Keefe’s seeming ratification of Brenda O’Keefe’s story?” Thyme looked at Linton as though he were one of her students who’d surprised her with an answer that was two grades above the class’s level. “I do believe that might explain it. How clever of John to be able to couch his answer in such a way despite the drug. And how clever of you to see the significance of it and explain it.”
“Well, I don’t see what it explains, unless it’s that like the Colonel here, the doctor sowed a few wild oats?” General Hunter grumbled, albeit with his smile intact. I rolled my eyes.
“Perhaps the boy was adopted and his real father was the doctor, who recognized the boy, ah, because of a birthmark, or maybe because of a distinctive family trait, like a....” Williams paused.
“Like a chin?” I suggested sweetly. Peter smiled and turned to Thyme. “Do you wish to explain, Director Summers?”
“I believe the riddle’s answer lies in the fact that the
surgeon was the boy’s mother, the unexpected but obvious answer...and what you
are telling us is that we are not looking at the obvious. My esteemed colleagues
were blinded by their assumption that the surgeon was male and thus looked for
convoluted answers...such as a fourteen year old father...instead of something
more obvious. Such as, when John, under the influence of the drug said that
Danny was not his youngest brother, he meant just that and only that.”
Peter inclined his head and then turned to me. “Am I on the right track?”
“Right track, right train, right compartment.” I sat down again and looked at Thyme and Red. The others could go to hell as far as I was concerned. Peter was by my side and I wished like hell that I could hold his hand. “For the record, I will tell you this once and only once, under oath if you feel you need that, although I wish you would have simply accepted that I never would have lied my whole life about something like this – Danny is not my son.” Red looked down for a second and I knew then why he’d been so quiet on the ride here. He knew that Thyme was going to ask me and he must have wondered if I had kept this secret from him all these years. I didn’t know whether to be angry or hurt. I filed it away to think about later.
“Danny is my brother...and my godson. He was born to my mother prematurely...my father’s seventh son. What few people knew was that Danny had a twin brother, who came along twelve minutes later, my father’s eighth son. The little tyke didn’t make it, didn’t have quite the fight in him that Danny did, though the doctor and my Dad did what they could. I still can remember my Dad holding that wee babe, praying for him.”
I brushed my eyes, not wanting to cry but damn if the memory of those hours wasn’t hard, even now. I focused on Steve’s strong face across from me, and the warmth of Peter’s body next to mine, ignoring the others in the room.
“My mother was in a very fragile state, physically and mentally. My father was seriously worried for her if she were to lose another child, and the doctor wouldn’t give him any assurance that either baby would make it past the first week. John and I were there for the christenings, along with Father Xavier, and it was touch and go for all three of them, Mama and the babies. Dad had sent the girls and my older brothers away when Mama went into labor because he didn’t want them interfering in his decisions. I think...I know...that if the doctor had said it was Mama or the babies, Dad would have said to save Mama and he didn’t want any witnesses around who might tell on him later. He knew he could trust Jackie and me to always do what he said, of all his children we were probably his most obedient. At least back then we were. Anyway, after the birth, things stayed dicey, but Mama insisted she had to see her baby boy. So...he made the decision to let her see David, because he seemed like the stronger baby. But...Danny started to cry just at that moment that Dad was picking up David and Mama heard, weak as she was and smiled this brilliant smile. She insisted all the more forcefully that he bring her baby to her, for couldn’t he hear the wee boy crying for his mother? Well, he couldn’t very well leave the wailing one in the bassinet and bring her the quiet one.”
“She didn’t know she was having two before she delivered?” Thyme asked me, shocked.
“No...somehow the doctor had missed it on the ultrasounds and all. The babes must have been wrapped so close to each other, I heard one of the nurses say, and I guess their heartbeats sounded like one. Maybe what Dad did was wrong...I know many people would say it was, but you have to understand...my mother was not right in her head back then. If she’d known that her babies were dying...I don’t know if she would have pulled through herself. One of the reasons he kept the girls away was that he wanted her to feel that the baby needed her and only her for care and on that point, his plan worked. Her will to live was incredible. So, he wasn’t about to tell her that there was another baby who didn’t make it. The doctor agreed because she was so very weak and she’d come so close to dying after she’d lost her last baby that they were afraid of how she’d react. So they thought, let’s wait and see. If both babies survived, it would have been a wonderful surprise, if not, then she’d not suffer. I swear, I think my father was even contacting the Sisters at the Convent about any babies given up for adoption just in case both babies died. And in fact, Brenda’s snooping was accurate on that point. There had been a girl at my school who’d left the area pregnant the year before.”
“Was she a girlfriend of yours?” Williams looked at Charles meaningfully. Thyme looked like she wanted to hit him this time. I shook my head.
“No, sir. Not to seem like a late-bloomer or anything but I didn’t lose my virginity until I was sixteen, so no way I could have fathered Danny or that girl’s baby, whatever she had. In any event, John and I were the only ones in the family taken into my father’s confidence. The babies were both in poor condition and he needed to get them baptized the day they were born...just in case, you understand. He didn’t want to let any of the girls know because they might tell my mother about the second baby. And my older brothers, well, one was married and the other was away at college and going steady with a very lovely lady. Both those lovely ladies would never have allowed my brothers to keep such a secret from my mother. To not tell her of the existence of one of her babies? Such a thought would be devastating to Julie or Lynn. But, for me and John, our Dad’s word was law. We loved Mama but we worshipped Dad at that age and if he said something was for the best, it was.”
I fell silent, remembering that early morning, dressed in our Sunday clothes as Father Xavier performed the baptism service in the sterile hospital room, young John, just eleven, standing as Godfather to poor wee David Daniel, and me, tall gangly teen that I was, holding tiny Daniel David in my arms, as austere Fr. Xavier dumped that water over his little red face. Lord how he squawked, a brawny set of lungs on him even then for such a wee scrap. Not long after that, though, as Danny clung to his twin, the poor mite struggled to breathe with all those tubes attached. His bigger body, which made him seem so much the healthier baby, actually made it so much harder for him to survive. God, the sight of Danny all alone in the bassinet when they finally took David away made me want to cry. He looked so lonely without his twin, his stick-like little arm reaching out and finding nothing there. I just had to talk the nurses into letting me into the nursery so I could hold the little mite. I couldn’t stand him being all alone in the bassinet that was too big for him on his own.
I didn’t realize that I’d said all of that out loud until I heard a sniff and looked up to see Red handing Thyme a handkerchief. Hell, I didn’t know Red even owned any handkerchiefs. Charles was blowing his nose as well, while Williams was fussing with his shoelaces, tying and retying them. I cleared my throat.
“Anyway, after baby David died, John and I were forbidden to ever mention that he’d existed. Fr. Xavier kept the matter quiet, of course, since it was a confidence of his parishioner and it was done to preserve Mama’s health. It wasn’t like the baby was born out of wedlock or anything and the secret was being kept to hide a sin. Danny grew stronger, thankfully, and Mama never did find out that she’d lost a baby then, nor was Danny ever told that he’d had a twin.”
“And Brenda? Where does she come into this?” Peter asked quietly.
I frowned. “Brenda stumbled upon the grave once when she and I were visiting my family. It’s a wonder she’s the only one ever to do so. But the gravestone was placed in an older part of the Catholic Churchyard, and of course, the family doesn’t go there much any more, not since Danny came out at sixteen. But this was back, oh, over eighteen years ago now. We had other family there, of course, including my baby sister, Colleen, but Dad was not so foolish as to bury David in the same part of the cemetery. John used to go to the grave and take care of it, I think, but Dad discouraged him from doing so, afraid that someone would see him, I think. Anyway, Brenda and I were at the graveyard for one reason or other, a Memorial Day, I think, and we were walking around when she found the grave and started asking questions. Who was this David who died the same year Danny was born? From there, she kept putting two and two together and getting five. Why was I closer to Danny than the other boys? Why did I give Danny a phone line? Why did I invite Danny to visit me but not Jamie, who was older? “
I stood up and started to pace, thinking of Brenda, the tall, fun-loving girl I’d met so many years ago during my early days in the military. I’d thought she was a good sport, someone who didn’t take life too seriously, who looked good on my arm. It wasn’t until I tried ending our marriage of convenience, that I saw the other side of her, the obsessive, malicious side. Red had tried to give me hints, with a tactfulness that was completely unlike him, but as he later pointed out, it wasn’t easy to tell your best friend that he’d married a barracuda.
Brenda had hated anyone she saw as coming between her and me, which had included Red, of course, since the two of us were always tight. She’d hated Linton on sight too, but he hadn’t been around all that much to be affected by her. I was concerned to learn just how vindictive she could be, but most of my knowledge came long after the fact and while Red could more than handle her, my little brother was a whole different matter. I finally gave her a payoff, a generous divorce settlement, including the rights to my military pension, but I stipulated that she had to stay away from my family, including particularly my youngest brother and sister. Peter had kept a look-out for her while Danny and Angel were in New York and it wasn’t until sometime later that I found out that she continued to see Danny on the sly in different cities around the world under the guise of her supposed career as a photojournalist.
Being ’dead’ made some things a little difficult, and carrying out threats against ex-wives was one of them. I should have thought to give a warning to John that Brenda was bad news but it never occurred to me that she would go so far as to have Danny grabbed in an effort to please her terrorist friends, or, more likely, get herself a front row seat on some hot story. The fact that she was risking Danny’s life as well as that other singer’s would be irrelevant to her if she managed to capture a great story–and convince the authorities that she was an innocent party too. She was probably counting on Danny’s help in accomplishing that. She was a great one for glossing over unpleasant details and her collaboration with terrorists would be just the type of “detail” she’d want to skip over in the telling of her Pulitzer Prize winning story. Over my dead body, I thought grimly.
I whirled and faced Thyme, the leader of our little pack. “Where do I go to get Danny freed and how soon can I head out?”
She exchanged looks with the other two.
“You don’t, Luke.”
“What!” I was sure I was hearing her wrong. I looked at Red. He was frowning at Thyme.
“Just wait and hear me out,” she urged before I could storm out of the room. “I have a man on the inside with Brenda’s cell. A long time has gone into getting this agent into place with the same cell that Brenda is associated with, but we accomplished it, and the timing is perfect. She and her associate have joined up with the man who is calling the shots on this and he is someone we’ve wanted to capture for a long time. We can’t allow personal feelings to get in the way of the best chance we’ve had in...”
I felt a cold chill. “You’re using my brother as bait.”
“No! Not at all. They’re using him as bait. We’re just not going to waste the opportunity to turn the situation to our advantage, nor are we going to waste you in the process. We must insist that you stay in your cover...and leave this operation to others. I am willing to allow Steven to command and I am sure you will trust him to do his best to bring your brother home.”
“You are willing,” I repeated quietly. “And my other brother? Are you willing to bring him home safely also? Or is he expendable?” I kept an iron control on my temper. I could not risk any display of emotion at this point. Thyme was watching me closely. She seemed satisfied that I was listening. Which I was...I just wasn’t agreeing.
“I will personally see to the release of your other brother, Luke. I will make sure that the persons who...interfered...with his well-being are dealt with appropriately. A young man who is a friend of your brother’s and whom I became personally acquainted with was also roughly treated, and that will be addressed, I give you my word.”
“Your word.” I repeated as I stared at her and she colored slightly.
“Luke, you must understand...you are too close to this. I
accept that Daniel is not your son, but you have convinced me that it makes no
difference. The young man couldn’t be any more important to you if he were your
son instead of your brother. That is the type of feeling Jareed and his cohorts
are trying to capitalize on. I cannot send you into this negotiation, or indeed,
any of my men into this behind your command, with your judgment clouded as it
would be by your personal feelings.”
“So you’re taking Irish off this mission, because he’d give too much of a damn about his boy? And you figure I’ll be able to treat it as just another job for you?” Red spoke up, practically his first words in a half hour.
Thyme turned to look at him. She opened her mouth but then closed it again, for the first time seeming uncertain of what to say.
“Fuck you, lady. We’re out of here. Come on, Irish, English. We got a pup to rescue from a crazy bitch.”
I felt a smile tugging at my lips. Trust Red to come up with the right metaphor for the situation.
“Now, Red, you don’t want to be rude to Ms. Thyme.”
“Sure I do, treating me like I’m some kind of heartless bastard.”
While he continued to bitch and moan, with Williams and Hunter staring at him aghast, and Thyme watching the show with a tolerant smile on her lips, Lord knew this was no doubt what she loved in the man, Linton, ever on the ball, was quietly perusing the file from under Williams’ nose. The man had a photographic memory so whatever was in it, he’d be able to tell the rest of us. Red kept up his rant until he saw Linton slide the file back–which he did after slipping a small disc into his breast pocket.
As soon as he was done and had the file back in place with its disc secured in his jacket, I heaved a sigh.
“I don’t want to cause a rift between my men and you, Ms. Summers...Thyme. Especially not between....” I just looked between her and Peter instead of her and Red and her cheeks pinked. I took note of Williams’ startled expression with satisfaction. Let him try to figure that one out, I thought, maliciously. Linton maintained his expressionless demeanor, but then he leaned over and brushed his lips across Thyme’s ear lightly, whispering something to her. The pink color in her cheeks deepened. Peter settled back in his chair and looked blandly at Red and me before turning to the other men. His nod was so faint I was sure it was imperceptible to Hunter and Williams, just as I was sure that Red didn’t miss it. Whatever he’d suggested to Thyme, she must have agreed to.
“I believe we should do what Ms. Summers suggested, and allow Major Redraven to head the team going to Munich, but perhaps it would be acceptable for Colonel O’Keefe to serve as consultant to the team, as long as he promises not to interfere with the negotiations and to maintain his cover at all times?”
Linton kept one hand on my arm and the other on Red’s.
“I don’t think...” Williams started to argue but Thyme cut him off. She looked apologetic, of course, but she simply spoke right over him all the same. If a man had done that, I reflected, there would have been hell to pay, but she smiled politely and he had to give way– being a gentleman. Red claimed this was why he was never a gentleman; they got taken advantage of all the time.
“I believe that the best thing to do right now would be to have the three of you go back to your London accommodations while we try to reach the group holding your brother and Jennings. The plane is ready to fly at a moment’s notice so there will be no harm in trying to make some headway with them from here before rushing there. Meanwhile, I will be making arrangements to go to Pittsburgh to secure John O’Keefe’s release. Charles, dear, I believe I could use your help in that regard while Nigel keeps an eye on operations in Munich.”
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Williams reminded her grimly. “I have every sympathy for O’Keefe here and his family situation but...”
“No one is suggesting that any terrorists be released in exchange for Daniel O’Keefe,” Thyme Summers interrupted Williams yet again. “Don’t mistake my rationale, or Charles’ in not wanting Colonel O’Keefe to be running this operation. It isn’t because he’d be handing over anything they asked, Nigel...far from it. It is because he’d kill everyone he believed to have had a hand in touching his brother...no negotiations, no quarter, no mercy.”
I folded my arms across my chest and stared down at the Brit who was trying not to look bothered by her words as he returned my look. Nigel Williams had known me for over fifteen years but I suspected that until that moment, he’d never seen the real me. The person I’d become after two decades of war, that is. I was still fairly good at appearing as good old Luke, the Irish-American soccer player from Pittsburgh, PA. Only with Peter do I ever feel like that person now – the things I’ve done, the things I’ve seen, have marked me too much, scarred me in ways I can’t shake. Only Red can really understand because he was there every step of the way. The difference with Red is that he’s always carried the look of what we’ve done on his outside, even before we experienced it, he looked the part of the battle weary warrior. Me, I’m Cuchulaiin, ever the boy warrior, who turns into something inhuman in battle. I hated it, it tore me apart later and I did penance every day of my life, but monsters like the men my ex-wife had aligned herself with, monsters who presently held my cherished little brother, were the reason Red and I had to be monsters too. Williams must have gotten a glimpse of that side of me because his gaze shifted away and he muttered something noncommittal. Red laughed softly, a very different sound from the sound he made when something was funny. This sound was chilling..
“We shall adjourn to our accommodations,” Linton said, rising to his feet. “You know how to reach us when you are ready for us to proceed. I trust it will not be too long?”
“Of course not, of course not, we’ll be in touch very soon,”
Hunter said genially, as though we’d been at afternoon tea. “I’m sure we’ll be
able to get this worked out very quickly. And Luke...the man who took your
brother John? It was a man by the name of Gruning. Someone who had a run-in with
you years ago apparently. His career was stalled in the Marines as a consequence
of a matter you reported involving some of his officers and he’s held a grudge
ever since. You’d think he would have been happy to have you stay dead.” Hunter
shook his head.
I thought back, the name wasn’t ringing any bells until Linton and Red both said at the same time, “Eli, Fort Dix.”
How could I forget that bastard? Frank Gruning, the bastard with the nice wife, who’d warned me about the plan to attack Peter with ringers when he was doing his martial arts demonstration? Peter had won though, being a hell of a lot better than they knew, but the assholes blamed one of the poor soldiers who lost to him, a huge black private who happened to be gay, and decided to teach him a lesson by having him bashed by his own fellow soldiers. The three of us had broken up the fight, saving the private’s life, and had arranged for the court martial of the Captain who’d led the attack. Gruning was the Major who’d no doubt been behind it, but his Captain refused to talk and Gruning only got a reprimand for the lack of discipline among his soldiers.
I looked at Hunter. “Save him for me,” I told him.
“You can’t kill him; you’re supposed to be dead,” Thyme gently reminded me. “Don’t worry, I will do as much if not more than you or Red would do yourselves. Will you be satisfied with that?”
I looked at her. “Can I trust you?”
She didn’t wince this time, though her eyes did flick over to Red. I didn’t have to look. I knew he’d be with me on this.
“Take Eli with you,” Red said.
“I don’t think...” Thyme was about to argue, but there was a buzz from the intercom. Hunter looked at Williams.
“Are we expecting any information?”
“Only pertaining to these matters are we to be interrupted,” Williams assured her in his clipped voice.
He reached for the button while Linton pulled me back down into the chair. Red leaned behind me, his hands on my shoulders. I was afraid to breathe. It would be just like Brenda to harm Danny just to flush me out...but how far would she go? Fuck, we’d been wasting too much time. I didn’t care how much time had gone into creating this cover, or who they thought Brenda and her boyfriend could lead to, Danny was more important. Steve’s big hands squeezed my shoulders and the pain gave me something to focus on besides my panic. Peter sat calmly beside me, his hand resting on mine and I didn’t give a shit what Hunter or Williams thought; I needed my blood brother and my partner for support right now, and if either of them felt it made me unmanly, fuck it and them.
“What is it, Connors?” Williams’ tone said to make it brief.
“There is a new video from Munich...and we intercepted two persons of interest in Paris whom we thought you would want to speak with...they were chartering a flight to Munich, and our information indicated they were going in search of O’Keefe and Jennings.”
“Popular men among the chartered plane crowd,” Williams murmured. I really didn’t like him.
“Who are they?” Hunter asked. The intercom muted the sounds in the room unless the speaker button was pressed so Williams had to repeat the question.
“The French director, Stephen Lane and an American, the owner of an advertising agency who is a business associate of Lane’s but also connected to O’Keefe, his...boyfriend...Brian Kinney.”
I didn’t blink an eye at the emphasis Connors put on the word “boyfriend” but from the tightening of Thyme’s lips and the frown Hunter made, I had the satisfaction of knowing that the man was likely to get his consciousness raised sooner than later. I could turn my thoughts to more important matters, like what the hell Kinney was doing getting in the way? And more important, what did the new video show? I still had to see the first one. I leaned forward.
“I want to see that video. Put Kinney and Lane on ice for now.”
“No,” Linton surprised me by objecting. “Let’s get moving. Bring Kinney and Lane to us, please, Ms. Summers, as well as a copy of the video. We’ve waited long enough. We can touch base with our thoughts once we’ve seen it.”
“You don’t think we should all see it together?” Williams looked surprised as Linton stood up. Red and I followed his lead. Thyme looked thoughtful. I saw her place a hand on Hunter’s arm and he stilled whatever comment he was about to make. A lot of quiet signals were going on in this room, I thought.
“No, perhaps the Major is right. Emotions are still rather high right now. I suggest we take an hour break and reconvene.”
Williams spoke with Connors, telling him to have Lane and Kinney brought to the hotel near the headquarters. A courier was to bring a copy of the video to our room there as well. We nodded to the three directors and made a quick exit, passing their security detail on our way out. We had them disabled in three minutes. It took that long because Peter wouldn’t let us hurt them, figuring that would put us in Thyme’s black books. He noted that it was a flaw in their security system that there were no cameras in the hall. The reason was to preserve the identities of those who met with the directors, but by the same token, it permitted hooligans like us to misbehave.
“Maybe they should equip these younguns with beepers, you know, those ones for folks that say, ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?’” Red looked down at the two Canadians he’d just tied up and gagged, whose eyes were looking daggers back at him.
“That is a brilliant idea...perhaps you should drop an email to Nigel?” I grinned, rolling the Americans into the closet together...close together. I told them that I wouldn’t ask, so they wouldn’t have to tell if they got up to any snuggling in the closet. They looked daggers at me too– glaring must be taught in the Alliance training modules.
“Perhaps we should get a move on before Nigel comes looking for his boy solders?” Linton suggested dryly, doing a very workmanlike job of tying the young British soldiers up. Sometimes he had no sense of how to relieve tension.
It was child’s play to take out the courier who was delivering the director’s copy of the video to them – and it was Connors himself, which pleased me greatly, as I decked him. Peter didn’t even reprimand me.
“Kinney and Lanier?” I asked him, after handing him the CD of the second video to put with the other one.
Peter turned to Connors. Applying one of his excruciatingly painful grips to the man’s elbow, he pleasantly stated, “We’re on your side, Connors, but we don’t have time for a full briefing. We’re the team being sent for Jennings and O’Keefe and you were a bit late, you see. Shouldn’t tarry so. Now this grip won’t cause permanent damage if I don’t keep the pressure on one spot for too long, so I suggest you tell me without any more tarrying ... where did you leave Lane and the ‘boyfriend’?”
I love Linton. He mimicked Connor’s tone of voice perfectly when he said “boyfriend.” The man paled even more than he had when the nerves in his elbow started getting crushed.
“Downstairs...holding room two...Yiow...Christ, you’re breaking my arm!”
“And you’re lying. Now the truth or you’ll never use this arm again, dear chap.”
Christ, Linton could look cold. A sweat was breaking out on the man’s brow.
“I can’t tell you...if you’re our side....”
“I am on the side of the men being held and I am beginning to wonder what side you are on, soldier...ten seconds and you’ll be pensioned off...can’t shoot with the other arm, can you?”
“Fuck...you’re one of those crazy ones...” The man looked at Red and me for help and knew there was no hope to be found with us. I wondered if Linton really would ruin the man’s arm, and then knew he wouldn’t say it if he couldn’t do it. Linton didn’t bluff. With tears of pain on his face, the man told us that Lanier and Kinney were in a car in front of headquarters.
Was Danny facing men like us somewhere in Munich, I wondered as we hurried down a back staircase after disposing of Connors with the half dozen guards in an empty room.
“I really do think security needs a complete overhaul at this place,” Linton mused, leading the way down the stairs to the ground floor. “Ms. Summers isn’t very safe here. Doesn’t it worry you, Red?”
Red snorted at that. “The woman knows as many ways to disable a man as you, English...probably more. And she fights dirtier. But I’d guess that she doesn’t like how easy it is to overcome the staff here. Most likely she already is aware of it and will use this as what she calls a ‘teachable moment’ for Williams, who is not the easiest man to get to see someone else’s point of view.”
We reached the ground level and Linton took us out by a roundabout route that exited into an alley.
A dark windowed Mercedes was around the corner. While we couldn’t see into the back seat, it was the only car around with bulletproof windows and what clearly looked to be an agent standing guard outside while a second man was at the wheel. Red and I looked at Linton, who rolled his eyes.
“Why is it that the little man always has to pull duty as attack dog?”
“Because we can’t be unobtrusive,” I explained, although there was no need. The question was rhetorical and he was already pulling up his collar and handing his gun to Red. With a few simple adjustments, Peter looked like a Cambridge professor, on his way home for tea. A very absent-minded looking professor. He walked along patting his pockets as though he were missing something. He stopped by the car and engaged the guard in conversation.
“He’s amazing how he does that,” Red said admiringly, as the tough looking guard, who dwarfed Peter, left his post and walked along with him several steps, apparently trying to explain something to him. There was a lot of pointing and Peter had a pencil out and some scraps of paper. They were getting closer to our alley. We both stepped back, well out of view.
“Get ready,” I said unnecessarily. Red rolled his eyes at me. Peter had his hand on the man’s arm as they drew even with the opening to the alley and Peter made as though he were stumbling, causing the man to catch him. Peter applied one of his numbing grips and the man buckled over in pain, giving Red the chance to step up behind him and deliver a blow to knock him out. Peter stood just in view of the driver, seemingly struggling to hold the bigger man up, and called to the driver of the car for help.
“I say! Your friend seems to be ill, can you come help please!”
As expected, the driver got out at once and rushed over. Hopefully that meant there wasn’t a third man in the car with Kinney and Lanier, but we didn’t have time to worry about that. I knocked the driver out as he drew near, thankful that headquarters were located in a fairly deserted part of London since we were basically committing battery right in the middle of the sidewalk and hoping no one would notice. Or care.
There was a third man in the car but he was busy with his cell phone – the level of agent had definitely deteriorated in recent years. I was going to have to talk to Hunter about it if I still had a position after this. Lanier and Kinney were both unconscious, which made grabbing them easy. We dumped the third man in the alley and headed off, Linton tallying how many “co-workers” as he put it, we’d disabled in our little spree thus far.
“Where to?” Red asked, once we got away from the block in front of headquarters. He was driving. Linton was in front with him while I sat in the back with our guests. They seemed to have been given something to knock them out, which pissed me off and displeased Linton. More and more it got harder to tell us from the bad guys.
“I suggest going directly back to the airfield. Our belongings are there and I have supplies among my things that will aid in reviving our friends. Thyme has a plane there for our use and....”
I was startled and so was Red. “How the hell do you know that?”
Peter looked coolly at both of us. “It was all arranged when I whispered in her ear, naturally. She never intended for Luke to be left behind but had to put on a show for the other two. I surmised as much and simply confirmed it with her. You two really should be more sensitive to the undertones.”
I looked at Red who looked just as flummoxed as I felt. He just shrugged though, and told me, “no figuring it out now, Irish...must be a girl thing.” I laughed; Peter might be far slimmer and smaller than us but there wasn’t a feminine thing about him–thank the Lord.
“What did the file say?” I’d been dying to ask since he’d read it. Far too much time had been wasted and the plan to head straight for the airfield was the best idea I’d heard yet.
“Not much,” Linton said apologetically. “They know that Danny and Jennings got off the plane in Munich and had a late meal at the Rot Hund together with Brenda and Jareed. The four of them were seen leaving together, apparently on good terms, but one waiter said that he thought there was something odd about their mannerisms. Danny had been upset but then Jennings had smoothed things over. There had been a fight over the check, the waiter remembered and Jareed got more upset over losing to Jennings than was normal, according to the waiter. Whoever questioned the waiter didn’t do a good job. They dismissed his observations. It would probably be a good idea to question him again.”
“Did he see how they left?”
“He wasn’t asked, but someone this observant likely would have noted that, is what I’m thinking.” Linton nodded to me. “We’ll check with him as soon as we arrive if we don’t have any better leads.”
We bullied our way onto the plane and got it gassed up and ready to go in a blessedly short amount of time – our high level security clearance being good for something. I figured Thyme must be keeping the others busy or maybe they just decided to let us have our way. This way there’d be no accountability if we did wipe out the whole cell. We were being cleared for take-off, Kinney and Lane tucked into their seats, when Thyme’s voice came over the radio.
“You three could be shot out of the air, you do know that, don’t you?”
“We have two innocent men on board, love. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for the deaths of an Oscar winning director and the ‘boyfriend’ of a top model and....”
“Can it, Redraven, I am not pleased with the three of you but I am less pleased with at least two dozen other people right now, so you’re way down the list. I am not pleased that Mr. Kinney or Mr. Lane were treated roughly. I trust that they are all right?”
“Major Silver is still trying to revive them actually. Someone saw fit to drug them, Director Summers.” My voice was as stern as hers was.
“There will be accountability, Col. MacNeill, on all sides. I trust you have a reason for taking them with you?”
“Actually, I do. I didn’t want anything else to happen to them, and it seemed the best way to ensure that was to keep them with me, the way people are being grabbed. My brother has a particular fondness for these two men and I’d hate to have to explain to him that I let anything happen to them, especially Kinney.”
“I could have put them in protective custody,” she replied.
“That’s what we were afraid you’d offer, and since we’ve seen how secure your building there is, we thought being with us was safer,” Red interjected from the pilot’s seat. We shared a grin.
There was silence from Thyme, then, “Have you looked at the video yet?”
“No, we wanted to get in the air first.”
“Do so. Then...contact me with your plan for dealing with Jareed.”
“And Brenda,” I added, my ex being one of my top priorities for revenge.
“I don’t think that is going to be a concern,” she said dryly. “Watch the video then report back as soon as you’ve calmed down. I need to get back to the States.”
I looked at Red and Linton, at a loss to understand her. The video cleared up the mystery. She was right – Brenda wasn’t going to be a problem anymore. But we didn’t have the time to fuck around with my emotions – to hell with calming down. We had to get Danny and his friend the hell away from those psychos.
Section IV - Munich, Germany, POV/Danny O’Keefe
We were blind-folded and our hands tied and despite my best efforts at keeping track of the turns, I had no idea where we were taken in relation to where we’d gotten into the car. Brenda and Jareed spoke only in Arabic and I regretted never learning the language. I’d considered it – Luke and Red had assured me I’d be able to learn it as easily as they did, but Dad had complained that I already spent too much time with my head in books. Figured, Luke spoke multiple languages and it made him a super-soldier; I did it and it made me a nerd.
Luke. My hero brother. Or could Brenda’s crazy story be true? I knew I was focusing on old grudges like Dad’s unfairness because it was easier to think about that old, familiar pain than this new searing pain that was trying to tear me apart, distracting me from thinking of a way to get Terry and me out of our very real crisis. Luke was my father? I couldn’t take it seriously. It even sounded ridiculous to think it, like a bad parody of Star Wars. It took every good thing between us and turned it into a lie. At least, with him being alive, there was hope of an explanation, and even with the hurt of Luke not coming to me, there was the overriding fact that anything would be worth him being alive. Any half-assed explanation would do, it really would.
But this? Our whole life together being a lie? Not just him and me, but my God, my mother. What this would mean...Mama wouldn’t have been my mother. I sat back in that car, blind-folded, and thought about Brenda’s story. Some unknown teenage girl was my mother and Mama just pretended to be my mother? Or was tricked into thinking I was her baby when her baby died? And Luke let that happen. Let his father claim his son as his own, why? For Mama’s sake?
I could see my father doing that. My father would do anything for my mother. And he always did treat me differently. As did Luke. In my mind, I saw scenes of my childhood flash by. The Christmases when I sat on Luke’s lap as presents were opened while Angel sat on Dad’s lap, Jamie too big to sit on a lap even as a child. Luke rocking me when I was frightened by a nightmare. Luke teaching me to play soccer, his legs so long that I barely came up to his knees. It would be Luke and me, and Matt with his boys, Mark and his....
“It hurts to be lied to, doesn’t it, Danny boy? You give your love to someone and then you find out they aren’t who they said they were? Makes you hate them, doesn’t it?”
“Love is not love which alters, when it alteration finds,” Terry quietly said from the front seat.
“Shut up!” Brenda shrilly ordered, and I heard a thud.
“Terry?” I hated being blindfolded.
“I suggest you both stay quiet, Daniel. We shall arrive at our destination soon and as I said, anything you do will cause repercussions for your friend.” Jareed added a terse comment to Brenda in his language that made her grumble but she shut up, thankfully. I could hear Terry breathing heavier and hoped that he wasn’t hurt too badly.
When the car stopped, I was grabbed roughly by what felt like two men outside the car and dragged stumbling up a set of stairs. I could hear men cursing as they tried getting Terry out of the car. Damn, it sounded like he wasn’t able to move under his own power at all. What the fuck did Brenda do to him?
“Let little Danny help; he’s stronger than he looks,” was Brenda’s suggestion. “Why break your backs hauling his big ass lover up those stairs? He must be used to picking up men.” The men laughed.
I never knew I could learn to hate someone so quickly but I was hating her, her snide voice, her superior attitude. To think how much I used to like and trust her. She whipped my blind-fold off and a man I hadn’t seen before cut the ties from my hands. We were in front of a stucco style, two story house surrounded by woods. The nearest neighbors looked to be a good quarter mile away, judging from the lights, but it was nighttime so it was hard to be sure. I blinked, squinting to get my bearings. Terry was slumped in the front of the car and I moved forward toward him but the man who’d cut the ties on my hands nudged me with the knife and told me in German to wait.
I looked at Jareed who was standing about ten feet away with another man. “Well, may I see what your bitch did to him, sir?” I asked in German, with exaggerated politeness.
Brenda growled and I think she would have gone for me with the handle of her gun, but Jareed was amused and sharply told her to settle down. From the way he was eying me, there could be some advantage to be gained there, I thought. I kept my face as neutral as I could, and waited for his permission to move. Deferring to Jareed while ignoring her was driving Brenda crazy and pleasing him, I noticed, as the other men nodded approvingly and commented in Arabic. I was beginning to suspect that there was still someone else above Brenda and Jareed in this little gang’s pecking order, so setting the two of them at odds could only work to my advantage.
“Sure, see to your friend, O’Keefe, and then see what bright ideas you have for getting him up to the second floor since our hot-headed beauty has rendered him temporarily out of commission.”
I hurried over to kneel by Terry. I felt his head gently and it was easy to see the reason for his unconsciousness – there was a tennis ball sized knot on the back of his head. I leaned forward to whisper in his ear.
“Ter, Terrell, come on buddy, wake up for me.”
“Do you really think whispering sweet nothings in his ear will do it?” Brenda’s harsh voice sounded right behind me.
“No, but perhaps some water would help, if you’d be so kind?” I replied sweetly.
“Get him some water, Brenda.” Jareed ordered. “We don’t have all night. Albashek, Tahnoun, get the upstairs room ready then come back down to help carry the man in. We may need to fashion a stretcher if we can’t revive him. Maybe you’ll think next time, woman.”
I felt for Terry’s pulse. Strong fingers closed over mine. My eyes raised slowly and I peered up through the shield my hair offered. Terry’s eyes were just barely open so I leaned as close as I could without attracting anyone’s attention. His voice was barely a breath.
“I think this is our best chance for getting away, Chief. Once they get us in that house, we’re dead men. Jareed has the keys in his right jacket pocket. Gun in his right hand behind you, six feet.”
I swallowed hard. He was right. But it was risky as hell and the highest risk was to him. I looked at him and he winked faintly at me.
“I love you,” I mouthed and got the faintest smile back as I sprang up, spinning around to kick the gun out of Jareed’s hand. I followed it up with a blow to his jaw that should have put him out but the man had one fucking hard jaw because he took that punch and came back with his own despite the blood coming from his face as well as the hand I’d kicked. Meanwhile, Terry was scrambling for the dropped gun but he still had his hands tied so he was fumbling in his efforts to aim it. I’d just managed to get a chokehold on Jareed, my forearm around his neck, when I heard the blast of a handgun and Terry’s yell as he dropped the gun.
“Let go of Jareed, Danny or I’ll shoot your friend again.”
“Drop the gun, Brenda, or I’ll snap Jareed’s neck.” I tried to speak as coldly as she did. Terry was kneeling on the ground, his hand to his shoulder. I wondered if there was any chance that some good, law abiding German had heard the shot and would call the police.
“Go ahead, snap his neck. Albashek and Tahnoun are at the top of the stairs with rifles leveled on you both, Danny. Nice try but you lost. Now be the good boy we both know you are, let Jareed go and we’ll give your friend a band-aid for his shoulder as a sign of good will.”
I could so easily snap the neck of the man I was holding and at least there would be one man less against us. But, I wasn’t so sure that would be a good thing. His was a saner voice than Brenda’s, I suspected.
“This is an uncomfortable position, Daniel, so, which is it to be? Not that I care to rush you, you understand, but your friend is bleeding a bit.” Jareed’s voice had that humorous note in it even now. I decided they were all insane.
“Well, I guess that band-aid would come in handy then.” I tried to match their nonchalant tone.
“Can we take it that his wound will count as my ‘punishment’ and no further retaliation will be taken against Terry?”
I relaxed my hold on Jareed slightly but as he tried to break free, he found that he still could not. My upper body strength tended to surprise people who judged on appearances. Just because I didn’t have the muscles of a steroid junkie, they made the mistake of thinking I wasn’t as strong as someone built like a football player. Dancers did more lifting in a day than any gym god did in a month with the Nautilus.
“Ah, ah, ah...I believe I can accept your word as a gentleman, Jareed, but I’d like to hear it,” I said softly, for his ears only. I pressed against him, but lightly. This was a dangerous game to play if I was wrong.
“You have my word...no further injury to him...this time. But do not try any more foolish heroics, Daniel. Or I will kill him. And the man who will be joining us gives no second chances.”
I let the man go. We looked each other in the eye. He seemed to be giving me a message but I couldn’t read it. Brenda walked up and slapped me...hard.
I shrugged past her and went to Terry.
“Sorry about that, Chief. I was too slow.” He smiled at me as I tried to pull his hand away from his bloody shoulder.
I looked at him aghast. “You’re apologizing to me? You fucking idiot, you’re the one who’s shot! Let me see....”
“This is all quite tender and sweet but we want you inside, now! Examine his wound inside. Get up those stairs since he’s obviously capable of moving his fat ass,” Brenda ordered.
“Do you think my ass is fat?” Terry asked sotto voce as we were marched single file up the stairs. I felt like giggling. I was captured by insane terrorists in a foreign country, one of my first crushes was with me and had just been shot for fuck’s sake, and by none other than a woman I used to think of as one of my surrogate mothers, oh, and I shouldn’t forget, she claims her ex-husband, my brother, is not really my brother, but is secretly my father. And what important life question does my fellow prisoner ask me as I help him up a flight of stairs to what will no doubt be our prison?
“No, Terry, I think your ass is just right,” I told him after examining it carefully.
“That’s what I thought,” he sighed happily. The two new men, Albashek and Tahnoun looked at us like we were the crazy ones, which did make me start a fit of uncontrollable laughing. Terry joined in, his rumbling belly laugh blending with my lighter laughter, which continued until we were shoved into a small room.
“Here, laugh yourselves sick,” Brenda snarled. “Get them some hot water and towels, and the first aid kit, Jareed said so.” She barked the latter order at one of the two younger men, Albashek, I think.
As soon as the door was closed, giving us some privacy I pulled Terry close, trying to be careful of his injured arm. The bleeding had slowed to an ooze but we were going to have to get that bullet out, I knew, which was going to hurt like hell.
“Terry...” I put my head against his good shoulder. “I am so, so, sorry.” Terry put an arm around me and gave me a one armed hug.
“No, Chief, no sorry about this. If I weren’t here, you’d be going through this on your own, and as scared shitless as I am, there is only one thing worse to my mind, and that would be my Chief being on his own for this. So, as my Father, the Right Reverend Jennings always used to say, the Lord works in mysterious ways. We didn’t agree about much, the Reverend Jennings and me, but when it came to God in general and not God in specifics, he usually had some good advice to give. This being a case in point. I think I was meant to be with you on this journey, and so I’ll just do the best I can. That last idea didn’t work so well, at least from this point, but I still say it was the smartest thing to do at that point. And who knows...it may have gained us something.”
I leaned back to look at him. “What do you mean? You’re hurt! How could that be an advantage?” I started to strip away his shirt while we talked. I took off my shirt as well and ripped off strips to use as bandages while I tried cleaning some of the blood away with the body of it.
“I think that you’ve...” He stopped talking as the door opened and Jareed came in with a first aid kit. One of the other men, the one I thought was Albashek, followed with a large basin of water. Jareed closed the door.
“You started already, I see. Albashek knows a bit of first aid. He can remove that bullet for you, if you will permit.”
I looked suspiciously at the silent man. The other one seemed more outgoing, this one was darker, more serious looking. It was impossible to get much of a read from him. I looked to Terry for guidance. He had his eyes closed and seemed to be doing his Zen thing – it occurred to me that he was probably in a lot of pain. Stupid, Danny.
“Do you have anything he can take for the pain? I mean, anything safe?” I asked Jareed. He seemed surprised by my request but did take the time to examine Terry, who was as pale as he could get, given his coloring. He had beads of sweat breaking out.
“He was quite brave to suggest such an attempt. Let me get some morphine, just a little, while the bullet is dug out, not too much, of course,” he said, moving to the doorway and calling an order down the stairs.
Albashek, receiving a nod from me, proceeded to clean the area. I was glad to see that he washed his hands and wore gloves. He showed me the small bathroom adjoining our room so that I could wash my hands also. I also dampened my ruined shirt to clean Terry off better, feeling foolish now that I saw that there were sufficient towels. So much for my heroic sacrifice of my shirt. Jareed smiled at my grimace and nodded at my carryall, which had also been brought into the room.
“Your friend’s bags went with his people but since you had your bag with you, you, at least, have some spare clothes with you. I’m afraid your large friend here will have to rough it, although Tahnoun is rather big also and may be persuaded to share.”
“His large friend has a name,” Terry grumbled. “Just because you are engaged in the uncivilized act of kidnapping is no excuse for being rude.”
Jareed chuckled. “Quite right, Mr. Jennings, I apologize.”
“How did you know it was Terry’s idea for me to jump you?” I wondered aloud as I watched Albashek sterilize the knife he was going to use to cut the bullet out. I felt it was my duty to keep a close watch on this man, who was the enemy after all, as he cut into my friend, but this was far from my favorite thing. Where was Jamie or Mary Pat when I needed them? I pretended this was Emmett preparing sushi...then decided that was a bad analogy as he made the first cut. I swallowed the bile that rose. I could do this, I told myself.
“What you must do, you can do,” Luke once told me. I was twelve and had to sing for all three services one Christmas Eve because all the lead vocalists had come down with the flu. Fr. Xavier had insisted that they needed me to sing Handel’s Messiah, which was ridiculously hard for a boy of that age but he’d bragged to the Bishop, who was a big fan of counter-tenors that he would have wonderful music for the Mass. And Mama didn’t want the Bishop to be disappointed. So I had a program of arias from The Messiah as well as Ave Maria to sing. So I’d called Luke in a panic, telling him that I had to do it but I couldn’t.
He told me I could, because I had to, which somehow made sense to me and gave me back my nerve. He didn’t tell me he was coming, but when I stepped to the front of the choir loft and saw that he somehow managed to get leave to be there, dragging Red along with him, and there were those two big Green Berets in the back of the Church, I don’t think I’ve ever sung better in my life. The Bishop might have thought it was for him, but every note was for Luke.
Oh, and God too.
Was this my punishment from God, I wondered, my mind happy to be distracted from the blood and tissue in front of me as my hands automatically did as instructed by the taciturn medic. Did I put Luke first as my God and this now was a test? As soon as I had the thought, though, I could hear Brian’s voice, when I once said something similar to him when Briana was sick and I worried that God was punishing me for resenting having to take care of her. God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t keep track of my every wayward thought and use people as puppets to punish Danny O’Keefe.
Just how egocentric am I?
I was tired, that’s all. And I wished I’d talked to Brian instead of running away like that. I wondered for about the millionth time what Brian was doing, whether he was worried about me. I looked around the room. This had to beat my birthday last summer as a fuck-up in the running away category, and like then, I wished like hell that I was back home, with Brian, with everything back to normal. Damn, I wondered if I was ever going to get the chance to get to normal again after this brilliant stunt. Fuck yeah, running away to meet up with Brenda had to rank up there with my worst ideas ever. I put my hand on Terry’s good shoulder. He glanced up at me.
“I am so fucking sorry, Terry,” I told him, biting my lip.
“Aw, geez, Chief, this isn’t even the first bullet I’ve had dug out of me, don’t get yourself all worked up about it. Though I have to say, I think your brother did the right thing dumping that wench, even if she is a tall one. And you might want to think twice before hooking up with her, young man. She’s got a nasty temper,” he told Jareed, bending toward him confidentially.
Jareed laughed, his white teeth gleaming. “I’ll take that under advisement, Mr. Jennings.”
“Call me Terrell,” Terry offered, smiling pleasantly.
“Thank you, Terrell. I always like to be on a first name basis with the people I kidnap.” Jareed turned to me. “You asked how I knew it was Terrell’s idea that you try to escape? Simple. I had threatened you with punishment to him if you were to try anything, since I knew from our research that you were a trained fighter...and Terrell, well, he is a singer.” He flashed a smile. “You would not risk injury to him without his encouragement. I really was surprised that he gave it. I thought that you would be restrained by the fear of bringing harm to your friend or I never would have left myself so unguarded. Your psychological profile...well, let me just say you surprised me by taking that step.”
Terry’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve planned this for some time, haven’t you? Yet Danny only contacted Brenda by chance this week. How is that? Yeow! Watch that, boy!” Terry jumped as Albashek must have moved deeper with the knife. He made an apologetic gesture but indicated that Terry would have to stay still. I moved behind him to hold him steady but also suggested we’d better stop talking as it might be distracting. I suspected the man of causing Terry pain to divert him from his questioning. It was pointless; nothing diverted Terry when he wanted to know something. But he could return to it after the man was done digging at him with a knife. I pressed his shoulders firmly to send my own message. Terry was quiet.
Jareed watched the two of us with that same half smile he often had. Suddenly he laughed.
“You are a smart man, Terrell Jennings. I wonder if you will get all your answers, or if you will ask too many questions? You have a saying, don’t you, about the dangers of curiosity?”
“Kills cats,” Terry said affably. “But I’m a lot bigger than any cat, Jareed. Surely you’ve noticed?”
Albashek joined in the laughter at that comment. I didn’t
find it funny but thought it politic to at least smile. Personally, I was
finding all of this small talk with the kidnappers while the bullet was dug out
completely surreal. Eventually, however, it was out, and an antibacterial powder
applied, which Albashek said also would slow the renewed bleeding. I helped
Terry clean up again, and by then he was ready to lie down on the bed in his
boxers and try to get some sleep.
All at once, I realized that I was exhausted. The time difference made it the middle of the night here while it would be just going on late evening at home, but it had been a fucking long day. I’d gotten up at five and hadn’t really slept the night before. I waited for Jareed to leave. He’d lingered after Albashek had left with the bloody water and his equipment. I’d thanked the quiet man sincerely. He’d probably kill us if ordered but other than that one slip, he’d treated Terry as gently and competently as possible. At least, as far as I could tell, he did. He’d nodded in response to my thanks and after looking to see if Jareed had any more tasks for him, left without a word.
“What happens now?” I asked Jareed, who didn’t seem to have a purpose to staying. The only windows in the room and the attached bathroom were far too small for me to get through, much less Terry, and there was no way I’d leave him. I’d already made a visual survey of the room and there was nothing to use as a weapon, not that many things would be much use against guns and rifles. I sat on the edge of the double bed; it, a small table and a chair were the only furnishings in the room. Jareed leaned back against the door and looked at me through hooded eyes.
“Is he your lover?” He jerked his chin toward Terry.
“We’re friends. We’ve been friends since I was a teenager,” I answered, deciding to be pleasant and see where this led. Besides, they clearly knew at least the basics about both of us, so they probably knew where we lived, and that I lived with a man who was most certainly not Terry. I wondered if he wanted to see if I would tell the truth. Or was he going to hit on me?
“He is a good friend to you then.”
“I am fortunate in my friends,” I agreed.
“Not so fortunate in some friends.” He raised an eyebrow and then nodded his head in a significant way toward the door. I realized he meant Brenda. I tipped my head to the side and thought about it. I always thought of Brenda as family, even after she and Luke divorced. Unlike Carol, John’s ex-wife, whom I never liked even when they were married, I always stayed on good terms with the “exes.” Mary Kate had two ex-husbands and I stayed on good terms with both of them. And of course John’s Micky and I were as close as brother and sister – closer than some. Mama used to say I honored the wedding vows my siblings made better than they did.
I answered slowly, “I guess Brenda was never really my friend, although I was her’s. It’s a bit of a shock to find that out.”
“As much of a shock as her news about your brother?” He was watching me very intently.
Just like that, I knew what to say to him. Without any doubt. The brother who came to watch me sing, who was always there for me, wouldn’t have lied to me my whole life. I didn’t know why he didn’t tell me he was alive now, but I knew he must have a good reason. What Luke and I had, as brothers, was real. I believed that, as much as I believed in myself, in my faith, and in my ability to love.
“Brenda is lying about that. Luke is my brother, Jareed. I don’t know why she wants to tell you that he’s my father, but it’s a lie. I’m the seventh son of ....”
This time it was Jareed who slapped me, coming over so quickly I didn’t even think to move away, but sat and took it, my eyes never leaving his fierce gaze. “You must be the son of Luke O’Keefe! Do not lie to me!”
I sat calmly, my face stinging from his slap. “I’m not lying. I don’t know what you have riding on this but you’d better have a contingency plan. Brenda is wrong. Think about it, Jareed, you’re a smart man. She didn’t tell you that she was told by Luke that I was his son, you notice, nor did she ever hear it from anyone who would have reason to know. She bases her story only on guesswork.”
“There is a grave!” He whispered it, his voice hoarse. I gained confidence as I saw his slip away.
“I never saw one,” I shrugged. Before he could say anything else, I went on, “And what does that mean? That there was a baby. Maybe Luke fathered a baby that died, but he would have been very young to have done so and family lore says he was more involved in sports than girls at that age. So it could have been my brother Mark’s, or Matt’s. Or one of my cousins. Or my uncles’. Do you know how many O’Keefes there are in Pittsburgh? The more I think about it, the more I’m sure that there is another explanation than that it was any baby of my brother Luke’s or any brother of mine, because my brothers have lost babies, and it has been a tragedy each time and we remember each of those children. I do not believe, not for one second, that a child of one of my brothers rests in an ignored grave.”
I wondered what grave there was that Brenda could have seen. That Jareed knew there was a grave troubled me, because he seemed a logical man – not completely sane, but logical, in that way that Edward used to be.
Meanwhile, Jareed seemed struck by the ideas I was raising, which obviously hadn’t occurred to him before. I pressed my advantage.
“What I can tell you is that Luke is very dear to me and always has been. But as a brother, as I am to him. Luke isn’t my father. Patrick was my father and while we didn’t have the best of relationships, I’ve no doubt that the man was my father and Rose was my mother.”
The door opened and Brenda stood there, clapping slowly, deliberately.
“Awesome performance, baby. How long did it take to work yourself up to that? Hours, I’m thinking. But, I noticed...and I hope dear Jareed noticed...that you kept speaking of our Luke in the first person, so at least you’re not going to backtrack on that with us.” She looked at Jareed. “We’re to get the first video done and sent to their bosses. I suggest we put the bloody shirt there back on him for ambience.”
“I suggest you not get ideas above your station, dear Brenda.” Jareed’s eyes were cold as they had a staring contest. She lost – too hot-tempered to win something like that. Too twitchy, too. She stomped off and he turned back to me, his smile back in place.
“I think the shirtless look is quite fetching, actually. Make brother, or daddy, as the case may be, worry about how attractive the big, bad Arabs may be finding his little boy. After all, he has to know from personal experience how quickly Brenda’s attractions pall on a man.”
Coming closer, he pulled a length of cord out of his back pocket. I stared at it. “That isn’t necessary,” I said quickly.
“Oh, I think it is,” he said, grabbing my arm and bending it behind my back. “Remember Terry and no fighting, now, Daniel. Tahnoun is right outside the door.”
I decided it was not a good idea to doubt him, with Terry helpless on the bed and at least three other armed people in the house, ready to respond to his call. So, I submitted as he trussed me. If his touches were a bit lingering over my chest and back, I chose to ignore it. I wasn’t sure where Jareed was coming from but to the extent I could stay on his good side, Terry was right, I should do so.
If Luke were alive, this would be a good time for him to show up and rescue me, I thought, as I was placed into the chair, a gag in my mouth. Terry was propped up in the bed, his bandaged shoulder very prominently displayed, the blood seeping a bit from being jostled. I growled at Tahnoun when I saw that, but he just grinned at me. I guess I didn’t look too threatening, arms tied behind my back, hair down in my face. I shook my head to get it out of my eyes.
“Poor Danny, need a hairbrush for the camera, baby?” Brenda cooed at me. I glared at her. She laughed. Jareed came over and smoothed my hair back, smirking at her.
“Don’t let your jealousy show so much, love, just because he has prettier hair,” he suggested. “Are you afraid when Ari sees the tapes, he’ll be more taken with this man than with your charms?”
Brenda spat a word at him that I didn’t need to know Arabic to comprehend that it must have been pretty foul. It made Tahnoun and Albashek stop their preparations and shake their heads, but Jareed just laughed at her.
With all the preparation, the video was pretty humdrum. It could have used Etienne to spice it up, I thought. Tahnoun, who was the most genial seeming of fellows, was the one who went on camera, holding a large knife near my neck and shouting lots of threats. I was easily able to keep my cool, O’Keefe bored expression, all the easier since the threats were in Arabic although having one’s hair pulled back so that someone can expose your throat for cutting is not a pleasant experience – I kept thinking of method actors I’d known who’d espoused the benefits of the “reality of doing” when it came to acting. I could only hope that Tahnoun had not studied under that school of acting.
Some of the threats had to do with Terry. They must have incorporated him into their plan. I looked over at Brenda, and she was looking quite pleased with herself. She grinned back at me and mouthed “later” like it was all a big joke that I would be let in on eventually. She really, truly, was nuts. And I’d invited Terry into this mess. He was supposed to be singing Handel somewhere for Christmas.
Christmas. I blinked fast. Crying on the video would really suck. But I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that neither of us was going to see Christmas much less sing, if I didn’t figure out a way to outsmart these psychos. I heard Tahnoun say Luke’s name over and over, and something else hit me for the first time. They weren’t going to be content with killing me. They wanted Luke to come to save me so that they could kill him.
Well, there was one way to fix him for not telling me he was alive. Get him killed. And I thought I couldn’t have fucked this up any more?
I slumped back in the seat, and managed to miss getting hit by Tahnoun, who couldn’t stop his swing in time and hit the back of the chair, hurting his hand.
“Cut!” yelled Brenda, irate. Jareed and Albashek laughed as Tahnoun danced around, holding his hand. Terry woke up with a start.
“What’s going on...Danny, who’re all these people? Damn, my shoulder hurts!”
I sighed as best I could around the gag and looked to Jareed for help, making my eyes as big and pleading as I could. Still chuckling, he came over to help, as he turned to Brenda.
“Trim that last bit and get the video off. It will do quite well, especially with our young friend here looking so sad and exhausted at the end. Quite heart-wrenching after his stoicism. His father will be touched, no doubt.”
Brenda smirked at me when Jareed said father but she didn’t see the wink that he gave me as he said it while pulling off my gag.
“Let her have her belief...and you are wise in your advice. Contingencies are a good idea.”
I was finally allowed to sleep. I helped Terry with his bathroom needs and took care of my own then we settled as comfortably as we could on the double bed. It was a good thing we didn’t mind being cozy, Terry commented as I spooned behind him, cautious with his shoulder.
“How are you feeling? You feel warm...do you think you’re getting a fever?”
“No, Danny, I’m not getting a fever,” he said, his tone one of exaggerated patience. “I never get infections. If I’m warm, it’s because I’ve got your hot self snuggled up next to me and we can’t do anything about it. Would you believe me if I told you sex is a good remedy for fevers? Starve a cold, jack off a fever, that’s what my mammy always used to say.”
“Did she now? Why do I have trouble believing you, Mr. Jennings?”
“Probably because I’m lying,” he cheerfully confessed, rubbing his ass against my groin. I wrapped my arms around his waist.
“I’m sorry you’re caught up in all this and I’m sorry as hell you’re hurt, but I’m grateful you’re here with me.”
“Wouldn’t want it any other way, Chief,” he mumbled. “And I didn’t say it before, but I love you too. Now go to sleep.”
I rested my cheek against his broad back and closed my eyes. God, please, help Terry and me get home safely, I prayed. Help me work things out with Brian, and John...and Luke. I thought for a minute then, and please God, let George...or Linton...whatever his name is...Briana’s father...let him not have died...I do want him to be alive, but if it is not selfish, I don’t want him to take Briana from me. If I get home to her, that is. God, please let me get home to her.
Section V - Munich;POV/Danny
I must have fallen asleep while still working on my childish prayer because the next thing I knew, bright light was coming in the window and the smell of coffee was filling the air.
“Coffee...though no one makes coffee like they do at home.” Jareed was back, pulling open the curtains from the small windows that let in a surprising amount of light. He waved a pot at me then indicated Terry.
“Terry sleeps heavily, I see. Alb checked on him a few hours ago and he was concerned by his fever. I sent him into town for some antibiotics.”
I sat up, swinging my legs around to kneel on the bed. Terry had curled up in the night, hugging the edge of the bed. I felt his head and he was definitely burning with fever. Fuck. I got out of the bed and reached for my jeans.
“Can’t you get a doctor? Surely one can be found who could....” I stopped as I saw Jareed’s satirical expression. “Oh, right. Prisoners. Forgot. How foolish of me. Well, what is next on the agenda? Bread and water?”
“Don’t be churlish, I’ve brought some lovely coffee and yes, bread, but delicious German bread with fresh butter. Breakfast fit for a king. At least a king sized opera singer. When he wakes up. As I was saying, Alb went for antibiotics but he did give him another dose of morphine for his pain so he may sleep for awhile.”
I frowned. How had I slept through that? Reading my mind, Jareed said mockingly, “Alb can move very quietly when he chooses. He may also have slipped you something to help you sleep.”
That worried me. I didn’t react well to drugs, not since Edward Simon had arranged to have me drugged with something that interacted with my migraine medicine and almost killed me. To be safe, I avoided most sedatives. No wonder I’d slept through Terry moving around on the bed and his being treated by Albashek, not to mention the day being so advanced.
“You might lose your bait if you aren’t careful with the unsolicited sleep aids,” I said tightly.
“Why is that?” Jareed lost his joking manner.
“Allergies,” was all I said. I stroked Terry’s hair back from his broad forehead. “When do you expect to hear back from whomever it was you contacted about us?”
“Hopefully today, if they don’t play games with us. We have friends who delivered the video for us so it should be in your..family member’s hands as early as this morning if his bosses are efficient,,” he said, pouring me a cup of coffee. I accepted it but just set it on the small table. I wasn’t sure I wanted to drink anything from him. I did break off a piece of bread from the loaf he’d brought. I was hungry.
He didn’t comment on my passing up on the coffee. “If you want to take a shower, I’ll sit with Terry.”
“Is he that bad that I shouldn’t leave him alone at all?” Terry did look flushed from the fever but he was breathing steadily. I reached for his wrist to take his pulse. Jareed shook his head.
“You misunderstand me. The wound is infected but it is not life-threatening. He is a big, strong man and I am sure he will be fine. He would do better with antibiotics and perhaps a doctor but the latter is not possible.”
“I do not trust your sister-in-law not to do mischief.”
I raised an eyebrow and glanced toward the door.
“Your door only locks from the outside, unfortunately for the present circumstances. Brenda has been drinking and is a bit...unstable. Her pride is...how should I put it? Challenged? She has been making accusations and working up the men and I suspect that there will be trouble if she is not calmed down.”
“You’re planning something,” I accused. I received a mock innocent look as my only answer.
“I have been doing some research on the internet, Daniel. You’ve intrigued me. A seventh son is considered to be quite special, Daniel O’Keefe, while a seventh son of a seventh son? Exponentially so. Is it true that your father was a seventh son?”
I felt a chill...Mama would have said a goose walked over my grave. Mysterious Marilyn would have said that the spirits were sending me a message from beyond the grave. Brian would say that this place needed central heating and I always felt chilled when I sat around without a shirt in December. God, I wished Brian were with me...except, not really. Then he’d be the one with the bullet in him and one bullet per lover, that should be my motto. Really, Etienne should count himself lucky, getting away from me without a bullet wound.
I thought perhaps I was feverish too. I must have looked it to my terrorist buddy, because he came over and put a friendly arm around me and brushed my hair back from my forehead. Something about me made some men want to treat me like I am fragile. Brian finds this amusing, which is among the reasons I love Brian so much. He knows I’m not fragile...even if I do like having my hair brushed. Still, I knew it was wise to let Jareed underestimate me so I leaned against him and let him lead me to the chair.
“You are chilled. Come, sit, drink some coffee. I promise, it isn’t drugged and I will make sure no one gives you any more sleep aids. I did not know of your allergies. I can see that it did not agree with you. You are jumpy today when yesterday you were calm even with a gun aimed at you. Now, a coffeepot makes you jump. Sit in this chair, I will pour you a fresh coffee and give you more bread and perhaps a warm shirt?”
I had to bite my lip to stop from laughing. Now Jareed was sounding like Etienne. I’d just decided I must be dreaming all of this, when Tahnoun came bursting into the room.
“He’s on his way.”
“How long?” Jareed dropped the bread. I had a sweater half on but dropped it. If whatever was happening was enough to make even this suave kidnapper look nervous, it couldn’t be good news. Somehow I didn’t think the “he” they were referring to was Luke, though, as that should make them triumphant, shouldn’t it? That was their goal, after all.
“They said eight hours.” Tahnoun looked like he wanted to take a leave of absence.
“Where is Brenda?”
Jareed frowned. “Okay. Make sure the car is gassed. Have it loaded with emergency supplies just in case. I’ll be down later to discuss further plans with you.”
It struck me that he’d been discussing all of that in English. Why would he do that unless he wanted me to understand, and why in hell would he want that?
“Who is coming?” I asked softly. Jareed had gone to the window. He had his back to me. It struck me that it would be very easy to take him out right now. He’d let me know that Albashek and Brenda were away and Tahnoun would be away from the house dealing with the car. Once I disabled Jareed, I need only take out Tahnoun and I could get away with Terry.
“Do you think you could kill me, Daniel?”
His back was still to me so he hadn’t seen anything in my expression. I wondered how he knew what I was thinking. But then, he’d said he studied my profile. This was somehow planned for some time.
“I don’t think I could kill anyone in cold blood,” I confessed. “Is that what I would have to do?”
He turned. “None of us ever really knows what we may have to do, or be able to do. There are levels of betrayal and counter-betrayal...it really becomes quite confusing in the end. The man coming in to meet you is very important. I am surprised that our Brenda has pulled it off but she has. The evildoers have plotted and their fell leader draws near. All in the hope that St. Luke soon will appear.”
I tipped my head and considered him closely. There was something that wasn’t adding up here. I kept getting pieces to a puzzle and I wasn’t putting them together correctly. I wished Terry was awake and could help. “That is an odd bit of rhyme to attempt in a foreign language, don’t you think? Surely you didn’t study ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in your primary school?”
He flashed that quick smile at me again. “Harvard, actually. Comparative Western Literature. Had to leave after 911 though.”
I stood up and moved between Jareed and the bed. “I don’t have to kill you,” I said softly, smiling invitingly, to keep him off-guard. I still wasn’t sure where he stood in this odd puzzle but if someone worse was showing up, I needed to make a move to get us out of here. Terry wasn’t going to get better if we stayed here and waiting for Luke wasn’t in Terry’s best interests or Luke’s.
There seemed to be a flash of approval in Jareed’s eyes as he went into a fighting stance just in time to block my first attack. He was good, but I was motivated, and I fought with all the intensity and skill I possessed, my goal to take him out as quickly as possible. I didn’t worry about finesse, but used the types of moves that Redraven had shown me years ago, moves intended to save my life. Not that either of us quite foresaw me needing them in a situation like this.
They worked. Jareed went down, not dead, but unconscious. I found the cord he’d used to tie me up the night before and used it on him. Then I went to Terry.
“Terry, wake up. Come on, Terry! We have to get out of here!”
“Hrphm.” I shook him as hard as I dared. I didn’t want to open his wound. He opened bloodshot eyes.
“Terry, you’ve got to get up. I’ve knocked out Jareed. The others are away. I’m going to go out of the room and find one of their guns and then see what I can do to get the car. Are you awake?”
The brown eyes squinted at me, then blinked a few times. “Get a gun, then car...Jareed knocked out..damn, Chief...you go.” He smiled, then winced as he tried to sit up. I got an arm under him and hoisted him up.
“Can you get dressed? We have to hurry. I’m not sure how quickly the others will be back.”
“Yeah...you go, get moving on that gun. Damn, I’m weak.”
He was wobbly but shook me off when I tried to help him with his pants so I moved to the doorway and opened it cautiously. As I’d thought, we weren’t locked in, no doubt since Jareed was in the room. I’d felt him for a gun but he hadn’t had one on him. I decided to search the hall for other rooms. I hit it lucky with the second room I tried. It was clearly Jareed’s, and in a desk drawer was a handgun and ammunition for it. I grabbed both, and made sure the gun was loaded before moving on. I found a knife and took that too..
I caught up with Tahnoun in the kitchen and surprised him, knocking him out with one of George’s patented moves, applying pressure to a nerve spot that knocked him right out. I then tied him up with cord that he had in his pocket. I decided I really should carry cord with me like these guys did; you never knew when you might need to tie someone up.
My mistake was in getting cocky. I grabbed the car keys from Tahnoun’s pocket, the same one that had the cord, and was feeling pretty ecstatic with how well things were going. I stopped to get something from the refrigerator, thinking that Terry should have water, since he was no doubt dehydrated by his fever, and yes, I was looking for a diet coke, when I heard the front door slam.
Of course, if I hadn’t stopped to look in the fridge, I would have been on the way up the stairs and in full view of the person coming in. That was the way Terry comforted me later. He also tried telling me I should have just dashed out the back door and hopped in the car, sending back help. Yeah, an undertaker, I told him. That’s about all the help he would have been able to use once they’d been done with him if I’d left.
Because it wasn’t Brenda or Albashek coming in the front door. It was the big boss. He lied about his ETA. He was that kind of guy. Liked to keep the minions on their toes. I stood in the kitchen and tried to think what I should do. Just as I heard a ringing laughter coming from the upstairs room, Brenda came barreling in the back door of the house with Albashek. Which was my first clue that I had big trouble upstairs. I grabbed her by the arm and twisted it behind her back, almost to the breaking point, causing her to fall to her knees with a scream. I held the gun to her head and told Albashek to drop his weapons.
“Who is it up there?” I jerked on her arms and she hissed.
“Let go of me if you know what’s good for you, brat. You don’t know how much trouble you’re in for now, Ali doesn’t play games with little boys like Jareed does.”
“Really? That wasn’t the impression I got. Now answer me or I’ll break your fucking arm, Brenda, I’m getting really sick of you,” I told her.
“Ah, a man who knows how to treat a woman,” a deep voice commented from the doorway to the kitchen. I raised my eyes. This man looked like every one of those playing cards for “Most Wanted Terrorists” they used to have. I always wondered how they could tell them apart when they all looked alike, long beards, long hair, burning, fanatical eyes. It occurred to me that Osama Bin Laden could hide very easily in any U.S, city by getting a shave and a hair cut and some sharp looking Ralph Lauren glasses.
This man could benefit from the same make-over. And a nice sweater vest and slacks instead of those robes.
“The son of Luke O’Keefe, I meet you at last. Ali Sandeem” He inclined his head and I nodded back, wondering what the etiquette was for meeting the mastermind of one’s kidnapping? I really should know, given my experience in such matters.
“Daniel O’Keefe, seventh son of Patrick O’Keefe, who was the seventh son of....” I wasn’t given the opportunity to finish as my new buddy Ali turned red and roared in Brenda’s general direction,
“What is this? I was informed that you had found the son of my enemy! This cannot be a seventh son! A seventh son of a seventh son, you fool woman!” He looked at me. “Let her up!”
I glanced around the room. “I am not inclined to do that, Mr. Sandeem,” I answered, as politely as I could. “You see, I would like to leave, with my friend, who is lying injured, upstairs, and if I let Brenda up....”
Ali smiled very nastily. “I have your friend upstairs. He is being held by my friends in a quite uncomfortable position right now, and if you do not let Brenda go and drop all weapons I shall give the word and your friend’s head will come rolling down that staircase. I shall start to count, and I shall not tell you what number is the number when the cut will be made but my men upstairs know and they will make the cut with....”
I let Brenda go and dropped the gun and knife. I had only to look at those eyes to see all too clearly an image of Terry’s head rolling down the stairs. I felt my hands shaking and I had to clasp them together behind my back. I was done playing hero...Luke, wherever you are, I need a rescue, I thought, as I looked into those black eyes, gleaming with satisfaction as Brenda jumped up from the floor and fell into his arms.
“Now explain to me, who is this stupid young man? I cannot believe he is the Hound’s son. Luke O’Keefe would have let the head roll,” the man laughed, and the others all joined in. I noticed that they left Tahnoun tied up on the floor. His eyes were filled with hatred, but they weren’t looking at me, as I’d have expected, for putting him in such an embarrassing position. They were looking at Brenda and Ali. Had he and Jareed wanted to get away before Ali showed up? Join the fucking club, pal.
I was bundled up by one of the new men and taken back to the bedroom. Terry was as relieved to see me as I was to see him. I was surprised to hear Jareed comforted for his injuries and Brenda criticized for her mismanagement of manpower, leaving Jareed alone with two such dangerous prisoners. Ali looked at Terry’s size and I think he assumed that the two of us overpowered Jareed. Jareed encouraged that belief, smirking at me behind the fanatic’s back.
I shrugged...I was used to being viewed as the weak pretty boy. Terry, who was half unconscious with fever, nonetheless found the idea that he was such a fearsome fighter rather amusing, even if it did put his head a risk of being separated from his neck.
“I’m proud of you for your gutsy attempt, Chief, but I’m really hoping third time’s the charm because those guys were pretty scary with their big knives. Even old Jareed was looking pretty somber there for a bit which made me a tad nervous.”
I was sitting next to Terry on the bed. It was evening and we were pretty much at a stalemate. They hadn’t gotten anywhere with their demands, as far as I could gather, and Terry was not doing well. He needed a doctor and I wasn’t getting anywhere with my requests for medical help. We had the whole gang in our little room, with the big cheese in the chair, and all of his minions scattered on pillows on the floor around him. They were speaking in Arabic so we didn’t have a clue what was going on, but it seemed they didn’t get the answer they wanted from their first effort at a video so they needed something more lively. Jareed and Ali were chattering on about it, with Brenda putting in her two cents far more often than the men liked, it seemed to me.
All of a sudden, they were all looking at me. Jareed had a shrewd look on his face while Ali had a cat after the canary was just belched up look, and Brenda had this exasperated look. All of the others were looking like the halftime show at Hooters was about to start. I felt like the halftime show at Hooters, the way they were all staring at me.
“Do you feel like you forgot to wear underwear or something?” Terry murmured.
“Or something,” I agreed.
“Three time’s the charm, Chief,” he reminded me, squeezing my hand.
“Or three strikes and I’m out,” I added cheerily. Raising my voice, I asked Ali, “Mr. Sandeem, sir, is there something I can do for you?”
He looked delighted. I really should learn to be more careful with how I word things.
“Why yes, young Daniel. I understand from Jareed that your friend Terrell needs a doctor.”
He knew damn well Terry needed a doctor. But I smiled politely and agreed that yes, my friend needed a doctor, quite seriously, please.
“That is a concern. But we too need something. And we aren’t getting it. We need a response from your...relative. Luke. We are told that he is dead and we do not believe that to be so. You do not believe that to be so. Do you?”
I was silent. I didn’t know what to say. All I had was Brian’s unverified information from two years ago. Which was confidential and not to be told to anyone but especially, I would suppose, fanatical terrorist men like this. I raised my eyes to Ali and looked as innocent and guileless as I could.
“I don’t know anymore. I thought Luke was dead. Then, well, I had a strange conversation with my partner and to tell you the truth, I ran off without waiting to hear it all the way through because I was upset. And then I called Brenda because I thought I could trust her because she was Luke’s wife, so it just goes to show what I know.”
A few of the men laughed at that, as I put on my most woebegone expression.
Terry whispered under his breath, “Don’t overplay it, Chief.”
I went on, nodding slightly to let him know I heard. “I can’t imagine Luke being alive anywhere in this world and not coming to my rescue before now, so even if he was alive two years ago, he must be dead now. Whether I’m his brother or even if this crazy story of hers is true, that wouldn’t change, he would have found where you are keeping me and this set-up would have been child’s play for him.”
That evil smile again. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Maybe we just haven’t convinced him that you need him enough. After all, as I understand it, you’ve almost rescued yourself twice, and that is after less than twenty-four hours.”
Brenda asked, “What are you suggesting, Ali, love?”
“I think we show our good Hound something more exciting than your staged threat...a real threat to his dear boy would be more exciting. Daniel likes risk; he’s shown that in his escape attempts. Let us give him a fair chance. Jareed had an interesting proposal. In exchange for a doctor for Mr. Jennings...will you take a chance at roulette, Daniel?”
“No, Danny!” Terry answered quickly but I looked at Jareed and found myself answering “yes.”
“No, he can’t, I refuse for him.” Terry’s voice was lacking its usual booming quality due to his weakness, but he tried to put some force behind it. I stood up, then leaned back over and kissed him, ignoring the sounds of disapproval from some of the men behind me.
“I’m lucky at this type of thing,” I told him, “don’t you worry.”
“Don’t say that,” he begged.
I smiled. “I need to get you a doctor.”
“You need to get your head examined.” he complained. “Don’t do it, Danny.”
“Too late, Mr. Jennings, we have a deal. Tahnoun, get the camera ready. Jareed, you have the pistol? Brenda, you may watch. Yasef, bring in more chairs. Better lighting. Daniel, sit here. Do I get to say action?”
Like a spider watching the flies move into his web, Ali sat back and waited for all to be made ready. Then we took our places for his little drama. Except it didn’t turn out the way anyone expected.
Section VI - Plane to Munich, Germany; POV/Brian Kinney
It took a while before I could figure out what the hell was going on and where we were. One minute I was with Stephen Lane and we were getting ready to get on a plane for Germany. The next, we were being arrested by English Secret Agents with some type of badge that meant absolutely nothing to me and could have been from a five and dime for all I knew. Lane wasn’t impressed either, and started to argue, which is what got us drugged, I’m guessing. I’ve been known to react to Lane that way myself but Danny always told me it was against the law to drug the man into silence. Turns out all I needed was a dimestore badge.
I woke up to find myself staring at the back of a man I hadn’t seen in several years, but I’d recognize that profile anywhere. The man leaning over me was a bit harder to guess but I was expecting him after seeing the first man..
“Dr. Mainwaring, I presume?” I asked dryly…in more ways than one. I started coughing as soon as I tried talking. The bearded man helped me sit up and handed me a cup of water, which soon soothed my scratchy throat. I saw that Lane was lying on a cot next to mine and still out.
“It’s Linton, actually, Mainwaring is the title. But in essence, yes, your presumption is accurate.” That cool British voice had more humor to it than I could recall hearing in it before, less of the reserved “manservant” aspect that this man had affected when playing that role – I looked at him curiously – in fact, I stared. He lifted an eyebrow at me, as though to question my manners.
“I’m sorry. I was just wondering the proper manners for an occasion such as this. Do I thank you for saving my life or call you a bastard for fucking up my love life by screwing up my lover’s head. And that goes double for you, big guy,” I called over to Luke O’Keefe. He turned around. I was used to O’Keefes and their youthful looks but his appearance was still startling. Damn, he looked like he had when I’d last seen him some fifteen years ago.
“Fuck you, Kinney,” Luke said pleasantly over his shoulder, taking his attention away from a map that he’d been showing the pilot. “Who told you to go blabbing secrets you weren’t even supposed to know, and in the middle of the night of all the God awful times...Danny’s never good in the early morning, don’t you know that? You sleep with the man and you don’t know how to break tough news to him?”
I leaned back on my elbows. Well, so much for friendly ghosts! Lane was rolling over and coughing now. George Main, Peter Linton, whatever the fuck his name was, moved quickly to sit him up and give him water.
“Now that you’re both awake, and Luke and Brian have exchanged pleasantries, we can proceed with going over a plan for rescuing Danny,” Linton announced.
“I want to watch that video, Luke,” the pilot said. He was a big, broad shouldered man who looked like another Luke, only meaner. He had long, straight black hair pulled back in a braid, and deeply tanned skin, and his profile revealed a honker that made mine look petite. Hell, he must be the Indian that Danny talked about. The one that had taught him pretty much every nasty trick he knew. I looked at the man with respect.
Simon’s old henchman – it was going to take me some time to get used to him as a good guy – caught me staring again. “That gentleman is Steven Redraven. I’m guessing you two never met?”
Luke looked my way again, surprised. “You didn’t? Wonder how that happened? Red, this is the pup’s partner, Brian Kinney. Kinney, this is my best friend and one of Danny’s guardian angel’s, though guardian devil would be more apt. You remember Etienne Lanier, don’t you, Red – Danny’s old boyfriend?” Luke gave me a grin that was pure O’Keefe. The situation might be critical but nothing would stop O’Keefe men from busting my stones. Lane shared a look with me – I’d never been so in charity with the Frenchman as I was feeling during this adventure.
“Sure, I ain’t any more senile than you are, Irish. I just ain’t never met this guy in person...heard about him enough. Can’t say it’s good to meet you like this, Kinney, Lanier, but I can tell you, we’ll get the pup back.” The stern-faced man nodded decisively to Lane and me and I felt reassured. There was an element of meeting the in-laws to being introduced to the stern-faced man I’d heard so many stories about. The black eyes weren’t unfriendly, but they seemed to size me up and withhold judgment. Matt at his most pissed off didn’t intimidate me like this man did. I felt like I should shake hands or something but his were busy with the plane’s controls.
I looked to Linton for guidance, fully conscious of the irony that his was the friendliest face. The beard made him difficult to recognize since it hid that distinctive chin, and his hair seemed lighter, more blond than gray now that it was longer. He actually looked kind of hot for an older guy–not that he looked his age either.
“So, did you two find a fountain of youth?” I asked just as Lane asked, “What video?” I realized that his question was far more pertinent as soon as I heard it. Linton did too, as it was Lane’s question he answered.
“From Danny’s kidnappers. A first one showed him being threatened with a beheading,” Red said casually. Lane and I protested in unison and turned to Linton as the only apparent sane one since Luke didn’t look too worried; he actually smirked a bit at our reactions.
“It wasn’t intended to be serious,” Luke assured us. “It was staged, but not even well staged, the knife wouldn’t have cut through his neck, and Danny was sitting in a chair that he wasn’t even tied to – he could’ve moved or kicked if he had to, don’t you think, Peter?”
“Although the man did have him by his hair,” Red added reflectively. “I can tell you from experience, that hurts.”
“Luke, Red, you know you’re upset also. Stop trying to ease your own anxiety by upsetting these two men. We all care about Danny.” Linton’s words were simple but the other two seemed to take his words to heart because they exchanged looks and seemed to reach some type of agreement. The teasing stopped from that point, thank God. I really didn’t want to puke in this small of an airplane.
“Red, how much longer before we land? Do you want to land first or watch the video before trying to land and possibly have to pause it? Thyme said it’s about thirty minutes.”
“Then we have enough time before I have to pay close attention,” he answered. “Put it on the screen. I’m flying by instruments anyway. I’ll keep half an eye on them as I watch.”
“Great, he’s flying with half his eye on the control panel...maybe someone should be looking out the window?” I suggested, only half kidding...and half under my breath.
Of course both of the giants in the front of the small plane still heard me. Lane looked at me like I was crazy – he was being very quiet for him, come to think of it – but Linton spoke up before I could be annihilated.
“There is no need to worry, Mr. Kinney. Red and Luke are both excellent pilots and flying by instruments means he doesn’t need to be looking out the window. We’re eager to watch the video and see what new message the kidnappers have seen fit to send us, but waited to ensure that you and Mr. Lanier were not in any danger from the treatment you received.”
“I think you can call us by our first names, and I hope after all this time we may finally do the same...using real names at last?” Lane finally spoke up, as he smiled faintly at Linton. This was a Lane smile I wasn’t able to decipher, but it made Linton smile back, a brief, genuine smile that was very attractive.
Great, I thought, Danny’s missing in Germany with an opera singer – no, he’s being held by kidnappers in Munich, while with an opera singer, and I’m in a plane piloted by ghosts that’s flying itself so the ghost and his loyal friend Tonto can watch videos, and Lane decides this is the perfect time to flirt. I leaned back and watched, positive now that I was still dreaming. I felt much better having come to that conclusion and waited to see what happened next. Probably an old lady on a bicycle would go pedaling past the window. I hoped to fuck it wasn’t Tannis.
“Touché, my friend,” Linton inclined his head. “You were the only person I ever encountered in all those years in the U.S. who recognized me as a Linton...and believe me, as Edward’s employee, I met many who knew me as Peter Linton. No one else ever looked twice at George Main. But,” he glanced at me, “this is not the time to discuss it.” His tone became brisk as he leaned toward a large screen notebook computer that sat open on the counter across from him. It faced the front of the plane so Lane and I only had to shift around to see it and the two men in the front angled sideways in their seats to keep the control panel in view and still have a view of the screen.
“I will broadcast the sound to your headphones as well as into the cabin, Luke,” Linton said, making some adjustments. “It appears to be the same room as on the other video.” A picture came into view and Linton paused the video.
“I’m not sure how much you know. Danny and an old friend, opera singer, Terrell Jennings, were taken captive by terrorists shortly after they arrived in Munich. We assume you knew that they were in Munich, since you were headed there. You were grabbed in a misguided effort to elicit information from you by the good guys, actually, or what passes for them, and to protect you. Luke decided you would be safer, and more helpful, with us. If you are not in agreement with that analysis, we can leave you at the airport in Munich with arrangements to get you back to the States and France. It isn’t safe for you to stay in Germany on your own.”
Luke made a sound of protest but was silent at a quelling look from Linton. I caught Red giving him an elbow and a grin. Guess Linton was the boss there. Or perhaps, as with Danny and me, Linton was the conscience? Maybe at times, and at times it was the other way around. Also like with Danny and me. I could remember the man George Main and that man had a hard side to him. Looking at him now, I knew that if we stayed with these men, we would have to agree to whatever they decided from this point on. But, they were my best and surest way to get to Danny. And to bringing him home safely.
I didn’t need to look at Lane. I answered, “I want to stay and I’ll do anything and everything I can to help you rescue Danny.”
“I also,” was Lane’s brief reply. Linton nodded, his manner that of a man who’d been merely conducting a formality and expected nothing else. Still, I appreciated the effort. It beat being knocked on the head and drugged. He quickly ran through some questions and brought us up to speed on what they knew. I quickly realized that there was far more at stake than the mere secret of Luke O’Keefe being alive. Someone had planned this kidnapping for a long time and was waiting for the right moment to grab Danny. His call to Brenda O’Keefe may have jump-started the plan, but she must have had something in the works already. Too many people were lined up too quickly, they felt and I tended to agree. Danny’s calling her was a fluke and she took advantage of it, but must have planned to call him fairly soon. The two of them had been in regular contact for months, I’d learned.
The knot in my stomach tightened. Terrorists. I looked at Luke O’Keefe – so big and alive, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, so different from my dream. Danny’s meeting up with his friend – that was different from my dream, as he wasn’t supposed to come along at the airport. Danny was supposed to meet with Jennings at O’Keefe’s, some time in the future, in a future where I didn’t tell him about Luke.
“I don’t know....” I whispered. “Danny never mentioned Jennings to me...well, not until the morning he left but that was just coincidence. We were talking about secrets and somehow I had asked about...he thought I was talking about...old lovers.” Lane looked at me strangely, no doubt catching my inflection.
It was Redraven, oddly enough, who saved me from having to explain by growling at Linton to leave off the questions and start up the video for fuck’s sake, when the man seemed as though he was going to press further.
The picture quality was decent, but clearly amateur, like something on YouTube. Danny was sitting at a table with a couple of other men, all dark skinned. There was a woman there too, standing next to the table, off to the side a bit, and she was taller than even the tallest O’Keefe sister. She must be Brenda O’Keefe, I realized. She was attractive, in a sharp, angular way, like a very tall Sela Ward – if she’d been cast to play Sara Connors in the Terminator.
Then there was the Bin Laden wannabe. He sat on this big chair that was set up on a platform, almost like a viewing area. Like he was there to see a show. Or maybe he was the director but whoever was doing the filming screwed up and left him in the shot. Bad editing. Off in the background was a bed, with a large body on it.
Terrell Jennings. He didn’t look so good, I realized. I had a sudden flash of where this would be heading. Danny and his saving people thing that Mysterious Marilyn was always harping on. Danny would have to do something about Jennings.
“Be quiet,” Luke warned, and I realized that I must have made a noise of protest already, or maybe it was Lane. Maybe both of us did. I clenched my hands on the seat next to me and watched. Linton quietly told us that the handsome dark haired man to Danny’s right was named Jareed, the two younger men to his left were named Albashek and Tahnoun and had been part of the original kidnapping team, along with Brenda, and the man in the chair was Ali Sandeem, a high-ranking terrorist that was sought by several nations for his crimes. All info he picked up from the first video or some type of briefing, I surmised. Or post office wanted posters.
“It is simple, Danny, you get to prove yourself, and your courage. Show me you’re a man like the Hound, and also win the chance to get a doctor for your sick friend. Jareed has come up with this test.”
Danny tilted his head and looked at the smirking Ali. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, sir, but if I do this, whatever it is you’re suggesting, does Terrell actually get a doctor or do I get a chance for him to get a doctor? I would like a clarification.”
Redraven laughed. “I know this is bad as shit with Ali there
but ya got admire the kid’s spunk, Luke.”
Luke was grim-faced. “Ali doesn’t admire spunk, Red. He’ll pretend to and that might mislead Danny. Fuck, I can’t believe that’s who’s got him. What the fuck is Brenda thinking of?”
“Revenge,” Linton said softly. “A woman scorned. You never believed it of her but it was always there.”
“Shh,”Lane said, leaning forward and watching closely.
Good point. This was sent to give us messages and Danny might also try sending us a message if he knew it might get to us. Talking during it was stupid. I leaned forward also, drinking in the images of Danny. He looked tired. Pale. His hair was tangled but he’d obviously washed it as it had that wildly curly look as it got when it dried naturally. He had on a thin sweater and was hugging himself, obviously cold. He was barefoot, with just jeans on. I wondered if he was short clothes or if they weren’t allowing him socks and shoes.
A discussion ensued between the man Jareed and the head man, Ali. He got up and walked over to Danny, and was making some speech in another language. Redraven translated, his neutral voice a stark contrast to the increasing passion that the Arab man put into his rant.
“He is saying, ‘I could do many things to you, to punish you for the sins of your kinsman, and it would not be enough to pay him back. He thought to fake his death, but I am glad he is alive, because only the living can suffer the type of hell that he has inflicted. I ask you, Hound, what would be a hell for this young man? They tell me he is a dancer, shall I cut off his feet? He will not move with grace then, and he will suffer every day. Or shall I simply hobble him by cutting his tendons?’”
Lane gasped and had to bite his hand to stifle further noise as the man accepted a sharp blade from one of the watching men and then picked up Danny’s bare foot. Danny looked startled and almost pulled away but one of the other men had gone by the bed and stood with a gun by Jennings so the message was clear – Danny was to take whatever was dished out without a whimper. He sat still as the man stroked his Achilles tendon with the flat of his blade, and even without speaking the language, you could see understanding in Danny’s eyes.
“Jesus,” Luke exclaimed.
“Steady, Luke, Thyme would have warned us if he did anything to Danny on this tape,” Red assured him, interrupting his narration. I glanced over, relieved to hear that assurance. I was surprised to see that both Linton and Redraven had steadying hands on Luke, who looked ready to explode.
“Should I pause it?” Linton asked quietly.
“No, I need to see it and I want to get through it as quick as possible,” Luke answered grimly.
The man had dropped Danny’s foot and moved to his face, caressing his cheeks. He again looked into the camera. Red translated.
“Hound...he is so beautiful, this boy of yours, and yet you do not come to save him. What will he say if I do not kill him, but I take his beauty and leave him a scarred, ugly creature, impossible for him to make his living as a model or actor anymore? Will he have to live in hiding with you then? So easy...so much more painful than a quick death, don’t you think? You saw them as I did. The scarred ones, the unlovely ones. They wanted to die, didn’t they? The ones that the bombs made ugly. A man like this would never make love to them, would he?”
Again, the knife went close. Ali was speaking slowly, as though giving time for a translation. He held his knife in a candle flame, and I could see from Danny’s expression that he knew what was coming. He’d been given a razor to shave that day, I realized, because his skin was smooth, unmarred by even his five o’clock shadow, and his pallor seemed to increase visibly, even on this mediocre video, but it made his beauty just look all the more ethereal.
The men in the room seemed mesmerized by this performance while the woman was looking around nervously. Hope you’re happy bitch, I thought. This is what you did, turning over a kid you knew as a child to a madman.
“Look at Brenda,” Linton said, about the same time.
“I can’t stand to,” Luke growled.
“No, I think this is getting to her, she’s going to lose it,” he insisted.
“He’s right,” Lane said. “The man you said was Jareed is watching her instead of Danny and the leader. I think he’s planning something.”
“Or has already set a plan in motion,” I agreed, looking at the man, now that they pointed him out. He wasn’t watching the main action at all. He was busily moving around in the background, whispering to one of the younger men, adjusting a gun, making a comment to someone else, careful not to attract the notice of Ali.
“I could burn the beauty from his face like the bombs do...but no, not that either, Luke. I do hope you are watching and that you suffer knowing that he is wondering why you do not come to help him. Why does he have to wait and wonder if I will take his dancing or his beauty...or...his voice?” Red fell silent and stopped translating even though the man on the screen kept talking.
None of us said a word as the man moved his large hand to Danny’s throat. The man’s threats continued, his dark eyes looking up at the camera as he forced his fingers into Danny’s mouth and pressed them onto his tongue. I kept reminding myself that someone had watched this already. They said that they would have been told if Danny had been mutilated...that’s what they said. I stole a glance at Lane. He was mouthing something, and it shook me to realize that he was praying. Whatever had happened had happened hours earlier, but Lane was praying. Glancing at Luke O’Keefe, I half expected to see him doing the same. But he wasn’t. His eyes were sad, and he looked older than his years now as he watched the man torture his brother.
Eventually, the man on the video pulled his hands away, wiping them on his robes. Danny turned his head aside and spat on the floor. For a second, it looked as though that act might end it right there, and I heard one of the men curse, but the man Jareed stepped forward and slapped Danny forcefully, causing Ali to laugh as Danny’s head snapped to the side and the chair moved almost a foot.
“That was a sloppy stage slap but it worked for the audience in the room,” Lane said matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean?” Luke asked sharply.
“Rewind it and I’ll show you,” he offered. Glad for the distraction as it gave us all a moment to recover, Linton took the video back those few seconds. Lane moved so that he could stop the picture at the moment of the slap – and pointed to the younger man’s foot on Danny’s chair, pushing it, as well as his left hand, which was out of sight of his colleagues, slapping his own ass– all of which added to the sound of the slap.
“I suspect that our friend Jareed took a bit of stage combat in college,” Lane said, satisfied. “He undoubtedly smacked Danny enough to cause him to move his head back, and because he is pale, it will cause a nice mark, but not at all hard enough to hurt him badly. Which tells us what?”
“Thyme said she had a man planted, but it couldn’t possibly be Jareed. He’s been on the wanted lists for years,” Red objected.
“Well, it would be a hell of a deep cover,” Luke agreed. “Turn this damn thing back on, I want to get it over with.”
I agreed with him. Red went back to narrating. Jareed kept the floor.
“You said before you liked my idea, Ali. I told you of my research. Brenda has you convinced this is O’Keefe’s son. I see flaws in her research. Let my theory be tested. If he is the son...he will be brave but perhaps unlucky. If he is the brother as he says, he will be brave, but he is also the seventh son of the seventh son and he will not die by his own hand nor will he be able to let another die if he can prevent it, according to the legend.”
“What is this nonsense?” Brenda O’Keefe sounded shrill and on her last nerve as she went for Jareed. Two of the bigger men surrounding Ali stopped her.
“I agree. Daniel O’Keefe, do you wish to win for your friend not just the chance for a doctor, but the promise that I will bring a doctor to him by tomorrow morning?”
Danny’s eyes narrowed. “Will you do this whether I win or
lose the challenge you set for me?”
“He really has a lot in common with your cousin, Linton,” I commented.
“You noticed it too?” Luke said, “I thought it was just me.” Linton rolled his eyes.
”Shut up, both of you,” Red said, in his own words, in between translated comments.
“I will give you that wish, Daniel. Consider it a last request. Because I don’t believe you to be a seventh son of a seventh son. I believe you are just the faggot bastard son of my worst enemy. Explain the rules to him, Jareed, since it will be your head on the line as well.”
Jareed looked surprised. But not really. “If you insist, sir.”
Red turned to Lane. “So, Etienne, your call, how do you rank that performance?”
Lane smiled grimly. “About as good as his stage slap. But as long as he fools those in the room, and Danny is in on it, I am happy.”
But, Danny didn’t seem to be in on anything; he was looking confused. “What do you mean?”
Ali smiled wickedly. He spoke English now so that Danny could understand. “Your champion was made a fool of by you, young Daniel, as were Tahnoun and Albashek. You have agreed to roulette... you do agree, yes?”
Danny nodded. Ali continued.
“You will be playing Russian roulette...Jareed, give him the pistol. And I hope you do understand, young Daniel, that should you attempt to shoot anyone else, your friend will instantly die and I will carry out each of the punishments I discussed earlier. Do you understand?”
Danny nodded again, then asked, “Do I spin the chamber or someone else?” He looked perfectly calm but I could hear that the timbre of his voice had dropped. He was nervous – who wouldn’t be?
Danny was handed the loaded gun after the chamber was spun by Jareed and he weighed it in his hand for a moment. He looked up at the camera and speaking directly into it, spoke in Gaelic, slowly. It was Luke who translated this time, his voice soft:
“My best loved brother, if you are watching this and this goes badly, know that I love you and forgive you. Please, take care of my man and my little girl, and if you can get my friend home safely, I thank you, but please God, stay safe.”
As Ali made a motion for him to hurry up, Danny gave a sweet
smile at the men in front of him, and even at Brenda, then made the sign of the
cross, and lifted the gun to his head. I closed my eyes and waited for the sound
of the gun going off.
“Peter...” Luke’s voice was strangled. His head was in his hands and his shoulders were shaking. Red was looking at the control panel for a moment.
Linton had muted the sound. I looked at the screen. Danny had the gun down and was taking deep breaths. Jareed was smiling while Ali had a frown on his face.
“It is Jareed’s turn,” he announced loudly.
Danny’s head shot up.
“What do you mean? I thought only I had to do it?”
“You caused him to be disgraced. He must die by your hand...unless you choose to take a second chance...that is the option you have. So-called seventh son of the seventh son.”
“No. No fucking way,” I said.
“I can’t shoot him,” Danny protested.
“But you killed him just the same by leaving him shamed, tied up, for me to find this morning,” Ali pointed out triumphantly.
Jareed knelt in front of Danny. But we knew, as did Danny, that Jareed had been acting somewhat in his favor. Had there been other things that Jareed had done to aid Danny? Danny’s eyes were thoughtful. I watched horrified as he shook his head.
“I cannot shoot Jareed, so I am to do what instead?” He looked at Ali.
“Roulette.” Ali smiled triumphantly. He reached out his hand and spun the chamber again.
“Thyme would have watched this to the end, right?” Luke asked Red.
“I sure as hell hope so.”
Linton didn’t mute the sound of the gun click this time. Empty chamber. Danny looked expectantly at Ali, no look of relief in his eyes this time.
“If you are inclined to spare him. I believe he assisted your friend in living this long. And he was getting medicine for him at the time you made your escape attempt.”
Danny nodded grimly. Ali took the gun but did not spin it. No doubt he realized that not spinning it lessened the chance of the empty chamber coming up again by one. Again we held our breath as that gun was lifted to that beautiful dark head and the trigger pressed, the deep green eyes steady on the camera, as though he knew we were watching and he was trying to give us strength, or maybe gaining strength from the idea that we’d be watching him at some point.
Please, let this ordeal be over for him, I thought, as the click sounded again.
But that madman’s head looked toward the third man. The one named Tahnoun. He looked frightened and started to back away, as though he wasn’t clued in on the charade. Danny frowned and then tried to comfort one of his kidnappers, taking his goodness too far if you asked me.
“No, no, Tahnoun. It’s okay. Didn’t they tell you? I’m the only one who is to do this today.”
There was nothing bitter in the way he said it either. He smiled in a friendly way toward the frightened man and some of the other men started shaking their heads, as though they couldn’t believe he was for real. Jareed had his arms folded across his chest as though to say, see, I told you.
The thing was, the chamber hadn’t been spun in the last couple of tries and the odds were shortening. Even Danny’s luck had to be running out. I wondered how many people he had to atone for. The video had only six more minutes to go.
“Ali...I do hope you aren’t feeling guilty about my almost getting away this morning because I’d have a difficult time working up a desire to sacrifice myself for you,” Danny said conversationally as he raised the gun to his head for the fourth time.
“You are quite amusing, Daniel...are you sure you want those to be your final words? As opposed to whatever touching words you spoke in your native tongue?”
“Let’s just say I’m feeling...hopeful.” With that, Danny spun the gun around on his finger and did the final shot. I held my breath...but it was another click.
“Do you think Jareed didn’t put a bullet in the gun?” Lane asked.
“That it’s all a set-up? Shit, maybe.” Red turned his attention back to the controls. We had to be getting close to the airport.
“No...here it comes,” Linton warned.
Danny was pushing the gun away when Ali made a tsking noise.
“Ah, I think you forgot one. You need to do it for Brenda, Daniel...you wouldn’t want to forget her.”
He looked up, startled. “Brenda didn’t mess up in any way, sir. She’s been a most conscientious terrorist. The very best. Betrayed me most horribly. No one could have been worse than her.”
Ali laughed at him while Brenda bristled. Danny, meanwhile, was staring intently at the gun. I knew what he was trying to figure out. How many times had it been used without being spun.
“It was spun after the first time, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, there is a fifty-fifty chance of the next chamber being empty since four were used in a row and it is a six chambered gun.” Luke answered, his voice tense.
“Brenda?” Danny looked up at her, the woman who claimed to have been like a mother to him.
“Don’t give me that pathetic look.” I watched in disbelief as she stormed over to him. She held his face between her hands and she had tears on her own cheeks.
“The fucking gun is empty. Get it? You don’t really think you’ve been putting a loaded gun to your head, do you? Turn off that fucking video!” She shouted toward the camera. She turned back to Danny but the cameraman moved so we could see her face.
“I need to talk to Danny. This is all a big show for Luke! Let’s make a scary movie for Luke. No one is going to cut your feet off or burn your face or cut your tongue out, baby. It’s all for show! This is an issue between Ali and Luke and you’re caught up in it, but no one is going to hurt you for real, Ali promised me. Okay? Now I’m sick of being made to look like the bad guy here by Jareed just because I had to tell you the truth that you didn’t want to know, but it was about time someone told you. Luke is your dad, sweetie. A lousy dad, like he was a lousy husband, but that’s the truth.”
Ali said to her, “So you will take your own punishment, Brenda, my dear?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Ali, give it a rest. You’re acting like the bad guy in a B movie from the 60's, Lawrence of Arabia or something. You went to Yale for fuck’s sake.”
She shook her head at the men who were all murmuring at her, and pushed her hair back. Definitely Sara Connors in Terminator, I decided, especially when she reached for the gun on the table.
Danny tried to get to the gun first but she grabbed it before he could stop her. She lifted it to her head and was still saying the word “Bang,” when the gun’s explosion drowned her out, taking off half her head. Some of the gore splattered on Danny, who caught her as she fell. His shoulders shook a bit as he cradled her to his chest, but he didn’t cry.
“Landing in Munich in five minutes,” Red announced, his voice hoarse, “seatbelts on, it may be a rough landing.”
tbc in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Part III”
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