“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Part III


Author's Note: Many thanks to Beatrix and Thyme for the beta help.



Section I - Pittsburgh; December 19 - POV/Brandon Keane

I was second chair to Micky O’Keefe when she presented her habeas corpus motion for the release of John O’Keefe from federal custody. Although I’ve seen some pretty good lawyers so far in my admittedly short legal career, not least of whom was Micky’s husband, I’d been floored by her performance thus far. You’d never know that she was trying to win the freedom of the man she loved – a man we weren’t even sure was being held by federal agents. Hell, that was our best hope at this point; our worst fear–well, neither of us ever spoke of our worst fear but after five days, it was becoming harder to ignore the empty space that used to be filled by the head of the firm. Despite what had to be gripping personal anxiety, she presented clear, concise arguments, made the most of the pathetically sparse physical evidence we had, and remained unflappable in the face of every attempt by the other side to get a rise out of her.

John would have been damn proud of her if he’d had the chance to watch, I couldn’t help thinking, and then mentally chastised myself for thinking of the man in the past tense. Hunter had been dropped off at his fathers’ house in the suburbs the middle of the night, disoriented and dehydrated. Fortunately, Ben had found him first and knew that we were looking for him because of some pictures he’d sent the day before from his cell phone. Unfortunately, the poor kid had next to no memory of where he’d been for two days. But he did remember one name: Thyme. The woman who’d helped with the patchwork quilt for Danny and Brian. Dr. Chanders knew how to reach her and we sent her a message about John, playing the long-shot that perhaps she in some way knew something about John’s disappearance.

The Canadian lady didn’t answer our questions, but she arrived in Pittsburgh by the next day, and just her presence was reassuring. Even before she arrived, she helped, conducting long interviews on the phone, which seemed like mere conversations at first, but by the time you were done you realized that your brain had been reamed, steamed and dry-cleaned. After answering her probing questions for three hours, I found myself forwarding to her copies of the pictures that Hunter had given me, and taking down her suggestions for areas of inquiry to pursue in our search for answers about who had taken John and Hunter, and confirming that I would meet her flight – which was a private plane at an airfield I didn’t even know existed. Her pilot was an elderly man whom she introduced as Charles, and it wasn’t until some time later that she informed me that dear sweet Charles was a retired four star General. Hunter cracked up at that, when she mentioned it in passing, and asked her why, were all the five star generals busy? She merely smiled and said she liked to indulge him in his hobby as he needed to get a certain number of flight hours in and with a good number of excellent pilots in their acquaintance, it was difficult for him to accomplish.

It soon developed that, contrary to early suspicions, John O’Keefe had not left of his own volition with a blonde female companion, but was in fact forced, under threat of violence, into the custody of some branch of the federal military. The problem was, no one seemed to be willing to take responsibility for having him. This didn’t faze Thyme, who’d cloistered herself in John’s office with Micky and had a closed-door session before the hearing late last night. They’d left looking grim but determined.

I handed Micky the binder of materials she and Thyme had put together the night before, as soon as she entered. I’d been the first one in for the afternoon session as she was arriving with Thyme and the General. She cut it so close to the scheduled start for this session, I’d been concerned that I was going to have to make the opening presentation. So far, Thyme and the General had remained in the background, but Micky had won the right to present evidence beyond that in her papers, and was going to offer live testimony in a closed session. That had been Thyme’s condition, apparently, since what she was going to offer had international security concerns, or so both sides agreed. As it was, only Micky came into the courtroom after lunch, but there was no time to ask where Thyme was.

Part of me had trouble believing this. Part of me wanted to run home, lock the doors and hide under the covers. Looking at Hunter, who sat between Ben and Jamie O’Keefe, two bulwarks of safety, I abandoned my thought of grabbing him and taking him with me. He looked a hell of a lot safer where he was, though still kind of shell shocked. But – the thought had been there, which was an alien one for me. I’d think more about that later, I decided.

“Everything okay?” I asked Micky, my voice low and steady. Damn, maybe I was getting the hang of this lawyer stuff – just more pretending everything is cool even if you’re scared shitless inside – been doing that for years. Go with your strengths, Brandon, I told myself and flashed a cocky smile at the male court reporter. He blushed.

“We should be fine...and wise of you to win friends among the court staff,” Micky noted dryly. “Never know when we might want a transcript quickly.”

“Just what I was thinking,” I replied, smoothly. “Thyme is your witness?”

“Only if I have to. I’m calling Hunter first.”

I frowned. “He doesn’t remember much. Won’t they bring up his background? They’ll tear him apart on the stand.”

“No...I won’t let them.” She looked fierce.

And she didn’t. Every time the opposing side attempted to question Hunter on his “colorful” background, Micky objected, noting that his testimony wasn’t being offered for “the truth of the statements, but for the fact that such statements are being made, your Honor, in which case the character of Mr. Bruckner is completely irrelevant.”

“Elaborate, Ms. O’Keefe.”

“The fact that this witness comes forward with this account of a kidnapping at the very time that John O’Keefe disappears, and was missing himself, and has a documented cell phone transmission of pictures is relevant. It is the fact that his account was made that we are establishing, your Honor –the details of his account are not as important, and indeed, he cannot recall them anyway, due to factors beyond his control which will be established by independent means.”

“Objection to the questions as to background on this witness sustained. Proceed on a very limited basis, Counselor.” The Judge looked over his glasses at the military attorney, who frowned down at his sheaf of papers.

“Well there goes five pages of cross,” I whispered to Micky.

“Lesson for you, always try to look pleased, even when the judge rules against you,” she said out of the side of her mouth. She had a good point. The sulking look on the attorney’s face wasn’t winning favor with the judge, and if a jury had been present I could just imagine what they’d be thinking.

After Hunter, Jamie testified to the drugs found in Hunter’s system, which the other side tried to claim he must have taken himself, but Jamie credibly testified were not available on the street or by prescription, and his research showed were only in use by the military on a test basis. The purpose? Two-fold: to enhance cooperation among prisoners being questioned and to blur memory of what was done. I’d never seen big Ben look so angry as he did sitting there, his arm protectively around his son. I could see why they left Michael home. No way he’d have been able to listen to this stuff and stay calm.

The military’s attorney stood up. He seemed to have decided on a new tactic.

“Your Honor, this is all very affecting, and no one is more distressed than I am that young Mr. Bruckner was put through such a distressing experience. But...”

Major Jones, a member of the JAG, turned and looked sympathetically at Micky. “But...none of this proves that military personnel are currently holding counsel’s husband. We will certainly redouble our efforts to determine if military personnel have...on their own...acted with malice toward Mr. O’Keefe, and we shall look into the matter of the drugs and the car used in his apparent abduction...but without more....”

The Judge...his name was Timmons...turned to Micky and his face was a lot kinder than it had been yesterday.

“Ms. O’Keefe, loathe as I am to admit it, I do need more. I can’t order them to produce a body without some idea of where it may be or who might have it.”

Micky stood up...all five foot two of her. “Your Honor, I ask that my associate Mr. Keane be permitted to step outside the courtroom and bring in my next witness.”

The judge gave her an odd look. “The bailiff can do that for you, Ms. O’Keefe.”

Micky smiled. “My witness would prefer that it be Mr. Keane; she is particular about only going with people she knows. I ask that you indulge me, and her, your Honor.”

He inclined his head and Micky told me to retrieve Thyme from a room down the hall. I wondered why all the secrecy, but trusted that there was a reason for it.

I moved quickly down the hallway to the designated room. The big black man who I knew as Lane’s bodyguard and trainer, and who’d helped with Danny’s rehab, Eli Blackson, was standing guard outside the door. At least, I thought it was Eli. He was looking a hell of a lot more serious and deadly than I’d ever thought of him. Something of what I was thinking must have shown on my face because he gave me a slight wink before turning to rap sharply on the door.

“Director? They’re ready for you.”

The door opened. The woman who came out was not our sweet little quiltmaker. This woman was a whole different creature, I thought, trying not to do a double-take. I was reminded of Bond’s boss in the movies, the character that Judi Dench played – only this was the real McCoy. Kind of hot, actually, if you were into women, was my thought, as I followed her to the courtroom, Eli bringing up the rear. Before we entered, she turned and said to him, in a crisp, no-nonsense tone:

“Eli, I’ll be fine now with Mr. Keane. Proceed to the General. You know your assignment. You have full authority to use such force as necessary to effect the result you judge necessary. The others are trusting you to act in their place to mete out the appropriate punishment, but be sure to safeguard the Colonel’s brother first. Understand?”

“Completely.” The big man’s expression was grim, but eager too. A chilling combination, I thought, especially in someone his size.

“Thank you, Sergeant, on behalf of them, and on my behalf personally.” She shook hands with him and he saluted her sharply then left.

“The Judge is waiting,” I felt compelled to remind her, as she stood watching him leave.

“Ah yes, thank you, Mr. Keane. Shall we?” She took my arm and we walked into the courtroom, causing quite a stir on the military side of the room.

No, this was no mere quilter, master or otherwise, I thought. Indeed, on Micky’s motion, the courtroom was closed to all but necessary parties and the court reporter, and Thyme identified herself and her position with the Alliance of Nations. She then explained that she had received a tape, in connection with another case involving an international terrorist kidnapping event, and that is when Micky introduced the audiotape of John being beaten and questioned, with Hunter’s voice in the background. It was clear that the beating and questioning was being done by military officers, with their references to the Patriot Act, and, in fact, watching, I was pretty sure the attorneys on the other side recognized the voices. In fact, one of them looked white and pulled out a cell phone under the table. I nudged Micky and wrote a quick note.

“Your Honor! I must ask that the Bailiff seize the cell phone of Counsel Bingham at once!” Micky called out, and without thinking, I dashed over and grabbed the guy’s arm and pulled it into the open so he couldn’t clear what he was doing.

Talk about hell breaking loose. I was decked by the big military attorney, but Ben Bruckner and Jamie O’Keefe were there before I hit the ground, as was the bailiff. I could see Thyme talking to the judge earnestly, but at that point, alarms started going off and I struggled to my feet.

“Micky!” I said to Jamie.

“Got her,” he nodded.

“Hunter?” The kid was my first thought, actually, but I thought I should do the noble thing and worry about my boss’s wife, who was also my boss.

“Who do you think is holding you up, hero?” An amused voice was in my ear. “Come on, your part is done for now. Time to let the big guys take over for a while.”

I turned and looked at Hunter, relieved and worried. “Are you sure? Where is that dark-haired woman who was sitting behind counsel table? I didn’t notice until I came over to grab that guy’s arm, but I swear that was the same woman as in your picture, just with dark hair.”

Thyme was standing behind me and heard what I said. “Damn it! We didn’t watch carefully enough. That was one of the Judge Advocate’s people, so I thought...damn! I need to get word to Charles and Eli!”

We headed out of the courtroom, but unfortunately got caught up in the confusion of a mass exodus.

“What’s the problem?” Jamie asked the court reporter.

“Bomb scare – the entire courthouse is emptying. It is a madhouse as this isn’t a scheduled test.” The young man moved on quickly, carrying his equipment, which contained a copy of the tape of John’s interrogation. Jamie and Ben looked with dismay at Micky and Thyme, both without protection in this hazardous situation where a bomb seemed to be the least of our worries.

“Where is the tape of John’s little session?” I asked suddenly.

Micky looked panicked for a moment until Thyme placed a calming hand on her arm.

“That was a copy, Michelle. The original is in my archive. But yes, someone made off with the tape in the commotion. I made note of who it was. This conspiracy is larger than we hoped. I need to get to General Hunter and Sgt. Blackson at once. Could I ask that Mr.Bruckner and Mr. Keane see to getting Michelle and Hunter safely from the building and that Jamie assist me?”

Micky and Hunter looked ready to argue but I stepped in.

“Listen you two, this isn’t a question of who is braver...though I’m happy to volunteer for coward of the day. She needs you out of here and able to argue another day if worse comes to worse. Got that? You know what happened. If there is to be any hope, if she doesn’t make it, you two are it. And I will do my cowardly best to help.”

Thyme smiled at me grimly. “Well put, Mr. Keane. And I would not ever say you are a coward. It takes nerve and intelligence to make the right decision...and it took courage and intelligence to act decisively as you did earlier. Thank you. You delayed them and enabled me to send my own message under cover of the chaos. Let us now each proceed as we must. Gen. Hunter and Sgt. Blackson are already following our main suspect in the hope that he will lead them to John. I hope to catch up to our female, now that she has been identified so cleverly despite her dye job.”

We split up, following the shoving masses exiting the courthouse. We should have known, of course, that when Ben left us outside, so he could get the car, who would appear to put a gun to Micky’s back? Our blonde friend with the bad dye job.

“Time to rejoin your hubby, bitch.”

“This is getting really old,” Hunter told her.

“I could kill you now,” she offered.

“You’re getting in too deep,” Micky suggested. “Why don’t you give yourself up and make a deal?”

“Because I happen to believe that my side is in the right, bitch, so let’s get moving.”

I was knocked out with a clip to the head from her gun just as I realized that the woman wasn’t a blonde with her hair dyed black; she’d been a brunette with her hair dyed blonde before. As a gay man, I should have picked up on that sooner, I thought, before letting the darkness claim me.



Section II - Munich; December 18 - POV/Peter Linton)

The men were all rather quiet after the video finished. I thought it was best to leave them to their thoughts. Red had the landing to accomplish and he did so without incident. It was good there were no complications since he didn’t have any help from his co-pilot. Not that he normally required help, but he did glance over a few times. It wasn’t that he was annoyed, as one might expect where the co-pilot was so clearly out to lunch. No, if one did not know the men involved, you’d almost think that Red was worried about Luke. I did know them, so I was fairly sure the worry wasn’t so much for Luke, at least not in the sense that he was some fragile creature who’d been dealt a heavy blow. No, Red was worried for the rest of us, and hoping that we’d be on the ground before the big man blew up.

Luke was staring intently out the window of the plane, his hands clenched tightly. I knew to leave him alone to regain control of himself and I hoped that the others had enough sense to do the same. Lane was a smart man, as I recalled and Kinney seemed to be bright. My impressions of him had always been good, although Edward had thought him merely a pretty man with no true intelligence. Edward hadn’t been one to value street smarts, which is why Miguel Martinez had outwitted him time and again.

Both Lane and Kinney were quiet, seemingly lost in their thoughts also. Lanier was tapping his long fingers on his thigh, but softly, not in any way that would attract attention. Well, it wouldn’t attract attention unless the attention was already looking in that direction, I amended my thought. Kinney’s gaze was directed that way, but whether he was simply looking that way or really staring at the Frenchman’s long leg I couldn’t quite tell.

I turned my thoughts back to the video and pondered Brenda O’Keefe’s untimely demise. Obviously, my first reaction had been one of relief, better her than Danny. Why did she do it? The more I thought about it, the more confused I became. Why did she grab the gun? Did she actually care what Danny thought, or, more unsettling thought, had she actually been trying to help him and had sacrificed herself toward that end? Looking at the four men in my care – and that is how I thought of them – I felt I needed to understand what had motivated her act in order to understand how to outwit the men who held Danny captive without losing any of these men in the process. Ah yes, and I also had the opera singer to save too, who looked to me to be in risk of developing sepsis if he was not already there. I needed to get that man out of that house and on intravenous antibiotics pronto.

“Red, before you leave the secure radio line with headquarters, would you ask if they know if Terrell Jennings has any drug allergies, especially to antibiotics?”

My question made everyone jump, non sequitur that it seemed, no doubt. Red nodded, however, and used the alternate frequency from what he’d been using to land to contact headquarters. Thyme herself answered.

“You watched the entire video, I take it?”

“Yeah and not now, if you don’t mind, I’m landing a plane in sixty seconds. Doc just wants to make sure you got the opera singer’s medical chart for him. I imagine he’s going to want to try to be the doctor they pick when they go doc shopping, assuming they haven’t found one yet.”

“We’re working on that. They could only have gone so far. Your German is excellent as I recall, Linton, and with the beard....”

“We’ll continue the conversation once you get settled. Call me from this address.” She gave the address of a safe house near the airport and we signed off, with the promise to contact base again within minutes of arriving at the house. A van was waiting for us at the airport and without argument, I took the keys and got into the driver’s seat, and told Lanier and Kinney to hustle into the middle and stay low. Red and Luke slouched their way into the back and front respectively. They’d each perfected a way to walk to minimize the appearance of their distinctive height when they didn’t want to attract attention and by walking in a group with two tall men like Kinney and Lanier, they blended in fairly well. I smiled; I was the one who stood out like a sore thumb, being average height, but from a distance, I would just look short, which was fine. No one was looking for me.

At least not specifically.

Munich was a city I loved. I’ve loved Germany since I was a boy, perhaps because my first love was a German. Franz, my tutor, the first person to show me true kindness – I didn’t count Edward’s weighted self-interest as either kindness or love – but whatever the reason, I’ve retained an affection for the country and its people. The fact that I consummated the great love of my life in this country no doubt added to my love for Deutschland. Luke and I have returned, not always under the best of circumstances, but this had to be the worst. A sidelong glance at his face revealed him to be holding onto his control by the barest of threads. I hit the gas.

We made ourselves as comfortable as possible in a two bedroom house that had a pull-out couch in the living room. I was forcibly reminded of my first mission with Luke and Red. The latter took one look at the couch and after looking at the other two men, both of whom were gay, and Luke and myself, who were a couple, my eyes just had to meet his for us to find ourselves laughing uproariously, despite the seriousness of the situation.

Luke, however, didn’t see the humor. Nor did Kinney.

“Something funny all of a sudden? Did you get a telegraph that I missed, telling you that Danny’s been freed and isn’t being held by people who find it funny to play Russian Roulette with real guns?” Kinney stood by the doorway to the small bathroom, his shirt off, apparently planning on showering. He must share that trait with Danny, I thought. Whenever Danny was stressed he would shower. Sometimes for an hour or more.

“I don’t think they are making light of the situation, Brian, it is no doubt some ‘in joke.’ Why don’t you take your shower and relax. There are two bathrooms so you don’t need to rush and if there is anything critical to tell you, why, I will come right in and get you, mais oui?” Lanier was serving as a peacemaker, my usual role. I smiled at him gratefully and he returned my effort – with interest. I refrained from reacting further but I made a note to be careful. I was getting a vibe from him. Red looked at me and I knew he was seeing it too. Luke was too intent on worrying about Danny to notice it – thank God, but if he thought Lanier was flirting with me, he wouldn’t find it funny, as I did. He’d be quite neanderthal in his response. It was cute, in a way. No doubt if I were a liberated woman I’d be offended by it, but as a man capable of killing in any number of ways, I was more likely to sit back with Red and be entertained...as long as no one got seriously hurt. Then afterward I’d watch while Luke was teased mercilessly for his jealousy.

But not today. Today we had a more serious problem than libidos. Of course, that was part of the problem, I realized. Lanier and Kinney often used sex to distract themselves from their problems. With the availability of attractive men limited to off-limit men, there was a problem.

I might need to drop them off at a gay bar, I realized, and thought, looking at Redraven’s tense face as he watched Luke, that perhaps a trip to the bar would be a good idea for him as well.

“Why don’t you go to the local pub and have a few beers with Etienne, Steve, while I talk to Luke?”

Luke turned to me, surprise lifting the look of iron control from his face.

“A pub? What the hell? Are you forgetting what we have to do?” He tried to hide the hurt but it was a sign of just how upset he was that he couldn’t – Lanier murmured something about putting clothes away and carried his and Kinney’s bags into the smaller of the two rooms. Funny how we each fell into roles, I thought, noting that Lanier was treating Kinney the way he would Danny, different as the two men were. It was his way of coping. Danny wasn’t here to pamper so he took care of Danny’s partner, even if in his day to day life, Stephen Lane now had scores of people to cater to his every whim. I suspected part of him missed the days when he cooked and cleaned for the very prima donna like Daniel, while they made their way across Europe. None of Rose O’Keefe's boys was much use in the kitchen, I’d learned, with some chagrin, although Luke claimed to be the handiest around the house. Danny liked a clean home, but was able from a young age, fortunately, to pay for housekeepers, because he was not the neatest of people, as I’d noticed when I visited him in New York. And Angel? She was a slob, I remembered, with a shudder.

With just Red and Luke in the living room, I felt comfortable walking over and pulling my stiff-backed lover into my arms and forcing a hug on him. I looked at Red and raised an eyebrow. I suggested, “I could use a little help here.”

“What, squeezing him? Can’t you do that stuff on your own?” he complained. But he came closer and wrapped his arms around Luke from behind while I held onto his front.

“The boy looked strong, Irish. You made him tough. He is tough. A tough man. He didn’t let Ali get to him. He’ll hang on till we get there.” Red told Luke, who had his head down on my shoulder now as I patted it soothingly while Red rested his chin on his back.

“He is a man now, isn’t he? God, he’s so perfect and so good, Mama had it right all along, he’s like an angel, so good, and strong, Dad never saw it, and I don’t deserve that he forgive me, but did you hear him, Peter, Steve? He forgave me, thinking of me when he thought he might die? God...when he’s being tortured for my sins.” We held Luke as he struggled to keep himself together.

“Maybe if you got the others away?” I suggested again to Steve. I’d never quite seen Luke like this. He wasn’t upset over Brenda, clearly, but he was shattered by what he’d seen Danny go through. In the plane he seemed to be heading toward one of his rages, but having overcome that, he was in a deep remorse, which I’d never seen before and it perplexed me. Red was shaking his head at me, but before he could say anything, Kinney reappeared, dressed in a towel. Lanier was behind him.

“This is touching as all get out, but may I suggest...instead of indulging in a shitload of guilt...would you mind pulling your Green Beret, secret agent, ghost soldier or whatever the fuck you want to call yourself, Cuchulaiin for all the fuck I care, as long as you get yourself together, and figure out a game plan for rescuing Danny from those dime store terrorists who are threatening to cut off his body parts? I’d kind of like him to remain in one piece and I bet he’d like that too. Can’t you just offer yourself in trade?” Kinney looked at Luke with cool eyes, no mercy to be found there, but it seemed to work, Luke straightened his shoulders and took a deep breath even as Red growled low. I reached around my lover to squeeze our friend’s arm – hard – as the last thing we needed was to be at each other’s throats. Red looked at me and gave the briefest of nods before taking a deep breath and answering Kinney’s challenge.

“Sure...and how long would that work? Until the next group decided to take him hostage, I’m thinking,” Red offered tersely, cutting off any reply before Luke could make it, because Luke would offer himself, forgetting why it is we don’t negotiate with terrorists. I pulled Luke down onto the couch and looked at Brian, trying to remember that as much as I loved Luke, he loved Danny and was terrified for him. It was much harder for him too...perhaps...was it harder or easier not knowing what was involved when the reality was as bad as this, I wondered?

“We don’t refuse to negotiate with them because we’re on some macho head trip. We refuse because it doesn’t work,” I elaborated, as Kinney looked like he wanted to argue more. “We give them Luke, they will still try to do all they can to harm Danny if they think it will give them an edge in harming Luke, because their goal is to kill Luke. But beyond that, it will be open season on family members of all other operatives. Let’s say the best result is achieved – what do you think that would be?”

“Getting Danny out, of course,” Kinney answered me like I was an idiot. Lane came to the door of the bedroom. He chimed in,

“What he’s asking, Brian, is, without or with Luke’s continued existence being revealed. And of course, we shall take it as given that we want Jennings saved also...which we, as generous souls, do truly want, even if Brian or I should neglect to mention that, gentlemen,” Lane grinned, lightening the mood slightly.

“Sure, everyone knows I’m tolerant of Danny’s old cast-offs,” Kinney shot back at him. “But what difference does it make if it becomes known that Luke is alive? Big deal. You come to the family dinner once in a while. It’s boring, I’ll grant you, but is it really that terrible that....?” Kinney’s joking manner died away at the look on Luke’s face.

“Do you have any idea how many people would be after Danny? Or Briana? Maybe Jamie or Mary Pat? Any of them, if I were known to be alive and that I would come running if one of them were taken? Hell, I may as well shoot myself now.”

“That’s nonsense,” Kinney tried arguing, but you could see that it was sinking in. “You’re like Batman with his secret identity, is that what you’re saying?”

“Red has no family left. Linton has none he’s known to care about. Others who have reached our level live lives surrounded by bodyguards and security gates. Or, lives that are disguised by their very incongruity with reality, their ability to blend. I don’t ‘blend’ very well, do I?” Luke’s voice wasn’t bitter, but neither was it proud. His height, his striking looks – they were a fact of his life. “I have made certain choices in life. I live with them. In the past couple of years, I’ve managed to achieve a level of normalcy and, God, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, a level of happiness I never would have believed possible.”

“So that leaves Danny shit out of luck?” Kinney just wouldn’t let up. I was tempted to knock him out and leave him locked in a room until it was all over. Luke didn’t need this. I moved forward, but this time it was Red who stopped me, his face thoughtful. I paused, but only for a minute. He’d better have a good reason.

“No, Danny deserves the best, from the Alliance I serve, but always from me and from my best friends and partners,” Luke was answering, his tone slow and steady instead of the shout I’d expected. Red’s smirk was starting as he looked down at me. Luke the leader was returning. “Despite what you may think, and despite what he may be thinking right now, I’ve never let him down and I won’t let him down now. I didn’t ‘owe’ Danny the truth when it would have put him in danger, regardless of what any of you think, and I will do all in my power to bring him to safety now. Revealing my existence will mean killing all of those men but I’m okay with that. They’re all participants in the lowest of terrorist activity as far as I’m concerned. My bosses won’t agree with me on that, so we’ll have to see if we can avoid that little problem.”

“What about the other secret you kept from Danny?” Kinney asked, still standing aggressively by the doorway. I looked at Luke, bewildered by the question. Lanier frowned for a moment but then his face cleared and he looked to Kinney as though he didn’t know whether to be impressed by his courage or amazed by his impudence.

Red had no such confusion. He turned to Luke, grinning. “The pup’s boyfriend has brass ones...no brains but balls the size of ....”

Luke cut him off with the wave of his hand. “He hangs out with Joey and Jamie. Gives him a false sense of security. He thinks I won’t hurt him.” He stared down at Kinney, his most intimidating look, normally enough to make lesser ranked officers wilt on the spot. “I don’t think I’m going to have that conversation with anyone besides Danny, if you don’t mind...Kinney. Now, if we’re done wasting time?” The slim black eyebrow flew up and none of us said a word – the Colonel was back. “We have a rescue to plan. Red, get Thyme on the phone. Hopefully she’s got some leads on where that house is located. Lanier, I’d appreciate it if you would, if it isn’t too much for you, take several more looks at that video, the shorter one also. See if there is anything in it to give you leads on where the house is that they’re in.”

“Brian is also familiar with making video of this length, since he makes commercials. I believe he might be able to help,” Lanier offered, with a comforting look at the chagrined looking Kinney.

“I have a different task for him. With Peter, he is to go out and about town and try to sight any of the terrorists.”

Kinney looked pleased but I was slightly concerned. I tried to catch Luke’s eye. Was it wise, I was wondering, to hamper me with perhaps the weakest member of the group?

Luke must have read my mind because he looked up from some notes he was scratching out and commented to the group at large, although he directed his comments mainly to Red who was shaking his head and muttering. “Kinney is the least conspicuous–other than being good-looking, which will distract anyone from looking at Peter...sorry, love.” He winked at me, camping it up for Kinney’s sake, no doubt.

“I’ll survive,” I said dryly. “My concern is, what do we do if we do encounter the villains? I am hampered with Brian...no offense...” I nodded at him politely as he stood buttoning a shirt over his slim chest. There were muscles there but they were purely aesthetic, one felt, not functional.

“None taken,” he said, just as dryly.

It was Luke who argued, “Kinney is no wallflower when it comes to fighting, if it should come to fighting. He was a tough little bugger as a teen and in his twenties, but my reports have indicated Danny’s been working with him for the past couple of years, so he can fight. As well as Lanier, back in the day. Just not as big.”

I remembered the old days when we had to assist Danny and Lanier who seemed to be forever stumbling into trouble. Of course, Edward played a part in some of that. Lanier had been a Paris street tough in his day, however, and was a big, wiry man, who knew how to fight dirty. Giving him some finesse was a simple matter. Kinney, with his designer suits, didn’t have the look of someone who knew how to really fight.

Red bent closer. “I’ve seen his file. Trust me, you won’t have to carry his slender weight all on your own. Besides, Luke wouldn’t stick you with him if he were a liability.”

Good point.

“The thing is, Lanier is a celebrity here in Munich, almost as much as in Paris and LA. He can’t just go strolling around without risking a crowd. Red and I stick out. Peter, you know how to blend in and you can look German. I guess it’s too much to hope you speak German, Kinney?”

“Nűr ein bischen,” he answered, in a respectable accent.

“Well, that will help,” Luke nodded, pleasantly surprised. “Okay...here’s the rest of the plan....”




Section III - Munich; December 18th - POV/Terrell Jennings

I tried to focus, to get my bearings, but it was difficult with half my body feeling like lead and the other half feeling like it had hot tongs being applied to it. The swollen tissue around the area where the bullet had been removed was not looking too good. I didn’t need a medical degree to know that. I was also having trouble concentrating, which wasn’t good, even if my fever wasn’t as high, which I was afraid wasn’t the good sign that Danny hoped it was. I’d had an Aunt die of sepsis once, and I knew that when your body stopped fighting the infection, your fever went down because the fever was losing the battle against the infection. I looked at my Chief’s sweet, worried face and reached out for his hand.

“It’s going to be all right, Danny,” I told him. “We’re going to get out of here, just be patient.”

“I know,” he answered, those big dimples of his flashing back at me. Damn he was adorable, even if he was lying. Not that most people would know he was lying. To look at him, you’d think he was telling the Gospel truth, those green eyes so big and gorgeous, with those curly lashes brushing against his cheeks like the blushing little altar boy he no doubt was, back in the day. Now that he was the choir master, he got the choir ladies hearts fluttering, I bet. He was a hell of an actor, my little Chief. I think it was the pure perfection of his answering smile that gave him away, actually. His real smile wasn’t so blindingly gorgeous. Of course, neither of us was really at our sharpest. I know I wasn’t. I reached out my good arm.

“Come a little closer and let’s snuggle. All the bad men are either sleeping, out hunting for supplies or torturing bunny rabbits out back, so we can rest and talk,” I gave my best facsimile of my coaxing voice. “Rest here and you can stop being brave for a bit. Talk to me, Chief. You’re going to have to talk about it at some point.”

“Talk about what?” He rested his head gingerly against my chest. “I think your fever is going down, Terry. Those antibiotics must be helping a little though I wish they’d hurry up and get you a doctor. You’re so weak but your heart is racing. I’ll feel better when you’re seen by someone.”

“You know what I mean, Chief, so don’t change the subject. Your sister, Brenda. I wasn’t asleep, you know. I saw what happened, how brave you were. You couldn’t have prevented that, Danny, and if she hadn’t...”

He cut me off, resting his hand gently over my mouth. I normally would hate such a tactic but he didn’t do it forcibly, he barely rested his fingers against my lips, actually. I was glad that he’d helped me brush my teeth that morning or this cuddling would be a funky experience, I thought, nipping at his fingers. He frowned and pulled his hand away quickly.

“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking!” He looked like he was going to be ill. I realized how stupid I’d been too late. Talk about bringing up bad associations, you take the prize for it, Jennings, I told myself. No time for self-chastisement, though, I had to calm Danny down. And unfortunately, the best way to do that would be to appeal to his guilt complex.

“No, no problem, Danny, it’s okay, I know you were trying to stop me from talking and you should know by now nothing does...wait, where do you think you’re going?” I grabbed for his arm as he sat up and looked like he was going to leave. “Don’t leave me!” I made my voice as pathetic as I could and it did the trick, he turned back, hesitant.

“I’m sorry, Danny, I don’t mean to be a burden, but don’t leave me here in the room by myself,” I said, sounding even weaker than I felt...which was pretty damn weak, actually. Damn, I couldn’t believe a little hole in my shoulder had knocked me for a loop like this. I was beginning to think I was getting old. Or maybe forty was old? I wondered. When my father was seventy-four years old he still could preach four sermons on a Sunday, visit a good dozen or more sick parishioners, and play a mean game of basketball at the youth center without needing to pause for his second wind. It was a drunk driver who finally ended his passion for life. The accident was responsible for the blood clot that killed him four months later, when he was still in the rehabilitation facility. I was on tour and hadn’t gone home because I didn’t think he’d die. The doctors all said the accident wasn’t life threatening. So sadly, he was gone before the two of us ever found a way to make peace with each other. Life was too unpredictable to waste opportunities, I’d found in my own forty years living it. I clung to Danny, and let all that sadness show in my eyes as I looked up at him.

“Terry, I’m sorry, of course I won’t leave you,” he murmured, his eyes downcast now, the brightness dimmed. Poor baby. He’d been through such a horrible experience yesterday and just as the infection from the gunshot was trying to poison my system, sickening my whole body, he was at risk of burying the poison that Brenda had left with him deep into his soul unless I lanced it right away and drained it out – no matter how painful it felt in the short run.

“Danny...rest your head back down on this bed. And if you can’t rest your head, at least rest that cute ass of yours.” I spoke firmly, in, if Danny but knew it, an exact replica of the good Reverend Jennings’ 'Obey Me' voice. I’ve used it on Danny a handful of times in his life and it’s worked like a charm every time. Ah, the fantasies those times have given rise to, I thought. I realized anew how ill I must be that using “the voice” didn’t stir any visible reminders of those fantasies today. He wasn’t quite as relaxed looking when he rested his head down but I know how to be a bit sneakier. I reached for his hand and squeezed it. His eyes shot up toward mine and I spoke to him seriously.

“I think you misunderstood me a little bit, I wasn’t upset that you covered my mouth to shut me up, it just occurred to me a little too late that by nipping at your fingers I may have triggered bad associations from last night. That was one of the more horrible moments for me, watching, I don’t mind telling you.” I watched him closely to see how he reacted, to see if he would show a reaction now, with me. He curled in against me a little, as though seeking comfort from my body heat – at least I had plenty of that to offer, I thought – and I wished I could do more to keep him safe among these men. I put my arm around his shoulders and squeezed him against me as reassuringly as I could. It worked, as he started talking, almost as though to himself.

“It was...intense,” he admitted. “I didn’t know the words of what he was saying, but the sense of it was pretty clear the whole time, you know? When he held my foot and stroked my tendon with the blade? I was thinking, what is he doing, I thought we were supposed to do some kind of roulette? But I pretty quickly picked up on the fact that he was threatening to cripple me. Then when he put my foot down, I realized, ok, that was for the camera, like before, this must just be something he had planned before the roulette idea and he didn’t want to waste his prep. I’ve known directors like that, you know? Or more often producers. ‘We spent my money to built this set so damn it, we’re going to use it even if it doesn’t fit in anywhere.’ Those types. But then, the bit with my face? I could feel the heat from when he had the knife in the fire and I thought, okay, so this is what he’s going to do, he’s going to cut me up. He really seemed to feel what he was saying then, like when you don’t know the language that an opera is in, but you cry at the sad parts? And I got myself mentally ready for that, a scarred face. Thinking, I can live with that. I always said I wanted to know who loved me for me and who only cared for me because I was beautiful...don’t laugh at me, Terry, but I am beautiful, no sense denying it.”

He looked up defensively from the curve of my arm and I had to smile. “You’re right in that, Chief, a blind man could see your beauty.” His sweet smile came back at me with those words.

“That is one of the nicest things you’ve ever said to me, Terry, and you’ve said a lot of nice things to me over the years.” He pressed closer and kissed me, a sweet, tender, friendly kiss. Ah, this man would be the death of me sooner than any bullet.

“But then, Terry, when he left my face unmarked, I should have felt relieved. Two down, right? But it got worse. When he put his fingers in my mouth and he gripped my tongue, I felt sure that he was done fucking around and that the other two were just preludes to the big event. And it was just such a shock, such a sick thing to do, I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it at first. I mean, even now....”

I could see him swallow convulsively and I stroked his hair and made soothing noises. He made a half choking kind of laugh and said, “I know what you’re trying to do, Jennings. You’re trying to get me to cry again, but it won’t work. Twice in one week? No fucking way.” He was probably right. The iron will of a lifetime was too hard to break, but I thought his expression was wistful for all that his words were mocking. I decided to abandon any talk of his sister-in-law for the time being. He’d had enough for now, I judged.

“You ready for Christmas in that choir of yours back home?”

He grimaced. “Man, you’re really great at cheering me up. I know what Mary Fran wants me to sing and it shouldn’t be too hard, though I need something to brighten it up. The kids’ choir needed help with their songs still when I left. I’m hoping my nephew stepped in to help Mary Beth now that he’s home on break. He has the know-how. It’s a matter of him wanting to. My brother John might make him if he’s being a jerk about it. By now they should be realizing that I might be a little slower getting back than I initially implied....” His voice faded away.

I didn’t tell him what I’d overheard Brenda say to Jareed yesterday – before their falling out – which was that John O’Keefe also had been grabbed for questioning, only he was taken by federal authorities who wanted to know the whereabouts of Luke O’Keefe. It seemed that this group had a mole among the people who held him, which wasn’t a reassuring thought. But, that wasn’t my worry. I was focused on getting my boy better. For as long as I could hold my own head up.

“Why don’t you sing for me,” I suddenly suggested, an idea coming to me.

“What do you want?” Danny asked, sitting up cross-legged on the bed.

I had my eye on the row of small windows that ran along the westward wall. They were cracked this afternoon to let in some fresh air, Albashek insisting to some of the others that I needed fresh air in the sick room.

“I don’t know, sing me something from your children’s choir, maybe I can give you something to jazz it up,” I told him. “Belt it out nice and strong for me. I haven’t heard you sing in ages. You sing, I’ll direct you and join in if I know it, and we’ll let these gents hear what we fairies sound like, okay?”

Danny smiled faintly at me but then shrugged and after tapping his knee a couple of times he took a breath and then with that focus I remembered so well, he started to sing, free and clear and strong as ever. After just the first line, I joined him, forgetting how sick I felt in the joy of singing with my Chief again. The song was a familiar one to me.

One candle burning bright
Two candles bring a little more light
All together we can light up the night
But it starts with one candle
Just one candle

I let Danny take the stanza by himself, indicating he was to increase the volume even more. As I expected, Jareed was the first one of our hosts to the door, but he made no attempt to stop us. He stepped inside and closed it behind him, leaning against it, eyes flying to the windows, a half-smile on his swarthy face.


No man is an island unto himself
We all need a little help
More and more darkness is falling down
It's time we find our common ground
Standing together as one
We can shine as bright, bright as the morning sun
Bright as the morning sun


When it came time for the chorus, I decided to make my voice heard, and I let it soar out above Danny’s, singing variations on the dona nobis pacem, my voice so distinctive that anyone within hearing with any knowledge of the opera world would know it to be me singing. I rejoined Danny on the next stanza, his delight in the duet fueling my adrenalin boosted performance.

There's strength in numbers led by His hand
From wilderness to promised land
We'll find our way with hearts on fire
And feed the flame a little higher
A shoulder to lean on to
You call on me and I'm gonna call on you
Together we'll make it through


For the next chorus, Danny took over the dona nobis pacem, while I sang the simple words of the chorus. While my strong tenor had risen through the windows and out into the streets, he chose to take the notes even higher. There is a high falsetto range that basses often have, but Danny’s high notes have always been strong and true, he’s always had a four octave range since I’ve heard him sing. He doesn’t have that shallow, tinny sound in his upper register that some falsettos have. On this occasion, he sang so pure and true that I was sure his notes reached the pearly gates themselves. We finished together, our hands clasped:


It starts with one candle
Then there's two candles
Somebody bring me three candles
Look at all these candles
We're gonna light, light up this world.

As we held the final note, Ali crashed through the door, pushing Jareed to the floor. Four men were on his heels.

“I’ll bring you a candle,” Ali shouted, and, taking the candle from the other night, he quickly lit it and threw it on the bed, setting the covers on fire. Danny jumped up and pulled the flaming cover away from me, tossing it onto the floor. Predictably, several of the men laughed, while a couple, I was surprised to see, moved forward and helped Danny put the fire out. Since they had shoes on and he was barefoot, it was easier for them. My Chief nodded his thanks, but then stood staring defiantly at Ali. Barefoot and bare-chested, he was all too vulnerable, I thought, worriedly. And attractive.

“Close those windows,” Ali ordered, his voice softer than when he entered.

“I’m sorry, was our singing disturbing the neighbors?” Danny asked, his face and voice bland.

“That was the intent, was it not?” Ali looked wryly amused, I was relieved to see. I was exhausted from the effort of singing, the adrenalin faded now, the effort having taken its toll. I shivered slightly; without the blanket or Danny’s body warmth, it was much colder in the bed.

Danny turned immediately. He didn’t miss anything I did, he was so in tune with my condition, which was sweet of him, but a worry, since I knew my condition was anything but good and I would prefer not to be a further weight on his shoulders. I had to think his brother was doing something to get him out, but in the meantime, Danny’s efforts to help me would only get him in trouble, was my thought.

Like now. He was turning toward Ali, his stance belligerent. “You promised me a doctor for Terry. Don’t you keep your word? And he needs another blanket since you saw fit to destroy that one for no reason.”

“You were trying to signal for help,” Ali accused mildly.

“We were practicing a song for my Sunday School back home, that is, we were until we were abruptly interrupted,” Danny replied, infusing enough scorn in his voice to bury a lesser man. If I weren’t feeling so crapped out and the situation so serious, I would applaud this performance, I thought. From one line to the next, Danny was working on this guy. At the moment, he was every Mother Superior who ever chastised a young priest for ill manners. Of course, Mother Superiors didn’t have pecs and abs to die for like the Chief, a fact that was a bit at odds with his prim tone. I should remind him to get a fresh shirt from his dwindling supply in his overnight bag. His clothes were getting covered in other people’s blood with disturbing regularity, but it beat his blood soaking them.

“You were singing loudly enough to be heard two streets over.” Ali was mimicking Danny’s stance now, and had his arms folded across his chest although he signaled his men to stand down. Jareed must have received some subtle sign that it was acceptable to bring me a new blanket because he sent Tahnoun out of the room and the man came back within seconds with a stack of blankets which he then arranged over me gently. Danny rewarded him with a warm smile, which made the man flush with pleasure. Ali’s dark eyes watched the exchange as closely as I did. Abruptly, he changed the subject from our singing to my health, drawing Danny’s attention back to himself.

“I have tried to find your friend a doctor...but I’m sure you can understand that care must be used. It has to be someone I can trust, you see.”

“But..” Danny looked over at me, the worry and love so clear in his face that I felt...humbled. All the acclaim and fame my career had brought me, and yet what did it mean, compared to a friend like this, a man who would risk his life for me? Bryn used to say that he hoped that someday I would realize that fame was only worth so much, that people were worth more. I learned that Bryn was worth more when it was too late, he was gone. I hoped like hell I wasn’t learning the same lesson too late again.

“I don’t need you to tell me your friend needs a doctor badly, Daniel, though I must say your song with him wouldn’t lead anyone to think he was as sick as Albashek assures me he is. But, I am not going to bring the authorities down on me for having a man with a gunshot wound here. That would be rather foolish, wouldn’t it? I have waited a long time for my meeting with your brother. I will not lose this opportunity now because of your friend. Do not overestimate his value.”

I understood the subtext, even if Danny didn’t get it. Make too big a fuss and it would be easier to remove my body, as they apparently had Brenda’s, three of the men leaving with it under cover of night, than to find treatment for a sick man. Jareed caught my eye and shook his head warningly. I was not to say anything then. For some reason, I found myself trusting the younger man. I kept my eyes half-closed and let Danny handle the conversation with Ali.

“Why keep him here at all, when all you need is me?” Danny argued, to my dismay. The last thing I wanted was to leave him alone.

Ali laughed. “Aren’t you afraid, little one? If I decide I don’t need your friend, I could give the order now and his life would be over. Do you think I would hesitate?”

“Yes, I do, because I think in your way, you are a man of honor,” Danny answered firmly, cool as a cucumber, holding Ali’s gaze with his own. “You are doing this to me because you believe my brother wronged you and your people. I accept that I am fair game as his family if my brother wronged your family. Even in a war, he shouldn’t harm a man’s family and expect that man not to take action back against him. But Terrell is nothing to Luke. He is innocent to all involved. He gave me a seat on the plane and stopped to share lunch with us. That is what got him caught up in this mess. It is wrong for him to be punished. More than that, you gave your word that if I willingly participated in your game of roulette, you would bring a doctor to him the next morning. You haven’t kept your word. How do you justify that? Are you just a posturing, lying bully?”

Ali was no longer smiling. He turned to one of the men by his side and questioned him sharply. The man’s answers must have proved unsatisfactory, because Ali’s fist flew out, striking the man’s face. I never ceased to be surprised by how much blood could come from a broken nose. Danny looked unmoved. He simply glanced at the man then turned his cool gaze back to Ali.

“That isn’t helping much, creating more patients is rather counter-productive, don’t you think?”

Ali paused in what looked like the beginnings of one of his interminable rants and looked at the Chief non-plussed. I noticed that Jareed had to look away and pretend to be fussing with the camera in order to hide a grin. I wasn’t amused; I was hoping it wasn’t Danny’s nose that was next in line to be broken.

“I will send my men into the center of town and request the services of a physician. You do realize that the individual will have to remain here until I reach a resolution with your brother?” Ali’s eyes gleamed; he no doubt was sure that Danny would pass up that offer. I thought he should – why make another person a kidnap victim as well? He surprised me.

“Fine. I trust you won’t kill someone brought here for humanitarian reasons. That would be against your faith, I believe, and if you intend to simply start killing your hostages, why not do it now? Luke is not coming, whomever you’re contacting is not giving in to whatever demands you made and this whole plot has been a bust.” Danny shrugged and turned back toward the bed.

Big mistake. Ali signaled two of his men and they grabbed for him. But Danny was more alert than he appeared. He whirled and kicked out, attacking both men with lightning fast moves. Those men were down and Danny was circling Ali, who was moving warily, his demeanor rapidly changed from the patronizing manner he’d shown my Chief up to now to the cutthroat terrorist leader he truly was. But, no sooner were they taking each other’s measure than guns were out on both Jareed and Albashek, and pointed at me.

“Back away from Ali, Danny, or I will shoot Terrell, and Albashek will shoot you,” Jareed spoke, his voice firm. It was then that I noticed that another man was in the doorway with a gun out...which had happened first? Jareed’s decision or the other man appearing, I wondered, because it had seemed to me that both he and Albashek had their guns pointed at their leader. Danny’s next words made all ability to think go out of my head.

“Why should I?” He had his body turned partially toward the bed, but his eyes were still on Ali and the man behind him in the doorway with the gun. “What is there to lose at this point? Terry is dying in that bed. I’m going to die here. I may as well take some of you with me, and as you know, as a seventh son, I’m a fucking hard son of a gun to kill. You saw that yourself, Jareed. Better yet, take your best shot at me and then let Terry go.”

Before my horrified eyes, Danny went for Ali, and after knocking him to the ground, moved swiftly to the man at the door, who was slow to shoot, apparently afraid that he’d hit his boss by mistake. By rushing him, Danny surprised him, and he shot wild, missing. Albashek also missed. By a good couple yards, I’d say. Ali was on his hands and knees on the floor, and barking orders at Jareed and the man with the broken nose. Fortunately, none of those orders seemed to be, shoot the big guy in the bed.

I felt as though I had to be delirious from the fever. It was almost like a replay of that first night. Danny and Jareed both had guns, and were facing each other, Jareed next to me and Danny behind the downed, unarmed Ali.

“You won’t kill him in cold blood, Danny, but you know I will kill Terrell,” Jareed said softly, “so drop the gun now.”

I couldn’t believe the coldness in Danny’s eyes when he answered. “That might be what you think, Jareed, but you are already killing Terrell, so I have to think it better for him to die a fast death than the slow painful one you’re giving him. And this way I avenge him. Did you see how fast I can kick? I can shoot that fast too. Taught by the best, I was. The Raven and the Hound. So, as fast as you shoot him, I can shoot two of you. I’ll tell you, my first choice will be Ali, and I doubt my second will be Albashek.”

Ali said something in Arabic to Jareed. Looking surprised, he hesitated, then he and Albashek tossed their guns aside.

“Alb, get some of that twine you keep handy and I want you to tie up these men, starting with Ali, and then your buddy with the broken nose,” Danny ordered. “Do it well as I will be checking, and a poor job will mean I’ll have to break legs to incapacitate them,” he added harshly.

“Well done, pup, seems like you may be more like your brother than I thought,” Ali commented as Albashek tugged on his bonds to ensure their tightness. “I begin to think ...”

I never heard what he began to think because two things intervened. There was a disturbance downstairs, and then the sound of Tahnoun clattering up the stairs.

He came into the room excitedly, oblivious to all that had transpired.

“Good news! I’ve brought back a doctor!”

The second thing, which really messed up Danny’s fine coup, was that I started to go into a seizure at that point, and he was so distracted, heading over to help me that Jareed was able to tackle him and recover the gun from him. At that point, I lost track of what was what, but when I regained my wits, it was a whole new game.

A third candle had been brought into the grouping.




Section IV - Munich; December 18th - POV/Peter Linton

Brian Kinney proved a surprising companion as we scoured the city for clues. I’d expected him to be a drag on my efforts – he spoke next to no German and he wasn’t trained in any type of investigative work. I could only think that Luke wanted him out of his hair and was using me to baby-sit the man while he and Red did something they felt Kinney’s presence would make more difficult. Lanier was a known quality to us and while we might not trust him in all things, the three of us trusted him with respect to Danny. I was probably the only one with any deep knowledge of Kinney and mine was shaded by Edward’s hatred of him. I knew him as Justin Taylor’s older lover. I knew every sordid detail of his extremely busy past, far more than I’d ever tell Luke or Red – they’d react like typical big brothers if I were to let them know the information Edward had bade me dig up on Danny O’Keefe’s “true love.”

Suffice it to say, the man had been around. Didn’t miss any of the dark corners, either. It was astonishing, really, that his young life of debauchery had left no mark on his face, which was as unblemished and handsome as ever. Justin told me once that he thought Kinney had the “face of God” when he first made love to him, and I could see that – the almost severe lines of cheeks, jaw and nose blending with the soft lips and luminous eyes into a harmonious whole. It was a harsh face one moment and a lovely one the next. If he were a God, he was one of the Old Gods, loving one moment, careless the next. Was he worthy of the precious Daniel? That had been the purpose always of my private inquiry, although of course it was not Edward’s goal.

Then, there was that terrible night that changed so much, when Danny offered himself as sacrifice, and I saw Brian Kinney throw himself over Danny’s helpless body to save him from Edward’s bullet. If no greater love can be found in man, than to lay down his life for that love, then Brian Kinney could not love Danny any more than he did. He was willing to die for him.

Of course, as I was in the position to know, it is sometimes harder to live for the one you love than to die for them. Kinney’s face today showed his suffering clearly, his cheekbones standing out more harshly than usual, his brows drawn together so that a deep line creased his forehead. His full lips were pulled tight, the bottom lip sucked in and beginning to look red from being gnawed by his lower teeth. We’d been retracing Danny’s steps from the airport, interrogating the waiter, hitting every small pub and restaurant we could searching for leads. But, the surprising part was, rather than being a drag on my efforts, Kinney was a major asset. The moment we entered a place, he turned on his charm, and people came to us. We didn’t need to initiate conversations, they just happened, and he left it to me to steer them where I wanted them to go. If they went off track, he proved adept at getting them back in line. I was amazed at his natural talent for this field. In between stops, I mentioned it.

“So, you’ve never done this type of thing before?” I asked. We were near the outskirts of the city now. The cool hazel eyes turned toward me, his hands were already reaching for the door handle to get out of the car and get to work on the next group of potential witnesses. A brief smile flickered in those lovely eyes before the mask came down again.

“Well, Herr Doktor,” he drawled, getting out, “once before, I did something along these lines but my partner was a sixteen year old...rent boy.” A couple of men walked by and he dropped his head back into the car and whispered the last two words in a confidential tone, smirking at me in a way that made me want to knock him on his arse. Or do something with his arse, I thought, eyeing that particular part of his anatomy as I followed him into the tavern

There was a group of men chattering excitedly in one corner of the darkly lit room, but the tavern was far from crowded. Now if my companion on this investigative mission were Luke or Red, we’d go over and they’d interject themselves right into the thick of things. Both of them found their way around bars like newborn pups finding their way to the bitch’s teats. Smaller dogs just backed away and waited for a sign that it was safe to approach Red without a risk of getting bitten, while Luke was normally the type to say, pile on, the more the merrier.

Kinney’s approach was different than anyone I’d ever seen before but it certainly worked. He’d walk up to the untended end of the bar and lean against it, and invariably there would be a gravitational pull of attention toward him. First, the bartender, or bartenders, if more than one and then it really got amusing, but if just one, would stop what he was doing and rush down to attend to Kinney’s drink request. Normally a whiskey drinker, he was sticking to beer today. He’d confirmed with me the proper way to request two beers and with flawless accent, he’d request “zwei bier, bitte,” from the bartender. Once we found this routine worked, I stayed back, finding a table to await Kinney when one was available, so I could survey the room and keep an eye on the people in it. This way I could listen to multiple conversations while Brian engaged people in conversations, bringing any likely prospects back to me for more subtle questioning. Since most people spoke some English, his lack of German didn’t hinder him and his attractiveness made people eager to talk to him.

Within a few minutes, Brian was leading a pair of men in their late middle age back to our table, followed by the server who carried a bottle of wine and four glasses. I raised an eyebrow which Brian met with a bland smile.

“Herr Doktor, this is Thomas and Johann, and they are great fans of the opera also! Isn’t that a great coincidence? Thomas, Johann, this is my...great friend, Doktor Nicholas Waring.” Brian had this remarkable ability to infuse his voice with the barest edge of snark so that if you were listening for it, you knew it was there, but the uninformed would think him merely the most charming of fellows. I was hard-pressed not to roll my eyes, which of course would make me look like the rude one to the two old queens in front of me. When I’d informed him of my newest alias, the first name being yet another of my many Christian names, and the surname the second half of the title, it apparently had touched that dark sense of humor of his.

“You must be good for at least three or four more lives with all your names, Linton. I stole a peek at your Will –  weren’t there at least a dozen names given to you at your baptism? You make Prince Charles look like a punk,”

“But that is only natural, the Mainwarings are of an older, more respected lineage than the House of Windsor,” Lanier had told him, causing an even bigger laugh, especially from Luke and Red, rebels from both sides of the Atlantic. Looking now at the two smiling and bowing Germans, I bowed in return, but vowed privately that I would get even with the smirking Mr. Kinney – once Danny was home safe.

“You enjoy the Opera?” I inquired politely, after bidding them to join us.

“Ja! Ja, wir haben die Oper schon immer gemocht." The man identified as Thomas gushed as the other man, Johann, I believed, was urging the waiter to pour the wine for the four of us. Kinney sat down, stretching out his long legs, which Johann and Thomas both eyed appreciatively. Ah, I thought, not just opera lovers then. I responded to them in my fluent German, but asked if, since Brian struggled a bit in their fine language, being new to it, we might proceed in English. Our new friends quickly agreed, after exclaiming over his obvious intelligence and skill, which must have been based on his demonstration of the five words he knew, I thought, amused. Other than being able to request two beers politely, he had taken to calling me doctor after the German fashion, and that was about it for his German skills. No, I corrected myself. He’d told Lanier on the plane that he knew how to say Merry Christmas in German also. Red had told him that at least he was going to the country at the right time of year.

“So, what good operas can I catch while in town?” Kinney asked carelessly. I would have winced at his phrasing..."catch an opera"...but Thomas and Johann were beaming at him and falling over each other in their eagerness to talk. Johann won by virtue of talking louder.

“You are in such luck! The virtuoso tenor, Terrell Jennings...he is an American too, Brian, you must know him. He is scheduled to perform with the symphony, a special program for Weinacht, at the Opera House. Handel’s Messiah, which will be a wonder. Though there was a rumor...”

“What rumor was that?” I asked, with just the right amount of interest. It was a difficult note to hit and Kinney left it to me, knowing that while these two would not be critical listeners, we couldn’t be sure who else would be listening and whenever the conversation turned to Jennings, we had to be doubly careful. We wanted to get the most information without looking like that was the purpose of our entire escapade. I looked modest. “I am quite a Jennings’ fan,” I confessed, trying to appear like a man who would travel across an ocean to “catch” a sold-out performance by a celebrity crush. There were such people, I knew, but how did they act, I wondered? “I’m hoping to get tickets to that performance, actually, since we are in the city, and I would love to see Mr. Jennings perform again. I heard him in London in ‘96, and again in Vienna in ‘04, and he just continues to improve, doesn’t he?”

“And he’s so gorgeous, with those big brown eyes,” Johann sighed. “And that chest! I read that it measures fifty-eight inches! Can you imagine?”

Brian rolled his eyes. “Actually....”

I interrupted, “No wonder he has such breath control and volume,” I agreed. “But you started to say something about his performance. Are there seats still to be had? For the right price, of course.”

Before our new friends could answer, a couple newcomers pulled up chairs and joined us. They’d been eyeing Brian from the other side of the bar and finally must have decided to come over. I scanned the surroundings again. Nope..no women. I really was losing my edge, I scolded myself. Ten minutes in a gay bar and I was just realizing it? I needed some rest, I decided, but I was not to get it. The next words gave us our first real break.

“You wouldn’t have needed a ticket a short time ago if you’d been by my house,” a short, fair haired man assured us, his companions nodding eagerly. He was the center of the group who’d been talking at the other end of the small tavern. Brian gave a small smile and I realized that he must have heard enough to get the gist of that conversation and wisely siphoned off Thomas and Johann merely to get our own little side conversation going.

“Why is that?” Thomas asked the question for us, a little miffed that their thunder...and Brian’s attention...was being diverted. “You have news of Herr Jennings that is different than everyone else has, I suppose? Because I spoke to the house manager just this morning, and he told me that Herr Jennings had become ill with that serious upper respiratory infection that has been making so many sick this winter. He is in isolation in his hotel room and they are hoping that he can still perform....”

“You have out-dated news, my friend,” the blond told him, grinning and looking to see if Brian was impressed...and also taking in my reaction, I saw. Was he a braggart as he seemed or something more nefarious? I kept my expression interested but made sure my hand was close to my gun.
Brian leaned back and put his arm on the back of my chair. “Why is his news out-dated? You have information that is different? Jennings isn’t sick? Or is he not in Munich? What’s the dirt?”

The man leaned forward, his comrades leaning in as well, though they’d obviously heard his tale.

“I heard him sing! Today! Not four blocks from my house, I heard his voice coming from an open window while I was fixing the tire on my car. He was singing like the God he is, and what is more....” He paused for dramatic effect, and took a deep swig from his stein of beer. Thomas and Johan were listening with wide eyes now. I’ve no doubt my own had widened a bit. “He was singing with an angel, another voice was singing with his, and it was so pure and bright, it was like an angel would sing.” He smacked his stein down on the table for emphasis.

“And you would know an angel’s voice, how?” another man laughingly queried in German, setting off a loud burst of laughter from a larger group that remained at the bar. That man was tall and slim, and by his dark good looks, I judged him to be the local version of Brian Kinney. They eyed each other for a moment, but Brian simply smiled at the man and then, to my shock, which I managed to hide, but barely, he leisurely pulled me closer by the back of my head and kissed me.

“Going to hit the john,” he whispered.

I looked closely at him. “Be careful.”

“Always am, Herr Doktor.” He ran his fingers over my hair, smoothing it back down, before gracefully walking toward the lavatory. I turned my attention back to the group, but not until I saw the tall man from the other group follow him. I’d give him ten minutes, tops.

“How could you be sure it wasn’t a recording?” Johann was demanding.

“It was an English song that Jennings has never recorded,” the blond, Kurt, they were calling him, replied smugly. “I know all of his recordings and he never did this song. And the other man...he was singing counter-tenor at one part. I swear they were both improvising. But not only that. The song was cut off abruptly and there was a shout in a different voice altogether, fainter though than the singing. Then nothing. What do you think of that?” He looked at me.

“I think it sounds remarkable. What an experience that must have been. What song was it?” I wondered if I should check on Kinney. I knew he could fight, and we had an agreement that he was not to be shy about yelling for help if he should need it, but I well knew that situations had a way of getting out of control quickly. Of course, I realized suddenly, he’d given me the perfect excuse to go after him. I would be a jealous lover, I decided.

“It was...” Kurt was cut off by my deciding Brian had been gone long enough.

“I believe I should check on my friend. He’s been gone a bit and he isn’t conversant with German ways,” I said smoothly in German...as smoothly as I could after rudely interrupting, that is.

Thomas and Johann looked at each other nervously.

“He may be delayed,” Thomas said hesitantly. “I believe, that is, I think...”

“Dieter followed him, so something may have come up to delay him,” a man I hadn’t met interjected. I wasn’t surprised that some tired lines crossed international borders.

“Well, perhaps someone should hurry them along then,” I told them, letting a little bit of what Danny always called my “thousand yard stare” seep into my eyes. “Before I feel it necessary to go in search of Dieter?” I smiled frostily at the man who’d made the joking comment and he looked nervously toward the direction Brian and Dieter had gone.

Meanwhile, I smiled more warmly at Kurt and leaned toward him confidingly. “It must have been exciting to hear a star of Terrell Jennings’ magnitude singing so close...did you try to determine from what house the song was coming?"

“It was no difficult task,” he bragged. “But, I wouldn’t want to say and have all of these fanatics bothering the man, you understand. No doubt he is in hiding with a friend. Must be a party going on while he practices because I’ve seen men coming and going at all hours. My boss rents out the houses on that block and he is particular about the privacy of the people he rents to, all big money people, you know what I mean? Must be getting a pretty penny for this party. You know Jennings is gay, don’t you? Well, he’s partying like one of those rock stars from what the ladies down two doors told me. Noises half the night until people left around three in the morning!”

I nodded, as several side conversations sprung up at those revelations. I could barely restrain my excitement. I was about to get the address from my friend, when I sensed the arrival of two new men into the small tavern just as Brian was returning with his “friend.” Recognizing the newcomers as men from the second video, I gave Brian the hand signal that meant he was to get away if he could. He looked stubborn for a second but then resigned. He bent close enough to whisper in Dieter’s ear and whatever he said made the man’s face light up with lustful delight and they moved naturally toward the back again. Good, no one besides me seemed to have noticed that they’d even reappeared briefly.

The two newcomers, both of them swarthy and burly beneath heavy outerwear, spoke to the bartender in hesitant German, and looked over toward me. But no, it was Kurt they were looking at, I realized with a second sidelong look. Their eyes narrowed, as they headed toward our group. The German men looked nervously at each other. The men might be dressed in Western garb but they still had the look and demeanor of Arabs, and while I knew myself to be well-armed, their weapons were barely concealed. If this were a more main-stream bar, they’d never get away with walking in like that, I thought. They were being sloppy. I wondered what was making them so desperate. The song? Well done of Jennings and Danny to have made their voices heard – I had no doubt that it was them – and it was nothing short of a miracle that Kinney and I had come upon a man who’d heard them so soon afterward, but the chances were that soon word would get out that someone, and probably more than one person, had heard the voice of the famous Terrell Jennings, in a small Munich neighborhood at a time when he was reportedly resting in isolation.

Oh, very well done of them! Were these two out doing damage control, then, or on another errand altogether? Time to find out, while hopefully Kinney made his way back to the others and reported on what we’d learned. And got Luke and Red back to this vicinity so they could help me effect the rescue. I’m good but not quite good enough to take on a whole houseful of terrorists on my own.

“Guten Tag,” I said brightly, my hand outstretched. “Ich heisse Doktor Nicholas Waring und Sie sind?”

“Sie sind ein Doktor?” The two men looked at each other. The younger one took the lead in questioning me. “Um, what type. Oh, wie, oder was....Ich mochte, kenn bitte, um...damn, do you speak English by any chance?” He elbowed his younger companion who was laughing at his frustrated efforts. I debated answering in Arabic but decided that would not be politic.

Instead, I assured him that I did indeed speak English and offered my services. “How may I help, Mr....?”

It was the younger man who smiled at me in response, a wide, friendly smile. If I hadn’t seen this same man holding a large blade to Danny’s throat when I watched the first video just this morning, I might have been fooled by his cheery demeanor into thinking him a charming fellow. As it was, it was difficult to keep my feelings from showing.

“My name is Tom. This is Rand. We’re staying with some friends from University, on holiday, and one of our friends got hurt. We don’t know any doctors in the area and came in to ask the locals if they could direct us to a good one. But perhaps if you would be so kind as to take a look, you’d be able to tell if he needed a hospital or not?”

“There is a very good doctor, right down....” Thomas tried to give the name of a local practitioner but I was able to override his suggestion with my enthusiastic agreement to “just come and see if more than a shot of antibiotics was needed.”

“I happen to have my medical bag in my car,” I assured him. Among other things.

“Aber ihren Freund! Er ist nicht...” Johann was distressed over Brian’s continued absence. I looked toward the back of the bar sternly.

“If my friend should happen to return looking for me, please tell him from me that...something came up,” I smiled coldly toward the gossip. “He will have to make his own way back to England.”

There, if there should be inquiries later about Brian, our cover as lovers who had a falling out over his wandering, should protect him if anyone should come back for him. As I followed “Tom” and “Rand” out, I saw that Brian had left our car, which was fortunate, since my medical bag was in it. I had to trust in his ingenuity to get him back to the safe house. I’d made sure that he knew exactly how to find it, as well as how to contact Luke or Red should we separate. Good thing I had done so, I thought somberly as I followed the two men the miles to the edge of Munich, and a small two storey house that stood at the end of a picturesque road.

They claimed they had taken a bus and then walked the rest of the way to the tavern when they asked if they could ride with me to the house. This prevented me from being able to contact Luke, but I didn’t see any option but to agree. I also wasn’t able to get any other weapons than the one I’d worn into the tavern, and those items I kept in my medical bag, but I was fairly confident that I could manage well enough with those. Indeed, more would appear suspicious and my goal at this point was to allay suspicions until Luke and Red arrived. And to keep Danny and Jennings alive, of course.

Looking at the setting sun, I was surprised to see that it was just turning to early evening; it already had been a very long day. And it wasn’t over yet.

There was a commotion going on upstairs when we entered. I heard gunshots and tried to think of how best to respond. Should I take out these two men and hurry to Danny’s aid or stay in my cover? The opportunity to act was lost as I paused to decide, since I was unceremoniously shoved into a small room and asked to wait while Tom, whom I knew as Tahnoun from the tape, left me with a muttered excuse, then ran to join his fellow who’d already rushed up the stairs.

It was not a long wait in terms of minutes, but it seemed forever before they returned for me. I took advantage of the time to contact Luke.

“Where the fuck are you?”

“Love you too, but listen, I believe I’m in...” I heard the door being unlocked so I left the connection open and tucked the phone in my pocket, trusting that the signal was strong enough to stay open.

“I must say,” I began, in my stuffiest English tone, “I don’t appreciate being pushed into a room when I’m trying to do you chaps a favor. I believe I’d like to leave now and...”

Tahnoun smiled again, apologetic but otherwise more concerned with his own errand. “I am sorry about that. There was a bit of a mess upstairs. They really need you now, the friend I mentioned? He’s worse. Would you please hurry?”

He grabbed my arm and hustled me out into a foyer, from which a large staircase rose. Sounds of arguing and commotion could still be heard so I allowed Tahnoun to hurry me up the stairs. Down the second floor hallway, there were several rooms, and at the end was a large bedroom, facing east. Inside I found the room of the videos...and Danny. A frantic Danny standing over a Terrell Jennings who was convulsing...no...who was going into cardiac arrest.

“Move back,” I snapped, leaving Tahnoun behind and paying no attention at all to what happened to him after that. I was too busy rushing to the bedside, pulling out my stethoscope and getting to work. It took half an hour, but between cardiopulmonary resuscitation and then some nitro tablets, I got the big man’s heart jump-started. Seeing the man’s condition on the video I’d viewed that morning, I’d anticipated a systemic infection, and I’d actually come prepared with IV antibiotics, and had even checked to make sure he had no allergies to anything I’d want to use, but I’d never really expected to be in that room before nightfall treating Terrell Jennings, the opera star.

I placed the IV, lanced and drained the nasty looking wound, and redressed it. Then I sat back in the chair that someone had placed behind me at some point. Another of the terrorists, Albashek, I believed was his name, had been assisting me in my work. I wiped my head wearily. Jennings was sleeping normally, no longer unconscious, I told him.

A voice behind me spoke words almost identical to ones I could recall hearing once before from a similar voice, a little over two years earlier, at the site of another of my make-shift med-surg procedures:

“You had an IV on you? Who the fuck carries an IV on them?”

I turned and looked into green eyes that had once been as familiar as...as a son’s to me. He was tied up, his hands and feet bound with what looked like thick twine. A thicker rope around his waist held him in place on a straight-backed chair. It was difficult to see him thus restrained without immediately acting to free him, but at least Ali hadn’t been so cruel as to force him to leave once I’d started working. I’d heard them arguing the point as I’d labored, Danny begging, yes, my proud boy begging, to be allowed to stay with his friend, while a harsh-voiced Ali ordered his men to “do something” to secure Danny “once and for all.”

What had he done, I wondered, to engender such anger, especially tinged as it seemed to be, with respect and even a bit of fear? I felt both of those emotions as my eyes met his. For a moment, I wondered if he’d be angry enough to give my identity away, either accidentally or on purpose. My cell phone was still in my jacket pocket. I hadn’t disconnected my call but I hadn’t dared look at it to see if the connection was still linked with Luke. Even if the call had lost its connection, I hoped Luke was homing in on our location or that Brian had gotten back and could lead Luke and Red to Kurt who could bring them to us. It was only a matter of time before they found my gun and I wasn’t sure how they would react to that discovery. Of course, until Brian got back, they’d have no reason to know that I needed them to come to me. If Danny were to reveal me as George Main or Peter Linton in the meantime, well, their arrival might prove too late....

While those thoughts were racing through my mind, a similar disjointed cascade must have been going through Danny’s, yet his face was perfectly expressionless – the very blankness of his face I took as a sign that he had recognized me because it seemed only natural that he would have shown some reaction to a stranger. Gratitude at the very least, I would think, and perhaps continued worry for Jennings. His eyes flicked over to his captors, who hadn’t yet realized that the drama was over for the moment. All but Albashek, that is, who’d gone to the small bathroom to wash. Tahnoun appeared to have left as soon as he brought me.

“I meant, what a wonderful thing, that you were so well-prepared. Thank you, Doctor. I owe you a debt I can never repay...truly...I owe you a life, I think.” Danny spoke quietly, his words for my ears only.

“Your life has belonged to me... since you were a child of nine... it is mine... to protect and cherish...you and... those whom you love,” I said softly in my halting Gaelic. I knew I was taking a risk to speak thusly to him but this was important; he and I had to make peace with each other before we could work together to get free. He drew his fine brows together as he thought of what I said, the long ago meeting when he was but a child and I saved him from what would have been a fatal fall was something Peter Linton did for Danny the child. It was never spoken of again by George Main, but I was sure that with prodding, Danny the man would remember.

He did, looking at me now with wondering eyes.

“You!” Danny looked around quickly. None of the others were close but he kept his voice low – good boy. “You were the one who broke his arm when he caught me! I remember you now, with your hair lighter like this, and your arm, it still has a mark where....” He looked up from his scrutiny of my forearm, which my rolled up sleeves revealed. “But why.... And how did you get here?” His eyes lit up and he dropped his voice even lower. “Does that mean that my brother really is....?” He cut off his question as Ali re-entered the room and came over, cuffing Danny on the shoulder roughly.

“So! Doctor Waring, you saved my prize for me? Good work. We shall keep you. I’m afraid you may have gleaned from the condition of my guests that I am not the best of hosts, but that is far from the truth. I am the best of men. The big fellow on the bed had a hunting accident, you see, and my pretty boy here on the chair? He likes to play games. At the moment we are playing cowboys and Indians.

This is where it got tricky. I was easily the most expendable of persons once Jennings was out of immediate danger. Indeed, I couldn’t be allowed to simply go along my merry way. I wondered if I could feign being stupid enough to seem safe enough to do just that? How stupid would that be, I wondered?

“A delightful game,” I agreed. I stood and stepped forward, trying to take a position that would enable me to shield both Danny and Jennings. Impossible, I decided. I needed to get Danny out of that chair. It struck me – as stupid as Thomas or Johann might suffice. Could a person be a competent doctor and yet a rather single-minded celebrity hound as would chase a man like Jennings across Europe? That could be my cover. If I seemed too dense to be thinking about Ali’s doings, they might not worry about mine. It was weak, but all I needed was a little time...and I didn’t really have many options. I tried not to wonder what Danny would think as I began to chatter. And chatter.

“This gentleman...he is Terrell Jennings, isn’t he? I thought so as soon as I looked at him. Charming man, really. So much bigger than he seems in his photos, which is unusual because with so many other performers, they are so much smaller when you see them in person, do you know what I mean? But in any event, I am sure what really interests you is my diagnosis and of course the prognosis. Because of course all of Munich is looking forward to his performances this week so it is crucial that he be gotten to a hospital right away. Well, anyone can tell, you don’t need a medical degree, though your men were quite right to seek out professional help, but he is most certainly very ill and while I’ve done what I can, he needs to be moved to a hospital immediately. I’m fairly certain he’s developed sepsis from the infection in that wound. Which, I must say, hunting accident as you say, it is an odd sort of hunting accident to give a wound of that nature as it would seem to have been a wound from a different caliber than...” I paused at the expression on Ali’s face and diverted my comment facetiously, “well, no doubt your guest, being a singer and eccentric as artists often are, doesn’t hunt with the same types of sporting equipment as the average English squire, I daresay. Plus, I simply must add, and no offense to the young man who assisted me with my treatment of dear Mr. Jennings, as he was most helpful and an able nurse, but whoever removed the bullet did so very roughly. One would think they used a common dinner knife and not too clean of a one either!”

Danny made a “ha” kind of noise and Ali glared at him. Like that ever keeps an O’Keefe quiet, I could have told him. Better to ignore them. Kinney would say the same, I suspect. Damn, I hoped he was safely back with Luke and Red and was at this very moment leading the cavalry back to us. Would be just our luck if Dieter was the local gay basher.

“Well, I’m sure my men did their best,” Ali said smoothly. “And I’m also sure that with you here to take care of him now, Mr. Jennings will soon be on the road to recovery.”

I pretended to be appalled. “But I can’t stay here! I have plans! I must be moving on with my vacation. I have people to...”

Excuse me, Ali, I hate to interrupt this gentleman, especially since he’s been so kind as to render such good care to Terry, but I need to go to the bathroom.” Danny looked at the ceiling, the soul of resigned patience. He was looking at me as though I were some quack doctor that Ali’s men had found at the bottom of a Cracker-jack box. Which, when you thought about how little care went into their vetting of me, I might as well have been. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at Ali’s face. Here we were with one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, and Danny was treating him like a nanny and he a spoiled charge. I was tempted to rebuke him for not taking care of his business before he was tied up but wasn’t sure it was wise for me to push the glowering man who controlled whether our blood stayed in our arteries. If the man wanted to vent his anger at someone, better me than Danny, but better still if he chose one of his own men.

Which is what he did. He turned to a man with a bandaged nose.

“Didn’t you take him to the toilet before securing him?” Danny’s eyes were dancing as he turned to meet my look, although he looked properly serious in a flash when the two men turned back towards him.

“You said to secure him! Nothing about bathroom breaks. Should I have offered him tea also? If you might remember, the other one was having fits at the time and Jareed had just gotten the gun back from him! And since he’d just broken my nose, I wasn’t too concerned about his comfort.” The man’s tone was sullen and defensive and more than a little belligerent so Ali’s blow to the bandaged nose was expected by everyone except perhaps the complaining man, who held in any further complaint, although his nose spouted new blood.

Ali looked at me. “Perhaps, Doctor Waring, you might look at Rashid’s nose for him in a little bit? He is having the worst luck with it today.”

I glanced at Danny and feigned a hesitant look. “Perhaps I could assist the young man to the lavatory? He isn’t dangerous, is he?”

Ali laughed, a low and unamused sound. “Jareed, accompany young Daniel to the bathroom. Daniel, you are constantly amusing to me.” He looked at me and I realized that the game was up, if indeed, it had ever been on. “Stay exactly where you are, Doctor, until Daniel is taken to the bathroom he claims to need.”

“Perhaps I can wait after all,” Danny quickly suggested, his eyes moving between Ali and me.

“No, I don’t think so, Daniel. I think in all kindness, I will let you be out of the room for this. Doctor Waring, thank you for your services to our friend, Mr. Jennings. A physician of your skill doesn’t come wandering off the street every evening. This may seem churlish after such kindness on your part, but would you please remove your jacket once our young friend has left the area? It seems my men grow sloppy during this enforced wait and neglected to search you when you were brought here. Daniel, I suggest you leave, now, with Jareed. Ahmad, you will assist me with the good doctor. No need for you to deal with Daniel.”

I saw that Jareed was holding a gun on me now while another man had entered the room and walked up to Danny. I am quick on the draw but I didn’t see how I could shoot my way out of this. I tried to bluff my way, on the off chance that he still didn’t know who I was.

“I am appalled by this treatment, I must say!” I exclaimed, pulling my coat off, and letting the holster and gun appear in all their glory – not that any effort on my part would have done much to hide them. Ali smiled.

“Please place your weapon on the table – carefully. Rashid, take charge of the doctor’s gun. Try not to get blood on it. After all, he might still be inclined to fix your nose for you.” Ali appeared to be having a great time. Jareed walked closer, keeping his gun carefully aimed at all times. His eyes flickered toward Danny, who was watching me with worried eyes, forgetting to look dispassionate as the two young terrorists approached me.

“Did you think we wouldn’t know who you were, Major Silver?” Ali asked gleefully. Danny’s head snapped around but thankfully his expression showed only a normal amount of surprise, as though he believed me to be a nice English doctor. Indeed, Ali was nodding to him with a satisfied expression as Jareed was cutting his bonds.

“Yes, Daniel, some rescue has been attempted, but not quite the rescue we were hoping for. This is Major Silver of the Alliance, a frequent mission partner of Major Steven Redraven. This is but the first wave, I must imagine, but we no doubt can expect more, wouldn’t you agree, Jareed? Especially if we ask Major Nicholas Silver to contact his team and send in the A Squad?”

“I am afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I politely told him, earning myself a blow across the face, to which Danny objected. That won him his own blow across the face, along the same side that was already bruised, I noticed, keeping track of the scores I wanted to even out later. Jareed was leading the pack.

“Search his pockets,” Ali ordered.

We were ready for such a contingency, of course. All of our phones required a security code to establish who was using it, either vocal or keypad; without it, Red or Luke would know to disguise their identity when receiving a call from my phone if a recall were hit in just such a situation as this. Any other calls in my address book would respond as appropriate for my chosen cover for the mission, in this case, a doctor on vacation with his boy toy.

Ahmad handed the phone to Ali, and predictably, he hit redial. I noticed that Jareed had delayed in taking Danny from the room, and was hovering in the doorway. If it weren’t for Jennings, I’d have a lot more choices, especially knowing Danny’s fighting ability, but I couldn’t risk one of them harming the singer, who was in fragile enough condition as it was. I watched tensely as Ali waited for the call to be picked up. It should be Red, not Luke, who fielded the call, knowing that it was not me calling.

“Hello,” Ali looked pleased. “May I speak to Luke?” He frowned. “I am trying to reach a friend of...” He looked at me and frowned. “The Major’s. He is hurt...You don’t know any Major? This number belongs to a doctor? Very amusing. Who are you?...What do you mean, you won’t tell me?....I tell you I have your friend and I think you will tell me who you are, you, with your phony French accent... so now you are ‘Etienne,’ are you? Well, I wish the truth, or I will make you regret your lies that will cause your friend injury, you with your impudence!” He threw my phone to the ground.

I barely restrained a groan. They wouldn’t have allowed Lanier to answer, would they? I dared a glance at Danny. His eyes were fixed on me and he raised an eyebrow as if to ask, what now? His worry was dampened but I knew him well and could see it; the name Etienne was common enough but there was a question in his eyes that I couldn’t bring myself to deny – no more lies to him. He gave a sidelong glance at his guard and I returned the barest shake of my head. They were too ready, this wasn’t the moment to act. Plus, if I could draw any conclusion from Lanier answering the phone, it had to be that Luke and Red were otherwise engaged, which hopefully meant they were close at hand.

Danny’s face was taut, and he too was ready to act. Jareed looked from Danny to me, sensing our communication, which I’d been foolish to risk, and before I could do anything – to warn Danny or somehow prevent Jareed’s vicious act – Jareed took the butt of his gun and swung it hard at Danny’s right knee. Danny cried out, shocked at the sudden pain. He almost crumpled to the ground, but Jareed caught him, his arm encircling his waist. He looked to Ali, like a child looking for approval from his father.

“I think this will ‘secure’ Daniel better than mere ropes, Ali. My research told me that he had reconstructive surgery done on that knee so I’ve done a little deconstruction to slow our martial artist down – you approve?”

It was difficult to look at Danny’s agony filled face and do nothing. I couldn’t tell how much damage had been done to his knee but from the tight, white look around his mouth, I knew his pain was considerable. I had to try to help.

“Let me look at his knee, perhaps give him something for pain?” I looked to Ali and quietly made my request. “He’s been incapacitated, surely there’s no need for him to be in more pain than necessary, is there?”

Ali, who’d been quiet, thoughtfully considering Jareed and Danny while the rest of the men remained still, for once no laughing approval coming from these hard men, seemed about to grant my request but again, Jareed interrupted.

“This is Luke’s brother, remember, Ali. Even severe pain will not completely incapacitate him. Watch.” Jareed said something in Arabic to the man near me, too fast for me to catch completely but I gleaned enough to be ready when the man pulled a knife from his belt and made ready to plunge it into Jennings. I had to act, of course, and spun to grab the knife. I struck a forceful blow at the man, Rashid’s, throat, crushing his windpipe.

“Shoot me and you have no one to save him,” I barked at Ahmad, who had his gun leveled at my head and was a second away from shooting me.

Meanwhile, Danny had knocked Jareed’s gun down and then twisted free of his hold to leap forward and do the same to Albashek, to keep him from shooting. The medic had been watching quietly since returning from washing his hands but as soon as I’d acted against Rashid, he’d responded to help his countryman. At least, it appeared that he was aiming the gun at me.

Ali fired a warning shot over my head. Just over my head. I assumed he intended it to be a warning shot. He quietly spoke, “Albashek, quickly assist Major Silver in cutting a trach for our stupid Rashid, before he dies...then I will decide if he deserves to live. Major, save the stupid Rashid and you will live a while longer and we will discuss foolish Daniel and his knee. For now, Jareed, get him out of here before I shoot his other knee.”

I tried to look reassuringly at Danny as he was dragged away and he gave me a brave smile, a trace of his dimples showing even. I caught Jareed’s eyes and tried to send a message to him as well, even as I accepted a pair of gloves from Albashek and a sterile knife. You’re going to pay, I thought, as I looked my last at the man. He smiled at me, his expression far too smug. He was up to something. I knew it as surely as I knew that he couldn’t possibly be Thyme’s secret agent. Damn her for not telling us who her man on the inside was! I turned my attention to the suffocating Rashid as Danny was dragged away.

“Albashek, where is Tahnoun?” Ali asked in his native tongue. He was standing over me as I worked quickly, the quiet medic holding down his comrade, who was close to unconscious. I had only a passing understanding of Arabic but enough to know that Albashek was saying he didn’t know in a very roundabout way. Where had the large man gone?


Section V - POV/Brian

As soon as Linton gave me the high sign in the pub, I knew enough to head out the back exit with my new “Bekannter,” Dieter, who divulged plenty of interesting information, in between him giving me a blow job and me fucking him. While I was pounding his ass, and he was grunting his answers to my questions between thrusts, I couldn’t help thinking of all the times Mikey and I had imagined ourselves as secret agents, like Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the Men from U.N.C.L.E., which we watched over and over in syndication until we had the episodes memorized. Mikey was convinced that Solo and Kuryakin were hot for each other, and Solo just pretended to be such a great ladies’ man for his cover. I wasn’t so convinced about him, but the Russian? I would have done him in a second. At least he looked good in those black turtlenecks.

Dieter had a turtleneck on too, which was pushed up to his armpits as he gripped the wall and pushed back against me.

“Let Kurt brag to the others, they won’t find much...ja, there...not at his house...uhh, uhh....Jennings won’t still there be...uhhh...not after...aagh...tonight....oh ja!”. He slumped a bit after coming and I finished quickly with a couple more thrusts. Fuck, it was difficult to get into it twice in a row when my mind was on other matters. But, I told myself, with a smirk as I pulled out and forced myself to nuzzle his neck for a moment before immediately reaching to pull off the condom and fasten my pants. Nothing like a little post-coital cuddle to loosen lips – learned that from all the great ones – Solo, Bond, Smart.

“Why won’t Jennings be there anymore?” I let the man kiss me, turning so that it landed on my jaw, making like I was into kissing his neck some more, pushing the cloth of the turtleneck aside to get at his pale skin. The truth was, I just didn’t want to kiss any mouth but Danny’s. Maybe it was left-over attitude from the days of Justin and our “rules”, but kissing on the mouth was reserved for Danny. After a few more minutes of cuddling, I’d been able to coax answers out of Dieter while he smoked a cigarette.

Dieter had rented his van, as well as his services as a driver and guide, if needed, to one of the men from the house where the singing had been heard. They’d already borrowed it once, the night before, although they hadn’t needed him to drive that time. Three of the men had taken a large bundle that looked like a rug out late and hadn’t returned with the van until mid-morning. One of the men had told him he’d likely need it again tonight, to make a trip all the way to Berlin. He was promised good pay for keeping it quiet, for the man said he had friends who needed to get to Berlin without a great deal of attention.

“So, who else could it be for, I ask? Perhaps it is for this Terrell Jennings, and he is breaking his contract and needs to keep his departure from the city quiet? Though one thing is certain, they are ugly customers. I’m sorry now I said yes. The money is good, but I don’t like the feel of the situation. Middle of the night trips to deliver rugs is troubling, don’t you agree?”

I did agree. The deal was a bit unusual, to say the least, but, channeling my inner secret agent, whom I hoped was more Illya Kuryakin than Maxwell Smart, I also said I would love to have the chance to be in on it if and when the men wanted to borrow his van again, on the off chance that they were sneaking Terrell Jennings out of the city. Wouldn’t it be hot to see if we could interest the man in a threesome, I suggested to my horny German friend, and his eyes lit up. He took my cell phone number and agreed to call me if his van was needed again by the foreign men, and I got the address where they were staying. Feeling pretty cocky about my success and wanting to get back to Linton so we could return to the others and then on to Danny, I suggested that I had to rejoin my friend, the doctor, who I suddenly decided to reveal was a jealous type. Dieter didn’t see any inconsistency in that, fortunately. He merely nodded sympathetically and put out his cigarette. Accepting a final kiss, I was surprised by how unpleasant I found it to kiss someone who’d been smoking – was that what I’d been like all those years? No wonder Danny bitched until I quit completely. Fuck my health, second-hand cigarette taste was just foul.

It was as we were heading back into the pub that Dieter added, “So your friend is a doctor? Those guys from the house have been asking around for a doctor. Said one of their group got hurt fixing his motorbike. Maybe your friend will be asked to help them out? I tell you, they can be very persuasive. Lots of money, you know? Ah so, it looks like he will get the chance to see just how persuasive. Maybe you will have more time now after all.”

That was when I saw the dark-skinned men who’d entered the pub, and Linton giving me his signal to get the hell out and back to the others. I pulled Dieter close for another nicotine flavored kiss.

“I think you’re right,” I murmured. “Let’s leave the back way so he doesn’t see me.”

After ditching Dieter as soon as decent, I caught a taxi back to the safe house. I reminded my “Fuck Bekannter” to call me if he got word that the men were going to be borrowing his van again to take another trip. I returned to find Red and Luke arguing with this other man, an older guy, British from the sound of him. Lane, or Lanier, as this group seemed to insist on calling him, was nowhere in sight. All talk stopped the minute I returned. Something made me hold back from telling my news right away. He certainly looked the part of the proper James Bond, M16 type, but there was something cold about him. Not cold like Linton, but slimy cold, like Stockwell.

He looked at me and then turned to Red. “Is this Kinney?”

Red turned to Luke. “And you say I have no manners.”

Luke rolled his eyes. “Brian, this is Director Nigel Williams, one of the heads of the Alliance of Nations. Our bosses. So to speak. Nigel, this is Brian Kinney, my brother’s partner and our family friend. Brian, please excuse us.” Despite Luke being the warmest to me that he’d been yet – calling me Brian finally – his eyes were hard emerald green, so knowing O’Keefes as I did, I would say that Luke was pissed. His eyes, like Danny’s, went to softer, forest green, when he was happier. The gemstone color was striking but it usually was a sign of one pissed off Irishman. Danny’s could get that way when he was especially turned on, but somehow I didn’t think Luke was turned on by this Brit.

I bit back my news, important as it was, because the vibe I was getting from Luke was, we were all good guys and this guy was not necessarily one of us. I shook hands with the man and then excused myself.

“Where is Silver?” I heard him ask as I closed the door behind me. Lanier motioned for me to move aside so he could move back to what had obviously been his position before I joined him – standing right at the door, ear pressed firmly against it. Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. The keyhole was a much better place at which to listen and this one was big enough that you could see through it too. I crouched down to watch.

“He’s out checking for leads...you know how he can blend into any background,” Luke said casually. “But why are you suggesting now that you do want me in on any assault on Ali’s group, Williams? I thought previously that you were concerned, along with Thyme, that I was too violent, that I wouldn’t bring Ali in alive?”

The other man smiled nastily. “You misunderstood, son. That was Thyme’s concern. Being female, she tends to be more skittish about such things. Perhaps it is the Canadian in her?”

I was impressed that the volatile Red stayed perfectly blank-faced at those two comments. From what I’d gleaned on the plane ride, he was especially close to the woman we’d met the other year who’d worked on Danny’s and my quilt, which shocked me a bit. She was a nice enough lady, but had to be at least ten years older than Red, and was, well, ordinary, although pretty enough for a woman her age. Redraven was a lot of things but none of them was ordinary. Once again, it went to show that there was no accounting for tastes. Why a nice lady like that Thyme would hook up with a guy like the Indian...of course, he was probably hung like a Mustang, I reasoned, and I wasn’t thinking of the car. The other thing was, he was at least part Canadian. A large part, as I understood it.

Back to the business in the living room. I couldn’t believe I knew where Danny and Jennings were and I’d been sent to cool my heels in the bedroom like a school kid while Linton was off dealing with the terrorists on his own.

Fuck, Linton! He needed back-up and Danny needed rescue! I looked at Lanier. “I have to talk to Luke and Red, it’s urgent! What’s with the other guy? Isn’t he to be trusted?”

I got the Bassett Hound face. “I am not sure, but I do not think they trust him...not completely. He did not want Luke on this mission, now, all of a sudden! It is different! His mind, he says, is changed. He wants Luke to lead the charge and he has a lead.”

That did seem fishy. Right at the same time I had a lead too. “How long ago did he show up?”

“About five minutes before you did.”

Which may have coincided with Linton’s arrival at the place where Danny was being held. This didn’t feel right. I stood up and looked around the room. We were on the first floor at least.

“Come on.” I pulled on Lanier’s arm after quietly locking the bedroom door.

“Where are we going?” To give him his due, he didn’t stop but kept moving, grabbing his jacket and wallet. I went to the window and was about to open it when he called over to me, “Wait! There is a security code we must enter first. I have it written down.”

I turned, impressed. “How did you know that?”

“I used to watch a television show called ‘The Professionals’ as a boy. The windows and doors in safe houses always had security codes so I asked Peter when we arrived here and he confirmed that this one did. It is to prevent....”

“I can figure it out. I can’t believe you are modeling your behavior during this on some television show, and one from your far distant childhood, Lanier.” I couldn’t resist. I had to say something to keep him from seeing me turn red. Hearing it from Lanier’s lips made me realize how stupid I’d been acting. This was serious shit and here were a couple of grown-up kids playing secret agents mixed in with real live intelligence agents with license to kill. God help Danny and Jennings, because I wasn’t feeling too confident about the humans right now.

“Let’s just get our asses out of here,” I told the chastened Frenchman, “because I think there’s a problem out there and we might need to be backup for Linton, and more importantly, Danny. I’ll explain once we’re clear of here.” Lanier’s thinking about the windows made me think proactively too and I scribbled a quick note for Luke and left it on the back of the toilet–if either of them went in to take a leak before leaving, they’d see it and know the address where I believed Danny was being held. To be safe, and because I was paranoid, I wrote parts of it in Gaeltacht, trusting that I had the numbers correct. The rest, mainly the proper names I put in a kind of pig Latin/German, figuring that it shouldn’t take Luke long to figure it out, pig Latin being a favorite of Joey’s for “secret notes” when we were young. I planned to call them as soon as possible but this was an added precaution.

Fortunately, there was no problem disabling the security alarm on the window and we were both able to shimmy out of it and drop to the ground outside. It was a bit of a drop, despite being on the first floor, due to the house being on a bit of a hill in front and the bedroom being in the back, but Lanier went first. Being that little bit taller, (with freakishly long arms if you asked me), he made it fairly easily. He then caught me, and set me on my feet, as smoothly as in one of Danny’s dances. Exactly as if it were one of Danny’s dances actually, and for a second, I felt a lump in my throat, missing Danny so much I could feel it like a physical pain.

Lanier pulled me close for a second.

“I know,” he said roughly, “I feel it too. Can we stop our fighting until this is over? S'il vous plait?

I nodded my head, then rested it for just a moment on his shoulder. Danny had to be all right. He just had to be. Two and a half years with him, it wasn’t enough time. But what I wanted most was for him to come safely out of this. If then he wanted to leave me because of the secret I kept from him, well, I would cope with that. And if he and Lanier got back together, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Not if Lanier would take care of him. But I’d give a hell of a fight before I’d let that happen. I picked up my head and stepped away. Lanier held out the keys to me and I accepted them gladly. Maybe I should check out that Professionals show. He wasn’t doing half bad at this secret agent stuff.

“Let’s get the car and get away from here and I’ll explain what’s going on. We can try reaching Luke and Red in a little bit but it might be better to wait for them to call us when they’re free to talk.”

We drove to the end of the street, and from the safety of a side alley, I told Lanier what had happened and what I’d learned from Dieter, then we debated whether we should wait for Williams to leave and return to the safe house or head closer to the area where Danny was. One thing we didn’t want was to be left behind while the others left to rescue Danny without us. We’d just about decided to call and issue an ultimatum to Red and Luke, who were taking entirely too long to ride to the rescue, we thought, when the phone in Lanier’s pocket started to ring and he looked at me, dismayed.

“I forgot. I have Luke’s phone still, he asked me to take it when Williams arrived. Peter had called but then he lost the connection and he was expecting him to call back. This could be him.”

“What are you supposed to do?” I couldn’t believe he forgot something that important. 

He shrugged and said, “I was to answer as myself, keeping his cover until I was sure it was him and all was well, if they could not take the call.” Taking a breath, he flipped the phone open. “Oui, Allo?” he answered briskly, then listened. He switched to English, asking in his most pompous, Oscar-winning, director’s voice who was calling and what they wanted, noting that it was his friend Nick’s line on the caller ID, so where was dear Nick?

It was an excellent performance, and was completely at odds with his expression, which was growing increasingly worried. The call must have ended abruptly, as he was in the middle of asking if he could speak to Nick when he must have been cut off. He closed the phone and looked at me.

“That man, Ali, the man who was torturing Danny. He now claims to have Peter as well. Perhaps we should have stayed to tell Luke and Red?”

“Look.” I pointed toward the front of the safe house, which we could see from where we were parked. It was an ideal spot, turned out, for seeing Williams leave. Leave and get into a car which, after he pulled away, a swarthy man could be seen sliding into the front seat from the back. I thought at first that Williams was being attacked but it was clear from his expression as they drove past that he was on good terms with his surprise passenger. They were talking in an animated fashion.

“Good thing the roads aren’t crowded around here,” I commented.

“But what does it mean?” His brow was furrowed.

“What else could it mean? Williams must be one of the bad guys!” I argued. “That was the guy from the first tape, what’s his name...the one with the big knife to Danny’s throat!”

“Tahnoun...but maybe he is the double agent and he was reporting in?”

“So...we follow and see. Let’s go.” I pulled out into the road, glad that we’d gotten two rental cars.




Section VI - POV/Luke O’Keefe

I was relieved that Kinney went into the other room without a fuss, even though I was sure he was listening in, pretty much as I knew Etienne had to be. No way Danny’s old French buddy wasn’t at that keyhole, learning what Nigel was up to. Which was good, because Red and I tended to be paranoid around Peter’s old boss, so a third, more objective opinion would help. And I was counting on Kinney to provide a fourth, even more paranoid opinion, because if ever there was a gay man who could spot someone who was out to get someone’s ass into a sling – whether in a good way or a bad way, it was Kinney. The man had a sixth sense about such things. I might be living with a man, and I knew I loved Peter, but I sure as fuck never developed what Doug and Hank used to call gaydar.

Williams was acting strange, of that I was sure. He wouldn’t tell me anything about what was going on in the States with Jack, whether Thyme and Hunter had gotten anywhere with freeing him, but all of a sudden, he had leads on Danny’s location from their man inside. Thyme’s secret man on the inside, whose name we still couldn’t know. And he wanted me to go in, guns blazing. He didn’t press me on Peter’s whereabouts, which was fishy. In fact, if I didn’t know better, he didn’t seem surprised that he wasn’t with Kinney. I didn’t let on that he’d interrupted a call from Peter, and that we’d been waiting for Peter to call back when he arrived. Red and I were in agreement, we didn’t even need to talk about it, that Williams had been making us antsy ever since the beginning of this, when we’d been greeted by that half dozen soldiers, which had clearly been his idea. He was running his own agenda on this and it wasn’t the same as Thyme’s and Hunter’s.

Had we told him Kinney and Peter were out together when he first arrived? I looked to Red to see if I’d slipped. His face was as blank as ever but he was tapping his arm lightly where he had his arms folded over his chest. Three taps, then two, three, two. The old bunt signal from camp baseball games. Play it safe by being unexpectedly meek. Try to get to base but more importantly, let Red get to bat.

“I’ll do whatever you say, Director, it’s my job to take orders.” You had to admire Red’s ability to keep a straight face at a line like that. Of course, my being able to deliver it went to prove Danny wasn’t the only actor in the family. Williams looked pleased so I must have convinced the old closet case. “Of course, Red is the mission leader, I’m only here to consult. Are you changing that officially?”

I looked to Red and he stepped up to the plate with an evil look in his eye. Baseball always was more his sport than mine.

“You taking over this mission, Nigel? Because last I heard, I was appointed to lead this mission by Director Summers, and until she takes me off it, that’s what I intend to do, and in the manner I see fit. Which is in accordance with the Charter of the Alliance...last time I read it, which , seeing as how I keep a copy in the shitter at my palatial home in Canada, which I visit with as much regularity as a poor soldier can manage....”

“The shitter or Canada?” I couldn’t resist. His glare was fake, Williams’ was real.

“This is all quite enlightening but I must say, I wouldn’t think either of you would care about protocol when O’Keefe’s young brother is in such danger. Didn’t you watch that second video? That man forced him to play Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol, after threatening to mutilate him! Why, if your wife hadn’t grabbed the gun and shot herself....”

“Ex-wife,” I interrupted him, but mildly. He was trying to get me going but I’d be damned if I would let him get any reaction out of me. He paused, and Red jumped in.

“We’re plenty eager to get to work going after Ali and his men. You got information, leave it with us. But otherwise, let us get to work our own way.” He stood up, ready to show Williams to the door.

“Doesn’t Linton have to check in with you on the hour?” Williams asked, ignoring his coat that Red was holding out to him. I made a show of glancing down at my watch, as though I wasn’t well aware of the fact that we should have heard something more from Peter by now. Why hadn’t he called back? I was hoping that Kinney had news and if Red didn’t toss Williams out soon, I was going to find an excuse to go into the other room and ask Kinney where the hell Peter was.

Red was smiling easily. “Lanier has Luke’s phone so we wouldn’t be interrupted talking to you and therefore we wouldn’t have heard his last check in. Listen, Nigel, old buddy, you’re holding us up, so either get a gun and come with us or get the hell out of here, but we’ve work to do. We appreciate the lead on that address. We’ll check it out, and if Ali’s there, we’ll go in, guns blazing. We’ll leave Lane and Kinney here as requested. I’m sure Peter will miss seeing you but would send his love if he knew you were here. And would appreciate all the fine advice as much as Luke and I do.”

I kept my face calm but was anxious to see the back of Williams so I could check with Etienne about my phone. Maybe Peter had called in. Christ, my nerves were on edge; I almost was willing to concede that Thyme had a point in wanting me to stay back on this one, except I knew myself. I would be fine once I had something real to do.

“I think it would be best if you let me take charge of Lane and Kinney. You wouldn’t want civilians caught up in any cross-fire,” Williams said, delaying further.

“We won’t take them with us. Look, every minute you waste, is another minute Danny and Jennings could be suffering at the hands of Ali’s men,” I told him through gritted teeth. I stood over him, and used my height advantage of almost a foot to get him to back away, toward the door, which Red swung wide, inviting him to continue on through it. “We know what to do and if this lead bears out, we now know where to do it. So, get out of our way!”

“I insist that you at least let me offer them sanctuary with me.” Williams was persistent, even if he made his stand while cowering in the doorway, with Red between him and me. Red rolled his eyes but strode rapidly over to the bedroom door, calling to Kinney and Etienne.

“Yo, you two, are you decent? Williams wants to know if you want to go with him while Luke and I take a little trip.” He tried the handle of the door but it was locked. He glanced at me and at my nod – I wasn’t in the mood for any more fucking around – he kicked the door open and went inside.

“Luke, you’d better come in here.”

I joined him quickly, easily beating Williams, who was being his nosy self, of course, but a sharp glare made him hesitate to follow me. The ass.

“Wait out here,” I ordered him. To my surprise, he did. Probably afraid he’d see blood or something worse, like a naked ass, oh my. I closed the door again behind me, as best I could, given that Red had broken the hinges.

“What the fuck?” The room was empty. “Where are they?” I looked around, staring blankly at the open window, where the chilly December cold was blowing in, stirring the curtains. Red gave me his patented “are you a fucking idiot, O’Keefe” look.

“Well, my guess is, they either got beamed up to the Starship Enterprise and are at this moment enlisting the aid of Capt. Picard to help your baby brother, or they climbed out the window. Sure hope they did the window thing because we’ve already got enough know it all Brits to deal with, and one of them is missing. Or hadn’t you noticed?”

I didn’t bother answering; Red in a snit was better ignored. I checked the small bathroom and saw a note in what I thought was Kinney’s handwriting. Etienne’s was messier. I palmed it just as Williams poked his head in.

“Any indication of where they went? Or why?” He sounded upset. I looked at him blandly as I reached down and flushed the toilet, although I palmed the note.

“Yeah, dinner. A place that Lanier knows on the northern side of the city. He left a note telling me. Seems they were afraid we’d stop them so they dropped out the window.”

“They went to dinner while your brother is being held by terrorists? Isn’t Kinney your brother’s....”

I looked as disapproving as an older brother should. Time to channel Matt. “Partner? I know. But Lanier is Stephen Lane, a famous director and actor, so while Kinney is my brother’s current partner, he must find my brother’s former partner an irresistible attraction while Danny is gone. What can I say? They’re gay men. If they can’t be with the one they love....”

Red was leaning against the wall. “I thought it was a Canadian wrote that?”

“Nah, Stills wrote that one, you’re thinking of Neil Young. He was the Canadian,” I told him.

“Either way, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young weren’t gay,” he argued.

“You two can get distracted by anything!” Williams screeched. “The point is....”

“The point is, they ain’t here so you don’t need to take them anywhere, so you can get going so we can get going,” Red said firmly, taking him by the arm and walking him out of the bedroom. He was back before I was done staring at Kinney’s note and trying to translate his half-assed attempt at a code.

“I didn’t think he’d ever leave. So, what’s it say?” He peered over my shoulder.

“Still figuring it out. Kinney must have been trying to write Gaeltacht. And I’m not sure what the fuck this is,” I pointed.

Red took it. He was better at codes. He stared for a second then laughed. He looked up at me triumphantly. “Good thing Williams didn’t see this as it isn’t all that tough, once you get past the Gaeltacht, which is the hardest thing about it, though I have to hand it to him, the fact that the guy made the effort, what does that tell us? That he didn’t trust Williams further than he could piss!”

He had a good point. I’d wanted to know what Kinney thought of Williams, now I knew. He didn’t trust him. “He says Peter went with some of Ali’s men; they wanted a doctor. This is the address where people swore they heard Jennings singing with another man, with an incredible voice.” I looked at Red and had to grin, worried as I was. “Had to be Danny, how great was that? They got themselves heard! But the address?”

“He must not have known numbers in your Irish language so he gave the German address...in pig Latin form, classic! So simple it’s hard.” Red was grinning too, but then frowned. “See what I see?”

I did the calculation and compared it to where Williams had been sending us. “Yeah, which one do you figure is the wild goose chase?”

“My money is on Kinney’s as being more reliable. And since English hasn’t checked in, he’s in trouble. We’d better get our asses over there. I only hope Kinney and Lanier weren’t so stupid as to go in on their own. Something about keeping an eye on the place?”

“We can call them on the way. Let’s go.” Something made us decide to take the back way out – through the window, same as Kinney and Etienne did, just on the off-chance that Williams was lingering out front to see which way we went. We’d left the second car parked on a side street as a precaution for the safe house, so no one would be led to it when we arrived. We made sure we weren’t being followed by parking that one and then taking a second car from that vehicle on to the house. It was a short run to get to it, and normally, we would have used the car Kinney brought back to get to it, but I noticed that they left in it. It suited my purposes now, as we peered around the edge of the house first and saw Williams driving away – a second head popping up next to him.

I looked at Red. “I’m not feeling great about our British Director at the moment.”

Red’s face was grim. “He’s going to be a dead man if he’s done anything to compromise this mission...or Thyme.” Our eyes met and we nodded. We took off for the vehicle as we didn’t want to waste any more time.

Red drove while I tried to reach Kinney. He didn’t answer the first time I called, and I was swearing a blue streak by the time I finally saw his number come up on my caller ID.

“This had better be good,” was my greeting for him.

“Love you too,” was his reply. “Listen, there’s a lot to tell you, Williams may be bad. Did you get my note?”

“Christ, why didn’t you write it in Sanskrit? But yes, and based on that, we’re ignoring where Williams said to go and taking off in the opposite direction. I hope to hell you’re right, Kinney. What do you mean about Williams? What do you know? And where’s Peter? With Danny? What happened while you were out?”

I listened carefully, interrupting only when I had to, but it wasn’t often. Kinney presented what he had learned, and what he thought Peter had developed, in a concise, organized way. As he presented it, I was repeating it to Red, so he was up to speed pretty much as soon as Kinney finished – it also enabled me to ask his questions as they came to him.

The phone call was a worry but we hoped that it was just more bluffing on Ali’s part. We instructed Kinney and Lanier to head over toward the area of the house where we all were pretty sure Danny and Peter were, but not to get themselves seen by anyone. If that guy Dieter called, Kinney was to report to us at once. If worse came to worse, we’d call in reinforcements, but at this point, I was inclined to call the police before I called Williams.

“Seriously, Kinney, Etienne...no heroics. We get paid the big bucks to dodge bullets and shoot people. You two can come in once we give the all clear, got that?” And divert my brother’s anger from me, went without saying, but I was thinking it.

“We get paid big bucks?” Red asked, as he negotiated a turn like he was just flying low. Damn, I must have been distracted when I let him have the car keys, was my thought.

“Yes, Dad, and we promise to be in bed before curfew,” Kinney replied sweetly. Then, “Just get Danny out of there in one piece, O’Keefe, that’s all either of us wants. And yeah, Linton and that Jennings guy, you can get them too, though if you don’t hurry, your little boyfriend might have it all done for you and all you’ll have left to do is explain to your brother that Linton and you are not only alive, but that he is your boyfriend. If I were you, I’d hurry and get in on the rescuing.”

“Probably good advice,” Red muttered. He was still feeling guilty about those “camping” trips in Afghanistan. God, did we owe Danny a lot of explaining.

We parked a couple blocks away and approached the house on foot. It was a nice looking neighborhood. Darkness was falling and thankfully there were not many people around. Red and I were attracting a few glances from those who were out but the good thing about being similar in height was that unless someone stood next to us, it wasn’t readily apparent that we were, as Peter once put it when in a bad mood, “freakishly tall.” I’d been a trifle hurt, until Red pointed out that his mood was due to all of the breakfast cereal having been put on a shelf out of his reach, and that clearly “English” needed his Wheaties to be a cheery man in the morning.

I found that Peter definitely needed something in the morning to sweeten his mood and once I made sure that was taken care of on a regular basis, there were no more slurs heard against tall people.

God, I hoped he was okay. I hated it when he was out on a mission without Red or me to keep an eye on him. He was good at what we do, damn good, the best, but one man on his own can always be taken down. If Ali found out he was associated with me, as Kinney said he seemed to know, who knows what he’d do to him. He had Danny, he didn’t need two hostages to have a hold on me. I clenched my hands in my coat pockets. Both of them were specially constructed to hold my hand guns. No shoulder holsters for me. Too hard to get to, was my verdict. But Peter, he was such a traditionalist, I thought fondly. If Red had his choice, we’d all be using bows and arrows and hatchets. Which, for Ali, I might consider. The man’s been after me for twenty years and I’d be damned if I knew why. I mean, I knew why we did it now, but why it ever got started? No fucking clue. His grabbing Danny, though, that was beyond the pale. His fucking with my family was totally outside the rules of this fucking game we played called war.

The address Kinney gave us was for a house that sat at the end of a long, pleasant lane. The closest houses were several hundred yards away, but there was another road that backed onto the one that it was on. Red looked at me.

“Those two musta been singing fit to beat the band...look at how far apart the houses are.”

“Just what I was thinking, though those other houses back up to these so it isn’t as far as it looks, and you’ve heard Danny sing. He can be heard across a football field without a microphone, well, Jennings has an even bigger voice. I’ve heard him a couple of times in person.” I fell quiet as we got closer, sticking to the shadows now. We both put our phones on silent, not wanting anything to alert the men in the house to our presence. Kinney had gotten to the area first, but after his initial text message telling me they’d arrived, there had been nothing further.

“Wait, getting something from Lanier,” Red whispered. I looked across at him, surprised. Kinney was supposed to give us the updates. Red looked up from whatever he was reading.

“Come on, Irish, we’re going in, no time to be fancy. We gotta go in and get English.” His face looked fierce. Game was on. War.


Section VII - POV/Steven Redraven

From the second I got the message from Lanier that Kinney was stowing away on a van in which Jareed was taking an unconscious Danny away from the house – and that Williams and Tahnoun were meeting it somewhere according to their contact, while the “others were disposed of” I knew we didn’t have a hell of a lot of time to act. Not if we wanted to save Peter and Jennings and then get after Danny.

I didn’t present it to Luke as a choice. If Danny was away from Ali, he had a better chance than Peter and the singer. They’d be dead men, in my view. Our job was so catch Ali, and as far as I was concerned, save them, first and foremost, especially Peter. Then we’d get to the pup. And I’d take personal pleasure in finding out what Williams’ was up to.

We stayed together, entering by the kitchen door. I know a lot of men would separate, go in by different entrances. Makes no sense to me. This way, we cover each other, and are a force few can stop. Not in the kind of numbers Ali had in this op. Luke easily picked the lock after we looked in through the window and didn’t see a sentry. The door didn’t appear to be alarmed and he swung it open first, then we went into the dimly lit room, Luke to the left, me to the right. We can both shoot with both hands, but are better with our dominant, naturally, so Luke, being the left-hander, always takes the left.

The first sign of a guard was one just outside the kitchen, standing at the bottom of stairs. He had his back to us, so I walked up slowly and put my forearm around his throat. I held my long hunting knife near his eye. I put my lips close to his ear and said to him in Arabic:

“I’m going to cut your eye out if you make any noise other than telling me if there are any other men on this floor. A nod of your head means yes, there are. And my friend is going to check, so if you are lying, he will find the man and have to kill him because he’s surprised, as opposed to ready, and able to just knock him out as I’ll do to you, both eyes intact if you tell the truth.”

“You whoring son of a...” He struggled but I had him pretty good; Luke made an impatient noise so I tapped my knife against his eyelid, enough to break the skin and draw blood. He nodded his head and indicated a room to the left of the stairs. Luke smiled grimly and slipped off into the shadows. I pressed the heel of my hand on the clever spot Linton had taught us that worked like a champ to put a man out. But, for good measure, I hit him on the head with the handle of my knife also. It was a favor, really. Wouldn’t want him to look untouched when his friends saw him later. I tied him up, using some twine he had hanging from his belt. Useful fellow, all things considered. I cut off the extra and stuck it in my pocket. I went to join Luke. There were sounds from a scuffle in the room but it was quickly over.

Two more men were out. Not dead, I noted, a bit surprised. They were bloody from having a brief encounter with large fists and what was probably each other’s heads, Luke’s two bozos bouncing maneuver – English never gets tired of seeing that one – but nothing even close to fatal.

“You’re doing good,” I told him as I helped him tie them up. I tried to keep up our usual back and forth even as I kept the pace fast. He knew it was urgent, I didn’t need to spell it out for him, never did. When it came to what was important, Luke and I were always on the same wavelength. I let it bother me when Thyme told me that Williams said that there was firm evidence that Luke had been hiding information for years, that he’d had a son, which wouldn’t be anyone’s business except for the blackmail risk. And the hostage worry, like this. For me, it went deeper, and Thyme knew it. We’d been closer than brothers for more than twenty years and I was shaken to my core to think that Luke wouldn’t have told me that the kid I’d guarded with my life because he was like a son to Luke really was his son.

I should have known better than to doubt Luke for a second. And with that knowledge, should have come suspicion about Williams, but I was too distracted by worry over Luke. And my anger at Thyme, for what I saw as her poor judgment, when really it was my own guilt. Damn, I hated all this emotional shit. I’d been wishing Peter hadn’t gone off with Kinney, though I knew that he probably thought he was giving Luke and me time to talk. But he was really the best at dealing with this touchy-feely stuff.

And for once, the two of us were unable to talk about something that was really bothering us. Because we’d never had mistrust between us before.

“Luke...” He turned slightly, from his position on the step ahead of me.

“Let me go first.”

He gave me that goofy dimpled O’Keefe smile. “My turn, Red.”

“Yeah, but I fucked up earlier, so least I can do.” I raised an eyebrow and reached out a hand, palm up. He clasped it and pulled me up even with him.

“Be careful, walk softly,” he whispered, in my native tongue. My grandfather’s standard warning to us. We clasped forearms, then separated, moving to each doorway in turn, until we came to the one where we could hear talking. We listened for a moment and I motioned to Luke. On my signal, we would go in.

“You did well, saving Rashid’s life, Doctor, but it was of course your action that put it in jeopardy. Where would you say we stand? You saved, for the moment, Jennings, who is useless, and cost me Rashid, who is now a liability, and both men are in need of more intensive medical care, depriving me of a soldier and a hostage. Then, there is you, who is a danger to my plans, and Daniel, the mystery, who is most certainly an O’Keefe, but is just as certainly almost as risky a prisoner as you, and despite this risk, he has brought me no sign of Luke O’Keefe. I grow tired of this waiting game. And since our singer got clever, Jareed tells me there is talk in the neighborhood so that I cannot risk staying here any longer, so I must make a move. Three hostages is proving two too many...so...”

We burst into the room at that point, and with the crash of the door, startled the two men who were holding English. He wrenched himself free and threw himself down, allowing me clear shots, though I went for shoulder shots on both. As he fell I noted that English already was bleeding from a shoulder wound. Luke went straight for Ali, so I moved on into the room, and disabled the remaining armed man. Only two more were in the room, one taking care of another who appeared to have a fresh trach placed in his neck.

I called over to Luke, who was slamming Ali’s head against the floor as he crouched over him, the two of them yelling curses at each other in a couple different languages.

“Hey, Irish, trade places with me, English is bleeding.”

“Thanks,” Peter said wearily. I got an arm around him and lifted him onto the bottom of the bed. Damn, that opera singer was big when you saw him in person. I set Peter down gently, mindful of how he was trying not to wince. Good time to distract him, I figured. “How is Jennings, is he gonna live?” His color didn’t look too good. For that matter, neither did Peter’s as he nodded, casting his “doctor” look over the big guy in the bed. I glanced over to Luke to see if I could hurry him up; he tended to get carried away when fighting crazy fuckers who kidnapped and tortured his favorite baby brothers – he was funny that way – but he was hauling a battered looking Ali to his feet and tying his hands together. I figured he was going to bring him over to us so there was no need to yell at him to hurry the hell up.

I ran my eye over the rest of the little gang. I excused myself from English long enough to collect their weapons and tie them up. Then I phoned the local Alliance back-up agents, skipping Williams and using the Germans, so we could get out of there and after Danny and Jareed as soon as possible. I noticed that Ali kept glancing towards the door. Peter did too. Luke came up, careful to keep Ali well away from Peter. I grabbed the terrorist leader so Luke could at least stand next to his man. They couldn’t hug or anything but Luke could start fussing with his shoulder, no doubt doing more harm than good. English’s eyes met mine over Luke’s head, and I shrugged. Until he got his boy back, let him make do, I figured, and baby English, who was meaner and tougher than Luke and me put together, but Luke didn’t seem to know that.

Which thought led back to Ali. “Where’s Jareed taking Danny?” I asked him, twisting the twine on his wrists tighter. He looked shocked and it didn’t appear faked.

“What do you mean, where is Jareed taking Daniel?” He stared, wide-eyed. “They are in the house...my bedroom...I didn’t want your brother to have to watch...if we killed this one. Silver...Linton.”

He jerked his chin at English. The three of us were stunned. “And you know that name...how?” Luke asked quietly.

“I won’t give you any answers, you baby murdering dog.” Ali spit full in Luke’s face. Luke was ready to slam his fist into the man’s face but Peter quickly put his hand on him.

“Wait...he can’t answer questions unconscious. Why is that?”

We all kind of looked at English. “What do you mean?” Luke was angry, but for Peter he was trying to hold it in. Peter had a towel in his hand from the table next to the bed. They must have had it for tending the sick, and he used it to wipe Luke’s face. I shook my head; Peter was still bleeding from his shoulder but he was washing the spit from Luke’s face. I think Luke realized how wrong that was because he grabbed another towel and pressed it against Peter’s shoulder.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “But, we need to find Danny. And we need to get you to a doctor. And I don’t know what the fuck he’s going on about.”

Luke looked like a big kid at that moment, one who’d been unfairly accused of breaking the neighbor’s window or something. I think English got the same impression because even his cold gray eyes looked softer. He turned to Ali, who was looking rather dumb-founded.

“I suspect that you’ve had the wrong information for years, Ali, but I’m going to have to have more information. I only have parts of the puzzle right now but based on what I do know, I think you’ve been seeking revenge on the wrong man all these years. The man you want is the man responsible for the December 25th 1990 air strike at a small town just outside Kuwait, where your brother and his new born child died...is that correct?”

Ali’s face was full of pain. I’d rarely seen that much anguish on a man’s face – but now I’d seen it twice in two days. It had been on Luke’s when he’d seen his brother suffer this man’s torture. I pulled him away from looking at Peter and turned him to face me.

“I was at the air strike that Linton’s talking about. Luke had nothing to do with that. He was laid up in the base hospital with a fever of a hundred and three. He could barely move, much less give any orders. I’d been in charge of our unit and it was me who went out to that village, scouting for Iraqi forces. No Arabs were supposed to be anywhere around. A woman did give birth in that village, and the father of her baby, her fiancé, a soldier with the Kuwait Army, died, trying to get back to his team. I got the mother, her fiancé’s sister, and the baby to safety. But the mother didn’t want her baby, not without the father. So, she begged me to find him sanctuary in the States.”

Ali looked sick as he heard the story. “Why would she not let him go into his father’s home? Or to her own father’s house?”

Luke took up the story. “She was a member of Hussein’s household,” he said dryly. “She was afraid he wouldn’t be safe in his father’s household since he’d be mixed blood. She’d been lucky she survived getting to her fiancé. His dying was the end of her hopes. Trust me, it’s a long story and if not for the bravery of her fiancé’s sister, neither she nor her baby would have lived to make it to Red. After that, he acted to save all three of them from what could have been a massacre.”

“Luke managed to work a miracle after I got them back to camp, and English here did the rest, but it was the dead man’s sister who deserves the credit. She was one hell of a brave woman,” I told Ali.

“What was this brave sister’s name?” Ali looked sick.


“And the man who arranged the air strike, since I was given the wrong information all these years?”

The three of us looked at each other. The puzzle was clicking together at an alarming rate now.

“Major Frank Gruning,” Luke whispered, anger making his voice shake.

My phone was vibrating as well. Another message was coming in from Lanier and from the sounds coming from the first floor, the German Alliance team was arriving.




Section VIII - POV/Brian Kinney

No sooner had we arrived in the neighborhood, than I received a call from Dieter telling me that he’d gotten a request for his van, did I want to tag along?

Oh yeah, I did, I assured him. I had Lanier drop me off a block away from Dieter’s house and the Basset Hound face was out in full force.

“Be careful, Brian Kinney. Daniel would not like it very much if you were to get yourself killed, I think.”

“Is that altruism, I hear from you, Lanier?” I tried to be sarcastic but it came out more like teasing. Fuck, I was turning into Emmett. I’d be baking Christmas cookies and singing Kumbayah next thing I knew.

“I find that I would not like it very much if you were to get yourself killed either,” he said, then surprised me by pulling me close with a large hand at the back of my head and giving me a forceful kiss. “Be careful,” he said roughly. “Keep your head down and wait for the super soldiers.”

I grinned. “There’s sound advice from a Frenchman if ever there was...”

“Oh get going,” he grumbled, waving me off, but at least he’d lost the Basset Hound look and was suppressing one of his attractive crooked smiles instead. I smirked at him and ran lightly in the direction of Dieter’s house. He was out in front and ran over to the back of his van as soon as he saw me coming.

“It might be best if you hide in the back. I’m not supposed to have told anyone that I was doing this,” he said with a conspiratorial grin. For a moment, he reminded me of Mikey, putting something over on Debbie and Vic. I gave him the same type of tolerant grin that I would give Mikey in a similar situation, one to denote that, “I’ll humor you, but don’t think for one second I am from Planet Nerd also.” I was excited, too, though, because it was beginning to hit me that in a few minutes I would be with Danny again. Luke and Red were on their way, Danny was being brought to me, Lanier was on look-out and could call for more help if need be, so what could go wrong?

Nothing like jinxing yourself with thoughts like that. The first thing, I found, was, that guy Jareed could shoot Dieter when he met him in the back alley. From where I was, hidden under a rug in the back of the panel van, I couldn’t see anything, but I heard them talking outside, the words indistinct, Dieter’s louder voice and the lower, deeper pitched voice of the man called Jareed. I recognized his voice from the videos. They spoke for a few minutes and then there was the shot. Then silence. I felt frozen; there wasn’t much I could do from under the rug, but hope that he didn’t think to look too closely inside the back of the van. I hoped that he would put Danny in the back and didn’t keep him in the passenger compartment with him. I hoped that Danny would be along for this trip and not just Jennings. What if Danny was already shot and Jennings was the one being transported somewhere else? Suddenly this foolproof plan didn’t look like it was proof against fools.

I heard a dragging noise, then the key in the lock. The door opened and there was a thud as something heavy landed in the van. I prayed that it wasn’t Dieter’s body and that Jareed wouldn’t think to look under the rugs. Danny’s God never heard from me so much as he had in this past week.

“I will bid you adieu for a bit, Daniel. I will see you at the end of our journey. I hope you enjoy the ride. Try to sleep on those old blankets and things the German has cluttering this old junker. What, no comment? Just those glaring eyes? I suppose that gag does make it difficult, but then, I’m sure you can understand why it is necessary. I can’t risk the neighbors being treated to any more serenades. Your last duet caused quite a stir. I am sure I am mere minutes ahead of the cavalry. Although hopefully my co-conspirator has managed to steer your valiant brother and his loyal side-kick in the wrong direction for at least a short while. We shall see.” The door slammed shut.

I waited until the van had started up and we were well on our way on the road, the noise of the old van making sufficient sound before I moved carefully out from under the old rug. Danny was lying curled up in a ball, arms cradling his head. His hands were tied.

“Danny, Danny, it’s me, Brian,” I whispered, worried that I might startle and frighten him if I were to make any sudden movement to touch him, much as I was longing to pull him into my arms. I reached out and gingerly touched his hair. Slowly he pulled his arms away and I could see his wide eyes. His face was shadowed on one side with bruising. Still moving carefully, I worked the gag loose first but didn’t remove it; I didn’t want him to scream and alert Jareed and I didn’t see recognition in his eyes yet.

“Danny, can you tell who I am, do you know me? Nod yes if you do, we can’t make any noise he might hear.”

“Brian,” his voice was a guttural rumble, but he didn’t clear it, maybe worried it would make too much noise and indeed, it might. A gagged man can’t clear his throat. He closed his eyes and I could see the moisture gathering on his lashes. Seeing him start to cry made my throat tighten. The things he must have been through.

“How?” His eyes darted around the back of the van worriedly. “Danger....”

“Shhh.” I lifted him into my arms. He was practically frozen, wearing only a thin sweater and jeans. He was barefoot, just as I’d noticed on the video. I shook my head in disgust at his captors, but first things first. I got my pocketknife out, the same one he’d given me our first Christmas together – a typical O’Keefe stocking gift he’d assured me – and I cut the twine that bound his wrists. I unzipped my coat and was going to take it off to put it on him but he shook his head.

“Just zip me into it with you,” he suggested. “It’ll be warmer.” He had a point and I did exactly that, settling him on my lap as we leaned against the side of the van, careful to stay away from the wall closest to the driver. He had trouble moving and I noticed that he was holding his right leg straight, but I didn’t ask him about it yet. I wanted to give him a chance to relax first. His voice was clearing a little as he talked. I wished I’d thought to bring water. But then, I hadn’t been planning on this when I climbed out the window of the safe house, I thought. Next time I’d plan better.

Hah, next time. I’m never letting Danny out of the townhouse again.

“Luke and Redraven should be following us within minutes,” I assured him, hoping that was true. “They’re going to get Linton out of that house first, then come for us.”

“Good. George...Linton...is in trouble.” He rested his head against my shoulder. “Luke is alive, George too. Did you know that? George, I mean, Peter. Christ, I have trouble calling him by that other name.”

“Me too and I didn’t know him as long as you did. But...I like him. He was determined to find you Danny. They all were. Your brother, the other guy, Redraven. And Lane’s in on this little trip too.”

He was shaking a bit at that. “What is it?” I asked him.

“I was thinking how at least Etienne never had to take a bullet for me. Poor Terry. He’s so sick, Bri. I’m so worried about him but I don’t know how I would have made it without him. God, Brian, I’m so sorry, I never should have left you like that after you tried talking to me. Please forgive me.” His arms tightened around me, and I couldn’t believe it, but, Danny was crying. Really crying. Tears running down his face.

All I could think to do was hold him and stroke his hair. And of course, say, “There’s nothing to forgive, Danny, but if there were, you’d have my forgiveness, always, and please, forgive me for all the fuck-ups I’ve made. I never meant to keep anything back from you. Can you believe it? When I saw Luke, all I could do was start arguing with him about why he didn’t tell you he was alive, and listening to him, it made all my excuses seem pathetic too.”

Those green eyes that I loved so much looked up at me from his battered face. I once thought that Danny didn’t cry beautifully, but on this occasion, he looked like the most beautiful man in creation to me, with his beard darkened chin and his tear reddened eyes, and the bruise swollen cheek...I never saw love more clearly on a human face. He looked curious, and weary beyond measure, but there was no judgment in those tear reddened eyes.

“Did he make pathetic excuses? That is hard to imagine, but all of this is hard to imagine of Luke.”

“He didn’t, actually. What he has to say, he said he’ll say to you, was the gist of his argument, but he was pretty self-righteous at some points and at others a bit chagrined...kind of like I felt. Despite that fellow-feeling, however, he and I didn’t get along all that great, to tell you the truth. I got along much better with Linton and Redraven. He treated Lane like he was royalty and me like I was yesterday’s trash.” My nose had been out of joint over that, and who cared if Danny had been held by terrorists for several days, if I wanted to whine about how his big brother treated me, I had his ear first, and well, we all have a little brat in us sometimes.

My pouting made Danny smile at least. “I love you,” was his reaction, dimples showing.

“That’s all you’re going to say?” I asked, pretending to be huffy.

“For now. Maybe later I’ll give Luke hell for not giving you the proper respect as my partner. He winced as he shifted. “Is it really almost over, Brian?”

“It’s really almost over, kiddo. Now tell me what hurts the most. I see your face got worked over.”

“That’s nothing. I’m cold. And my knee is fucked up again.”

I tried to cover him better with my coat, and pulled some of the rugs over us. He felt cold to the touch but slowly, as he absorbed some of my body heat and the heavy rugs did their job, trapping it close, he started to warm up. His ordeal showed in how white and drawn his skin looked, his cheekbones standing out even more prominently than usual, his lashes sooty where they rested against his cheeks,

“Get some rest,” I whispered softly, rubbing his back.

“I’m not sure I believe you’re real,” he replied. “If I open my eyes, will you be gone? Every time I slept over the past couple of days, I dreamt I was back home with you, you know. Then when I woke up, I was back in the nightmare. Got so I was afraid to sleep, because as nice as it was to dream of being with you, the waking up was too hard on me, you know?”

I did know. I had the same problem. Lane had come upon me, calling out for Danny just that morning, when I’d come half awake and been distressed to find the other half of the bed empty again. He’d shaken me gently and talked to me until I remembered where we were...and why. And then, thankfully, he’d left the room without a word to get coffee, leaving me to recover my equilibrium.

“I promise I’ll be here when you wake up. Keeping you safe. And I’ll keep you warm.”

“And I’ll keep you safe...and I’ll keep you warm...And the rain will help the flowers...bloom.” Danny was murmuring the lines to a song drowsily. I was worried; he was barely clothed and the van was really cold and who knew how long he was out in the cold night in his bare feet without a coat before he’d been tossed into the van? Was he sleepy or suffering from hypothermia, I wondered. I wished I could phone for help.

The phone! Kinney, you idiot! I pulled it out of my pocket and sent a text message to Lane, asking if he was following, and if the cavalry had been summoned.

I was relieved when he quickly responded yes, but that they seemed to be delayed. He was following as closely as he dared. I had to admire his text messaging abilities. I told him Danny’s need for help was urgent, so he needed to get the super trio to us as soon as possible. I didn’t want the van to reach its destination without the heroes on hand to stop Jareed.

Sometimes you don’t get what you want. I’d no sooner sent that message than the van started to slow down. I thought about my options. I could put Danny back the way I found him and go back to hiding, but I’d promised him that he wouldn’t wake up to find me gone. And I meant to keep that promise. Even if it meant a bullet to the head. I had to trust in luck or fate that it wouldn’t.

I sent a prayer up to whatever angels...or ghosts...might be watching, that they lend a helping hand and put in a good word for me with their boss. I thought I might need it when that van door swung open.

Nigel Williams stood looking in, the big burly terrorist from the first video, the one who’d threatened to cut off Danny’s head, was standing right behind him.



Section IX - Pittsburgh; December 19 - POV/Eli Blackson)

I’d waited over twenty years for a chance to repay Major Luke and Captain Red for all that they did for me – saved my life more than once. I should really call them Col. Luke and Major Red now, probably, but they weren’t ones to stand on ceremony, any more than Major Linton was. I had to laugh at how the little one didn’t recognize him as George Main. Sure, he cut his hair short and wore contact lenses to change his eye color a little but he was the same man. That was how clever Major Peter always was. He never disguised himself by making big changes. His disguises were based on little things, so that you’d say, oh, is that so and so. Then you’d look again and say, nah, the eyes aren’t quite the same gray, or the hair is a little darker. A big change and you’d think, maybe it’s him but he changed his hair. Clever man, that Major Peter.

Another clever man was Major Luke’s brother John. Always liked him. More bark than bite, but that never bothered me in a man. Always liked that more than someone who was sweet to your face and nasty behind your back. He helped me work out a good contract with Mr. Lanier, who would have been good to me if he’d paid attention to things like that, but his lawyers? They took people to the cleaners if you weren’t sharp. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but they don’t come sharper than John O’Keefe. I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

But even without all that I owed the O’Keefes, I might be able to kill Frank Gruning with my bare hands for my own sake. Miss Thyme, she knows that. Not many people I could say that about in this world, and I’ve met some mean people, but Frank Gruning is among the most evil. He had that sweet wife Pat and he treated her so low. It was a good day that she left him, hard as it is for a military wife to make it on her own, not getting much of a military pension and she didn’t take a dime from him in alimony after twenty-seven years of marriage, I heard. But, I’m getting off my point. Frank Gruning isn’t worth the air he breathes. He almost tried to kill Major Peter. He did try to kill me, and it was only because Major Peter is a kind of miracle doctor that I survived the beating he ordered on me. That and the fact that Redraven can run like the wind when he tries. I had to leave the service early because of those injuries. I went on for a few more years but never did get back my full strength.

So, when I saw Frank Gruning, an older, fatter, Frank Gruning, scurrying from his office after getting a message from that courtroom, I felt my heart race a little bit and my fists clenched. General Hunter looked over at me.

“We need to get the O’Keefe boy back first, Eli, and I need to find out who their mole is...but you can certainly help with that. I don’t think Gruning is feeding Ali info.”

“No sir, I think he is low but I don’t think he’s doing that.”

We followed Gruning to a Veteran’s Hospital in the city, and after he entered, we followed, the General’s clearance getting us both in easily enough. A few minute’s conversation with a guard revealed that the lower level was leased out to another government agency; the guard wasn’t quite sure which one, but he was sure that the General and his guard could go in for a tour. I was wearing a borrowed uniform for the day. The General had complained that it wasn’t easy getting one in my size on short notice. Micky O’Keefe had solved the problem by borrowing one from an O’Keefe cousin who was in the Marines and from the football playing side of the family. Miss Thyme herself had made the alterations for me the night before after flying in late. She was a remarkable lady.

We got out of the elevator and flashed ID at the guard sitting at a desk. He looked nervously at the General.

“Uh, I’m sorry, sir, but I have orders that no one is to disturb the interrogation that is going on at this level.”

General Hunter smiled at the soldier and looked at his name plate, then tapped the bars on his arm.

“Son...do they cover ranks in basic anymore?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then unless a five star general gave you that order, let me the fuck in that room now, and then go away.”

“Yes sir.”

Gruning’s face was a picture in guilt as we entered the room. I took the key from the corporal’s hand as we were let in – didn’t want to run the risk of being locked in, did we?

“You!” Gruning looked like someone had brought in the janitor to his fancy party. I guess maybe to him, they had. The General looked around the small cell – there really was no other word for it. On a cot in the corner was the long, lean form of John O’Keefe.

“See to the lad first, Sergeant.” His voice was hard. I didn’t remind him that the “lad” was over forty years old. To the General, we were all his lads. As Luke’s brother, John, was one of his boys too.

I knelt by the cot. I didn’t turn my back completely on Gruning. The General was a tough old guy, but Gruning was as deceitful and dishonorable as they came so no telling what he’d do. John wore a tattered shirt and was a mess of bruises. His handsome face was swollen and battered. His right arm looked broken, and I thought his shoulder might be dislocated as well.

“Mr. John, you awake? It’s Eli, I’m here with a friend to get you out of here, we’re going to get you help.”

“Is that what you’re going to do, Blackson? He’d better watch out? I don’t think this one swings your way.”

“Shut your foul mouth, Gruning. Blackson will have enough to make up to you as it is, don’t give him more fodder. You should be ashamed of yourself, treating an American citizen this way. Don’t you have any shame, man?” The General looked at him as though he were a worm, as I gently tried to wake John, holding smelling salts that I’d brought with me under his nose. He made a face and murmured, relieving me that he wasn’t in a coma. He’d been badly beaten.

“You pamper these prisoners, they tell you nothing! Nothing!” Gruning ranted. “I do my job, I get nowhere, thanks to the faggot lovers like you. Williams was right. You and the old woman are undermining this country and you’re hiding that killer somewhere and I know it! I just need to get this man to admit it! But instead he keeps spinning tales, long stories that make no sense, mocking me. Well, you’ll be sorry when your Canadian friend is gone and....”

“What do you mean, my Canadian friend is gone?” The General moved closer and grabbed Gruning by the collar, shaking him.

But even before he’d done much of anything to the man, Gruning’s face started to turn red, and he started gasping. General Hunter let go of his collar and stepped back, startled. “What’s the matter, man? I barely touched you! Eli! What’s wrong with him?”

“I would say he’s having a heart attack, sir.”

“No...poison.” John O’Keefe’s voice was faint, his eyes just green slits in his bruised face as he watched the fat man fall to the ground and go still. He looked up at me. “We need to get out of here right away,” he whispered. “She’ll be here.”

I helped him up while General Hunter placed a call to Thyme. He also summoned the soldier outside to come get rid of Gruning and to call for a doctor for John. Then he told Thyme in quiet tones what had happened here and spent a good bit of time listening. He turned to us after hanging up, his normally cheery face somber. He waited until he could ask the doctor examining John to step aside for a minute to tell us the bad news.

“No easy way to say this. Your wife is missing, lad. Along with that boy, Hunter. The woman who took you in the first place has them and has made a demand. She wants us to turn over your brother Luke in exchange by noon tomorrow or they both die.”

It was hard to believe it, but at hearing that news, John was able to look even worse than he already did.

“You can’t do that, can you?” John asked, his face bleak.

General Hunter looked at him. “To tell you the truth, young man, I think this may be one time that the lady should be taught to be careful of what she asks for, she just may get it. Assuming that my agents are done with their current mission, which I have every confidence they will be...I believe I can talk Director Thyme into letting them walk into this particular spider’s trap.”

“What mission are they on?” John asked, wincing as he shifted his broken arm. General Hunter and I looked at each other. We’d forgotten; he didn’t know about Danny yet. Damn, there just wasn’t any good news to tell this poor man. Hell of a rescue, Blackson, I thought. I didn’t even get to beat up on Gruning, the bastard went and died too quick.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas–Part IV coming soon.”

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