A Perfect Fit by Maz101

 

Disclaimer: Yep, I forgot to do that too but the fact remains that I can lay no claim whatsoever to these characters.

Summary: Danny Taylor is seconded into another unit for an undercover operation but it has its risks...

 

Chapter 1

 

Against every instinct, he held himself still. Held his breath and stretched his senses in to the darkness. Nothing. He strained to hear more

of what he thought had alerted him. Nothing. It was nothing. Nothing but a slight stirring of air. Nothing but a flash of movement. He tried

to turn. An arm raised to protect himself but the blow was fast and hard. A flash of pain and bright light. And then...nothing.

 

God! This had to be the worst coffee ever. Martin swirled the dregs and wondered at the many times he'd thought the same thing, only to be surprised by the next occasion, when another foul brew surpassed the last.

Martin sighed and leaned back against the step where he sat. All around, the activity of city life swirled too. The incessant New York buzz.

 

Come on Danny. Really...how long can it take?

 

He shuffled again. At least the weather was warm. Fall had certainly fallen but despite the tang in the air, the sun still held some warmth and it wasn't unpleasant to be sitting outside. Except for the fact he'd been on this job for three hours already and was getting precisely nowhere.

 

Of course, it could be something to do with his Spanish. Martin Fitzgerald secretly prided himself on his efforts and his improvements but his linguistic talents had been harshly tested this morning and found severely lacking. It's hard to get information from people who claim not to understand.

 

Oh Yeah! You seemed to understand right up to the point I said FBI – then the shutters came down and no way were you going to help, right?

 

God Danny! Where've you got to?

 

Raised voices drew his attention. Voices above the general murmur of the street. Taunting. Teasing. Laughing. A woman's voice called and a man's responded.

 

Martin caught snippets. Flirting. Definitely flirting.

 

A second female voice joined in. More laughter. Rapid fire Spanish fun, shouted downstairs and out of a window as the banter continued.

 

Martin watched and could not help the smile as he recognised the tall lean figure of Danny Taylor, backing down the steps of the tenement directly across the road.

 

Arms held wide, gesturing, he was calling back to a face in the doorway of the first floor appartment. A middle aged Latino woman was clearly enjoying the exchange, indicating and pointing at a younger woman who hung out of another sash window overlooking the street. She was twirling her fingers through her long dark hair, her eyes flashing with feigned shock and a little unspoken invitation. Even Martin's Spanish stretched to an understanding of the meaning.

 

As the laughter echoed, Danny turned away from his audience and headed towards his friend, dodging a passing cab and flopping down onto the step next to him with a huge grin on his face.

 

"So, you gonna marry her sister and make an honest woman of her then?"

 

Danny laughed.

 

"Man! I'd be marrying into a whole lot of trouble there bro! But hey! I could set you up if you want..."

 

His laugh was infectious and Martin's mood lifted a little.

 

"No way, but thanks for your concern for my love life! Don't suppose you found time in there to ask any questions...You know...find any witnesses, that kind of thing?"

 

Danny smiled knowingly at his partner. Infuriatingly actually.

 

"You know what? You take this job too seriously sometimes." Still grinning, he nodded in a sympathetic manner. "Do I take it you got nothing?" He raised his eyebrows. "Wait...have a little trouble with the local lingo did ya?"

 

"Huh! You got the advantage here man – this is your home turf."

 

Danny laughed again at that.

 

"Nah! It's just my natural charm, good looks and insightful interrogation techniques."

 

He shrugged as he took in Martin's somewhat dejected demeanour.

 

"Actually, I got nothing either, " he admitted, but somehow he seem less bothered by it. Danny had obviously found alternative ways to enjoy his job today.

 

Martin had always marvelled at his partner's easy way with people, how he could change the feeling of a group with his up-beat presence . People warmed to his charm and openness. Martin's own upbringing left him, he knew, a little wary. A little buttoned up. He knew because Danny was always quick to tell him - in fact to goad and tease him about it. He was consciously trying to work on it but it didn't come naturally.

 

Danny reached over and slapped Martin on the shoulder.

 

"Hey! Don't let it get you down." He gestured up the street. "We only have a couple more blocks to check!"

 

He nodded at the empty cup that dangled loosely in Martin's fingers.

 

"How 'bout I get you another cup of coffee before we set to it."

 

Martin was tempted to direct him to the same stall that sold him the dire espresso he'd just finished – just to watch Danny's reaction when he got one for himself and took that first god-awful sip. It might just wash some of that cheery smugness away.

The pair did not actually have much to be smug about. They were canvassing for witnesses who may have seen something, anything, relating to the disappearance of a young woman from the street two nights before. It was still uncertain if this was a true case but the window of opportunity was closing fast. In the Missing Person's Unit it was generally accepted that after twenty-four hours, leads run cold and the chances of a happy outcome were greatly reduced. So far they had nothing. The people around here had either seen nothing or were saying nothing.

 

Danny rose and, undirected, headed towards the coffee stall. Martin followed wearily and called after him.

 

"I really think you might as well just cover this by yourself – honestly, nobody here is going to open up to me."

Danny turned back with a look of sarcastic sympathy. "Aw, Martin. Don't take it personally!"

 

He laid an arm over his friend's shoulders in mock concern. "If we were looking for witnesses in some swanky tennis club out on Long Island, it'd be you getting the come-ons and I'd be handed a tray and asked get the drinks! It's each to their own, man, you know that.

 

And bro..." Danny gestured now to the bustling streets with a wide sweep. "You just don't have the right vibes for this district."

He grinned wickedly and added, "I bet it'll only take us another couple of hours!"

 

Martin was about to take great pleasure in watching his partner order the anticipated sludge-come-coffee when a familiar tone halted them both. Danny pulled his phone from his pocket, checking the caller ID.

 

"Jack!"

 

Danny listened, his brow creasing slightly as he answered.

 

"Uh...we're only half way done here...Another couple of hours I guess...Uh...sure! You gonna let me know what it's about?...OK...Oh, Martin's gonna love this!"

 

He flipped the phone closed and raised his eyes to meet his friend's face. His grin was broader than ever and Martin's heart sank.

 

"Well partner, it's your lucky day! You get to stay out here in the fresh air, but I gotta get back to base."

 

Yep! Martin's day had just got worse.

 

"At least leave me the car!" He pleaded.

 

"Sorry Bro – Jack said fast!"

 

With a flourish, Danny quickly spun around, dropped some coins onto the kiosk counter and swung back, passing over a steaming cup.

 

"Here, you might need this! Don't say "Si" to anything you don't understand while I'm away! I won't be here to get you out of trouble! Enjoy!"

 

He raised a hand in salute and turned away with a laugh. Martin blew on his coffee-slopped fingers and gazed after him with a shake of his head before turning too, towards the task that was now his sole responsibility.

 

Just great!

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Movement. But not of his own. The white light returned, bursting into his head and forcing the blanketing darkness away in flashes that made him gasp. Sharp intakes of breath as he fought to control the panic. He felt himself dragged forwards, legs trailing . Thrown. No co-ordination yet, his face hit a metal floor. Doors slammed. A Vehicle. Movement again. He lay still, waiting for his vision to clear. Waiting to see where they'd take him.

 

FBI HEADQUARTERS

 

Jack Malone was pacing his office. Normally, he wasn't a man who paced. Stormed. Brooded maybe. And yeah, occasionally he blew. The glass wall of his office a testament to that. Most days though he maintained his controlled, some would say distant manner. But now he paced.

 

The two others in the office sat and watched him. Expectant.

 

He forced himself to stop. To perch on the edge of his desk and to speak calmly.

 

"You know this'll leave us short. Worse than we are at the moment."

 

It was a statement, not a question and the Deputy Commander nodded. She knew the drawbacks but her face showed acceptance. Her voice was persuasive.

 

"Jack, this is a great opportunity. A great chance. It's fallen in our lap and I agree with Special Agent Morrrison that we should pursue it."

 

Clive Morrison raised his eyes to Jack's and held them. He inclined his head in acknowledgement of their boss's support.

He was the same height as Jack. Slim beside Jack's broad and solid build with a physique that spoke of time spent in the gym. He wore a dark suit of course, as expected by the Bureau, but it was a better cut than most. He had the air of someone who took a lot of care of himself. Jack glanced at what had to be manicured nails, his hair was regulation short and his jaw was so clean-shaven it practically shone. Oh yeah, this guy cared about his image alright.

 

"Jack, I realise it's difficult but I hope you won't stand in the way of this."

 

Authoritative, a little monotone, but Jack heard more. There was a threat in the words. He recognised what was happening here. Clive Morrison was maneuvering.

 

Still in his early forties, he was young to have reached the position of department head, albeit a relatively new department. He had yet to prove it's worth. Or his own. Now his eye was on an endgame as surely as a politician who'd spotted a vote winning cause.

He believed he had backing and would push ahead, with or without Jack's assistance or even approval.

Morrison's tone was aimed at Jack but intended also for DC Eleanor Brucknor, to convey a reasonability, a willingness to follow procedure but also a bold determination.

 

Huh! And an ambition as big as the Empire State!

 

Jack sighed heavily. There was nothing left to do.

 

"Agent Taylor's on his way in – I'll send him on up to you."

 

Morrison held out a hand as the two rose to leave. Jack hesitated for only the briefest moment but both men knew as they parted that it was noted.

 

Danny Taylor arrived in Jack's office with a question written all over his face.

 

Jack had the answer but was loathe to give it. However, this wasn't his call. He had to remind himself of that as he outlined the briefest of details. He watched Danny closely and he knew how the conversation would end.

 

"You know you don't have to take it. It's some years since you did undercover like this. This is more than a couple of days we're talking."

 

Danny had been still. He wasn't usually a man to be still. His energy escaped in quick moves and quick wit. Big gestures and a fast loose limbed walk. That was Danny. Rapid fire speech and a handsome face that betrayed emotion. In light of what they were discussing, Jack worried about that.

 

Danny leaned back into the sofa that filled one wall of the office. Someone had clearly felt that soft furnishings would help ease the blow of bad news for the countless relatives of missing people that Jack and his team dealt with. Today though it didn't lend a lot of comfort.

 

Danny was struggling with inner uncertainties and doubts. His relaxed posture – long arms spread along the back of the seat, one leg loosely crossed over the other – belied what Jack knew was tense deliberation.

 

He blew out a long held breathe towards the ceiling. His manner was conversational.

 

"You know Jack, there were a lot of years I didn't see my brother. For a while I even tried to convince myself I didn't have a brother. He led me places I didn't want to go...you know?"

 

He looked at Jack as if seeking approval and Jack nodded because, yes, he did know.

 

Danny's personnel record with the FBI told a lot – a written compilation of a troubled life-story which included the death of his parents, foster homes and involvement in street and gang crime as a kid. There was more of course and Jack had learned some of it in the years they had worked together. Danny rarely opened up but sometimes life leaves scars and Jack had been witness to their effect. In the way he conducted himself on the street. The way he talked with some of the low-lifes they dealt with daily. The disdain he held for bullying authority and the empathy he showed for its victims.

 

"I've never heard of this guy Romano. But then my brother has never talked about his time inside." His laugh held little humour. "Even when I seem him now at visiting he pretends he's not there."

 

He paused before going on. "We get on better now. I wish I'd been there to help him before..."

 

Jack knew what Danny was referring to but had little sympathy with where he was going.

 

Danny's older brother Rafael had chosen his own route. It had landed him in any number of prisons – the latest after messing up his parole and opting again for the destructive combination of drugs and crime. Psychologists would point to a miserable and abusive childhood as an excuse but a guy makes his own decisions and Jack didn't want Danny to allow unfounded guilt to influence him now.

 

He interrupted him with certainty. "He wouldn't have let you."

 

Danny raised his eyebrows and his lips thinned into a quirky smile. He knew what Jack was doing.

 

"Yeah, maybe, but this could really make a difference to him...If they're willing to cut him a deal he's got another shot..." He shook his head. "Rafi...He's got a beautiful family and he could be with them. The last time...he was trying to do the right thing by them. It just..." He shrugged. "...It just got away from him."

 

Jack leaned forward in his chair. He'd never spoken of it to Danny but he knew that he supported his brother's family now. Yes, Rafi's wife worked, but a nurse's salary didn't go far with a baby and an eight year old at home. It was Uncle Danny who paid most of the bills. It was a responsibility that Jack had seen take it's toll on his agent. A weariness followed him sometimes – a weight he didn't deserve to carry.

 

They sat in companionable silence. When Danny spoke, Jack already knew what he'd say.

 

"I'd better get up there and find out more about it."

 

Jack felt his own weariness then. The weight of inevitability. He nodded and they rose together to stand face to face.

 

"It's gonna leave you short."

 

Yeah! Trust Danny to worry about the rest of the team. He smiled and waved a get-outta-here gesture. Keep it light, the guy doesn't need extra worry.

 

"Don't kid yourself – we'll cope!"

 

Danny flashed a wide grin and ducked his head. He wasn't good at goodbyes.

 

"OK then. See you...uh...when it's done."

 

He turned and acknowledged Jack's "Good luck" as he left with a wave of his arm.

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

Danny was no longer sure of anything. He told himself, and he told them, what he thought was the right thing but his speech was so slurred he wasn't certain what came out.

 

At first he'd known where the next attack would come from. He tried to keep his eyes on his torturers but they came from different angles – standing behind to grab his hair and haul him to his knees when he collapsed – standing within inches of his face so the spittle of their sadistic fury mingled with the blood that ran freely.

 

Now though, as he lay on his side, curled inwards in an attempt to protect himself he felt distanced. Separated from what was happening. Barely conscious, he tried to remember the right lies to tell. But they had stopped asking.

 

Now it was just punishment. Sparks of clarity still came with sharp explosions of pain as another blow connected. Another fist. Another kick.

 

Until, finally, they no longer registered at all.

 

JANUARY – FOUR MONTHS INTO OPERATION

MANHATTEN APARTMENT: Monday 05.00 am

 

Vivienne Johnson was used to early calls and answered before the third ring.

 

Marcus was also used to them. Seventeen years of marriage meant he could often sleep through them but he had also become attuned to nuances. Some days he would turn back into his pillow and resume his sleep. Sometimes he rose with his wife to make a cup of coffee, ready to hand to her between shower and door.

 

Sometimes though something in her tone would bring him awake immediately. Usually it was a child. Lost, missing, or a body found – a child's case brought its own tone. Something that couldn't be ignored.

 

A child, or a cop. Or a friend.

 

This morning Marcus immediately knew it had to be one of those and held his breath as Viv picked up.

 

"Johnson!" Answered clearly. Nobody would have known it came a few seconds out of sleep.

 

"Oh Hey! ….Yeah!" A moment's hesitation. A change. "...something's happened?"

 

Vivienne was sitting upright now, already throwing off the covers and sliding her legs out off bed. Marcus watched her silhouette against the light from street lamps outside. There was an alert urgency he recognised and had learned to dread.

 

"How long?" Her voice was businesslike now. A tension building.

 

"OK...OK...Thanks Marcy...no, no don't worry. Thank you for the call." Viv turned off the phone and replaced in on the bedside table.

Marcus raised himself onto an elbow as his wife headed to the bathroom. His movement a sign to her.

 

"It's Danny."

 

It was enough. Marcus knew then that this would be a difficult time.

 

Pain was the first thing to register. Insistent. Consuming. It built with the momentum of his regaining consciousness.

He tried to block it. Tried to retreat to the relative comfort of the enfolding blackness but it would not accept him back and he was pushed on headlong.

 

He tried to move and gasped as the shock of it took his breath. No, better not to breath. He held still as long as he could but eventually had to exhale. Slowly. Keep it shallow, small gasps.

 

Black. Everywhere black. Danny felt the panic rising but forced himself to calm. To think. At first his eyes would not open. Slowly though, with concentration, he realised that he could see a little from his left. Through swollen slitted lids he could make out shadows.

 

The differences of texture and light.

 

His head pounded.

 

He shifted slightly and pain sliced through his upper body. Something was wrong. Badly wrong. He could not move his arms. He tensed and tested. Still tied behind him. But more than that, they were tied to something, and twisted because of his slumped position. God, it hurt to breath. Pain in his lower chest and worse radiating from higher up, into his neck and shoulder.

 

He groaned as nausea and dizziness gripped him.

 

Now it was no longer just pain. It was desperation.

 

 

FBI HEADQUARTERS

 

Vivienne Johnson was afraid. Afraid for Danny but also now afraid of what Jack was going to do about it.

She had called him as soon as she heard from her friend-turned-informant. She could feel his fury down the line. Now she waited to learn what was happening three floors up.

 

Others began to arrive in the office. Martin first, hair damp from the cold mist that hung in the air outside, a coffee in one hand, his coat in the other. Sam followed only five minutes later.

 

Both were clearly surprised to see Viv already there and with raised brows both also registered that Jack's office was lit but empty. Something was clearly going on but Viv blanked their queries. The pair settled into the two cases the unit had been working on. Eyes on their screens, phones in hand, they waited.

 

The distant ping of the elevator alerted them to Jack's return. He rushed through in a flurry of gestures. A beckoning arm to Viv towards his office. A slit throat motion to Martin, which he interpreted as "get off the phone, now!" And a combined nod and tilt of his head towards the white board that they all understood as "clear the decks, we have a new priority."

Sam glanced at Martin as they both hesitated then followed Viv into Jack's office.

 

"Sit!" His order came out harsh and they obeyed in silence.

 

Jack backed himself onto the front of his desk and looked around at them. He was tense. He felt wound tight and fought to speak calmly. To explain.

 

"I'm about to tell you some stuff that I really shouldn't tell you. Then I'm going to ask you to do stuff that I shouldn't ask you to do." His voice was gruffer than usual. A gravely tone that they recognised as trouble.

 

"I guess you all know that Danny is on a special operation." It wasn't really a question – they had all gathered that much. "He was seconded by Pre-emptive Crime. It was only ever supposed to be a few weeks. Turns out his brother was in Rikers with one of the guys they've been watching. Shared a cell. Gave them an in. Danny was a perfect fit...lucky huh!" He smiled but there was no lightness here.

 

Martin thought back to that day in September when Danny was suddenly gone from the team. No word left, just a pair of tickets to the Mets game taped to Martin's computer and a huge pile of Danny's on-going reports and case notes left on his desk instead.

Jack had enjoyed Martin's indignation at that as much as he suspected Danny himself would have if he'd been there to witness it.

Court appearances had been cancelled – a whole trial had to be rescheduled, much to the DA's evident anger when he came to berate Jack about his agent's lack of preparation and forethought. It made sense.

 

Jack rose now to deal them the blow.

 

"Danny's missing."

 

He continued quickly to save their questions. "He's missed three contacts...nothing since Saturday."

 

The seriousness of the statement wasn't lost on any of them – in the modern climate, the Bureau had to be seen to take its duty of care seriously and had strict rules governing the handling of agents undercover.

 

Now though came the really bad part, the part that Jack was finding hard to swallow. So hard his voice sounded strained even to his own ears.

 

"I just got out of a meeting with Morrison and the AD. Danny gave intel that the shipment they've been waiting on – the stuff this operation is all about - is due in on Wednesday." He sucked in a breath. " And they're not planning on going in to find him 'til then."

 

His words hung in the air for a moment.

 

Viv found her voice first. "What the hell..."

 

Martin cut her off. "What about never endangering an agent's life? Even undercover?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Isn't that what the bureau guidelines say? Jack they can't leave it that long..."

 

Sam looked shocked and launched in too. "Jack you gotta..."

 

Jack held out his hands. "I've just had this conversation." They could tell from his anger that much more would have been said besides. "It's already gone to higher levels and they've deemed this job too big to abandon at this point." The last part dripped with Jack's anger.

 

Martin felt a distant pang of guilt. His own father may well have been one of those 'higher levels'. He would have recognised who's life he was considering and known of his friendship with his son.

 

Jack pressed on. "Turns out what they thought would get them into a new gang of wannabes playing with guns, actually involves a suspected major shipment of a lot of heavy duty weaponry with payment in drugs. There are at least two, possibly three rival groups vying for it."

 

" It's too big to consider abandoning Jack." That's what Eleanor Brucknor had said. At least she had the decency to look uncomfortable. Morrison looked ready for a fight. Territorial. This was his bone and he wasn't letting it go.

 

He'd clearly been shocked that word of the situation had got back to Danny's team so fast. Jack had a feeling his hunt for the leak would be vindictive. He had blustered at first – even dared to draw out the line that contacts missed weren't necessarily an indication of the job having gone bad.

 

"Like Hell!" Jack roared in his face. "Are you kidding here – less than a week before the sting and you think it's not serious? Not connected?" He moved even closer to Morrison, fists clenched tight. "Are you going to tell that to your agent when you get him out? And you better hope you DO get him out."

 

The threat filled the air between the two men. Jack's temper was legendary. A frightening thing to most people and Morrison was shaken, though he tried to hide it with defiance.

 

Brucknor stepped in quickly. She respected Jack for his experience and his work and for his his fierce loyalty to his agents. She was worried by the decision that had come down on this one, but now she had no choice. She had her own ambitions and bucking against the orders of her superiors would not help her achieve them. It had to be like this.

 

Jack stormed from the office, leaving Brucknor and Morrison staring after him.

 

Now his face was stony. "We're going to be in on the operation when it goes down – even Morrison couldn't refuse an offer of manpower, though he wanted to." The contempt was evident. "He's got people watching the primary scene but they can't get in close. It's a warehouse development on the southside docks. But he says there's no way to look for any answers about Danny without blowing the whole thing."

 

A humourless smile crossed his lips. "I don't agree. I say while that asshole gets off on marshalling his troops, we dig a little and find anything that will help trace Danny when we finally get in there."

 

He looked around. Viv, Martin and Sam were all standing now. Their faces strained at what they'd heard. At the outset, he'd said he would ask but in the end he didn't have to.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Even to his own ears it was a pathetically dull noise. Unlikely to alert anyone or attract help. Unlikely even to be heard. He braced himself again, held his breath and kicked out. The thud resounded. Danny felt its vibrations but he knew nobody was near and nobody would come. His breath released with a sob as he tried to pull himself upright. He'd twisted himself around a little to kick at the metallic wall of his prison, wrenching what he knew to be a broken collarbone. Couldn't miss that.

 

Every movement sent waves of pain through his torso – dimming his vision into a blur of washed out colour. He'd stopped looking at the injury since he first registered a white shard of bone poking through bloodied flesh in that hollow of shoulder and neck. The movement to look down caused an agony that sent him swooning towards unconsciousness once again and Danny knew he had to fight against that now. His bound wrists, pulled behind his back and tied to an immoveable steel bar, allowed no relief. The angle he'd moved to, shuffling inch by inch, to be able to kick out had only worsened the grinding, mind numbing flashes that threatened to overtake him.

An insistent agony from what he guessed were also broken ribs fought with the other injuries for recognition but amid the haze of pain,

Danny was finding it harder to isolate specific sources. It was all encompassing and endless.

 

He was struggling now with the concept of time. He guessed it was beyond hours. Yeah, in the realm of days now right? Had to be.

Vincent had been there at least three times. Vincent and Eduardo. But was that three separate occasions? Danny couldn't be sure. When he'd passed out, water thrown over him had heralded the new beatings and new questions but were they all just continuations of what had started as soon as he was hauled in here. Danny struggled to build himself a framework. He felt to be able to place himself somewhere definite in time would help to anchor him. But without any answers he was lost.

 

He knew he was weakening. He fought to stay conscious. He feared allowing himself to drift into the welcoming oblivion would mean never waking again.

 

The cold was sapping any resilience he could muster. Hunger must be taking its toll too he knew, although he was vaguely curious to register that amongst his misery he hardy felt it. Thirst though, that was a killer. He craved water. Craved it with a desperation that was becoming an obsession – the only thing that encroached on the wallowing pain.

 

He turned his head as far as he could, gasping again at the searing agony the movement caused in his shoulder. With his face almost flat against the cold metal he could feel wetness. The wall was damp from some leak above his head. He licked desperately at the moisture. His face was so swollen and bruised, the inside of his mouth so torn and cut, that he could taste nothing but he knew that he must try. What was the rule? Something in his blurred recollection told him...Three weeks without food? Three days without water?

Got to stay awake. Got to help them find me. Someone's got to be looking.

Danny braced himself and kicked again.

 

MERCY HOSPITAL – MONDAY AFTERNOON

 

Martin turned from the cheery brightness of the visitors' room, designed for families of new or expectant mothers, to the greyness spread below its window. Grey weather and grey buildings enveloped in a low mist that left the city heavy with damp and cold. Viv shifted beside him and they turned together at the sound of the door.

 

A tall well built man entered. Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt he looked slightly dishevelled, unkempt and tired.

 

"Hi! I'm Al Morgan." His voice was deep and he met their eyes as he held out a hand in greeting.

 

"Viv Johnson and Martin Fitzgerald." Viv answered for both of them as they shook in turn.

 

"You work with Danny in Missing Persons." Al nodded his recognition as they all sat in low chairs opposite each other.

He looked pale with exhaustion, a tinge of greyness clouded his features. Running his hand through messy dark hair, he shook his head with a look of helplessness.

 

"I'm so sorry this happened...I can't believe it."

 

Martin just wanted to get on. There was no time for sensitivities.

 

"Look Al, we just wanted to ask you for what you know – your were Danny's handler right?" Al nodded.

"Well, we can't get to see the files because we're not from your department and the job is still active, but we need to know what happened. What went on.." He looked to Viv and back to Al.

 

"Off the record." He added.

 

"I get it," Al nodded again. "You want to help him...but really...You know things can change quickly and I haven't been involved in the operation for a week." He sighed then. "Not since my wife was brought here."

 

Viv reached out a hand and touched Al's arm lightly. "We're really sorry to bother you – I know you must be having a hard time."

Viv really did feel sorry for involving the agent. Her friend in Pre-emptive Crime had filled in some of the details of the operation and passed on Al Morgan's name. He was an experienced agent. Eight years with the Bureau. A good choice – Danny would have had confidence in him. But Marcy had also warned that he'd come off the case after his wife was rushed to hospital with pre-eclampsia when she still had two months of her first pregnancy to go.

 

Clearly the guy was worried for his wife but Viv knew this might be their only hope for a lead. Something to help when they finally got the go-ahead.

 

"I understand your wife's doing better now?" Martin encouraged the other agent.

 

Al sighed deeply. "Yeah, things seem to have settled now – she just has to stay in bed." He laughed a little. "It's driving her nuts!"

There was a short silence before Morgan visibly seemed to pull himself together. He straightened a little and addressed the others.

 

"So, off the record, what do you want to know?"

 

Martin leaned back. "Just take us through it."

 

Al sat up and took a breath before he began. "Well, I met Danny the day he was assigned. I went with him to talk to his brother...you know...in Rikers?" Viv and Martin nodded. They knew Danny's family history even though he rarely spoke of it. Martin had been a witness to Rafi's last collapse and to what it had done to his friend. Viv also knew the emotional toll it took on Danny – somehow over the years she'd won the role of office mother figure and held close the confidences of many of her colleagues.

"Danny was worried that if anything happened with this job his brother would be in real danger inside - he wanted Rafael to know the repercussions. I didn't go in with him but Danny came away pretty determined..."

 

 

SEPTEMBER

RIKERS ISLAND HIGH SECURITY PRISON- NEW YORK

 

"Hey!"

 

"Hey!"

 

The brothers greeted each other ruefully at first then stepped forward and clasped each other briefly.

 

Danny wondered absently when they'd started doing that again. After Rafi's break-down into drugs and subsequent re-incarceration he guessed. Since he'd started visiting him more regularly.

 

They broke apart and faced each other once more.

 

To anyone seeing them together it was clear they were brothers. Rafael was of a bigger build and heavier. Danny, lean and considerably fitter now. Rafael's thinning hair was prison short, Danny's fashionably cut in a way that looked intentionally dishevelled. They shared their dark looks but Danny's handsome features were muted and careworn in Rafael. He'd been a hard drug user in his time and it showed. Danny had had his own issues with alcohol but he's addressed them before they could leave a lifelong impression.

 

At least outwardly.

 

"So, you've been keeping some bad company then?"

 

Rafi laughed at Danny's opening gambit. Trust his little brother to lighten the mood.

 

"It's kinda hard to avoid it in here you know!"

 

They laughed together at that and sat down at the table. They'd been given a room normally reserved for inmates to meet with their lawyers. A guard stood outside but was far enough away to be unable to hear what was said.

 

"Actually, he was OK to share with." Rafi was more serious now. "I've had worse man, believe me."

 

"Yeah? Well, he's into some bad stuff now and the thing I gotta know is, did he like you enough to take me on."

 

Danny searched his brother's face. Only Rafi knew if he could really carry this off.

 

They'd spent a lot of years apart. Now Danny felt bad for the time that was lost. He was realistic enough to know each had done what they had to to survive a dreadful home life, but revelations about how Rafi had shielded his brother from worse abuse had changed Danny's attitude. He'd lost his resentment at the brother he thought had abandoned him after their parents were killed. Now he felt a responsibility to help him get a life he should have had, not the one he'd fallen into.

 

In the years apart he'd tried to forget him but now Danny had to trust him.

 

Rafi raised his brows and his shoulders in a shrug. "Who couldn't love me right?" It brought a smile but he suddenly got serious. "You should be OK...we were pretty tight...if he thinks I sent you to him, you'll get in."

 

"And you never mentioned the fact I was a Fed to him? I mean...I imagine you might have shared hard luck stories and that could trump a whole lot of other bad history." Danny kept his tone light but Rafi registered the bitterness there too.

 

"Believe me Danny, having a brother who's a cop of a Fed is not something to share in here. I'm pretty sure I told him I had a brother but I'm certain as hell that I didn't tell him what you do."

 

Danny nodded in acknowledgement.

 

Rafi reached out and held his arm, forcing him to look straight at him. To understand. Their dark eyes met and held mutual concern.

"Are you sure about this Bro?...Romano was in here for assault...knifed a guy. But that was just what they got him on. He was tough then and from what your people tell me, he's tougher now. Has to be to begin an empire like they say. He's not a guy to cross."

Danny returned the gaze. "Yeah? Well the same goes for you too, right? He'll still have connections in here ...if I don't make the grade...if this goes wrong...he'll be coming after you, you know that right?"

 

Rafi nodded. He was under no illusions here.

 

The brothers stared at each other for a moment before Danny tilted his head and grinned. "Hey, this could really be good, right...they're offering you an easier ride in some up-state soft jail then probation in six months. Writing off the rest of your sentence. You might even be out in time for Nina's second birthday!"

 

Rafi couldn't hold back a smile at that thought. His daughter, like his son, had been born while he was inside. He desperately wanted to be with his family. But he realised the risks more than Danny.

 

"It's a long time since you were on the streets like that Bro. You've got a little soft you know." He reached over and ruffled Danny's hair like he was a kid again. "You're gonna have to to convince him...I mean really make him believe."

 

Danny smiled too.

 

"Don't worry...you can take the boy off the streets, but you can't take the streets off the boy!" He spread his arms and indicted his body

with exaggerated self admiration. "I still got it!"

 

MERCY HOSPITAL

 

Al looked up at Martin and Viv.

 

"Danny spent a couple of hours going over stuff about Romano with his brother … you know, what he was like...his past...the small things that would help him and then it was all systems go."

 

He shook his head as he remembered the rush of excitement that always comes with the start of a new operation.

 

"God! Morrison was like a kid at Christmas..." He leaned back. "Have you met him?" The Others shook their heads. They'd heard about him, seen him in corridors but neither had had any dealings with the guy.

 

"He's an ambitious bastard and he thinks this'll be the job that gets him noticed, his big moment, you know what I mean? It seemed so easy. I mean, we didn't even have to create a role for Danny. He just had to be what he is – Rafael's brother. Sure we got a history made up – he became the kid brother who stayed in petty department came up with a rap sheet on him...he was supposed to have spent time down in Mexico, dealing in illegal shipments of guns and people. We gave him some time in prison down there too, to account for a few years." Al smiled wryly. "Nobody can check what really goes on down there, right?"

 

"We also gave him a couple of convictions for assault ...we didn't want him to look easy to mess with."

 

Martin huffed at that. They all knew how well the FBI could create a whole new world. Convictions, felonies, families. Anything to convince the marks. Hell, they had a whole department that did the job 24/7.

 

"We got him set up in a shit-hole of an apartment and two days after that he made his move at a club Romano owns. It's where he'd been running a lot of business from. His base. Danny just walked right in and dropped his brother's name."

Al shook his head at the memory.

 

"Man, it took some guts to do that."

 

 

SEPTEMBER

DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN – CARLITO'S BAR

 

Coming in from the street, it took a few moments for Danny's eyes to adjust to the low light inside. Carlito's was the kind of club to be found on most blocks in this part of the city. Dark. A bar at one end. Two girls in g-strings gyrating at poles, flashing painted eyes and enhanced figures, as around two dozen guys watched from below, sucking down beers. Their eyes following the moves. The music was loud and sleazy but that was what this clientele knew, all they wanted. They weren't after anything sophisticated.

There were booths down both sides of the room. On the right it was all about the drinks, the music and the scent of sexuality. A guy and a girl here. A guy and two girls there. A couple of skimpily clad waitresses weaved in and out of tables, pushing dollar tips down their cleavage. There was no hurry here – this was a place for people who had nothing better to do.

On the opposite wall, more tables and a couple of booths with high sides. Here though there were only men and they weren't here for pleasure. Here it was all business.

 

Danny watched as they gathered around one table in particular. A pack around the alpha male. This was clearly the guy to impress, the guy giving the orders.

 

Danny had studied the briefing notes. He'd looked again and again at the photos in the file. He knew this man already – Felipe Romano.

 

On other jobs Danny might have tried to blend in, to move unobtrusively and watch from the sidelines but this was never going to be that kind of job. These first minutes were crucial and he had to play it right. Be calm... Act normal. He coached himself inwardly while trying ward off the tingling that came with anticipation and danger.

 

Without hesitation he headed to the bar and rested his elbows on the polished surface, before casting an eye around. He'd felt the attention of some of the occupants follow his entrance and sure enough several held his gaze as he passed over them.

 

The bartender approached ...a raised brow at the order of a club soda but Danny rode that easily... Yeah that's right, man ...not drinking! Service was quick but as the glass was placed beside him he held up a finger to the halt the man's flow back towards the till.

He gestured towards the pack and its leader. "That Romano?" A nod of confirmation and Danny pushed away from the bar.

 

The men looked up at his approach... Keep it cool Danny...The conversation dropped and he could practically taste the wariness...keep it friendly.

 

"You Felipe Romano?" The heavy lidded eyes rose to Danny's face and there was an inclination of his head. A jutting of his jaw that suggested a confirmation and invited an introduction.

 

This was it.

 

"Rafi says hi! Says to remember the times on C-block. Told me to drop by and introduce myself...I'm Danny Alvarez"

 

No going back now. He was in play.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

Voices were his torment now. Snatches of voices not really there. From events he thought he should recognise but couldn't identify...

 

"He's in over his head. He's feeling the pressure of not knowing who to trust - one wrong move could get his throat slit and the world wouldn't even blink."

 

Words, conversations, actions he couldn't follow...Was that Al? Martin...?

 

He'd raised a soda to his lips with a broad grin and an inclination of his head.

 

Why that conversation? Who and where? God! A soda...a drink. He needed to drink. His world swirled in and out of darkness.

Was this the drugs. The drugs that had made him scream with the added clarity of the pain, sob with the spearing brightness of agony... there had been drugs hadn't there? A needle. Once...twice...more. God! Should help but...That's what Rafi had always looked for ...something to dull the constant breath-stealing throbbing ache...but it hadn't. It didn't... if he could just break through the mists ... The pain seemed different now. Now there was a numbness….And yet he could still hear the voices. Memories ...his own voice ...

 

"He's just like me! No wonder we get along."

 

Danny thought he was laughing but maybe he was just shaking.

 

EARLY OCTOBER (First month of operation)

CARLITO'S – DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN

 

Al Morgan shook his head in wonder at how smoothly this operation seemed to be going.

 

For him, Danny Taylor's introduction to Romano's crew had been a tense affair as he waited in a car down the block from the neon lit club that was the business base. For Danny however, it was a little like a combination of reunion and job interview.

 

He hadn't known what to expect, willing to play it as slowly as necessary. As it turned out the mention of Rafael Alvarez brought a nod of recognition from Felipe Romano.

 

"You are Rafi's brother?" Danny nodded, smiling...old friend...he's an old friend. "So, how is the old bastard? It's been a long time ..."

 

"He's doing OK...he's back in Rikers...couldn't stay clean." He shrugged ...what you gonnado! "Said to tell you he'd asked for your old room back but they'd already given it to some other Miami Vice wannabe!" Danny maintained the smile and let the words fall naturally...please God, Rafi told me right... "Not too sure what he meant!" He shrugged playfully, working hard to keep it relaxed.

Romano's crew watched and waited for their boss's lead. Danny recognised their type. Tough men. All Latinos. Snappily dressed, with the glitter of gold jewellery beneath their shirts and at their knuckles. Their style was polished but under the veneer these were gang bangers made good. They held themselves in readiness and Danny was in no doubt that they would do whatever Romano told them.

 

"Ha!" Romano's laugh was like a bark.

 

He eyed Danny for a moment. "When you're locked up with a guy 18 hours a day you talk about all kinds of stuff – I always loved that show but from where we grew up those boats and cars were a long way off, right?"

 

Danny recognised a test when he heard it. "Yeah! Hialeah wasn't exactly glamorous."

 

The Miami district of Hialeah was were he'd been born. Where he'd spent his early years. Years when he'd been a part of the scene his brother had already adopted. Even as a teenager Rafi was running with some dangerous people and from eight years old Danny was right on his shirt-tales, watching and learning. Eventually entering the world of gangs as go-getter, look-out, postman. Too young to be a player but old enough to earn scars from deals gone bad and street justice. It had won him a reputation as one to watch.

 

A silence fell as Romano looked into Danny's face. His appraisal was hard to endure. This was a man with a reputation of his own.

Hialeah had been his home turf too but unlike the Alvarez brothers, who drifted on the periphery, the Romano family were known to everyone. Born two weeks after his father was killed in a drive-by vendetta, the kid Felipe had a heritage of crime. His two uncles and cousins were running a violently successful crew and it was natural to follow. Always go with what you know.

 

Danny had read the wrap sheet – recognised it immediately for what he could himself have become, for what his brother had entered into. Drugs convictions, robbery, assault. Murder. Guns, knives and intimidation – a long list which indicated an escalating level of violence. A rival gang member found stabbed in the gut. A gang traitor knee-capped. A hooker girlfriend beaten to a bloody pulp because she went with another guy.

 

The time he'd spent in jail, sharing a cell with Rafi, was for violent assault – a customer late with a payment, sliced across the neck but still able to name his attacker. However, as Rafi had warned, that was the only thing he was caught on. The body count attributed to Romano's people stood at over twenty. Reading between the lines, the District Attorney just wanted to get him off the streets.

Five years later he was back in business and more ambitious than ever. Moving up.

 

The FBI's newly formed Department of Pre-emptive Crime were alerted to Romano's activities by the NYPD's Gang Unit. Traditionally, there was little love between cops and Feds but with budgets stretched, they had to rely upon each other.

 

Pre-emptive crime was the brain child of a government quango who believed it should be possible to slow future crime if it was 'nipped in the bud'. That was the exact cute phrase bandied about by politicians when money was sought for the new department. Its remit was to highlight, monitor and address individuals, gangs, even businesses that were just starting to expand their criminal empires. In its first eighteen months there had been some successful prosecutions but by its nature the department was generally looking for long-term results. Romano's formally Florida based crew certainly seemed a perfect target. Here intending to make their mark, gain some ground, but without evidence of their plan, their finance or their strength nobody could go in.

 

Danny would need to get close.

 

Romano tilted his head to a man standing at Danny's shoulders – with an apologetic look he lifted his own arms a little and Danny mirrored the movement... Take it easy Danny, you knew this would happen... He'd expected it but it was hard not to tense even more when the guy patted him down like a professional. The gun he had tucked in the small of his back was drawn out and laid on the table in front of them. It raised little reaction – in this company, to go without a gun was to be undressed.

They were looking for wires but there were none ….Told ya Morrison! No way!

 

As Romano leaned back into his chair, something in the air surrounding them changed. A lightening of the charged atmosphere. His men took it as their cue to disperse and the gang boss gestured to a chair, for Danny to sit.

 

"So Rafi thinks you could do something for me?" Romano's tone seemed genuinely interested. Maybe a little teasing

 

Huh! Direct...

 

"He just said I should look you up. Maybe you'd have ….opportunities..."Danny let that hang.

 

"Opportunities? And you're a guy to make the most of ...opportunities?"

 

Danny recognised this as the kind of dance he knew. "Well, I do my best." He leaned in a little, keeping eye contact. "Look, I know you don't know me. And maybe you got nothing but I've been away myself and I'm looking this city. Do business, you know? So I figured I should pay my respects." An open handed gesture – take it, don't take it.

 

Danny's casual manner had opened many doors for him over the years and after another moment's consideration Romano nodded. A

ghost of a smile crossed his face.

 

"Well, my friend, I will think about it. I haven't been ...recruiting. " Again the smile. "But for men with experience...maybe. You do have experience?"

 

Danny nodded. "A little too much my old parole officer would say...I say, you go with what you know."

Romano liked that and let loose another bark.

 

"We might have something...Give me couple of days to, you know, make enquiries...Come by Friday and we'll see..."

The interview was at an end. Danny rose, scooped up his weapon and held out his hand. Romano's grip was firm and quick.

The eyes he'd felt before followed him again as he headed for the exit, turned onto the street and strode off without any acknowledgement of the dark sedan and the agent he knew was watching.

 

MID OCTOBER (Three weeks into operation)

BATTERY PARK – DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN – 10.00 AM

 

Danny brought his previously fast pace down to a slow jog, sidestepping a group of tourists who'd stopped in the middle of the path to study a Manhatten map. Spotting a familiar figure he headed towards a park bench and stopped next to it, lifting his foot up onto the slats and bending down to his laces.

 

Al looked around – taking in the people near them and then those beyond.

 

"So, how did it go last night?" He kept his voice low, looking back down to his newspaper.

 

"Coke deal. Four kilos delivered to one Tony Mudella at a bar called The Pinto on 43rd." Danny delivered the information without raising his head from his fiddling. "It was a test." He gave Al a quick grin. "Think I passed. The guy was an idiot. Tried to change the price. Had to get a little heavy with him."

 

Al glanced up – a question in his eyes.

 

"Relax, man. Eduardo was there to see the play – I had to make it convincing." Danny had felt a little sorry for the guy actually but it was time to step things up, to show Romano he could be trusted and that poor sap was the unlucky one...amazing what a few well placed slaps can do when you carry the right threat in your voice.

 

"So, the big guy was happy?" Al recognised this as progress.

 

"Yeah! Not so sure about Eduardo though. Seems he's the jealous type. Think he might see me as competition." Danny huffed a laugh.

"Nice to know you're making friends at least. So what's next – you heard anything about shipments?"

 

"Well something about business getting busy in the next month or two. Nothing specific." Having tightened his laces, Danny sat down on the bench, leaving a distance between himself and Al ...look, I'm just taking in the view.

 

"Something you should know though – some guy called Tati is coming in. It's a big deal. Romano is already working himself up for it. Bawled out Vincent for being out of his head at the club last night, said we had important people coming and we have to give the right impression. Don't know when it's happening but it could be one of the connections – supplier or buyer?"

 

"We'll look him up."Al shifted to look around them again, taking the opportunity to glance once more at Danny too.

 

He hadn't shaved yet this morning and his eyes looked tired. He wore dark sweat pants and a faded Mets sweatshirt, His short hair hidden under a knitted beanie. His handsome face had a glow of perspiration. Romano did his business from the club in club hours. Not a lot got done before 11.00am but plenty went on in the grey times just before dawn. Danny was getting involved in drugs deliveries and money pick-ups ...just like old times...Romano was introducing him around, getting him to know the faces and the business. He wasn't generally making it back to his crappy apartment until three or four. A morning run was one of their contact meets – an early start couldn't be helped.

 

"So back to the top?" Al asked.

 

Danny nodded quickly as he rose, acknowledging the reference to their list of coded meeting points. Not all were face to face but it was daily. Sometimes they spoke on the phone, non traceable of course. Otherwise it could be a coffee shop, on the subway, at a newspaper kiosk, on a run or en route through a park. It was a pre-arranged and numbered order but could be changed immediately if there was any suspicion. One text message of a single number and each of them would know where to go. At this stage of the operation, one missed contact wasn't serious. Two would be a worry and so far hadn't happened.

 

Danny left without another word. Al waited a further five minutes. His route back to the office would be round-about, never direct, to give him a chance to check for tails. So far that hadn't happened either.

 

 

NOVEMBER (six weeks into operation)

CARLITO'S

 

Danny was an alcoholic. He knew it and accepted it. Not a former alcoholic. Not a recovering alcoholic. An alcoholic. That's what his sponsor and the regular meetings were about. To remind him that he would always have that dark place inside him where he could never go again. Disaster lay that way.

 

He knew what addiction was and recognised it in others. Problem was, in this particular job, being clean was more dangerous than being a user. In this sort of company there were major trust issues about the new guy who didn't drink, inject, inhale, or even smoke.

He'd gone with the 'been-there-nearly-died' angle while also pushing the ambitious 'I'm-clean-enough-to-understand-your-business' presentation. It seemed to work on Romano but for some of the men in his crew it was a growing source of festering resentment.

Danny had quickly realised that Romano himself was a user...no great surprise, right. Rafi predicted he wouldn't stay clean... Seemed in control of it – the guy couldn't have built his business if he wasn't. Cocaine was barely even hidden in the club. Lines dropped and offered openly. His own first refusal had been met with surprise then suspicion.

 

"I've seen where it leads, man. In my case, straight into a Mexican jail...try checking on that – our guys know their stuff...There's no support down there when you're suddenly cut off. It was brutal. I'm not going back to that." Smiling broadly at Romano he'd made a risky play. "Can't be across a business if your head's not straight."

 

Romano had paused before finally giving a nod of approval.

 

Others however found it harder to accept and Danny was forced to prove himself over and over again. In addition to the daily tension of being someone he thought he'd forgotten how to be, he had to match the mood of the rest of the crew without the stimulus they used to make it. Keeping up the facade was exhausting. Already wringing him out. He had to be up when they were up, aggressive when challenged, smart enough to outwit those who could see themselves being usurped.

 

Hector Eduardo was Romano's right hand man. An attack dog held on his master's leash. He'd been with Romano's crew for years. His value as enforcer lay in his brutality. Danny had read about it in the folder of information that he'd absorbed in preparation for this job, but it wasn't until he met him that he fully realised the danger he represented. Sadistic, possibly psychotic and certainly an addict, Eduardo headed up his own little hierarchy within the gang. And from the outset he hated Danny.

 

His threat was a constant pressure – like the oppressive heaviness of the air before a hurricane, it held a vibration of unreleased violence and damage.

 

Danny recognised the feelings and watched for the flying debris that would inevitably be coming his way. He was still surprised however when it came in the form of a teenage wannabe out to make a name for himself.

 

Orlando Drego, known to all as Twist for the way he knotted his hair into little lumps all over his head, was desperate to run with the big guns. So desperate that he leapt a few basic steps in this ladder of acceptance. Used by the crew as a runner and gopher he was never far from the action in the club, constantly watching and waiting for his opening. Like a kicked mongrel looking for scraps, he'd become sly in his bids for glory amongst the street gang of hangers-on that he mixed with outside.

 

Unfortunately for him it was a night when Eduardo was flying high on a cocktail of drink and drugs. And it was Eduardo who caught him doing a little recycling of the dustings. Danny had seen him at it before – sweeping off the coke remains left by careless clients too addled to suck up the entire lines laid out. He would bag it quietly and later no doubt sell it to the neighbourhood teenage tweakers. Danny thought it was actually rather enterprising. Eduardo called it stealing.

 

As a wild eyed Eduardo launched himself at the kid, Danny reacted instinctively. ..Street hold! Street hold!... Danny had an instant to adjust his grip on his gun from the two handed stance ingrained by his years with the FBI to the sideways one handed gangster pose. Eduardo held his gun that way too.

 

The room instantly fell silent except for the sobs of fear from Twist as the two men mirrored each other with less than four feet of separation.

 

"You kill this kid now, here – you're gonna bring us trouble." Danny made it a statement. "The Boss has business building here that doesn't need that kind of trouble."

 

Eduardo was rigid. His eyes glassy, pupils dilated to tiny dark dead holes. His voice came out as a hiss. "You come in here...think you can walk over us? I think it's you who is the trouble for us. And I think I'm gonna have to fix it."

 

Danny smirked then and stepped in closer. His weapon as steady as his gaze. Their eyes stayed fixed on each other. In that moment there was no other focus. He kept his voice soft but nobody missed the steel there too. "He's a kid taking his chances just like the rest of us. You think something needs fixing? … why don't you take your chance." ...do it you bastard and let's make something happen...Danny was surprised at the hatred he felt burn, felt he might break with the tension.

Romano broke it for them.

 

"Enough!" He barked. Moving slowly through the watching men, he halted at Danny's shoulder and laid a hand there. Eduardo flinched as though he's been struck. A preference had been shown. A slight to him. Approval for Danny...Man! Guess who's top of Eduardo's most wanted now!Ha!...Danny felt weak as he lowered his weapon. He felt the tickle of sweat down his back and his mouth was dry but he recognised a victory and forcing himself not to show his relief, allowed himself to be steered to Romano's table by the man himself.

 

Yeah! You need someone to trust and, Romano my friend, I'm your man.

 

 

EARLY DECEMBER (Third months of operation)

COVER APARTMENT – MANHATTAN

 

Danny was rapidly losing patience. He didn't have time for this. Didn't have time to explain to someone who should be understanding but clearly was not. He felt strung out and itchy with antagonism.

 

"Look! You put me in with these guys to get you the information you need to judge this right and I'm telling you, this is snowballing and we need to keep well ahead of it if we don't want to get rundown." He was pacing about the living area of the dark one bedroom apartment that he was forced to call home. It didn't take long – approximately twelve paces to cross it, that's all. Then back again.

Morrison watched him, then stood abruptly from the frayed couch to block his path.

 

"Agent Taylor!" It brought him up short. "Danny..." Placating now. "I hear what you're saying...My God! What a stupid phrase... But I don't want to bring in any other agencies at this point. The stuff we know, the names you've given us, we still don't know if they're genuine players..."

 

"Well, they looked genuine to me." Danny interrupted... This guy is unbelievable! "They looked pretty damn genuine when their guys were facing us down the other night...intimidation seems a lot more dangerous when you can't pull out a badge.. .Two king pins, in two weeks – each of them with their own entourage. Posturing. Tooled up. These guys are definitely serious and if they're the ones in the running for this deal Romano has in mind, it's all a lot bigger than you seem geared up for."

 

"He's using more. He's worried and if he's worried we should be too. We need more back-up on this. This is DEA territory and they need to be fully aware. The gangs unit can give us better intel on what the power play is likely to be." Danny turned to Al Morgan for support. He had to make Clive Morrison understand.

 

But Morrison was bristling, sensing some personal slur. He was a man who took his senior role seriously. He saw it as his right after the work he'd already put into achieving his ambitions. He carried an air of self belief that didn't encourage dissent in his team.

 

"My department can handle this." Confidence or arrogance? Danny was beginning to really dislike this guy. His role should be supportive but he was getting the distinct impression he was not being listened to at all.

 

It had taken Morrison three days to even bother to respond to Danny's request, made through Al, to discuss the apparent escalation in events. Even then, he'd opted for the least secure way to meet.

 

Al had tried to dissuade his boss from going to Danny's squalid cover apartment, with its damp peeling walls, its dubious stains and its addict littered hallways...this could blow everything... but Morrison had insisted his schedule was too busy to follow the usual clandestine pattern of meets and had ordered him to drive to the rundown neighbourhood. He'd simply turned up at Danny's door this morning...Christ, he might as well have been holding a placard that said "I am an FBI agent" for all the effort he made to blend in. A windbreaker jacket instead of regulation overcoat didn't cut it!

 

Al watched Danny's reaction as the senior agent addressed him again. This had been going on for thirty minutes. "We still have the same pressures on Bureau resources – I'm not willing to beg agents off vital terrorism investigations, involve other departments, until we are more certain." He squared his shoulders and Al could swear he even jutted his chin a little – going for an impression of leadership, it was coming off as petty defiance.

 

Danny didn't like it. He'd worked with Jack Malone – he knew strong leadership and respected it but this guy....what an asshole.

He shook his head and grabbed the leather jacket that hung on the back of the door before turning towards Morrison again.

Al had noted before that, in the eight weeks he'd known him, Danny's manner had changed somewhat. It was normal in undercover agents. Natural and necessary to adapt and blend. His body language was a little different. Even when relaxed he was alert. When he walked, his usual ease was drifting a little more towards a swagger. There was a certain abruptness to his language which now came littered with colourful profanities. The hardness lay over and around him like a brittle shell. He'd gone back to the streets.

 

Danny stared for a moment at Morrison, debating with himself just how far he could take this...Man, what I wouldn't give to be with my team on this...trust, loyalty, friendship...you don't know it 'til it's gone. Martin, I'll never tease you again!

 

"Look, we don't know each other real well. It would be nice if we could have learned a little more about the way we work before this thing started but you gotta see that I KNOW this life. I left it behind, but I know it. And when you know something you get a feel for it." He stepped forward. "And I got a feeling about this. You need to trust me."

 

As Danny looked straight into Morrison's face, Al could see a dangerous glint in his eyes. It was feral, the kind of light he saw in the eyes of many of the perps he'd brought in over the years of his career. Morrison registered it too and didn't like it.

 

"Don't come to this apartment again. That's the kind of thing that'll get me killed."

 

He left then, quietly. Too much of a professional to allow an act of defiance risk alerting attention with a slammed door. Al noted it but didn't mention it to his boss...what an asshole.

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

No more. Danny knew he was near the end. He could no longer assemble his thoughts.. Couldn't hang onto images that flashed and washed and dragged through his head. A pressure that had started in his chest had spread now to envelope all of him. It was a smothering blanket. Like a wet sheet laid over him and tied tight around. Pressing against him, sucked into his mouth and eyes and ears, dulling every sensation. He'd fought it at first but now the weight was too much, the effort too great and he knew he couldn't beat it, couldn't gasp through it for air, couldn't see though it to light, couldn't even hear beyond its stifling muffling. Danny had had a religious upbringing, had seen enough violence and tragedy, come close enough himself before, to have wondered at length about death – what it felt like , what came just before. But now, as the heaviness became blackness, Danny was beyond thought.

 

 

FBI HEADQUARTERS PRESENT DAY

TUESDAY 8.30 AM

 

Jack Malone looked around the meeting room. All eyes were on the speaker or the screen he indicated, occasionally drifting to the copied dossier of notes and photos that had been given to each person as they had entered and found a seat.

These were all experienced competent agents and officers...Huh! Shame they weren't led by one.

 

Clive Morrison was clearly enjoying himself. At least, it was clear to Jack.

 

Others there may not see past the slick delivery. Maybe they didn't register anything but a professional presentation or no-nonsense replies. To Jack however, living for the past two days with an ever growing, gnawing anger, that light in Morrison's eyes was a little too eager, his body language a little too self aware, his words a little too defiant. In fact his whole manner was just too damned enthusiastic...With Danny missing, where's the concern?Where are the warnings? Pompous bastard!

 

The room was full. Most of the faces were recognisable to Jack – agents and officers he'd seen or worked with. Four members of the Bureau's own Tactical Operations team lead by Agent Brian Tolsen. Big, bluff and built like a linebacker, Jack had worked with him on several occasions and knew he could be trusted. It would be Tolsen who would head up the on-the-ground operation.

 

Seated alongside him, four members of NYPD's SWAT team and a Lieutenant who would be heading a team of back-up uniforms. They too were familiar from various crisis situations that Jack had been witness to, or part of, over the years. FBI Tactical and SWAT regularly trained together and there was a camaraderie amongst those tough men that reminded Jack of his time in the forces.

Seven agents from the Department for Pre-emptive Crime were there too. Al Morgan was the only member of their team...Huh, apart from Danny, but then he's not really their team... who was missing, still on leave to be with his bedridden wife. Jack knew three of their number, though trained to the standard of all agents, had been picked specifically for their skills in tracking computer crime. With the nature of the department's remit, their knowledge was imperative to trace how gangs or businesses built up their power base and with whom. He recognised their talents and respected them but he was a leg-man himself and felt most comfortable with agents who'd also worked the streets.

 

Pre-emptive's remaining four agents, all men, were just that. They were familiar. Jack had ridden in elevators with them, passed the time of day at the building's vending machines, walked with them into the downstairs car-park, but he'd never before worked with them. And since this operation had moved up a gear ...or four... none of them had wanted to speak to him. Avoiding him under orders he guessed.

 

As a group they shared a proprietorial air...Hey, it is their case, right?...Jack could sense their excitement...well, they had been working it for months hadn't they? ...Of all the people in the room, the department members looked around themselves the most, nodding occasionally at Morrison's words and glancing at others as though checking that they too were understanding.

 

Oh, Jack understood alright. Morrison had warned them that this was their big chance, their big moment, to prove themselves. Like an over anxious lottery syndicate, they weren't about to give away their ticket to success.

 

Jack sighed. He knew he shouldn't blame them. Maybe his own unit would be similarly protective of a case that began with them but, glancing at his team, he could see an entirely different look on their faces.

 

Martin, Sam and Viv were sitting alongside each other, staring at the images displayed with grim concentration. Behind their frowns and tired eyes Jack knew lay the fear that he himself felt...what if all this came too late for Danny?

 

"So these are the main players." Morrison had been outlining his expectations of the up-coming operation with preliminary timings for their plans. Now his voice carried through the room and interrupted Jack's thoughts.

 

Stills of four men appeared on the plasma screen beside him. With a flick of his wrist, Morrison clicked on his remote...could that be called a flourish?...and one of the images flew forward to take up the whole screen...man, all we get is a magnetic white board!

"Bare bones...This is Felipe Romano. He's been our main target. Already established in Florida, he branched out from a family firm to set up here two years ago and has moved fast with the usual stuff – drugs, prostitution, protection. But this is the deal that will establish him. He has a lot to prove and his next step is into the arena with some pretty big opposition. He has to pull it off."

 

"And he's the one your guy is in with?" The question came from Tolsen.

 

Morrison nodded. "Yes, we have good intel from the undercover operation. Our agent has been able to get very close in his crew."

Tolsen huffed in admiration. "Tough gig, judging by this guy's biog."

 

All those in the audience had had enough time to scan through the information provided. This meeting was something of a formality, an introduction to each other and a first look at their plan of action. It would be fine tuned during the course of the day with further intensive briefings involving all agencies..

 

Morrison nodded again and held up his copy of the dossier. "You're right. Romano is dangerous and, to be honest, he has become even more so. All the gory details of what this guy is capable of are in here – read it at your leisure, it's not pretty."

 

"Our agent inside believed he was getting real nervous about this deal. He was using more and getting pretty antsy over the whole thing, not surprising when you know the company he's keeping."

 

Another click of the remote ….Yeah, definitely a flourish – the guy just loves the drama ... and another face flew forwards on the screen.

 

A rather grainy picture of a sharp featured man with eyes so deep-set it was hard to see their colour. Dark. The dossier said he was fifty two and outlined a back-story of crime supply and enablement.

 

"Emil Tati. French Canadian former mercenary. He's the guy behind the gun shipment. He's brought it together mainly from Eastern Europe we think. We can't track it all, can't hope to tackle things that end but the CIA are on it and want their shot at him too after we're done. If we can cut off his supply route this end we'll be doing the world a favour."...Great, now he's going global!... Jack pressed his lips together as he mentally chastised himself for the resentment he felt.

 

Much of the background information on Tati came from the Anti-Terrorism Unit at Homeland Security. He was an arms dealer who played for the highest bidder, with connections to many notorious organisations. They'd had him on their radar for a while but had never had enough proof for a prosecution.

 

Jack knew this case had long reaching impact but it seemed to him that while everyone was looking outwards, Danny was somewhere in the city, within spitting distance, and in need of help. And nobody seemed to be doing much about that.

 

"Romano is going to be paying Tati in drugs and cash. The drugs we believe are largely coming from this man." Another click, another face.

 

"Manuel Calderon. Member of one of Mexico's biggest drug cartels. There's been a steady supply coming in over the last two or three months. Romano took a small warehouse unit on the south dockside and has another a couple of blocks away. There are half a dozen other safe stashes he uses too. The addresses are all in your dossier." He waved his copy once again.

 

"The NYPD have kindly offered to take care of them when the time comes, but our agent has seen most of it is now going to the warehouse, stockpiling for the pay-off, and that's where Romano has focused his security. Our guy's been part of that since December."

 

Jack noticed Martin was tight-lipped and shaking his head slightly as if in some disbelief. He knew just how he felt...So this is where Danny had been all these months ...but still the same question, where is he now?

 

Morrison waved again at the screen with a broad sweeping gesture and his voice got a little louder and more strident ...Jesus, it feels like he's building to a finale!...Jack shifted his position andnoticed Deputy Commander Eleanor Brucknor had slipped quietly into the room and was now standing at the back watching the presentation...Ah yes! Got to impress the bosses.

 

"And finally, this is Marcel Eno. Head of a Jersey City gang, and buyer of at least part of the incoming shipment, we're not entirely sure what proportion. Also expected to pay in drugs and cash. You'll know about Eno. His crew are responsible for probably thirty percent of the drug and gun crime over the river and more and more of it in this city too."

 

The mug shot showed a thick-set man in his forties. The photographing and processing of villains didn't allow for portraiture but even in the blandness of the picture his dead looking eyes carried a glaring menace.

 

"So! These are our targets ladies and gentlemen!" Morrison was summing up, his body angled towards the AC, head held high in what Jack was sure was intended to be a grand posture of great leadership.

 

"You'll find further pictures of their respective crews in your packs and we're uploading some video surveillance footage onto the system too – you'll be able to access that with the operation code within the hour."

 

He looked around with a smile...Yep! The Big Finish..."Now, let's take them down!"

 

For an instant it seemed that Morrison actually expected some sort of applause. Maybe a marine style "Hoo-ya!"None came.

Most of those present nodded quiet affirmation and turned to the dossiers once more to ingest the background information they would need. The tactical units were already rising to study the detailed maps of the dockside area and surrounding blocks that were tacked up on the walls and duplicated on the laptops they consulted. Their priority was in their own planning for the assault and cover.

 

"What about the agent inside?"

 

Martin Fitzgerald's voice carried over the shufflings and murmerings that were just beginning.

 

Jack felt the room grow still as Clive Morrison looked up from the papers he was collecting. He looked for the speaker.

Martin rose. "You haven't mentioned anything about the safety of the agent inside...or your plan to find him once we get in there."

There was a brittle tone of accusation in his voice and Jack felt a glow of pride that Martin should raise the one thing that had been avoided. The subject was like the proverbial elephant in the room and Jack leaned back to see how Morrison dealt with it. He had a horrible feeling, bred from experience, that Martin would be disappointed.

 

"Agent ...Fitzgerald?" Morrison assumed the manner of a disapproving headmaster not quite sure which aberrant pupil he was addressing...Bastard! Someone like you would know just who Martin is... He leaned onto his podium as though suddenly weary. The room waited.

 

" Yes. I think most of you will have heard by now that, after four months, we have just recently lost contact with our agent on the inside."He dropped the tone of his voice and Jack noticed his eyes glanced to the back of the room, looking perhaps for recognition of the concern he was obviously trying to convey.

 

"We are hoping that the loss of communication is down to the increase in Romano's security...that our man felt it was safer to maintain silence. We all know it can be a dangerous job." ...Yeah, right! When was the last time you went undercover? ..."We have to rely on the agent himself to know what is best for the operation."...Did he just try to sidestep responsibility. Did he just try to lay the lost contact at Danny's door? Christ! He's a piece of work!.

 

Morrison straightened up. "We will of course be making the finding and recovery of our agent a priority. His photo is in your dossiers, please make all your personnel aware of it . We expect strong resistance and we don't want any casualties on our side."

With that Morrison placed his papers into his leather briefcase, took a moment to smooth his tie and headed for the door, greeting AC Brucknor on the way and leaving with her, heads bowed together in discussion.

Martin swung round to watch him go. Disbelief and anger showed in the rigid tightness of his jaw. A nerve jumped there and Jack spotted it and rose to intercept him.

 

Viv and Sam gathered at his side too and Jack could feel their tension.

 

"What the hell, Jack! He barely even mentioned Danny – he's only got an eye for the glory!" Martin's voice was low with disgust.

 

"Christ, he didn't even give his name. It was like he didn't even register in the grand scheme."

 

"Al said he was ambitious but not that he was a complete bastard!" Viv's low voice held utter contempt.

 

Jack looked at her with sharp surprise. Viv was an experienced agent. Her manner, calm and controlled at all times. For her to allow her feelings to show quite so easily said a lot about the pressure they were all feeling.

 

"They've had a watch on the warehouse unit for weeks right?" Sam looked to Viv who had the inside contact with her friend in the Pre-emptive Unit. Viv nodded. She had managed to get more information out of Marcy although the poor woman was coming under great pressure from Morrison, who seemed to know it was she who might have contacted the MPU.

 

Sam continued. "Well, they don't have any recent shots of Danny there. He may not even be there even when we do go in." Jack noticed her voice was rising with anxiety.

 

"We have to believe what Al told us." Viv sounded as though she might be trying to convince herself as much as Sam. "Danny was part of the crew keeping watch over that stockpile of drugs. He told us Danny was still being used by Romano at the club sometimes but in the last couple of weeks it was becoming less. He was definitely based down there."

 

Martin nodded. "Yeah, Al thought Danny was becoming one of the few that Romano actually trusted as he got more and more wired about the deal. The fact that Danny wasn't a user seemed to help with that. Seemed to them that Romano wasn't entirely convinced the others wouldn't be trying to test the merchandise for themselves."

 

"Must've put Danny in an even worse position," Jack grunted. "Romano's second, that guy Eduardo was there too?"

 

"According to Al." Martin nodded. There was something still bothering him from the conversation with Al Morgan at the hospital. "You know, we still don't know exactly when Danny's contacts stopped."

 

Sam leaned in to keep their huddled conversation low. "I thought it was nothing since Saturday."

 

"Hm, well that's what Marcy told me originally."Viv looked and sounded dubious in her reply. "It seems there may be some confusion over who was acting as his handler in the last week after Al went off." She shrugged despairingly at the apparent lapse. "Marcy said they've been spread real thin since Danny gave confirmation of the date of the shipment and this whole thing swung into overdrive. Marcy and the others in the office weren't clear who was gathering the information from him."

Martin stood up and ran his fingers roughly through his hair in frustration.

 

"You know...Al said that Morrison told him he would take care of it. When he went off, I mean. Maybe he meant he would be taking on the handling himself." His mouth became a grim line. "He strikes me as the kind of guy who'd want to play it close at the end."

Nobody disagreed.

 

Jack stood up and the others took it as their cue. "Viv, I know she's worried, but see if Marcy can just take a look at some of the contact files. Sam, Martin, take a closer look at some of Romano's crew – some of the ones Al mentioned to you as being friendlier to Danny. Anyone he might have struck up a friendship with."

 

They all knew that in an undercover operation no friendship could ever really be trusted.

 

Undercover, you have no friends but the back-up team you rely on. If they were going to get ahead of the game when they were finally allowed to start their search for Danny, they needed pointers. If arrests were made, they needed to know who to target with their questions. With their deals.

 

"Jack!"

 

The group stopped at the door as Brian Tolsen approached them. He held a photo from the dossier in his hand. It was a close-up shot of Danny. Not from his FBI ID, this had been taken as he stood outside Carlito's. He was gazing down the street. The team knew it as the look of vigilance he wore when gauging trouble on the job. He wore street clothes and a heavy jacket with the collar turned up, but his handsome face, though a little thinner than when they last saw him, was clear and instantly recognisable.

 

"This is your guy isn't it?" Jack nodded.

 

"Thought so. I remember him from that hostage situation with the soldier and his wife."...Yeah we all remember that one. Danny on the inside, the rest of us just waiting and hoping on the outside...nothing new there.

Tolsen nodded and looked around at them. There was understanding in his voice and in his eyes.

 

"I'm real sorry."

 

 

MANHATTAN – LOWER EAST SIDE HOUSING PROJECTS

TUESDAY 11.00 AM

 

Martin eased out of the bureau sedan and gazed up at the grey tenement blocks ahead of him. Never an inspiring sight, in the winter damp and cold the development looked as threatening as its reputation. Despite City efforts this area was not on the tourist maps. Graffiti, litter and a general impression of decay combined to exaggerate an air of menace to the unwary.

 

He pulled his overcoat around him tighter as Sam joined him. Having locked the car, they headed east towards a street busy with shoppers and hawkers.

 

They dodged the flow of pedestrian traffic that ebbed and parted around them. The place hummed with energy and purpose but this was a place that quickly noticed outsiders and the two agents knew they would have been made as soon as they stepped from their vehicle.

 

Martin opened the door to a coffee shop that made one of the corners and held it for Sam to enter ahead of him. This was not one of the franchise chains that graced every other street in New York. In fact, this was not just a coffee shop but a dimly lit centre for all kinds of business that also happened to provide refreshments. And for the right price, information.

 

It was no real secret that Barney Zeigler, Babu to everyone who knew him, was an informant. Since the age of five when he took his first dollar for telling his mother's next door neighbour which little street menace had broken her window, Babu had recognised the value of information. And others had seen the value of occasionally allowing to have it and to pass it on.

 

Babu didn't care who he sold information to. Gang bosses looking for missing customers, late with their dues; street hustlers needing a tip off when the city would be choosing their patch to clear; cops needing to trace a weapon; or feds wanting background. It was his completely arbitrary attitude to information and those who sought it that had helped him survive.

 

Of course he wasn't popular with anyone but, in this little corner of New York City, he was considered something of a necessary evil. Generally, he knew so much about so many people, he was seen as a liability worth keeping around.

 

As Martin followed Samantha into the cafe, Babu raised his eyes from the whoosh of the espresso machine, handed a steaming cup to his waiting customer and quickly edged out from behind the counter. The three headed to the back where a small office lay behind greasy strips of hanging coloured plastic.

 

There was no need for ceremony. All parties knew the score here.

 

Martin pulled a small picture of Twist from his jacket pocket and held it up. Babu took it in his fat fingers and turned it towards the light. His sly smile revealed bad teeth and his small eyes lit up in eagerness.

 

Martin took back the picture. "What can you tell us?"

 

"Ahh, Orlando Drego - young master Twist. Used to be such a sweet boy." Babu closed his eyes as though reaching far back into his memory. "Until he knifed his cousin over a bag of dope." Martin nodded his encouragement.

 

"He grew up in the projects just over there." Babu indicated the outdoors with his head. "Joined one of those street gangs and is currently trying to swim with bigger fishes in a much bigger pond."

 

"We need to know about his family. Anyone he's close to?"

 

Babu looked from Martin to Sam, lingering over the blond with a slow down-and-up appreciation. He held out his hand. Sam drew out a $50 note and placed it in his palm. It was folded and tucked away in an instant.

 

"Mother a junkie. Father dead. His elder brother practically raised him...protected him from those who might have resented his somewhat ambitious ways. Know what I mean?" They nodded. "The brother was the only one who had any control over him. He was killed in a drive-by couple of years back. Twist don't come around here much anymore."

 

Babu shrugged and the conversation was at an end. There was no more to say.

 

The two agents left the cafe as quickly as they had come and headed back to their car. If they were seen, and they were, they were quickly forgotten. Babu's cafe saw a lot of passing traffic – a one-stop shop with tattle as its trade. Martin hoped thier investment would pay off later.

 

Forty minutes later, Martin dropped Sam at the front of their headquarters then drove down the ramp to the secure parking below. Three security checks later, including an automatic under-vehicle sweep, Martin left the car and stepped into the elevator to take him up the MPU on the sixth floor. As he leaned back to watch the numbers a hand slipped in between the doors and someone else entered. Clive Morrison would be riding with him.

 

Recognition was instant this time.

 

"Well, Agent Fitzgerald." It was neither friendly or surprised. Martin couldn't bring himself to give a response.

 

Morrison leaned against the side wall of the elevator and stared into Martin's face for a moment then took a small step towards him.

"You know ...that stunt you pulled at this morning's briefing ...didn't do you any favours." They were of similar height and Morrison narrowed his eyes as they came level. "Nobody was impressed with your grandstanding."

 

You've got to be kidding...Martin could not believe what he was hearing.

 

"The Assistant Commander is well aware of what has happened to Agent Taylor. It was not the place to raise the issue." His face registered a cold anger.

 

Martin's mouth felt dry with anger as he spoke up rather louder than he realised."I was under the impression that nobody knows what has happened to him." Martin returned the stare. "Which seems to me to reflect pretty poorly on the handling of this whole thing."

Martin's words hung in the whirring quiet as Morrison's face blanched with barely contained fury.

 

He stepped even closer to Martin, his compressed and whitened lips just inches from his ear. His voice was raw and so different from the one he'd adopted to impress just a few hours ago.

 

"You'd do well to remember that I am a senior agent. I am the head of a department. This is my operation and I will see it through how I see fit." He was practically hissing. Martin could feel his breath.

 

"Not all of us, Agent Fitzgerald, have the benefit of the privileges you've had. Not all of us have a father who will ease us up the Bureau ladder." He pressed his head further forwards, bitter contempt practically dripping from his words. Martin stood his ground while looking straight ahead.

 

"Some of us, Agent Fitzgerald, will succeed because of the work we do rather than the people we sit down to family supper with."

Before Martin could respond the elevator halted. A familiar ting sounded, incongruously light and cheerful in the charged atmosphere within. Three women entered, already well into a boisterous conversation and oblivious to the other occupants.

 

Morrison stepped back to allow them to stand between him and Martin but the two men continued to stare at each other in glimpses around the chattering heads.

 

At the next stop Martin pushed through them, exited and turned to watch the doors close behind him, finally shutting off his view of the man whose face he would now so dearly love to smack.

 

Slowly releasing a long held breath, he felt his stomach sink as the feeling of dread for Danny deepened within him. What chance was there for him if that was the guy who'd been watching his friend's back.

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

MANHATTAN DOCKSIDE AREA

WEDNESDAY – 06.00 AM

 

Conversation had died inside the van within ten minutes of initial greetings. The grey cold and the early hour was enough to dampen any further desire for communication. The mugginess of shared breaths added to the heavy oppression inside.

 

Martin shifted slightly in an attempt to relieve the numbness that had set into his legs. Settling his aching body back to stillness, his mind raced on with memories of so many other stake outs. So many dingy darkened vehicles. So many discarded coffee cups littering their floors. So many hours spent watching and waiting. So many of them spent with Danny.

 

Danny always hated the waiting. Hated having to be still and quiet – it went against his nature. Danny was all about noise and movement and life.

 

Martin smiled to himself as he remembered the number of times he had snapped at his partner to stop fidgeting; to quit humming; to please not tear every single cardboard food container into little bits just to keep his hands busy. The inside of their car had looked like confetti after that job in Queens last year ...man, you really get to know a guy after eight hours camped in a car waiting for a missing husband to return to an old haunt.

 

He smiled again at the memory of the tall tales Danny had told from his childhood to pass the time. The comic narration he'd given to the everyday happenings on the street they watched. The filthy jokes he'd recounted, taking pleasure in trying to get a rise out of Martin beyond a bored snort.

 

Hours on a stake-out can wear down even the best friendships but Martin marvelled at how Danny always seemed to bounce out of whatever crappy car they were using. All that pent up energy spilled out of him when others were left grey and grumpy from hours of immobility. He was like that in the office too, a whirlwind of upbeat good nature, noticeable by his absence.

 

That was just Danny.

 

Martin glanced up at Sam, huddled opposite him in her dark FBI padded jacket, hands stuffed into the pockets, blond hair piled up under a black knitted hat. With a kevlar vest underneath she looked twice her normal size. She felt his gaze and gave a tight smile.

"I've never been on a long undercover job." Her voice was quiet, husky from the early hour and purposely kept low.

 

The van was parked on a street in the industrial area that spread out from the southside docks. A buffer between the business of the port and the business of the city. Small units and larger warehouses strung out around them. Despite the riot of signs and ads that hung about them, it was bleak. Piles of rubbish, parked up vehicles, free-standing rusting shipping containers. A place only for trade. No residences here. No shops and no pedestrians to overhear voices from inside a nondescript scruffy looking van that could well have been abandoned.

 

Still, nobody ever spoke in their normal tone when shut up, waiting for the off.

 

"Longest I've ever done is a couple of weeks," Sam added quietly. "It must be really hard not to have your friends around you."

Martin nodded but it was Jack's voice that rumbled back. "Plenty of people can't do it – just can't take not having the support they're used to." He was turned away from the others, never taking his eyes from the binoculars he had trained on the large warehouse unit that made the corner of the block.

 

"I wish we'd known where he was all this time."

 

That made Jack turn. Martin had a feeling he knew what Sam was talking about even before she continued.

 

"It just feels wrong that he was here, going through…this...dealing with these people, when we were, y'know, carrying on as normal." Sam shrugged, her eyes reflecting her concern.

 

Martin's mind turned back to Christmas. Just as with the previous year, there had been no holiday break for the MPU. Something about the jollity of the festivities brought out peoples' desire to disappear. Martin could relate to that.

 

Last year it had been a young mother who had done every bit of preparation for her family – bought the children's presents, decorated the tree, stuffed the turkey – then was gone, without a trace. For a while it had seemed like an abduction. They'd looked at her husband's former wife as a jealous possibility. Then came a break – Danny's flirting with a shop assistant paid off when she remembered the young mother had bought some extremely provocative underwear as well as the requisite mother-in-law gift set of scented soaps. She'd paid for it in cash rather than put it on the same card as her other purchases and had seemed uncomfortable when the girl joked with her about it being a happy Christmas for her husband. So, a lover then.

 

Turned out to be a lover with an intention of clearing out her bank account. Case solved on Christmas Eve – not a happy time for the family but drinks were on Jack as the team celebrated a little too much. Even without any alcohol Danny was the life and soul of that party. Martin's memory was a little vague the following morning but there had definitely been dancing, some terribly out of tune karaoke and a lot of laughter.

 

This year, during a break in another sad case, the team had simply toasted absent friends.

God, Danny! What the hell did you get up to?

 

Jack huffed as he turned back to his observation. "The only way to get through this kind of thing is to have the right team to back you."

 

"Al Morgan's a decent guy." From their short meeting with the agent Martin recognised someone that Danny would have trusted.

 

"Yeah, just a shame it wasn't him with Danny to the end."

 

Jack's glum temper had darkened throughout the previous day as he'd watched Clive Morrison pea-cocking his way through the intimate planning minutiae of this operation. All those slick phrases to give added gloss. Granularity...huh, didn't that used to be detail...de-conflict...didn't that used to be simply solving a problem?... Jack really hated corporate-speak.

 

When Morrison had assigned the team to this observation point, with orders to watch and wait for his signal, Jack had looked ready to explode. Martin had watched him fight to control his emotions as he pleaded for his people to be amongst the first to go in and had noted his rigid stance as he was denied. Again.

 

Everyone understood that they must wait for the shipment to be confirmed. For its arrival in port to be registered. For it then to be transported to Romano's warehouse and for the players to gather.

 

Everyone knew that the Tactical Unit and SWAT would lead the assault. But that didn't mean Jack's team wanted to wait any longer than was necessary.

 

There were units placed all around the warehouse. Under cover of darkness, agents had been carefully and silently moved into prime positions for observation and access. Others were right now lying still on rooftops directing weapons, cameras and microphones towards the building and its occupants.

 

Morrison and his close team were holed up in a building diagonally opposite the front entrance to the warehouse. He was surrounded with all the technology needed to govern this operation. And it was killing Jack not to be there too.

 

Speakers in their van quietly relayed the observations of the watchers and the orders of their supervisors. The crackled comments breaking through the silent tension inside. With ears tuned to the shorthand and a thoroughly learned impression of the layout and the plan, all agents could picture the set up clearly without actually seeing it.

 

Martin shifted again."Shame Viv wasn't assigned to this end. Last time we waited on an operation she brought home-made cakes and soup!" The others smiled at his comment, grateful for a lifting of the mood.

 

Vivienne had been assigned instead to help process the arrests, to be the experienced eyes who would liaise with NYPD over exactly who went where. If numbers were as expected, it would take some doing.

 

Two agents from Organised Crime were sharing the van. Introductions had been minimal in light of the need for quiet. Dan Turner and Mike Wallace were there to add numbers and to oversee an operation that might so easily have been theirs. It was a fine line between what constituted "pre-emptive" crime and full-on "organised".

 

Oh Yeah! Martin thought, "I can see why you played things below the wire, Morrison. Refuse to involve other departments 'til this late in the game and all the glory will be yours. He felt a little sick. It could make the bastard's career.

 

A sudden click on the comm alerted all agents. The noise heralded important information to come.

 

Morrison's voice filled the quiet. "All agents, be advised...we have confirmation ...the shipment has arrived on dockside. Came in on The Atlantic Star. I repeat, the shipment has arrived on dockside." There was a hint of excitement in his words.

 

"Green container marked Haldon. Registration number, Echo-Tango-Tango, four-four-six-two-two... Registration is on the side. We're waiting for the pick-up. Monitoring the traffic on dockside and in the cargo office. Intel was that it would be quick so ...standby."

 

A moments silence followed before another comm click.

 

"Confirmed visuals on Romano and eight of his people on the inside." A soft laugh made Martin wince...Christ! The guy's really enjoying himself now... "They looked real nervous!" Another short silence. "Still waiting for the guests to arrive...monitoring calls ...will keep you posted."

 

Jack sat back into his seat and looked around at the other four agents. His eyes glinted a little in the gloom."That's Danny's intel he's talking about. According to Morrison, he said the others would be contacted once the shipment was dockside. They'll be heading here now. Keep your eyes peeled."

 

The atmosphere was changed now. Martin felt his heartbeat quickening and the tiredness lifting. Finally, the prospect of action.

It didn't come for a further ninety minutes but after the drag of the previous four hours the time flew.

 

First came confirmation that calls had been heard to two numbers. Untraceable because they were so quick. Coded. Recorded.

Next, news that the shipment was on the move. Cameras caught its collection by forklift; its removal to a distant corner of the dock; its lift onto the shiny eight wheeled low loader and its journey out through the dock gates. Some cargo distribution co-ordinator was about to wish he's never accepted the $500 to reassign and look the other way.

 

Within fifteen minutes the truck could be seen drawing up to the entrance to the warehouse and being swallowed within its darkness. Textbook.

 

Infra red cameras captured the movements of tiny hurrying red images as the container was lifted down, the driver paid off and the truck left. The assault teams knew where their targets would be.

 

The guests began to arrive. Slowly at first – a few drive bys from the point men, their faces pressed to the windows eyeing the nearby vehicles, the rooftops, the likely spots. Then, from different directions, two more cars arrived and were quickly admitted. A Third swept past the van and followed them in.

 

Eighteen heat radiating red people. So far.

 

A click broke the silence. "Confirmed visuals on Calderon plus two. Voice recognition on Eno ...four with him. Tati is in there alone...Standby." Morrison's voice was pitched a little high now.

 

Martin strained his hearing and listened to the coded manoeuvres of the tactical units slipping into their final positions with practised expertise. Their leaders watched the reds settle, listened to the advice of the communications advisors and pinpointed their action.

A click. "All units take up your positions. Wait for my signal"

 

The van's doors burst open and Martin found himself running across the road and twenty meters down the side walk alongside Jack to throw themselves against the eastern wall of the warehouse. Backs to the brickwork, Samantha fell in next to them to the left of a steel door, Turner and Wallace to the right.

 

The cold breeze coming up from the waterside came as shock to thier faces. Each was strained and pale with tension. Each held their breath as their eyes scanned the surroundings. Ears tuned to the comms caught the whispered order to the tactical teams. "Move in!"

It was like the moment between a fall and a child's scream. The instant between a drop and the crash of splintering china. Flash to bang.

 

A series of explosions and then the sharp retort of automatic weapons. Shouted orders over loud speakers and then the exchange of rapid gunfire, muffled behind the wall but loud enough to make the waiting agents wince at the bombardment.

Each clasped their service weapons in the double handed grip as Wallace raised the bolt cutters to the steel chain that held the door. Danny had relayed that, surprisingly, there were no further bolts on the inside and Martin found himself hoping his friend would be proved right on that, or they would never get in on this fight.

 

"Three hostiles down. Three heading to the east exit." Brian Tolsen's voice was clear and loud now. The agents braced themselves.

Double click. "All back-up units GO! GO! GO!"

 

Morrison's shouted order was ringing in their heads even as the chain fell away and the door was pulled open. Two high, three low – Martin, Sam and Jack went in first, crossing the opening and covering the others.

 

Adjusting to the darkness that enveloped them, they flattened again against stacked crates, flinching instinctively at the noise of gunfire from within. The remains of the gas that had been lobbed in to mask the initial assault left them all blinking back irritated tears.

 

Peering around the crate, Martin caught a flash of movement as a man ducked behind his own cover just a few meters ahead. Splinters flew up into his face as he heard the whiz of a bullet near his head. In a mirrored movement, he and Jack raised their own weapons and fired at the position. Three, four, five shots and the figure lifted into vision before crashing back out of sight, blood blossoming on his chest.

 

Wallace and Turner had left their cover to move further into the building. A nod to Samantha and Jack indicated they should do the same. Martin crabbed sideways, keeping low until a burst of automatic fire crashed into the boxes he leant against. He hurled himself to the ground, rolling to another stockpile before leaping up to a crouch and bringing his weapon into line..

The flash of gunfire was blinding and the noise deafening as he tried to find his target. Two men emerged from the gloom at a run, firing wildly, their faces grim masks of determination.

 

Jack raised up from his hidden position to Martin's right and bellowed a warning. "FBI! STOP! FBI!"

 

When Jack bellowed there was no missing it, his voice rose above the din of the shooting that was still resounding about them, but the men kept coming. They turned their weapons towards the voice and shots came from two sides as Sam, Martin and Jack took aim. The men dropped and Martin felt a surge of relief when he saw that both had taken hits only to shoulders and legs. He and Sam were on them immediately, snatching away their guns, turning them and grabbing cuffs and wrists.

 

As Martin pulled one of their groaning captives into a seated position, something caused him to still.

 

In an instant he knew someone was close. Too close. He whirled around, instinctively ducking behind the torso of his prisoner, his only cover.

 

"Hold your fire!" A voice floated to him through the mists of his panic. Muffled by a gas mask the shouted order came again. A SWAT officer emerged from behind a pile of stacked electronics boxes.

 

Martin didn't recognise the man but their eyes met through the mask and a nodded acknowledgement passed.

Jack approached the officer. "What do you need?"

 

The guy simply gestured a "follow me" and Martin and Jack were at his shoulder, leaving Sam to deal with the handcuffed prisoners.

They moved carefully towards the main warehouse space and Martin felt as though he'd stepped onto the set of some action movie. Smoke canisters still belched out whisps of grey mists that hung about countless stacked boxes. The huge red shipping container that had been delivered rested in the middle of the space with its steel doors hanging open. Inside Martin saw stacks of wooden crates had toppled over, or been broken into. Polysytene packaging lay about the floor like snow – the black outlines of weapons poking out like wreckage in the drifts.

 

"Christ! They got to the weapons!" Martin realised he'd spoken out loud when he caught Jack's eyes also taking in the scene.

Two Tactical agents, in their black body armour, crouched at the entrance to the container holding off any further attempt there might be to raid the goods.

 

Several bodies lay unmoving on the ground. Martin recognised the staring eyes of Emil Tati, unseeing now in his weasel face.

Agents were securing two men who were face down on the ground, arms and legs outstretched. Forved down with grinding knees into the thier backs. Two more were already being marched out of the main doors.

 

Shouts came from the gloom on the other side of the warehouse, followed by FBI warnings and a series of further shots. A scream of pain. Clearly it wasn't over yet. Teams were assigned to their duties, to specific areas, and all knew better than race into any possible crossfire.

 

Striding forwards, silhouetted against the grey brightness of the outside, Martin recognised the figure of Clive Morrison moving in for a piece of the action.

 

At the same moment Jack's voice brought him spinning around to follow his quick gesture.

 

"Martin! Romano! ...There!"

 

A figure was slowly moving through the darkness – edging backwards into the cover it offered.

 

Jack and Martin ran together to follow, splitting left and right of a car parked against the back wall. They kept low and slowed, noting each others' positions and nodding their plans for cover.

 

The figure was gone.

 

The agents stayed still, listening, raking the gloom with their eyes.

 

A slight sound alerted them. A slight movement focused them and they were moving again. Martin took a moment to quiet his breathing, to still his jumping nerves and crept around a metal drum. Then he froze.

 

Romano stood ahead with his gun raised just two meters from Martin's face. In the millisecond it took to register, Martin noted his widened eyes reflected a cold brutality. He brought his own weapon up even as he flung himself to the left but he knew then that he would be too late.

 

Crashing down hard onto his side he watched as Romano jerked back before him – his shoulder jolted as a bullet crashed through it. Romano's gun arm flew high in response. As he turned and fell, a crimson rosette appeared between his eyes and a black splash of brain matter hit the wall behind.

 

Martin felt rushing in his ears as his heart pounded and he realised he was holding his breath. It escaped in an explosive gasp that filled the moment of silence. Looking behind him from his position on the ground, Martin saw Jack turn round too.

 

"We needed him alive!"

 

Jack's voice roared and Morrison took a step back, his gun still raised at the space where Romano had stood in the instant before.

 

"We needed him alive!" He repeated. Jack's voice quivered with anger now as he straightened.

 

Morrison turned his eyes to Jack and drew himself up."I had no choice. I saved your agent's life." His voice was clipped.

 

"Yeah? Well, you might have lost us another." Jack gestured at the body spread-eagled behind him. "Romano could have told us where Danny Taylor is!"

 

He jabbed a finger towards the corpse of the gang boss.

 

"He's sure not going to tell us now is he!"

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

12th PRECINCT: WEDNESDAY MIDDAY

 

Forty eight arrests made for a lot of paperwork and Agent Vivienne Johnson was up to her neck in it but she was on the look out for just one name, just one face. Nearly four hours into the tiresome process of booking in the men taken at the warehouse and the others arrested at various gang associated venues around the city, she spotted the person she wanted most.

 

His knotted head bobbed up and down as he was ushered in through the doors of 12 Precinct where a temporary additional booking desk had been set up to cope with the mornings events.

 

Viv raised her arm and gestured to the cops escorting the teenager to bring him right over.

 

"Mr Twist I believe."

 

Twist looked up with startled eyes, surprised to be greeted in such a way. The hallway was clearing now but still a line of ten handcuffed prisoners stood against the wall, watched by at least the same number of cops. Abuse was still being hurled, mainly by the employees of several clubs who'd been hauled in and were now claiming they "didn't know nothin' about no shipments".

 

The girls were the worst – dragged out of their beds, they were clearly not early risers. Their loud complaints seemed to centre mainly on the lack of time given to put on make up.

 

Twist was not complaining. He just seemed shell-shocked.

 

"Bring him this way," Viv ordered and led the way to an interview room down the corridor.

 

The cops sat him down then stood back.

 

Viv sat down opposite the young man and looked him over. He had a bandage and dressing high on his right arm. This is what had delayed his arrival then – everything had to be by the book, he had to be checked over by medics before being brought here.

 

"You've had a busy morning, Twist."

 

He looked around himself as if checking that Viv was actually addressing him but said nothing.

 

She brought out a folder and slapped it onto the table in front of him. The name Orlando Drego stood out clearly and his mug shot was stapled to the front of it. Viv flipped it open and slowly turned over the numerous pages inside.

 

"This is impressive for someone your age. You've done quite some stuff." Viv allowed a little admiration into her voice although she didn't feel it.

 

"But you know...today you've outdone yourself." Twist watched her warily.

 

"Today Twist, you moved into the big league. Today Twist, you became part of what could be the FBI's biggest operation in this city this year." Viv indicated the file in front of them. "All this has just been a warm up, right? For the Big Event. And now, here you are...about to go down... Big!"

 

Twist shifted under her gaze.

 

Viv saw a teenager the same age as her son, Reggie. Similar in height and build but they came from different worlds. She knew what he could have been but saw exactly what he was – a damaged product of a damaged society that had offered him no chances. A captive of other peoples' ideas about him. She could have had sympathy if it wasn't for Danny.

 

"If you play with the big boys, you do big time. You know, you're looking at a possible life sentence here."

Twist's eyes widened.

 

"What you talking about? I ain't doing life! I ain't done nothin'." He actually sounded outraged.

 

Viv assumed the manner of a patient schoolteacher addressing a particularly slow pupil."You were part of a gang that brought in hundreds of guns, that dealt in a ton of drugs and got involved in a shoot out against federal agents." She raised her eyebrows with incredulity. "What? You thought we'd let you walk away?"

 

The kid slumped.

 

"And you know what? Your time isn't going to pretty. It won't be in some juvenile facility now." Viv shook her head at him. "No, Twist. This time you'll be in with the grown-ups and they're just gonna love you."

 

Viv allowed the threat to hang in the air. The nervous gulp he swallowed sounded throughout the small room.

 

"I didn't know!" He blurted. "I didn't know what they were doing. Nobody told me nothin'. I was just there for the ride. I didn't do nothin'." His voice rose in pitch with each excuse and ended in something near a desperate sob.

 

Viv almost felt sorry for him.

 

"Well now if that's true, we could try to persuade a judge. We could tell the judge that, just like you say, you weren't involved in the deal or the shooting." She saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes, quickly overshadowed by a feral wariness.

 

"I ain't no snitch." He was defiant. If there was one crime a street kid like him would not accept, it was being called a snitch.

 

"Oh Twist, we don't need you for that – we have all the evidence we need down at the docks." She brought out another folder and slapped it down on top of the first. This too had a mug shot stapled to the front. Danny's face stared up.

 

"We need your help with this." Viv indicated the mug shot and pushed the file closer to the teen.

 

"You know him?"

 

Twist looked down at the photo and then up again at Viv.

 

"I ain't no snitch!"

 

"I don't want you to snitch. I just want you to tell me where this man is."

 

Twist looked down again.

 

"You know him right? That's Danny Alvarez – you know him." Viv made it a statement and noted the quick dip of the knotted head.

"We want this guy and if you help us find him we'll look at cutting you a deal."

 

"What's he done? Why d'you wan' him so bad?"

 

Viv took a deep breath ...because he's a friend...because something bad has happened...because he's lost...She fought to keep to her story. The whole reason Danny had entered into this job was to help his brother. The brother who was still in jail and who could still become a victim of prison justice if word got around too quickly that he might have been involved in Romano's downfall. Danny had called Viv before he'd taken off on the assignment and, without giving her any details, had asked her for help, for an assurance.

 

..."If something happens Viv, if the shit hits the fan, promise you'll make sure the Bureau sticks to the deal. This guy Morrison said he'd get Rafi out safely...just make sure that happens. Please, Viv...for me..."

 

It was the sole reason why Viv had sought out and maintained her contact with her old friend in Pre-emptive Crime.

No time now to break Danny's trust, or his cover.

 

"His rap sheet's a lot longer than yours – he's what we call a person of interest. He's close to Romano. We want him."

Twist sat up a little straighter at that. He felt a certain amount of power shifting back his way, although when he spoke it wasn't with triumph.

 

"Well, you ain't gonna find him." He paused. "He's dead."

 

Viv felt as though she'd been punched in the gut. As though a physical blow had taken her breath to be replaced by a rock that weighed so heavily she feared she couldn't speak...Danny...Fighting to keep her emotions from registering, she forced herself to stand and walk slowly around to behind the ridiculous knots. From here at least he wouldn't see if her face betrayed her feelings.

 

"How do you know? What do you know?" Viv forced the words out. To her own ears, they sounded strained but Twist didn't appear to notice.

 

"First off – what's my deal! What you gonna do for me?"

 

Viv slammed her hand down onto Danny's face. The sound echoed like a gunshot and Twist leapt inches off his chair. His nerves were fried after the gunfire of the morning, He'd been terrified at the drama that had unfolded around him in that warehouse, at the pain in his arm when he was hit by a ricochet, by the thought that his life was about to end.

 

Viv put her mouth close to Twist's ear and spoke quietly. "I think you should remember what he did for you. I think you should remember that he saved your life not so long ago."

 

She was taking a risk by shifting the emphasis now towards the emotional connection she hoped the kid felt. If that was what tipped him, it was worth the risk.

 

The teenager turned slightly towards her, his eyes narrowing slightly. Clearly he'd noted the change in approach but Viv pressed on.

 

"You don't have many people around you who would do that for you, do you Twist? You should remember how it was only ever your brother who would do that for you before."

 

She swapped to whisper in his other ear. "You should remember how helping us now will help you in the long run."

She moved around so her face was only inches in front of his.

 

"And then you should remember exactly what happened and tell me about it."

 

SOUTHSIDE DOCKS: ONE WEEK EARLIER

 

Danny snapped his phone shut and cursed under his breath. This was the third time of checking and still there was no message. It had been two days since he last had contact with Morrison and that had been a hasty phone call which ended abruptly when Danny had voiced, again, just how much the man lacked as a handler. Then, anger had overcome any concerns he might have had about criticising a senior agent, his boss … We are so far beyond that...Now, Danny was wondering if this silence was actually vindictive.

..Christ, this can't end soon enough!

 

According to all he'd heard in the last month, the shipment on which this job was based was due the following week ...It's like waiting for the birth of my first kid...He'd passed the provisional time, place and date to Morrison but it wasn't enough. In theory he could be out of this already. Could have got out of this world and back to his own. Could have felt safe for the first time time in months.

 

Danny was tired and wired and he really didn't like the person he'd become, the identity he'd re-inhabited. The violence and distrust and unbearable tension was like a cloak he longed to discard.

 

"I know a guy could fix you up with one o' them i-phones."

 

Danny spun round as Twist hunched into view from the side door of the warehouse – sliding along the wall like one of the oily rats that scurried through this part of town.

 

He nodded at the phone Danny still held. "Could do you a good deal."

 

"You know, Twist, you should be real careful who you sneak up on. Someone might think you were spying on them."

The kid shrugged and grinned up at Danny. Since the stand-off at Carlito's Bar he'd steered clear of Eduardo and stuck close to Danny. Since the crew had virtually moved to the warehouse he'd been around less. He was acknowledged, even accepted but uninvited and hardly welcome. Even his ambition was muted by wariness amongst some of the gang members.

 

There were always several men here now, watching over the assorted deliveries that masked the true currency of the upcoming deal. Romano had sent Danny here a couple of weeks before. At first he was still able to return to his ugly apartment, to make face-to-face contacts, to relay information. Now though the clear expectation was that he should stay here, bunking on a cot in one of the back rooms, leaving only to visit the club or for a pick up of yet more disguised packets.

 

Rarely alone except for a hurried shower of a change of clothes Danny was feeling more than claustrophobic. It wasn't just the presence of others but a growing tension and uncertainty. The pressure was getting to all of them but Romano's own answer had been down the narcotic route and as the days passed Danny had seen the gang boss falling into the pit of dependency. Just as he'd seen his own brother topple into the abyss, Danny recognised the paranoia and mistrust growing daily into a gravity pull these men could not resist. Those that hovered around him were infected and sought their own substance solace. The spiral was only downward.

Sometimes Danny truly wondered if he should join the ride...Maybe it would make this shit easier.

 

Amid the darkening anxiety, Romano somehow still recognised Danny's steadiness. He had become unofficial overseer of the storage unit and all those who visited. The apparent promotion proved unpopular with those he watched.

 

Hector Eduardo watched Danny with ill-disguised hatred. Huddled conversations hissed in his wake and hands caressed weapons as he walked by. Romano was still the star of this show but to Danny it felt as though the detritus that orbited around him was soon to come crashing down...Please God, let me be out of here before that happens.

 

Twist sidled closer to Danny and turned his back to the street. Yesterdays papers blew against their legs as they whipped by on the cold breeze.

 

"It's not me they think is spying, man."

 

His dark eyes held Danny's gaze for a moment. "You gotta be careful, man. Eduardo...he's been mouthin' off...he thinks you got your own plans."

 

It was a moment Danny had been anticipating, the point he knew could come anytime, but he was still surprised by the chill he felt creep into his gut...Do they know?...He huffed a forced laugh ...Amazing how this becomes second nature.

 

"The only plans I got are to make a little money and earn a little respect. I got nothing to hide."

 

He slapped a hand onto the kid's shoulder and turned to leave but Twist reached for his arm and held him for a moment.

"I'm just sayin'...watch your back, bro. If you're plannin' on making a move, I mean." A pause, then the hint of a grin. "But if it works out for you, I'll come join you."

 

Danny shook his head...what the hell?...He watched Twist leave, sticking close to the wall and the chain-link fence – bobbing away with that gangster dip – moving off to slip back into the shadows of the warehouse.

 

"Get the manifest number. Get the exact time. Get the photocopies"...Yeah right, Morrison – get real! Danny's next phone call went unanswered too.

 

He knew something had changed as soon as he re-entered the musty gloom. Even with the doors closed and the stuttering strip lighting casting only a thin artificial brightness Danny saw six pairs of eyes turn his way and the huddle opened to receive him. He felt the familiar prickle of anticipation and nature's alert mechanisms blared in his head as loudly as the Mets tannoy.

 

Even as his instincts screamed "Turn! Run!" he controlled his movements, moving around slowly to take in the gathering.

Romano was there but this was clearly Eduardo's party – his power play.

 

He stepped into Danny's space, exuding a smell of sweat and bitterness. A sheen of sweat covered his tanned face, glistening in the creases and emphasising his already overly bright eyes...The guy is high as a kite...take it slow.

 

Danny barely glanced at him, looking instead right over his shoulder to Romano in a gesture of dismissal that caused the man's shoulders to twitch with irritation.

 

"Didn't realise you were here yet," Danny called. "You got news for us?"...keep it business...all business.

 

"I got news for you," Eduardo purred into his ear.

 

Danny turned towards the voice, their faces almost touching. "Yeah? Well, let's have it then, 'cos you're clearly bustin' to tell."

Eduardo smiled a sick smile. "I got friends. Friends with connections – friends who owe me." He stepped back to watch Danny's face.

 

"And you know what they been tellin' me?"

 

Danny feigned a light look of surprised curiosity. "To be honest, I'm still reeling at the news that you got friends."

Edurado's fist flashed out quicker than Danny could react and he felt the blow to his gut where dread was already building to an ache. He doubled over but stayed on his feet. Eduardo grabbed a handful of his hair and brought his face up to his own level again.

 

"They been tellin' me you ain't been straight with us...that you got an ag-en-da."

 

Danny shook his head but Vincent's grip on his hair tightened.

 

"You thinkin' of branching out? You thinkin' you can walk in here and walk out with our business?"

 

Business? What the hell? ...What is going on?

 

"You know, you should really choose better friends, man, 'Cos they're selling you some crazy story." Danny's confusion was no act.

He saw Romano push off from the box he was leaning against and move in. The others clustered behind him. Eduardo's vicious sidekick Vincent crowded in and Danny caught a glimpse too of Twist's anxious face peering from the gloom.

 

Eduardo let go of Danny as his boss stepped in close.

 

His manner was congenial but Danny sensed an indignation that could mean disaster. "I brought you in as a favour to your brother. 'Cos I owed him from our time together. And this is how you repay me?" From this proximity Danny could see the glazed eyes, the tiny pupils. He could feel the tremors of energy radiating from the man.

 

"I don't know what you're talking about," Danny offered, his mind racing but his face held impassive.

 

"Eduardo here tells me you've been playing for more than one team, that you got plans to move across - maybe set up your own deal with Eno, break out your own."

 

Danny glanced over at Eduardo and saw a glint of something like triumph in his eyes...Uh huh!... so you got your boss tweaked enough to listen to some crazy story you've cooked up...sowing the seeds of doubt in fertile ground when the guy's a week away from his biggest ever deal...But there was no mention of being a fed, no mention of being a snitch, and that was something ...I might still make it out of here.

 

He shook his head and looked into Romano's face without flinching.

 

"You've got it wrong, man. I've had no dealings with Eno beyond helping you set this whole thing up. I don't know him outside of this. Why would I do that? You've been good to me."

 

"Yes, I have but I demand loyalty from my people." Felipe Romano had a lot to prove. He could taste the success he craved, the gangland stature it would bring. For him this was about pride and loss of face.

 

"And you've got it from me. Look...my brother's in jail ...I know just how far you reach... why would I do anything to get him into trouble?" It was a genuine appeal, heartfelt in its intent and expression. If openness had ever got him anything Danny hoped this would be it. He tried to reach Romano with his eyes, to convey just how very true this really was.

 

Romano had listened to Eduardo's ravings. Amid the growing nervousness that gnawed at him, through the drug haze of the nights and the freakish frenetic anxiety of the days, he'd registered the accusations. It was true, Alvarez was different. He held himself apart. He thought for himself and clearly held some of the rest of the crew in disdain. However he'd proved himself handy with fists and weapons. Oozing the confidence of the street, he'd displayed an admirable line in threats and coersion. Romano had come to rely upon him. But now, as the moment of his biggest chance drew nearer, he had opened himself to doubt. Eduardo's suggestions of double dealing made some sense - Danny was the only one of the crew bright enough to set something up for himself and any gang would see his potential. Eno would use him well. And yet ...

 

Romano searched Danny's face for any sign of hesitation or doubt. But there was no faltering and no tells to give away and, after a moment, Danny saw something change in the penetrating gaze. He nodded slowly in some kind of acceptance of Danny's honesty before turning his eyes then on Eduardo. There he saw the flicker of deception, a wildness that reflected more than the drugs that had pumped his confidence and stoked his jealousy.

 

"Maybe you should check your friends...check your facts." Romano sounded reasonable but he reached out and gripped Eduardo's shoulder, digging his fingers in as his voice hardened. "Sometimes we need new friends – old friends can become as difficult to trust as old dogs. They can turn on you. And you know what happens to old dogs..." He raised his hand from Eduardo's shoulder to lay it against his jaw. Danny saw the guy's throat jumping as he swallowed nervously.

 

The group stepped back to make room for Romano to leave, holding watchful positions around Danny and Eduardo like a pack of animals wary after a battle for top dog supremacy. Danny knew he could not push Eduardo any further. With his pride and position in tatters he was even more dangerous than before.

 

Danny turned and followed Romano out in time to see his car sweeping out onto the street and away. Looking up to the blackness above, he said a silent prayer of thanks, his hand automatically rising towards the golden crucifix he wore under his shirt. It had been his mother's – a reminder of his past in this godawful present.

 

He fought to control his pulsing nerves but his heart beat still sounded loudly in his ears, vibrating through his body. He was electrified by the adrenaline rush of fear and anger. It boiled inside him, mixing with thoughts of revenge in a cauldron of nauseating emotions, roiling and bubbling to the point of combustion.

 

"That's it!" It come out aloud...Payback!..Those dates, times and details are in there... somewhere... get them and go!

 

He wanted out of this, right fucking NOW! ...Can't happen ...but just a week to go...just one week.

 

He turned back towards the warehouse...Okay...I got the buzz...let's not waste it....

 

Something in his head yelled a warning, something that reminded him of the cautious voice of his partner but he wasn't listening this time as he headed for the side entrance. A dull drone of voices came from the front of the building ….Yeah Eduardo, lick those wounds you evil son of a bitch!...A glance left and right then he headed for the back staircase. Two at a time, he leapt up the metal steps quietly and slunk along the upper walkway to the office Romano used.

 

Danny had been in here many times but never alone. The door had an electronic finger pad at its side – with apparent disinterest he'd watched closely enough to learn the pattern of numbers and quickly entered them. Stepping in, he shut the door silently behind him and flicked on the desk light. The room was utilitarian, so unlike the 'look-at-me' gauche luxury of Romano's centre of operations in the club. There it was wood panelling, shiny mirrors and expensive paintings. Here there was only a bland wooden desk and chairs and a series of filing cabinets down one side. Locked.

 

Danny reached into the desk drawer and felt towards the back. He'd seen Romano's hand dip in here and, sure enough, the small ring of keys was taped to the back.

 

He knew the file and the key and was quickly leafing though a wallet of papers, eyes flicking towards the door, muscles bunched tight under his jacket. Romano was a pro – the information here would mostly stand up to scrutiny as the documents of trade but the details of the shipment would be here too. Danny had seen it waved in their faces as Romano and Emil Tati celebrated their done deal with a line of coke.

 

One piece of paper read through at top speed and Danny had the information he needed. Everything was replaced and he was moving out the door once more.

 

All was black and silent. And wrong. Something moved to his right.

 

Against every instinct, he held himself still. Held his breath and stretched his senses in to the darkness. Nothing. He strained to hear more of what he thought had alerted him. Nothing. It was nothing. Nothing but a slight stirring of air. Nothing but a flash of movement. He tried to turn. An arm raised to protect himself but the blow was fast and hard. A flash of pain and bright light. And then...nothing.

 

 

SOUTHSIDE DOCKS: WEDNESDAY 13.30 PM

 

Martin snapped his phone open and glanced at the screen.

 

"Hey Viv."

 

He listened as she recounted Twists's tale. The cops around him read the signs, saw his body stiffen and his knuckles whiten around the handset.

 

"Did he say where they might have taken him?...Christ! ...and he didn't see him after that?...When was this? …When?...Bastard!" Martin was moving now, gesturing to the cops who had been helping search the warehouse and its surrounding units. "We're on it Viv ...Tell Jack we're on it."

 

Tucking the phone away as he ran towards his car, Martin yelled to the group, "The container yard – Eastern side. Get the dogs to meet us there."

 

Please! …Please! Let him be there ...let us find him...Please!

 

It was like a children's play ground. Filled with coloured blocks stacked into walls thirty feet high. Avenue after avenue. Row upon row. Watched over by the skeleton lines of silhouetted cranes. The containers covered an area half a mile square. A forgotten dumping ground for the business of the port – a broken and dilapidated yard for the metal shells of multi national commerce afloat.

How the hell are we going to find him here?...there are too many...and he's been here a week. A fucking week!

 

Already an hour had passed. The search party had divided and their methodical roaming along the stacks had eyes scanning for something out of the ordinary. Something to give them a clue. Martin broke away when the radio alerted him to the arrival of the search dogs.

 

They leapt from their van with a jolly eagerness that might have amused him in other circumstances. Blood hounds. Lolling tongues,

wagging tails and bright expressions. Their handlers containing them while still encouraging their enthusiasm with excited words.

Martin handed over the sweatshirt that had been brought from Danny's locker at the bureau and watched as the hounds snuffled amongst the folds of material then set to the task they clearly loved. They split up too, to cover more ground, and Martin found himself jogging along in their wake as they cruised up and down the lines, sucking in the scents and moving on.

A yell. Martin was off and running before the others in his group had even registered it.

 

"The dog's onto something." The handler of the second hound called out and several cops converged with Martin in a distant corner of the yard. Martin was so focussed on scouring the stacks that he didn't notice the cop at his side until he felt a hand on his arm.

He looked up into blue eyes and a grim face. In his fifties, thickset, the guy had a steadiness that Martin noted even as he heard his New York tones. "Hold on son...let the dog do his thing ...don't crowd him."

 

Martin looked down and realised he was almost on top of the hound as it bustled back and forth barking with excitement. He backed off just as the handler raised an arm and waved them forward.

 

This stack was just like the hundreds of others. Four containers high, rusted, busted and peeling. But where the others were sealed this had doors held together with a padlocked chain slipped through the bars of the pivot lock. The chain was clearly a new addition and there were signs in the wet dirt below that the doors had been opened recently.

 

Martin turned to call for bolt cutters but the cop stepped in with them already raised.

 

The doors scraped on the ground, stuck on the dirt. Even using both hands he could not open them beyond the width of his own body to slip inside.

 

Oh my God!

 

The smell hit him first, assaulting his senses with horrifying memories of so many gruesome finds.

 

He scrabbled in his jacket pocket for a flashlight and swung the beam around the black interior.

 

No!

 

Martin froze as his eyes fell on the crumpled form.

 

Danny! No!

 

Against the back wall, Danny Taylor was on the ground, his legs bent awkwardly, head dropped onto his chest and his body slumped over sideways, held in the contorted position by his arms twisted behind and above him, tied at the wrists to a metal prop that formed part of the containers frame.

 

Martin knew it was him but he was barely recognisable.

 

"Danny! Oh God! Danny!" Martin's cry sent the officers outside scurrying to pull the doors wider, to call the medics, to alert the teams.

Martin was in front of him in six strides, reaching for his friend but scared to touch. His hands trembled as they hovered inches from him. For an instant he closed his eyes to shut out the sight.

 

"Is he alive?" The cop was crouched beside him now.

 

Martin was startled into movement. He raised a shaking hand towards Danny's throat and pressed fingers onto frozen flesh. Bowing his head he concentrated on the tips of his fingers - all his attention zeroed in on the coldness he felt. His vision swam as the flashlight played over the ruined and blackened face; the stiff dark stains covering the ripped shirt; the crusted cuts; the myriad of flaking streaks that painted every bit of broken and bruised skin.

 

A tiny flutter. There was something. A faint beat.

 

"I got a pulse! There's a pulse!...Danny! Danny!" He turned to shout behind him. "Medics ...We need the medics. Where are the medics?"

 

Now his hands were on his friend pressing against his face, his chest. He reached up to his tied wrists ...have to get him down... get him out of here... have to help him...

 

"Wait!"The cop grabbed his wrist. "Let the medics do it." He nodded towards Danny's shoulder. "We can't move him, son. We'll hurt him more."

 

Martin's eyes followed the look and took in the grotesque wound. A swollen mound of split flesh, black with dried blood, something lighter protruding. Martin sucked in a gasp as he noted the vivid colours of the bruising that covered his neck and disappeared under his ripped vest.

 

He felt himself pulled back. "Give them room."

 

Two medics appeared, already drawing apparatus from their packs. A stethoscope against the chest. An eyelid raised to reveal unseeing whiteness. Lifting his head to survey the damage, the younger guy pressed gently on the swollen mass that distorted the whole of the right side of Danny's face.

 

The older man was peering closely at the collar bone and then up to Danny's hands.

 

"We're gonna need your help." He looked at Martin and the cop at his side. They nodded. "You need to hold him in this position while I cut the ties."

 

Martin shuffled forward and slipped to Danny's right side, placing his hands on his chest...So thin...I can feel your bones...Oh Christ, is that grinding? Are they moving?...

 

"We got you, man. We got you. It's going to be okay. We got you. You're gonna be okay now." He muttered under his breath, keeping up the mantra as the medic cut the plastic tie with a scalpel and gently lowered Danny's arms, manoevering the right one in a wide arc while keeping a pressure on the vile wound. Martin felt sick when he saw the white bone move beneath the expert fingers.

 

"Lay him down."

 

They eased Danny's body down onto his left side, his right arm supported and a foam roll laid at his back to prevent him lying flat. Martin thought he heard a low rattle issue from his chest but he could see no movement there. The eye that he could see remained closed, the other was hidden by the distortion of bruised swelling. More flashlights were appearing now and the doors had been forced wide – the grey daylight revealing more of the broken mess.

 

Martin watched with horror as the medics worked their way up and down his friend's body. Snatches of their assessments floated through his head but he was too shocked to follow. He became aware of an air of added urgency as the younger medic hunched over Danny's arm.

 

" I can't get a line in. Got no veins. This guy's too dry.." He tailed off as his colleague took the needle from him. "We'll get it – take it easy." The encouragement of a mentor, the quick hands of experience, and Martin saw the needle finally sink into Danny's abused flesh. Tubes were attached, monitors fixed, a mask placed over his face and then he was being lifted onto a stretcher.

 

Martin rose and gazed around him at the stinking box. Garbage and filth was piled in the corners. A broken chair lay on its side. Cigarette butts. Empty liquor bottles and beer cans were strewn about. And needles...Oh dear God!

 

"You riding with us?"

 

Martin followed the wheeled stretcher into the waiting ambulance, all his attention trained on the still form. Glancing up once, he connected with the eyes of the cop who had been with him for the discovery. He was met with a look of sorrow and hopelessness. Martin knew it mirrored his own.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Mercy Hospital, Manhattan – Wednesday 7.00pm

 

A lidded cup of coffee moved into his line of vision, taking several moments to register in his unfocused view. Looking up from the floor and the blur of its pale blue dimpled surface, Martin found a semi-circle of concern looking back. Jack, Viv and Sam gazed down on him with same question on all of their faces.

 

"Any news?"

 

Jack tilted the coffee at him and he took it automatically. His body felt so heavy with tiredness that it was an effort even to straighten up, to lift his clasped hands. His eyes were gritty with it. He shook his head. He knew he should be relieved to have the team here but somehow it was just an added weight – to find the words, to explain.

 

He took a sip of the coffee, grateful that it was from a Starbucks across the street and not from one of the vending machines that stood like sentry boxes along the hospital halls. Somehow, even the coffee reminded him of Danny – he would approve of this brew.

 

"Did you see?" Martin addressed the question to Jack as the others took seats in the small waiting area. "Did you see where we found him?" Martin could still taste the bile of disgust at that horrendous scene. It soured even the coffee.

 

Jack nodded. "Forensics are still there. I went there to see for myself..." He tailed off. It seemed the eighteen hour day was taxing all their energy. Jack had been delayed by demands that he help with early questioning of some of the senior players. Marcel Eno was going to fall hard and Jack had enjoyed reminding him how his territory would already be splintering. So many authorities were interested in Calderon and his links to the Mexican cartels that the line of faces watching behind the one-way mirror grew by the hour.

 

Sam had had to accompany her prisoners to an emergency clinic - she was already heartily sick of hospitals.

 

Viv had made a detour to the morgue and checked the bloodless corpse of one Hector Eduardo. Seen for herself the broken skin on his knuckles.

 

For Martin the surging rush of the shoot out, the mind numbing terror of a near death experience, followed by the suffocating dread of the search and the shock of Danny's discovery, all made for a bone deep weariness he'd never experienced before.

 

Martin shook his head against the images that still haunted him. "You wouldn't believe it...they beat him so bad...he was so badly hurt...I don't know how he..." Another unfinished sentence. Really, what else was there to say? How could he explain?

 

The group sat in silence, and the waiting went on.

 

Another hour passed before a woman approached from behind the enquiry desk.

 

"You're here for Agent Danny Taylor? I've been asked to send you up to the third floor – ICU."

 

They were met as the elevator doors opened by a severe looking woman in her early fifties with a mass of dark hair pinned up on top of her head. It added to her already impressive height. A pair of dark rimmed spectacles rested there too like a hair band. She clutched a clipboard with sheaves of papers and printouts attached. A white coat, a stethoscope slung around her neck.

 

"Elizabeth Rosen."It was an announcement rather than a welcome and came without a handshake. "I'm overseeing Agent Taylor's treatment." Her voice was low and businesslike. "I asked you to meet me here because my experience is that the first thing people enquire is, 'can I see him?' and, if they do, my explanation is usually better understood." Here was a woman in complete control.

 

"There is no family here?"

 

"Just us." Jack seemed to have caught her manner. She gestured up the corridor and set off, talking as she went.

 

"Agent Taylor is in a very critical condition. It is remarkable that he survived. He's suffering the effects of hypothermia and extreme dehydration. Weakened too by malnutrition. Without food and very little water for what ...a week?" Jack nodded at her side.

Rosen halted before a glass wall of windows and turning again, brought them to a stop.

 

"In your line of work, I probably don't need to warn you about the machinery and tubes that are helping him, but it can be ...shocking." She stepped back and gestured into the room beyond the glass.

 

They stared in and yes, they were shocked.

 

Danny lay surrounded by equipment and monitors, overtaken by them.

 

Martin heard Viv's sharp intake of breath and, beside her, Samantha raised a hand to her mouth...Oh my God!

 

He'd been cleaned up, his face shaved of the weeks beard growth Martin had noticed before, to get to the damage beneath. Where there had been filth, smeared and ingrained, now there was skin so pale it seemed almost translucent. Waxy and damp looking. Against the whiteness, the bruising stood out like multi-coloured art from the pallet of a depressive. Blacks and navies and deep burgundies, smudged and mixed into a grotesque collage that bloomed all over those parts of his body they could see.

 

A bright blue blanket covered most of his length, wires and tubes disappearing beneath it. Two nurses, faces covered by masks, adjusted and fiddled with them, as though Danny were some experiment in a horror movie. Screens displayed the coloured lines and flashes of his body's workings. Or not.

 

The right side of his face, still swollen beyond its contours, was now partially covered with a dressing that obscured his eye. A breathing tube held his mouth slightly open, slightly distorted. His chest rose in slow synchrony with the cylinder at his side.

An further expanse of dressing covered his lower neck and shoulder, the bruising leaking out like an offensive spillage. His right arm was held several inches above the bed by a harness support that reminded Martin of the cranes which had overshadowed his metal prison...Oh man...Danny...

 

"We are still slowly raising his core temperature and pumping him with fluids. Our orthopaedic team have realigned his collar bone...A grade 1 open displaced fracture like that is complicated enough ...Christ, they give these things rankings?...but having been left unattended, there is infection in the bone and tissue. We cannot complete the surgery with any hardware until we're certain that's clear." Rosen's voice drifted through their heads as they took in the damage she described.

 

"Infection is our biggest concern at this point. Infection and shock. There are indications of sepsis, infection in the blood ... it could lead to organ failure. We're monitoring him closely and we're underway with an aggressive treatment of antibiotics." She paused as though gauging how much more they really wanted to know. Jack tore his eyes from Danny and raised his brows to her. They needed to hear everything.

 

Rosen consulted the notes on her board and continued her litany. "Four broken ribs, a partially collapsed lung, broken orbital and cheekbone, multiple contusions, some internal haemorrhaging".

 

Dear God...STOP...just STOP! Martin was beginning to feel his world spin.

 

Another pause. "Whoever did this ...enjoyed themselves."...Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!..." Besides the beating, he suffered numerous burns and cuts ….and we found needle marks...I take it he is not a user?" They gaped at her and she nodded in acknowledgement as she read down a list of notes. "His blood showed heroin in his system." She raised her head once more and looked at them as they remained transfixed. "We have photographed and documented all his injuries."

 

The silence of comprehension wrapped itself around the group until Dr Rosen moved and addressed them once more.

 

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid we cannot allow you to stay in the ICU right now. Agent Taylor will remain heavily sedated, a low induced coma, until we can stabilise him further. We won't be even attempting to bring him out of it until we see significant improvements." Her voice had slowed and dropped further. "His condition is very serious."As the deliverer of bad news she was oh-so efficient but Martin registered the care too. "I promise...we'll keep you informed."

 

It felt like another abandonment. Danny had been lost before with nobody searching, he was found now but with nobody to watch.

They headed home, finally, to a husband's comfort, a long needed bed, too many whiskeys and a night of guilt driven nightmares.

 

 

Thursday morning

 

Lined up and displayed like something from a survivalist's wet dream – AK47's, Tec-9 machine guns, the latest series of Sig assault rifles, double action magnums and berettas and the terrifying Uzi pistols, so beloved by the street gangs – all categorised and tagged with the efficiency of a Texas gun show. All that was missing were the bumper stickers. Charlton Heston would have been proud.

A stack of white bricks piled high like an army barricade – a wall of cocaine. 1000 pounds of the square packages tightly wrapped in cellophane. If the display could show a price tag it would be nearly $5m.

 

The FBI knew a press opportunity when it stood up and shot at them. It had taken all night to catalogue the weapons, drugs and cash found, now procedure gave way to presentation.

 

A stack of duplicated photos were already prepared to hand out to excited reporters – the faces of those arrested and those killed. The blood stains had been washed away.

 

The warehouse had been the first stop of the day for Clive Morrison ...important to see the backdrop...now, wearing a carefully selected suit and a designer tie chosen for its strong and bold stripe, he was heading into Mercy to check the condition of Agent Taylor. Thanks to the delicacy of his brother's situation in jail, he would remain a low profile character in the drama to be told... but still... someone might just ask...

 

Morrison smiled as he worked on his speech in his head. It would be suitably low key, as befitting the Bureau ...but hey, praise where praise is due...Senior figures would be watching ...This is your moment!

 

"No fucking way!"

 

He looked up to find his way blocked by the imposing presence of a glowering Jack Malone flanked by Agents Johnson and Fitzgerald.

They'd been surprised to meet each other there so soon after being told to stay away. Each had thought, despite Rosen's advice, that they would just look in. Each had been disappointed to learn there was no change to report. When they spotted Morrison heading towards the doors, each had the same reaction.

 

"You are NOT going in there." Morrison had heard Jack's threats before. They didn't like each other and Jack had made his feelings clear but this was the stuff of the Malone legend. This was the voice he used in interrogation. Morrison felt its power but couldn't help himself.

 

"Get out the way, Malone – I'm here to check on my agent."

 

He barely had time to register his error. Jack's hands fisted into the lapels of his cashmere coat and he was lifted up and around. His breath whooshed out as his back was slammed against the wall.

 

"He's not YOUR agent!"

 

Passing eyes turned towards the scene. A middle aged couple clutching a bouquet of flowers hesitated. Good citizens frozen momentarily by an instinct to step in.

 

Before Morrison could speak, Viv and Martin pulled out their IDs, holding them up in front of the startled do-gooders.

 

"FBI!"

 

It was enough to send the pair scuttling away.

 

Still with his grip on Morrison's chest, Jack bundled him around the corner of the building. Bureau training had the agents quickly looking around for surveillance cameras but, while the main entrance was monitored, there was less interest in the shadows at the side.

 

Viv and Martin moved to shield Jack, eyes flicking between the street and the squirming Morrison.

 

"You've gone too far...you..."

 

Jack's forearm across his sternum brought Morrison's splutterings to a gasping halt.

 

"You have no right being here, you son-of-a-bitch." Jack's face was inches from Morrison's. He felt the spray as he spat out the words.

"There's a good man in there, fighting to stay alive after you abandoned him. You left him without back-up. With no way out." Another shove against the wall. "And then you fucking lied about it!"

 

Morrison struggled against the grip, his eyes darting sideways to look for a way out, to look for help.

 

"You get your hands off me. I'll have your badges for this ..." The words tumbled out as he tried his best to force some authority into the strangled tone of the threat.

 

Viv looked back at him, eyebrows arched in mockery.

 

"For what? I haven't seen anything happening here." Her voice was calm as she glanced towards Martin. "You?"

 

Martin shrugged. "Not a thing."

 

"What was it, Morrison? This thing getting away from you? Just too big to handle? Just too damn busy climbing that greasy pole to do your real job?" Each question was punctuated with another shove.

 

"Three days? You told us, three days Danny was missing. Three contacts? Christ man! It was a fucking week!" Slam. "Do you even know how many of his injuries happened in those forgotten days? Missed contacts?" Slam. "Only because you couldn't be bothered." Slam "Couldn't be bothered to meet him or even to fucking call him!"

 

Morrison's head connected with the wall. His eyes were wide with fear now as a realisation sank in that the rumours about Jack Malone could actually be true.

 

Martin watched a droplet of sweat creeping down the side of Morrison's face and felt nothing but utter loathing for the man.

A final shove and Jack released his hold, stepping back. "Just. Stay. Away."

 

Morrison staggered a little, then pulled his coat straight and smoothed down his designer tie. His hands were shaking but he tried to disguise the quake in his voice.

 

"I'll be bringing you all up on charges..."

 

He didn't get to finish. Martin's fist connected with the droplet of sweat as it clung to his jaw, sending Morrison sprawling along the brickwork.

 

Martin followed, stepping into the space Jack had left...you want another?...Breathing hard he fought his desire to pound this guy again and again...No! ...Wait! ...hit the bastard where it really hurts!...Looking into his gaping face, Martin smiled then but it wasn't an

expression his friends recognised.

 

"You accused me once of using my father to make my way in the Bureau." He kept his tone moderate. "I didn't have a chance to explain to you then that, actually, we're not really all that close. High days and holidays mostly. In fact, I can't think of the last time we met up ..." Morrison was backing away from Martin now but he continued in the conversational tone...Ha!...is that more sweat I see?

"You know, I think perhaps that's bad... I should see my Dad more. Problem is, sometimes we don't really have a lot to talk about. But now?...yeah, you know!... "Now, I can think of all sorts of things to tell him...about recent operations...about how they were run." The faux friendliness dropped into iciness. "I'll give him your regards."

 

Morrison's face paled and his mouth opened and closed silently before thinning into a bloodless, rigid line as though locking down. He pushed away, past the group, and walked quickly away, pulling his coat tightly around him.

 

They watched him go, head down, away from the hospital. Several moments of silence passed before Martin registered that the eyes of the others had moved onto him.

 

Viv smiled broadly and gave an approving nod.

 

"Nice! Very nice!"

 

Sound...a dull roar that built and swelled and grew until it filled every part of him. It pushed into every space, between every particle, expanding and pulsing and grinding through gaps, slipping amongst the broken pieces. It rolled on and over and through, gathering into a cacophony that was stealing his breath, sucking every bit of oxygen from him. Sound first... A blur of colours? …Then oblivion.

 

They took turns being with him. After five days the call had come that Danny would be needing them now. As the sedation was slowly reduced he would become more aware and now his consciousness was to be encouraged. To be tested.

 

The drips remained in place. The monitors continued to pulse silently. But the breathing tube was removed to be replaced by a cannula feeding oxygen to pneumonia damaged lungs through his nose.

 

Viv settled to it with the most ease. For her, it didn't so very long ago that she had read aloud to her son. Stuff from the newspapers, quirky stories, sports results. When reading material ran out, she didn't find it difficult to sit at Danny's side, her hand on his arm, and simply chat. A quiet monologue on the latest news from the office, Reggie's latest girlfriend, Marcus's latest students, Jack's latest outburst...Boy, Danny you've missed some doozies over this whole mess!

 

"Oh, and your brother's been moved, Danny. Northbrook. He's gonna find it easier there. His family can visit and the Bureau is working out the time deal with the DA. Rafi's asking for you Danny, so you just better hurry up and get out of here."

 

The colours swirled around him but wouldn't settle. The kaleidoscope kept on in endlessly moving patterns. Fleeting, rolling, nauseating. Sometimes a spinning vortex that sucked him under, sometimes a lazy merry-go-round that he couldn't get off. The roar was less now. It had pulled back, was giving his body a little more space – space for something else...no no no... A burning heat that flickered and licked and ate into his soul. The sounds joined forces with the flashes of colour, but still he couldn't get a hold on them and he couldn't escape them.

 

Samantha normally took the first shift, coming in early, straight off the street in her running gear. She brought doughnuts for the staff and used the family room shower at the end of the ICU corridor.

 

She narrated her outline of the day ahead as she applied mascara and lipstick, explaining as she went just why it is that women need their cosmetic shield. "God, Danny, metro-sexual doesn't cover it! After this, the women are going to love you for your innate understanding of the female psyche. Don't you forget, you owe it all to me."

 

She made sure he was shaved and brushed gentle fingers through his flattened hair. "Come on Danny. Come back to us."

 

Pain now...god help me! The colours, the sounds all disappeared with the pain...please help me...blinding, terrifying and still burning...

Jack and Martin came later – Jack finding the time during the afternoons, Martin heading there straight from work and staying through the night, becoming used to the aches of sleeping in a chair amongst the constant movement of nursing staff.

They'd watched Viv's gentle manner and knew its value but neither found a one-sided conversation easy.

 

Jack justified the hours away from the office by bringing files with him, balancing them on his knees, grunting his comments to the still and silent figure...fight Danny, fight.

 

Martin tried the newspaper but found his throat seizing whenever he glimpsed the now yellowing bruises. There were signs of growing awareness but Martin feared that Danny was reliving the torture as he watched the rapid eye movements under the closed lids.…

 

"Come on bro, open them up for me..."

 

Pain again ...building like a wave to crash over him. Searing, brilliant, white hot pain that exploded and then was gone, fading quickly like a nightmare driven away by the light of dawn. The noises were sill beyond his reach but seemed closer now...hang on to them...reach for them...They swelled up through the sea of colours where he floated...something to cling to...to try for...help me...

 

"Danny! ...Danny! ...Agent Taylor!" Martin guessed there weren't many people who did not obey when Dr Rosen 's voice was that insistent. "Agent Taylor!"

 

She shone a light into Danny's eyes – glimpsed under the lids she prised open. Her lips pursed and she tilted her head sideways in thought.

 

"When the body has been shut down so long it's often the biggest hurdle to get the patient to force himself back. It's a self preservation thing. Instinct." She wasn't really addressing anyone in particular and her grey eyes never stopped flicking to the screens, to the notes, to Danny.

 

"After such a trauma why would he want to face it? The mind is a complex thing – protective – if he allows consciousness, he has deal with the injuries. The pain. The memories."

 

She turned to Jack and Martin. "We have him scheduled for another CT scan tomorrow morning."

 

They watched him in silence for several minutes after she left. Taking in the changes. They could recognise the shape of his face again. The large dressing had been removed to be replaced by a smaller pad covering the line of stitches that ran from the end of his brow towards his cheek. The swelling was not gone entirely, his eye was still puffed closed, still a mixture of colours but now the pallet was autumnal. Browns and dark greens and rusty, sickening yellows.

 

His arm remained suspended and the shoulder dressing was still in place. Martin had seen that changed too many times. Seen and smelt the infection he'd fought. He'd watched the clammy skin rise up in sickly goose-flesh that suggested cold, when all other indications were that Danny was burning up.

 

Rosen had said there were improvements. It was difficult to tell.

 

Jack pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down, leaning in towards Danny's face.

 

"Okay...enough of this." He paused momentarily. "Danny! Danny!" Jack's voice filled the room. "Danny Taylor! You damn well need to wake up now, you hear me? Danny! We got things to talk about!"

 

That voice...I know it ...I need...

 

Martin smiled at Jack's manner but then ...his eyes moved …there ...there... The lashes fluttered on his left side. Once. Twice. Three times. And then held, framing the dark iris, glazed and unfocused.

 

Jack leaned even further into Danny's eyeline. "Danny! Hey, Danny."

 

Flashes of white in a swirling maelstrom of colours...the roar was back … no, stay with the voice ...

 

Martin stepped closer. He knew he should get the doctor, the staff needed to know, but he couldn't bring himself to leave.

Danny's eye drooped again but Jack wouldn't let him go now. "Hey Danny look at me...hey..." His attention was forced back and fixed onto Jack's face. A flicker of recognition and Jack smiled encouragingly.

 

"Okay...that's good. Now, you can't speak right now so you're just gonna listen okay?...Danny? Just listen to me..." The focus faded and Danny's brow drew together in pain and confusion. He fought to hang on to the voice and the bleary image in front of him. He recognised it, recognised the voice and reached for it...Jack?... He wanted to speak but couldn't make anything work, couldn't find the strength...help me!

 

"You're okay now Danny. You're safe. And your brother's safe. That's all you gotta know. We got you. You're in the hospital and you look like crap but you're going to be okay, you're going to be fine. You did a great job Danny, and you're safe now. Do you hear me?" Danny's eye closed again but opened slowly once more to search out the voice and the face.

 

"Everything went just like you said it would – we got Romano. Eno. Tati. Caldderon. All of them. We got the guns, the drugs – we got the lot. You did a great job Danny." He reached over and lay a hand on Danny's forearm, his fingers brushed the bracelet of bruises and scabbed lacerations that remained from where the ties had bitten into his flesh. The touch was warm and firm. Comforting. "You've got a little way to go yet but all you gotta do is rest now. Okay? Just rest."

 

They watched as his eye dropped shut again and stayed that way.

 

"He heard you." Martin was smiling. He'd seen the recognition, he knew Danny had heard the message and finally he could believe in a little hope.

 

Jack turned to Martin with a broad grin. "You know, I'm gonna tell Dr Rosen it was your fault we didn't go get her."

 

Man, it feels good to laugh!

 

In the following days Danny's recovery was slow. Sometimes it was as though there was a film over his eyes and he saw nothing, knew nobody. Sometimes he was still lost in the fear and only painkillers and sedation would prevent his frantic movements and pitiful murmurings. But his lucidity improved a little more each day, the periods of wakefulness lengthening.

 

Martin had taken to recounting their previous jobs to try to rouse him, and he figured the more embarrassing the better.

 

"That clerk really had no interest in going through all those files you know, she just wanted to get you down there in that stockroom...man, your face when she grabbed your ass! Ha!" He walked as he talked ...would it kill them to put a more comfortable chair in here? ...maybe I should donate one and put a plaque on it, I've spent enough time here ... "And you know what? It was me who left your card there for her when we left – you never did figure out how she got your number did you?." He smiled to himself at the memory ...not many times I got one over on you, buddy..

 

He straightened the drawstring on the blind. "Hey, I just bet she'd love the chance to come up here and help with the nursing care...a strong woman like that would have no trouble turning you over, man...I could give her a call, no problem."

 

"You do that, you die."

 

Martin whipped around at the soft sound. Danny was awake, his eyes crinkled with the remnants of a familiar humour.

 

"Hey!" He was beside him in two strides. "So, you're finally with us!"

 

Danny tried a weak smile. His throat was raw and when he replied it was with a hoarse voice even he didn't recognise. "Had to…shut you up...you've been going on for hours."

 

Martin held out a cup of water and directed the straw between his friend's cracked lips. Danny took a grateful sip and felt the cool liquid easing the discomfort.

 

"Well, you know, you could have stopped me before...I was just getting onto that crazy stakeout in the pet shop last year...it's amazing those guys didn't hear you with all that sneezing you were doing."

 

"Allergic..." Danny rasped.

 

Martin noted the rigid way Danny was holding himself. The bed was tilted to a semi-upright position. The harness was gone after the surgeons had finally put the plate and screws in place to hold him together, leaving a livid scar still covered with a thick dressing. Now his arm was strapped firmly against his body. His fingers were beginning to curl as his body registered the aches and the nausea that came with full consciousness.

 

"You okay?"

 

Danny's smile had turned into a tight grimace. "I'll call a nurse."

 

The flurry of activity that followed left Danny exhausted as queries demanded responses...yes I can feel that... no I have no idea what day it is... instructions demanded understanding ...Yeah, don't worry, I'll be using that morphine pump...I got it... Martin looked on with concern but when finally the room quietened again he was grinning. "Boy! one shot of the good stuff and you're anyone's aren't you!" He joked.

 

Danny's mouth twitched at the gesture at levity but he was drifting again...These meds are great!

 

Martin realised he was late to the party when he heard chatter drifting from Danny's room. When he entered it was to a chorus of cooing but for the first time in five weeks, Danny was not the centre of attention.

 

Viv was cradling a pink wrapped bundle and all eyes were riveted on the sleeping baby. Al Morgan hovered beside her with a look of utter adoration on his face. His hair more rumpled that ever, exhaustion etched into the lines around his eyes.

 

"I've tried to persuade him to call her Danielle but for some reason he's not going for it." Danny's voice was just about back to normal, the joy evident.

 

"You know, if it was only down to me..." Al laughed. "Nah! Who'd want to be reminded of you - she's going to be enough trouble without that pressure too, poor kid!"

 

Martin shook Al's hand. "Congratulations man, she's beautiful – clearly takes after her mother..."

 

"Yeah well, talking of ...I'd better get Catherine here back to her mom before they send out a search party, or she starts screaming. They only let me bring her over here when I flashed my badge. You think ICU's bad... they're tyrants on the maternity ward. They even sent a guard." He gestured to a smiling nurse who stood waiting beside a wheeled plastic bassinet. He gathered up the baby from Viv with the nervous hands of a new father and lay her carefully down.

 

"Looking good, Danny," he called over his shoulder as he waved and trotted to catch up with the nurse already wheeling his daughter away.

 

Danny turned to Martin. "So what's your excuse? Thought you were going to miss an evening." He was teasing but he was curious too. He'd come to rely for so much on Martin and over the weeks he'd never let him down.

 

His easy presence had been a constant through the relapses and the victories, through the horrific dreams and the pain. His encouragement had helped at the beginning of respiratory therapy as, wordlessly, he'd wiped away the foul hacked-up mucus that would suffocate him. He'd offered a hand to grip when mending bones were moved and a soothing voice to wake him from the darkness. He'd stayed through the moments of anger the doctors said were normal in 'survivors' and the moments of black despair that concerned them more. He'd only left when Danny's pride demanded it, to allow some privacy when the strong facade broke.

 

As he'd become more aware of the indignities of his medical care Danny felt less comfortable with other visitors but he figured Martin had seen him at his worst. In that metal box... "Bro, I bet you have your own dark dreams, right."

 

Martin's eyes fell on a folded newspaper and its headline. "FBI Foils Gang Deal". A second headline midway down heralded "NY's Biggest Gun and Drugs Seizure." Hmm...yeah, so far this year..there'll be others...

 

The story had made television, radio and newspaper headlines for days. A month on and Jack thought Danny was ready to see the results of his efforts. The team were supremely satisfied that Clive Morrison was nowhere to be seen in any of the press photos or footage.

 

"So, you had a date?"

 

Martin shook his head. "Not like you think." He looked across to the others. "I met up with my father – took him out to dinner."

Danny whistled lightly through his teeth. He knew the distance those two normally kept. "You after a raise in your allowance or something?" The others laughed more loudly than the joke warranted and Danny realised something was up but Martin just shrugged. "It was just time to catch-up – you know, have a chat."

 

"Okaaay." Clearly this was something Danny would have to pursue another time.

 

His memory of the timings of what had happened to him, the dates of when he was taken and how long he was held, were still not clear. Probably never would be. It was academic to the arrests. The lengthy reports would document the discrepencies. Jack and the team hadn't explained any details to Danny yet and he hadn't asked. Hadn't even asked where Morrison was – he had no desire to see the man ever again.

 

Samantha leaned over and kissed Danny's cheek. "So, we'll see you in another month. Good luck with the physio."

 

Viv's kiss followed. She wagged a maternal finger at him. "Don't you give the staff there as hard a time as you have here."

Danny was being moved to a specialist private hospital on Long Island for rehabilitation and intensive physiotherapy, paid for by the government in gratitude for having been so nearly killed in the line of duty.

 

Jack stepped up and nodded at him with a smile. "We'll see if we can't arrange some kind of visit from your brother while you're out there... If you promise to keep him out of trouble...The guy is so lucky to have you...Don't hurry back. You never know, we might make it ourselves to enjoy the facilities."

 

He looked at Danny and saw the man he knew showing through again at last....we so nearly lostyou... He had weight to gain, mobility to work on, persistent pain to manage...and god knows what other demons, judging by the nightmares we all know you have... but the Taylor spark of vitality was back.

 

When the others left, Martin moved to perch on the side of the bed. He would travel out to the Island to see Danny but it couldn't be as frequently as they'd become used to and he realised how much he'd miss it.

 

"You know Danny...you're gonna hate this, but there's something I need to say..." It had been weighing heavily on him, a lurking need for catharsis.

 

"Well, that sounds ominous..." The room was quiet and Martin's unexpectedly serious tone made Danny suddenly nervous. He would be seeing a counsellor at this next hospital – he couldn't live with the panic attacks and the flashbacks without help...keep it light...don't go there... his own strategies would only take him so far. Then there was the issue of a body that could begin to betray a renewed craving for alcohol or even heroin...Christ..surely I won'thave to go back to step one... He felt weary at the thought of it.

He watched Martin's face as he sought the right words.

 

"When you were missing...when you were...gone...I'm sorry we weren't there for you." He looked into Danny's face steadily. He wanted him to know, needed him to know, they would never have stopped looking. "I'm sorry it took so long to find you."

 

Danny hadn't realised that he'd needed to hear it too and accepted the words with a quick nod. "S'okay man, I knew you'd come."

He smiled then. "I mean, what would you do without me. You need me. You haven't even noticed all these nurses who've been eyeing you up." Grinning at Martin's surprised expression he called out to a pretty dark haired nurse as she passed.

 

"Hey Rosa! Martin here says he'd like to take you up on those Spanish lessons." He quirked an eyebrow suggestively. "He has a lot to learn."

 

Martin played along with the back and forth banter. Maybe he would try to act on Danny's suggestion this time – he could use some laughter...and flirting, he could definitely use some flirting.

 

The End