The Gathering, Part Two – Asarlaí
"Hurry up Frank, you will miss the bus!" called Donna, hearing Frank’s footsteps walk across the upstairs to the stair well. There was no hurrying him though. Since his return from the hospital the energetic child she had once known- saw things differently, had become silent, and searching, for something. He had missed a week of school, but had been able to catch up quickly. The leaves were long since swirling down the road and the bite of the winters winds were moving in. In a week would be the Thanksgiving break, then, back until the Christmas holidays.
Donna watched as he moved across the room to bend over his little sisters bassinet and deliver a kiss to her forehead. Planting a kiss on Donna's cheek he gave his dad a hug and patted Lucky on the head. Grady had his coat on, and with practiced ease swung Frank’s back pack on to his shoulder and carried it out the door. Bits of hills confounded Frank if he was carrying things. Seth had said his balance would be off for a while until the bones healed in his face. While gym class was required, there wasn't a lot he could do. Contact sports were out. Bumps and falls were
something that terrified Donna. They had come very close to losing him. She wasn't being an over protective mother. Just his mother.
Frank looked up at his dad, asking him as the bus pulled in, "Think Willie will be home for Thanksgiving?"
Grady shook his head. "I don't know." He gave Frank a kiss on his forehead then helped him climb the steps onto the bus. Waiting until it was out of sight Grady used the time to let the tears that pressed behind his eyelids to subside. It had been two and a half months since Willie had departed with George. He knew George was back to work, and he could often track where Willie was by the bank accounts. Mort had never asked him, as Willies accountant, if he had noticed any missing money from the account. He had, though. He had found it right away, and the look Willie gave him told him everything he should know. The safety of the children was what was important.
Patty helped Frank to find his seat and dragged the back pack to where they would be sitting. Molly would be the next stop, as weird as it would have seemed, since the first week she had changed from being a self centered brat to being… well, a brat. Just not to Ian though, or the girls. Or Frank for that matter. Frank looked around. "Where is Ian?" he asked, blinking owlishly at the girls.
"Has an appointment with Dr. Seth, then Aunt Taylor will be bringing him to school for a half day," said Shauna with uncertainty.
"He didn't seem sick yesterday…" intoned Molly, raising her eyebrows. They had a huge test in the morning in mathematics that morning. If he was sick enough to go to the doctors he would miss the test and have to retake it the next day when everyone was at the assembly. She watched Shauna shrug.
"Aunt Taylor called the school yesterday when he got home, an they made arrangements for him to take the test last night, so that it would be fair. He did quite well on it."
Frank nestled back in the seat of the bus not really paying attention to what the girls were saying. As the bus slowed to make the turn up the coast road Frank regarded the huge Willow tree that grew along the ragged coast line. Aunt Jessica had informed him that it was one of the oldest trees in the cove, that it had seen the coming of the settlers, and even before. No one knew why it grew so high away from the water between two large boulders. The wind blowing the branches
almost made it seem alive, as if there really was a wizard that lived in the tree. As Frank watched it, part of the tree seemed to separate, and a thin being stepped out from its bark. For the longest
time Frank couldn't move. Blinking back his surprise he saw the thin being fade back into the wood as the bus continued down the coastline road to the school.
Ian wiggled in his seat at Seth's office. He knew the others would be taking that test right about then, and he wished he was there, rather than where he was. Willie had given specific instructions for the type of blood work he needed, and when. He didn't like the needles that poked into his skin, or anything else that was to do with it. He had tried to toss the appointment card, and when the message was left on the answering machine, he had taken pains to erase it. He didn't want to answer the simple question of how he felt, because he knew he couldn't lie to Dr. Seth. Since his uncle had gone, he had fought not to cry in front of the girls, or his aunt. Tipper, though, had caught him more than once while he was in the garden collecting the seeds for the next year and drying the herbs on his knees crying. She had taken him into her arms and held him until the sobs subsided. It was more than just missing his uncle. Aunt Taylor was a wonderful person, and looking at Aunt Jessica was almost like looking at his gram. She had her own sadness with George going, and her book tours took her away for long weeks. He missed his
mum fiercely. He had no doubt that she still loved him, loved all of them, and even with all the money they had, she couldn't manage the new baby brother he had never seen with the girls as well.
He rather liked his new life in America. He didn't go to bed hungry, didn't have to wear hand me down clothing, and while things were bound to be crowded, he had his own space that Taylor had arranged with the bunk beds shed put in the room for the kids- he had a lower bunk with Patty on top, and each of them had a curtained off area about their bed for privacy. The endless hot water in the morning was a joy, though the bitter cold of the Maine fall cut through him to the bone. He had mentioned this as a question to Patty, she said she didn't feel the cold. He wasn't going to say anything to his aunt, but the next day they were off to the store to get winter jackets. Taylor made sure that the ones the girls picked from were made to protect from the elements, though she saw Margarita eye a cute pink bunny fur one that was just fluff, Taylor had to sigh and shake her head and got her one that matched the other girls.
Ian had looked at the ones in the children's department, for the boys. Ian wasn't into racing cars, or the jazzy things, She saw him sigh, and look at the jackets with a wistful glance. Raising her eyebrow she took him across to the young men's department and found him a dark leather jacket with a fleece inside and a proper hood that he could protect his head with. It was the warmest, softest thing he had ever felt. It also hung down to his knees, though with a thick sweater on he didn't feel lost in it. It was by chance he saw the tag dangling and his eyes widened with shock as he shook his head "Oh, nae, Aunt Taylor, " he said, shaking his head in disbelief. She laid a finger to his lips, and sat down on the edge of the display to regard him.
"Your not putting on airs when your wearing this, your keeping your body safe, and it's a sensible jacket. The girls are content with theirs, would you be happy with this one?"
He'd given her a curious look. "Would Uncle be pleased that I would have it?" he asked at last.
Taylor cupped his small face in her hands. "He would."
Ian hadn't been cold after that, and there were some nights that he would go down, and just put his jacket on, pulling his thin legs in the jacket for warmth. It had raised a few eyebrows with his classmates as he got off the bus the first day he wore it. "I won't blow away now," he had said with a nod to the jacket.
Ian knew he was next to see Dr. Seth. Slinking down in the jacket now he peaked over the edge of it hoping to hide from the nurse. Taylor had gone to the lady's room he could sneak out for a tich, wait outside until someone else came in, and then pretend it was all over. Sighing he knew he couldn't run from his troubles. He looked up as a tall thin man entered into the waiting room limping as he came in. The man wore a scarf high on his neck, and Ian could see patches
of something white under the mans hat. Swallowing for courage Ian was about to get up when he heard the man begin to speak in a low halting voice, asking to see Seth followed by a half moan from the man. The nurse was about to tell him to have a seat when Seth came in the reception office and nodded to his nurse that he would see the man right away.
Taylor came back into the waiting room and sat down beside Ian who was curled up in the chair still trying to disappear in the coat itself. She pulled back the hood. "You need to breathe, honey," she said, gently kissing his forehead.
"Aye, I know… you could take m' appointment for me, tis been a while since ye had a checkup for the babies," he said, pointing to her belly.
Her laughter was sweet, and light and it caused the man to half turn to look at her as she tousled Ian's hair. "It was just last week dear. This ones yours then off to school for you."
Ian snuggled next to Taylor and sighed. He was glad he didn't hang his coat up with the others. It was soft, and warm, and it had a sweet smell to it. He thought, if he lay still enough, they would
think him to be asleep, and maybe forgo his appointment. He felt Taylor kiss his head softly.. "Its your time Ian."
He yawned, stretching like a cat. "Must I?" he asked at last. Taylor gave a wistful nod. Ian sighed as he stood up and went in to where they were to weigh and measure him. Shivering he peeled off the coat and handed it to Taylor. "Keep it warm for me… I'm going to be climbing back in it soon enough." Taylor tried not to laugh as Ian stuck out his belly to make himself fatter. And it took a moment for the nurse to realize that he was standing on his tip toes to make himself taller. Blood work was next, and as she held him on her lap he hid his face in her shoulder trying not to cry. He didn't know what hurt worse, the thing that they put around his arm, or the seven times they tried to find a vein that wouldn't collapse on them. When it was finally in he lay limp in Taylor's arms fighting back the urge to cry.
"You won't be able to go in with him when we do the tests," said Grace, the technician who wrapped a heated blanket about Ian's shoulders. Seth patted her shoulder. "It's okay. He won't be alone."
Tipper rolled across the vet office floor with Margarita on her lap as she reached for the ringing phone. As she lifted it to her ear to answer it, Margarita chirped, "Thank you for calling Cabot Cove Vet Clinic, please hold" Tipper handed Margarita another gummy bear, then spoke into the phone. It was to be her day off and she had agreed to watch Margarita while Taylor took Ian to the doctor’s. What hadn't been planned was for Janice to get the flu and call off on the day she was to work the phones. Short of locking Margarita up in one of the pens, the other place where she couldn't get out of was the enclosed area where the receptionist sat. It had been open at one
time, then after a few loose animals got behind the counter and began to eat anything not tied down the owners of the clinic installed the swing door that latched firmly from the top.
Margarita wasn't into coloring, or sitting quiet. There were far too many things her little fingers could get into. Too many things that could go wrong with such a young child. Tipper didn't even want to think about it. She glanced down and looked into Margarita's eyes, there was a twinkle in them, one she had seen not so long ago in another person’s eyes, one that caused her to falter, collect her thoughts, then close her eyes against the memory of the last time she had held Faraday in her arms. Until that moment, Margarita had been like any other child. Margarita had taken Tipper’s face in her small hands and given her chin a kiss.
Seth had said that Margarita would only parrot things. While that may have been true, Tipper discovered quickly that in the same process, Margarita would respond on cue to different things. The most extraordinary sound that came from her happened when two of the dogs who were known for scrapping with anything in their path decided to pull away from their owners and lunge at each other. Margarita had been sitting up on the desk at the time, leaned over and gave a
series of sharp barks to the dogs. All hostilities between the dogs stopped and both went back to their owners to sit quietly beside them. Dusting off her hands, Margarita nodded.
`Perhaps she speaks her own language?' Tipper had thought. `Or if it is a case of her being able to mimic something the dogs recognize?' The phone rang again, it was after hearing the dial tone that Tipper realized Margarita had made that sound. Half way through the time that Margarita would be with her, she snuggled into Tipper’s arms, gave a yawn and fell asleep in a heart beat. She really did have his upturned nose and long lashes. `She could have been – my – our child… I'm not made to be a mother though…" Feeling, something, Tipper looked up and held back her gasp. Faraday was standing at her counter his elbow supporting his chin. "Aye, it might have been, an’ had I known, things would ha’ been different. I didna know she was mine when I took care of her after she was born. He said she came to him in a peculiar way an to be quiet about her
so she could find her soul self. I knew he had her up in the rooms, but didna know the state he kept her in later on. I taught her how to pick the locks with wha’ she had on hand, the little monkey love, for I found he wasn't inclined to feed her an she had to manage on what she could get from the kitchens when he was asleep. You’re more made to be a mother than most, an your heart loves those long forgotten. Someday, your heart will open again, Angela, an you will find your love. I'm glad she's with kin. It was the best I could hope for…Mind the Asarlaí," he said, softly coming around behind her to envelope her in a soft hug. Tipper could feel his lips press against the crown of her head, and saw him bend over his daughter to give her a kiss. She heard the ringing of the telephone and woke with a small start.
`Had to be a dream,' she said to herself as she collected her thoughts. Jotting down the information she set the record aside, then looked by chance to the corner where he had been leaning on. There was a wrist-sized daisy chain in fresh condition.
"So, do you want to come? " Molly asked of Frank softly at the lunch table. Molly had a need for adventure now that she had no access to her video games. She had kept her grades up, and stayed out of trouble. Her aunt had said it was socialization issues that kept her apart from them, that Molly would zone out everything about her in the process of playing with them. Since the water came, and Willie had left, the shop had stood empty - well, the things were still there, and it had been dried out and made secure, but the door had been locked. There would need to be some repair work done, of course. Of her Father’s shop, her aunt had managed the store while her father recovered in the hospital.
Today's adventure discussion was the weekend exploration of the coastline between Cabot Cove and Boothbay. Molly had asked for, with great surprise from her father and aunt, a pair of binoculars and a powerful flash light with extra batteries and bulbs that she had put in what she called her exploration bag. She also managed to get a small folding camping shovel, a space blanket, and cloths line that her father had watched her pack into her bag.
He hadn't said anything for a moment then said to her, "You may want to put knots in that every so often. It will shorten the line, but if you need something to help you not slip, the knots will help. I don't think that will hold your weight though, but it would be fine for a guide rope. And I will show you how to use a compass.”
Her last thing she had placed in the bag was something of a surprise gift her father had wrapped special for her. It was a pair of walkie talkies that had a 15 mile range. One was to be kept with ether he, or Gretchen at all times, the other she was to wear, and if she needed anything, to use it.
"I know you want to explore, and that's wonderful. I will say okay, on one condition: that you let us know where you are, and who your with, and that if something happens, that you call us for help. "
The last time the group went out, they had misjudged the weather. What started as a warm day on the other side of Boothbay Harbor to get a close up look at the galleon ended up with a down pour of rain that would have soaked them to the bone if she hadn't pulled out her space blanket to cover them. Darkness had come too fast, and while Molly knew that her father was several miles away, she called him to relay to Mr. Fletcher where they were. By the time they had been "rescued" her aunt had arrived. There was no scolding, just hugs and a dry set of cloths for the children. Ian and Patty hadn't been worried. They had rather a lot of fun and it got them out from
underfoot of their aunt.
"Is it going to rain?" he asked, sipping his milk.
Molly wrinkled her nose. She was rather keen on paying attention to the weather now. "Its supposed to be nice for the whole weekend, then after Tuesday they said the temperature was going to drop." She leaned forward and lowered her voice "There was a guy who came into the store and wanted to sell me a treasure map. But dad said they aren't worth the paper that they were printed on. So, last week, when it was getting cold, Dad went down to our basement- the door to the cellar was tucked in the closet in the hallway, can you imagine? I went down to see what was down there… and I found this…" Molly snuck a look both ways before pulling a folder out of her book bag. Flipping back the cover of the folder she reviled a tattered brown thing that
smelled bad and looked worse. Franks eyes narrowed as she unfolded it. While the material was old, the spidery writing on it was still crisp. There were several pin holes and the material, as he saw, was translucent. Molly folded it up and closed the folder, replacing it in her back pack. "I found it in a cubby hole in our basement in an old rusty box that my dad let me have cause I found it when we were cleaning the basement out. It was filthy down there, an dad said he didn't think the past owners would mind. There was a bunch of stuff over it, some things dad said were pretty old - antiques. I used a bobby pin to get it open. And I found it." She saw Frank regard her. "What?"
"I think what you found is what they called a key. Unless you know where it goes to, you could be searching forever," Frank said gathering the remnants of his lunch onto his tray to dispose of them.
"That's what I thought, well, sort of, I didn't know it had a name… but… it also has some numbers on it, and I googled them on the library computer. It took me to an air and space website, and they are like- surveyors markings. Dad said they would have used a sextant and a compass to get their bearing back then… So, are you in?" she asked as they stood to return to class.
She watched Frank take in a breath. Of all the kids in the school, and it wasn't because his great aunt was famous, or that Ian and he were cousins, Frank made no judgments against her, and was honestly her friend as were Ian and his sister. She knew without asking what his answer would be.
"I'm in," he said at last, holding the door open for her.
"Ack George tha's the third one this month! I'm running out of places to buy these things," said Willie, surveying the burning wreckage of his latest car. "I'll nae be qualifying for insurance after this one."
George sighed. If it hadn't been for the remote lock opener that Willie had installed at his apartments, and had purchased with his cars, he would have perished two months ago. He had watched the tag on the bombing files get labeled as a non priority, and that the files in a days time disappear so that there wasn't any follow up records of the events. George had kept records though, and had followed up as he could. The local met would come with the fire brigade. "What? Haven't finished you off, have they?" the one officer had quipped. Willie had given him a sad look. "Pray for your families if they do," he'd said. It was just after that they had a break in the investigation. One of the lads who walked the night beat had caught up with Willie as he walked home from the grocery store.
"There's something odd going on sir, with what happened the other day, an my super isn't too keen on it. Some gent from a home office took your files sir, an said it wasn't any of our concerns any more, an not to trouble ourselves with caring. Well, that didn't sit well with my super, sir. It never does."
Willie regarded the young man He stood a good 6 foot tall, slight of build and had keen blue eyes with a shock of brown hair under his hat. "It isn't the first time, though, is it? There have been
others?" He watched the young man nod.
"You're the first to survive. Five others that I know didn't make it an they were all good men. There is something dirty going on, an it doesn't sit well with us." He added under his breath, "We want to help."
Sighing softly, Willie shook his head. "It's the dirtiest dirt tha’ I ha’ ever seen. The kind that makes your skin crawl. I can't put you in danger lad, or your super or your families."
The officer gave him a bemused glance "We already are if they are allowed to continue. My super knows of your friend, the older gent. Said he's a decent enough fellow." The officer paused. "It's the other decent folk that I'm not sure your safe with. All of those who rent flats about here have an overseer who manages their books. I think tha's how you have been getting your apartments in the way. No matter who you rent from, or the name you give them, they go by your
description and catch up. An it may be the same with the autos, most about here don't own cars or new ones. Unless there is a reason to prove a point with them? If there is? The super would be inclined to have things blow up in someone else's district."
Willie regarded the groceries that he was carrying. Pausing he turned to the officer and placed first one bag, and then the other in the officers arms while he dug out several apples and placed them in his pockets. "What's your name, son?" he asked gently.
Letting out a slow breath, Willie sized him up. "Winfred, thank you for the conversation that we have had tonight, it has been most illuminating. If you would be so kind as to deliver these to whom ever you know needs to feed their children tonight, an the next, I would be most obliged."
Winfred glanced down at the bag of groceries before asking "What do I tell your friend?" Not getting an answer he glanced back at where Willie had been standing. There was just empty space. Turning about Winfred tried to listen for the sound of foot falls. Nothing. Sizing up the grocery bag he went down the street, placed the groceries on the porch and knocked on one of the doors of a small flat. An elderly woman opened the door and peered into the night. She was about to close the door when she saw the bags of food. One hand went to cover her mouth, the other her heart. Winifred watched from the shadows as she called to those who lived in the house to help her bring it in. Pausing at the door leaned against the frame to wipe the tears from her eyes.
`Something needs to be done in this neighborhood to help those like her,' Winfred thought, running his hand through his hair. Most of the families there were living hand to mouth. The rents were high, and the jobs at the factories never paid enough to cover everything. `Maybe I've just been chosen to be the one to do that something.'
George stood across the street at Willie’s apartment. He could see movement against the curtains, and was beginning to become a bit peeved. He was to have met Willie half an hour before down the street. When he didn't show George took a walk. Sighing, he went across the street and pushed the button to be rung into the apartment. Instead of hearing Willie's voice, a vast BOOM filled the air from above him.
"Damn." George muttered, kicking through the glass of the door to pull the fire call box.
Ian felt someone in the room before he closed the door to where he had to wait for the tests. Glancing over he saw the same man sitting bundled in blankets in a reclining chair with the same bottle of white stuff beside him as they had given Ian. He shrugged and indicated to the bottle. "They said it was Pina Colada flavored. I told them I wasn't old enough to drink and they could take it back… Didn't work."
Ian heard a chuckle from the man, followed by a raspy cough. "Not even close," he said finally, wheezing a bit. Sighing the man turned his head to regard Ian as he moved to another chair and curled up with a pile of blankets over him. "What are you in for?"
Ian tilted his head not understanding at first what he was being asked. When it dawned on him he shrugged. "Copper deficiency. They need to scan my bones to see if I'm growing or na… you?"
He watched as the man turned to face him, the hat and scarf being removed when he changed. Ian regarded the mans face with out changing expression. In polite terms, it looked as if an elephant had stepped on his face. The skin was an angry red from scars , parts of his mouth and his ear were completely removed. Ian could see that the extent of the damage was beyond what could be repaired in a life time. There was no pity in his eyes, just, curiosity.
"Liver failure," he said at last. He held out his hand. "My friends call me Tommy."
"Ian," he answered, taking the offered hand and giving it a shake. Instead of letting it go, Ian turned it palm upright and glanced at it. Bending over he gave the palm a sniff. "Tell them to check for gall stones as well," he said before releasing his hand. "My great grandma is a healer. She knows things tha’ most doctirs won't learn in their life times. If you don't mind me asking, what happened?"
Taking a sip of the white liquid in the cup, Ian watched Tommy shrug. "I don't remember. I don't have any real memory of what my life was like until about two months ago when I woke up one morning and was watching the news. Anything before that is – gone. I can't drive, of course. I use a stick to help when I walk so I don't go too far off the road, or too much into it. I know, where I was at, if I stayed there, I would have never been able to find out what I need to know. So… do you have a girlfriend?" Tommy asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Ian took a quick sip of the liquid before he answered. "I have friends who are girls, an some I'd rather just thump them good than to deal with them. I'm surrounded by my sisters an aunts an if all to a girl there is is wailing an carrying on, then I don't rightly know if I want to be having them.” He finished the cup and put it down next to the jug. "Ach that's horrid stuff. Taste like m' own boogers going down."
Ian watched the older man nearly choke as he was in mid sip. Clearing his throat after swallowing, Tommy shifted his gaze sideways. "Your mother's a lovely lady," he said over the brim of his cup.
He watched as Ian's small shoulders shrugged. "I guess so, as all mothers are lovely. Haven't seen her in over 5 months. After Da died, something in her broke an it was thought best that the girls and I come here to live with my aunts an uncles.”
There was no fire that came with the blast - George was happy about that. The door to Willie's apartment was ripped off its hinges and he could see someone laying just inside the frame. Stepping into the room George looked around. Willie's healer bag was folded and placed on the chair by the bed. Striding across the room George grabbed the bag and returned to the person on the floor. A downward glance informed him the person at his feet was still alive- for then. He
knelt down as he pulled out his cell phone calling for an ambulance and assistance. The man had no face it, and his eyes being sheared away - and had used his hands to shield the blast that was at face level. Swallowing George realized that the height was the same, as was the build. George flipped open the bag and took a breath. Willie had shown him one evening what he carried in there – the bits of leaves and twigs, what would help, what would harm. He had them coded, wrapped in small color pouches. Pulling out one for pain, George crumpled the leaf on the tongue of the man. "Hang in there, help is on the way," he murmured, hearing the sirens come closer. George closed up the bag and slung it over his shoulder. He knew how precious it was to Willie, and his family, he would safeguard it for him.
It was with a jolt that he realized where the bomb had been placed. They had learned from their mistakes that a door being unlocked by remote would set off the bombs, this one had been wired into the answering bell – the moment that someone pushed the button to release
the door below. It didn't explain why Willie was late. If it wouldn't have happened that night, it would have happened the next- or even when they knew he was in the building and they pressed the button below to have him come over and ring through someone.
The shirt was of the same style Willie had taken to wearing, as were the pants and shoes. There was no wallet- though it could be anywhere in the room. George lifted the mans hands off the floor and placed each of them on the mans chest. Identification of him would be difficult, if not impossible, though George knew he had access to the DNA reports from the summer. Half-rising, George pulled a blanket off the bed and placed it over the man as voices entered the lower area of the building. George stood up and looked around again. He knew in a few seconds the place would be over run and he would lose his chance at finding out what happened.
It was with a start he realized that the plate was off the button call box and that there was a small round key ring screw driver plate beside the screw that held the plate in place. He couldn't dust for fingerprints now. Opening his jacket he extracted a small plastic bag and was careful to slide both the plate and the screw driver into it, then put it in his pocket. He hadn't seen gloves anywhere- there had to be fingerprints. Willie's coat wasn't on the coat rack ether.
When the medics came up the steps George was kneeling beside the man taking his pulse. Giving them a backward glance he said, “I've given him a small dose of poppy leaf for the pain; it’s helped somewhat - his breathing has eased."
Looking down he addressed the man on the floor. "Hang in there, William. Help is here." George moved to let the medics have room. He needed to get out of there before the offices came. He saw his chance two flights down with a little old lady who was clinging to the rail not knowing if to go up or down. He went down the steps to her and was comforting her, telling her there was no fire, and that the paramedics were with the young man helping him as the police officers went by he didn't pay any attention to them, just to the little old lady who was speaking to him about her son in the war. Helping her into her apartment George waited half a breath before going down. There was one last thing he needed to do- he hated to do it, because it would have been seen as tampering with evidence. He knew he had been very careful before in regards to his fingerprints, as had Willie in their comings and goings. Slipping on his gloves as he reached the lower floor he stepped through the glass door and if to balance himself reached out and wiped his fingerprint from the button on Willie’s number.
The fire brigade was just pulling into the slot when he reached the nearest curb to turn away from the apartment building. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he ducked into an alley. The bag would make him noticeable. Setting the bag down briefly he removed his jacket, then slipped the bag over his shoulder and replaced his jacket. It made him look ten pounds heavier, so much the better for mingling in the crowds. He realized with a jolt that he'd probably condemned the man by calling him Willie. Whomever was responsible would be sure to finish the job not knowing it was their own man. He would have to get word to Taylor. George felt his knees go weak. He leaned against the wall then slid down it to sit on the cold pavement of the alley. It could have been Willie. If the plate would have been on it most certainly would have killed whom ever was answering the bell. There was a bitter irony to that.
The crunch of gravel in front of George caused him to look upward, and see an offered hand. It was a young police officer who regarded him curiously. Taking the officer’s hand George used it to steady himself. The young officer shook his head and said softly, "I heard the call come over the radio, He was with me ten blocks away na a minute before the call came in. Name’s Winfred, sir, an’ he's gone to live in the darker places I'm thinking, to keep the neighborhood safe from the likes of those doing this. There are enough who sleep on the street to fade in with another I reckon. Near the bridge over to the shops is where I last saw him. An’ I'm forgetting it as I'm
telling you, sir."
George nodded watching the young officer stride from the alley as if he had been checking a stray cat. Going down the opposite direction George used a second alley to come out on the main
street and started his walk towards the bridge.
The air was calm as he sat on the bench over looking the river. It may be with some luck that he could run the prints, though after what happened with the gun records he had with reasonable certainty the firm belief any computer records that he would unearth would be erased at the source. He had installed a router system, that could pull up the information, then disconnect from the web anything that wasn't within the parameters of the information. If the original file was just 5 mb, then that's all that it would allow for the download. Twice it had stopped and informed him the file size had tripled in a heart beat. He kept swapping hard drives, and changing the location
that he pulled up the information at. He knew he had only an hour at best to locate the fingerprints online, and the evening brought the closing of the locations where public access was.
A glint came into his eyes as he rose from the bench. Striding down the street he took a moment to study the entrances of different buildings. A smile crossed his lips.
Winfred walked his beat feeling his heart hammer in his chest. "Da said you didn't have to be brave to be an officer, just willing to die in the line of duty.” The shrill alarm of a shop not far ahead of him caused his pace to quicken. Arriving at the shop he saw on the call plate tape over several dusted fingerprints, and a key ring screw driver that had tape over two dusted fingerprints. He heard a voice behind him say softly, "Looks like he dropped his key ring when
he tried to gain access to the shop. He leaned against the plate as he tried to force his way in… Please be careful."
George slipped into the darkness and went back to Willies apartment. The paramedics had gone. The fire department was still cleaning up the debris from the street as he slipped into the building and went up the steps two at a time. He didn't have to show his badge as he walked into the room, and pausing in the shattered door frame he brushed against the telephone stand causing a small clunk as he passed by. "What happened here?" he asked, letting out some air.
Frank fidgeted. Ian was supposed to be back right after lunch, and they were already two hours away from leaving for the day. They were in the library study period. Frank had convinced Molly to let him scan the item she had onto a disk and then using the web access pulled up the information from NOAH regarding the longitude and latitude markings on the map. He downloaded as many of the local shoreline maps that he could, then on a hunch, did a search on old maps of the area in the archives and saved them to his disk as well. Taking great care he deleted all of the history, and the cookies, and everything that would trace where he had been. He could use his home computer to review the files that night. Using the file system of the computer
he looked up the books that might be relevant to what they were searching for. It was on his way back to his seat that he paused and looked at the map that hung on the wall of the library for the school.
Blinking twice he noticed several things at the same time. While it was an old map, it wasn't an original - it was a copy of the original that had been painstakingly scanned and then printed out on the library wide printer. The map was also for sale, the copies of it going to support the library fund. What made this particular map interesting was the evidence of several pin holes that had also been copied as well in the transfer process.
`It couldn't be that easy… or could it?’ he thought. There was one copy left of the map in the holder. He knew they only had half a dozen at a time and the cost of it was 25$. Fumbling in pocket he extracted his wallet and pulled out one of the credit cards his parents had given him at the beginning of the summer. Except for the roses he had purchased for the school nurse, he really hadn't spent any of the money on the card. His hand covered the map and pulled it out of the holder. Taking a breath he swallowed. "I'd like to buy this map, Ma'am," he said sliding the card across the counter. She glanced at him and the card, then nodded. Screwing up his courage he inquired, "Where is the original to this one?"
The librarian looked back at the map then to him and smiled. "It's on loan to the Smithsonian right now. We don't have the facilities to preserve it properly. They were able to provide us with a grant to have the map faithfully reproduced for display and sale. It was the first map made of the coastline that was accurate, and every sailor worth their salt had a copy of it. It was mass produced in the late 1700s by the East Indies Trading Company and given to their privateers."
"I've heard that name before…" he mused. He saw her nod.
"They were the trading company whom had their vessels raided during the Boston Tea Party."
Behind Frank the bell rang. He nodded his thanks before hurrying to his locker to place his things in them . The age of the map would be probably right. He would have to look over his copy and the copy that she gave him to be sure. He knew it had to be common practice to pin the maps together. The odds of being able to line the pin holes up would be astronomical. At the very least he had a very cool map of the area. He was halfway to class before he stopped cold.
She had said Privateers. There was something about that word that puzzled him. He knew his father or mother would know the answer. Entering into the classroom he breathed a sigh of relief. Ian was sitting in the chair writing down the days assignments while Taylor spoke softly to the teacher. Leaning over he whispered to Ian, "Howdid it go?" He watched as Ian rolled his eyes.
"Ach, I'm so full of the boogers they gave me to drink I don't know if I will ever eat again. That, an’ the noise the great beastie made over me were the worst part," he said under his breath, shrugging.
"Look, are you able to use Aunt Taylor's computer tonight and meet me in the chat room about seven? Molly has an idea for this weekend that we need to talk about."
"If I'm able to get the home work done, aye, I can be there. Bed time for me is going to be early tonight though. I've been through a washer’s spin cycle an m' belly's na feeling to particularly happy."
Frank cracked his knuckles as he sat down to the desk that held his computer. His dad had said no more than twenty minutes. It was just a guess when Ian or Molly would be on and chance if they could all be on together. He used two minutes of that time to Google the term ‘privateer,’ and sat back when he saw what it had said.
A privateer was a private ship (or its captain) authorized by a country's government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping. Strictly, a privateer was only entitled to attack enemy vessels
during wartime. However, states often encouraged attacks on opposing powers while at peace, or on neutral vessels during time of war, blurring the line between privateering and piracy.
Privateers were an accepted part of naval warfare from the 16th to the 19th centuries, authorized by all significant naval powers. The costs of commissioning privateers was borne by investors hoping to gain a significant return from prize money earned from enemy merchants Reading on, Frank realized the significance of the galleon that had been beached in the other harbor. Newer ships would often lose their calking when they were on longer trips it was up to the crews to replace the calking as fast as it was being lost. Storms and illness would also beach the vessels, or when the ship was taken as pirate's loot and left unseaworthy
"What would Aunt Jessica do?" he thought. "First, find out the age of the house that it was found in, and the person who had owned the house- that would be in the deed section of the court house – the hall of records.” Before he got further he was interrupted by a PING on his computer as a pop up box appeared in the corner of his screen. He had subscribed to a news service. His eyebrows went up as he made a quick copy and paste of the article before sending it to the printing station.
The headline screamed at him, "What Is Scottland Yard Playing At? Bristol, UK: A rash of bombings in the south side have mystified local police. Five men have died in the last three month and with all five, Scotland Yard officials have confiscated the files and informed the
local police that it wasn't any more of their concern. The victims families are notably upset. Following in this wake, a confrontation between officers and Scotland Yard officials occur when one of the beat police refused to hand over evidence from an attempted break in at a local senior home. An unidentified man was discovered at the most recent bombing sites, the apartment rented by noted Dr. W. Razanur, author and immunologist. Dr. Razanur had traveled to the UK
to attend a series of seminars as guest speaker. No information of his current location is known however police have dismissed any involvement with the latest explosion…"
"Ho, boy," breathed Frank. He returned to his computer screen and pulled the larger map up, he had been careful to mark the pin holes with a bright color, it was easier to see with the second map overlay. It wasn't a square pinning. He was thankful for that, but there were more than four pin holes in the larger map, no matter how he turned the smaller map though, nothing lined up. Discouraged, he was about to pull the cd out when his elbow bumped his books sending some
of his papers to the floor. Bending over he picked up a few, then saw the smaller photo copy of the map had slid under his bed. Getting down on both knees he bent over and discovered that the map had fallen face down. The pin hole dots had bled through the back of the paper. As he glanced at it, something came to him. Picking up the paper he sat down and manipulated the image to invert it.
Frank gasped. The map fit over the section of shoreline between Boothbay and Cabot Cove.
A haunting image flashed before him of the willow tree, and the shadowy figure that had watched the bus turn the corner. "If you wanted to mark a spot, you would do it with something out of the ordinary so you could find it later…" he thought.
A soft bird call let him know Ian was on line.
"I saw it," Ian had typed. "Aunt Emma says to tell you Hello to you and yours."
Frank breathed a sigh of relief - Willie had got word to Aunt Emma, if there was any questions about his safety he would call the theater that she owned and asked when the next performance was. If it was someone he knew, he would ask what the children's rates were. The theater got hundreds of calls a day. Aunt Emma then would write her favorite nephews and say hello in a general email to them.
"I figured it out," Frank blurted in his text, "I know where the spot is to start at, but I think we need to take an adult with us this time," he finished.
"Ahhh. Any reason to spend with the lady you love…" teased Ian.
Frank felt his cheeks grow hot. His affections for Tipper were known to his family, it wasn't something that he wanted to get around though. Adopting her as a family member made it easier to be able to give her open hugs, and sometimes, a peck on her cheek when she was leaving. He reasoned that he still kissed his mum and dad hello and good-bye, and he made a promise to himself he would never out grow that, and he would make sure his little sister would as well. He had seen how much it meant to Aunt Jessica to do that simple thing.
"Maybe. So?" he answered Ian.
He knew the sounds Ian was making on the other end as he typed, "Kissy Kissy!"
"Snot Gob!!" Frank typed back grinning. Molly often called Ian that. A perverse thought crossed Frank’s mind- something his dad had discussed with him about how boys and girls would often tease each other, to the point of being cruel just to get the others attention. When she said it though, she now wore a grin on her face, and she would nudge his shoulder. While she liked Patty's company a lot, Patty being her best friend, Ian, came a close second as she
would sometimes be called to account for why she glanced at him so often in class by the teacher. `Na-` he thought to himself, ‘That would be too weird.’
Ian became more serious. "Do you really think its necessary? If it's a wicked thing to do, Aunt Taylor won't let any of us go."
"It's near the shore line. The other thing is, that, the person who made this map may not have been the nicest of persons to deal with. I'd rather someone who would be able to have a bit more muscle behind them than just us too if we came across anyone out there."
"You don't think Molly can't be trouble enough out there if someone bothers us?" Frank could tell Ian was giggling on the other side of the computer.
Molly chose to log on at that moment "I read that!!!" she typed fiercely.
Sighing, Frank pounded out "Guys! Stop!! Molly, I found where your key goes, and I know the place, and we need to have an adult with us because, it may be more than we should get into alone, okay?"
There was a pause. It was her expedition, her map key. "Ahhhh Kissy Kissy!" she finally typed.
"Five more minutes, Frank!" his dad called up the steps.
"Okay, dad!" Frank answered as he brought up an instant message window for Tipper. If Molly was teasing him about Tipper, it was a given that it was okay with her if Tipper was part of this. He knew she checked her messages at least once a day, though it would be tomorrow before he would know for sure.
"Angela, if your not doing anything on this sat, and the weather is going to be good, would you be able to join us on one of Molly's expeditions? Oh, and Aunt Emma says to tell you Hello."
There was a flicker on the message board where her name was. Frank regarded it for a moment then, on a hunch, opened up his spy ware blocker. Giving it a tap, it began to whirl and then began flashing red. He paused a moment, then typed, "I had a dream last night, about, primroses. I was in a field of them looking at the sky and they made me dizzy, like I was two people. I looked it up, but I can't find anything that would say what it means. Do you know?" He saw the flicker happen again. He was very glad that all the work he did he had saved onto disk, and had cleaned up. A pop up box appeared on his screen with IP numbers attached to it. There were
programs that he knew that could read every keystroke. What the person on the other end didn't expect was that the same program could be used to trace it back to the point of origin, written by a kid and passed about to other kids under the guise of a game called Ghost Lighter. While the original intention was a scavenger hunt for those who were pinging the system, Ghost Lighter became a popular way to know who was on line and listening in chat rooms when they would sign in as just a space and a dot for the name. ` We have to change our pattern again,` thought Frank, sighing. For a second he closed his eyes. He was just a kid, they all were. They found themselves in places no kid ever should be, and now, this. After seeing what Fordham was capable of doing, after all of this, Frank knew he would never be a normal kid again. He had heard his parents quiet discussion about how he had changed since being beaten up. He really
hadn't changed - well, maybe a little. He was slower because he was trying to stop from being afraid of every noise, every movement of the leaves. Frank knew that the kid responsible was no longer able to hurt him, he knew the kid had friends, and he knew that someday, some how they would try and get back at him for that kid being tossed in a cell.
Opening his eyes he regarded the IP address. He knew that there was nothing he could do to find out who it was. He was just a kid. Frowning, his finger twitched toward the Email box. Carefully he copied the information then opened up a message then clicked the address bar. He always carbon copied things to himself. His fingers flew over the keys as he typed out a brief message then pasted the IP information into it. He hit print, then send at the same time that he opened an on line game of tumble blocks. He knew it was very unlikely that whom ever was on the other end would be able to sort between the signal that he just sent, or the request to open up the graphics of the game. Weird how the older machines would show that's what he was doing, opening up a game, and then ignore the message being sent.
"Have to go guys, its my bedtime!" he said, then drawing in a breath he unplugged the modem. Ian had informed him what happened to some computers - it had taken two summers for him to get enough money to purchase the lap top, along with his birthday and Christmas money.
Rather than turning it off, he closed it and put it on his desk. He didn't know what Sheriff Metzger would do about it.
Mort had kicked off his boots and leaned back in his chair as he sorted through the mail on his desk. His computer was humming in the background as it played soft classical melodies that were interrupted by the "TA DA" sound. Sighing, he glanced up at who could be sending him a message at this hour.
A normal kid emailing him in regards to internet concerns would have resulted in a simple return email back stating the rules of internet safety and stranger danger. This was different though. This was Frank Fletcher, and while all of the details of the dangers he had been in were known to Willie and Tipper he knew enough that Frank didn't panic unless there was real danger, or a threat.
Frowning Mort regarded the IP address. Something about it was familiar. Blinking he unplugged his modem before digging through his in basket and inspecting a source code in the text of the email he had received a few months ago.
"Damn," he sighed, turning off his monitor after saving the information to a disk. His hand lingered over the phone. He had a feeling that no matter who he called, there would be some one listening. Slipping his boots back on he smoothly rose from his chair crossing the room to where Adele was reading Field and Stream. Bending over he kissed her mouth softly. " I have to go."
She caught his hand. "And you can't tell me?" she said in a matter of fact tone.
He shook his head as his hand caressed her cheek "No, I can't." His other hand moved to her other cheek as he bent over her face again kissing her a last time. "I've loved you from the moment that I first saw you," Mort murmured. He drew in a breath, and walked quickly from the room.
There were a few ways that he could approach this. None of them were good for Willie if too much information was brought out. Or for him, for that matter. He knew that anyone high enough up the food chain to make a difference in what was going on could make all the responsible parties disappear in a heart beat. Mentally he sorted through the people that he knew, people that he could go to their house at 9 pm and get an answer that he needed. People that he could trust not to make a call and have him… gone. By the time he made it across the driveway to his car, he knew who to go to.
Jan Patterson had been a classmate of Mort's since high school. They followed the same path into law enforcement, though she had gone on to study law, and in time was elected to be a judge. She worked hard for her district, and won other elections that placed her in an enviable position of having access, and the power to reform some of the laws of New York. Jan had stood on her own two feet during all of this, and while she was outspoken on some issues, had earned the respect of the House and Senate when she was chosen as a key note speaker to a grass roots
bill that protected the rights of children. She never married, never wanted to.
The only thing that had caused a bit of a stir was when one of the other candidates gained access to her bank records by having one of his staff members be hired at her bank and then when she came in to make a deposit, printed out her banking history. It found monthly payments to a certain facility and when it hit the papers she said nothing. Mort had known, though. She had been a year on the beat when she had come across a throw away, a child who's parents had used `tough love" to deal with their child. It was Christmas Eve, bitter cold and the child , a young girl was just eleven. She was standing on the upper rail of a bridge ready to jump and she had just her night shirt on, no robe, no shoes. Jan had found her, climbed up to where she was and convinced her it was okay, and got her down and into her cruiser. There were no real prominence of shelters at that time to take in children. The adult shelters would have been too much of a danger for the child. There was one place, on the east side, and Jan took the child there to discover that they lacked bedding and food, and cloths for event the children they had. A sea of children's faces that held despair haunted her, and Jan made the decision to help them with private donations that she never wanted credit for.
Mort sighed. He had stood by her, and it had almost cost her everything until a court search of the records showed she didn't have a child there. Her actions helped the shelter stay open, and be able to expand. She'd shrugged off the amount she had spent. She was single, she owned her own home, her bills were few. She had no vices that he knew of. In all of the years that he had known her though- even with her advancement in the political world, she never changed. She still lived in the same home that she had inherited from her parents. While she had staff now, she still did her own dishes, and laundry. The staff was there as a buffer.
The driveway was full when he pulled in. He sighed. Now out in the open, she did do fund raising for different charities. He could see the men in black tuxes and snappy bow ties moving about the grounds with their dates. The gentleman at the door was about to refuse Mort entrance into the house when Jan saw him and nodded. He moved with her quickly to her library where he removed his hat and stood looking at her.
"Jan, I need your help," he said at last.
"That sounds rather ominous Mort…" she answered, tilting her head to one side. She watched him nod.
"It is. It's more than I can handle, and the risk to everyone involved is deadly. I wouldn't ask you to take this risk if it wasn't to help some children that I know."
He watched her slid back onto the sofa and cross her legs. Her eyebrow raised delicately. "I'm listening."
"I received an email from one of them an hour ago, He had discovered that his computer had spy ware that was following his keystroke, and as smart as kids are, he was able to trace back to who the other person was… He sent it to me, and I recognized the international codes. Jan, someone in Scotland Yard is spying on an eleven year old boy and his cousin who is ten. From what he told me, all his cousin said was that one of their aunts said ‘hello.’"
Mort saw Jan puzzle over what he had said. Taking a breath she leaned forward and said, "Wouldn't this be a matter for the FCC? Or the FBI if you feel that this is a pedophile case?" She watched Mort nod before pacing.
"It would, normally, except his cousin’s uncle has been working to uncover some nasty dealings in Scotland Yard, the type that people who have tried to help have ended up dead. I don't want to be losing these children because of some idiot - they have been through enough already. " Mort took a slow breath and closed his eyes. "I met Ian a few months ago, when I picked his great aunt and him up at the airport. He was ill, so ill that even at ten, he was a feather weight angel in my arms. He had been brought over for treatment and even now, even with a proper diagnosis, we don't know how long he will be with us. His cousin Frank was sent to Cabot Cove to stay with his great aunt over the summer, and he's a good kid. A month and a half ago, we almost lost him from a beating he received from an upper classman. He's not healed yet, not inside at least, if you know what I mean. He saved his great aunt’s life, and he also saved the district attorney of Orange County's life as well. And he helped to solve the murder of a young girl not too long ago. I can't stop the person who wants to harm them. I don't know what to do. I do know that if nothing is done, the world won't be a place we want to live in."
"What makes you think I can take on Scotland Yard?" she sighed.
Mort shrugged. "I can't think of anyone else that would have the contacts to find out what's going on."
Mort saw her back stiffen as she waved her hand towards the door to where her guests were. "I'm
better raising money for orphanages, and free care funds than I am digging through technobabble. You’re asking for more than just a favor, Mortimer - you’re asking for me to jeopardize everything I've worked so hard to accomplish."
Mort sighed and slid his hat onto his head. Wordlessly he turned to regard her before saying, "The Jan Patterson that I knew wouldn't hesitate to put her life on the line to protect a child, Money was never your motivation for helping before. You;re beginning to sound like the big shots we despised in the academy for washing their hands of the dirty street work that needed to be done. You’re raising money for the shelters, Jan, but, its been a hell of a long time since you
looked the people who live there, and those who need your real help in the face." Nodding to her, he strode from the room leaving her to sit in silence to ponder his words.
Frank sat for a moment looking at his closed lap top for the longest time before hearing his father’s footfalls coming up the steps. He knew his dad would stop in to tell him good night. Telling him about the planned adventure with Molly could wait. "Dad?" he called out as Grady passed by his door. Grady heard his son call and pushed open the door. In his arms was Ruth who was chewing on her fist, her eyes half closed.
"Yes, Frank?" Grady watched the emotions cross his son's face as he struggled for words.
"I got a text message from Ian, and he said "Aunt Emma says hello" and just after he sent it, my spy ware went off, and I ran Ghost Lighter, a program to see who is trying to get into the computer. I know where I go pretty well dad, and, well, it just seemed coincidental that it happened just then, so I copied the information and sent it to Sheriff Metzger, and then unplugged my modem. I haven't heard back from him, and I didn't turn off the computer ether. There is something else, too… I didn't want to worry Mom with this, but…" Frank reached over and handed the print out of the story on Scotland Yard to Grady. "Normal kids wouldn't be paranoid Dad, or know what it even means. I… I just want to be a normal kid, Dad, not one that worries that some stranger is going to blow up our house or come after me, but, I think they already are and I don't know what to do."
"We go on, Frank, with our lives as normal every day people. We do the normal things, we go to work, and school and to where ever we were going before and just do it. If they know that we know they are aware of what they are doing, it may prompt them into doing something – hasty."
Franks eyebrows went up. "But I sent the note to Sheriff Metzger!"
He watched as his father nodded. "Is that going to cause them to be hasty?" he asked with some alarm. "It might, or it might not. I'm guessing you took steps to cover your tracks with it?" A short nod from Frank made Grady let out the breath that he was holding.
"Yes," he said simply.
"Then the rest is up to Mort, isn't it?" asked Grady softly. He watched his son nod again before Frank went to him and gave Grady a long hug.
"I love you, Dad," he said against Grady's chest.
The gravel crunched under his feet as he came to his car and stopped to lean against the door. Closing his eyes he willed back hot tears that were forcing their way out. He knew he was hard on her. She had changed, though. Her father was a distinguished member of the
judicial board. The fact that his wife was 40 years younger than him and had some what of a past had been glossed over. Her dancing studies had been highlighted, and that she had once danced in the theater on stage as the prima donnas. Not the seedy bars that she had been taken into custody from. She had been booked, and charged under her stage name. The marriage happened shortly after her release under her real name, and Judge Patterson became a father shortly before their first wedding anniversary. Judge Patterson became known as the Iffy Judge… if Iffy was for something that would be of benefit then the ruling was fair. But if Iffy didn't think it would help matters, there would be no mercy.
Something changed by the fifth year of marriage. Her parents had spilt custody of her, allowing her to spend the school year with her mother and the summers with her father at the estate. She had told everyone at school that her father’s work kept him up here- but Mort knew the truth. Everything was kept quite, even after her father’s passing a year before her graduation from the academy. The word Divorce was never spoken in Marblehead Mass. There were no drunks, and there were no domestics. The very idea that a husband could almost beat his wife to death over a ring of water left on the counter was alien to most- and explained as a tumble down the steps. Something that Jan's mother did a lot until she went to live closer to a better school for their daughter. Mrs. Patterson couldn't stop her husband from seeing their daughter over the summer. It was with relief that he never harmed Jan, and only years later did Jan learn the truth.
Twenty-two years later Mort found himself in class looking down at the mug shot of someone who looked like the elegant Mrs. Patterson whom he met one summer’s evening years ago. They were to review the case and see if the ruling was fair. He saw Jan shift in her seat when he was giving the oral report. She'd regarded him after class as he gathered his books and turned in the folder. As far as he knew, he was the only one at the academy who had ever met her mother. His
professor had called him aside briefly and asked him a few questions regarding his report. Mort answered them honestly and kept his gaze from straying anywhere other than the Professor’s direction. He'd breathed a sigh of relief when the professor walked out the door. Being the only one in the classroom, Mort took a moment to rest his hand on the folder beneath it. The look Jan had given him when he saw her next caused him to sigh again. The words from the academy
entrance papers floated between them.
"Has any blood relative a conviction of a felony?" While a yes wouldn't prevent someone from being accepted, it would prevent how far they could go after graduation. Mort had shown skills at identifying perps even after they had aged, or tried to disguise themselves. He knew perfectly well at that moment the professor was testing him to see if he could make the connection between Jan's mother, and her. Jan had taken to darkening her hair somewhat, and wearing contacts. She didn't look anything like her father- and in some ways resembled her mother. The professor retired that year, several years early, and the class changed to use hypothetical cases,
not real ones. A year after, Mort's brother was arrested several times on petty crimes. Mort had been honest with them on his entrance exam. It was after that, that Jan became a crusader for children.
He'd protected her. He had risked everything he had worked for. He had kept her secret by removing her mother’s file from the box and seeing that it was destroyed properly, without any trace of it ever existing. She hadn't asked it of him, and he never told her he did it. He just couldn't see the sense of her facing that at her final review. Over the years they had asked favors of each other, neither keeping a tab. He'd even saved her life a few times, and she covered him during a shoot out when they were bringing down a drug lord. If the information came out now, it either wouldn't be believed, or, it wouldn't matter, albeit he would have been reprimanded for tampering with the files. It was different though, what the Yard was doing with the reports on Willie and the others. Nothing except mud would ever be found if the record had survived. Jan had waited long enough so that anyone connected with her mother’s past wasn't about to say anything before she began her crusade. "I want to be like my father," she had said that year.
Mort pulled the door to his car open and slid inside. He had a long drive to do before he hit his
bed. "Guess you are *just* like him Jan…" he said to himself.
Frank wiggled on the floor next to Ian trying to ignore the kissing sounds that were coming from Ian. It was almost impossible to focus on what the principal was saying, anything more than three minutes and most of the students were sound asleep. There was something wrong, though. He knew from reading the permission slip that this assembly was supposed to be on the choices that the students would be making for their future, what classes they would be signing up for, and that they would be speaking with their mentors that would be assigned to them for counseling. He had been through them before at his other school and there was no signs of the tables that they would be using. Instead there was a tall older woman who was dressed in what his mom once called a power suit- something that would focus on who she was, not just a pretty face. They were a row back from the front, the littlest of the kids were off to the side. Frank glanced about. Whom ever this person was, she had to be important. There were men on ether side of the stage area in behind the curtains.
There was a polite spatter of applause from the teachers as the woman stepped up to the mike. Frank saw her eyes sweep the crowd of children and her smile was warm, yet sad.
"Hello, everyone, my name is Janice Patterson, and I'm here today because I was reminded of something not too long ago of something that I've forgotten. A long time ago, I went through the police academy, and I found my deepest wish was to help children. While that was a long time ago, and times have changed, I have now found myself in the position to help children in a whole new way, but I realized that what adults want, and what we think is best for the children, may not be within the best interest of the children. Can any one here tell me why that may be important?"
There was a pause before Molly put her hand up in the air, and answering the permission nod from Jan stood up. "Like when a divorce keeps the child away from a parent and family who love them but the courts don't listen?" Molly watched Jan's body language stiffen slightly before she nodded.
"Yes," she answered "any others?" she asked. One of the other grades had a student stand and ask in a higher voice. "Like when they decided that a squirt of ketchup on the hamburger was the same as a serving a veggies?" Frank watched her nod again, and call on another child as he slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Since they moved to Boothbay, his parents had granted him a new phone that had limited service, and while he wasn't inclined to call any of his friends back home, it had its uses. Carefully he moved his hands down behind the back of the
kid who was sitting in front of him and keyed in a text message. "Who is Janice Patterson and why is she at our assembly with security guards??" He carefully turned off the ringer after he hit the send button and slid it into his pocket. He didn't expect any answer from Tipper. If something was wrong though, she would know who to contact. It was a struggle to force himself to listen over the noise that the students were making in the questions and the applause and the laughter from what she was saying. He wondered how anyone could talk about almost absolutely nothing for so long and not repeat themselves. Frank closed his eyes for a moment trying to sort through
everything. She had been on the stage almost an hour and he hadn't heard anything from Tipper. Maybe this wasn't a local person after all. When he opened them he gasped to himself. Something had changed
There was someone on the stage with her, someone Frank knew. There was something else though, the men were missing. Well, not all of them, just one and he wasn't one that he recognized. Frank pushed Ian down as he saw movement from the corner of his eyes. Springing to his feet he shouted "GET DOWN!" Jan dropped to the floor of the stage as a hiss went whizzing by her. Frank stood calmly as he faced a gun with a silencer pointed at him. "The police are on their way, and there is only one road out of here. You don't have enough bullets to kill everyone here, and I don't care if you kill me or not. You wouldn't be the first to try and I'm getting tired of being a target, so just do it."
There wasn't an answer from the man in the dark glasses. He stood silent for a moment before his stance wavered and his knees buckled and he pitched forward his gun fell to the floor with a clatter. Tipper stepped over him and handed her rifle back to Mort before jumping down off the stage and running to Frank to gather him up in her arms.
"Ohhhhhh Kisssy Kisssy!" chorused Ian and Molly together. Frank reached back and batted Ian in the head. Mort crossed over to Jan and scooped her up in his arms, holding her as Jan shivered.
"I saw Gabe by her," Frank said muffled in her arms, "and all the people that were around her wearing black were gone and then the guy wearing gray was there and I saw something in his hand…" Frank drew in a breath. "And Molly has an expedition planned for this weekend. I think an adult should be there, its not a date or anything like that, but would you come?"
Frank managed to look up at Tipper, who had tears coming down her cheeks. "Yeah, okay, I'm free," she said ,wiping the tears away. "And I don't care how tired you get of it, Frank Fletcher, don't ever tell someone to do it to get it over with, understood?" Frank nodded and was pulled again into her arms. He wasn't scared or upset over any of it, or what happened after. Tipper’s dart had knocked the man out, the men who were hired to protect Jan were found dragged off with lumps on their heads. The gun mans motives wouldn't be known for a while, if ever. Frank watched how tenderly Mort helped Jan to her feet and held her as she steadied herself. He even caught the quick kiss that she left on his cheek as he guided her to the chair before the principal dismissed the assembly to their school busses.
Tipper had been with Mort having brunch when she got the text message. At the same time Mort noticed the TV at the pub was running a story on Jan Patterson how she had canceled her plans for the day and her car had left the planned route to take her to the airport for her trip to DC amidst reports that her life had been threatened. Something made the two of them rise as one and Tipper pause at her car long enough to get her rifle before getting into Mort's cruiser.
Pacing in the principal’s office Mort couldn't help but feel that his visit the night before to Jan had precipitated the attempt on her life. Carol Murphy had made strong coffee for them all as Tipper sat with Frank, Ian, Molly and the girls. Ian reached out and took a casual sip from Tipper’s cup, then handed it to Frank who looked down into the creamy hot liquid and took a gulp himself before handing it back to Tipper.
"The kids are taking it better than I am," Jan thought as she watched the girls sit back to back of the boys talking about the weekend’s activities in soft voices as they waited for word from Andy that the children on the buses that went out were home safe.
Jan had identified the gunman as her driver, someone she had known for years. He was still out cold, and there wasn't any reason why he had turned on her in such a way. The other men would be in the hospital for a while.
"So, what now Mort?" Jan asked as she smoothed the wrinkles in her skirt. "Where do I go from here? Clearly the staff has been compromised, and I don't have clue as to whom I can trust or turn to in the real world."
It was Molly who surprised everyone by piping up. "You can come home with me. We have an extra room and its about time that my dad started to date again." She watched as Jan shook her head. "I have no idea about how secure the location is, or anything about you…"
A giggling from Ian caused all of them to look. "A fine sort to be picking out a woman for your da, she's na ever scrubbed a dish in her life an ye da ha your aunt to help him manage ye, ye canna ha two single women under the same roof with out the cats fighting in the bag, ye'd na get any rest over at Frank’s house with Ruthie keeping ye up at all hours and Dr. Tipper’s got a bit of the odd in her refrigerators, ye' safer with a lot of people about who won't have problems stretching the pot another mouthful.”
Jan shot a look at Mort then back to the children. "Oh, I wouldn't want to impose on anyone…" she said. shaking her head sending her curly hair in a fair few directions.
Between Andy and Mort's cars they were able to transport the children and Tipper home. Standing on the deck looking over the remains of the garden Jan watched the sun set and pulled her shawl about her shoulders. The school had been locked down, classes would begin on Monday. Ian had stated gallantly that she could have his bed, he would sleep on the sofa, but as Frank was staying over too, the two young boys had planned to make a tent in the living room and stay up telling ghost stories.
She didn't quite know what to expect, at least not the size of the house and the warm greeting that Taylor gave her. Jan looked around the house. There were wedding photos on the wall, as well as refrigerator art from Margarita. The kids were orderly as they placed their book bags in their cubes and dug out their books to do their homework. Taylor moved about with quite grace, listening to the boys discuss their lessons. Mort stopped by after dinner to speak quietly with Taylor and after a brisk nod to Jan he started for the door. Jan followed him, catching Mort by the sleeve.
"Mort, can you honestly tell me that what you asked last night has nothing to do with today's
She watched as Mort turned and regarded her. "I don't know. I do know that next time, it may be these kids in the line of fire, and we were incredibly lucky that Frank, and yes, it's the same Frank and Ian that I spoke to you about that are in the other room right now, if he hadn't have texted me, or warned you, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Not for me to say that you owe him something."
Jan swallowed a few times. "I'm involved already, aren't I? From the moment you came to me last night."
She watched Mort shrug. "We all are, Jan. If this monster isn't stopped, and they will go after
children to silence them, what chance does the world have for freedom?"
Letting out air she asked, "What proof do you have that it's the Yard?"
She watched as Mort pulled a scrap of paper from his breast pocket and opened it. On it was scrawled numbers. "I know you had to have looked at all the IP addresses from the Yard last night, just from curiosity."
He watched as she reached out and touched it with her finger tips. Her eyes were troubled as they glanced up at Mort. "I know that address," she said at last "I've only seen it with one email that was sent to me, and I kept it in a separate folder. Mort- The person who sent this, wouldn't be involved in stalking children.”
"Why would you say that?" he inquired. He watched as she pressed her lips together, her face filled with concern. "Because of who he is- he would have had to undergone strict psychoanalysis to get where he is today, and something like that just doesn't slip through the
"It has before, and you know what I'm talking about. If there is another reason why this persons IP address was captured, I want to know."
Ian slipped under the blankets that Taylor had placed on the sofa for them. Turning on his side he regarded Frank as he took off his glasses and placed them on the end table. "So Tipper’s agreed to do this with us tomorrow, and the weather will be fair enough. What do you suppose we will find and who owned the map afore she found it?"
"Who ever made the map took care to hide something. It could be anything. What would you wish it was? Treasure?" Frank teased then watched Ian shake his head.
"Eh, na exciting as what we found afore as the family gathered. Still, maybe Molly is looking for the adventure in it, and na something that's buried. I did a fair bit of reading about the lads they called privateers, and the pirates, an some seemed like decent enough folks - others, well, that they would shoot your eyeball out as soon as look at you. That the really nasty ones made getting to the treasure more of a stay alive if you can… and that may be more than she knows what to do with."
"Only if your there for her to run to as her rescuer…" Frank said, teasing Ian with a grin. To Frank’s surprise Ian lowered his eyes, and a faint blush was seen on his young cheeks.
"Ah, well, that thought had crossed my mind," he said sheepishly.
Ian wiggled under the blankets. The morning air was crisp to his nose and he knew that every bit of warmth that he could steal from his covers would be a blessing. He could just see the dim streaks of the sunrise peaking over the horizon. `Must be as late as 4:30,` he thought, stretching like a cat. If he had any hope of getting first in the shower that he had better do it then before his sisters were up. He never could understand why it took so long for them to get ready. Granted, the unlimited hot water was lovely. Not that he would blame his Aunt, but she had words with them about the water bill. Curling his toes he rolled back the covers. Yes the morning happened to be very cold. It had occurred to him that with winter, it was going to get much colder than he'd ever known. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he worked his way upstairs. He could tell by the soft snoring in the room that the girls were asleep. For a moment he stood in the door frame watching. Ian felt different inside. He loved his sisters- and a year past if you would have told him he could be independent from his twin sister he would have shaken his head. His dad’s death had taken something from him. He became the man of the family too quickly. If one of them should have had to give up their child hood for the good of everyone, it had fallen to him. His uncle hadn't put that burden on him, and he was grateful for that. Aunt Taylor was doing everything that she could to give them normal childhoods – as normal as could be expected he supposed.
The shower water was exquisite dancing over his shoulders as he scrubbed himself fiercely. It was the only time that he really felt warm in the day. He had heard kids at school speaking about a hot tub, and how you could cook yourself in it if you stayed too long in the hot water- much like a boiled chicken. He thought well that he might risk it, if just for a time. Sighing he turned off the water and snagged his towel from the rack. He had used enough hot water to keep him warm for long enough that he could dress. Wrapping the towel about his thin hips he blinked back the beads of water then groaned. He had left his clothing in the girls room. There was nothing to do except to go in and get them off of his cube and then hope that the steamy heat of the shower hadn't left the bathroom before he had a chance to get back in there.
This wasn't good at all. Not that his sisters hadn't seen him in just a towel, but, he was hoping as he went into the room that that woman was still asleep. There was nothing that could be done about it now. He wasn't about to call to his Aunt Taylor to get his things for him. Swallowing he made his way across the room and snagged his pants and shirt as well as his undergarments. He closed his eyes as he heard his bed creak. He didn't want to turn around to see if she was looking, but he knew that he had to go past her if he wanted to go out the door. Swallowing again, he walked out of the room and closed the door. He didn't breath a sigh of relief until he was safe inside the bathroom with the door closed again.
Letting out the breath she was holding Jan placed her head back down on the pillows the image of what she had seen imprinted on her brain. Mort had placed her here for a reason. It was about the care of the children, and from what she had just seen, these children were ones in crisis. She had seen similar markings on Patty's back, and some scars on Shauna when they had dresses for bed- but nothing like what Ian had. She couldn't imagine what parent could do that to their child. From the condition of the scaring, it looked like they had been inflicted with in the last year. Mort had said that Ian had arrived early in the summer the others came later. The children were
well behaved. She'd never seen any large group of kids or family set so in their routine. It was if they were disciplined to do the expected tasks. The only odd one was the littlest with her game of
repeating things, children did that often- though, Jan wondered why Taylor would allow that to continue.
When Jan came down for breakfast with the girls she found Taylor sitting at the head of the table sipping tea as she looked over Frank’s shoulder. He was explaining what he had found and the path that they were going to take that day as soon as Tipper came. She would drive them to the starting spot which he was pretty sure was the Willow on the cliff side. Taylor nodded. "There are steps that go down to the shore at that point- but I would prefer if you didn't go down to the beach area, the tide comes up rather quickly, and if you get stuck, we will be picking you out of the lobster traps. Do you understand?"
Frank nodded. "Yes ma'am." Carefully Frank pinned the printed out copy that he had made of the large map with the path that they had planned to take and placed it on the dining room table. It was one of the conditions, that they left where they were going with an adult, and that they would follow the guidelines. Frank and Ian had reassured Taylor they were quite done with adventures.
Looking up at the brisk knock Taylor saw Tipper place her knapsack on the deck and enter into the kitchen as she lifted her tea cup to her lips she heard Margarita pipe up, "Hello Sweetheart" in a deep voice.
Tipper looked at Margarita, then over to Taylor as the tea cup slipped out of Taylor's hands and clattered to the table. The only thing that stopped it from smashing was the tea cozy that it had hit when it came down. Taylor swayed and grasp the table. Frank knew enough to move out of his seat and guide Taylor to sit down.
"She could have heard anyone, Taylor!" Tipper told her, giving Taylor's shoulders a shake. Glancing back to where Margarita sat chatting to the wall in a soft sing song voice, Taylor finally
nodded. "I'm alright," she said softly. "It was just- a shock, that's all, I'm fine. Best you all go to pick up Miss Imbored."
Ian came in to the room lugging his knap sack that had the lunch in it. "Aunt Taylor!" he said faintly scandalized "You tell us na to call anyone names! Besides… It’s ‘Princess Imbored.’ He grinned, giving her a half hug. "See you in four hours, or before if we find the
Taylor watched the children leave with Tipper then turned to see Jan regarding her with a worried expression on her face.
"What?" Taylor asked, curious.
Molly was waiting on the porch with her knapsack on her shoulder. Her aunt had informed her that a lot of the coast line had changed in the last 200 years and it was unlikely that they would find anything on the first try. Molly had shrugged. She had GPS on her phone- she knew exactly where they needed to be to find the treasure. Giving her dad a kiss on the cheek she had gone outside to wait. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She had heard that Tipper had helped to find the treasure that Ian's family had lost many years ago, and that it was worth millions, maybe billions, except that they had taken it and put it in a museum. She had even got a curious glimpse at the gold that Frank had, the coin that he would regard once in a while and then put back in a safe place. Ian had told her that his cousin had died, and that it grieved the family to think about it. She waved to Tipper as the small Honda Civic pulled up and into the slot beside the house. She could see Patty in the back, Frank up front and Ian in the back with Patty. She slid out of the car letting Molly sit in the center seat so that Ian could explain what they had found.
Flipping open her phone Molly turned on the GPS and looked at the numbers. She had tested what she had thought the night before when standing on the deck of the house and looking at the map Frank had found. As they drew near the coast line road the numbers that Molly had from the map began to get closer to the one on the phone. They were nearly at the willow when Molly yelled, "Stop the Car!" Tipper pulled the Honda to the overlook parking area.
Putting the car into park and turning off the ignition, Tipper turned to regard what Molly was looking at. Molly unfastened her seat belt, then sprang from the car. "This is it!” she said, hopping up and down with excitement. The boys looked doubtfully at each other. Right away she whirled and began to pace out then stopped where the railing was that would prevent people from going over the edge. Tipper saw her turn, her face dejected.
"Well, bang goes that theory," she grumbled.
"What is it? What's wrong?" inquired Patty.
Sighing she turned and pointed. "Thirty paces that way is open water. Ether the cliff fell away, or the map is bogus." She sighed again turning off her cell phone and slipping it in her pocket. "None of the numbers make any sense after that.”
Ian regarded the map that Frank was smoothing on the cars hood. "It’s not always going to be simple, Molly. It didn't make sense until I accidentally let the map fall and it flipped over. The whole thing was backwards to the real map."
"What if the numbers were written backwards? Or the directions are backwards?" asked Ian.
"Then we could be wandering around for a long time," Tipper said pragmatically. "What do you want to do?" she asked, biting her bottom lip.
"Well, we are here. Can't hurt to look around, and maybe even, well, do the map backwards," shrugged Ian. He watched Frank give a nod, and a shy smile towards Tipper. Any time spent with her was time well spent.
Tipper regarded the map. "Well, there are enough of us we can try something. Let’s follow a hunch of mine. If the person wanted to hide something that much, and there isn't many directions that they could follow, then, well, maybe the changed the direction every time that they had to turn. Find your start spot again, Molly…" she said. Ian carried a large stone over and marked the spot.
"Okay, we know that the direction that the map wants us to go isn't right. So, turn around and do the same pacing in the opposite direction, then look at the numbers on your GPS.”
Molly nodded. The pacing took her across the road nearly to the edge of the rock face of the hill side. "Was this here 300 years ago?" she asked, curious.
Tipper regarded the hillside. It had been cut away. "I think they had probably climbed a bit, but for right now, it should be okay. Now take that chalk that you brought, and mark the rock. Which way does it tell you to turn on the map?"
"To the right, for twenty paces."
"Then mark that on the rock…" Tipper called.
"Why?” the kids said together, turning and looking at Tipper.
"Because we left a map with Taylor, and if we aren't back that would be the one that they would follow. The thing is, if its not right, then we have to let them know where we are and where we are going to," she said simply.
Molly pulled out her chalk and wrote as best she could on the rock. Tipper nodded. If they did get lost and needed a rescue, it was something that was visible from where she stood. "Okay, Frank, Molly is going to stay in one place, your going to go to the right twenty paces and tell us what you find, and you will take her GPS with you.”
Frank nodded and paced off the steps. Glancing down at the numbers he sighed and was about to shake his head when he looked at them again and turned the phone upside down. "Hey!! The numbers match!!" he shouted grinning. All of them came over to see. Excited he pointed to them. "They look different upside down," he said, pointing to the map, then inverting it.
"But that changes the direction we have to go again…almost back to where we started from!" Patty sighed.
"Maybe. Can't hurt to try, and we have the places marked if it’s not right," shrugged Ian.
It took the better part of an hour to pace out where the map would take them. It was Ian who was the last one to go out in the last possible direction. Rounding a corner of the hillside he paused at
the sound of running water. A few more paces he came face to face with a hillside and a small man made fountain area that had water running over obsidian rocks that were pushed into the hillside in a steady two foot wide flow straight down, into a basin area. Over the top of it was written "Fountain of Youth."
"Bang goes that theory," he muttered to himself.
"Did you find anything?" Asked Molly breathlessly from calling out.
"Aye. An old joke," he said, sweeping his arms back the way he came "Someone had a right fool time of it. Fountain of youth, indeed, " he sighed. "The only treasure here are the coins people
toss in for luck…"
Tipper tilted her head. "Fountain of Youth? Really?" she asked, moving in Ian's direction.
He shrugged again. "Aye, its like, oh, what's your word, a fancy stone grotto."
Tipper blinked twice. "I've never heard of one being here."
Frank regarded it as the group gathered closer. "You know, the way we came, its pretty much the only way that someone would be able to find it. How old do you think it is?" he asked curiously.
"Pretty old. Fresh water to sailors was more important than gold, really. To have a location of a fresh water spring on the map was a treasure… I wouldn't drink it though, not now, there are too many contaminants in the soil and parasites that can make you sick." Tipper dug into her pocket and handed each of the kids a few coins to toss in. "Make a wish," she said, grinning as she closed her eyes and turned around to toss her coin in.
Ian watched as the others tossed, shaking his head at their foolishness he simply tossed his
through the water fall to the other side. He paused. "Tipper, do ye have another two coins on ye?" he asked curiously.
"You had one just like the others, Ian…" his sister began.
"Nae, I need you to listen to something…" Nodding Tipper handed him two more coins.
"Listen when I toss it in the water…" all of them waited with expectant glances at each other as he tossed it in. there was a “plop kerplump" as it hit the bottom.
"Now listen" he said, tossing the other coin through the water fall.
There was a change in the sound. Tipper straightened her back slightly "That echoed…"
Shrugging Ian went over to the fountains edge then dug in the pocket of his coat and peaked around the corner with his flash light. "There is an open space behind it. Any idea how we
get through with out getting soaked to the bone?"
Patty grinned. "I brought an umbrella… though our feet may get a bit wet if we aren't careful." The children began to move to the waterfall.
"Wait wait wait!" Tipper said, calling after them. "First rule of going into dark places, know where your going to. Second rule, always have a line out and not go further than the line will let you. If this is a cave, there are going to be thing in it, like spiders, and snakes and probably rats…"
Tipper found all of the children regarding her. "Like, you're a vet, your saying YOU are afraid of all of that?" teased Molly.
"Um, no. But as I'm a vet, I don't have the expertise to patch you up if killer rabbit begins to attack you."
Molly handed Tipper the umbrella and her flashlight. Sighing Tipper used the edge of the pond to walk around then stuck the umbrella in the water fall before turning on the flashlight. There was an area behind the waterfall and eyeing the pop cans that were scattered about, the 12x4 x 8 cave had been party central for the local kids at one time. It was more of a man made structure that housed a gravity fed pump house for the water fall. Shaking her head Tipper turned and saw something etched into the obsidian. `Curious rock that,' she mused to herself - when it was wet, it looked highly polished, hiding everything unless you looked at it the right way. She could see herself in the stone. It was a series of numbers. "Molly? Does your GPS plot things for you?" she asked in a soft voice.
Carefully she read them to Molly, while Frank jotted them down. When she was done she searched the other side of the falls, but found nothing. She turned and saw Frank regarding the numbers. "What is it?" she asked
He pointed. "It takes us to the willow tree," he said softly. "I've been following how those numbers work. The thing is, it takes us past the tree, and I think down along the cliff face. That can't be safe.”
Frank saw Tipper frown. "Well, the only thing more public than the Willow tree would be the
shore under it, they built steps to go down," she said as she leaned against the obsidian to secure her footing. There was a crunch, and groan of stone as the panel shifted backwards under her weight. A belch of foul air issued forth from the crevice and a loud burping sound came from the water fall itself, well more like behind it.. The water came to a stop over the waterfall leaving the door way open. Tipper turned again and flashed the beam in. The room was no bigger than what it was before, but something had changed. The floor was gone.
"Toss a pebble down there, Molly…" said Frank softly. Picking up a round stone, Molly tossed it in, For the longest time, they heard nothing, then the sound of it splashing into the water.
"So what happened?" asked Molly.
Tipper shook her head. She had experience from before with trigger switches. Sometimes, it just
happened that she leaned against the right part to make it go. "We can let Mort know about this - I don't want any young kids to get in there and get hurt." Carefully she made her way back off of the pond area to rejoin the kids. "In the meantime, we can check out the willow tree." Retracing their steps they found the spot where the numbers began and followed them with the aid of the GPS. It was mid-way down the steps that they heard the sound of the water falling down mid way of the cliff face. Tipper paused. "It wasn't like that before, not that I ever remember."
"It wouldn't, tha's an old waste water pipeline," said Ian softly, glancing at Frank.
Molly looked down at the shore line. “You know, the only thing that we haven't seen is what is above the waterfall…" She regarded their puzzled expressions. "The water had to come from some where. With the water not coming out of it, wouldn't there be a hole?"
She watched Tipper shrug. "I’m not too comfortable with that area right now - not when the floor
of the place isn't there any more and its changed the direction of the water exit." Tipper paused midway on the steps. She had heard the crunch of a car pulling into the gravel area and was curious. "Stay here," she said, going up the steps two at a time before stopping just at eye level. She saw a dark burgundy car next to her Honda. She couldn't make out the faces, not clearly from this distance, but the clipped British accents reminded her of how the queen spoke. One was tall and lanky with an off blue sports coat. The other wore a tan suit that looked like it had been in moth balls for many years.
"Yeah this is it, she has to be around here somewhere according to that receptionist and the information that we have. It’s just not pin pointing them yet…"
"I'm telling you, they are related to the woman who sent the emails," said the man in the tan suit, looking older than his years. She watched as the man in the blue sports coat shrugged, turned to look at the hills where they had marked with chalk, then turned back to the man in the tan suit.
"Maybe. I know, though, they want them all taken care of."
"Hey- there is tailing them, and there is making sure that they are involved before anything is done," the tan suit stammered looking at the dark suit and holding out his hands.
Something made Tipper slide her hand into her pocket and grab her phone then key it to the camera. Holding her breath she snapped a photo of the two of them, then gasped as a soft shot rang out, for a moment the tan suit staggered holding his side. Bright blood bubbled from under his hands. Tipper grabbed the rail to steady herself. She had the presence of mind to snap another photo of him holding the gun up to the tan suited man, and she closed her eyes as the soft shot rang out again she clicked the camera again. She saw the man pitch forward onto the hood of her car and got the shot with her phone of the blue suited man tossing the gun into her front seat. She felt someone behind her, as a cool large hand covered her mouth and pulled her down as the blue suited man turned her way. Pocketing the phone she felt his other hand grasp hers and lead her down two steps, then he swung his leg over the rail and stepped in to the cliff face. She realized that the kids were not on the steps, and followed him. It was a narrow wedge that was hidden by the roots of the willow and the underbrush. His hand didn't let hers go as he lead her deeper into
the cave area. Breathing a sigh of relief she saw the kids sitting with the flash light on in a small opening of a cave that she realized was this man’s home. Beckoning to Molly she asked to see her cell phone, and then removed the battery. She did the same to her own after sending the photos to Mort's email. She knew that turning them off wasn't good enough.
Mort sipped his caramel chocolate cappuccino slowly that he had purchased from Harrison's mini mart. Adele had placed him on a diet, and he was allowed one weakness a day. He never understood why the machine cappuccino's were better than when they were mixed by one of those great machines. It was really nice that Harrison had put a set of chairs in the right spot by the window by a little table. There was no way that he was in serious competition with the donut shop up the corner, but he did have a few heat and eats there that Mort didn't have to wait to be seated, or waited on, and he was fast becoming Harrison's best customer. He was about to take a bite of the Turkey and Swiss Sub that had under 4 grams of fat when his cell went off. Sighing he looked at the front of it and saw it was from Tipper. He placed the cell on the table and took a bite. As he chewed he looked at it, It wasn't a call, it was a text message that she had sent him. Something wasn't quite right. Looking up from his sandwich before he took another bite, he called out to Harrison. "Didn't you tell me Tipper went with the kids on their adventure today?" He watched as Harrison nodded as he filled a cup of Vanilla Chocolate Almond Cappuccino for himself.
"Yeah. Particularly brilliant plan. Took me three days to fake a map and find an old batch of boxes at the antique store to toss in the basement that she could discover. The map would lead them to the Ice Cream Shoppe on the main drag near the light house. Bit of exercise for them, and they have a small treasure chest with chocolate coins for each of the kids when they get there. She wanted to get into the treasure hunt so bad once she got her GPS figured out. Wasn't hard to borrow it when she was at school and do the leg work, but they will have to walk about two miles both ways to get to the end. I think that will be the end of her wandering for the rest of the school year…" Harrison chuckled.
Mort grinned then flipped open the phone as he took a sip of coffee Most of the contents spewed out when he saw the pictures that she had taken.
"DAMN IT"! Mort shouted, jumping up.
"What? What is it?" Harrison asked concerned.
"Grab your keys, you have to show me where they started. When did they leave?" he asked, grabbing his coffee and coat.
"They started about two hours ago. I figured that the trip would take them about 5 hours total, and they have their cells if they were too tired to walk back they knew they could call. They started near Bayside Road ... why? What's wrong?"
Mort swallowed as he forwarded the photos to Andy's and his email on the computer at the station. Closing the message he hit a few buttons and spoke as he walked out the door. "Andy, check your email and print it out, meet us at Bayside Road, let Floyd know there is trouble and to be on the look out for a dark burgundy car driven by someone in a blue sports coat. Don't apprehend, just get the license number of it and keep an eye on where they go.”
He felt a hand on his arm and turned to Harrison who had questions in his eyes as Mort hung up the phone. "As far as I know the kids are safe. Angela will do everything to her last breath to make sure of that," he said as he opened the passenger door of his cruiser for Harrison to get in.
It was a tense ten minute drive as Mort sped along Route 1A, then pulled into where Harrison indicated the map would have taken them. As they came to the pull off Mort shot a look at Harrison. There was no sign of the car at all. He put the car in park and both of them got out to look around.
"There are no tire tracks," Harrison observed, glancing about the entire length of the overlook. Even thought the wind was brisk, there was no sign of anything coming in to the over look all day. Frowning Harrison flipped open his cell and dialed home. "Gretchen… Go into Molly's room and look at the box that she brought up from the basement." He waited a moment. " Okay, tell me what it looks like…" Mort heard Gretchen's voice on the other end and the look of confusion on Harrison's face. "Okay, check down in the basement. This one had two straps across it with carved in sea shells… " there was another pause before Harrison sat down, his face white. "I don't know, but want you to go to Taylor's to wait." Ending the call he looked up at Mort. "They aren't using the map I made. I didn't look over her shoulder, I should have. I don't know where they got the map that they used- but its not the one that I made." Panic was creeping into his voice.
Mort flipped his phone open and speed dialed Taylor's. There was a few rings before Jan answered it. "Jan, is Taylor about?" he asked trying to keep his voice calm.
He heard Jan say softly, "I made her lay down. Margarita said something this morning and it really upset her but she wouldn't say why. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Maybe. Do you happen to know where the kids were starting out their treasure hunt?"
"Yes, Frank said he knew the place, it was by a willow tree near the coast..." He heard the serious tone in her voice.
"Jan, Gretchen will be arriving soon, There was a mix up in the maps. The one they were supposed to use wasn't the one they took. We don't know where the map came from that they found. We are just trying to see if every thing is okay…"
"Don't give me that Mort! I know you! What is going on?" Jan hissed into the phone.
"I can only tell you to be very aware that something isn't right, and once Gretchen is there, to get the three of you over to Jessica's house and lock yourselves in. Taylor has the key. Now tell me what Margarita said this morning."
"Well, I don't know why it would upset her. She just said, "Hello Sweetheart" in a deeper voice, almost sounded like a man."
Mort swallowed as he hung up the phone. "Harrison, we have a fair idea where they are. Get in."
Harrison nodded and swung his legs in. Mort swallowed again then closed his phone. "So… why did you tell Jan to get them to Jessica's house? Mort, what is going on?" He watched as Mort took the battery out of his phone. "Mort?"
Mort started the car and turning it around headed back down the highway. "I'm sorry. I guess I've learned to be a bit paranoid, but, all the super spy stories like the fairy tales we tell kids all have a basis of truth. Somehow this all started and I don't know where its going to end. Yes, the kids are in danger. We are too, as well as anyone that we've contacted. We could hide, or we can work to get to the bottom of this, and end it once and for all. It's up to you, how involved you want to get. Once we find the kids and get them to safety…"
"Look, if who ever is responsible is that bad and scary, I don't want him to ever have a chance to hurt my kid, or her friends. Being close to death changes how you look at things. Tell me what I need to know."
Mort hesitated a moment as he turned onto the main highway. "A few years ago, a couple of men were working together to rescue children who had been buried under the rubble of the blast that took out an elementary school. Right then and there they decided that it had to end and to bring who was responsible to justice. The only thing I know is that, well, the people responsible aren't who the media would think would be… Not the real people who are organizing the bombings and the problems we have been having. It's frightening that they have access to the technology they do, and how they can track people. Frank found an IP address that shouldn't be on his computer, and it links Scotland Yard to all of this." Mort watched the struggle on Harrison's face.
"Well, sure the Yard would be involved if there were bombings… I take it that this happened overseas?" He watched Mort tilt his head and sighed.
"Yes, it started overseas, but the Yard isn't in it as the good guys," he said at last. He glanced at Harrison briefly as he sat in silence.
"Oh," he said at last. Harrison took a breath then turned to Mort. "Oh," he said again digesting the information. He let out the breath in a sigh. "And the kids are in the middle of this- how?" He
watched Mort swallow and for the longest time he didn't say anything.
"Mort?" Harrison said again. "How are the kids involved in this? And why isn't Willie here to protect them?"
"It was Ian's school. He and Patty and Shauna were there when it happened, and they have the shrapnel still in their skin from the blast that killed 45 children who were going outside to play. Taylor figured that out just after Willie went back home to Ireland.. He wants to make the children's home here for good. His sister… well… she hasn't been right since her husbands death. Mither is doing what she can to care for her and her child, but, he looks too much like
his father I guess." Mort saw Harrison's eyebrow flick upward. That was the official story that had been told regarding Willie going home.
Harrison blinked a few times then sighed. "Oh," he said at last. Mort glanced at him again and nodded.
Molly looked at Tipper, shrugging. "Well, we are here anyway…" she said softly. "Can we at least try while we wait? I mean, if he comes down the steps he might find the entrance…" she saw Tipper put her hand up to silence her. They heard the footsteps coming down the steps, pause a moment before going back up them. They could hear the crunch of the gravel as he walked above them. From the direction, he was heading to where they had placed the first marker. Tipper knew that their path was well marked. He hadn't seen them on the beach. There wasn't any place that he knew that they could go, and it would stand to reason, that if he thought her cell phone was in the car, it would account for her position to be right there.
The footsteps went on to fade above them. Every one breathed a sigh of relief, then held it as the crunch of gravel returned to where the car was, before it pulled off and drove down the street. Tipper placed her head in her hands and closed her eyes. Just then she felt as if she should crawl in bed and not ever come out again. She felt someone pat her shoulder. Lifting her head she saw Molly standing by the entrance of the tunnel with her flash light shining in. "Can we go in?" she asked tilting her head with a pouty lip pushed out.
"You don't understand the nature of sea caves, Molly. You may think there is only one way in to a chamber, but, when you turn around there are four ways out, and each one of them may not be the way that you wanted to go. The floor could give way, you could get stuck, a lot of people who do know what they are doing die each year in the caves."
"But we have a map, and rope, and we know how to mark the cave walls like we did up there- we can tie the rope around a rock and then just go to the end of it, and see if we find anything interesting. By the looks of the map, it shouldn't be far at all. Please?"
Tipper drew in a breath. They would ether have to stay down here until Mort found who ever had shot the man, or she would have to risk taking the kids up to the surface for them to see the dead man on the trunk of her car. Sighing, she looked around for a rock, then decided to tie it around one of the roots of the willow tree that made a natural looped area. Tipper made sure the knot was secure. "Okay. Just until we hear Mort get here- but you have to be quiet, we don't know where he has gone off to." Sighing, she took another section of rope and looped it in each of their belts. "Don't wander off…" she murmured taking up the front of the rope after securing theirs to her belt. She made sure that Molly was between Ian and Frank. It had been a fair guess to say the rooms split off, and with Tommy in the group as well showing them what a man's stride would do, it helped to save from going in the wrong direction. She felt a pause behind her as Frank stopped, straining his ears to catch a sound.
"Um, Tipper. I had a thought. If, the path takes us in the same way that it did before… then, well, isn't that where the water went?
Tipper looked down at the rope- they still had about thirty feet to go. "Um ... probably," she said carefully.
Molly shook her head. "No, that was only because we were changing the directions when we ran into an obstacle. We might come near the water, but not where the water went."
Patty hadn't said much the whole time she was there. She wasn't too keen on Molly's adventures. She had charged herself with looking out after Ian, now that he was feeling better, there was no end to the trouble he could get into. Especially with Molly. Patty had seen the curious looks that Molly had given first Frank, and then Ian when the boys weren't looking, and she recognized that look from older girls who were looking for a lad or two to chase. The boys were a bit daft to all of this. Mum had said the boys would be daft until the day after they became parents. Reality would set in then, and ether they bolted, or they became men overnight. Mum had said, that Da was a good man, not one to be forgotten but they needed a proper father now that Da was gone. Patty had seen though, the way that men looked at her mother when she was out trimming the flowers, the baby in the basket beside the walk. They would come and chat with her- the town
knew them as being Mither's kin, though they were hard pressed to make the connection between their mother, and the children as she worked to distance herself from them. She didn't love them less, she couldn't love them more. That was the heart ache. She couldn't tend to all of them, and they all knew the baby needed a father.
A bump from Frank ahead of her made her stop.
"What is it?" Patty asked softly.
"We've come to the end of the rope," said Frank.
"Maybe if we went back and undid the knots?" Molly suggested.
Ian shook his head behind her. "Nae it would give you maybe a yard. We know now what is down here…we can come back with more rope and proper lighting."
"Okay, everyone, let’s turn around and head back, I will coil the rope as we go."
The group turned and gasped. High on the shelf behind them something glittered in the their flash light beams. There were cut steps in the rock wall leading up to it. Molly undid her rope tie with a tug and was half way up before they realized what she was doing.
"No! Molly Stop!" was all that Frank had a chance to gasp before she reached forward to remove one of the gold chains that hung with in her grasp.
There was a rumble further down the cave and a belching gasp as part of the tunnel roof came down blocking their exit. When the dust had settled and the group finished coughing they stood around Molly, who had been knocked off the steps in the process.
Patty was about to give Molly a piece of her mind about what an idiotic thing she had done and had she listened to what Tipper had said they would be home safe in half an hour. Ian held up his had and stopped what his sister had been about to say. "There is nothing for that now. We are all safe, and didn't get flattened by it all.”
Ian looked to Tipper. "What do we do now?"
"We stay put," she said softly.
Taking a breath Tipper motioned for them to sit, then said "Turn out your flashlights, we need to save the batteries. Look, there are a few things you should know. First, we have to think about the air that we use. I don't know if this cave is sealed, but if so, we are in an air pocket and we will need to conserve the air. The second is that cave temps start at 52, and even though we have our winter jackets on, its, going to get cold for us. And that can be a problem. We do have water, and some food. Even… even if we put the battery back in our cell phones, we wouldn't be able to get through the rock to send a signal. We can last a while, okay? A couple of days easy if we stay calm. Mort knows we are here, in this area. He's a smart guy and won't stop until he finds us."
Patty reached over and patted Tipper’s hand. "Its okay, Dr. Tipper. We understand."
Molly looked between Patty and Tipper who was leaning against the wall with her eyes closed.
"Understand what?" she asked, perplexed.
Patty sighed. "That it may be our bones that they will be finding," she said at last.
Patty leaned against the wall then pulled back. "Ow," she grumbled. "We can't be far away from the entrance, those Asarlaí fingers have worked their way through everywhere."
"The what?" asked Molly puzzled.
"It means ‘wizard.’ It's the trees roots. They are everywhere!"
"Mind the Asarlaí. Why would Faraday tell me to mind that?" Drawing in a breath Tipper stood up and went to the other side of the tunnel and ran her hand over the wall. When she turned back she saw Patty whispering to Molly, and the confused look on Molly's face. `Lord love a duck, she's learning that I speak to ghost…' though Tipper.
"Alright… What we are going to do is follow the tunnel as long as it stays near the willow tree roots. I have a feeling that it used the tunnels as a way to access the underground stream that is here. Molly, you did bring the chalk with you, right? If it doesn't work, we can follow it back here, but something tells me, it should. Watch where you step, and keep an eye on the root system…"
"Can we get some of the treasure?" asked Molly.
She was surrounded by a chorus of "NO."
Mort surveyed the body on Tipper’s car as the cast from the tire tracks were setting. The view though, had to come from a different angle. He turned, and paced, following the line of footsteps to the rail and went down. ‘Yes, she would have had to have seen it from there…’ he mused, He went all the way down the steps and looked around on the sandy shores. There was no sign of their footprints down here, no trace of blood. Unless they had been caught, but he didn't see who ever did this would take on four kids and an adult. Sighing he turned and looked up the steps. What surprised him the most was the residue of dust that was issuing from the side of the tree roots. Taking the steps two at a time he swung his leg over the rail and worked his way to the entrance of the cave.
"Damn," he breathed softly as he regarded the rocks that had filled the back of the cave. The rope they had tied to the root lead directly through the rocks. For a moment he stood with his eyes
pressed closed fighting back the tears. Taking a breath he slid the battery back into his phone and went to the cave entrance to make a call.
Mort went back up the steps all the way to where Harrison was standing with his cell phone to his ear. He turned and looked at Mort. "We have a name of the person who did this - we think it's one of Jan's people - well, someone that she works with for the international affairs. Elden something. He was supposed to get in contact with Jan in regards to the shooting yesterday, but didn't. He matches the description on the cell phone photo. He went to Grady and Donna's place and Lucky bit him before he could get three feet into the house. He'd kicked open the door, and she nailed him. They only knew he was breaking and entering… Floyd and Andy have him in custody now, and he's not going any where soon. Floyd did a powder residue for his hands, and found he had fired a gun in the last few hours, and a judge signed a warrant for the search and they found casings from a second gun under the front seat of the car. What… why are you looking so worried?" he asked at last.
"Harrison… they went into a cave, and… from the looks of things, the roof came down. "
"What are we waiting for then?" Harrison said heading for the steps.
Mort caught his arm and held him back. "Look… if it came down once, it will come down again. I don't know how far the cave in went back, I can't tell that. I did see the rope you gave to Molly tied on part of a root and it lead right into where the cave in was. The only thing that we can hope is that it will lead us to where they are. The cliffs here are riddled with sea caves, and not all of them are good to go into. I called for the fire company to send a rescue team here, but. Harrison… I'm sorry, even if they are on the other side of the rocks, they may not have the time that it takes to get them out of there… There are pockets of methane that they won't be able to smell, or know they are in… knowing Tipper, she'd keep them in one place, and that may be the worst thing for them.”
"That's my daughter!" he said firmly, heading for the steps.
With the three girls in tow, Jan and Gretchen helped Taylor across the yard as she carried something long wrapped in her arms. Oliver nestled in Shauna's arms as she looked first one way then the other. Something was very wrong, the kids knew this- they had heard Jan on the phone. Emily had the sense to gather the map that Frank had left on the table as well as the directions that he had noted. Scarcely had they got into the house and the door closed behind them as a
white car pulled into the street and slowly pulled up along the neighbor's front yard. Jan hurried the children down the basement steps while Gretchen assisted Taylor. They had just tugged the
basement door closed when firm steps could be heard on the back porch of the house they had just left. There was a rattle of the door knob and the shattering of glass. Shauna leaned against the wall and felt it give slightly behind her. Gasping she turned – then grasped Jan's arm. Turning Jan saw the wall had begun to swing inward. Giving that a push it gave way to show a small hiding hole. Jan stepped in, and made sure that there was a way that they could open it from the
inside before ushering them all in and closing it. by the time Jan sat down on the floor next to Margarita, she was shaking like a leaf.
"What is this place?" whispered Emily.
Taylor took a breath. "I think it was part of the underground rail road- where they smuggled slaves to freedom to Canada. I don't think that Jessica realized it was here…"
They would have to wait for the all clear from Mort, They knew Jessica would be home tomorrow, and they knew that if they were missing for that length of time there would be a lot of questions.
Taylor sighed and leaned against the wall hugging the sword that was wrapped in the sheath. Something told her that she had to take it with her, it was the only proof that they had of their heritage. Sighing, Taylor knew to defend her family, she would use it.
In the darkness the girls huddled together for warmth. They heard the door up in the kitchen bang open and the thud of heavy footsteps come across the floor, searching the place for signs of them. They could hear the steps go up to the upstairs, doors being flung open then the heavy footsteps coming down the steps. There was a pause at the bottom. She saw everyone holding their breaths as the steps came closer to where they were hiding, then they stopped. Jan could hear her heart beating in her chest. A jangle of a cell phone outside of where they were caused them all to jump.
"Yeah, I did, no sign of them… what do you mean you had to? Where are you now?” ( a sigh) "No, he is NOT going to be happy. What about Eddington? … Yeah well, I don't care who her old man is. They know too much already. Look, there are too many questions that are going to be asked as it is… snuffing them all is going to bring in too much attention. Your plan isn't working, its time to go for the throat…" Sighing he hung up and felt something very sharp poking in his back. Curious, he turned to face Taylor, who seemed to appear out of nowhere wielding the sword. Her eyes held no fear, only a deadly calm as she raised the sword to his throat and pushed the tip of the blade into his Adam's apple.
"I've realized that I'm growing tired of what your and your associates activity's are doing to my family and my peace of mind. Tell me what I want to know and I will think about letting you live…"
She watched him scoff. "Your not a killer, its not in your blood…" Unblinking she leaned a fraction of a inch in closer allowing the blade to cut through his skin. He tried to take a step back. There was a coldness to her voice.
"Maternal instinct," she said, leaning in a fraction more.
Winfred moved with quiet steps through the lower alleys where he knew that the street urchins traveled. There was an urgency to how he searched the darkness- his evening had been interesting- the shock of the explosion had rocked the community. Idly his fingers played with the dial of his transmitter bringing in voices from other precincts. His blood had run colder as he glanced at the transmission numbers, the higher you went for the signal, the higher the chain of
command became. Perhaps the transmitter was the only way to get the information out.
He had been down this way many times for domestic disputes, and he knew if any place, it would be where Willie would hide. He gripped the bag next to him a bit tighter, and felt something cold, hard and metallic poke into him. Pausing he leaned against a battered
fire escape and withdrew the pouch that George had given him. His fingers traced to a bit of metal that poked out. Opening the pouch, he worked his fingers into a small seam and with a bit of luck, withdrew something that he knew shouldn't be there. He knew that the man who gave him the pouch wouldn't have placed a micro homing device in the bag- it would have to be from another source.
"Bless my giddy aunt…" he murmured. Sighing, he knew that the homing device was working, and that had he give it to Willie, they would have continued to find him. If he abandoned it, they would know, and strike again at some one else. He grinned as he heard a small squeak near him. Balling up the transmitter wire, he reached in his pocket and found a sticky square of gum. He grimaced as he placed the chewing gum, lint and all into his mouth. After a moment, when the
gum was soft he broke off a section and wrapped it about the homing device then tossed it near the corner of the alley where he knew several large rats were congregating. He nodded as the largest of them snagged the piece and ran with it. Even if it kept the device busy for the next twelve hours while he located Willie it would give him some time.
He could see the lights ahead, of the trash fires, and as he moved through those who gathered there, he felt no fear. He felt a bump at his side. Turning he saw a larger man who's eyes held the glint of amusement. Winfred stopped walking and regarded him. The man’s face was creased with dirt, and time and he could tell this man was one of the gang bosses who kept order in their world.
"I've come to see Asarlaí,"
"Have you, now?" The voice was low, with a lilt of laughter within. "And what makes you think he would see you? You seem fit, for now… or is it a different want that you need?" he asked, his face creating a leer. "No one sees him, and returns the same…"
Winfred nodded. "I have seen him before, and I am not the same man." He heard Willie's soft voice behind him.
"Why did you bring the bag?" Willie asked Winfred softly.
"Your friend told me to - he gave it to me right after your apartment went up. I've removed the homing device and fed it to a rat, it will keep moving for 12 hours, at least. You knew it was there, and left it?" Winfred turned in time to see Willie nodding slowly.
"Aye. To let them think they had fooled me. Bloody nuisance to find bits of metal poking in you from your own clothing. Why did you come?"
Winfred gulped in air. "Because I overheard on the scanner that things had gone across the pond to settle it, and I didn't want that to happen. It needs to end before the world is torn apart in grief."
"Not both worlds?" a voice asked behind him. "Not the worlds of what we have been told exist?"
"It's still a child that dies, and we are reduced by that!" Winfred cried, waving his arms in the air. He turned back to see Willie regarding him sadly.
"I had thought to change the world by ridding it of the evils of guns, but, I can only reach so far. I'm stopped- by how I've started things. "
"Then tell me. I've only begun in all of this, and if its not stopped, it won't be a world that I wish to live in…"
"We know how, this is happening. We know where, and who, and we are stopped because of what we are," said the gang boss grimly.
Willie saw the puzzle in Winfred's eyes.
"It’s regarding the weapons of war, and who owns them. For years, all of this was fostered on the different groups. A church would be targeted, and a group would step forward to claim responsibility. It wasn't that way though, it was those who have kept the law who were doing it. And following it, it was the man who wrote the laws that made it so."
The gang saw the shock and disbelief in Winfred's eyes. It passed as he swallowed. "You have proof then, of this? You would have to for them to be coming at you so. My giddy aunt, Mum told me there would be long days. Then your answer to this is what? Short of murder, how far
would you go to undo the harm?" Winfred asked curiously. He didn't get an answer, not at first from Willie, though he saw the group looking at each other.
"No, not death of the body…" said Willie softly. "But the mad man behind this needs to be put down to where he can not harm another, and if your words that they have gone across the pond ring true, then there is no more waiting on this. It must be done, It must risk everything…"
Winfred looked puzzled as Willie reached in his jacket and withdrew an envelope that was wrapped in a handkerchief. He handed it to Winfred, still wrapped. "Listen to me lad. There is a danger being caught with that, or touching it, so take care not to. Follow the address on the label and carry it to where its to go. Let them do the touching of it, and speak to no one when what follows. And if you should happen to see George, let him know what you've done."
For a long moment Winfred regarded Willie, then looked at the address. "You can’t go to where this takes you… "
Willie shook his head. "No, I cannot."
Winfred looked about. He was surrounded by several rings of people, and he realized that of all of them there, he was the only one that had the external respectability that would allow him to walk openly to the place where the letter was to be delivered. The rags that marked them, the dirt under their nails, and the weathered face would shout to the others that these people were out of place above. Sucking in his breath he knew his world had become smaller- these people were ones in need just as much as the little old lady he had left the groceries for. Letting it out he said to Willie softly, "You have my life."
He nodded then strode through the parting rings the way he came. One of the gang bosses shook his head. "They may be waiting the last way you went, this way is better…"
Almost too quickly Winfred found himself standing in front of a large rotating mirrored cube. People could post in the main lobby all the time. This had to go up though, to one of the higher floors. With a cautious eye he regarded the movement of people in the main lobby and moved with the crowd as they crossed to the elevators. He knew cameras were all around him, and knew at one point he would have to answer why he was there. It was a puzzle to him why he wasn't challenged all the way up to the 4th floor. Others were by random checkpoints. Ether his uniform gave him unquestionable access… or… they were aware that he was coming. If they knew he was coming, he wouldn't be leaving any time soon under his own power. Finding a place to post this would be difficult at best- the other problem he would have would be how to discard the handkerchief with out it being found. He knew enough forensic science that there was bound to be fibers from Willie's coat on it. maybe even some hair, or DNA. By the same token, his jacket no doubt had left trace lint on it as well. He shifted the letter from his jacket pocket to the palm of his hand and kept the handkerchief tucked about. He could now drop it in, or lay it down with out being seen too much. As he turned the corner to where the offices were he saw his answer. The mail cart with the lad who pushed it down the hall sitting on the secretaries desk wooing her before he delivered his packages. He saw the camera then, perched in the corner- if he did it there they would have him on tape. He kept walking up to the secretary's desk, placing him
between the camera and giving the mail lad a look that sent him scurrying back to get his packages he leaned forward.
"I've come for the files that were removed from my prescient with out authorization from the Super Chief," he said firmly, leaning on her desk. He saw her fluster before sliding her chair back slightly.
"The Yard removes at their discretion files from precincts for review of practices every day, sir. They are seldom returned,” she managed to say cooly.
"That may be so lass, but we can't make an arrest if the evidence keeps disappearing under our nose and a lot of innocent people are being hurt as a result. How would you feel if it was happening in your safe neighborhood every night? I and mine aren't getting much sleep over it."
"You will need to fill out forms to request those files sir, to be signed by your super chief," she said, pushing her chair back to pull open the file drawer.
"We've done that every time, your office has had enough time to look them over, now we want them back so we can do the job you pay us for."
"I'm sorry. All files that are collected by this office aren't kept here. You will need to go downstairs to the hall of records to speak with them…"
Winfred let his shoulders slump slightly. "They sent me here, your sending me back down there. Is it any wonder or has your office lost them? If there are any other forms you would like me to fill out to get them back, please get them for me now so I can get this well and done with before next supper." Winfred heard a rustle behind him. He knew the mail carrier was waiting, and giving a sigh as she turned to get the papers he stepped to the side and took the handkerchief with his thumb to pull it away from the envelope leaving the envelope on the desk as the mail carrier placed the stack of new mail on top of it. he knew that if the camera records would be studied that it might show what had happened, but the mail carrier was between the camera and the desk. He balled the handkerchief in his hand and waited until she popped her head back from the file cabinet. Shoving a stack of papers at him she gave him a withering glare. "Fill these out, have your super chief sign them, and then hand deliver them to this office," she said with an
exasperated sigh. Winfred nodded his thanks then taking the papers he strode from the office to the elevator.
He folded them and placed them in his breast coat pocket as the elevator door closed. He had given Willie his life. He didn't know what made him say that except something about the man gave him hope for a better time. He considered chucking the papers in to the
trash, but then had an idea. Why not do the follow through? His super chief would do it. Nodding to himself as he burst into the crisp air he grinned. Yes, he would return to the super chief, explain that he had come to the yard seeking answers and if there was any chance of getting the files back, this was it.
Briskly Winfred strode up the steps to his super chief’s office. He had spent the time filling out the papers, he went over in his mind regarding what he would say to his super chief, and how he was going to go back into the lions den to deliver them and then come what may, see it through. He heard his super chief commenting that Winfred's shift was over and that he would be reporting in soon, and would they like a cuppa tea?
Winfred heard the decisive "no" from a familiar voice. The tone of the "no" was enough to tell him something was very wrong, and that he would fair better on the mercy of those he had just left the letter with at the Yard. Closing his eyes, he took a breath. He had to put that letter out of his mind, he had to concentrate on the whys and what he was going to say to his super to make things safe for the voice who had just said "no" and all those they cared for. Drawing in a breath to steady him he opened the door to face her, and his super chief who was grim faced. An arched eyebrow followed him as he crossed the room to give his young bride to be a proper polite kiss. By her right, she didn't turn away, but there was something in her eyes that bore through him.
"I know your reason to be here is important dearest, but I need one moment with my super chief, and then I will be with you…" he murmured into her ear. She nodded, watching him with red rimmed eyes as he straightened up and turned. Swallowing he pulled the papers from his vest pocket and handed them to the super chief. "I was at the Yard, looking for the papers they have of ours, and they gave me these papers for you to sign so that we might get them back and solve this nonsense once and for all. If your so inclined, I will return the papers in the morning to them," Winfred swallowed again as his super chief blinked slowly.
"You’re not a lad to go off lightly on reason Winfred. If your feeling that this may solve things, I'm not going to be the one to stay your hand from this madness, though you may have many other things to conceder before the morning light hits your pillow." Withdrawing a pen, the super chief opened the packet of papers and swiftly signed the forms for Winfred before handing them back to him unread. "I will leave you to sort out your next set of duties, and I will grant you two days to deal with this all before your to return to your work shift." Nodding to the young woman he exited the room closing the door behind him. Winfred tucked the papers into his vest, turned and saw his beloved sitting with her eyes closed as if she was struggling to prevent from crying.
"Dearest?" he said reaching for her hands to grasp them. "Tell me honestly, and I will be honest with you as well."
He watched as her eyes flew open with seething emotions. "How could you?" she finally hissed to him. trying not to burst into tears again.
Winfred shook his head once, not quite knowing what she was going on about. She saw his confusion and dropped her voice down, her jaw tight. "A goat man came this evening to the house, and said that you were the responsible party for the particular package, and that you would see to the care of it. Imagine my surprise when I opened the bundle to discover a wee lad fast asleep!"
"A what??!" Winfred gasped. "Dearest- I have never strayed from you in all the years we have known each other!"
Winfred watched as her face shifted in emotions. "Where is the wee lad?" he asked at last. She glanced down, and for the first time he saw a large carpet bag. Moving to the floor, he lifted the blanket up and reviled a small infant that was fast asleep. Something - a smell - caught his attention. Winfred reached out and traced the slightly tipped ear of the sleeping child then
noted something in the carpet bag next to the child. Glancing up, still on his knees before her he took her hand in his.
"Dearest… I can tell you this: I know of this child's family. I know that if the child is here, the parents are no longer of this earth, and the remainder of this child's family have entrusted his
care, with me, with us, if you chose to still be my wife, to keep him safe. I can tell you no more than that. I will only ask, if you chose, not to, that you do not tell anyone what I have just said
least they come after the wee child to kill him as well.”
"I would ask who, if they would not stop at harming an infant, would not stop at hurting you or me or our family… if then should we take him in for that risk?"
Casting a glance down to the infant, Winfred sighed. "Dearest- those who have done this, have need of no reason. I would understand your desires if you chose not."
He felt her hand against the side of his ear as she boxed it. "Well I wouldn't!" she snapped at last. "What type of a wife would I be if I wasn't loyal to my husband, and help him with that which he was entrusted to? We will tell all that we are his Godparents, and that we are taking him in. Those who have seen my tears will know they are of grieving from the loss, and understand, and not question later where he came from. We will marry next month, as we have planned, and until then, he will be with me, and you will be responsible for both of us."
Laying a hand on her arm as she reached down for the basket Winfred stopped her. "Dearest, some day those who left him with us may return for him…"
He watched her nod slowly. "That thought had come to me as well. It is not today, nor likely to be tomorrow. You must teach him what he needs to know then, about doing what is right, and fair, as any proper father would."
Taylor watched the agent’s Adam’s apple bob under the sword tip. "You’re making a mistake, we aren't the bad guys here… you don't know the whole story… " The agent saw the irritation on Taylor’s face and stopped speaking.
"Down on your face lad, and make it quick," she said, twitching an eyebrow. In a moment he found that she had discovered the three revolvers he carried, his pepper spray and his double latch handcuffs that she neatly tucked between the water pipe to secure him.
"Your making a mistake!" he repeated.
"Excuse me? Your coming after innocent children and citizens with guns, spying on children, and breaking into houses has made me disinclined to conceder any thing you may say would have the
slightest shred of truth in it."
"Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and libble sharksy doisters Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?" he finaly gasped.
Taylor gave him a blank look as if he had taken leave of his senses. She gave a dismissive shake of her head then frowning, went to the laundry basket and placed a pillow sham over his head. It was thick enough that he wouldn't be able to see the coming and goings of the children.
"Wait!" he gasped again. Taylor didn't answer him. She was waving the children out of the hidden space and leading them upstairs. "Where now?" asked Shawna. Taylor drew in a breath.
"Where it all began…" she said softly.
Jan followed them down the hill to the shop. She glanced at the police tape that hung in the bushes, and the bits of odd wood that had been brought up from the lower levels. It was safe. There were no steps to the basements of course, but, it was the one place where it was doubtful they would follow. Taylor’s hand shook as she placed the kettle on for tea and opened the tin of travelers biscuits to pass out to the children and Jan.
"What did he mean, by that?" Gretchen finally asked.
"by what?" Taylor answered cautiously.
"Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and libble sharksy doisters Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?" Gretchen repeated.
"I haven't the foggiest notion." She shrugged. Taylor watched Jan blink several times.
"That's from the 1940s – they were passwords and counter signs. They sound like nonsense, but they are words strung together: ‘Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. Wouldn't you? Cows eat wheat and sows eat wheat and little sharks eat oysters.’"
"Like a children's nursery rhyme," Taylor frowned.
Jan nodded several times. "It was. And it was a very popular song for a while even though the
words sounded like nonsense. It had people talking for the longest time because they were puzzled by the words of, "Little lambs eat ivy, A kid will eat ivy too- wouldn't you?- Ivy is a deadly poison to animals as well as people. Why would the song be promoting it?" inquired Jan with a note tinged with curiosity in her voice.
"Why indeed," answered Taylor abruptly as she guided Margarita to the upstairs room with Shauna for their afternoon naps. Shauna nestled in with her Margarita in the same bed. Taylor's voice was low and cautious as she whispered to Shauna, "I don't know where safe is anymore, dearest. If something should happen downstairs… you take Margarita, and you find the safest place that you can think of and stay there until Aunt Jessica comes, or Dr. Seth, all right?" Shauna nodded. Taylor went to the side window where the fire escape was and lifted the window up slightly- high enough that the children could slip out unnoticed. " Don't open the lock for anyone except family, all right?" she said, going to the door and turning the knob so that it would lock on her exit. It would give the children time, should it come to the worst. At the top of the steps Taylor felt a dizzy rush. Her whole being knew that there was something very wrong- wrong with what was going on with the older children, with Willy, and everyone she knew- the danger was palatable. She couldn't explain in rational terms what she was feeling, though, she knew if she went to Seth, he would listen to her- but it would only place him in danger as well.
'When was the moment in my life that changed everything? When did it happen, that I lost control of what I was, and became what I am today? It began here, not with my awakening to Willy's hand on my chest, but the moment that I entered into this place and grasped the sword. It cut into me- cut into my life and changed me forever…'
Using the chalk to make a continuous line on the right hand side of the wall the group ventured forward. The sound of the water faded as they went into a different chamber area. Tommy shook his head and stopped them by stopping himself and saying, "No No No… Air bad."
Patty sniffed the air. "He's right, it smells - like an old box. We could follow the sound of the water. It has to go out somewhere… ? Maybe along the cliff side or something."
Ian shook his head. "Na, what if when the water coming down was running into dead ends, that would be filling up the caves- tha's why the sound is changing so much."
Turning about they followed the chalk back and realized they were going up hill in their steps, not a lot, but enough that it was noticeable. By the time they got back to the place where the cave in happened, they noticed something- the air quality was much better there than it had been. Tipper saw Ian look puzzled for a moment before placing his finger in his mouth to wet it and hold it up in the air.
"There is air coming in from some where," he said, scrambling up from where he sat. For a moment he thought, then he grinned.
"I've thought like the pirate might. What if he wanted to get at the treasure but not share it with those who came with him? He'd make sure that those who were with him would be down, when he pulled the chain, and the roof would go down on them, but he'd leave a way out, wouldn't he? Someway to get the gold out with out lugging it back through the caves where he might get lost. He wouldn't want to bury the gold where he couldn't reach it either if someone would happen to pull the chain.”
Tipper held up her hand. "Natch- the pirates made sure that if their gold was found, no one would get out alive if things were triggered."
"Then how do you explain the fresh air coming out?"
In the dim light they saw Tipper shrug. "I can't. I also don't want to have to explain to your family how you got squished if the rest of the roof comes down on you. We have air, they know we are down here, or they will find it out soon enough, they can get us out the old fashioned way.”
"There won't be enough time Dr. Tipper," Patty said softly. "We don't have the time to wait this out. We have been keeping moving up til now. Caves are cold- and we are limited in the water we have. Even if we all are together, it will be too cold for us to stay alive in. "
A low moan came from Molly, a preemptive wail that would have been a shriek had Ian not given her a sound shake by her shoulders. "Nae time for that, woman. Think sense with the brain that you have an maybe we can get out of here faster."
For a moment it looked as if Molly would throw a tantrum as she rolled her eyes upward. There was a pause in her reaction, her mouth opened with surprise as her head turned about. "Dr Tipper, you said the caves branch off everywhere- what if they branched upward as well?" she asked pointing directly above them to the shelf where the gold was.
"We can't be sure that the area up there isn't booby trapped, dear.” Tipper said softly, regarding Tommy as he paced in the small chamber. She wasn't sure of what his medical condition was beyond he seemed to be wrapped up in himself with brief periods of time that he surfaced for conversation with them. She wasn't a person doctor. She had informed Taylor many times of that over the years when she’d get a call regarding cuts and ills. Seth was used to getting a brief report from her though if things were done. The term autism floated into her thoughts. The other thing that she knew was that there was no way that they could dig through the rubble with out bringing down the rest of the wall. Something else floated in her thoughts as well. If Tommy had been living in this cave for any length of time, he would know all of the passage ways. The whole time that they had been in his company he had been very passive in his responses. He had done exactly what they had asked and only spoken up when he knew something was wrong.
"Tommy?" she asked softly. "Do you know of another way out of here? Can you show us that way?" For a moment she saw him stop pacing, and regard her. There was something familiar about the way that he stood, the way that he angled his head.
"Too dangerous. Too cold to do it," he said at last.
"What is?" she asked carefully.
"Way out, through the ocean cave. Go down down down. If tide is low, walk out and go along the shore, but the tide is up you swim. Too cold to do it though. Too cold, too dangerous. Waves take little ones away. Can't go that way. Not safe at all."
"But the air that is coming in, is fresh, and from above, not from below…" said Patty curiously. " Do you know the way out from above?"
Tommy stopped pacing and sat down on a rock hugging his knees. For the longest time he didn't say anything, and Tipper thought he had fallen asleep or forgotten. When he did speak, it was soft, and scared. "We can't go that way," he said at last. "We can't get past the Asarlaí… others did try, and the Asarlaí kept their bones to warn…”
Tipper heard Ian make a small moan in his throat as he moved closer to his sister. She had never heard that particular sound from him- almost a choked strangled moan. When he reached her, he gathered her into his arms and just held her. A gasp came from Patty followed by a quiver in her throat. In the dim light Tipper saw Molly with her hands on her hips ready to tease them about being cry babies. She didn't though. Something on Franks face told her something was very wrong.
Then Tipper felt it. It was an absolute grief that filled her up and threatened to explode from her. She knew she had to be strong, she couldn't be reduced to tears, not now, not when the children's lives were in danger. She searched inside herself for the answer and could only come up with the lingering knowledge something very wrong had happened to some one she knew- someone they all knew ...
Willie carefully washed his hands in the cool water of the fountain and moved to where his supper had been laid out. He would have heard if Winfred had been caught with the letter. It was no surprise that there had been an uneasy silence in the land for the last eight hours. Dawn was coming and there was a lot to do before it was over. Weary, he sat at the make shift table and regarded the cheese and bread before him. It would have to do. He smelt the goats before he heard the footfall behind him. Glancing over his shoulder he raised an eyebrow upward at the familiar figure.
"You're a long way from where you should be," Willie said simply. For a moment Toot didn't say anything. Willie watched him sigh, his shoulders slump slightly as he walked forward.
"Ye never did have the touch inside, I blame that on m' self, na teaching you how to listen to your heart. The men tha’ you ha been waging against came to the village and set fire to Mither's place, an’ Gram's. I was watching the wee lad tha’ night - he was safe enough, an’ I was able to get them out an to the hospital, but they hang on a thread. I dinna know when it will be cut. There isn't anything more in all my time learning that can be done for them. Your Gram has no face left, your sisters hands have been taken by flame, and Mither- it wrapped her body in flame taking what it touched. Even you could not heal what has befallen them. I've hidden the wee one in a safe place- he will ha a good home, even if it’s with an English man."
"Da, we would ha taken him …" began Willie softly.
Toot shook his head. "It's best that it is this way. A new start for him, an in time, when he develops to a man, he can find his path, just as you did. The keys are there for him to follow now- your friend George saw to that. He is a lovely lad… looked up at me an just nodded, he knew. Our time is changing here. We canna spread as we once did, nor will they accept if we are a gathered as before. We know tha’ what your doing is right, and noble and brave. There is no other path now though son. You've known it for a while, haven't you? It’s why you came here. Making a target of yourself, your hoping to make them forget the children, but they haven't forgotten. They were searching the rubble for the baby until the priest that you liked told them that such flames would have taken the child to ash. It burned hot, and hard, it wasn't a pan on the stove that they said later, we know how her kitchen was - nothing would have burnt if it was even placed on the counter. Have you reached what you wanted from all of this?" When will it stop, son? Was na the teachings of your Gram enough that ye had to show the world how brilliant our kind is when they had forgotten us to myth? Did it ever happen to cross your mind there were reasons why we stayed in the simple towns or heeded the stories that were told to you when you were growing up?"
"I never felt accepted Da, for so long I struggled to find myself in the world. Then the killings started and I had a way to stop them. What else should I have done? Look away? Run away and hide as you did?"
"Aye. As you should ha’ now. It's done and over," he said removing his coat and laying it on the table beside Willie's plate.
Winfred would remember waking to the urgent knocking upon his door, telling him that the shanty village had been set ablaze and that they needed his help to contain the crowds. Slipping on his uniform and his shoes Winfred made his way to the street and searched the skies for the tell tale glow of the fires judging how fast that it could move and how it could jump from roof to roof in a matter of moments. He knew his bride to be and the baby were safe across the river, but he also knew that there were many poor families who's homes were in the direct line of the fires path. Something had changed in the town- in the past, the neighbors would have been polite, and allowed the fire brigade to deal with matters, but this time everyone was outdoing what it took to bring the flames under control, helping to rescue those who were trapped inside the shanty town and bring them to safety. It was several hours later when he was covered in soot and grime and the shanty town was just smoldering that he saw a familiar blue coat beneath a collapsed wall.
Gasping he began to dig through the rubble, unmindful of the heat, to search for life beneath it all. Others came to help him dig- it was by chance that he saw the bullet hole from the back of the head that exited from the front of the face- the flame had taken away his hair, and charred most of the exposed flesh. Winfred sank to his knees and began to sob. He didn't remember being lead away from it all, or being taken to a way place by one of the shanty town people that smelled like a goat to be given water and bread to gather his strength. He only became aware when the news flash came on the telly. Wordlessly he watched as the head of Scotland Yard announced his retirement, on the eve of the signing of the treaty between the two factions who had been fighting for as long as the earth had turned. A mug of tea was slid across the coffee table to him. Winfred glanced up and saw a very sooty chief inspector standing before him. He tried to stand, but his legs failed him. George guided him back down and took the seat beside him.
"The bloody cowards shot him from behind and set fire to cover what they ha done," he said to George thickly.
George drew in a sharp breath. "It was him? Are you sure?"
He watched the young officer nod. "As sure as I know who I am right now that all that was good and pure in the world has been covered with ash. When will this madness end?"
Nodding to the tv screen George sighed. "I believe the ending of it has already begun," he said simply. For a moment Winfred watched as the head of Scotland Yard gave his farewell address. It took an instant to make the connection to the papers that he had delivered to what was going on. Shooting a glance at George the young man wrapped his arms about his thin frame. "If we canna believe who was to protect us…" he murmured.
"If you have a garden, and a particular plant seems to be getting out of hand, what would you do?" George asked simply. It took a moment for Winfred to stop gaping as if George had taken leave of his senses. "Well, a proper gardener would trim it back, and if the plant was overwhelming the garden, pull it up completely." George let out a slow breath before pulling out a silver ring that had ivy on it. He handed it to Winfred. "Ivy will grow anywhere, but nothing else can grow with the ivy, it's a deadly poison to some- yet, some can eat it with no ill effects. There is only one plant that has been known to grow with the ivy, and that, is clover, which also can grow unchecked in a garden, the ivy keeps the clover back, and the clover keeps the ivy from taking over the garden. A proper gardener would re plant the ivy to where it is needed as a ground cover and protector of the soil. For while it can take over the garden, the leaves of the plant shade the smallest of plants, and keep the water from leaving the soil, it cools the ground, so that the afternoon sun doesn't wilt the most delicate of flowers. Years ago, Willie's people were seen, much like the ivy, something to be controlled and ripped out to manage.
For centuries they were hunted and murdered, sadly, it continues. I've learned only an hour ago that his mother, his grand mother, and his sister and child perished from a deliberate fire set in their home."
"So, that's it then, they are all gone? The *gardeners* have won?" asked Winfred with a certain chill in his voice.
George let out a soft noise. "There is always the clover that grows within the same garden." For the longest time he regarded Winfred before standing up and striding out side. The lad would have more than enough to deal with in the next few months, let alone getting him involved with everything on the streets.
Tipper let out a sigh as she leaned against the wall. It had taken a while to comfort the children, and she knew that as time passed, the hope of being able to find their way out diminished. She couldn't remember the time the tides were- and it was clear that the roof that had come down had blocked the chamber they were in for the length of the tunnel, There would be no hope of the tunnel being dug out in time. Tommy had refused to take them to the chimney exit, saying it was too dangerous. He went on to mumble something about when the little sprite came, that she would show him different paths about the cave- but he didn't dare travel them on his own.
It took a while for Tipper to realize that the little sprite he spoke of was Margarita, and she marveled at the distance the child had traveled. – unless, there had been another way that she had gone. She didn't think that the child could have made it all the way on the roads with out being seen. Chewing on her bottom lip Tipper remembered that there had been old tunnels that were used when the guns were being moved from the school to the sea to be dumped. She wondered if the same tunnel structure extended beyond the town. It would make a lot of sense. The coral was actually easy to carve through if you had a proper tool. The small cove here was deep enough for ships to dock, it was possible that it had been used as a smuggler’s route. Blocking themselves in wouldn't have made sense though – not with how they had made the rocks fall. Why block the
treasure in- unless it was a stop gap measure to block those who were intent on chasing you. That would explain the exit to the sea- and the trap laid in the chimney that Tommy had described.
"Let me see that map again, Molly," said Tipper softly. She could see Molly begin to look in her bag when the soft crunch of stone made all of them look up into the darkness. A chill came over Tipper as a second crunch was followed by the unmistakable click of tumblers of a revolver. The man that she had seen by her car was standing in one of the tunnel doorways to their chamber holding a police special. She could see him eyeing the rocks that were between them and
"Well, isn't this just perfect… saves a lot of leg work, and bullets."
"You don't have enough to kill all of us, do you?” said Patty with a cold certainty in her voice.
The man shrugged. "Just need one or two, really. The roof is pretty unstable right above you, and a shot would make it come down on you. If your not killed outright by the rocks, then, well, lack of air will do wonders for the health as well. In a way, I have you to thank for making this easy. Your trail lead to that fountain of youth, and it was an easy passage down, then I just followed the sound of your voices here. You may as well accept it, you will be joining your family soon. Oh. That's right, You've been here all day, haven't you? You don't know that a fire burned up your family's home and that your uncle is dead too, now, do you? Or did you know- did you feel them
Ian leaned forward and felt some hard round cold objects under his hand. Closing his fist around them he sighed as he stood, knowing that he would draw the interest of the man upon him. "Well, yes, you could be telling the truth about your kind murdering our family. An’ you could be telling the same truth about killing us. If you did bring down the roof though, you would be making a sore mistake… " Ian flipped something up in the air. It shimmered as it tumbled in the dim flashlight, but it was unmistakable.
"There is more of it up there. If you bring the roof down on us, it gets buried. Why do the dirty work when you can get so much more? There are chains, and ways of binding a man up there- you know yourself, we aren't going anywhere – we don't know the way out…"
Glancing upward, the man saw the glint of the golden chain in the beam of the flashlight Frank directed upwards. The man shrugged. "Don't need it. There is more further down- I can come and go as I please and gather what I want any time." He raised his gun to point at the roof of the cave just above them.
"Give my regards to your uncle for me - we go way back. Tell him the Fordham family says hello. You seem surprised? We can hide our children just the same as you do."
A soft click of a gun pressed into his spine made him freeze.
"Nice of you to have some common sense," said Mort into his ear.
It was a short time later that they were blinking in sunlight and wrapped with blankets with cups of hot cocoa to warm them. Tipper was sitting on a rock shivering as she watched her Honda be loaded upon a flat bed. Mort had assured her that the blood could be cleaned up and the windshield replaced, but they needed it for evidence and the trial may take a while on the dockets. Tommy wandered over to her and sat down next to her.
"I suppose you could use it for a tourniquet," he said at last.
"Use what?" she said, puzzled.
"An equine rectal sleeve. You said you would use one on me if I ... if I did something to hurt Taylor."
Tippers mouth formed an O of surprise as she studied his face. It had changed with the injury, and the healing that followed. She watched the struggle on his face as he formed his words about his thoughts.
"Did he make her happy?" he asked softly.
Tipper nodded, her throat closing on any answer. If what the guy had said was true, Willy and all his family were gone. She looked around, and found Ian sitting next to Patty, their faces masked with unnatural concern for one so young. Taylor would care for them, and keep them together. Jessica could, or Emma - both were immediate kin to them. Her heart gave a pang, knowing that their lives were changed forever once again.
Jan watched as Taylor fussed about the kitchen looking for something to eat. Finally she said carefully over her cup of tea, "Until this is all settled, I think it best that the children be removed from your care and placed into protective services." She saw Taylor reach in a cupboard and extract a tin that held cookies in it and carry it over to where the other two ladies sat.
"Why would you think that's best?" Taylor replied, curious.
"I saw the scars on Ian's back, and Patty's. I'm surprised that the school social services hasn't removed them from your home already," Jan blurted.
She saw Taylor bite a cookie and raise an eyebrow. "Typical new york cop. Arrest first and ask questions later," she said with a knowing glance over in the direction of the steps. "If you have taken the time to learn about them you would find the elementary school they were in less than a year ago had bombs that went off and ripped through the stones as if it was butter. Prior to that, the factory where his parents worked was taken down to its foundation by the same people."
"Well, there area always a few factions that try to rule the world," Jan shrugged.
Jan saw Taylor raise her eyebrow. "Don't believe everything you read in the papers, Jan," she said dryly.
It was a short drive for Mort to drop off Tipper. She hesitated when she saw her cats outside. "Mort, someone has been in there, and it’s not been Margarita."
"Right, well, you weren't there, so that means they would have gone to Taylor's home." Somehow they weren't surprised to find Taylor's and Jessica's doors kicked open. Mort was about to get back in the cruiser when he heard plaintive calls for help coming out of the basement. Mort glanced down at the agent then just shook his head and closed the door. There was enough to deal with let alone finding a place that would be safe to lock him up.
"The shop," said Tipper and Mort together. It was a swift ride down the hill to pull into the lot beside the shop. Tipper took the steps two at a time and called out before she burst through the door. She found Taylor sitting on the sofa, drinking tea with Gretchen and Jan, her face very troubled. Biting her lip, Tipper slowed her pace across the floor as Taylor stood up along with Gretchen.
"The children?" gasped Gretchen.
"Molly is fine, she's with Harrison at the hospital, she's just getting a checkup. The others are safe as well," she said, looking directly at Taylor. "Apparently, someone decided to do a bit of
weeding…but, from what I've heard on the news on the way here, it's over," Tipper finished. She watched Jan blink several times before asking.
"Who won?" Jan felt all eyes upon her.
"There isn't any winner's in this Janice," Mort said softly. "People have lost their lives - good people that the world needed because of greed. The lights of the world are diminished greatly." Mort strode over to Taylor and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Taylor, on the way here, I heard from Inspector Sutherland. There was a riot, and a fire, and they found bodies in the rubble shot in the back of the head and they didn't stop there- they torched the Roosting Hen. No one is left."
Jan blinked a few times. "Well. Perhaps it will end the nonsense. Sometimes shock of such events is enough to mobilize the public for reforms. Those shanty towns are tinderboxes." She saw Taylor ball up her fist and pull her arms into her body hugging herself. Mort gathered her in his arms and held her as she shivered .
"Shut up Jan, you don't have a clue about what your saying!" said Gretchen, not kindly.
"I beg your pardon? It’s about time the scum of the streets were cleaned up. You were just discussing how the factions blew up the school were the children went to- and you’re upset now that a few village idiots are gone? And you, Mort- when were you ever a bleeding heart for the riffraff? Good riddance!"
Mort passed Taylor off to Tipper and turned to Jan, taking her by the arm and escorting her into the kitchen area. As gently as she could, Tipper said softly, " We felt the passing… is there is anything we can do?"
She felt Taylor pull herself together. She had thought such news would be the end of Taylor, but it seemed to give her strength. "Where are the children?" she whispered.
"With Seth, and someone else who will keep them safe."
"Go upstairs, and knock on the door that is closed. Tell Margarita and Shauna to take you to Seth’s the way that is safest, and stay there until the way is clear." Tipper saw determination in Taylor's eyes, and knew it wasn't over yet. Giving a nod she hurried up the steps as quickly as she could , and as quietly.
Taylor turned to Gretchen. "You’d best go to your brother and niece."
"But…" She saw Taylor nod and wave her hand to go. She nodded and then went out the side door to where her car was parked in the public lot.
Mort brought Jan back into the room and found that the others were gone and Taylor sitting on the sofa sipping tea.
"I had to wonder how you knew that they were in a shanty town, Jan, and why you keep referring to the factions, and how you knew the passkeys he was talking about."
Pulling her self up a bit Jan shook her head. "Coming from an impoverished world, I don't suppose you would have had the benefits of education, as I have. That's where the riots are all the time. "
"Oh, well, Queen 101 was full, I skipped that in favor of political history. You’re looking at things from a different perspective than what is the truth right now."
"That's rich, coming from you- and who you’re married to. If he wasn't doing something wrong, they wouldn't have been after him,” Jan said in a tight voice that did nothing to mask her irritation.
Mort sucked in his breath. "Since when is saving lives something wrong to do Jan? You don't even know the man, and I'm hearing a lot of anger in your voice against him."
"Your wrong, Mort. She does know of him. From the time that you contacted her, she was briefed about what was going on, and told to come up here to lead the others to him. She has been slipping up on things all day, as well as trying to find a way to use the courts to take the children away…"
Mort glanced at Jan, then back to Taylor. "But the attempt on her life ... "
He saw the softening look on Taylor’s face as she let out a long sigh. "I believe if you look into her chauffeur’s family tree you will find that he is loyal to … the other… family. He had to have known her plans to come up here to lead the others to us."
Glancing back at Jan, he waited for her to deny it. He saw Jan's face harden, her jaw set. "You can't prove anything," she said at last. "And even if you think you did have proof, by the time it would get to court, the hour will have passed and yours will have long turned to dust. You have no proof, no connection in anything that you think may have been. In the end, we will have won. The line has been ended."
Mort raised an eyebrow. Had he not been involved in recovering and then allowing the disposal of the weapons; had he not seen the proof of what Willie had found and the connections, he would have believed Jan. He shook his head.
"You’re right in one respect, Jan, I suppose with the amount of running and hiding you all have done, you missed the news. The people who were pulling the strings in all of this are no longer in a position of power, it’s been found out, and its been all over the news. The factions that you have been speaking of have signed treaties, and there have been a whole lot of resignations all across the board. So you see, even in death, he and his have managed to win the war after all. I just don't get how you gave up on fighting the good fight after everything you have been through." Mort reached behind and unclipped his hand cuffs. He watched Jan take a step back.
"You have nothing to hold me on…"
Mort turned her around and placed the cuffs on her. "Maybe I don't have any thing that your family lawyers won't be able to get you out on bail so you can run away from, but, the photo of
you picked up by AP of you being arrested will pretty much end your political dreams. Janice Patterson, I'm arresting you for conspiracy, and the murder of Dr. William McGill. You have the right to remain silent…"
"I know my rights!" she snapped as he pushed her out the door to the back seat of his car.
Mort paused and looked at Taylor who stood, calm, her skin so very pale. "Taylor… I .." he began.
She shook her head. "I will be all right, Mort - go lock her up."
Going back into the shop she closed and locked the doors. A single tear came down her cheek as she moved through the shop touching things. She knew that Willie had a provision in his will to give the building to Tipper. She would have to have his things packed up, of course. She sat down on the worn sofa and hugged her belly. She knew her time with him would be short, she just didn't know that he would go before her. She would have to see to the children, to keep them
together, and provide for them. She hadn't questioned why Gabe had said he would be there to change many nappies; now she knew. She didn't know where he was now though, when she needed him the most.
`I would follow him in death, if not for the children…' she thought, `so great is the pain in my heart.' Sighing, she gathered the sword and took it with her on the long walk to Seth's place. The
children came about her, hugging her as she made her way into the room. Tipper came over to her, leading Tommy by the hand.
"Tommy, this is Mrs. McGill, do you remember her?" For the longest time he gazed at her, blinking, Taylor looked into his eyes- seeing something ... His face was ravaged by the scars, his hair small tuffs on a near bald scalp- yet…
And then he spoke: "Hello, sweetheart."
It was if a dam had burst- Taylor began to cry as he drew her into his arms holding her close to him. She cried for his pain, for the loss of the time they had together, she cried for all of the family that had been taken in the cruel nonsensical war.
Tipper stepped back as she brushed the tears from her eyes. She felt Seth guide her back to his office and close the door, allowing Taylor to have the moment in privacy.
"I know what your thinking, a second happy ever after for the two of them, but, its not going to happen Angela. He doesn't, have that much time left. His liver, and pancreas are going on him, he has a few weeks at best."
"How could all of this happen Seth, how could he not know who he was? How did he get here?"
"Several things happened. They only moved him to Portland until he was well enough to be moved back to LA for further treatment. Sondra was to care for him, but developed a staff infection that's kept her in isolation for a very long time. While he was in the hospice care,
they called him Mr. Thomas, which in his head he made into Tommy. They had him under sedation to heal, and once that was done, it was lifted, leaving him in a state of becoming aware of where he was, and the desire to find Taylor to protect her. It wasn't really hard for him to dress and just walk out with the rest of the visitors, it happens all the time. In his journey he was bitten by a tick, and it carried Lyme disease that it transferred to him. That went untreated, and after a while, began to affect his internal organs. He knew enough, when he was not feeling well, to come to a doctor. I recognized him from his blood work - he's got a rather rare type, and I've been in contact with the hospice, they felt that he had signed himself out and they don't want him back if he's going to wander away.”
Monday morning Frank was surprised that the bus did not stop to pick up Ian and Patty. He knew Molly had probably slept in and her aunt would bring her to home room later. As it pulled by the house, Frank thought it looked a bit empty. It was with a sigh of relief that he saw Ian and Patty already in the chairs of home room. He knew something wasn't quite right though when he saw their faces.
"We're moving," Ian said softly. "Back with her grandfather in his dusty old place. Though Aunt Taylor said that you can come visit for the summer, an we still have the computer to chat with each other every night, as before.”
"Moving? Why?" blurted Frank.
"Aunt Taylor's na able to deal with much of anything right now. An Mr. Thomas is going to stay a bit with us, til his end time. There isn't enough room for us all in the other house. She's lending it to Dr. Seth to use as a place for people who have family who is ill to have a place to stay that's like home. The gardens all been taken up, as have the spot where Sydney rested. She has movers taking things from the shop an as soon as that's all packed away, its being put into Dr. Tipper’s name to do what she will with it. Aunt Taylor is with the principal now. We won't be staying very long, an we asked if we could say our goodbyes to the class before we go this evening to our new home."
Molly flounced into the room and sat down, her face pouting. "They won't let us go down into the caves for the rest of the treasure. They said its too dangerous. We spent all that time and we don't have anything to show for it Aunt Gretchen said that it would probably cost more to dig it up than what’s in there, but Daddy said, we at least have claimed it and if there was a way, we could keep it."
"We have the map. And we did get out of their safely, that's something,” said Frank. Folding her arms across her chest she pushed out her lower lip. Frank sighed. Nothing with Molly was ever easy.
The rest of the class filed in, and took their seats waiting for their teacher to come in and start things. They could see her at the door, speaking to someone, and when the teacher did come in they could see she had the sparkle of tears in her eyes. Taylor was in the door frame, and nodded to the teacher, who cleared her throat and nodded to Ian and Patty, who stood up.
Ian took Patty's hand as she began, "We know, we have only been with you a short while and we have made friends with all of you, its been grand… we wish it could have been longer, but, we will be moving away to be with our aunt. We will miss you all."
The teacher signaled for the kids to stand up, and to come forward to say their goodbyes. When it came to Molly's turn she hugged Patty, and then after hugging Ian, she gave him a long kiss on his lips. There was a chorus of "Ohhhhhh Kissy Kissy," from Patty and Frank and the others giggled. Ian gave a gulp as they parted then said, "I did say I had a way with the lass's." He caught Molly's hand before she pulled away and pulled her back. "Wait, I have to ask you something," he said pressing something hard into her hand. "Would you marry me when we are older?" he asked into her ear breathlessly.
With out opening her hand, she nodded. "Yes, when we are older," she said, giving him a hug. Molly could feel he had placed two things in her hand, one she knew was a coin, the other, by the press on her palm, she knew it was a ring of some sort.
Dinner was at Jessica's that evening. Ian helped Frank with the dishes and as they washed and dried them, Frank said softly to Ian, "It’s not fair- all of this."
Ian shook his head. "It never is. Look, Frank, keep an eye on Molly for me, would you? An’, if something, should happen to me, you could marry her to keep her safe, would you do that?" Ian saw the look on Frank’s face. "Look, I know you have your heart set on marrying Angela, but,
there is another man out there for her, an its best she marry him. If I do make it to be old enough to marry, you can marry Patty, she's far enough away of a cousin it wouldn't matter."
Raising his eyebrows, all that Frank could do was nod.
Saying good by was hard on all of them. For the longest time Tipper hugged the children until she was told, they would be back in the summer perhaps, or she could visit anytime when she wanted to, It was also pointed out that she would be needed to be a Godmother for the children, and she would need to learn how to change diapers. They would be able to keep in touch with the internet too – once Mort figured out how to install firewalls to preserve the integrity of the connection.
Frank stood next to Tipper as they drove away, his hand curled in hers. He wanted to run to his room and cry, but, something made him stay there- it was the tear that traced down her cheek as she leaned towards the glass to hide her sorrow. "I don't think we will see them again. Not for a while," she said softly.
"They are going into hiding- aren't they?'
Tipper nodded. "At least for now they are."
The burst of blossoms on the cherry trees filled the air with a tender sweetness as Taylor moved through the sculptured gardens pressing her hand to her hip as she walked. Anthony had made it
through the new year, surprising the doctors and nurses who cared for him. She had received word that the bodies had been taken up to the white rocks to be buried, and that the path there, planted over so that they could be laid to rest at last. A sharp pain stole her breath away. She clung to the nearest tree and moaned. She felt soft hands touch her back taking the pain away. Looking back over her shoulder she saw it was Gabe. He had come when it was time for Anthony, and had stayed. She ha, asked him about Willie, and was informed that he didn't know. He had been with the rest of the family at the time and wasn't able to find anything out. It was
possible, he continued, that the shadows had taken Willie, though Toot had found his way in the end and was with the family.
Gabe lead her up to the place that had been prepared and settled her in. "Just close your eyes and breath as you've been taught," he said gently, "The doctors will be up here soon. Twin boys, and a wee lass."
Taylor nodded, closing her eyes to will back the tears. She had wanted this all differently - this wasn't what she had wanted at all. A catch of a sob issued from her and she felt some one pick up her hand as a warm set of lips pressed against her fore head. Her eyes snapped open and she gazed into deep blue eyes.
End, part Two