|Primary Characters:||Martin, Danny, Jack, Maria|
|Warning:||rape, m/m sex, strong language|
|Description:||Martin and Danny are set up. They end up in jail. Jack works around the clock to save them. But it might be too late.|
“Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
“We have, your honor.”
“And what say you?”
“Guilty, your honor.”
Martin wanted to scream no. This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a bad dream, because this was all wrong. He was no criminal. He was a federal agent. The murder charges had appeared ludicrous at first. How could anyone take them seriously?
But Martin was slowly beginning to realize that someone was deadly serious about setting him up. He even knew who it had to be, and why, but that didn’t help. There was no evidence at all, linking this elusive creature to the case. As far as the legal system was concerned, there were no false charges. Martin Fitzgerald, FBI agent, had killed a man in cold blood. There could be no mitigating circumstances.
His defense attorney, Gilbert Hanigan, cast a look filled with pity at his client. He believed him. There was no way this young man could be guilty of murder. But he could also understand why no one believed him. The case against him was so thoroughly built there was no shaking it. Even the testimony of the witnesses seemed to be rock solid.
If he hadn’t known any better, he would have said that somehow, agent Fitzgerald had indeed committed a murder. For what reason, he was still at a loss to find. The jury and the judge seemed to find the suggested motive reasonable – anger at a twice convicted rapist who was about to walk free, due to a technicality. An otherwise fine young federal agent had lost his temper and beaten the suspect to death. After all, it had happened before.
Martin’s senior agent, Jack Malone was sitting in the audience, his face tense and pale. He had promised Martin it would be alright. Now the verdict made him a liar. And all he could do was to helplessly watch the guards appear to take the young agent away.
It had seemed impossible that Martin’s father, Victor Fitzgerald, would not save his own son. But that turned out to be the case. Though Jack Malone would rather have faced a firing squad than humiliate himself against the man who had already tried to take him down once, to his knowledge, he had gone to see Martin’s father anway.
After he’d failed to reach him over the telephone, Jack had gone to Washington to meet the man in person. Even there, he failed to reach him. When he’d been waiting for six hours, it dawned on him that Victor Fitzgerald was disassociating himself from his son. This type of scandal could easily reflect on his own career, and it was clear that in the grand scheme of things, a career was more valuable than a son, at least in mr Fitzgerald sr’s book.
Jack nearly made a scene there, right outside the great man’s office, but reminding himself that Martin wouldn’t be helped by his losing his temper, he was able to calm down enough to leave quietly.
He tried to phone Martin’s mother, but there too, he was unsuccessful. By that time, Jack decided that if anyone was going to help Martin, it was his senior agent and the other agents in his team.
As usual, Vivian was fully prepared to follow Jack’s lead, without questioning the wisdom of his orders.
Sam quietly and tensely complied as well. Whenever he saw her, Jack nearly choked on his feelings of guilt. That girl was his responsibility and in his confusion and desperation, he’d allowed himself to fall for her immature hero worship. He should never have taken advantage of her, for more reasons than one, but now was not the time to weaken himself by dwelling on the past.
Danny Taylor would have helped out as well, his differences with Martin laid aside by now, if he’d only been in New York. But he was following up a lead in Texas, and could not be counted on in this crisis.
In the end, all their efforts were in vain, and Jack had to bite his lip as he saw Martin being dragged away. The boy looked so young and helpless, so utterly vulnerable. Jack clenched his fists but was able to restrain himself. He knew his impulse to storm after Martin and push the guards away wouldn’t do any good. There had to be something more he could do.
He tensed up as someone laid a hand on his arm. Whirling around, he caught sight of Vivian, as usual calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos.
She didn’t need to say more. But how could she stand there looking so cool and indifferent? Jack wanted to ask her that, but again, decided against it.
“Come on. It’s over. Jack, please. There’s nothing you can do, for the time being. Until the appeal -”
He nodded grimly and allowed himself to be led away. Vivian might not show her emotions, but he knew he could rely on her no matter what. She would look out for his best interests and would go down fighting rather than let him down.
Martin couldn’t believe what was happening. He allowed himself to be taken away, without resisting. The whole thing felt unreal. It was as if somehow, he was dreaming. Nothing seemed to touch him.
After the sentencing – 10 years – he was moved upstate, to his final destination. He felt sure that if he ever entered that place, he would never come out again alive, or at least with his faculties intact.
During his processing at the correctional facility, he said little and only listened to what was being said to him with half an ear. At times, the guards had to shout to get through to him. He couldn’t believe he was wearing the grey overalls of a prisoner, like dozens of men he’d interviewed in connection with whatever case he was working.
They took him through a harshly lit up corridor, then made a turn, only to end up outside a locked door, with a small hatch in it. One of the guards unlocked the door and stepped aside. Martin didn’t move. He was shoved forward by a hand in he small of his back. Nearly losing his footing, Martin only heard the door slam shut behind him with very final sound.
On one of the beds, a tall, muscular man was sitting, wearing a sleeveless top, showing off not only his overdevelopped muscles, but also on the left a tattoo, featuring a grinning death’s head. On the right, there was another one, which seemed to be a devil’s mask. But Martin wasn’t really looking at those, he was caught in the tall man’s gaze, like a rabbit before a snake. The grim face split by a smile.
“Well, well, well. Welcome to my humble abode, bitch.”
For some reason, this, which might merely have been his cell mate’s way of making the newbie respect him, pierced Martin’s armour of distraction. His eyes widened as he took in the chilling look in the other man’s eyes. A shiver went down his spine. Normally, he wasn’t unusually imaginative or jumpy. If he had a good cop’s instinct, that was all the imagination he wanted or needed. Now, suddenly, he found he could imagine all kinds of things, all unpleasant.
“What are you here for, babe?”
Martin didn’t even want to remember what he’d been convicted of, but he realized that he couldn’t start out by antagonizing a man he would most likely spend the following ten years or the rest of his life with.
The guy’s eyebrows shot up. He hadn’t expected that.
“Murder? You? You don’t like as if you could kill a fly. Wait a minute – you’re that cop. That fed they caught red handed. So you don’t like rapists, huh? Why not? Some bitch gets cranky and decides to accuse her man of rape. What does it mean anyway? Rape. That’s just sex, same as any other type. You like it rough?”
Martin decided to pretend he hadn’t heard the last question.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like pussy? You’re in luck then. No pussy here, not for miles around.”
Martin sank down on his bed and began to unpack what little he’d been allowed to bring. It was nothing much. A few books. Some change of underwear. His mother’s photograph. Another photo taken when he, Danny, Sam and Jack had been out celebrating after they found a little girl alive and unharmed, several weeks after they’d given her up for dead.
Fortunately for him, his cell mate, who still hadn’t bothered to introduce himself, appeared to tire of the game of intimidating him. Instead, he took to going through some porn magazines that he kept stacked besides his bed. There also seemed to be a pile of other magazines, with photos of guns on the covers.
Martin hadn’t kept up with what time it was, but judging by the lack of daylight coming in through the tiny, barred window high up on the wall between his and the other man’s beds, it was late afternoon, early evening probably.
Not much later, a siren rang, which appeared to be calling the prisoners to the evening meal. And his suspicion was confirmed, when his cell mate got up and stood by the door, as if waiting for something. At least they were going to be let out of their cramped little cells to eat, probably for walks and as far as he knew, also to do some work.
When they heard the noise of a key turning in the lock, Martin too, got up. He could see that a small peephole in the hatch was opened and someone peered inside. Not wanting to stand too close to the other man, he waited a few steps behind. The other guy startled him by whirling around and getting so close, Martin involunatarily took a step backwards.
“Take a good look at me, bitch. Don’t piss me off. Don’t mouth off to me. I’m Mad Dawg. Douglas Fisher. In case you’re wondering, I’m in here because my bitch accused me of rape. Rape. She always loved it before. Any way she could get it. They also say I broke her brother’s jaw to keep her from testifying. Last year I was transferred here because I beat up a guy who gave me grief. Is that clear?”
Martin swallowed nervously.
“I said, is that clear, babe?”
“Yes. I understand.”
“Make sure you do.”
Now the door finally swung open and the guards waited until they both walked out, slowly and orderly.
“How are you today, Jankowski?”
“Never mind me, just stay out of trouble, Fisher.”
A wordless grumble was the only reply.
Food turned out to be unappetizing and dull, but Martin didn’t feel very hungry anyway. His mind was numb and he felt slow and stupid. He assumed that he would be given some kind of work to do. If he was lucky, perhaps that would be in the library, but he couldn’t work up much enthusiasm about anything.
His father hadn’t interfered, which he’d been certain he would. There had been no communication from his mother, which could only mean two things – either she had taken a turn for the worse, or his father was keeping her from getting in touch with him.
Either way, the future looked bleak. Would he ever see his friends and colleagues again? He wasn’t sure he’d be allowed to have any visitors, at least not to begin with. His attorney might have informed him about what to expect, but if so, he remembered nothing.
Despite feeling apathetic and indifferent, he couldn’t help feeling a pinprick of fear every time Mad Dawg’s eyes travelled across him. There was something unnverving about those looks.
After dinner, the prisoners were allowed to spend some time in a recreation room with a pool table, a tv set and some decks of cards. That appeared to be all the recreation that was on offer, unless there were some other facilities that Martin hadn’t seen yet. He was wondering whether it would be safest to return to his cell right away, or if that would only expose him to Mad Dawg’s unsettling company all the sooner.
At least Mad Dawg sat down at a table, picked up a deck of cards and began to deal the cards to a couple of other men.
Martin sat down at the other end of the room, pretending to watch some tv. If anyone had asked him what was showing, he wouldn’t have been able to answer.
After a while, he heard his name mentioned and uneasily he looked in the direction of his cell mate.
“Hey, you, Fitzgerald. Yeah, you, the cop. We’re talking to you. Get over here, now.”
Nervously, Martin looked around for one of the guards, but couldn’t see one nearby. If he obeyed, he might do nothing else for the duration of his sentence. On the other hand, he didn’t think Mad Dawg would accept any disobedience. Was he strong enough to fight someone like his cell mate, let alone his friends? Of course not. So he got up, and dragging his feet, he walked over to the other men.
He decided to try acting cool and see if it might buy him a little time.
“Are you asking if I want in on the game?”
A huge, bald man in his early fifties was staring at him with a hungry look in his eyes.
“What’s your name, baby? Your first name.”
“Martin. What’s yours?”
“Your bitch needs to learn some manners, Mad Dawg.”
One of the other men, who had kept quiet until now cast Mad Dawg an insolent look. No wonder, Martin thought, bitterly. Most of these men were big and strong. This one was perhaps a little skinnier, but he looked all the more deadly. A snake coiled around his upper arm, biting its own tail. Did they all have tattoos? And the way they were constantly referring to him as bitch, baby and princess didn’t exactly make him feel better. He was hoping that it was just part of their jargon, meant to intimidate newcomers.
“What did I tell you about mouthing off, Fitzgerald? That goes for my friends too. Don’t piss them off either.”
“So this is the cop. Cute. I know some guys who would sell me their firstborn and their mothers just to get their hands on one of you guys.”
The thin one had eyes that were even more chilling than Mad Dawg.
Mad Dawg laughed along with the others as if this hadn’t been anything more than a joke. Perhaps they were just joking. Martin couldn’t tell. He knew other cops who had been sent to jail had been beaten, even killed by the other prisoners. Others had committed suicide rather than facing the persecution that awaited them. But since he couldn’t do anything about his situation, he would just have to wait and hope for the best.
“Relax, babe. I’m not going to let anyone get their hands on you.”
And if he was telling the truth, what would his price be? Martin wondered if they’d had their fun now and if it would be ok for him to return to the tv set. It seemed to be over for now. The men turned their attention back onto their card game for the twenty minutes of so left until another siren called them back to their cells for the night.
He had a bad feeling about spending the first night in his cell. What would Mad Dawg be up to? He was pretty sure that if he had something planned, there would be no point in calling for help. The guards didn’t like it when one of their own switched sides, he knew that from listening to the conversations between prison guards and cops who had met such cops first hand. Whatever happened, he’d be on his own.
His father couldn’t help him, and even if he could, he wouldn’t lift a finger to protect his son. Who else? Jack? If there had been anything he could have done, he would have done it by now. Martin knew that Jack had meant what he said when he’d promised to help him. It wasn’t his fault that what he’d done hadn’t been enough.
At least Jack believed in him, and he thought Sam did too. Danny had left before the trial had ended so he didn’t know for sure what he thought. But when the first news about the accusation had come, Danny had been as adamant as the others that they fight it. Yes, Danny believed in him too. But what difference did it make? No one could help him.
The guards locked them up again.
“Remember, lights out in five.”
The silence after they’d gone felt ominous. Martin was wondering if he was supposed to sleep in his overalls, or in his underwear, because there certainly didn’t seem to be any pyjamas here. He had a t-shirt on, and in the end, he settled for removing the overalls, leaving just the t-shirt and his shorts.
Mad Dawg, too, undressed, then stretched out on the bed, his arms behind his head.
Hurriedly, Martin did the same. The coarse blanket itched, but what did it matter? A small inconvenience compared the main problem. He was locked up among criminals.
The light went out and Martin was left to his brooding. He’d never been afraid of the dark, and it wasn’t as if he was now. It was just so unnerving to have Mad Dawg lying only a couple of paces away.
He felt wide awake and restless. If there had been some kind of light, he would have liked to read one of his books. That might have helped him relax a little. But though some moonlight came through the small window, it wouldn’t be enough to read in. It was just barely enough to see the outlines of the bedside lockers.
After a while, his eyes had adjusted to the darkness and he could see the room vaguely outlined. The door. The chairs. The other bed. The foot of his own bed. The window.
His eyes roamed the room, as if searching for something, but there was nothing to see.
Then he heard the noise he’d most dreaded since the lights went out. Mad Dawg’s bed creaked and now he could both see and hear his cell mate getting up. For a while, the man stood still, as if listening for something. Then he appeared to make up his mind.
He was on top of Martin before he had time to guess what he was up to. A hand pressed down on his mouth and a voice hissed a few words of warning into his ear.
“You make sure to keep your mouth shut, unless I tell you to open it. Is that clear?”
To add emphasis to his words, Mad Dawg used his other hand to squeeze Martin’s neck. He felt his consciousness flicker in and out, but mercifully, this didn’t last long.
Despite Mad Dawg’s threat, Martin couldn’t help thrashing about, to try and dislodge the heavy intruder. But he hung on, now using his strong arms to pin Martin down. Somehow, the big man managed to get on Martin’s side, and to flip him over, before he had time to struggle much. His legs flailed about uselessly, but in the end, he was lying pinned down, even more securely than before.
Mad Dawg reached inside Martin’s t-shirt and fumbled for the right nipple. Finding it, he pinched it so hard that Martin had to whimper.
“What did I tell you? Not a sound. If the guard gets here, I’ll break your fucking arm, is that clear?”
Again, he twisted and pinched the nipple, before letting go. Now Martin felt the hands move down his body, to his shorts. After some fumbling about, Mad Dawg was able to pull those down.
Martin panicked and began to thrash about. He began to hyperventilate. A sharp blow to the side of his head made him slump down, only half conscious.
“If you do that again I’ll shut you up for good. Don’t move, bitch. It’s time you learned who’s the boss in here.”
Dazed and stunned, Martin receded into semi-consciousness, his mind retreating far far inside. The rest of the night became an indistinct blur in his memory. Towards morning, he must have blacked out, because when he came to, light was coming in through the window and he could see Mad Dawg standing over him. When the man reached out a hand to touch his shoulder, Martin recoiled violently. Cowering up agains the wall, he stared up at his cell mate.
“You’d better get up, sleeping beauty. The guards will be here any minute now. Time to go to work. If you’re lucky, they’ll put you in my work detail.”
Somehow, Martin was able to clear his head enough to get up. With shaking hands, he pulled on his overalls again, not bothering to change his underwear. He couldn’t bear to look down on himself anyway. As long as Mad Dawg kept his distance, he just might be able to get through the day.
Frowning, Danny put down the phone. Still no verdict. How could this be happening to Martin? At least Danny had no doubts in his mind that his partner recently turned friend was innocent. He might have greeted Martin with suspicion and disapproval when the guy first got transferred to their unit, but since then, Martin had proven himself again and again. Now there was no one Danny would rather have backing him up, except of course for the other members of their team.
But now he had used up all the time he had for worrying about his friend, and everyone else back in New York. He had other business down here. Though how the trail of this particular missing person could ever have ended up leading him here, to this god-forsaken dusty town near the Mexican border, he really couldn’t guess.
It was odd, in a way, since to begin with, this case had been so straighforward. He had expected to find his missing woman if not in New York, then maybe in New Jersey, Delaware or Connecticut. Nothing strange about this case. Or so he’d thought. Now he was stuck here, in a dingy motel room, feeling as if the case had suddenly gotten stuck as well.
As a last resort, he’d follow up on the last lead he had, which would take him across the border. If that didn’t pan out either, he’d go back to New York to be by Martin’s side. Jack had told him that poor Martin’s father had abandoned him. Having parents might not be as fantastic as he seemed to remember it.
It was time to go. He picked up his cell phone and made sure he had his credentials with him. Cancun might be fun this time of year, but otherwise if he’d been allowed to pick his destination, he sure wouldn’t have gone to Mexico.
Standing in line, at the border crossing, he glanced with very little interest at the other people going across. They seemed to be mainly Mexicans, going in both directions. No wealthy tourists here.
The address he was heading for turned out to be extremely hard to find and the few people he met didn’t seem to know much English. In any case, he ended up buying a map at the only decent store in the small town. To Danny’s eyes, this place was even more dismal than the Texan town on the other side of the border.
Eventually, he was able to make his way to the house he was looking for. It was as run down and seedy as he’d come to expect. The roof was falling off, and one of the windows were broken. It began to seem as if this was another dead end. If his missing person was here, she’d be long dead.
Just in case, he followed procedure, knowing far too well that he had no jurisdiction in this country. But he’d been given the green light from the authorities, and he had every right to look for an American citizen, so he knocked on the door and identified himself. He hadn’t really been expecting a reply so when none came he wasn’t too surprised.
Again, he knocked, this time without bothering to say anything. If anyone was in there, they’d have heard him by now. There was no sound coming from inside the building and he shrugged. Nothing. It was time he returned home. He wanted to be away from this dusty, hot place. No wonder these people were trying to swarm across to the promised land.
His professional pride made him try the door, and sure enough, it was unlocked. He pushed it open and peered inside.
Just as he had expected, there was no reply. With a sigh, he stepped inside. If he just made sure the house was empty, he could leave with a clear conscience. There wasn’t much furniture left and none that wasn’t broken, and pretty much worthless, except possibly as firewood. In one window, there was a torn, threadbare curtain wafting in the slight breeze.
Danny wrinkled his nose. What was that smell? Had something crawled in there and died? He looked around for the source of the stench, but at first he couldn’t find anything. Though he hadn’t expected it, looking at the house from outside, he realized that there was another room.
The door he had assumed was leading to a closet or possibly a bathroom (though in a place like this, that probably was out back), turned out to be leading into a small bedroom. It was dark in there, with the window boarded up. While his eyes adjusted to the gloom in there, he waited. The stench was worse in here. There had to be something dead somewhere close.
After a moment, he began to see something of the room. There was a dirty mattress in the corner, with a bundle of rags on it. Ugh. He could hear the buzzing of a huge swarm of flies. One step closer and he noticed that the bundle of rags were really a dead woman. Not as long dead as he had expected, but in this heat, the decay must have set in fast. He would have to report his find to the local police. Again he regretted coming here. This would add hours to his pointless visit.
He heard a slight noise coming from behind and whirled around. Too late. All he could see was a blur. A sharp blow hit him and he blacked out.
He woke up to a pounding headache. There was a new smell now, added to that of the rotting corpse, alcohol of some kind. What had waken him wasn’t the smell or his headache, nor was it the nausea that accompanied both. It was someone kicking him in the side. Someone was shouting at him, but he couldn’t understand what the person was saying.
Groaning with the pain, all he could do was curl up into a ball trying to protect himself from the kicks. Now someone bent over him and grabbed him roughly, shaking him. And still the person in the background was yelling at him in a language which eventually revealed itself to be Spanish.
The violent movement caused him to throw up. This seemed to make his tormentors even more angry. He was being lifted off the floor and dragged outside. Next he was thrown roughly into the back of a pickup truck. Some of the men got up and sat down around him, presumably to keep him there.
At that point, mercifully, he blacked out again. When he came to, he was feeling slightly better. He was lying on a hard surface. It was a while until his eyes adjusted to the sharp light. He was in a holding cell, lying on a very narrow and very hard bunk. There was a blanket underneath him, which smelled only slightly better than that house. That house – He’d found a dead woman. Someone had bashed his head in and now he was in a cell? He had to find someone in authority and explain himself.
It was another while before he was able to get to his feet, and even then, his head spun and he felt so dizzy and weak, he had to lean on the wall. When he got to the barred door, he began to yell.
“Hey. There’s been some kind of mistake. I’m an American citizen. Hello. Let me out of here.”
After a while, a fat middle aged police man, judging by the uniform he was wearing, approached the bars.
He said something in Spanish that didn’t sound very friendly, to say the least. The dialect sounded strange in Danny’s ears and he could only make out about half of the words.
Danny repeated his demands, but with a sinking feeling, he began to realize that this man, who didn’t seem particularly intelligent, and certainly not very nice, didn’t understand a word he was saying. Reluctantly he decided to try again in Spanish. It had been years since he last spoke it and this guy’s accent was difficult to follow, but hopefully he’d get his message across.
“Yo. Americano. Comprende?”
A new outburst of only partially intelligible words, and the man retreated. It seemed to take forever, before someone else showed up. This man was a little younger and looked a lot smarter, but if anything, he seemed more ill intentioned than the first one.
“So you’ve woken up. And you’re an American? Don’t think this will help you. Murder is a crime in Mexico too.”
He pronounced the word Mehico.
“It will do you no good denying the facts. A dead girl was found near you, and you smelled of tequila. Was she a puta? Did you argue about the dolares?”
“What? I didn’t kill anyone. I’m an American. I work for the Federal Bureau of Investigations. FBI. I’m a police officer.”
The man seemed amused in a grim sort of way.
“Policia? You? Can you prove this?”
Danny felt for his wallet. Only now did he realize that his jacket was gone. His shirt was open in front and his belt and shoes were missing, presumably taken away during his processing.
“I had my ID in my wallet. It was in my jacket. Was I wearing it when you found me?”
“Your jacket? You were wearing this. And your belt and shoes. It’s all. I see. You can not prove you did not kill the girl.”
He nodded to himself as if proving a point to himself. To Danny’s horror, the guy now walked away and it was no use calling him back.
About an hour later, he was moved from his cell and taken outside into a small yard. There he was shoved brutally into another truck. Two guards were accompanying him. He was, of course, handcuffed.
The drive took no more than twenty minutes or so, in which time Danny tried to make himself understood. Either the uniformed policemen didn’t understand a word of English, not to mention the Spanish that was only slowly coming back to him, or, which was more likely, they were deliberately trying to ignore him.
They pulled up outside a low rectangular building, enclosed by a barbed wire fence. Danny had a bad feeling about the whole thing. Wasn’t this altogether too much like what had happened to Martin? What was presumably still happening to Martin?
This was a nightmare. Apparently, he wouldn’t even get a trial. They were going to put him in jail. Just throw him in jail without any formalities. Someone had to be setting him up, but at the moment, Danny could think of no way of escaping the trap.
Processing took less time south of the border. In about ten minutes time, he was already settled into a cell that was larger than the one he’d woken up in, but that didn’t help any. It was crowded. There seemed to be six or seven men in there at least. When the guards opened the door, the prisoners hurriedly moved back, in way that suggested to Danny that prisoner beatings might take the place of more sophisticated entertainment in this godforsaken place.
He couldn’t stop himself from pleading with his jailers one last time.
“Please. This is a mistake. I’m not a criminal. I’m an American citizen. Call my embassy. Call the nearest FBI field office. They’ll vouch for me. Please. Don’t do this.”
The guards didn’t even bother listening. In a manner that almost seemed cheerful, they pushed him inside and locked the door behind him. The crowd parted a little, to allow him inside. Soon, though, they crowded closer. All of them looked menacing and villainous. Danny felt panic welling up inside him. This. Couldn’t. Be. Happening.
Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to remain calm. When he didn’t call in, Vivian or Jack or Samantha would miss him and send someone to look for him. They’d ask around. Someone would come for him. All he had to do was to hang on until the cavalry arrived. He could do that. At least he hoped he could.
Danny wasn’t aware of how much time had passed since he’d been knocked unconscious in that house. He also didn’t know for how long he’d been out of it, in that holding cell. Though he didn’t know it, he had already been missed, and even though everyone was busy working on Martin’s case, Jack had already begun to make inquiries.
But Danny had no idea of this, and he was beginning to give in to his panic again. The men were closing in on him. In fact, it felt as if the walls were closing in on him as well. It was heard to breathe. What little air there was in the low ceilinged room was being consumed by seven people. There was no way he could get a seat on the bunks over by the walls. By now, there wasn’t even a space over by the door, so he could lean on that. His only option would be to slide to the floor. A few of the men were already sitting down.
One of them was staring at Danny in an unnverving way.
The man spoke with a strong accent and it didn’t seem as if he knew that many more words in English. But that wasn’t what was bothering Danny. It was the way the man was sliding up to him, raking him with his gaze as if undressing him.
Danny knew his voice had cracked and it was all he could do, not to break down and plead with the unnerving man. And what he’d just said wasn’t strictly true. He knew exactly what the guy was trying to tell him. He was just trying desperately to delay whatever was coming.
Exactly what he’d been afraid of. Not that. Please not that. Incoherently, Danny prayed to any deity that would hear him, but the man just kept moving closer. Slowly, as if trying to intimidate his victim all the more.
The man spoke rapidly in his Mexican dialect, making the words close to impossible to decipher, and two others moved in as well. Between them, they managed to rip up Danny’s shirt and moved on to get to work on his pants. One sharp word from the first guy stopped them before they’d had time to finish what they’d started.
Now the man moved closer again and without warning, smashed his fist into Danny’s midriff. He toppled over, coughing and retching. The man followed up by knocking him about some more. Not enough to make him black out, just enough to break down his resistance.
By the time Danny was beginning to think he’d never get out of the cell alive, the man stopped. He straightened up and began to fumble with his zipper. Someone else in the cell called out something, which seemed to annoy the first one. Another one was laughing out loud.
The first guy caught Danny’s eye and fixed him with an imperative stare. He pointed with his hand towards his own crotch area as if expecting Danny to get his meaning. He did, but he was hoping he was wrong.
Impatiently, the man grabbed Danny’s hand and moved it closer to his crotch. It took Danny’s dazed mind a while to work it out and when he did, he was filled with relief. At least he wasn’t being asked to – Not yet anyway.
Knowing that he was outnumbered in a room filled with strangers who didn’t understand English and didn’t even seem to understand what little Spanish he was able to make his panicked mind produce, he realized that if he refused, he’d be dead in a few minutes time.
If he didn’t want to die, he’d have to comply. Tears burned the inside of his eyelids and he cursed himself for a coward, but he didn’t pull his hand away. He didn’t try to back off. Biting his lip, he hurriedly obeyed the unspoken command.
Vivian had heard the phone ring in Jack’s office and she’d rushed inside to hear the news. Gravely, she listened to the conversation, and waited until Jack hung up.
“Yes. They’ve found him. He’s been set up as well.”
Vivian’s eyebrows shot up. Danny too. That should give them some clue as to what case had led to this crisis. Someone who had a grudge against both Danny and Martin. That must limit the suspects a bit. Her mind set to work on the problem, so she missed Jack’s next words.
“Sorry. You were saying?”
“He’s in Mexico. In jail. He’s been framed for the murder of some woman. His passport and ID were stolen. In any case, they’re missing. He has no way of proving his identity, unless we send someone down there. And I can’t spare anyone right now.”
She didn’t want to, but if Jack sent her, she’d go. Someone else would have to figure out who was behind the setup.
“No. I need you here.”
Secretly, she was relieved. It was Jack she wanted to work with, not one of those junior agents, no matter how hot young Danny was.
“No. I’m not sure she’s up to this. Hm. Who could I ask?”
“I’m not sure what you’re -”
“I wasn’t asking you. Sorry, Vivian. Did you want to tell me something?”
“No. I was just wondering who that was on the phone. Never mind. But you do see the implications?”
“Of course. Some case that both Danny and Martin worked. One they were primarily responsible for. Will you look into it?”
“I’m on my way.”
Jack hadn’t slept for days, not a whole night through anyway, and lunch was a distant memory. But he didn’t have any appetite and how could he sleep when two of the agents under his command were in jail, framed for crimes they hadn’t committed? He had to find someone who could go to Mexico and get Danny out. Fast. An American cop in a Mexican prison – it was the stuff that nightmares was made of.
Suddenly, the answer occurred to him. Of course. But would she do this for him? After the way he’d treated her and the children? There was only one way to find out. He reached for the phone and dialled the number as quickly as he could. It kept ringing for so long, he didn’t think she was going to reply, then finally, there was a click at the other end of the line. He only got her secretary. Grinding his teeth in impatience, he hoped she wasn’t out and couldn’t be reached. He needed her now.
“Jack Malone here. Could I speak to my wife, please? It’s urgent.”
“One moment, sir.”
To his relief, he now recognized his wife’s voice at the other end of the line. She had no reason to help him out, and he knew he didn’t deserve it after what he’d put her through. He knew she suspected he’d had an affair, even if he doubted she could have any idea who with. But there was no time for this self-recrimination. Two young men’s lives were in the balance and he’d worry about his personal life later.
“Maria. Thank god, I caught you.”
“What’s wrong? The girls?”
“No, of course not.”
“Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“Not me. One of my agents. Maria, I realize this is far too much to ask, but for his sake, I’m going to do it anyway.”
There was a slight pause at the other end of the line. He could read nothing into the tone of her voice.
Quickly in as few words as possible, he outlined the trouble Danny was in and ended, rather feebly by begging Maria to go down there and get him out right away.
“I know this is short notice and -”
“Yes. It is. But your young man – this seems serious.”
Again, there was a pause, and he thought he was going to go insane, waiting for her reply. He knew that if she said no, there would be no point in begging.
“Alright. I’ll reschedule some of my least urgent cases. The rest – well, I think I can get someone to fill in. When do you need me to go?”
“I see. Alright. Can you go and drop the girls off at my mother’s? You can send an agent if you don’t have time yourself.”
“Maria – I -”
“I see. I meant what I said. I understand that you’re busy. Send an agent. It’s alright. As long as he gets them to my mother’s right away.”
“I promise. Maria – thanks. I owe you.”
“Yes you do, but we’ll forget about that for now. I’m on my way. Don’t worry about your agent. If anyone can get him out, I can.”
He knew that. She didn’t make empty promises and anyway, he wouldn’t have asked her if he hadn’t known she was the best.
“Careful? Of course. Don’t worry about me. I’ll call you as soon as I know anything. Bye, Jack.”
At least one of his agents had been taken care of. If only she would be in time to save him. He called for Samantha and asked her to go and pick up the girls. It was either her or Vivian and he wanted Vivian nearby, in case there was a breakthrough in Martin’s case. They were still waiting to hear about the appeal.
Being a woman who believed in coming prepared for any eventualities, Maria called in a favor or two and managed to get the paperwork translated into Spanish, while she herself had her secretary book the first flight to Mexico, or at least the nearest airport to the small town where agent Taylor was being held.
She knew she wouldn’t have time to go home and pack, but fortunately, due to the amount of work piling up at the office, she had a spare toothbrush and a change of clothes there. Just in case she’d be forced to go to court after working all night.
Her secretary confirmed the booking and Maria looked at her watch. She’d be only just in time to catch the flight. Trust Jack to get her into something like this. Head over heels. But it reminded her pleasantly of the first years out of college when she was prepared to jump at any opportunity. Backpacking through Europe. A trip to Australia. Visiting South America.
This might be a bit more complicated, but she realized that the way her adrenaline was pumping was making her feel excited and young again. She was back in action. Court work wasn’t quite as much of a challenge.
On the plane, she took advantage of the waiting time to do some studying. They really had no right to keep agent Taylor, but if she applied for an extradition order, it would only delay matters. Direct action was what was called for, not bureaucracy. At times, there was nothing Maria hated more than red tape.
She’d call ahead and demand to see the file on the murder case. If she was right, there would be no real evidence connecting Jack’s young man with the crime. Even if someone, as Jack had suggested, had set the young agent up, he couldn’t very well have made him touch the murder weapon. Oh, well, if something like that had been attempted, she’d deal with it if and when she had to. She didn’t anticipate any problems, but it was always good to plan ahead anyway.
Just as she had expected, the case seemed simple enough. Whoever had set the trap, hadn’t even bothered to make it watertight. Hm. Apparently, in this case, south of the border, being thrown into jail was enough punishment. He didn’t need to make the case stick.
If Jack hadn’t been able to send her in, the young man might have been forced to stay for weeks, maybe months, before anyone could have him extradited. Perhaps, whoever was behind all this counted on the mere suspicion being enough to ruin agent Taylor’s career.
She had a rented car waiting for her at the airport and soon she was leaving the larger town behind, making for the smaller one with the prison. It was still early. She would be able to get agent Taylor out, take him across the border, then perhaps, if he was in bad shape, she could let him rest a little at a hotel. If that was the case, it would most likely be due to police brutality. Maria was already outlining a case against the police department and the authorities, should the need arise. They wouldn’t know what had hit them.
As she struggled with the map, she suddenly asked herself why she was taking this case so personally. She’d only seen agent Taylor once, and though he was a breathtakingly handsome young man, he also seemed very pleased with himself. Was she excited about Jack finally throwing himself at her feet, begging him for a favor? Yes, that was part of it.
He’d never in all their years of marriage, made her feel truly needed. They’d been happy enough for the first eight or nine years. But since then, they’d been drifting apart, until nothing was left of their marriage. And she’d never understood why. She knew she worked too much, but her career was no less important than his. He worked long hours as well, in a profession where it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to leave work behind in the evenings.
There had always been a part of Jack that had been closed off to her. He shut her out. She had never once felt that she was of vital importance to him. The girls, yes. They were his flesh and blood. But what about her? She’d put everything she had into the marriage, and it still hadn’t been enough. Perhaps she’d never know wny. At least now, he was coming to her for help he could get nowhere else. It was a start.
Finally, she was able to get on the right road. How could what almost seemed like a dirt track lead to a prison? Oh, well, she’d get there, even if the car was the worse for wear when she returned it. If there was any serious damage, the FBI could foot the bill.
She pulled to a stop in front of the metal gates barring her way, and honked the horn. Someone would have seen her. They had to send someone to inquire about her business. She just hoped the didn’t shoot first and ask questions later.
This was a totally different Mexico than the one she’d seen in her college vacations. Where was the awesome culture? The beautiful architecture? The warm, welcoming people she’d befriended? They were college students, but by now, they had to be grown men and women working, doing their part for their country.
Oh, well, there had to be dismal dumps like this in the US, Canada, Europe, everywhere.
Finally, a uniformed guard walked across to her, asking questions, making hand gestures that clearly suggested that she turn right around and leave.
“No. Por favor. I have business with the warden. I’m an American attorney.”
The man stared at her, as if not quite being able to reconcile her two images. Well-to-do American tourist. The car had to tell him that, if her outfit didn’t. And now, someone speaking fluent Spanish, with an upper class Mexican accent (well, no point in showing off her best European Spanish).
“Si, si, senora. This way.”
The gates swung open for her, and she was able to park in front of the main building. Her guide led her to the warden’s office, where she explained her business. He listened in silence before making any reply.
“May I see those documents, por favor?”
“Of course. You’ll find that they confirm agent Taylor’s identity. He was following up a lead on a missing person case. Furthermore, he was in Mexico with the approval of the authorities.”
“Yes. I see. Well, a mistake does seem to have been made. I have now had time to review the evidence against your man and the details don’t seem to add up.”
Maria didn’t really believe he’d studied the case at all, he just saw when he was out of options. US-Mexican relations might hinge on a fair treatment of US agents. She knew the paperwork demanding agent Taylor’s release was watertight. No loopholes. Unless they had evidence clearly pointing to his guilt in the murder case, they had no right to hold him. If they needed his testimony, they’d submit it in writing, later.
“Please take me to agent Taylor so I may reassure myself that he is in good health.”
“By all means. But I think you will find that my men have treated him well.”
She would make up her own mind about that when she could see the young man herself.
“And I would like to ask you to have his release papers drawn up as well.”
The warden looked slightly surprised. It was clear that he hadn’t intended to do any such thing. As far as he was concerned, all that remained to be done was to turn the American over to his legal representative and let her take him with her.
“Ah, yes. Certainly. Just a moment.”
He lifted the receiver and gave the order for a guard to accompany her. Apparently, he had no intention of doing so himself.
“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
She fixed him with a hard stare that jarred the warden. If any woman of his had that sort of attitude, he’d soon sort her out. But American women were no real women. ‘Men in disguise’ was the way he referred to them in private. Though he had to admit this one was far more pleasing to the eye than any of his men, not to mention the prisoners.
Maria felt relieved. No trouble at all, apparently. Good. The sooner she had agent Taylor back on US soil the better.
The guard seemed slightly uneasy about bringing her into the actual prison area, but he’d had his orders. If the woman wanted to expose herself to the taunts of criminals, it was her business.
Soon she could hear catcalls and whistles. How did news travel so fast? Had one of the guards been talking? Oh, well. The few prisoners she could actually see, were all behind bars, and none of them could reach her, physically.
“Hello, mamacita. Have you come for me? I heard gringos are no good in bed.”
“Hey beautiful. Come and see a real man for a change.”
“Just come here and I’ll do you good. You won’t get on your feet until next week.”
Maria smiled icily and tried to keep herself from replying in a language these men could understand. With an effort she kept herself in check, so she wouldn’t embarrass the guard.
Now the guard stopped in front of a door at the end of the corridor, and brought out his keys. The door swung open, revealing a small, dingy dark room. On the floor, on a mattress, someone was lying.
The guard called gruffly to the man to get up.
What a fool. Most likely, agent Taylor wouldn’t be able to understand him.
“Agent Taylor? I’ve come to get you out of here. Are you alright?”
For a second, she feared that agent Taylor would be unconscious or worse. There was no reply, and she walked closer.
“Agent Taylor? Danny?”
Slowly, the figure on the mattress turned and raised himself up, painfully.
When she saw his face, Maria gasped. He was badly bruised and the way he was having a hard time getting up, suggested that his body too would be battered and bruised. Why was he only wearing his pants? But worst of all, was the haunted look in his eyes. What had they done to him in here? She would be dragging each guard to court over this until she found out who was guilty of this disgrace.
“Danny? What did they do to you?”
The guard apparently felt it was necessary to comment on his condition.
“Senora, the other prisoners – they beat him up. When we heard the noise, we brought him here.”
“Have you let a doctor see him?”
“He isn’t badly hurt.”
“Did you let him have medical attention?”
“Well, no. But he’s alright. Nothing serious. You’ll see.”
Maybe, maybe not. But this was worse than anything she could have imagined. Resolutely, she bent over and held out her hand to him.
For a second, Danny cowered back, as if fearing an attack, then he slowly managed to get himself back under control. He had to make an effort. How could he lie there grovelling? He was no child. Somehow, he’d manage to get to his feet. But in the end, he had to accept the woman’s help.
“There. Maria Malone. We met once, but I’m not sure you remember -”
So Jack had come through for him. Now he did recognize his senior agent’s wife. It seemed to him that he’d never seen anyone quite that beautiful. She was certainly the most welcome sight he could imagine.
“Yes. Now let’s get you out of here. Do you think you can walk?”
Of course he could walk. For her, he’d walk to the end of the earth. Steadying himself for a moment, he began walking jerkily towards the door. He couldn’t believe it. Was he finally going to be let out of this place? Could the nightmare really be over?
“Thank you. Thank you. How can I ever thank you, mrs Malone.”
Realizing that he was babbling, Danny broke off, but couldn’t stop himself from staring at his savior like a faithful dog.
And accepting no evasions, she took his arm and led him towards the door. If a man had done that, Danny would have snatched his arm away. He would walk on his own, if it killed him. But how could he refuse anything she told him to do?
Slowly they made their way out of the small cell, then continued along the corridor, towards the exit. Release papers or not, she was going to take him to her car and drive away. If anyone wanted to stop her, they were welcome to try.
Seeing the American leaving, the prisoners picked up their taunts and jeers again.
“What you want with that fag? Take me instead. I’ll put a smile on your face, beautiful.”
Now she really couldn’t stop herself. They had done this to Danny. She’d give them a piece of her mind.
“Oh, really? Do you think any of you sissies could show any woman a good time?”
She proceeded to outline their capacity for intimate favors to men of all sizes, then went on with expressing her sincere doubt that even men like that would be attracted to other men so exceptionally poorly endowed in the size department.
The guard blushed as he heard the American lady talk like a drug dealer from the slums.
Danny, who at the moment couldn’t understand more than a word or two of the rapid exchange, looked up at Maria in astonishment. Surely he was mistaken? She couldn’t be saying what he thought she was saying.
When they got to the exit, the guard just opened the door and let them leave. Maria put Danny in the back seat, telling him to get as much rest as he could, but warned him that the roads weren’t good.
“As soon as we’re across the border, I’ll take you to a doctor, then to a hotel room. The FBI can pick up the tab. Just tell me now, how badly are you hurt?”
“Not badly. Honestly. It’s ok.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying. If there was anything wrong, I’d tell you. They knocked me about a bit, but before any serious damage was done, the guards came to take me out of there.”
It was true, though he didn’t think he’d have lasted much longer, if the guards hadn’t arrived when they had. The real reason for the fight was something he’d never in a million years want a woman like Maria, or anyone else for that matter, to know about. They’d been fighting for the privilege of – He was what they’d been fighting over. There was no way he’d ever tell anyone about that.
When they finally reached the motel room – there wasn’t even one decent hotel room in the small town – it was very late. Despite the roads, Danny had dozed off during the drive back. Now that there was no hurry, Maria preferred not to have to try and get Danny on an airplane. How would she explain his condition? The border crossing guards had stared enough as it was.
“Danny? We’re here. I’ll be right back.”
She managed to get two rooms next door to each other, then returned to help Danny out of the car. He didn’t exactly enjoy being led around like that, she could imagine, but now that she’d found him, she would make sure he was fine, before she let him go.
“We should do something about getting you some new clothes. There. Just lie down on the bed. I won’t be a minute.”
“Where are you going?”
“Just to call for a doctor. On second thought, I’ll do it here. Relax. Are you hungry? I’ll call room service – or if they don’t have that here, I’ll just go and pick up something for you.”
“No, thanks. I’m not hungry.”
“You should eat. I’ll see what I can find.”
In a way, though normally, he’d have objected strenuously to being bossed around like this, Danny actually enjoyed being told what to do. Being in someone’s care felt good. He hadn’t felt that way since he was a child.
It took some work to finally get a doctor to agree to come and see a patient in a motel room, but Maria was used to getting her way, and eventually, one did arrive. By then, Danny was asleep. Maria sneaked out to find something to eat. If Danny wasn’t hungry, she certainly was. The only thing she could get was a sandwich for each one of them, and while not exactly delicious, at least they had to advantage of being quite filling. She also brought a few soft drinks and two coffees.
On her way back, she ran into the doctor, who turned out to be quite decent. He reassured her that while Danny looked badly beaten, he didn’t have any internal injuries. In fact, he should make a full recovery if only he got plenty of rest.
Well, she’d make sure that he did, even if she had to use the same tactics she did with her oldest daughter. The trick was not giving them any opportunity to object.
Tomorrow, she would look into the possibility of having Danny flown back to New York, but first she’d get some much needed rest herself, and make sure that Danny slept peacefully through the night. Not until now did she realize that to ensure the latter, she’d be forced to stay in his room. That was something she hadn’t considered until now. There was only the one bed, and though it was big enough for two, that implied a couple, not two strangers who were only meeting for the second time.
Oh, she knew she could get by on very little sleep, so why worry. She’d just sit down close to the bed and watch over him. If she wrapped herself in a blanket she’d be comfortable enough.
So she began her vigil, noting with satisfaction that her protege was exhausted enough from his harrowing experience to sleep dreamlessly. Those bruises though – she wished she could have found a way of paying those prisoners back for hurting him. What had he ever done to them? It wasn’t his fault he’d ended up in their cell.
Towards morning, Maria was startled by the sound of someone screaming in terror. For a second, she was disoriented. Where was she? And who was that screaming? One of her daughters? No, the person screaming sounded like a man and now she recalled the past day and night. Danny. Was he having bad dreams?
“Danny. Wake up. It’s just a bad dream. Come on. Wake up. It’s ok now. Danny?”
His eyelids fluttered open, but for a moment waking from his nightmare didn’t help much. He too had to feel disoriented and dizzy by what he’d endured in the past couple of days.
“Danny. Calm down. It’s ok. I’m here. You’ll be fine now.”
“Where am I?”
“In a motel room. Don’t you remember getting here last night? I got you out of that Mexican jail and brought you back to Texas.”
“Maria? Yes, I remember. Sorry. I don’t remember falling asleep.”
“I guess you’re wondering what I’m doing here.”
But it was immediately clear that Danny was thinking no such thing. If anything, he appeared relieved to have the company.
“I felt it would be best if I stuck around. You were quite badly beaten – and -”
“Oh. No. I’ll be fine. It’s nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s nothing. In fact, we should make arrangements to have your injuries documented before they heal. If you want to sue -”
“No. Let’s forget about it.”
“Danny. Agent Taylor. Someone set you up. And thanks to the lax routines of the local authorities you ended up in jail. Whoever is responsible for what happened to you should have to pay for it.”
“I know, but I don’t want to sue anyone. Can we just get back home, please?”
The pain in his eyes got to Maria and she decided not to press the issue. Yes, going back to New York would be an excellent idea. She had her children and Danny – yes, what did he have back home?
“Of course. Do you have any family you would like me to contact -”
“No. I don’t have any family.”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. No family? Or no family he wanted to get in touch with?
As if he’d read her mind, Danny explained further.
“I don’t have any family. My parents – passed away when I was a child. There’s no one I need to get in touch with. Just Jack and Martin -”
“Yes. Has there been any news about him?”
“Not that I know of. Jack called me and asked me to get you out of there. I haven’t been consulted about agent Fitzgerald. If they do ask me, I’ll do my best. What happened to you has to be connected to his situation.”
“Yes, it seems that way. But no one’s managed to get Martin out yet. Maria – they wouldn’t believe me. No one paid any attention to anything I said. And they didn’t speak English and -”
Normally, Danny would never lose it like this, but there was something about Maria that brought out these confidences. Somehow, he felt safe with her. Besides, not counting the accident when his parents had died, Danny hadn’t been through anything nearly as traumatic as his recent brush with the other side of his profession.
“I’m really sorry, Danny.”
“Don’t be. You got me out of there. I don’t think anyone could have done that in such a short time. You were amazing.”
Maria smiled at the Danny’s enthusiasm. His eyes were filled with such admiration she felt embarrassed. Of course, she realized she’d pulled off something not many others could have, given the time frame, but when she’d accepted the case, she’d merely been trying to help her estranged husband.
She hadn’t known Danny then and what little she’d seen of him, she hadn’t liked. Now, there was this – connection. There was no doubt about it, though she never would have wished anything like this on anyone, not even Jack when their divorce was going through its worst stages, she liked Danny a lot better like this. More humble, more open.
“Thank you. Well, since you’re feeling better, perhaps I should leave you to get dressed and so on. It’s about time I had a change of clothes as well. I’ll try to get us a reservation on the next plane back to New York.”
She could see Danny looking around the room as if looking for something.
“My – clothes.”
“Right. I knew there was something I’d forgotten. Ok. I’ll have to go out and get you some new ones. What size are you?”
“No. I couldn’t ask that of you.”
“Don’t be silly. I was married for years. In that time, I often went shopping for Jack. I just can’t promise you anything really fashionable. The stores down here might not be quite up to what you’re used to in New York and besides, I had to leave so quickly, I don’t have enough money. Perhaps they’ll accept my card -”
“You shouldn’t have to pay for my clothes.”
“The Bureau will reimburse me. So you see, it’s no problem. Just give me a half hour or so to freshen up.”
“Of course. Thanks again. Do you think they’ll manage a long distance call from here?”
“Use my cell phone. If there’s a call for me, just ignore it, unless it says Mom on the display. I had Jack send our girls to my mother. Anyone else can just wait. Besides, my answering service will deal with anything really urgent.”
Danny felt embarrassed about using Maria’s cell phone to call her husband. If he noticed what number he was calling from, what would he think? But there was no reason for him to check for the caller’s number, surely?
“Danny? I’m just on my way out. There’s been news about Martin. I think maybe this time, we’ll get him out. How are you? Maria left a message saying she’d managed to get you out of Mexico.”
“Yes. I’m fine. Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Maria.”
“I already did.”
“Well, it’s good to know that at least you’re ok. See you soon. I’ll let you know about Martin as soon as I know something definite.”
Three hours later, Danny and Maria were on a flight back to New York. The clothes she’d managed to find for him made him look more like a small town guy over the weekend, but he was comfortable enough in them and that was all that mattered to him.
He caught people staring at the bruises on his face, but he forced himself to ignore them. If the guards had come for him a little later, he’d have a lot more to worry about. As it was, he thought he’d have nightmares about what he’d been forced to do, for the rest of his life. But he couldn’t deal with what had happened in that cell, so he did what he always did when something became too much for him. He bottled it up inside.
Maria watched him anxiously while he leaned back in the seat next to her. She could tell that he was breathing shallowly and knew that this most likely was caused by the broken ribs.
“Are you ok? I have some painkillers somewhere -”
“No, thanks. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Positive. This is nothing. I’ve taken worse beatings than this.”
“On the job?”
“Uh – yes. On the job.”
Maria’s shrewd eyes studied him closely and Danny wondered if she saw right through him? Hopefully not.
“I – when I was in foster care, sometimes they beat me as well. It was something that most of us got used to. And sometimes the older kids would pick on you. Really, I’ll be fine.”
“Were you abused in foster care?”
“Please. I don’t want you to sue anyone.”
She smiled at her own eagerness to do her job. It would be far smarter if she waited until her client hired her before she prepared any cases.
“Ok. I promise I won’t offer my services. But if you change your mind – I’ll give it my best. Beating children in foster care.”
She shook her head sadly. There were times when she felt everything was wrong in the world. But she had to focus on the successes instead of the failures. Getting Danny out had been a success, she had to take credit for that.
At the airport, she called Jack to ask if he wanted to see Danny right away, or if it would be ok for him to go home and get some rest first. She couldn’t get hold of her husband, so she decided to make a judgment call. Vivian wasn’t there either, so she couldn’t ask her. Samantha – Maria had a bad feeling about the young woman. She wouldn’t have been surprised if Jack hadn’t had a thing with her, or perhaps he still was. Not that it was any of her business anymore, she hurriedly reminded herself.
“No reply. I’ll tell you what, I’ll see you settled in at home first. Jack will know where to reach you, if he wants to. Even if they’ll want your statement, I’ll put them off a bit. There are other things more urgent.”
“Like getting you home and making sure you get plenty of rest. You may be used to being bruised all over, but there is no reason why you should have to work like that. And in my case, going to my mother’s house to pick up my daughters. You remember them, I’m sure?”
“Yes. They’re beautiful. Must take after their mother.”
So there he was again, the smooth talker. But now that she’d had a glimpse into his mind, Maria didn’t feel quite as antagonized by the self assured front he liked to present to the world. She knew what hid behind that mask, and from now on, she’d always look at him differently.
“Listen, there’s no need for you to come with me to my place. I’ll be fine. Go and get your girls. They’ll be missing you. Thanks again. You’ve been fantastic. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”
“Don’t worry about it. Ok, if you’re sure – I’ll call you tonight and make sure you’re alright.”
Danny smiled but made no reply. He was trying hard not to be too pleased about her attention. She would be just as nice to anyone.
When he’d met her the last time, she’d appeared so distant and disinterested. Her only concern had been the safety of their children and from what Danny had learned on the office grapevine, continuing her long standing quarrel with her husband. Back then, he’d been inclined to take Jack’s side. Now – he didn’t think he’d ever met such a wonderful woman. Beautiful. Smart. Tough.
Oh, why on earth would she even notice a guy like him? Teenage girls might be easy to charm with a smile and a few kind words. He knew they found him attractive. But a woman like Maria would see through all that and know what a shallow, pathetic guy he was.
It was time he got a grip. He couldn’t go on crying inside like a baby. Whatever he’d been through, it was over. Time to move on. But he had a bad feeling that he’d never quite be able to shake the feeling of helplessness in there. And the revulsion and humiliation – No. He had to work harder to forget, that was all.
Maria watched him walk away, a concerned frown on her face. She was not going to let him go like this. The phone call tonight would be fine as far as it went, but she’d do more for him. Hadn’t he told her he was all alone? Naturally, he couldn’t be allowed to sit in that apartment on his own after all he’d been through.
But now, she had to see to her own family. She wished that what she’d done might make Jack more accessible, but she doubted it. There was so much about her husband, and the father of her children, that she simply didn’t know.
Jack brought Vivian along to take Martin away from prison. He could have had him transferred in the normal way, but this wasn’t just any prisoner, it was an agent under his command. The least he could do was come and pick him up in person.
To his distress, Martin didn’t appear at all as pleased to see him and Vivian as he’d expected him to. In fact, the subdued reaction was a bit of a disappointment. After all the time he’d spent going over the case to find the minutest flaws. How he’d lain awake at night worrying. Now Martin seemed more like his father than ever.
Vivian’s keen eyes saw more, but since it wasn’t her concern, she didn’t see what she could be expected to do about it.
Something about Martin’s eyes disturbed Jack. That haunted look, shouldn’t he know it? There was something so eerily familiar there, he forced himself to back off. Martin was safe now. That was all he could do for him.