By Gil Hale — corbidae@yahoo.com

Part Three

“Want me to drive for a bit?”

Vin and Ezra had left the picnic place promptly after making the calls, not because they really thought there was any danger of their being traced, but because they felt the need to be on the move, putting a greater distance between themselves and Alderways. It was slow on the roads they were using, but very quiet. The greatest danger was that anyone local would remember a stranger’s car, and Ezra had already decided to change the rental car at the first opportunity.

“I’d rather we decided on a destination,” Ezra said.

Vin glanced at the back seat. Chris seemed to be asleep. Even resting he looked drawn and gaunt. Vin had been shaken by how much it exhausted Chris to speak—much more than action seemed to do; he’d been effective enough dealing with the orderly. That had been the point where Vin’s first shock had edged into something with a trace of hope in it. Chris had understood exactly what was needed, and his timing had been better than Vin had dared expect. They’d immobilised the guy in seconds, and better still, without his ever having seen Vin. That had given them the chance to add to the confusion at Alderways—Vin grinned to himself slightly as he recalled Ezra’s face when he saw the headless bear. Anyone’d think the damn thing had feelings.

“Hurt me more’n it hurt teddy!” he’d pointed out; the cut that he’d made across the ball of his thumb to smear blood on the furry head still smarted.

“It opens a whole new perspective on your character, that you can commit teddicide with so little compunction,” Ezra had said, but though his voice had been light and joking, his eyes by then had already been fixed on Chris with the same alarm and dismay that Vin had first felt. Ezra’d eased a bit when Chris had laid down the law in something like his old way, but Vin could see tension and doubt in every line of his body as he drove.

“We need to decide where we’re going,” Ezra said again.

“Y’ thought where y’ can change the car?”

“Somewhere big enough to have two outlets. I can hardly return this one as Mr Stanford then change to another ID on the spot.”

Ezra had to be distracted if he felt the need to say something so obvious.

Vin took the map. “Here should be okay—or here if you want t’ go further t’ th’ south.”

“There are a number of options,” Ezra agreed. “But there’s also the question of what I do with you and Chris while I’m making the transaction.”

“They won’t’ve released photos. Not fer a kidnap victim, and not fer Chris in any circumstances. They won’t want anyone identifying who their Mr Kennedy really was—be a nasty surprise for ’em when Team 7 arrive, but that won’t be fer a good while.”

“I don’t know,” Ezra said thoughtfully. “Something struck me about your conversation with Josiah.”

“Struck me, too,” Vin said with feeling. “Never would’ve thought J’siah c’d go so Old Testament on us.”

“Yes, but something else. It was clear during your conversation that Josiah was in transit somewhere with all of the others. Given the team’s current status, doesn’t that strike you as puzzling?”

Vin had been so taken aback by the volume and intensity of Josiah’s wrath that he hadn’t thought about the background snatches of noise until now. “I did hear Buck, shouting fer his turn t’ rip me one,” he said. “And yeah—Nate tellin’ JD t’ sit down and stop blockin’ the rear view.”

“The clarity of reception was certainly better than I would have expected.”

That was for sure; there’d been no problem hearing how much the rest of Team 7 hated their current plan…

“Y’ think they were closer than Denver?”

“I think they might well have become concerned about our whereabouts, or alerted to our movements in a number of ways—a comment from Mr Dunning, for instance, if anyone called at the store, or a follow-up call from the memorial archive.”

“Or yer ma.”

Ezra winced. “Mother would certainly have felt an urgent need to confront me if she noticed the activity on that account, yes.”

Vin thought about it. “Well, if the boys were already on th’ trail, that’ll be all the quicker they’ll be givin’ Alderways hell. Don’t see it makes us change what we’re doin. Switch th’ car at th’ first place we can, and y’ can leave me and Chris outside town while y’ do it.”

“By the side of the road? It’s freezing.”

“We got warm clothes.”

“But you’ll be waiting for two or three hours at best. We could find a motel—no need for you to be seen while I get a room—or maybe I could drop you at a quiet diner?”

Vin hesitated. Wasn’t as if Chris looked well, and the temperature was still dropping, but… He leaned around. “Chris? Chris, you awake?”

Chris opened dazed, wary eyes. It took a while before they seemed to focus a little. Ezra stared hard at the road, whatever he was feeling invisible on his face. Vin waited. When he thought Chris was with them, enough at least to hear him, he said, “Ezra needs to leave us for a couple of hours. You prefer to get a meal somewhere quiet, or wait up outside town?”

He kept his voice as ordinary, as conversational as it might have been if five months hadn’t left Chris almost unrecognisable as the man they’d known. Chris pushed himself slowly upright, his eyes on the road. Vin went on waiting. So did Ezra, though tiny movements showed Vin how uptight it was making him.

Vin was just about to give up, when Chris said with that painful effort that seemed to characterise all his attempts to speak, “No people.”

“Not the diner, then.”

“Outdoors. Space.”

There was a pain and a need in the two words that hurt Vin—and he didn’t think it was the brightness of the day making Ezra blink, either. They didn’t speak again until Ezra pulled off the road at a point where a small trail twisted quickly behind boulders and sparse trees. The air was cold enough to sting their faces but Chris seemed to straighten up a little and stand less stiffly as he sensed the freedom.

“Take care. I’ll be as expeditious as possible,” Ezra said to Vin. To Chris he made a slight gesture of salute, two fingers tilting an imaginary hat. It used to be Ezra’s half-ironic way of showing Chris had his respect. Whether or not Chris remembered this, Vin knew Ezra wanted to say, without any irony at all, that Chris still had his respect and always would have. The gesture, and all it carried with it, warmed Vin and lifted the lingering doubt he’d felt since he spoke to Josiah and lit an anger in the big man Vin had never experienced from him before.

‘Guard each man’s dignity.’ That was one of Josiah’s own sayings about the homeless folk he worked with. Well, sometime Vin would take a stab at explaining that’s what he and Ezra were doing now—guarding Chris’s dignity till he was okay to face the world again. Never mind that the Team loved Chris like a brother. Vin knew instinctively how much Chris hated being seen like this, struggling even to get a word or two out. Hard enough for him to have Vin and Ezra seeing it; no need to add to that. As Ezra drove away, Vin followed Chris a short distance up the trail until he stopped, leaning against a boulder, head tilted back.

The sky was empty. Maybe that was what Chris was looking at: space. At any rate, it seemed to ease him. Vin saw him draw in a deep breath as if he relished the bite of the cold air in his lungs.

Vin leaned up against the rock next to him. They’d never needed to say much when they were outside together. This felt good… natural… ordinary—all the things life hadn’t been for so long.

After maybe half an hour, he shifted a little. “Let’s walk. My butt’s numb.”

Chris looked at him with something like the beginning of a smile. He didn’t answer, but he set off with less of the ugly stiffness in his walk. Vin let himself forget all the decisions he might have gotten wrong, and began to hope a little.

JD stared in disbelief as Josiah upended the entire desk, computer, files and all, of the man who had been calmly blocking his enquiries. Admittedly it was nothing like the size of the huge main reception desk, but it was a very substantial piece of furniture that went crashing to the polished floor. It wasn’t so much Josiah’s strength that startled JD though; it was the fact that he had never, ever, seen the big man lose his temper so completely.

Luckily the other federal agents were interviewing the directors in offices far along the hallway, and most of the detectives were out in the grounds. One uniformed officer on the outer door turned abruptly as the crash echoed hollowly in the shocked silence, but seeing what had caused it he went back to his sentry duty as though nothing had happened—Team 7 weren’t the only ones who knew they were getting the run-around from Alderways.

The violence, the shattered computer, the scattered debris from the surface of the desk briefly had everyone immobilised. Buck and Nathan were quickest to react. Each taking an arm, they hustled Josiah out of the far doors and outside. JD said hastily into the rising murmurs of shock and anger, “We’ll find out exactly what happened to Chris Larabee here, and it’ll be all the worse for you that you didn’t help us.”

To his satisfaction, though some looked confused most of the bystanders looked as if their consciences were troubling them. There were a lot of uneasy faces, struggling not with the events that seemed to have overtaken Alderways—even now Team 7 hadn’t gotten any real information on these—but with personal guilt. Maybe these people didn’t know exactly what had been going on, but they knew that some things at Alderways might not bear a full investigation.

Meanwhile, a full investigation was the last thing JD and the others were getting a chance to carry out. The FBI had been unwelcoming… perhaps not too surprisingly… and it was harder than JD would have imagined to convince them that Chris had been held here under the name JD Kennedy. There were no pictures in Mr Kennedy’s notes. The blood group listed was wrong. Team 7’s assertion could hardly be based on the word of two suspended agents, it had to be ‘information received’. And the problem was confounded by the fact that not only was Chris missing, but some other patient seemed to have been abducted at the same time.

“Vin and Ezra wouldn’t have taken anyone else,” he whispered to Buck as they shivered out on the gravel and Nathan tried to calm Josiah down.

“Hell, who knows what they’d do,” Buck said. “Before today I’d have flattened anyone who suggested they were crazy enough to keep on going it alone even after they’d found Chris.”

“It may be a question of what condition they found him in,” Nathan said. His hand was still on Josiah’s shoulder, in support more than restraint. “I had a word or two with one of the docs while we were being given the run-around by admin—thought I recognised the guy and it turned out we’d been to a trauma conference together. He wasn’t saying much, and I get the impression he doesn’t deal with the more sensitive cases, but he did say that ‘Mr Kennedy’ had been practically catatonic when he was admitted and didn’t look like he’d made much progress.”

JD shivered, not from the cold, and saw the older men’s faces grow bleaker, grimmer.

“Drugged up?” Buck muttered.

“Maybe. If it was just that, I don’t reckon it would have made Vin and Ezra take off with him though. I’d guess something more. We need Orrin Travis to come through for us so we can get full access to the staff and records.”

JD knew the director would be doing his utmost, and it probably wasn’t the liaison with the FBI that was the problem. It would be Alderways lawyers and board of directors that were the real block. He looked back towards the foyer, then around the grounds. There had to be other, less direct ways to start some questioning—like maybe with the woman who had just come out of a side door looking distressed, and was jerkily smoking a cigarette there.

“Buck,” he said softly. Buck was the best person for this, and JD had never felt less like their normal jokes and rivalry about such things.

Buck followed his slight gesture and nodded. JD could see him putting everything aside but the need to find out what had happened here.

“Okay,” Buck said. “Nate, you go and see if your doctor buddy will say any more. Push him whatever way you can, we’re not getting anywhere doing this the official way. JD?”

“The officer on the door looked kind of like he was on our side. I’ll talk to him. Get him some coffee, no one else has bothered.”

Josiah took a deep breath, let it out, shook his head as if to clear it. “I’ve got to walk around till I cool off. You go ahead.”

He walked off without another word, head down as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders, and JD couldn’t help the irrational feeling he’d just keep on walking, disappearing like Chris and Vin and Ezra. But Josiah turned briefly before he’d gone far, and there was the trace of his usual reassuring manner as he said directly to JD, “I won’t be long. Just getting my balance back.”

JD managed a smile in return. Maybe Josiah was throwing furniture, and half his team were missing, but he still had a job to do. He straightened himself a little and refused to give in to the gloomiest of his thoughts. He’d go talk to the man on the door, and he’d damned well carry on and on and on till they were all back together again.

Chris… he was Chris… All through the bombardment of too much happening, too many words, changes that happened more swiftly than his mind could grasp, this was one thing he could hold to that made sense. Another was that he was free. Whatever was confusing or out-of-control as the day hurtled on he accepted as a price he was more than willing to pay. He was free, and he was with… friends? brothers? comrades?

It hurt that his mind was so slow to grasp them. Images slid and flickered at the edge of his thoughts. Blue-eyes—on horse back, in a ghetto street, smiling over a cup of tarry coffee. Green-eyes—in a sleek car, transforming to fifty different people but a good man always at the core. Why couldn’t he hold to the pictures for more than a moment, or the names; it was worst of all that the names slipped from his mind like water. Fury with this weakness battered at him, driving him to retreat within himself for a while and let their voices become nothing more than a meaningless, comforting sound.

It helped a little.

Time passed, and he felt the pressure in his mind ease.

Eventually he was aware of blue-eyes asking a question, and the words made sense again. “… You prefer to get a meal somewhere quiet, or wait up outside town?”

He fought the battle again to spit words out, and in the end it was worth it, because he could see they understood beyond the stark syllables. Outside. The need to be in the open.

He wasn’t sure why the car had to leave for a while, but it didn’t trouble him. Here, out in the open, the cold air cutting through the fog in his head, his freedom was a tangible thing. He tilted his face up to look at the emptiness, and enjoyed the silence. Blue-eyes, a warmth at his side, liked silence; green-eyes, now on some incomprehensible errand, always needed to fill it… Was that a true memory? He thought so. And the feeling that he’d often been under a wide sky with this man beside him? It felt right, a certainty that lightened his heart. He stored both the memories with his name, building blocks on which he would begin to reconstruct his life, and when blue-eyes stood up to move around, Chris felt as if he could follow along without any struggle to achieve a smooth stride.

Rosa would have been pleased.

The thought formed whole, name and everything, but it brought him up short. They would have understood, surely, these men who were perhaps his brothers, that Rosa had to be kept safe in all this.


He looked at his companion who’d stopped beside him, and found peace and acceptance in his gaze. It made the struggle for words just a little less hard.

“Rosa. Was good to me.”

“She’s safe, Chris.”

They had understood, then.


“Yeah, sure as we can be. Wouldn’t be a good idea for us to contact her, but Ezra worked out a plan that kept her well out of it. Rosa’s okay, and we’re okay. We just got to decide on our next move.”

Chris nodded, and they walked on in silence for a while, too cold to stand still for long. He was tired now, muscles aching with the unaccustomed time on his feet, but it was a discomfort he welcomed. The movement, the peaceful pattern of rock and undergrowth and tree, seemed to help his mind to focus for longer. “… decide on our next move” stayed with him and sent his thoughts on unaccustomed paths. He had the chance to make a choice—and the bewildering question of what he wanted now that he could choose. Controlling those thoughts was his determination to regain what he’d lost—and then find the man who took it from him.

There was a place in his mind he wanted to go, but he couldn’t find the word to explain it. Frustration welled up, but instead of plunging him back into the cell inside his mind it blew away in the cold air. There was always a way. He could come at it sideways. Something told him that the man with him wouldn’t need much of a clue to understand his thoughts.

“Horses,” he said, breaking what had now been a long silence. “Go there.”

“Go to the ranch?”

Yes! Ranch was the word that had eluded him. But blue-eyes was still talking.

“Hell, Chris, there’s nothing I’d like better, but that’s where everyone’d look for us sooner ‘r later—friends and enemies. Whoever it was had you locked away in that place knew who you were and I reckon they’d know where you lived. And if you want to kinda get back on top of things a bit before we team up with the others again, well the ranch is the first place they’d look.”

Chris listened, understood enough, thought for a while as they walked up the narrowing trail. There were ideas in his mind that he couldn’t form clearly, even for himself; they came to him as a series of pictures, disjointed but vivid. He wanted to explain the possibility that the pictures presented, but all that came out was, “Near ranch. Work?”

“It’d work if there was anywhere we could go, yeah, but the barn’s too much part of the place and it’s no weather for camping.”

Chris broke off a stubby branch and tried to scrape on an open patch of ground the shape he wanted.

“I got some paper somewhere,” his companion said.

Chris realised that this was how it had once been, this easy understanding that seemed to know what he was trying to communicate even before he put it into words. He took the screwed up piece of paper and flattened it, accepted a … thing kids drew with… and scrawled in thick orange lines what he wanted to convey.

He looked up, trusting the intent blue eyes to be following his hasty lines. They were, but they looked uncertain. “I don’t know this Chris. This is the ranch here, right? Yeah. And the barn, the corral, and I know yer land. But this”—he pointed to the shape Chris had circled—”I don’t know this. Must be way up among the trees?”

Chris nodded.

“It is a building? How far from the ranch?”

This time the frustration did threaten to overwhelm Chris. He hadn’t a chance of explaining that one, couldn’t do this question and answer for much longer either. He was rescued by the quiet voice going on, “Well, it don’t matter, anyway. We’ll find out. You reckon that’s the place to go, we’ll drive through the night, should get there around dawn. We’ll have t’ go in careful, but with any luck we’ll be ahead of everyone lookin’ for us.”

Chris met his eyes for a long, slow moment. He couldn’t put into any sort of words what he was being given back by this agreement, this trust in him to make a decision even fucked up as he was. He held out his hand the way this man—this friend—had held his out before. Their arms clasped, sealing something that didn’t need speech.

“‘Course, I’ll be the one has to explain it t’ Ezra,” blue-eyes said. “That’ll mean one hell of a lot of talking. He’ll go along with it okay, but he just can’t do it without wearing his voice out going all around the subject. Don’t s’pose you’ll even bother to listen.”

Chris heard the warmth and amusement in the words rather than the actual content, but he got the general idea. He found himself smiling. “Sleep,” he said smugly, and when they sat back in the car again he let himself do that, confident that the two of them had his back.

Most people who were acquainted with him were afraid of the man who had called himself Mr Fischer in his recent dealings with Alderways. With some it was no more than a sense that he would be a bad man to cross in business matters, with others it was closer to terror.

They would all have been surprised to know there was someone whom even he feared.

He had dismissed the servants from the whole of this wing of their remote and well-protected house. If this interview went as he thought it would, better that none of them heard. He tapped on the open study door. “Father?”

The old man in the wheelchair had seen his ninetieth birthday a couple of years ago, but if his body was failing, the violence of his temper wasn’t. “You fool. You utter fool!” he snapped. “How could you allow this to happen? Do you know what this could mean?”

“Yes, Father. Everything is being done to retrieve the situation.”

“It must be ‘everything’—absolutely everything. We cannot afford so much as a breath of suspicion now. We are vital to the cause! Never let anyone suggest otherwise. Money has come from those who went to South America, but nothing more. They have been more concerned with their own lives. Brunner and the others who found a haven in Syria are the front line, it’s true. They’re the ones who have truly carried the ideals of the Reich, but without our silent undermining here, our influence on business and the media, our funding of university fellowships for the anti-Semites, how much harder it would have been for them! Is all our work to be threatened by your failings, Otto?”

Otto had heard the speech many times before, and knew his father felt as much jealousy of Alois Brunner as support for him. A post in Syrian intelligence had been a much more obvious way for carrying on the Fuhrer’s work than this secluded estate in Colorado. He waited for the opportunity to break in afforded by his father’s question.

“It will not threaten anything. The man was a vegetable. Wherever he is, he is no danger to us.”

“His friends may be.”

“His friends are causing mayhem at Alderways demanding to know how he came to be there. All our informants are agreed the ATF men really do not know where he is now—they’re angry and frustrated, it’s not some game.”

“Someone has him, Otto. Who is it? And why?”

That was why Otto had feared this conversation. He still did not know. He even wondered if it was all some bizarre mischance, and the double kidnapping had just been some opportunistic effort by someone who’d gained access to the grounds—they were saying there’d been a ransom demand for the other patient who’d disappeared. He offered this thought.

“I do not believe in coincidence,” his father said grimly. “What was the black bitch doing taking him outside anyway?”

“Trying to get some colour in his face before I saw him,” Otto said scornfully. “She’s a stupid woman and scared of me and her managers. They all say she thought she would be in trouble because he’d made so little progress, and of course no one would disillusion her.”

“Even the lesser races can show a sort of animal cunning,” his father said thoughtfully. “You’re probably right, but have her watched. In fact, go further. Does she have family?”

“A son, certainly.”

“Have someone threaten him, or anyone else she has. It doesn’t need to be too much, we don’t want another line of investigation for the local police. Just enough to frighten her—if she has any connection with what happened, she might make contact then.”

Otto nodded. That was easy enough. He saw his father was about to return to the theme of how his son had failed him, and said quickly, “Perhaps it would have been better if we had simply eliminated him in the first place.” The decision not to do so had been his father’s alone.

“No,” the old man said without any doubt at all. “With that colouring and the eyes of a warrior? There are few enough real Aryans in this benighted country. When he had begun to show signs of recovering from the shock treatment, he might have been re-educated. Such men should not be wasted.”

Otto allowed himself to be silenced. If his father thought he had won this argument, perhaps he would move on from his anger at what had happened. For a moment it could have gone either way, then the old man gestured to him to sit down. “Tell me exactly what took place, every detail, whether you think it relevant or not, and then I will decide what is to be done next. What is your priority at the moment?”

“The ATF men were at the university before they left for Alderways, we’ve just had that confirmed, and D’Aubin didn’t turn up for his afternoon class. I have several people looking for him. Perhaps he knew something that gave them a lead.”

His father nodded, a hint of approval at last in his expression. “Have him brought here. I’ll question him myself.”

Ezra was a genius, not that Vin’d ever tell him this. For a minute when he drove up, Vin thought he must be a mind-reader too. Instead of returning in another smooth rental car, Ezra pulled up to pick them up in a battered Ford truck. It had to be at least ten years old, but Vin could hear the powerful engine was going sweetly, and Ezra had somehow obtained some sacks of feed and hay bales making the truck look natural for the country roads they’d planned to follow.

“A Mercedes would have been nice, but rather conspicuous,” Ezra said. “Considering your possibly prescient remarks about my mother, I decided to forego renting and spent some more of her money on a purchase she would certainly loathe. In this I feel we have a sort of natural coloration that should camouflage us well.”

“Perfect,” Vin agreed, bundling Chris in out of the cold. “Want me to drive a while? Where’d you find it?”

“A happy chance as I approached the town. I saw it with a for sale sign in propped in the cab window. I returned the car, abandoned Edward Stanford along with it, and became Ed Schmidt, looking for something to run feed etc around in. Cash, as always, smoothed the deal rapidly, and we’re now in business for as long as we want to travel.”

Vin took the keys Ezra seemed happy to hand over. “Which is most of th’ night,” he said. “Chris reckons we could hide up near th’ ranch, and I agree. It’d have a lot of advantages—no problem helping ourselves to what we need, and we could keep a look out for anyone showing an interest in th’ place. And it’s home…”

He had a feeling the last argument was the one that carried the most weight with Ezra. If there was anything Chris looked as if he needed, it was home. Ezra took the crayoned sketch map, and studied it as Vin began the next stretch back towards Denver.

“I’m not sure I’m familiar with this … building?” he said slowly.

Vin shrugged. Chris was already asleep, but he’d about talked himself out anyway. “We’ll have t’ see what it’s like when we get there.”

“You haven’t seen it either?”


Their eyes met. “As you say, we shall see when we get there,” Ezra said.

They drove through the rest of the day and into the night, not seeing much traffic, getting no attention from what they did see. They were just another truck, well-used and loaded up with supplies for horses. They stopped at a couple of different stores while they were still open, not wanting to buy enough food to get themselves remembered. Around midnight they changed over and Ezra drove again. Chris slept, not as restlessly as before.

They made it back to the ranch just before first light. Vin checked it out, but it was as quiet and deserted as they’d left it. “Buck and the others must’ve gotten to Alderways quite late,” he said. “Guess they’d stay over. And this’d be down the list a bit for anyone else looking fer Chris. With any luck, the kidnapping story’s still causing some confusion. Once that’s done, the men who put him in Alderways’ll be thinking of hospitals and police stations, not a quick run home.”

Ezra pulled up in the yard. “We’ve maybe an hour before Yosemite comes. Let’s find this place, then I’d better move the truck. We’ll carry what we can up to… whatever… once Yosemite’s gone again.”

Chris hadn’t woken till they stopped, but now he sat up and stared into the darkness. Light was just beginning to seep in, showing shapes but no detail. Vin opened the door, and after the warmth of the cab, the icy air bit into them painfully. They were all stiff, but after a brief unsteadiness Chris walked towards the corral then around towards the house. Ezra shifted slightly as if to move after him then stopped.

“What?” Vin said, sensing his unease.

“It was the way he looked at the house. Almost as if he expected someone to be there, to have heard us arrive. Does he remember, do you think?”

Vin didn’t know what to say, and was silenced anyway by the grimness of this thought. Surely they wouldn’t have tell Chris of his bereavement all over again, not after everything else he must have suffered. But Chris turned and came back to them. It was light enough now to see the expression on his face, and it was a familiar one; Vin had seen it before when something unexpectedly reminded Chris of Adam or Sarah and made their loss vivid again. If he had forgotten for a while, he’d remembered now.

Chris didn’t say anything, but gestured to the shadowed edge of the woodland, and they followed him in a few yards to a rough trail Vin hadn’t realised was there. Chris seemed to know the way even in this dim light, and they followed him up it, maybe for quarter of an hour or a little more, their hands and feet getting number but the ground showing more clearly in front of them.

There were plenty of conifers here. Vin had long since lost sight of the ranch though it wasn’t that far below them, when they came to a slight natural opening in the trees and he stopped, completely taken aback.

Someone—Chris—had worked hard here, clearing an extra bit of land and building up a flat enough area for a small cedar shed. Not a work shed, not up here.

“A play cabin,” Ezra said softly.

Chris turned and nodded, though his face was more gaunt than ever. “My boy … camp here… before.”

No wonder they hadn’t known it was here. Maybe Chris had been back once or twice, once the good memories started to find a way through his grief, but the cabin looked as if had been untouched in the years since Adam died.

The door wasn’t locked, but there was nothing inside bigger than a spider. The cabin was empty and dusty, a shell—but a useful one. Vin glanced at his watch. Ezra would have to go and move the truck; he and Chris could go down with him and bring the stores up, then after Yosemite was gone, they could get all Chris’s camping stuff and some extra blankets. A heater, too, he was fairly sure there was a kerosene heater in Chris’s workshop…

Had Chris thought of all this? Vin remembered the awful blankness he’d seen in Chris’s eyes when he first ran into him, and the way Chris seemed unable to grasp so many words and memories, even their names. But his map had been right. The doubts Ezra and Vin had refused to acknowledge to each other had been unnecessary. Chris had wanted his ranch, a safe place to find himself again, and a chance to watch for whoever might be hoping to recapture him, and he’d led them to somewhere that fit all those requirements.

Chris rested his hand on the cedar wood briefly, and whatever was in his mind haunted his eyes with pain, then he turned sharply back towards the trail and led the way back. Vin and Ezra followed—and it felt damn good to be following Chris again.

Josiah walked around Alderways grounds for what felt like hours, his feet striking the gravel, his fists clenching involuntarily at his side and no room at all for a still small voice of calm in his head. It was only as the cold wind gradually numbed him to a point where he couldn’t feel his hands enough to know whether they were fists or not that other thoughts crept in.

Vin and Ezra had been blown along in the storm for a long time now. They’d deliberately let go of all the comfort anyone offered, anything that could anchor them and dull their sense of loss, because they had to keep the impetus of looking for Chris. Maybe they’d gone past rational in the search some time ago—but they’d found him when anyone with sense would have failed.

Guilt, the thought whispered in Josiah’s mind. You wouldn’t be so angry if you didn’t feel guilty. They went on when you’d all but given up. But you couldn’t all let the storm take you, or what would there have been for anyone to come back to? Let the guilt go.

Too cold to hold onto his anger, Josiah sighed, and turned back towards the buildings. There was still a Team 7. Maybe he had played some part in that. Chris was alive, and however desperately he wanted to see him with his own eyes, it was still better knowing he was out there somewhere than believing him dead. And Vin and Ezra had at least wanted the team—wanted them to do a job here that they’d had to leave unfinished.

One of the FBI agents came out as Josiah reached the entrance, and nearly ran into him.


Josiah realised he knew him very slightly. After years in law enforcement, there were a lot of people like that. “Jacobson?”

“I’m sorry about all this secretive crap,” Jacobson said quietly. “Your boss is doing his best; mine’s getting a lot of pressure put on him. This place needs to know it isn’t above the law.”

“That’s for sure,” Josiah said. “But I guess kidnappings are the hardest ones to call.”

Jacobson looked around. “If it is a kidnapping. Off the record, I’ll tell you we’re beginning to think some kind of set up. Though if it is, I can’t imagine why the supposed brother would have called in the police.”

“Brother?” Josiah asked.

“I suppose they wouldn’t even have told you that much. Along with Mr Kennedy, who may or may not have been your missing agent, another young guy—mentally handicapped—disappeared, and his brother called the police to say he’d had a ransom demand. Thing is, there’s been no further contact at all, and as far as FBI records go, neither of them seem to exist.”

He’d fallen into step beside Josiah, who’d decided this was worth freezing a little longer for.

“Don’t suppose, off the record, you could give me a name?” Josiah suggested quietly.

“So long as you remember you didn’t hear it from me. Stanford. A Mr Edward Stanford, who had his handicapped brother Vincent admitted here for respite care.”

Josiah blinked.

“Looks like that might have meant something to you?” Jacobsen said, in the same tone of mild enquiry Josiah had used on him.

“If it means what I suspect, you’re right. The Stanford brothers probably don’t exist.” He paused, and thought. “Let me put a hypothetical case to you, offering it as speculation if you see what I mean.”

Jacobson nodded, a slight smile saying he understood exactly what Josiah was getting at.

“Our boss, Chris Larabee, disappeared around five months ago. A lot of people have been looking for him since then, some with more official sanction than others. It’s a possibility that if someone had a tip-off that Chris was here, and wanted to check it out without alerting whoever was responsible for Chris’s disappearance, an undercover approach might seem safest.”

“An ATF undercover approach?”

“No, this is speculation remember, though I can definitely say today’s events were news to the ATF.” He thought of something. “Will Director Travis have seen those names?”

“Probably.” Jacobson had been frowning with concentration, and he looked up suddenly. “Standish! He was your undercover man, wasn’t he? Has a variety of names he uses, like all of them, I guess.”

“Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner are suspended,” Josiah said, giving their names due weight. “For being out-of-line in their search for Chris. I’ve no idea what they might have been doing since they were suspended.”

Jacobson nodded. Josiah was starting to really like the guy. “Interesting. If we put the kidnapping aside, I’m thinking we can’t make much progress until we prove whether Chris Larabee really was here. How quickly do you think you could get me some decent photos. At the moment we’re all quite pally with Alderways, and no one has told us who we can’t question—mostly because we haven’t been trying to. I think a judicious choice of who to show the pictures to might get me some confirmed identification before the powers that be realise the line I’m taking.”

“When you do, ask some questions about how the wrong blood group got in their patient notes,” Josiah said. He flipped through his wallet, and found a snapshot. “Take that one for now, and our computer whiz kid brought his laptop, he’ll print you some better ones off as soon as I find him.”

Jacobson gave him his cell phone number. “I’ll do what I can.” He paused, then added, “There have been whispers for a long time about Alderways. Mostly the usual stuff about the sort of patients they take, the convenient treatment money can buy, but others about the fact they don’t like any of what you might call the racial minority groups here. A few have their token representative here—but not mine.”

Josiah, who’d noticed the Hebrew letters on his signet ring, understood. “Maybe their day of reckoning is coming,” he said. When Jacobson had gone, he was finally able to go back into the warmth to look for his team. They were standing next to the door, coffees in hand, and looked relieved to see him.

“Buck got that girl into trouble,” JD said as he came up. “I mean…”

“She wasn’t supposed to be talking to us,” Buck said. “What sort of place is this? Some slimy little pencil pusher came and warned me off before she’d gotten more than a couple of words out, and pushed her back in as if she was an escapee from some kind of prison. Then we went to find Nate, and they came after us, finally threatened to have us ejected from the premises if we didn’t stay here and stop causing trouble. I think if it wasn’t for Travis they would have.”

Josiah took JD’s coffee, and nearly dropped it from his numb fingers. A hot mouthful thawed him a little. “I just had a very interesting conversation with one of the FBI guys,” he said softly. “Apparently the guy who disappeared with Chris was a Vincent Stanford, paid for here by his brother Edward Stanford. That sound to you like anyone we might know?”

He told them the rest in a hasty whisper. “Jacobson’s going to do his best. You get him some photos printed off, JD. I’m guessing Ezra and Vin weren’t sure it really was Chris until they got Vin in here.”

“Might not have been sure then until Vin got close,” Nathan said. “I did find out a little from that doctor. Looks like Chris was in a bad state when he got here, and was in his room most of the time except when the nurse occasionally pushed him out into the grounds.”

“We’ll make it a priority to show the nurse those pictures, then,” Josiah said.

“You don’t think she’s a part of it?”

“Let’s not prejudge anyone,” Nathan said quietly. “There’ll be good doctors and nurses here who maybe have doubts about the place but nothing definite to go on.”

“None of this is getting us any closer to finding Chris,” Buck pointed out impatiently.

Josiah’s new found calm seemed to be staying with him even now he’d thawed out. “I think we’re going to have to trust Chris to Vin and Ezra,” he said, and was surprised how comfortable he felt with the thought. “And they’ve trusted us with the job here—to find out just who did collude in Chris losing five months of his life in this place. Let’s get on with it.”

Ezra lay on his stomach and watched the road to the ranch through the binoculars they’d taken from the house earlier in the day. He was extremely cold, in spite of the sunshine, and appallingly uncomfortable, but both he and Vin had agreed that there was a chance that Chris’s unknown kidnappers would take a look at the ranch. It wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of their priorities, but if everything had gone as they planned, there would be no other lead that worked.

He worried slightly about Rosa. There was nothing he could do about it now, and she must be a resourceful woman to have helped Chris so silently for so long without anything being suspected. It just bothered him that in casting about for some lead, the people looking for Chris, or the directors of Alderways themselves, might harass her. Not for the first time, he wondered about sending a text to one of his own team asking them to make sure she was okay. The drawback was that if she had remained completely unsuspected even that might draw attention to her.

The silence around him was too complete. Vin said that during his stint up here he’d caught a glimpse of a winter fox, but Ezra felt as if he was the only living thing for miles. He looked at his watch, incurring a painful jab in the stomach from a stick as he did so. Even less time had passed than he’d thought, let alone hoped. There was too much room to imagine problems, lying here staring at an empty road. Too much time to wonder what had been done to Chris … and whether it could ever be undone.

Ezra and Vin hadn’t known what to make of it when they finally let themselves into the ranch house after Yosemite was gone. Chris had walked silently and without expression into every room. There was nothing to give a hint what was in his mind. They’d taken it in turns to keep watch while everyone hastily showered, then stuffed as much as they could carry into rucksacks and cases. In one fleeting touch of normality, Chris had looked at the pile, walked back to his study and taken the whisky from the cupboard there to add to it.

That might be a terrible idea of course, but Vin had shrugged and for all Ezra knew it might equally well be medicinal. He wished he had some now. It might numb the parts of his anatomy that weren’t designed for lying on a forest floor. It was unfortunate that this was so clearly the best vantage point. Perhaps tomorrow they could look for one where the watcher didn’t have to remain flattened to be invisible from the road.

His thoughts kept him unenthusiastic company for another hour, during which he only had to slip off his gloves twice to note down the license plates of two extremely unpromising vehicles. Then his attention focussed effortlessly, as at last something surprising showed in the distance.

A top of the range Mercedes no less… that wasn’t a common sight up here. Ezra noted the number with more enthusiasm this time even before he saw that the car was turning up towards the ranch. There was something about the arrogance of this that seemed to fit his impression of the people who had dealt so drastically with Chris—and with the boy, Sammy. He wondered how the men in the car had planned to explain themselves if they found the ranch occupied. Presumably they would simply have lied to someone like Yosemite, but if one of the team had been there… ?

He moved swiftly to see what he could of their arrival, keeping his high vantage point. Four men got out of the car, one of them carrying what Ezra thought might be a Skorpion—not the sub-machine gun of choice for most of the criminals he dealt with. Their check was cursory, though they showed some interest in the horses. That didn’t worry Ezra. Five minutes research would find out for them that Yosemite had been looking after the stock for the last five months, and at predictable times of day.

He watched them drive off and his mind was busy with possibilities. First, though, to let Vin know… to let Vin and Chris know… that someone was showing an interest.

He found them doing light sparring exercises; at a guess, Vin’s idea of therapy.

“Got a bite?” Vin asked, pausing.

“I do believe so.”

Vin listened with interest. Chris leaned against the cabin wall, and it was impossible to tell whether he was taking anything in.

“Need to get the plates run,” Vin said. “That’s your job.”

Ezra flipped through his notebook. From time to time, he came across the ID numbers of all sorts of fellow law enforcement agents. It was reprehensible, he knew, to save these for emergencies—like being suspended and needing access to information.

“Who shall I be today?” he mused aloud. “Detective second-class Asa Morris, I think—a man who feels the need to keep his number scrawled on a scrap of paper on his desk.”

“Better hope he ain’t suspended or retired,” Vin pointed out.

There were no problems with getting the information though. It just wasn’t as helpful as they might have hoped. “It’s registered to a company,” Ezra said. “I suppose we should have considered the possibility. Ackerman Imports. I could go down to the ranch and use the computer to find out about them.”

Vin glanced at Chris, but Chris was somewhere else, nowhere very cheerful by the expression on his face. “They could have dropped someone off to watch the place,” he said slowly. “Sounds like whoever they are they’re big and they’ve got money. Probably got enough guys on the payroll to leave some grunt to freeze his nuts off staking the place out.”

Ezra thought about it. He’d seen them drive out of the yard, but it was possible they had left a man somewhere along the roadside, perhaps looking for the sort of vantage point Ezra himself had been using.

“You want to check it out?” he asked. Vin would move silently enough to elude any spy.

Vin nodded.

Chris shifted, looked at Vin intently. “Watch yourself,” he said unexpectedly.

“I will. And if I catch anyone I’ll bring ’em back fer you!”

Chris grinned—rather a dangerous grin, but Ezra found it remarkably uplifting. Perhaps the sparring had been good for Chris. When Vin had gone, he decided to offer his own brand of therapy. Pulling a sleek pack of cards from his jacket pocket, he said, “Can I interest you in a game?”

Team 7 spent the night at a motel that offered no more than basic amenities, but they weren’t very interested in sleep anyway. They were still struggling with the bureaucrats over what they could do at Alderways, but this had served one useful purpose—attention had been distracted from Jacobson and the members of the PD who he’d gotten to assist in showing the photographs of Chris to porters and cleaners and anyone so low in the hierarchy they could be assumed to know very little of anything that shouldn’t be going on.

Chris as Mr Kennedy had spent a lot of the five months seeing barely anyone, but even so, Jacobson already had three tentative identifications and one from a gardener that was surprisingly positive—he said he’d seen Chris being wheeled about the grounds by his nurse, and there was no doubt it was him.

Alderways were disputing this, but it was clear they were getting alarmed. When Josiah and the others had left late in the evening, it seemed like there were nearly as many lawyers as medical staff on the premises. Talks of a wider investigation into the way the place was run were being countered with threats of suing for the disruption to the patients, and some influential relatives were being brought in. Josiah thought that was in its way as much of a problem for Alderways though—it was certainly a blow to their reputation for silence and discretion.

Team 7, however, were something of a liability in all this. Travis had pointed out forcibly that their methods so far were just making his task more difficult, and Jacobson had more tactfully suggested the same thing.

“We could do with someone not too tied to the official investigation anyway,” he’d said to Josiah as they parted. “For instance, we’ve been told to lay off questioning the nurse—Rosa Johnson—but you guys aren’t part of the investigation, so you don’t know that, right? She’s supposed to be too upset to talk, but I don’t believe a word of it. Whether or not she’s innocent of any complicity in this, I think it would be a good idea to show her Chris Larabee’s photo before anyone from Alderways has a chance to speak to her. So far, we have a couple of senior staff denying he was the patient and talking about a superficial likeness, while we’ve got positive IDs from people’s whose word won’t count for much against theirs. The nurse really matters.”

Having something to do made the mood at their very early breakfast a little less gloomy. Vin, Ezra and Chris seemed to have disappeared into thin air—the FBI were now convinced that the Stanford brothers weren’t innocent victims, but couldn’t trace any of their movements beyond the return of a rental car to a local town. Josiah had given Orrin Travis the same story he gave the FBI, that they’d had a reliable tip off that Chris was at Alderways. He’d no doubt Travis would be making some accurate guesses, but he might well choose not to know more than he had to. The rest of the team, though, seemed to have come to the same conclusion as Josiah overnight: Chris somewhere with Vin and Ezra was one hell of a lot happier option than Chris missing presumed dead.

“Doesn’t mean I’m forgiving and forgetting,” Buck said when JD offered this thought aloud. “They’re going to find out just how I feel about it when I see them.”

“You might have to go through Chris!” Nathan said, and the thought of it somehow made it more real to everyone that Chris really wasn’t gone. Buck didn’t answer, but he dug into his eggs more cheerfully, and Josiah saw him notice for the first time that the girl serving them had a pert pretty face and a matching figure. JD was all eagerness anyway.

“We should go now,” he said. “Catch her before the day’s really started. And before anyone thinks of telling us that she’s off limits.”

“I’ve just got to call Rain,” Nathan said. “She’s just thrilled about this. Only we’re not sure now whether to go ahead with calling the baby Christopher if it’s a boy.”

Josiah paid the bill. He wondered whether this Rosa Johnson would tell them the truth, and what part she’d played in what had happened to Chris.

Hahn Reichert might be an old, old man, who had seen his Fuhrer’s empire crumble inexplicably from his hands and gone on living for more than half a century afterwards, but he wasn’t senile yet. Otto was not telling him everything, and that had to be because things were going badly. His son cared for profit more than the cause at the best of times. Hans, now, even as a toddler Hans had shown he would be a warrior. If he had survived… But Otto was the one who had been rescued, a mewling, puking baby, from the ruins of their Berlin home.

Hahn pushed himself painfully from his chair. He could call a servant, but it would be weakness. It was too long since he’d left the comfortable suite of rooms on this wing, but he could still do it. He would find Berndt, who obeyed his every order, and understood killing. Otto had never embraced killing; he did it like an accountant. Perhaps that was how he made love. It would explain why he’d never fathered a child. No grandson… But regrets were an old man’s weakness too. He had no time for them if he wanted to go on fighting this long war.

D’Aubin first. Even a fool like Otto should have been able to find the university professor by now. And then pressure on the many men whose secrets he’d collected over the years. It should be easy enough to prevent the investigation ever coming close.

Only he remembered Larabee’s eyes blazing hatred and defiance, even as his body jerked with the shocks they ran through him. He hadn’t told them where he’d taken the boy, or how he came to start asking dangerous questions. He hadn’t told them a single thing they wanted to know. Even when he’d had to spit the words through blood and froth, he’d just gone on cursing them all till he lost his words altogether. A brave man. A dangerous man. Maybe Otto’s cold accountant’s instincts had been right, and it would have been better to let Larabee die.

But he’d been the sort of man Hans would have become…

It was a cold sort of future all his killing and the purity of his blood had brought, if now there was more room in it for lawyers than warriors.

Vin kicked his captive’s legs from under him and sent him crashing to the floor, more to save his neck than because he was likely to try running away. Ezra wasn’t going to be able to hold onto Chris much longer, and the look in Chris’s eyes went way beyond anger. Vin grabbed him as he bucked free of Ezra’s grip, and then they were both pulling him back.

“It’s okay,” Vin panted, though it was a long way from that. “It’s okay, Chris. He’s not getting away with anything.”

“Remember we want to question him,” Ezra added, trying like Vin to pin Chris against the wall without hurting him. “He’s our lead to the people who are behind all this.” He kicked Vin’s prisoner as the man made a half-hearted bid to get to his feet and the door. The air huffed out of him, and he went down again.

“We need to find out where they are and who’s behind them,” Vin tried, amazed at the strength Chris was finding from somewhere. He was angry with himself; he should have realised how Chris might react if he recognised the man.

Chris shuddered and nearly dropped, his energy completely used up. Vin and Ezra switched seamlessly to holding him up instead of holding him back. Ezra used his free hand to draw his gun and cover the man on the floor.

“Tie his feet as well,” he said.

Vin nodded. He’d had little trouble slipping up silently behind this careless watcher, and had briefly stunned him then tied his hands before forcing him to walk to the cabin. He’d have been rougher with him if he’d guessed he was actually one of the men who’d been there when Chris was hurt, but he hadn’t thought of that until they stepped into the cabin and Chris had taken one look and with a growl of recognition and fury had gone for the guy.

Vin yanked the ties painfully tight, and pushed the man out into the cold. “Lie there till we want y’,” he said, tethering him to the post.

Ezra was taking all Chris’s weight now, struggling to ease him down onto the pile of blankets they’d pushed to one side of the floor. Chris looked bad; whiter than Vin had seen him yet, and his hands jerking. Ezra was doing just what Vin would’ve done, but there was agonized doubt in Ezra’s glance up as he came back in.

Vin hastily joined them as Chris’s body arched and tried to spasm. It wasn’t a seizure, Chris was still in some kind of control; he gasped and stiffened and relaxed, panting harshly. Ezra gradually released the grip on Chris’s arm, but kept his hand there. Vin lent his shoulder on the other side. He could feel the slight shudders running through Chris, but he didn’t say anything. This was some personal battle Chris was fighting, and all they could give him was their silent support.

It took a long time. Vin looked at the wood of the cabin wall, not at Chris. He could feel everything he needed to know from the tiny movements against his arm; no need to stare at Chris. Eventually Chris sat upright, took a deep breath and said, “Fuck.”

“You said it, cowboy,” Vin agreed. “Been a fucked up world fer a while. That bastard out there one of those who took you?”


The nurse, Rosa, had said something…”They used electric shocks?”

“Why don’t we bring ‘that bastard’ back inside and encourage him to tell us,” Ezra suggested. “It would be useful to get him talking; he may have a regular check in time.”

Ezra must have seen like Vin had just how hard it was again for Chris to force the words out. He’d been doing well before, Vin thought bitterly. It made him even rougher than he might have been when he dragged his prisoner back in.

It wasn’t too hard to get the man to talk. The speechless, savage way Chris had gone for him had evidently unnerved him and the cold had eroded his courage—such as it was—further. The bravado with which he eyed Vin’s knife was so evidently hollow that Vin hardly needed to got through the farce of preparing to hand the knife to Chris.

“Don’t let him touch me! The guy’s not sane.”

“Better start talkin’ then,” Vin said.

“There is no one to come to your assistance or hear you, just ourselves, an adequate amount of pain-causing materials and this gentleman who has every reason to visit some kind of revenge on you,” Ezra pointed out. “We really have no incentive to discourage him unless you’re saying something useful.”

The guy wasn’t the stuff heroes were made of. He started to talk.

Afterwards, Vin thought it had been more harrowing than useful. They did get the prisoner’s name—Matt Parish—and the time he was supposed to call in. Ezra handled that when it was due, creating some convincing interference over a brief ‘nothing happening’.

The rest was painful to listen to, and didn’t get them as much further forward as they’d hoped. Parish worked for Ackerman Imports, who dealt mainly with big estates in Argentina and Paraguay. He was a security guard, sometimes acting as a bodyguard, more often employed in a sort of corporate thuggery—discouraging dismissed employees from suing, frightening off small rival companies and threatening vulnerable people in big ones—and occasionally something more.

Chris had been something more.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be like,” Parish said, in whiny self-justification. “All we were told was to pick this guy up, he was trouble for Mr Adler—Mr Adler runs the company, I never knew till I got involved in this business that he didn’t own it. Anyway, apparently he…” he nodded at Chris “… was asking questions. Questions about Ackerman, and other companies it owns, and some other stuff, out at the university. They’d got some professor there to set him up…”

Vin caught Ezra’s glance. D’Aubin had still been lying to them then, maybe too scared to admit how much part he’d played. Chris gave no sign he recognised the name or remembered what had happened. He was watching silently, withdrawn but listening intently.

“This prof had arranged a meeting, we turned up instead, picked your friend up, so far it was normal enough. After that, it got weird.”

“Where did you take Mr Larabee?”

“That’s part of what I mean about weird. See, first we found he was ATF. I mean, usually when we pick someone up like that, the wallet’s ours, kind of a tip for our trouble. But it had never been the law before, they usually make other arrangements with them—money, or threats to the family or whatever, or maybe an accident—not taking them like that. Jenks, he was my boss, he called it in, maybe said too much about not being happy with handling a fed. He was off the job straight away, and next day he was transferred to the Paraguay base. The rest of us got the idea that this was a good time to keep our mouths shut.”

He stopped. “Look, I’m telling you what you want. Loosen these ties for chrissake. I can’t feel my hands.”

“They’re still there,” Ezra said without sympathy. “You still haven’t told us where you took Mr Larabee.”

“I don’t know. That’s what I meant. Mr Adler himself started giving the orders, and when we got back to Ackerman’s there was a helicopter waiting. We weren’t going to ask any questions. We didn’t even know then it was only going to be Paraguay for Jenks. We just shut up and got on with the job. We landed outside some big place—serious money, you could tell that even in the dark. They must have had plenty of their own security guards, we saw a few, but they kept us with the prisoner while they… got on with asking him some questions.”

“Why?” Vin asked.

“What? Oh, why’d they keep us? I didn’t know, and I wished they hadn’t. I guess now it was because of the old man.” Chris moved suddenly, the angry look back in his eyes, but he was controlled now. No less dangerous, but Vin guessed the prisoner didn’t fully appreciate that.

“Look, I’ll tell it my way,” Parish went on. “It… well it went on a long time. They needed to know something, and they must have needed to know it bad, because you could tell that Mr Adler wanted to hurt him more than he was doing. Another guy came down, I think he was maybe Mr Adler’s boss, seemed to be his place we’d come to anyway. They used a lot of stuff…” The fact he actually looked slightly sick at the memory chilled Vin more than a detailed description would have.

“He just wouldn’t talk,” Parish said. “They tried drugs, they tried the usual ways, then they started using all this electrical equipment. They still didn’t get what they wanted. You could see from the start he was going to be difficult. I don’t know if maybe they’d just have cut their losses, given up on finding anything out and killed him, but on the second day another man came in to watch. He was old, I mean real old, but he was kind of like a Mafia godfather or something. Mr Adler and even Mr Adler’s boss, they were actually scared of him. I reckon that’s why they kept us in the first place; they hoped he wouldn’t hear just what was going on like he might from his own men. The old man wouldn’t let them kill Larabee, even when he didn’t break. Because he didn’t break, I guess. He kept on hurting him, but you could see he was kind of impressed. I’ll tell you this, I’ve seen a lot of tough guys persuaded to talk. Doesn’t matter how hard they are, or think they are, they always do in the end. Only your man didn’t. He just kind of went somewhere else in his head in the end I think.”

He was talking about Chris as if he wasn’t there, and Chris had moved slightly, out of Parish’s line of sight. Vin hadn’t wanted to look at his reaction, but he risked a glance now, and was startled. The anger, the memory of pain was still there, but Chris actually looked relieved. Vin had been about to cut the guy off, but he let him go on a bit longer.

“Adler wasn’t happy, nor the other boss, but they did what the old man said. Larabee was practically catatonic, they overdid the electric shocks maybe, I don’t know, I’m no doctor. The old man said to take him to some hospital, see what happened. We were sent home with a bonus. I never thought about him again till yesterday, when Mr Adler started going berserk, called us all in, and others I didn’t know, and sent us all over the place to look out for him because he’d escaped or been busted out or something.”

He paused, looked uneasily around at Chris. “They think he’s still in a wheelchair or something. They didn’t say it’d left him crazy and fucking dangerous.”

“That wasn’t your inhumane treatment,” Ezra said. “Mr Larabee’s normal state is ‘fucking dangerous’.”

Like Vin, he’d seen Chris looking more like himself as this ugly account went on.

Chris’s mouth hitched in a half smile. He held out his hand for Vin’s knife. Vin looked at his eyes and saw the Chris he knew. He handed it over. Chris made a sudden but aborted move with it, and Parish let out a yell of panic, tried to jump backwards, fell over and started to beg. Chris handed the knife back to Vin.

“Take… him away,” he said, and the words were not so noticeably forced.

Vin tied the man up again outside. “We’ll have to do something with him before his relief’s due,” he said. “I got friends in Purgatorio who’d mind him till we can do something more official.”

“Tell them not to treat him too kindly,” Ezra said. His face didn’t show much unless you knew him well, but Vin could tell he was shaken and horrified by Parish’s matter of fact account of the torture Chris had suffered.

Chris was less upset than either of them now, though he looked exhausted. He met Vin’s look, saw the question.

“I remember… some,” he said. Then to Vin’s confusion, “I did it… to myself. Understand now.”

“I don’t,” Vin said. “Did what?”

“You stopped the words yourself!” Ezra said, quicker to comprehend, and saving Chris the struggle to explain. “And the memories, maybe. It could have been that way,” he went on, to Vin. “If he had that absolute determination not to talk, and they were using drugs, electric shock and so on, he may have subconsciously just blocked himself from talking at all.”

“Electric shock does your memory in anyway,” Vin said.

“Well, yes, I’m sure much of the damage was done by that, but the only way Chris could be absolutely sure of not talking would be if he pushed from his mind everything they might need to know, and even the words to speak with.”

Vin looked at Chris, who shrugged but nodded. Vin thought of the sheer strength of will, and the desperation that Chris must have felt, and clasped his arm. “We’ll make them pay, Chris.”

“We will,” Ezra agreed, also reaching out a hand. “And what we have just comprehended makes me believe it is even more likely you will regain all your normal facility with language.”

Vin saw the flicker of amusement in Chris’s eyes.

“You’ll need it to ‘comprehend’ Ezra, cowboy. ‘Course, you don’t have to overdo it.”

“Are you casting aspersions?” Ezra asked, a glint of humour in his own expression.

“Could be.” What the hell were aspersions?

Ezra grinned. “Got you,” he said, probably to prove he could use short words if he wanted to.

Chris tilted his head towards Vin in mock sympathy, and scored a silent point to Ezra in the air.

For a moment, it was like the easy friendship it had always been. Vin held that warmth of companionship in his mind. It didn’t dispel his lingering shock and revulsion at what Chris had suffered, but it did let him go off with his mind on the future rather than the unalterable past.

He hustled Parish to where Ezra had temporarily concealed the truck, and set off for the rough streets where he had some very loyal friends. There wouldn’t be any sign for Parish’s employers as to where their man was or what exactly had happened to him. That should help unsettle them. Chris free; trouble at Alderways—he could rely on the boys to stir that up; now one of their men disappeared. Someone, somewhere should be getting worried by now.

Rosa had received a phone call late the previous evening, warning her not to talk to anyone, especially the FBI, without a lawyer from Alderways present. ‘To protect her interests’ they said. Rosa reminded herself that being thought stupid was her best protection at the moment, and thanked them for looking after her. It was clear they’d not caught up with Chris, Vin and Ezra, which sent her to bed feeling encouraged.

Early the next morning, her manager called again. “I think it’s best if you stay at home for the time being,” he said. She was pleased to hear he sounded like a man who’d had a harassing and sleepless night. “Obviously the FBI will want to question you, but yesterday was very stressful for you—we’ll send someone over to make sure you’re up to it and to stay with you while they take your statement, probably this afternoon.”

Once she’d been told what to say, and had someone watching her to make sure she said it…

She kept the cynicism out of her voice and thanked him again. “Is there any good news about Mr Kennedy yet?”

“No.” Yes, he was definitely worried; it was most unlike him to be brief. “Just stay at home. Someone will come to you in the next couple of hours.”

Fending off her mother’s suggestion that if she didn’t have to go into work now would be a good time to clean behind the kitchen appliances, she had a second cup of coffee and stood on the step to watch Lyndon going to the corner for the school bus. She was usually well on her way to work before he went; she enjoyed the opportunity to see the eager way he ran off to join his friends.

He was only a couple of minutes from the house when she noticed the car.

Afterwards she wasn’t sure why it caught her attention so immediately; there was other traffic. But there was something menacing about the black sedan even before she saw it was going to pull in just ahead of her son.

Before she had time to think she might be making a fool of herself, she screamed, “Lyndon! Look out! Run!”

She was running herself as she screamed, but she could see the passenger door of the sedan already opening and she knew she was just a few seconds too far behind.

And Lyndon hadn’t understood her panic! Instead of running faster he’d paused to look back at her, and even now he didn’t seem to realise the threat from the car, not until a big man jumped out before it had stopped and made a grab for him.

Lyndon dodged him, and did try to sprint away now but the car had passed him and a second man getting out was ready to cut him off. It was all happening too fast. Rosa just couldn’t reach them fast enough and her neighbours were too slow catching on that something was happening.

Then from nowhere an even bigger man stepped in.

Grey haired, strongly-built, with a face Rosa vaguely recognised, he hauled the second of the would-be-kidnappers out of Lyndon’s way, then flattened the man as Lyndon sprinted to safety. A tall black man prevented the first thug from getting back into the car. Two more of these ‘rescuers’ stood in the street covering the driver, and she had no idea where any of them had come from. She came up panting. Lyndon had paused again, and his school friends were running up to join him and to see what was going on. Her neighbours began to spill out onto the street, finally realising there’d been a threat to one of the kids.

“ATF!” Rosa had heard one of the men by the car shout. He repeated it now, trying to send everyone out of the way. She saw he was another big man, moustached, and that the one accompanying him looked much too young for this sort of work. And again, there was something elusively familiar about them. Suddenly she placed it. They were the men who had arrived at Alderways the previous afternoon.

She hardly knew what to think about them, whether they were people to trust or not, but the big man who moved aside to let her run to Lyndon had a kind face, and they’d appeared at just the right moment.

“Mom,” Lyndon protested squirming away as she moved to put her arms round him. “Mom, it’s no big deal. I wasn’t going to let some nut drag me into a car! Stop fussing!”

There were times when Rosa felt it was entirely justifiable to embarrass her son in front of his friends. She hugged him. “You may not have been scared but I was,” she said. Lyndon sighed, but apparently accepted this as a mother thing.

“The bus is here,” one of the other kids shouted.

Rosa thought education was very important, but there was no way she was letting Lyndon out of her sight just now. “You’re staying home with me,” she said firmly.

“We’ll tell the principal you were nearly kidnapped by gangsters,” his best friend promised, turning towards the bus.

“Sounds a good deal to me,” the man with a moustache said, with a smile that was catching. “A day home from school and your friends telling all the girls how you were too fast for a gang of thugs!”

Rosa saw that this way of putting it had instant appeal for her son. He decided not to protest, gave his friends a casual wave and looked with interest at his rescuers. “Are you cops? Are they really gangsters?”

“We’re ATF agents,” the young dark-haired guy told him. “My name’s JD Dunne, and these are the rest of my team—Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson and Buck Wilmington. I don’t know about the gangster thing, but we’ve called the local PD to take them away and they’ll find out about them. I expect you’ll have to give a statement, and so will your mom.”

“Your cool mom,” said the moustached one, Buck if Rosa had followed JD’s introduction right. “With reactions as quick as that, she’d make a good agent.”

Rosa couldn’t help smiling at him for that. It was nice to see Lyndon look at her with surprised respect for once, impressed that this tough agent should praise her—and Rosa knew that was exactly why Buck had said it. She saw the one called Nathan talking kindly to her mother, who had finally realised something was happening. These were good men. She really didn’t doubt that now—and if they were, they were probably not on the same side as her employers.

“Are you friends of Chris’s?” she asked. Maybe it wasn’t exactly logical, but some instinct prompted her.

The name gained their attention instantly.

“Friends of Chris’s who’ve been missing him for a long time,” Josiah said gently.

“Please come inside, then. I’ve a lot I want to say to you, and perhaps you’ll know better than I do what I ought to do next.”

Continue on to Part 4 of 6