"You can't do this, Dane," Mark begged down the telephone.
"You can't do this to him again!"
"I'm sorry, Mark. But there's no other option," came back the disembodied voice of Dane Travis, Jesse's father. "You will tell him, won't you?"
"This isn't fair, you know," the doctor said, a quiet anger fuelling his voice.
"Don't you think I've tried?" responded the other man, tiredly. "I was told that he was in the OR, Mark and he wouldn't be out for some time. I can't wait. I have to leave now. That's why I asked for you. It will sound better coming from you rather than just some nurse passing him a message. How would that look? 'Your father called, said he couldn't go fishing. He has to go away.' That's cold. You can explain it to him."
"I shouldn't have to," ground out Mark, even whilst privately admitting the logic of the agent's words. He sighed heavily. "I understand it's the nature of your work, Dane. I do. So does Jesse, believe it or not. But he'll be very disappointed. He's been looking forward to this trip with you. He's talked about nothing else for weeks."
He could hear the other man swallow as he digested this. "I know," came the response. The agent sounded defeated and Mark suddenly regretted his rancour. It was hardly Dane's fault that his job had called him away. It wasn't like he had requested the assignment, after all. He and Jesse had just started getting to know each other again and Mark had been delighted and relieved at the way his young friend had blossomed as the relationship with his father slowly stabilised. "But what can I do? I can hardly say no. This is a matter of National Security, Mark and unfortunately, the powers that be put the country ahead of my family commitments - ahead of my son."
"And you don't?" It was unkind and uncalled for, but he couldn't help it. He wasn't looking forward to seeing the look of bitter disappointment in Jesse's eyes when he broke the news to him.
"No, I don't," said Dane, a little sharply. "And I resent the implication that I do, Mark. You know all I have ever wanted is to keep my son safe. I love him. Don't ever doubt that."
"I don't," Mark said, contritely. "And I'm sorry I implied otherwise."
"That's all right. You care for him, too. Hell, he's practically your son. God knows you've been there for him when I couldn't."
Mark winced. However true that was - and he couldn't deny the veracity of the statement - he had never intended to make Dane feel like half a father. "Dane "
"Look, Mark, I'm sorry. I have to go. Please, just tell Jesse tell him you know." Then he was gone.
"Yes, I'll tell him that you love him," thought Mark, as he replaced the receiver with a heavy sigh, glowering at the telephone as though it was solely responsible for the black mood that had descended upon him. He didn't relish the prospect of informing his young friend that his father had let him down - again.
Jesse's youth had not been exactly easy. An absentee father - who had purportedly left his first wife and child and started a new family in Toronto - and a mother whose solution to the desertion by her husband had been to bury herself in her work, building up a lucrative medical practice along the way.
Stripped of a loving family home and, more or less, a loving family, Jesse had struggled for years with his own demons of misplaced guilt for the failure of his parents' marriage and lack of self-esteem thanks to his mother's constant comparison to his seemingly perfect cousin, Morty. That he had turned out as he had - compassionate, caring, irrepressibly cheerful and the most steadfast of friends one could hope to find - was nothing short of a miracle. Of course, his childhood had left its legacy in other ways. Highly intelligent and a terrifically gifted doctor and surgeon, he was still always eager to please and had incredible difficulty in accepting the compliments paid him in his chosen vocation - compliments usually voiced by Mark himself.
His relationship with his father had been strained for a long time. He had told Mark a year or so previously that they exchanged birthday cards and not much else, although the older man happened to know that whilst his young friend had been recuperating at the beach house from the smallpox virus that had almost claimed his life, he had called the older Travis. It had been quite a lengthy call, too, judging from the telephone bill.
Not that he begrudged Jesse the call - far from it. Whatever he could do to help facilitate the repair of the bond between father and son, he was delighted to do. Mark had seen the wistful expression on the younger man's face when he had spoken so glowingly of his relationship with his own son, Steve. The sad little smile this conversation had prompted had almost broken his heart.
Then Jesse had agreed to a fishing trip to Baja with his dad. And what had happened next no-one had expected.
Dane Travis, it transpired, was not the accountant he had always claimed to be, but an operative for the CIA, albeit an operative who now pushed papers for a living. And someone had wanted him dead. They had gone to such lengths that Jesse had been placed under the protective custody of his father and his father's long-time partner, Cinnamon.
It had taken a little while to unravel but eventually, the perpetrator had been found - the son of Dane's old, dead partner. Between them, the Sloans and the Travises and friends had helped to trap the man and sent him to jail for his misdeeds.
After the dust had cleared, Dane had decided to stay in LA, turning down the opportunity for renewed field agent status in order to remain close to his son - both in proximity and emotionally.
Mark had somehow doubted that it would last.
He had a feeling that Jesse had harboured the same reservations.
And now they were both being proved right.
The pain in Jesse's voice was palpable and was mirrored in the dejection on the expressive features as he absorbed the crushing blow of his father's precipitate departure.
Mark's heart sank as he relayed the rest of the news to him.
This moment had been everything he had been dreading and more.
In truth, though, Jesse had sensed for some time that this was coming. It was inevitable, really, given what Dane Travis did for a living. Still, that didn't lessen its impact on him.
He couldn't pretend that it didn't hurt. It did. Each time his dad let him down it felt like that first abandonment all over again. He had tried so hard to deal with it over the years, sublimating all his resentment and misery beneath a veneer of cheerful excitability which had eventually become second nature to him. His infectious humour and high spirits had then made him very popular at medical school.
Well, it beat being bullied for his size.
But he had never forgotten nor quite been able to forgive his dad for leaving the first time, even though the reasons for it made sense now.
Although he still didn't quite understand why Dane had kept his secret so long. Why he couldn't have shared it with his only son a lot earlier, instead of allowing said son to believe that he preferred spending time with his alleged 'new family' - a family that had never existed.
And now he was gone again.
They had planned a fishing trip - just the two of them, together. It would have given them a real chance to cement the bond they had just started to renew.
But once again, his country had called and Dane Travis had answered.
Jesse hated feeling like second choice.
Yet he knew that was what he had to be in his dad's life. No-one person was more important than the country's security and safety.
Not even Jesse Travis.
But, man, it hurt.
Mark's heart hurt for his young friend. The azure eyes were desolate
and he looked like the bottom had just dropped out of his world. Reaching
out, he placed a consoling hand on the slender shoulder. "Jesse, I'm
sorry," he said. "I really wish that your dad had managed to talk
to you himself."
"What good would it have done, Mark?" Jesse asked. "Even if we had talked it would only have been for him to say 'be seein' ya'."
The older man winced at the glib response. "Jess "
A brave little smile came forth. It was the saddest sight Mark had ever seen. "It doesn't matter, anyway, right?" Jesse went on. "I mean, I guess I should get used to him walking away. He's had enough practice at it, after all."
"For what it's worth, Jesse, he sounded upset," Mark offered, trying to alleviate the hurt that the young man was trying so hard to conceal behind the characteristic cynicism. "I don't think he wanted to go."
Jesse nodded but Mark didn't for one moment believe he had accepted the words at face value. "It's okay," he said, quietly. "But, hey, at least it means that I can help you on that big case you're working on, right?"
"Jesse, I don't think "
"Amanda said the guy was stabbed with a ballpoint pen. Right in the heart." He shuddered with delicious anticipation. "I mean, I've heard of the pen being mightier than the sword, but this is the first time I've seen that in practice!"
"Hey, maybe it was that writer friend of his? What d'you think?" Jesse was on a roll now and either hadn't heard or was completely ignoring Mark's attempts to interrupt the stream of consciousness. "I mean, it makes sense, right? He could have done it. Hmm but then, he writes on a computer, doesn't he? And he was killed by a oh, I know - maybe he decided to get back at him in the old fashioned way - rather than brain him with the monitor he stabbed him with a pen! What d'you think, Mark?"
Mark was hard pressed not to burst into laughter at his friend's contagious enthusiasm and incredible talent for coming to the wrong conclusion, but he restrained himself. If this was what Jesse needed to get over Dane's desertion of him, then so be it.
"I think you'd better ask Steve," he suggested, with a remarkably straight face. "In fact, I think he could use the help."
The eyes that had lost their sparkle at Mark's news about his father flared back into life again. "Really? You think? Great! I'm off duty now anyway. Where is he? Maybe I'll give him a call!"
And with that, Jesse had spun away from Mark and headed toward the nurse's station to do just that, caught up in the excitement of the moment and the potential to help crack another murder case.
Yes, Mark would give him all the help he needed to get over Dane's neglect and he was sure Steve would appreciate the assistance.
He made a mental note, however, to make sure he got home after his offspring had gone to bed that night
"Did you have to tell Jesse that I needed his help, dad?" was
Steve's opening salvo as soon as Mark arrived home that night. The detective
had been waiting for him on the steps leading to the living area, and launched
into the complaint before his father had even had the chance to close the
door. "I haven't been able to get him off my back all afternoon!"
"Sorry, Steve." The older man smiled contritely as he climbed the steps with his son at his side. "It just seemed the best way to deal with things."
"Things?" the cop echoed, perplexed. "What 'things'?"
Mark slapped himself on the forehead. "Oh of course! You don't know. Dane had to leave on an assignment."
Steve's expression darkened at this news. "He let Jesse down again?" he demanded. "What the hell does he think he's doing?"
The older man sighed patiently. "His job, Steve. He's just doing his job."
"Yeah?" The detective didn't look at all happy with this excuse. "Well, it sucks."
"I know." They had reached the kitchen during the course of their discussion and Mark had opened the fridge, searching out the large bowl of pasta he had left in there that morning to heat up for dinner. "Here," he said, holding the bowl out to his aggrieved son. "Take this, would you? I just need to find the sauce that goes with it."
"How'd Jesse take the news?" demanded the younger Sloan, as he absent-mindedly complied with his father's request. "Was he upset?"
"Well, he wasn't exactly thrilled." Mark's voice was muffled as he reached into the back of the fridge to retrieve what he was searching for. "But I did get the impression that he expected it."
"Yeah," muttered the other man, gloomily. "After all this time and so many aborted trips, he'd be surprised if the bastard did manage to make one."
His father's shocked exclamation elicited a weak smile of contrition, but he couldn't feel sorry for how he felt about his friend's father. Not for the first time he gave silent thanks for what he had with his own parent. Mark Sloan might be slightly eccentric and have a propensity towards encroaching on his son's supposed area of expertise, but at least Steve knew that his dad cared about him. Plus they enjoyed each other's company - which was just as well, he reflected, privately, considering the amount of time they spent together!
"I'm sorry, dad," he said, as he placed the pasta bowl on the kitchen worktop and watched whilst Mark started to prepare the evening meal. "It's just - I can't help wondering what Jesse ever did to deserve parents like he has. Especially when I've been so damned lucky."
Mark smiled warmly at his son as he digested the sentiment. Whilst the two of them didn't often go in for expressing how they felt, secure as they were in their relationship, it was still nice to hear occasionally. "I feel the same way, Steve, but Dane loves Jesse. It's just different to what we have. Don't forget why he left his family in the first place. It was to keep them safe."
"I know. Still, I don't think I could ever do something like that. To leave your only son behind, letting him think you had abandoned him? It stinks, dad."
A gentle hand descended upon his shoulder. "Steve, that takes the purest form of love. To leave behind the son he loved more than life itself? To let Jesse think so badly of him because he wanted to protect him? My god, the pain that the man went through all those years "
"Still didn't give up being an operative for the Company, though, did he?" pointed out Steve, bitterly.
Mark heaved a heavy sigh. "No. No, he didn't. But he probably couldn't. Steve, it's not like being a cop or or a doctor. You can't simply give it up because your family means more. I suspect that the Company would have made life very difficult for him - and his family - had he simply left them. They may even have hired someone to do their dirty work for them."
"You mean the CIA would have killed Jesse and his mom?" The detective's eyes widened in horror. "No I mean, I know what they're capable of, but - to wipe out a man's family just because he doesn't want to work for them any more? You sure you haven't been reading too many of those spy novels you're so fond of?"
The other man shook his head. "I wish I could say I don't really believe it, son," he said, bleakly. "But the CIA is an organisation shrouded in secrecy - even their name - using the term, 'The Company' rather than 'the CIA', giving it some semblance of legitimacy. A lot of what they do is above the law or outside of it. Don't for one minute be fooled into thinking they ever show any kind of benevolence. I'm quite sure they don't. It's a dog eat dog world and Dane operates inside of it. He had to kill his own friend to protect secrets - and that was something his organisation would have condoned. So I believe most fervently that he feared for the life of his wife and son not only from those enemy agents who would use them against him but also from his own people."
Steve shuddered. "My god, what a world to live in. I don't know how he stood it all those years."
"Because he knew that out there, somewhere, was his son," Mark said. "A son he could be proud of and a son he loved very much. Everything he did during those years away from Jesse, I believe he did because of him. To keep not only the country, but, more importantly, his son safe. It was the only way he could survive each day. I don't know how he did it otherwise. I don't know what I would have done in his shoes. He's a remarkable man and even if he has failed Jesse as a parent, he has never failed him as a father. As a father he made the biggest sacrifice anyone could make. I just wish Jesse could see it the same way."
Jesse had made his way back to his apartment after trailing Steve all
afternoon. The detective had seemed grateful for the help he had provided
after his initial telephone call to tell him that Mark had suggested he
help him out. The air had been a little strained at times, but Jesse put
that down to the fact that this was a particularly difficult murder case,
and Steve was having problems cracking it. He had voiced his own theories
about the murderer, which the other man had listened to very patiently,
dismissing them only when Jesse had managed to talk himself in circles,
coming to some pretty wild conclusions which, subsequently, hadn't held
He was pretty satisfied by the time they had finished for the day, however, sure that he had been of some help to the beleaguered detective, whose partner was out sick. No-one else had been assigned to him yet because the same bug had felled a number of officers and they were operating below strength.
As he slipped the key in the door to his apartment, he smiled. It hadn't been such a bad day after all.
The unexpected voice from behind startled him so much that he nearly shot three feet in the air and his keys, dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers, made a clattering sound as they reached the floor.
"Wh ??" he exclaimed as he spun around. "Dad!"
"Hello, Jess," his father greeted him, warmly. "Surprised?"
Struggling to regain his composure, Jesse managed a weak smile. "Well, yeah," he retorted. "You're supposed to be on an assignment!"
"Managed to get out of it," said the other man, succinctly. "So, you gonna let us both in?"
"Oh. Uh yeah." Sheepishly, Jesse reached down for his keys and then straightened, inserting one in the lock to open his door. "Uh come in, dad."
Once inside, Dane made himself comfortable on Jesse's somewhat dilapidated couch, placing the small overnight bag he had been holding on the floor. "You know, I've been waiting outside for you for a while," he said, casually. "You're a hard man to track down, Jesse."
The younger man blinked at him. "W waiting outside?" he stammered. "I I didn't see you. And why didn't you just give me an indication you were here earlier? Why wait till I was almost inside?"
Dane shrugged. "Habit," he replied. "I guess you can take the man out of the operative but you can't take the operative out of the man."
The young doctor uttered a nervous laugh. It made sense and yet
"So, you ready?" asked Dane, his voice interrupting Jesse's flow of thought.
"Vacation? You - me? You ready?"
"Va vacation?" Jesse eyed his father quizzically. "I I thought I mean you said that is "
"Jesse, you're babbling," the older man pointed out, gently. "Come on, give your old man a break here. It's been a long day and I'm raring to get out of here and into some countryside and get some fishing in. You about set?"
"I I " Jesse was still stumbling over his words, completely bewildered by this sudden turn of events. Just when he had grown accustomed to the idea that he and his dad were destined not to get together, here was the other man, his bags packed and ready to go, practically begging him to go on vacation with him.
He smiled. His dad wanted to be with him! He was raring to go on the fishing trip they had planned.
How could he say 'no'?
"Just give me a minute," he said, grinning widely as the realisation sank in and a warm feeling enveloped him. "I'm all packed. I just have to get my bag from the bedroom."
Dane smiled. "Well, okay, then," he said. "That's great."
"Yeah," agreed the younger man, fervently. "Yeah, it is."
And it was. He was finally going to get the opportunity to spend some quality time with his dad. It didn't get any better than this.
A few minutes later they were on their way, after Jesse had placed a
quick telephone call to Mark, to let him know that his dad had turned up
after all and he would be taking the time off that he had booked at the
hospital. Mark's reaction had been one of surprise, but he had been genuinely
thrilled for his young friend, only too well aware of how much he had wanted
As he threw his bag into Dane's car, and settled into the passenger seat, Jesse relaxed for the first time all day.
Man, was he looking forward to the next few days!
"So, Jesse's gone away after all?" Amanda mused the next morning
as she and Mark sat in the doctors' lounge, having coffee.
The older doctor frowned. "Yes, and it's the strangest thing," he said.
"Well, Dane called to say he couldn't make it and then a few hours later he turned up at Jesse's apartment."
The young woman shrugged. "Maybe he found he could make it after all," she speculated.
Mark's frown deepened. "Yes, maybe. But there's just something about this whole situation "
Reaching out a hand, the young pathologist laid it on her friend's arm and squeezed gently. "Mark, you're obsessing," she admonished him, although her smile took any sting out of her words. "Dane's a CIA operative. There's bound to be a little 'cloak and dagger' stuff going on - even when he gets together with his son. I suppose after years as an agent, he just can't help it."
Mark wasn't convinced. His expression was still troubled even as he returned her smile. "I guess so, honey," he said. "But still I can't help worrying."
Jesse, meanwhile, was enjoying himself. They had arrived in the early
hours of the morning at the remote cabin in the woods that Dane told him
he had booked for them weeks before. Jesse, exhausted by the double shifts
he had been working and the excitement of being on the road with his dad,
had fallen asleep during the drive. He felt safe and secure in the older
man's presence. Dane was, after all, a CIA operative and accustomed to dealing
with all manner of things - not that there was any chance of danger in a
mundane drive through the countryside. Besides, he was Jesse's dad. He wouldn't
let any harm come to him.
Bemused and a little puzzled by the way his own thoughts had been heading, Jesse had nodded off with a small smile on his face, just as Dane had taken the turning North.
The cabin was set in a beautiful spot. Surrounded on three sides by trees and brush, it was quite compact but had everything they needed for a fishing trip - including a massive amount of provisions. Jesse chuckled to himself as he opened up the cabinets in the small but perfectly formed kitchen. Obviously his dad had remembered what a voracious appetite his only son possessed!
Picking out a bag of chips from the store, he wandered aimlessly into the main room, where Dane was struggling to get a fire going.
"Hey, dad," he greeted the older man. "Want something to eat?"
Dane half turned, smiling indulgently as he noted what Jesse was holding. "No, thanks, Jess," he replied. "And shouldn't you be eating something a little more healthy? You are a doctor, after all."
The young man shrugged nonchalantly. "Ah, I'm on vacation," he said. "No-one cares."
Chuckling softly to himself, the older Travis turned back to his task, raising a fist in triumph as the wood finally caught and flames leaped into the chimney.
"Hey, I didn't know you were such a woodsman," Jesse teased him, as the older man rose to his feet and his son caught sight of the smoke smudges on his face. "You could probably hunt for deer in that disguise and they'd never see you."
Glancing in the mirror, Dane grinned roguishly. "Maybe I'll do just that," he quipped.
"Nah " Jesse pulled a face. "I don't want to hunt animals. It's cruel. Let's just fish."
"Okay," came the easy agreement. "I - er - I just have a call to make first."
"Call?" Jesse frowned at his father. "Now? To whom?"
"Oh - you know, gotta stay in touch," Dane answered, somewhat vaguely. "I won't be a minute, Jess."
With that, he wandered into the bedroom, leaving the younger man standing alone in the living area, wondering what the hell was going on.
The day was pleasantly warm. They took a picnic lunch with them to the
lake to which they tramped a couple of miles through beautiful countryside.
Jesse felt the peace and tranquillity of his surroundings sink into him
and forgot all about the weirdness back at the cabin.
By the time they reached the large expanse of crystal clear water, sparkling like jewels in the late morning sunshine, he had relaxed so completely he was positively languid.
Sinking down onto the grass he fumbled for a bit with his fishing line, aware of his father watching his every move and equally aware of his indulgent smile. It served to remind him of the relationship between his best friend and his best friend's father and he felt a pleasant warmth seep through him at the thought that he was finally sharing one of those moments with his own dad.
"It's great here," he commented as, fishing line all sorted out and lying in the deep water, he leaned back on the soft lakeshore grass and waited for something to bite.
"Yes, it is," agreed the older man. "Want a beer?"
"Sure." He reached out and took the can that the older man was offering him. Popping it open he flung his head back, letting the sun warm his face. "Oh man, I could do this forever." he observed, wistfully.
A chuckle came from his left. "Well, the hospital may have something to say about that, son," said Dane. "But this is terrific. It's good to see you, Jesse."
"Yeah," he said, suddenly a little shy. "Yeah, it's good to see you, too, dad."
When they returned to the cabin later that evening, flushed with alcohol
and a day of successful fishing and bonding, they discovered they were not
Four men were waiting for them outside the cabin, standing next to a beat up old Ford which had certainly seen better days if the dents and rust adorning the doors were any indication.
"Dad ?" Jesse's voice tailed off as one of the men turned at the sound of them scrunching through the undergrowth. The guy looked foreign, although Jesse couldn't place the nationality and he grinned toothily as they approached.
"Travis," he said, in a lightly accented tone.
"Farad," Dane greeted him, civilly, though coolly.
"Nice place you have."
"Dad?" Jesse tried to interrupt the stilted conversation, not liking the way the other three men stared at him - as though he was a specimen on one of Amanda's slabs. "Dad, what's going on? Who are these men?"
Dane turned to him, smiling gamely. "These?" he said. "Oh, they're just colleagues of mine, Jesse. Don't worry. Everything's okay."
The dismissive nature of his voice sent an inexplicable shiver of fear down Jesse's spine although he couldn't for the life in him figure out why. His father would never place him in the way of danger - not after trying for most of his adult life to keep him out of it. "Colleagues?" He narrowed his eyes suspiciously as he watched whilst the other three men got back into the car, followed quickly by the fourth, who murmured something to Dane that he couldn't quite catch. "More counter intelligence analysts?" the young doctor queried.
The flicker of something - Jesse couldn't quite identify what - passed across Dane's face at the question. Uncertainty? Then it was quickly gone and he wondered if he had imagined it. "Yes, that's right, son," Dane said, breezily. "They're analysts like me. Now, what d'you say to a meal? I'll cook. We can roast some of these fish we caught."
The mention of food temporarily drove all other thoughts out of Jesse's head, especially as the car bearing the four men started up and they began to drive away. His face brightened. "Great," he said. But even as Dane guided him up the short path and into the cabin, he half turned to watch the vehicle ease its way slowly down the dirt track, deeply disturbed by the encounter even though he couldn't for the life in him say why.
Mark was just finishing up in his office for the day when the door was
flung wide open, banging against the wall.
Whipping his head up in alarm, his eyes widened as he took in the identity of his visitor.
If he was expecting pleasantries, then he was going to be sorely disappointed as the other man advanced upon him, his face darkened with rage and something undefinable - something that looked remarkably like fear.
"Where the hell is my son, Mark! What's happened to him?"
"What?" The older doctor practically fell backward into his chair at the demand, his mind whirling. He opened his mouth to say more, closed it, opened it again and then simply stared at the agent in utter disbelief.
"Jesse has disappeared," Dane said, in a menacing monotone, his grey-blue eyes flashed an accusation at the older man. "Apparently he went on vacation with me. But if that's true then I must be living in a parallel universe because I - as you can see - am not with him."
"I I don't understand," spluttered Mark, when he could find his voice again. His nameless fears for Jesse's welfare returned now with a vengeance. He had known from the outset that something was wrong - had felt it, as surely as he had felt the anguish which had swept over Jesse upon learning that his dad couldn't make the trip.
He should have acted on his impulses, should have said something to stop Jesse from leaving. But what could he have said? How would he have justified his reservations? He had had no proof that anything was wrong, no evidence that Dane turning up out of the blue wasn't simply what it was - that his mission, whatever it was, had been cancelled or he had got out of it.
"Dane, I "
The agent spun around and started pacing the floor of the small, cluttered confined office. "I got word this morning," he said. "The assignment was a scam. No-one knew who had sent the instructions. That's when I knew that it was a ruse to get me out of the way so they could get to Jesse. I've been to his apartment but his landlady told me that he'd left on vacation yesterday - with me. Do you know where they've gone? Do you know anything?" he thundered, spinning around again to spear Mark with a deadly look.
Suddenly it all made sense. The unexpected assignment, the surprise arrival of Jesse's father for the long-awaited vacation and now this - Dane Travis, standing in his office, pacing like a caged tiger, terrified for the safety of his cub. Mark wiped a shaky hand across his face.
Jesse had been kidnapped - probably by enemies of Dane Travis. That made them not only dangerous, but deadly.
Why the hell hadn't he acted sooner?
"Dane, I "
Before he could utter the words of apology that were on the tip of his tongue, the agent suddenly wilted, folding into the other chair and dropping his head into his hands. "Oh god, Mark, I'm sorry," he moaned. "I didn't mean to blame you. It's hardly your fault. But Jesus, they have my son - and I don't have the first clue as to where he is or how to get him back!"
"Okay, what've we got so far?" Steve's voice was rough with
suppressed anguish. He had made it back to the beach house from the precinct
in record time after receiving the telephone call from his father about
Mark had suggested they all convene there because it would be easier to discuss the situation there than in his cramped office, or anywhere else at the hospital. Dane, ravaged with distress at his son's plight, had agreed and had not protested when Mark offered to drive them both.
During the short journey he had cast several anxious glances in his passenger's direction, not liking what he was seeing. The cool, calm, unflappable agent was in shock. It was a chilling sight. But then, Mark acknowledged, privately, he could only imagine how he would react if something similar were to happen to Steve. Dane was not only a spy, he was a father and it was that side of him that was holding sway for the time being.
Once they had reached the beach house, Dane seemed to emerge from his fugue and started taking command once more, Steve's arrival soon after their own seeming to be the catalyst that was needed.
The detective's question hung in the air for a second before Dane answered, his tone low and intense. "I questioned the landlady and all of the neighbours about the man that Jesse left with. I also asked them about the type of vehicle he was driving and the licence plate. No-one apart from Mrs Delker - the landlady - appeared to have seen anything and she didn't see the plate, just remembered that the car was 'dark' and looked like an old Ford."
"What kind of Ford?" demanded Steve, frustrated at the distinct lack of evidence thus far.
Dane shrugged. "She couldn't tell. She doesn't drive. Her husband used to do all the driving in the family and now she's on her own one of her male neighbours helps her out."
Rubbing a hand across his face, Steve groaned. "That's all we have? An old Ford and no plate? No-one remembered anything?"
"Are you trying to imply that I didn't do enough to try to find my son?" countered Dane, his eyes narrowing with anger as he rounded on the detective. "Jesse is everything to me, detective, and don't you forget it!"
"Steve didn't mean to imply anything of the kind, Dane," interjected Mark, hurriedly, as the two other men looked to be squaring off. "We're all worried about him. We all care about him. You know that. He was just doing his job."
"Well, his job doesn't involve interrogating me!" snarled the agent. "I don't even know what I'm doing here when I should be out trying to find Jesse!"
"But we don't know where he is," pointed out Mark, patiently. "That's what we have to ascertain. And the first thing we have to do is find that car."
"I've sent some of the forensics guys out to his place," chipped in Steve, calming a little as he saw for himself the keen distress behind the fury on the agent's craggy features. The man looked exhausted and near the end of his endurance. He had obviously not slept since his flight back from the fake assignment. "They'll find any prints the guy left behind. Then maybe we can trace who he is."
"And how will that help us find them?" demanded Dane, wearily. "You don't understand. This was a professional job. These people are good. Very good. They won't have left any clues to enable us to track them. If we don't get Jesse away from them, I have no doubt that they'll kill him."
The two Sloans exchanged glances. There was a veracity to Dane Travis's statement that no-one could deny, least of all them. Jesse's kidnapping had been too well orchestrated, too meticulously planned for any of its perpetrators to slip up during its execution. Steve didn't really expect to find anything at the scene, but he had to try. He would be failing his friend if he didn't.
Mark eyed Dane with concern as the other man rose unsteadily from the chair in which he had been seated and made his way over to the large picture window. The weather had closed in whilst they had been conferencing, and large, dark, pendulous clouds now hung heavy over the beach community. The turbulent, boiling sky matched the mood within the house and as the first raindrops spattered against the glass, the flash of lightning that flared in the gloom also briefly illuminated the fresh tear tracks on the agent's face.
"We have to find him," whispered Dane, brokenly. "My god, we have to."
Jesse was up bright and early the next morning. He hadn't been able to
sleep that night after the strange experience with the men his father had
told him were counter-intelligence analysts. However, he was accustomed
to waking up with the dawn - he suspected it came not of being a doctor
but was a legacy of his days as a med student when he had risen with the
birds to study before attending his lectures. He had been a very conscientious
scholar at med school - although that hadn't stopped him from indulging
in a little partying with his friends every now and again - and had learned
how to exist on very little sleep and a lot of caffeine. Steve had actually
once remarked that the fact that he now probably had caffeine running through
his veins instead of blood explained his incessant bounciness and his rampant
enthusiasm for life. He had ignored his so-called best friend's comment,
gaining retribution a few weeks later when the detective had ended up in
the ER with a bullet graze on the shoulder. Steve's resultant yelp as he
swabbed the wound maybe a little harder than was absolutely necessary with
the antiseptic wipe had been sweet revenge. Not that the detective had let
him forget about that in a hurry. The next time he had wound up in the ER
he had asked for someone - anyone other than Jesse Travis - to treat him.
It was just his tough luck that everyone else had been busy that night
He was still chuckling over the constant one-upmanship with his best friend when he heard the first stirrings of sound from the other bedroom, indicating that his dad was up. Obviously Dane Travis was an early riser too - probably had to be in his line of work. Then again, maybe he slept with one eye constantly open, on his guard against the enemy.
He shook his head at where his own sense of whimsy was taking him. He had been reading too many spy novels. That was Mark's fault. His mentor had introduced him to them and Jesse had quickly become hooked. He devoured them as eagerly as he consumed food - speaking of which His stomach chose that moment to remind him that he hadn't eaten in several hours.
Putting all thoughts of enemy agents and the friends he had left in LA aside for the time being, he padded over to the small kitchen to find something edible for breakfast.
Jesse was just rinsing the dishes they had used for breakfast - his father
having joined him only moments after he had started cooking some eggs and
bacon on the griddle - when the sound of a car pulling up outside drew his
"It's okay, Jesse," Dane said, with a smile. "I'll go see who it is."
"Okay," the younger man replied, fumbling a little with the plate in his hand as the uneasiness he had been feeling since the previous night returned. He watched as his father opened the door and stepped out onto the small porch, then closed the door behind him again. Car doors banged and he heard voices, although he couldn't make out what they were saying. Something weird was going on - he just knew it - and whatever it was didn't bode well for their trip. Whilst he knew his dad wouldn't let any harm come to him, he still couldn't help wondering what kinds of secrets the older man kept, and shuddered involuntarily.
Despite his increasing apprehension, however, his own insatiable curiosity won out and he tiptoed toward the door, intent on listening to what was going on.
He hadn't taken more than three steps, however, when it was flung open and Dane strode back in, flanked by the three men he had already met.
"Jesse, I want you to meet Michael Farad and his brothers, Sam and Richard," said the older man, genially.
Michael Farad - the man with whom his father had conversed outside the cabin on their return from their fishing trip the day before, smiled toothily at him as Jesse extended his hand. He seemed friendly enough but there was a coldness in his eyes that sent a chill running through the young doctor. He tried to conceal it, only too well aware of how expressive his own face was. He would never have made a spy - he didn't lie very well and he knew it. But he was sure that the other man had noticed how unsettled he was although he made no comment on it.
Farad's two companions merely grunted a greeting and Jesse got the distinct impression that Michael was their leader - an idea he swiftly dismissed as being incredibly fanciful. 'Leader' of what? If these were all other agents then they would all have equal footing - wouldn't they?
Admittedly he didn't know a lot about his father's world, nor its hierarchy. Perhaps there was a pecking order of which he was unaware. Or maybe he was just going bug-eyed nuts.
Introductions over, Dane offered the three men breakfast - which they refused - and then bade them take seats in the main living area.
As they did so, he turned to face his son. "Jess, this will take a while," he said. "Why don't you go and wash up and I'll be with you as soon as I can."
"Okay," the young doctor agreed, easily - anything to get away from the other three. "Maybe I'll go out for a walk whilst you do whatever it is you have to do."
"No!" The vehement protest shocked Jesse - and his alarm must have shown on his face as the older man immediately quickly mustered a smile of reassurance. "Sorry, Jess. I just - it can be dangerous in the woods. You're not used to being up here and I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Nothing's gonna happen, dad." Jesse frowned in bewilderment at the other man's reasoning. "I'm a big boy now, ya know? I can take care of myself."
"I know that, son. I know." Dane moved forward, placing his large square hands on each of the smaller man's shoulders. "Just - humour me, all right? A father is allowed to worry about his kid, you know?"
The words sent another thrill of warmth through him. His dad worried about him. God, it felt good to have someone to care again. "Okay," he acquiesced, smiling warmly at the other man. "I'll wait till you're finished. I brought a couple of medical journals with me, anyway. Maybe I'll read them while I'm waiting."
Dane exhaled deeply. "Good man," he said, letting his hands drop away from Jesse's shoulders. "I'll try not to be too long, Jesse. I promise."
Steve slammed the phone down with a force that almost shattered the instrument.
"Damn!" he swore.
"Something wrong?" enquired Tanis Archer, his new partner. She had just transferred from San Diego that week and had been assigned to him that morning to assist in the murder case he was investigating.
He glared at her for a full moment before remembering that she wasn't party to Jesse's disappearance; didn't even know his best friend, come to that and therefore wasn't aware of the ramifications of the situation. "My friend has been kidnapped," he told her, curtly. "He was taken almost two days ago - by a man he thought was his father."
Tanis frowned. "How could he mistake his own dad?" she queried. "Doesn't he know what he looks like?"
The glare returned in full force. "Yes," he replied, through gritted teeth. "But the guy looked exactly like Dane - Jesse's dad. He spoke like him, acted like him everything. He must have done, or Jesse wouldn't have gone with him."
"So why has he been taken and why are you handling it?"
Struggling to retain his patience - they were valid questions after all, even if he didn't have the time for them - he tried to explain the situation to her. "Dane - Jesse's dad - is a Company operative - he works for the CIA," he elucidated. "He's made a lot of enemies over the years - enemies who would think nothing of using his family against him to gain what they want."
"And what do they want?" she asked.
He threw his hands up in the air. "I don't know!" he growled. "I wish I did! I have no clues, nothing to go on - there weren't even any prints at Jesse's, apart from his own. These people are good. Very good."
"How did they leave the city?"
"The city?" she prompted. "I assume they left. How?"
"Oh - car," he responded, succinctly. "But that's a dead end. No-one apart from Jesse's landlady saw the car and she doesn't drive so all she could say with any sort of certainty was that it was dark and looked like an old Ford."
"Was it rented?"
"I'm still checking that out," he said. "If it was then no-one so far remembers a man of Dane's description renting a car in the last day or so."
Her brow furrowed as she pondered what he had told her and the obvious effect it was having on him.
Steve Sloan had a reputation around the precinct as a cop who got the job done. He was tough but fair and those under his command respected and liked him for the man he was.
Of course, she had also heard of his father's involvement in his investigations and had taken the time to do a little digging on him. He had an impressive record for catching felons. A better record than anyone in the department. Which explained why those in the upper echelons didn't like him, although of course, they had never spoken of him with anything but admiration - strained though that might be.
She had been looking forward to working with Steve Sloan. She wasn't so sure about his dad. He was a doctor and despite his track record, he really had no business participating in murder investigations. Still, she would make no judgements until she met the man and in the meantime, she would try to help her new partner, whose ability to think clearly and concisely was more than likely clouded by his concern for his friend, if his behaviour now was any indication.
"So you've given up?" she asked now as he slumped in his chair, his expression bleak.
That elicited an immediate response. He jerked his head up, spearing her with ice-cold blue eyes. "No! I'm not giving up till I find him!"
"And what about our other investigation?" she ventured. "You know, the murder? We are homicide cops after all."
"I know that!" he ground out. "Why the hell do you think I'm here so early? I'm trying to run two investigations at once!"
"And I repeat, why are you handling it? Why hasn't this been handed over to someone who isn't a homicide cop, and who isn't emotionally involved?"
"Emotionally involved?" he echoed. "What the hell " he shot to his feet, enraged.
"Okay, take a look at your reaction and then tell me you're not emotionally involved," she rebuked him, softly. "Look, Sloan, I don't know your friend but you're obviously close and I get that you're concerned but if we're gonna do this then we've gotta get one thing straight. I am not gonna have you going off half-cocked on me when you can't get what you want. We have to stay impartial - or as impartial as we can, given the circumstances. If we don't then there's a danger that we'll miss something, something important that might be the difference between saving your friend or never seeing him again."
He stared at her, open-mouthed. He had never had a partner talk like that to him before. In fact, the only person in the precinct who had even come close had been the Captain and even his admonishments had been couched in friendly authority. This - this was something entirely new and altogether unexpected.
No-one had warned him that his new partner was so feisty.
"Well?" she challenged him. "Are we clear?"
"Yeah," he replied, warily, sinking back down into his chair. "We're clear. Just so long as we're clear on one other thing."
"And what's that?"
"I'm in charge here. On this investigation. No argument. No discussion. I'm in charge."
Her eyes twinkled as she met his gaze. "If you say so," she replied.
Cinnamon Carter, Dane's partner, turned up at the beach house shortly
after Steve had left. When Mark opened the door to her, she greeted him
with a strained smile then asked if he and Dane could help her unload the
van in which she had driven there.
The doctor had been a little staggered at the amount and range of equipment she had brought with her. Most of it was highly specialised and very advanced, and included monitoring paraphernalia which he recognised from her securely guarded home.
"Cinnamon , what's all this?" he asked as she and Dane started to set it all up.
"I thought you knew, Doctor Sloan," she replied, in her clear, cultured tones. "It's mostly monitoring equipment, and I brought my laptop for a video phone link in case the bastard tries to get in touch that way."
"Oh. I see "
He watched them trail wires around his living room, peered over her shoulder whilst she set up the video phone link to his telephone and then had to step back as she and Dane conferred on something technical he didn't quite understand.
"Right, we're ready," she finally announced.
"Ready?" Mark echoed. "Ready for what?"
"For when they call," she explained, serenely. "Which they will, of course. I suspect that they will contact us via the computer link. They've been nothing but ingenious so far and my feeling is that the man who's taken Jesse will want to rub Dane's nose in that. I suspect he will also want him to see his face, to witness for himself what a finely crafted piece of work it is - that it could fool Dane's own son."
Her mention of Jesse - oblique as it was - reawakened and reinforced Mark's own fears for the young man he very much regarded as one of his own family. Whilst he wasn't Jesse's father - another man lay claim to that honour - he still felt every iota of the terror that was obviously hammering at the agent. Dane had recovered well, however, from the raw panic of the previous evening and the rare show of sentiment when he had stood at the window. He was all business now, his focus on ensuring that everything was set up to Cinnamon's satisfaction. Not a trace of emotion showed through the mask he was now wearing. Only the fierce glitter of his eyes betrayed the fact that this was a father in torment.
They didn't have long to wait. At precisely noon, there was a notification
on the computer of an incoming call and the tension in the room ratcheted
up several degrees.
"This is it," breathed Dane, as he and Cinnamon traded looks. She nodded and pressed 'enter' on the keyboard and immediately, Dane's twin's face showed up on the screen.
"Dane Travis," he greeted him, cordially. "How nice that you are prepared for my call. Miss Carter's doing, no doubt?"
"No doubt," responded Dane, testily. "What do you want, Rashid? Where's my son?"
The other Dane shook his head in mock disappointment. "Now, now, Mr Travis, such impatience. No pleasantries? No, 'how are you, Rashid?' No 'nice to see you'?"
"How are you, Rashid?" Dane ground out. "Well, I hope. Because once I get my hands on you, you won't be."
"Tsk, tsk," the other man admonished him, pleasantly. "Such behaviour doesn't become you. I do hope your son has never seen you this way. Such an example to set an impressionable young man."
"What have you done to Jesse?" demanded the agent. "Where is he?"
"He's safe," came the reply. "Quite safe. He doesn't even know he's been kidnapped. He believes he's spending the week with his father and - to all intents and purposes he is."
"Why the charade?" growled Dane. "What do you hope to prove by this?"
"Prove? Why, nothing. We don't want to scare the young man. A willing hostage is so much better than an unwilling one, don't you think? And whilst he believes that I am his father, he doesn't fear us. That also makes him very easy to manipulate."
"Don't underestimate my son, Rashid!" Dane snarled. "He's no pushover!"
"Well, thus far we have not had to test that assumption. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, shall we? After all, I'm sure you'd like him back in one piece as opposed to several small ones."
"You touch one hair of his head !"
"And what?" the other man challenged him, grinning humourlessly. "You don't even know where we are, Travis. We could be anywhere. I suggest you calm down. Stress can play havoc with the blood pressure."
"Why, you !"
"Tsk, tsk. Such anger. And all directed toward the wrong target. If you want to hold someone responsible for this, then look to your own actions for your corrupt Government, agent Travis. You brought all of this on yourself."
"My son "
"Your son is merely a pawn in a game of win or lose," Rashid interjected, calmly, "And you already know the side on which I intend to be at the end."
"You know we don't make deals with terrorists."
Mark winced at the words. He had expected them at some stage during this conversation, of course, but hadn't been prepared for the pain that spliced through his heart as they were uttered. He didn't dare look at Dane - didn't want to see his own agony reflected in the other man's expressive eyes.
"Then your son is dead," came the cold response. "But I'm a generous man and I can be patient. Unlike yourself. I shall give you one day, agent Travis. One day to come up with ten million dollars. Then I will call again. I shall then give you the instructions for how to get that money to me. And you know the answer I shall be expecting. Do not disappoint me, agent Travis. Do not disappoint your son."
With those ominous words, the connection was broken and the screen went blank. Dane stared at it in utter despair for a moment before lowering his head into his hands and sinking to the floor.
"Dane?" Mark prompted, hesitantly.
"They're going to kill him, Mark," he said, in a harsh, anguished voice. "They're going to kill Jesse and there's not a damned thing I can do to stop it."
Jesse carefully closed the door then sagged against the wall, his chest
heaving as panic swept over him.
That man in there wasn't his father!
He had been kidnapped - and he hadn't even realised it until this moment.
His breathing was ragged as he sank down to his haunches, lowering his head into his hands, unconsciously mirroring his real dad's actions at the beach house.
What the hell was he going to do now?
"You knew him."
"What?" Dane lifted his head to stare unseeingly in Mark's direction at the older man's declaration.
"You knew him. The man who has Jesse."
"Yes," he said, raggedly. "Yes, I know him."
"Who is he, Dane?"
The agent took a deep, steadying breath in an attempt to regain his composure. It didn't quite work. "His name is Rashid," he said, in a heavy voice. "He's a counter intelligence operative with the Arabs."
"And he's dangerous?" ventured Mark - although he suspected he already knew the answer from the other man's reaction to the kidnapper. Dane's face had drained of all colour even as he had argued with the man.
Dane nodded, numbly. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes, very dangerous. He'll kill Jesse, Mark. Make no mistake about it. He is ruthless. Utterly without conscience."
"Than why has he allowed Jesse to believe that he is with you?" Mark asked. "Why all this pretence?"
Dane shook his head helplessly. "He's playing with us. He's not doing this for Jesse's benefit, so don't even consider it. Yes, in a way it makes it easier for him and anyone who's with him to restrain a victim when that victim doesn't even realise he's in any danger. But Jesse's no fool, Mark. You know that. He's too inquisitive. He'll find out the truth before too much longer and then "
"And then?" prompted Mark as the other man's words trailed away.
"I don't know. I honestly don't know."
Dane sounded exhausted and utterly defeated and Mark's heart went out to him, even as his professional concern was alerted by the man's rapid breathing and pallor. The agent didn't even look capable of standing, let alone holding an intelligent conversation and Mark decided that his questions could wait.
"Dane, you need to rest," he began, but even as he reached down to assist the other man up, he was brushed aside as the other man surged to his feet, swaying dangerously before righting himself, and brushing himself down.
"No," he exclaimed in a harsh tone. "No, I can't! We have to work on finding Jesse. We have one day, Mark. One day and then Rashid will kill him."
"But why?" demanded the doctor, utterly bewildered. "Why would he want him dead? What is it between the two of you, Dane?"
The blue-grey eyes turned to him and he recoiled at the haunted expression he saw in them. There was a ponderous silence and then
"Because I killed his son."
"It was fifteen years ago - before I became a 'discard'. We were
working an assignment in Africa, trying to help stabilise a Government there
and Rashid's son was working with us as an interpreter. Or so I thought."
"He was working with the other side?" guessed Mark.
Dane nodded. "Yes. I found out about it when I followed him one night,. I'd had my suspicions about him for a couple of days but I heard him selling us out to the rebels who wanted us dead. I can't tell you the exact details of our mission, Mark. Some of that stuff is top secret - National Security stuff. You know?"
Mark nodded. "I understand," he said. "Go on."
Inhaling deeply, Dane closed his eyes as he recalled the incident. "I made my way back to warn the others to get out but he made it back before me - there must have been a short cut he knew of that we didn't. Didn't really surprise me, all things considered. He was certainly surprised when I showed up though - so surprised that he pulled a gun on me. I guess he saw by the look on my face that I knew what he was up to. One of the others in our party woke up, saw what was happening and the kid turned on him instead. He was going to kill my friend, Mark. I couldn't let him. It was instinct. I shot him. Then we bundled everything up and got the hell out of there."
"So how did Rashid find out it was you?"
Dane shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. Maybe he was watching. Maybe he had someone else watching who reported it to him. He was a pretty important cog in the wheel back then. But he found out about it. I found a note in my luggage a few months later when I was in Paris on another assignment - my last one before the Russian fiasco. It was short and to the point. He was going to exact his revenge some day. He's been letting me sweat ever since."
"You knew all this when you contacted Jesse again?" demanded Mark, horrified by the story. Of course, he knew of Dane's past and what his job sometimes entailed but still, the concept of killing someone with whom you had worked side by side, even in such a dire situation, was totally alien to him. As a surgeon he had seen up close the damage guns could do to the human body. It wasn't pretty.
Mark wasn't sure if he could ever take a life - although it might be different if it was in defence of someone he loved. Fortunately, he had never been put in that position. But Dane had - and had gained the enmity of an extremely dangerous man in the process.
He had subsequently been tailed by this man for fifteen years - it was undoubtedly why he had left Jesse and his mom in the first place. Then, despite the threat that still hung over him - albeit an old one by now, he had renewed contact with his son - and inadvertently or not, placed him in danger.
Dane nodded, confirming his beliefs. "Yes," he confessed, hoarsely. "Yes, I knew he was still around - or at least I knew there was a possibility. He disappeared shortly afterward, resigned from his position. The man had never exactly wanted for money. He came from a rich family. He could disappear for years if he so chose. But it had been so long and no-one had heard of him for years. I thought he might be dead."
"And he is quite obviously very much alive," pointed out the doctor, his tone brusque with anger. "Dammit, man, I thought you'd spent your life trying to keep Jesse safe! And now "
"Now he may lose his life because of something I did fifteen years ago," interjected the agent, bleakly. "You don't have to remind me. I'm quite well aware of the fact, Mark. I just - my god, I can't tell you how much I have missed my family. My boy he's everything to me. I would give my life for him in an instant. I would offer myself to Rashid instead if that's what it would take."
"But he won't accept that, will he?" Mark felt sick. "He wants Jesse. A life for a life."
"Yes," confessed the other man, in a hollow voice. "But first he wants to make me suffer."
"What's the money for?"
"I don't know. Probably to help fund whatever war he has going now. I did hear a rumour that he'd farmed himself out as a mercenary, although that was never substantiated. If he has, then he'll be fighting with those who are against the USA. And ten million dollars can buy a lot of weapons. Not that I have that kind of money, although I could probably lay my hands on some of it. Don't ask me how," he went on, holding up a hand to forestall the anticipated question. "I have my sources."
"But you're not going to pay him," stated Mark. His heart felt as though someone had flung a noose around it and was tightening it inch by agonising inch.
"I can't, Mark," came the bleak response. "Not even for my son. I can't."
All had fallen ominously silent in the other room. This fact was slow
to permeate Jesse's brain, but when it did he quickly shot to his feet.
He was breathing raggedly and trembling with apprehension. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he strove to calm himself down, aware that any show of fear would give away the fact that he knew what was going on and once they found that out, he would no longer be free to move around. They would bind him, probably gag him, too, to prevent him from calling out for help - not like there was anyone around to hear him. He couldn't afford one slip up. If there was one thing he had learned from the brief time he had spent with his real father it was to think on your feet.
His real father.
He was utterly disgusted with himself for not recognising the truth sooner. How could he have ever mistaken this 'Rashid' for his dad? What did that say about their relationship, that he accepted someone at face value just because they looked and sounded like Dane Travis?
And yet, he didn't know his dad any more. Not really. They hadn't had much contact over the last fifteen years and what little there had been had been fleeting and distinctly uncomfortable. Sure, once he had discovered his dad was an agent and had finally accepted that the man had left all those years ago out of a need to protect him and his mom, all the icy disdain he had harboured toward him for so long had begun to melt away, leaving the way open for them to forge a new relationship. But there had been little chance since then for them to work on it.
This trip was to have been a way of cementing that tenuous bond. And he had truly believed that they were, indeed, beginning to connect. There had been a warmth growing between them that had never been there previously. It had reminded him, somewhat poignantly, of the relationship that Steve and Mark shared - a rapport he had envied and had desperately wanted.
But it had all been a lie. A delusion. The man in the other room was not his father; merely someone who looked and sounded exactly like him. Someone who knew intimate details of his life; where he worked, what he did, where he lived and what kinds of things he liked to eat. The cabin was stocked with all his favourite foods and he doubted that this was any coincidence.
How long had this 'Rashid' been planning this, anyway? How long had the man been studying him? He shuddered as he realised he had probably been stalked for weeks, or possibly even months by the guy without even knowing about it.
Dammit. The man probably was probably even aware of his tendency to talk too much when he was nervous - that was one of the things he would have to watch. Unfortunately, it was also one of the things over which he had little control. He just couldn't help it. When he was tense or anxious, he babbled. It amused Steve, Mark and Amanda no end.
Here though - with these men - it might very well get him killed.
As he heard the footsteps approaching his room, he closed his eyes, forcing
himself to breathe normally, then pulled away from the wall, trying not
to make a sound as he crept toward the bed. His legs felt weak and incapable
of holding him up for much longer and he was grateful when he finally felt
the mattress against the backs of his knees and was able to sit down.
The voice sounded so much like his father's. It could be his father. Only the exchange he had accidentally overheard told him otherwise.
He had to force himself to respond - and to respond normally.
"You want to take that walk now?"
Walk? He struggled to recall when he had suggested such an activity and then remembered what he had said before the conversation that had sent him plummeting into shock.
"Oh, right. Yeah, yeah, just give me a minute!"
His voice sounded strained and he was sure it had trembled. But all he heard from the other side of the door was a cheerful, "Well, all right then. Let's get to it!" before the receding footsteps signalled that the man was walking back into the main room.
When he finally plucked up the courage to open the door, with a bright
smile on his face that strained his muscles and felt completely false, he
found Rashid waiting for him. The other three men were seated at the table
underneath the window at the far side of the room. They were silent.
A shiver ran the length of his spine and he tried to disguise it by folding his arms around himself.
"Something wrong, son?" asked Rashid.
The voice was familiarly paternal and sounded so concerned that for a moment, he couldn't speak. "Uh huh?"
"You look cold," observed the older man, his brows furrowed together as he studied Jesse. "You okay? Not catching something, are you?"
Jesse fought to regain a sense of normalcy. Except nothing about this was normal. "Uh I just a little," he said, rubbing his hands up and down his arms to lend credence to his words. "I dunno - guess I'm not used to all this mountain air."
The other man laughed. "You've become a real city boy, Jess. Where's your sense of adventure?"
"I have a sense of adventure!" Jesse protested, automatically. "I'm just not used to being without the comforts of home."
Rashid clapped him on the shoulder and the younger man had to struggle not to recoil from the touch. "We'll soon make a mountain man of you," he said. "So come on, let's go. A good brisk walk in the forest will shake all those cobwebs out of you."
Jesse mustered a smile and followed the older man as he made his way to the door. He glanced discreetly at the others as they left the cabin. They hadn't moved and were staring at him with an intensity which completely unnerved him. As he closed the door behind him, he knew that he couldn't keep up the pretence much longer. He just didn't have it in him to lie consistently for another day.
That was how long Rashid had given his father to come up with the money required to free him. Somehow, he doubted whether, even if Dane Travis managed to put together ten million dollars and handed such a large amount over to terrorists, he would get out of this alive. The man holding him prisoner seemed pleasant enough but there was a latent malevolence to him that Jesse now recognised as the source of his disquiet ever since the trip had begun. The young doctor had a feeling that Rashid was only going through the motions. He undoubtedly knew that Dane would not be able to acquire that kind of money and even if he did that he wouldn't just hand it over to someone who was going to use it for his own nefarious purposes - purposes which Jesse didn't want to even contemplate right now.
No, what he wanted was to make Dane Travis suffer. Jesse didn't know why and he wasn't sure how he had come to this conclusion - maybe it was instinct. Maybe he really was his father's son after all.
But of one thing he was absolutely certain.
He couldn't rely on anyone else to get him out of this situation. He was going to have to do something himself - and soon, before they discovered that he knew what was going on.
By the time they arrived back at the cabin that evening, he was not only
physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally drained. Conversing with
Rashid as though he still believed he was his father was a lot harder than
he had even anticipated it would be and every time the man had touched him
it had made his skin crawl. He had forced down his distaste, though, determined
that he was going to see this through until he could figure out how to get
"You're quiet, Jesse," Rashid had commented as they had stopped underneath the bower of a group of trees, where they had rested and eaten some of the packed lunch the older man had prepared and handed to him. Jesse had been surprised at the gesture, then his suspicious mind had come into play, a little voice warning him not to eat any of the food, in case it was poisoned.
He had been starving, however, and his hunger eventually won out over his caution. He had tucked into the sandwiches with gusto, enjoying the delicious dressed chicken and salad that had been tucked between the fresh-baked bread.
"'m just enjoying the scenery," he had offered as an excuse to the other man.
Rashid had smiled. Even that expression now seemed predatory and his eyes had glinted with something Jesse didn't recognise and didn't care to delve too deeply into. "Well, I'm glad," he had said. "I thought you might get bored with just your old man for company."
"I wish I had my old man here with me," Jesse couldn't help thinking as he had made some suitably muffled comment around a mouthful of sandwich. Suddenly, he wasn't hungry any more.
"So, what's really wrong?" the older man then demanded, eyeing him sceptically. "And don't give me any more excuses, Jesse."
The young doctor had suddenly found his mouth going dry as his heart leapt into his throat. He had stared at his companion in something akin to horror for a moment before Rashid clapped him jovially on the shoulder, and he swallowed hurriedly, almost choking as he did so.
The concern he had heard in the voice that sounded just like his dad's had almost been his undoing and he had whipped his head round, ready to confess all, until he had seen those grey-blue eyes narrow suspiciously and he remembered who he was talking to.
"I I just um "
"Well, spit it out!"
He had cringed at the undisguised irritation in the other man's tone and had sought some excuse that would sound feasible, even whilst he withered inside, suddenly terrified that Rashid was going to whip out a gun and kill him there and then, leaving his body behind for the forest animals to find and pick over. The thought had sent another shudder running through him and he had been hard pressed to conceal it from Rashid's perceptive gaze.
"I just those men they why are they here, exactly?"
It had been the first thing that had come into his mind and he had been convinced that it was completely the wrong thing to say. Instead, The older man had looked puzzled.
"Why?" he had asked. "Do they bother you?"
"Yes!" It was out before he could stop it. "I mean, no. I mean " Oh god, he was starting to babble. A sure sign that he was nervous. Rashid would be sure to figure it out now.
Instead, he had laughed. "Jesse, they're no threat to you. Don't you trust me?"
There was a million dollar question if Jesse had ever heard one. Or a ten million dollar one, he had reflected, bitterly. He had summoned up a reassuring smile from somewhere. "Well, yeah, of course," he had replied, wondering whether the lie had shown on his face. One of them was bound to at some stage.
Rashid had wrapped an arm around him, and Jesse had suppressed the urge to shake it off. "Well, then, don't you worry about the Farads. We just have a little business to conduct is all. Now, what say we make our way back? It's getting late. Don't want to be out at night in this forest. No telling what might happen."
The young doctor heard a veiled threat in the older man's words, although he wasn't sure whether it had been intentional. He had maintained his cheerful demeanour, hoping to fool Rashid until they got back to the cabin. There, perhaps the other man would be distracted by his companions to pay too much attention to him, and he could relax a little.
Once they arrived back, he made his excuses and practically ran into his room, feeling the eyes of the other men follow him as he entered it. Closing the door on them he leaned against it for a long moment, trying to calm the pace of his heart, which was beating so loudly that he was sure they must have heard it and divined the reason for it. But no-one had followed him to his room, and as time went by and there was no knock on the door, he relaxed a little, sagging against the wooden frame.
Late afternoon in Malibu found Mark, Steve, Dane and Cinnamon studying
a large map that had been spread out across Mark's large dining table.
"I think we can assume that they're in a forest somewhere," Dane said, tightly. "The only question is - where?"
"You've no idea at all?" Steve's ruggedly handsome features were creased with worry. He had spent a fruitless day at the precinct, during which not only had his murder case yielded no further clues, but the forensics report from Jesse's apartment which had landed on his desk had confirmed that only his friend's prints had been found at his place. Steve had felt his heart sink as one more means of finding the young doctor was ruled out.
He had arrived home to discover that Dane had been contacted by a man called 'Rashid' and, hearing the story of how the other man had vowed revenge on Dane for his son's death, the detective's fear for his friend's life increased tenfold.
The three others had been busy since the call, however. The image on the screen had shown Rashid to be communicating with them from somewhere that looked like a cabin. And cabins were usually found in forested locales or near lakes. Mark recalled, too, that during his brief telephone conversation with Jesse, the younger man had mentioned that he was taking his fishing gear - which Dane had bought him for his birthday - with him.
Therefore, they had obtained a large topographic map of California and were busy marking out specific zones of forested areas by the time Steve joined them.
"This is hopeless," he went on, agitatedly. "We're never gonna find him in time!" He turned to Dane. "Didn't you see anything else that could give us a clue as to where he is? Or hear anything else? Like a river or aircraft or anything that could tell something useful?"
The agent shook his head., his expression sombre. "All I know is that we were supposed to go fishing," he replied. "I checked with the owners of the cabin which I'd booked. They told me no-one had been up there in months and the place was empty when they visited it. All we know for certain is that Jesse left his apartment by car, which Rashid was driving and that he told Mark he was going fishing with me after all."
"So we're looking for something near a river or lake," pointed out Mark. "That does narrow it down, Steve."
"Yes, but not enough!" came the irritable response. "Look how many forests are near a stretch of water and how liberally they're dotted about on the damned map! How the hell are we gonna get the manpower we need to search all those areas? Jesse's gonna be dead before we find him!"
He regretted the words almost as soon as they left his mouth, cursing himself silently as he witnessed the effect they had on both Dane and his own father. Mark blanched whilst Dane looked utterly stricken. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean "
"It's all right, Steve," interjected Dane, in a heavy voice. "You're only stating the truth, after all. But, you know, it wouldn't matter even if we got the money that Rashid told me he wanted and handed it over. He wouldn't let Jesse go."
"He's gonna kill him anyway," the detective stated, with bleak certainty. "To wreak his revenge on you, he's gonna kill him."
Jesse, having come to the same conclusion many hours earlier, was miserably
contemplating the window in his room. It was tiny - far too small for him
to use as a means of escape. He had a feeling that Rashid had planned it
that way. It was almost as though it had been planned to taunt him - allowing
him a window big enough to see the outside world but too small to use as
a means out of there.
Slumping down onto the bed, he tried to think rationally, as he had observed Mark do a thousand times. But it was hard, especially when all he wanted to do was yank open the door to his room and run - as hard and as fast as he could. He couldn't be here any more. He couldn't maintain this terrible, soul-destroying charade. Each time he spoke to Rashid as though he was his dad, it destroyed one more little piece of him. Once again, he reflected how much he had wanted this closeness - yearned for it and just when he had finally believed he had got it, it had been jerked cruelly away, exposed for the sham that it truly was.
He wanted to cry, but he hadn't cried in years - probably not since his dad had left the first time.
He wanted to rage and scream, but if he did that then his captors would know he was onto them - or perhaps they would just think he had gone bug-eyed nuts.
Either way, it wasn't an option.
Idly, he wondered what his friends were thinking about his predicament and how they were going about solving it - because of one thing he was absolutely convinced. They would be trying their best to find him. Mark and Steve wouldn't just stand by and let him get killed without trying to do everything in their power to prevent it and his dad - well, his dad would probably use every means at his disposal to locate and save him. He might not be close to Dane Travis, but he knew one thing for sure, from their brief time together over the past year. His father loved him. He had abandoned him because he didn't want him to get hurt. He knew that much from what he had overheard when he had woken up at Cinnamon's after that rather impressive nerve pinch the other man had administered in the car on the way from Del Florio's.
He wished now, somewhat belatedly, that he had asked Dane to teach him that trick. It might have come in useful - although it was probably a better tactic employed one to one. He had a feeling that even Dane Travis would have a little difficulty in subduing four people with it.
He was stuck here. He couldn't escape and he couldn't keep up the façade much longer before something cracked. Probably him.
Daylight waned and as the sun set behind the ocean, burnishing the low
hanging clouds with liquid gold, so work continued on trying to narrow down
the list of possibilities for Jesse's whereabouts.
There were a number of sites which looked likely. Cinnamon, who had connections with people in the travel business, wasted no time in contacting them, managing to confirm the fact that rustic cabins such as the one they had seen in the background during the conversation with Rashid existed in each spot. Her enquiries also extended to substantiating whether anyone had booked such a place within the last month, for occupancy from the previous day, whilst Steve and Dane set about making calls to the law enforcement in each nearby town, in order to verify whether they had seen anyone new in the area in the past two days.
The sheriffs and local police couldn't help, although they promised to keep an eye out for anything untoward. Cinnamon's contacts, likewise, were unable to provide her with the information she sought. Most of their holiday cabins were booked well in advance and then for at least two weeks. It didn't help. It was entirely possible that Rashid, who had obviously been planning this for some considerable time, had reserved one of these places for the requisite period, only intending to remain there until his task was finished. After all, as Dane had pointed out, somewhat acerbically, the man was reputedly very wealthy and could easily afford to lose two weeks deposit on a cabin.
Some of the locations were extremely isolated and anyone staying there could be assured of anonymity and complete privacy, as local people would never see them. Other cabins were privately owned and their owners proved difficult to track down even with the technology that Cinnamon had at her disposal.
In the end, they decided to restrict their search to the more secluded areas and those places which were owned by private individuals. They also calculated how much time it would take to drive to each one, thus reducing their search zone to within a 300 mile radius. It was still a staggeringly large area and the timescale was now frighteningly short.
They had one day to track down the place from which Rashid had been calling.
One day to find Jesse and rescue him from certain death.
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