Stop the Press

by Sammie


"Mary's most likely been tied up. Her shoulders seem to have been pulled back," Jack read from the report. "There is probably a window to Mary's right...the lighting seems to be natural. Billy is obviously freemoving...probably in a basement or some other room with no windows. The room does appear to be furnished...has carpet, too."

"They separated 'em," Nathan growled.

"Appears that way." Jack began to read the transcript of the video. "Her report on the bridge club at the Hoffmans' home. That mean anything to you?" He looked over his glasses at the team.

"There's no bridge club there, I can assure you that," Josiah muttered, thinking about the family. "The Hoffmans are rich, but they're not really the old high society types."

"Idle talk?"

"Mary don't engage in idle talk," Chris said shortly.

"No wonder they get along," Martin muttered under his breath.

Samantha ducked her head down to hide her smile.

"She crosses a bridge in that cab," Vivian suggested. "I doubt they would've let her go without a blindfold, but she could probably hear the difference between a car on a road and a car on a bridge."

"And the Hoffmans." Jack nodded. "Their house. Maybe there's something there that resembles where she is now. What kind of house do they have?"

JD shrugged helplessly and turned to his other teammates pleadingly.

"Well, we can--"

"Agent Malone, phone call for you on line 1." The agent popped around the doorway. "I think it's important."

Jack got up and headed over to the phone. He pressed down the button. "Malone."

"Hoffmans, Hoffmans," Nathan muttered, trying to remember.

"Vivian," Malone whispered loudly. He made motions for a writing utensil and a pad of paper. "Yes."

Vivian handed him a pad and a pen. "Who is it?" she mouthed.

Jack shrugged. "Denver Police. ... Yeah? This is Malone. ... Uh sure, he's here. ... What do you mean, only if he's in a good mood? ... I'll put you on speakerphone."

Samantha got up and dug through the cabinet for the phone and set it on the table. She wired it up and turned it on. "All right, Jack."

Jack nodded and hung up the regular phone before heading back to the table. "Can you hear me, Chief?"

"Thank you, Agent Malone." The police chief sounded slightly weary over the line.

"Brother Jerry?" boomed Josiah when he heard the familiar voice. At the odd look from the others, he explained, "Jerry Whitesmith, Denver Chief of Police."

"Unfortunately. Josiah, is Larabee there?"

"Right here, Whitesmith. Don't tell me ya have my boys." Chris pinched the bridge of his nose.

'They're on personal terms?' Samantha mouthed to Jack, who looked pained.

"Ah, three of 'em and their new friend."

Martin couldn't hold back a snort of laughter.

"I think his name is Daniel Taylor, but Standish assured me that, despite his appearance, he's actually French foreign service officer and his real name is D'Artagnan Timeau."

"His name's Danny Taylor," Chris growled. "You can tell Standish to shove it up--"

"Chief Whitesmith," Vivian cut in. "Can you tell us what's going on?"

"Oh, I can do that," JD announced helpfully. "They're in jail, right Chief?"

"Yes, JD. They chased a suspect into a convenience store and were less than careful about the merchandise there."

Nathan sighed. "It wasn't the same store as last month, was it?"

"Sorry, Nathan. It was."

Samantha had to admit, she was somewhat disturbed but not in the least surprised when the ATF team barely reacted.

"They there, Whitesmith?"

"Right here, Larabee. I'll put you on a speaker phone over here."

The agents in New York heard the scrape of a chair against the floor and a little plop. Then, faintly came the chief's voice--probably addressing the four agents. "I'm not explaining anything. You do it."

"'Ey, cowboy!" came the cheerful Texan drawl.

"I'm gonna shoot ya, Tanner!"

"Aw c'mon, pard, JD weren't even here. Weren't that bad."

"Shut up, Buck."

"Wish I were," the kid blurted wistfully.

"So do we, Kid, so do we."

"Before we start," Nathan broke in. "The Hoffmans. What kind of house do they have?"

"Why does this matter?"

"Got a tape of Mary and Billy this morning." Nathan paused for a response but got none. "They're alive as of this morning."

That did it. Whoops, cheers, and high-fives could be heard coming over the line. Vivian couldn't help a small smile.

Nathan continued, "Mary was talking about a bridge club at the Hoffman's--some special interest article."

Snorts. "Well, I kin tell ya the Hoffmans would never have a bridge club."

"Yes, we know, Vin. Josiah said the same thing. The house?"

"A Colonial Revival, Mr. Jackson."

"A what?"

"A Colonial Revival home, popular between the late nineteenth century and the Second World War. It combines elements of the Federal and Georgian architecture, popular styles for homes in America in the 1700s and early 1800s."

JD furrowed his brow and looked at Chris questioningly. "Would Mary have known all that?"

"And how did you know that, Ezra?"

"Two years ago I attempted to purchase said home for my own habitation. The owners--the ones before the Hoffmans--were less than accomodating." Snickers. "They said that my...acquaintances would be sure to ruin the stateliness of the home--said, of course, in somewhat harsher words than that."

"Hey!" JD protested.

"In all truth, Mr. Dunne, I doubt the home could have withstood your exuberance."

JD opened his mouth to protest and then shut it. He looked as if he couldn't decide whether he'd been insulted or not.

Jack stepped in. "So what happened to land you in jail?"

"Well, upon our arrival in the fair metropolis of--"

"Skip the song and dance."

"We attempted to get some information out of a suspect and were quite successful in that regard."

"Standish, no offense, but we do that here without landing ourselves in jail," Martin pointed out.

"Details, Mr. Fitzgerald. Mere details."

"Hey Fitz," came the greeting.

"Hey Danny. Betcha look real good in horizontal stripes."

"Ha ha."

"Danny, start talking," Jack ordered.

"Well, we um...went out to the ranch. And there wasn't many people there...just a couple of horse breeders. So we rounded 'em up and took them in for questioning. Especially that boss."

"Give you any trouble?"

"No...not really." A cough. Larabee looked suspiciously at the phone.

"What'd you find?"

"Well, the chief kindly let us question the perp before he locked us up."

"Yes, Chief Whitesmith's generosity knows no bounds," came the sarcastic Southern drawl.

"Shut up, Ezra."

"I got notes," Danny continued. "I'll have 'em faxed over."

"What about the injury list?" Nathan interjected.

"'Ey Nate!"

"Cut it out, Vin. What happened this time?"

"Nothin', Nate, I'm tellin' ya." A pause. "Nothin' serious."

"Mr. Jackson, your concern for our welfare is indeed heartwarming. However, I truly believe that the disappearance of Ms. Travis and young Master Travis is more pressing, is it not?"

"Boys," Chris warned.

"Well, we brought five perps in."

Jack rolled his eyes. Danny was stalling...picking up on the bad habits of Team 7. They were a general bad influence.

"The boss has got some bumps and bruises. One got shot in the leg, another got whaled by a flying two by four, another got a concussion when he got lassoed and yanked to the ground--that was me, by the way--"

"You oughta be PRRRROOOOOUUUD of him, Malone!" Buck whooped. "He's a real wrangler!"

Jack dropped his glasses unto the table and ran his hands over his face. Vivian hid a grin as the other two FBI agents tried unsuccessfully to hold back their laughter.

"...and the last one broke a leg when a horse sat on him."

"And you?"

"Nothing big, Nathan. For real."

"Danny," Jack warned.

A sigh, and then very quickly: "Buck got winged by a bullet on his leg and has a huge black eye and some cuts. Ezra dislocated his shoulder but we popped it back in, and--HE WANTED TO KNOW, HE'S GOING TO FOUND OUT! GET AWAY FROM ME.--he also sprained his ankle so we had to tie that up."

"RAT!" screeched voices across the line. Samantha grimaced as she heard thumps. She was sure Danny probably just got new injuries.

"Vin got a huge cut to his face and a huge bruise on his back and he's limping, but he won't tell us where he hurt it."

"RAT!" Samantha winced. She could almost see the blue-eyed fire Danny had to be roasting in.

"And you?"



"Agent Taylor has a rather large gash on his forehead, Agent Malone," came the chief's voice.

"Rat!" Danny hollered.

"He...ah...smells a little of alcohol. So do the others."

Samantha's smile fell from her face.

"RAT!" came the shouts. They were followed by thuds and groans as bodies hit the bars.

Martin hoped the chief was standing out of reach of those long arms that had to be reaching for him between those bars.


"Admit it, Ezra. You were all drinking like crazy to dull the pain," Nathan fumed.

"On the contrary, Mr. Jackson. We simply used the alcohol to clean some of our...cuts. We drank nothing."

Samantha relaxed.

"Done tole ya, Nate," drawled the Texan. "Wasn't nothin' serious."

Nathan snorted in disbelief. "Y'all been to a hospital?"

"I suggested it, Jackson, but they seemed rather hesitant about it."

"Whatever," Nathan grumbled. "Hesitant. They were probably threatenin' to string him up for suggestin' it."

"Oh, Mr. Malone."


"I will be charging the repair of my shirt to the FBI."


"It is an exquisite Fuji silk shirt, made of lightweight silk broadcloth. Mr. Taylor effected a most hideous rent in the delicate fabric of the sleeve."

"There was a vase coming at your head! Ungrateful little--"

"Mr. Taylor, please allow me to finish. However, as it was done so in the line of duty, I hardly think it fair that Mr. Taylor be burdened with the bill."

"No, Ezra."

"Mr. Larabee, I must protest that--"


"Well, perhaps you would allow me to charge the ATF with--"


A sigh. "Well, it was an attempt."

"If at first ya don't succeed, try, try again," came the snicker.

"Add a coupla thousand 'try's," the drawl finished.

JD sighed. "I really wish I were there."

"So do we, Kid."

"Y'know, ya got Chris's vein throbbing!" JD added brightly.

This kid had to have a death wish, Martin decided.

"No shooting, brother." Josiah jumped up to stand between Chris Larabee, whose weapon had already cleared the holster, and the young computer expert.

"Not even a flesh wound?" Chris tried to move around Josiah.

"No. Sit down, brother."

Chris looked very put out. Jack had a pained look on his face.

"One question," Samantha announced.

"Well hey there, darlin'!"

"I'm going take that 'hey' and stick it where no 'darlin' is ever gonna find it," Samantha snarled.

Chairs scraped the floor as Martin and JD rose to their feet and added their applause to the cheers and clapping coming over the line. Josiah and Nathan each extended their hands in congratulations as Vivan chuckled.

Chris glowered. Jack pinched the bridge of his nose.

"If at first ya don't succeed, try, try again," Vin's amused voice came over the line.

"Add a coupla thousand 'try's," Danny followed.

"It wasn't that funny!" Buck could be heard protesting.

"It was rapturous. Why, I never imagined you'd lose your touch so fast. Ms. Spade, should you ever wish to find someone with whom you might commiserate, please do come to Denver. There is a lovely lady whose acquaintance you must make. Indeed, she--"

"Shut up, Ezra."

"Aannyyway," Samantha drew out the word, trying to draw the subject back to her question. "What's this about a flying two by four? And a vase?"




Twin sighs. Vivian guessed that Jack's usual calm had, thankfully, prevailed. Chris just looked far too familiar with this scenario.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Martin gasped between laughs. "So where'd you get that alcohol to...ahem...'clean your cuts' if you blew up the ranch?"

"Mr. Fitzgerald, I would certainly hope that a man of your upbringing would understand the necessity of priorities. I relieved the wine closet of some of it choice wines upon our arrival at the ranch in the event that we might have to effect such a saddening end to the place. I would be delighted to share some with you upon our return. I have some in my flask."

Chris reached for his gun.

1405 EST

"Fax." Jack nodded his thanks as he took it and read over Danny's notes. At least the kid wrote fairly legibly.

Chris blew out a breath. "If this don't push James over the edge, don't know what will."

Silence descended on the group. Martin narrowed his eyes at JD. The kid was supposed to tell Chris right after the phone call had ended.

JD shrank in his seat.

"What?" Chris turned his piercing gaze to his agent.

"Agent Larabee," Vivian began quietly, "they didn't go to the James ranch."

"What're you talking about?"

"They went to Ella Gaines's ranch."

A stony mask descended over the man's face. "What?"

"They had their suspicions and made a trip to Ella's ranch this morning," Nathan said quietly.

"Which of you knew."

Martin could feel his blood freezing. He'd seen an angry Larabee--heck, that's the only thing he'd ever seen. But this Larabee was enraged and had a look of murder in his eyes.

"Brother Chris." Josiah's gentle tone still held a note of warning.

"Which of you knew!" Chris screamed.

1741 EST

"You guys usually question suspects like that?"

"Nah. Usually Vin pulls out his hunting knife and starts sharpenin' first, in front of the guy."

"That's not really what I meant."

"Oh, ya mean 'bout us playin' good cop-bad cop?" Buck grinned. "Sometimes. Depends on Ez's mood."

"Well, it's not really what I would've called subtle."

"Mr. Taylor." Ezra leaned across the aisle. "The third definition of 'subtle' is 'cunningly made or contrived,' with nothing about the manner of action. Wouldn't you say our little session could be thus considered as 'subtle'?"

Danny was glad they were going back to New York.

2028 EST

Martin slipped the decoder into the door and let it run. The lock combination came up and he quietly dialed it into the system. The agents slipped inside silently, moving quickly through the dark shop.

Larabee stalked stealthily into the back of the store, where he began tearing through the boxes. Martin ducked around the counter and into the back room.

He jumped forward to catch another crate just as it was about to hit the floor. He looked around to make sure no one had noticed. "Anyone coming?" he whispered into his headset.

"You're good from here," came Josiah's voice.

"Don't worry, Jack's watching your backs," Vivian replied.

Martin heard a click and looked up to see Larabee pointing his Colt at the padlock of small metallic box. He placed a hand on the gun, pulled out a pair of lock cutters, and sliced open the lock. Chris popped the lid.

Martin edged closer to look into the box. He noticed Chris's hands trembling.

The box was filled with a few pictures of Chris with Mary, sometimes with Billy, and mostly pictures of Chris with a woman and a little boy who must've been his wife and son. Dark red X's and expletives covered the women's faces; some had another face superimposed on them.

Martin nearly threw up.


"We're back!" Buck hollered as he entered the bullpen. It was empty.

"Boys?" The judge appeared in the doorway. The old man's look of tiredness lifted a little at the sight of the four men, who all looked at him concernedly. "Ah, you got back safe and sound."

Danny could have sworn the judge looked on the ATF agents with fatherly concern. Who could blame him? He'd buried three children, and could have lost his grandson and his daughter-in-law, too. Danny had no doubt that the ATF team--as irritating as they could be--had wormed their way into his heart. And for their part, they seemed just as concerned about the older man as he was about them.

"Judge," the four greeted him.

"Where's everyone?" Danny asked.

"They went to a souvenir shop," Travis replied.

"A souvenir--thank God we missed that one."
"Why would Fitz and Samantha and Jack and Viv go? We live here."
"They's sightseein' or somethin'?"
"Mr. Tanner, I am most delighted to be, once again, the beneficiary of your impeccable timing."

Danny noticed a smile cross the Judge's weary face. He hadn't seen any before today. Well, at least these yahoos were good for something. "They're there to scare up some more information, boys."

"Without us?!"
"They left me behind."
"I'm gonna shoot that cowboy."
"And that, Honorable Judge Travis, is the reason why we shot Agent Larabee."

Orin chuckled.



"Where's he going?" Jack nodded at Chris, who had exited the shop, turned heel, and was leaving. The ATF team exchanged looks. "What?"

Josiah stripped off his vest and reholstered his weapon. "I'll go." He took a pair of car keys from Nathan and started after their leader.

"He's going to drink or punch someone's lights out, depending on whether he finds a bar or a gym first," Nathan finally answered somberly.

2051 EST

"Well, how kind of you to join us," the sarcastic Southern drawl greeted them.

"Shut up, Ezra," Nathan growled tiredly.

"Where's Chris and Josiah?" Vin asked.

"Josiah's wherever Chris is," JD replied.

"Bar," Buck sighed. He got up wearily.

"Buck." Vin shook his head. "Josiah's there for now. He'll call if'n he needs us."

Vivian watched the men as they gently pushed Buck back into his seat, insisting that Josiah would take care of the matter. She'd so rarely seen such a close team before...they weren't agents, they were family. No wonder they were so good.

"Jack?" Orin appeared at the door. "Did you find anything?"

"Not a lot. We decided to hit the store after hours so they wouldn't know we were on to them," Jack explained to other four agents to catch them up. "We did get list of the employees and a few other things."

"Maybe, ah, Evie can help. She--"

"I can talk, Orin." Evie stepped up. "Saturday afternoon, after we arrived, Orin was making phone calls and Mary was unpacking. Billy wanted to go out, so I took him to a souvenir shop down the street."

The other agents fell silent and turned to the elderly woman.

"I didn't think it was the same store until these four boys were briefing Orin and me about Ella Gaines. I recognized her from the photo. I'm sorry I didn't say anything earlier, I--"

"Ma'am," Vivian interrupted, "it was a pure coincidence. I doubt that you're not going to the shop would have made a difference in Mary and Billy being taken."

"Missus Travis," Vin said quietly, "Don'tcha blame yerself. Ella knew that y'all were comin' ta New York long 'fore ya showed up in that shop."

"Well." Vivian knew that their words had done little to alleviate Evie's sense of guilt. "I met Ella Gaines. There was also an employee there...said her name was 'Ray' or something."

"A girl?"

Evie nodded. "Wore thick glasses, was pretty short. Dark hair, I think. I...I can't remember much."


"Not really old. Maybe JD's age, probably younger."

"And female?" Martin asked.


"What?" Jack interjected, seeing the look on Martin's face.

"Danny," Martin said urgently. "What the guy said about Billy seeing someone."

Danny nodded, realization dawning. "Right before they disappeared, Billy said he saw someone across the street, someone he'd met before when he was with his grandmother. The guy said Billy referred to the person as 'her.' Ella, maybe? Or this 'Ray' person."

Samantha rifled urgently through some of the papers they had brought back and snatched up the employee list. "'Ray'...." She shook her head. There were only six employees, and two were male. The others were Anna, Elizabeth, Grace, and something she couldn't prounounce. "You're sure it was a girl, Mrs. Travis?"


"I don't see--" Samantha murmured.

"--that one." A slim finger pointed at the name.

"How do you know, Ezra?" Nathan asked.

"The name is 'Eirene,' and it's pronounced with a long 'a' where those vowels are. It's Greek for 'peace.' 'Ray' could be a nickname."

Samantha checked the phone number and address. "She's a college student at Columbia. I'll check with university security, see if she's there."

Jack nodded. "Martin, Samantha, go question her. Vivian, Danny, let's see what we can get on these other employees."

"Should we get Chris?" JD asked.

Jack looked over at Vin and Buck, who exchanged looks and simultaneously shook their heads. "Not yet."

2141 EST

"...but the employees all say the same thing," Vivian reported to Jack and the other five ATF agents. "They don't seem to know a thing about Mary and Billy. I think this shop thing is a front."

"What about this one Martin and Samantha are bringing in?" Josiah asked, looking over her shoulder at the list.

"Her alibi is a bit hard to corroborate." Vivian shook her head. "Martin and Samantha seem to think she might've been set up to take a fall for someone, or it was just pure coincidence--wrong place, wrong time."

"Does she have to be questioned in an interrogation room?" Nathan asked, a hint of pity in his voice, as he looked through the two-way mirror into the still-empty room.

"Samantha said she was at the Square the night the Travises disappeared," Jack countered. "Right near where they were, and she was alone at the time they disappeared. She was supposed to be meeting a friend at 9 pm, but she said that friend called to say she couldn't make it. And, she works for Gaines."

"I can walk by myself!"

"Here she comes," Jack muttered and turned to look out the window into the interrogation room.

Danny swung open the door for his teammates. Samantha and Martin each had a firm grip on the girl's arms as they nearly ran down the hall, towing her in their wake.

She balked at the doorway. "This is where they question criminals! I didn't do anything."

Danny raised an eyebrow and leaned in. "No this isn't, and you might've done something. Now get in there."

She edged up to the mirror, suddenly got a look of recognition on her face, and waved.

"How did she see us?" JD exclaimed.

"She is simply pretending, Mr. Dunne."

"Don't make us tie you into the chair." Danny waved at the chair on the other side of the table.

She slid into the seat.

Danny nodded approvingly and stepped into the back room.

"Give you any trouble?" Jack asked as the younger man stepped into the back room.

"Ask Martin." Danny smirked. At Jack's questioning look, he chuckled. "Think he's ready to wring her neck."

"He told Viv she seemed okay."

"Oh, I don't think she's done a thing, either, and I don't think she's got a clue about Gaines. Martin's mad 'cause she apparently had been sassing off the whole drive here." Danny grinned.

"That bad, huh." Jack smiled a little.

"Samantha seems to like her, though."


"Just 'Ray' is fine," the girl sighed.

"'Barrett'?" Samantha asked with an eyebrow raised. "Odd last name for someone who's Greek."

"I'm not Greek. My grandfather's a minister. My dad picked 'Eirene' out of the New Testament. But that's not why you dragged me here."

"No, it isn't," Samantha replied.

"We need to ask you some questions," Martin clarified, somewhat unnecessarily.

"Must be, having been abducted by Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys," Ray muttered.

Martin turned, looking at her suspiciously. "Excuse me? You care to repeat what you just said?"

Ray clamped her mouth shut and looked at him with a practiced mask of innocence.

Samantha looked down at her hands briefly to regain her serious face. "Okay, let's get started." She looked at the girl across from her. "Tell us what you can about the souvenir shop and what you're doing there."

Ray shrugged. "When I got to college last year, I needed a job. With my major, there were no internships or any of that fun stuff--long term, anyway--open. Socrates isn't taking new students anymore."

Martin interrupted, "Look, cut to the chase. We don't have our whole lives here."

"Look, sir, ma'am, no offense, but I don't have time to play two guys, a girl, and a FBI investigation with you and the other guy who dragged me in here. I'm going to say it all once and make sure there's no mistake."

Samantha stole a side glance at the slightly shocked look on her teammate's face. She couldn't stop a small smile and nodded. "Go on."

"Got suggested by a friend to look at the shop. At that time Mrs. O'Donnell owned it and ran it. She was a nice old lady, ran a cute little shop. The five of us there, we got along really well. Mrs. O'Donnell herself was always there, too--opening and closing. Saved money, she said.

"Then one day she just didn't show up--a Saturday. We tried her house, no one picked up. After lunch we called the police. She died in her sleep the night before. Her moocher of a son fired us all and sold the shop."

"How long ago was this?"

"Little over a year. Just a few weeks into second semester my frosh year."

"And then?"

"Got a new boss--Ellie Christopher. She went and hired again. I was the only one who got hired back, although that might've not been a good thing." Ray sighed. "She's usually never here. Her...some relative or another? Simon Petrie--he runs the shop."

"What can you tell us about them?"

"Not much. Simon's okay to work for. He's nice enough. The pay's better than before."


"Don't like her much. Feel like she's just waiting to...get me or something." Ray shuddered. "Now I'm not paranoid, not by any means. Heck, I came to New York to go to school. But she's weird."

"How so?"

"Always talking about some boyfriend of hers out West--some Chris or something."

"Tell us about that." Martin stopped to look at her.

"What do you want to know?"

"Anything about Ellie or Chris. Physical appearance, age, what she said."

"I dunno. Ellie's...thin, 'bout my height. Short, you know. Real pointed features. Long, dark hair. Probably...oh heck, I don't know. Old?"

"An age?"

"Oh, I don't know. 35, 40? 45?"

Samantha rolled her eyes at the table.

"Maybe older. I think she ages pretty well, and if she's that old, he's got to be old."

"Ever seen the guy?"

"Ain't ever seen him, but she's got pictures."

"So we know," Martin muttered, his stomach turning.

"She showed us one or two from her wallet. He looks like some friggin' cowboy. And he's...old."




"Thank the good Lord Mr. Larabee is absent from this session," Ezra commented.

"Ole cowboy'd shoot her," came the Texan drawl.

"Looks like the guy from 'Terminator.' The blond one who dies at the end. Only older."

"What a delightful characterization," Ezra declared sarcastically.

"Keep going."

"She's really obsessed with the guy. Always saying how great he is and all, like the man's got no faults."

"Oh trust me," Samantha muttered. "They do."

Martin looked insulted.

"I know, ma'am." Ray grinned. "Anyhow, she's always talking about him raising horses with her once he finishes his job and all that. From the sound of it?" She leaned forward, shaking her head. "Just between you and me, I think he likes his job as it is. And just 'tween you and me, if I had to choose, I'd pick the job over her."

"That's right!" JD hollered. "Ain't no way Chris is ever gonna--"

"Kid, she can't hear you."

"Can you remember anything else?"

Ray frowned and furrowed her brow, thinking. She suddenly pushed her thick glasses up her nose and nodded. "Something like there was some woman in that town where this Chris guy works, and that she was some witch who was luring him away or something."

"Did she say anything else about this woman?"


"What about Petrie?"

"He follows her around like a puppy. She tells him to jump, and he asks which cliff."

"I simply cannot believe she managed to gain entrance into an institution of higher learning," Ezra moaned. "What has Columbia come to?"

"How does she treat him?"

"Like a servant, some whipped puppy. He's totally enamoured of her, and she's totally in love with this Chris guy." Ray waved a hand impatiently. "I would've thought Chris was her imaginary friend if I hadn't see the pictures." She paused. "It's like 'Sunset Boulevard,' you know?"

"This child's allusions are positively atrocious!"

"'What's 'Sunset Boulevard,' Ez?"

"You think she's crazy?"

"Sir, I know it."

"Have you seen 'em lately?"

"Ellie was in the store the other day. She comes over about once a month or so to check up on things. She was there Saturday, and Tuesday."

"And Petrie?"

"Oh, right up 'til this morning."

"Was he there this morning?"

Ray shook her head. "Nope."

"And you didn't think to call it in when he didn't show up?"

"He left a message," Ray replied. "He does that a lot--not showing up, then leaving a note for us. When we get to the store, first person's supposed to power up the computer. There's an email account there. We can access messages--incoming email orders and stuff like that--by one password. Only he can send emails from the same account--by his own password. He leaves us messages there when he doesn't come in."

"So who runs the shop if he doesn't show up?"

"No one. We generally know what to do."

"This happen a lot?"

Ray nodded. "Few times a month."

"How about the past few days in general. Did he act or say anything different?"

"No, not really. Just said he might be out for a few days next week."

"He say why?"

"No. Look, I know you're supposed to find missing people, but Ellie and Simon disappear all the time. Like I said, they usually leave us some note. They get really annoyed if you ask what they're doing."


"Sanchez." Josiah picked up the ringing phone as he watched from his dark corner.

"Josiah, it's JD."

"JD." Josiah sat up. "What's going on?"

"Jack said I should call ya. He thinks that we might have something, might be able to move before Sunday."

"Lemme talk to him." Josiah looked across the room at his boss, who was venting at the punching bag. "Jack?"


"What is this?"

"We got an employee from the souvenir shop. She apparently knows Gaines and her associate pretty well. According to Mrs. Travis, she's the one who helped her and Billy a couple days ago when they went to the shop."

"How did we miss this?"

"I don't know." A sigh. "It was just a freak coincidence."

"Or Divine Providence." Josiah sighed. Silence. "I'll get Chris back."

"He gonna be okay if we have to go in tomorrow morning?"

"Oh yeah. Talk to you later, Jack." Josiah hit 'end' and got up from his chair.


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