UC: Undercover Fan Fiction por ucferrarisgirl
remember kids, all UC: Undercover Characters are the property of their creators. Storyline and Other Characters copyright to me

back to ucferrarisgirl fanfic main page

The Shooting of Frank Donovan: A UC Novella
(formerly entitled: Another Frank Fragment Parts I-IV)

Chapter Six:Alex's Thoughts on the Shooting Uploaded!
Go to Chapter Six
Go to: Chapter Seven: Jake's Take
Chapter Eight: Monica
Chapter Nine: Cody's Thoughts
Chapter Ten: Back At The Nest
Chapter Eleven: Frank Talks With Alex
Chapter Twelve: Alfred Montalto
Chapter Thirteen: Danny Gets Good News
Chapter Fourteen: Frank Returns

Chapter One



Frank dimly heard his name being called. He wondered if this was the fabled light tunnel he'd heard so often. From the red haze where he was at, dark shadows hovered at the edge of his sight. He saw the shadows growing larger and thought he could recognize some of those shadows.

"Mom?" he asked of a female shaped dark shadow. How he had missed his mother! He remembered the warm embrace of her arms when he was three years old and he'd fallen and scraped his knee. Mom had wiped his tears and then showed him how to tie his sneakers. Frank remembered the feeling of pride he'd had when his sneakers had come untied again and he'd tied them all by himself. His mother had hugged him again.

Frank smiled. "Mom? Is that you?" The pain in his eyes grew more intense as a light shined directly in his eyes.

"He's coming around," a deep male voice said. Frank blinked. He stared up at the concerned face of Alex and a male doctor whom Frank didn't know.

"You got him, Frank. He's in custody now and some of his personal equipment won't be working for a while--if ever," Alex said. Frank could only weakly smile. He tried to sit up but the pain in his head stopped him and he lay down again. He looked down at himself. There was a bandage on his left shoulder, and it was bloody. Ahh! Frank remembered. He got the bad guy.

He sighed and closed his eyes. The doctor adjusted the sheet over Frank's bare-shaven chest as Frank's breathing evened out into a deep medicated sleep.

Chapter Two

"Alex, you need to go. Donovan will be fine; he just needs to sleep," Doctor Larosa told her as he gently pulled the needle out of the vein in Frank's right arm.

Alex took a long look at Frank, who was relaxing into the deep medicated sleep he needed so badly. Her mind was still in turmoil--and awe. She was remembering the events of the previous evening.

Frank's shoulder had been shot through--a clean wound--but he'd bled out. The lab estimated his blood loss to be three and a half pints, maybe closer to four. The team had been frantic because Frank had a very rare blood type-- AB negative--and no one on the team was compatible. The blood bank was out of AB negative, and O blood had been running low.

Despite his serious injury and blood loss, Frank had managed to stay conscious until just after he'd been transported to the hospital. He'd heard the commotion about the blood dilemma: a little boy had been transported pursuant to an MVA and he was in serious condition.

"Give the blood to the boy first," he'd whispered.

Alex had gasped. "Frank! You've lost an enormous amount of blood," but Frank had cut her off by holding up his hand.

"Give. The blood. To. The. Boy." Frank had said as forcefully as he could and gave both Alex and the ER doc a hard stare.

"Are you refusing treatment...for the moment?" The doc had asked, needing to be sure.

"Yes. I am refusing treatment...for the moment," Frank managed to whisper before he'd slipped into unconsciousness. One of the ER nurses took Alex by the arm and led her from the treatment room.

The doc had shook her head and shouted "give the blood to the boy--this patient's requested it!" The nurses gathered around Frank's bed shook their heads as well as they continued to cut Frank's clothes off him.

Alex came back to the present time. "When can I next see him?" she asked.

"Tomorrow, same time," Doc Larosa said as he dimmed the lights in the hospital room. Frank's breathing had evened out into a deep sleep. Alex turned and walked to the door.

Once there, she turned again and gave Frank a long look. "Sleep well, Frank Donovan," she whispered. "Get well soon. We need you."

Alex came out of the room and went to a pay phone. She inserted coins into the pay phone and the phone was ringing before she remembered she could have used her cell phone. She was distraught as she knew the other members of the team were--for they were in Peoria, attending to their own, less-serious wounds. Frank had been the most seriously injured and had been airlifted back to Chicago at the request of Paul Bloom. Bloom was taking no chances with his star FBI man.

"Pick up the phone!" she muttered and as she did so, Cody answered.


"He'll live." She heard a sigh of relief as Cody breathed heavily.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," he muttered. "When can we see him?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, same time," she said.

"I'll make the arrangements for the rest of the team," he said. "Cody out," and his phone clicked off.

Alex hung up her phone and hung onto the edge of the phone cubicle. She breathed a huge sigh of relief. She remained there just a moment longer, then left the ICU. She felt a bit guilty, but Frank would be ok.

"Nothing, it seemed, could keep Frank down for long," she thought to herself as she exited the hospital and got into the dingy Ford Escort rental car she'd had to rent. "I'll be back tomorrow, Frank," she said, looking up at the hospital window that she knew to be Frank's.

Chapter Three

Gradually, Frank realized he was awake. He was aware he was in the hospital. His mind had a few cobwebs from the medication he'd been given to alleviated the pain.

His mind began to click and turn as he became more fully awake. Memories of being in the ER seemed dim and distant, and he remembered that he had told the doctors to give the blood to the boy.

The blood dilemma had not bothered Frank and he hadn't hesitated for a second when he'd realized there was a limited amount of O-type blood and two patients who desperately needed it. He'd sunk down into the blackness after telling the ER doctor to give the blood to the boy.

And now he was in a dimly lit hospital room. He looked down at his left shoulder. The effort gave him some pain but he knew that under the fresh white bandages was a tiny entry and tiny exit wound.

Frank knew the type of bullet well. The needle type of bullet was specially designed to leave as little damage as possible to the outside but damaged the insides quite well. The bullet was sensitive to body heat and exploded just before enterting the body. The bullet's fragments were slippery and hard to find by medical personnel.

Frank's mind began clearing a bit more and he remembered that he'd been carrying several ice packs underneath his bullet proof vest. The needle bullet must not have fragmented in his body as a result of the cold ice packs he'd worn underneath his vest to keep himself cool. He'd have to thank Cody for suggesting the ice pack trick. It very well saved his life. Fragments from the needle bullets oftentimes were tiny and travelled through the veins in the body to lodge in the heart.

The bullet must have ut a small artery in his shoulder, Frank now thought.

"Welcome back to the world of the living, Frank Donovan," a male voice said, breaking Frank's rumination.

"Aaack," was all Frank's dry throat could respond.

"Just a little water," the doctor said as he held up a water glass filled one-third full. Frank sipped through the straw and swished the sweet cool liquid around in his mouth as the doctor said, "You were lucky, the bullet didn't fragment upon impact. It made a clear entry and exit and nicked an artery in your shoulder. We were able to repair the artery."

Frank swallowed the water. "Didn't fragment?"

"No fragments. Bloom said the bullet was found embedded in your car." At that remark, Frank grimaced. He'd just bought the BMW Z20. No worries, Frank would just have the car repaired.

The doctor went on, "You did lose a lot of blood, three pints to be exact. AB negative blood is quite hard to come by but Bloom made a fuss and the blood bank in Lansing was able to send what was required.

"The boy? He is okay?"

"He'll survive, but he's paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the car accident. I'm surprised you remember that, Frank."

"I remember everything," Frank said after he'd finished the glass of water. The doctor laughed heartily. Frank turned his head and was able to see the doctor's namebadge: Doctor Larosa.

Frank made his next request crisply: "I want to see the boy."

Doctor Larosa seemed surprised but nodded his head. "As soon as he gets out of the intensive care unit, you can see him." Noting the look on Frank's face meant that he was about to protest, Doctor Larosa added, "but I think we can make an exception in this case. You'll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to see him, for he's still sedated."

Frank nodded, then made his next request, "I want a mirror and I want to see my wounds." Doctor Larosa nodded again. "I'll get one of the desk nurses to lend me her mirror and I'll show you. The surgeon did a good job in stitching you up and you'll only have a very fine scar which will fade to a thin white line."

Frank shot the man an annoyed look. He wasn't worried about the scar, he wanted to see his wound. Doctor Larosa went to get the nurse's mirror and Frank began pulling the bandage off himself. He grimaced because the nurse had taped the bandage over his shoulder and he couldn't reach his right arm over his left shoulder to get the tape off. Then he remembered that there was an exit wound somewhere on his left shoulderblade. He cursed the few cobwebs remaining.

He did not like medication, especially medication which made his mind foggy. He had a low tolerance for mistakes, especially mistakes that he made himself.

"If you let me do that, it won't be as painful," Doctor Larosa said as he walked up to Frank's hospital bed with a lighted make up mirror. He put the mirror on the bed. "Roll towards me," Frank complied and Doctor Larosa pulled the tape off Frank's shoulder blades. "Roll back," Frank did so with a small sigh he couldn't quite hide.

Doctor Larosa lit up the mirror and held it up so Frank could see the wound. Frank inspected his wound. The doctor was right--it was a small entry wound and the surgeon's sharp scapel had left a thin red line crossed with fine black stitches. There would indeed be a thin scar.

"The exit wound is small." Frank made this as a statement.

"Yes, less than half the size of a dime. The bullet didn't chip any bones but went right under the shoulder bone, straight through the muscle. You'll recover but you will need to remain in the hospital for at least five days."

"No," said Frank instantly. He would not remain in the hospital for that long. Three days was his max and he would push for it.

Apparently, Doctor Larosa had discerned Frank's personality. "Four days," he offered.

Frank shot him a look. "Three. I'll hire a home nurse to come in a few times a day to attend the wound."

Doctor Larosa shot him a look back. "Desk work only. That is the only way I'll let you go in three days. If you agree to stay out of work for ten days, I'll agree to three days in the hospital."

Frank considered. He'd beached himself for six months before taking on this assignment. Stress was the reason why. He enjoyed undercover work but those for whom he worked were detailing him and his team so that his job function was turning from cracking criminals and turning into hostage negotiations. A hostage negotiation was what had landed Frank in this hospital with his surprisingly small gunshot wound.

"Ten days out of work," Frank agreed. He'd use the time to persuade Bloom to stop giving him hostage negotiation assignments, or at least stanch the flow of hostage negotations coming his way. Although negotation was a part of his job in cracking criminals, hostages weren't supposed to be a major part of this job.

Doctor Larosa smiled. "Agreed." Then he laughed. "Bloom said you were a tough nut. Psychologist. I spent a year as a psych resident. Got scared when I watched the ER episode where Lucy Knight was knifed to death by a schizophrenic patient. I was glad I'd chosen to take on ER work."

"You're young," Frank said as he craned his neck upwards and looked at Doctor Larosa in the face. Doctor Larosa just smiled.

"The grey that you see is premature but I'm 33." The shadows of a smile curled Frank's lips. The sound of footsteps behind Doctor Larosa turned Frank's eyes away to the visitor. It was one of the nurses.

"Good morning!" she said cheerfully. "I heard old grey hair was going to show you your wounds so I thought I'd change the bandage again," she said as she stopped the cart beside the bed, then went to wash her hands. "Can't be too safe with germs here. Wouldn't want that wound to get infected," she called over her shoulder.

Hands washed, she came back and donned rubber gloves, then began preparing the bandages.

"You get some rest after she changes the bandages. I'll see you tomorrow." Doctor Larosa made a note on his chart then went out of the room. The nurse leaned over Frank, and he could smell her perfume as she swabbed on antiseptic.

"Roll towards me," she said softly, noting Frank's eyes were having trouble staying open. Frank complied and he felt the cool antiseptic gel go on the exit wound. The nurse swathed his shoulder in fresh bandages. "Roll back now," she said and Frank did what she wanted. He leaned back as the nurse finished attaching the bandages to his shoulder. His breathing evened out as his eyes fluttered a few times before coming to rest against each other as if they were a soft black line.

The nurse adjusted the bedsheets, then softly went out of the room so as not to awaken Frank.

In his sleep, Frank smiled. Another nurse who was passing by the door saw him smile.

Frank opened his eyes and looked at the nurse. His smile widened as he saw daylight streaming into the hospital room. "I could use some breakfast," Frank said.

Chapter Four: Frank Meets Danny Montalto

"Hello, Danny," Frank's voice, soft, caused Danny's eyes to flutter open.

"Hi. Who are you?"

"Frank Donovan. How are you feeling?"

Danny grimaced. "Not good. They said I might not be able to walk again." It was a statement but Frank picked up the question. Danny's green eyes, flecked with brown, glanced over at Frank, who was sitting in a wheelchair at the level of Danny's chest.

Frank caught the look, and understood. Danny was upset. Becoming paralyzed in a car accident was no joke, and it would require stamina from even the most stoic of humans.

Frank was qualified to deal with children as a psychologist. Although he was a specialist in criminal behaviour, children had always fascinated Frank. Even in his own childhood, he'd taken great interest in figuring out the motivations of the kids he went to school went.

His first half-term paper for his undergrad psych at Dartmouth had been on children and their reactions to stress. He'd always been able to handle stress well (although the recents events at the bank concerned him), and he had wanted to look in-depth at the reaction of stress in children.

He now looked at Danny with his dark brown eyes. Hope flared there. Danny was a child and he was trusting the adults in his life. Frank was an adult, and although he wasn't in Danny's life, nevertheless Frank was still an authority figure in Danny's life.

And right now, he represented hope to Danny. Here was an adult who wasn't connected to him. Frank chose his words carefully. He decided to ask Danny a series of questions.

"Do you remember the car accident?"

"Yeah. My dad was driving on Shore Drive. The other guy came around the corner."

"Did you see the other car?" Frank was inwardly cringing at the guilty Danny's father must be feeling with the knowledge Danny would not walk again.

"Yeah. It was a 79 Camaro, flame red."

"You're into cars!" Frank made this as an exclamation, hoping he'd found a reasonable entry point at which to insert the knowledge Danny wouldn't walk again.

"Sure am! I've loved cars ever since I could remember. Have an entire collection of Hot Wheels. My dad even found the very first Hot Wheel car being auctioned on Ebay. Paid a lot for it and found out it's worth even more!" Danny's voice got excited and a flush came over his face. The tongs to help hold his neck straight were digging into Danny's forehead and Frank saw the beginnings of a large purple bruise.

"Keep that car in a safe place. In twenty years, that car will be worth tons more than it is now!" Frank could see Danny try to nod.

"Don't try to nod; you'll only dislodge the tongs in your skull," Frank said. Then he asked, "The Camaro was going fast?"

"Yea. I twisted around in the seat to watch him."

"Were you wearing a seat belt?" Frank asked.

"Yeah. Dad said the selt belt was loose, so I adjusted it. The doctors said you can see where the belt bit into my chest and left a bruise."

"And you remember when the Camaro hit your dad's car?"

"Uh-huh. I saw the car coming straight at us. I tried to yell," Danny looked at Frank, fear in his eyes. "Am I going to walk again?" he asked Frank plainly.

Frank considered the question. He knew Danny wanted to know his fate, and he knew that kids who were old enough to ask the question were old enough to learn the answer. He decided he wouldn't couch his answer with another question, but he would answer Danny succinctly.

"I'm sorry," Frank's voice was soft and his eyes looked into Danny's with a sorrow that Danny could feel.

Danny closed his eyes and sighed. "I knew it. Dad wouldn't tell me. The doctors wouldn't tell me."

"I bet they told you things like "we'll see how things are" or "we don't know the answer yet"."

"How did you know?"

"I'm a psychologist."

Danny shot him a sharp look. Frank couldn't help but smile. He'd often used that look when one of his team members annoyed him.

"You were sent down here?" he asked Frank.

Frank laughed, hoping to relieve some of the tension. "No. I work with the Justice Department. I catch the bad guys."

Now Danny eyed him. "The bad guys shoot you up?"

"Yes. Lost three pints of blood. I was brought in the ER just a short time before you were."

"I don't remember the ER much. I do remember one of the nurses saying I'd never walk again. But I knew that when I heard the crunch of my back. I actually felt my legs go numb," Danny said. "Will I get feeling back?" That sudden hope flared in his brown-flecked green eyes and he looked at Frank.

"No. The injury to the spinal cord is far too severe. When the Camaro crunched your dad's car, you were flung forward and your spinal cord was snapped in two at the L-7. That's about the middle of your back," Frank said, anticipating Danny's next question.

For his part, Danny just looked thoughtful. A tear slipped from his left eye. Frank took a Kleenex from the small rolling table next to Danny's bed (not that he'll be using it, Frank thought) and he gently wiped the tear from Danny's eye.

Frank rolled the wheelchair a bit closer to Danny's bed.

"Would you like some water?" Frank asked, picking up the glass with the long, bended straw. "Don't nod, just blink once," Frank admonished in his soft voice. He held up the straw next to Danny's mouth, careful not to show the pain he felt in his left shoulder. Danny took a long sip, and swallowed.

"Thanks," he said. He was quiet for a few moments, and Frank knew he was absorbing the information he'd learned--confirmed, Frank corrected--about his condition. Frank let him ruminate.

"Tell me about the bad guy who shot you," he said as a statement.

"It's pretty bloody," Frank commented.

"I like cops and robbers."

"Oh do you?" Frank teased, a playfullness in his eyes. Danny grinned at Frank's grin. Grins were infectious.

"It's a pretty complicated case," Frank tried to explain.

"It's not like I'm going anywhere soon. Not with these tongs in my head," Danny said to Frank as Frank's eyes looked at Danny.

Just then, the nurse came into Danny's cubicle of a room in the ICU unit.

"Okay, young man. You've come out of surgery yesterday to put those tongs in your head and now it's time for you to get some sleep."

Danny started to protest, but a sharp look from Frank stopped him.

"You'll come back and tell me how you got shot by the bad guys?"

"You bet!" Frank promised, that playful light twinkling in his eyes.

"Not until tomorrow," the nurse admonished. Frank shot her a look but she shot him back the same look. Frank decided not to protest. The nurse administered a medication into Danny's IV line.

"You'll stay until I go to sleep?" Danny asked.

"Yes I will. I'll even start off the story."

Danny smiled. His teeth were white and even, evidently a product of extensive dental work.

"It began six weeks ago, when my unit first received a tip about a gang of bad guys," Frank watched Danny trying to fight off the sleep induced by the medication. He reached over, careful to conceal the pain he felt from his own surgical wound, and adjusted the tongs on Danny's forehead.

"The bad guys were trying to move something into this country. They'd picked a unique way of doing it...by sailboat. Their co-horts disguised themselves as yachties."

Danny's voice, murmurring asked, "Yachties?"

"The people whose lives revolve around their yachts. Most live in their yachts year round and they love to sail the world," Frank responded.

Danny murmurred in coherently, the sedative taking effect. Frank intoned on, in his deeply accented voice, knowing Danny wasn't focusing on the words, but on the sound of his voice--a deep relaxation technique which Frank had learned in his undergraduate days at Dartmouth. Knowing the sedative would take effect soon, Frank kept telling part of his tale.

"The contraband would be stored in the bilges of the yachts. The luxurious boats would be sailed into ports like Miami and New York. Once the yachts cleared customs, the underwater crews went to work. Using scuba gear, they took out the contraband from the bilges, and sometimes from the latine of the yachts. The bad guys slipped the contraband parcels into simple backpacks and merely walked out of the marina with millions of dollars in their proverbial pockets."

Frank kept intoning. He noted how Danny's breathing evened out, and even Nurse Romano was listening intently. Frank's voice, spoken softly, had a relaxing effect and some of the tension went out of Nurse Romano's voice.

"What happened next?" she softly asked.

"After a while, someone at the marina noted that the same boats had a lot of cruises. And that same someone," Frank's voice, now very soft, intoned, "noted that the same people were carrying the same type of backpacks. We were called in."

Frank noted that Danny's breathing had evened out. He himself was feeling extraordinarily tired from his exertion so soon after his surgery but he kept it up.

"We posted a drug sniffing dog at the marina--tethered him to one of the docks. He was trained to bark at illegal substances, and he barked whenever the people from the yacht Santa Maria docked in New York. The contraband was being run via Greyhound bus here to Chicago. We decided to take out the people in this end of the line--the distributors."

Frank saw that Danny was completely asleep, the shaven part of his skull gleaming bluish in the reduced light of the room. Frank glanced at the clock on the wall. It was five past five. Nurse Romano seemed more relaxed.

"I'll push you back to the elevators. You must be tired as well," she said softly, almost friendly.

"Yes, I'd like that," Frank said. He patted Danny's hand as Nurse Romano took the handles of his wheelchair, pulled him back from Danny's bed, and started to turn him around.

Frank twisted his neck to look at Danny. The pain hurt, but he knew he could handle it. Danny, who'd never walk again, never feel the joy of kicking his shoes through a pile of leaves, Danny would never feel the joy of sliding down a snowy hillside, he never again feel the whisp of new shoes sliding onto his feet. Danny wouldn't be able to balance himself on a boat and never take a semester at sea.

And all that was because a drunken guy in a Camaro had taken the corner way too fast and had plowed into the car Danny's dad drove.

"I'll be back tomorrow, Danny," Frank whispered as he turned his head forward again and Nurse Romano pushed him out of the small cubicle in the ICU unit. Here, the lights were dimmed and the wheelchair slipped easily over the freshly washed tiles.

Although Frank himself could use a nap, Frank knew his team awaited him in his hospital room. He knew they would be anxious; he was the most seriously injured of the team. Alex had no injuries while Monica had taken a bullet in the right calf. Jake himself had suffered a concussion and Cody had various bumps and bruises. Now he'd had to assuage his team's feeling of anxiety--they'd lost Keller to a bullet wound and their emotional wounds were still fresh, even after all these months.

Closure on their anxieties would be very difficult, coming so soon after Keller's death in the warehouse--ironically, in a very similar situation. Like Keller, Frank had been at a warehouse when he'd been shot. Keller had been inside the warehouse and he'd bled to death in Alex's arms.

Frank knew Alex was especially vulernable, despite her tough-girl exterior. Frank knew, without being told, that Alex and Keller had become lovers shortly before his death and he knew Keller's death had hit her especially hard. Alex had shown chutzpah--guts--when she'd gone undercover and had allowed him to tell her to let herself be taken as a temporary hostage. He'd had to talk to her after that event and she'd relayed that she'd like the experience. But Frank knew she'd pull through, mold herself into the exemplary Agent he knew she could beome.

This job did not come without its sacrifices.

Nurse Romano had, by this time, pushed the button for the elevator.

"I'll take you on up to your floor, Mister Donovan," she said. "It's no problem." Frank smiled to himself. Right now, he could use a little help and he was grateful he didn't have to ask for it. He merely nodded and said softly, "thank you," as the elevator doors clinged and opened.

Chapter Five: The Team Sees Frank

Alex was pacing. This was a private hospital room, and spacious at that. Alex had been amazed at the level of personality this room provided. Instead of the bright fluroescent lights, there was track lighting. Over the bed, naturally, there was fluorescent lighting controlled by a switch, in case the patient needed emergency services.

There were plants in the room, big tropical plants for which Alex had no name. The walls of the room were painted a soothing green, a calming color, she knew, from her surreptious reading of Frank's psychology books. She knew Frank would admonish her upon his return to the Nest: she'd been reading his psych books in his absence, trying to make sense of this horrible situation.

Frank knew when someone had been in his office. He noted the precise location of everything on his desk and he could tell if someone had moved anything on his desk even a fraction of an inch.

But Alex desperately needed to lick her wounds. She'd lost Keller in a situation like this--to gunshot wounds--and she needed to know how to handle the situation for she was hopelessly out of her league.

Cody, Jake and Monica looked anxiously on, knowing what Alex was going through. Though it had only been a few short months, each member of the team, in their own way, had become dependent upon Frank Donovan to guide them, to be there for them, to solve the problems they found themselves in.

And the desperately needed for him to reassure them he was all right.

"Is he being examined?" Jake asked, his dark eyes flashing back and forth from Monica to Alex. "I mean, he had surgery yesterday to repair the breached artery."

Monica, being the closest in training to Frank's background, was looking at him steadily.

"Doubt it. Frank, as you know, would want us to wait. He will say he is fine," Monica said.

This did nothing to alleviate Jake's feeling of anxiety. "Well, then, where is he?" Jake queried. "What could he possibly be doing in this hospital? There's nothing here!"

Alex had continued pacing. "He's gone to see the boy to whom he gave the blood to," she said softly, in awe of herself for guessing the motives of the very elusive Frank Donovan.

"What's boy? What are you talking about?" Cody asked.

Alex was momentarily confused. Then she slapped her hand to her head. She hadn't told her teammates about Frank's actions of the day before. She paused to consider her words.

"Frank. Well, he..." she trailed off as Frank's voice came up behind her.

"Frank what?" his voice asked from behind her. Alex turned around, not able to hide the relief in her face.

"Frank!" she virtually squealed. The rest of the team looked at her in surprise but they too were unable to conceal their joy at seeing Frank alive and quite well, albeit in a wheelchair.

"Hospital policy," Frank said, explaining the wheelchair.

Nurse Romano cut in, "patients are allowed to walk on their own floors, but going between floors they are required to use wheelchair assistance," she said cheerfully as she set the wheelchair's brakes and Frank levered himself out of the wheelchair. Earlier that morning he'd requisitioned a surgical outfit--light green and quite complimentary to his colouring--to replace the hospital johnny he'd woken up and found himself in. Too drafty, he'd told the day nurse, smiling at her. She'd smiled back and told him she'd requisition one, especially if he was going to see Danny Montalto.

Frank hid his grimace of pain. The surgery on his shoulder had taken more out of him than he wanted to freely admit. He was feeling the same way he knew Alex was feeling: he desperately needed to lick his wounds, and lick his wounds in private. But he was not the type to display his emotions in public.

Standing now, he turned and addressed Nurse Romano. "Thank you for assisting me," he said as he looked Nurse Romano full in the eyes. His dark brown eyes--just the color of cognac amber, Nurse Romano thought--twinkled at her. For her part, Nurse Romano blushed slightly and smiled.

"Not at all," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow? Danny will be expecting you to tell the rest of your story," she said as she unlocked the brakes on the wheelchair and looked Frank in the eyes.

"Absolutely. I'll come down same time tomorrow," Frank said as Nurse Romano smiled and turned with the wheelchair to the door of the hospital room.

At the door, she turned and said softly, "You know, I know Danny appreciates what you told him about his condition. It isn't my place to tell patients their prognosis, but I felt Danny should know...and I didn't know how to tell him," she said.

"It's hard to relay that kind of information. But Danny's a good sport, he'll pull through," Frank said as the rest of his team exchanged quizzical glances at each other. Of the four members of the team, only Alex had any inkling of what Frank was talking about.

But Frank wasn't about to let his good deed go noticed. He was the strong, silent type and he was determined not to let his team look at him in awe regarding his actions concerning Danny Montalto.

In high school, Frank had studied genetics a bit. He'd become interested when taking a high school psychology course. At the time, he'd thought the course to be appropriate--for how better to teach kids about themselves than to let them explore themselves? Psychology courses were packed in the high school curriculum; it was the one course that was guaranteed to have full enrollment, and even the many-times stressed Chicago high school teachers (who were forever striking their employers) couldn't keep up with the demand.

Frank had not been surprised to learn that sometimes, genetics is a crap shoot. At times, a child might be expected to be a perfect blend of his parents: a 50-50 mix. But Frank was a male replica of his mother: dark haired, eyes that could convey depth, happiness, sadness, or any emotion he wanted to convey. His continental good looks had won him the admiration of women, and his intelligence had won him the admiration of men.

There was nothing in Frank of his father, except his ambition to excel at the game of chess--be it psychological chess or the real thing. For Frank's father had been a master chess player, and from him Frank had inherited his intelligence.

In this, Frank now mused, he'd inherited the best of his parents: his mother's dark, good looks and his father's intelligence.

This intelligence he used now to discern his team's mood.

"As you can all see, I'm in good condition," he said, looking at each of his team in turn, his brown eyes seeming to pierce each team member's soul.

"You were saying, Alex?" Frank's voice held an edge of something sharp, telling Alex he wasn't in the mood to have his good deeds noted by the rest of the team.

"I, uh, was saying, that you look remarkable for someone who's been shot. You do know John Upton was captured. He's in the hospital in Peoria, and erhm," her voice trailed off.

Frank knew what she meant and he voiced it. "His privates aren't going to be working," Frank said. The four members of the team gasped.

"How did you know that?" Cody asked.

Frank glanced at him. "I was not so far gone that I couldn't hear what was being said to me. You should know by now I remember everything that's said to me," Frank said.

Cody looked guilty. He stammered, "Uh, sir, about what I said to you when I was, uh, trying to stanch the blood..." his voice also trailed off.

"I know what you meant," Frank said and gave Cody a look which was at the same time forgiving and understanding. Cody's face relaxed a bit, and Frank noted Cody was in need of a vacation--all the team needed a vacation. But right now, what they needed most was reassurance. The team needed reassurance that Frank Donovan wasn't going to be six feet under in a few days time.

The artery in his shoulder had been nicked. Despite the smallness of the gunshot wound, Frank had bled internally, losing three pints of blood--nearly half his supply. Nurse Romano had told him the story had gone round the hospital (there were even jokes about how Frank was half-robot making the rounds as well, she'd whispered into his ear) about how Frank had managed to stay conscious for so long after losing that much blood.

Frank also knew what each of his team was going through--the emotions, the turmoil in their minds. They needed to come to terms with this event: their very nearly losing a second boss to death in almost the exact same way as Keller had died. As Frank had guessed, Alex was having the most difficult time with her emotions. No doubt, she'd been at the nest last night after leaving the hospital, and no doubt she'd been at the punching bag.

Keller and her had started a romantic relationship shortly before Keller had been gunned down in a warehouse. He'd died in Alex's arms and despite Alex's feelings for Carlos, Frank knew that she had attached herself to Keller...and to himself in an older brother sort of way.

The strained look in Alex's face and the darkish smudges under her eyes testified to Alex's stress. The fingernails on both her hands were bitten down and Frank could see red marks on the back of her hands where she'd wrung her hands out of frustration and turmoil.

Frank noted this and made a mental note to talk to her after he got out of the hospital.

Frank now stood and looked at each of his team members in turn. Each seemed relieved that Frank was okay.

"I'd like to thank you, Cody, for the suggestion of the small ice packs strapped to my chest and shoulders. Had you not stocked them in the first aid kit, I wouldn't have use of my arm," Frank said.

Cody looked surprised--and grateful--at Frank's compliment. "Uh, it was nothing," he said as he turned his head slightly and just as slightly blushed.

"It is something," Frank said. "It went against all convention to strap those ice packs on. Even thin as they are, and they barely made a bulge under the bullet proof vest I was wearing, it went against all my training to strap those ice packs on. As you know, bullet proof vests are supposed to be worn securely strapped to bare flesh," Frank finished with just a slight emphasis on the words 'bare flesh'.

Cody continued to blush slightly. "I, uh," he stammered, knowing that Frank wanted him to explain just why he'd suggested--insisted, Cody's racing mind thought--of using the ice packs in the first place.

"Uhm, sir, well, I," Cody started but trailed off.

Frank looked at him, his glance full of understanding at having put Cody on the spot but Frank wanted Cody to explain his actions to the full team. Frank's team needed to know (especially Alex) that his life was also dependent on each of their actions, and now was as good a time as any to get the message across.

Cody picked up on the glance. Swallowing a bit harder than he should have, he said, "Well, sir, I noticed in the surveillance report that two of the drug-runners consistently used needle bullets. I, uh, did some research on those bullets and I didn't like what I saw," Cody said and risked a glance at Frank, who nodded slightly.

Cody let out a small sigh that he didn't know was in him. He continued. "My research showed that needle bullets are heat sensitive and tend to explode just before impact. The body's normal temperature is 98.6 degrees and I thought that if a particular body part was cooled sufficiently, the bullet would just pass through the body. Hopefully leaving as little damage as possible," Cody said.

"I will admit, I am impressed by your initiative, Cody. Your insistence at having my each of my shoulders and my chest covered by the ice packs in the van's medical kit was ingenius. And it very well saved my life," Frank said, looking at Cody, then looking at each of the team individually.

Monica put in, "We know the bullet didn't fragment. We found the bullet in your beamer. But what if the bullet had fragmented?"

Frank looked at her. Monica's face was strained, like the rest of them, a bit grey, indicating a lack of sleep on her part.

"Needle bullets are slippery, and medical personnel have a difficult time extracting the fragments. Sometimes, fragments from needle bullets slip into an artery or blood vessel and travel to the heart, where they lodge and can cause death," Frank said to her.

Monica just grew greyer in the face. Alex looked shocked as did Jake, who was valiantly trying to hide his distress.

"As you can see," Frank reminded them, "I'm going to be all right. I did lose a lot of blood--three pints--but Bloom's idea of helicoptering blood in from Lansing carried me through this crisis," he finished.

He looked at each of them in turn, and smiled. He could see relief in their faces, but their minds, he knew, were still in turmoil after the events of the past 48 hours.

He raised his left arm to the height of his shoulder. It hurt, badly, but he didn't let the pain show on his face. "When the stitches come out, and I've had physical therapy," he now told his team, "this arm will be as good as new," he finished.

His team looked at each other and they seemed to be reassured. A small cough from the doorway interrupted their conversation. A candy striper, Ann-Marie Hanson (or so said her name badge) stood there with a tray carrying a few half and half creamers, a small plate of rugalach, and a small steaming pot of hazelnut coffee.

"Excuse me for interrupting," her throaty voice told the team. "But it's time for afternoon snack!" Ann-Marie said cheerfully, coming into the room and placing the tray onto the small rolling table.

Monica couldn't quite hide her small grin. With Frank's continental dark looks, women were easily entranced by him and Monica was sure that "snack time" was not for all patients--just Frank Donovan and she was equally sure Frank had charmed her into providing his favorite flavored coffee, along with one of his favorite sweet foods.

Monica looked at Frank, who was now looking steadily at her. His eyes held something, a twinkle? No! A knowing look, Monica thought. Frank had arranged this snack time. He'd wanted to have his team see him eating and drinking like nothing happened. He was reassuring his team, which was why he'd also gone off to see the boy this afternoon, just a day after his emergency surgery. He was telling them he was all right.

Another nurse came into the room on Ann-Marie's heels. "I'm sorry," she said. "But it's also time for Frank to have his bandage changed. You four will have to wait in the waiting room." The team looked at Frank, who nodded. "I'll be fine," he said. "And you need not come back tonight. Take time off tonight and do something relaxing." Coming from Frank, this was not a simple request. This was a direct order and each of the team knew that while Frank wanted to reassure them, he also wanted them to relax a bit and get some of the stress off their shoulders.

"And Alex? Thank you for being there when I first woke up."

Alex looked a bit startled, but she nodded. "You're welcome. You had me worried."

"I know. But this job doesn't come without its dangers. And one of those dangers is that any member of this team might lose their life--especially those on the front lines," Frank said.

Alex nodded again. "It's so soon..." she started to say but trailed off.

"So soon after Keller's death, and almost in the same circumstances," Frank said. Alex could do nothing but nod again, an indication she was in sore need of working out her feelings.

"But this time, I lived and our quarry was captured," Frank told her bluntly. The nurse was beginning to look impatient at Frank's delaying her rounds.

He nodded at Alex and the rest of the team. They filed one by one out the door. Jake was last. "Jake?" Frank's voice, soft, called to him. Jake paused by the door.

"Sir?" he looked a bit apprehensive.

Frank looked at him, with a soft look in his eyes, knowing Jake thought he was about to be reprimanded. "You performed quite well, Jake. An impressive shot you did, taking out Alain Dubois but leaving him alive."

"You remember that?" Jake asked, surprised but quite pleased. Frank was not readily forthcoming with praise and Jake knew he had really earned Frank's respect with his actions.

"Yes, I did. The last thing I remember was being in the ER."

"About three hours after you were shot," Jake supplied. "What surprised me, and everyone else, was that you stayed conscious for that long. You were bleeding out badly despite the small bullet wound."

"I know. Took them hours to find blood for me," Frank said. "But you did what you had to do, and you did it without questioning my orders," Frank smiled at Jake. "I'm putting in a commendation for you and I'm granting you leave to take the advance munitions course at the Academy," he finished.

Jake let out a small gasp. "Sir! Uh, I meant, thank you."

"You're welcome," Frank said. "If you would excuse me," Frank glanced at the nurse's badge and saw her name was Chilton, "Nurse Chilton is holding out new bandages for my wound."

Jake nodded, and turned to the door. "Nice shooting, took him down but let him alive," he heard Frank say softly.

He turned back and gave a thumbs up to him. Frank smiled at him and made a goodbye motion with his hand. Jake turned back to the door and walked out. He heard the swish of the curtain as Nurse Chilton cordoned off the area around Frank's bed to change his bandages.

With his team's emotions temporarily attended to, Frank allowed Nurse Chilton to help him remove the light green surgical top he'd requisitioned from the day nurse. She'd washed her hands and had donned surgical gloves while he was talking to his team and she now fretted over him, clucking as she gently pulled off the bandages.

Her scent was warm--a body lotion Frank couldn't place--but the smell was pleasant and mixed with the smell of the hazelnut coffee he'd had Ann-Marie bring him.

As Nurse Chilton leaned over him concentrating on cleaning his wound, Frank was overwhelmed with joy at being alive and he smiled a small Mona Lisa smile. Yesterday, in the ER, when he'd was wavering on the edge of unconsciousness, he'd not hesitated for a moment when he'd realized there was a blood dilemma and he was one of two patients who were needing the last of the hospital's O type blood.

At that time, lying on the gurney, the sound of scissors neatly clipping off his clothes, Frank had somehow known what to do. His mind was whirling, fading in and out to greyness and he'd had trouble thinking. But he'd also known the boy needed the blood more than he did. He had been ready to give his life for the boy's. He'd also known that he could survive until fresh blood was brought in. A coma, he'd thought at the time, being surprised as the thought of the little boy from Florida being attacked by an alligator then losing a lot of blood. That little boy was still in a light coma, months after the attack.

And this afternoon, he'd talked to Danny. Frank had been a bit miffed when he'd been requested to use a wheelchair but his irritation had smoothed over as he realized Danny was paralyzed. Seeing someone who could actively contribute to society while in a wheelchair was something Danny had needed to see.

Danny's liver had been injured in the car crash. The force of the seat belt had crushed his liver much in the same way the model Nikki Taylor had been injured the previous summer. Although the doctors had taken out half his liver, Frank knew that organ could regenerate and inside of a year, Danny's liver would be whole again.

His legs were a different problem. The accident had completely severed his spine and Danny was paralyzed from the waist down. Danny was a bit too young for the doctors to determine if every function from his waist down was impaired, and if that was so, Danny would have an extremely difficult time in dealing with two disabilities.

Which was why Frank had chosen to tell Danny he was a psychologist with the Justice Department. Young boys were interested in cops and robbers--Frank had played the game himself in kindergarten--but he'd also known Danny needed a role model. Something he could pin his hopes on. He would never be able to walk. And so Danny needed to know that despite his paralysis, he would be able to contribute to society in a positive manner.

And a psychologist working for the Justice Department helping to catch the bad guys would be intriguing enough to pique Danny's interest, and help Danny get through these first dismal days after learning he was paralyzed. Frank was determined to talk to Danny on a daily basis, telling him about the cleaner parts of his job, i.e., how he caught the bad guys using criminal psychology. Danny would need a distraction and his interest in Frank's job would possibly provide Danny with the kind of distraction he would need.

But there was also Danny's father. Danny's father had been hospitalized with a broken leg and severe facial lacerations. Frank had taken it upon himself to tell Danny of his condition--the boy was old enough to be told (he was ten) but Frank knew as he'd looked into Danny's brown-flecked green eyes that he would have to deal with Danny's father at some point. Quite possibly, an angry Mister Montalto.

As Nurse Chilton finished up bandaging his shoulder, Frank was surprised to hear her clucking softly.

"Everything all right?" Frank asked softly.

"Hmm? Oh, yes! It's going to heal quite nicely. The surgeon used very fine surgical thread to close this wound. You'll barely have a scar--a thin white line," she said as she finished taping the bandage, stood back and pulled off her gloves. Dropping them into the smaller second compartment of her portable bandage station, she smiled at him, then went to wash her hands again.

Frank sat up. Ann-Marie came behind the curtain and helped Frank put on the surgeon's top he'd requisitioned. After fluffing the pillow for him, she rolled the cart over to the bed as Frank leaned back.

"Here you go, Mister Donovan," she said.

"Frank. It's Frank," he told her, and smiled at her. Ann-Marie blushed a little. "Thank you for getting me hazelnut coffee. I can't stand the hospital issued coffee," he said.

"Isn't it gross?" Ann-Marie asked, blushing again, for using the word 'gross' indicated her young age and she very much wanted to be older than her 19 years.

"Gross is an understatement," Frank said, to alleviate her worries about the usage of the word.

She giggled. Frank smiled. Nurse Chilton turned from the sink and admonished, "Now you two, giggling too much will only pull at his stitches, so stop it!" But she, too, giggled. Laughter was infectious and soon the three of them were laughing.

After a minute, the laughter died down and Frank took up the coffee cup which Ann-Marie had helpfully filled for him.

"Get some rest before dinner, Frank," Nurse Chilton said, her blond hair shining in the track lighting of the hospital room.

"Yes ma'am!" Frank said, giving a mock salute. Nurse Chilton giggled again along with Ann-Marie. She waved to Ann-Marie. "We've got other patients to attend to," she said as the two women went out the door.

Frank leaned back into the fluffed up pillows and gave a small sigh despite his best efforts not to sigh. He sipped the hazelnut coffee and thought about what he was going to tell Danny tomorrow. He'd re-tell about the sailboat drug runners and he'd tell Danny about how he'd figured how the drugs were being brought into the country.

Finishing the small pot of coffee and the plate of rugalach, Frank leaned back deeper into the pillow and closed his eyes. A small smile played over his face as his thoughts slowed down. His breathing began to even out and in a few minutes, he was asleep.

Chapter Six: Alex's Thoughts

Alex sat in the van, dejected. Emotions ran hot and heavy through her mind. The foremost of which was relief. Relief from seeing Frank alive and breathing. Relief at knowing blood had been found in time to save Frank's life.

She'd been shocked when Frank had directed the ER doctors to give the last of the blood to the boy. He'd lost so much of his own--three pints--and she was well aware that he could slip into a coma much like the little boy in Florida had done. And still, all these months later, that little boy hadn't woken up and doctors thought he was brain damaged from the extensive loss of blood.

After she'd been shuffled out of the treatment room, she'd been left to wander down to the waiting room on her own.

As she sat back in the van, hearing the familiar sounds of the team members breathing, her mind sunk down into relaxation and she allowed herself to remember the events of the previous evening as if she was an observer.

"Bum a fag?" she'd asked a well dressed man already in the waiting room.

"Pardon me?" he'd asked, evidently not understanding the British usage of the word.

"A cigarette. Fag is British for cigarette," Alex had said, and force what she hoped was a genuine smile at him. Her stormy blue eyes twinkled at him and he'd smiled back and offered her his pack. Marlboro's, she'd noted.

She'd taken one and accepted his offer of lighting the cigarette. Sitting back, she dragged deeply, exhaled and sighed.

"Looked like you needed that," the man commented.

"Yeah, bad day," Alex admitted. "By the way, name's Alex. Alex Cross." She twisted around and offered him her hand.

"Michael Dunlop," he said. "You waiting for your husband?"

This question had taken Alex by surprise. She'd never thought of herself as 'wife material', except with Carlos. But she was at war with herself and her job, and hadn't known what road to take when Carlos had offered her a way out. She'd had to think on her feet and she'd taken the easy way out--that of refusing his offer.

Which, she now reflected, staring into Michael's dark brown eyes (the same shade of brown as Frank's, she thought), she'd already made her choice: she would not take Carlos's offer. For when she'd refused him, she had made the choice of staying with her job. For better or worse, she was married to her job. She only hoped Carlos would understand.

"No," she said, as she turned her head and dragged on her cigarette. Exhaling, she continued, "I'm waiting for a friend."

"Ahh! And he's in surgery now?" Michael inquired as Alex turned her head and dragged on her cigarette again. Alex had felt a bit irriated at the personal question. But then the thought flashed through her mind that she needed a friend. The rest of the team was back in Peoria and wouldn't be here until later tonight, perhaps tomorrow morning.

Their unit was an elite undercover unit. Elite, Alex now thought spitefully. Elite from what? There's only five of us on the team. Monica and Cody don't do much--if any--undercover work, and they don't fully understand the complexities of going undercover. Hell, I'm living undercover, under an assumed name, as is Jake. Frank is not that forthcoming and Alex and Jake knew by now that Frank was not amenable to either of them griping about their jobs.

Needing someone to bitch to about their work, Alex and Jake had, in the past few months, taken to griping about their jobs to each other. This, the two of them knew, would irriate Frank to no end if he found out and so they kept their distance from him when they were having one of their bitch sessions. Alex could hear Frank's voice in her mind: "to catch a criminal you have to become a criminal. And you both know the danger in that," his soft voice echoed through her mind.

"Yes, he's in now. Or should be. As soon as they can stablize him, he will be," Alex said, knowing that as she said these words, they were jumbled, twisted, like her mind. She couldn't think straight. Michael, for his part, smiled at her in reassurance.

"Yeah, me too. Waiting for my sister to come out. Emergency appendectomy." He got up and offered his hand to Alex. "Want to go to the cafeteria to get some coffee?" he asked and Alex nodded. She snuffed out her cigarette in the ashtray next to her and took Michael's proffered hand. They had gone down to the cafeteria and there had made small talk until the broadcast system sounded Michael's name and he looked up. "Got to go see little sis," he said as he took up his coffee cup. "See you later around here?" he asked by way of asking her for another coffee date. Alex nodded.

"Yeah. I'll be here," she said as she forced another smile. Michael smiled back and went off to see his sister in the recovery ward.

Alex had remained in the cafeteria. She felt bad and probably looked as bad, given the surreptious glances the other diners were giving her. Looking down at herself, she saw her blood-soaked shirt. Frank's blood, she thought suddenly and just as suddenly, tears sprang to her eyes.

They drifted down her face in a small flood. She couldn't stop them. They coursed down her cheeks, clearing paths through the dirt on her face. Her shoulders heaved slightly with the effort of trying to contain the tears.

But she couldn't contain them and down they coursed, dripping onto the dried blood on her shirt, Frank's dried blood. Alex had come so close to losing another man in her life. First she'd lost Carlos to jail.

Then she'd lost John to death. John was the first man she'd been in love with since she'd busted Carlos. John had been there for her, in fact, he'd helped to bust Carlos. He'd understood what she was going through--she'd fallen for the bad guy. A good girl turning bad. John had reassured her she wasn't going to the other side, but still Alex had cried upon Carlos's sentencing.

Then Carlos had been sprung and he'd come for her--in fact, had saved her life by speaking to his cronies at the prison and in the course of the prison riot she'd found herself treated more as a guest than a hostage.

But Carlos had asked her to go away with him. In a manner of speaking, Alex had sensed Carlos was asking her to marry him and leave her way of life. She'd refused. Then, as now, she'd found herself with tears coursing down her face.

And now, Frank was gravely injured. Lying there in the ER, missing three, maybe four pints of blood from a very tiny gunshot wound which had undoubtedly nicked an artery in his shoulder.

That was the trouble with gunshot wounds. They could look so small, so easily treatable on the outside, but on the inside, they wreaked their own brand of havoc. And someone with a good eye could aim for a non-vital part of the body but strike an artery. And in a few minutes--or a few hours, the injured could bleed to death.

Alex sat at the small, rickety dining room table with another cigarette in her hands. She stared out the window and remembered the scenes of a few hours previously.


"Alex! Get down," Frank's voice sounded in her ear. His voice had an sharp edge to it and Alex instantly obeyed. She dropped to the ground, flat on her stomach.

"Now pull yourself along the ground on your stomach," Frank's voice said. Alex crawled on her stomach towards the safety of the car. Once there, she breathed easier and sat up and cautiously peered around the car's wheels.

"Jake, third floor, to your left!" Alex had shouted upon seeing the second sniper taking aim at Jake, the sun glinting off the eye-sight of his gun giving the sniper's location away. Jake spun around, took aim, and fired. Alex saw the flash of Jake's muzzle as the bullet left its temporary home and Alex saw Jake fall.

"Noooooooooooooooo!" she screamed but Frank's voice in her ear cut her scream off. "He's fine."

Jake confirmed this as soon as he hit the pavement, doing a double roll on the ground, then leaping off his back onto his feet, taking two huge leaps and dove behind the huge metal containers containing some of the contraband cocaine.

"Jake, you got him," Frank's voice said in her earpiece (Frank had evidently said this to her as well as Jake in order to let Alex know Jake had also gotten the sniper) and Alex had watched as Jake's sniper slumped against the railing, his gun falling down and hitting the ground with a boom as the gun went off.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Frank motioning to her. Alex left the cover of her car and ran as fast as she could towards Frank.

Neither of them saw the third sniper until it was too late. They'd thought there were only two snipers and both were now down.

Jake was the one who spotted the thrid sniper, on the roof of the small building across from the warehouse--said building directly in front of Frank-- the gun-sight trained on Frank. Like the second sniper, the sun glinting off the gun-sight gave him away.

"Frank! Across from you!" Jake had shouted and Frank's eyes had followed Jake's hand. He saw the sniper taking aim and he aimed his own gun. Alex watched the scene in slow motion as she ran towards Frank, hoping to reach him and tackle him to the ground and roll him behind his car before the sniper could fire.

But it was too late. Alex heard the sound of the sniper's gun, compounded by the sound of Frank's gun. She knew Frank was an expert shot and idly she wondered where Frank's bullet would hit. She looked up in time to see the sniper clutching his groin and Alex felt a momentary satisfaction. "Ha! Got what you deserved!" Alex thought cruelly but then she glanced at Frank.

Frank had already thought of Alex's reaction and had started to fall to the ground. Frank ended up on his hands and knees, his right hand supporting his weight. .

His face was sheet-white and going grey. Alex had started to scream, tears welling in her intense blue eyes, but Frank, despite his injury, looked at her sharply. He was trying to gather the energy to sit but was teetering towards the ground and his face bore a pained expression.

Alex reached him at the same time Jake realized Frank had been shot. Jake had come running, leaping over the metal barrels as Cody and Monica had simultaneously exited the van, Cody on a phone calling for an ambulance.

Alex helped Frank to the ground. He slumped against her as she lowered him. She could feel the blood soaking her shirt. She slipped off his shirt, and saw where the bullet had hit his left shoulder.

"It's a non-vital area. Your shoulder," she told him.

Frank nodded slightly. "But it nicked an artery," he whispered and Alex realized Frank was right. There was too much blood pouring out of the small gunshot wound. With each beat of Frank's heart, blood was pumping out of the hole in Frank's chest. Alex started to wonder how the heck he could have been shot while wearing a bullet proof vest but she would think about that later.

The bullet had indeed nicked an artery and Alex knew the blood was pooling in his shoulder. She took her hand and pressed the wound. Frank grimaced and Alex took her hand away momentarily when Cody had come up with a towel. Blood immediately welled up and came out of the side of the bullet proof vest.

Murmurring softly, Monica had undid the straps of both Frank's gun harness and from the bullet proof vest and she and Alex eased Frank out of the vest. Laying him down on the ground, Alex had untaped the ice pack from Frank's left shouder, then took the towel Cody offered and pressed again on the wound.

As she'd surmised, Frank's chest was covered in blood and his blood pooled on the ground beside him, forming a dark pool in which Alex could see the anguished faces of her teammates as she pressed hard upon Frank's wound.

Frank was breathing shallowly now, his face strained and grey. His eyes were half lidded and he made no effort to move, apparently conserving his energy. Dimly, Alex heard the wail of the sirens in the background.

"In less than a minute," Frank whispered. Alex nodded. She knew he meant the ambulance would be here in less than two minutes. Damn him! Amongst his other abilities, he could judge the distance of sirens by their sound.

"You will be okay," she made this as a statement. Frank closed his eyes tightly, then opened them--his way of agreeing. He had to be okay, she thought.

"Might. Lose. A. Lot. Of. Blood," his voice whispered, now cracked. She looked up at Monica's small intake of breath. Monica's face and Jake's face behind Monica's shoulder were ashen.

Alex looked down. The towel was soaked with blood. It seeped up over Alex's hands and Alex could feel Frank's heart beat through the towel. She flashed back to Keller's death a few months previously and almost in the same circumstances. She hadn't been able to save Keller--too many bullets, and too much blood loss. She still felt guilty.

Tears had slipped down her face and onto the towel. Behind her, she heard the ambulance pull up and the medics running up to her.

"We'll take over. Damn! We're gonna need a medivac!" the medic had shouted over his shoulder to the driver of the ambulance. He took out another compress and had replaced Alex.

Cody now said, his voice tiny and scared, Alex noted, "Uhm, our other boss already called for one as soon as he heard me phoning for the ambulance."

Alex and Jake had looked at Cody. "Just how did Bloom know what was going on?" Jake asked, noting Monica was uneasily glancing around.

He looked a bit sheepish as he replied. "Uh, Frank didn't want me to tell you guys, but he had me patch a video feed to Bloom. Called it a 'visual performance report'. You know Frank hates to fill out paperwork and with performance reviews due soon, Frank decided to give a visual performance review," Cody explained.

The others just looked at him, then looked at Frank. They weren't angry with him, and while they were used to Frank's monitoring the video feed, they'd never expected Bloom to look in on their take-downs. This was a new habit of Frank's. Alex and Jake especially didn't like Bloom looking at the video feeds in real time.

Monica sensed their discomfort and she said, "this was supposed to be a training video," she said softly. "The taking down of criminals in a textbook manner."

Alex and Jake gaped. "You knew too?" Jake asked her. Monica nodded.

Frank moaned softly. His eyes were open but had a slightly glazed look. Alex knew he was in pain. And she also knew he could hear every word they'd said. Apparently, the others came to the same conclusion.

The sound of a helicopter broke their thoughts. Alex looked up and shaded her eyes to see the medivac copter getting ready to land in the parking lot to their right.

"Just a little while now Frank and we'll have you in the hospital," Alex had whispered to him. The helicopter had landed and medics rushed towards them with a gurney.

The four medics together got Frank loaded onto the gurney. "I'm going with him," Alex said. "Don't try and stop me." The lead medic nodded.

Cody looked lost as he bent over Frank. Frank's eyes were closed, his breathing even shallower. "I think of you as my father," he said very softly. Frank appeared not to hear.

"There's enough room for her," the medic said, indicating Alex with a nod of his head. Frank weakly raised his right hand and Alex took it as she half-walked, half-ran beside the gurney.

Loaded into the helicopter, with Alex crammed in beside Frank, holding his hand, the helicopter took off for Chicago Memorial hospital. Alex was surprised at their destination but if Bloom had been watching the video feed, he would want his top man taken care of by the best trauma team.

"He'll pull through. It's a non-vital wound, and although he's bleeding out pretty badly, he won't bleed to death before we get to Chicago Memorial," the medic told her in a reassuring tone.

Alex could only look at him dumbly, and grip Frank's hand. She looked as his face: a contortion of pain; he was trying to control his pain. His face had grown whiter with that frightening greyness just beneath the surface. His eyes were closed, although now and then he fluttered them open. Alex was amazed he was still conscious.

"You'll be fine," was all Alex could whisper into his ear as she stroked back his hair and held his hand fiercely. Frank wasn't expending any energy in gripping her hand and the undercurrent of fear bubbled up into her mouth. Frank was just lying there on the gurney, death pale, and unmoving except for fluttering his eyes now and then.

His breathing was shallow and the medic continued pressing on the wound of his left shoulder. "ETA to Chicago?"

"Half an hour? How's the patient?"

"Wish we'd been directed to Peoria Central to attend his blood loss, but he'll pull through. Bullet appears to have penetrated just below the collarbone but seems to have nicked an artery. He'll need emergency surgery as soon as he gets to the hospital. Vitals are 90 over 60 but holding steady," the medic said while the second medic adjusted the IV plasma drip into Frank's right arm.

Alex swallowed hard. That was not a good blood pressure. Her own face lost its blood. She was thinking of Keller, of Carlos, as she looked at Frank. "I can't lose you too," she whispered into his ear and buried her face into his right shoulder.

Alex didn't remember the rest of the trip to Chicago Memorial but she started up when the medic said "Chicago! Vitals are 90 over 50, dropping slightly. He's lost about three, maybe four pints of blood. Over!" the medic, who's badge Alex could now read: Chris Matheson.

"Copy. 90 over 50. We've got a surgeon standing by. Over!" the sound of the hospital ER's two-way radio crackled in response and Alex felt relief. Frank would be all right. They were here, at Chicago Memorial, with the finest trauma center in Illinois. Here there would be blood and surgeons to fix Frank. She gripped his hand.

By way of response, Frank opened his eyes, and mouthed, "Thank you," to Alex, who just nodded and gripped his hand tighter. They were landing on the hospital's rooftop helipad. Nurses and doctors crowded around and took the gurney from the medivac copter. They rushed beside the gurney as they shouted between them:

"90 over 50, holding steady!"

"Run another IV line!"

"Have the blood standing by. Bleeding has slowed to a seep now with the compress!"

The medical personnel disappeared into the gaping hole of an automatic double door before Alex could even extract herself from the helicopter.

"Thank you," she said to Chris. "Thank you for keeping up the pressure," was all she could find to say to a heavily perspiring Chris, who was panting slightly with the non-stop exertion of applying pressure to Frank's wound.

He's got a lot of stamina, Alex thought to herself. Thirty minutes, maybe more, of compress.

"Not a bother, ma'am," Chris replied and wiped his brow. "He'll be in the ER," he indicated and Alex felt a bit sheepish. She turned and ducked under the still whirring blades of the helicopter, intent on following Frank.

Next thing she knew, she was in the treatment room, and she'd heard the doctors arguing about a blood dilemma. The hospital's blood bank was out of every type of blood, except O-type. A little boy, aged ten, had been injured in a car accident. Loss of blood from a lacerated liver and possible paralysis, she'd heard the doctors shouting to each other. There wasn't enough blood for both Frank and the little boy.

She grimaced as she'd held Frank's hand. Ten years old and possibly paralyzed. Apparently Frank had heard the commotion as well, for he whispered,

"Give the blood to the boy first."

Alex gasped. "Frank! You've lost an enormous amount of blood," but Frank cut her off by holding up his hand.

"Give. The blood. To. The. Boy." Frank said as forcefully as he could and gave both Alex and the ER doc a hard stare.

"Are you refusing treatment...for the moment?" The doc asked, needing to be sure.

"Yes. I am refusing treatment...for the moment," Frank managed to whisper before he'd slipped into unconsciousness. One of the ER nurses took Alex by the arm and led her from the treatment room.

The doc shook her head and shouted "give the blood to the boy--this patient's requested it!" The nurses gathered around Frank's bed shook their heads as well as they continued to cut Frank's clothes off him.

Alex remembered being awed at Frank's gesture. He had to have known what was happening, what could happen if he didn't get his own blood replaced.


Alex mind now turned towards the time she had sat in the dining room. When she had come back to herself, she'd noted her cigarette had burned down almost to the filter, leaving a grey tube of bitter ashes in its wake.

"Bitter, like my tears," she muttered to herself. The movement of her arm caused the ashes to break up and they dusted her shirt and the table. She swiped at them, then sighed heavily and instead picked up the now-cold coffee cup and stood up.

Going over the exit, she'd tossed her cup into the trash when she'd heard her name on the loudspeaker.

"Alex Cross to the surgical waiting room. Alex Cross to the surgical waiting room," a male voice said. "He's in surgery now, and he's got blood, Alex. He has plenty of blood," and Alex had broken out into a grin. The voice belonged to Paul Bloom and he had usurped the intercom system and was telling her to move her butt back upstairs.


Alex came back to the present time. The van was bumping along a back road. Cody was muttering, Monica was staring out the window and Jake had an absent look on his face.

She wondered what each of her teammates was thinking as the van continued to bump along the back roads that Cody had chosen to get them back to the nest quicker.

She looked at Jake, fear and worry mixing in her blue eyes.

Chapter Seven: Jake's Take

Jake sat morosely in the van, not really seeing anything. He'd turned inward, thinking about the latest assignment.

A yachtie had been running Colombian cocaine up along the Atlantic coast from Puerto Rico to the marina of the Hamptons, out on Long Island.

As Puerto Rico was an American territory, one did not need a passport to travel to and from Puerto Rico. Nor did one need to pass through Customs travelling to or from the gambling, sandy shores of Puerto Rico.

Since no foreign shores were touched, a person could moor their boat in Puerto Rico, purchase anything on the island (or pick up something), then bring it back on their boat and moor at any marina in the United States and not have to have Customs (which, at marinas, was the Coast Guard's function. Jake knew the Coast Guard could board any boat at their discretion).

In this case, the cocaine was then driven to New York and loaded as freight onto a passenger bus. The cocaine was then delivered to the dealer in Chicago.

A neat trick, Jake thought. And a trick that Frank had caught on to when he'd received a tip from a fellow Agent. Frank kept up with Interpol and through Interpol, he was aware that Scotland Yard was surveilling a yachtie who was running drugs in his yacht.

With his usual aplomb, Frank had guessed what was going on and had set up a similar surveillance ring on the yachtie.

He'd not been surprised when Frank had told him he was going to the DMV to obtain a bus driver's license. He'd grown used to Frank's moods. Brooding Frank's feathers could not be ruffled at all and when he'd delivered his statement, he'd given Jake a no nonsense look which had told him Jake had better just say yes.

Which he'd done. He'd gone above and beyond the call of duty by enrolling in a bus driver course. He'd wrangled in at the last minute, pulling a few strings with more than few friends. Once he'd gotten to the driving school, he found he enjoyed learning how to handle a bus. Jake rather suspected Frank had known this expansion of his skills would please him.

He'd known he would be responsible for the lives of dozens of people riding the bus. He had to get them safely from New York to Chicago without an accident, and on schedule. Frank had accepted his absence from work with equanamity, never once asking Jake where he was at (and although Jake had suspected--no, he'd known Frank had known where he was at: the driving school--and Jake had been pleased.

His assignment was to go undercover as the regular passenger bus driver who had been cut in on the action. He'd gotten his hair styled in a crew--colored dark blonde--and had added green contact lenses.

When the stylist had first swung the chair around so he could study his reflection in the well-lighted mirror, Jake had been surprised. Life as a blonde had never attracted him. He'd always associated blonde haired men with surfing and Jake was a Lake Boy through and through. Born in Shytown, raised in Shytown. Aside from Boliva, he'd never travelled outside the country, nor had he seen either ocean.

So the look the stylist did on Jake's hair was both surprising and pleasing. He'd already put the green contact lenses in prior to his stylist appointment and he had studied himself in the mirror.

He'd had to admit, he liked the look. It was different, and it helped him get in the mood for this assignment. He felt different, more confident in going undercover. His feelings about his childhood and about his job were beginning to resolve and Jake felt as if he was on the edge of an epiphany.

When Jake had stopped by to drop off his timesheets for the next three months, Frank had smiled at him warmly, then went back to his own work on his desk. The two were developing into a good working relationship, each knowing the other's moods.

Fortunately, being part of the Justice Department, Jake's paycheck automatically went into his bank account every two weeks. For that matter, Jake had a bill paying service pay his bills automatically. With this kind of job, he needed that kind of service. And Frank had encouraged all his team to have automatic bill paying.

Jake turned his thoughts to the past few months.


"You like it?" Andrew asked Jake. Jake nodded and whistled.

"I never thought a boat could be so. So," Jake was at a loss for words, his orphange upbringing had never brought him into contact with this segment of society: the ultra-wealthy Hamptonites.

"So rich?" Rich like you're gonna be!" Andrew laughed, and slapped Jake on the back.

Jake admitted the yacht was nice. More than nice: it bespoke wealth and class. The 110-foot yacht, Christie's Choice, could sleep 21 people and eleven crew. Most of the furnishings were of mahogany wood, and trimmed in highly polished brass. A crystal chandelier in every cabin and even an on-board jacuzzi (filled with fresh water at every marina the yacht moored in). Christie's Choice was a floating mansion. And Jake didn't want to leave.

"Costs me three, four hundred grand a year just to maintain her. Crew salaries, maintenance costs, the works. Then, well you know how women are. They want to redecorate every so often, yadda yadda yadda," Andrew told him as he sipped champagne from a fluted champagne glass.

Jake looked at his own glass. He brushed a wisp of newly-blonde bangs out of his eyes. The stylist had left the bangs a bit long, and Jake was considering cutting his bangs off to match the rest of his hair. Jake sipped his champagne. It took all his willpower to maintain his cover, and his determination to crack this case.

"Rich. I wanna be rich. Tired of jail, tired of living hand to mouth," Jake said.

"You got no more worries with me, Jakey. Sloane told me you good for the whole nine yards."

"Sloane was the best cellmate I ever had," Jake told him.

"Sloane said the same of you!" Andrew said, but his Bronx accent was not quite hidden yet. Andrew laughed. "You got lucky getting out after a month, Jakey."

"Got some friends, pulled some strings," Jake said, and sipped his champagne. He sat back in his seat and sighed. The sun was warm, the air was salty and fresh. And his skin was taking on a tanned looked to replace the pallor he'd achieved living a month behind bars.

"Who'd you put under?" Andrew asked.

Jake knew he had to answer. Frank's psychological profile of the man had scared even Frank. Here was a cold blooded killer, one moment capable of being your friend; and the next, he'd casually whip out a knife and slit your throat. Frank had warned him to not withhold information, but only give the information when its asked for. Frank's voice echoed in Jake's mind: "Under no circumstances are you to "volunteer" information to Andrew Whitman. Answer as briefly as possible and only in response to his questions. He will find a way to use the information to kill you."

"Two of the state's witnesses."

"Yeah? How did they die?"

"Arranged a car crash."

Andrew laughed. "That makes my heart grow warm, Jakey boy! Car crash! Nice everyday occurrence. Driving down the road, and smash! Your car is smushed and you? You're dead on the road."

"Cost me a lot to arrange," Jake said.

"Freedom always costs a lot. What day you arrange the crash?" Andrew asked.

Frank had warned Jake that Andrew would ask that and Frank, as usual, had thought ahead of his opponent. Frank had 'arranged' for a car crash to happen just outside of Chicago. Said accident was dutifully written up in the papers and well publicized in the media.

The cars involved were junk cars, and Frank had arranged with the Body Farm in Tennessee to donate corpses. "A scientific experiment," Frank had told him. "The Body Farm studies how the human body decomposes in various environments. In this case, the Body Farm wanted to see how human bodies would be damaged in a multi-car smash up. All the bodies were donated to science," Frank told him, apparently hoping to alleviate Jake's anxiety.

Creepy, Jake thought. But he supplied the answer to Andrew's question. "The fifth," he told Andrew.

"And you were sprung a week later. Smart move," Andrew said, nodding his head in approval. "Without the star witnesses, there was no case. And Jakey boy became a free man," Andrew finished. He held up his champagne glass and the yacht's butler dutifully refilled it.

"You know how rich you're gonna be?" he now asked Jake.

"Rich enough to buy a yacht like this?" Jake asked, leaning back and tilting his head towards the sun.

Andrew laughed. "Not right away. You gotta do the grunt work first. Drive the bus. See how you do. Then, we'll talk about rich."

"I want enough to buy my mother a house in Florida. In the Keys," Jake said.

"Now that! That is how rich you gonna be! You buy your mother a house, maybe a car, some diamonds for her hands. Be a good son and do your mother well. Yes," Andrew said, sipping his champagne. "Yes, that's how rich you gonna be driving the bus," he finished.

"I will expect to be promoted."

"You do well in driving the bus, you get promoted," Andrew said, and rose. This, Frank had told him, signalled the end of the interview. "Now go play in the jacuzzi with the ladies. I got some work in the bedroom to do," Andrew said as he walked off to the bedroom. Jake knew the 'courtesan' (and she preferred to be referred to as 'courtesan' instead of 'whore' or 'prostitute') was waiting for him in the yacht's master bedroom. And, like nights past on this trip from the Hamptons to Puerto Rico, there would be loud noises coming from that bedroom and Jake would have to use the earplugs that the butler had discreetly supplied to him.


Andrew picked up the phone in the yacht's master bedroom.

"You think he's good to go?" asked the husky voice on the other end.

"He celled with Sloane. Sloane checked his rap. 30 years old, elderly mother. In and out of jail since his teens. Been lucky, Jake. Never done more than a year. His witnesses always manage to disappear," Andrew said, watching the courtesan slip off her brassiere.

"He checked out on this end. Nasty son of a bitch. His rep made me wonder why his mother pushed him out her crotch. Hire him but keep an eye on him. That undercover group Keller worked on busted an associate of mine. Don't want them on my ass. Donovan's working the group now," the female voice said.

Andrew blanched slightly. The courtesan noticed and she started to remove the panties she wore. "Donovan?" he asked the woman.

"Yeah, Donovan," she confirmed. "You know him?"

"Know of him. Friend of mine was busted by Donovan when Donovan was still at the Academy. I gotta grudge against Donovan."

"Apparently Donovan likes to spread himself around," the female voice said dryly. "Just so you know, Donovan was in Bolivia some years ago. He doesn't know it but we tagged him. We know all his past covers."

"Information gets around," Andrew asked, smiling at his courtesan.

"Donovan's the best. But he doesn't know there's a mole who blew his cover," she told him from the other end of the phone line.

"You sure Jake's not undercover? I had to stop running the white from Rico to Miami because of Keller's group."

"I told you, Jake checks out on this end. Dayton's vouched for him," the voice said. "And it's Donovan's group now, but we got a bead on him. He won't be bothering us for very long," she told him.

At that statement, Andrew relaxed and allowed himself to enjoy his courtesan's strip tease. Dayton was a leading crime lord in the midwest and his word was worth something. It was hard to trust a criminal, but when Dayton vouched for someone, you could count on that voucher being good. Dayton''s word was the only legitmate currency the midwest possessed--and they protected their possession well.

"Okay, he's hired. You get your next shipment at the usual time," Andrew said. The phone clicked off. Andrew allowed the courtesan to take off his clothes and soon, they commenced the evening's activities.


"Nice and easy," Andrew called. "Don't damage the goods!" Andrew was supervising the loading of the wooden crates. The crates contained prime Colombian White. Christie's Choice, if stuffed to the helm, could hold 200 crates.

"What's the next step?" Jake asked.

Andrew looked at him from the deck of Christie's Choice. Jake was standing on the small dock of the marina.

"Not so fast. You'll learn in due time," he told Jake, narrowing his eyes. Jake looked Andrew in the eye, and never wavered his gaze.

Frank had told Jake that Andrew would try to challenge him. "Look him in the eye, and don't look away until he nods slightly," Frank had told Jake. Jake had thought Frank's information on Andrew Whitman was impressive. For that matter, Jake suspected the information came from Dayton...Frank's paid informant.

Their eyes locked--Jake's an intense green and Andrew's an intense blue--and Andrew nodded slightly.

"I expect to be promoted," Jake said.

"You're coming along fine, Jakey boy. Just fine," Andrew said.


"How do you escape Customs and the Coast Guard?" Jake asked.

Andrew laughed. "Millionaire yachtie with a home port of the Hamptons. Coast Guard runs the serial number of my yacht through their database. Christie comes up clean and documented, Guard has no reason to board," he had told Jake.

Andrew was more than a little high and experience had told Jake that he would be able to get more information this way. He hoped the bugs were working and sending this conversation back to the nest because with the amount of white Jake was having to snort, he wouldn't be able to get his information straight.

"Puerto Rico is an American territory. You don't need a passport to travel back and forth to the island. Likewise, you don't pass through Customs, and if you're in a boat, Coast Guard only boards your boat if they have reason to suspect you're outside the law," Andrew continued.

Jake nodded, and sniffed a small line of Colombian white that the butler held out on a small silver tray. He hated the euphoric feeling cocaine gave him and he made a mental note to have Frank enroll him in a drug rehabilitation center. But he had to act his role; part of catching a criminal is to become a criminal. Jake had had problems shooting an innocent civilian during his undercover work at the bank, and now Jake was having problems snorting a line. Had Frank known he'd have to use in this assignment?

Jake leaned back and allowed one of the ladies to rub suntan oil on his shoulders. The sun was warm, and the White gave him a feeling that he could accomplish anything.

He opened his eyes and found Andrew looking at him. "Good white, eh?" Andrew asked him. Jake nodded.

"Coast Guard does customs for the marine industry?" Jake asked.

"Yeah. Guard has jurisdiction. They're always trying to outsmart the fast boat runners we got coming up from Colombia. It's taken a lot of money to outwit the Coast Guard and find faster boats than the Guard comes up with," Andrew said, the white evidently making him more talkative. But Jake kept a careful check on his own statements.

"Dayton told me Puerto Rico is the entry point to the United States," Jake said.

It was Andrew's turn to nod. "He's right. From the Island, white runs to Miami or New York City. FBI knows the entry points and they have their boats ready."

"So you tweak the entry point just a little, put the white in a different container and you enter free and clear?" Jake now asked.

Andrew whistled. "Fast learner. Who's gonna mess with a millionaire from the Hamptons? Old money, big money. More money than an entire Guard cutter crew earns in their lifetimes. No suspicion," Andrew told him.

"When the white comes down from the Hamptons to 41st street, it's loaded onto my bus and I drive it to Chicago," Jake said, knowing Frank was monitoring the conversation from the warehouse.

Now Andrew laughed. "That's the beauty of the run! See, my front is the passenger bus service. Low cost bus passenger service to the midwest--cheaper than the national bus service. Round trip from 41st to Chicago downtown cost you fifty dollars. Best front I ever came up with," Andrew finished. The butler held out the silver tray with another line of white. Andrew sniffed.

"Ahhh, that's good white," he told Jake.

"Jakey, boy, Dayton was right about you."

"Did my time for the crime."

Andrew chuckled. "Short timer. You got the golden touch," he told Jake. "You're gonna go far with me."

"I expect to be promoted," Jake reminded him for the third time.

"You do well, you get the promotion. You stab me in the back, you're six feet under. Got that?" Andrew's blue eyes were now glaring at Jake.

"Loud and clear. When do I start?"

"We dock in a week. You'll leave then. You earn a stay at my estate in the Hamptons soon as you prove you can run the white," Andrew said leaning back and allowing his courtesan to do things best reserved for the bedroom. The butler offered the silver tray to Jake again but Jake made a motion for him to set the tray down. Jake was determined to use as little as possible, and thus far he'd been able to get away with his actions. When the butler turned his back, Jake flipped the tray over and let the wind blow the white into the ocean.


Seven days later, Christie's Choice was docking in the Hamptons. Jake had learned a lot during his leisurely ten day cruise up from Puerto Rico to the Hamptons.


"Nice spread," Jake said, handing his leather luggage to the same butler from Christie's Choice. It had been a month since he'd returned from his cruise up the eastern seaboard and in that time, he'd arranged for several former 'associates' to go six feet under.

Or rather, Frank had arranged with the Body Farm to loan him a few more corpses.

Andrew's Hamptons estate was set on twenty acres with two guest homes, olympic sized outdoor and indoor pools and twenty four carat gold faucets in the marble bathrooms. The mansion slept thirty. Jake was suitably impressed and he hoped that Frank would allow the rest of the team to take personal leave here when Justice and DEA confiscated the large manor home under the drug seizure laws.

"I like your style, Jakey boy," Andrew told him, putting his arm around Jake's shoulder. "You do your job well. Those associates of yours and the way you handled them when they were getting too close..." Andrew stopped talking to admire one of the hookers who was walking towards the indoor pool.


The next day, Jake found himself listening to how Andrew had bought his Hampton's estate.

"Used to be a stockbroker on the Street. Stressful job. I was thirty pounds overweight and headed for an early heart attack. Until I discovered I could be making money more easily merely by taking a cruise to Puerto Rico and bringing back white for Dayton," Andrew said as the two men lounged by the pool.

Jake had indeed been promoted. He was now supervising the distribution of the white in the Chicago area. He learned fast.

"You got a trust fund somewhere," Jake said.

"Caymans. Then I run the money through one of three Swiss accounts, which goes into a brokerage account. I draw from that account to buy what I want. Nice, clean money."

"You can never have too much money," Jake said.

"Nor too many women," Andrew said and laughed. "Paid cash for Christie's Choice and cash for the house," he murmurred as one of the women drew her fingernail along his leg.

"You pay cash for the women," she told him, reaching into his back pocket, taking out his wallet and lifting out an impressive wad of bills. Standing up, she presented her rear to Andrew, who patted it affectionately and she walked off, counting her stash.

"You gonna accept that?" Jake asked.

"Why not? She gives me what I want when I want. I don't mind paying for her. She'll blow it on baubles and come back for more in a few days. Then, I get more. Got it?" he asked Jake.

"Got it. Not used to the big time," Jake responded.

"Far cry from how your momma brought you up," Andrew said, then held up his hand when Jake's eyes narrowed. "I don't mean no disrespect to your momma, Jake. She did the best she could, raising you up without your father and working as a waitress," he told Jake, who relaxed his stare at Andrew and leaned back in his pool chair. The butler handed him a margarita.

"Now, Jakey boy! Look at where you're at now! Your momma, she would be proud of you! You can do your momma right, treat her well in her old age. She work all those hours for you when you were growing up," Andrew now told Jake.

"My momma now has a house in Florida, where her friends are at," Jake said. Andrew nodded.

"Took the money from my former associates," Jake said.

Andrew laughed. "You will do well working with me," he said. "You'll do well."

"I'm in for a swim," he told Andrew and got up. Knowing he was expected to swim in the nude, he took off the Turkish cotton robe he was wearing. He walked to the edge of the outdoor pool and dove in.


Returning to the present, Jake sat now, morose, glum, and ruminating. His emotions were in turmoil from seeing Frank a bit earlier. His coloring was good, a bit ruddy even, but there was a tired look in his eyes. Jake had realized he was in pain from the gunshot wound and the subsequent surgery. The blood loss had to take a toll, but unruffled Frank had gone down to see someone in more pain than he himself--that little boy named Danny to whom Alex had alluded.

What was the deal with that? Jake wondered to himself. Frank was trying to hide something, or rather, trying to play down something about the kid. What? He started to turn to Alex to ask her, then thought better of it. Frank did not like when people asked too many questions, and it was obvious Frank wanted to keep the events between himself and Alex.

Jake continued to examine his feelings. He was upset when he saw Frank get shot. For in the last few months, Jake had felt a feeling that he'd never felt before: that of being accepted and valued for his abilities.

With the early loss of his family, Jake's substitute father was Father Michael. But Father Michael could only give him so much advice: Father Michael was a deeply religious man, and Jake's job sometimes involved seriously injuring--or killing--a man.

Father Michael could give his advice, but he really couldn't understand how hard it was to injure another man--even if that man was trying to kill you. For Jake, humans were precious and although he understood that busting criminals sometimes required firing bullets into the human body, it still ripped a hole in his heart. The taking of another human life hurt Jake, for he'd never had many people in his life.

Until now. He had the kids at the shelter. How he loved those kids! Growing up an orphan in the Church, he'd known the other kids, but they were his adversaries and his fellow travellers in their empty journey through life. He'd never known what it was like to have cousins or siblings. He felt close to no one else in the orphange.

But with the kids at the shelter, Jake felt different. He'd known what it was like to feel a child's unabashed love. Not having any siblings, Jake, for the first time in his life, had known what it felt like to be an uncle--and an uncle to dozens of children. And they loved him. They loved him for the cookies he baked (and wrapped in wrapping paper and bows and ribbons, thanks to Frank's suggestion). Those kids loved Jake for himself.

I must remember to thank Frank for suggesting that, Jake said to himself. The kids really do like the wrapping paper when I bake the cookies.

The van jolted and Jake was brought back to himself. He looked around. Alex had apparently gone to where Jake had just been: inside her mind. He could see her mind working through the events--and she'd been the one who went with Frank. I hope she got to say her final goodbyes to Keller. She never did fully come to terms with that, Jake thought as he recalled the shooting of Frank Donovan.

"Jake! Third floor, to your left!" Alex had shouted.

Jake spun around and aimed his gun. He saw the glint of the sniper's gun-sight.

Jake took aim and fired, simultaneously throwing himself to the right.

"Jake, you got him," Frank's voice sounded in his ear as he heard Alex shout "Noooooooooooooo!"

Jake hit the pavement, rolled over, then leaped up from his face-up position on the ground. The thought ran through his head that he should have been a wrestler. He gave two leaps and hurled himself over the metal barrels containing the cocaine that had been delivered via passenger bus from 41st Avenue in New York City.

Jake knew the cocaine had been delivered via his passenger bus, for he'd been the bus driver who'd delivered the brown-wrapped copy paper sized boxes to this warehouse.

He'd been the bus driver for several weeks now. He crouched behind the barrels, looking around, trying to gauge his position. Without knowing why--perhaps because Father Michael had taught him to always say a small prayer and look upwards when you were in dire need--Jake glanced up. What he saw chilled his blood.

"Frank! Across from you!" He pointed and he saw Frank's eyes follow his hand. Simultaneous gunfire eruped and Jake saw the third sniper clutch his pelvis and Jake could not help but grin.

Then he looked at Frank. His face was going grey, and Jake knew Frank had been hit. He leaped over the metal barrels and had run full tilt towards Frank. Alex was already at his side, pressing on his wound with her bare hands.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cody and Monica exiting the van, Cody on the phone, no doubt calling for an ambulance.

He reached Frank but Monica had pushed him aside and was helping to undo the straps on Frank's gun holster and bullet proof vest. He stood quietly behind Monica, looking down at Frank, who was lying quietly, the blood pumping out of his body and spilling out of the sides of the bullet proof vest.

The thought ran through his mind that bullet proof vests are supposed to be bullet proof. So why was Frank bleeding? Then Jake saw why: the bullet had slipped in at an angle under the collar of the vest when Frank had fired and simultaneously twisted and fallen in hopes of avoiding the bullet.

He'd been a split second too late, and the bullet had entered Frank's shoulder at an angle. At that angle, the bullet would pass close to an artery, perhaps nicking it, Jake thought, noting the blood pumping out of the small hole in Frank's shirt.

Jake could see the thin ice packs Cody had insisted Frank wear under his vest. Jake could see that the ice packs had in no way impacted the effectiveness of the vest, but just wearing them was a chance Frank was willing to risk. All because Cody had insisted on it.

Monica was murmuring softly and Alex was desperately compressing the wound. Jake could only stand there, ashen faced and watch as Alex tried to stanch the bleeding.

When the medics had come and Frank and Alex had gone in the medivac copter, Jake, Cody and Monica had been left standing.

Monica's hands were covered in blood, and she was pale, breathing a bit erratically. Jake was startled to realize she was trying to hold back sobs.

"He won't die!" she whispered fiercely as she shaded her eyes and looked up at the medivac copter rising into the sky. Jake had put an arm around her shoulder and she'd turned into his shoulder. Jake could feel her shoulders heaving and he knew that she was crying.

She'd lost her brother to cops--he was gunned down--and she'd lost Keller to gunshot wounds. Although she knew Frank would survive, a non-lethal wound in the shoulder, the blood loss scared her. A nicked artery was a nicked artery and anyone could bleed to death from a nicked artery.

It was the possibility of Frank's death which had scared them all. The possiblity of his dying in very similar circumstances to Keller. This is what frightened them, for in each of their minds, Keller's death was very fresh. Too fresh.

They just stood there, the two of them, and Jake let her cry. After a bit, Cody took a few steps and put his hand on Monica's shoulder and the three of them were sharing a grief--and Jake was reliving Keller's death just a few months before, and in very similar circumstances. It was something he couldn't get out of his mind in the few short minutes since Frank had been shot.

Monica's shoulders gradually stopped their heaving.

"He will not die," she repeated as she withdrew her head from Jake's shoulder. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve and snuffled.

"Let's go back to the van and wait for Alex's call. I want to monitor the air traffic," Cody said. The others nodded and the three walked slowly back to the van to await Alex's call.

The van jolted, and Jake was brought back to the present time. Gradually, he realized he was at peace with himself. He'd made peace with his past, and discovered in himself a new maturity which he felt with awe. He watched out the window at the back streets that Cody was taking, seeing nothing, yet seeing everything.

In the van's window, Jake's eyes locked with Alex's. He saw reflected in Alex's face the anguish that he felt inside.

Chapter Eight: Monica

Children's laughter rang through Monica's mind as she sat in the jolting van. The eye in her mind saw her and her late brother chasing each other on the playground. Monica was laughing--she longed to laugh--and her brother was chanting:

"Monica, Monica, one two three! Monica, Monica, come chase me!" a child-sized Sean had laughed as Monica spun around and began chasing him. The two children continued to run and chase each other until the bell rang and signalled the end of recess.

The pain of his death seemed never ending. One of his favorite authors would publish a new tome and Monica would find herself in the bookstore's checkout line, proffering the book to the cashier, hauling out her wallet and paying for it, all the while telling the cashier how much Sean was going to love reading the book.

Other times, Monica would find herself turning to say something to Sean--and remembering he was dead. Shot by cops. Today was a sad day for Monica.

The van jolted and Monica's mind was suddenly confronted with coffins. Two of them. One was Sean's--he'd been gunned down by cops. And she hated cops.

The irony of her situation was that, well, basically, she was a cop. A civilian, government-paid cop, but a cop nonetheless.

At times, she felt guilty about her job. Keller had helped her assimilate the fact she worked a cop's job and her brother had been killed by cops. The other coffin now made its way forward into her mind: Keller's coffin.

Like Sean, Keller had been shot. Unlike Sean, Keller's death had come at the hands of criminals.

Monica thought some more about that as the van continued to jolt along the back roads Cody was choosing for them on their way back to the nest.

Suddenly Monica realized that the van was jolting. She'd just taken the jolts as a message to move forward in her memories about Sean and Keller. But now she thought: Cody's equipment! He lavished love on his computer equipment (a trait Frank not only endorsed but actively cultivated). So why was Cody driving along the back roads of Chicago, knowing the asphalt was not regularly replaced? Computer loving Cody should have taken the fastest, smoothest way back to the Nest.

Or perhaps he was taking his frustration about Frank's shooting out. Cody had installed what looked like shock absorbers in the van, to better protect the equipment. Or, maybe Cody just didn't want to return to the Nest.

Since Keller's death, the Nest had gradually been transforming from the shadow of Keller and into the image of Frank: efficient, organized. Going to the Nest was, in many ways, going to see Frank. And although Frank himself looked all right (his coloring was high, Monica noted and not for the first time) and his doctor had reassured them Frank would most definetely be alive for the next several decades, Monica was, like the rest the of the team, shaken by Frank's shooting.


"What's that?" Monica asked Cody, pointing to the screen. "I thought I saw a glint of something from the warehouse above Jake."

"Hmm, don't know. I'll scan closer and see what it is," Cody said as he adjusted the knob on the video feed to see if he could get a close up shot.

"We're too far away. You'll have to move the van a bit closer," Cody said to Monica. "Try to move it near Frank's car, although I haven't the faintest idea why Frank would drive to this forsaken warehouse in his own car," he finished and dug out the van's keys from his pocket.

Monica chuckled as she took the keys from Cody and made her way to the front. "It's a new beamer. He's showing off--preening," she said as she started the van.

"I heard that," Frank's voice came back on audio. n

Cody gave a little jump.

"Don't be startled Cody. You knew I had an audio link back to you," Frank's dry tone spoke of no nonsense and he was not in the mood to argue.

"I do concur with you moving the van a little closer but keep out of sight of the warehouse. Keep a lock on the video feed. Remember that this video is being used for an FBI training video. Donovan, out." Frank's audio link went silent. Cody grimaced a little. Frank would undoubtedly want his statement edited out of the final version of the video the Academy had requested.

Monica had started the engine and maneuvered the van around. She applied pressure on the gas pedal while Cody kept watch. The van slowly moved closer to the warehouse so Cody could get a fix on the glinting object.

"We're just at the multicolored hippie van," he said.

"Close enough," Frank's voice said. Monica shut off the engine and went back to watch the video feed.

As they watched, things began to happen. Cody and Monica watched the feed in slow motion. Their mouths were gaping.

"Alex! Get down," Frank's voice sounded in the van. His voice had an sharp edge to it and on the screen, Cody and Monica watched Alex instantly obey. She dropped to the ground, flat on her stomach.

"Now pull yourself along the ground on your stomach," Frank's voice said on the audio feed. The video showed Alex crawling on her stomach towards the safety of the car. Once there, Cody's feed showed her taking a deep breath and sit up. She cautiously peered around the car's wheels.

"Jake, third floor, to your left!" Alex had shouted upon seeing the second sniper taking aim at Jake, the sun glinting off the eye-sight of his gun giving the sniper's location away.

"That's what that glint was!" Monica exclaimed at the same time she saw Jake spin around, take aim, and fire. Monica saw the flash of Jake's muzzle as the bullet left its temporary home and she saw Jake fall.

"Noooooooooooooooo!" she and Alex screamed simultaneously but Frank's voice in the audio feed cut both their screams off. "He's fine." Monica saw Alex stop screaming as well.

Jake confirmed he was all right as soon as he hit the pavement, doing a double roll on the ground, then leaping off his back onto his feet, taking two huge leaps and dove behind the huge metal containers containing some of the contraband cocaine.

"Jake, you got him," Frank's voice said. The entire team watched as Jake's sniper slumped against the railing, his gun falling down and hitting the ground with a boom as the gun went off.

Frank was motioning to Alex. Alex left the cover of her car and ran as fast as she could towards Frank.

Jake was the one who spotted the thrid sniper, on the roof of the small building across from the warehouse--said building directly in front of Frank-- the gun-sight trained on Frank. Like the second sniper, the sun glinting off the gun-sight gave him away.

"Frank! Across from you!" Jake had shouted and Frank's eyes had followed Jake's hand. He saw the sniper taking aim and he aimed his own gun. Monica watched the scene as Alex ran towards Frank. Monica hoped Alex would reach him, tackle him to the ground and roll him behind his car before the previously unknown third sniper could fire.

But it was too late. The sound of the sniper's gun, compounded by the sound of Frank's gun, echoed loudly in the van. Monica, like the rest of the team, knew Frank was an expert shot. On the screen, Monica saw Alex look up in time to see the sniper clutching his groin.

Monica and Cody shouted "Nooo!" at the same time. They saw Frank's face go sheet-white. Alex had started to scream but Frank, despite his injury put up his hand. He was on his knees and about to teeter over.

Cody and Monica had both exited the van, and Cody was on his cell phone, calling for an ambulance.

Monica had run to Frank and helped ease off Frank's gun holster and then his bullet proof vest. She'd felt the blood drain from her face. Frank's chest was covered in blood from a small hole in his left shoulder. Monica knew it was a non-vital wound but she could see the blood pumping rhytmically out of the bullet wound.

Time seemed to slow. Dimly she heard Frank's voice whisper, "But it nicked an artery." Alex's voice murmurred something back but Monica didn't catch it. Her mind was flashing back to her brother Sean. She'd done this to Sean when he was gunned down by the cops and Sean had died in her arms.

Keller's death was still fresh in her mind as well. Keller had been shot in a warehouse and he'd bled out in Alex's arms. Monica knew what Alex was feeling. Her own feelings were in turmoil. The world narrowed for her until she only saw herself helping to press on the towel which had somehow appeared. She heard nothing.


Monica didn't really remember much after that. She vaguely remembered hearing helicopter blades whirring but her mind was focused on three people: Sean, Keller, and Frank Donovan. All three had been shot. Two were dead. One could bleed out from a nicked artery.

Monica came back to the present. She saw the van had almost arrived at the nest. Darkness was growing long on the horizon. She'd been so relieved to know that Frank would live--he looked good, and his coloring was high, she thought for the second time.

Frank had been his usual self: stoic, inscrutable, and concerned about his team. She'd been frightened when he'd told her that bullet fragments from the needle bullets could have pierced a blood vessel and travelled to his heart.

But when her smiled at her, she'd felt relief. Frank was going to be all right. Like I should have had any doubts about him, she thought to herself. This is Frank Donovan I'm thinking about. Nothing can ruffle his feathers.

Monica looked out the window of the van and saw that Cody was turning into the Nest's parking lot. Strangely, she needed to be here, to see the office where Frank's cool personality had finally shaken off the pall of Keller's death.

Her reflection showed her face to be relieved.

Chapter Nine: Cody's Thoughts

For that past half hour, Cody had been taking the back roads from Chicago Memorial back to the Nest. He'd been frustrated (a fact he knew Monica would figure that out, and she'd also tell Frank. Then Cody would be called into Frank's office for one of Frank's infamous chats--something that Cody wasn't looking forward to), and he was taking out his frustration by driving on the bumpy back roads.

He too had been shocked by the shooting. Usually, Cody was in the van, attending to his computers and electronic gadgets. He'd oftentimes felt like he was outside the action, watching it all unfold on the video feeds.

He, like Frank and Monica, had been watching the video feed when Alex and Jake had been ordered to strip. He'd felt detached, as if he was watching a television show.

But when he saw Frank take out the unseen sniper (and it had been Jake's sniper which had caused him to ask Monica to move the van closer) and he'd seen Frank fall, he'd known instantly that Frank had been shot.

He also knew it wasn't a mortal wound, for Frank was well protected. He'd done his homework on the backgrounds of the criminals involved. Pretty slick scheme they had going there: a yachtie was the runner. Put the cocaine in his bilges and brought it to the Hamptons from Puerto Rico. The drugs were run down to 41st street in the Apple and Jake, as the passenger bus driver, hauled the contraband to Chicago, where it was distributed. They'd taken down the gang in Peoria.

Slick. Very slick. Cody now drove automatically, twisting and turning the van through the A homing instinct. Frank would say Cody had developed a homing instinct. Like the rest, he'd begun to feel the cobwebs of Keller's death were being swept out by Frank and Frank's cool personality was imprinting itself onto the Nest.

When Cody saw Frank down on the ground, Cody had felt a range of emotions. Anger, for one. He'd felt satisfaction that Frank had gotten the gunman in his privates. He was angry at the sniper for taking out his Frank--and Cody found himself surprised to think of Frank as his, for he had always imagined Frank to be, well, Frank's own.

Anguish was the next emotion to mix in with the anger. He'd felt the pit of his stomach drop down into his feet when he'd seen the whitish grey color of Frank's face and had known that Frank had been hit.

Helplessness was the next feeling, as he watched Alex and Monica try to stanch the blood. He'd tried to help as well but he felt Alex and Monica had it under control, so he'd just kneeled by Frank's feet, watching the efforts of the women to slow the blood flow.

For his part, Frank had lain motionless, barely speaking and only raising his hand once. Cody knew what he was doing--minimizing the blood loss. That feeling of helplessness came on again, as he watched Monica's face go grey. Glancing up, he saw Jake's face go grey as well.

There'd been some upset looks from Jake and Alex when Cody had told them that Frank had had Paul Bloom in on the video and audio feeds.

He had been peripherally aware that Frank was conscious, and could hear them talking. No doubt Frank would have some words for Cody when he got out of the hospital. He'd felt rather strange when Frank hadn't reprimanded him for telling the team about Bloom, but knowing Frank, he would bring it up at a future time.

This was something Cody wasn't looking forward to at all. He had felt Frank and his relationship was developing on a skewered tangent. There was some communication problems between them, and Cody couldn't understand why Frank wouldn't let up and live a little.

Like going out for drinks. Why wouldn't he go out for drinks? A simple thing, going out for a drink. Cody knew Frank imbibed spirits on occasion, so he couldn't figure out why Frank was so reluctant.

Frank Donovan was the antithesis of John Keller. Keller had been personable, a real mix-it-up kinda fellow. He knew that someone's bullet might have his name on it so he lived his life with few regrets. Like when he asked Alex out to dinner at Ruth's.

That had been only the first date. Morton's had followed, and then, the romance. Alex had been buoyed by her relationship with Keller; she'd busted Carlos and the stress of being undercover was getting to her.

But Frank? He'd said it before and no doubt he'd say it again: Frank Donovan was built. When he was built was anybody's guess. This guy managed to cover his tracks completely--although Dartmouth listed Frank Donovan as an alumni, Cody doubted if Frank had attended the Ivy League university.

For someone whose previous jobs did not encompass undercover work, Donovan had made it his business to keep his previous life undercover.

And it was strange how Cody felt that Frank was like a father to him. He'd been embarassed when he realized what he'd whispered to Frank as Frank lay bleeding on the pavement outside the warehouse. Cody had been shaken, like the rest of the team, and he'd watched as Alex had tried to stanch the bleeding.

He didn't know where his words to Frank had come from; they'd just bubbled up in his mind, and they were out of his mouth before he'd realized what he had said. He was grateful that his voice could barely manage more than a mere whisper, but Frank, damn him, had heard his whisper--the man must have superhuman hearing, Cody further mused and started mumbling to himself.

Was Frank so aloof because he wanted to keep some distance between himself and the rest of the team? Was it because of Keller? Cody knew Frank knew Keller and Alex had had a sexual relationship and perhaps Frank's behavior was to spare them the feeling of losing someone in the family should Frank meet a fate similar to Keller's.

Was that it? Could the communication problems between the two men really boil down to Frank trying to protect his team's feelings? That he didn't want to get too close to anyone at the office in the event that he had to bury them, or they had to bury Frank?

Was that why Frank seemed to have been built?

Cody now blinked at the deepening darkness. The sun was glinting off the left side of the van and the clouds, Cody had to admit, were rather pretty: a mixture of oranges, purples, blues, and reds.

Cody saw the warehouse where they'd hidden the Nest. He had to admit, he never in his life felt so relieved to see the office. This was where Frank was imprinting himself in and this was where everyone needed to be, if only for a few minutes to gather their things and go home.

Chapter Ten: Back At The Nest

"You know, I never thought I'd say this about Donovan, but I'm used to him," Cody said as he and Monica stood in Frank's office. Jake and Alex had repaired themselves to the gym, where Alex was undoubtedly smoking or going after her punching bag--probably doing both simultaneously.

"He's functional, he's organized, and he's ours. And we still have him," added Monica as she took up Frank's pen and looked at it. Glancing around his bare desk, she found a stack of note paper. Taking a piece, she wrote "Welcome back, Frank!" and placed it in the middle of his desk.

"You know how Frank is going to react," Cody said with a grin.

"Give me one of his steely looks, most likely. I could use a steely look right now," Monica told him. "When I realized he'd been shot, Sean and Keller's deaths were running through my mind," she finished.

"Tell me. I feel a bit responsible, like I should have known about the third sniper," Cody told her as he sat down at Frank's desk and swung himself around in the chair."

"It's not your fault. No one could guess there was a third sniper," Monica told him.

Cody stopped spinning in Frank's chair. "Not even Frank guessed that one," Cody said.

"They tried to checkmate him," Monica said. "They failed in their attempt."

"Frank's got a damn good eye," Cody said as turned on the computer and began to tinker with the desktop. "He will give me hell when he sees this," Cody said, showing Monica what he'd done.

Frank's computer desktop now had the background of "Welcome Home, Frank....We Missed You."

"Welcome home. I guess that means we're a family," Monica noted. Cody looked at the computer, realizing what he had written. Home, not back. He'd written 'home'.

"Yeah, guess I'm used to the robot," Cody said, as the sounds of Alex punching her bag floated down to Frank's office.

"I didn't know the acoustics of his office were so good," Monica exclaimed.

Cody and Monica now heard the murmurring voices of Jake and Alex, mixed in with periodic whumps to the punching bag.

"Why that little devil! He can hear what's going on in the entire warehouse!" Cody said, surprised.

"No wonder he wanted his desk in just this spot. I thought he was into Feng Shui," Monica responded.

"Think he had something different in mind," Cody suggested.

"Like keeping us under his careful eye," Monica noted dryly.

"If it hadn't been for Frank's observation of people, many people from our cases wouldn't be here," Cody said.

"Tell me. Frank's just doing his job."

"He does a fine damn job," Cody said and Monica agreed.

"You all right with what happened?" Cody now asked Monica.

She thought a moment before answering. First Derrek had been killed. Sean Cinque, her beloved brother. She'd come to understand from Frank that cops can, like Teddy C, go renegade, just like criminals. Likewise, two rivals can come together to achieve their given objective, like Quito Real and Sonny Walker.

"I can live with it," she finally said. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," Cody said. "Just reaffirms my thoughts that he was built," Cody added.

Monica gave a small chuckle. "You can wobble him, but he won't fall down."

Now it was Cody's turn to chuckle. "I'm gonna go off for a drink--if Frank wants to know. Perhaps I'll pick up Stephanie," he said as he turned.

"See you tomorrow," Monica said as Cody left the warehouse.


"So, you say goodbye to Keller's memory?" Jake asked as he leaned against the gym's wall closest to where Alex's bag was hung.

Alex threw a hard right punch to her bag and the bag shook. She looked hard at Jake, and dragged on her cigarette, considering her answer.

"Yeah. I said goodbye," she responded, throwing her bag another punch, the cigarette dangling out of her mouth.

"Careful you don't set fire to yourself. Then we'd have two of us out," Jake said.

"I could be a roommate to Frank," Alex said.

"Frank with a roomie? I never thought he was the type."

"Cody said Frank had a roommate when he was at the Academy."

"How'd he find that out? He find more information on Frank and didn't tell us?" Jake said, surprised.

"He's been asking around," Alex said and dragged on her cigarette. A small dusting of ash floated downwards and landed on her tank top shirt. She held her cigarette between her teeth and gave fast one-two punches to her bag.

Jake chuckled. "Frank's going to find out about that. He knows everything," he told Alex.

Alex took the cigarette out of her mouth. "He always gets what he wants."

"That's what makes him so damned good," Jake responded.

"Did you really think Frank was going to die?" Jake asked her next.

Alex took another drag on her cigarette. "Yes. No. I don't know. I saw the blood, and the wound, and I thought, well I don't know what I thought. I was thinking of Keller. I looked up, saw the warehouse, and thought of Keller the whole time," she said, sitting down on the weight lifting bench. Frank's bowflex stood in the gym's far right corner and Alex looked at it. She blew a ring of smoke.

"Are you in love with Frank?" queried Jake.

Alex gave him a sharp look. "Love? Love isn't the word to describe my feelings for Frank. He's there, pulled us through some tough cases. He's pushed me to go where I thought I couldn't go. And sometimes I discovered I liked what he pushed me to do," she said.

"He's tough. Hard as nails. He's blunt. Gave me a lot of talks, pointing out what was wrong with my decisions. He know just where to hit the mark," Jake responded.

"That's the psychologist in him."

"Damn good psychologist," Jake admitted.

"Would you have quit the unit had Frank bled out?" Alex asked suddenly, dragging on one of the last puffs of her cigarette. She flipped her hair out of her eyes.

Jake considered his response. He'd begun to value himself and to see in what direction his life would lead. Except for Father Michael, he hadn't had any family. At the Holidays, when other people were going off to see their families or significant others, Jake was alone in Chicago. It was lonely--too lonely--but this year he was determined to do things differently. After the trip to Bolivia, and in the line of fire, he'd come to the conclusion that he needed to get out more, see more of the world.

Since Keller's death, Frank had taught him he had the ability to be successful. He knew he was pompous and prone to making hasty decisions. Frank was teaching him that in the crime business, you had to think ten moves ahead of your opponent; crime was a psychological chess game and he was learning the rules. Jake was learning, from Frank, that what looked like the most expedient move could often be the fatal move--and he would be the one going six feet under if he made a hasty decision.

Keller had been an open, breezy personality, a big brother type to Jake. He'd accepted Jake's mistakes and had allowed him to run a bit wild in the unit. Frank was distant, reserved--and he expected Jake to follow Donovan's Rules. And Donovan's Rules were the rules of action which Frank determined at the start of every case.

Jake looked at Alex. Her bright blue eyes were gazing at him steadily. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I would have left the unit had Frank bled out. Keller, Frank, how much can I take? I know I'm a promising Agent but I'm not so sure I would be able to keep on going undercover, risking my life, for someone else," he replied.

"You've been thinking about leaving," Alex said this as a statement.

"Not until you brought it up," Jake said.

"You've thought about leaving. We all have," Alex said. "I thought about having a child with Keller," she added softly, a tear slipping down her face.

"You would have had to leave the unit," Jake's voice, soft, responded.

"I know. I wouldn't be able to mix children and this job."

"Is that why you started up with Keller?"

"I think so. Like me, he was alone. When he died, without kids, I was so lost. I didn't want to die alone, without someone to carry part of me on," she said, another tear slipping down her face.

"You gonna find Carlos?"

"Possibly. But not now," she responded.

"Why didn't you leave with him?"

Alex dragged the last puff of her cigarette and stubbed it out on the metal frame of the bench, then looked at Jake.

"I'm at war. I don't know what I want. First college, then law school. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. You know, save the world, all that crap. When I changed jobs, took on a different last name, I didn't know the pain could be so bad. Somehow, changing my last name to suit this job married me to this job. I'm Alex Cross, member of Special Operations Unit. I'm not who I was before I took this job."

"Know the feeling. It's like this unit is our spouse and for better or worse, its here for us," Jake said.

"Good thing we have Frank," Alex said, rising. "I'm off to the shower."

"See ya," Jake said as Alex ambled off towards the showers.

Jake remained leaning against the wall for a little bit. Thoughts were running through his mind, swirling around. At Jake's request, Frank had made the arrangements for Jake to enter a drug rehab and Jake would be checking in to the center in a few days. Only a month, he thought to himself.

Looking at the time, he decided to also take a shower, and head off to dinner--he'd spring for Morton's Steakhouse. He headed for the men's shower on the opposite wall from the women's.

Monica was passing by the gym on her way out of the nest. Jake called out, "Monica?"

Monica turned around, her braids swinging gaily. Jake wished he felt as gay as Monica's braids. They reminded him of little children swinging.

"Yes?" she asked.

"Cody leave?" Jake spent more time with Alex and he wasn't sure of Cody's relationship with their teammate.

"Yeah, he's gone off on his own date," Moncia responded, giving Jake the answer to his immediate concern.

"Wanna go out to Morton's for dinner? My treat," Jake asked her. "I, uh, know it's the anniversary of Sean's death, so if you want to be by yourself, I"ll understand," he finished.

Monica considered. "You not gonna take Alex?"

"I'm asking you," Jake said, coming over to the gym's door where Monica stood.

"Yes. Yes, I'd like to go to dinner with you," she said. "Sean enjoyed going to Morton's. We used to have a lot of good times there," she whispered. She looked at Jake. "Sean always told me that if he died, I was to go to Morton's on the anniversary of his death. Something to remember him by, something to remember all the good times we enjoyed," she said.

"Great," Jake said. "I'm going to shower and change. Want me to pick you up at your home?"

"Please. I'll be about an hour," Monica responded.

"See ya then," Jake said as he turned and headed into the men's shower. Monica stood for a moment longer in the doorway.

"Keller?" Monica whispered softly. "Keller, it was good to know you while you were here, you made my life richer. You helped me when Sean died. But Frank's here now, and I need to develop a working relationship with him. Hope you understand," Monica whispered to the empty gym.

"Love you, Sean Cinque," she said in a louder voice, and a tear slipped down her face. She'd ask Jake to stop by the cemetery where Sean was buried. She wanted to lay flowers on his grave and give him his birthday present. Tomorrow would have been his birthday.

Then she, too, turned, and went on her way home to shower, and change for dinner at Morton's.

Chapter Eleven: Frank Talks With Alex

"You spent several hours with your punching bag," Frank stated the next day after Alex had shown up in response to his page. He'd paged just after lunch, and Alex had hurried over to the hospital.

Alex started. How did he know? How does he always know when I do that? she thought to herself and opened her mouth to say so but Frank beat her to it.

"And now you're wondering how I know you spent several hours with your punching bag," Frank said, taking a sip of the hazelnut coffee which Ann-Marie had deposited for the two of them a few minutes earlier.

Alex looked a bit sheepish. "Yes, I spent several hours with my punching bag," she confirmed, mentally cursing him. Her blue eyes flashed annoyance.

"You did the same thing after I allowed you to be taken as a hostage," he replied, taking another sip of his coffee. "And don't curse me," He levelled an annoyed look at her and settled back into the very comfortable looking chair and Alex wished she was similarly arranged. She could only perch on a metal stool which was in front of Frank's chair. He was now gazing at her, life back in his cognac brown eyes.

The thought ran through Alex's head that he had designed the seating this way. The big chair, the little chair. The big chair meant power, she remembered from her reading of his psychology books. The little chair--the uncomfortable chair--screamed 'subordinate'. Alex felt a little like a child being reprimanded, a thought which Frank was astute enough to pick up.

A smirk went across Frank's face as he said, "This is not a reprimand, Alex. I know how frustrated you felt, how upset you were when I got shot. The circumstances were very similar to Keller's death," he sipped his coffee again.

His mug was large, thick and cream colored and the smell emmanating from it was delicious. She reached for her own cup, never before having had hazelnut coffee. She took a sip, and instantly agreed it was her favorite coffee. Coffee and cigarettes, now I've become a real bohemian, she thought to herself.

Frank said softly, "I know you loved him, and I know you had a sexual relationship with him."

This time Alex wasn't surprised.

She sipped her coffee. "Yeah. He started the relationship a few weeks before he di--was murdered. I hadn't known I was in love with him until he asked me out to dinner. We went to Ruth's," Alex said, taking another sip. She had to admit, the half and half really brought out the flavor of the hazelnut. She'd never been much of a coffee drinker, not even in law school studying into the wee hours of the morning.

She looked at Frank. Frank's color looked much better today. His cheeks had regained their ordinary color, he was even a bit flushed, Alex noted. Frank seemed to note her eyes on his cheeks.

"They gave me a little too much blood. Have to remember to thank Bloom for that," Frank said dryly, the steam from his coffee lightly shrouding his face as he blew on it to cool the coffee a bit.

"Are you okay with what happened?" Frank asked next.

Alex considered her response, narrowing her eyes a bit. Frank's statement of her sexual relationship with Keller was not unintentional. He wanted her to examine her feelings for Keller and to also examine her feelings for Frank. She had grown to care for Frank--as the rest of the team had done: he was dependable, yet highly aloof. He didn't want to be a team leader but the stress of his previous job had led him to beach himself for six months. Still, when offered his choice of jobs by Justice, he'd chosen one he hadn't done before.

He hadn't done undercover work before. Alex thought on that as she too copied Frank and blew on her coffee to cool it. Ah! He'd been stalling for a bit, gathering his thoughts and was expecting her to do the same.

Frank was unskilled in undercover work. She had skill, several years experience. She was more of an expert than Frank. He was looking for a challenge to his skills, his high intelligence and low tolerance for boredom telling him that beaching himself was not an acceptable alternative. So he'd chosen their unit.

And Frank's getting wounded and bleeding out, then depending on his team to assist him told Alex that he could be dependent upon them. He knew the risks the job entailed, as did Alex and Jake.

He'd carefully explained about their trip to Bolivia, wanting Jake and Alex to know what could happen. She'd been okay with the thought of potentially dying in a remote jungle in South America. She'd even looked at the assignment as a challenge.

And her current feelings would be a challenge. She'd loved Keller, loved Carlos, and although she didn't feel attracted to Frank, she had grown to care about him--and she cared about his life.

"Yeah," she said after what seemed like an eternity. "I can handle it."

"Are you sure? You took a bit longer than I expected to answer."

Alex thought for a moment. "When you said the bullet had nicked an artery, Keller flashed through my mind. I saw Keller lying there instead of you, and all I kept hoping was that I could save you, and by doing so, I'd be saving Keller. Does that make sense?"

"Yes. You felt guilty by not being able to save Keller. By staying with me, and crying into my shoulder, you were able to hold yourself together. When I pulled through, you felt relief: although you were unable to help Keller, you helped me live."

Frank could be surprising. Alex didn't think Frank had remembered her crying into his shoulder. But evidently he did. His next words confirmed this.

"In your mind, you were comforting yourself on Keller's shoulder. You were saying a final goodbye, the goodbye you couldn't say when he died so quickly after being shot," Frank's voice was soft and he was looking at her, a soft light in his eyes.

Alex felt tears coursing down her face. "I never had enough time to say goodbye properly. I wanted a long goodbye. I knew he would have a quick death when I heard all the gunshots, and I wanted to be selfish," Alex said as she took another sip of her coffee and held the cup near her mouth to smell the pleasant aroma. She lowered the cup a little and looked hard at Frank, swinging her hair as she did so, "I wanted to be selfish and have Keller alive long enough to say a longer goodbye."

Frank nodded. He said softly, "Did you say goodbye this time?"

It was Alex's turn to nod. She had said a final goodbye to John Keller for a half an hour, crying softly into Frank's shoulder as they flew the final half hour to Chicago Memorial. She'd thought Frank wasn't conscious of her, that the pain had taken over and the inevitable dizziness from the extensive blood loss. But she should have known he'd been aware.

Frank had not moved much from the time he got shot. He knew excessive movement would only excaberate blood loss when there was a gunshot wound and he had lain quietly, moving and speaking little, allowing Monica and Alex to help him and then allowed the medics to assist him.

Alex looked at Frank again. "Yes. Yes, I got my goodbye." She took a deep breath. It felt good to breathe, to be alive. She was still sad over Keller's death, but she knew she would adjust. She'd never forget John, never forget his eyes, the way he'd breathed after love, his voice in her ear. But she could now accept his death, and Carlos's going away.

"I wanted to have his baby," she said softly. "Now there's nothing left of him in the world with his father dead," she finished.

She glanced up and saw Frank gazing at her.

"Is that what you wanted?" Frank asked quietly.

Alex looked away, and thought for a moment, remembering the conversation she'd had last night with Jake. "With Keller. I wanted a baby with Keller," she admitted.

Nurse Chilton came in the door. "The bandage machine again?" Frank asked. Nurse Chilton chuckled. "Yes, and I'm afraid you'll have to escape from here awhile," she said to Alex, who'd finished her cup of coffee.

"I'll see you again at five," Frank told her. "With the rest of the team." He gave her a look which dismissed her but at the same time was filled with understanding. She started for the door as Nurse Chilton started washing her hands.

"And no punching bags this afternoon," he said after her. Alex lowered her head and tried to hide a grin. "I can tell that's what you were planning on doing this afternoon. Go to Hester's Spa instead," he said as Alex stopped by the door and swung her head around to face him.

"That's an order, young lady," he told her sternly and looked at her sharply. Nurse Chilton had finished her hand washing and had donned her gloves. Frank had moved to the bed and was sitting on the edge of the bed. "I want to see the receipt from the spa when you get back here at five pm."

"And I saw that grin you tried to hide," Frank said behind her, his voice dry. Alex's next step was a bit hesitant. But she carried forth the motion so Frank wouldn't notice. "Don't think I don't notice your actions, Alex," he said. She swung around again to look at him, but he was intent on looking at Nurse Chilton's ministrations.

"All right," Alex said as she stepped out of the door into the corridor.

Damn him, she thought, as she walked down the hall to the bank of elevators, the heels of her boots clicking softly on the tiled floor.

Behind her, Frank allowed Nurse Chilton to attend his wound. From her clucking her could tell his wound was healing nicely.

Nurse Chilton finished her ministrations. "All done until the evening, Frank." She looked up to see Frank smiling at her. She smiled back.

"Until then, Nurse Chilton," Frank's deep voice said as she pushed her cart out of his room. She'd had to attend to another car accident victim in the room across from Frank.

Which reminded him of his standing appointment with Danny Montalto. He still had plenty of time--two hours--so he leaned back on the pillow and gazed out the window, organizing his thoughts about how to present his job to Danny.

Chapter Twelve: Alfred Montalto Meets Frank

"Good afternoon, Mister Donovan," a voice interrupted Frank's thoughts.

Frank swung his head around and looked at the two people coming into his hospital room. He knew right away the man in the wheelchair was Alfred Montalto--Danny was the spitting image of him: same hair, same eyes.

"Mister Montalto, I'm pleased to meet you," Frank said, pulling himself up a bit in his bed.

"And you, Mister Donovan, I've heard a lot about you from Danny. Seems you really made a connection," Alfred said as Frank swung his legs over the edge of the bed and slowly stood up. He walked the few steps to the large chair and sat down.

When he was seated, he noticed the nurse had locked Alfred's wheelchair directly in front of him.

Frank knew this talk was coming and he had considered many opening statements to make. He decided to wait and to allow Alfred to articulate his thoughts.

Alfred was looking downwards, the dejected look of a man whose life has been turned upside down by circumstances not under his control. While Frank had never been in Alfred's position, he full well understood how someone's life could be turned upside down. Alfred was feeling helpless, out of control. Frank saw Alfred's face go strained, so changed his mind, and spoke to Alfred in a soothing quiet tone.

"Danny wanted to know," Frank said.

Alfred looked up, tears in his eyes. "He's always been like that--demanding to know the answer right away. Good or bad, he has always wanted to know." Alfred wiped a tear from his eye. "Danny's too much like his old man," he said softly.

"That's not a bad trait," Frank said.

Alfred turned his head and looked out the window. "I couldn't tell him. I tried, but I couldn't tell him he'd never walk again."

"He knew he'd never walk again when the accident happened."

"He did?"

"Yes. He said he felt his legs go number. I rather suspect he didn't want to tell you what he knew in order to spare your feelings."

"That little scamp. That's his mother coming out in him. If only she could see him now. She was always trying to avoid telling me things she thought would hurt me," Alfred said, wiping away another tear from his brown-flecked green eyes.

Frank paid attention to the verb tenses in Alfred's statement, and he guessed Danny's mother had died. The wound seemed fresh, in the not-too-distant past, and Frank would not try to pry open the wound.

"He's a bright child--loves cars."

"I know. There's so much he wanted to try. A race car driver--Formula Three--was the first thing he wanted to try after he got old enough," Alfred said. "Now," Alfred's voice choked up with tears. "Now, I don't know what he's going to do."

Frank remained silent while Alfred took a kleenex and blew his nose. "He's only a little boy!" Alfred said, more forcefully than he realized, for Ann-Marie popped her head in the door and asked,

"Everything ok?"

Frank looked at her, and smiled. Ann-Marie smiled back. "Yes. Everything's okay. Do you have more of that hazelnut coffee?" he asked, deliberately pitching his voice low, and soft. Ann-Marie blushed.

"Uhm, yes. I had some more brewing. Seems like you started a trend here on the sixth floor. I'll get it now," she said, and quickly popped her head out of the door. "Coffee would be good now," Alfred said listlessly.

"You said Danny didn't stop talking about me," Frank said.

"He was so excited. You came to see him in a wheelchair. Then, you told him you worked with the Justice Department to help catch the bad guys," Alfred said, a smile playing through his tears.

"You know the rules of this hospital," Frank said, frowning a bit.

"Tell me. Totally absurd."

Frank let out a small chuckle. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ann-Marie come in the room carrying her tray of hazelnut flavored coffee and two clean, thick, cream colored mugs. She took the few steps into the room and set down the tray on the small rolling table.

"Here you go, Mister Donovan," she said.

"Frank. It's Frank. And thank you for the coffee," he said as he smiled at her again. She smiled back.

"You know, Mister Donovan, every time I come on this floor, I feel better. I didn't know how much a smile could lift someone's day until now," she said, as she poured two cups of the steaming flavored coffee and then added half and half to the steaming mugs.

Alfred now said, "Thank you." Then he too smiled at Ann-Marie.

A buzzer sounded in the room across the hall. "Oops. Gotta go. That's the signal that someone wants his snack!" Ann-Marie said cheerfully as she turned towards the door.

"Have a good afternoon," Frank said.

"You too!" responded Ann-Marie as she exited the room.

Frank didn't want to give Alfred the usual responses that he would hear about Danny's disability: "He can still contribute," and "there's always hope." He thought a moment and said,

"You know, I could use someone to mentor once a week. I am in the process of developing a training program and I could use a fresh young mind to give insight."

"But he's only ten years old!" Alfred said, but despite himself, he was rather pleased with Frank's suggestion.

"Ten years old or thirty years old, it doesn't matter. What's important is that Danny remains a part of the social fabric."

Alfred thought about this, a strained look on his face. Over the past few days, he'd been told the same statements over and over: "Danny will still contribute," "he'll be a valuable member of society." But those statement were made with the speaker's eyes filled with sadness and they always glanced away, as if they were a bit ashamed at speaking those words. Perhaps those words were lies.

But Frank had said, "It's important that Danny remain a part of the social fabric." His words were not profound, but Alfred thought he understood what Frank was saying. Frank understood that a lot of opportunities would now be closed to Danny, and that Danny needed to see that his immediate world--his world for the next few months in his halo brace and tongs--that world would not be limited to a small view of the ceiling or the floor.

Alfred looked at Frank. "I think Danny would like that. He can't stop talking about you. The nurses put him on a speakerphone so he could talk to me and they could go about their work."

Frank knew what he was going to say next, "I can arrange for one of my staffers to outfit Danny with special computer equipment so he can keep up with his schoolwork," Frank said.

Alfred looked surprised. "Thank you! Danny has been worried about how he'll keep up with his schoolwork. He's a great kid--gets straight "A's". Says he doesn't try, but I know him better."

"I'll make the arrangements," Frank said, picking up his still-steaming coffee with the half and half he had found himself predilected towards. "Try this coffee. I think you'll like it," he said.

Alfred picked up the second steaming cup and took a sip. "You know, Frank, I was so angry at you for telling Danny about his condition. You aren't his father," Alfred said, taking another small sip.

Frank merely waited, realizing that Alfred was going to say more.

"But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was afraid to telling Danny about his condition. I came out of that same accident with a broken leg. How do you tell your only son that he's never going to walk again?" another tear slipped from Alfred's eye, and to hide it, Alfred took another sip of his coffee.

"I can't hit the rewind button for him and take this all back," Alfred said after swallowing his coffee.

"The only think you can do is go forward. In Danny's case, he had his life before the accident. And he has a life after the accident."

"Before. And after," Alfred said, a wan look coming over his face.

Frank had decided to be blunt. "Yes. There are things Danny won't be able to do, like run, car race," Frank said and Alfred cut in.

"Ski? Will he be able to ski? He's paralyzed from the waist down," Alfred asked.

Frank took a sip of his coffee and smiled. Alfred's face relaxed and he smiled too. "Danny will be able to ski...not as a two legged skier, but he can learn to ski on a monoski, and perhaps participate in the Para-Olympics," he told Alfred. "There are many sports Danny can participate in, despite his paralysis. He can start his own city-wide paraplegic sports team," Frank continued.

Alfred sighed a sigh of relief. His green eyes shone with interest. "He will be so glad to hear that. He was looking forward to ski trips when he got old enough."

"He'll have to have special training," Frank reminded.

"Where can I find an instructor?"

"Try the Para Olympic web site, for starters. They can help you find the right equipment and instructors for Danny when he's ready," Frank said.

"Danny is going to worship you," Alfred said, a real smile playing on his lips.

Frank parlayed the comment back at Alfred, "This is news that would come better from you. You two can start planning. He'll like that and it will give him other things to focus on," Frank said.

"I guess planning for the practical side of things wouldn't be a bad idea," Alfred said.

"It will be frustrating for Danny in the next few days after his doctors stop giving him the neuroparalyzer. He'll begin to fully understand the limitations of paralysis. You and him, together, planning on how he's going to play new types of sports, perhaps even start his own sports team for paraplegics, that image will give him the ability to focus on the near term," Frank explained.

"You're right," Alfred said, nodding his head. "But still, Danny can't stop talking about you coming to see him," he told Frank with a smile.

"It seems I made a new friend," Frank said with an answering wide grin on his face.

"Seems like you did," Alfred agreed as his ward nurse came back into the room.

"Somebody's got therapy!" she said. Alfred make a show of groaning dramatically.

"I already had therapy," he said. "Tell that to the doctor," his nurse said as she unlocked the wheelchair's brakes, turned Alfred's wheelchair around and started to wheel him out of the room.

Alfred craned his neck around in his chair. "Thank you, Frank. Thank you for everything."

"You're welcome," Frank said. When Alfred had left the room, Frank picked up his coffee cup again and took a sip. He sat back in the chair, pleased with himself.

He made a mental note to talk to Cody about setting up the equipment in Danny's hospital room. And Jake, Jake he would assign the task of finding the information on paraplegic ski instructors. Frank slipped his cell phone out of its hiding place and phoned Cody and Jake with his requests.

Chapter Thirteen: Danny Gets Good News

"Oh wow!" Danny's brown-flecked green eyes grew wide as he looked in the large mirror Frank was holding. His eyes were fixated on the computer equipment Cody was setting up in his hospital room.

"Neat, eh?" Cody asked, flashing a grin at him. "Old robot here," he indicated Frank with a nod of his head--Frank shot an annoyed look at him--"said this is yours to keep."

"Mine? It's gonna be mine? Cool!" Danny's eyes met Frank's in mirror and Frank nodded his approval. "I've never had a computer before!" Danny said. "Dad's always told me I had to wait until high school to get a computer. He wants me to learn things the old fashioned way."

Cody chuckled. "There's something to be said for the old fashioned way. It's how I learned," he told Danny.

"I like the computers at school," Danny offered.

"Yeah?" Cody responded. "We'll see if we can do something about getting you a video hookup for your school. Old man sternface here said I could hook up the equipment."

"Mister Donovan's cool!" Danny replied, grinning.

"Cool? He's an iceberg!" Cody said,

"No way!" Danny piped.

At that moment, Cody caught sight of Frank, who was giving him a stern look.

"Let's turn this puppy on and see what she can do, shall we?" Cody asked Danny as Cody flipped the switches of the microphone on and adjusted the microphone on its stand.

"This is a voice activated typer. You're going to use it until your halo brace comes off," he said. "It's so you won't move around too much. Now, Danny, just speak slowly and we'll train the computer to type your words.

"This is a voice activated typer. Now, Danny, just speak slowly and we'll train the computer to type your words.

Danny did so. "thank you frank and cody," Danny said, and the words flashed onto the computer's screen.

Frank grinned and Cody both grinned. "You're welcome," they said simultaneously.

"Now there's no excuse for you to not be doing your homework, young man," Cody said sternly and Frank had to hide a smile which came to his face.

"I like homework! I wanna be a psychologist like Frank and help catch the bad guys!" Danny exclaimed, while the computer obediently typed out his words.

"Hey! It's typing my words as I speak!" Danny said, and again the computer typed his words.

"I'll work with you to help you train the software to recognize where to put line breaks and paragraphs," Cody said.

Frank put down the mirror and looked at Danny. "Would you like to hear how we catch the bad guys?"

"Yeah!" Danny's cheerful voice echoed in the large hospital room. "Can I have some soda? I hate the neuroparalyzer they still have me on," Danny said.

"It's to keep you motionless while your bones are setting. They'll take you off the medication in a few days," Frank said.

Frank took up the soda can. Cody had put a very long straw--one he undoubtedly nicked from a bar somewhere and a pointed reference from Cody that Cody was still hoping to go out for drinks with him--and held the straw up to Danny's mouth.

Danny sipped, then his lips let go of the straw. "Mmmm!" Behind Frank, Cody smiled to himself as he finished hooking up the video link. Later he'd go to Danny's school and hook up the equipment on that end.

With his right hand, Frank slightly moved the heavy tongs sitting on Danny's forehead. The tongs helped hold his head in the brace and already Danny was getting a large bruise from the weight. He brushed a lock of Danny's remaining hair off the tongs.

"Why don't we begin?" Frank said, sitting back. "Puerto Rico is an American territory. You don't need a passport to travel to or from the island. That also means that you don't pass through Customs."

"Customs?" Danny asked.

"Customs is where you pass through when you've travelled to a foreign country. You have to tell them everything you bought while you were abroad. In the marine industry, the Coast Guard takes care of customs. The yachtie was running his contraband up from Puerto Rico to the Hamptons."

"That's in New York City! It's at the end of Long Island!" Danny said, proud of himself and it showed in his grin. "I am a whiz in geography," he added, his grin growing wider.

Frank responded with his own grin. "We could always use a good geographer in Justice," he said. "One of my staff, Jake--and you'll meet him later--was assigned to go undercover as the bus driver who brought the contraband from the bus station in the Apple..."

Cody had finished setting up Danny's equipment and was sitting quietly behind Frank, listening to Frank's soft voice as he talked to Danny about the public aspects of the case. As Cody listened, a small smile played at his lips. Frank was really going to be all right.

Chapter Fourteen: Frank Returns

Frank had been released from the hospital. Against his doctor's orders, and contrary to his own statements, he'd had a cab let him off two blocks down from the Nest's location. He planned to remain in the office for less than ten minutes.

Walking slowly, with his arm in a sling, he walked the two blocks. He knew his team had been taking some personal leave--after they'd each done the assignments he'd tasked them to do concerning Danny Montalto.

Frank was in as fine a mood as one could be after being shot.. He let his thoughts ramble around his mind but kept his dark eyes observant on his surroundings.

Upon reaching the Nest, he noted the parking lot was empty.

"Good," he whispered. "Good." His team was taking his recommendation and had followed his instructions--even Jake, who tended to not follow orders. Frank had seen the fine beginnings of a great Agent in Jake; Frank thought Keller had been too soft, too much of a big brother to Jake when Jake's personality needed a stronger role model.

Jake's lack of a structured environment during his childhood had taught him to play by his own rules. Those rules had only one requirement: that there were no rules.

That kind of thinking could get an Agent killed--or get his partner killed.

Under Keller's management, the unit had been successful but the Agents less so. It had been Keller's reputation which had established the unit. Frank had known Keller by reputation and he'd reflected when he heard about Keller's death.

But Frank was determined to change the unit's structure. He'd done just that in the short time he'd been with the unit, expecting more out of his team than had Keller. He'd pushed, molded and told each of his team the things they didn't want to hear. And they'd responded.

Frank enjoyed a challenge, and he'd decided to take what Justice was offering him: his choice of assignments. He had begun to get bored during his six-month beaching; he had a low level of boredom and he found that he enjoyed managing this unit, and enjoyed expanding both the unit's skills and the Agents' skills.

He'd done those things to make them understand themselves better.

He unlocked the Nest's doors and went in. The warehouse was dim, quiet. The only sound was the hum of Cody's computer banks. Frank went to his office. He noticed straight away the pen and paper in the middle of his desk. Narrowing his eyes a bit, he went around his desk and sat down.

"Welcome back, Frank" Monica's writing told him. Frank picked up the piece of paper and looked at it. A small smile played on his lips. So his team had been here, all of them. Most likely, they had needed to be someplace where they could feel safe. He knew the toll the shooting had on each of them.

Turning on his computer, he instantly saw Cody's work: "Welcome home, Frank," Cody's message told him.

He checked his mail messages, downloading those messages needing attention into his hand held computer. Flipping off the desktop computer, Frank rose and went over to Cody's computer banks. He stood there a moment, looking around.

"Welcome home," he whispered to the empty warehouse, then left the warehouse to return to his apartment.


Frank sat down at his desk. His mind was sorting through the events of the past several days. He'd been disturbed by the fact Paul Bloom had had him transported by medivac from Peoria, which had a perfectly competent trauma center, to Chicago Memorial.

There was something dark, something sinister about Paul Bloom. Something was off in Bloom's behavior after taking down the hitmen out to get Sonny. Frank couldn't place his finger on the source of his irritation about Bloom.

Although Frank had been shot in a non vital area, an artery was nicked and Frank could have bled out. At the very least, the extensive blood loss could have caused him to remain in an indefinite, light coma with possible brain damage.

Bloom's actions concerning Frank's long detour to Chicago Memorial disturbed the criminal psychologist in Frank. Take down Frank by 'accident'—i.e., Frank’s being re-routed from Peoria to Chicago while bleeding out heavily--and Bloom would have a free shot at Frank's job. Was that his motivation: to move down a notch and take command of the unit?

Frank didn't think that was a likely reason. Bloom was more of an administrative type. He didn't have the psychological stamina or the ability to complete the type of assignments handed to the Special Operations Unit. Bloom didn't have the linguist skills, he didn't have the ability to command others to do what they were told, the instant they were told.

Frank paused in his thoughts and re-ran a thought in his mind. His eyes narrowed just a bit. Psychological stamina. Bloom didn't have the psychological stamina or the ability to complete the type of assignments handed to the SOU.

He repeated that thought in his mind, but cutting off parts of the sentence: Bloom didn't have...psychological stamina...or…ability. Bloom didn’t have…psychological st…ability. Bloom didn’t have…psychological stability.

Something sinister about Paul Bloom nagged in Frank's mind. He decided to tag that suspicion, and to tag Paul Bloom.

Leaning forward slightly, Frank touched a button on the intercom. Cody's voice came back.


"We need to talk," and Frank clicked off the intercom. He pushed back his chair, stood up, and walked over to where he kept his coffee pot on a small sideboard. Bending down, he opened a door in the sideboard, reached in and took out a bottle of Scotch and two crystal tumblers.

He placed the items on a silver tray, and added a few ice cubes from the ice bucket he placed on the sideboard every day.

He carried the tray back to his desk and set it down. Cody's footsteps were drawing closer. Frank knew Cody would be hesitant, and wondering what he'd done to warrant scrutiny by the 'dry martini.' Yes, Frank knew about Cody's nicknames for him, for Frank monitored the video feeds of the nest and he'd been able to discern what Cody was mouthing to himself.

Frank Donovan could read lips. And that was both a good thing, and a bad thing.

For now, Frank would choose to make that a good thing in Cody's favor. Frank poured Scotch in the two crystal tumblers. He sat down, not behind his desk, but at one of the two chairs at the small table next to his desk.

Cody's footsteps were approaching Frank's office. He appeared in the doorway and looked towards Frank. His face was momentarily confused when he saw Frank sitting next to two tumblers filled with Scotch. 25 year Scotch, Cody's mind told him.

"Care to join me for a drink?" Frank asked pleasantly and indicated that Cody should sit.

Cody's face broke out into a grin. "You bet!" he said as he came forward to claim his prize.