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Youthful Passions: The Twist of Fate

Frank clenched his teeth as he pulled up to the nest's building and climbed out of his black BMW Z20. He dashed into the building, brushing rain off his leather jacket after he got inside. Paperwork! One of his least favorite activities of this job. The criminal mind was what fascinated him. He viewed his job as a psychological chess game built on strategy and damn, he was great at strategy. Negotiating was his true passion, and out-maneuvering criminals satisfied him. But he felt filling out the required government paperwork was a waste of his talents. Oh yeah, and they wanted all paperwork in triplicate.

On today's short agenda--a rainy Saturday morning--were the Notification of Personnel Action for the team.  His team were all due for their in-grade pay raises and Jake would be receiving a promotion. Frank now sat down at his neatly organized desk and looked at the small pile of government in front of him, which Monica had readied for his signature. He smiled to himself. Jake's form was on top. Monica had no doubt put it on top to make his deskwork a bit more pleasurable. Sometimes he wondered at the wisdom of having a behavioral analyst of Monica's formidable ability on the team. She knew what he was thinking, at times before he even thought it, and she knew he was proud of Jake's performance.

Rain beat on the windows in a faintly rhythmic tapping. The air was a bit warm, and Frank was feeling a bit drowsy. He pulled out his Cartier fountain pen and started signing the forms. He felt a flush of pride in writing his signature  which would grant Jake a two-grade promotion. Monica had been right to put Jake's form on top. Frank had been pleased at Jake's performance since Keller's death and he'd argued successfully that by bypassing the normal one grade promotion, Jake would be able to take the advanced training courses offered at Occoquan. It would mean losing his talents for a few months, but Frank was willing to make that trade. He needed Jake on the team and needed him with that training, especially since the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. All he'd needed to say to convince his superiors to grant Jake the promotion were two words: Trade Center.

The small pile of paperwork done, Frank put it in his outbox. He leaned back in his chair, listening to the rain beating on the windows. His eyelids drifted downwards, and in a few moments...

He was back in the convenience store. His ears were ringing from the gunshots which had been fired, both at Jenny and at the two clerks. Alarms were blaring. Jenny was spreadeagled against the far wall, facing him. Her shocked expression silently implored him to help her but he was too far away. He was on the other side of the store, too far away. He remembered thinking that. He eerily watched in the security mirror as he launched himself from behind the soda display trying to run to aid Jenny but he kept slipping in the blood from the two store clerks puddled on the colored tiles.  He vaguely saw her killer run out the door but his brain only registered that Jenny was dying. He remembered shooting the other man in the right wrist, the man's gun firing wrist.

He could only watch helplessly while he frantically tried to get to Jenny but she slowly slid down the wall to the floor, leaving a huge swath of blood on the wall above her. Her legs crumpled beneath her and as she bled out, her head lolled to the side and her eyes went vacant.

Frank had begun crawling through the blood trying to reach Jenny before she died. He reached her just as she fell sideways to the floor. He cradled her in his arms, stroking her chestnut hair, her blood mixing with his tears and soaking his clothes but he didn't see that. He only saw Jenny and he saw the holes in her chest from the bullets which had first spreadeagled her against the wall and then had let the blood leak from her body.

Jenny. Frank knew she was dead but his brain was having trouble processing the information. He sat there on the tiles, cradling her in his arms, rocking and softly crying. He didn't know how long he'd sat there with Jenny.

"Frank," the soft voice said. He knew that voice. Knew it from years of talking all night long while prepping for exams.

Frank looked up, blood and tears on his face. "Yes?"

"We need to take the bo--we need to take Jenny now." The soft-timbred voice belonged to Wanda Johnson, now a paramedic and a former college classmate of his. He was a few years younger than Wanda but they had graduated college the same semester. "I'm sorry, Frank. I'm so very sorry," she said. Her hand was on his shoulder in a gesture of support. Frank nodded dumbly. He tried to let go of Jenny but his arms seemed unable to respond to his brain's command.

"I. I. I..." he stammered. Tears were still streaming down his face.

"It's okay, Frank. We're here. We'll treat her gently," Wanda said in her softly accented voice.

"Please. She has no family," Frank implored as Wanda's firm but gentle hands took Frank's hands from around Jenny's body. Wanda and her partner lifted Jenny onto the stretcher behind them. Frank stood up, slowly, shaking, covered in blood. Jenny's blood. He looked first at the blood smeared on the wall, and then he looked down at the floor. Stark white bone chips were showing through the congealing blood on the tiles. Frank grimaced. His testimony would put those responsible for killing Jenny behind bars for the rest of their lives--the death penalty if he could arrange it.

He put those thoughts aside as he heard the soft click of the straps which would hold down Jenny's body on the stretcher. He looked at her and took the few steps to the stretcher.

He stroked her hair one last time before she was taken to the morgue. Her  lovely chestnut tresses would never fan themselves like a wave across his pillow. He would never brush her hair as they sat in front of a fire at the ski lodge in the Poconos, sipping champagne and giggling softly with each other as he held her close beside him. He would never have her kisses forever.

"I'll punish those responsible for doing this to you, Jenny," he whispered to her as his lips brushed her blood flecked forehead. "You'll have peace. You know I won't stop until those responsible are behind bars," he promised her. Jenny knew him, knew his personality. She would rest peacefully in the afterlife knowing Frank would find those responsible for her murder--and put them away for life.

Tears slipped from his eyes as he watched Wanda and her partner--John? Sean? Dean, Wanda's partner was Dean and she and Dean were getting married in a few months--roll Jenny outside to the waiting ambulance. Frank knew Wanda had interceded with his boss and had requested that Jenny not be put in a body bag for Frank's sake. He owed Wanda one. He didn't know what he would have done if he had seen Jenny put in a body bag.

He walked out the door of the store, his head hanging down. He heard the click of heels on the pavement and knew who was coming. His boss.

"Frank," his boss said.

He looked up. He said nothing. What could he say? He was off duty. He was carrying. He had taken his girlfriend out for the evening, stopped off in a convenience store, and his girlfriend had been murdered in front of his eyes. The murder had gone down in a split second. And he hadn't been able to do a dammed thing about it. He felt helpless standing outside the murder scene.

"Frank. I know this is hard for you. Standard procedure. You know you have to answer some questions," his boss said, as she flicked some ashes of her cigarette onto the ground. The red lights of the police cars glinted in her blond hair. Frank nodded.

He walked to the investigating officer's car, climbed in and sat down. The officer started asking him questions, which he answered but didn't really know he was answering. He was in a daze.

"What was that name again?" the startled officer's voice asked Frank.


"The name you just told me. What was the name you heard the accomplice speak on the pay phone?"

Frank had to think for a moment. He'd been behind the soda display at the candy display, choosing between a Zagnut and an Almond Joy when he'd heard the man who would soon try to open fire upon his beloved Jenny speaking on the payphone located about 10 feet away from the candy display. The man had said a name. Something in Spanish.

"Real. The name I heard was Real," Frank said.



The officer waved Frank's boss over. Frank heard her heels click on the pavement.

"Ever heard of the name "Real"," the officer asked Lynda, Frank's boss.

"Quito? Quito did this?" she inquired of Frank.

"I don' t know. The name I heard was Real," Frank thought he might want to check up on Quito Real, find out who he was, and why both Lynda and the investigating officer--Steve, Steve was his name--were both startled when he'd said the name Real. But he could try to get some information now.

"Who's Quito Real?"

"Up and coming drug kingpin. Known for his violence. He has a growing cadre of fans who are more than willing to commit robbery and now murder in return for his favors and his protections. If Quito Real's behind this, we've got some trouble coming," Lynda told him. She turned to Steve.

"I want information from the one we cuffed. Names, places. Who are his contacts? Who ordered this robbery?" Lynda dropped her cigarette on the pavement where it joined other snuffed out cigarette butts. She stepped on the cigarette and twisted her foot to put out the cigarette.

"He made a phone call from the payphone. Said the name Real," Frank said dazedly.

Lynda said, "Trace the phone call, Steve and investigate the people at the other end of the number." She turned her attention to Frank again.

"Ok Frank. Take a few days to recover. You're a rookie and I know this is the first time you've seen someone killed--especially someone you loved--in front of you. Occoquan may have the best training but Agent Michaels doesn't seem to train his agents for the real stuff. You're a promising agent, Frank. The FBI needs you and needs you at full capacity. So I don't want to see your face around the office until Wednesday at the earliest. Got that?" Lynda put her hand on his shoulder.

Frank nodded. He watched Lynda walk away. He felt miserable. He was a rookie agent. His girlfriend had just been murdered before his eyes. His emotions were riding on a rollercoaster. Tears kept slipping from his eyes as he thought of Jenny. Thought of Jenny's shocked expression as the bullets spreadeagled her against the wall. Thought of her sliding down the wall, her blood marking a wide swath as she slid to the floor. Thoughts of himself at the far end of the store, unable to help, unable to stop the killer. He had been carrying and hadn't been able to stop Jenny from being murdered. The killer had surprised him by not firing on the two store clerks he'd had the gun pointed at, but by spinning on his heel and rapid firing at Jenny. He'd emptied three bullets into Jenny's chest while simultaneously whipping out another gun. He'd twirled again then used the second gun to shoot the store clerks.

And Frank hadn't been able to stop him. He'd only been able to watch helplessly as the killer ran out the door and Jenny slid down the wall, leaving a red stripe of her blood. He'd been able to get the second man down, shot him in his gun firing wrist. Frank was a great shot.

His mind flashed him thoughts of Jenny: Her golden laughter. Her dancing with him under the stars. Her lips kissing his fingertips. Her underneath him, on top of him, as they giggled and laughed inside the lodge in the Poconos. Thought of the first time he'd seen Jenny. A smile tweaked at the corners of his mouth as he thought of the first time he'd seen Jenny.

"What'll you have?" a voice with a midwestern accent asked him. Frank looked up. The cocktail waitress, her chestnut hair pulled haphazardly back into a badly styled ponytail, was standing next to his table. He looked at her startlingly beautiful honey colored eyes. He smiled at her.

"Jack and coke," Frank said. The waitress walked to the bar. Frank noticed her legs in the short skirt she wore. The owner must want the patrons to notice the waitresses' legs, for every cocktail waitress was wearing a teeny black skirt. Perhaps the owner was trying to keep the money flowing into his coffers by offering drinks and long legged cocktail waitresses.

He watched her place the order with the bartender. Not having any other customers, she chatted to the bartender as he mixed Frank's drink and handed it back to her. She placed it on her tray and walked back to Frank.

"Here you go. Will you need a tab?" She asked him in a voice that was just a bit off from normal as she set in on the table in front of Frank. Something flashed through Frank's mind but he couldn't place it.

"Uh, no."

"That will be $2.50." Her lower lip trembled and she looked quickly away from Frank. She was a bit short on words to the customers but she seemed friendly towards the bartender, whom she knows. Understanding dawned. She seems anxious, Frank thought.

Frank pulled a five out of his wallet and placed it on the tray. She started to make change but Frank held up his hand. "No change," he told her. She looked at him sharply, then nodded. What an attractive customer, she thought.

"Thank you," she said and looking up, saw she had other customers. She walked off to attend to them, leaving Frank sipping his Jack and coke, and thinking.

Frank started coming in to the bar, called Carol's, on a regular basis. He'd done some digging around on the waitress--much to Lynda's consternation ("We don't use FBI resources to find out information about potential girlfriends," she'd chided him but never one to be deterred, Frank had shrugged off her comments and continued with his research) and discovered his cocktail waitress' name was Jenny Whitehall. An orphan from the age of 16 when her parents and younger brother had been killed in a horrific car crash, she'd struggled to survive in her small Ohio farming town. She couldn't make ends meet there, so she'd hopped the big grey dog to try to make a better life for herself in the nation's capital.

After a few months of serving him Jack and coke, Jenny had turned to him for help with a frustrating soon to be ex-boyfriend. Frank had been right when he'd thought Jenny seemed a bit anxious. She'd begun to think of Frank as her rock and had been relieved when Frank had stepped in and had dealt with the boyfriend. Instead of Jenny, the ex-boyfriend had found himself dealing with an angry and stern Frank.

Zachary had decided it would be better to do what Frank wanted and just hop the big grey dog and move on to the next city. Frank had checked up on him (again to Lynda's consternation) and indeed found the man to be good to his word: he'd moved to the west coast and had found a job in an auto shop. Married the girl he'd knocked up soon after his arrival in Salem. Frank thought it was good riddance to Zachary. He'd found no criminal activity except a one year probation as a thirteen year old for possessing ten ounces of pot.

Jenny and he had started dating almost immediately after Zachary left. That was six months ago.

His thoughts were cut off and Frank was brought back to the present time when a voice snarled at him: "Bastard!" Frank looked up, tears still on his face, as the accomplice, the one Frank had overheard making the phone call, now being walked to another police car, the wrist Frank injured bandaged but his free wrist manacled to a DC cop.

"You'll do hard life for this. Accomplice to three murders committed during felony armed robbery," Frank told him mildly. The man spit at him but missed. Frank watched him being put into the car. He got himself out of the car and craned his neck as he watched the suspect being taken away. The suspect twisted in the back seat and glared at Frank as the car pulled away, lights flashing.

In the days that passed after Jenny's murder, Frank had felt grateful to Lynda for giving him this time. She was a boss with a reserved demeanor, meticulous to details, a taskmaster. These traits suited Frank, for he bore many of the same traits. He'd been chided while at the graduation ceremony held when he'd received his FBI assignment: Agent Lynda Black.

"The notorious Agent Black? Stickler for details. Oh, Frank! You are in for some trouble!" several of his newly minted FBI colleagues told him. He'd paid them no attention. When Lynda got on his back for using FBI resources to gather information on Jenny, he'd paid her no attention, and he'd received no reprimands for doing so. You never knew when information might come in handy.

Frank had attended the details of Jenny's funeral. He'd tracked down some of her high school chums, who'd been in shock to discover she'd been murdered. He'd found out some interesting details that she hadn't told him during their frequent weekend trips to the ski lodge in the Poconos. Details like she'd been the editor of her high school newspaper and that she'd written a few short stories which had been published in a small press magazine. She'd also been her rural high school's homecoming queen, a fact Frank thought appropriate.

He held the funeral in a small cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland, where Jenny had lived. She'd commuted to Carol's Bar on 9th Street in the District, 9th street being a dingy collection of dilapidated buildings. The dozen of her high school friends who were able to attend increased the mourners to about 60 people. Jenny had been popular, her easygoing personality and conversational attitude had made her a favorite in the bar and many of Carol's regulars attended the funeral.

Frank was able to eulogize her--he'd been her boyfriend and had looked into her eyes many a night. He wasn't surprised to learn from her high school friends that Jenny had always been a popular girl, chatty, affable. After her family was killed, her friendly personality became heavily tinged with sadness.  After relieving Jenny of the over-domineering boyfriend she'd wanted to rid herself of, Frank had discovered that his initial impression of Jenny being friendly was correct.

With Zachary removed from her life, her natural bubbliness came through--despite the fact she'd lost her entire family in a car crash. She was one of those people who tend to smile a lot, even when the news was bad. But that undercurrent of sadness often crept through and he'd often found Jenny sitting and staring into space.

Frank greeted her friends after the service, and they signed the guestbook he'd placed out. He stayed around chatting until the mourners had gotten in their cars and left, leaving him standing on a bleak, grey day listening to the soft rasp of dirt striking Jenny's coffin.

Suddenly it was too much for him to bear. Tears slipped down his face again as he listened to the gravediggers putting dirt over Jenny's grave. Her parents and younger brother killed in that horrific car crash, the car torn in two pieces with the head of her younger brother staring up at the sky from the side of the road, a full twenty feet away from the rest of his body. The picture had been boldy printed in the newspaper--a grisly photo which Frank thought should not have been published at all, out of respect for the dead. Both of her parents had been only children and their parents had died before Jenny was born. Now Jenny was gone as well. Not even a child to carry her name on. He slowly walked to his car, a dark blue TRW convertible which Jenny had somehow found for four months ago. He tried not to look back at her grave. But he did look back, as he was getting into his car. He looked back one last time.

When Frank returned to the office, it was Friday.

"Frank," Lynda had said and walked off. Frank knew what she wanted and he followed her into her office. Like his own desk, her desk was neatly organized. She motioned him to sit down. She gazed at him for a few moments, then took a sip of the steaming coffee in her oversized white coffee cup.

"There are times when I wanted to throttle you for using FBI resources to gather information on her," Lynda stated without preamble. Frank noticed Lynda didn't use Jenny's name. Just thinking about her name hurt him on the inside.

"Then there are times, like now, when your persistent snooping makes things a bit easier." This statement took Frank by surprise.


"I'm sure you remember Zachary? Her exboyfriend?"

Frank nodded. A sinking feeling began to form in the pit of his stomach and he thought he could actually feel his stomach knotting up. He'd known he was going to have to face the details about Jenny's murderer.

"Turns out the phone number of that payphone matches the phone number to Zachary's former apartment in Silver Spring, where some of his not so friendly acquaintances were holing up. They weren't too willing to give up Zachary's new address. It's not listed, nor is Zachary's new phone number listed. Thought they were 'protecting' him. Said they owed him. Your follow up of Zachary in Salem gave us the real names of those acquaintances. One of them is wanted for murder one of two teenage girls down in North Carolina."

Frank was surprised but not shocked. He'd thought Zachary was a shady type of fellow who, while not walking on the wrong side of the law as an adult, might have friends who did walk on the wrong side of the law. He'd found no known criminals associated with Zachary when he researched the man. But he didn't quite understand what Lynda was getting at. How was Zachary tied up in this? He waited, knowing his formidable female boss.

As usual, Lynda filled him in.

"Matt Duncan, or as you found out, alias John Ashland, is her killer. David Ramon is the accomplice. Matt is a small time crook wanted for another armed robbery up in Baltimore. He was trying to impress Quito and did the robbery by himself and his accomplice David. You two walked in the store and were caught up in the robbery just before it went down. David told us he thought your girlfriend looked familiar but he couldn't place her. He'd only seen her at Zachary's old apartment a few times before you unceremoniously kicked Zachary out of her life."

Ahh, now Frank understood. Matt didn't know Jenny but David had met her a few times. This obviously meant
Zachary and David had been acquainted, something Frank hadn't known. Jenny hadn't mentioned it and Frank hadn't delved too deeply into Zachary's friends. He now felt he should have but in the end, it wouldn't have saved Jenny. A horrible coincidence that her murderer had known her exboyfriend, but there was no way to predict that he and Jenny would have been in that particular convenience store on that particular night.

Frank reasoned this. "If David had seen Jenny (oh how that hurt to say her name) at Zachary's apartment before he moved out, how were David and Zachary acquainted? Zachary's been gone for a little under seven months."

"They worked for the same auto mechanic."

"Who was wanted for the murder of the two girls?" Frank next asked.

"The third person living in the apartment. Danny Achan alias Michael Kent. David was the weak link."

This comment piqued Frank's curiosity, which prompted him to ask,"What did they owe Zachary?" He knew Lynda would have gone for the weakest link in the group.

"For providing them with a hideout. Matt and Zachary were childhood friends. Danny was known to Matt from their crime circle. David met Matt once when Zachary was living here. Matt and Danny were subletting the apartment from Zachary under assumed names given to the landlord. With Danny wanted for murder one in North Carolina, and Matt being wanted for armed robbery, it was a bit difficult to rent an apartment. Subletting was better. They could give the landlord aliases which wouldn't be checked up on too closely. Matt and Danny joined up with David in Silver Spring. Landlords aren't too willing to knowingly harbor fugitives. Blood, property damage, confiscation, things like that. Plus, names do have a way of getting around," she told him as she sipped her coffee. She liked her coffee hot, black and strong.

Now Frank's stomach was turning. If he'd had looked more closely into Zachary's friends, he might--he just might--have turned up Matt Duncan and avoided Jenny's murder altogether.

"Did David know Zachary's whereabouts?"

"No. Matt and Danny kept that information from him. David was told he would be safer not knowing everything." Frank nodded. The weakest link in a criminal group is often not filled in on all the information. Highly sensitive information is doled out only to those who need to know. It was a way of damage control in the event of capture.

She continued. "David had been phoning his girlfriend at the time of the murders. She was cooking dinner for him at Zachary's old apartment. He'd begun to feel nervous about the robbery and had wanted to relay some information Matt had told him on the way over to the convenience store. Namely he wanted to tell Kathy--his girlfriend--the name Real."

"Did David know about the two girls?"

"No. He didn't know about Matt's previous armed robbery nor did he know about Elaine and Sandra. They were just thirteen years old. Raped and killed with stab wounds. Elaine lived long enough at the hospital to tell officers Sandra had told her killer to "please don't stab me no more. I'm dead already." Lynda said. Frank winced visibly and turned his head to the side, closing his eyes briefly. Lynda went on. "Elaine was able to give a description of her and Sandra's attacker, which matches Danny's description."

"So Zachary cut off his acquaintance with David once Zachary moved to Salem." Lynda nodded and Frank continued. "But Zachary kept up his relationship with Matt and by association, Danny." This was getting twisted, Frank thought.

"Seems Zachary had gotten into trouble with pot as a juvie," but Frank already knew that. Lynda, however, knew Frank knew but continued, "Matt lied in court and got Zachary off with just probation. He bragged about his lying to anyone who would listen. So when Matt needed a place to hide, Zachary was more than willing to repay an old favor and to let Danny in on the deal."

Frank's mind kicked in. "Zachary will be charged." It was a statement of fact, not a question but Frank knew Lynda would answer his statement as if it were a question.

"Yes. He knowingly harbored a fugitive. He knew about the armed robbery on Matt, but not the murders committed by Danny.  Zachary backed up David's statement that David didn't know anything about Matt or Danny's priors. David's only been in the apartment a few months because he got fired from the auto mechanic and needed a place to crash. He had gone to Matt asking for to sleep on the couch and Matt, alias John, agreed. Seems Matt had been planning a heist for a few months and thought David would be the perfect cover man and getaway driver: needy, young, impressionable, a weak link, with a pregnant girlfriend." She sipped her coffee, which Frank noted was cooling.

"Did David say whether they planned on robbing that particular convenience store?"

"No. A heist had been planned for a few months but the actual store was cased just a few hours earlier. There was no way Matt and Danny could have known you and your girlfriend would have stopped off. Further, Matt Duncan was living under an alias of John Ashland. He'd had plastic surgery to alter his nose and cheekbones, and to alter a congential drooping left eyelid. He then cut up his new face to create scars and shaved his head. He was unrecognizable from the wanted posters for the Baltimore robbery. There was no way anyone could have connected Matt Duncan with his alias John Ashland. Not even the best forensic anthropologists over at the Body Farm matched the wanted poster with the mug shot we took of Matt. It took fingerprinting to link Matt to the Baltimore robbery. Matt almost got away with altering his appearance to avoid capture."

Damn her, Frank thought. She'd somehow read his mind but he'd needed to her to tell him that it was a coincidence. A horrible, horrible coincidence that he and Jenny had been in the store with Jenny's sociopathic ex-boyfriend's childhood friend and her ex-boyfriend's former co-worker. He did feel some relief about Matt's deliberate plastic surgery to alter his appearance. He would keep that in mind in the future. But he should have looked for that, he should have looked for it, he thought.

"Zachary's agreed to a plea of knowingly harboring a fugitive but he'll do at least a hard five before he's eligible for parole. He'll miss his youngster's first few years," she continued.

Linda seemed satisfied. She was always satisfied when things worked out just right, especially when she got murderers off the street and behind bars. Frank watched her for a moment. She wasn't a bad looking woman, just about to turn 40, rare for a woman to be in charge of a unit of this sort, especially in the FBI, where the old boy network existed in full strength. But she was hard and she got the job done without flinching.

He thought about what Lynda had told him. Zachary had knowingly harbored fugitives--one who'd committed armed robbery--but sublet to them after he'd moved out to the west coast. Of the three who'd moved in, one was a former co-worker, ignorant of the crimes committed by the other two but willing to make some fast money. Taking your pick of the two left, one was a murderer-rapist and would now serve time for rape and murder one of two people--kids who'd never had the chance to grow up. The other one was a cold blooded killer, responsible for snuffing out Jenny's life and the lives of the two store clerks.

Matt was responsible for Frank's feeling miserable for this past week, for Frank, despite graduating with top honors at the FBI academy, hadn't been fast enough with his gun to avert Jenny's death. Matt had outsmarted Frank by dodging Frank's bullets, hiding behind a food display and by firing on Jenny first, instead of firing at the clerks.

Danny was loyal to Matt and wouldn't tell either David or the FBI (who had been brought in because of Frank's involvement in the case) Zachary's whereabouts. David was young and impressionable, trying to get some money for his pregnant girlfriend and thinking Matt was about to move into the big leagues. He'd trusted Matt to pull this heist smoothly. And it had gone wrong.

David was upset because he'd been brought down by Frank. Perhaps upset that, like Zachary, he'd not be able to see his child. But more likely, upset because he'd been caught in what he thought was a perfect heist. Too bad, David. You should have tried to make your money honestly. Frank remembered seeing the two men in the store, with Matt close to the two clerks in the store pointing the gun at them. Frank had had time to fire off some shots at Matt but Matt had dodged them, dodged behind a food display for cover, then turned swiftly and in cold blood shot Jenny three times in the chest. Frank had tried to fire at Matt, but the food display was blocking his aim.

Matt had taken a second gun from his belt, spun around again and fired point blank at the shocked clerks, blowing half of one's head off, and leaving the puddles of blood that Frank had kept slipping on in his futile effort to reach Jenny before she died.

Matt had run out--he was close to the door and Frank's last bullet clipped the glass door as Matt ran out. Matt had foolishly gone back to the Silver Spring apartment. A stupid criminal. A chase through the neighborhood caught him and he was now cooling his heels, hopefully, Frank thought, for the rest of his life. Three murders and two armed robberies.

There was one other stickling point. "What about Quito Real?" he asked after several moments of silence.

"He's for another crime, another day. I hope you never have to deal with Quito Real," Lynda replied. "There's nothing to link him to her murder. Matt was just trying to impress him, trying to move into the big leagues of crime."

"Quito Real. I hope I see him behind bars before my career is through," Lynda said as she spun around in her chair to look out the window. Frank knew what that meant and he left her office quietly.

Seven months after Jenny's death, Frank sat in the courtroom, listening to the judge pass down the sentence for David. Matt Duncan had been murdered--stabbed with a shaft knife--while awaiting trial, a fact that left Frank feeling let down. He'd wanted to testify at Matt's trial, wanted to express his shock and anger at Jenny's murderer.

"The Court imposes a sentence of 20 years to life, to be served consecutively for each of the four charges," the judge intoned. Frank felt relief. The federal sentencing guidelines required that convicts serve at least two thirds of their sentences before being eligible for parole. Frank hoped one day the courts would abolish early parole for federal crimes. But David's sentence meant at least fifty years behind bars and for a twenty four year old, that amounted to a life sentence with four charges, one for armed robbery and three for murder. And all for a few hundred dollars the kid could have earned honestly had he applied himself.

Later that same day, another bleak grey day, Frank, dressed in black, stood at the small cemetery looking at Jenny's grave. He'd weeded around her gravestone and had placed a dozen long stemmed roses on top of her grave. For today was not only David's sentencing, it was Jenny's birthday. She would have been 27 today, older than me when she died, he thought. But justice was served and he thought Jenny would have liked that David was sentenced to life behind bars. After all, it was her birthday.

The soft buzz of the phone snapped Frank back to the waking world. The rain was still drumming on the windows. The personnel forms were neatly in the out-box.

"Donovan," he said. And listened to the voice at the other end of the phone.