Fandom: Riptide - it's okay, no one but me and Sockii remember this one.
Warning: Violence - it was a Cannell Production, go figure
Warnings: Just don't sue me
This one's also because Sockii needed it again. It was for one of her
obscure fandom zines. It fell into a TRIS/TGR black hole, so I thought I'd
try here. Less of a distance to fall.
A trembling hand reached up from the floor and felt for the phone on the table. The thin fingers felt for the numbers on the touch pad.
Nick Ryder and Cody Allen sat at the table on board the Riptide, going through tax forms and receipts.
"Tell me again why we didn't just hire an accountant?" Nick asked.
"We can't afford another audit," Cody replied.
Murray Bozinsky came in from his room below decks with a satisfied smile on his face. "Are you guys still working on your taxes? My computer calculated mine in an hour and even found a couple of deductions I missed. Why don't you let me..."
"No!" Cody snapped.
"Why not?" Murray asked.
"We can't afford another audit," Cody repeated.
The phone rang.
"Murray, would you get that?" Nick asked.
"I can't. My hands are full. Besides, the phone's right there next to you."
Nick sighed and grabbed the phone. "Yeah? What?" His expression changed immediately and he waved for Cody to turn down the television. "Jackie? Jackie, is that you? What's wrong?" He paused and listened. "Hang tight I'll be right there."
Cody suddenly looked up, all interest in the football game gone. "Jackie? Jackie Davidson? What's wrong, Nick? Did something's happen to Jackie?"
"Jackie? Jackie?" Nick handed the phone to Cody. "I won't know until I get there. Stay on the line with her. Something's happened. She's not there, but the line hasn't been disconnected. I'll let you more when I know something."
Nick was nearly out the door when Murray asked. "Who's Jackie?"
"Not now, Murray," Cody snapped. "Not now."
Nick pulled into the apartment complex parking lot with a screech of tires. He jumped over the door frame of his classic Corvette convertible without bothering opening the door. He took the steps two at a time. He only paused when he reached Jackie's door.
The door stood partially open. He stopped to pull his 9mm semi_automatic and chamber a round. Slowly, carefully, Nick eased the door all the way open and peered inside. The place had been thoroughly ransacked. Furniture overturned, shelves emptied of its contents. He stepped cautiously over sofa cushions, fearing what he might find. He was about to call out when he heard a moan.
Nick immediately went toward the sound. He found a young woman collapsed against the back of the sofa. The telephone receiver lying on the floor next to a limp hand. The busy signal already audible. Nick put his gun away quickly and was kneeling beside Jackie in seconds. He took stock of the situation quickly. Nothing appeared to be broken. Her long, dark hair tumbled over the back of the sofa. There were blood stains on her shirt and some rips, but she appeared basically whole.
He put the receiver back on the hook. "Jackie? It's Nick. Can you hear me?"
Slowly, her head moved and she slowly focused on the dark private investigator. "Nick?" The words were a slurred whisper through a bruised lip. "You came."
Nick swallowed hard. He was pleased to note most of her face was unmarked, except for the bruised corner of her mouth and a purple mark on one cheek. He reached out to brush errant strands of hair off her forehead. "Of course I came, Jackie. Can you get up? Can you tell me what happened? Do you know who did this to you?"
Jackie struggled to get to her feet. Nick helped her up. She mechanically started straightening disheveled clothing. She looked around without really seeing anything. "Two guys. I don't know who or why. Except it was something to do with Alex," she said slowly.
"Alex? What does he have to do with this?" Nick demanded.
"I'm not sure," her lip began to tremble. The rest of her body soon followed. "Oh, Nick..."
Nick put his arms around her and she buried her head in his shoulder. At first he was surprised to realize she was actually quite tiny. She never seemed that small before. Her personality made her seem a lot larger. After a moment the trembling subsided, and he pushed her away enough so he could look her in the eye.
"Jackie, tell me the truth. Did they...? Did they...?"
"No, Nick. No rape. They just beat me up," she told him. "Honestly."
"So, what does Alex have to do with this, Jackie?" Nick asked, shifting her in his arms.
Jackie sucked in a breath as Nick bumped one of her bruises. Nick immediately let go. "I'm sorry. Let me see."
Gingerly, Nick lifted the back of Jackie's shirt. The smooth, lightly tanned skin was turning purple just above one of her kidneys. He also saw the beginnings of other welts and bruises. Whoever had done this had done a thorough job. Anger welled up like a geyser in the private investigator as he lowered the fabric.
"I should get you to a doctor. I think you might have a broken rib."
"No! No hospitals or doctors, Nick," Jackie pleaded. "Please. They'll only call the police."
"Getting the police involved may not a bad idea," Nick replied. "If Alex is in that much trouble..."
"Nick, I can't. Not to Alex. Please, Nick, don't make me..."
"At least let me take you back to the Riptide. We'll get you taken care of. Then we'll talk about Alex. Besides, you can't stay here tonight. This place is a mess."
Jackie tried to laugh, but sucked in her breath as a stab of pain shot through her. "Oh, don't make me laugh. It hurts to laugh."
"Come on, let's get out of here."
Not long thereafter, Jackie was settled on the couch on board the Riptide. Nick was on one side of her; Cody on the other side with the first aid kit. Taxes long forgotten.
"This is going to sting a little," Cody said before he dabbed a cut with an antiseptic. She winced a little but didn't make a sound. Nick and Cody exchanged a look across her.
Murray came in with mugs and a small bottle on a tray. "Coffees all around. Cream and sugar like you asked Ms. Davidson. And I thought you could use some aspirin."
Jackie accepted both gratefully. "Thank you very much, Murray. That was very thoughtful of you. And, please, call me Jackie." She took two aspirin and a swallow of coffee. She almost choked on the next swallow as Cody did something to a cut on her arm. "Ow! What was that?"
"I told you the antiseptic would sting," Cody replied.
"A little, you said. That wasn't a little. That was a lot," Jackie replied.
"Are you ready to talk about Alex now, Jackie?" Nick asked, probing gently.
"Who's Alex?" Murray asked. No one was listening.
Jackie was quiet for a long moment, Nick reached out to grip her hand. "It's okay, Jackie," he told her. "It can wait."
"No, Nick, it's not that," she responded, giving him a quick half smile and patting his hand. "Alex is a hard topic. You and Cody both know he changed since he got out of the Army. I don't know where he is half the time any more."
"Except when he's in trouble or needs money," Nick all but snarled.
"Nick," Cody warned over Jackie's head. "Not now, man."
"It's okay, Cody. Nick's right," Jackie said quickly. "Alex is into something big this time, guys, but I don't know what it is. Really. I tried to tell those guys who did this. They wouldn't believe me. They thought he told me something. Or I knew something."
"Or left something behind by the looks of your place," Nick added.
"Like I said, they were insistent, and wouldn't take no for an answer."
"There something I like in a woman," Cody said with a grin. "Even after going through something like she has, she still has a sense of humor."
"If you can't laugh in the face of adversity, you might as well give up altogether," Jackie replied. "Besides Johnny Carson is my godfather."
"Really?" Murray asked, trying once more to get in on the conversation.
All three looked at Murray and laughed, until Jackie gasped and clutched her side. The men all reacted in concern. She waved them off.
"It's okay. I'm fine. I just forgot it hurts to laugh."
"You really should have those x_rayed," Cody said with a note of concern.
"That'll just bring the police in on this," Jackie replied, shaking her head. "I won't do that to Alex. I can't. Excuse me."
Nick let her out of the booth. Then, before any of the men could respond to her, Jackie left the room and went out on the deck. Nick, Cody, and Murray looked at each other, wordlessly. Then Cody nodded to Nick. Murray just looked between them. He was still confused.
"Go on, Nick. She'd be more comfortable with you."
Nick nodded and followed Jackie. Murray was determined to get some answers. He'd not let Cody get away without an explanation. After all he was as much part of the Riptide Detective Agency as Nick and Cody.
Nick stepped out onto the deck of the Riptide. The night breeze rippled through Jackie's hair as she stood at the railing, staring out at the water and stars. Nick paused to watch her a moment. Then he went to join her at the rail.
"You want to talk about it?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, Nick. I shouldn't have walked out on you guys like that. You guys just trying to help."
"We shouldn't have pushed it. You've been through a lot tonight."
Jackie didn't reply. After a moment, Nick glanced over at her. Her shoulders shook silently as she buried her face in her in her hands. Nick's concern was immediate. It was the first time he'd ever seen Jackie cry. No one, though, had more reason to cry than she.
"Hey, now, it's going to be okay," he said, reaching out to put his arm around her.
Jackie turned into his arm and buried her face in his chest. Nick just stood there, holding her and letting her cry. After a moment, the shaking stopped and Jackie pulled away from Nick. She turned away and wiped her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Nick," she apologized. "I didn't mean to..."
"What are you apologizing for?" Nick interrupted incredulously, turning her to face him. "If I were you I'd've fallen apart a long time ago. You amazing."
Jackie laughed, briefly, before clutching her side. "Thanks, Nick, I needed that."
Nick put his arm around her and pulled her close. "Come here, you're going to be okay. We're going to get to the bottom of this."
"We?" Jackie asked. "What we, Nick? What're you talking about?"
"We. Us. Me, Cody, Murray. We'll find Alex and get some answers to why this happened to you. Then we'll impress upon him how unacceptable this situation is. It won't happen again. If he won't protect you, we will."
"Be careful with him, Nick," Jackie pleaded, pulling away. "Please."
Nick looked down at Jackie with concern and amazement. "Jackie, you can ask that? Look what he's done to you."
Jackie went to the railing and was quiet for a moment. When she finally looked back at Nick, she said. "I can't help it, Nick. He's the only family I have left. He's my brother. I love him."
Nick gently wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head. "You amaze me."
"You've said that before. Why? I'm nothing special."
Nick turned her around. "Not from where I stand."
The moment was charged with electricity. Neither could say exactly how it happened or why, but the next thing they knew they were kissing. The embrace lingered until a shift in posture caused Jackie to wince as one of her bruises were bumped.
Nick immediately broke the embrace. "I'm...I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It's all right. I'm all right, Nick," Jackie looked like she was going to say something, but changed her mind. Then she said. "I'm tired. I...I think I'll call it a night."
"Good night, Jackie."
Jackie took a couple of steps then turned. "Thanks for coming tonight, Nick. I'm really glad you came after me." Impulsively, she closed the distance between them and kissed Nick quickly and retreated. "Good night, Nick."
Nick watched her go. Many questions ran through his mind. Cody stepped out onto the deck from the well house. "Everything all right out here?"
"Uh huh," Nick replied in an unusual tone that got Cody's attention.
"What is it, Nick?" Cody asked. "What's going on in the convoluted mind of yours?"
"Not ready to talk about it yet."
"Are you sure we have to do this?" Jackie asked later the next morning as she and Nick stood outside her apartment door. She was understandably apprehensive
"The sooner we find out what they were trying to find or what they took, the sooner we can put this behind us."
"You go first," Jackie told him, taking a step back.
"You bet. Once bitten, twice shy, and you're going in there first."
Nick chuckled. He was glad she was getting her sense of humor back so quickly. He opened the door and pulled Jackie with him over the threshold. They paused just inside the doorway. Nick whistled when he actually saw the mess this time.
"Somehow it looks worse in the daylight," Jackie said. "Where do we start?"
Nick closed the door behind them and was grateful the door caught securely. The chain would have to be replaced, though the door itself would not. He looked around the room. "They didn't leave any stone unturned, did they? We should probably start on opposite ends and work toward the middle."
Three hours and innumerable trash bags later, the two collapsed on the sofa in the now restored living room. Jackie let out an exhausted sigh and laid her head on the back of the sofa. Nick studied her.
"You doing okay?" He finally asked.
"Yeah. A little sore, and tired. I feel a little better now that this place looks almost normal..."
"But?" Nick prompted. "There sounds like there's a 'but' coming."
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
"What if they come back? They know where I live. I don't want to have to face that alone."
Nick put his arm around Jackie and pulled her close. "That's not silly. That's smart. Don't worry. Nothing is going to happen to you. You'll be safe. You have my word. You won't be alone either, Cody and I will make sure of that."
Jackie didn't reply. After a moment, Nick looked down and saw that she'd almost immediately fallen asleep curled in the crook of his arm. With a slight smile, he shifted Jackie to a slightly more comfortable position and let her sleep.
Not long after that there was a slight knock on the door and it opened. Nick's hand went automatically for his gun sitting on the end table. He relaxed when Cody came in, holding up fast food bags.
"Hey, relax, man, it's just me," Cody said, elbowing the door closed.
Nick put his finger to his lips indicating Jackie, but it was already too late. Jackie was sitting up and rubbing her eyes. "Nick? Did I fall asleep on you? Cody? When did you get here?"
"Just now, Jackie," Cody replied. "I thought you guys might be hungry. I brought food."
"You are too, too kind, Cody Allen," Jackie said, getting to her feet too quickly. She stumbled. Nick leapt to his feet to steady her. "Quick on your feet, Nick Ryder, that something to remember. I'm okay. Just got up too fast is all. Let me go see if we have any plates left whole."
She took the bags from Cody and went into the kitchen. Cody looked at his partner, "Everything okay?"
"I guess so," Nick said with a shrug. "We went through pretty much everything. She identified most of the things they broke. She doesn't think anything's missing."
"What do you think they were looking for?" Cody asked puzzled.
"I wish I knew, Cody. What's going on with Murray?"
"Hey, you two, soup's on. I actually found plates," Jackie interrupted from the dining room, holding a stack of plates.
"Come on, Jackie, let us do that," Cody protested, heading toward her with Nick on his heels. "You sit."
"I'm okay, guys. Really. What happened to Murray, Cody? You didn't bring him with you?"
"I was just about to tell Nick," Cody began again as he held out a chair for her. "Murray's back on the Riptide. He's got his computers running down Alex. Last known addresses, that sort of thing. Said it would take him a while."
"Uh huh," Jackie replied absently, staring at a point on the wall.
Nick stopped eating and watched her. "Jackie, what is it?"
"Not sure. There's something odd about that picture."
Nick and Cody looked at each other and then at the picture Jackie was talking about. "It's crooked," Cody commented. "Why? What is it?"
"Nick, didn't we end up in here? You saw me straighten the pictures, didn't you?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it," Nick said, getting up. He straightened the frame once more and almost immediately the frame skewed again. "Something's definitely not right here," Nick said, pulling the frame off the wall and coming back to the table. His fingers probed the backing. "Bingo. There's something inside the backing."
Cody and Jackie exchanged a look. "Don't look at me," Jackie said. "I have no idea."
Nick pulled a 9 X 6 inch manilla envelope out of the frame. Cody took the picture. It was a mountain cabin in a woodland area. "Where is this?"
"It's a place we used to go to as kids. It's about an hour or two up in the mountains," Jackie replied. "You guys think he might have gone there?"
"It's a place to start," Nick said, studying the envelope. Then he put it on the table in front of Jackie. "And that belongs to you."
"Nick, I can't. Would you guys, please..."
"Sure, Jackie, sure," Cody said gently, picking up the envelope. "It's our job."
Jackie pushed her chair back. "I think I'll make some coffee. You guys interested in coffee?"
"Yeah, coffee sounds great, Jackie."
Jackie disappeared into her kitchen. Nick looked at Cody. "Whatever is in there has her running scared. We'll have to be careful."
Cody slit the flap on the envelope. He pulled out another, smaller envelope addressed specifically to Jackie, several more folded sheets of paper, a packet of large bills, and a small key. Nick whistled. Cody set aside the letter to Jackie. Nick took the papers and began reading.
"There's about ten grand here," Cody commented. "And this key, I'm pretty sure it's a safety deposit box key."
"I'm gonna kill him," Nick said suddenly and quietly.
"What did you find?"
Nick all but slammed the papers down on the table, jaw clenched. He quickly got to his feet and started pacing as Cody read. After a minute or two of quick reading, Cody looked up at Nick. "That son of a..."
Just then Jackie came back into the room carrying a tray. "What? What is it?" She asked as Nick took the tray from her. "There's something bad in all that, isn't there?"
Cody handed her the envelope and avoided her question. "We thought you'd want to read this one yourself first."
"Yeah, okay," Jackie said, sitting down slowly.
Nick and Cody were silent as she read. Suddenly, she dropped the letter and ran from the room. Nick started to follow, but this time Cody stopped him. "Give her a minute, Nick," He handed his partner the discarded letter.
A minute later, Nick handed the letter back to Cody, jaw set even more determinedly, and he left the room Cody poured himself a cup of coffee and picked up the papers.
Nick found Jackie standing on her tiny balcony staring out into nothing. He stepped out quietly. "Jackie? You okay?"
Jackie bit her lip and shook her head. She took a deep breath. "He's really in it deep, isn't he, Nick?"
"Yeah, and now you know too much," Nick said. "Because of him. Because of Alex. He had no business...no right...to involve you. To put you in danger."
"I know, Nick. I know. I don't know exactly what it is I know anymore, but I do know that I need you. Your help." She turned to face him. "Nick, what am I going to do? I don't feel safe here anymore. I thought once we got it cleaned up..."
Nick pulled her close. "You'll be safe. I won't let anything happen to you. Come on, pack a bag. You'll stay with us, on the Riptide."
"Oh, Nick, that's sweet, but I couldn't..."
"You can and will, Jackie," Nick replied emphatically. "You said it yourself, you're not safe here. A hotel is silly since we're not going to leave you alone for a minute until we find out where Alex is and how he plans on fixing this mess. So you might as well stay on the boat."
"Okay, okay," Jackie said with a laugh. "You've made your point. Are you sure Cody and Murray won't mind?"
"They'll be sorry it wasn't their idea."
"Okay, then, I'll go," Jackie gave in with another laugh. "You've talked me into it."
"You have a beautiful laugh."
Jackie rolled her eyes. "Come on you, you can help me pack."
Cody met them in the living room. Jackie went into her bedroom. Nick joined his friend. "What's going on?" Cody asked.
"We're taking her back to the boat with us," Nick told his partner. "She's not safe here anymore."
"Probably a good idea. Alex really left us with a mess, didn't he?"
"Yeah, and I can't wait to talk to him about it."
Not long after that, the three left Jackie's apartment. Their departure did not go unobserved as Nick opened the door to his corvette for Jackie, stow her bag and get in himself. The 'Vette was followed closely by Cody in his red and white Jimmy. A haggard looking man put down a set of binoculars and slipped away as the two vehicles pulled out.
Murray was waiting excitedly for the guys' return. He hadn't really expected to see Jackie, but he found it a very pleasant surprise.
"Guys! Guys! Boy am I glad you're back! Oh, hi, Jackie, you'll find this interesting, too."
Cody blinked and waved Murray down. "Whoa, Murray, hold on. What are you talking about? We just got here."
"I hit pay dirt, guys. He left a trail."
"You found Alex, Murray?" Cody asked. "How? Where is he?"
"It wasn't easy, Cody, let me tell you. Alex Davidson is one guy who tries very hard to hid his tracks. But he didn't quite succeed."
With that Murray launched into a more or less detailed account of how he managed to track Alex down through the DMV and a credit card application. Cody and Jackie did their best to follow along. Nick checked the cabin. He had an itchy feeling ever since they had left Jackie's apartment.
The phone rang during Murray's discourse. Nick picked up the receiver on the first ring. "Yeah. Nick Ryder. Where are you? Why are you calling here?" Suddenly Nick started gesturing toward Cody and Murray. He mouthed the words "pay phones" and pointed toward the pier. Cody nodded and left. "Why would you think that? Come on, man, think of someone besides yourself for once. I'm not going to tell you where she is or let you talk to her."
"Come on, man, she's my sister," Alex Davidson protested. He ran his hand through his shaggy, sandy brown hair and down over his thin, haggard face. "I want to know if she's all right."
"She's not," Nick told him. "Your friends delivered a message meant for you on her ribs last night. You weren't there. I guess they thought she was convenient, since Delamicco's boys don't care who they hurt."
"Oh, no! No! Is she...did they..."
"Jackie's tough. She'll recover. But we're not going to let it happen again, Alex. You're not getting anywhere near her."
"Okay, okay. Then let me talk to you. Meet me in an hour. The closed parking lot below the pier," Alex told Nick. He spotted Cody searching the crowd. Abruptly, Alex dropped the phone and melted into the crowd, just as Cody reached the phone booths.
Cody picked up the dangling receiver. "Hello?"
"Cody?" Nick asked puzzled.
"I just missed him, Nick. He's gone."
"Come on back, Cody. We have an appointment to keep," Nick said. He hung up the phone and turned to Murray and Jackie. "Cody'll be back in a minute. We lost him."
"Is Alex okay, Nick?" Jackie asked anxiously.
"We'll find out soon enough. Cody and I are going to have a little talk with him."
"What do you know about him?" Nick wanted to know.
"Just what's in the papers. He's been indicted several times on organized crime charges but never makes it to trial. Wait, Nick, you don't think...that's the trouble he talked about in his letter? He got involved with him? I want to go with you when you talk to him."
"Nick! Come on! Let me go with you. Alex is my brother. He'll talk to me."
"It's not safe, Jackie," Murray spoke up unexpectedly. "Who knows who could be lurking around. Let Nick and Cody take care of your brother, and let Roboz and I take care of you."
Nick clapped Murray's shoulder. "You're a good man, Murray."
While Murray tried to distract Jackie with a run down of Roboz's capabilities, Nick took his 9mm out of the drawer and checked the clip. He tried to keep it from her notice, but it didn't work. She clutched his arm.
"Is that really necessary, Nick?"
"I'm afraid so," Nick replied grimly. "Look, Jackie, we don't know what we're dealing with. We have to be prepared."
"Yeah, I know. Just be careful, Nick, please?"
Nick was about to make a quick, insincere assurance until he saw her seriousness and anxiety. Murray saw it, also, and being more perceptive than he sometimes got credit for, he cleared his throat. "I...uh...think I left some programs running downstairs. I really should go check on them." Then Murray slipped quickly below decks and closed his door with a bang. Both Nick and Jackie burst out laughing at his none too subtle attempt to give them privacy.
"Were giving off some kind of hint?" Jackie asked.
"Beats me. I don't know what goes on in his head a lot of the time. But since he went to all that trouble..." Nick pulled Jackie into his arms. "I promise I'll be careful when we meet Alex. And I promise you, that if it's at all possible, we'll bring Alex out of his mess in one piece."
"I just said it, didn't I? Have I ever let you down, Jackie?"
"Not in anything major, no," she replied. "I trust you, Nick. You'll do your best for us."
Before Nick could ask what "us" Jackie meant, Cody was poking his head through the well house door. "I'm not interrupting anything am I?"
Forty minutes later, Nick and Cody pulled into the empty parking lot to which Alex had directed them. They climbed out of the Jimmy and looked around.
"It's real open out here," Cody commented.
"Yeah, but at least we'll be able to see anyone coming."
"Like our friend there?"
Another, older car, pulled into the lot and parked several yards away. Alex got out, but didn't come any closer.
"Is Jackie safe?" Alex called out.
"No thanks to you," Nick replied.
Alex started toward them. Nick and Cody moved to meet him half way. Alex spread his hands. "I never thought they'd go after her. You have to believe me. I would never put her in danger. She's my sister. The only family I have left."
Nick clenched his jaw and looked away just before he took a swing at Alex. The blow caught Alex off guard and on the jaw, knocking him off his feet. "You should have thought a little harder before you decided to double cross Victor Delamicco and leave part of the evidence in Jackie's house."
"You found the stuff I hid?"
"Yeah, we found it. And I should hit you again for hiding it there. What were you thinking?" Nick demanded.
"I wasn't! I was going to come back for it before I disappeared. She wasn't supposed..."
"I'm tired of this," Nick replied stiffly. He pulled Alex to his feet and pulled him to the car. "Come on, Alex, you're going back to the Riptide and explaining this to Jackie yourself. Then Cody and I are going to clean out your safety deposit box or locker or whatever it is and taking it all to the police."
"The police!" Alex protested. "No way!"
"Yes, Alex," Cody interrupted. "To the police. Anything to keep Jackie safe from your stupidity."
The men came up on the Riptide. The boat was quiet. Too quiet. Nick and Cody exchanged concerned glances, keeping Alex with them but behind them, the two drew their guns, chambered a round and raced down the gangway to the boat. Nothing had been much disturbed on board, except Murray. He lay on the floor, barely moving an moaning. Nick and Cody immediately went to their friend and got him to his feet.
Murray held an ice pack to the back of his head and apologized profusely. "I'm sorry, guys. I didn't even see it coming. I should have been more alert. It's all my fault they took Jackie."
"It's not your fault, Murray," Cody told him gently. "Is it, Alex?"
The phone rang. Nick grabbed it on the first ring. "Yeah, Nick Ryder."
"I think we both have something the other wants, Mr. Ryder," a harsh male voice said at the other end of the phone.
"If you've done anything to hurt her..."
"Shut up and listen, Mr. Ryder," Victor Delamicco interrupted. He looked down at Jackie held in a chair by two large, ugly men with guns, the same two from her apartment. "Miss Davidson is alive. For the moment. Though, if you decide to do something stupid, she won't stay that way, or nearly as pretty."
"Say what you have to say, Delamicco."
"Tell our mutual friend to bring his stash to the same place he met you this afternoon. Alex always was a nasty creature of habit. Tell him to be there at 10 p.m."
"I want to know Jackie's all right," Nick demanded.
Delamicco sighed and held out the phone. "Just be careful what you say."
She took the phone. "Nick? Is that you?"
"Jackie? Jackie, are you all right?"
"Nick, I'm scared."
Cody, Murray, and Alex watched Nick's knuckles go white on the phone. "We'll get you out of this, Jackie. Remember, I promised."
"I know, Nick," Jackie managed to say before Delamicco took the phone away from her.
"That's enough. Have you anymore questions?"
"Just a promise, Delamicco, that if you hurt her, I'll personally kill you."
"Words, Mr. Ryder. Ten o'clock."
Nick put the phone down. "Cody, you still have that key?"
"Come on, Alex. We're going for a drive," Nick said, dragging Alex to his feet.
Alex let the way into the vault with the bank officer and Murray beside him. Nick and Cody lagged behind.
"You think Delamicco's going to hold up his end of the bargain tonight?" Cody asked his friend.
"I don't think he'll want to. That's why it's up to us to make sure she gets out of this. I promised her."
"What about him?" Cody asked nodding toward Alex.
"We do our best to get him out, too. I promised Jackie. Then we turn him and the goods on Delamicco over to the police. Jackie is our first priority."
The bank officer left the four men alone to empty the box. Murray whistled when it was opened. The box was full of cash in large bills, a file, and a tape. Murray immediately started shoving things in a gym bag while Nick and Cody made sure everything went into the bag.
"What do we do now?" Murray asked after they left the bank. "We can't do anything until ten."
"We've got some plans to make, Murray," Cody told him shortly.
Later, while Cody and Murray checked on a homing device for the bag, just in case Delamicco got away from them. Nick took care of some hardware on the deck. Alex joined him.
"So what are these big plans of yours, Nick?" He asked sarcastically.
Before he knew what he was doing, Nick slammed Alex against the well house wall. Alex tried to struggle, but Nick's arm ground into his windpipe.
"Look, man," Nick hissed. "It's only because of you we're doing this in the first place. It's your fault she's in danger. Your fault we're all trying to save her life. She's your sister, man," Nick bounced Alex off the wall for emphasis. "Your sister! You don't do this to family. She stood by you when no one else would. Now look what you've done! You will never, never put Jackie in that kind of position again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
Nick bounced Alex off the wall once more then let him go. Alex slid to the deck, emotional and coughing. "Oh, man, I'm so sorry! I never meant..."
"Tell it to Jackie, Alex."
A few minutes before ten, Alex's car pulled into the empty parking lot by the pier. Alex got out with the gym bag and waited. A moment later, another car pulled up. It's headlights pinning Alex. One of the thugs got out and opened the door for Delamicco.
"Did you bring everything, Alex?" Delamicco called out.
"Where's my sister?"
The other thug stepped out of the car at Delamicco's signal, dragging Jackie with him. She struggled, uselessly, when she saw Alex. The thug brought out a gun.
"Alex!" she called out, but was restrained by not only the thug's grip on her arm, but the gun to her neck.
"Ah, what a touching family reunion," Delamicco said. "Where's the stuff?"
Alex hefted the bag. "Let her go first."
"Not a chance. You double crossed me once. That's one time too many."
"Half way then," Alex compromised. "Come on. She's got nothing you want."
Delamicco laughed. "You're a very funny, man, Alex. You should've been a comedian. And your sister is a very pretty girl. My associates have become quite...fond...of her. But we're professional men. Okay. Bring the bag half way then go back. We'll send your sister to you once we're sure you're playing nice."
Alex did what he was told. The thug with Jackie came to stand with Delamicco as the other went to the bag. He nodded to Delamicco after a quick examination of the contents.
"Well, I guess a deal is a deal," Delamicco said. Then he turned back to the car. "Kill them both."
Before the thugs could respond Nick's bright pink Sikorsky helicopter appeared as if out of nowhere. The Screamin' Mimi's grinning face startled everyone. Almost as much as Cody leaning out the side door with a machine gun. The thug let go of Jackie to better aim his weapon. Jackie took the opportunity to stomp on his foot and run. Suddenly, Murray was there, pulling her toward and behind Alex's car. Covering their escape with an automatic weapon of his own.
Alex threw himself on the thug with the bag. Jackie watched in horror as the thug calmly shot her brother in the head. Meanwhile, Cody had neatly disabled Delamicco's car with a shower of bullets. One thug went down trying to shoot at the helicopter.
Nick landed the Mimi in the parking lot. Cody and Nick went into action to take out the remaining thug. When the dust cleared, both thugs were down. One dead, the other severely injured. A search of the car found Delamicco also dead, by his own hand rather than face jail. Slowly, Murray and Jackie came out from the cover of the car.
Jackie saw the still form of her brother on the pavement and tried to get to him. Nick intercepted her and had to nearly carry her bodily away from the scene.
"No, Jackie! No! You don't want to see him like that! It's too late! He's gone!" Nick told her over and over. "It's too late. He's gone. It's over."
Cody and Murray found something else to do as Nick held her and let her cry. All the while sounds of sirens came closer.
It was nearly dawn when the police had gotten through with them. Cody came to tell Nick the police had cleared them to leave and the corner had long since taken away the bodies. He stuck his head inside the Mimi and found, once more, Jackie asleep on Nick shoulder.
"We can go," Cody whispered. "The police are through here. She can claim Alex's body tomorrow."
"Help me out here, Cody," Nick whispered.
The two men shifted Jackie so Nick could stand up. They laid her back down and covered her with a blanket. Murray joined the others in the Mimi. The police impounded Alex's car, and that had been Murray's incoming transportation.
"Make sure she doesn't roll off. I'll take us home," Nick said tiredly, heading for the cockpit.
Jackie once more stood on the deck of the Riptide looking out over the water. Nick came out with two mugs of coffee. He handed one to her.
"You okay?" He asked gently.
"I will be. Thanks to you," she replied with a sad smile and taking his free hand. "I wouldn't be alive now if it weren't for you."
"Ah shucks, ma'am, twern't nothing."
"Yes, it was. You were there for me, Nick. After the war. After Alex changed. Especially after the past few days."
"I'm just sorry we couldn't bring Alex home this time. I made you a promise..."
"To do your best, Nick. And you did. Alex had it coming, eventually," Jackie looked at Nick.
"What'll you do now?" Nick asked.
"Make a confession?"
"Confession? What do you have to confess, Jackie?" Nick asked curiously.
"I have had a crush on you ever since the first time Alex brought you home after the war."
"And you're just now saying something?"
"I guess I always thought you only saw me as Alex's little sister."
Nick laughed and pulled her closer. "Maybe I did. But not anymore."
"Thank you. For everything, Nick," Jackie said looking up into his face.
Nick looked down at the same moment. Their eyes locked. Nick took her face in his hands and kissed her. She slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. After a long moment, they came up for air.
"You never answered my question," Nick repeated. "What are you going to do now?"
"I've been thinking of that cabin up in the mountains."
"You're going up there?"
"For a few days. Maybe a week. I could use some company," Jackie looked up at him playfully. "Think the guys could do without you?"
Nick grinned. "I think we could work something out. A girl can't be too careful these days. Especially alone."
"Couldn't agree more."
From inside the well house, Cody and Murray watched their friends. Murray looked at Cody. "You think she's going to be okay?"
"Oh, yeah, Murray, I think everything's going to be just fine."