Chapter 1

Two men at a bar, one red-headed, the other barely still claiming hair, looked at each other and grinned. The red-head tipped a bottle in the other man's direction and said, "Congratulations old friend."

Frank Tripp snorted and said, "You could have left out the word 'old' you know."

The other man just looked at him with commiseration. "I know the feeling. Sometimes I looked at Marisol and wondered what it would be like when I was old and she was still so young."

Frank grew concerned at the look he saw in Horatio's eyes. "She wouldn't want you to do this to yourself. She was a sweet girl."

"Yes, yes she was."

"Look, I shouldn't have said …"

"Frank, I was the one that brought it up. But you are right, we are here to celebrate you and Vee. Do you want me to say something to the rest of the team?"

"Actually … actually I don't want anything said at all."

"Hmmm."

Frank cleared his throat and then explained how serious Melissa's condition had been determined to be. "Vee understands. Ryan understands. I got … previous commitments … that I have to address before we can move forward. I just needed to bring you on board in case … well hell, in case something happens. I can't leave that kind of burden to Ryan, or at least not leave it to him alone. You get what I'm trying to say?"

"I do," Horatio said giving the man his nod of acceptance. Tipping his bottle in a toast once again Horatio said, "May you both find the happiness you're looking for it and last the remainder of your days."

# # # # # # # # # #

Later that night in another part of town a woman sat looking at herself in her vanity mirror clearly in shock. She couldn't believe what she had done. Was she out of her mind? She hadn't had a one night stand since college. Not even after her divorce had she been that desperate and needy. This hadn't even qualified as a one-night stand. It was more of a quickie in a bar parking lot … with a man she didn't even know. Dear god she'd acted like she was in heat … had barely remembered to make sure the man was using protection; not because she was concerned about getting pregnant because that was no longer a worry, but because STDs and … she broke down in tears, smearing her eye make up and then running to the bathroom to be sick. Eventually she regained control and crawled into the shower after throwing the clothes she'd been wearing in the trash, vowing she never wanted to see them again.

# # # # # # # # # #

All was silent in the house, except in the bedroom where two bodies frantically wrestled on Egyptian cotton sheets.

"Oh Calleigh … Calleigh."

The woman, experienced though she was, moaned as the man intentionally did all the right things to drive her crazy in a way no one else had ever been able to. When the man started moaning himself Calleigh said, "Eric … Eric we … we have to be quiet. Don't wake the kids."

Eric did his best but not without some frustration. He loved Calleigh's vocalizations, loved being the one to cause them.

A little while later, both of them tangled in the sheets and temporarily sated, Calleigh rolled over to face Eric and said the words that put terror into the hearts of all men. "We need to talk."

# # # # # # # # # #

Ryan looked at Walter and grinned. "So give. How did it go?"

"It was a freaking disaster. Audrey is … she's barely five feet tall."

"What?! You're exaggerating."

"I'm serious Dude. And get the look off your face … it was embarrassing as hell because every other guy in the room was thinking the same damn thing you are. She's over a foot shorter than I am … and it was like … oh my god."

Ryan was trying not to laugh but he couldn't help it. "Why do you let your mother set you up with these women?!"

"Because she's my mom. Can you tell your mom no?"

That sobered Ryan up. "That's the only thing she's said I've ever told her. She gave up on me a long time ago."

Walter heard something in his voice and realized maybe his mom was a pain … but she didn't cause him pain. That was worth remembering.

To get the look off of his friend's face Walter said, "Hey, check out the woman at the bar. She's giving you the eye."

Ryan looked where he was pointing and then blanched. "That's no woman, that's my sister."

"Oh shit."

"Yeah, you have no idea."

They both cringed when the woman started stomping in their direction, both of them wishing they had left thirty minutes earlier as they had originally meant to.

# # # # # # # # # #

Vee had the heebies. They'd started about mid-morning. She knew the feeling. Someone was watching her but she couldn't spot who it was. The stupid feeling even followed her home. It wasn't until she'd gone to the gym for her regular workout that she'd spotted him.

She didn't just spot him, she recognized him. Guy's name was Paul Letourneau. She'd gone to school with him and they'd both wound up working for the Porters. She as a contractor and he as some kind of something or other on the administrative side. Or so she had thought; he was too good to be just a paper pusher. But she was pretty sure she was better … even after being out of the game for a year.

She made out like she was going to the bathroom only what she did was climb out the window in there and then haul butt around the building and come up behind Paul. She had him in a headlock before he realized what hit him.

"Vee! Vee!" he wheezed. "I can't … can't breathe!"

"Why are you following me?"

"Spicoli sent me! I swear it!"

"Why in the hell should I believe someone that's been dogging me all day?"

"Letter … got a letter. Front pocket."

Vee continued to use the leverage her height and strength gave her to keep Paul pinned while she glanced over the piece of paper. It had a few hidden codes in it proving its authenticity. She pushed the man away from her and he stumbled nearly going to his knees.

While rubbing his throat Paul groused, "That's some way to greet an old friend Violetta."

"Kiss my ass Paul. You were more Rob's friend than you were ever mine. What the heck is going on?"

"Don't know. None of my business. I was just told to deliver the letter."

"Did he tell you to be an idiot and take your life in your hands while you were at it?"

The man had the grace to blush. "Sorry about that. It's a habit."

"You're a courier," Vee said suddenly understanding.

With some pride in his voice he responded, "Yeah. Old Man Porter trained me himself."

Vee nodded then asked, "Any word on his condition?"

"Improved slightly. Mrs. Porter ain't doing so well though from what I hear."

"Fils de pute," Vee muttered, cursing in French for Paul's benefit.

"Oui. Tout le monde est tres triste."

"I'm sorry Paul; I just remembered … you're some kind of relation to the family."

"Yes but don't worry about it. I've been smart enough to avoid family politics and save what I can. If things blow up I'll still be able to take care of my sisters."

"Your mom?"

"Six months ago. Le cancer."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"It was a long time coming. She was happy to pass and end the pain." He sighed. "Take what Mr. Spicoli says seriously. Something is going on. There's noise … quiet noise … that the accident was no accident."

Carefully Vee said, "Anything is possible I suppose, but either way I'm out … been out a while … and I've been cut off as long as I been out."

"Don't know but … that possible accident ain't been the only possible accident that's happened. Just mind the warning. We're living in crazy times Violetta … crazy, crazy times."

Vee watched Paul take his leave and then she quickly got back to her apartment so she could look over the letter more carefully. After making sure she'd read it all and carefully, she placed a call to the number that had been coded into the letter.

"Okay Mark, what the hell is going on?"