AN: Thanks must go out to all who helped me with this fic. First and foremost my beloved Professor Lori Belle for her wonderful and faithful job betaing for me. I love my Lori Belle!!!
Also special thanks, gratitude, and cyber cookies to Amy and Lorilei for all their help with the medical info. I'm sure I drove y'all nuts with my random questions, but I've gotten more than one comment about how real the scenes seemed. I owe it all to you two!
Thanks also to all who read and reviewed. I appreciate all your comments and would love if you could leave constructive criticism at the end of the fic. Tell me what you liked, tell me what you hated, and pass on any suggestions you may have!
Richie stood in front of the mirror in their fancy hotel suite staring at himself.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Duncan asked him, straightening the shoulders of his shirt.
"I know what I'm doing," he assured him. Despite his obvious nerves, there was a smug undertone in the statement.
"Just keep in mind you're going to be on national television," Tessa told him.
The phone rang: it was the front desk telling them the limo was there.
"For two months, the entire nation has been following the nightmare that the MacLeod family endured. On October eleventh, eighteen-year-old Richard was kidnapped and held for ransom. Ultimately, half a million dollars was demanded in exchange for his life."
A mummer rippled through the audience of the Oprah Winfrey show.
"On November fifteenth, Richard was found, abandoned on the side of a rural highway, hidden from view, left for dead."
And shocked whisper.
"But unlike so many of these stories, this one has a happy ending. Richard was found, alive, and now he is home back with his parents where he belongs. He has a clean bill of health and no permanent injuries to show for his ordeal."
A few people clapped, others cheered, some just breathed a sigh of relief.
"Richard is here today to share his story. But before we bring him out, I'd like to introduce the people many have been including in their prayers for so long, Richard's parents, Duncan and Tessa MacLeod."
The cameras turned to Duncan and Tessa seated in the front row of the audience.
"How horrible this must have been for you," Oprah said. "What was it like, coming home and finding your son gone?"
"It was terrifying," Tessa said. "We didn't know anything about what had happened to him, who had him, or why they had taken him."
"Mr. MacLeod, I understand you didn't want to leave him at home that night?"
"I'm very protective of my family, and I was a little uneasy of leaving him home when we weren't going to be back until early morning," Duncan admitted. "But he's eighteen and I wasn't going to make him go with us if he didn't want to."
"What about the reward money? What made you decide to pay the man who found Richie half a million dollars?"
"That money was raised to get Richie home safe and sound. We were willing to give that money to whomever brought him home to us. We had no problem giving the money to the kidnappers, or to the man who found him."
"Does it bother you that the kidnappers are still out there?"
"Yes," Tessa admitted. "But hopefully they'll realize that they're lucky they got away with this and not try it again."
"What was it like when you got the phone call saying that Richard had been found?"
"It's impossible to explain," Duncan said. "It was just such a feeling of relief. Indescribable."
"Is everything back to normal now?"
"Pretty much. Richie's still going to physical therapy and his appetite isn't quite back to normal, but we're on our way."
"Well, why don't we bring Richard out here? Come on out, Richard." Oprah stood up to wait for her guest to arrive on stage.
From their seats on the front row, Duncan and Tessa watched Richie confidently walk out onto stage to loud applause. He shook Oprah's hand and sat next to her, angled slightly on the couch.
"So, Richard," she said after the applause dimmed down. "What an ordeal. Are you alright?"
"I'm good… and call me Richie." He flashed her a charming, crooked grin. "I hate being called Richard."
"Richie, then," she repeated with a smile. "There are no lasting effects from all this?"
"So, you were kidnapped and were missing for a month. Now, I'm sure everyone's as curious as I am to know exactly what happened? How did all this happen? What did they do to you while you were missing?"
Richie smiled and shook his head. "That's a lot of questions."
"There are a lot of things we don't know. There is a very large mystery surrounding those two months."
Richie smirked and shook his head again. "I know."
Oprah turned to the camera. "When we get back, perhaps the most shocking secret of this case, revealed."
During the commercial break, hands stormed the set checking makeup, hair, microphones, lighting…
"A little overwhelming isn't it?" Oprah asked Richie.
"Only four more breaks," she told him.
She smiled. "Promise."
As suddenly as they had rushed on set, the hands rushed off.
"With us today," Oprah said to the camera, "we have Richard…I'm sorry, he wants to be called Richie, who was kidnapped and found abandoned by a highway." She turned to Richie. "Now there is a very big secret that quite a few people have been keeping for you."
"And what is it?"
"My name is not MacLeod, it's Ryan. I'm not their son."
The audience gasped in shock.
"You are not their son?"
"Then how did the abductors come to that conclusion?"
"I work for them and part of my pay is room and board," he explained.
"Who all knew that?"
"Anybody who knows us knows I'm not their son and I work for them."
"So whoever these people are, are not friends of the family?"
"Now, I want to switch topics slightly," she said. "Can you tell us what happened on October eleventh?"
"I was kidnapped," Richie shrugged.
Suddenly, Duncan and Tessa were aware of what Richie's smug tone was about. He was going to give Oprah Winfrey the run around on national television. He was the interview of the year and he had no intention of cooperating.
Oprah smiled patiently at him. "How did it happen?"
"I was taken somewhere against my will."
"What about the ransom note, you wrote it, correct?"
"Yes, I did."
"Why did you address it to Mom and Dad?"
Richie leaned back in his chair. "If someone held a gun to your head and told you to call me 'Dad' would you?" Richie asked her.
Collin sat back in his first class seat and unfolded the newspaper.
"Kidnapped Apprentice Frustrates Daytime Diva" the head line read.
"Richard Ryan, formerly known to the public as Richard MacLeod, admitted yesterday afternoon that he is not the son of local antique dealer and artist, Duncan MacLeod and Tessa Noel. Ryan avoided answering any personal questions during his exclusive interview on the nationally syndicated Oprah Winfrey show. He offered up only the most basic of information to her questions using tactics that would make any politician proud. When asked about the details of his ordeal, Ryan's favorite answer was "I'd rather not talk about it."
Ryan offered up little information that had not already been released to the public. Ryan appeared non-emotional throughout the interview, even unfazed by Oprah's obvious frustration toward the end of the show. Perhaps the only time Ryan showed any emotion other than calm, confident, and almost cocky was when asked if he had anything to say to his captures, which are still at large. There was a slight tremor in the teen's voice when he looked directly into the camera and said: "Thank you for not killing me."
When the people who posed as his parents were asked why they had claimed him as their son and took responsibility for paying the ransom, Mr. MacLeod answered: "Who would dust the store and clean the bathrooms?" To which Ryan and Ms. Noel laughed. Perhaps a sense of humor runs in their 'family'?"
A few pages back there was a smaller, but related article.
"Hero Receives Reward Without Meeting Victim"
"The local man who gets the credit for finding Richard Ryan where he was abandoned by Highway 87 was given a reward of $500,000- - money that had been raised to pay the teen's ransom. Ryan and the local, anonymous hero have not met since the night on the highway and there are no plans for them to meet. "I understand his reluctance," the hero told reporters "if I were him, I wouldn't want to associate with anything connected to the ordeal either. He thanked me in writing and the fact that he is alive to write the letter is more than enough reward for me."
Collin searched the paper page by page for any information about Mary. There had only been one article, not even an obituary. It seemed the police and FBI had so much pressure on them to catch the people who had kidnapped the wealthy teenager, they were hiding the murder of the poor prostitute.
Little did they know, they had given the kidnapper a check for the ransom money and billed him as a hero for finding the boy exactly where he had left him. And now Collin was flying to Australia to start over. A hero above suspicion, a bachelor without baggage, a man with nearly half a million dollars. He eared every penny of it.
With smug satisfaction, Richie ripped out the article about his interview and tossed it into the fire and watched it burn along with anything he could find that could that was about the kidnapping or could represent something for him. He burned articles and video tape for all the news coverage. He wanted to toss in a roll of duct tape, but Duncan was worried that it might release a harmful chemical, so he settled for a dish towel like the one they had used for a blindfold and a length of rope. Tessa added his hospital ID bracelet, Duncan the pillow case from his old sheet set. Richie sat back and watched everything burn. He got up, ran into the kitchen and came back with a piece of paper and pencil. He went back to his spot in front of the fire and tossed them in.
He watched the past two months burn in front of him, willing his memories to burn as well. He sat, silent, unmoving, until the fire burned itself out. At some point, Duncan and Tessa excused themselves to bed, sensing Richie's need to see this through alone. Once the fire was nothing but embers, he reached his foot in and stamped them out. He looked at the clock, nearly six thirty in the morning.
He put on his coat and took the stairs to the roof. He sat on the lip, letting his legs dangle over the side and watched the sun rise. His ordeal was behind him, his memories burned and put in their place, the sun rising to give everyone a fresh start.
And from his seat, Collin closed the window shade to block out the rising sun.