Diagnosis Murder
Nothing is What It Seems
By Lucky_Ladybug

Amanda let out an anguished cry and flew down the metal staircase, to where a young man lay sprawled, limp and lifeless.

He was laying on his back, his head turned to the side. Sobbing now, Amanda tried to turn his head to face her, to no avail.

"Oh, Jack! Jack, no!" Amanda's tears were flowing uncontrollably as she thought of the events that had led up to this. . . .
It has started as a routine investigation. Mark, who had gotten involved in another mystery, had asked Jack and Amanda to help out. They had readily agreed, of course, and went over the suspect list.

"I'm convinced it's Salvador Bendetti," Amanda insisted.

"But he had an airtight alibi," Jack protested.

Amanda shrugged. "That's irrelevant."

Jack sighed. "It's gotta be Maria Venquilez," he said.

Amanda waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, that's ridiculous! She loved Mario!"

"Yeah. For his money!"

Amanda glared at Jack. "Oh, you!" She paused. "I've known Maria for years. She didn't do it!"

Jack glanced at his watch. "Well, we'd better get going instead of standing around arguing over whodunit. We don't have much time until we're back on call at the hospital again."

Amanda shook her head and followed him out the door.
Before long, they pulled up in front of a swanky old mansion.

"Who lives here?" Jack asked in awe.

"Salvador Bendetti," Amanda replied.

She and Jack got out of the car and walked cautiously up the driveway.

"How, exactly, do you propose to get inside?" Jack asked, surveying the long, winding driveway.

Amanda paused. "Well, I don't think he's home. To avoid looking suspicious, we should go in the front door."

Jack attempted to pick the lock, but the double deadbolt was too complicated.

"It's no use," he said, throwing up his hands in defeat. "Maybe we should come back later."

Suddenly he realized Amanda wasn't with him. "Hey, Amanda!" he called. "Where are you?"

While he was looking all around, perplexed, Amanda sneaked up behind him mischievously and tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped a mile and whirled around.

"Amanda!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing sneaking up on me like that?"

Amanda grinned. "I've found a way in," she announced.

"Oh yeah? How?" Jack asked, and then was immediately sorry he had.

Amanda led him around to the back of the manor and pointed up. "Through that window."

Jack looked at her in disbelief. "Are you nuts? If we try to go up there, we'll fall and break our necks!"

"Oh come on, Jack! Where's your sense of adventure?"

Jack groaned.
Thirty precarious minutes later, Jack and Amanda had made it up through the second story window, with the help of a rickety ladder, which had nearly splintered on them.

"Now we have to hurry," Jack warned. "Somebody might either take the ladder away or call the police."

Amanda, only half listening, was rifling through papers on the desk. "You look in that filing cabinet," she directed.

Jack sighed and opened the first drawer.
"Hey, here's something," Amanda exclaimed.

"Yeah? What?" Jack looked up.

"It's some newspaper clippings," Amanda replied. "They're yellow with age."

"Yeah?" Jack came over to look.

Amanda held up the first one. "This one is dated 1972. It's about a museum robbery in which a whole trunk of valuable 18-century gold coins was stolen."

"A whole trunk?" Jack repeated in disbelief.

Amanda nodded. "It was found on a sunken pirate ship."

Jack looked thoughtful. "Very interesting, but how, pray tell, does a trunk of pirate treasure tie in with Mario's murder?"

Amanda smiled. "In this next clipping," she continued, waving it around, "it says that a Mario Pacino confessed to being part of the robbery. It also says he confessed to having a partner in crime, though he wouldn't tell who." She paused. "What are you willing to bet that this 'partner in crime' was Salvador Bendetti?"

Jack nodded. "I can see that. But if Bendetti is the killer, why?"
Amanda shrugged. "Maybe after Mario got out of prison, he started looking for Bendetti to get his share of the loot. Maybe it took him years, and he finally found him just a few weeks ago. Bendetti was probably overcome with greed and didn't want Mario to find it . . ."

"So Bendetti killed him," Jack finished. "It's possible."

"But one thing I don't get is, Why did Mario refuse to tell the police who his partner was?" Amanda mused. "He could've gotten a lighter sentence if he'd told all."

"Bendetti could've been making death threats," Jack suggested. "So Mario decided he'd rather be in the clink for a few years than run the risk of winding up buried six feet under."

Amanda nodded. "We'd better take these clippings with us for evidence." She quickly stuffed them into her purse. "So, what do you think?"

Jack shrugged. "Bendetti could've done it," he agreed, "but he still has an alibi. Let's go check out Maria Venquilez."

"Fine, but I know she's innocent. Alibis don't mean anything. Just because Maria doesn't have one doesn't prove she's guilty."

Suddenly the front door opened downstairs. Jack and Amanda both froze.

"Someone's coming!" Jack hissed. "We've gotta get out of here!"

Amanda rushed to the window, then gasped. "Jack, we have a problem."

"Oh no!" Jack groaned. "Not the ladder!"

Amanda nodded. "It's breathed its last."

That's an odd way to describe a ladder, Jack thought ruefully. He went over to the window and looked down. The ladder was laying on the ground in pieces.

"I know you're up there!" a voice thundered from the stairs.

"Jack! He knows we're here!" Amanda gasped. "What'll we do? We can't hide anywhere; he'd find us!"

"Yeah. . . ." Jack paused. "Tell you what, Amanda. I'll climb down to the ground and then you can jump and I'll catch you."

Amanda stared at him. "Are you out of your mind, Jack?"

Jack shrugged. "Maybe. But I don't think we have any choice. He'll be up here in seconds."

"Well . . . alright," Amanda finally consented. "But don't drop me!"

Jack took another look down at the ground far below, then took a deep breath and climbed out on the windowsill.

"Oh, Jack, be careful," Amanda whispered.

Jack knew they only had a few minutes (or worse, seconds) to escape. Gingerly he dropped down to the gable over the next window down. Now what? he said to himself. The ground still wasn't very close.

He considered jumping down. Not a safe option. There wasn't anyone to catch him.

He could try to climb, but that wasn't very safe either.

He had to decide quickly. Mr. Bendetti would shortly finish his search of the ground floor and go upstairs.

It's about six of one and half a dozen of the other, he muttered. Finally he slowly and cautiously began to climb down the gable. Several times he nearly slipped and fell, but he somehow managed to hold on till he reached the windowsill, then he jumped down the rest of the way.

Upstairs, Amanda could hear Bendetti coming up the stairs. "Oh, what'll I do?" she worried. She looked out the window again and to her relief, saw Jack safe on the ground, motioning for her to jump.

"Jack, I don't know about this," she mouthed.

"There's no other way," he replied. "C'mon! Hurry!"

Amanda sighed, knowing that Jack was right. If she didn't jump, Bendetti would no doubt find her. She had heard him tearing the rooms downstairs apart and knew that, no doubt, he'd give the upstairs the same treatment. So with one last look at the ground far below and a deep breath, she climbed out on the windowsill and jumped, just as Bendetti opened the door.

Amanda hated the sensation of falling and nearly screamed, but then she landed safely in Jack's arms.

Jack grinned at her. "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Upstairs they could hear Bendetti having a fit. He'd discovered the newspaper clippings were gone, and he was ready to chomp through metal.

Suddenly a bullet sailed past, narrowly missing Jack. Amanda gasped. Jack set her down and they took off running across the grounds. Bendetti continued to fire at them. At one point, Amanda stumbled and narrowly missed the next shot. Jack helped her up and they finally made it to Amanda's sleek green car. Amanda quickly started the engine and they drove off.

When they were safely away from the range of Bendetti's gun, Amanda declared, "No doubt about it—Bendetti's guilty."

"Not necessarily," Jack replied. "Maybe he just hates trespassers."

Amanda rolled her eyes and said nothing.
It didn't take long to reach Maria Venquilez' neighborhood and find her home, also a swanky mansion.

"It doesn't look like she's home," Jack observed.

"I don't like the thought of climbing through Maria's window," Amanda protested. "I don't want to be poking around in her house."

Jack sighed. Finally he said, "Well, look at it this way: Maybe we'll find something to prove her innocent."
Now it was Amanda's turn to sigh. Finally she agreed.

Maria's front door was also equipped with a double deadbolt. "This must be a necessity around here," Jack commented.

Luckily, this time they were able to enter through a first floor window.

"It's a little strange, how we keep finding these windows conveniently left open," Amanda stated.

"Maybe," Jack replied vaguely.

The open window belonged to the library. Jack looked around in awe at the shelves of books.

"Wow, this chick must love to read," he commented.

"Maria wanted to be a fiction writer," Amanda told him. "Then she turned to journalism instead."

"She's a tabloid reporter. That's practically fiction," Jack joked, idly picking up a nearby book. The cover fell open, revealing something totally unexpected.

"Hey, this isn't a book!" Jack exclaimed. "It's hollow!"

Amanda came over. "Maria told me she keeps her writings in a hollow book."

"Well, this isn't a scandalous tabloid story about alligators with human legs or a lady being abducted by aliens." He held up a handful of bright, shiny, round things. "It's gold!"

"Gold?" Amanda repeated, shocked. "Where in the world would Maria get gold coins?"

Suddenly they heard a loud click, and a heavily accented voice said quietly, "Hold it right there!"

Jack and Amanda whirled around, and came face to face with a beautiful Spanish woman holding a rifle threateningly.
"Maria!" Amanda gasped.

"Give me the book," Maria said in that same quiet tone.

Amanda handed it over, saying, "We weren't going to steal it, or anything here, Maria."

"Oh really." Maria kept the rifle steady.

"Yeah," Jack came in. "We were just looking for, uh . . ."

"I know what you came about," Maria smirked. "You think I killed Mario Pacino."

"No," Amanda protested. "We were looking for evidence to prove you innocent."

The smirk never left Maria's face. "How sweet."

Just then the door burst open. Bendetti dashed in, waving an automatic pistol.

"Ah, here you are, my little snoopy friends!" he declared.

"We have you right where we want you," Maria added.

"Maria!" Amanda gasped. "You're in on this? But why?"

"You know too much already," was Maria's only reply.

"We don't know much at all," Jack protested.

"You may not know the why, but you know the who, and that is plenty," Bendetti hissed. "Boys!" he called. At least half a dozen hitmen appeared in the door. "Take Dick Tracy and Tessa Trueheart away."

The hitmen approached, each with an automatic pistol in hand and wearing dark glasses. They look like the Men in Black, Jack thought wryly.

A hitman with red hair, a mustache, and a wicked grin, went over to Amanda. "Hey, pretty thing. Where you been all my life?"

Amanda looked at him in disgust. He grabbed her by the arm. "What say you and me go off together . . . alone?"

"Not on your life!" Amanda snapped, jerking away.

"Leave her alone!" Jack ordered.

The man didn't look the least bit fazed. He simply continued to grin lustily and said nothing.

"You stay away from her, you hear?" Jack said, getting more angry by the minute.

"Butch!" Bendetti called. "Leave her alone . . . for now."

"Sure, boss," Butch said agreeably. Then he leaned over and whispered in Amanda's ear, "I'll be back, pretty thing!" With that, he turned and walked out the door, Amanda's eyes boring holes in his back.

"What a creep!" she said under her breath.

"Alright, boys," Bendetti said, "where were we? . . . Ah, yes. Take them away!"

Two hitmen each accosted Jack and Amanda and holding guns at their backs, forced them out the door.

Outside, they went over to the back of a moving van. "Get in," Bendetti hissed.

"What if we say no?" Jack challenged.

"You don't wanna know," Bendetti replied with a smirk. The hitmen shoved them forward on the ramp, which was actually the door, which mechanically raised and dumped Jack and Amanda unceremoniously on top of a coffee table in the van. They could hear Bendetti directing his men outside. Two of them got in the front of the van and started it up.

"This is just great," Jack muttered.

Amanda was looking out the window on the side of the van. "I wonder where they're taking us?"
"Probably somewhere far away from here," Jack replied.

Amanda sighed. Jack was probably right.
After what seemed like an eternity, the van stopped. The door/ramp slowly opened, and five hitmen and Bendetti were gathered around. "Bring 'em out," Bendetti ordered.

The hitmen obeyed. When Jack and Amanda were out of the van, they glanced around. They were in front of an old, abandoned house that looked like it might collapse any time.

One of the hitmen went ahead and opened the front door. "Go inside," Bendetti said.

"What are you going to do with us?" Amanda asked.

Bendetti paused. "You know, little lady, I haven't quite decided that yet. But you two do know who killed Pacino, and if we let you go, you'd no doubt go to the cops."

The hitmen pushed Jack and Amanda inside the house. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling. White sheets were draped over the furniture, giving them a creepy, ghost-like appearance.

"Upstairs," Bendetti called to the hitmen. "In that little room in the attic."

"Attic?" Jack repeated. He glanced up the metal staircase leading to the tiny upstairs and gulped. "Uh . . . are there any windows up there?"

"I don't believe so, my young friend," Bendetti replied.

"Couldn't we be locked in a room with a window or two?" Jack persisted, resisting the hitman who was trying to drag him upstairs.

"You will be locked in the attic," Bendetti hissed.

The hitman grabbed Jack's arm so hard it hurt and physically pulled him up the staircase, while Amanda obediently went.

There was a tiny landing outside the attic door, on which two people could barely stand. The hitman in front opened the attic door and the others threw Jack and Amanda in on the floor. Bendetti smirked. "I think it would be wise to dispose of you two as quickly as possible, before you can think of a way to escape."

"I have one more question," Amanda said steadily. "Was Maria Venquilez involved in Mario's killing?"

Bendetti laughed. "In a manner of speaking," was his only reply. "Now, I must be off to an important meeting. Enjoy your last hours alive, my snoopy friends!" With that, he slammed the door. Jack could hear him and his henchmen going back down the stairs.

He began to pace the dark room, very agitated.

"What is it with you, Jack?" Amanda burst out, sounding irritated. "We still might be able to escape, but you could've gotten us killed downstairs, going on about windows! They could've just shot us both dead on the spot!"

"You don't understand, Amanda," Jack replied, never slowing his pace.

"I don't understand?" Amanda repeated. "You're right! I don't!" She rushed on, "And you know something else, Jack? This is your fault!"

Even in the near-pitch black darkness, Amanda could see Jack was wounded. "It is, huh?" he said, barely above a whisper.

"Yes!" Amanda spat out. "If you hadn't been so intent on thinking Maria was guilty, we might not be in this predicament!"

"Well? I was right, though, wasn't I?"

Amanda was silent.

Jack became more agitated. "We've gotta get out of here!" he exclaimed. "I can't stay in here!" He started climbing on boxes, looking for a ventilator, a boarded-up secret exit . . . anything that would enable them to get out of that tiny, cramped, closed-up room! "There's no windows in here!"

Amanda watched as Jack frantically searched for an opening. The boxes collapsed, nearly sending Jack to the floor. "What is the matter with you, Jack?" Amanda snapped. "You're going to hurt yourself!"

"I can't stay in here," Jack repeated.

"I could understand if you were worried that we might not get out alive," Amanda continued, her voice raising as she got more annoyed at Jack's behavior, "but going ballistic because there's no windows?"

"You don't understand, Amanda," Jack said again.

Suddenly the door opened and the man Amanda hoped she'd never see again entered, the evil sneer still on his face. This time his sunglasses were missing, revealing gray eyes that lit up at the thought of the evil thing he was about to do.

"Hello, pretty woman," he hissed. "I told you I'd be back!"

Amanda jerked away. "Stay away from me!"

Butch grabbed Amanda's arm. "You're coming with me, pretty lady!"

"Let go of me!" Amanda shrieked, hitting him with her free hand. Butch only laughed.

Instantly Jack was at her side, his eyes filled with rage and anger. "I told you to leave her alone!" Jack let loose with a punch that left Butch reeling. He let go of Amanda and pushed Jack.

"I will have my way with your lady friend," he hissed.

"Not as long as I'm around!" Jack shot back. "You'd better not lay a hand on her!"

Amanda gasped as she watched Jack fight with Butch. They were now on the narrow landing outside the attic door. Amanda hurried out on the landing with them.

Jack pushed Butch back, just as Butch gave Jack a hard shove as well and pulled out a shiny black object. Before Amanda could say or do anything, Butch pulled the trigger.

It all happened so fast . . . Jack falling down the stairs, Amanda tripping Butch and sending him flying backward into the attic, him hitting his head on the floor and getting knocked out, the attic door shutting and locking on its own. . . .
And now Amanda was kneeling next to her still friend, sobbing uncontrollably.

"Oh, Jack, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean those awful things I said!" she choked out. She ran a hand through his black hair. This is not happening! Any minute now, he'll open his eyes and tell me he's okay. Jack remained motionless, however, and Amanda laid her head on his shoulder and let the tears flow.
It seemed like hours had passed, but it had really been only a few minutes. Amanda looked up, tears streaking her face. She had been remembering some of the adventures she and Jack had had while investigating. The time when the house exploded. The time Amanda's dog Yoda was abducted and she and Jack went looking for him in a warehouse. And the time when they were undercover at a hair parlor and Jack accidentally shampooed Amanda's hair with purple hair color. Amanda had been furious at the time, but she giggled about it now. They had had so many strange adventures together.

"I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world," she whispered. "But, oh, how I wish I could trade this one!" She paused. "And my last words to you were mean and thoughtless!" She started to cry again.

Suddenly she was interrupted by a soft, weak voice, asking, "Amanda? What's wrong?"

Amanda froze. It must've been my imagination, she decided. A hand reached out and took hers. Amanda gasped. It wasn't her imagination. And that meant . . .

"Jack! You're alive!" she exclaimed.

Jack grinned at her. "They can't kill me that easy!"

"But how? . . . I mean, I was sure that awful man . . ."

"His bullet missed me," Jack replied. "He pushed me down the stairs, though . . . That's all I remember." He glanced up the metal staircase. "What happened to him?"

"He's locked in the attic," Amanda told him. She paused. "You saved me, Jack."

"It was nothing," Jack said with that grin of his. "I couldn't let that creep get you." He slowly sat up, rubbing his head.
"Jack," Amanda said softly, "I'm sorry for saying those awful things. I didn't mean them. And I should have been more understanding about . . . the windows. I realize now—you're claustrophobic, aren't you?"

Jack paused, then nodded. "I was locked in a refrigerator for four hours when I was six. After that, I couldn't stand to be in a room without windows for more than a few minutes."

Amanda gasped. "That's terrible! I . . . I should have known."

"It's okay," Jack said softly.

Suddenly they were interrupted by a loud banging upstairs.

"Uhoh." Amanda glanced up. "I do believe Butch has woke up and wants out."

Jack laughed. "Well, he's just gonna have to stay in there until we can get the police here."

Suddenly a car pulled up outside. Both Jack and Amanda froze. Then Jack crept over to the window and cautiously peeked out. "It's Bendetti," he said in hushed tones.

"What'll we do?" Amanda looked petrified.

"I noticed a phone out in the kitchen when we came in," Jack informed her. "I don't know if it works or not, but its worth a try."

Jack grabbed Amanda's hand and they silently made their way to the kitchen. Jack quickly picked up receiver of the black metro phone that was sitting on the table, then slammed it down. "Nothing. It's dead." He glanced around. "We've got to get out of here somehow."

The front door creaked open.

"Quick. In here." Jack pulled a protesting Amanda into the old dumbwaiter.

"Butch!" Bendetti called. "Have you disposed of them yet?"

Jack and Amanda could faintly hear Butch's angry reply. "No! Get me out of here!"
"What is the matter with you?" Bendetti yelled. "It was a simple assignment! You've done them before, why did you have to botch this one?"

Butch was silent, apparently too embarrassed to tell Bendetti exactly what had happened.

"Oh, never mind!" Bendetti snapped. "Just tell me—where are they now?"

"The guy fell down the stairs," Butch replied. "I think I shot him . . . He might be dead, but I don't know about the lady."

"There's no one down here!" Bendetti growled. He turned to the other hitmen. "What are you standing around for? Start looking! They can't be far!"

Amanda clung to Jack, terrified. Jack grinned at her. "Don't worry, babe. I have a plan." He looked at the rope that moved the dumbwaiter up and down. "There's gotta be a way out of here. . . ."

He began pulling on the rope, sending them upward.

When they reached the next floor, Jack opened the dumbwaiter door and he and Amanda found themselves staring at a very startled hitman.

"Oh, hello," Jack said nonchalantly. "Wish we could stay and chat, but we've really got to get going."

He reached out and pulled the dumbwaiter door shut and let the rope go up, sending them downward, leaving a very confused hitman standing at the door.

Now they were back at the main floor. Jack opened the door. Two more hitmen were standing there. Their eyes registered obvious surprise.

"Oh, excuse us," Jack said, slamming the door again. This time when he pulled on the rope, they went down to the basement.

"There's no door down here, is there?" Amanda asked doubtfully, looking around at the dark, musty space.

"Probably not, but there might be an open window," Jack replied.
They looked around. Amanda glanced over at some boards nailed over something. "Hey! Maybe this is an exit!" She ran over and tried to pry the top board loose.

"I think you're right, Amanda," Jack agreed, coming over to assist her.

Luckily for them, the boards were old and decrepit, and splintered all over the floor when they attempted to remove them. An old door was revealed.

"Well, what do you know about that?" Jack mused, trying the knob. Amazingly, it was unlocked and swung open. "Ladies first," Jack said, and Amanda hurried through. Jack followed, and they climbed the cement stairs leading up to the old backyard, covered in weeds.

"Come on, we've gotta hurry," Jack told her. "They'll soon realize we're not in the house anymore!"

As soon as Jack spoke, bullets rang out.

"They're shooting at us!" Amanda gasped.

They began to run through the tall grass and weeds. Suddenly Amanda stumbled. "Jack! I can't run in these shoes! The heel just broke off!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, for crying out loud . . ." Jack muttered. He ran over and gathered Amanda in his arms and continued running.

They came upon the moving van. Jack set Amanda down and they climbed inside the front of it.

"Man, these guys are pretty stupid," Jack laughed, pointing to the keys dangling in the ignition. Quickly he revved up the engine and they took off.

"Where are we going?" Amanda asked.

"The police station," Jack replied. "I hope Steve's there."

About two blocks away, Amanda glanced in the rear view mirror. "Uhoh," she said quietly.


"Look who's following us!"

Jack glanced in the mirror. A black limo trailed behind them, with hitmen hanging out of every window, guns poised for action. "Oh man!"

As they drove along, with the hitmen shooting, Amanda suddenly became aware of a strange thumping sound in the back of the van. "Jack, do you hear that?" she asked.

Jack paused, listening. "Yeah. Probably just some stray furniture."

"No!" Amanda protested. "It sounds like someone banging on the wall."

"If there's a person back there, let's just hope we don't get arrested for 'kidnapping,'" Jack said.

A heavily accented voice began screaming, "Let me out of here!"

"Maria!" Amanda gasped.

Remembering the incident back at the Spanish woman's home, Jack sighed. "Oh no."

"Maria!" Amanda called. "Are you in there?"

"Si, si," Maria shrieked. "Those banditos burst in and held me hostage. They brought in one of their . . . gun molls, and had her pose as me! They made it look like I killed Mario!" she sobbed.

"I knew Maria was innocent," Amanda said in delight. "I'm so sorry, Maria," she called back. "But don't worry. Everything will be alright."

Jack pulled up in front of the police station. The hitmen, seeing where they were, took off. "I've got the license number," Amanda said gleefully as they got out of the van.

They went around to the back and opened the door. A frazzled Maria gratefully stepped out. "You know," she said, "I've been thinking. Maybe I will give up tabloid writing. After seeing myself in the paper, as the subject of the story, I have been thinking that maybe I should not be writing these stories about other people."
Jack grinned at her. "I think that's a very good idea."

They ran inside the police station. "We've gotta see Lieutenant Sloan immediately!" Amanda said to the bored-looking desk sergeant.

"Sure," he said, pressing a button. "There's some people here to see you, Lieutenant," he said into the intercom. He paused, then waved a hand at the group. "Alright, go on," he said to them.

Quickly they made their way over to Steve's desk.

"Jack! Amanda!" Steve exclaimed, not noticing Maria at first. "Where in the world have you been? Dad's about ready to organize a search party, and Norman's blowing a gasket that you're not back at the hospital! Your shifts started over four hours ago!"

"We got into a little trouble investigating," Jack said hurriedly. "Steve, we know who killed Mario!"

"It was Salvador Bendetti," Amanda added.

"With the help of a woman who looks exactly like me!" Maria broke in indignantly.

Steve noticed Maria for the first time.

"It's a long story, Steve," Jack said. "We'll tell you all about it later, but right now we've gotta catch the killers!"

"I don't suppose you have any evidence to prove Bendetti's guilty," Steve said dryly.

Amanda handed over the newspaper clippings. "We found these in Bendetti's house," she explained.

"The window was open, so we, uh, went in," Jack added, as Steve gave them a Look.

"What's more, he held us hostage for hours and tried to kill us!" Amanda exclaimed.

Steve shook his head. "That's terrible. What have I told you guys about investigating? It's too dangerous! You should leave it up to the professionals." He paused. "How did you guys get here?"
"We took a moving van that Bendetti had been using," Jack replied. "His hitmen chased us in a black limo and shot at us."

"And here's the license number," Amanda said grandly.

They stayed for a while longer, describing the place that they had been held at, while Steve put out an APB on the limo.

"I'll have some men check the house out," he said, "but chances are, Bendetti's long gone by now."

Jack sighed, then glanced at the phone. "Hey, Steve, can we use your phone? We'd better call Mark and tell them we're okay."
"There's one thing I don't get," Amanda said the following day. She, Jack, Mark, Steve, Jesse, and Maria were having lunch at BBQ Bob's, while a light Spring rain fell outside. "Where did you get those gold coins from, Maria?"

Maria paused. "You know, I am not sure. I did not even know they were there until I went home last night. When Bendetti and his men are captured, I am definitely going to find out why they were put in my book."

At that precise moment, Steve's phone rang. "Hello, Sloan here." He paused. "You did? Great. . . . Yes, I'll tell them. Thank you. Goodbye." He looked at Jack and Amanda. "Well, they've caught the hitmen, and one of them decided to tell where Bendetti is in exchange for a lighter sentence, and our officers caught him just as he about to board a ship bound for Helsinki with the stolen gold coins."

"What a relief!" Amanda exclaimed.

"You two are lucky to have gotten out of this alive," Mark told them. "And you two, Maria. This could have ended very differently."

"Yeah. That's for sure." Jack glanced at Amanda and grinned. She smiled back at him. It had been quite an experience. She was relieved that it was finally over, and that it had ended as it had. Mark was right—this could've ended very differently, and almost had, several times.

Jesse glanced at his watched. "Uhoh. I've gotta going on my rounds. I'll see you guys later!" He jumped up and headed for the door.

"I have a budget meeting with Norman," Mark said with a smile, "and we know how impatient he gets when someone's late to a budget meeting. I'd better be off too."

"I'm due back at the station," Steve announced.

"Maybe I will come with you," Maria said. "I want to ask Senor Bendetti some questions."

Jack and Amanda lingered in the restaurant. Jack reached for the salt shaker, which, for some reason, tipped over on the table. As he and Amanda both dove to pick it up, their hands touched. They both froze, startled. Then Amanda looked at Jack and slowly smiled. Jack, surprised, returned the smile. They stayed a little longer, just watching the rain come down.