Title: Illusions of Security

Co-written by LM, Dimphy, and Barb

Disclaimer: Hunter and McCall, et al do not belong to us, but since SJC hasn't given them anything to do, we've taken it upon ourselves to keep them busy.

Summary: He knows where they live. He knows how to kill. He has the manpower and he wants justice. Can Hunter and McCall save themselves from his evil scheme to impose Final Judgment?

Chapter 1

Thursday

On Thursday afternoon, Hunter glanced over at his partner as she rummaged through files on her desk. He couldn't help himself with daydreaming about what she'd be wearing Saturday night. She told him it'd be something sexy, and left it at that; but he couldn't leave it alone.

"So, tell me. Is this dress of yours short; above the knee, perhaps?" He looked through a folder, as if only half interested in her answer, when she knew he was dying to know the truth.

McCall was willing to play his game. "I'm not saying specifically. But to give you more ideas to roll around in your dirty little mind, there are numerous possibilities. It could be above the knee or floor-length with a split to the thigh. There's backless, strapless, plunging neckline, halter-back, etcetera. There could even be a combination of styles. So, while you make yourself crazy over that; I'll be putting these files away." With a sly smile, she was on her way to the file cabinet.

Although Hunter was still puzzled by what McCall would be wearing, he wasn't distracted enough to keep from watching her walk away. (The things she puts me through)

Saturday

Hunter's curiosity was put to an end when McCall answered the door wearing a dazzling cream dress that never entered his imagination. Before he could comment on her, she complimented him and his tuxedo.

"Ooh, you look very nice. I love seeing you in a tux. How much do I have to pay to keep you like this?" She smiled the smile that always warmed his heart.

"Funny, McCall. Now, let's take a look at you."

"You like?"

"Oh, yes, I like. You weren't kidding when you said sexy. Wow!" Hunter took her hand and assisted her as she did a little twirl allowing him the full view.

Just as she had said that the dress might; it did have a combination of some of the styles she listed. Falling just above the knee; it was long sleeved cream chiffon with glistening beading, a small, but noticeable split at the back hem, and an open back with beading draping across the back; supported at each shoulder. Her hair was pulled up into a gathering of curls atop her head, with one ringlet on the left side of her face, two at the back, one resting gently along each side of her neck. A pair of small diamond hoop earrings, and a purse and shoes to match the dress completed the wardrobe.

"You look absolutely beautiful. There's no doubt that you'll be turning heads tonight."

"Well, thank you." She playfully poked him in the chest with her index finger. "Ya know, with some people, flattery gets them nowhere. But it might get you somewhere." She winked at him, and then blushed a little at her own remark. She couldn't believe how 'school-girlish' she was feeling. "We'd better go. I don't want you to blame me for being late."

As he started the engine of the red Daytona, Hunter smiled when his next thought came to mind.

"Well, I have to tell you, this dress is far too special to be fully wasted on just the Mayor's Ball. What do you say to us finding a late night place for drinks and dancing afterwards?"

McCall raised her brow and smiled in surprise.

"Dancing? Really?"

He laughed a little at the surprised look on her face. "Yeah, but only slow dancing, okay? I don't feel like changing into my white suit for disco dancing."

"Okay." She laughed at his excuse. "I'll go along with that."

She wasn't sure of what the latter events of the evening would bring; whether it'd be somewhat of a romantic evening, or not. Regardless, she'd get to spend more time with Rick. Their recent workload had left them both too tired to spend time doing anything else: together or alone. She thought this evening would surely be a welcomed change.

Or would it?

The convention center was filled to the limit. The guests included members from the city council, the police force; some in uniform, the governor's office, sheriff's department and the school board and everyone brought someone. As they walked in; meeting and greeting, Rick was proven right about McCall turning heads. He was quite happy to be seen with such a beauty, and Brad Navarro kidded him about not getting to her first.

"You're looking rather fabulous, McCall."

"Thank you, Brad. You're looking pretty handsome yourself." She complimented him.

"I agree with Brad, DeeDee. I love that dress." Kitty chimed in with her compliments. "And those earrings are gorgeous."

"Oh, thank you, Kitty." McCall replied. "You look great. I think this dark pink is your color." It wasn't as flashy as some of the evening wear Kitty owned, and it really suited her. It was a floor length dress with a split halfway up the left side, not exposing too much leg, with a hint of soft pink sequins sprinkled over the gown. The spaghetti straps and V-neckline were just right to accentuate her features as her upswept hair added to the effect. After a few more compliments, including some tossed at Hunter, the foursome took a seat at one of the white linen covered tables.

Two and a half hours later; after long speeches, bad jokes, and a semi-decent dinner, Hunter and McCall had to put their dance plans on hold, as something unexpected came up.

Just minutes earlier, Eric Carlton from vice, asked McCall if she'd mind checking the ladies room for his wife. Shari Carlton had excused herself to go to the ladies room, but never returned to her table. When McCall checked the ladies room and didn't find anyone; she joined Eric and began asking around for her. No one had any idea where Mrs. Carlton was. Under the noses of dozens of police and sheriff officers, a woman seemed to have simply disappeared.

Eric Carlton couldn't understand what was happening. "If there was an emergency at home, she'd have come and told me. I'd have left with her. I just don't get it. I called home and the babysitter said she hasn't seen or heard from her. Where is she?"

Captain Devane tried to assure Officer Carlton that his wife would be found. "We'll find her, Eric. Just try to think of other places she might go to. Maybe something was on her mind and she needed to clear her head. She could be sitting in the park, or at a restaurant. We've got people on it. I know this is easier said than done, but try not to worry." Devane left Carlton with two other officers so they could ask questions about his wife, then he rounded up Hunter, McCall, Navarro and O'Hearn. "Look, guys. So far, this hasn't turned into a homicide, and I pray that it doesn't. But, regardless, we're all pulling together on this one. I don't want you to completely forget your other duties, but for now, let's put finding Shari on the top of the list. Carlton said he and Shari were doing fine. No arguments or anything he knew of that would make her walk out tonight. We can't do a whole lot for at least twenty-four hours, because of the rule about missing adults. I didn't feel it necessary to remind Carlton of that, and hopefully no one else will either. But we'll do what we can. So, let's get started on whatever we have to work with."

The four officers nodded in agreement,

"I'll go talk to Eric again, get a clearer picture on what Shari was wearing tonight and if she had a bag or anything else with her." McCall said.

"I'll check out the ladies room again, maybe we missed something." Kitty suggested.

"Why don't we take the rest of this place,' Hunter said to Brad.

"Okay, that's settled," Charlie said and looked around. "I'll inform the mayor."

McCall went over to where Eric Carlton was sitting and looking very distraught. She grabbed another chair and sat down opposite of him. "Eric, I need to ask you to describe Shari to me, exactly. What she was wearing tonight, the color of her eyes and hair, her height and if she had a purse or a bag with her."

Eric stared at her with an empty look in his eyes; a look that scared McCall.

"She looked beautiful tonight DeeDee," he said softly. "I know you can't do much the first twenty-four hours."

"We can do more than you think," she interrupted him.

"She was wearing a long dark blue dress," Eric continued. "She has brown hair, about as long as yours but straighter, brownish green eyes, 5' 6", about 135 pounds and she had a purse with her that matched her dress. She took it with her to the ladies room."

"Do you have a recent picture of her on you so we can distribute it?"

"I have one in my wallet; it's a couple of months old. It's in my car."

"Great. One last question: is there anyone that might be after Shari, maybe someone that wants to hurt you through her?"

"No, not that I know of!" Eric raised his voice, at the possibility of such a frightening scenario.

"Okay, take it easy," McCall stood up and placed her hand on Eric's shoulder. "We're gonna do everything we can to find her."

"I know you will. Thanks."

"Officer Thompson will go with you to your car to get the picture."

McCall headed for the ladies' room to see if Kitty had found something new. Forensic officers were busy dusting for prints and looking for other evidence. Kitty was talking to one of them as McCall entered.

"Not much so far," she said when she saw McCall. "There are a lot of prints here."

"What about fibers or blood."

"None so far."

"Eric told me she had a purse with her, matching the dress she's wearing," McCall told Kitty as they left the ladies room.

Outside they ran into Hunter. "And?" the ladies wanted to know.

"Nothing. It's like she disappeared into thin air. We did find a way out of the building she could have used to slip out unseen."

They walked down the corridor towards the door that gave entrance to where the party had been held.

"If you turn right here there's a door half way down that leads to the alley. Brad is still out there investigating."

Kitty paused. "You go ahead, guys, I'm going to update Charlie."

"Should be a real short report," Hunter muttered, obviously frustrated by their lack of progress.

Kitty quirked her lips. "I know. But I want to talk to Eric, as well. We went through the academy together - before he met Shari."

McCall nodded in understanding. "Come on, Hunter. Let's check on Brad."

"After you," Hunter said, smoothly stepping aside with a gallant sweep of his hand. He was still admiring his partner's gorgeous dress and wanted another look at the incredible picture she presented in it.

McCall grinned and put an extra bounce in her step.

Stepping outside, they both halted to look around and get their bearings. They were at the rear of the convention center. A narrow road lit by a single street lamp provided little illumination. Three large dumpsters were to their left and beyond that, the parking lot that curved around. The glow from the bright lights in the parking lot barely touched the narrow alley, leaving it in shadows.

When the door shut behind them, it took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the area, now awash in shades of gray. An unmarked delivery truck was parked at the far end of the alley to their right and they could see Brad checking it over.

"Hey, Navarro!" Hunter called, "find anything?"

Brad looked up. "Not yet. Help me get this thing open, will ya'?"

"Sure." Hunter glanced at McCall, who had turned on the flashlight she had borrowed and was shining it along the ground near the fence. He hurried over to Brad.

McCall stepped carefully along the fence, eyes glued to the ground; nose wrinkled in distaste at the offensive smells emanating from the trash dumpsters. Aware that she wasn't in her working clothes, she moved carefully, not wanting to snag the delicate chiffon on any sharp or protruding objects. Each step in her cream-colored shoes was carefully placed, as she tried to avoid broken glass, puddles and little potholes in the asphalt.

She was almost to the edge of the alley when the beam of her flashlight landed on something that reflected brightly back at her. Curious, she moved closer, past the third dumpster.

She hoped that since the object was shiny, that it must have landed there recently.

She hoped it was a clue to find Shari.

Keeping the flashlight directly on it, she bent down, careful to gather her skirt close to keep it off the ground. Using a discarded piece of newspaper, she cautiously picked it up – surprised by its weight.

A large gold buckle with black stones embedded in the shape of a heart. The stones looked like onyx. A silver inlaid dagger pierced the heart and dripped what looked like red rubies, meant to be blood.

It was ghastly and McCall couldn't believe that someone actually wore it. The rubies shined so brightly and with such depth, that for a moment she thought it was actually dripping real blood.

"I'll take that."

McCall gasped and whirled around to find that she was standing face to face with a man leaning out of a van. His hand was extended as he reached for the belt buckle. She had never even heard him pull up; she had been so intent on studying the buckle.

Instinctively she clutched it closer and tried to take a step back.

"Oh no you don't," the man's face contorted in anger and he was able to grab her wrist with a solid grip to jerk her towards him.

As she desperately fought to hold onto the belt buckle, McCall heard muffled feminine cries coming from the van and then another voice.

"Come on, man, quit screwing around and let's get out of here!"

The driver had been trying to twist the buckle and loosen her grip, but to no avail. When McCall cried out for Hunter, he tried a new tactic. Keeping his left hand on the buckle, he hit the gas pedal. When she didn't immediately let go, managing somehow to awkwardly run in her dress shoes, the driver made a quick turn and the force lifted McCall off her feet and she felt herself flying briefly before slamming to the ground.

The van took off with a squeal of rubber.

When Hunter heard his partner call out his name, he immediately left the delivery van, pulling his gun from its holster.

"McCall!" Dimly he heard Navarro running beside him, and saw Brad raise his gun.

"Don't! You might hit McCall!" he shouted frantically. Then he was forced to watch, in utter horror when her body flew through the air, rolled several times and then stopped, leaving her crumpled in a heap, unmoving.

He and Brad each fired at the van, hitting it twice but to no avail. When they got to McCall, Hunter sank to his knees beside her and as she was attempting to pull herself up, Hunter gently pushed her back down.

"DeeDee, don't move."

He was breathing in huge gulps of air, relieved beyond belief that she was alive.

"No –" she gasped, "Let me up – I'm okay."

"I'll get an ambulance," Brad said then stopped when McCall's left hand reached out to him.

"No – " she repeated. "Don't. Just find that van. I – I'm sure I heard a woman crying in it – it has to be Shari."

Brad exchanged glances with Hunter. Rick stared down at McCall, who silently beseeched him with her eyes. His shoulders slumped in defeat. "Yeah – go get back up. If Shari's in that van, they're moving. I'll take care of McCall."

Brad nodded in understanding and ran off.

"DeeDee - are you sure you're okay?" It was difficult to accurately assess her condition in the dim light.

"I don't think anything's broken – just cuts and bruises." She shivered.

(Shock) Hunter realized. Quickly he removed his jacket and carefully helped her to her feet. It was an obviously painful struggle for her; she swayed unsteadily before regaining her balance. She did it in silence. When she was upright, Hunter draped his coat across her shoulders.

"Thanks," she whispered gratefully and leaned into him as he led her back into the convention hall.

Once inside, Hunter got a better look at his partner. Her hair was a tangled mess; her elegant dress was now torn and dirty, with blood stains along her arms and legs, a deep scrape across her right knee and a bruise on her right cheek.

He sat her down in the first chair he saw, and then dropped to one knee in front of her so he could look directly at her. "Are you sure that you don't want to go to the hospital?"

McCall managed a small smile. "I just need to get cleaned up, get some bandages on, and I can do that at home."

(Not without me,) Hunter thought, determined to make sure she was taken care of. There was no way she could bandage her own arms and back.

Further conversation was impossible as Charlie, Kitty, Brad and nearly every other officer still investigating Shari's disappearance swarmed around their only clue.

Hunter and Brad described what little they could about the van. McCall was able to sketch out a likeness of the belt buckle she had found and ultimately lost. She was questioned for several long, uncomfortable minutes and she tried to give them every detail about the driver, his voice, the second man's voice and the woman she'd heard crying.

Hunter's patience was wearing thin. McCall was huddled in his coat, still shivering lightly and if she wasn't going to a hospital, she sure as hell needed to get home.

"Charlie," he spoke loudly to be heard. "I'll call you if she remembers anything else, but I think she's given all she can." Without waiting for acknowledgement, he helped her up. "Come on, McCall, let's get going."

"Thanks, Hunter," she whispered as she limped down the hall. Hunter kept one arm firmly around her waist, steadying her. He saw she was putting up a brave front, but her eyes couldn't hide that the incident had shaken her badly.

Gently, he got her seated in the car, making sure she was buckled in. He got in the drivers side, started the engine and cranked up the heater for her.

"I'm sorry."

"What?" Hunter stared over at her in astonishment. "What in the world are you sorry about?"

"We – we were supposed to go dancing."

Hunter turned away, his face grim, his eyes steely. "Don't you worry, DeeDee. You and I will go dancing," he vowed. "Just not tonight."

She smiled and let her head sink back against the seat. Hunter mentally mapped out his plan to get her home and bandaged up, hoping she had a good stock of bandages.

"He told me something," McCall finally said after several minutes of silence.

Hunter jerked his gaze back to her.

"What did he say?"

She kept her eyes closed.

"Come on, McCall. Spill it. What did he say?" Hunter realized he had the steering wheel in a death grip, waiting for her to tell him.

"He said that I was next," she finally admitted.