By Claudia L. Thornton
(Sequel to Beyond the Future)
Somewhere in a deep dark cell paced a man, who couldn't seem to sit down for more then a minute at a time. He had a lot of nervous energy. The man was tall with dirty long blondish-brown hair and brown eyes filled with such hate that most of the inmates avoided him whenever possible. Even the prison guards were cautious around him and tried not to push him too far. The man paid no attention to the sounds coming from the other cells. The snoring of a few of his cellmates, the clicking of shoes on the concrete floors that told him guards were patrolling and would soon be; down his way. The; squeaking sound of rats in the walls and the soft click of the cockroaches. How he hated this place and he would have revenge on "his partner", for running out on him, for not warning him that somebody was coming home . . . In his deranged mind it was always somebody's else's fault for the failure, but never his own.
In a month I'll be out, the man thought. And in a month he would have his revenge on the brother who had betrayed him. He'd had five years to dream about it and it was about to come true. He'd kill his brother—slowly after he helped make him rich—and this time he wouldn't get caught.
"Mikkel!" the man yelled loud enough for the sound to reverberate off the walls. "You'd better enjoy your last month of freedom, because you will soon be mine!"
"Shut up and go to sleep," yelled several voices at once. The man slammed his fist into the stone wall leaving; himself with scratched and bleeding knuckles and a sore wrist. Then he lay down to dream of revenge.
It was five years after the O'Malley's had adopted the orphan boy Mikkel and in that time Mikkel had grown into a fine thirteen year-old and also in that time Mikkel had come to have more confidence in himself as well as the world around him. He was excelling in school thanks to the help he had received from Marcus and Shari, when he had first come to live with them. And now school would be out for the summer in a couple of months and he would get to spend his summer vacation—part of it anyway with Stephen and Meghan's in Silverton. Of course that wasn't till later in the summer a little earlier in the summer Marcus had promised him a trip to Disneyworld if he kept his grades up to at least a B average.
He had not only kept them up to a B but to a B+ average. Earlier in the year he had let his grades drop. He didn't know what had gotten into him, but he suddenly hadn't cared about his grades. He had been having nightmare for weeks waking him up in the middle of the night to find; himself covered in a cold sweat and screaming; himself hoarse. Both Marcus and Shari had rushed into the room that first time to find out what the matter was. It had been hours before he'd been able to go back to sleep again only to wake up again less then an hour later again covered in sweat. After a few weeks the nightmares had disappeared as if they had never been and all any of them could figure was that it was the upcoming school dance that had caused his bad dreams for they had disappeared right afterward. Why the school dance would have caused him to dream about his brother was beyond him, but it was nice to get a good night's sleep again and not wake up more tired then when he had gone to bed in the first place.
"I'm home," Mikkel called entering the front door after unlocking it.
Marcus came out of the kitchen and asked, "How was school?"
"Fine," Mikkel said.
"Want a snack?"
"Sure," said Mikkel, dropping his book bag near the stairs. "Where's mom?"
"She's working," said Marcus. "She promised to call if the session ran over."
"Where's, Davey, Ryan, Rashel and Elisa?"
"The triplets are upstairs being watched over by Rosie. Just to make sure they stay out of trouble," said Marcus with laughter as well as affection in his voice."
"Have they been at it again?" asked Mikkel, amused.
"They get into any and everything within their reach. I think they're worse then Davey ever was at that age and theirs three of them to deal with not just one."
"What happened to your arm?" asked Mikkel finally noticing the bandage.
"I was shot," said Marcus trying to sound amused even as he winced when he moved this arm the wrong way.
"Forget the snack you're going to and relax and use that arm as little as possible."
"It's just a scratch," Marcus protested, halfheartedly.
"Yeah well if mom finds out I let you do anything that put a strain on that arm . . . she'll kill me," Mikkel said with a shudder of mock horror. Mikkel guided Marcus to his favorite chair despite his protests that he was fine.
"I'll be good," Marcus promised playfully, "If you'll sit here with me for a few minutes. I haven't been paying you as much attention as I should have over the last several months."
"It's okay dad—really. I know you've been busy."
"Still I should have been spending more time with you," said Marcus.
"Let's not go there," Mikkel protested vigorously shaking his head. "You've done more for me then most people would ever dream of doing. You took me in, gave me a home, tutored me in reading, writing and math so I wouldn't be behind the other kids and could enter the third grade. You loved me and took care of me when I was sick. You've treated me like your own son even after you caught me red-handed trying to rob you—so let's not go there," Mikkel repeated the last five words stressed in such a way as to make it stand out.
"Not any more then any descent caring individual would have done," Marcus protested Mikkel words affecting him more deeply then he wanted Mikkel to know
"That's not true and you know it. Most people would have fed me to the dogs and not cared in the slightest about my fate. You and mom cared enough about me to see the good in me, to take me in and give me a home . . ."
The conversation was interrupted when they both heard the front door open. Mikkel turned and headed out to greet Shari so he didn't see the tear in the corner of Marcus's eye roll down his cheek and disappear into the fabric of his shirt.
A month later
"You have a good day at school," Shari told him kissing him on the cheek.
"You make sure you call us if baseball practice runs late," Marcus told him, as he sipped at cup of coffee and read the paper. "And one of us will pick you up."
"Yes sir," said Mikkel. "Love you mom, dad, I'll see you after school."
The school day was over and Mikkel was headed to the baseball field for practice when suddenly he was grabbed from behind and a knife was put to his throat a millisecond later. "If you yell or scream or if you even twinge and let anybody know there; is a problem your dead understand me?"
Mikkel shuddered for he recognized that voice. He had no choice but to go along or he could very well end up dead. His brother wasn't one to make idle threats.
"Seth," Mikkel whispered terrified, but trying not to show it.
"Yeah it's me traitor and I'm going to make you pay, but first you are going to walk slowly towards the street and then turn when I tell you."
Mikkel started to walk towards the street he had no choice. He didn't want anybody else getting hurt. When there were no people around to get in the way he started to struggle and actually managed to break free briefly then he felt something conk him on the back of the head—and everything went black.
7:00 pm same day
Shari paced in front of the fireplace. Mikkel still wasn't home and Marcus had had to leave town, but would be back tomorrow. Mikkel hadn't called either and that was so unlike him that it was almost frightening. He always called even if he was only going to be ten minutes late and at the moment he was two or three hours late. Finally Shari picked up the phone and dialed Marcus's pager number then she put in her emergency code. It meant call her immediately. This was the first time she could remember that she had, had to use it, except when the triplets had been born. Basically it meant I'm in danger/trouble and need help immediately or it could stand for a member of the family in trouble. The phone rang less then a minute later and Shari picked it up. "What's wrong minx?" asked Marcus sounding anxious and worried.
"Mikkel isn't home yet and he hasn't called. I'm worried Marcus."
Marcus was silent for a few seconds and finally said his voice sounding even more worried then before, "I'll be home on the next flight. We'll find him Shari I promise." Just knowing; that Marcus was taking charge made Shari feel as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. "Call the other O'Malley's, but call Quinn first and see if he'd be willing to come help us out."
"Done," said Shari, hanging up the minute the word was out of her mouth. Just filling like she was doing something—anything made her less worried, which was probably why Marcus had told her to call instead of him doing it. Marcus knew she needed to do something to keep herself distracted.
Meanwhile elsewhere Mikkel awoke with a groan. His head ached from where he had been hit and his shoulders were throbbing. He tried to rub the spot on his head and found his hands tired around an old lead pipe.
"So you're finally awake. I'm glad I didn't kill you if only because we are moving out once it gets dark and you boy are going to me rob some very rich people . . ."
"I won't do it," Mikkel said venomously.
"You'll do it or you're dead."
"I'm dead anyway so you might as well kill me and get it over with. You think I don't know you plan on killing me after I help get you what you want?"
"Well, it all depends if you want to die real fast or real slow. If you want to die fast you'll help me otherwise . . ." Seth left the threat hanging in the air. Mikkel didn't respond and after a minute Seth continued, "Or maybe I should kill that little boy or the two little girls I saw playing in the yard of that big house a few days ago."
Mikkel shuddered and he could help himself he screamed, "No, no you leave them alone!"
"Fond of them; are you? Then maybe you had better cooperate unless you want their blood on your hands."
"All right," Mikkel gave in, through gritted teeth. "Just so you understand any harm comes to them I will kill you myself."
"My own little brother; kill me? Don't make me laugh."
"Yeah, well I'm not so little anymore. I'm not the same kid you used to beat up. Back then I couldn't or wouldn't fight back. I have more muscles now from playing baseball and doing chores at home. I could give you a better fight then five or six years ago. Besides; Marcus has had me in martial arts class the last few years."
"And who is he your new father?" asked Seth, contemptuously.
"Yes, his name is Marcus O'Malley. Him; and his wife adopted me. The same family you tried to rob I might add and they have shown me nothing but compassion and what a family should really be like."
"And the little children I saw in the yard?"
"Their children, Ryan, Rashel and Elisa," said Mikkel.
"Since you're so fond of them I won't harm them as long as you cooperate. We leave for Chicago in an hour."
Mikkel nearly laughed out loud at his brother's choice of cities. Out of every city in the world he had to choose the one place the O'Malley's knew best and where most of them lived, except for Marcus and Lisa. Mikkel had a feeling that choosing that particular city was a bad choice on Seth's part, but good luck for him. Through strength of will alone he managed to keep his expression neutral although it wasn't easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe he could get a message to one of the O'Malley's—somehow. All he could do was hope—for hope was all he had.
Shari dialed Quinn and Lisa's number in Montana and prayed they were home. The phone was answered on the third ring, "Diamond residence—Quinn speaking."
"Quinn this is Shari."
"Well howdy Shari what can I do for you."
"We have a problem," said Shari.
Suddenly Quinn was all business at those words. "What's the trouble?"
"Mikkel is missing," said Shari. "Marcus is on his way home and will be in later tonight. He asked me to call you and see if you can come down as soon as possible and; help. We're pretty sure it was foul play."
Quinn was silent for a minute and Shari could hear him consulting with someone on the other end—probably Lisa. "We'll be there on the earliest morning flight and meet you at the house," Quinn finally came back on the line.
"Thank you, I've got to call the others now we'll see you in the morning and thanks again."
"Your welcome I hope it turns out to be nothing more then a false alarm, but it probably won't. Besides he's our nephew and we love him just like you and Marcus do. We want him back safe and sound just as much as you. We'll see you in the morning." They both hung up and Shari immediately stated dialing Kate's number.
Marcus arrived home late that night to find Shari waiting up for him. She had put the other children to bed long since and she had tried not to show how worried she was in front of them. She had stopped pacing hours ago, but now she just sat on the couch and tried to work on a proposal, but she couldn't concentrate.
Shari heard the door open and she was on her feet instantly. She rushed into Marcus's arms and he held her as she cried. She had been fighting tears all afternoon but now they suddenly flowed forth. "I take it he's still not home," said Marcus making it a statement of fact and not a question.
"No and I'm so worried. I just know something's happened to him—I just know it."
"You called Quinn and the others?"
"Yes, Quinn and Lisa will be on the first flight out in the morning. Both of them were just as worried when I told them Mikkel was missing. The others had the same reaction and both Kate and Jack promised to break limb from limb whoever had taken their nephew."
"We don't know if he was kidnapped or not," Marcus pointed out, "At least not yet. I have a feeling however his older brother is behind this."
"What makes you say that?" asked Shari.
"I checked and Seth got out three months ago after being in prison for five years and he's missed the last three meetings with his parole officer. As Kate said five years ago Seth is the kind of person who would thirst for revenge and if he thinks Mikkel betrayed him . . . I don't even like to think of what could happen." Not much scared Marcus, but the fact that it was his son out there a member of his family—it mattered not one whit that he wasn't their biological son—scared him a lot and he had been praying almost continuously since Shari had called him—praying that he was okay and that he would find some way to get in contact with them.
"If Seth does have him he could very well be dead and we'd never know," said Shari, nearly crying again at the prospect.
"Find Seth and you'll find Mikkel," said Marcus with certainty. "Let's at least try to get some sleep we'll need all the strength we can get for the days ahead."
"I won't be able to sleep," said Shari. "I'm too worried about him."
"I know I doubt I'll be able to sleep either but we need to at least try. We won't do Mikkel any good if we're too tired to think straight and it's late." Marcus led Shari upstairs and Shari got dressed for bed almost mechanically. She laid down Marcus beside her and was soon fast asleep from sheer exhaustion. Marcus on the other hand stayed awake awhile longer trying to think and plan on what could be done. He hoped they found Mikkel quickly—hoping, but not expecting—most of all he hoped they found him alive for like Jennifer's death had nearly done Mikkel's would destroy the family—or at least make it ragged around the edges.
The next morning
Marcus made breakfast while Shari was still sleeping and took a tray up to her. "Here eat," he told her sternly knowing how she was feeling with Mikkel's missing.
"I'm not hungry," Shari protested, shoving the tray away.
"Shari, you're not going to do Mikkel or yourself any good if you don't keep up your strength," Marcus told her. "What do you thing Mikkel would say if he found you neglecting yourself like this? He'd be angry at you and he would tell you worrying about him to the extent that you're neglecting your own health; is a very bad thing."
Shari sighed and began to eat slowly then said, "I'm not doing this for my sake I'm doing it for his," she told Marcus."
Suddenly the doorbell rang and Shari looked up. "That's probably Quinn and Lisa," she said. Marcus nodded and headed downstairs to answer it.
Shari finished breakfast and got up to get dressed. She heard voices downstairs and headed for the den. She found Quinn and Marcus discussing options. "We need to check the school," Lisa suggested. "Talk to his friends and his baseball coach and anybody who might have seen something."
"But he could have been taken out of state," Shari pointed out.
"If he has been then it's going to be harder to find him, but not impossible," said Marcus.
"Every minute we waste is a minute that Seth could do something awful to him," said Lisa.
"We don't necessarily know its Seth at this point," Marcus pointed out. "All we have is our instincts, but no proof."
"Well it our job to find proof one way or the other," Quinn said. "Besides I trust you instincts more then any proof. Proof can be falsified—instincts however are harder to fool."
"Everybody is praying for Mikkel to be found if not unharmed at least alive," said Shari.
"Well let's get to it and talk to the principal at the school then his friends," said Marcus, rising. He didn't even suggest Shari stay here, because he knew she needed to feel as if she was doing something not just pacing and worrying. Feeling as if she was doing something would be a way to control the fear and the worry she had—that they all had for the boy who had worked his way into all their hearts.
"So you say Mikkel is missing?" asked the principal. "How you know it was by foul play?" They had all walked to the office after they had parked and Marcus had calmly as asked to see Principal Hanes. The secretary had been startled at the four people's appearance, but had complied, when she recognized Marcus and Shari. The secretary had shown then into Hanes office a minute later and al four had taken seats, without have to be asked.
"We don't know for sure Mr. Hanes," said Marcus "At least not yet, but did you know that Mikkel has an older brother who has been in prison? He got out three months ago and I have a suspicion that the brother had something to do with Mikkel's disappearance. That's the reason we want to question the baseball coach and his friends see if they know or saw anything."
"They would have reported it," Hanes pointed out.
"Not if they were afraid to," said Quinn. "Or if they didn't necessarily know anything was wrong. Seth would have wanted as few witnesses as possible to the kidnapping. And that person—if anybody saw it—might not have realized what was happening."
"All right I'll tell Coach Maxwell to expect you. But please be as discreet as possible there's no need to frighten the children unnecessarily."
Marcus nodded and he and the others got up to leave. "You okay?" he asked Shari when they were outside walking across the grass toward the baseball field. Shari had been quiet, quieter then normal and it worried him almost as much as the disappearance of Mikkel.
"I'm fine, I was just thinking if only we had known this was coming we could have prevented it from happening."
"Shari, look at me," said Marcus taking a hold of her shoulders and turning her gently to face him. "This is not your fault. This is nobody's fault—not; yours—not mine—not anybody's. You keep blaming yourself for what happened but the truth is we probably could have done nothing to prevent it from happening—even if we had known about it. We need to concentrate now on locating him, on finding him alive."
Shari nodded still not wholly convinced in wasn't her fault in some way, but for Mikkel's sake she tried to turn her thoughts to finding him. She nodded and the two of them followed Quinn and Lisa out to the baseball field.
"Yes may I help you?" asked the coach who was sitting in his office doing what looked like paperwork.
"Principal Hanes called and said we were coming to ask you a few questions," said Marcus poking his head in the door to the office. He had decided that one person to ask the questions was better then having all four of them seeming as if they were ganging up on him. Quinn and Lisa and Shari had gone to question some of Mikkel's friends.
"Um yes," said Maxwell putting his paperwork aside. "Why don't you come have a seat Mr. O'Malley?"
"Have you seen Mikkel at all yesterday?"
"I did in the morning when I told him we were having an extra baseball practice to try to get ready for the big game. He assured me he would be there he never showed. That in itself if very unusual he never misses practices unless he is sick and that has only happened twice that I can remember."
"Yes I know," said Marcus with a weary smile. "He had the flu one time—a very bad case of it, he couldn't get out of bed for days he was so weak—and that drove an active boy like him nearly crazy with boredom. And now he's missing."
"Any idea who could have done it?" asked Maxwell.
"Oh I have an idea or two," said Marcus. "I won't go into who I suspect right now because I have no proof. It wouldn't be ethical to accuse someone without proof."
"I hope you find him he is one of the most talented players I've seen come through this school in years I would hate to lose him."
"And I would hate to lose a son, as it is just his disappearance is nearly tearing the family apart—if he was killed it wouldn't just be trying to tear us apart it would very likely succeed. We all love Mikkel. You sure none of your students have said anything to you?" Marcus asked again.
The coach thought for a minute then said, "Now that you mention it Toby did mention yesterday that he saw this man with Mikkel. Mikkel went along with him so Toby assumed he was a member of the family."
"What did he look like?" asked Marcus suddenly switching mental gears. He got out a sketch pad as Maxwell began to describe him.
"Well he had dirty blond hair—longish and brown eyes. Toby only caught a side profile not the full face. He had a scar on one cheek and high cheekbones."
"Is that him?" asked Marcus, showing the coach the picture he had drawn.
"Yes that's him," said the coach, "A very good likeness. You could have been an artist instead of a U.S. Marshal."
"I competent in the basics," Marcus corrected then said, "Who you just described is Mikkel's; older brother who probably kidnapped Mikkel for revenge. He's been in prison the last few years and now he's out and he has Mikkel. Thank you for your time." Marcus left anxious to find Quinn and find out what he had come up with and whether it was the same as he had.
"So what did you find?" Marcus asked Quinn as he joined them.
"I talked to one boy—" Quinn consulted his notes, "—Toby? He said he saw this man, but only a side view. Longish brownish-blond hair, brown eyes, a scar on one cheek . . ."
"Is this him?" asked Marcus showing Quinn his sketch.
"That's him," said Quinn. "He looks familiar for some reason."
"He looks familiar because he looks like Mikkel. This is Seth his brother. You've never met him, but he is one of the meanest people I've come across in my twenty-seven years as a U.S. Marshal."
"So we were right it was Mikkel's brother that took him," said Quinn.
Shari had been trying to keep her hopes up that they would find Mikkel within a few days at most. Now it was beginning to look more and more hopeless. She tried to remain calm and suddenly just as he was going to lose it she felt a peace come over her and she drank it in grateful beyond words for it.
"He probably held a knife to his throat and threatened to slash his veins if he didn't," Quinn suggested.
"Who knows he might even have been watching your house for weeks," Lisa suggested. "And maybe he threatened to harm one of the younger children if he didn't cooperate."
"It's possible," said Marcus, not liking the idea one bit. "He loves Davey and the triplets like a brother should. He's very protective of them. If Seth made such a threat . . . I can see him obeying in order to protect them. If anything happened to any of the younger children his life—at least to him—wouldn't matter."
"Now all we have to do is question the people in the neighborhood and hope someone saw something," said Quinn.
He was as worried as Marcus and Shari were and like them he was fighting despair. Would they ever find the boy they had all come to love? This was barely the first day of the search—they just had to hope and pray or all was lost.
"They have to be out of Virginia," said Quinn. "For one thing even Seth wouldn't be stupid enough to keep him in the same state with an APB out on him—and every cop out looking for him. And for another we've checked every lead and we've come up dry except for one witness seeing a car matching the description of a stolen vehicle that he saw in the neighborhood of the school on that day. It was heading out-of-state and towards any one of a dozen cities." It was several days later and they had checked every lead that had come there way but the trail was fast becoming cold.
"We need a break people or we may be to late," said Marcus. "It'll take time to locate that car again and he could abandon it and steal another one, which will make it harder."
"What's our next move?" asked Shari.
"Our next move is we inform the cops of every city within a thousand mile radius of the direction they were last seen heading and ask then to keep an eye out for both Mikkel and Seth," said Marcus.
The other nodded agreement and they went on discussing plans for the next hour until Marcus ordered everyone to get a good night's sleep for they had a big day tomorrow.
"If only Mikkel was in a position to get a call out to us," said Shari as they headed up to bed.
"His brother is probably watching him every second," said Marcus. "If he could have got a call out without Seth knowing he would have—and still can if Seth ever lets his guard down."
"So Seth hasn't been to see you for his last three appointments?" Marcus asked Daniel McDonald Seth's parole officer. They were sitting in McDonald's office. McDonald himself was a relatively young man with red hair and freckles splashed across his nose. He wore glasses and a shirt with collar. A coat was slung over the back of the chair. He sat with arms crossed in front of him a serious look on his face.
"No not for almost three weeks. I should have known I suppose that Seth would pull something like this," said McDonald. "I'm an ex-con myself I know the type. And Seth is a mean sucker if you know what I mean. I could see it in his eyes that he had plans that didn't involve being good, getting a job and putting his record behind him."
"You suspected this might happen and you never said anything?" asked Quinn in amazement shaking his head.
"I only had suspicions Mr. Diamond nothing more. Suspicions aren't really enough to go to the proper authorities about."
"He's right," said Marcus. "We don't have to like it, but he's right. If he had no proof there was nothing he could do—at least not legally."
Quinn sighed and nodded, he knew they were both right.
"You sure Seth never said what his plans were?" asked Marcus.
"I'm afraid not, he never said much of anything except to make some snide comments," said McDonald. "I hope you find the boy. And I hope you find Seth. As much as I hate to admit that the justice system failed with that one, it did. The system's not perfect we all know that," said McDonald with a shrug.
"Nothing is," said Marcus, "Except God."
Marcus and Quinn left McDonald's office and walked to the car.
"Well that was a lot of help," said Quinn. "He doesn't know what Seth plans or where he could take Mikkel and if Seth never discussed his plans . . ."
"Were you really expecting anything less?" asked Marcus.
"No I suppose not, but this time its family that's missing not some stranger. With family it's different."
"I know I'm as worried as you are. Shari and I both love that boy. To know he was kidnapped and I wasn't there to prevent it . . . It's tearing me up inside."
"I can only imagine how you must feel being his father. I mean I'm only his uncle and yet I feel like strangling Seth with my bare hands . . ."
"I know I feel the same, but right now we need to concentrate on finding him and praying we find him alive," said Marcus.
"It's hard to pray at a time like this. It almost reminds me of when my father was murdered. I couldn't pray for weeks afterwards."
"I know," said Marcus. "I know."
A week passed and they were following every lead they could—barely sleeping it seemed when one day Marcus's cell phone rang, "Marcus here, talk to me."
"Dad; help me!" the voice on the other end of the line sounded desperate.
"Mikkel where are you?" asked Marcus, feeling hope for the first time in a week.
"Chicago, I don't know precisely the area—we move around every few days. Looks like warehouses at the moment." He stopped and listened for a minute to the sounds of his brother's snores. It sounded like he was about to wake up. "I've got to go Seth is waking up. Please hurry dad." There was a click on the other end of the line and Marcus's phone went dead.
Marcus sighed. He knew Mikkel had probably taken a great risk to try to call him with his brother just in the next room but it gave them the one lead they hadn't had before—the destination. Now that they had a destination, Chicago watch out here come the O'Malley's.
"Shari," Marcus called as he headed upstairs where she was supposed to be "resting." Supposed to be and were, were two totally different concepts however.
"Yes?" asked Shari who was lying propped up on the bed several pillows behind her head. She looked as tired and worn as he felt. But she was holding up like a trooper and they both tried to keep hoping Mikkel would be found. She wasn't sleeping well, but then neither was he or anyone else in the family for that matter.
"How fast can you pack?" Marcus asked.
"Why?" asked Shari, trying not to sound hopeful.
"Because we are going to Chicago," said Marcus. "That was Mikkel on the phone. He told me what city he was in, but was unable to tell me much else except to hurry. He was very afraid Seth would kill him. You could hear it in his voice although he never said as much."
"I can pack pretty fast," said Shari getting up from the bed. "Why hasn't he called us before now?"
"Remember what we discussed a few days ago? That Seth was probably keeping too close an eye on him or keeping him tied up. Seth isn't one where trust is easily won. Mikkel said he was sleeping at the moment and that they move around every few days in order so nobody get suspicious."
"Yeah I remember I'll be packed in an hour," Shari promised. "Out of all the cities in the world he had to pick the one the "O'Malley's; know best and where most of them live," she said shaking her head.
"You know I was just thinking the same thing," said Marcus also with a shake of his head. "But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth shall we?" said Marcus giving his wife a kiss. For the next few minutes both were lost in bliss as they kissed but finally reality intruded. "I'll go get packed," Shari said turning away and getting the suitcase out of the closet.
They were on their way to Chicago in less then six hours. They had managed to get a flight by luck or prayer whichever way you wanted to look at it—four people had canceled at the last minute and they had grabbed the seats before anyone else could. They arrived late in the afternoon and immediately went to the hotel to clean up and eat. None of them were eating very well but they had to eat at least something to keep up their strength for what might lay ahead. Immediately after lunch Marcus and Quinn paid a visit to the local police station and asked for an APB to be put out on one Seth Wilkerson.
"We've tracked him to Chicago," said Marcus.
"And you want him for?" asked the detective.
"Kidnapping," said Quinn.
"Here's a picture of the boy," said Marcus. "And here's a sketch of the kidnapper."
The detective studied them for a moment them said, "They look like they're related."
"They are the kidnapper is his older brother."
"Then it wouldn't technically be a kidnapping would it?"
"Yes, it would," said Marcus. "Because for; the last five years he's been in prison," said Marcus pointing to the sketch. "He got out three months ago and Seth has no claim on Mikkel anymore since he's been adopted. The courts also put a restraining order on Seth. He is not supposed to get within 300 yards of Mikkel."
"By whom?" the detective asked.
"By me and my wife," said Marcus. "He's like a son to us we would like him found ASAP."
"So this is personal?"
"Maybe a little," Marcus admitted. "I want this guy, put behind bars for the next fifty years to where he'll be too old to pull this kind of crap by the time he gets out."
"He's the violent type detective when Marcus did adopt Mikkel he had several bruises on his arms and face where his brother had slapped or grabbed him. He was better off with Marcus and Shari then with his brother—so you can understand why we want him found and quickly before Seth can do him any permanent damage—something that isn't easily repairable."
The detective nodded and said, "I'll put out that APB right away as well as give a description of both boys; to all police cars. "I hope we find him alive and unharmed."
"Me to, detective, me to," said Marcus thinking of the effect Mikkel's death would have on the family.
They had been in Chicago a week and still no word on Seth. No one had spotted him or anybody who even looked like him and the O'Malley's were beginning to despair that there would ever be a sighting. Apparently Seth was being extra careful about when he went out and who he was seen by. Sooner or later both Marcus and Quinn knew he would make a mistake and they would be there waiting for when he did. Both Marcus and Quinn followed every lead they could no matter how slim. They checked out the warehouse district and found what had originally been Seth's hideout, but no Seth and no Mikkel.
They had moved it seemed. "We were this close," Quinn muttered.
"Mikkel did warn us that they moved around every few days," said Marcus. "Too try to keep the police off their tails."
"And from the looks of it we are only a day late. "If only we had found this place yesterday." Both men were frustrated in the extreme—to come so close and yet just to miss them was nerve-wracking to say the least.
"We'll find them," said Marcus, trying not to lose hope.
"But when?" asked Quinn. "Will we find them before it is too late for Mikkel?"
"I hope so," said Marcus, sounding worried and frustrated all at the same time. "I really hope so."
"So Mikkel," said Seth. "What have you been doing these last few years? I bet you enjoyed knowing I was in prison.
"Actually I didn't," said Mikkel softly. "I was always hoping you would change and be more like mom and then we could be a family again."
"Me; be such a nice coward like mom?" Seth laughed maliciously. "Please."
"Mom wasn't a coward," said Mikkel defending her. "You didn't see how she struggled day after day to support us after dad left. How she worked two jobs in order just to feed and clothe us. Even as young as I was I knew she was doing the best she could."
"Yeah well that's not what I saw," said Seth angrily. "All I knew was of a mother who was never there and threw our father out after she found out he was doing drugs."
"You never saw because you were never there, but they argued almost constantly after she found out he was doing drugs," said Mikkel. "She wanted to put him in a rehabilitation program and he refused and the very next day he was gone."
"He never even said good-bye or that he loved us," said Seth.
"So, is that what made you like you are? Mad at the world?" asked Mikkel. "Just because mom did what she thought was best for us . . ."
Suddenly he stopped as he felt Seth's hands around his neck. "Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP," Seth yelled, his rage overcoming him as he squeezed Mikkel's windpipe so tight he could hardly breathe. Mikkel didn't reply for he didn't have the breath to answer. Suddenly Mikkel saw spots before his eyes and he breathed out a silent prayer, then everything went black
"Come on Mikkel," Seth hissed.
Mikkel had been released from his bonds so he could help Seth rob their first house. Mikkel didn't want to do it, but he didn't want to take the chance that Seth would kill him and then go after Davey or the triplets. He really had no choice as he saw it.
He had woken up in the warehouse hours after Seth had tried to strangle him with a very sore throat that couldn't allow him to talk in more then a whisper and a pounding headache. His head felt like it wanted to turn itself inside out and do a little dance around in his skull. Seth had not been sorry and had simply said that next time he would know better then to argue with him.
He had been considering all he had been taught about God and the bible over the last month and he had even tried praying over the last week and it seemed as if his prayers had been answered but not in the way he expected. He wasn't sure he believed in God yet, but all the O'Malley's seemed to believe and from what he knew about their lives before they had changed their names it was hard to understand why. What had made their allegiance to the one who had seemed to abandon them, years ago as strong as cement? Marcus was fond of talking about how God created freewill. How you didn't have to obey God's laws even if it hurt Him when you didn't. Freewill allowed you to believe in God only if you were sure he really existed.
Marcus was also fond of quoting that verse of how Jesus had died on the cross and had risen three days later—and how his dying on the cross had taken care of all the sin in the world ahead of time—all you had to do was believe and tell Him you wanted to be his son or daughter. Mikkel wasn't sure he was quite ready to take that step.
He and Seth were scuttling through dark alleys filled with refuse. "Here we are," said Seth as they came out of the last alley to where they were right across from what looked like a mansion.
"But what if somebody's home?" asked Mikkel.
"Ah I'm not worried they're all supposedly on vacation, but if they are I have no qualms about killing them if necessary."
Mikkel shuddered at his brother's words and hoped their really was no one home—that they really were on vacation—for his sake as well as theirs. He didn't want to be an accomplice of a murderer. Robbery was one thing murder quite another.
Seth approached the house and quickly jimmied the lock. He then motioned for Mikkel to follow him. Mikkel did so and closed the door quietly behind him
"Didn't I tell you? This house is rich for the picking? We can steal enough here to make a few thousand dollars at least—maybe more. After this we'll lay low for a while and then rob someone else. After a couple of years of this I should be set for life."
Mikkel did not reply for his brother had already tried to strangle him and he had the bruise around his neck to prove it—that and his throat was sore from where Seth had done his best to crush his windpipe.
"Remain here and tell me if any police or anybody come down the street," Seth instructed. Mikkel nodded and took his post by a big window that showed the street and the surrounding houses. "Mikkel come up here and help me with this," Seth yelled. Mikkel left his post and went to find his brother who had gone upstairs. Mikkel found him in one of the bed rooms trying to move a chest of drawers. "Heavy mother f—" said Seth. "Grab the other end would you and; help me get it downstairs."
Mikkel did as he was told and when they were about halfway down his fingers slipped and he dropped his end with a loud bang. "Watch it you clumsy oaf," Seth growled. "Do you want to wake the whole neighborhood?"
"Sorry my fingers slipped," said Mikkel, his voice sounding hoarse.
"Yeah, well I have my suspicions you probably did it on purpose just to get me caught and sent back to prison."
Mikkel shook his head denying it, but Seth already had his attention on other things. Mikkel picked up his end again and they got they got the heavy piece down without further incident.
Soon they had everything loaded in the truck and as Mikkel turned away from Seth came up behind him and conked him on the back of the head with a the handle of his knife pocket knife. "I think I'll just get rid of you now. You're two much trouble to keep around—and to dangerous."
Then Seth laughed manically and dragged Mikkel back into the house and up to the attic. "Man you're heavy," he told his unconscious brother. "They must have been feeding you well these last few years. And I bet they aren't prepared for your death. Bet it will cause them a lot of grief." He laughed again, without humor and quickly lit a match and threw it in a pile of old clothes. The match combusted instantly and the pile of clothes caught on fire which quickly spread to the rest of the attic. "Bye-bye Mikkel, by the time anybody finds you you'll be dead and you'll be out of my life forever."
Seth calmly climbed down the attic steps and to the lower level quickly looking around for any other small items he had missed then headed for the door. Before he got there however the ceiling caved in from the fire and Seth was instantly on his back caught beneath one of the ceiling beams. The fire had spread much more quickly then he thought it would and now like he had done to Mikkel he was trapped in a burning building that he had tried to make Mikkel's fate alone.
Mikkel woke in the attic minutes later to find himself surrounded by flames and his second headache in less then forty-eight hours. He was also tied up so he couldn't move more then a few inches in any direction. I'm going to die, Mikkel thought. I'm never going to get the chance to tell mom and dad how much I love them and how grateful I am for them taking me in. I'll never get to read the triplets another bedtime story or teach Davey how to ride a bike or play with my dog Shaggy. The smoke and flames were already thick and Mikkel could feel the heat and the smoke made him cough so hard it felt as if he was coughing up a lung. It was so bad he could barely breathe. Mikkel was beginning to fell desperate and he silently cried out to the only one who could help him. Please God help me, Mikkel cried.
Suddenly he felt a peace come over him as peaces as he had never known during his entire 13 year existence. Everything will be all right, a voice from somewhere assure him. Mikkel felt different then he ever had in his life and he felt sure that even if he died it would only be temporary—an ending for his earthly body nothing more. His soul however would soar up to the heavens and to eternal life. Mikkel coughed again as he suddenly understood all Marcus and Shari and the other O'Malley's had been trying to tell him about God all this time. God was real and he did take an active role in your life if you let him. Mikkel tried to breathe, but all there was to breathe was smoke and the heat was beginning to burn his lungs and yet he felt nothing but peace. Suddenly he coughed hard and his head whipped back and hit the wall and for the third time in less then forty-eight hours everything went black.
"We have a still and box alarm fire!" Jack called as the fire alarm sounded. What still and a box meant at least in Chicago was a 1st alarm fire. Company 81 fire engines started up their sirens blaring as they raced out of the firehouse and down the street.
Both Jack and Cassie were there and both hadn't been sleeping very well ever since Shari had informed them that Mikkel was missing. Marcus had flown home and done some investigating and from the description a friend of Mikkel's had given him, Marcus had then sent word down the family grapevine to be on the lookout for Seth, Mikkel's brother. It came along with a description. Jack had raged and Cassie had cried and after a month they still hadn't found him. All the O'Malley's feared he was dead. Mikkel had managed to get off one fast call and tell Marcus he was in Chicago while his brother was sleeping, but he had, to go when he had heard his brother waking up and that had been three weeks ago. All the family had handled there grief at Mikkel's disappearance in different ways. Cole and Jack both drowned themselves in work. Rachel turned off her pager and took the batteries out of her phone and informed her bosses until Mikkel was found whether dead or alive she wasn't available for work. She kept her second pager activated which was for family use only. She kept her phone as well as the batteries in her purse so that if family paged her all she had to do was put the battery back in to use it. Kate had stalked around the house her mood going from bad to worse with each passing day Mikkel was missing. Even at work her fellow cops avoided her when she was in this state, not that they could blame her, her nephew was missing and this was the way Kate handled her anger.
Both Marcus and Quinn had thrown everything they had into the case. They followed every lead, no matter how inconsequential it might have seemed. They both prayed continuingly for the boy to be found alive and basically unharmed. Marcus was having a worse time of it then everyone else except for perhaps Shari. Both of them were his parents and they loved him as much as they loved their other children. He might not be of the same blood, but to them or the family it made no difference. He was loved as much as a flesh and blood son would be and if he wasn't found—alive it would destroy the family. Both Marcus and Quinn had seemed to age as the hunt went on. It wasn't anything specific that caused it. It was a dozen little things. The worry, the sleepless nights all of it was taking its toll and it was beginning to show in the bags under their eyes and the stress lines around their eyes and mouth. They were determined to find Mikkel before they agreed to rest and the price of that was very heavy indeed.
Company 81 pulled up to the old apartment building where somebody had called for the fire department. The building was blazing and smoke was pouring out the open windows by the time the company got there and Jack immediately entered the building along with his men while another company from a different station set about trying to put out the fire.
"You go left," Jack yelled at Bruce. "Nate you go right. I'll check upstairs."
"I've got someone here," yelled Nate into his radio. "I might; need help dragging him out of the house. He's pinned beneath some wooden beams."
"You go help him Jack," Cole told him over the radio. "Bruce and me will look in the attic and meet you outside."
"Ten-four," Jack acknowledged. Jack ran to help Nate and the two men struggled to release the man from where he was pinned. They finally dragged him outside where he lay coughing on the grass.
Jack couldn't help feeling as if the guy was familiar somehow. "I recognize this guy from somewhere," Jack told Nate. Suddenly he snapped his fingers as if remembering. "I know this is Mikkel's brother. Marcus sent me a description . . ." Suddenly as the man sat up a fist came in a punched him in the jaw with such force that there was immediately a cracking sound. "Where is he?" Jack demanded grabbing the man by the lapels of his shirt. "Where is my nephew you scumbag?"
"Jack come on man," Nate pleaded. "Let him go."
"Not until he tells me where Mikkel is."
"You don't even know for sure that this is the same guy," said Nate.
"Yes I do. He looks just like Mikkel except for the different hair colors and of course he's older."
"And who are you?" the man demanded.
"Hey Jack," said Stephen coming over. He and Meghan had been staying in Chicago at a hotel and helping in the search as much as possible.
"Stephen do you know who this is?" asked Jack. "This is the guy that kidnapped our nephew caused the O'Malley's more worry and heartache then anything has since the death of Jennifer."
"He is, is he?" Stephen suddenly growled. "Where is Mikkel you scumbag. If any harm has come to him I will personally put you in a hospital."
"And who are you?"
"Haven't you guessed you scumbag?" asked Jack. "Stephen is an O'Malley down to the bone."
"I should have known," Seth growled his eyes filled with so much hate that Jack and Stephen had to force themselves not to shudder
"Let me at him," Stephen growled as Jack held him back with strength he didn't even know he had.
"Stephen control; yourself," Jack told him. "I know how much you want to break his neck, but I've already broken his jaw and we need him alive to tell us where Mikkel is."
"He's in there," said Seth pointing and laughing manically, seeming unaware that his jaw was broken—or at least dislocated. "If he's not dead from the heat he's dead from the smoke inhalation. And I will finally have my revenge on the brother who betrayed me . . ."
Seth stopped in mid-sentence as Stephen's fist came and hit him on the nose. There was another cracking sound and the man gasped in pain. "You better start praying that Mikkel comes out of this okay," Jack said. "Or you will get more then a broken nose and jaw. I'm sure Marcus will make sure you get the death penalty."
"Kate as well," Stephen said. "You better be glad she's not here or she'd probably break both your hands for you—one finger at a time."
Suddenly there was a shout from the building and Cole and Bruce appeared dragging a body between them. Cole looked worried and that in itself was enough to send Jack rushing to his side. "You okay Cole?"
"I'm fine it's Mikkel I'm worried about."
Jack looked down and winced at the bruises on Mikkel's neck and Stephen rushed over along with a couple of other paramedics and Stephen checked for a pulse.
"Call Marcus and Shari," Stephen ordered his brother. "Tell them to meet us at the hospital."
"That bad?" asked Jack, his usual joking nature set aside for the moment.
"He's weak and breathed in a lot of smoke. And he has second third degree burns from the fire of course it doesn't help that it looks like his brother tried to strangle him. It worries me that he hasn't yet regained consciousness."
"Where did you find him?" Stephen asked Cole.
"In the attic and it looked like that was where the fire started. He's lucky to be alive at all."
"Arson?" asked Jack.
"That's what it looked like. A match dropped in a pile of old clothes is what started it."
Jack nodded and he and Stephen shared a look. "I'll go with Mikkel to the hospital," said Stephen.
I'll meet you there just as soon as we're sure this fire is out,"
Marcus and Shari arrived at the hospital five minutes after the paramedics had brought in Mikkel. Both Marcus and Shari looked like they had aged ten years with all the stress and the worry over the last month
"How is he?" asked Shari anxiously. Both of them looked worried as did Lisa and Quinn who had come in with them.
"Not good," said Stephen. "The doctors are working on him now. He's alive and that's about the only good news at the moment."
"Details Stephen," said Marcus.
Stephen sighed and ran a hand through his already disheveled hair. "He has second to third degree burns on his arms and legs and bad smoke inhalation. He has bruises on his neck where it looks like his brother tried to strangle him. He has several bumps on the back of the head where it looks as if he was knocked unconscious at least twice within a forty-eight hour period. And he has rope burns on his wrist—I would guess where Seth tied him to a post and left him to die and of course there are older rope burns as well. What worries me most is that he hasn't regained consciousness since we pulled him out of the fire. The rest is repairable but if he doesn't regain consciousness within the next 48 hours his chances of waking up at all go down."
"When can we see him?" asked Marcus and Shari together.
"As soon as the doctors get done examining him," said Stephen. Just as Stephen finished speaking a silver-haired man approached them. "Which ones of you are the parents of the boy Mikkel?"
"We are," said Marcus as he and Shari stepped forward.
"Well . . ." the doctor said pointedly looking at Stephen; Lisa; and. Quinn.
"Don't worry doctor they're family. They'll find out the prognosis later from us so you might as well tell us all now," said Shari.
"Well . . ." the doctor began explaining what was wrong with Mikkel. "He's out of danger physically but what worries me the most is that he hasn't regained consciousness."
"Stephen was just telling us that," said Marcus. "When can we see him?"
"Now if you like, but only two at a time and only for brief intervals."
"We'll wait here for you," said Quinn.
Marcus nodded and he and Shari exited the room together Marcus's arm around her shoulders.
Both Shari and Marcus sat by Mikkel's bed looking at the boy they had come to love as a son. He looked terrible. He had bandages all the way up his arms and on his legs as well. He had a tube down his throat to feed him nutrients and his neck looked like one giant bruise that was starting to turn yellow at the edges. Shari ran a hand gently through his hair and tried to pray and hope that he would wake up and be okay. Mikkel's room was filled with flowers. There were at least a dozen vases all over the room. I looked more like a flower shop then a hospital room. Everyone of the O'Malley's had sent him some, Beth and Josh Hanford as well. Just by the flowers you could tell the boy was loved and that they were all praying for him to wake up and be okay.
"Why did this happen; Marcus? We took him in and loved him then suddenly five years later he's snatched from us."
"He's not dead Shari. "But I really don't know—maybe God has a purpose for him—a; purpose so big we can't even begin to guess at it."
"But how can he fulfill that purpose if he doesn't ever wake up?"
"He'll be okay. I know this has been a hard month for you—for both of us, but he'll be fine—I just sense it."
Shari seemed reassured at those words and they got up to leave just as the nurse came to say that visiting hours were over for the day. Shari kissed Mikkel's forehead and turned to go fighting off tears. Marcus ran a hand along the boy's cheek then he too kissed his forehead. He put his arm around Shari's shoulder, he could feel she was shaking and trying not to cry in front of the nurse. They left the room slowly and headed back to inform the others of Mikkel's condition.
next day both Shari and Marcus were back at the hospital early. They
both had managed a few hours of sleep although not as much as they
really needed to catch up on. "How's he doing Tom?" asked
Shari. Tom Peterson Marcus's brother-in-law had arrived late last
night. He would have come weeks ago if Marcus hadn't insisted he
stay put until he was needed.
Tom shook his head before he responded. "No worse then he was last night."
"But no better?" asked Marcus.
"He still hasn't woken up," said Tom. "If he doesn't wake up within the next thirty hours or so there is very little chance of him waking up at; all. What is so frustrating is there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him—internally I mean. We've done brain scans and everything seems to be normal. No swelling, in the back of the skull, no internal bleeding, nothing that would indicate that there was something wrong."
"In other words he shouldn't still be unconscious," said Marcus.
"Not that we can find. It could be something to small for us to detect, unless you know what you're looking for . . . but other then that . . . I just don't know."
"Can we see him?" asked Shari.
"I don't see why not," said Tom.
A few minutes later both Shari and Marcus sat by Mikkel's bed watching him for any sign of movement. Not even a twitch of a finger indicated he was alive. The only indication that he was alive at all was the monitors that monitored heart rate and the boy's shallow breathing. "Come on buddy you have to wake up. You have a whole family who is worried about you," said Marcus softly, reaching out and grabbing one of Mikkel's hands in his own. The boy's fingers were lax and not even a twitch of a muscle gave indication of Marcus's soft spoken words. Marcus continued to talk softly telling him how much he was missed and how much his dog Shaggy missed him. The dog had been named after Mikkel's favorite show 'Scooby do where are you?' "Besides what about that trip to Disneyworld we promised you? You wouldn't want to miss that."
Still no response and Marcus was beginning to feel desperate because no matter what he had told Shari last night he was beginning to fear Mikkel was never going to wake up, that he was just going to waste away here in the hospital, never to smile, never to laugh, never to play with his friends and never to know how much his family loved him.
But what made it worse was the fact that Mikkel wasn't a Christian and he wouldn't be going to heaven where they would see him again someday. To Marcus that was not only sad it was a tragedy for it meant the boy they had taken into their hearts was dead forever. If only they had pushed him to become a Christian and not just tried to gently encourage him. Mikkel and him; had talked on and off over the last few years about religion and Christianity, but Mikkel hadn't been convinced that there even was a God, much less one that cared enough to die for him.
Marcus was sure that Mikkel was considering all he heard, but after all he had gone through—the death; of his mother—the abandonment of his father—the violence of his older brother Marcus could understand his reluctance to consider God as real and not just a figment of overactive imaginations. Mikkel's question had been how could a caring God let such things happen if he did care as much as he said? Marcus knew that Mikkel would have to work out the problem in his own time so he didn't push to hard and just kept giving him gentle nudges in that direction. Shari had done the same.
Suddenly Marcus's thoughts were interrupted as a slight movement came from the bed. Marcus looked up and watched for a few minutes then almost decided it had been his imagination when Mikkel moved again and groaned softly. Shari looked up as Mikkel groaned and both of them stood on their feet and moved closer to the bed. "Mikkel honey, open those big brown eyes of yours," said Shari softly. "Let us know you're alive."
There was no response for a minute then Mikkel's eyelids began to flutter rapidly as if trying to open his eyes but couldn't. Finally his eyes opened into slits then all the way and he stared at Marcus and Shari for a moment as if he didn't recognize them. "Mom? Dad?" Mikkel finally whispered his voice sounding hoarse, but at least it was there. "Where am I?"
"You're in a hospital in Chicago," Marcus told him. "You were rescued from a burning building by Cole and Jack. We've been really worried about you. You've been unconscious for nearly twenty hours."
Mikkel seemed to absorb all the information then closed his eyes again. "How long was I held captive?" he finally whispered.
"A month," said Marcus. "We've had the police out looking for you all the other O'Malley's have been looking for you as well."
Mikkel opened his eyes again then said, "Mom, Dad I love you. You have no idea how much I wanted to tell you that after I was kidnapped. I was afraid I'd never see you again in order to tell you. Now all I want to do is sleep."
"I'll get the doctor and Tom," Marcus told Shari. "You stay here and keep him company." As Marcus turned away Shari saw a tear roll out of the corner of one eye and down his cheek.
Marcus was back within minutes with Tom and the doctor in tow. "Well young man," said the silver-haired doctor—Sanders by name. "You have been unconscious for quite a while. Your whole family has been extremely worried about you. You should be okay now although you'll have to stay overnight for observation just in case, but you should be able to go home tomorrow."
Mikkel groaned and made a face his opinion of staying overnight clear.
The doctor and Tom smiled at him and Sanders left while Tom stayed and sat by Mikkel's bedside. "Marcus and Shari and all the other O'Malley's have been worried about you buddy. Me too you gave us quite a scare." He squeezed Mikkel's hand and Mikkel lightly squeezed back. Tom got up to leave and said, "I'll see you tomorrow."
Mikkel closed his eyes and fell asleep within minutes.
Marcus picked him up from the hospital the next day, looking better then he had in a month. He had gotten a decent night's sleep and Mikkel was glad to see that he didn't look quite as wrung out as he had yesterday. Marcus signed the medical forms and they were on their way.
Mikkel was quiet all the way back to the hotel and stared out the window. Marcus glanced over his way several times, but Mikkel seemed unaware of his worried glances.
"You okay?" Marcus finally asked, breaking the silence.
Mikkel looked up and at his father's worried expression he sighed. "I'm fine, just thinking about what made Seth turn out like he did. Our mother was a gentle, loving soul. There's no way he could have gotten the way he did from her."
"And your father?" asked Marcus. "What was he like?"
"As far as I'm concerned you are my father. Maybe not by blood, but you're more my father then the one I got half my genes from."
"But what do you know about him?" asked Marcus, trying to sound calm and even and not show how much Mikkel's words had affected him.
"Not much," said Mikkel finally. "Only what; I've been told by my mother. Seth never mentioned him and the one time I tried to ask him he nearly killed me. All I know is that he was drunk all the time and when he got drunk he got violent. Eventually he started doing drugs and mom threw him out. She just couldn't take it anymore. First the drinking then drugs? Everyone has their breaking point and that was hers."
"Could he have gotten his attitudes from your father?"
"I suppose it's possible, but the way mom described him was as a sweet and gentle man, before he started drinking that is."
"Then it's possible he got the genes from another relative. Did you have an aunt or an uncle or a cousin who was like Seth?"
"Come to think of it mom did mention an older brother. Apparently he had a mean streak a mile wide."
"Well there you go. Seth is probably just like your uncle."
"I suppose, but it still makes me sad to know to think that Seth turned out like he did."
I know, but some people cannot or will not change from who they are. If it they did they'd be far less criminals in the world and my job would be far less vital then it is."
Mikkel was silent the rest of the way to the hotel pondering what Marcus had said. Marcus meanwhile just let him think.
They went upstairs in the elevator and Marcus opened the door, but let Mikkel enter first, "Surprise!"
Mikkel stood there stunned for a second then entered the room the rest of the way when Marcus gave him a gentle shove.
"Welcome home Mikkel," said Lisa, coming over and giving her nephew a kiss on the cheek. Mikkel blushed. He had always admired Lisa and her grit—not to mention her beauty. All the others came over one by one and hugged him being careful of his burns.
"We're glad you're safe," said Rachel. "Everyone's been worried about you."
"So I keep hearing," said Mikkel. "It's nice to be wanted."
"You must be hungry," said Lisa. "Why not have; something to eat? I know hospital food isn't the greatest."
"You're telling me. I was dying for a burger the whole time I was in the hospital—and French fries."
"You've lost weight," Shari, his mother observed.
"Yeah well I was lucky he fed me at all. If he hadn't wanted my help I'm sure he would have killed me. I think he was planning to once he got what he wanted."
"And what did he want?" asked Dave, bringing him a cup of punch.
"He wanted me to help make him rich, but instead of getting a job and earning it he wanted me to help rob people. At first I refused, I knew he was probably going to kill me in the end anyway so what was the point?" said Mikkel.
"But you helped him," Quinn pointed out.
"I refused at first even when he threatened me with a slow painful death it I didn't help him. Then he threatened to kill Ryan, Rashel and Elisa if I didn't," said Mikkel. "Apparently he had been watching the house for at least a couple of weeks and had seen them playing in the yard."
"Watching the house and I never even suspected?" Marcus muttered, disgusted with himself.
"He did WHAT?" asked Shari horrified, thinking of her children. "He threatened three little children just to get you to do what he wanted? That's horrible, how could anyone be as evil as to threaten little, innocent children?"
"It's a good thing he's not here," Jack muttered making a fist wanting to smash something. "If I'd known that at the time we pulled him out of the fire I would have left him there to be incinerated and wouldn't have felt the slightest bit guilty."
"And I would have broken more then his nose," Stephen said.
"Well he's in prison so let's not worry about it," said Marcus, he sounded angry to, but he was controlling himself. "He won't be out for a long, long time at least thirty years. Just for the kidnapping he'll get at least fifteen to twenty. Then for the robberies at least five to ten years and for setting the fire another five to ten, depending of course on what judge he gets and whether the judge goes for the maximum penalty of not. And he'll get at least another five years for trying to kill Mikkel—maybe more and at least another couple for dodging his parole officer. So you see he's not going to be out for a long, long, time. Now let's stop talking about what happened and just be glad Mikkel is back safe and sound. This is a party after all and we're supposed to be enjoying ourselves."
The others nodded and talk turned to other things and everybody began to relax. Seth was out of their lives—for good they hoped.
The party broke up and Mikkel went to bed early, feeling extremely tired. He woke less then three hours later screaming his lungs out, his skin covered in a fine sheen of sweat.
Marcus rushed into his room to see what the problem was. What he found was a terrified boy who was still shaking and was covered in sweat. "I should have realized this would happen," said Marcus sitting on the edge of Mikkel's bed and reaching over to hug his son close. "After what you've been through I shouldn't be surprised that you are having nightmares."
Mikkel didn't respond, but he did slowly stop shaking. "Will they ever go away?" he asked somewhat softly, for his throat was still sore.
"Eventually," said Marcus.
"But what am I suppose to do in the meantime? Will I never get another decent night's sleep?"
"Talking about it helps sometimes," said Marcus softly. "It helps your subconscious deal with it a little better and the nightmares don't seem as bad afterwards although they still happen."
Finally Mikkel began to speak about how he dreamed of his brother strangling him, but this time instead of Seth stopping before he wound up killing him—this time he ended up dead. Then he talked about how he had had a nightmare of how Seth had conked him on the back of the head and dragged him up to the attic and started the fire—then left him to die. If it hadn't been for Cole and Jack and the other firemen of company 81 he would probably be dead.
"These dreams are based on memories but they will pass," said Marcus, giving the boy a hug. "If you think it would help we could hire a psychiatrist."
Mikkel made a face. "We might have to do that but I would prefer the dreams to stop before we have to take such measures."
"If they keep up though they could drive you over the brink—from sanity too insanity if you aren't careful."
They were both quiet a moment when finally Marcus asked, "Have you considered how close you came to death?"
Mikkel looked up and looked at his adopted father's serious expression. "I have actually," said Mikkel finally.
"And have you also considered that if you had died and you weren't a Christian at the time of what that would mean?"
"It would mean that I would die, but to die forever not just leaving my earthly body behind. Dad you don't have to worry so much. I know both you and mom have been worried about this very subject for the last few years but when I was caught in that fire—when I thought I was about to die all that stuff you'd been trying to teach me over the last few years started to make sense." Marcus expression became less worried as Mikkel continued to talk then he smiled slightly when Mikkel fell silent.
"I'm glad," said Marcus simply. "You're right it had both me and your mother worried especially after you were kidnapped. We feared you would wind up dead and as fearful as that was it was even worse since you weren't a Christian at the time and we would never see you again if you weren't. Think you can sleep now?"
"I can try, but don't be surprised if I wake up screaming," said Mikkel with a weary smile.
Marcus ruffled the boy's hair affectionately and said, "If you do we'll be there to help you get through it until the nightmares are nothing more then a bad memory."
"Thanks dad," said Mikkel giving Marcus a hug. "Thank you for everything. I think I finally understand what made you take me in when I was caught trying to rob you. I think I understand why you did what you did."
"Took you long enough," said Marcus teasingly, trying to inject lightness into his tone.
"Yeah well I'm a slow learner," said Mikkel also teasingly.
"You're not slow," said Marcus, seriously this time. "Some things just take longer to understand then others—especially matters of faith and the heart. And believe me when I tell you I learned that the hard way. Try to get some sleep," Marcus suggested getting up to leave and go back to bed.
"Night dad," said Mikkel.
"Night son," Marcus responded, closing the door partway behind him.
Mikkel tossed and turned the whole night though he didn't wake up screaming again. When he woke up fully it was early—even earlier then he had to be up for school. He just lay back for a minute and tried to remember the dreams that had kept him in a state of semi-consciousness the whole night. As hard as he tried he could only remember flashes and half images and all were as fleeting as ghosts. Finally he rose with a tired sigh and started brewing coffee for Marcus and Shari for when they awoke. Shari was never fully awake without at least two or three cups of coffee first then he sat down on the couch and started to read one of the newspapers lying there.
"You're up early," said Marcus coming into the room.
Mikkel shrugged not wanting to admit the nightmares had continued to plague him throughout the night.
"More nightmares?" asked Marcus.
"On and off," Mikkel admitted.
"Well we'll see what we can do to chase those bad memories away. How would you like to spend the next couple of weeks at your Uncle Stephen's in; Silverton"
"But what about school?" Mikkel asked. "I've already missed a month and I'm probably so far behind I'll never catch up."
"I'm sure we can work something out with the principal and your teachers," said Marcus.
"It might be fun and maybe it'll keep my mind from having nightmares," Mikkel. "If I could just relax for awhile get my mind off of what happened . . ."
"It might not work like you expect it to you know," said Marcus. "It'll help certainly, but it might not get rid of them totally. I just want you to be prepared for that just in case."
"I know, but I need time to think, to just relax, to go fishing or whatever," said Mikkel
"To forget for a while?" suggested Marcus.
"To forget," Mikkel repeated.
Marcus entered the jail where Seth was being held before his trial. He showed the desk sergeant his badge and asked if he could see Seth. It was a couple of days later and they were heading to take Mikkel to Silverton tomorrow. He was going to spend a couple of weeks with Stephen and Meghan and hopefully work through the nightmares so that he could get a peaceful night's sleep again. He had been praying for a solution before the nightmares drove Mikkel over the edge of sanity—into insanity and madness. Marcus didn't want that to happen to the boy he had come to love and think of like a son.
"And what do you want him for?" asked the sergeant.
"To talk to him is all; sergeant and to give him this," said Marcus showing the sergeant the bible.
"That one will never accept God," said the sergeant who was a Christian himself.
"Probably not," said Marcus. "But I've got to try, for Mikkel's sake as well as his; own."
"I salute you," said the sergeant. "This is a brave thing you're doing."
"Not so brave really," Marcus replied. "We all do what we must and I feel I must do this."
The sergeant nodded without replying, but he saluted in respect and asked one of the other officers to lead Marcus back to Seth's cell. They entered a long dank corridor and Marcus observed silently that every jail he had ever been in seemed to have the same long, dark and dank corridor leading back to the holding cells.
"Give me a few minutes alone if you would please?" Marcus asked politely.
The officer nodded. "He's down at the end, last cell on your left. You be careful he's mean one."
"I know," said Marcus.
The officer nodded and turned to leave but then he turned back and said, "I'll be back in twenty minutes. If you want out sooner just knock on the door." Marcus nodded and the officer was gone.
Marcus walked down to the cell the officer had indicated to find Seth laying on his bunk hands behind his head staring at the ceiling. "And what do you want?" Seth asked sneering not even looking Marcus's way
"I just wanted to talk to you and ask you why you did what you did."
"Why does it matter anyway?"
"It matters," said Marcus quietly. "Because you; caused my family untold anguish—my family is everything to me. You gave a; thirteen year old nightmares so bad he wakes up screaming . . ."
"So the brat is still alive," said Seth, still not moving from his bunk. "If I ever get out he is dead."
"You won't get out Seth—at least not for thirty or forty years."
"Anything else you want?" asked Seth, sarcastically. "If not you're wasting my time."
Marcus shook his head, sadly. "You're full of anger Seth. That anger has been eating at you for years until it is at the point that you are mad at the world and everybody in it—even someone as innocent as Mikkel."
"You think Mikkel is innocent?" Seth sneered. "Don't make me laugh."
"He is innocent in the eyes of God since he has accepted Christ as his savior. And to us he is just a boy which; you mistreated . . ."
Seth snorted as if he disagreed with that statement, but didn't comment.
"I also came to give you this," said Marcus, taking a bible out of his coat pocket. "May you find redemption within its, pages." Marcus passed the book through the bars and Seth got up to take it.
"Is this all you wanted to give me?" asked Seth with contempt throwing the book to the other side of the cell. "Well let me tell you something God has never done anything for me, except let my mother be killed and my father die of a drug overdose and put me out on the street having to live by my wits. So what has God ever done for me—if he even; exists at all."
Marcus shook his head sadly and left with one last comment. "You will never be truly happy Seth—never be able to release the hate and the anger without help and God is the only one who can help you. Accept his unconditional love and his help before it is too late."
"Just get out of my sight," Seth yelled. "I don't have to listen to this." Marcus turned and left without another word, feeling kind of sad that Seth was so obstinate when it came to religion or anything for that matter.
A few days later Mikkel was on his way to Silverton with both Marcus and Shari. They were driving and since it was only a few hours outside of Chicago they had decided to drop him off and head home. But they would be back to pick him up in a couple of weeks and they would stay in contact by phone. Shari had at first been against the idea after all she had just gotten him back, but Marcus had convinced her that this would be good for him and she had finally given in, but only with the stipulation that he call every night. Stephen and Meghan knew they were coming and their had sent their three children to spend a few days with their grandparents Bill and Elizabeth Delhart which were Meghan's parents.
"Welcome," said Stephen coming out to greet them as they drove up the drive. He gave his brother a hug then turned to greet Shari and at last Mikkel. "Can you stay awhile?" Stephen asked his brother
"Just long enough to see what you've done with the place, then we had better be going," said Marcus. Stephen showed them around and Mikkel went and put up his things in the house when Marcus suggested, "Why don't you go say hello to your Aunt Meghan?"
He knew they were probably going to discuss him, but he didn't mind so much, because they knew they had his best interest at heart. "So?" asked Stephen.
"He's been having bad nightmares almost every night and they haven't seemed to lessen in intensity in the last few days. He wakes up tired and ends up falling asleep in the middle of lunch or just while he's watching TV."
"It's funny but he doesn't seem to have nightmares when he does fall asleep in the afternoons," said Shari. "We usually let him sleep as long as we can."
"This has got to stop," said Marcus. "He's already missed over a month of school as it is and his grades are showing it, but to put him back in school now is a bad idea—he'd just fall asleep in the middle of class and the teachers and other students wouldn't understand why. We'd like to avoid putting him through that if we can."
"What are you going to do about school?"
"Principal Hanes has agreed to let him make up the month of assignments and we'll send them to you as soon as we get them," said Shari.
"But what about next year?" Stephen asked.
"I'm hoping and praying this problem will be solved by the end of the summer if not I don't know. We'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it."
Stephen nodded understanding, "You're hoping relaxing for a while—fishing and the like will do the trick?"
"Yes," said Shari. "We want our little boy back to normal and to stop waking up screaming and covered in sweat."
Stephen winced. "That bad?" he asked his sympathy obvious.
"That bad," Marcus concurred. "I'm surprised he has any voice left at all or at least that his throat isn't sore from all that screaming."
"We'll see what we can do," said Stephen.
"We'll be forever in your debt," said Shari.
"Not necessary," said Stephen. "You're family," he said as if that explained everything and to Marcus it did—the O'Malley's would do practically anything for family.
"We'd better be going," said Marcus. "We'll call."
"See you in a couple of weeks," Stephen agreed, giving his brother a hug. They turned to leave after Stephen had kissed Shari on the cheek. They got in their rental car and headed back in the direction of Chicago.
"Aunt Meghan it's me," said Mikkel just making sure she knew he was there for Meghan was blind.
"Well hello Mikkel, come have a seat in the kitchen I just finished a batch of cookies," came Meghan's pleasant voice. "Where's, Stephen, Marcus and Shari?"
"Outside," said Mikkel. "I have a feeling they sent me in here because they wanted to discuss me without me overhearing." It still amazed him that Meghan could find her way around the house or even the town without too much trouble especially with her being blind. Part of it came with being organized he knew and what she couldn't do for herself she had Stephen and Blackie her seeing-eye dog to help her with. Her parents as well, but she could pretty well get around on her own without anybody's help if she had to.
"I'm sure you're probably right," said Meghan, with a chuckle. "But they all love you a great deal you know and they have your best interest at heart. I love you too."
"Oh I don't mind not really," said Mikkel grabbing a cookie. "It's nice to have people to care about you and anybody who says it isn't and that it would be better if everybody would leave them alone hasn't ever lived on the street and had to eat stuff out of garbage cans."
"That's a very mature attitude Mikkel," said Meghan, nodding her head in agreement.
"Yeah well spend a little time out on the street and you grow up real fast, you never really have a chance to be a kid."
"You know that's kind of sad when you think about it, everybody should have a chance to be a child and play and learn and grow," said Meghan.
"For most people who grow up in families that might be true, but not for somebody who spent two three years on the street," said Mikkel.
"Yeah well you're here to relax and get rid of those nasty nightmares," said Meghan. "So let's discuss something pleasant shall we?"
"Sure," Mikkel agreed, changing the subject.
"Want to go fishing tomorrow?" asked Stephen as he came into the house a few minutes later
"Sure," said Mikkel.
"You would have to be willing to get up at dawn," said Stephen.
"I could do that," said Mikkel. "I haven't been sleeping well lately anyway."
"So I heard, but we're here to solve that not make it worse," said Stephen. "So let's keep an optimistic attitude shall we?"
Mikkel nodded but didn't comment, just grateful for all the people who loved and cared about him.
The next morning Mikkel was up before dawn because he had awoken screaming his head off. Stephen had come in to see him and make sure he was okay. "These dreams have got to stop," Mikkel said. "If I don't get a decent night's sleep soon I feel as if I'm going to fade away like a ghost."
"Marcus warned me they were bad, but I didn't think they were this bad," said Stephen, sympathetically. "Well you might as well get up and get dressed you would have had to be up in an hour or so anyway to go fishing."
A little later Mikkel and Stephen were out on a big lake a few miles away from Silverton. All was quiet then Stephen said quietly, "Let me tell you a true story." He was silent for a little and Mikkel waited patiently for him to continue. "I had a sister named Peg. Then one day I was set to watch her. The phone rang and I took my eyes off her for no more then a couple of minutes at most. When I got off Peg was gone. I searched frantically and finally thought of the neighbor's pool which Peg had always been fascinated with and usually she could swim like a fish but that particular day something went wrong. When I found her she was already faced down in the pool. I pulled her out, but I didn't know CPR at that time and by the time the paramedics arrived it was to late—Peg was dead. Our parents never blamed me at least not out loud anyway, but I blamed myself and for years I carried that burden of guilt with me. It's one of the reasons I became a paramedic so I could help people." The sadness and heartache in Stephen's voice made Mikkel want to cry. He could tell Stephen was still suffering from his sister's death even after thirty years.
"And the moral of this story is?" asked Mikkel.
"The moral is maybe you need to forgive your brother—like I forgave myself for Peg's death—for what he did to you and in so doing forgive yourself. Only then will the nightmares stop."
"I don't know if I can forgive him," said Mikkel looking out at the water of the lake in thoughtful silence. His brother had done a lot of things to him and he didn't know if he was ready to forgive and forget. But Stephen was also right if he didn't forgive his brother and give it all to God then the nightmares would continue until they drove him onto the brink of insanity. The longer he waited however the harder it would become until it would be nearly impossible without a great deal of emotional anguish. Even he knew that the longer you let such negative emotions reside within your heart the harder they were to get rid of—especially ones that had had time to become deeply entrenched.
"You must try or the nightmares will continue to plague you. Those nightmares are trying to tell you something. I'm no psychiatrist, but they would likely tell you the same. All that guilt and anger will keep eating away at you sometimes for years and when you least expect it—attack. That's where the nightmares come from you know all your fear and anger and hate are coming out in your dreams and will eventually effect your life."
Mikkel was thoughtful the rest of the day and very little else was said. Stephen gave him plenty of time to think. He knew he needed to work out the problems on his own—he just couldn't give Mikkel the solution, because the solution had to be wrought within the boy's own heart and that had to be done by Mikkel alone and no one else.
"Hey why don't I teach you to whittle?" Stephen suggested when he found Mikkel sitting on the front steps the next day just staring out at the blue of the sky.
"Is it hard to learn?" asked Mikkel.
"It depends if you have any natural talent or not, but no not really," said Stephen. "You either have the talent or you don't it's that simple." He gave Mikkel a piece of wood and told him, "Let your thoughts drift, put the knife to the wood and just start carving without thinking about it. The more you think the harder it is to do."
Mikkel did as he was ordered and let his thoughts drift back to the time of when he had first met the O'Malley's. It had been Christmas two months after he had first come to live with Marcus and Shari. He had been nervous about meeting the family he had heard so much about and Marcus had told him there was nothing to be nervous about, that he would like the family. He had been nervous all the same—not that he would like them—but that they would like him. He had tried not to fidget as he sat waiting for their flight to be called.
He had met them a few hours later and his life had changed forever. They had made him feel like one of the family right from the beginning. They had told him stories and given him gifts and generally treated him like one of the family. They hadn't cared that he hadn't been born an O'Malley—to them it hadn't mattered. Mikkel smiled as he thought back to his first meeting with Marcus and Shari. After he and his brother had been carted down to the police station he had expected to spend a night in jail and then be either carted to an orphanage or to be taken to juvie hall. Instead Marcus and Shari had offered him a choice—a chance to come live with them or off to the orphanage he went. He had chosen the first choice and they had immediately started making him feel like a member of the family and less then a year later he had become a member of the family—they had legally adopted him so that he had become an official O'Malley.
His thoughts were interrupted when Stephen came and sat down beside him. "You've been out here for over an hour. Marcus and Shari are on the phone and would like to see how you're doing."
Mikkel nodded and went in to talk to his parents leaving his carving behind. Stephen picked it up and looked at it. What he was looking at was incredible—it looked exactly like Marcus and Shari holding hands all it lacked was a few finishing touches to finish it.
"I'm fine mom," Mikkel assured her. "Uncle Stephen took me fishing yesterday. We caught some bass and trout."
"I'm glad you're doing okay," Marcus said, having picked up the phone in the den. "Are the nightmares still bothering you?"
"Yes," Mikkel said. "But not as bad as they did in the city."
"That's good," said Marcus. "Soon you'll have catch; up work to keep you busy. We'll be sending you your assignments in the mail."
Mikkel groaned and Marcus chuckled. "We can't allow you to get so far behind that you'll have to stay back and take summer school after all there's that Disneyworld trip to think about. If you're in summer school we won't be able to take you."
Mikkel made a face that Marcus couldn't see but only said, "I'll be waiting for it and I'll try to get it done as quickly as possible."
"You don't have to spend all day on it, just do four or five assignments a day and you'll have it all done in no time. You'll still have time for fun to."
"We'll talk to you tomorrow," said Shari. "We love you."
"I love you to," said Mikkel. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
The days after that passed as routine. In the morning he ate breakfast that Meghan cooked then worked on his homework for a couple of hours then he was free to do what he wanted. He sometimes helped Stephen with his carpentry work, by taking over the sanding job, when his Aunt Meghan couldn't or didn't have time. The mindless work gave him time to think and the more thinking he did the more he began to realize that his dreams would never stop until he forgave his brother in his heart.
On his next to last day there he went and sat out by the creek, dipping his bare feet in the water. He then looked up at the sky and did the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. "God I ask you to take away the hate I feel in my heart towards my brother and I ask you to reach out to him in prison to change that hate he feels towards me and the rest of the world inward to look at himself."
Mikkel felt a peace settle over him, a peace he had never known ever since his mother was killed.
Marcus and Shari arrived late morning on the day he was to go home to find Mikkel waiting on the front porch for them. "Ready to go?" asked Marcus.
Mikkel nodded. "I hate to leave," he said almost wistfully. "It's so peaceful here."
"You'll always be welcome back anytime," said Meghan coming out of the house. "It's good to see you Marcus, Shari."
"You to Meghan," said Shari. "Do we get to see those children of your before we leave?"
"Their out playing with some of their friends," said Meghan. "But I'll make sure they know you asked about them."
"Bye Mikkel," said Stephen walking up and giving his nephew a hug. "You're welcome to come back anytime you want whether you have a problem or not," he teased his nephew.
"Thanks for everything Uncle Stephen," said Mikkel hugging him back. You could tell by his tone that he meant more then he was saying.
"Let's get going," said Marcus. "It's a long drive back and we have a flight to catch. Thanks for everything Stephen." His tone conveyed a deep-seated appreciation that spoke volumes about there relationship.
"No problem, we enjoyed his company," said Stephen, affectionately ruffling Mikkel's already wind blown hair.
Mikkel followed his parents to the car after Marcus had collected his bags and loaded them in the trunk of the rental car and they were on their way back to Chicago and from there—home. That word had never sounded more beautiful to him then it had at that moment and he began to realize that his home was wherever the O'Malley's were for they had done what most people wouldn't even have considered doing—they had given him a place to call home.