Chapter 10

Joanne Stone, previously Joanne Dane was a small woman with almost childlike features. She was dressed in simple blue jeans and a bright pink sweater. If she was surprised about a visit from the FBI, she didn't show it as she led Jack into her living room.

"I appreciate you coming all the way out here, Agent Malone, but frankly, I don't understand how I can help you. I already spoke to the police," Joanne said.

"You have spoken with the local police?"

"Yes, when they came to tell me that Eric was dead. They asked a few questions. I told them what I knew. That's why I was so surprised that the FBI is looking into this. It was a suicide, wasn't it?" Joanne seemed to have taken the death of her ex-husband in stride. Even if she hadn't been close to Eric Dane, she seemed very quick to point to suicide, especially since nothing about the murder suggested that Eric had taken his own life.

If Maria suddenly died, Jack couldn't imagine just moving on like nothing ever happened. They might not get along, but he still loved her.

"Agent Malone, can I offer you some tea or coffee perhaps?" Joanne interrupted his thoughts.

"Coffee, please," Jack replied absentmindedly. He was studying the myriad of family photos covering the wall above the couch. Even though Joanne and Eric had divorced in 1998, Joanne had apparently kept the pictures of her husband around. Their son, a boy very much resembling his father, featured in the majority of the photographs.

"I kept them up for Nate. He should know both his parent." Joanne appeared behind Jack. "Here's your coffee. It's only instant, I'm afraid. Why don't you sit down?"

Jack accepted the offer and sat down.

"You have custody of your son?"

"We share custody, but since Eric had gone back to school full time and was working at the supermarket, he hardly had time for Nate," Joanne told him.

"Did your husband have problems at work or at school?"

"None that I know of. Eric got along well with everybody. I already told all this to the police." Joanne was friendly but firm.

"You said you think your husband committed suicide. Why?" Jack finally asked.

"About three weeks ago, Eric was diagnosed with lymphoma, already at an advanced stage. The doctors gave him only a few weeks. He had been feeling sick for a while, but had been putting off getting seen to. Now, it was too late. He told me he was going to New York to do something he should have done a long time ago. When we said good-bye at the airport, I knew he was not planning on coming back," Joanne explained.

"You didn't stop him?" Jack asked. He couldn't image being able to stand by while someone he loved killed themself.

"Why should I have stopped him? Eric obviously needed to do this." Joanne pulled a strand of hair behind her ear. She seemed nervous. "I see you don't understand. I can assure you that I have nothing to do with Eric's death. He was murdered?"

Jack ignored her question. He wanted Joanne to tell him how much she knew. "Do you know any of Eric's friends or business partners in New York?"

"Eric had broken with his life in New York by the time we met. He had stopped seeing those people." Joanne still smiled, but there was force in her words. Jack was just not sure whom she was trying to convince, him or herself.

"About his old life, in New York, what do you know about it?" Jack tried again.

"We met at a meeting. We were both trying to leave the past behind us, but Eric was always trying to make up for something while we were married. He was a good father, but he was suffocating me and Nate. I think he has finally found the courage to fix whatever he has done," Joanne told Jack. Jack was starting to wonder whether she was deliberately trying to avoid his questions about Eric's past.

"Joanne, do you want us to find Eric's killers or not?" Jack took a harsh tone with Joanne. He was fairly certain she had had no part in her ex-husband's death, but he couldn't afford leaving the past buried.

Joanne nodded. "You are right. I do not want his killer to go free. But no one is served by digging up the past. You will only hurt people." Joanne didn't smile anymore.

"I don't think you understand. Your ex-husband is strong suspect in a murder ten years ago. We think he might have been murdered by an accomplice." Jack was growing angry at the woman stonewalling his investigation.

"Then he must have gone back to clear his conscience. The Eric I have known couldn't hurt anyone," Joanne declared.

oOo

Sam was exhausted. The sleepless night, the long drive and now the burning heat of the sun were wearing down on her. She was thirsty, and her legs ached as she followed Megan along the seemingly endless network of hiking trails. Megan had insisted they park in a public lot and the only one was almost three miles from the cabin.
The area was heavily wooded, obscuring any sight beyond the trail. By Sam's calculations, they would have to reach the cabin any time now. The five hours on the road had given her time to clear up her thoughts. She was questioning the wisdom of coming to the cabin with Megan. The smart thing would have been to call ERT up there and wait at the office for the results.

Sam knew she would have to confess to her role, however small in the sum total of things. She would, after she did this. Megan would have to come clear as well. Sam didn't want to sell out her friend, but if she had to, she knew she would. She had made the choice and turned away from the life she had led when she had been eighteen and new to the city. She would talk to Megan first and give her a chance to turn herself in.

The cabin came into view as Sam and Megan rounded a bend. There was no car on the patch of gravel outside, and as Sam came closer she could see that the house and surrounding shrubs hadn't been cared for in a long time, probably not since Ryan's disappearance.

Sam felt for her pistol holster before she approached the door. She didn't know what to expect, but she was glad she had brought her gun. Megan next to her held her gun ready. Megan's nod was the signal and they rapidly but quietly slipped inside. Sam took the room to the right while Megan took the room at the end of the corridor.

With a single sweeping look, Sam took in the room. It was a combination of an open kitchen and living room. A table, four chairs, an oven and sink on one side, and a worn-looking couch and a glass table by the fireplace on the other side. Cuffed to the drainpipe with plastic cuffs was Christine Buckner. Sensing no immediate danger, Sam put her gun away and rushed over to the girl, who been watching her with frightened eyes.

"Christine. Christine, look at me." Sam kneeled to be on eye-level with the girl "My name is Samantha and I'm with the FBI. I'm going to take you home to your mother soon."

"He hit Mom." Christine said between sniffles.

"It's all right. Your Mom is fine. She will be very happy to have you back," Sam reassured her. "Can you keep your hand very still now? Can you do that?" Samantha only had her pocketknife, but it would have to do.

Trying to saw through the plastic cuffs was tedious. Christine was shifting anxiously and the pocketknife was ill-suited for the task. Suddenly, Sam heard the sound of a car pulling up front.

Panic washed over Sam. There was nowhere to hide and she couldn't leave the girl behind. Sam frantically tried to saw through the plastic tie, but it was fruitless. She heard a muffled voice, and then the sound of the door.

"Christine." Sam turned to the little girl. "Whatever happens now, I'm going to look out for you. Just remember that. Everything will be all right." Sam squeezed Christine's hand and the girl squeezed back.

Sam positioned herself in front of Christine and turned around just in time when a gunshot sounded nearby.

"Christine, can you put her hands over your ears?"

Christine nodded.

Sam pulled her gun and disengaged the safety. She had to make the choice between staying with Christine or finding Megan, who might be badly injured. Sam did what her training had taught her. She was going to play this one safe.

Sam carefully got to her feet and advanced towards the door, staying behind the doorway.

"Richard! It's Samantha Spade. I want to talk to you," Sam called out. She heard footsteps and then Richard replied.

"Sam? What do you want?"

"I want to help you. No one has to get hurt." Samantha hoped it wasn't too late for Megan yet.

"You shouldn't have come back. You and Megan are here to frame me. You think I killed all those people in the bank. Everyone else had a perfect life, so I'm the fall guy."

"I don't believe you killed anyone. I just want to make sure that everyone is all right. Is Megan all right?" Sam asked and quickly shot back a smile to Christine.

Richard didn't reply and she didn't hear him moving.

"Richard, is it all right if I check to see how Megan is doing? But first, why don't you let Christine go? She has nothing to do with any of this." Sam tried again. Sam wasn't sure how rational Richard was. The abduction had clearly taken some planning, but now he seemed aimless. A delusional man with a gun who might be very dangerous when he realized he was cornered.

Sam was almost through the plastic cuff with her pocketknife. "Christine can be outside while we talk about this. You can tell me what really happened."

One last pull and the plastic finally gave. Christine pulled her wrist close to her body, cradling it with her other arm.

"It's going to be all right," Sam whispered to the girl.

"It was Clyde who killed your brother, am I right?" Sam tried a different strategy. "Eric was the shooter in the bank, not you."

Richard remained silent. "You didn't do anything. It's not too late. You can still turn this around. Let Christine go and we can fix this," Sam pleaded. She didn't know whether Megan was dead or merely wounded, but her life and the life of a child depended on her words.

"How can you help me?" Richard finally asked. He sounded tired, not angry.

"Let Christine go and we will talk. I can help you and see that Clyde is punished for what he did to your brother."

"Christine can go, but you stay," Richard agreed.

Sam turned to the frightened Christine. "Listen to me. You get up and walk outside. Just go to the door and go outside. Go behind the car and sit down. I'll come for you." Sam intended to keep her promise. Christine got to her feet and hesitantly walked toward the door. She turned around to look back to Sam.

"Go, you'll be safe," Sam tried to reassure her, but her smile was forced. When Christine disappeared through the door and she heard no gunshots, just the sound of the door opening and closing, Sam breathed a sigh of relief.

TBC