Throughout the day, file after file opened to Ella's persistent prying

Throughout the day, file after file opened to Ella's persistent prying.  Most of the files were like the first file, account after account.  When they totaled up the cash that had flowed through all the accounts, they were looking at eight figures.  Temple had set York's hard drive up on a table near Ella.  Before she could begin to break into it, the FBI showed up on Mannion's doorstep with paperwork to take the computer and disks away.  Mannion had to give it up, but it was under protest.  He was working on a murder of a prominent, if not irritating Congresswoman, and all they wanted to do was chase money.  His investigation should take precedence.  They weren't buying any more than US Attorney Bruce Logan was buying.  In fact, Logan sounded pleased to disrupt Mannion's efforts.  After the verbal exchanges were over, Special Agent Curry and her team waltzed out the door with the files, disks, and computer.  Mannion was grinding his teeth as Ella sat down in the chair in front of his desk.  Nolan was already parked in the other one.

"Chief, what would you say, if I told you we really did not lose anything just now but a little time and effort?"

Mannion's eyes brightened, "You didn't?"

"It's all on my hard drive.  I down loaded it when you were arguing over who had the rights to the information," she smiled.  "I know how much you like battling with the FBI, so…"

"You let him duke it out with Agent Curry," Nolan finished.  "If we had rolled over for them, they would have suspected something.  Ella, you really are a genius!"

Mannion scratched his chin, "So how much time did we lose?"

"Enough.  I have to start all over again.  But the program I'm using should be able to pick up right where it left off.  It's a new program with limited AI capabilities."


"Artificial Intelligence.  It remembers things like you or I would.  I'd say it's about as smart as Cujo," she smiled.

Nolan encouraged, "That's excellent.  May I suggest you run another copy in case the FBI goes snooping around again on us?"

Mannion nodded in agreement.  "And transfer them off your machine.  We can't afford to lose that computer to FBI meddling.  Work them on something else if you can."

"Done," she said as she got up to return to her work.

"Not too bad, the FBI only cost us a day this time," Nolan remarked before leaving.

By the end of the week, McGregor interviewed York's staff for the third time and heard the name, Steve Cooper again.  They had gone to lunch the day the Congresswoman was presumed to have died – Friday a week ago.  Danny thought that individual is at least on the interview list if not suspect list.  Temple was sent to York's bank and broker to get her own financial records.  They'd run those against what Ella was quietly pulling out of the computer files.  They had not been fast enough on the drop to acquire York's computer at the office.  However, Temple doubted it contained damaging files like the home model.

By Friday, the Lab had also finished processing the evidence gathered from both cars.  There was no real blood in either.  There were some traces in the car in which York died, but only enough to say that her body had been put in at the last minute before being shoved into the Potomac.  Her car was relatively clean.  There were a few hairs of unknown origin on the passenger side.  There were some smudged partial prints to go with it.  For all practical purposes, both were dead ends.

Temple decided that they needed to go back out to the neighborhood where the York's car was found.  They needed to see if somebody saw something they were or were not supposed to see.  Danny dug up a driver's license photo of Cooper, and they used York's official photo to pass around.

Danny took the rooms-for-rent place while Temple took the apartments across the street.  The manager of the seedy motel had rented a room out to Cooper.   Cooper had a month-to-month lease that had not yet expired.  But the manager had not seen Cooper for a week.  He was unclear about the woman.  Cooper was very private about his business and his women.  And the manager thought that he'd keep it that way.  Danny stepped out to the curb and called for a search warrant before returning to the car.  Temple joined him in short order.  One old lady had seen the "lovely, young woman" last week.  In fact, she frequently came and went in that motel.  Danny called for Forensics to join them once they had the warrant, which came in thirty minutes.

Forensics netted loads of DNA evidence from personal items they found.  They also found fresh blood spatters that had been "cleaned up" by somebody.  The room was made up to be a cheap "love nest," but there was nothing on the sheets.  That bothered Danny.  Why was there no evidence on the sheets?  Or were those fresh sheets?  Had York been taken out in the "love nest" sheets a week ago?  Maybe it was a front for something else.  He went back down to look at the motel's registry.  He asked for it, and was rebuffed.  He pulled out his cell phone and began to ask for a fresh warrant when the manager decided he'd lose anyway.

"Here, here you go.  Take it!" he shoved the register at McGregor.

"Thanks," McGregor replied.  "I'd like to see the last three months' registers, too, please."

With resignation, the manager pulled them out and handed them over.  "See that I get these back, okay," he demanded.

"We know where they came from and when we're done, I'm sure somebody will give them back," Danny offered.  "Which one of these signatures belongs to this man?" he showed him Cooper's photo again.

The manager pointed to the name Stanton Harriman.  Danny checked his reply again.  It was the same.  This time, the manager pulled the original registration card for Cooper or Harriman.  He gave it to Danny.  Ella had come up with the name Stanton Harriman when she did a background on Orb Ventures.  Other than that, she was having a hard time figuring out what Orb Ventures did to make a living.  Were Cooper and Harriman the same?  Danny had more questions now than before.

McGregor nodded, "Thanks, man."

"Good citizenship is always appreciated," Mannion chimed in as he came through the door.  "Jack Mannion," he said as he offered his hand to the manager.

The manager shook his hand with a grunt.  He sat back down and turned away to watch the daytime soaps.

Danny and Mannion went upstairs and discussed what they had found so far.  McGregor planned on picking up Cooper for questioning.  He wanted to make it more formal at the headquarters.  Mannion agreed.  Forensics was finishing up.  Mannion looked around the room.  He noticed there were personal items but no personal photos or other easily identifiable items.  They'd be left with the Lab to pull some of the pieces together for them.  Temple noted that it would be one of the more expensive cases on record.  Mannion smiled and told them he'd already run that past the Mayor.  The Mayor was so gun shy from the last tangle with York that he'd directed his Police Chief to spare no expense to catch the killer or killers.  He'd go to Congress for extra funds if need be.  The Mayor's office was taking the brunt of the calls from the Hill.  Mannion's reputation of "no nonsense, could care less about politics" did not lend itself well to the strong-arm tactics that might work on the Mayor.  Then let it flow downhill on to Mannion was the Speaker's theory.

Vicki was waiting for them when they returned.  Being Nick's girlfriend came in handy today.  The cops on the front desk kept the other reporters at bay, but not Vicki.  She was quietly slipped on though when the others were not looking.  She had already tried pumping Nancy and then Nick for information.  That got her nothing that she did not already know.  She spotted Mannion before he saw her.

"Chief…  Jack," Vicki hoped she could gain access with him without the usual static.

Mannion looked up, "Well Monty, what brings you back out today?"

"You know very well why I'm here.  What can you tell me about who killed Congresswoman York?"

"Go see Nicky," was his terse reply as he entered his office.

Ella was waiting for him with the next batch of computer files.  She looked up and greeted Vicki.

Mannion took the files and gave them a quick look.  Vicki maintained her presence.  She was not about to back down.

"I'm not leaving Jack," Vicki started.  "Nick didn't tell me anything I didn't already know – nothing that's not already out there or been speculated on."

"Well, then neither am I," Mannion replied as he gave the files back to Ella.  "Good work, Ella, let McGregor have a look at them.  Let's see where they fit with what we've got.  I think it's about time to COMSTAT this."

"You got it, Chief," Ella left with a smile for Vicki.

Vicki stood there a moment, dumbfounded.  "Did she just call you 'Chief'?"

Mannion thought about it a moment, "Yeah, why?"

"I thought you two were getting married a week from tomorrow.  I'm pretty sure that's the day I marked off on my calendar when I got the invitation," Monty continued.


"So, why so formal?"

Mannion shrugged, "Guess it's her way of not mixing business with pleasure.  Now, if you don't mind, Monty, I've got to get some work done around here," he gently took her by the elbow and moved her out the door.

Vicki found herself back at Nancy's desk.  She smiled at the secretary who returned the smile.  Danny and Temple were returning with Steve Cooper.  Vicki recognized Cooper.  McGregor ushered Cooper into the interrogation room.  Temple let the Chief know they were getting ready to ask a few questions of the only person who vaguely resembled a suspect.  Nolan joined Mannion in front of the large closed circuit TV as McGregor began.

"So, Mr. Cooper, you had lunch with Congresswoman York on the day of her death, did you?"

"Yeah, so what?  Helen and I often had lunch together.  You can ask her staff if you like," Cooper was confident.

"We did," Temple added.  He pulled up an appointment book from the Congresswoman's office.  "Looks like you had lunch with her every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Interesting pattern, if you're taking classes at college."

Cooper crossed his arms, "So what?"

"So, you had sex with her, too?" McGregor went on.

"I don't know what you talking about," Cooper replied defensively.

"We'd like a DNA sample, if you don't mind, then we'll forget about all this sex, lies, and politics, Mr. Cooper," McGregor warned.

"I want a lawyer.  I am a lawyer, so I know that you can't ask me any more questions without my Counsel being present," Cooper pulled out what he thought was a trump card.

"Okay, fine, you'll get a lawyer," McGregor complied and nodded his head back and forth.  "Temple, go get Mr. Cooper a lawyer."

Temple made for the door.

"Wait a minute!  Here, this is my lawyer; call him.  I don't want some cheap public defender," Cooper wrote a name and phone number on a scrap of paper and gave it to Temple.

Temple took it and left the room.  McGregor just stared at Cooper for five minutes without saying a word.  Cooper began to fidget.

"What is taking him so long?" Cooper demanded.


McGregor continued to stare at Cooper.  Cooper turned his chair away from the detective.

"You know, we're going to catch you.  You're going to lie, and we'll find out.  We know about the money," McGregor taunted him.

Cooper swung back around and looked at Danny, "No, you don't.  I mean, no you won't.  I did not kill Helen York."  He stood up and yelled, "I want my lawyer, and I want my lawyer now!"

"Okay," Danny said calmly as he rose from the table and left.

Mannion approved, "Good cat and mouse game in there, Danny."

Nolan spoke up, "The money must be one of the keys to this killing.  Did you see how he reacted at the mention of it?  Has Ella figured out anything about the money yet?"

"Not that I know of," Mannion replied.  Then he fell back into an old habit and yelled, "Ella, Ella!"

Vicki had picked up parts of the conversation and jumped when Mannion shouted for his computer wizard.  Even Nancy looked up.

"He does that every now and then," she commented.

"I was going to ask if that happens everyday," Vicki joked.

"Ella, have you figured out where the money is, yet?" Mannion inquired in a normal tone of voice.

"From the numbers on the accounts, it's looking more and more like the money is off-shore.  That is what is making it so hard to track down," she answered.  "Banking records are not so easy to get hold of out there – subpoenas don't work in the Caymans."

"Do we know whose money it is yet?" Nolan wanted to know.

"It looks like some of it is hers, transferred into these accounts over time," Ella began.  "I've bounced it against brokerage statements and routine financial records that we got earlier in the week.  It's a ton of stuff to sift through, Chief."

"That may go back to what Nick supplied about insider trading," reasoned Mannion.

"That might fit some of the accounts I'm looking at.  Money drifts out, and then geometric multiples come back into the accounts days or weeks later.  It's like looking at a skillful day trader," Ella added.

"Except this day trader did not need skill…"Nolan completed the theory.

Danny spoke up, "Temple is taking the slow boat to China to get this guy's lawyer.  Once he comes, we don't have enough to hold him.  But I do think we might have enough to get a search warrant on his real place and for a DNA sample.  The Lab is waiting to match something against all that we collected off the cars, her person, and that motel we just went through.  I'd like to get that warrant before we cut this guy loose."

"Agreed," Mannion nodded as he picked up the phone.  "Bruce, Jack Mannion here.  I need another warrant.  I'm sending Temple Page over to get it.  He'll bring you the evidence we're basing it on.  He'll be there in about twenty minutes," he paused for a moment.  "Yeah, thanks, bye," Mannion hung up the phone.  "Tell Temple to hold off on the lawyer until we get the warrants.  Send him over with the key pieces, including what Ella is discovering.  We can hold this guy for 24 hours, but we don't want to wait that long."

"Come with me, Danny," Ella said as she went back to her office.  "I'll make another copy of the files.  Once Logan gets wind that we have what we have, you can bet the FBI will be back over here!"

Mannion smiled with pride, "She thinks like a street cop!"

Nolan laughed.  He rose to leave.  As he opened the door, he told Mannion, "I'll take those files home with me as soon as she makes a new set."

Mannion nodded in agreement and headed next door to tell Ella.  Nobody noticed Vicki sitting outside Mannion's office taking it all in.  Since she wrote nothing down, Nancy was not keyed into the leak that just formed.  Like clockwork, one hour after Temple got the warrant from Logan, the FBI was back in the Chief's office demanding computer files.  Ella dutifully turned them over again.  Mannion screamed bloody murder again.  Unnoticed Vicki listened to it all again.  Still it netted DNA samples from Cooper and the right to search his home and office.  This time, the FBI went with Temple and McGregor.  There were more computer files seized by the FBI as the detectives looked on.  Cooper was enraged, but there was nothing he could do about it.  Things were starting to cave in around him.

The weekend was quiet, given over to the Lab to make DNA comparisons.  Another accounting specialist took over the analysis where Ella had left off on the files of off shore monies.  Ella and Ricky spent much of the weekend on Mannion's boat.  He decided to take it out on the Chesapeake Bay for Saturday.  He said something about fresh air helping him to think.  What he actually did was take Ricky into the Pilot House and show him all the buttons, knobs, and dials.  The boy sat spellbound on one knee as Mannion piloted the boat down the river and into the Bay.  Ella sat out on a deck chair and enjoyed the smell of salt air and listened to the harbor noises.  It was a delightful Indian Summer day.  As the day wore on and the "men" were doing manly things, she fixed lunch.  Since Sherry had never shown a love of the boat or spent much time on it, Ella was amazed that this man had real pots and pans to go with real food.  Most of the bachelors she'd known had only frozen food and a microwave.  Jack may not cook, but he had the right tools to do so if he chose to.  Around one in the afternoon, she announced lunch was ready.  Ricky was starved or so he said.  Mannion pulled the tugboat closer to shore – well out of the shipping lanes, set the anchor, and joined them for a quick bite.  Before they headed back, he spent time on deck with Ella as Ricky played computer games in the main salon.  They decided that for now, they would live on the boat after they were married.  There was plenty of room with two staterooms and the baths to go with them.  Ella thought that her apartment was the size of the boat plus half again.  And she was not all that fond of the neighborhood.  Ricky would switch schools, probably to a much better one at that.  If they wanted an apartment, they could get one at some later date.  She could live on the boat just fine.  That pleased Jack.

It was ten at night before they pulled back into the Marina, and Ricky had fallen asleep on the way back.  Ella tucked him in bed in the guest room.  Mannion suggested that he could sleep fine on the couch in the salon, if he were allowed to brush his teeth first.  Ella was given the Master's Stateroom for the night.  Jack put out a clean tee shirt and shorts for her to wear after he brushed his teeth.  When she awakened Sunday morning, she found Ricky tucked in next to Jack on the couch.  Cujo lay on top of the pile.

"When did he crawl in?" she asked Jack as she kissed his forehead affectionately.

"Oh about two o'clock, I think," he groggily replied, as he hunted for another kiss.

Cujo hopped down and began to look for his ticket outside.  He began to circle and softly whine.  Ella looked at the dog, "You want me to take him out?"  Ella had wrapped herself up in the oversized terry robe she found on the back of the bedroom door.

Mannion gently stretched out his frame, "Sure, why not?  That is, if you don't mind."

"Nope, you want to get Ricky ready for church?" Ella mentioned, then smiled, "Divide and conquer!  Better get used to it."

Mannion laughed and nodded.  He yawned once more then awakened the child, cautioning him to be careful what he stepped on as he exited the make shift bed.  Ella and Cujo went for a short walk.  Mannion prepared to send Ricky to shower up for church.

"Today, I'm taking you to my church," he began.  "You're going to find it very different from what you're used to.  To start with it's called 'Mass.'  And the minister is called 'Father.'  And he wears very different clothes from what you're used to seeing.  And the people don't talk back quite like they do at your church.  But you just follow my lead, and you'll catch on after a while.  Now, the people do have a speaking part, it's just not the same as what you've seen before.  You okay with that?"

The youngster nodded and ran off to the shower.  Mannion jumped in the shower in his stateroom.  Ten minutes later, Mannion was in the process of shaving when Ricky knocked on the door.

"Just a minute, Ella," he called out.

Ricky giggled.  Mannion opened the door and found the ten-year-old dressed and ready, "Can I watch?"

Mannion's face was lathered up with shaving cream.

"Sure," he said as he lifted the boy up onto the side of the basin.

He took shaving cream and put on the child's face, "My Dad used to do this with me and my brother," he smiled.

Ricky laughed, "It feels all tingly."

"It's supposed to.  It's menthol.  Smell it?"

"Uh huh," the child grinned back.  "Yuck, it tastes bad!" he exclaimed.

"Hey, hey, you're not supposed to eat it, Little Buddy.  It's not whipped cream," Mannion said as he wiped the shaving cream away from Ricky's lips.

Mannion used an old fashioned straight razor.  Turning the blade backwards and away from Ricky, he moved the blunt edge along the child's face like he was getting a shave.  Then he took a warm, wet towel and wrapped Ricky's face up in it as he wiped the remnants of cream from his own.  Then he took his aftershave and put it on both faces that looked at him in the mirror.

"All done," he announced to the delight of the child who reached up and gave him an enormous bear hug.

Mannion lifted Ricky down.  He slipped into the trousers he had laid across the foot of the bed, which Ella had made it up before she went looking for her men.  Mannion selected a shirt and let Ricky pick out the tie and vest before they went out into the salon together.  Ricky was fascinated to watch him.

"Well, let's see what your Mom has fixed for breakfast," he commented.  "Guess it's cereal, because I don't smell bacon and eggs, do you?"

"Nope," Ricky darted into the Galley.  He came back out, "Hey, Mom's not here."

Mannion had started to look through the morning paper.  His heart stopped cold.

"She's got to be here somewhere.  Maybe she's playing hide and seek with us," he suggested.  There was no hint of playfulness in his voice.  "You knock on the door to the guest head.  See if she's gone to the bathroom while we were shaving."

Ricky complied, but Ella was not there or in the guest bedroom either.  The child looked under furniture as if he were playing hide and seek.  No Ella.

Mannion told Ricky to stay put, he'd go up to the Marina's Clubhouse and see if she was up there, locked out.  Maybe she left the keys behind, he wondered.  He looked at the key rack near the door.  Sure enough, there were the extra keys still there right beside the envelope with the tickets for the show this afternoon.  Mannion locked the child inside, lest he lose him, too.  He ran up to the Clubhouse to look for his missing fiancée.  The manager on duty had seen her walking the dog up towards the parking lot but that was maybe half an hour ago.  Mannion wanted to know if he'd seen her head back to the boat.  The manager shook his head; he'd been distracted shortly thereafter by a call for port services.  Both cars were still there.  Mannion's panic level began to rise to unbearable levels.  He called for Ella and went through the cars in the lot.  He crossed the street to see if she'd gone in one of the half dozen coffee shops that lined the street.  Nothing.  He reached for his cell phone only to discover it was in the coat pocket, and he was in his shirtsleeves.  He raced back to the boat.

Ricky was playing computer games again.  Mannion took a deep breath and leaned into the bulkhead with relief.  At least he'd not lost his kid.  He pulled out the cell phone and called from the bedroom.  He didn't want to cause Ricky to panic, too.  One scared-out-of-your-wits individual was enough.  He directed Temple and McGregor to scour the parking lot, shops up and down the street and find her.  He'd be here on the boat making sure that, for now at least, Ricky did not know his Mom had gone missing.  Ricky was so absorbed with the game; he lost all track of time.  So when the detectives came with their report of no Ella a little after noon, Ricky was unaware of the time that had passed magically for him.  They gave Mannion the news that confirmed his greatest fear.  He took Ricky aside, turned off the game, and told him that his Mom was missing but that they were looking really hard for her.  Mannion told the boy that as long as his Mom was missing, he'd be staying with him.  Ricky climbed up into Mannion's lap and cried his eyes out.  All the big man could do was hold onto the child for dear life.

The rest of Sunday was spent back at the office.  Nolan was called, as was Nick.  Vicki got wind of Ella's absence since she'd been with Nick and slipped by.  Nancy showed up to lend her support, or at least watch over Ricky while the "big people" worked to find his Mom.  There was no call asking for ransom.  There was no call with any threats.  There were no calls from ERs anywhere in the city.  Even the morgue was quiet.  By nine that night, Ricky was crashed out in a back corner, rolled up in some blankets.

It was around ten Sunday night when Nolan finally told Mannion, "Look, Chief, I know this is hard, but you need to get that child to bed.  You don't have to sleep if you don't feel like it, but you have a responsibility to Ricky and to Ella to take care of the boy.  Now go home, Jack!"

Mannion looked at Joe then at Ricky's small form curled up in the back corner, "You're right, Joe.  I owe him.  Who's going to be here?  We'll leave my home phone tied into the switch board so if someone calls…"

Joe got up and encouraged Mannion to go home with the child, "You take Ricky home.  I'll stay.  If anyone calls, we'll put an automatic trace on it, on your cell phone, on your car phone.  We've got it covered."

Mannion bent down and lifted the child into his arms.  Ricky murmured but remained asleep.  He put the child into the back seat and carefully belted him in for the drive to the boat.  His thoughts tormented him on the drive to the Marina.  He had one dead Congresswoman and one missing fiancée, which was probably tied into the dead Congresswoman.  It was the only thing that made any sense.  Who would snatch an older woman, walking a dog on the Marina grounds – dressed in a tee shirt, shorts, and a bathrobe no less?  If it had been some routine goon, Ella and Cujo, or God forbid her body, would have shown up by now.  Someone knew that Ella was the computer expert and was going to supply the answers to how the Congresswoman got dead.  The answers must be in the computer files!  He picked up the car phone and relayed his ideas to Joe then to Danny.  Come first thing, Monday, they would have a face-to-face, screaming session if need be, with Agent Curry and her gang.  He was going to get Ella back, in one piece, and he really did not care what that was going to take to make it happen.  He'd burn all the bridges in the District to get Ella back if he had to.  Joe called Nick and warned him that Jack Mannion was on the warpath and things were going to get ugly between the Department and the Bureau come Monday morning!

Even though Monday was a school day, Mannion took Ricky to work with him.  He was reticent to let the child out of his sight.  Nancy convinced him that she could keep an eye on the Chief's phone and the boy.  He was not much trouble, she assured her boss.  Nancy also told the Chief that at the end of the day, she and Ricky would go over to his school and get his assignments for the week.  Ella would be none too happy if the child missed schoolwork.  Ricky liked Nancy even if she did suggest a visit to the school.  For most of the day though, he played a handheld game his Mom had gotten him last Christmas.  Mannion had stopped by her apartment just to make sure she'd not gone home and to pick up whatever Ricky was going to need for his stay with Jack.  Jack also left Ella a note, stating what had happened and that should she get home, to please let him know where she was!  Ricky signed it, too, putting multiple X's and O's alongside his signature.  He was just learning how to write cursive and was very proud of it.  Mannion gave him a big pat on the back.

The call came in at precisely nine-fourteen.

"I've got your computer expert and her dog," the computer generated voice said.  "I guess by now, you know she's been gone exactly twenty-four hours.  Anybody call her in as a missing person yet?"

Mannion was about to go through the phone line after him or her when Joe spoke up, "Yes, we were aware for much of that twenty-four hours.  What do you want?"

"Who are you?" the voice wanted to know.  "Where is the big man, Mannion?"

"He's indisposed right now," Joe's calm voice responded.

The line went dead.  Mannion was stunned.

"Get him back!" he hollered at the phone.

"Easy, Jack, easy.  Let's see what we got from the trace," Joe spoke softly.  He picked up the line and asked the technician, "What did you get?  Do you have a location on that last phone call?"  He paused, "Uh-huh, uh-huh.  Okay.  Send the tape to the Lab for analysis of background sounds.  And break out the real voice behind the computer generated one."  Then he turned to Mannion, "Okay, here is what they've got right now.  The call was placed from a phone booth on the other side of town.  They've sent a prowl car out and will be sending Forensics to dust the booth.  It's doubtful they'll get anything, but it's worth a try.  So for now, we wait."

Mannion sank into the chair.  After sitting silently for a few minutes, "Well at least we know someone snatched her and why."  A few more minutes passed, "Maybe they don't know how she and I are related, or at least that does not seem to have factored into their plans.  I want that FBI woman over here now.  I want to know what she knows, before I have to beat it out of her!  There is more to this dead Congresswoman York that meets the eye."

"I have to agree with you," Joe said empathetically.  He turned to Nick, "Nick, you get your friend Curry over here, or I will let the Chief beat it out of her."

Nick left to call from his office.  Vicki caught him on his way.  "Have they found Ella yet?"


"Any leads?"

Nick stopped in his tracks, "Are you asking as a friend or as a reporter?"



Vicki was dumbfounded and frozen in her place as Nick entered his office and shut the door.  He picked up the phone and called Special Agent Grace Curry.

"Grace, Nick Pierce, here.  Say, we really need you to get down here to our office right away…  Uh-huh, uh-huh…  Look, here's the short of it.  Somebody has snatched our computer expert, Ella Farmer.  We're real sure it's related to the Helen York murder.  We were in the process of breaking the computer files, and you stepped in and took them.  We need to know what was in there, if we're to stand a chance of getting Ella back alive.  I don't think I need to tell you what Jack Mannion will do if anything were to happen to her…  Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.  Okay, thanks.  See you soonest."

Nick opened the door and headed back to Mannion's office where he and Joe were standing watch over the phone.  Vicki tried to ask him more about the case.  He ignored her then finally turned, "Look, Vicki, I really, really like you.  But you need to know where my loyalties lie right now.  Jack Mannion is my best friend in the whole world, and he's really hurting.  And I think of Ella as a really good friend, too.  So, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't ask me any more questions about this case outside the regular briefings that I give to the Press, okay?"

"Okay.  But you need to know something too.  I like both Jack and Ella.  I have plans to be at their weddings with you.  And I'm praying that the wedding takes place on schedule.  So, as a friend, I'm going to be here until they get her back.  Okay?" Vicki went on the offensive.

Nick looked at her and agreed.  He pointed her back over to where she'd been sitting, just outside Mannion's office.  Ricky came up and sat next to her.  She reached over and hugged him.  He invited her to play the Play Commander III, too.  Vicki smiled and asked the rules of the game.

Ella was being held in a dark room in some kind of warehouse.  There was a little bit of light coming through cracks in a boarded up window.  The window was too high for her to see out.  She could hear large trucks come and go.  Occasionally, she thought she could hear the sounds she'd associate with a port as well.  She thought she could hear the large ships' whistles in the distance.  Cujo sat on the bed looking at her.  She reached over and scratched his head.  She was scared, and her head still hurt.  The men who grabbed her threw something over her head like a gunnysack, then knocked her unconscious and stuffed her and Cujo in the trunk of their car.  She never saw it coming.  She couldn't even remember what they looked like.  Ella lifted the little dog into her arms and cried.  She was grateful for his presence with her.  She curled up on the bed and waited for any opportunity that might present itself.  She knew Jack would tear this city apart looking for her.  She thought that something to eat would be nice.  The door opened just a little bit, and a brown military MRE was thrown in.  She shared her meal with Cujo and waited.

Agent Curry strolled in as if she were the rightful owner.  She spoke to Nancy, "Is he in?"

She looked up and with a little edge in her voice told Curry, "Oh, he's been waiting for you."

Curry opened the door as Nancy was announcing her arrival.  She put out her hand to shake, "Chief Mannion."

He stood up and shook her hand.  Mannion moved the conversation to the conference table in the office.  Joe called for either Temple or Danny.  Danny responded, bringing Nick with him as well.  Once assembled, Curry began her usual bit about it being against Bureau policy to disclose information that was not needed, when McGregor broke in.

"Look, let's save ourselves a whole lot of time and trouble and cut to the chase.  We know that some large sums of money are being bandied about in off shore accounts.  We think that Ella Farmer was kidnapped because she was on to something with that money before they snatched her.  And we're pretty sure it's all tied into the ongoing murder investigation.  Ella had traced some of the money back to Congresswoman York.  We also have some names that may sound pretty familiar to you.  Let's try Steve Cooper for starters.  Then we can move to Orb Ventures dot com.  Ella was tracking down the corporate ladder when she disappeared Sunday morning.  Sound familiar, Agent Curry?"

Curry sat there a moment and considered her options.  Then she reached into a briefcase for a thick file folder.  "Steve Cooper is a multi-talented man," she began.  "He's got a law degree and works out of a very profitable law firm.  He helped to swing a sweetheart deal to bring several of the dot coms to the District.  He's been bringing them in over the last few years.  The sweetheart part was tax-free status for both corporation and employees.  He worked heavily with the now deceased Congressman Reese and the now equally deceased Congresswoman York who stepped right into Reese's shoes."

Mannion interjected, "Okay, so tell us something we don't already know.  Who belongs to the money, and how is it tied first to the murder and now to the kidnapping?"

With that, the phone rang; Mannion grabbed it this time, "Mannion."

The computer-generated voice replied, "So you are no longer indisposed?"

"That's right," he kept his cool.  "What do you want?"

"I want to get out of the country," the voice replied.

"And I want to know that the woman you kidnapped is unharmed," he flatly replied.

"Maybe later," with that the circuit went dead.

Mannion ground his teeth.  He ordered the procedure from earlier in the day be repeated.  The trace located another phone booth in a different section of town.  He relayed to those around the table what the kidnapper wanted.  So far, the Lab had analyzed the background noises of the first call; it only betrayed the sound of a car close by.  It sounded like a Chrysler, an old model, maybe fifteen years old.

Curry spoke up, "That fits, if it's Cooper or Harriman, who is one of the heads of Orb Ventures, they would want out of the country.  They could live well forever on those off shore accounts.  And Cooper owns a classic Chrysler New Yorker, too.  Now we are not really sure if Harriman is the CEO or just the artificial head of the company.  These guys are money launderers – big time – for anyone who has the cash to come to the table.  Cooper is the go between and runs his own cash through Orb Ventures to several off shore accounts.  The disks that Ella had and that we collected from Cooper are netting us a gold mine of information on the accounts.  What we're missing is the master list of, shall we say, subscribers.  All we've got is transfer records and account numbers."

Nolan spoke up, "So Harriman and Cooper are indeed two different people?  We had wondered about that.  We had one signature card for Cooper under Harriman's name.  Ella had tracked some of the accounts to Helen York.  That is before you took the files away."

"No doubt," Curry continued.  "And that may be why she got grabbed.  We have had surveillance on Cooper and Harriman for some time now.  We watched York and Cooper meet in a run down hotel.  Harriman was also known to frequent the place…"

"We know the place," Danny responded.  "We collected all kinds of nice DNA evidence to tie Cooper and York to the room and probably to the murder.  You wouldn't have anything we can tie Harriman to do you?  Like a photo maybe?  The manager indicated that Cooper signed in as Harriman when he came in."

"We can probably come up with something in time," Curry commented.  "We had both of these guys on a short leash until yesterday.  Somehow they gave our agents the slip.  Nobody shadowed them all that closely, after all they aren't professional spies or anything…"

"Well that's where you blew it," Mannion boomed.

"Look Chief, we didn't want to spook them.  We wanted them to lead us to who the real mastermind of it was.  Harriman just doesn't fit the profile," Curry retorted.  "Neither he nor Cooper are that clever.  We think that maybe York found out who the real brains behind the money-laundering scheme was.  We think that is why she was killed."

"Forget the profile.  One of these guys has already killed, or had killed a member or Congress.  They are off their sheet of music and trying to flail around for some solution.  That makes them even more dangerous," Mannion shot back.  "I'd rather deal with professionals than bad amateurs!  Pros are less dangerous and more predictable."

"Oh I agree, but amateurs is what we've got," Curry responded.

"Violent amateurs," Nick broke in.  "Grace, they really beat the hell out of Helen before they shoved her into a stolen car then into the Potomac."

"I know.  I read the autopsy report on York," she acknowledged.  "But we don't think that Harriman or Cooper actually got their hands dirty.  They've been using a couple of punks as muscle.  They were likely the ones who stole the car and probably pushed it off into the river."

"You knew that and didn't tell us?" Nolan was incredulous.

"Just came to light, Deputy Chief," Curry replied.  "Look," she pulled out mug shots from another folder, "We think these are the hands-on guys."  She pointed to one, "This is Devonne Johnson, and this is Darnel Booth.  They are all muscle, no brains.  We think Cooper recruited him out of the other side of his law firm.  They've done federal time for bank robbery, assault on a federal officer, and drug trafficking."

"Nice guys," Danny said absent-mindedly.

"Until two months ago, they were both in the federal pen in Maryland," Curry continued.  "Their parole officer says they dropped off the radar two weeks ago, shortly after they saw a pro bono attorney out of the same firm as Cooper.  We spotted them last week with Cooper, spending cash like there was no tomorrow."

"What did they buy?" Mannion wanted to know.

"The short list includes camping supplies, gas cans, scheduled drugs on the black market, including Valium.  We thought that was strange, as their drugs of choice tended toward steroids, powder cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth," Curry ran down the list.

"Well those drugs will give you a bad attitude all on their own!" Nick exclaimed.

"Camping supplies?" Danny wondered.  "What kind of camping supplies?  Gas cans?"

"Don't know; we only saw them go into the camping goods store and come out with packages.  The store manager refused to be specific," Curry went on.

"Valium could be used to subdue a kidnapping victim without really harming her," Mannion threw out.  "Sounds like Cooper and Harriman have some kind of plan… unless the drugs are for them."

"We don't know of any illicit drug use on the parts of Cooper or Harriman; however, we won't rule it out either," Curry replied.  "But I suspect that they are going to want to do something quickly with Ella and get out of the country before any more dead bodies start showing up.  Unlike their hired hands, neither has a history of violence."

"What about Helen?" Nick reminded them.

"That's the weird part.  Have you figured out where York was killed yet?" Curry asked.

McGregor spoke, "We think she was beat up pretty bad, nearly dead, in the cheap motel that you already know about.  Then she was shoved in a stolen car and run into the river.  We're pretty sure she died on Friday; at least that is where the evidence is pointing right now.  People saw her at the motel on Friday around noontime.  Nobody saw her leave, though."

Curry mulled it over, "It fits with when we last saw Cooper.  We intercepted a call to Harriman in which he sounded pretty unnerved.  That came in around three o'clock.  That gives the goon squad time to steal the car and get things ready to get rid of the body later that night."

"What we don't have is anything that says she was in the car before she was rolled into the river, though.  That would kind of mean that somebody stuck her body in the back of his car for a while first," Danny added.

Mannion began to try and pull together what they had, "Okay, let's say York says or does something that really sets Cooper off or Harriman.  Since we don't know Harriman's whereabouts and since your guys lost him, he's a suspect now, too.  One of them beats up York, and now they think they have to get rid of a dead body.  They call out Johnson and Booth who steal a car late in the afternoon.  They meet at a secluded spot on the river and stick York in the car and roll her off into the Potomac and hope never to see her again."

"That fits the evidence we've accumulated.  But why snatch Ella?" Nolan wondered.

"Could be her relationship to the Chief or that she knew about their crime in progress; it's a lot of money they were shuffling back and forth," Curry offered.  "Could be that she was an easy target and might draw the heat off the investigation.  We won't know for sure until we catch these guys."

"What does Orb Ventures own in town or nearby?" Mannion wanted to know.  "It stands to reason that they won't use the motel again.  They will have to hold Ella somewhere, we just have to find out where."

"I'll run that down, sir," Danny said.

"Go," Mannion ordered.  "Agent Curry, you will keep us informed as you break down the files, right?"

"Yes, Chief, this time we'll work together.  I want to get Ella back, too.  And kidnapping is one of the Bureau's specialties," Curry shook hands around the table as she left.

Mannion looked at Nolan after Curry was clear of the door, "Joe, I want her followed."

Nolan nodded in agreement, "I'm on it."

Nick picked up Vicki who had just been beaten for the second time at Play Commander.

She smiled, "So anything new?  We going to lunch now?"

"Yeah, lunch," he said.

"Look Nick, I saw who went in and out just now.  I know that Grace Curry is one of the FBI's top agents when it comes to money laundering cases.  I've got contacts, let me help, please!" Vicki pled with Nick.

"What kind of contacts do you have that the FBI and the Department don't?" Nick wanted to know.

"Just trust me on this, okay?" Vicki told him.  "When we get done with lunch, drop me off at the magazine.  I'll get back to you with what I find out, okay."

"Okay, I only hope this works," Nick worried out loud.  "Because if it doesn't I'm going to lose a couple of really good friends."

Vicki got dropped off at work after a quick lunch.  She scurried into her office and picked up the phone.  She dialed one number that went unanswered.  She went to the second then the third.  Finally, she got an answer.

"Yeah, it's me," she said to the other party.  "I need to know what you know about Helen York and Steve Cooper in the context of money laundering.  I need to know it yesterday!"

She listened for a moment, "That's right, Cooper the lawyer."

She scribbled some more on the tablet in the middle of her desk.  "Okay, uh huh, got it.  No, of course, we never had this conversation."

Her next call was to Nick.

"Look, Nick, my source tells me that York was starting to investigate some high profile politician or governmental type.  The source is not sure which.  But it had to do with said individual being the brains behind a major league money-laundering scheme.  Cooper is a front man as is some other guy named Stanton.  The source thinks that York wanted in on the action.  She was using their services but wanted more.  If she didn't get it, then it was investigation time!  How'd I do?" Vicki wanted to know.

"Great, I'll pass this on to the Chief," Nick was excited.

He sailed into Mannion's office with what Vicki had just brought to the table.  He gave her credit for it, "Look Jack, she already knew that Curry is the Bureau's expert in this kind of thing.  She knew Cooper when Danny pulled him in.  And she even came up with Stanton, aka Stanton Harriman's name.  You can't be mad at her, now can you?"

"Okay, fine, when we nail these guys, you can give her the first and private briefing," Mannion replied.

He went to the door and called for Danny, "Buildings, we need buildings…  You want to kick some doors in?  We need buildings!"

"We're about done with the search, sir.  We've got Orb Ventures with five large buildings in two warehouse districts in the city.  That's in addition to some proper office space they leased when they came to the city under the deal Reese arranged," Danny told his boss.

"Good, let's get the buildings fed into the COMSTAT system and figure out which one to hit first."

"Yes sir."

In thirty minutes the COMSTAT was ready.  Mannion began with the district commanders present in addition to Temple, Danny, Nick, and his Deputy.  He asked the district commanders if they knew anything about the buildings that were in their districts.  One mentioned that it was in one of the more run down areas of town…little real commerce, just plenty of drug trafficking and fencing.  Some of those warehouses had been used for illegal operations in the past.

"Let's go with that, on that premise, fencing and drug trafficking," Mannion announced.

He turned to Joe, "I don't want to tip our hand if Vicki's source is right about someone in government being in on this.  We don't know who or where he or she is."

"Agreed," Nolan replied as they left the briefing room.

Mannion had the search warrant on his desk within the hour.  Nolan was left at the Headquarters with Nick.  McGregor, Page, and Mannion were in one car right behind the raiding team.  SWAT would meet them there.  Mannion was leaving nothing to chance.  There were half a dozen marked patrol cars surrounding the buildings when they pulled up.  Three SWAT officers were already inside.  One had signaled activity by tapping his microphone six times.  He repeated the cycle twice.  That narrowed the building search to the smallest of the three in this block that were identified as belonging to Orb Ventures.  Before searching the suspect building, the other two buildings were searched and secured.  Mannion wanted to eliminate any surprises.  It also gave Curry and her troops time to show up for the party.  He then deployed all six SWAT officers into the suspect building before announcing their presence over a bullhorn.  Two of the SWAT team clicked on microphones to indicate there was now activity.  That was a split second before Johnson and Booth opened fire on the officers gathered outside the building.  That sent Police and FBI scurrying for cover as they began to return fire in the general direction of the shots.

With the bullhorn, Mannion ordered, "Cease fire, cease fire!"

Then across the radio, "We've got potential hostages and our own officers in there.  Do not fire unless you know what you're shooting at!"

Mannion ordered again, "This is the Metropolitan Police, Johnson, Booth, Cooper, Harriman, throw out your weapons and come out with your hands up!"

Johnson and Booth returned fire again.  One SWAT officer drew a clean line of fire on Booth and took him out before moving from his own position.  Mannion heard shots being exchanged inside the building now.  Johnson opened up on that officer before being shot by his teammate.

Cooper and Harriman panicked and grabbed Ella and headed for the door.  Cujo ran out of the building ahead of them.  He ran straight for the Chief.

"Not now, boy!" Mannion said as the dog danced around him.

Cooper held Ella in front of himself and Harriman tucked in close behind.  He had a Glock held to her head for emphasis.  The FBI sniper on the roof behind them could not get a clean shot at either without endangering Ella.

"Let her go," cautioned Mannion.  "You've already got enough trouble for one day; don't add to it."

"We didn't kill York.  It was Booth.  He beat her up."

"Okay, let's talk about it.  But you're going to have to let her go first…" Mannion continued in a strong voice.

"We can cut you a deal," Curry added.  "I'm Agent Curry with the FBI.  We know about the off shore accounts, insider trading, and money laundering.  What we want to know is who you work for!"

"No way!" Cooper waved the gun around.  "We're leaving here, and you're going to help us unless you want this woman's death on your conscience."

At that moment the FBI sniper opened up on Harriman who had moved just enough to the left of Ella for him to get a clear shot.  Harriman dropped like a stone.

"No!" Curry and Mannion screamed in concert.

Cooper wheeled around and was dropped in like manner.  Ella was pulled to the ground by his weight and grasp on her.  In a flash, Mannion was across the line and to Ella.  Curry and Danny would be left to mop up the scene.

Ella was a basket case of tears and tremors.  Cujo ran up and licked them both before he trotted back into the warehouse.  The SWAT officer reported later that the little dog found Booth's body and lifted his leg on it before returning to Mannion.  Temple took the dog back to the office with him.  Mannion rode with Ella in the back of the ambulance.  He held her and rocked her gently back and forth, trying his best to calm her down with reassurance.

They arrived at the ER in fifteen minutes.  Ella was still crying and incoherent.  A large male nurse met the ambulance.

"Sorry sir, you have to stay out here," he ordered Mannion.

"But I'm the Chief of Police," he responded.

"And I don't care if you're the President of the United States, you are going to have to stay out here.  Or you can go to the Chapel.  The doctor will find you when he's done," the nurse said as he folded his arms across his chest.

Mannion took a deep breath and let go of Ella's hand after telling her, "I'll be in the Chapel."

He went down to the edge of the steps up to the altar and fell in front of it.  He was crying.  He wasn't sure if they were tears of joy at having Ella back or leftover fear that he'd been holding in for what had seemed an eternity.  He just thanked God for letting her live.  He reminded God that he knew God did not bargain with men, but that just in case He would make an exception, he promised that he's be a better husband this time out.  Mannion was just so grateful that God had spared her life and given her back to him.

Nolan found his Chief spread out on the altar stairs thirty minutes later.  He sat down quietly in the front pew.  McGregor and Page were just starting the reams of paperwork.  Nick was giving Vicki the first take and then in an hour would give a press briefing for the rest of the hoards that were now circling the Police Department Headquarters.  It would be a joint briefing with Nick and Curry.  There were four dead and more questions than either agency had answers for.  The toxicology screens would eventually show where some of the drugs had gone.  Cooper's classic Chrysler revealed that York's body had been transported in the truck.  A bloody sheet she'd been wrapped in was inside the trunk along with hair and other evidence from the victim.  The camping gear was recovered.  They had fed Ella and Cujo military meals out of a plastic bag.  There were still drugs unaccounted for, though it looked like Johnson and Booth were getting ready to go back into business.

However, the biggest questions of all were who did kill Congresswoman Helen York and who was really behind Orb Ventures?  With Cooper and Harriman dead, they might never know.  Curry would do the Monday morning quarterbacking on the sniper's actions.  She was sticking with the money-laundering dead end, too, insofar as she could.  The US Attorney's Office, headed by Logan, took all the computer files away from Curry's team and started his own investigation.  McGregor would attribute the killing to Booth and close the case, officially anyway.  Maybe when Ella got back, she'd come up with more off the computer files they still had.

Dr. Clark found Mannion and invited him to come back to the ER where Ella was.  She had a concussion from the blow to the head.  Other than that, she was not injured physically.  At present, she had been sedated.  Mannion could sit with her until they moved her up to a room at least for overnight observation.  When Mannion saw Nolan sitting there in the Chapel with him, he reached out and hugged his Deputy and thanked him.  He then followed Dr. Clark to where Ella was asleep.  Mannion leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, then sat down on a stool by her gurney and held her hand.  An hour later, the paperwork was complete and the orderly took the sleeping Ella upstairs to a room.  Mannion was right there.

At eight that evening, Temple, Nancy, and Ricky came up.  An exhausted Mannion had fallen asleep, his head next to Ella's left hand.  Ricky awakened him.  Once Ricky was secure in the knowledge that his Mom was okay, he left with Mannion.  Mannion did not want to leave Ella alone, fearing that she awakened in the middle of the night with no one there to comfort her.  So, Nancy relieved her Chief and sat with Ella through the night.

The sun peeked in through the blinds across the window in Ella's room announcing that Tuesday was here.  Nancy had dozed in the chair off and on for several hours.  She got up and took a big stretch and yawned lazily.  She peeked out through the blinds that were drawn shut.  The nursing staff had been in and out like clock work throughout the night shift.  The morning staff was making rounds with the off going.  Two nurses popped in and greeted Nancy who smiled back at them.  Ella had slept through the night.  At times, she seemed to be having nightmares, but then she'd return to calm sleep.  Nancy rinsed her face off in the washbasin as the nurses passed notes about their patient.  It was not long after they left that Mannion arrived, bundle of flowers in his hands.  He had felt secure enough in sending Ricky to school, over the child's vociferous protests.

"How is she?" he whispered to Nancy.

"She's got a monster headache," Ella replied, peeking out of one eye.

Mannion handed the flowers to Nancy to hang on to for the moment.  Nancy was grinning widely as she watched Mannion slip carefully onto the edge of the bed.  He held Ella in his arms and kissed her face.  She finally nestled her face in his coat.

"Do you remember anything?" he whispered softly in her ear.

"Not much.  I remember walking Cujo…  Wait, Cujo, where is he?" Ella sat up straight in the bed with a moan.

"He's fine.  He's back on the boat," Mannion reassured her.

Ella relaxed back and stroked his face tenderly.  "I had some awful nightmares last night.  And my head still hurts – inside and out.  But I think I'm okay."

"Good.  Because, Miss Ella, we're not putting this off another minute," Mannion began.  He pulled the covers back and slipped the foam shoes over Ella's feet.  "You're coming with me," he announced.  "You, too, Nancy."

Ella slid into the wheel chair that had been folded along the wall.  Mannion threw his coat over her and took her back downstairs.  He wheeled her into the Chapel.  Mayor Baker and his wife, Karen, as well as Ella's Pastor were there.

"We're eloping today…  And, Saturday, we'll do it all over again if you're out of here.  But when you leave here you're leaving with me!" Mannion commanded.

"You do have a way of getting your way, don't you, Jack?" Ella smiled.

"Don't I usually?  Pastor, if you'd be so good…" Mannion said with an easy grin.