Chapter 1

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Against every instinct, he held himself still. Held his breath and stretched his senses in to the darkness. Nothing. He strained to hear more of what he thought had alerted him. Nothing. It was nothing. Nothing but a slight stirring of air. Nothing but a flash of movement. He tried to turn. An arm raised to protect himself but the blow was fast and hard. A flash of pain and bright light. And then....nothing.

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God! This had to be the worst coffee ever. Martin swirled the dregs and wondered at the many times he'd thought the same thing, only to be surprised by the next occasion, when another foul brew surpassed the last.

Martin sighed and leaned back against the step where he sat. All around, the activity of city life swirled too. The incessant New York buzz.

Come on Danny. Really...how long can it take?

He shuffled again. At least the weather was warm. Fall had certainly fallen but despite the tang in the air, the sun still held some warmth and it wasn't unpleasant to be sitting outside. Except for the fact he'd been on this job for three hours already and was getting precisely nowhere.

Of course, it could be something to do with his Spanish. Martin Fitzgerald secretly prided himself on his efforts and his improvements but his linguistic talents had been harshly tested this morning and found severely lacking. It's hard to get information from people who claim not to understand.

Oh Yeah! You seemed to understand right up to the point I said FBI – then the shutters came down and no way were you going to help, right?

God Danny! Where've you got to?

Raised voices drew his attention. Voices above the general murmur of the street. Taunting. Teasing. Laughing. A woman's voice called and a man's responded.

Martin caught snippets. Flirting. Definitely flirting.

A second female voice joined in. More laughter. Rapid fire Spanish fun, shouted downstairs and out of a window as the banter continued.

Martin watched and could not help the smile as he recognised the tall lean figure of Danny Taylor, backing down the steps of the tenement directly across the road.

Arms held wide, gesturing, he was calling back to a face in the doorway of the first floor appartment. A middle aged Latino woman was clearly enjoying the exchange, indicating and pointing at a younger woman who hung out of another sash window overlooking the street. She was twirling her fingers through her long dark hair, her eyes flashing with feigned shock and a little unspoken invitation. Even Martin's Spanish stretched to an understanding of the meaning.

As the laughter echoed, Danny turned away from his audience and headed towards his friend, dodging a passing cab and flopping down onto the step next to him with a huge grin on his face.

"So, you gonna marry her sister and make an honest woman of her then?"

Danny laughed.

"Man! I'd be marrying into a whole lot of trouble there bro! But hey! I could set you up if you want..."

His laugh was infectious and Martin's mood lifted a little.

"No way, but thanks for your concern for my love life! Don't suppose you found time in there to ask any questions...You know...find any witnesses, that kind of thing?"

Danny smiled knowingly at his partner. Infuriatingly actually.

"You know what? You take this job too seriously sometimes." Still grinning, he nodded in a sympathetic manner. "Do I take it you got nothing?" He raised his eyebrows. "Wait...have a little trouble with the local lingo did ya?"

"Huh! You got the advantage here man – this is your home turf."

Danny laughed again at that.

"Nah! It's just my natural charm, good looks and insightful interrogation techniques."

He shrugged as he took in Martin's somewhat dejected demeanour.

"Actually, I got nothing either, " he admitted, but somehow he seem less bothered by it. Danny had obviously found alternative ways to enjoy his job today.

Martin had always marvelled at his partner's easy way with people, how he could change the feeling of a group with his up-beat presence . People warmed to his charm and openness. Martin's own upbringing left him, he knew, a little wary. A little buttoned up. He knew because Danny was always quick to tell him - in fact to goad and tease him about it. He was consciously trying to work on it but it didn't come naturally.

Danny reached over and slapped Martin on the shoulder.

"Hey! Don't let it get you down." He gestured up the street. "We only have a couple more blocks to check!"

He nodded at the empty cup that dangled loosely in Martin's fingers.

"How 'bout I get you another cup of coffee before we set to it."

Martin was tempted to direct him to the same stall that sold him the dire espresso he'd just finished – just to watch Danny's reaction when he got one for himself and took that first god-awful sip. It might just wash some of that cheery smugness away.

The pair did not actually have much to be smug about. They were canvassing for witnesses who may have seen something, anything, relating to the disappearance of a young woman from the street two nights before. It was still uncertain if this was a true case but the window of opportunity was closing fast. In the Missing Person's Unit it was generally accepted that after twenty-four hours, leads run cold and the chances of a happy outcome were greatly reduced. So far they had nothing. The people around here had either seen nothing or were saying nothing.

Danny rose and, undirected, headed towards the coffee stall. Martin followed wearily and called after him.

"I really think you might as well just cover this by yourself – honestly, nobody here is going to open up to me."

Danny turned back with a look of sarcastic sympathy. "Aw, Martin. Don't take it personally!"

He laid an arm over his friend's shoulders in mock concern. "If we were looking for witnesses in some swanky tennis club out on Long Island, it'd be you getting the come-ons and I'd be handed a tray and asked get the drinks! It's each to their own, man, you know that. And bro..." Danny gestured now to the bustling streets with a wide sweep. "You just don't have the right vibes for this district."

He grinned wickedly and added, "I bet it'll only take us another couple of hours!"

Martin was about to take great pleasure in watching his partner order the anticipated sludge-come-coffee when a familiar tone halted them both. Danny pulled his phone from his pocket, checking the caller ID.

"Jack!"

Danny listened, his brow creasing slightly as he answered.

"Uh...we're only half way done here...Another couple of hours I guess...Uh...sure! You gonna let me know what it's about?....OK...Oh, Martin's gonna love this!"

He flipped the phone closed and raised his eyes to meet his friend's face. His grin was broader than ever and Martin's heart sank.

"Well partner, it's your lucky day! You get to stay out here in the fresh air, but I gotta get back to base."

Yep! Martin's day had just got worse.

"At least leave me the car!" He pleaded.

"Sorry Bro – Jack said fast!"

With a flourish, Danny quickly spun around, dropped some coins onto the kiosk counter and swung back, passing over a steaming cup.

"Here, you might need this! Don't say "Si" to anything you don't understand while I'm away! I won't be here to get you out of trouble! Enjoy!"

He raised a hand in salute and turned away with a laugh. Martin blew on his coffee-slopped fingers and gazed after him with a shake of his head before turning too, towards the task that was now his sole responsibility.

Just great!