Charlie pulled the Explorer up outside the loft. He glanced up at his old home with affection. A lot had changed in the fourteen or so years that they'd been in LA. He'd married Corky, after they'd finally admitted that their mutual attraction was too good to waste. Shortly after he'd taken the plunge, Alphonse and Lucy had married. With one child and another on the way, they'd worked on the lower part of the factory floor beneath the loft. Three months after the twins were born they'd moved in. Ice still lived in their old home, with his model wife, Sylvie. It had taken quite a while, but the couple had finally sealed their long standing relationship with something a little more permanent.
Charlie was on pick up duty, the big blue open top caddy had long been traded in, the trouble was, what it fetched didn't really stretch to three cars, so they were always juggling to cope. Ice usually checked something out of the FBI garage, but he'd been late last night and hadn't had time.
The door opened interrupting Charlie's pleasant musings and Ice stepped out, crossing to the Explorer. "Yo, man, how's things!"
"Good" Charlie raised a questioning eyebrow. "Well."
Ice cast an irritated eye at the big double doors behind him. "Better sound the horn, or we ain't gonna get goin'!"
Charlie's hand flopped down on the horn boss in the center of the steering wheel. The sound blared out. For a few minutes nothing, then the smaller door to the side of the double doors burst open and almost the entire Royo family spilled out onto the sidewalk. Charlie sighed, when he compared his quiet, well behaved two, to Alphonse's wild bunch.…….
Alphonse and Lucy had a very passionate relationship, which seemed to increase not diminish with time. Which had led very swiftly to five children. Ice contemplated his partner's unruly brood as well. The man himself was trying to remonstrate with his twenty-three year-old daughter and keep a firm grip on his youngest.
"What's wrong with these clothes?" Dylan was saying.
"Those heels are too high, and that skirt's too short. Is this an interview y' going for, or something else" Alphonse spluttered at his daughter's amused indulgent expression. Alphonse's children adored him unreservedly, but his parenting skills were a bit questionable.
"Dad, don't be so old fashioned. You don't object when Mom wears this suit." Dylan held out her hands. "Give Chillie to me."
"Don't call her that. Her name's Alicia. And what I like on your mother is a completely separate issue." Alphonse handed his fifteen month bundle of joy to his elder daughter. After four boys, he and Lucy had been over the moon to have a girl, another girl. Lucy had adopted Dylan.
In fact the entire extended family doted on her. The boys dragged her everywhere, forgot her coat on cold days, put too many clothes on her when it was hot, dropped her, hugged her too much; Dylan and Adam were always buying her presents, armfuls of stuffed toys and clothes.
In a fit of over-excitement at being presented with a daughter, Alphonse had bought a fluffy, teddy bear type white romper suit for his baby. Lucy had put it on her. Mikey, their next youngest, now five, had taken one look and announced to the assembled adults "Mr Chillie" the snowman soft toy had been his favourite at the time. Everyone, except Alphonse, had roared with laughter. And the name had stuck. Chillie she became.
Freed of his baby girl, Alphonse turned his attention to the others.
"Mikey, get in the car now. Dominic put that bag in the back." He tried to marshall the twins, Christy and Joey, into the back of the Explorer, ignoring the puzzled looks of his two partners.
Charlie glared. "'Phonse, what's goin' on here. Where's Lucy? And why are you dressed like that?"
Alphonse looked down at his crumpled swimmers and baggy long-sleeved t-shirt. "O'Connor said I could take the day, so we're going to the beach, after I drop some stuff in to the office. Lucy had to go off last night on a rush job."
"Another one." Ice looked less than impressed.
"Yeah, bond's worth $3,000. And we need the money."
Charlie and Ice accepted the truth of that. With Dylan in final year of college, the boys and Alicia to care for, the Royos worked flat out to keep their children well clothed and fed. Himself a victim of a brutal stepfather, Alphonse lavished love on all his children and nutured a fierce determination that they would have the best he and Lucy could give them, completely unaware that his partners worried that he was pushing himself too hard.
Charlie sighed and slipped back behind the wheel. He turned the key, glancing in his rearview mirror as he pulled away into the morning traffic. Alphonse had Chillie on his knee, was trying to do Mikey's seat belt up one handed, Christy and Joey were pushing each other; Dylan leaned over the back of the seat, wrapped her arms lovingly around her father's neck and kissed him on the cheek.
Charlie smiled to himself and concentrated on the traffic.
Some three hours later, Alphonse Royo was trying to juggle three swim bags, his baby daughter, answer all his sons' demands for ice cream and sweets; all the while fervently wishing that his wife was around to sort out disputes. Lucy was much better at these things.
Finally, he picked a nice spot, tried to get the boys organised, sat down and started to smother everyone with suncream.
The boys chased wildly round in circles, falling over themselves, shrieking with laughter. Alphonse fought a losing battle to keep control, then gave up. They weren't hurting themselves or anyone else. He turned his attention to Chillie dammit, I hate the name. She squirmed in his grasp, and he quickly plopped her little pink sunhat on her head. "Dada!" she patted his cheek with a chubby little hand. Alphonse smiled to himself and hugged her. Then turned his attention back to the rest of them. Christy and Joey had Mikey on the ground and were trying to bury him. Mikey was howling like some kind of wild animal in pain. DAMMIT. Alphonse sprang to his feet, put his daughter down on the rug and sprinted to his sons. Need eyes in the back of my head.
No one noticed the young woman walking along the beach.
All in my mind. A phantom pregnancy. A phantom! I can still feel my baby, right here.A hand absent-mindedly caressed her stomach.
The shouts and screams of children filled her ears. She raised her head and watched, a family out for the day, handsome well grown children, a very good-looking father. She was drawn in by their vitality, and lingered. The father had obviously been left in charge. She watched him carefully smother the beautiful plump brown baby in cream. Then shrieks from further down the beach and he leapt up, gently put the little girl down on the rug and sprinted down to two boys who were trying to bury a smaller one.
She moved closer, irresitably drawn to the little baby in the pink sunhat and ruffled bathing costume.
"Hello." the little one turned her head, and pulled herself up awkwardly. She toddled over to the pretty lady.
Alphonse picked Mikey up. "Short stuff, stop crying. Please." he hugged his five-year old gently. "Christy and Joey didn't mean it." He threw a fierce glare at his unrepentant twins.
"Awww! Dad. Mikey's such a whiner." Christy spoke for both of them. He was the talker. Joey was the planner. They were tall and tough for seven years old. And clever. Too clever.
"You play nice with y'little brother okay. Dom, next time, you keep an eye."
"Daaaaaad!" Dom managed to make the word into several syllables. "How come's it's always me that has to keep an eye."
"Cos y'the oldest and that's the oldest's job." Alphonse sighed and turned back to the rug.
He stopped short. "Where's Chillie?" Disbelieving he walked back. "Chillie. CHILLIE!" he spun round, starting to panic. No sign. "CHILLIE!"
There was another couple down the beach, terror rising in his breast, Alphonse ran to them.
"Have you seen a little girl. Pink costume and sunhat? About this big?" He indicated a baby.
The young man shook his head. "No." sensing Alphonse's terror. "Sorry."
Alphonse turned, staring frantically into the distance, the boys had split up and were wandering aimlessly in all directions, calling their baby sister. The despairing cries seared through their father. Stumbling into a run he headed up the beach, straight for the lifeguard station.
Ice and Charlie bailed out of the car, sprinting towards the forlorn little group twenty feet away. Mikey, Christy and Joey were crying, Dom was stony faced, clutching the little pink sunhat tightly in his hand.
Leaving Ice to deal with Alphonse, who was busy getting in the life guard's face, Charlie steered the distraught children to the Explorer.
Ice managed to pry Alphonse away.
"Man, O'Connor's setting up a task force now. They'll find her. Now come on, and see to the others. They're scared. They need you right now."
Alphonse seemed utterly lost. "Where's Dylan?"
"She's with Chrissy. Now come on."
Ice led Alphonse to the Explorer, pushing him into the front seat. The big man scarcely understood where he was, he looked sideways at Charlie. "I need to call Lucy, she'll know what to do!" Charlie looked at his partner strangely, then realised that the strain was taking over and that Alphonse was going to be completely useless.
Ice had managed to soothe the kids down to a whimper or two by the time they arrived at the office. Dylan shot out to greet them, hugged her father and proceeded to take the others off his hands when she figured he was too confused and distressed to deal with them.
Charlie checked back through cases, Ice tried to raise Lucy but even Chrissy wasn't sure where bounty hunters had gone. O'Connor pushed the team hard.
Alphonse was dry eyed and stony faced. Wound tighter than a drum. One of the new junior officers took that as a sign he didn't care, and said as much. Penny Carducci looked up at him from her desk.
"Alphonse is lost without that little girl. So before you open your damn mouth again, consider whether you want to keep your teeth." She snarled.
Within two hours, the streets were being scoured. Each negative report cut into Alphonse like the blade of a knife. He sat on the couch in O'Connor's office, clutching the little sunhat in his hands, just staring into space.
Finally Ice took charge. "'Phonse, we'll get you home. Y'can't do nuthin' from here."
Ice's voice seemed very far away to Alphonse. But he got to his feet, slowly, the rushing noise in his ears got louder. Suddenly the room and everyone in it seemed to be behaving in a most peculiar way. A band tightened itself round his chest, his lungs struggled to expand to take in air, and he began to sway. His hand moved in slow motion to his chest, trying to press his lungs into action, but nothing was happening. Alphonse's knees buckled and he hit the floor like a ton of bricks.
Ice dropped to his knees, pushing Alphonse onto his back, the big man's solid frame convulsed beneath his hands as Alphonse hyperventilated.
O'Connor was on his knees the other side. "On his side, man, on his side. He can't breathe." He looked behind him, glanced behind him at the stunned office. "Get an ambulance now!" he barked orders, turning back to Ice who was supporting his partner's head as the big Latin struggled to breathe. "I think it's his heart."
Ice and Charlie ran after the paramedics whisking Alphonse into ER.
"Alphonse Royo, forty-five year old male, extreme breathing difficulties, suspected heart attack" the paramedic said to the nurse trying to book in, then lapsed into a flood of technical jargon which Ice and Charlie didn't understand. They didn't need to, the first part was scaring them to death.
For what seemed like hours they paced the floor outside. Finally the doctor appeared and they pounced.
"What's up with him."
"Mr Royo is a very lucky man, it wasn't his heart. However, he has suffered an extremely severe anxiety attack. I've sedated him to keep him calm, and we'll keep him that way for some time, we've put him on oxygen to help him breathe more easily. You can see him if you want."
They thanked him and eagerly dived past to enter the Latin's room, moving up to the bed.
Charlie spoke. "'Phonse. Hey there, how you doin'?"
One big square hand came up and feebly pushed the oxygen mask down. "Not great." hoarse and hesitant.
Charlie gently pushed the mask back over his partner's mouth and nose. "You rest bro. We'll get Chillie back."
Ice leaned in "That's a promise, man." The big blue eyes looked up at him, and filled with tears. Ice patted the broad muscular shoulder nearest him awkwardly. They'd known each other almost twenty years, and even now with everything they'd been through, the smooth assured leader had never seen Alphonse this way before.
Ice stood up, steely resolve deep within him, gonna get Chillie back. He mentally reviewed possible contacts. This don't feel like a snatch, we wouldha heard somethin' by now.
Lucy took clothes into the hospital for her husband. She'd arrived back the night before, struggling to hold on to her own panic. Dealing with a near hysterical Dylan, and very hysterical little boys had calmed her; Lucy fought to hold her family together, Alphonse's collapse had sent shockwaves through everyone.
She helped him dress. Alphonse was still having some breathing difficulties, and just sitting up to pull his sweater on was enough to make him wheeze. Dylan had come along to help, and together they got him going, the cocktail of sedatives made him very drowsy.
This morning was going to be their televised appeal for their daughter's return and whatever anyone said to him, Alphonse Royo was going to be there. Mercifully, Corky and Sylvie had taken the boys, Lucy thanked her lucky stars that they had such good and caring friends and family.
"Jeezus!" Charlie took in the state of his partner. The Latin was barely able to walk, his daughter and wife virtually had to carry him. The computer expert turned to O'Connor. "Dammit, look at him."
O'Connor looked, then turned away slightly. "I know, but no-one could persuade him to stay away, and" his voice lowered, "this sounds sick I know, but the more shattered he looks, the better the response is gonna be. People will have more sympathy for him in that condition."
Charlie's expression tightened as he acknowledged the depressing truth of O'Connor's statement.
Charlie and Ice had thought that the panic and worry of the last 24 hours was the worst thing they'd ever experienced. But it was nothing to watching the Royos plead for the return of their baby girl. Alphonse seemed barely there, every question a reporter asked had to be repeated, his answers were mumbled and incoherent, Lucy was little better, fear for her child and her husband and then coping with the rest of the family was an enormous strain.
Dylan came through with flying colours, realising that her parents were folding under the pressure, she took over. In a strained and breathy voice, she talked about her baby sister, Alicia/Chillie.
Charlie looked at Ice. The smooth leader nodded, "Good girl, give Chillie her name, talk about her personality, make her a real person, makes it harder for them to harm her."
Hours ticked past. Adam arrived from New York, Ali arrived back from Canada, and they set up a family task force. Ali drove them all out to the area where Chillie had gone missing. Door to door they went, split up into groups, they talked with every passer by, put a copy of Chillie's picture under every windshield wiper.
She was struggling. The pretty baby was upset and crying. Picking her up made her worse, she screamed for "Dada". She'd bought some new clothes, but the baby hated them, she kept tugging on the front of the dress and screaming.
The food was all wrong, everything was all wrong. She stood in the middle of the floor and screamed herself.
"Shut up. Shut up."
Frank Maychek watched the screen with interest. A long memory served him well. The kidnapping of his grandson, thirteen years before; the young ex con who'd saved his grandson's life.
The old mafioso took in the exhausted, bewildered look on the man's face. It was time to return a debt.
Lucy drove back to the loft in a daze. She was worn out, Alphonse needed almost round the clock care, and her terror for her baby was wearing her down.
She helped him to bed. The sedatives were doing their job, he was very drowsy, the hospital had sent him home with an oxygen mask as his breathing was still difficult. Lucy made her husband comfortable and then concentrated her mind on food. Her large family always needed to be fed, if she could only keep going, Lucy was a tough cookie, but this was turning her into marshmallow.
Alphonse lay on his side and tried to send signals to his body to shift up a gear. Pushing the mask off, he peeled the quilt back with an effort, and after one or two abortive attempts, managed to get to his feet. The room was shrouded in mist. It took him a long time to locate his pants.
He propped himself against the wall, hafta find Chillie, he bent over, the mist thickened, he took a deep breath and then another, his lungs wouldn't obey. Alphonse staggered and collapsed back on the bed, wheezing.
Lucy came running. Took one look at him and screamed.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE TRYING TO DO! KILL YOURSELF."
She grabbed his pants, threw them across the room and pushed him back against the pillows in one swift move.
"Stay put!" She snapped, her anger began to ebb. "Just stay put. Please. I can't do this." Her eyes filled with tears as her trembling fingers pushed the oxygen mask back over his mouth and nose. Alphonse's hand came up to clasp her fingers and he pulled her down next to him.
"Sorry………………………..so………sorry…" she barely caught his whisper through the wheezing breaths. Her arms slid round his neck and tugged him closer.
"Darling………..I'm sorry………….I didn't mean…………." She pushed her fingers through his hair, gently stroking his head. Alphonse rarely bothered with a haircut, until his thick brown mane grew too unruly and kept flopping in his eyes. It was due a cut now, Lucy idly noted.
She slid down so that he could rest his head against her shoulder, wrapped her arms around him tightly and prayed; prayed with everything that she had that their baby girl would be returned to them, because losing Chillie would kill both of them.
The doorbell sounded. Lucy came to with a jerk. Alphonse was asleep again, for a moment she wondered where she was. Then it all came flooding back. She eased out from under him, tugged the covers up. Smoothed down her clothes and went to answer it.
An elderly man stood, filling the door frame. Lucy wasn't a bounty hunter for nothing, she knew exactly who he was, and all sorts of ideas chased through her brain.
"Mrs Royo?" The voice was gravelly and not unpleasant.
She looked at him closely. "Yes?"
"I am Frank Maychek."
"I know." She wasn't giving him anything else.
"A long time ago, your husband did a service for me. Now, perhaps I can repay that service."
Bemused, she held the door open. "You'd better come in."
Mikey was exhausted, but he stubbornly wanted to go on. Adam gave in. "Short stuff, this is dumb, we've done this side already. But if it will make you happy?" Mikey's petulant look disappeared. He pulled the diminishing wadge of leaflets out of his pocket, they were bent over at the edges, but Mikey was going to keep going until the last one had been delivered. He tugged on his big half-brother's hand.
They turned down the side street, and Adam identified a few front doors that they hadn't yet targeted. He painted on his best "I am a trustworthy person, please help" smile and knocked.
They could hear a baby crying in the background. A door closed, and the front door opened a crack, Adam could see a young woman, about his own age. She looked nervous, hardly surprising, that baby would make anyone nervy. "Sorry to disturb you ma'am, but can I ask if you've seen anyone with a little girl in the last two days. Maybe the baby was real upset?" Mikey's hand was tugging at his sleeve. Adam ignored him.
"No, I don't see many people." The door snapped shut.
Mikey went on tugging.
"Adam, that's Chillie. I know it."
"Mikey, that's silly, it can't be her."
Mikey looked up with a stubborn glare. "That's Chillie!" He reached out to the door again. Adam grabbed his hand.
"Mikey, no. Let's back off and see." Mikey shrugged. He wanted to break the door down. Chillie was crying, and Chillie never cried.
Adam managed to get him back up to Ali and the car.
"Ali, house round the corner, Mikey swears it's Chillie crying."
Ali went down on one knee to look his friend's small son in the eye, "Mikey, are ye sure? Ye have tae be sure!"
"Yeah, it's Chillie. He, " glare at Adam, "Won't believe me!"
Ali reached for the Suburban's radio.
Ice put the phone down. Thinking fast. He needed the best plan he had ever come up with. Ali had checked the place out and asked a few questions about the occupant. What he'd dug up was not good. The girl was a bit of a loser, and not very connected to the planet, as far as Ali could see; she would harm Chillie if she felt threatened.
Chillie was Alphonse's pride and joy, his baby girl; while he loved all the other children, she had a very special place in his heart, he'd been there at her birth. To the others' surprise he'd participated in every aspect of her birth, being the first to hold her as she was born. There was no way Ice was going to let anything happen to Chillie.
"Charlie!!" Ice grabbed his jacket, brain ticking over furiously.
"They've found her. We have to get there first, before O'Connor whistles up teams and all sorts. If it gets outta hand, this girl just might hurt Chillie."
Charlie felt sick. "She couldn't!"
"From what Ali says, yeah she could."
"Maybe we should wait for back up." Charlie dithered, Chillie was his niece.
Ice turned to face him, cold, hard reality was gonna strike, "Charlie, we have one shot at this, we wait, we let O'Connor send some heavy duty team in, we might as well kill her ourselves."
"How many of those siege stories have happy endings?"
Charlie followed his partner out.
Ten minutes later, they were with Ali, camped around the corner from the house. Dylan and Adam had taken the boys off to a coffee shop. Ice looked at Ali. The big Scot looked worried, and Ali wasn't one to worry over nothing.
"Her name's Jennie Fielding, 23, a bit of a loser. Most people round here have hardly seen her and she's lived here about six months. Ah checked, she's definitely in there." Ali turned towards the house. "It's a nightmare, there's nae possibility o'getting in the back, without being seen."
"I'm going in the front. Ain't no point trying to sneak around this one." Ice locked his attention on the mark. Without another word, he crossed the street and turned the corner.
Ice could hear the baby screaming as soon as he neared the front door. Forcibly he turned his mind from Chillie's distress and concentrated on the girl, Jennie Fielding, if she was as screwed up as everyone seemed to think, he would need all his persuasiveness to get through to her.
Luck was with him, she opened the door almost immediately.
"Ma'am, I'm with the Welfare. We've had reports of a baby crying, and I've been sent to check on you and your child." Lull her into a false sense of security. He got his foot in the door so she couldn't slam it.
"She's alright." The girl mumbled. "She's always cranky at this time of day."
"I'm sure she is, ma'am, but if you don't mind." Ice kept eye contact and moved forward, he concentrated on her, not Chillie, but the baby's cries were heartrending.
"We'll be fine." the tone was becoming defiant. She turned to scoop up the baby. Chillie stiffened in her arms and screamed louder. Jennie tried to pat her, but the baby squirmed and pushed.
"Honey?!" Jennie's tone was becoming more desperate. Ice moved up to her, ready to grab Chillie.
"You're not from Welfare." Jennie backed away. "Who are you?"
"I'm here from Welfare, to check on you and your baby." Ice put on his best soothing tone. "Now, can I see her?" Jennie shook her head and backed away into the scruffy kitchen.
She grabbed for a drawer and pulled out a kitchen knife. Ice stopped. The knife was shaking as she wavered back and forth. Chillie's howls redoubled, and she began to squirm in earnest.
Frank Maychek was genuinely interested in helping, and Lucy found herself pouring out her troubles to a sympathetic old man. He listened as she told of her fears for her family, and how losing Chillie would break their hearts.
"Mrs Royo, whatever this poor old man can do, just name it."
Lucy didn't know what to say, then she was saved by the phone.
Maychek watched as this tough, competent woman dissolved into tears in front of him.
She looked up at him, the beautiful, sharp blue eyes flooded, "They've found her." She seemed totally poleaxed.
Maychek took charge. "Mrs Royo, I will drive you and your husband to her."
Lucy looked up at the old man, tears flowing freely. "Thank you." At that moment, she couldn't think of anything else to say. She didn't need to, he understood perfectly. She got up from the couch, "I'd better try and get Alphonse moving. He would want to be there."
"My man will help you." Maychek turned to his minder, and jerked his thumb. "Help Mrs Royo."
The man moved swiftly to do his bidding.
Ice moved up to the knife. "You know, this little girl has a mother and father, and brothers and sisters, who love her very much." Keep it conversational. "If she were yours, you would want her back, wouldn't you." He kept his tone level, which was hard to do above Chillie's screams of fright.
"I…." Jennie hesitated. Ice moved in closer still.
"Jennie, Chillie's scared and she wants her Daddy and Mommy. Y'want her to have her Daddy and Mommy don't you." The knife wavered again. Ice pressed home his advantage. "Please let me take her to them." Ask nice, and maybe y'will receive.
A moment's pause and then she handed him the baby.
Ice folded his god-daughter into his arms, "Phew, honey, I think Mommy needs to change you." Chillie's sobs slowed to hiccups as she leant against him. Familiar and safe.
Behind him, Jennie sagged to the floor in a storm of weeping.
Maychek's limo pulled up behind Ali's Suburban.
Charlie stared, he remembered Maychek well. "Luce…."
His sister looked straight back at him. "Mr Maychek has been kind enough to help us." Charlie's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. "Take that look off y'face and help me with 'Phonse."
Alphonse wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders, the sedatives that the hospital had prescribed had kicked in only about an hour before, and he was very whoozy. They got him upright, and he leant back against the limo.
"What are we waiting for?"
"'Phonse, Ice has it all under control." The screeching of tires behind them gave lie to Charlie's words as O'Connor and Chrissy screeched to a halt behind them.
"O'Bannon, McBride, what the hell is going on?" The Senior Agent was ready to get steamed again.
"Ice has it under control." For once Charlie didn't offer extra comments. He turned expectantly towards the corner. "Look!!"
Everyone turned to look. Ice was walking towards them, carrying Chillie in his arms. The effect on Alphonse and Lucy was electric. Alphonse pushed himself upright from leaning against the car, as his wife burst into tears, the exhausted, doped up Latin stumbled towards his baby daughter.
Wordlessly, Ice handed the baby into his partner's arms. "Dada", the chubby little arms wound themselves around the big man's neck, tears streamed down his face as Lucy closed in from the other side. Chillie was squashed between them, a state which she didn't seem to mind in the slightest. "Mama!"
Alphonse pulled back slightly, "That isn't hers." He was referring to the dress. It was ugly and didn't fit properly; fingers all clumsy Alphonse stripped his shirt off, pulling the ugly dress off his little girl, he wrapped her awkwardly in his shirt. Turning back towards the cars, he reeled.
"Alphonse!" Lucy handed Chillie off to the nearest pair of arms as everyone leapt to help her husband.
Which was how Frank Maychek, mafioso and capo, found himself looking into the large blue eyes of Alicia Royo. Despite him being a total stranger, she didn't cry. The old man felt tears well in his own eyes, as a chubby little hand gently patted him on the cheek.
Leaving O'Connor and Chrissy to deal with Jennie Fielding. Ice started to marshall the troops for home. Maychek's driver was going to take the Royos home, Ali went to round up the rest of the family.
Ice and Charlie drifted back to the car. Neither could find the words.
"Y'know…" Charlie turned to Ice.
"Yeah…………….I know." Ice turned the key in the starter.
Bright and early the next morning, Ice was on the pavement outside the Royos' door. He just had to know. He was reaching out for the doorbell, when a car pulled up behind him.
Charlie looked at his partner. "You too, huh!"
"Yeah." Ice rang the doorbell, and Dylan answered.
"Uncle Ice, Uncle Charlie…come in." She stepped back. "I'm making breakfast………….want some?"
"You learnt how to use the grill yet?" Ice countered. He remembered only too well when Dylan had nearly burnt the loft down. They'd camped for three weeks in the unconverted factory while it was being fixed.
"Uncle Ice!!" Dylan's tone was reproachful. "That was not my fault."
"No it was y'father's." Charlie grinned to himself. "Talking of y'father, where is he?"
Dylan smiled. "Come and take a look."
Curious, they followed her.
Dylan paused outside her parents' room. Cautiously she opened the door. Alphonse and Lucy were in bed, asleep, Chillie squashed between them; but at some point during the night, the boys had joined them in their vast double bed.
Lucy lay on her back, Dom squashed up against her. Alphonse's head was resting on her shoulder with Chillie leaning against his chest. Mikey had squeezed up the other side, between Lucy and Chillie. The twins were curled up like puppies beneath, resting against their father's legs. The whole family was fast asleep.
The horrible wheezing rattle that had accompanied Alphonse's breathing seemed to have died down, and he had a smile on his face even in sleep.
Ice gently pulled the door closed.
Dylan grinned. "That happens a lot round here. Y'daren't get up in the night, in case y'find someone else sleeping in y'bed."
It's good to be alive.