Sonic the Hedgehog
Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely
By LuckyLadybug

Disclaimer: Nackie boy and Nic are not copyrighted to me (don't I wish! LOL) I think they both belong to Sega, or maybe Nic belongs to Archie Comics. Mark Sloan, Steve Sloan, Jesse, Jack Stewart, and Community General Hospital are all copyright Viacom, I think. . . . "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" is copyrighted to whoever holds the copyrights for the Backstreet Boys songs. All other characters and the story belong to me and can't be used without my permission! Hehe . . . Hope y'all enjoy this—it's taken me forever to finish!

I stare into my empty mug of ginger ale. Outside the wind howls and the rain pours down. Inside the lonely diner by the side of the road, the jukebox plays an equally lonely song.

Show me the meaning of being lonely

As the song continues, my thoughts start to drift to another time and place, and I find myself remembering . . .

Marcus Pembroke. A research scientist suspected of selling the Edison Research Laboratory's secrets out to a secret spy organization. Whether he was or not, he was missing, and I was supposed to find him.

I had tracked him, or someone who looked like him, to an abandoned laboratory, where he had disappeared inside. Cautiously, I snuck up to the door, gun raised. "I know you're in there!" I yelled. "Come out with your hands up!" There was a long silence, during which I got this sneaky feeling that he had known all along that I was on his tail and had purposely led me here.

Before I could decide what to do next, a loud BOOM rocked the building, followed immediately by another, more powerful one, that propelled me out of the building . . . and clear off the ridge that it was positioned on. There was no question about it: the building was exploding.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, while I was hovering in midair, something hard and heavy walloped me over the head. Then another loud BOOM sounded, and the world, as we know it, came to an end.

. . . Hahaha, just kidding. Actually, I don't remember what happened exactly. I just remember everything going black.

My return to consciousness was slow. When I finally opened my eyes, everything was dark. I wondered for a split second if I'd gone blind before realizing that my hat had fallen over my eyes. Muttering to myself, I raised the brim and looked around.

Smoke was everywhere, and drifts of the stuff floated across the twilight sky. I was laying in a grassy field, and a pair of lavender eyes stared into my blue ones.

Wait a minute . . . lavender eyes? I took a closer look. Slowly, a giggling Arctic fox fox cub peeked up out of the shaggy grass.

"Just what are you doing, little missy?" I demanded.

The cub only giggled more. Finally she quieted down long enough to say, "Calia will sure be glad to hear that you're alive. When you went over the cliff, she thought you were dead!"

"Oh, she did, huh?" I said, wondering who this Calia was.

The cub nodded vigorously. "She said it was a real shame that you died so young; that you're awful cute."

"Violet!" a soft voice reprimanded, and another, older, Arctic fox stepped into view. She was blushing furiously, no doubt from Violet's last comment.

"Well, you did," Violet insisted.

The older fox, whom I decided must be Calia, turned to me and said in a low voice, "Sorry. My little sister is at the age where she loves to repeat anything and everything Marc and I tell her."

I had to laugh. "Don't worry, ma'am. I know how that is."

Calia smiled, relieved. "I am glad you're okay. You took quite a spill there."

I glanced up at the cliff, which I'd just noticed was there. "Holy smokes! I fell off that thing?"

"Yup," Violet chimed in, "after you got bashed on the head by that flying pipe."

Pipe? I glanced around, finally spotting a long metal object a few feet away. Ouch.

"Oh, silly me," Calia said suddenly. "I forgot, I haven't introduced myself."

I chuckled. "No, ma'am, but Miss Violet here did. Miss Calia, I presume?"

Calia smiled and nodded. As she stepped more into the light cast by the moon, I saw her clearly.

She was beautiful, and she didn't look much younger than me. Her soft green eyes sparkled in the moonlight, and her blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders.

Now, I don't usually get flustered when I meet a pretty girl . . . but this one was different, and not just 'cause of her looks. I removed my hat in a show of respect and attempted to introduce myself.

"Er, uh . . . Jet the . . . Er, I mean . . . uh . . . Nack the Weasel, ma'am." How's that for professional? I couldn't even remember my own name!

"Hello, Nack," Calia said softly.

We gazed into each other's eyes, until Violet grew bored and asked loudly, "What were you doing by that laboratory, anyway?"

"Violet!" Calia gasped.

"No, no, it's okay," I said quickly. "Actually, maybe you two can help me. I was lookin' fer this guy." I held up a picture of Marcus Pembroke.

Calia's eyes grew wide. "Marc!"

"Excuse me?"

"That's my brother, Marc!" Calia exclaimed. "Why are you looking for him?"

I wasn't sure what to say. How do I tell someone like Calia that I'm a bounty hunter hired to bring her brother in? Coming to think of it, how do I tell her that I'm a bounty hunter at all? I know lots of people aren't all that crazy about us bounty hunters, and somehow I felt that Calia was probably one of them. And I found myself not wanting to say or do anything to upset her.

I became aware that both Calia and Violet were looking at me, waiting for an answer.

Finally, choosing my words carefully, I said, "Well, I was . . . hired by Mr. Darvy at the Edison Research Laboratory Marc worked at to . . . uh, find him, since he's gone missing."

"Mr. Darvy always wears a mask 'cause he got caught in an auto accident," Violet volunteered. "I see him sometimes going to the lab."

"So you're a private eye?" Calia asked, ignoring Violet's comments.

I paused, then slowly nodded. She didn't have to know the entire truth. But, somehow, I found myself not wanting to lie to Calia, either.

"Have you seen Marc?" Calia asked urgently.

I was about to say no, until I remembered what had happened just prior to the explosion. Uh oh. Things weren't looking good for Calia's brother. It was possible that he had caused the explosion in an attempt to get rid of me—permanently.

Of course, I didn't want to tell that to Calia. Aloud I only said, "Someone that looked like him was in the area."

Calia turned pale. "Do you suppose that . . . that . . . that he was . . . caught in the explosion?"

Hmm. That was something I hadn't considered. "I hope not, ma'am," I said grimly, and found myself truly meaning it. I also truly hoped that this sweet girl's brother wasn't some kind of murderer.

Calia was already trying to find a way up the ridge. "We have to find him! We have to find Marc!" She started to climb up.

"I s'ppose it'd be safe to look around," I said slowly. "Want me to give you a hand, ma'am?" I asked as she struggled to hold on to the rocky ledge.

Calia smiled down at me. "Thanks, Nack, but I'll make it. You bring Violet."

As we picked our way cautiously through the debris of the explosion, Violet, unaware of the gravity of the situation, asked, "Mr. Nick, is it fun being a detective?"

I chuckled at her mispronunciation of my name. "Actually, little missy, it's not always fun," I said truthfully in answer to her question. "And, by the way," I added, changing the subject, "my sister is Nic. I'm Nack."

Violet seemed to take it all in stride, but Calia looked at me in surprise. "You have a sister named Nick?" she said incredulously.

"Nicolette, actually," I replied, "but she never liked her name, so she shortened it to Nic."

By now we had reached the building, which wasn't much more than splinters.

Calia's hand flew to her mouth. "This is a disaster!" she gasped. "Nack, you're lucky you weren't killed!"

Violet climbed over a pile of rubble and pulled something up out of it.

Calia grabbed it. "This is Marc's bandanna," she said softly, looking down at the torn black-and-white checked cloth. "Oh no . . ." She collapsed in my arms, crying heavily.

"Don't worry, ma'am," I tried to reassure her, "I'm sure he managed to escape. . . . He probably lost his bandanna in his haste to get out. . . ." He really might've, too. I had a feeling that this guy was really sneaky and had very likely gotten out of the building alive.

Calia looked up at me, her eyes glistening with tears. "You really think so?"

"Sure," I said softly. "From what I . . . was told, this guy . . . er, Marc . . . is really clever, and wouldn't let himself get blown up if he could at all help it."

Calia slowly began to smile. "Thanks, Nack," she whispered. She dried her eyes and stood up tall. "Well, then," she said in her Alabama accent, "let's keep looking."

After not finding anything more at the explosion site, we walked into the nearby woods, leaving Violet in the clearing with explicit instructions to remain there.

"I realize that we probably won't find Marc," Calia said.

Was that a dark shadow over there? I wondered, seeing something odd between the nearby trees. But then it was gone, and I thought no more of it.

"He's probably terrified with . . . bounty hunters after him," she continued.

I turned to Calia, shocked. "Who said anything about bounty hunters, ma'am?" I asked.

Calia smiled. "I know you're a bounty hunter, Nack. You don't have to keep pretending you're not."

"But . . . how do you . . ."

"I have a sixth sense about these things," Calia interrupted. She paused, then added, "I know you didn't tell me because you didn't want to worry me." She sighed. "But I know Marc is in danger, Nack. I knew that they were threatening to hire a bounty hunter."

I was speechless.

Calia went on, "But Marc is no traitor, Nack. He isn't the one selling the laboratory's research. He told me, though, that he thought he knew who was. Just before he . . . disappeared, he told me that he had to find the one who was responsible." She looked deep into my eyes. "Marc's in grave danger, Nack. Please, help us."

I finally found my voice. "Ma'am, you're asking me, the bounty hunter hired to capture your brother, to help you?"

Calia nodded.

"But why?" I asked. "I could suddenly turn against you and bring your brother in anyway, when we find him." I really might've, too, under different circumstances.

"You could," Calia agreed, "but I trust you. You have a good heart, Nack," she whispered.

It had been a long time since anyone had said that to me . . . a very long time. Maybe it wasn't a wise decision, but my mind was made up.

I pulled Calia close and said softly, "Yes, ma'am, I'll help you."

Calia smiled in the darkness. "I knew you would." She paused. "We'd better be heading back. Violet must be getting impatient."

As we headed back through the woods, I realized that my mind had been made up long before now. Calia knew me so well . . . and yet, we hadn't even known each other for even a full day. She was a soulmate for me, the first I'd had since Mama . . .

I shook myself back to the present as Calia spoke again. "Oh, and by the way—you can call me Calia."

"I'd be honored . . . Calia," I replied softly.

When we were near the edge of the woods again, without warning something darted out from under a pine tree and tackled me.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" I yelped as we wrestled on the ground.

When the critter got me in a chokehold and was nearly strangling me, Calia decided things had gone far enough, and she pulled the critter away. I started to cough, marveling at Calia's strength.

As she looked at the renegade, she gasped. "Marc!" she burst out.

"Marc?" I echoed. "You've got a lot of explainin' to do, buster!"

Marc looked nonchalant about the whole thing, though I was certain I caught a glimmer of annoyance in his eyes. But all he said was, "You got it!"

Later, after Violet had greeted her brother Marc and was finally asleep, Marc began his tale.

"You were hired under false pretenses," he told me.

"You know who I am?" I asked, giving him a funny look.

"Of course," Marc replied. "And that whole story about me selling lab secrets is something the boys at the lab concocted to cover up their illegal activities, which I found out about. When they hired you, they planned to kill me as soon as you brought me in . . . and they weren't planning to pay you either."

My eyes narrowed. If there's one thing I hate, it's not getting paid.

"What happened at the abandoned lab?" Calia asked. "I found your bandanna there, Marc!"

Marc took the faded scarf and turned it over. "This isn't mine," he declared.

"Hey, now, look here—I saw you go in the lab just before it went ka-blooey and nearly sent me to kingdom come!" I yelled.

"That wasn't me," Marc insisted. He looked around furtively. "That was my clone."

"Your what!" Calia and I exclaimed in unison.

"That's the illegal activities the boys at the lab are involved with—cloning," Marc explained. "I saw them cloning people one night, and they knew I'd found out and wanted me dead."

"How do I know you're telling the truth?" I asked suspiciously.

Marc grinned and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. "I took this as evidence when I made a run for it. I've been spying on them . . . when I wasn't running for my life that is."

I opened the paper and we looked at it. It was a list of all the clones that had currently been made.

"They're planning to unleash all these evil clones on the world in a couple of days," Marc went on. "But that's not all—it gets much worse." Even though he said that, he didn't elaborate.

As I looked at the clone list, I started to grin. "Hey, I think I have a plan here." As I began to explain it, I kept a close watch on Marc, who, I noticed, was giving me some very strange looks.

"Calia Speaks"

The next day, Nack called Darvy at the lab and said he'd caught Marc and would bring him in to the lab, which was deep in the heart of Los Angeles, at twilight.

At the right time, I hid around the side of the building while Nack carted Marc along. I looked away for a minute, but then turned back when I heard gunshots, followed by a yelp from Nack.

I looked around the corner in horror, while doors in the lab were flung open and scientists ran outside to see what was happening.

Nack was laying motionless on the ground in a pool of blood, and Marc was nowhere to be seen. I could, however, hear the roar of Nack's hovercraft overhead.

"Marc! What did you do?" I screamed, horrified, realizing he was taking it. "What did you do?"

Looking around at the scientists who were just standing around, I ordered, "Well, don't just stand there! Call an ambulance!"

Finally the scientists came alive and made a move to go inside. Then Darvy came outside. "What's all the racket?" he demanded.

"Marc shot Nack!" I yelled.

Suddenly through the crowd that was gathering came an elderly, yet youthful man carrying a black bag. "Excuse me, I'm a doctor!" he announced.

"Thank heavens!" I exclaimed, wringing my hands.

The man, who introduced himself as Mark Sloan, kneeled down next to Nack and searched for a pulse, then a heartbeat.

Finally he looked up at me sadly. "Honey, I'm sorry," he said gently.

I shook my head. "No. No. NO!"

"He was killed instantly," Dr. Sloan went on.

I threw myself at Nack's lifeless body. "Nack, you can't be dead! You just can't!"

I was still there like that when the people from the morgue arrived a few minutes later.

Trying to compose myself, I kissed Nack on the nose. "Rest in peace, my sweet one," I whispered, hurriedly slipping a piece of paper into Nack's empty holster, trying not to cry as I saw his gun laying a few feet away and a strange video tape in his limp hand. I noticed Darvy watching us like a hawk.

The morgue people slowly lifted Nack onto the gurney and pulled the sheet over him, then loaded him into the van.

LAPD Lieutenant Steve Sloan put his hand on my shoulder. "We have an APB out on Marc. Don't worry, Miss Pembroke, we'll get him."

"I should hope so!" Darvy declared. "This is outrageous—happening right here in front of my lab!"

"Mr. Darvy, do you have any idea why this happened?" Steve asked. "I know Marc Pembroke used to work at your lab, until he started selling your lab's secrets."

Darvy looked uncomfortable. "That's true, Lieutenant."

"And why did he return to your laboratory, and in the company of the notorious bounty hunter known as 'Fang the Sniper,' only a few moments ago?"

"I don't know," Darvy lied. "I detest bounty hunters, Lieutenant." I glared at him. "And I don't know why Pembroke would come back, unless he had decided to turn himself in, but that seems highly unlikely."

Steve nodded. "Call me if you remember anything important, Darvy," he said.

"Oh, don't worry, Lieutenant, I will." Darvy shook his head. "I knew Marc Pembroke was rather mercenary, but I had no idea he was a murderer as well!" He turned to go.

"I'll bid you adieu, now, Lieutenant." He went back in the lab, giving me another odd look.

Steve turned to me. "Are you going to be alright?"

I nodded. "I suppose so," I said shakily. "I just can't believe my brother would do something like that! I didn't even know he had a gun!" I paused. "I only met Nack a day or so ago, and I could tell there was something special about him."

Steve half-smiled. "A lot of girls seemed to like that rascal."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, Steve," I said quickly. "Nack is—was—cute, but I saw something . . . much deeper in him. He's not so rough-and-tumble and heartless as he would have you believe. He has a special spirit, he does."

Steve smiled and patted me on the shoulder.

"The heavens have welcomed a rebel angel, but he will prove invaluable," I whispered.

The building was old and lonely. I never have liked morgues, especially in the pitch darkness.

Suddenly voices were heard.

"Hey! Watch it, dummy!"

"Sorry boss. But why do we have to do this anyway?"

"We've already been through that. You saw that piece of paper that dame slipped into his holster, and I saw the video cassette that he was holding that had our laboratory's name on it! We have to get it back, and find out what was on that paper!"

"But I don't wanna be a graverobber!"

"Oh shuddap! Stupid bounty hunter anyway. He was supposed to be smarter then to let that Pembroke have a gun to shoot!"

"Boss, now you're speaking ill of the dead!"

"What do I care? Now, then, where's the light switch?"

I could hear him and his henchman fumbling around, tripping and crashing. Suddenly the place was bathed in light.

"Hmmm, what's this?" Darvy mused, raising the lid on a nearby pine box.

I tried to hold back my tears as I realized he was staring into Nack's coffin.

Darvy looked at poor Nack, laying limp and lifeless, his bullet wounds cleaned and bandaged, his blue eyes closed, never to open again. He clutched a video tape to his chest, which Darvy spotted right away.

"Here it is!" he cackled.

"Boss, I don't wanna do this!" the henchman whined.

"Oh, be quiet," Darvy growled, reaching for the tape.

As he did so, Nack suddenly came to life! He sprang up in the coffin, waving the tape around. "You varmints lookin' fer this?"

"End Calia's narrative"

I had to chuckle at ol' Darvy's expression of utter shock. His henchman was so horrified he passed clean out!

"Nack!" Darvy and Calia exclaimed in unison. "You're DEAD!" Darvy shrieked. "DEAD! I . . . er, Pembroke shot you dead in cold blood! The doctor said you were dead! The people from the morgue here took you away . . ."

"I came back," I replied simply. "And I do believe you're lookin' fer this." I indicated the tape.

Darvy turned red. "How did you get that?" he demanded.

I grinned. "I'm wise to your game, Darvy. Late last night I broke into the laboratory and took this tape from the security camera in your office." I waved it around. "This tape has your real identity on it."

"Nack, what do you mean?" Calia asked, wide-eyed. "What's going on?"

I looked at Calia sadly, longing to not have to tell her the truth.

Darvy, over the shock of my return from the dead, pulled out a machine gun. "I want my tape back now," he said menacingly. "But whether you give it to me or not, I will kill you again, many times over if I have to!"

As he raised the machine gun, at least a dozen police officers, led by Steve Sloan, appeared. "Police! Freeze!"

Darvy looked startled, but then grinned maliciously. "Oh, I don't know about that." Suddenly another henchman came through the door with . . .

"Violet!" Calia shrieked.

"Ahh, now things should be interesting. We have a hostage!" the henchman cackled.

Darvy turned pale. "You fool! You weren't supposed to get her!"

Violet started to cry. "Calia, Mr. Nack, I'm scared!"

"Don't worry, honey. Everything will be alright," Calia said in what she hoped was a soothing voice.

"Come on, what does it matter what hostage you have?" I taunted Darvy. "You have a hostage and that should be enough, Darvy . . . or should I say, Marcus Pembroke!"

Total silence reigned. Then Darvy's shoulders slumped in defeat. Slowly he pulled off the ever-present face mask he was wearing to reveal . . .

"Marc!" Calia shrieked in disbelief. There was a long silence again. "But, why, Marc?" she asked finally. "What's going on?"

Marc sighed. "It's a long story, Calia." He turned to the henchman. "Let her go," he ordered.

But instead of obeying, the henchman only clutched Violet tighter. "Sorry, boss. I'm striking out on my own now, and if you're not taking a hostage, then I am!" He suddenly threw a smoke bomb right into the middle of the morgue, making it impossible to see.

Then suddenly he started screaming that Violet had bit him and was free, and an all-out battle ensued.

In the midst of all the commotion, Calia accidentally got in the way of the henchman, who was firing madly at the police and us. She screamed as she went down.

Outraged, I attacked the henchman and we began scrapping on the floor. "Nobody hurts my Miss Calia!" I yelled.

I remember hitting him over the head with the handle of my gun, sending him to the floor, but then something sharp caught me in the right shoulder.

Things were getting blurry, but I managed to stagger over to Calia, laying on the floor with a medic tending to her wound. "Calia . . ."

"I'll be alright, Nack," she whispered hoarsely. "The bullet went clean through me." She gasped. "But you've been hit with a dart!"

"It's happened before," I replied, trying to grin weakly as I collapsed to the floor.

As the blackness took over, I heard Calia's voice screaming, "That dart could've been poison! Don't worry about me—make sure Nack's alright! Make sure Nack's alright!"

When I finally opened my eyes again, I found myself looking up at Doctor Sloan.

"What happened?" I managed to ask, still groggy from the dart's effects. "Where's Calia?"

"Marcus Pembroke threw a knockout dart at you," Dr. Sloan replied. "Nothing really dangerous, but it does send a person out of it for quite a while."

I looked around, but I still couldn't place where we were.

"We're at the morgue," Dr. Sloan supplied, sensing my confusion. "Unfortunately, Marc and his henchman both managed to escape. But here's good news: Calia will be alright. We're keeping her overnight at Community General Hospital for observation." He looked at me. "Maybe you should consider it too, Nack."

I slowly stood up. "Me? Stay at a hospital? Not on your life! I'm fine—really. I've had worse experiences. I want to see Calia."

"She wants to see you, too," Dr. Sloan said. "She wouldn't even go to the hospital until she was assured that you hadn't been poisoned." He paused. "She's a fine young lady who obviously cares for you very much."

Not wanting to reveal my true emotions, I only nodded briefly as I walked out the door of the morgue, pulling off the fake bandages.

Calia smiled at me when I walked into her hospital room. Her shoulder was bandaged for real, but otherwise she looked to be in pretty good shape.

"Hello, Nack," she said softly. When she saw me looking at her with concern, she said, "I'm alright, Nack, really." She glanced around. "Violet's staying with Dr. Sloan's friend Jesse for a little bit." She gestured for me to come closer, and I sat on the chair next to her bed. "Tell me what's going on, Nack, please."

I grinned lopsidedly. "Well, you know some of what's been going on."

"I know that we planned for you to pretend to die holding something incriminating that might cause Darvy to confess, but that is about it," Calia replied. "You have a lot of explaining to do, Nack!"

I grinned. "Okay. Well, when I first mentioned my plan, Marc didn't seem very enthused at first. Then later he said something to me about it being hard to find incriminating evidence, which I found rather odd since Marc himself showed us that paper with the clone information, which should've been pretty durn incriminating. So I followed him. He went right to Edison Research Laboratory and went into Darvy's office, all of which I found strange. But then I looked through the window and watched him put on that face mask, and then it made sense—he was Darvy!"

Calia gave me an odd look. "It's not making any sense to me!" she declared. "I want to know everything—including, and especially, why he did all this!"

"It didn't make sense to me right off either," I replied. "But then I did some research on Darvy. Turns out he was involved in two auto accidents—the one after which he started wearing that mask, and then another one about six months later. In the latter one Darvy was with a mysterious someone who was never identified, and whom 'Darvy' later insisted was killed when the car fell into the Pacific Ocean and whose body was never recovered. He also claimed to have forgotten who was with him because of the traumatic experience."

"I'm afraid you've totally lost me, Nack," Calia said, her deep green eyes blinking in confusion.

"Well, after seeing Marc in Darvy's office putting on Darvy's infamous face mask, I came to one conclusion: Marc was the 'mysterious someone' and it was really Darvy whose body was never recovered. Somehow, Marc managed to take on Darvy's identity and keep the laboratory going. Without Darvy, the whole thing would have been auctioned off to someone else, since Darvy's grandfather stated in his will that after there were no more Darvys there would be no more Edison Research Laboratory." I paused to take a breath. "The ERL is just a small laboratory, as you well know, Calia," I explained, "owned by the Darvy family."

"I still don't get it," Calia said. "WHY, Nack? WHY did he do it?"

I sighed. "Admittedly, Calia, I don't have all the answers. But I can tell you that his guise as Darvy probably had something to do with greed." I said this as gently as I could. "After Marc put on the Darvy mask, he got on the phone and called one of his henchmen. He said that the 'nosy bounty hunter' was getting too close to the truth and would have to be eliminated. He never expected me to meet up with you, Calia."

"Wait a minute!" Calia exclaimed. "I thought I was confused when I didn't know what was going on. How could Marc be Darvy, when Marc was Marc, working in the lab?"

"Now here's where you havta admire the critter. He's definitely clever," I stated flatly. "When he was going to be Marc, he would tell everyone that 'Darvy' was either not to be disturbed or away 'on business.' I don't think anyone in that place knew that 'Darvy' wasn't really Darvy. But I think he finally realized that he couldn't keep the ruse up any longer and that's when he staged the story about himself stealing the laboratory's secrets. Then Marc could disappear and concentrate on just being Darvy. He hired me to avoid arousing suspicions." I grinned mischievously. "I found all this stuff out by reviewing the security tapes, which I snuck in and took after Marc left."

Calia paused, attempting to digest all this information. Finally she said, "What happened then when you played dead? Things went a little differently than as planned."

"Yeah, I know. I used that video tape instead of the clone list you slipped into my holster. Marc didn't care about the clone list because it wasn't really incriminating. He made it up. That was his bandanna we found." I paused now, struggling to decide whether to say aloud the most horrifying words about this whole thing.

"Marc tried to kill you for real, didn't he?" Calia sobbed.

I nodded slowly. "I gave him that gun with the fake bullets that shot out fake blood on contact, but when he was in Darvy's office, I saw him replace the fake bullets with real ones. When he was gone, though, I snuck in and replaced them with the fake ones again. He never knew the difference." I tried to laugh. "It helped having your doctor friend there to proclaim me dead and gone. And his police officer son. And your acting was great, Calia."

Calia took a deep breath and tried to stop her tears. She smiled wryly. "I was only half-acting, Nack. The other half of me was thinking how awful it would be if you were really murdered like that. And even though I knew it was an act, it was still a little of a shock—and a thrill—to see you come to life again."

We remained in silence for some time. Finally Calia spoke again. "I heard both Marc and that henchman escaped."

"They did," I said softly.

"I also heard that the police think there is someone higher up than Marc . . . a Mr. Big," Calia went on.

I nodded slowly. "That's true, I'm afraid," I agreed. "The real Darvy was starting to get involved in illegal research activities, and there was a Mr. Big who commanded him. Then when Marc took over as Darvy, it continued . . . actually, it got worse."

"Nack . . . Steve Sloan told me about an FBI agent, Ron Wagner," Calia said softly. "Agent Wagner knows another FBI agent who is involved with the Witness Protection Program."

I gave Calia a Look. "The Witness Protection Program?" I repeated.

"That's right. Nack, the police think that this Mr. Big might come after us. I need to protect Violet."

"You don't mean . . ."

Calia brushed away another tear. "Yes. I'll be going into the Witness Protection Program."

"I'll come with you," I suggested instantly.

She shook her head. "No, Nack . . ."

"No?" I repeated.

"Nack, you wouldn't be happy living under the Witness Protection Program for the rest of your life," Calia objected.

"I would be if I was with you," I protested.

Calia smiled weakly. "No, Nack. I can't let you. You're such a free spirit. You wouldn't survive the Witness Protection Program." She paused. "You know, I think, somewhere, in the back of my mind, deep in my heart, I knew what Marc was up to. I didn't want to believe it, but I think I always knew. I didn't know he was capable of murder, though." She shook her head. "I kept hoping against hope that what he told me about someone stealing the laboratory's secrets was true, and that he was innocent."

"Naturally you'd think the best about your brother," I said softly. We remained in silence again for a time. Finally I said, "I don't suppose there's any way I can convince you to let me come with you and Violet."

Calia smiled sadly and shook her head.

Before I could say more, Doctor Jack Stewart came in. "Uh, I hate to break things up, but visiting hours are ending," he said apologetically.

I slowly stood up. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Calia," I said.

She smiled. "I'll be here," she promised.

Calia stayed at Community General Hospital for a few more days. On what was to be our last conversation—though I didn't know it at the time—I confessed to her, "Calia, you have been like a soulmate to me. No one has ever known me as well as you have . . . except Mama."

Calia smiled. "You are someone worth knowing," she said. "You try to be rough, tough, and heartless. You may be a little mercenary. But underneath it all, you are a sweet, lovable individual, and I'm proud to say I've worked with you, Nack the Weasel, over the past weeks. And . . ." She paused, moving a little closer to me. "Nack, I must confess, I love you deeply."

I took her in my arms. "And I love you, Calia," I said softly.

We shared a tender kiss.

Suddenly we were interrupted by a loud, shrill voice. "Ewwwww! They're kissing!"

I quickly let go of Calia and we whirled around to see Violet standing in the doorway, looking disgusted.

Calia tried not to crack up.

That was the last time I ever saw Calia. The next day Doctor Sloan told me she'd been released from the hospital and had disappeared with Violet, but that she had left a sealed envelope addressed to me.

I waited till I got back to my hideout to examine the contents. A lone piece of paper fell out.

"'My sweet Nack,
Mark says I am well enough to be released
from the hospital. It is crucial that Violet and
I go into the Witness Protection Program as
soon as possible. If it was just myself, I wouldn't
be so concerned, but I don't want anything to happen
to Violet. Do take care—your line of work can be
very dangerous. Perhaps we will meet again someday,
on the other side.
I love you,

I come back to the present. It's been nearly two years since then, and I often find myself wondering how Calia and Violet are doing, and where they are.

Marc, his henchman, and this "Mr. Big" have never been caught and are still at large. Sometimes I've felt the strange feeling of being watched by Marc, but when I turn, no one is there.

I don't really stay in close contact with Dr. Sloan and company, though I have met up with them on various other cases. My adventure with Calia wasn't the first time I'd met them, either.

The lonely song on the jukebox continues to play, and I continue to stare into my empty mug of ginger ale. "Someday, Calia," I say softly. "Someday."