Monk was clad in a plastic apron and rubber gloves, vigorously scrubbing his shower with a sponge, when his phone began to ring. He wiped his gloves on a clean towel and managed to grab the phone on the fourth ring. "Hello?"
"Monk, is Natalie there?" Stottlemeyer asked. His voice was sharp and urgent, a tone Monk recognized well, and his stomach clenched in nervousness.
"No, she went home after we left the station. Why?"
"Aw, hell." Stottlemeyer barked orders for a squad car to be dispatched to Natalie's address. "Stay put. Randy and I are on our way to your place now."
"Leland, what's going on?" Monk demanded, thoroughly alarmed.
"The JAG officers went back and talked to Gina Sanchez today – Dougal's ex. They worked her for a while and she finally broke down. He was hiding out in Sacramento and she just talked to him last night, told him about being questioned by JAG. He said something about going to San Francisco to talk to Mitch's widow. I tried Natalie's cell; it rang twice and then the connection was cut off. Callback didn't go through, no answer on her home phone."
Monk angled the phone between his shoulder and chin as he stripped off the rubber gloves and apron. "How did he know where she lives?" he demanded, swiftly folding the apron into a perfect square and tucking the gloves inside it.
"She's in the damn phone book, Monk, and Teeger isn't exactly a common last name." He heard the sirens of the car start screaming. "Our ETA to your place is one minute. Be ready to go."
Monk moved through the apartment swiftly, turning off lights and grabbing his coat, cursing himself roundly. Why hadn't he followed his instincts and insisted she stay? He locked his front door just as Stottlemeyer's car screeched to the curb. He yanked open the door and dived inside.
The scene at Natalie's was a madhouse. Two squad cars were in the driveway and one was on the lawn, all with lights flashing wildly. Monk could see a perimeter being set up, and his fears were confirmed. An officer jogged up to their car. "I was just about to call you, sir," he said to Stottlemeyer. "We got here a few minutes ago and approached the residence. My partner went around to cover the back exit. Before I could get to the door, the suspect fired several shots out of the front window. He's in there, sir, and he has a hostage."
"Natalie Teeger?" Stottlemeyer said, exchanging a glace with Randy.
"Yes, sir. I called for a hostage negotiation team, and more backup, as well as a sniper squad."
"Leland." Monk grabbed his sleeve. "Let me go in, try to talk with him. Maybe I – "
"Monk, are you insane?" Stottlemeyer said, whirling around to face him. "Dougal doesn't know you from Adam. He'd shoot you, and probably Natalie too, the minute you walked inside."
"But – " Monk looked at the house, then back at his friend. "She's in there. She's in danger and I can't help her. And if – if she – doesn't make it, I just – I can't – " His face had drained of all color. "I can't go through that again, Leland. I can't. I won't survive it this time."
Stottlemeyer's voice was gentler when he spoke again. "We're going to do everything we can to talk him down, to take him alive if at all possible, and get her out safe. I promise, Monk. Just let us do our jobs."
Dougal prowled the living room, muttering to himself. "How the hell did they know I was here? The bitch didn't have time to call the police. Did someone see me break into the house? That was hours ago, they wouldn't have waited that long to call. Gina, maybe. Damn it, I bet it was Gina."
Natalie watched him pace the room, her mind whirling frantically. Bound and gagged, she was helpless. It seemed like hours had passed since he'd incapacitated her, but she had no way of knowing. The shattered pieces of her cell phone – Dougal had stomped on it the first time it began to ring after her capture – lay scattered about, but none of the pieces were big enough to use, nor near enough for her to reach, even if she could work her hands free. Her land line was out of commission as well. The second time it had started to ring, maybe fifteen minutes after the police came, he'd yanked the cord out of the wall. There was no way to call for help, even if she could get to a phone, and he had both doors barricaded.
Her previous bartending experience had taught her to recognize someone coming down from a high, and the track marks streaking up and down his arms were another clue. His darkly tanned skin shined with sweat; his pupils were dilated and his black eyes were jittery. What had the captain said he'd been using in Dallas? Heroin, that was it. Maybe if he gave himself another fix, he'd get careless enough to get captured. But what if he didn't have another fix? She knew that coming down from a heroin high could be rough, that it could make people more agitated and prone to violence.
Her gaze darted to the window. Though the curtains and blinds were shut, she could see the lights of the police cars flashing. Was Mr. Monk out there? Probably. She yearned for him, even if being good in a crisis wasn't exactly his forte. Having him to calm down would be better than sitting here in mindless terror, wondering if her daughter would be an orphan before the day was out – and at the hands of the same man who'd killed her father.
She HAD to stay alive. She HAD to – not just for Julie's sake, but for Mr. Monk's as well. It'd be so hard on him to lose another assistant. Given that they'd gotten so... close... lately, her death would devastate him. At least, she she guessed it would. He didn't deserve this extra trauma in his life. She had to make it through for him. If nothing else, she had to make it through so she could figure out what was going on with their relationship.
Oh God, oh God, oh God, ran the litany in her head. What was she going to DO?
Dougal suddenly spun on his heel and marched toward her. She braced for a blow, but he merely grabbed the gag and yanked it out of her mouth. "Why were there JAG officers at my girlfriend's house?" he demanded. "Why are they asking about Mitch after all these years?"
Her mouth was dry as sandpaper. "Could I have some water?" she managed.
"Fuck that!" he shouted. "What the hell is going on?"
Talk , a voice that sounded oddly like Mr. Monk's said in her head. Stall him.
"They found some new evidence," she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing how scared she was. "They want to ask you about the circumstances of Mitch's death."
"New evidence?" he repeated. "What new evidence?"
She didn't know what to say or how much to tell him. What if he got angry and killed her? Or got despondent and killed her, and then himself? Mitch, that voice in her head said again. Get him talking about Mitch.
"It turns out my husband was working with a newspaper reporter to break a story about some Navy officers running a child sex operation. The reporter was killed about the same time he died. The police just found some old papers of hers a few days ago, where she talked about Mitch's involvement. Now, I guess, they're re-examining the events around Mitch's death." His eyes narrowed, but she could tell he was turning this new information over in his mind. "Did you know him well?" she asked.
"We were friends," he shrugged.
"You killed your friend?" She knew the words were a terrible idea the minute they escaped her mouth, but she couldn't help it.
"Shut up!" he shouted, his fist shooting out. She dodged as best she could, but the blow caught her on the side of the head. She curled into a fetal position, whimpering as her head exploded with pain.
"Damn it. Goddamn it," Dougal hissed. He was pacing around the room in agitation. "I knew him, all right?" he said to Natalie. "We weren't close or anything like that, but we'd play cards or shoot the shit sometimes." He slowed to look at the framed photo of Julie on the bookshelf. "This his kid? Judy or something?"
"Julie," she corrected automatically. Her head was still pounding but she forced herself to struggle back to a sitting position. You have to stay alert, stay aware.
"She looks like him," he said, his eyes darting over the photo of Mitch in military dress, the carefully-preserved American flag. His brows creased at the photo of her, Julie, and Mr. Monk. "This your new boyfriend?"
She surprised herself by almost saying yes. "He's a family friend."
He snorted at that. "Looks like a colossal prick." She had to bite her lip to keep from leaping to Monk's defense.
His gaze wandered over the photos of Julie at various ages. "I have a kid. A son."
"Oh?" She tried to sound interested, and even friendly. Keep him talking. Stall. "What's his name?"
"Tyler. We call him Ty. He's eight."
"That's a fun age."
"Yeah." He jingled something in his pockets, sounded like coins or keys. His eyes were still jittery, but he seemed to be keeping himself under some measure of control. Talking about his son calmed him. "I don't get to see him much, but I always send money when I can."
"That's good." She tried to think of something else to say. Her head hurt. "Does he look like you, or like his mother?"
Unexpectedly, Dougal grinned. "Spitting image of me."
His smile was genuine, and despite her fear and loathing, she felt a pang of empathy. "You must be proud."
His smile faded, and he looked at the flashing lights outside. "Kid's not a screw-up like me, anyway. He gets good grades. Wants to be an astronaut." He looked at her then. "Like Mitch."
She couldn't hide her surprise. "You knew about that?"
He nodded. "Yeah, he told me once. Said he'd applied to the space program a couple times."
"He got in," she said quietly. "I got the letter a few days after he died."
Dougal started pacing again, his agitation evident. He made two full circuits of the room before stopping in front of her. "It wasn't personal," he blurted. "My cousin Frankie got in touch, said I'd get fifty thousand dollars if I could arrange an accident for the guy. His boss wanted it done. I was deep underwater with gambling debts and I needed the money."
Fifty thousand dollars. Her husband's death had been bought for fifty thousand dollars. Natalie struggled to hide her disgust, and her anger. "You testified he was a coward who ran away with the radio and supplies after the crash. Did he really do that?"
"No." Dougal rubbed the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable. "Embry did. Mitch was trying to stop him. I shot him in the back, said the enemy forces stole his gun and did it."
"You son of a bitch," she whispered through the angry tears she couldn't keep at bay.
His face grew dark with anger. "I needed the money!" he yelled, getting up in her face but keeping his fists at his side. "And I didn't know about the child sex thing. I didn't know about that. Sick bastards."
"The man who paid for the hit was the one who ran the ring," she told him icily. "That money you got was probably part of the profits."
He paled, literally paled, and backed away from her. "I didn't know," he insisted. "I have a kid. I'd never have anything to do with that sick shit."
"But you did," she said, not knowing if it was a good idea to keep pressing the point or not, but she was so angry – her head hurt so badly – that she went with instinct. "You willingly took the money made from selling little boys and girls for sex, and killed a man, just so you could pay off some gambling debts. Do you think your son would be proud of you, if he knew that?"
"Shut up! Shut up!" he yelled. He picked up a knickknack from an end table, a ceramic figurine Julie had once painted for art class, and hurled it across the room, where it shattered against the wall. She was grateful he hadn't thrown it at her. "I didn't know."He stood, his chest heaving. "I shouldn't have done it. My life has been shit since then. I can't forget about it, ever, not for a stinking minute – not without drugs. But it's over. It's done. I used that money years ago. I can't give it back; I can't fix it."
"Yes, you can," Natalie said, impulsively.
He stopped pacing, regarded her suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"
"That's why JAG wanted to talk to you," she said. "They want you to testify against the ringleader."
"I didn't know him," he protested.
"No, but you knew Frank Nunn," she countered. "And Frank Nunn worked for Beiderbeck – the guy in charge."
He stared at her incredulously. "Beiderbeck? That fat fuck?" he said. "Yeah, Frankie worked for him. I didn't know the shithead was into child sex. Sicko."
"I don't think there's a lot he wouldn't do for more money," she said contemptuously.
Dougal snorted. "That's for damn sure."
"If you testify that Frank Nunn hired you on Beiderbeck's behalf," she pressed, "they can prosecute him for murder, for the child sex ring, for a lot of things."
"What's the point? He's already in jail," Dougal said dismissively. "He offed some judge, then tried to kill the governor. He's never getting out."
"It matters for Mitch," Natalie said quietly. "And for me. And it matters for you, so you can tell your son that you did the right thing."
Dougal didn't look convinced. "He won't know. He'll just know his old man is in the slammer."
"I'll tell him," Natalie said firmly. "I promise I will. I never break my promises. And maybe – " She was way out of her depth in this regard, but desperate to get him to agree. "Maybe you can do jail time in Sacramento so your son can come visit you."
He all but rolled his eyes at her. "The cops'll never agree to that," he objected. "Or the military."
"I'll talk to them," Natalie said desperately. "I have friends in the police department, in the military. You can probably work out a deal in return for your testimony, and if you surrender voluntarily, with me alive, that'll look good for you too." Maybe honesty was the worst policy at this point, but she was out of ideas. "This place is surrounded with cops. Surrendering is the only way your son will grow up with his father alive."
He glanced out the window again, and she knew that thought had already occurred to him. He met her gaze squarely. "I walk out of here, and they'll shoot me before I can say anything."
She hardly dared breathe. "They want you alive. They want your testimony. And I have a friend who's out there. He's a captain in the SFPD. I can call him, explain the situation. If he promises that no one will hurt you, I know he'll keep his word. And I'll walk out first, in front of you."
This surprised him. "You'd do that?"
He jingled the contents of his pockets again. "Mitch used to talk about you all the time. Said you were a stand-up woman. I used to give him shit about it, but maybe he was right."
"Do we have a deal, Wally?" she asked, her heart in her throat.
He considered, then pulled a long, thin object from his pocket. He snapped the switchblade open and started toward her.
She closed her eyes, braced, and let out a shaky sigh of relief as he cut the duct tape from her wrists and ankles.
Monk prowled the perimeter of the police barricade restlessly. It'd been nearly an hour and a half of silence. Dougal had disabled the land line in the house and wasn't responding to the bullhorn calls of the hostage negotiator. He was keeping himself and Natalie away from the windows, behind the couch, so the snipers couldn't get a decent shot. All the entrances were barricaded. The guy was ex-military, and it showed.
They were talking about tear gas, but Monk didn't see how it would work. There was no way to get a canister inside, and Dougal would probably realize what was happening in enough time to take out his hostage and himself, too. He shuddered at the thought.
Lieutenant Gautier had talked about flying in Dougal's girlfriend and son, seeing if they could talk to him, but it'd be hours before they'd arrive once that decision was made.
He circled back to where Stottlemeyer and Disher were talking to the head of the SWAT team. "Anything?" he asked desperately.
"No," Stottlemeyer said. "Clarke – " he nodded at the SWAT commander "thinks they might be able to quietly break down one of the barricades, get a man inside."
"But if he hears you, that could put Natalie in danger," Monk objected.
"She's already in danger," Disher pointed out. "It's a question of acceptable risk."
"I don't – " Stottlemeyer began, but was interrupted when his cell phone rang. He checked the readout and his eyes widened. "Holy shit, it's Natalie."
"What?" Without thinking, Monk grabbed for the phone, but Stottlemeyer held it out of reach.
"It's the house line," he said to Disher. "Get the negotiator over here, pronto." He flipped open the cell. "This is Captain Stottlemeyer, SFPD. Who is this?" He listened for a moment, his eyes widening even further. "Natalie? Are you –"
Monk stared anxiously, his hands twisting and untwisting, as Stottlemeyer's brows furrowed. "He's what?" A minute more, then, "Natalie, is he on the line with you?" Pause. "Is this a trick? Just say 'yes' if it is." Pause. "You're sure." He took a deep breath. "Okay, I promise. We'll be ready." He flipped the phone shut.
"What – " Monk asked, but was ignored. Stottlemeyer conferred quickly and quietly with the negotiator and SWAT commander, then turned away and began barking orders, telling cops to stand down but remain at alert.
"Leland, what's happening?" Monk demanded, frantic, turning to block his path.
"She said he wants to surrender, but he's afraid he's going to get shot if he comes out," Stottlemeyer finally told him.
"He's going to –" His heart leaped into his throat. "How do we know he's not going to start shooting cops the minute he walks out that door?"
"We don't. That's why we're going to have snipers ready to take him out if he reaches for a weapon. But Natalie swore it wasn't a trick and made me promise no one would be pointing weapons at him when they came out. Visibly pointing weapons at him, anyway," he added. "Like I said, snipers will be ready, just in case."
A tense five minutes later, the front door of the house cracked open. The scene was eerily silent. Monk waited at the very edge of the police barricade, holding his breath.
The door opened wider, and Natalie edged out slowly. "He's not armed," she said, her voice shaking. "Don't shoot." She slowly inched forward, her hands in the air. Dougal followed behind her, his hands up as well. He looked around warily, his body tensed for the sound of gunfire.
She didn't seem to be hurt, but then Monk spotted a darkening bruise on her right temple. It was a damn good thing he didn't have his gun with him, because at that moment he felt as if he could have cheerfully used it on Dougal – promise or no promise.
Natalie's eyes were large and frightened. They scanned the lights, the barricade, the crowd, until they met his and locked on squarely. He surged forward but Disher grabbed his arm. "Not now," the lieutenant hissed. "Wait 'til she's clear."
As soon as Dougal left the confines of the porch, Stottlemeyer ordered, "Go!" and SWAT officers rushed the pair, securing Dougal's hands behind him and patting him down for weapons. Two more officers grabbed for Natalie, but she shook them off and ran forward. Disher let go of Monk and he dodged past the barricade, meeting her halfway. They collided together in such a forceful embrace that they nearly tumbled to the ground.
For the next several minutes, all he could manage to do was hold on to her for dear life, as the noise and confusion of the police and SWAT teams swirled around them. "You're safe. You're safe now," he repeated over and over, not sure if he was reassuring her or himself. He buried his face in her hair and breathed in her scent, took comfort in feeling her warmth against him.
She said something that he couldn't make out, and when he pulled back he saw that her eyes were glassy.
She blinked at him. Then blinked again as he seemed to grow an extra head. Either that or she was seeing double.
"Natalie?" he said, and his voice echoed slightly, as if he was speaking from the end of a long, dark tunnel.
"I... uh oh," she slurred, and her eyes rolled back into her head as she crumpled into his arms, unconscious.