Chapter Ten

Isaac Gregory came to with the distinct impression that trolls were somehow loose inside his skull. Malevolent trolls with hobnail boots and hammers. He opened his eyes. Someone had turned the room sideways, at least that was his first impression. He closed his eyes again. It was all too hard to try and figure out, but he made the effort anyway.

Okay, I came in here…….where is "here" by the way……..looking for answers. Gingerly he felt the back of his head. Guess I must have found 'em. He tried to sit up. Bad move, the malevolent trolls were joined by a rampaging elephant stamping around inside his skull, and for some reason he seemed to be very attached to the floor.

Ice prised both eyes open and attempted to gather his scattered wits again. He was handcuffed to a pipe. He tugged experimentally on his wrist, to no avail. His failure to free himself caused him to slump back down with a groan. Dammit. Charlie, where you at? Alphonse? Then he remembered. Remembered why he was there.

Ice moaned again. This time there was real pain and anguish in his voice. His reckless partner had lost his life trying to prove something to Ice, something which Alphonse's death had proved. Laura was, if not the actual killer, at least involved. And Isaac Gregory had been the patsy.

It was the soft sound of ticking which distracted him this time. He glanced automatically at his watch, wondering why he'd never heard it before. Then it dawned, that ticking was too loud. Galvanised, he rolled over. The timer mechanism was there, several feet away. Well and truly out of his reach.

Ice's horrified gaze took in the wires running to a container, in the gloom of the warehouse he could just make out the dim discolouration of the liquid inside the plastic. Something told him it wasn't water.

Malcolm O'Connor slammed the filing cabinet door shut with a vindictive shove. Laura Neill was playing with them, playing on their fears for their partner. O'Connor had had about enough. He looked across at Ali, the big Scot's cynical expression said it all; aware that he was putting his whole career, not to mention the law, on the line, O'Connor nodded.

Ali smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile and it held a promise of mayhem.

It had taken them twenty minutes to get Alphonse back to the hospital to the loving clutches of his children and girlfriend. When the rest of Alphonse's strange extended "family" had realised he was still alive, and that the last forty-eight hours had been a scam, the explosion could have been heard in LA. Everyone started to shout and argue at once. Dylan and Adam had quickly retreated into Alphonse's room, to spend time with their exhausted father; Lucy had surged forward, the light of battle in her eyes and the air had been filled with accusation.

Ali had seen his partner was doing okay by herself, there was nothing Lucy enjoyed more than a good scrap; then turned his mind to their immediate problem. He had the nasty feeling that they were on a short clock here. After O'Connor had failed to get any useful information out of Laura. Ali had volunteered to loosen Bader's tongue. O'Connor had witnessed Ali's methods of persuasion before and wasn't too keen. He said as much. Ali pointed out quite reasonably that O'Connor had gotten nowhere.

O'Connor gave in.

Less than ten minutes later, Ali had his answer. An answer that he wished he didn't have. They had half an hour, if Bader could be believed. After that Ice was toast.

Ice had made that unpleasant discovery himself. He had a very short life expectation, if he couldn't get free. He'd searched his pockets with some difficulty, and he was trying everything in turn to see if he could pick the lock on the cuffs. It was slow and difficult. The light in the warehouse wasn't the best and Ice didn't have much to work with.

Abandoning the idea of freeing his wrist, he examined the possibility of moving further away from the bomb. Further down the pipe. He slid backwards, the cuff followed, so far, so good. He kept moving.

Ali drove, O'Connor, Charlie and Chrissy all directed. So Ali tuned them out, he pushed the heavy Explorer as fast as he dared on an unfamiliar road in the dark. By his reckoning, they would have about five minutes when they got there.

Shit. He pushed the 4x4 harder.

Lucy O'Bannon stood with her hands on her hips and glared at her lover. Alphonse took no notice, he propped himself against the bed and slid Ali's brown check shirt on, he'd all ready persuaded his son and daughter to help him on with the baggy shorts which the big Scot had lent him, they didn't exactly fit, Ali was heavier than Alphonse, and they weren't a fashion statement that's for sure but they were the only pants he could get over the cast on his leg.

"Royo, are you completely mad. Guess the bang on the head's made you lose your mind."

Alphonse looked at her sideways. "Ice thinks I'm dead, now thanks to that he could get himself killed. I gotta be there." He eased his weight between the crutches, maintaining his best poker face as his sprained wrist protested at the second lot of abuse inside of three hours. "Now are you going to drive or do I have to get Adam to?"

Lucy's scowl grew blacker. "I'll drive. But when y'laid up for six more months because of this don't come crying t'me, wiseass."

"I won't." Perfectly deadpan, Alphonse had her and he knew it, he also knew her threat was meaningless. Lucy would take care of him whatever. It was one of the many reasons he loved her.

She held his gaze a second longer, then left to get the car.

Alphonse made it to the front door of the hospital, anxiously flanked by Dylan and Adam. Thirty seconds later Lucy screeched to a halt in front of them.

Alphonse stared at the car, first he wondered where she'd got it, then blessed American sports car manufacturers. The Viper was a big car, if it had been one of it's European cousins, he could never have managed to get into the passenger seat with a broken leg in plaster.

"Y'gonna stare at it, or get in?"

Dylan and Adam pulled themselves together and helped him get in, it was a bit of a struggle, but finally he made it. Lucy downshifted and pulled into the traffic. Alphonse cast a questioning glance at her, which he was certain she didn't see.

"Don' ask!"

"I ain't."

Lucy drove. Alphonse clenched his good hand into the soft leather of the seat's edge and prayed. Not that he was a nervous passenger, after this trip he was going to take up something safe, and non threatening………………………….like swimming naked with sharks………………………………hungry sharks…………..hungry, man-eating sharks.

A hand closed over his clenched one. Alphonse appreciated the contact, for about two seconds, then he rather wished she had both hands on the steering wheel.

Lucy sensed his tension and grinned. Won't do him any harm to have a bit of a fright and we need to get there!! She frowned, Ice was a big part of her life too, and she had no intention of losing him to Laura's machinations. Lucy downshifted at the lights, then settled down to some serious driving.

The big sports car flew.

Ice slid gratefully round the corner and came to an abrupt halt. There was a spur on the pipe. Frantically he yanked at the cuff, but it remained stubbornly stuck on the other side. He rolled back a little so that he could peer around the corner, the solid concrete wall would protect him from the initial blast, the way he figured it; but if he couldn't get free he was toast.

In the gloom he couldn't manage to see the clock, but knew that he didn't have much time. He was just trying to work out what he had left to have another go at the lock when the screech of brakes outside the warehouse alerted him to possible rescue.

Ali screeched to a halt somewhere in the middle of the warehouses, thankfully there weren't many of them, just a dozen or so. The car doors opened even before the engine had stopped turning over and everyone bailed out.

Ali spun round once, trying to get his bearings. Then he bellowed "ICE, ICE GREGORY!!" For a second it seemed that there was no answer, but then he heard the answering shout, Ali didn't hesitate, they had no time for that. He headed straight for the sound.

The door was padlocked, he pulled out his handgun, aimed carefully for the lock and fired four times, the padlock blew apart.

"McBride, wait." O'Connor was behind him.

"Nae time." Ali was through the door before O'Connor could stop him.

Chrissy and Charlie were caught on the edge of uncertainty, wanting to be in there, knowing they'd be in the way, desperately hoping that Ali would get to Ice before the warehouse went up.

It was dark and gloomy, and Ali could sense the clock was ticking.

"Ice, where the hell are ye?"

"Over here." Ali followed the voice. Dammit. He reached for his handgun again.

"Roll as far away as possible."

Ice didn't need telling twice. Ali put the gun as close as he dared and fired. The handcuffs parted and Ali yanked Ice to his feet.

Then all hell broke loose.

There was a dull roar and they hurled themselves behind what cover there was, as a column of flame shot past them, igniting the packing materials. The inferno seemed to be all around them and they spun frantically round trying to see a way out. Ali kicked a couple of cases aside, and was forced back by the flames.

"Look!" Ice gasped in Ali's ear, and the big Scot turned. There was a chance, not a good one, but it beat standing around waiting to be fried. They sprinted for the tiny gap.

The screeching of brakes announced Lucy and Alphonse's arrival, when the ominous sounding roar from the building had everyone spinning back to face the warehouse.

"ICE!" Charlie lunged forwards, O'Connor grabbed him. Alphonse made a move to try and get out of the car, but Lucy held onto his arm. He tried to pull away, but she tightened her grip. Scanning the area, a tight feeling in her gut.

Then………

"LOOK!"

Everyone took off towards the two stumbling, battered figures that had emerged from the side of the burning building. Chrissy reached them first, followed closely by Charlie and Lucy.

Chrissy hauled Ice into her arms first, and held on as he coughed and spluttered. Ice pushed her slightly so she would let go of the stranglehold on his neck.

"I'm fine, I'm fine." He wheezed. Leaving Ice to the attentions of Charlie and Lucy, Chrissy turned to Ali. The big Scot was coughing and wheezing, bent over.

Chrissy stepped closer and tentatively put her arms around him. Ali fought to catch his breath, and then gave up the attempt and pulled her closer, which was when they both discovered the big piece of glass sticking out of his right forearm.

"Ali!!!" Chrissy peeled his shirt sleeve back, trying to get a better look, as she gently tugged on the material, a fresh gush of blood welled up under her fingers. Ali's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed at her feet. "Ali!!" Chrissy was on her knees, unheeding of the rough ground and her expensive pant suit.

Lucy bent over her partner. "He'll be fine. Can cope with anyone else's blood, it's just his own that he has a problem with." The big Scot was already groaning and trying to sit up, then he twigged it was Chrissy's lap he was lying in and gave up the unequal struggle. Chrissy stroked his cheek.

Lucy knelt down and opened his shirt a little. "You ham!!" she hissed under her breath.

"Take's one tae know one." Barely audible, one eye opened a slit. They glared at each other. Then Lucy grinned.

After the first excitement had died down a little, Ice found himself sitting on the back of an ambulance while a paramedic dressed Ali's arm and tended to their various cuts and grazes. Which was Ice caught his first proper sight of Alphonse.

Ice's expression became unreadable. The big Latin paused unsure of his welcome, propped up on his crutches, eyeing his angry partner warily.

Ice sighed irritably.

"Don' say it."

"Say what?" Alphonse moved in, confident now. Ice and Ali shifted up a bit.

"Sit down before y'fall down." Ice had recovered his cool.

Alphonse grinned and manoeuvred round so that he could take the weight off his right leg and aching wrists. He sat down with some difficulty between them, paused a beat.

"Told y'so."

"ALPHONSE!!!" Ice and Charlie howled in unison. The Latin smirked that's what friends are for, after all.

Back in New York, the boys retreated to Alphonse's hotel room. Chrissy was furious, everyone had steadfastly refused to go to hospital to be checked out. Alphonse suspected that he'd get an earful from his irate relatives and avoiding Rhonda seemed like a good idea too, so since he was the most serious "walking" wounded they headed for his room.

The conversation gradually turned to the case.

Charlie looked at Alphonse. "I don't get how you got onto Laura in the first place."

"Easy, she didn't call the police."

"What are you talking about?" Chrissy stared at him.

"Chrissy, you come home late from somewhere, and find him" he jerked a thumb at Ice, "in your apartment, and you don't call the police???"

"I suppose so?!"

Alphonse sighed, "What I don't get is why Briter offered a fortune for the Conquistador? Why'd he do that, it ain't worth much."

Ice smiled to himself for the first time in hours, or was it days. "Easy, Briter tol' me that the painting on the opposite wall's worth ten times that, so…."

"…she rushed out and valued it, found it was worthless, next time he made an offer she would have taken it at face value. Neat." Charlie appreciated the simplicity of the scam.

"Exactly."

Ice eased back in the comfy chair, "What I don't get, is where you and Lucy sprang from?"

A very irritable look crossed Ali's face, "Aye weel, she did nae steal it, the Viper's mine." He glared up at his partner from the other side of the bed, "Ah just did nae know she knew where the keys were."

Lucy smirked, unrepentant.

Seizing the chance later when they were almost alone, Ice sat down on the edge of his friend's bed.

"'Phonse!"

"Yeah!" The Latin was almost asleep.

"Sorry."

"Sorry for what."

"That I didn' belie' ya."

Alphonse shifted down in the bed a bit, "don' matter." He mumbled, before turning over as far as his plastered leg would let him. Moments later the sound of snoring split the air.

Ice gave up, he'd make it up to his friend some other time. He was feeling pretty tired himself, so he got to his feet, glanced up at the wall and sighed. A copy of a Jacoby painting hung there, gently mocking him.