Title: When the Ocean Meets the Shore
Warnings/Rating PG-15 for language and scenes of violence
Spoilers: Set in season one, but no spoilers.
Genre: Gen. Drama, Action, H/C
Summary:Some cases are personal. Others become an obsession. The death of a friend leads Steve and the team on a collision course with his past, the collateral damage endangering them all.
Thank you to my amazing betas coolbreeze1 andeverybettyfor all their hard work. You guys are rock stars and make my words shine!
Special thanks to mischief5 sheafrotherdonand sharpes_hussyfor advice.
Notes: I am not in the military, but I did a lot of research and spoke with friends who helped me with aspects of this story. All inaccuracies are my own or for creative license.
The source of life. Its importance transcends religion and philosophy. Wisdom. Power. Purity.
For ancient mariners, it was to be conquered on bamboo and wooden boats.
Steve loved the ocean. It was peace. A place to be alone with his thoughts.
He swam daily, six miles every morning. Seeking freedom and the challenge.
He felt like going ten today. Five out, five to shore. He longed for the rhythm and adrenaline high of endorphins. To push things harder. Feel himself struggle and combat the odds. Farther and farther, with nothing but the sea holding him back.
But like most times of serenity, he gave into reality, returned to shore and the brightness of the world. Water dripped down his chest; salt burned his lips. He sloshed through the lapping waves to the sandy beach and gazed up.
The sky was ablaze in a reddish glow.
A bad storm approached.
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.
His gut clenched in foreboding.
. . . . . .
Steve drove the long way to work with one eye on the rear window. Paranoia was a friend, had kept him alive for years. Even with little traffic on the roads, he took a sharp left after a right turn. Satisfied that he wasn't being tailed, he arrived at HQ hours before anyone else.
Catching up on paperwork did little to distract him, his sense of unease increasing by the hour. He went online and surfed the internet for keywords in news stories. As an intelligence officer, he knew how to pick up on signals before major events blew up─ telltale chatter in online forums and blogs, or seemingly benign reports of trouble spots all over the world.
He scanned the most recent HPD bolos next but found nothing there either.
A rap at his door startled him. He pulled out and aimed his Sig in the direction of the noise.
"Whoa." Danny held up his hands. "What the hell?"
Sighing, Steve holstered his weapon. "Sorry. Didn't hear you."
"Didn't hear me? I called your name twice."
"I was distracted."
"More like trigger-happy. Did you have too much caffeine or what?" Danny stepped closer, eyes narrowing. "Or maybe not enough. Have you slept?"
"I slept," Steve defended.
For about three hours.
"Right. That's why you're so jumpy," Danny mocked, crossing his arms and leaning on the doorjamb. "Is something up?"
"Nothing." Knowing that answer wouldn't satisfy Danny, Steve relented. "I dunno. Just got this bad feeling I can't shake."
"Okay, I get that, but you being paranoid is nothing new. If you weren't, I'd be worried something was wrong." Danny moved inside and took a seat in one of the leather chairs. "You've been logging some hefty overtime investigating Wo Fat. Maybe it's catching up to you?"
"It's not that." Steve rubbed a hand across his jaw. "It's like..." His words fell away. "You know, it's nothing. Forget it."
"It's not nothing. Especially if it, whatever itis, has you wound up this much. Thought about running it off?"
Steve chuckled, recalling his long morning swim. "Yeah, didn't help."
"How about indulging in some éclairs? Picked a few up on my way. I'll share, even though you tried to shoot me earlier."
"I don't tryto shoot people," Steve declared with a half grin.
Danny rolled his eyes and Steve followed him into his office, snatching one of the pastries off the desk.
"Hey! Ever heard of etiquette?" Danny groused, tucking a napkin into his white shirt collar and handing Steve one.
Steve wrapped it around the éclair much to Danny's annoyance. In four bites, the pastry was gone, and he wiped his hands together, sprinkling powder on the floor instead of his black t-shirt.
"You're cleaning that up later," Danny pointed at the flakes.
"If you didn't wear such delicate clothes, you wouldn't be so worked up over some crumbs."
"I'm sorry that my wardrobe doesn't consist of a ten-pack of Hanes tees and cargo pants. I happen to like a little color in my life and appear professional to the public. And this," Danny waved a hand down his chest, "was a gift from my ex-partner in Jersey. A guy with impeccable taste in ties."
Steve stared at the blue and red striped thing. "Silk?"
"It was probably made in China."
Steve enjoyed the one-upmanship while he could but made a quick getaway. Trading barbs with Danny eased the knot of tension in his belly. Rounding his desk, he pulled out a folder on the Robinson case and leafed through it in preparation for his upcoming testimony.
Chin and Kono arrived and they waved at him as they walked past his office. The morning briefing was in half an hour, but despite arriving early, Steve hadn't gathered his notes on their pending cases. He wasn't in the right headspace today.
His phone vibrated and he snagged it on the second ring. "McGarrett."
"Commander, this is Lieutenant Chou with HPD."
"Listen, we discovered a DB a few hours ago without any ID. We searched his cell's last incoming and outgoing calls and found your named listed as a contact."
Steve sat straighter. "Do you have a description?"
"African-American male. Early forties. Six two, about one-eighty. Tattoos on his arms and shoulders."
Chou breathed heavily on the other end while waiting for a reply. Steve white- knuckled the phone. "What's your location?"
"The Motel Eight on Makana and Fourth. Room ten. Do you recognize the description?"
"Wait for my team and me to arrive. Has the coroner transported the body?"
"No. He got caught with a double homicide and is on the way. Do you—"
"Don't transport the body until we get there," Steve ordered and hung up.
The éclair threatened to make a reappearance.
He nearly toppled over the chair as he stood and rushed by his teammates' offices. "We've got something. Let's go."
Normally Steve wouldn't hustle them out without explanation, but this wasn't the time for niceties.
"Hot case?" Kono called out.
"Maybe," Steve answered, not looking back.
When they walked outside pink and red remnants still streaked the sky.
He should have heeded the dawn's warning.
. . . . . .
Makana and Fourth was a seedy area of town, miles away from tourist dollars and rich neighborhoods. A regular cesspool. Steve gunned the engine the whole drive, peeling into the parking lot twenty minutes later. Danny must have sensed the tension and gave him a wide berth with silence.
"You want to wait for Kono and Chin?" Danny asked, closing the car door. "You might have left them at last Monday."
"They'll catch up," Steve answered, walking beyond the yellow tape into the room.
He pushed all emotion to the back of his mind, focused only on the intel in front of him. The smell hit him first- vomit and cheap takeout. The carpet was covered with stains and paint peeled off the walls. A cockroach scurried across the nightstand and under a dirty ashtray.
On the bed lay a familiar body, slightly thinner and older than Steve remembered.
"You knew him."
It wasn't a question. Danny read Steve too well.
"Yeah," Steve replied.
"Mind telling me who he was?"
Chou was a middle-aged detective with a head of thick dark hair and a lanky frame. The guy had a high solve rate and his reputation for doing anything to protect it proceeded him.
Danny deployed like a drawbridge and stepped in front of Steve. "How about givin' him a second?"
"I've already waited half an hour for you guys to arrive."
"Then you can wait a little longer."
Chou scowled and Danny matched it tenfold.
"His name was Marcus Jackson," Steve replied. "We served together."
Danny's expression was a mix of sorrow and dread. His eyes drifted to the shoestring tied around Jackson's right arm and the syringe next to the clock. "You haven't bagged and tagged that yet?" he asked Chou.
"With 5-0 coming down? I didn't want to deal with the hassle." Chou didn't back down at Danny's aggressive posture. "You guys taking over the scene?"
"Yeah," Steve spoke. "We'll take it from here."
"Sorry about your friend," Chou offered as an afterthought. He gestured for his people to vacate.
The room emptied out, and the world went from white noise to the dripping bathroom faucet and the rattling air conditioner.
"You want me to call Chin? Tell him he doesn't need to come?" Danny asked.
Danny looked from the bed to Steve. "Does this really need the four of us?"
"We have a scene to process," Steve answered. "Marcus hated cigarettes, but there are butts in the tray. And none of his shoelaces are missing."
"People's habits change. Or he could have had friends over. Not to mention the paraphernalia on the nightstand."
Steve circled the bed. "He was allergic to secondhand smoke."
Danny didn't argue and he nodded at Chin and Kono when they arrived.
"Sorry, we hit every red light," Chin apologized, pulling out his camera.
Kono slipped on a pair of gloves. "Where do you want us to start?"
This was their crime scene, but it felt like a waking nightmare. Steve hadn't budged an inch, caught in an undercurrent of trying not to react.
"I'll do the sketch," Danny said. "How about you guys split the entrance and the room. I'll talk to the coroner about transporting the body to Max."
He heard Danny take charge in the background, but all Steve noticed was the leaky faucet, like rain bouncing off a boonie hat. He rubbed absently at his left shoulder, pressed his fingers over the old scar beneath the collarbone.
Danny cleared his throat, and Steve snapped out of his daze. "I'm fine. And I'm not recusing myself from the case. Not when Chou'll just slam it closed without really looking at it."
"Then let usinvestigate." Danny regarded Steve like he might break into pieces or perhaps go on a shooting spree of revenge. "Maybe you should give yourself some space."
Steve wasn't a stranger when it came to burying friends. "I've got some calls to make."
"You going to contact his family?"
"No. He didn't have any. I know a few contacts who might have some answers."
"When you come back, think you could fill the rest of us in?"
His partner had thrown him some rope to run with.
Aware of Chin and Kono listening in the background, Steve nodded. "I'll talk to you guys when I get back."
He ignored the worried eyes as he exited the motel room.
A strong breeze was blowing in from the south, and Steve watched the ominous storm clouds gather for a few seconds before climbing into the Camaro. He closed the door as the first drops pelted the windshield and pulled out his cell, scrolling through the call history.
Three weeks ago, Marcus had called him in the middle of the night, but he had never called him back.
The raindrops turned into a steady drizzle, and he stared out the window.
. . . . . .
May 12, 2002.
Little Creek, Virginia
The men all stood at attention as LTJG Steve McGarrett entered the barracks. "As you were," he told them.
Six sets of shoulders relaxed, eyes evaluating and dissecting him. All tough-as-nails squids with fresh tridents on their collars. All but one.
He sought out the guy whose body was the most at ease and had the wariest expression. Other than their CO, the rest of the platoon was green as Steve.
Except for the First Class Petty Officer standing at the end of the row.
He was several years older with dark skin and broad shoulders. A quarter inch of hair covered his large head, and brown eyes studied Steve while a square jaw chomped on a piece of gum.
With a quick gesture, the rest of the men quietly dispersed to other parts of the barracks. "McGarrett," Steve said with an outstretched hand. "Guess we'll be getting to know each over the next eighteen months."
Giant, calloused fingers squeezed Steve's back. "Jackson. And if you mean, I'll be spending the next eighteen months ensuring you don't get us all killed, then yeah. We'll be like peas in a fucking pod. Sir."
It took three seconds to be put in his place. Steve may have been a junior lieutenant and the second-highest ranking officer of the platoon, but that didn't mean shit. He was fresh out of BUDs─ an Annapolis grad without real experience except two years in Naval Intelligence.
He sat high on a meaningless totem pole. Jackson was his sensei regardless of the number stripes on their sleeves.
But Steve was here to learn and to lead when the time came. Squaring his shoulders, he nodded. It was his job to take all the shit, and Jackson was the one with the giant shovel.
"I want the men prepared for quarters in ten minutes."
"Aye, aye, sir," Jackson replied and like a drill sergeant began barking orders.
The heavens opened up and drenched Danny's clothes as he stepped from the car. He sprinted across the lot, dodged puddles, and left a trail of muddy footprints as he entered the office.
"Damn hurricane," he grumbled, his shoes squeaking with every step.
"More like a tropical storm, brah," Kono coughed, storing her umbrella.
Chin chuckled behind her, adding his umbrella to the metal bucket in the lobby. "You've lived here, what? Almost two years? Always be prepared for rain, and keep something handy with you in the car."
"Guess I flunked that whole be-prepared thing in Scouts," Danny snarled, wringing water from his slacks.
He stomped toward the plasma, typed in the name of their DB, and stole a glance at McGarrett's empty office.
Rapping his fingers impatiently next to the keyboard, he let out a growl of frustration. "We have super computers that could run NORAD and they slow to a crawl when you really need them."
"Was McGarrett as silent on the ride to the scene as he was in the motel?" Chin inquired.
"He was absolutely chatty at the scene in comparison." Danny glanced at the vacant office again. "I should have never let him leave the scene."
"He didn't need to be there," Chin offered. "If he knows the victim, working the case is bad news."
They were hollow words. Danny had worked the Meka case, complete with a no-holds-barred attitude. "Yeah," he said unconvincingly.
The last time Steve had had a run-in with one of his 'old buddies,' it ended with a re-creation of the Alamo at McGarrett's home. After the smoke cleared, Steve's Navy buddy had been wheeled to the morgue, killed by Steve's own hands.
The aftermath was locked away in a secret compartment in Steve's mind as far as Danny could tell. Steve never talked about it. But training or not, things had a way of smoldering, burning away layers of your soul.
The computer beeped. Marcus Jackson's face and record appeared on the plasma.
"Senior Chief Petty Officer Marcus Jackson. Served in the Navy from 1989 until he received an honorable discharge in 2006. Medical," Kono read out loud. "Says he was a SEAL."
A heavy silence settled. Great. A SEAL. It was bad enough that the guy was Navy. The military bond was for life, fused with sweat and blood. But a SEAL...it was like they were all part of some secret society. Maybe they were.
Danny wasn't a fool. He got it, but damn it. This meant Steve would be so pigheaded, so tunnel-visioned, there would be no dealing with him, let alone communicating with anything that resembled logic. Or sanity.
"Let's see how long he's lived on the island," Chin said. His fingers danced over the keys. "He's been on Oahu the last ten months. Bounced around stateside for the four years before that. Most recent employer was Singer Industries. He was a security consultant."
"Huh, not surprising," Danny commented. "Any criminal record?"
"Clean as a whistle...wait a second," Chin said, tapping away. "He'd been in rehab twice. Last stint was at a clinic in L.A."
"Coincides with the paraphernalia we saw at the scene."
"I told Max to put a rush on things; we should hear back on a COD later today," Kono told Danny. She fidgeted, eyes dropping from the screen to the desk. "Maybe something will turn up in autopsy."
"You mean something besides heroin? Like speed or meth?" Danny challenged.
Her expression deflated. "I don't know. I just think we shouldn't jump to conclusions for McGarrett's sake."
"Jump?" Danny laughed mirthlessly. "Don't you mean have a path painted by numbers?"
Chin didn't say a word, which only made Danny feel like the bad guy. Innocent before proven guilty was the letter of the law, but experience told otherwise. He glanced up at the plasma, took in an admirable service record, and tried checking his gut at the door.
All eyes shifted to the sound of footsteps, and Danny's stomach clenched in apprehension.
Steve bounded in with long purposeful strides and a chiseled stone expression. "What have we got?"
"Not much. We found out where Jackson worked the last ten months. Pulled up his service record, which of course, you know more about." Danny watched the corded muscles in Steve's neck tighten. "Your turn."
"I talked to a buddy of mine to see if he knew what Marcus was up to on the island, but he hadn't spoken to him in the last couple of years."
"Probably because he's bounced around a lot," Chin explained. "He worked as a security advisor for a firm in Denver from 2007 to 2008. Then he spent three months at the Pacific Coast Recovery Center from February to the end of April of 09."
"Yeah, I know," Steve admitted. "I'm aware of the other time he spent in rehabilitation, too."
"He had a history of drug abuse?" Kono asked.
"Prescription painkillers. He was hurt on the job. His addiction started a few months after he finished physical therapy."
On the job.
The waves of guilt were enough to knock Danny down. If a script was written on a physician's pad, then it didn't fall under the same stigma of hard drugs.
It was society's invisible disease.
Steve's barriers were battened down, but that didn't stop Danny. "When was the last time you talked to him?"
"Over a year ago."
Ouch. Danny knew a thing or two about friendship and the erosion from lack of communication. "Is it possible that he could have moved to street drugs when the legal ones stopped working?"
"People change," Danny tried reasoning. Lord knows, his brother had. "If he was injured badly enough to be discharged, enough to need pains meds to function, it's not a big jump to seek relief wherever you can find it."
Danny bit his lip. "People do crazy things when they're desperate and in pain."
"Do you think he would be able to hold down high-position jobs or pass random drug tests if he was strung out on something?"
"Do I think that a high-profile corporation would want to look good by hiring a highly trained military vet? A SEAL no less? The last I checked, you guys were pretty smart. Passing a piss test was probably a no-brainer."
Steve eyes flashed angrily and Danny backed off. "Look. We don't know anything about Marcus Jackson present day. Let's find out more. Talk to his co-workers and neighbors. Go to his house."
Investigate, Danny wanted to reiterate.
Chin tagged in and steered things back toward the facts of the case. "The night manager of the hotel had already gone home when we arrived. Kono and I will track him down and talk to him. The occupant of the room next to Jackson's is in between moving apartments. We'll go by his work and see if he saw or heard anything last night."
"We should have Jackson's financial records by the time we get back, and the lab might have print results from the stuff we collected from the scene," Kono added.
Hearing how they were dividing and tackling the case eased the stiff set of Steve's shoulders. "Alright."
Danny's own muscles eased a notch as well. "Then let's go," he said, downloading Jackson's file onto his phone. "I'll drive."
. . . . . .
The skies opened up and a monsoon engulfed the roads. The islands really hated Danny. It took twice as long to navigate and keep the car in a straight line. It would have been easier to charter a boat through the flooded roads. Steve had zoned off, the constant spray bouncing off the windshield hypnotizing him.
Danny let his partner drift away in a haze of memories while he sorted out what little facts they had to go on. Like why had Jackson rented a hotel room when he lived ten minutes from work?
Circle Hills was a modest, older apartment complex, which was a little surprising. He was sure a security contractor beat a cop's salary, not to mention military benefits. He didn't say a word when they got the key from the manager.
Steve walked inside and wordlessly stood in the middle of the spartan living room for a minute before checking out the rest of the apartment. "No ashtrays," he pointed out after his quick walk around.
"No nothing," Danny said, searching walls void of pictures or mementos.
A nineteen-inch TV older than Grace sat in the corner opposite an ugly brown sofa that wouldn't be fit for a dorm room. "Did your friend live here or a college student?"
"You see any dust or clutter?" Steve contested as he sat in front of a desk and booted up the laptop there. "Marcus was always about the job. He didn't have a permanent residence when we were deployed."
"But you guys weren't always on missions."
"No. Those of us without a wife or kids lived on whatever base we were stationed at. Made it easier to train continuously."
Danny wasn't sure if he should be impressed or saddened. "Live and breathe being a SEAL twenty-four seven?"
"For some of us." Steve scrutinized the computer screen. "Someone's copied his hard drive recently. We'll need to take it with us." He stood. "I'll check out his bedroom."
There were no signs of a forced entry and not much to search. Danny poked around and realized his apartment wasn't very dissimilar. A home spoke volumes about those who resided there, and he and Jackson didn't actually 'live' in their respective places as much as occupied them.
It was eye-opening.
He walked into the bathroom, found a shiny sink and toilet. The medicine cabinet was filled with amber prescription bottles. God, he hated his job sometimes. He snapped pictures of them with his camera-phone and went back into the tiny living room.
Steve reappeared out of the doorway, carrying a box. "Nothing out of the ordinary in there."
"Don't know. Random pictures, some papers, and a notebook. Thought I'd sort through them."
Danny glanced at the box then back up at Steve who sat on the lumpy sofa like he might take a nap there. "You okay?"
"You're a lousy liar." Danny planted a hip on the armrest of the sofa. "Were you and Jackson really good buddies?"
Steve chuckled. "It was his job to wipe the green off me."
"In other words, he was the guy from Full Metal Jacket?"
"That was Marine boot camp, and no, it wasn't the same. Not at all. I actually outranked him..."
Danny waited for more, but Steve's thoughts ended there. Danny wouldn't allow the moment to totally slip away, though. "Did you go into the Navy to become a SEAL?"
Steve shook his head. "I graduated from Annapolis and went into Naval Intelligence. After six months, I couldn't stand working in a cubicle, wearing my whites everyday. I was dying for active service."
Danny couldn't imagine Steve McGarrett as a paper-pusher. "Then you tried out?"
"Yeah. Trained on my own for eight months. Passed all the written tests and the physical." Steve rolled his eyes. "I was too valuable, so they held me back a year." He paused and sat up straighter, his body all stark lines. "Then 9/11 happened. I entered BUDs in October. The idea of a SEAL with an intelligence background was considered a great combination."
Not to mention proving one's self to the old man, but Danny didn't say that out loud. But just as Danny got his foot in the door, it slammed shut by the ringing of a cell phone.
"McGarrett." Steve grit his teeth. "We'll be right there." Ending the call, he looked over at Danny. "That was Max. He's ready to discuss the autopsy results."
Unless a body was in the later stages of decay, the autopsy room wouldn't smell. It was ventilated and pristine. Clinical. Marcus's body was fresh. A white sheet covered his lower half, his chest marred by a large Y incision. Steve had escorted bodies home before. He'd spent hours in a hot, steamy helo, his mind detached from the aftermath of violence around him.
He stood still with his arms by his sides.
Max dove into his report, ever oblivious to the world outside of his environment. "COD was a myocardial infarction due to an overdose of heroin."
"Were there any other drugs in his system?" Steve asked.
"Toxicology was positive for low levels of Tramadol, a commonly prescribed painkiller. It was negative for any other substances, but the grade of heroin was extremely pure."
"A hot shot?" Danny asked.
"If you mean that it lacked most other elements?" Max clarified. "Then, yes. It was 64% pure."
Steve looked to Danny for a translation.
"Jun-" Danny cleared his throat. "Regular addicts don't use the pure stuff. It's too expensive for one, and no dealer would waste profit distributing it." He peered closely at the body and looked up at Max. "Were there signs of a struggle?"
"No defensive wounds or bruising," Max answered. "There were also no ligature marks around the ankles or wrists that would be evidence of restraint."
"Any signs of previous drug abuse?" Steve asked.
He stopped looking at the steel table.
"There's no evidence of needle marks in the arms, between the toes, or the gums. I haven't checked the less obvious areas yet." Max fished out a PDA for study. "There was inflammation of the liver and kidneys, which is indicative of long-term opiate abuse. Possibly Fentanyl, Morphine, or Oxycontin. Maybe Vicodin—"
"We get the picture," Danny interrupted.
Max halted his lecture and moved to the other end of the table. He pulled away the sheets covering Marcus's lower half, revealing dozens of jagged scars. "As you can see, he has had approximately eleven surgeries on his left and right legs. From my examination, he suffered─"
"Two shattered tibias, a broken fibula, and a cracked patella," Steve finished for the ME.
Danny looked horrified, hiding his expression with his hand.
Steve wouldn't allow himself to feel anything at all.
Max glanced up, eyebrows scrunched in curiosity. "From an automatic weapon? I estimated from a strafing direction less than ten meters away."
"Yeah," Steve grit out.
"With the amount of scar tissue, it was difficult for me to determine the number of bull─"
"Max, how about moving along?" Danny intervened.
"Oh, um. Why, of course. It was just with the history of drug abuse, I saw the outlying cause and well..." With an awkward glace in Steve's direction, Max pulled up the sheet.
"Was he a smoker?" Danny inquired as an afterthought.
"Not that I could tell. More than likely smokeless tobacco. The inside of his left cheek showed signs of deterioration, as well as his gums."
Steve had what he needed. He turned around and pushed open the doors to the hall. He heard Danny tell Max thanks, his partner's footsteps catching up.
Steve was outside in seconds. He stood under the alcove by the exit while rain sprayed him in the face from a sharp angle.
"I had an uncle who chewed," Danny spoke, breaking the heavy silence. "I attributed it to his obsession with the Yankees. He spent more time in the dugout as a high school coach than at home. Was your buddy into baseball? Or was shooting his national past-time?"
"No, he was a Packers fan, I think," Steve answered, closing his eyes to the raindrops sliding down his face.
. . . . . .
August 15, 2002
Cleaning his gun was relaxing, a soothing exercise he could do with his eyes closed. Hell, he already knew how to fire any weapon, no matter the make or model, but of all the guns available, the Heckler and Koch was the sexiest. The finest German craftsmanship.
"Nice HK. Prefer the M13." Jackson slid into the chair across from Steve and slouched down. He pulled out a wad of chewing tobacco. "Thing chucks brass into the next zip code, but the weight's better."
"I like the sights on the P9S." Steve fieldstripped the gun, flipping the levers and removing the slide and barrel. He nodded at Jackson. "You like gnawing on that stuff?"
"Yep. Since I was thirteen."
"Kinda fits with the Lone Ranger," Steve said, casually referring to Jackson's call sign.
"Had that nickname since I was a kid, too. Father owned four hundred head of steer back on the ranch."
Jackson spat into the cup he carried. "Cigarettes bother my allergies. Besides, I wouldn't ever let the scent of smoke stick to my skin."
Smoke had a sharp pungent odor in the middle of places one wasn't supposed to be. Steve was still stuck on one piece of intel. "A ranch?"
"You don't think a brother could grow up on one?"
Great. First time Jackson said anything to Steve beyond, 'That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, sir,' and Steve just insulted him.
Jackson burst out laughing. One of those rumbling, full-bellied things. "You white guys. Always so damn skittish."
Steve snorted. He'd been played. "You're an asshole."
"I try my best." Jackson rolled his thick neck. "And yeah, pops owned a ranch. When he retired from the Navy, he took up the cattle business. Guess he missed barkin' orders."
"Was he a lifer?"
"Mine, too. Then he became a cop." Steve tried not dwelling on his bruised past and changed subjects. "Where's home?"
"With my team," Jackson replied in full conviction. Then for a moment, he let his guard down. "Ranch got sold when pops died. Not long after mom. But since you're curious, I was born in Montana."
That was something.
Steve crinkled his eyebrows. "Landlocked Montana?"
"Never grew up around the ocean, but I didn't have to with all the stories pops told. I couldn't wait to reach the sea." Jackson trailed off, his thoughts elsewhere. A smile actually quirked his normally hardened face. "What about you Jay Gee?"
Steve wiped down the first piece to his weapon with a cloth. "Hawaii. Third generation Navy. I don't really go there much anymore."
"SEALs don't need a port to call home, sir."
Steve grabbed the gun oil. "No, we don't."
. . . . . .
Rain dripped down his forehead and plastered his hair. He longed for the sea, to swim twenty or thirty miles out. Allow the saltwater to rub his skin raw.
"I know your preferred state of being is wet, but standing there drifting off in space is weird behavior even for you. Get into the car or come back inside before you catch pneumonia."
"I'm not going to get pneumonia from this," Steve said, pulling himself together.
"Right, I forgot. You've probably stood outside in the rain for what? Twenty-four hours straight? In the winter. Barefoot." Danny clamped Steve on the shoulder. "Come on, let's grab some grub."
"I'm not hungry."
"Well, I am. And I'd like to eat before dealing with the boys in narcotics."
Steve's head shot up and Danny smiled ruefully. "Who else has expertise in island trafficking?"
Steve once watched a thousand acres of poppy fields burn. Ignored dozens of dirt-streaked farmers standing by helplessly while their livelihood went with it.
He'd give up the ocean if he could wipe every last poisoned flower from the Earth.
. . . . . .
Lunch was fish tacos and a salad Danny forced on him. Steve ate while he ran over the case forward and backward. Danny spent the entire time talking then yelling into his phone. His face alternated between various shades of red, and bits of shredded cheese and lettuce dripped onto the napkin draped over his tie.
"I know you're knee deep in a sting, all I need is─" Danny nearly crushed the cell in his hand. It was a surprise it didn't burst into flames from his murderous glare. "Those assholes are more worried about their next bust than giving us the info we need."
"Who else has their finger on the pulse of island drug operations?" Steve growled.
He snapped his fingers at the same time Danny hit speed dial on his cell.
. . . . . .
Nimbostratus clouds were the dark gray ones. They formed in the middle altitude range then subsided into lower elevations during rain. Right now was a lull between downpours. The cumulonimbus clouds would roar in soon, tall, dense, and releasing thunderstorms.
A good sailor knew them all.
Steve wanted some answers before the next squall.
"You know we can't go steamrolling into a business and demand that all the drug dealers inside raise their hands, right?" Danny asked with his usual sarcastic bite.
"I just want to see the ones slinging what they shouldn't."
"Right. And you plan on doing this how? Ask nicely?"
"Or not so nicely," Steve said with a pat of his gun.
"No, no, no," Danny growled, stepping in front of Steve and blocking his path. "Kamekona said this guy has major operations all over the islands. The DEA's been trying to infiltrate his business for years."
"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."
"Seriously? You're quoting the Godfather now?"
Precision Work was one of the best auto detailing chains on Oahu. The perfect front with tons of traffic in and out. Ignoring his partner's warnings, Steve marched into the parking lot. Ball caps, shaved heads, and dreads all turned and watched them.
Five men strolled out of the glass showroom, hoodlums dressed in cheap suits.
Except for the grease ball in the middle.
"Gentleman. I'm Martin Sabo. How can I help the police today?"
Danny rolled his eyes at the heavy Chicago accent. Sabo was in his early forties with a chest and shoulders bigger than the rest of him. Another gym monkey who bench-pressed too much. His dark hair was slicked back with too much gel and he reeked of cologne.
"Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett. Detective Danny Williams. 5-0," Steve said with a quick introduction.
Martin smiled like a shark. "What can I do for members of the governor's task force? Make your vehicle shine like a million bucks?"
"No, I want you to tell me which of your scumbags deals in the really pure stuff. If you don't, then my unit's going to tear your outfit apart. We'll camp outside your store, treat every single customer as a possible suspect." Steve felt all eyes on him and he spoke even louder. "Not only that, we'll rip into your finances. We'll tail every employee and hound you until we choke any and all activity to a standstill."
"Wow, I don't know what to say." Martin waved his hand around. "I run a detailing business. The only thing pure here is the water we use to wash the cars."
Danny smirked and turned toward Steve. "You know, if I paid top dollar to get my car into pristine condition, I might get pissed if one of the employees left dust everywhere."
The sky rumbled above. Steve could feel the rain coming in his bones. Enough screwing around.
"All right. Listen up!" he shouted at the employees eavesdropping. "All of you are going to form a straight line for us. Then you'll hold your hands out so we can spray your fingers with a chemical. If your skin's come into contact with even a sprinkle of heroin, it'll turn pink."
Danny stood next to him, watching and observing as Steve went on. "The thing is, I don't care if it turns pink. I'm not looking for pink. I'm looking for purple. Because purple means you've come into contact with only the purest grade heroin, and I'm going to take you down for murder."
Martin started to interrupt him and Steve spun around. "Shut up." He pulled out his badge and flashed it in the air for all to see. "I'm the head of 5-0. I don't play by the rules. Your skin turns purple, I'll make sure you spend the rest of your miserable life behind bars."
Out of the corner of his eye, Steve caught a burst of movement to his left and took off after the guy making a run for it.
There was a fifty-yard gap between them, but Steve zeroed in on the KISS t-shirt and baggy jeans. He tackled the suspect at full steam and they crashed hard onto the pavement. The punk went for a gun and Steve took his wrist and snapped it with a sharp twist.
The guy screamed, his weapon clattering to the ground. Steve pulled his hands behind his back and held him down with a knee while he slapped a pair of handcuffs in place.
"Jesus, Steve!" Danny growled, retrieving the fallen gun.
Steve wrangled the suspect to his feet and released a heavy breath.
It started raining again.
"Nice ruse with the chemical thing," Danny said, scanning their surroundings for activity. No one had followed them, but he kept his gun out.
Steve spun his suspect around for a face to face. "What's your name?"
"You broke my wrist, asshole!"
"Want me to break the other one?"
"We've got company," Danny warned while a posse of employees approached. He pointed his gun at the ground in plain view and moved toward them. "There's nothing to see here. Everyone return to work."
Danny lifted his Sig higher and whispered to Steve. "You keep walking toward the car. I'll keep an eye on our friends."
"Keep moving," Steve ordered, shoving Lanny roughly forward.
Rain soaked through his clothes and splashed under his boots.
He heard the gunning of an engine, and Danny shouting a warning, but Steve was already in motion. He tried shoving the suspect to the ground, but it was too late.
There was the squeal of tires, then shotgun blasts.
Lanny's body jerked and his head exploded. Blood splattered Steve's face, and pain shot through his arm.
Then the world erupted into chaos.
Danny heard the Ford round the corner then saw the barrel poke out the window. He screamed at Steve and ran after it, but by the time he leveled an aim, the shooter got off three rounds. He shouted again and squeezed the trigger. His bullets struck the trunk and shattered the back window, but just as quickly as it had appeared, the vehicle was gone.
He ran full tilt toward Steve and almost lost his lunch at the carnage. Kneeling down, he reached toward his partner, praying he was alive. God, there was so much blood. Hardly anything remained of the suspect's head.
Steve groaned and that was enough to spur Danny into action. He pulled his cell and called for backup and a bus, then he shifted position and put himself between his fallen partner and any other possible threats.
Before he could check for a pulse, Steve bolted up, swinging his weapon wildly.
"Hey, take it easy," Danny tried reassuring him.
Steve's eyes went from dazed to laser-focused. They darted from Danny to the remains of the corpse next him, and then they went dark and flat.
"McGarrett?" Danny whispered, still surveying the area for danger. The parking lot was strangely empty. Not even any lookie-loos. "Hey, partner. You might want to lie down. I think you're in shock."
There was no telling if his friend was badly injured. Most of the suspect's blood had splattered onto Steve, all over his shirt and pants. Half his face was covered with it.
"Those bastards," Steve snarled.
"What bastards?" Danny asked, ears perking up at the sound of sirens.
Thank goodness, because Steve was acting a little unhinged.
"We were onto something and they took him out."
"I know. I was standing just a few feet away."
"Don't you get it? This was an assassination!"
"Yes, I get it! Now calm down!" Danny yelled back.
At this rate, he would need the ambulance, not Steve, but he wasn't willing to risk Steve bleeding out and being too jacked on adrenaline to notice. He grabbed his partner's wrist and felt the pulse flutter wildly.
There was no telling if this was a flight-or-fight response. It seemed mainly like fight. Steve went to stand and Danny had to bodily push him down.
"God damn it! Be still!" Danny snapped.
Steve obeyed, his chest heaving like a man about to run into battle. He glanced down at his left arm and cradled it against his chest. Danny quickly ran his hands up and down Steve's torso in search for wounds, pausing when he spotted the various holes in his friend's shirtsleeve.
The squad cars and ambulance finally arrived, and Danny wiped the water out of his hair.
. . . . .
His cell wouldn't stop blowing up. Danny paced the ER, coordinating with HPD still at the scene of Precision Work and fielding calls from Chin and Kono. Not to mention the Governor's office. He wanted to ditch the thing in the nearest trashcan.
"Hey, thought you might need this," a familiar voice said.
The aroma of fresh coffee perked Danny right up. "Chin Ho Kelly, you're my savior."
"If I knew a cup of joe would get that reaction, I would've brought you some malasadas." Chin laughed with Danny, his grin disappearing seconds later. He nodded toward the treatment area. "How are things going in there?"
Danny sipped his coffee. "Wouldn't know. A nurse booted my ass out."
"You know he'd act this way if it was any one of us. McGarrett doesn't give his loyalty easily."
Oh, Danny knew all right. It made him want this whole thing wrapped up as soon as possible. Steve was strung tighter than a bow during most cases. Add children or heaven forbid a father, and then the blinders came out and Steve was a bull on steroids, china shops be damned.
Steve McGarrett had serious abandonment issues since even before the crushing weight of both his parents' murders. Why else would someone seek solace in an elite military group built on foundations of life and death and trust?
"Despite my earlier reservations, I'm fully on board the McGarrett train of thought on this. Our perp was targeted. He was killed to shut him up."
"Ballsy move. Not to mention risky as hell," Chin pondered, shaking his head. "The question's why?"
Danny was about to ask how the questioning at the hotel had gone when the nurse came over. "Detective Williams?"
She gestured for him to follow her. "I can take you to where Katie is treating your partner."
Chin hooked a thumb toward the exit. "I'll go help Kono finish up at the scene. The storm's probably washed away anything useful, but we still need to take witness statements."
"We're keeping Max busy today," Danny sighed.
"Good luck," Chin offered as he left Danny to fend for himself.
. . . . . .
Danny was escorted to a curtained area and was promptly left there. Steve sat on a gurney without his shirt. He still wore his cargo pants, which were ruined. It was scary to think Steve could be used to wearing clothes covered in other people's blood.
"Commander, would you please reconsider using a painkiller? It would make things easier," the nurse asked.
"No, thanks," Steve grunted.
Danny had an instant affinity for Katie. So naïve and young and unprepared for the hurricane that was Steve. They were two kindred spirits, except she was cute and maybe twenty-two at the most, and she had this whole starry-eyed thing despite his partner acting like a jackass. It had to be the tattoos.
The IV didn't go unnoticed to Danny's trained eye, nor the nearly empty packet of blood, and it was impossible to miss the dozens of cuts and lacerations that peppered Steve's left bicep and part of his shoulder.
"Are you seriously giving the person digging into your flesh with tweezers a hard time?" he asked, dismayed at the ridiculous stoicism. Steve's face was taut with tension, his face gray. "You're not the Terminator. Having shrapnel pulled out has to hurt even you."
"I was given a local," was Steve's reply.
"If you were more relaxed, it would make retrieving the pieces easier," Katie suggested. She smiled warmly at Steve.
"Listen to the voice of reason," Danny pleaded. "I would rather not bear witness to this act of barbarism."
"She's almost done," Steve bit out around a grimace.
"This might take a while, Commander. There are um...some bone fragments embedded in the muscle, and they're quite tricky to extract." Katie opened up a fresh suture kit as she spoke.
"Bone fragments?" Danny echoed wide-eyed. "I think I might be sick."
"Skulls explode. It's like any other bomb. I'll get patched up and go back to work."
Danny had enough. "Did you hit your head, too?"
"We've had two DBs in less than twenty-four hours. Someone's cleaning up their tracks and we're ten steps behind them."
"Them. They.Have you listened to yourself lately? Will you be wearing a tinfoil hat next?"
Steve jumped to his feet, scaring the crap out of Katie who dropped the tweezers. He stood toe to toe with Danny, his expression thunderous. "We have a case to work."
Before Danny could apologize for his partner's behavior, Steve seemed guilty at his outburst. The sharp angles of his jaw and face softened as he turned to Katie. "I'm sorry. I know you're trying to do your job. I understand that, but I'm just trying to do mine."
. . . . . .
Inside, the car was icy cold. Frigid. Steve hadn't spoken a word since he'd tried but was unable to slam the door closed. To be truthful, Danny was glad. His knuckles were white around the wheel and the windshield wipers were loud and fast against the glass.
"It stopped pouring," Steve mumbled.
"I am well aware of that."
"Having the wipers at max while it's drizzling is a bit overkill."
Danny resisted the urge to pound his fist on the dashboard. "You wouldn't know anything about overkill, would you?"
Steve said nothing. He continued staring out the window, all his thoughts trapped inside the steel cage of his mind, the sign on the lock reading 'Keep Out'.
Danny let the wipers stay on max despite the squeaking noise they started to make.
"You missed the turnoff," Steve pointed out. "Hey─"
"We're not going back to HQ. I'm taking you home. We've got your meds, and I know you have food, so there's no need to pick up your truck. One of us will bring it back tomorrow because you, my friend, are grounded."
"The last I checked, I'm the head of 5-0."
"Then consider this a coup for lack of judgment. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?" Steve was still in those bloodied cargo pants and a scrub top since his shirt had been cut away in the ER. The white bandages around his arm were a stark contrast to the blue sling that cradled it. "You're a mess," Danny scolded. "It's already late, and if I'm exhausted, then I know you are, even if you won't admit it."
Despite the fact that Steve had been an ass, Danny knew the man was hurting. Emotionally and physically.
He pulled up the driveway and put the car in park. "I could come in for a while if you wanted to talk?"
"No, I'm fine." Steve grabbed the white bag of pills and pulled on the door handle. "Thanks for taking me home. I want to get an early start tomorrow, so pick me up at five if you can."
The car door clicked closed.
Danny rested his forehead against the steering wheel. He ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his aching temples. One day, Steve would let him in, but not today. Danny couldn't force it, so he drove away pissed and worried.
Hot water cascaded over Steve's skin and soaked into sore muscles. He stood under the spray for half an hour, allowed it to burn away the layer of grit and dirt and blood. Rinse away the particles of bone out of his hair. He stood until the steam fogged every inch of shower surface.
He finally stepped out and wrapped a towel around his waist. Pulling off the tape and plastic covering his incisions, he stared passively at the dozens of black stitches that marred his skin. His arm and shoulder were one collective ache.
He slid on a pair of boxers, skipping the t-shirt since he didn't want to battle with the sleeves. He shuffled toward his sofa, his mind a jumble of memories and images. He searched for the box from Marcus' apartment and mentally kicked himself. Danny had it.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, he leaned back and closed his eyes.
. . . . . .
February 3rd, 2003
The ocean was liquid night.
The helo hovered above the water while Steve tensely waited. They were ten miles out from the target, and his heart pounded in anticipation. This dive was based on hisplans.
He searched the eyes of his team. They were all focused on the mission, all emotion in check. Steve's CO, Commander "Blackjack" Evans, pulled out a stopwatch, his facemask dangling around his neck. Any second now. Steve's gazed landed on Jackson's steely expression, and the platoon chief shook his head in frustration at him.
Steve didn't react. He wouldn't allow doubt to niggle away at him. Jackson hadn't agreed with the extraction scenario, but this had been Steve's call and he always lived by his gut.
"Go," Blackjack ordered.
They fast-roped down the line into the icy waves below.
. . . . .
The cold seeped through the wetsuit and sank into his bones.
Repetitive motion combated the temperature. He was on mile one of three of a grueling surface turtleback swim to the dive point. Muscles rippled with every sidestroke, his profile flat with the surface.
The platoon swam together and together they would conquer all obstacles.
He kept an eye out for enemy ships and disturbances in the water, but the only sound he heard was the blood pumping in his veins. They were covered head to toe in neoprene, the sea swallowing them whole. Black wet suits blending into black waters.
In the midst of darkness, he recognized the outlines of the harbor.
"Two minutes to target," his earpiece crackled.
Steve clicked the radio twice beneath his hood.
With thirty pounds of gear on their backs, they dove, and after ninety minutes of swimming, the second leg of the mission had begun: a four-hour dive to place mines on five targets.
Man learned how to battle the water and fight against its natural stealth. Steve's recon of the mission had identified a Cerberus anti-swimmer system in place, capable of distinguishing human from animal using shape and movement and unable to be tricked.
Or so the manufacturer thought. Nifty thing about being a SEAL was they had secret toys.
Flask deployed the jammer and gave a thumb's up.
Coming across the chain-link netted barrier wasn't a surprise. Steve had done his job right. He scissor kicked while inspecting it with his flashlight. The metal netting was covered in polyethylene electrical insulation and a polyurethane abrasion protector outside that. The electrified strands needed to be cut, but would trip the open circuit and alert the enemy of their presence.
So far, Steve's intel was bang-on. Bulldog signaled Lone Ranger, and Jackson pulled out a length of wire and looped it to complete the circuit while Hammerhead cut each strand.
They treaded in place and swam through the hole in the netting.
Checking the masses above the water, Steve discovered the targets were in different positions from the intel.
Think under pressure; don't cave under stress. Steve had to adapt and react. Blackjack was the CO, but Steve had planned the mission.
He activated his radio. "Sir, give me twenty minutes to scout out ahead and find their new positions."
"Take Hawk and Flask. You have ten."
. . . . .
The ships were farther apart but still close enough for success. They divided into pairs and swam toward their targets.
Steve was vigilant for signs of the enemy, and for netting and detection equipment. They'd been in the sea for nearly three hours, but their air breathers prevented bubbles from streaming forth, keeping them invisible.
For ninety minutes, it was all about placing magnetic mines onto the hulls of ships in precise locations to exact the most damage, ever alert at being detected.
In the last several minutes, it felt like his intestines were being ripped out. It was hard to decide up from down, and his vision fuzzed at the edges. Then he realized what was going on. They were being assaulted by sound waves─ an evil anti-swimmer deterrent. The underwater speakers could be anywhere and impossible to dismantle.
Lone Ranger signaled for his next command. Complete the task or retreat with only seven of eight mines in place? Steve gestured to keep going. There'd been no abort order.
He fought twenty more minutes of nausea and dizziness while placing the final mine, but he kept his wits about him. He and Jackson completed their task and made their way to the rendezvous. Timing was a precision skill and the whole team regrouped within ninety seconds of each other. Blackjack counted heads, and each SEAL signaled their success.
Time for extraction.
They had a three-mile swim and then had to be picked up by a sub that would emerge at the surface. Blackjack signaled for them to go out the way they'd swum in through the hole in the net.
They had been non-stop in the water for five and a half hours. Steve's muscles burned despite the frigid water. It was amazing he still had dexterity in all of his limbs. They made it outside the harbor and surface swam for half a mile until they spotted the small patrol boats. Then the frigates.
. . . . . .
Steve unloaded his gear, anger and doubt gnawing away at him.
No one had said a word about the unsuccessful exercise. There was no need to. His exit strategy had been a failure, which meant they'd all failed.
He'd gone for extraction by sub instead of by helo again, not wanting to risk something so visible twice in a short amount of time. He slammed his locker closed and stared blankly at it. The frigates had "dropped depth charges," endangering the boat.
Most missions would not have as many obstacles as they'd encountered, but that didn't matter. A SEAL should always expect the unexpected. Steve exhaled slowly. They still had to clean all their gear and debrief.
"Well, what did you learn today, Jay-Gee?"
Steve met Marcus Jackson's eyes. "I should have taken into account the sea defenses after exiting the harbor."
"Wrong?" Steve growled.
"You need to know what defeat tastes like so you'll never repeat it." Jackson sighed and walked away. He made it a few steps before calling out over his shoulder. "Let's see if you can keep us alive tomorrow, sir."
. . . . .
At seven, Chin picked him up without apology for being late. Steve would have called a cab, but he'd kept himself busy reading HPD's reports on the shooting sent to his e-mail. Chin was comforting silence to Danny's loudness and right here.He needed that space, that breaker. Chin left him to drift and think.
He tapped a staccato beat on his thigh, restless energy pulsing through his veins, his left arm throbbing to the rhythm. They skipped HQ and went straight to Singer Industries to interview Marcus' co-workers. In life, you spent more time with those you worked with than those you came home to.
The car had stopped moving, the blurring world forming trees and outlines of buildings. "Sorry," Steve said absently, wiping a hand over his burning eyes.
"I know better than trying to talk you out of working this case, but you need to be sharp."
Steve caught his reflection in the rearview mirror. Haunted eyes stared back. "I have a high tolerance for stress, Chin. I'm good." He stepped out of the car and surveyed the parking lot for anything suspicious. "What are Danny and Kono working on?"
"Kono and I discovered that Jackson owned a storage unit under another name," Chin answered, slipping his sunglasses off. "He hid it well, paid cash. We found the key among his effects and they went to check it out."
Steve laughed and Chin looked at him in curiosity. "He was Montana's Cattle King. Inspired Lonesome Dove.I learned more about cattle ranching than I ever wanted to," Steve shook his head ruefully. Too many hours spent on transports and marathon training sessions. "Let's go inside."
Flashing their badges earned them an interview with the head of Singer Industries. They were another company with defense contracts with the US military, the lowest bidder for naval parts. It was little more than a warehouse with a small set of offices, walls of gray paint, and harsh lighting. The air conditioner was on full blast for all those running around in ties and jackets.
A secretary buzzed them into the executive office where a man of Hawaiian descent, in his early forties with thinning hair, stood enthusiastically in greeting. His charcoal suit was tailor-made and worth more than a week's pay. "Paulo Walaka, gentlemen, I'm the CEO of Singer Industries. I take it 5-0 is here regarding Marcus Jackson?"
He gestured at the chairs in front of his mahogany desk, but both men declined. Steve preferred standing when he observed a target.
Walaka was sleazy charm and fake smiles─ a used car salesman sitting in the big chair and needing to flaunt his success with expensive clothes and office furniture.
"We were hoping you could tell us a little about Mr. Jackson," Chin asked, taking point.
Walaka's smile faded. His eyes went to his desk before looking up at Chin. "He was a good employee. Came highly recommended."
"And what exactly did he do?"
"Oversaw the security of our cargo transportation and shipping and ran background checks on all employees. He also consulted with our IT department in developing a system to detect hackers and prevent cyber crime."
"Sounds like he had a lot of responsibility."
"We started out as twenty employees three years ago with gross profits of $9 million." Walaka's leather chair creaked when it moved. "Now we have over a hundred on staff and we should reach $40 million. We hired him in the middle of our boom, and he was doing a great job."
"Was?" Chin pressed.
"Yeah," Walaka sighed and shook his head like a disappointed parent. "About six weeks ago, Mr. Jackson slipped on the stairs. Stupid really. He's always had a limp because of a military accident, but his fall really messed up his knee."
Steve had to look away. He felt Chin's eyes on him, but Steve forced the anger down. He balled his fists to prevent anything from boiling over.
Chin didn't miss a beat in questioning. "And this had an impact on his job performance?"
"Sadly, it did. After four weeks off, he returned to work and was never the same. Jackson was constantly tardy for work. His reports were late and the paperwork sloppy." Walaka shook his head. "This week, his overall appearance was disheveled. He was written up thee times over the course of two months. I was well aware of his past medical history, but because of his service to his country, we still took him on board."
"Not to mention the state tax breaks for hiring a vet," Steve grit out.
"That was secondary," Walaka defended. "Jackson was recommended to us through the Wounded Warriors Hiring Program. I jumped at the chance to take him on board. Hell, that's the reason I didn't fire him."
"Fire him?" Steve moved forward until his knees hit the desk. "A man whose whole life revolved around timetables and precision? Who ironed his pants every day and polished his shoes before going out?"
Chin's warning didn't register on Steve's radar. "Do you think a tumble down the stairs is anything compared to metal pins and reconstructive surgery?"
"No, I don't." Walaka leaned back in his overpriced squeaky chair and adjusted a cufflink. "But Jackson had had a problem with painkillers before. I gave him time off so he could seek help again."
Chin moved beside Steve and nudged him away. "Could we have copies of the accident report and reprimands?"
"Sure. I'll have my HR manager arrange it."
"And can we check out his office?"
Steve just stood there, tearing through the layers of bullshit and lies in front of him. Paulo Walaka was hiding something, the concerned boss facade as fake as plaster.
Chin still hadn't budged. He stood beside him, patient and calm like the waves until Steve relented.
"Come on, don't show your hand," he whispered in Steve's ear as soon as they were out of Walaka's office. He waited for Steve to wrestle his emotions back under control and follow him to HR.
. . . . .
Steve paced outside the building, allowing the sun to warm his skin. The rare window of blue skies was a break from the tropical pressure moving in.
Jackson's office had been pristine and barren as his home. They'd downloaded his hard drive and collected an unidentified substance dusting the corner of his desk in plain sight, like a damn neon sign.
Chin waited until they were outside and by the car before leaning against the open door. "You blew your cool in there."
Steve shut his mouth. Chin was right. Steve could disarm a nuclear bomb with ice in his veins, but he'd allowed emotions to breach his defenses during the interview. It was more than knowing the victim─ more than he was willing to admit to himself.
He paced, his body channeling and redirecting excess energy. "Walaka was lying his ass off."
"Agreed, but if we're going to find out the what and why..."
"Yeah, I know," Steve spun around. It took three steady breaths to settle his nerves. "I'll keep myself in check."
Loose cannons torpedoed missions.
Steve wiped at the droplets of sweat on his brow. "What did you guys learn from your interviews at the hotel?"
"That Jackson had rented a room there for two weeks. According to the guy who had the room next to him. Jackson only came in at night and ordered takeout on a regular basis. The walls were paper thin, and the delivery guys knocked really loud."
Steve rubbed at his injured arm, traced his fingers down his sling. "What the hell was Marcus doing there? I mean..."
"Maybe Danny and Kono will have something."
"In the meantime, I want to know everything we've got on our dead suspect from Precision Work."
"We should have answers when we get back to headquarters," Chin said, getting into the car.
Danny squatted in front of the storage unit and grimaced at the key control. "An alarm? Really?"
"Kind of obsessive," Kono agreed and pointed at the camera hidden in the corner of the door. "That's a pinhole surveillance system. Unless you were looking for it, you'd never know it was there."
Danny reached down for the lock as Kono whispered, "Ya think it's booby trapped?"
He snatched his hand away with a curse while she laughed.
"I was kidding."
"Keep it up, rookie." Using the key, he opened the padlock and lifted up the door. Danny shielded his eyes when a floodlight blinded him and the alarm went off. "Seriously?" he growled over the noise.
Kono brushed past him in awe. "Wow...um, Danny?"
He walked under the floodlight and froze. "No wonder this place's set up like Fort Knox." He whistled and scoped out the wall of automatic weapons, counting six different models. A table by the east wall was covered in surveillance equipment that included listening devices, high-powered binoculars, scopes, and top-of-the-line cameras. "Oh, look. Night and thermal imaging. I bet Jackson and McGarrett bought from the same catalog."
"You think the boss has a bat cave like this?"
It was a joke, but sadly, Danny wouldn't have freaking a clue. And if Steve did...would he ever show it to him?
Checking out the storage unit, he wondered if even Marcus Jackson had ever known the real Steve McGarrett?
If anyone really did.
"Look at all these." Kono pulled a sheet off dozens of containers stacked to the ceiling. Popping off a plastic lid, she dug through files and books. "I don't get it. You said his apartment was empty?"
Marcus Jackson's life was stored inside an aluminum tin can and locked behind a security alarm.
Shaking his head, Danny checked his cell. No calls.
"You're worried about McGarrett."
"You mean that he might get caught in the middle of a drive-by where half a punk's skull is blown all over him?" Kono frowned and Danny relented. "I'm worried that he's got his sights set so far off his target that he won't see the cliff right in front of him."
But if he was honest with himself, Danny prayed that the similarities between Jackson and McGarrett had ended in the service. That Steve's life would never resemble the contents in front of him.
. . . . .
Members of HPD brought everything out of the unit by hand and unloaded the stacks in the back of HQ. It would take hours to catalog them all, but Steve declared them a priority above all other aspects of the case.
Danny penciled the catalog number from the sixth container. "You know, there's a shooting that needs investigating... Just sayin'."
"We're running the shotgun casings found at the scene with the ATF database," Steve answered, wandering over. "See if we can match them from any other crimes. I've got Kono digging into the background of Precision Detail and Martin Sabo. Either he got one of his boys to commit the hit or-"
"We were being tailed that morning. Which doesn't make sense."
"As much sense as using heroin to kill someone?"
"Jackson was a person with a history of substance abuse," Danny reminded him. It was flimsy as hell, but he didn't have any other answers. "Maybe they were hoping someone like Chou would be investigating."
"Where he'd be conveniently handed BS reports containing disciplinary issues and strange behavior," Steve snorted.
"And when the substance on Jackson's desk comes back positive for heroin…" Chin waved the report. "It's a slam dunk."
Danny scrubbed a hand over his face. "Then why not plant drugs at his home?"
Steve didn't have an answer - he dealt with his frustration by snagging the nearest container. He grabbed it with both hands, sling and all, but his left arm gave out and the container fell out of his grasp.
"For crying out loud." Danny was there, standing but not touching. "How about letting those who don't have a clipped wing move all the heavy stuff, huh?" But Steve's pallor went gray. "Hey? Are you all right?"
Danny's worried voice caught the attention of the others and said attention drove Steve away in a cloud of, "We've got work to do."
"The interview at Singer left him a little rough around the edges. Let him blow off some steam," Chin warned.
Danny gave his partner exactly twenty seconds of alone time before he marched right after him.
Steve paced. Probably because there wasn't an ocean nearby to jump in. He looked pale and worn, and his eyes were red-rimmed.
"Would you sit before you fall down?"
"I don't have time. We have two cases, two bodies, two corporations to dig through-"
"Yeah, yeah. I get it, but seriously, man. You look like crap. Have you taken your pain pills? They can't work if they're stuck in bottles."
"I left them at home."
"Of course you did."
"I took some Advil a little while ago."
Steve was like a wounded dog in search of a bone. Danny remembered the storage unit and patted down his shirt pocket. "Hey, I found this memory stick. Looked like Jackson had recently used it. Why don't you see if there's anything useful on it?"
From the set of his jaw, Steve wanted to argue but Danny's logic was sound. He didn't even gloat about it.
He wouldn't admit Danny was right, though. He just took the flash drive with a grateful nod and went into his office.
Good. Maybe he'd fall asleep in his chair.
. . . . . .
The suspect from Precision Detail now had a full name. Heath Lanny Crawford. He was a young punk with deep ties to everyone on the street. He had lots of juice and pull but no big connections with major outfits. He'd been new to Sabo's operation. Maybe killing Jackson had been a test?
The douchebag had run when he'd fallen for Steve's ruse. Took off because he'd been the one handling pure grade shit. And then he'd been gunned down immediately.
In what? Two minutes?
Gnawing at the end of his pencil, Danny re-read Lanny's record then tried sorting through the reports from the DEA on Martin Sabo's drug operation. No major busts or arrests. Even the two-bit players did time rather than give the guy up.
"I know what Marcus was up to at that hotel." Steve bulldozed his way over, slapping stacks of pictures in front of Danny. "He was doing surveillance."
Obviously, his partner hadn't fallen asleep like Danny had hoped. "Surveillance? Of what?" he asked, scanning the pictures. "Where'd you get these?"
"I printed them off the flash drive. Marcus was doing a stakeout of the warehouse across the street. There's got to be hundreds of pictures." Steve barely took a breath between each statement. "And I ran a check on the warehouse. It's owned by an MPP Limited. The sole proprietor happens to be Martin Sabo."
One piece of a large puzzle fell into place.
"What did Jackson find?"
"I'm not sure."
Okay, not helpful. Danny studied the pictures. They were all taken at night. Most were of blurry images of trucks and a few blobs that were supposed to be people.
"How the hell did Jackson even get involved in this?"
"I have no idea."
"And if he did have something on Sabo, why didn't he go to the police?"
"Marcus was anal about details. He wouldn't go to the authorities without some proof backing up whatever he thought he was on to."
"But he had your number in his cell? Why didn't he dial it?"
Danny would do anything to take his question back and prevent the pain written on Steve's face. He really needed to know more, though, because if Jackson had called Steve and Steve hadn't returned his call, then it was more than loyalty driving his partner. It was guilt.
And guilt was the most painful companion of death, preying on the survivors.
. . . . . .
Danny hated this idea. He wasn't against taking up where Jackson had left off and conducting their own surveillance, but using the exact room where he died?
Steve already lived in the same house where his father had been murdered.
"Why couldn't we use the room next door?" Danny asked, setting his bag of equipment on the bed.
"Marcus chose this room for a reason. It probably has the best line of sight on his objective."
"We're not on a mission; we're on a stakeout."
"Same principles, Danny."
"If you start breaking out the camo paint, we're done."
Steve ignored him and pulled out some James Bond sensor device. He set up a tripod and adjusted what looked like a telescope from Star Trek. "This will sharpen the images."
"And where, pray tell, did you buy that?"
Apparently, Danny was talking to himself. Fine. He pulled out his standard issue binoculars and planted his ass against the table by the chair to observe.
. . . . .
Cars came and went across the street. People argued in the hotel parking lot.
Hookers dropped by all night. In the six hours of listening, staring, and counting the number of stains in the carpet, there'd been no chitchat or arguing over stupid shit.
He wasn't sure, but Danny didn't think Steve had moved a muscle. He'd been a slab of rock, unyielding to distraction. It was like he'd blended into the plaster and wooden window frame.
Danny had kidded about this not being a mission, but Steve hadn't been joking. He was out there.In a jungle, or the desert, or wherever he'd served, inches away from warlords or terrorists, unable and unwilling to breathe.
It would be awe worthy if the two of them weren't in Hawaii in a crappy motel. It was near morning, a heavy drizzle obscuring the sunrise, and Danny was worn to the bone.
Steve finally packed away his uber gear and sat on the bed, looking weary and drained, almost a shell of his normal vibrant and annoyingly active self.
"We both need to hit the sack," Danny said around a yawn.
God. He had Grace this Saturday. His whole sleep cycle was screwed.
"I'm starving. Except for those tasteless protein bars you carry, I didn't eat. As much as my bed is calling me, you want to grab breakfast before I drop you off at HQ to pick up your truck?
"I'll take a rain check. I want to go over-"
"Excuse me?" Danny asked, exasperated. "We just pulled an all-nighter on top of our normal shift because you wanted Kono and Chin working on the thousand other aspects of this case. No, we need to eat pancakes and scrambled eggs and get some solid sleep."
"Case's not going to solve itself."
"No, and it sure as hell won't get solved if you run yourself into the ground. You were shot recently and had to wash brain matter out of your hair. Or did you forget?"
"I've gone longer without sleep."
"We'll meet back here at sixteen hundred."
"Hello," Danny waved his hand in front of Steve's stubbled face. "You mean at 4 p.m. You know, how normal humans keep track of time."
Danny was too damn tired for this right now.
"I know you don't like living in the real world because McGarrett Land doesn't have any pesky rules to follow, but tomorrow, we're doing the stakeout like normal. With talking and ordering dinner and acting like partners should."
Steve mumbled an appropriate response and an apology for acting like petrified wood the whole night. It was well intentioned, but Danny didn't buy it. Whether he knew it or not, Steve's defenses were broken and Danny could see right through them.
. . . . .
Sleep was that brass ring barely out of reach. Danny's fingers grasped the smooth surface only for them to slip away. He tossed and turned and got thirty minutes of rest before bolting awake to images of blood and bone exploding in his face.
He blamed Steve as he drove by himself.
Blamed him for how slow his reflexes responded to red lights and how every radio station irritated him like nails on a chalkboard.
He didn't pick up Steve. They both arrived at the flea trap motel in their own cars. It was going to be a very long day as they got an early head start. Danny checked in with Kono and Chin and got caught up on all the reasons why the DEA had hit so many brick walls on their investigations.
There were no paper trails of illegal activity, and it'd been impossible to get anyone undercover. The DEA had no idea how Sabo moved drugs all over the island. There was still no telling if their surveillance would prove substantive to the investigation. The priorities of the case had shifted from Jackson's storage unit to the mysterious warehouse across from where he died.
Drug dealers and shifty defense contractors. There was a connection somewhere.
Chin warned him that Steve had been at work hours before Chin and Kono had arrived. Tread carefully was all the advice he'd been given.
Danny walked into the motel room and froze. "Are those the same clothes you were wearing yesterday?"
Steve kept packages of t-shirts in his office, so his upper half might have been fresh, but those cargo pants were the ones from yesterday. They had the same worn spot above the right knee.
"Has your face seen a razor in the last couple of days?"
"I brought lunch," Steve said, dodging the question.
Mao Ling's was an actual four-star Chinese restaurant. Danny grabbed a pint of moo shu pork. "This doesn't buy you a pass from yesterday," he warned between mouthfuls.
Steve's smile was forced.
There were slanted efforts at small talk only because Steve was edgier. The complete opposite of last night. From still to twitchy. He adjusted the air conditioner three times.
"Would you please chill out?" Danny complained.
"We're not making enough progress."
"Hello? It's been three days."
"The trail's going cold."
"The case is more complicated than the state budget."
"I say we should wait until it's dark and go in there."
"Into the warehouse?"
"Are you nuts?" The vein in Danny's temple spasmed. "There are these things called laws. You know, that we're sworn to serve and protect?"
Steve rubbed at his forehead. "We can't just-"
"Just what? Act like cops? That's what we are. We follow the rules even when they suck."
"Goddammit!" Steve snarled, smashing the wall with his good hand and leaving a fist-sized dent.
"Okay, that's it. You're going home and you're going to sleep for eight whole hours, or I'm-"
"You're going to what?"
"I'll punch your lights out if I have to. You're frayed to the bone, and I can't afford a partner who's stretched tighter than a rubber band. If you don't get yourself killed, then you'll get me killed."
He got right into Steve's face. "You need to stand down. I'll call Kono or Chin. And if you open your mouth to argue, then we're going to tussle and I don't how to break it to you, but I'll win."
For a second, Danny thought Steve would call his bluff, but thankfully all that endless stamina had a limit. Steve slumped onto the bed, cupping his face with his free hand.
"Look," Danny sighed. "You're tired. Beyond tired. Training or not, it adds up. You need fresh eyes and a rested body, okay? I have this. 5-0 has this. I promise."
Please. You idiot.
Steve stood, bruised and hurting, but he stood.
"Alright. But you promise. If you discover something-"
"I've got you on speed dial. I know how much this means to you."
Steve nodded, and Danny felt the enormous weight on his shoulders grow heavier.
The clouds rolled in from shore, gathering energy. Rising air expanded until it was torn apart by thermal energy.
Steve drove. It didn't matter where. He had no direction. Foot on the pedal, hands sweaty on the wheel, his left arm a dog's leftover chew toy.
Even with the windows rolled down, perspiration beaded in the creases of his forehead. For two hours, he dissected the case, pried apart emotion and memory. It was a fight, battling those images away. He needed to go home and figure out the shit in his head.
Pulling into his driveway, he snagged the box he'd found at Marcus's apartment and went inside. He collapsed on the sofa, wiped the grit out of his eyes, and dug his fingers into his throbbing temple, but he was too tired to sleep and too washed out to think.
. . . . . .
April 21st, 2003
Steve was wired with adrenaline and skirting exhaustion. The mission debriefing had been yesterday at 0500, followed by a gear check and arrival on the carrier. He hadn't slept during the ride to their destination, and once he'd boarded the helo, it was game-on.
The vessel below was a type 056 corvette- a small maneuverable warship. It was made of one thousand tons of metal with a single gun deck with a max speed of thirty-six knots and able to outrun a sub.
The rescue op was coordinated with SEAL Team Five and the Marine Maritime Special Purpose Force. This wasn't an exercise. Steve gripped his rifle tighter.
Most of his team would act as backup and go in after SEAL Team Five. Both platoons were aboard the two insertion H53 assault helos hovering above the target. Steve was on the MH-60 Blackhawk three hundred yards away, watching. Waiting.
Varying degrees of green shimmered from his night vision. The vessel was cloaked in blobs of dark shadow and emerald. The enemy had no idea what was about to hit the fan. Thirty seconds. That's all it would take. Sixteen SEALs repelled down to the corvette and landed on the aft side, systematically converging.
Steve lay flat on his belly on the floor of the helo, finger on the trigger. He tried zeroing his weapon, but his line of sight was in constant flux. Waves kept the target vessel in motion even as the wind bombarded the helo. He compensated and adjusted his trajectory.
The target was three hundred and twenty meters away at a sixty-degree angle.
He multiplied the range by the cosine, then aimed where he projected the target to be.
"First bogie is at twenty degrees north, fifty-one east,"Lone Ranger's voice echoed in his earpiece.
"Copy that," Steve breathed, locating the green human outline.
He squeezed the trigger.
"Got two more at twenty and forty-five."
He adjusted the side rule, calculated gravity, movement, and wind, then fired again. Then at the third target.
The platoons were on their way to the bridge. Sixteen neon green outlines as Steve took out the enemy on the upper deck.
"Smooth Dog. Bogies at fifty and thirty-six degrees."
Three more targets were on the move. Steve adjusted his slant, anticipated the lead time, and took each one out.
Both SEAL teams converged onto the bridge, and thirty seconds later the vessel was at a full stop.
Steve readied himself for new targets.
The radio crackled for the follow-up force to board. His finger rested on the trigger while the Marines roped down.
Ninety seconds later, his CO's call came.
"Ship is secure. They've taken out the targets."
Steve took a breath but didn't dare wipe away the sweat at his brow.
Only after the bag guys were rounded up and the teams had started extraction procedures did Steve lay off the scope.
Ninety-two minutes later, he was back on the carrier, disassembling his rifle.
"That was some fine shooting, Jay Gee," came a familiar voice.
"Thanks for calling the shots," Steve answered, knowing he was nothing without a good spotter.
"That's my job, sir." Jackson sat next to him. He rested his head against the wall, fingers fishing out a wad of tobacco. "When we get to port, drinks are on me."
Jackson clapped Steve on the shoulder. "Hey, it's been ten months and we ain't dead yet."
Steve hid his smile.
. . . . .
God. Had he fallen asleep? Steve blinked at the display of his watch. It was after seven.
His skin felt like paper, tight over his bones, and a migraine pulsed behind his skull.
He needed to run, clear the cobwebs so he could focus. He removed his sling, igniting shock waves through his bicep and sending a shot of energy into his brain.
Sometimes pushing harder broke through the haze.
He went outside without changing into his running shorts and took off down the beach. Feet hit the sand. Ocean breezes brushed his cheeks.
One mile. Two.
His eyes burned.
His arm throbbed.
A Nene squawked above his head as the storm rumbled.
Sometimes it was hard to believe he was in Hawaii, back home after being sent away by his dad for protection.
He ran harder. They'd spent so many years apart. Too many squandered moments and regrets.
If only he had known what his dad had been up against and his motivations for building a wall between them. He might have done things differently, like come home on the holidays and seen Mary more, really gotten to know his sister.
But his father was dead and his mother long buried. The mystery of their deaths was out of reach, and the lack of vengeance or closure like an open wound.
Sweat poured down his face.
He turned back toward the house, breaths rapid and harsh. He was soaked in sweat; his body was one giant thrum alive and beating.
He slowed to a jog, panting heavily. When he reached the house, he leaned against the back door before going inside, welcoming the blast of air conditioning on his skin rushing through the open door.
He stumbled in after a moment, found his sofa, and fell into the cushions.
His ears buzzed and the house was basked in a fuzzy white. He rubbed at his eyes to clear his vision, and stared at the cardboard box next to him.
Marcus's stuff. He fumbled through pictures and documents and found a birth certificate and an address book. Steve flipped through the blank pages of a battered notebook and stared at it quizzically.
"It couldn't be."
The room swayed when he stood up. He needed to eat soon. He searched through his refrigerator, pushed aside yogurt and eggs, and grabbed the grape juice with a shaky hand.
He wiped at his sweaty face with the container, enjoying the coolness seeping into his flesh. Stumbling back to the sofa, he grabbed a plate off his coffee table and poured the juice into it. Then he tore a sheet out of the notebook and soaked the sheet.
Several familiar symbols appeared.
"I'll be damned."
It was early evening and Steve squinted at the swirling letters. He fumbled with the lamp next to him, taking three times to switch it on.
He wiped at his brow as he tried deciphering the secrets Marcus had left behind.
Danny hated- no, loathed- stakeouts. They were boring and monotonous. Having someone to share the misery made them more tolerable. He checked the time. It was almost midnight.
His cell rang, but when he picked it up, the call ended. He recognized the familiar number.
Movement outside the window caught his eye. Chin and Jenna crossed the parking lot and he opened the door before either could knock. "Thank God. This is worse than watching water boil. And um, hi." He waved at Jenna, his eyes drifting at Chin in question.
"Kaye just got back from DC. I brought her up to speed on the case and sent Kono home so at least one of us won't be sleep deprived."
Doing surveillance in pairs was a safety thing besides a sanity check, booting Steve out notwithstanding.
"Good call." Danny stretched his arms above his head until his back popped. "I've got nothing to report."
"We do," Chin said, peering through the scope of the camera. "Max called. The Thai takeout collected from the scene was laced with heroin. Jackson probably couldn't taste it."
"Enough to kill him?" Danny asked.
"Maybe. Hard to tell, but it was enough to incapacitate," Chin answered.
"It would explain how Jackson was taken out without a struggle," Jenna added, wrinkling her nose at the foul smelling room. She paused at the dent in the wall. "Um, was this from McGarrett?"
"Hence why he's home," Danny said grabbing his stuff. "Supposedly resting," he mumbled when his cell buzzed again. "Do you know the definition of sleeping? It's been only five hours," he growled into the phone.
"What?... Who's this?"
Danny froze. "Steven?"
"Yeah...Danny, that you?"
Okay, this was scaring him. "Steve, what's wrong?"
"I...I think I've been compromised."
"Compromised? Steve, what the hell's going on?"
"Got to keep moving... Wait for an extraction."
The call went dead and Danny hit speed dial. It went to Steve's voicemail.
"Is something wrong?" Chin asked in concern.
"I don't know." Danny blew out a breath. "Steve...he sounded really out of it."
Jenna looked between both men. "Did he use the duress word?"
"No, nothing like that. It was like he was confused or something." Danny moved toward the door. "I'll drop by his place."
"Want us to come with?"
"No," Danny told Chin. "Whatever's going on, Steve would want us to continue the surveillance. I'll keep you updated."
Danny hustled to his car and nearly dropped his keys before turning the ignition. He flipped on the blue and red lights because he was about to break a ton of traffic laws.
. . . . .
Steve's truck was in the driveway and there were no other vehicles around. Danny pulled out his gun anyway and used his free hand to dial Steve's cell for the millionth time.
Rain pelted lightly on the roof, a steady rap over Danny's car. He curled his fingers around the butt of his Sig.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Should he call out Steve's name?
Or maybe just go through the front door, you idiot.
Danny's gut twisted with a sense of danger, and he swept the lawn, searching the porch. The front door was closed. No lights were on.
He inched toward the steps.
"Move and you're dead."
"Drop the gun and put your hands above your head."
Danny's heart skipped a beat. That was Steve's voice. Lower and scratchier, but he'd recognize it anywhere.
He carefully let his weapon fall to the grass and raised his hands into the air.
"Steve? It's me. I'm turning around."
Danny kept his cool while his partner trained a gun at his chest. Steve's t-shirt and pants were soaked through from the rain, his hair plastered to his face.
"Danny?" Steve lowered his weapon and stepped closer. "What are you doing here?" he whispered.
Danny dropped his hands, eyes skirting across Steve's flushed face. "You called me, babe."
Steve stared at him with bright eyes, a frown creasing his drawn features. "Called you?" He shook his head, spraying droplets everywhere. "No, I got Marcus's message. The stupid baking soda trick."
A tree branch cracked and Steve grabbed Danny by the shoulder and pushed him behind him. He aimed his gun at the noise.
Danny winced at the heat emanating from Steve's fingers. "Hey, it's just the rain."
But Steve was too busy chasing shadows, eyes darting at the tree line. "Might be snipers," he mumbled.
This was a nightmare. Christ. Danny ran through his options. Play along or try getting through to his obviously ill, very dangerous partner.
"Come on. I've got a car, we can-"
"Shhhh," Steve hushed him, still searching for invisible bad guys. "We hold our position."
"Steve, look at me," Danny ordered, mustering all the authority in his voice that he could.
Steve obeyed, his complexion ghastly in the rain, cheeks and the tips of his ears pink even in the darkness. Steve's breathing was rapid and rough, and his arms shook with fine tremors.
"I'm your partner. We're outside your house. In Hawaii. Getting wet. Do you understand?"
Something clicked. Or possibly shorted out. Steve stared at his surroundings like it was an alien spaceship. "This is...my father's house." He rubbed at his eyes with his left hand, and his right arm fell loosely by his side, gun still firmly secured. "My father's dead."
Danny's heart clenched at the shockingly fresh grief in Steve's voice. He hated himself for making Steve relive such emotion. "Yeah, he died almost a year ago."
"He was murdered, like my mother."
Steve swayed. It had to be stubborn sheer force of will keeping him on his feet. "I...I couldn't stop it." His voice cracked with sheer rawness of emotion.
Danny almost laid a comforting hand on Steve's shoulder when his cell phone rang.
Steve went from shaky to fully alert, eyeing the phone like it was a bomb. He started stepping away into the darkness. "I've got to find Marcus."
"Marcus is dead."
"No, I've got to find him."
The sky cracked with thunder and Steve took off.
"No!" Danny shouted.
Steve disappeared down the beach.
Fuck. The cell went off again and Danny answered. "We're in trouble."
"What's wrong?"Chin asked, sounding like he was ready to jump through the speaker to help.
"Steve's in a bad way. He's got a nasty fever and isn't right in the head." Danny was ready to pull his hair out. "He just disappeared like Casper the Paranoid Ghost."
"Is he armed?"
"And he's disoriented?"
"Is the Pope Catholic?"
Chin breathed heavily into the phone. Jenna was talking in the background. "You have to find him, brah. If we have to call HPD-"
"They might have to use force."
"Sick or not, Steve's dangerous."
"He wouldn't hurt anyone."
"We know that...hold on...I'll track his cell."
Danny prayed Steve still had it on him.
"Got it. I'm tracking him. He's not far. Less than a quarter of a mile from your position."
He was already inside his car, peeling out of the driveway. "Can you give me live updates on the GPS?"
It didn't take long to navigate the roads. Danny planned on cutting Steve off. He watched the dot dart across his screen. Even sick and injured, the guy was a force of nature. Danny would be in awe if he weren't scared shitless.
Then it suddenly stopped.
Danny pulled off the side of the road and jumped out. Panting for breath, he checked the GPS. Still not moving.
He didn't have a weapon, not that he'd use it. Danny ran from grass to wet sand, the rain a steady stream of hot stickiness. Everything was shadow and murky outlines.
The dot hadn't budged.
He slowed down, not wanting to agitate or spook Steve given his state of mind. Damn, it was hard to see. His ears were attuned to the noise of the ocean, of the rain masking all other sound.
Walking on the beach in normal shoes was difficult, so he tried for a steady gait, searched for signs of Steve in the drizzly mist and the surrounding darkness.
There. His breath caught in his throat. Steve was sprawled face down on the beach.
"Steve," he breathed. Falling to his knees, he located Steve's gun and slipped it in the waistband of his pants. He reached for a pulse and found it fast and thready.
Yanking out his cell, he dialed Chin, who answered on the first ring. "Hey man, I've got him. Could you call a bus and send them to the coordinates off the GPS?"
He carefully rolled Steve onto his back. Danny pulled him into his lap and rested Steve's head against his shoulder. Brushed the sand off Steve's sweat slicked face. "Jesus, you're burning up."
Fevered eyes snapped open, wild and unfocused.
Steve sucked in several rapid breaths. He struggled weakly, but failed to get his muscles to work, causing him to panic even more.
"Hey Steve... Steven, listen to me." Danny snapped his fingers. "You listening?" He saw a glimmer of recognition. "You, my friend, are sick, but I've got your back. Help's on the way."
"But...but the grape juice."
"We'll get you grape juice, carrot juice, pineapple juice, whatever you want. Just lay back and wait for your ride to arrive."
"No," Steve shook his head. "You don't...don't understand. I need to..."
His partner went boneless against him and Danny fought down a bubble of terror. "Come on, hurry up," he growled at the sirens off in the distance.
Danny squeezed Steve's shoulder, whispering a litany of reassurances.
The sirens grew louder and Danny became Steve's anchor as the waves gently lapped closer to their feet.
. . . . .
Terror was watching your baby girl slip and fall and hit her head. Grace had been unconscious for the longest five minutes of Danny's life. Nothing had ever come close to that type of fear. Not armed assailants or the possibility of being blown up by a bomb.
Tonight was a close second. He rode along in the ambulance with Steve utterly still while the paramedic rattled off vitals to the dispatcher. They burst into the ER into a swarm of hands and yelling voices. A nurse had to guide him into the waiting room filled with crying children and drunks.
Cold coffee lurched inside his empty stomach as he zoned out to the white noise of all the crises around him. He saw the shadow before he heard the footsteps and looked up at a slightly rumpled Kono dressed in sweats and a t-shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
"Hey," Danny greeted. "What time is it?"
"Three thirty," she sighed. "And that's in the morning." Kono sat next to him. "Chin called me after you arrived at the hospital. I took a quick a shower and dropped by your place. Grabbed you some clothes."
Danny gratefully took the plastic bag. "Thanks."
"Have you heard anything?"
"Nuthin'. Not a damn thing in over two hours. Even used my badge."
"I don't know." Danny stood and waved his hand at the nurse's station. "And no one here has found fit to tell me anything!" he yelled loud enough for all to hear. Kono grimaced. "Sorry," he apologized.
"Maybe I can get some answers. Try honey instead of vinegar."
"That won't be necessary," a voice coughed.
Danny whirled on the physician in front of him. "Finally."
"Detective Williams, let's have a seat."
"I'll stand." Danny scanned the nametag. "Dr. Okole, what's wrong with my partner."
Okole wasn't more than five two with curly salt and peppered hair and a sun weathered face. "Commander McGarrett has a high fever from an infection in his arm."
"This is because McGarrett wasn't taking his antibiotics, isn't it? I swear to God, when he wakes up, I'm gonna clock him."
"The commander hasn't been taking his antibiotics?"
"No. I mean, I don't know." Danny took a steadying breath. "I'm guessing that's why he's sick?"
Okole removed his glasses and wiped them with a cloth before slipping them back on. "It could be a contributing factor."
"Wait," Kono said. "A contributing factor?"
"A wound infection is not an uncommon occurrence if it's not properly taken care of, or if you miss too many doses of medication. In this case, the infection started because a foreign object was still embedded deep inside the commander's bicep. It kept the wound from healing and created a breeding ground for bacteria."
Danny couldn't believe his ears. "What foreign object?"
"A..." Danny resisted the urge to punch something. "A tooth.Are you kidding me?"
"Well, part of a molar," Okole clarified. "I admit I wasn't exactly sure how one got caught in the wound tract until I read the commander's medical file. He was involved in a drive-by shooting?"
"The suspect was shot in the head. Steve had bone fragments pulled out of his arm."
"Even with an x-ray, the piece was easy to miss."
"What now?" Kono asked. "He's going to be fine, right? He just needs antibiotics?"
"He arrived with a fever of a 104.8," Okole explained with a frown. "We're trying to bring it down."
"And?" Danny hissed, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Because there's always an and or a but."
"We have to worry about the infection spreading to his blood stream."
"Wait a minute. Are you saying that this...this fucking tooth could-"
"I'm not saying anything, Detective. The molar can be problematic. It's organic and carries bacteria, but we've caught it in time and we're treating the commander with an aggressive regimen of antibiotics."
His brain reeled with the news.
"He has a sister," Danny breathed, panic setting in. "She's in LA...do I...do I need to-"
"We're not there yet," Okole reassured him. "The commander's in excellent health. Everything we're doing is to prevent the infection from spreading."
"Okay...alright." Danny swallowed, suddenly needing a wall to lean against.
"Can we go in and see him?" Kono asked.
"We have him settled in now. You can both go in for a few minutes."
. . . . .
Kono went toward the bed and stopped. Danny wrapped an arm around her shoulders for comfort and strength.
A nurse placed ice packs under Steve's armpits and looked up. "I know it seems strange, but one of the best things for bringing a fever down is ice packs."
"Of course," Kono acknowledged.
"I have to keep rotating them around the core parts of the commander's body. I'll be back in twenty minutes, alright?"
The nurse left and it was just the three of them.
Danny stood over the bed, rested his hands on the steel rail, unsure of what to do. His partner was somewhere beneath a snarl of wires and tubes. An IV dripped in fluids, a BP cuff and pulse-ox clip monitored vitals. A thin sheet covered Steve's lower half, allowing his body to release the heat raging inside it.
A fresh bandage wrapped around Steve's bicep, and the skin was swollen and inflamed around it.
"You idiot," Danny whispered. "You can perform surgery on a teammate, but didn't notice your arm roasting?"
A hand touched his shoulder. "He's going to be fine. The boss's a warrior."
"He better be," Danny growled. "You hear that, McGarrett? Don't you dare let some stupid infection kick your ass. I will never. Ever. Let you live it down. Got it?"
Water slapped at Steve's toes, warm and tingly against his skin.
"Hey, Stevie. What are you doin?"
"Yeah? For what?"
"The right time."
His father stood next to him and scanned the horizon. "Timing's everything. Especially with the water. It's to be respected."
"These very waves have carried salt from the shores of Africa to the beaches of Japan. It was here millions of years before we ever walked or breathed, and it'll go around the world a thousand times more after we've left this Earth."
The sun sizzled and baked his skin, zapping all desire to move. To think. All he wanted to do was melt into the beach, and the mist ghosted over his face.
"Do you see this, Steven? Of course not, because you're letting that thing you call a brain slowly roast inside your skull. I am wiping your brow with a wet sponge, and you, Steve, are not my wife or my child. But here I am, dipping and soaking your head with water."
Steve wanted to smirk in amusement, but he was stuck, caught inside the sun's rays even if the surf was only a few feet away.
. . . . .
"That's some nice ink there, Jay Gee."
Steve pulled up his sleeve, revealing the rest of the Geiger tattoo. "Thanks. Just got it done. It needs some touching up. Since we'll be in port soon, thought I'd get it finished there."
"Screw Tokyo. I've got a guy in Osaka. Doesn't deal with tourists. His Kebori is off the hook."
Steve leaned back in his bunk. They wouldn't be topside for another three days. After hitching a ride on a boomer, they'd conducted close quarters drills and wouldn't stop until they surfaced.
"Ever thought about serving on a boat before?"
Marcus pulled out a deck of cards and shuffled them." Never. Sea, air and land, sir."
The walls of the sub melted into steam and vapor. Steve tried finding his way through walls of flies and buzzing mosquitoes.
"Jackson?" Steve called out, swatting at the insects.
"Did you get the message I left for you, sir?"
He pulled out his machete, hacking at the foliage. "What message? Jackson?"
Leaves and vines slapped his face as Steve ran his way through the jungle.
"Damn it! Where are you?"
. . . . .
He had to be somewhere. Find someone.
Steve jogged across the parking lot. Heat simmered off the asphalt and burned through the soles of his shoes. Panting, he rested his hands on his knees, scanning all the vehicles, taking in red, blue, and green hunks of metal.
He spotted his father's car. Saw his mother climb inside.
He ran screaming, but the car burst into flames.
Steve bolted awake.
"Hey, McGarrett, it's okay."
Steve sagged against the bed, his eyes slowly drifted to Chin's.
"You with me, brah?"
His throat felt like sandpaper. "Yeah," he rasped. Steve wiped his tongue across cracked lips. He felt the pinch of tubes, then saw all the wires. "Why m' I here?"
Chin told him about the fever and the piece of tooth that'd been pulled out of him. Steve only remembered bits and pieces, like sand slipping through his fingers.
"You were brought in two nights ago."
He tried sitting up but the world whited out in pain and dizziness.
"Hey, take it easy." Chin gently laid a hand on Steve's chest. "You've kept sepsis at bay and fought back a bad fever."
"I've lost too much time."
But his batteries were depleted. His left arm was a throbbing mess despite the drugs being pumped into him.
Chin's face went from worried to determined. "Brah, you're a strategist. Time to reevaluate the playing field and regroup."
An injured teammate should never endanger the mission. Or his team.
Five minutes after breaking the surface of the living, Steve was being dragged back into the depths.
He battled the claws of exhaustion and the drain of fevered skin. He retreated. It was the tactical thing to do. Allow his body to recharge.
Something nagged at him. Itched under his skin.
"Did you get the message I left for you, sir?"
"The notebook. Chin, there's a notebook... at my house." Steve struggled with his words, his body fading fast. "In the living room..." He grabbed Chin's arm in a last ditch effort. "Please..."
"I'll find it," Chin answered. He took Steve's wrist and squeezed it. "I'll bring it here."
Steve was too spent and his fingers lost their grip on Chin's arm. "You've got to..."
"I'll drive over there right now. I'm on it."
Good. He wanted to thank him, but Steve finally succumbed to the unforgiving pull of darkness.
. . . . . .
He wanted to shed out of his skin like a snake, rid himself of the feel of sweat and illness. It took far too long to become fully awake. The curtain and ceiling were awash in a fuzz of light. He must of groaned because the blob in the chair next to his bed stirred.
"You awake, boss?"
"Kind of." He rubbed the grit out of his eyes, forced the room in focus. "How long was I asleep?"
"Not sure," Kono answered. "Seven or eight hours since the last time. Chin wanted you to make sure you got this." She placed a notebook on the table next to his bed. "There were several sheets ripped out. But I couldn't read them."
Steve took the withered sheets, glanced at the blotchy writing. "It's Korean."
She quirked in eyebrow. "You you can speak Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean?"
"No," he breathed. "Marcus was fluent. I know enough to get by." Steve stared at the familiar scrawl. "These look like notes on financial records. Not sure."
His eyes were heavy and he blinked back the need to sleep. "Where are we on the case?"
"I was sworn not to talk about the investigation with you. Letting you have the notebook was a compromise."
Steve fumbled for the controls beside him and elevated the bed until he was sitting up.
"There was this discussion about rules and regulations when it came to um..." Kono's cheeks flushed pink. She cleared her throat. "It was determined you weren't fit for command and-"
"And nothing," Steve growled. "5-0 answers to me and I answer to the Governor. That's it. There are no votes on the matter."
"Look at that," Kono said with a glance at her watch. "Jenna should be here any minute so we can drive over and relieve Danny and Chin during the stakeout."
"Where have we gotten with that?"
"I'm not at liberty to say."
"I'm ordering you to brief me on this case."
Instead of backing down, Kono squared her shoulders. "Technically, you're on sick leave and therefore in no position of authority."
Kono had that look. The one that said she wouldn't back down.
Steve surveyed his room. One exit. No windows.
Kono settled into her chair. "There's always going to be one of us here until you're released. Danny said something about not caring how many prisons you've escaped from."
"He threatened me with cuffs, didn't he?"
Kono pulled out a magazine and started flipping through it.
The super high-tech spy equipment was pretty cool if Danny admitted it to himself. The LCD screen displayed details far superior to a normal lens. "We've got a vehicle pulling up to the warehouse. Small semi truck. Three Caucasian male subjects."
"Same as yesterday," Chin observed. "Can you get a visual on the plates?"
"No," Danny sighed. "It's parked at an odd angle."
Chin pushed back the blinds, peered through his binoculars and shook his head. He walked over to the nightstand and sifted through the takeout menus. "You hungry? We still have two hours left."
"Yeah, but no more Chinese."
"As long as it has motz and pepperoni, it's cool."
Chin ordered dinner and took his spot by the window. "You heard anything from the hospital?"
"Kono dropped off the notebook Steve was so agitated to get. It was written in Korean. Steve's called Jenna to see if she can help him decipher it. He thinks they might be bank records." Danny let out a frustrated breath. "I rifled through that box, and that notebook was nothing but blank pages."
"On the contrary; Jackson used invisible ink."
Danny rolled his eyes. "Invisible ink?"
His life had become a horrible spy movie.
"I'm not joking," Chin chuckled. "You can mix baking soda and water together. Inject the liquid into one of those old-fashioned pens and presto. Invisible ink. Then you soak the sheets in grape juice to read what it says."
"Steve mumbled about grape juice a few times when he was out of it. I thought he was having some odd thirst craving."
"McGarrett said a lot of strange things there for a while."
"Yeah, don't remind me," Danny grumbled, trying to erase the images of his partner caught in the throes of fever.
Steve was a lot of things. Insane. Brave to the point of stupidity. A complete pain in the ass. But he was a vibrant, headstrong, always full of life pain in the ass. To have seen him so frail and ill was….
Danny's temper flared. Steve survived being a SEAL and almost died because of a drug dealing scumbag. "I can't wait to nail these SOBs."
"You okay?" Chin asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Danny focused the lens at the truck waiting at the stop sign. It was the same make and model of the previous ones, and he used the streetlights to zoom in on the plates. "Bingo," he said snapping three pics.
Grabbing a pen and paper, he jotted down the letters and numbers and snagged his laptop. "I've got a plate to run," he crowed in triumph.
Punching it in, he sat back against the creaky chair and waited on the results. "I spoke to Jackson's physician today."
"Did you know he prescribed Jackson three different painkillers?"
"Pharmaceuticals are helpful in the right dose and while under constant supervision," Chin reminded him. "He might not have been made aware of Jackson's previous troubles."
"I'm aware of this, but the guy was his doc. He practically threw the medicine cabinet at Jackson. When I questioned him on if he thought it was too much, do you know what he said to me?"
"'The man was a hero'." Danny threw his hands up in the air. "That's an excuse to over prescribe narcotics?"
Chin grabbed his water bottle and sipped it in thought. "Do you think Jackson fell off the wagon?"
"No. The bottles in his cabinet were nearly full. The dates on them were from last week."
"Then we'll make sure his name is cleared," Chin announced.
A knock came from the door. Danny ambled over and checked the peephole. "Pizza's here."
Chin fished out his wallet and Danny opened the door to the aroma of a piping hot pie. "Dude, I'm starving. Hold on a sec."
The pizza guy crinkled his nose at the room. "Um...where do you want it?"
"I've got it," Danny said, taking the box.
With Danny's hands full of hot cardboard, the delivery guy pulled out a gun. "Take four steps back inside the room."
Chin reached for his weapon, but two more guys jammed inside and slammed the door closed. Both aimed .45s at him.
"Everyone remain calm," one of the thugs said. "Put your hands in the air, gentlemen."
Chin obeyed, eyes darting around. They were caught dead-bang. Danny sighed, dropping the pizza onto the table. He nodded at Chin, and they put their arms above their heads.
"Disarm them," Thug Number Two told the pizza guy.
Pizza Guy was in his late twenties with short, cropped hair and wore what had to be a stolen red-and-black delivery uniform. He reeked of nerves and the desire to prove himself. He took Danny's and Chin's guns and even found the backups at their ankles. "Clear," he told his people.
"Now what?" Danny demanded. "Because right now, you've only crossed over the line of stupid. You still have a ways to reach moronic."
There was a rapt at the door and their would-be kidnappers allowed Martin Sabo and Paulo Walaka of Singer Industries inside.
Danny recognized the Hawaiian CEO from his dossier. "Wow, looks like a party."
Walaka stepped forward, still dressed for the boardroom. "This doesn't have to be complicated. Just get McGarrett on the phone and we can make a deal."
"A deal?" Chin spoke, giving Danny time to think. "What's this about?"
"We want the ISP address that Jackson used to store the data he stole."
"What ISP address?"
Walaka glared at Chin, smoothing out his business suit. "The one he used to transfer some very important account numbers. McGarrett found Jackson's notebook, although we didn't know anything had been written in it."
"How the hell do you know about the notebook? We just found out about it!" Danny demanded.
"Funny how surveillance equipment can be used both ways," Sabo gloated. He puffed out his large chest; a gold chain peeked out from his unbuttoned shirt. "When Lanny and his boys cleared the room after dealing with Jackson, they found his little toys. Awesome long-range listening devices. We heard that McGarrett has the file we need from you guys yappin'."
Danny wanted to wipe away the slime oozing from Sabo's smile and hose him down. The man reeked of cologne. "It was your boy who killed Jackson?"
"Will you shut up?" Walaka snapped. "If it wasn't for that idiot's incompetence, we wouldn't be in this mess."
"He got the job done, didn't he?"
"By using pure grade heroin because he thought it'd kill faster. Yeah. High IQ there, brah. Not to mention his incompetence at finding the files at Jackson's apartment or selling the drugs he was supposed to plant there for a slam dunk case."
Sabo shrugged. "He wasn't the sharpest tool in the set, but I took care of my loose ends, didn't I?"
Too many cooks in the kitchen. Danny could use this to his advantage. Walaka finished arguing and turned his attention toward Danny. "Now, how about ringing your boss for us?"
"That might be kind of difficult since he'd not answering his cell at this time."
"You think this is a game?" Sabo snarled. "I could put a bullet through your partner here and dump his body outside 5-0's headquarters with a handwritten message."
"I'm not a fan of the dramatic, but McGarrett's not here. Being a SEAL and all, he's required to return to base to practice killing people with safety pins and paper clips. He's incommunicado for the next couple of days."
Danny caught Chin's eyes, the two of them communicating silently. No matter what went down, book or not, these guys were going to kill them. It was obvious they weren't aware that Steve was in the hospital, and no way in hell was Danny going to let these assholes know so they could go in and kill him while he was vulnerable.
Of course, it was that very moment that Danny's cell went off, causing every weapon in the room to spin in his direction.
"It's my phone. I'll turn it off."
Sabo snagged the cell from Danny's holster. "Hey, ever heard of personal space?"
"Well, lookie here," Sabo grinned flashing the display for Danny to see.
Fuck. Steve. Of all the times to be calling.
Hitting speakerphone, Sabo answered on the fourth ring. "Is this McGarrett?"
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"That doesn't matter. What matters is that I've got your two guys here, and if you want to see them again, then I suggest you do what we say."
"We want Jackson's notebook. The one with the codes and instructions for retrieving our missing data. Bring the book and we'll bring your teammates," Sabo ordered.
"That's going to take some time. What if-"
"No. I'm calling back in ten minutes with a location, and you're coming alone. If we see a single cop or member of SWAT, your buddies are dead. Believe me, McGarrett. Where we're meeting, I'll be able to see for miles."
He hung up and studied Chin and Danny while Walaka immediately pulled out his cell, barking orders.
"We're going on a little trip," Sabo said.
The assholes used Danny's and Chin's own cuffs on them, locking the bracelets tightly. They were forced outside and shoved inside the back of an awaiting van. Danny landed awkwardly on his knees, and Chin fell in the same manner.
There was no telling if the van was bugged too, and Danny leaned over awkwardly near Chin's ear. "McGarrett's got to be calling SWAT because there's no other choice. The last I saw him, he couldn't even string a full sentence together."
Chin shook his head. "We're family. The rules don't apply to ohana,brah."
That's exactly want Danny didn't want to hear.
Steve stared at the phone next to his bed.
"What happened?" Kono asked, even though the answer was written plainly on her face. "Chin and Danny?"
"They've been kidnapped," he answered, setting his cell back on the bed table. All he wanted was an update and now...
"Kono, you ready to go?" Jenna bounded in and quickly read the tension in the room. "What's going on?"
"Should I call SWAT?" Kono asked, pulling out her cell.
"No," Steve answered. He pushed back the sheets and glanced down at his gown. "I need clothes."
Jenna stared at him wide-eyed. "You what?"
"Boss, you're not in any-"
Steve cut Kono off with a look. "We don't have time to gather SWAT. They want me to deliver the notebook." He carefully yanked his IV out and got rid of the pulse ox clip. "Kono, can you get someone in here to remove my other tube? I prefer not doing that myself."
Her eyes drifted from the blood from his IV site to his state of undress.
"Kono. I need a nurse now," he said breaking her hesitancy. "We have less than ten minutes before I'm given a location." Kono looked up at him and Steve met her gaze. "I need your help and focus. Do you trust me?"
Her eyes spoke volumes. "I'm on it."
Steve glanced up a Jenna. "Do you think you could go down to the gift shop and grab me something to wear?"
"T-shirt, black. Cargo pants or jeans, size 34. Got it."
Jenna left like the wind, leaving Steve staring at her in disbelief. He flicked his bare wrist. Hopefully his things were stored away somewhere. He needed his watch. His gun. A few dozen other items.
His mind went into overdrive, formalizing the best tactics when going into an op undermanned and overwhelmed. He glanced at Jackson's notebook, reliving the scent of sickly sweet flowers, the scar under his collarbone aching again.
"Commander McGarrett, we cannot release you," a little old doctor grumbled as Kono practically dragged him into the room.
Kono waited out of the way while the physician continued his lecture. "You're still running a low grade fever and-"
"I'll leave against medical advice," Steve interrupted.
"I can't allow you to-"
"I know the risks. Either help me or get out of the way."
The tiny physician may have needed a box to stand on, but he made up for his height with a booming voice. "Alright, but as soon as you finish whatever you have to, I want you make back in this hospital. Got it, sailor?"
"Aye, aye," Steve answered out of instinct.
He stared at the doc and the physician snorted. "I was a corpsman back in the day. I'll have a nurse remove your Foley, but you need to be on a constant flow of antibiotics. I'll get you a booster."
Steve obeyed, and he had all of his tubes and wires removed, and a shot in the ass to keep him going, in time for Jenna's return.
"Here are some clothes." She handed him a shopping bag. "Um, sorry. No boxers. And all they had was these." She lifted a gaudy Hawaiian print shirt and a pair of boardshorts. "I found your boots in the closet, but they must have secured your weapon or Danny took it."
His cell rang on the bed table. "McGarrett."
"Ka'ena Point State Park. It's closed for an annual clean up. On the south side is a paved road. Drive your vehicle until the road dead ends, then get out on foot and walk a half mile. We'll be waiting. You have one hour to reach us, or they're dead."
The call ended.
Steve's bare feet touched the cold tile and he clung to the railing while his legs buckled. He sucked in several breaths, waiting out the dizziness. "Kono, do you think you could…"
"Got you covered."
She didn't argue or scold. She helped him change, keeping him steady as he slipped into his whatevers. Jenna assisted with the shirt since his left arm wouldn't work quite right. He ditched the sling.
"What's the plan?" Kono asked, quickly tying his laces.
Half their team was being held captive, and the other half trusted him to get them back even when he wasn't up to snuff, no questions asked. Neither Kono nor Jenna was trained for this, but they were sure as hell up for the task.
"There's power in numbers. We'll use that," Steve assured them.
Jenna and Kono blinked at him in confusion.
"I'll fill you in on the drive, but we have to stop by HQ. We need some gear from Marcus's storage unit.
. . . . . .
Ka'ena was the westernmost tip of O'ahu. Walking in from the north side was the best option, but he'd been instructed to come in from the south, passing the beach and forcing him onto the unpaved road that was washed out. Cliffs of basalt lined the path. There was nowhere for a vehicle to follow him.
It was perfect. The bad guys would spot a SWAT team or choppers coming in from miles away. It forced Steve to go in alone without backup.
Except that wasn't true.
"Testing one, two," he spoke into his earwig.
"Gotcha, boss,"Kono answered.
"Copy that,"Jenna responded.
His vest felt heavy. His fresh t-shirt and cargo pants already stuck to his skin. A slight trickle of rain mixed with the sweat on his face. Kono had dropped him off at the edge of the road and he'd been walking for ten minutes. His stamina was nothing but adrenaline fumes and pure determination.
He used the steady pulse of pain in his arm as a guide and forced his feet one in front of the other along the sharp bend in the path and up a steady incline. His SEAL team would have kicked his ass if they'd seen him struggle this hard to walk half a mile.
Mind over body. Never quit.
Chin and Danny were more than his team. As much as he wanted redemption for Marcus, he'd give it all up for their safe return. Even trade himself for them.
He marched forward, step after painful step. In the middle of nowhere, under a sky of rain and gray, everything he'd missed hit him- minutes, hours, weeks, months.
So much lost time. With his mother. His father. Mary.
He'd returned home to find justice and had joined 5-0 for all the other survivors out there. While he'd continue to carry the flag for those who no longer could, Steve had found friends and family with him in the here and now who could still feel the sunshine and rain. Whose hearts still beat.
He wiped at his brow and focused on the terrain, studying the blind spots and angles of view.
He rounded a giant slab of rock and found a dozen heavily armed men waiting for him twenty meters ahead.
"Stop. That's far enough!" one of them shouted. It was Walaka. Mr. Two-Thousand-Dollar Suit still in a tie and platinum cufflinks. "Do you have the notebook?"
Sabo stood behind him, surrounded by four of his crew. He was the dangerous one.
Together, they were white and blue-collar partners in crime.
"I have what you want," Steve shouted. "Where are Chin and Danny?"
Several thugs opened the back door of a van and forced his friends out at gunpoint.
Three men covered Danny and Chin; Walaka had two guards, and Sabo his four thugs. Everyone was armed with automatic weapons.
"I've got eleven targets," Steve whispered.
"Copy," both Jenna and Kono answered.
"Get into position. Wait on my signal," Steve told them.
Walaka moved closer, his security detail flanking him.
Sabo remained behind his crew, guys a little more rough around the edges. Trained on the streets.
"Hand over the notebook, McGarrett," Walaka demanded.
"Let me guess. Your company laundered all of Sabo's business. Earned a nice kickback. And what else? Or is Sabo just a pawn?" Steve taunted.
Sabo snorted like a bull through his nostrils. "I'm no one's pawn."
"Really? Is that why you answer to him?" Steve gestured at Walaka, stalling for time.
"I don't answer to anyone," Sabo snarled. "He provides an easy way to transport my product. It's a mutual arrangement."
Walaka had island connections and government contracts for Navy parts. It was an easy way to smuggle drugs across the state.
"Hand over the notebook or I'll put a bullet in one of your guys." Sabo threatened, face reddening in anger. "Maybe in the gut."
A thug pointed his weapon at Chin's belt line.
"Now," Steve whispered.
Red laser lights pinged the goons that held Chin and Danny hostage right in the chest.
"What the fuck!" Walaka exclaimed.
Lasers tagged him and Sabo in the chest as well.
Sabo's goons aimed their guns erratically in the dark while Walaka's men froze like rabbits caught in headlights. Time stood still as death nails painted five main targets.
Chin and Danny remained cool, never moving an inch.
"I didn't hear any choppers," Walaka growled, but the front of his pants was wet.
"Do you really think you'd hear them?" Steve challenged. "We had stealth ones when we took out bin Laden."
Walaka looked ready to bolt. His hired help sweated bullets.
"You don't have that type of pull," Sabo argued, trying to gain control.
"I don't need any," Steve boasted. "I had volunteers waiting in line."
Sabo shook his meaty head. "We didn't see any-"
"What makes you think that any of you could spot a SEAL, asshole? You killed one of our own. Did you think that'd go unpunished?"
Steve was still outgunned, but the enemy was flustered.
Time to apply the pressure.
"We're in Hawaii. How hard do you think it was to pull a team together?" Steve challenged. "And out here, if something goes down, no one will question the body count."
He gestured at the bad guys. "I suggest getting on your knees."
No one moved.
"Martin," Walaka hissed.
"Shut up! Don'tcha think if they had the shots, we'd all be dead by now?"
Sabo pulled out a .45. "You don't look so good, McGarrett."
Steve's legs shook under his weight, the night concealing the tremors. "Go ahead and shoot me. It'll be the last thing you do."
"But I'll take you with me."
"Want to bet one of my guys won't cut you down first? A bullet through the brain stem paralyzes all muscle control. I've taken that shot myself at two miles out. My team's less than one."
The goons guarding Walaka took off at a run, leaving their boss unprotected.
Walaka stared at the red beam of light over his heart and went to his knees.
"Coward," Sabo snarled. "You've never had the stomach for this business. I'm callin' McGarrett's bluff." He turned to the flunkies covering Chin and Danny. "Kill them."
The three thugs looked at each other. A guy with dreads glanced at the laser and back up at his boss. "No way, man." He tossed his weapon, and the others did the same.
They went from eleven armed enemies to five.
Sabo stared at the laser on his chest to the three lasers hanging in the air where those guarding Chin and Danny had been. His eyes widened. His goons caught onto the charade three seconds later.
"Now, Kono!" Steve ordered, pulling out his Sig.
Times of life and death really did play out like flashes in a movie.
One of Sabo's goons went down from the crack of Kono's rifle. The other three flopped onto the ground in terror when the air filled with automatic fire.
Sabo stood his ground and shot several rounds at Steve.
Steve rolled to his side and came back up, squeezing the trigger.
Danny and Chin took advantage of the chaos and snagged their guards' guns, covering them.
Confusion was an ally. Sabo's people were too busy dodging phantom fire to go after Steve.
"Keep at it," he panted into the radio.
It sounded like a war zone, the deafening noise of an MK30 overwhelming. It was scary and confusing to those not used to it. Steve took advantage of the shell shock.
Sabo took off, but his street crew remained threats.
Steve kept to one knee and steadied his aim, then took out two targets with several shots.
The third goon returned fire, emptying his clip chaotically. Steve rolled the opposite way, ignored the burn in his arm, and pulled the trigger twice, dropping the guy.
"Steve!" Chin shouted.
He hit the ground and came back up shooting, but there was no need.
Blood soaked the front of Walaka's pristine white shirt. He dropped his gun and slumped to the ground.
Chin nodded and returned his weapon on his former guards.
There was one target left- the one responsible for Marcus's murder. Sabo.
Steve ran. Things tilted and spun, but he kept after Sabo, seeking out the bumbling shadow against the night.
Shots rang out, and either luck or bad aim kept Steve in one piece. The familiar click of an empty chamber echoed in the night.
He spotted a shape meters ahead of him and took aim. Center mass point blank.
Except he was out of ammo as well, his Sig clacking loudly.
There was a guttural noise and a shift in the air. Steve didn't have time to brace for the tackle. Weight and momentum knocked him down and crushed his chest and lungs.
A fist clobbered him in the left cheek while another smashed his jaw.
Steve didn't feel either punch and zeroed in on the other man's vulnerabilities. He struck Sabo in the side of the throat, then rammed his palm under the man's chin.
Sabo rolled to the side and Steve scrambled to his hands and knees, coughing and spitting blood as he tried to suck in oxygen. He staggered to his feet, watching Sabo writhe on the ground and sputter for air.
There were dozens of ways to the kill a man quickly and efficiently. Steve focused on his breathing as he tried to rally his strength.
"Guess Jackson...wasn't so tough if…one of my minions...killed him," Sabo rasped.
Steve could plant his boot on Sabo's skull. Crush it beneath his heel.
"I saved...the taxpayers some dough," Sabo wheezed.
Steve slammed another clip into his Sig and pressed the barrel to Sabo's forehead. "You're spending the rest of your life in an eight-by-eight cell. I'm not giving you an easy way out."
He cracked the butt of his gun against Sabo's skull and took a steadying breath.
Sirens echoed in the distance signaling that the cavalry was on its way.
Steve straightened to his full height, his legs miraculously supporting his weight.
Within minutes, the sirens became shouts of people running around. HPD and SWAT crawled all over the scene, and he shuffled toward his team.
Danny huffed over, bursting with emotion. "There you are! I thought you were dead. Or busy breaking every bone in Sabo's body. Or God knows what else."
Steve stood there since that was all he was capable of. "Good to see you."
"Good to see me?" Danny repeated. His face a mixture of ticked off and relieved. "Is that all you have to say, you dumb son of a bitch?"
Steve was confused, because Danny yelled and hugged him at the same time. "God, what do you think you're doing with this one-man-army bull?"
Steve patted Danny on the back and pulled away with a grin. "I wasn't alone."
Chin wandered over, eyebrows arched in amusement.
Kono walked behind him, rifle perched easily on her shoulder. Jenna beamed in excitement behind her.
Danny ping-ponged between all of them. "Could someone explain to me what happened?"
"Subterfuge," Steve smiled.
"Subterfuge?" Danny echoed. "What's with you and the million dollar words?"
"It was really cool," Kono grinned.
"Masking your numbers. Classic deception," Chin chuckled.
"I got to fire an MK 30," Jenna bragged before clearing her throat. "Well, I had to aim it in the other direction, and I promised never to point it near anyone."
Danny paled. "You shot a fully automatic weapon?"
"McGarrett made me practice first," Jenna defended.
"We used all the equipment from Jackson's storage shed," Kono explained. "He had multiple laser sights."
Danny snapped his fingers. "You guys made it look like a whole team of snipers was here. And you," he pointed at Jenna. "Fired one of the big guns to keep the illusion alive."
"It seemed the best practical direction," Steve said despite how Danny gawked at him.
"You are certifiable, did you know that? Not only are you insane, it's spread like a disease to everyone else. And unless you magically developed healing powers, you should still be in the hospital." Danny planted his hand on Steve's forehead. "How are you still even standing on your own?"
Chin was at his right, Kono and Jenna huddled to his left. He looked at Danny. "Because I'm not."
The weekend with Grace helped put the events of the last few days into the realm of horrible memories and snippets of nightmares. Danny returned to work on Monday and enjoyed catching up on things like mundane paperwork for a few days. He basked in the silence while his partner recuperated at home. Steve had actually stayed a full twenty-four hours at the hospital before being released.
Not that he'd really been resting.
Staring at the notice in the paper, Danny read Marcus Jackson's obituary and funeral notice. When he got off work later, he needed to go by the cleaners to pick up his uniform.
Chin knocked on the door and entered the office with a folder. "With Walaka dead, Sabo can't stop begging for a deal. The DA's beside herself with the number of charges to hit him with. The boys in narcotics are having a field day tearing apart his organization."
"He had the perfect way to smuggle drugs across the islands," Danny admitted, "using Walaka's business to transport his goods in vehicles loaded with naval parts."
"Jackson stumbled onto the operation by accident. Since his job entailed searching for all suspicious activity, he discovered the doctored accounting."
Leaning in his chair, Danny stretched his back. "And the notebook?"
"It was a key," Chin said in admiration. "Jackson copied everything that connected Singer Industries with the money laundering operation- wires, account information, both sets of books. He also discovered that Walaka was skimming off the top."
"Jackson never stole any accounts. Walaka was covering his ass."
"Yep. Jackson documented and uploaded everything onto a private ISP. The notebook had the location of the ISP address as well as all the offshore accounts Singer Industries used to launder Sabo's drug money."
It was all nicely wrapped up in a package, except it wasn't enough. Jackson had discovered the warehouse and had poked around Sabo's records. He'd connected the dots and decided to play detective.
Chin must have been a mind reader. "Jackson had enough to go to the police, but he didn't. Who knows why? Maybe he craved the thrill of the hunt, or he was compulsive and wanted to give HPD everything on a silver platter."
Or maybe Jackson missed what it was like to go after the bad guys. No one would ever truly know.
Getting up, Danny gathered the files he wanted to review over the weekend. "See you tomorrow?"
Chin nodded. They'd all be there.
. . . . .
Chief Petty Officer Marcus Jackson wasn't from Hawaii. He'd lived on the island for less than two years.
That didn't matter to the hundreds who came to pay their respects at his funeral. Danny stood in police dress, a mere speck in the ocean of starched collars and crisp gloves.
Members of all the armed services were on hand, although the pride of the Navy made up most of the crowd, both those in active duty and from the local VFW. Danny recognized the tridents on several uniforms.
Kono and Chin stood next to him, with Jenna at the end of their little row.
Steve was one of several pallbearers, carrying the casket draped in colors to its final resting site.
There were a couple speeches, the salute of gunfire from the honor guard, and the familiar redemption of Taps.
Danny itched to be out his uniform but he remained. They all did until the masses thinned to the few.
Steve walked over, face unreadable, shoulders stiff at attention. "I wanted to thank all of you for coming."
"Of course," Kono answered before giving Steve a quick hug.
Chin and Jenna did the same, sticking around while Danny came over. "So, I'm sure you need to take off. I bet you've got dozens of tales to share with your Navy buddies."
Steve swallowed, clearing his throat. "Actually, I was hoping we could all grab a beer somewhere."
"Yeah, of course," Danny said surprised. "You name the place."
"How about my house?"
Despite the oppressive weight of formality and the layers of uniform and medals, Danny had never seen Steve so willingly unprotected.
"We'll get there early. I'll dig out your grill," Danny offered. "We're supposed to eat at times like this."
Steve allowed a slight smile. "Yeah, we are."
November 28, 2003
"Looks like I won't be calling you 'Jay Gee' anymore."
Steve chuckled and glanced down at his lieutenant's stripes. "Guess not."
Marcus dumped his duffel bag onto the ground and shielded his face from the bright sunshine. "We wheels up in three hours?"
"Yeah." Steve studied the Black Hawks as they were being fueled. "We've got another gear check in twenty minutes."
"You know that rush you're feeling? It's the same adrenaline as last week, sir."
It was his first mission as a full-fledged SEAL. He nodded, still gazing out. "I'm aware of that."
"I live for this feeling. Don't know what I'd do if it ever went away." Marcus grabbed his duffel and slung it over his shoulder. "I'm glad we were assigned together, sir."
"Likewise," Steve answered, slipping on his shades.
"Now let's go blow some shit up!" Marcus howled.
. . . . .
Steve sipped on his beer; a half-eaten hamburger stained a paper plate next to him with grease. He sat in shorts and a t-shirt, his dress uniform hanging in his closet.
"A penny for your thoughts?" Danny pulled out the chair next to Steve's, plopping down and stretching out his legs. "That's a really dumb saying if you really think about it."
"I dunno. It's kind of right. Although mine are worth much more," Steve smiled, emptying the rest of his bottle in a few swallows.
"Guess I'll never have enough money then," Danny snorted.
Steve's gaze drifted toward the beach where Kono and Chin laughed as Jenna's impromptu sandcastle toppled over. He fiddled with his bottle, started tearing away the label. "Marcus called me a couple of weeks ago. I put off talking to him because we had a lead on Wo Fat. Hours turned into days. Days into a couple of weeks."
"It happens, man. Nothing good ever comes out of what-ifs."
"I know. I'm not second-guessing myself. Much," Steve admitted. "I've spent most of my life serving my country. Wouldn't trade a second of it. But sometimes I wonder..."
"If maybe you need to enjoy the fruits of your labor? That life and work are not the same thing?"
"'Maybe', he says." Danny held up his hands, framing the sunset with his fingers. "This right here is worth it all. We'll never know when it'll be our last."
Staring up, Steve leaned back in his chair, soaking in clouds of swirling purple and orange. He drank in the beauty. Life dealt many blows, but true friendship was a gift. It was earned, but it was also something to be shared.
"Marcus and I served three years together before he was wounded."
Danny sat and listened. He didn't poke or pry. He was just there for whatever Steve needed.
"That mission was fubared from the beginning. We were in this jungle. Surrounded by thousands of orchids. God, the scent was amazing – vanilla, I think. We were outnumbered a hundred to one..." Steve began, unlocking a tightly closed door and forcing it open.