Chapter 1

The streetlights pulsed the inside of the car from light to dark in a rhythmic pattern, which was strangely relaxing after the noisy nightclub. Traffic was light at this time of night, allowing the car to travel uninhibited towards its destination. Anyone who happened to glance in the vehicle might speculate about the odd pairing in the front seat. The driver was classically handsome with a strong jaw line, short-cropped hair, and piercing blue eyes. Late thirties, maybe forties, he was lean and fit. The passenger, on the other hand, was old school proper, English bob, glasses, and the perfectly matched outfit with the requisite pin. Not a classic beauty, her face spoke of wisdom, strength, and determination. Though hard to pinpoint, one would surmise her age to be on the north side of 60. From casual observance, the only thing the two people in the car appeared to have in common was stature; they were both shorter than the norm for their gender. While the man was only a few inches under 6 ft, the woman, whether from age or genetics, was quite diminutive.

What brought the two of them to be in a car together at this time of the night? Was this a May - December romance carried out in the wee hours of the darkness? Favorite Auntie and nephew on the way home from a family outing? If one were to guess work colleagues on their way home from a social gathering, they would be correct though they would never guess the line of work these two shared.

The woman broke the silence that had ensued since departing the club. "Thank you for the ride home, Mr. Callen. I do not understand what happened to my car."

"If Kensi could not get the car started it must be major issue. She can hotwire a tank. I think you are looking at a major repair bill. And," he continued offering her his trademark half-smile, "no problem on the chauffer service, Boss."

"It does take you out of your way, assuming, of course, you are planning to sleep in the office as usual."

Callen gave a quick noncommittal shrug.

"Are you making any progress on finding a new place?" Hetty inquired even though she already knew the answer.

"Sam and I did look at an apartment the other day but it was…"

"Let me guess," Hetty interrupted. "Too hot? Cold? Noisy? Quiet? Ceilings too high? Smell funny? Street too busy? Not enough body building, scantily clad, lunatics running around like at your Venice beach pad?"

"Nope," Callen replied seriously. "None of the above."

"Well I do give up then. What was the issue?" she asked perplexed.

A sly smile crept across G's face. "The apartment complex was next to a medical facility."

"I see," Hetty replied in a voice that clearly stated she did not see. "And you didn't think, given your preponderance for injury, that this might be a good thing?"

"Needles Hetty. You know I hate needles."

"And were you under the impression that every time you walked by the clinic someone was going to chase after you with a needle?" she asked her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Just the thought of living that close to a place with so many needles," Callen shook his head mournfully, "I couldn't do it."

Hetty sighed and turned to look out the window at the shadowy shapes passing in the night. A few minutes of silence passed before she spoke again. "Are you speeding Mr. Callen?"

He gave her a sideways glance.

"You have gotten a few tickets you know," she continued as the scenery whizzed by.

"Yes, I am aware of the fact I have gotten one or two tickets.

"Try eight."

"Four."

"Eight."

"Six. Two were totally bogus," he replied indigently.

"Humph. And that last light you sailed through was it perhaps reddish?"

"No," Callen shot back. "Besides, there is no such thing as reddish." A small frown creased Callen's brow as surveyed his side and rear mirrors again.

"Ah. So you did learn something in traffic school. But that light, it wasn't green," she pointed out.

"There is yellow, Hetty. I distinctively remember them teaching us a traffic light had three colors. Red, green and yellow or amber if you prefer."

"Amber," she snorted. "Not for the cautious driver. For the cautious driver there is only red, for stop and green for go."

Callen scowled at her before glancing in the rear view mirror again. Part of his mind scanned the lanes behind him analyzing the traffic pattern while the other half of his mind wondered how he had won this assignment to chauffeur her home.

Momentarily satisfied with his traffic analysis, Callen decided to change the direction of the conversation by going on the offensive. "Big purse," he noted wryly.

"Do you think so?" Hetty replied studying it. "I think it's just the right size."

"For what? A slumber party? Carrying groceries? Backpacking in the Alps? What do you carry in there that it needs to be so big?" he pursued, hopefully to distract her from his driving.

"Ah, the mystery of a woman's purse," she said knowingly. "The handbag that a woman chooses to carry says much about her. It speaks of her commitment to life. Her sense of style. The self-worth she feels. Her origins. And of course her hopes and dreams."

"From a purse? You can divine all that about a woman from her purse?" he questioned in disbelief

"You would be surprised," she replied smugly.

Callen glanced at the purse wondering what it was supposed to be telling him about Hetty.

"Eyes on the road, Mr. Callen. We don't want you flipping another vehicle."

"That was one time," he replied, annoyed that Hetty had maneuvered the conversation back to driving.

"Don't you mean once under my watch? I do seem to recall somewhere in your file you have destroyed more than one car in your career."

"Some don't count," he countered looking in the rearview mirror again to study the patterns. "They were part of the job," he added, though it was clear he was distracted.

"And the time you drove the car onto that boat?"

"The time I …what are you talking about? I never did that," Callen said focusing back on her. He paused a beat, and then narrowed his eyes. "Hey, wait a second. That was a movie!" he replied indignantly. However, his concentration quickly shifted as his eyes darted back to check the mirrors once more before sliding over to glance at his passenger who was smirking. "You're yanking my chain Hetty."

"I do not 'yank' people's chains, Mr. Callen. But perhaps I was joshing you a bit," she conceded.

Callen did a quick mirror check before giving her his half grin. "Have fun tonight Boss?"

"Yes, even without a mechanical bull."

"And no fights."

"Indeed, no fights," she whole-heartedly agreed.

"Nobody got that drunk tonight, well except maybe Nate." Another mirror check caused another slight frown to flit across his face.

"Yes, Mr. Getz was a tad bit inebriated."

"Kensi is driving him home."

"And what about you, Mr. Callen?" Hetty questioned.

"What about me?" Callen answered distractedly.

"Oh I could go on for hours about you. But in this case, I am referring to your state of intoxication."

"Are you asking me if I am drunk?" he replied. After spending a few more seconds watching the mirrors, he made a series of swift lane changes.

"I know you are not flat out drunk or I never would have agreed for you to drive. But first you speed, next you run red lights and now you seem to be weaving," she finished as they made another particularly sharp turn. "We have a tail?" she stated flatly.

"We have a tail," he confirmed making another succession of maneuvers, which led them into a derelict section of warehouses.

Reaching in the center console, Callen pulled his gun out and laid it in the open compartment between them. Next, he patted his pockets checking for his cell phone. "Damn," he swore when he was unable to locate it.

Hetty looked at him quizzically.

"I can't find my phone. It is gone," he growled clearly unhappy about the situation.

"Oh, Mr. Callen. Please don't tell me you lost another phone," she scolded mournfully. "Phones are expensive to replace."

"Look could you save the lecture for later? We're in a little situation here. Where's your phone?"

"Yes, we will discuss this later," Hetty declared as she dug her phone out of her oversized purse. "Huh," she said after glancing at it. She then proceeded to put it away.

"What's wrong?" Callen demanded as he instituted another set of evasive maneuvers.

"It would seem my battery is dead as a door nail."

Incredibility colored his voice. "Your battery is dead? The always prepared Hetty's phone battery is dead?"

"I'm not infallible you know," she said wounded.

Callen could not stop a chuckle from escaping even though they were without a means of communicating their precarious situation to anyone. It was too much fun catching his boss unprepared. He only wished he had more time to enjoy it. Unfortunately, now was not the time with the mystery SUV gaining on them no longer attempting to hide.

"Uh-oh," Callen said glancing at an indicator light, which flickered on the dashboard.

"Another problem?" she asked with curiosity.

Callen nodded curtly. "We're almost out of gas."

"Those lights come on well in advance of the tank going dry. Surely you have a few gallons left."

"That might have been true the first time the light came on but, uh, I have been ignoring …" he replied his voice trailing off.

"Now who needs to prepare better?" she admonished.

"Prepare? We were only going out for drinks. I planned to get gas tomorrow."

"You know the Boy Scout's motto."

"Actually, I don't. You have to stay in one place for activities like Boy Scouts". 'And,' he added silently, 'have someone who cares enough about you to take you.' Silence settled over the car while Callen contemplated their next move.

"We're going to ditch the car," he said scanning the surrounding area, which did not look very promising. They were in a derelict section of town full of abandon warehouses and other abandon, rundown buildings. With an unexpected burst of speed, the tailing vehicle pulled close to the rear of the silver Mercedes and shot out one of the rear tires. The Mercedes skidded sideways as Callen wrestled the wheel to get it under control. Seeing a large warehouse on the right, he attempted to turn the sliding car into the parking lot. Halfway through the skid-turn, another shot rang out taking out a second tire. The Mercedes spun totally out of control slamming into the side of the brick building. The airbags deployed and for a moment, the inside of the car went white.

The black SUV pulled into the lot coming to a stop facing them about 100 feet away. Ominously, all four doors slowly swung open.