Notes: To Megan—Thank you so much again for your kind words (and inspiring another chapter to get written)! I'm very touched and honored that this story means so much to you. If I can just write up to a certain plot twist, I think the rest of the chapters will come quickly again. Meanwhile, yes, feel free to print up the other author's note and whatever else you might feel like.
The next hours were a whirlwind of activity.
Lieutenant Tragg and a squad of his men set up shop both in and around the connecting hotel suites where the Anderson cousins and Amory and Edith were staying. Other police officers staked out Andy's house, Jimmy's and Mrs. Norden's apartments, the Fallon home, and Fallon Paints. Miss Ames was also still under police guard.
Hamilton, overjoyed by the news of Sampson's regained consciousness, went to see and talk with him in between court cases. Sampson was relieved to see him, especially in the wake of a telegram from his father that said they could not get back and inquired after their son's current condition. Hamilton was furious, although he tried to hold it back around Sampson.
And Daniel arrived at the Brent building, exhausted from preparing and giving his presentation, to show Perry what he had found in Griffith's files.
"Virginia?" Perry stared at the photograph.
"Yes, Mr. Mason." Daniel shook his head, baffled. "That was the only thing I found that seemed out of place. I don't understand it at all, but I thought I should bring it for you to see."
"Well, thank you, Mr. Conway." Perry frowned, setting it down on his desk. "I realize it must have been an inconvenience for you, to go through all of those old files."
"Not at all. I wanted to know myself if there was anything that needed to be found. And wouldn't you know it, I'm still not sure." Daniel folded his arms. "I see no reason for the photograph or the girl to be a concern, other than the fact that it was just so mysterious for this picture to be where it was."
Della leaned over, peering at the picture. "Oh, she looks so sweet," she objected. "How could she possibly be the cause of anyone's troubles?"
"You know as well as I do, Della, that sweetness sometimes only goes skin-deep," Perry returned.
Daniel raised a tired eyebrow. "Are you saying it does mean something to you, Mr. Mason? Miss Street?"
"Vaguely," Perry nodded. "Mr. Burger, the district attorney, filled us in on some of the latest developments in the case. There's a girl named Virginia claiming to be part of a family whose youngest member is the godson of Mr. Burger. Tonight, she arrived just in time to rescue Amory Fallon's secretary from a mysterious group of abducting ninjas."
"What?" Daniel had to laugh. "Mr. Mason, it all sounds so ridiculous."
"I know." Perry's expression did not lighten. "Unfortunately, this entire case is no laughing matter. Several people involved are still in danger of their very lives."
Daniel sobered. "So I'm guessing the next step is to show that photograph to this family and the secretary and see if they recognize her."
"Yes." Perry looked to Della. "Get Mr. Burger on the phone, will you, Della?"
"Of course." Della gathered her notepads and hurried out of the room. Daniel watched her depart before looking back to Perry.
"And if it is the same girl, Mr. Mason, what then?"
Perry leaned back with a sigh. "Then, Mr. Conway, it will be time for someone to pay Warner Griffith a visit."
Several positive identifications later, Lieutenant Drumm went out to the Griffith home, photograph in hand. When the door was opened by Linda Griffith, he immediately drew out his badge.
"Hello, Mrs. Griffith," he greeted. "I'm Lieutenant Drumm, Homicide. Is your husband home?"
Linda stiffened, gripping the doorframe. "No, he isn't," she retorted. "Why is the Homicide division calling on my husband this time? Has someone else died?"
"This time we're trying to prevent a death. Or several. Do you know where your husband is or when he'll be back?"
"No to both." Linda gripped her arms. "He's been looking for a job. It's never easy for a former convict to find something decent."
Steve did not want to get into a discussion over that. Hesitating a moment, he opened the folder and revealed the picture. "Mrs. Griffith, have you ever seen this girl before?"
Again Linda went rigid, but this time fire flashed in her eyes. "No, Lieutenant. And if you're going to say my husband had something to do with her, you're wrong. His attention hasn't strayed from me since he got out of prison."
"He would have known this girl before he went to prison," Steve replied. "Mrs. Griffith . . ."
"Then yes, I saw her around a few times," Linda snapped. "But I swear I didn't know who she was. Warner wouldn't tell me. He just insisted she had something to do with his business and that was all. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn't, but it was so long ago. Why do you suddenly need to find her now?"
"We don't," Steve grunted. "We know where she lives—although she isn't home right now. What I'm trying to establish is what her purpose is in coming back to Los Angeles."
"I assure you I don't know," Linda said. She reached for the door. "If that's all, Lieutenant . . ."
"Just a couple of quick questions. When you talk about your husband's business, do you mean he meant that the girl worked for Cal-Texas? Or that she was hired by Mr. Griffith for the same kind of dirty work that Rose Calvert did?"
"I don't know what he meant. But when I saw her, it was both before and after he was fired from Cal-Texas."
Steve made a note of that. "Her name is Virginia. Do you ever remember Mr. Griffith talking about someone by that name?"
Linda paused. "Maybe once on the phone. But I still don't understand the relevancy. When I heard him on the phone with her, it had something to do with his son."
Now Steve froze. "His son?!"
"Yes, from his first marriage. Jason's been missing for over fifteen years. Virginia thought she might have seen him and Warner was talking to her about it. I had the impression that he had hired her to look for Jason."
"Then why would he say that the girl had to do with his business?"
Linda shook her head. "I really don't know, Lieutenant. You'll have to come back later and see if you can catch Warner. He might be back by evening. Late evening."
"I'll do that," Steve promised. He closed his notebook and stepped back. "Thank you, Mrs. Griffith."
Brice looked up at the sound of Officer Reed's voice. He and Officer Malloy were still concealed behind a bush at Andy's house, both of them visibly concerned. Brice, who was leading the stakeout on the building, slipped closer to them. "What is it?"
Reed shifted uncomfortably. "It's just that this case has been taking so many ups and downs lately," he said. "Do you really think some assassin is going to show up here, at Lieutenant Anderson's house, to try to kill him?"
"If he thinks the police don't know about it, he might," Brice replied. "You know we have to check up on all possible reports like this, Officer Reed."
"I know, but it just seems like if the guy's really smart, he'd know that Lieutenant Anderson wouldn't even be here." Reed sighed, both restless and in discomfort from holding his position for so long. Malloy gave him a sympathetic look.
"He should know," Brice agreed. "If he showed up, it would probably mainly be just to make sure. And if he's a professional, we might not even know when he comes. He could just drive past without stopping."
"And if he's an amateur, he might actually try breaking in the house," Malloy spoke up.
Brice nodded. "He might. Although I can hardly believe that they would hire an amateur."
A gunshot sailed past, narrowly missing him. He tensed, drawing his rifle. Reed and Malloy did likewise, as did the other members of the squad.
"And what do you call that?" Malloy said grimly.
"The work of either a distracter or a fool," Brice exclaimed.
More gunfire followed, from several directions at once. The police hit the ground and concealed themselves around the house, desperate as they searched for the snipers.
"There!" Reed suddenly announced, pointing towards the next house's balcony. The hazy sunlight caught the glint off the end of a rifle trained on them.
Even as he pointed, the man fired. A police sniper fired back, hitting his mark. The gun dropped as the enemy shooter crashed to the floor of the balcony.
"Who lives there, Sergeant?" the police sniper asked.
"The Thomases," Brice said. "They're on vacation." He straightened, tense, waiting for more gunfire from wherever else it had been coming. When none came, Brice hastened across the yard and to the other property.
How had this happened? They had been staked out here for hours. Did that mean the sniper had been in wait inside the Thomases' house for hours, arriving before the police? That did not even make sense! If the sniper had come first, surely he had known that Andy was not at home. What was the purpose behind this attack?
Suddenly gunfire erupted again, forcing Brice to dive for cover on the grass. He clutched his weapon, lying still as the sounds persisted.
He was most unused to commanding missions such as this. He felt most comfortable as the partner, while a Lieutenant took charge. But with Tragg and Steve both occupied, and Andy still recovering, Brice had wanted to do all he could to pitch in and help. Hence, he had volunteered to lead the squad on stakeout here.
He had never expected anything such as this. He had assumed that there would be no attack at all, or that if anyone showed up, they would see the vacant house and do nothing. Instead everything was going completely contrary.
Reed was on the radio now, calling for backup. "We're under attack from sniper fire in several directions," he exclaimed urgently. "Sergeant Brice has been pinned down at the house next-door. One sniper has been spotted in a tree at the house in back of Lieutenant Anderson's. The other snipers' positions are unknown."
The radio crackled to life, but there was too much noise for Brice to distinguish the reply. At last it quieted again and he slowly rose, the rifle clutched in his hand.
He made it to the porch but then stopped, frowning more. For all he knew, when he opened the front door he could be greeted by a barrage. Maybe the sniper on the balcony wasn't the only one nesting here.
Cautiously he reached for the knob and turned it, before diving to the side to wait. The door swung open, but nothing else happened. He pointed his rifle into the darkness. "This is the police!" he announced. When there was still silence, he slowly advanced to peer into the room. He was met by only emptiness and sheet-covered furniture.
Reed appeared behind him, gun in hand. "I'll back you up, Sarge," he said.
Brice nodded, moving into the living room. Everything remained eerily quiet. He proceeded farther, aware of Reed's footsteps close behind him. They were both tense, expecting something to happen that was not happening, expecting someone to jump out who was not jumping out, but neither felt ready to let down his guard. Eventually they made their way upstairs and to the balcony doors without incident.
"They might open fire as soon as we go outside to get to the body," Brice warned. "We'll have to stay low."
Reed nodded. "I'm ready."
Brice opened one of the doors slowly, inching out onto the balcony. He dove down, keeping close to the wooden floor as he moved towards the fallen sniper. Nothing happened.
He reached out, taking hold of the limp wrist. As he had expected, there was no pulse. He knelt on the wooden beams, turning the sniper onto his back. He did not recognize the character. Digging into the other's pockets, he searched for some form of identification.
Reed bent down, leaning on his gun. "Anything?"
"Nothing," Brice sighed. "Maybe the fingerprint crew will have some luck."
"If they can ever get in here around the chaos," Reed said.
Brice lifted the sniper's right hand out of idle curiosity. But then he stiffened.
Reed blinked in surprise. "What is it, Sarge?"
Brice held up the man's hand. "This man's skin is badly scarred on each finger. His fingerprints have been burned off!"
Reed's jaw dropped. He grabbed the opposite hand. "It's the same here," he reported. "Do you think he had a really bad accident or . . . ?"
"It's hard to say," Brice said. "Maybe someone did this to him deliberately or he even did it himself. But it's so unusual that we might be able to trace his identity through these means."
Reed certainly hoped so. Down below, it sounded as though the firing was starting up again. He frowned, listening to the noise.
He also hoped Malloy and the others were going to be alright down there. And that he and Sergeant Brice would be alright up here.
Andy was not pleased by the news of an official contract on his life. And both he and Amory were even less pleased that they would need to continue staying out of sight for a while.
"I need to be on this investigation," Andy protested.
"And I have a business to attend to," Amory exclaimed.
But Lieutenant Tragg was firm. "The minute either one of you steps out of this hotel, there's no telling what could happen. In fact, there's no telling what could happen to you in this hotel, judging by the way things have been going lately."
Andy sighed in frustration. "There has to be a better way."
Tragg sighed too. "If we had a decoy, we might be able to draw the hitman out and catch him. But I can't ask you to do that, Mr. Fallon. Of course there'd be a certain amount of risk involved."
Amory looked down. He should volunteer for it anyway, he supposed, but he did not want to. He did not want to run the risk of being killed, for his sake as well as Edith's.
"I'll do it," Andy insisted. "Lieutenant, you know that would be the best solution. I'm trained for this sort of thing, while Mr. Fallon is not. I'd wear a bullet-resistant vest and take other precautionary methods."
Tragg's face darkened. He knew that Andy spoke the truth, but he hated it. "You just came back safe after we thought you were badly hurt," he said, his voice cracking. "And you're the one they want. Andy . . . I don't want you to do it."
"I know, but . . ." Andy laid a hand on Tragg's shoulder. "You know as well as I do that it would be the best and most logical way."
And Tragg did. It was one of the things he hated the most about his line of work—having to make decisions that put the people he cared deeply about into life-threatening situations. He had to do it, of course. But in this case he stepped away, still desperate for another solution.
"Give me some time to think about it," he said. "Sergeant Brice is still at your house with a squad, and I've just got a report that they're under fire from an unknown amount of snipers."
"What?!" Both Andy and Amory stared.
"That's ridiculous!" Andy cried then. "Why would they attack my house to that extent? Obviously I'm not there. And they're just making themselves known to everyone who is there!"
"I know, I know. It doesn't make sense." Tragg frowned deeply. "Andy, what kind of a hornets' nest have you and Mr. Fallon stirred up? This mess long ago started to seem like more than just your average criminal ring."
Amory ran his hands into his hair. "If I just knew more about what happened with Ned," he berated. "If we could just find those papers!"
"We're still working on that, too," Tragg assured him. "But meanwhile, the more immediate problem is this ordered hit on Andy."
Andy sighed, going back to the couch. "I can only think of two reasons why those snipers would attack a group of armed policemen," he said. "They must either be fools and think they're more powerful than the police . . . or they really are." He leaned forward, overwhelmed.
"That's how we had it figured too," Tragg admitted. "I was thinking about the group that kidnapped you and how they used that bunker and got out of it so quick. They're the ones that really wanted Mr. Fallon, yet someone in their organization has ordered the hit on you. I've got the feeling that they're all professionals."
Andy nodded. "And we don't even know who the ones are who knocked Amory out thinking he was me." He passed a hand over his face.
"I wish I remembered something that would help," Amory said regretfully. "Maybe if I heard the man's voice again it would ring a bell, but I just don't know."
"Well, I'm going to check in with Sergeant Brice's squad," Tragg announced. "Hopefully they've managed to turn the tide on those snipers." He crossed the room to the corner and picked up his handset.
Andy and Amory watched him, hoping the same.
"Maybe I really should volunteer to be a decoy," Amory said after a moment. "This case is just so frustrating! I keep feeling like I should be doing more to move it along."
Andy turned to look at him. "But you haven't had the training," he retorted. "I have. No, I don't want to see you try to play undercover cop."
Amory sighed. "I know all that. But . . ."
"We'll figure this case out without you having to make that kind of sacrifice," Andy interrupted firmly. "Anyway, I just don't think I could bear to face your wife if something happened to you."
Amory looked sickened by the thought. He fell silent, not broaching the subject again.
Daniel was anxious to call the workday over, after the slim amount of sleep he had managed to procure early that morning. Towards late afternoon he knew his usefulness had been spent. He stumbled up from his desk, grabbing his hat off the rack.
"Miss Eastman, I'm leaving now," he called into the outer office.
His secretary appeared in the doorway, concern shining in her eyes. "Can you even stand to drive home, Daniel?" she asked.
Daniel smiled tiredly. The middle-aged Clara Eastman thought of him more as a son than an employer. He did not mind her looking after him at times, especially since he had no family in the area.
He reached out, laying his hands on her shoulders. "I'll be fine," he assured her. "And if I end up getting too worn-out, I'll pull over and rest in the car."
She nodded slowly but was still worried. "You could stay here and sleep on the couch in your office," she said. "After all, that's what it's there for."
"I know, and I like that old couch. But I never went home last night at all. I'm craving to see my bed again." Daniel spoke with a crooked yet sincere smile.
She sighed. "I figured you hadn't ever gone home when I found you asleep at your desk. Well, I suppose if you're going to try to make the drive, you should get started before you grow even sleepier. Or I could drive you!" she added hopefully.
Daniel considered that. "It would be nice not to have to concentrate on the driving," he admitted.
"Then I'll just close up my computer and we'll go," she smiled. "I'll just be a minute."
It was less than a minute, and the ride downstairs in the elevator was uneventful. But as they reached the ground floor moments later, Daniel nearly walked into a blonde girl wandering the lobby.
"I'm sorry," he said in surprise, stepping back and reaching to steady her. "This building is closed, Madam. How, pray tell, did you get in?"
She turned and smiled at him. "Why, I got in before it was closed," she chirped.
He rocked back. He recognized her, only too well. This was Virginia!
". . . And what was your business here?" he queried now, not wanting to let on that he was aware of her identity.
"I wanted to talk with you, Mr. Conway," she said.
Miss Eastman frowned. "I could arrange for you to have an appointment with Mr. Conway for tomorrow," she said. "There aren't any more open for today."
"That's alright, Miss Eastman," Daniel said, wide-awake now. "Perhaps the young lady's problem is urgent."
Virginia giggled. "Well, maybe not urgent, but I was hoping to see about it right away. Mr. Conway, I was told you'd know where Warner Griffith is keeping himself these days."
Daniel raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid your information is wrong, Miss," he said. "I haven't spoken to Mr. Griffith in years. And if his current address in the telephone directory isn't up-to-date, I really don't have any idea where he is right now."
"Oh no. That's such a shame. I really need to see him, too."
"Might I ask what about?" Daniel returned.
"It has to do with his missing son," Virginia said. "See, he hired me some time ago to find his boy, but I didn't have any luck. Now I think I might finally be on to something!"
"The police might be interested in that information," Daniel said.
Virginia looked down in guilt. "Well . . . I guess I'd rather tell Mr. Griffith first," she said. "Since it's his son and all."
"I understand," Daniel said. "But they'll know where to reach Mr. Griffith. I'm afraid that I simply don't."
Virginia looked up again. "I'm such a filly!" she berated. "Of course. The police are the perfect people to go to when I can't find the address anywhere. I'll go right there and ask about it.
"Mr. Conway, I'm really sorry for bothering you when you're headin' home and all."
"Think nothing of it," Daniel said. "Finding missing people takes precedence." He unlocked the heavy glass doors and held one of them open for her. "I wish you luck."
"Why, thank you." Virginia started to head out but paused. "You're an awful lot nicer than Mr. Griffith says you are."
"I'm honored to have your more favorable opinion of me," Daniel smiled. "Good afternoon now."
She waved and started towards a fancy convertible parked in front of the building.
Miss Eastman came up beside Daniel, staring in amazed disbelief. "What on Earth was that all about?" she exclaimed.
"I don't know," Daniel frowned. "But on the way home, Miss Eastman, I believe I'd better place a call or two." He reached in his pocket for his phone as they started outside.
Miss Eastman gaped. "Do you know who that girl is, Daniel?"
"I know the name she's using," Daniel said. "But no, I'm afraid I don't know who she actually is."
"Could she have actually found Mr. Griffith's long-lost son?" Miss Eastman wondered in a bit of awe. "That would be so wonderful. Maybe he would even stop being so angry towards you and the world."
"I didn't have anything to do with his son's disappearance," Daniel said, "so I can't imagine he would especially treat me differently. But yes, it would be nice if Jason had turned up alive and well. I'm afraid, though, that we can't depend on anything that woman says to be the truth."
Miss Eastman blinked. "If it isn't, what could she have wanted here?" she exclaimed.
"That's exactly what I would like to know," Daniel declared. "Most exactly."