DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of Viacom and Spelling/Goldberg. The story is pure me and my psycho tendencies. No infringement is intended. All is intended is for readers to enjoy.

Author: Leslie Agostino (leslieago@netzero.net)

Title: INTO THE SHADOWS

Timeline: This story takes place in the third season shortly after the episode Cliffy

Summary: The Danko's become targets of a crazed killer and the rookies race against time to catch him.

It was a dark and stormy night and the young woman couldn't believe she had to go out to the streets to make a few bucks so that her boyfriend could snort cocaine up his nose.

"I must be outta my mind to listen to him," Lori Harris muttered. "At least it stopped raining."

Lori stepped out of the shadows as a car pulled up to the curb. When the window rolled down, she leaned in and flashed a bright smile.

"Hi," she said. "Up for a party or two?"

"Get in," the driver said.

Lori opened the door and got into the car. Turning to the driver, she said, "Honey, this is your lucky night."

The driver locked the doors and pulled away. Reaching into his pocket, he felt the butt of his gun. Glancing at his would-be victim, he said, "You have no idea how right you are, precious."

Meanwhile, in the men's locker room at the 17th Precinct, Officer Mike Danko had just sat down to change into his uniform. Two fellow officers, Terry Webster and Chris Owens, slammed their lockers closed and faced Mike.

"God," he said, "it's a mess out there. I could be at home with my wife curled up in front of a roaring fire."

"Michael, my man," Terry said, in amusement, "you don't have a fire place."

"In my head, I picture this stone fireplace and on nights like this, Jill and I are wrapped up in a blanket in front of it. You should try it. Very romantic."

"You know, Terry," Chris said, "I think Mike's lost it. Dreaming of fireplaces. Maybe we should tell Jill about this. Not telling what other dark fantasies lurk in that mind of his."

"Hey, don't laugh. Besides, it's not just my fantasy. Jill has the same one. When we start looking for a house, number one requirement is a fireplace. She even has our first night all planned out. We buy an Indian rug, a bottle of champagne on ice."

Mike stopped as he saw the grins on his friends' faces.

"Please continue," Terry said, "this is beginning to sound interesting."

"Yeah," Chris added. "I never realized Jill could have such fantasies. Tell me, what exactly does an Indian rug have to do with."

Mike threw his shirt at them as he said, "If you two have to ask you really need help."

"Danko, Webster and Owens," Lieutenant Eddie Ryker said, entering the locker room, "if the three of you don't mind, I would like to send the officers who showed up to briefing on time out on the streets."

"We don't mind," Chris said.

"Move it, Owens," Ryker ordered. "Danko, you have exactly thirty seconds to show-up."

Mike quickly tied his shoes as his friends fled the locker room.

"Yes, sir," he said.

Ryker left the locker room shaking his head as Mike retrieved his shirt and shoved it into his locker. Strapping on his gun belt, he closed the door and headed for the muster room.

He slipped into a vacant seat as Ryker said, "First of all, I would like to thank those officers who volunteered to be here. I know there are other things you would rather be doing and your paycheck next week will reflect your dedication.

"Second, as you all know, on nights like this, tempers will flair, alcohol consumption goes up. Under no circumstances are any of you going to enter a situation without appropriate back up, no matter how routine it seems. We also are dealing with a full moon so even the most boring incidents can spiral out of your control.

"Danko, Webster and Owens, I want the three of you to, periodically cruise by Lobos. We've had several incidents there already tonight and I'm getting fed up.

"That's it. Check your pin maps. Dismissed."

As Mike stood up, Chris asked, "What's Lobos?"

"A western bar," Mike explained. "Gets pretty rowdy at times."

"Western bar? Sounds like my kinda place."

"That's what I thought. Took Jill there one night for dinner. We couldn't get outta there fast enough."

"Nice ambiance, huh?"

"The best man," Mike laughed. "Simply the best." *** Later that night, Mike was cruising by a couple of warehouses when he received a call.

"Ludlow Seven," said the dispatcher, "check out a report of a body at 2160 McKee Avenue. Handle code two."

"Roger," Mike said.

Mike hit the lights, but not the sirens as he sped to the scene. When he arrived, he saw that a small crowd had gathered.

Remembering Ryker's warning earlier that night, Mike reached for his microphone and said, "Ludlow Seven at the scene, requesting back-up for crowd control."

"Roger, Ludlow Seven," the dispatcher replied. "Ludlow Nine is responding." Mike got out of his patrol car and approached the scene. When the people saw him, they calmly let him through and watched as he knelt beside the body of Lori Harris.

Feeling for a pulse, he wasn't surprised to find the young woman was dead. He gently closed her eyes and stood up as Chris and Terry pulled up.

Mike walked over to them and said, "Call for a coroner's wagon and homicide. I'm gonna start talking with these people."

"I'll help," Chris said, as Terry picked up the microphone in his patrol car.

Mike approached the crowd and asked, "Who discovered the body?"

"I did," a man said. "I thought maybe she was drunk or something. She isn't drunk is she?"

"No," Mike replied. "I'm afraid not. Can I have your name and address?"

"Sure. Nick Toscano. I live at 1310 Waterboro Avenue."

"That's quite a distance. Mind me asking what you were doing around here?"

"Visiting a friend. There's no law that says I can't do that, is there?"

"No, sir. I'm just asking you the same questions a detective would ask you. It saves time."

"I understand. I'm sorry. It's not every day I come across a dead body."

"Hey, it's cool. This isn't something I get used to, either."

Toscano relaxed. The last thing he needed was for some cop to be suspicious. He wanted to have more fun. Fun, that's what was missing with this one. She didn't even put up a fight. There's no fun in that.

He glanced at Mike's wedding band. Married, huh? he thought. I bet she's young and pretty. Not a whore like this one. I also bet she would be a load of fun. Put up a fight maybe? Would she, pig? Would your pretty wife fight me? There's only one way to find out. First, though, I have to perfect my craft. I can't afford to be sloppy again.

Toscano glanced back up and noticed Mike watching him. No, Toscano mentally corrected. Not watching. Studying me. Maybe I should study you. Memorizing Mike's badge number, Nick said, " Is something wrong, officer?"

"No. Just waiting for an answer to my question."

"I'm sorry. Was thinking about something else. I always seem to do that. Fade out like that. Ever since I got back from 'Nam."

"You were in 'Nam?" Mike asked, surprised. The guy didn't look old enough to have a driver's license let alone get drafted and sent to Vietnam.

"Yeah. Did three tours for the Army. Not something I look forward to repeating."

"I hear ya. Did three myself for the Airforce.

"I need to ask for your friend's name."

"My friend's.Why?"

"Like I said, it'll save time."

"She doesn't know anything about this. She was sleeping when I left."

"I understand that, Mr. Toscano, but."

"What do we have, Danko?" Sergeant Taggert asked, as he approached the younger officer.

As Mike turned to face the lead investigator, Toscano slipped away into the shadows.

"It's not pretty," Mike said. "She was shot once at close range and dumped here."

"Just beautiful. Is it too much to ask that anyone saw the killer dump her?"

"I doubt it. Officers Webster and Owens are asking the other people while I questioned the dude who discovered the body."

"Oh yeah?" Taggert looked around as his team started to set up around the crime scene. "Where is he?"

Mike looked around as well, baffled. He didn't even see the guy leave. "He was here a second ago. Refused to give me the name of his 'friend'."

"I'm not surprised. Probably married and didn't want his wife to find out where he went to.

"Anyway, you got his name and address?"

"Yes, sir. Nick Toscano. Lives on Waterboro Avenue."

"A long way from home. I'll talk to him tomorrow. Thanks for your help."

"Anytime. I just hope it won't be too often."

Taggert glanced down at the body. "Danko, how old do you think she was? Nineteen, twenty?"

"Give or take. Why?"

"No reason. I just hate having bodies strewn around me that young." "I hear ya. See you around, Sarg."

Mike headed for his patrol car where he was joined by Chris and Terry.

"What's wrong, man?" Terry asked.

"Oh, nothing. Except the victim's a brunette, a few years younger than Jill. It just got me thinking."

"About what?"

"Going home, pulling her into my arms and never letting her go."

"Some day, in a perfect society, maybe you will."

Mike grinned. "Now there's a fantasy I can cling to."

The cops laughed as they got into their patrol cars. Their next stop, check out Lobos. *** The next morning, Jill Danko was cooking breakfast when Mike came out of the bedroom and wrapped his arms around her waist as he kissed the back of her neck.

Jill turned around and smiled at him as she brought his face to hers and kissed him. "Good morning," she said.

"Morning. Have any plans today?"

"No. Why?"

"I thought we might have a picnic. What do you say?"

"I say, I'm all yours.

"Good. Now, all we have to decide is where to go. The beach or the park?"

Jill wrapped her arms around Mike and pulled him closer to her as she said, "I know this secluded alcove at the beach where no one can see us. It's perfect."

Mike grinned. "Yeah? No one?"

"Not a soul."

"So we can do a remake of." "All day long," Jill replied, her eyes twinkling.

"Sounds like the perfect spot. I just have one question."

"What?"

"How did you come across this stretch of beach?"

Jill kissed him again. "Remember when a couple of us took Cliffy and his friends out on a field trip?"

"Yeah. I had to work that day so I couldn't go with you."

"Well, that's where we went. There are even small caves we can investigate if it isn't high tide."

"Sounds fascinating. Should I bring a camera for the caves?"

"You could, but I don't think anything will come out. We definitely will need flashlights."

"Got it covered. When do you want to go?"

"Let me check the tide schedule after breakfast and I'll let you know. Now, if you don't let me go, your breakfast will burn."

"Who wants breakfast when all I want is in my arms right now?"

Jill kissed him hungrily. "Sweetheart," she said, "what I have planned for you, you are going to need all the energy you can get."

Mike pulled away and looked at her, his eyes burning with passion. "Is that a promise?"

"Absolutely."

"In that case, I better go take a shower. A long, very cold shower."

Jill laughed as he headed back to the bedroom. Turning back to the omelet she was making, Jill thought about the night before and was relieved to see Mike in a better mood.

She had tried to wait up for him, but had fallen asleep on the sofa. It wasn't until she felt Mike carry her into the bedroom that she woke up. When Jill saw the look in his eyes, she knew he'd had bad tour. "What happened?" Jill had asked him, after he gently put her on their bed.

After Mike told her about the young woman's murder, he had added, "All I could think about was what a waste it was. No one deserves to die like that. I don't care what she did for a living."

"They'll catch him, Mike," Jill had assured him, taking his hand in hers.

"She reminded me of you," Mike had continued, squeezing her hand gently.

"Really? In what way?"

Brushing her hair behind her shoulders, Mike had replied, "Except for professions, yeah. Shoulder length dark hair, slim build. Around the same age. It bothered me."

"But, it wasn't me. I'm okay and safe. Remember that."

"I do. I just hope Taggert catches this guy. I have a feeling he won't stop until he's caught. And I don't want any more kids losing their lives because there's a nut case out there."

"He can't be that good, Mike."

"It doesn't matter if he is. The weather worked in his favor tonight. Washed away whatever evidence the killer left behind. It couldn't have been better for him if he'd planned it. This nut is going to kill again. If he doesn't, he's gotten away with the perfect crime. And that bothers me. That girl deserves better."

Jill pulled him into her arms. "It'll be okay, Mike. You'll see. Taggert will find out who this animal is and catch him."

"I hope so, baby. For those kids out there, I hope so."

Later, after Mike took a shower, the couple had made love, mostly so Mike could forget the hurt he was feeling for a girl he never met and so that Jill could show him that she was safe and sound and in the arms of the man she deeply loved.

"I guess it worked," she muttered, with a warm smile.

"Hey, babe?" Mike called out. "Can I have a towel?"

"Coming right up," Jill said, as she turned off the stove. She walked over to the hall closet and took down a large fluffy towel. Then she headed for the bedroom and straight for the bathroom. As Jill opened the door, Mike grabbed her hand and gently pulled her inside.

"Hi," he said, as he pulled her to him.

"HI," Jill laughed as Mike started to nibble on her neck. "I thought you needed a towel."

"I do," Mike replied, as he continued his hunger fest. "Wanna do my back?"

"What about breakfast?" Jill asked, knowing full well doing his back was the last thing on his mind.

"We'll eat later. Right now, all I want is you and you taste a hell of a lot better than eggs and cheese."

Jill tilted her head back as her body responded to Mike caresses and nibbles.

"In that case." She slipped her robe off and allowed him to lead her into the shower stall. *** Later that afternoon, the Danko's let themselves into their apartment as the telephone began to ring.

"I'll get it," Mike said, tossing the keys on the counter.

"Okay," Jill replied. "Want something to drink?"

"I'll take a beer." Mike reached for the receiver and said, "Hello?"

"Hello, Danko," a male voice said. "I'm gonna do it again."

"Who is this?"

Instead of replying, the caller hung up. Mike hung up as well as Jill handed him a bottle of beer.

"What was that all about?" she asked.

"I have no idea. All he said was, 'Danko, I'm gonna do it again.' What ever 'it' is."

Mike followed Jill to the couch where they sat down. "Sounds mysterious," she said.

"Probably some crackpot. I doubt he'll call again." Mike wrapped his arm around her shoulders and smiled. "Did you have a nice time?"

"I always have a nice time when I'm with you. But, today, I must say you certainly outdid yourself."

"Me? Babe, I wasn't alone if you recall."

Jill shifted on the couch. "It certainly will be interesting to see if I can get all the sand out of every nook and cranny."

Mike's grin broadened. "We can always do a repeat performance of this morning."

Jill slowly smiled back. "I do your back, you do mine? That performance?" "Yeah."

She got to her feet and stretched. "I'll race you."

Mike slowly placed his bottle on the coffee table. "Race me, huh?"

With mischief in her eyes, Jill said, "Yeah. Race you."

"And what do I get if I win?" Mike asked.

"I'm sure you'll come up with something."

Mike grinned. "You sure like to live dangerously, don't you?"

"Are you gonna talk all night or are you up for the challenge, old man?"

That did it. Before Jill could move, Mike grabbed her around the waist and easily hoisted her over his shoulder.

"Hey," she protested. "This isn't fair."

"Who said I play fair?" Mike asked, as he carried her into the bedroom.

A few minutes later, the apartment erupted with squeals as Mike showed Jill just how old he was. Just then the telephone rang and the Danko's decided to ignore it, not realizing that their idyllic lives were about to spiral out of control.

Meanwhile after the third ring, Toscano hung up, picked up his keys and headed out of his apartment.

He was going to hunt for victim number two. This time however, it wouldn't be a hooker.

That's where he went wrong. Hookers, they were used t the kind of games he played last night. However, someone like Mrs. Danko, a sweet innocent girl, they have no idea what kind of games he was capable of.

He would show 'em. All of them. Especially Mrs. Michael Danko.

Oh, yeah, Toscano thought, as he remembered seeing Jill for the first time walking to her car with the cop he had met the previous night. It wasn't hard to track Mike down. All he had to do was wait for the cop to leave for home and follow him.

He's not too bright for a cop, he thought. How could Mike not see that he was being tailed? Once he saw Jill though, Toscano had his answer. If he had a woman as fine as Mrs. Danko was, he wouldn't even notice if satin was hot on his heels.

Today he had gone back to the Danko's apartment in time to see the couple head to the beach. Toscano watched and photographed the couple as they made love, more than once and investigated the caves that lined the shore.

Jill was beautiful, he had thought then. Beautiful, fresh and most importantly, young. He needed them young. Old women were too slow. They just didn't get it. But Jill, she would be perfect. She was the one he had waited for his whole life.

The chosen one, Toscano thought. Yes, that's who she is. The chosen one. She's the one who will welcome my gift. Soon, she will welcome me. Toscano got into his car, started the engine and drove out of the parking lot.

A half an hour later, he spotted victim number two as she periodically stuck her thumb out hoping for a ride. Toscano decided to oblige her.

He would give her a ride all right. One last journey to nowhere.

Pulling over to the side of the road, he rolled the window down as the girl poked her head in.

"Where you headed?" he asked.

"Memorial Hospital," the girl replied.

"What a coincidence. So am I. Hop in."

The girl opened the door and got into the passenger seat.

"I really appreciate this," she said. "At least now I'll get to work on time."

"Oh, yes. I'll get you there, precious. Right on time." *** The next morning, Mike joined Chris and Terry in the briefing room as Terry handed him a cup of coffee.

"Did I miss anything yesterday?" Mike asked.

Seeing the look on Mike's face, Terry asked, "Do you care? You look very relaxed."

"Oh, I am, Webster," Mike replied, with a grin. "It was very enjoyable."

"I bet." Terry grinned. "Is there anywhere in your apartment where you didn't."

"Nope."

The cops laughed as Ryker entered the room. They took their seats as he said, "This won't take long. As most of you know, a second body was found last night. This time she was a student nurse out of Memorial Hospital. According to Taggert, this killer not only changed the type of women he's after, but he's getting more violent.

"So far, we have no witnesses to any of the killings, and this guy has in three days racked up two bodies. Possibly a third.

"A nineteen year old girl was reported missing an hour ago. I'll be passing out her picture. Keep your eyes and ears open. We are not dealing with a sane individual and if we don't stop him soon the body count just might rise.

"Any questions?"

"Are the FBI going to get involved?" Terry asked.

"Not yet, Webster. It's too early to call them in. He's not even sure he's dealing with the same individual. All we know about these two killings is that he changed his m.o. from the first killing. Anyone with more questions or has any ideas, go see Taggert. He needs all the help he can get.

"That's it. Check your pin maps. Dismissed."

Mike got to his feet as Ryker said, "Danko, when you have a minute, I would like to see you." "Yes, sir."

"What did you do now?" Chris asked.

"I have no idea."

"Maybe your day off got a little," Terry said, "How should I put this? Out of hand?"

"No." Mike shook his head. "That can't be it." Blushing deeply, he looked at Terry. "Could it?"

"Don't look at me. I wore ear plugs."

Mike laughed. "Sure you did."

"Danko," Ryker said, "I'm starting to grow roots. I'll see you in my office."

"Yes, sir. Right behind you."

"Good luck," Chris said, as Mike followed Ryker out of the room.

Once the officers were in Ryker's office, the Lieutenant closed the door and said, "Have a seat, Danko."

Mike sat down and said, "Did I do something wrong, sir?"

"No, Danko, as far as I know. Why? Is there something you want to tell me?"

"No, sir."

"Then can I tell you why I called you in here or do you want to start guessing?"

"Sorry, sir," Mike replied, sheepishly.

"Two nights ago, you were the responding officer to the first murder scene. Is that correct?"

"Yeah."

"Do you remember interviewing a gentleman by the name of Nick Toscano?"

"Yes, sir. He told me that he was the one who found the body. At first he thought she was drunk."

"He didn't see the bullet wound?"

"I guess not. It wasn't brightly lit out there, sir."

"I understand. He gave you his address didn't he?"

"Yes, sir. It's all in the report."

"I know it is, Danko and both Taggert and I read your report thoroughly. There's just one problem."

"What's that?" "The address he gave you was a phony. It's an empty lot in the middle of nowhere. Did you get a good look at Toscano?"

"Pretty good, I guess."

"Good enough to give our artist a composite?"

"Yeah, but I might be able to help better than that. Toscano told me he did three tours in 'Nam in the Army. That shouldn't be too difficult to prove and it'll have a picture of him."

"Provided the name he gave you wasn't as phony as the address. Danko, check the mug books. If he's not in there, get a composite made up. Then we'll bother the Army."

"Now, sir?"

"Unless you have something better to do."

"Uh, no, sir."

Mike rose to his feet and left Ryker's office. He had been thinking about that night since briefing and something told him he had screwed up. How could he have let the guy slip away? Never mind that, how the hell did he slip away without anyone seeing him?

As he entered the records' bureau, the phone call he had received the night before started to bother him too. Was it Toscano who called him? And if so, what the hell was he talking about? The fact that a second victim had turned up last night and a possible third girl is now missing was beginning to drive Mike nuts. He wished he could see what the two women looked like and hoped neither bore a resemblance to Jill. He still couldn't get the first girl out of his head; in spite of the great day off he had the day before.

Going to the records' clerk, he asked to see the mug books, and promised himself not to think about what he had just heard.

An hour later, Mike closed the last of the mug books as Lieutenant Ryker and Sergeant Taggert entered the room.

"Any luck, Danko?" Ryker asked.

"No, sir. He doesn't have a record anywhere in the state."

"All right. Work with the sketch artist. I want Toscano's picture out there as soon as possible."

"What about the Army?"

"We'll check it out, Danko, just not right now. Tomorrow, if Toscano doesn't come forward, then we'll check the Military."

"Is he a suspect, sir?"

"You want to answer that, Sergeant?"

"Right now, he's a material witness," Taggert said. "If you can get that sketch, we'll pass it on to the television stations and newspapers. We'll ask him to come forward. Hopefully, he will."

"And if he doesn't?" Mike asked. He hoped Toscano was just what Taggert said, a witness. He didn't think he could live with himself if Toscano was the killer and he let him go.

"Danko," Ryker said, "don't borrow trouble. Let's wait and see what happens at 10:00 tonight."

"Yes, sir."

Mike started to walk away as Taggert said, "Danko, is there anything else you can tell me about that night? Did he say or do anything that might have indicated he witnessed the killing or is the killer?"

"No, sir. He got a little agitated when I asked him for the name of his friend. Told me she didn't even know he had left. Apparently, she was asleep."

"That's it?"

"Yes, sir. Oh, one more thing. He fades out from time to time."

Taggert and Ryker exchanged looks.

"What does that mean, Danko?" Ryker asked.

"His mind closes down," Mike explained. "Like he's on another planet or something. He did that that night. I had to repeat my question since he didn't hear me."

"You mean, he's thinking about something else?"

"No. I mean, I don't know, sir, it's hard to explain. You have to see him to understand it. It's like he goes dead inside. Doesn't hear or see anything around him. Said he's been like that since 'Nam."

"That's when he told you about his stint in the Army?" Taggert asked.

"Yeah. I told him I was there for the Air Force. I thought that would make him feel calmer. More cooperative."

"And that's all he told you?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry I can't be more helpful."

"Just get a decent likeness of him out there, Mike. That's all I ask."

"Yes, sir."

After Mike left, Ryker looked at Taggert and asked, "What do you think?"

"I think I'm screwed if we don't get Toscano in here," Taggert replied.

"Then you think he's our killer?"

"He's all I got, Eddie. Who ever we're dealing with, he's getting better. Neither victim was killed where they were found. He's leaving nothing behind to tie him to the crime. If we don't find this guy, even if it's not Toscano, I'm afraid we never will. I can't accept that."

Ryker was thoughtful. He had known Mike for almost four years and knew the young cop couldn't accept that either. For Mike's sake, Ryker hoped Toscano would see his picture in the news and come forward. That way, he would put both Taggert and Mike's mind at ease.

Meanwhile, at Memorial Hospital, Jill was at the nurses' station when the telephone rang. She picked up the receiver and said, "Cardiology."

"Mrs. Danko, please," a male voice said.

"This is Mrs. Danko. Can I help you?"

"Your husband didn't understand the telephone call I made to him last night, did he?" Toscano asked.

"Who is this?"

"Your Savior, Mrs. Danko. I'm the one who's going to take away all your fears."

Jill rolled her eyes. Not another one, she thought. "Sorry, I already have one. Look, if this isn't important, I'm going to hang up."

"You're the Chosen One, Mrs. Danko. However, I must be perfect before I can claim you."

"Listen, whatever sick game you're playing."

"It isn't a game, Jill. Just ask the last two girls I killed. Oops, I have to run. See victim number three. Which means I should let your husband know who she is. She isn't half as pretty as you."

Before Jill could say anything, Toscano hung up. She was hanging up when a young nurse approached her.

"Are you okay, Jill?" Nicole Douglas asked.

"Just fine," she replied. "If talking to a certifiable nut case floats your boat."

"One of those, huh? You gonna tell Mike?"

"I'm not sure yet. It wasn't that scary. Just weird. But, if he calls again." Jill left the sentence hanging. Just how would she tell Mike about this call without him going nuts was the question of the hour.

Jill loved Mike more than anyone in her life, but he had a tendency to over- react whenever the least threatening incidents happened. Not that she minded him coming to the rescue, but there were times when it put him in danger as well, and that drove her crazy. Losing him was something Jill would never be able to over-come. Especially if it was because of her.

"I thought you told Mike everything," Nicole was saying.

"I do, but there are times when I wish I hadn't. I love the man, but."

"But, he's over-protective, is that it?"

"That about sums it up. And, he's not the only one. He has two watch dogs who are just as bad as he is."

Nicole smiled. "And that's a bad thing, because?"

Jill couldn't help but smile back. "Okay, you win. I feel protected and I'm safe with Mike, Terry and Chris, but there are some times when I wish."

"He would let you handle your own problems, right?"

"Yeah. The call was harmless. If it gets worse, then I'll tell him."

"Hey, you don't have to explain anything to me. I just wish I had your problems. See you later."

As Nicole walked away, neither of the nurses noticed Toscano watching them. When he had first saw Nicole, he knew she would be next. He would take her tonight and, maybe the cops will find her tomorrow. It all depended on the girl.

It also depended on his creativity. The first two deaths, they didn't give him the thrill he had expected and he couldn't understand why.

Maybe he should change his method. Shooting them was too quick. It was over before it even began for him. He wanted the next one to suffer more. Pretend he would give Nicole her freedom and then watch the fear grow as she came realize as the blade.

That's it, he thought. I'll go back to the knife. I could be so more creative with a knife. Not to mention it would be a lot more fun to use.

Looking at Nicole as she walked by, Toscano thought, See you tonight, precious, for tomorrow you die. *** Later that night, Jill was alone in the apartment when the telephone rang. Rising from the couch where she had been reading a magazine, she went to the wall phone and took down the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Is Mike there?" Toscano asked.

"No, I'm sorry. He hasn't gotten home yet. Can I take a message?"

"No. I'll call back."

Jill hung up thoughtfully. The caller sounded familiar, but she couldn't remember where she had heard it. The call she had received earlier in the day was totally forgotten as the day wore on.

As she tried to remember what it was about the caller that was familiar, Jill heard Mike's key turn in the lock.

"Hi, babe," he said, as he entered the apartment.

"Hi," Jill replied, as Mike pulled her into his arms and kissed her. "How was your day?"

"I've had better." Mike walked to the refrigerator and took out a beer.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"Not right now. Now, all I want is a shower. What's for dinner?"

"Hamburgers and French fries."

"Sounds good." Mike kissed her again. "I'll be right out."

"Okay. Oh, by the way, some guy called here looking for you."

Mike had been heading for the bedroom when he froze and looked at her. "Did you get a name?"

"No, but he said he'll call back."

"Fine." Mike was relieved. He didn't want to hear what Toscano had to say. "If I'm in the shower, get a number."

"I'll try, but I don't think he wants to talk to me."

"Then I guess he's outta luck."

Jill watched as Mike headed for the bedroom. Something was definitely bothering him. She could sense it the minute he walked in the door. Hopefully, she would be able to help him through it.

Just then the doorbell rang. Jill opened it and smiled when she saw Terry and Chris standing there.

"Hi, Jill," Chris said. "Did Mike get home yet?"

"He's in the shower. Come in." Closing the door, she said. "Can I get you two a beer or something?"

"A beer would be perfect," Terry said.

As Jill headed for the refrigerator to get the beers, Terry continued, "We just stopped by to see how things went with Ryker."

"Is he in trouble or something?" Jill asked, handing the men the beers.

"No, nothing like that." The two men sat at the counter as Jill watched them. "He just wasn't on the street much today. Thought maybe Ryker had him on a special assignment or something."

Jill slowly smiled. "You two are worried about him."

"Yeah," Chris said. "He barely said two words to us in the locker room tonight."

Jill's smile faded. "That's not like him."

"Is everything okay with you two?" Terry asked. "I know it's none of our business."

"Everything's fine," Jill assured him, with a smile. "And, Terry, we've been friends too long for you to stop being inquisitive. If you stopped asking questions, we would worry about you.

"Besides, if he can't talk to me about what ever is bugging him, I hope he will talk to you guys."

"You guys talking about me again?" Mike entered the kitchen and pulled out another beer.

"Just wondering if you were okay," Terry said, as he watched his friend open the bottle.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

Jill, sensing that was her cue, started to leave the kitchen. Mike grabbed her hand and said, "Hey, where are you going?"

"You guys should talk in private. I'm." He kissed the inside of her wrist as he looked into her eyes. "I haven't seen you all day. I want you to stay. Okay?"

"Are you sure?" "Yeah. I'm sure." Turning to his two friends, Mike said, "Have you two eaten yet?"

"No," Chris said, hiding a smile. There were no problems in this relationship. "We were kinda hoping for an invitation."

"Babe, since you haven't started dinner yet, what do you say we get the hell outta here and have dinner at the Open House. I feel like being in a crowd."

"Okay. I just have to get my purse."

As Jill left the kitchen, Terry looked at Mike in surprise. "Now I know there's something bothering you. What's wrong?"

"I don't know, man. It's just a feeling I've been having since briefing this morning and it's not going away."

"What kind of feeling? By the way, in case you didn't hear this, that nineteen-year-old Ryker told us about? Turns out she took off with her boyfriend and is living up the coast."

"That's good to know." Mike was relieved to hear that the girl was safe and sound. She was one last person he had to worry about.

Before he could say anything else, Jill returned. He wrapped an arm around her waist and said, "Ready to go?"

"Yeah," Jill replied, with a smile.

"Then let's get outta here. I'm starving."

Terry and Chris left their drinks on the counter as they got up. "There he goes again," Terry teased. "The man's always hungry."

"Yeah," Chris agreed. "Jill, you really should feed him more often."

Before Jill could reply, the telephone rang. "I'll get it," she said, reaching for the receiver.

"Let it ring," Mike said, taking her hand in his. "Who ever it is, will call back."

"Are you sure? It could be Ryker."

"If it is, he'll track us down. C'mon, I'm in the need for beef."

Jill followed Mike and the guys out of the apartment as the telephone finally stopped ringing.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the city limits, in a small farmhouse, Toscano who had paid cash for the place so no questions would be asked, slammed the receiver down.

"Where the hell did you go, Danko?" Toscano muttered, reaching for a large butcher knife. "I'm gonna try you one more time. Right now, I'm gonna check on sweet Nicole."

Toscano slowly ran his finger along the blade. He loved the way the blade shined in the light when he held it at just the right angle.

"This is going to be enjoyable," he muttered, heading to the back room.

He entered the bedroom where Nicole Douglas was being held. He sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair from her face.

Toscano watched her sleep for a minute. Finally, he said, "It's almost over, Nicole." When she didn't respond, the killer continued, "You understand why I'm doing this, don't you? Do you think Jill would understand?"

Nicole still didn't open her eyes. In fact, she wasn't doing much of anything, Toscano suddenly realized. She wasn't even breathing.

He got to his feet and looked down at her. "What's wrong with you? Why won't you answer me?"

Toscano reached for her wrist to check for a pulse. When there wasn't any, he became enraged.

"No!" He pounded his fist angrily on the dead woman's face and torso. "I wasn't ready! This wasn't how you were supposed to die!"

Realizing he was still holding the knife, he plunged it over and over into her chest. "You bitch! You ruined everything! And it's all Danko's fault. If he had been home the first time I called."

Finally, the anger subsided as quickly as it had erupted. Looking down at the girl's battered and bloody mess he had just created, he said, "Oh well, the next one won't be weak. I should've known you would be weak. Damn you, I was so hoping you would be the one."

He wrapped the body in the sheets and carried her effortlessly out to the trunk of his car, dumped her inside. Before he got into his car, Toscano looked back at the house and said, "You better be home when I call again, Danko, or the next one will live to regret it."

Meanwhile, the Danko's, Terry and Chris were all seated in the Open House and had ordered dinner, none of them aware of the madness that had taken place only moments earlier.

After the waitress left, Terry looked at Mike and said, "Okay. What's buggin' you, man?"

Mike knew Terry wouldn't let up. With a sigh, he said, "You remember that guy I was talking to when that first girl's body was found?"

"Vaguely. Why?"

"He took off before Taggert had a chance to talk to him. His address turned out to be a phony. Now, Taggert wants to find him. Says he's the only lead he has."

"Is he a suspect?" Chris asked.

"Taggert said he's a material witness, but I have this nagging feeling."

"That he's the killer?" Terry asked.

"Yeah. And if he is, I think I screwed up."

"Why? 'Cause the guy took off? So what? Taggert can't blame you for that. Short of tying him to the door of that record shop, there was really nothing you could have done."

"I know that, but it still doesn't make me feel better. Especially since another body turned up yesterday. I think Toscano killed those two kids."

"C'mon, Mike," Chris said. "That's reaching over the top, isn't it?"

"I don't think so. Listen, this dude gives me a phony address, according to Ryker, possibly a phony name, can't or won't explain why he was in the neighborhood. He discovered the body, but wasn't cooperative. If he's innocent, why did he split? It it's the way Taggert thought, that Toscano's cheating on his wife, hell, his wife wouldn't even have to know about any of this. Besides, there's something about Toscano that bugs the hell out of me."

"In what way?" Jill asked, as she took his hand in hers.

Mike shrugged. "It's just a feeling I have. I can't explain it." He ran a hand over his face. "Oh hell, I don't know what I feel. All I do know is, an innocent man or a dude that doesn't have anything to hide, doesn't run away from a crime scene which he called in."

"You have a point," Terry agreed. "But, don't we all have something to hide? Look, man, there could be a lotta reasons why he took off. None of which may have anything to do with the murdered girl."

"Then why bother calling it in at all? Why not let some other person stumble across her?"

No one had answer for that. By now the waitress returned and placed their food in front of them.

After the waitress left, Jill said, "Mike, is it possible that he just doesn't like cops?"

"Again, why call it in? Look, all I know is, I'd feel a lot better if Toscano walked into the station and explained why he left."

"Well, his picture is on every news cast in the city," Chris said. "Maybe someone out there knows the guy and will call in with a tip."

"Like his girl friend?" Mike asked, doubtfully.

Jill leaned over and kissed him. "Why don't you wait until tomorrow and see what happens."

Mike smiled warmly at her. She always had a way to make him feel better. "Okay. As of now, let's talk about something other than my tired old feelings."

Terry and Chris looked at each other and grinned. "Did he say 'old'?" Chris asked.

"He sure did. At least he admits it," Terry said, as he bit into his cheeseburger. "Damn, I've died and gone to heaven."

Much to Mike's relief, talk about topics other than police work came easy. Within a few minutes, they were all laughing at a story Terry related about his former partner, Willie and the blind dates they both had. *** Later that night, as the Danko's entered the apartment, the telephone started to ring. Mike tossed the keys on the counter and reached for the receiver as Jill said, "I'm going to get ready for bed."

"Okay, babe. I'll join you in a minute." Jill smiled and said, "I'll start counting."

Mike laughed as he said, into the receiver, "Hello?"

"Where the hell were you?" Toscano demanded. "She's dead because of you?"

Mike's hand tightened on the receiver as his blood went cold. His world was about to blown apart. "Who is this?"

"I mean, Nicole was gonna die anyway," Toscano continued, as if Mike didn't say a word, "but at my time and my choosing. If you were home."

"What are you talking about? Who is this? Nicole who?"

"Nicole Douglas. She was supposed to have been number three. My third practice kill, but you loused everything up 'cause you weren't home. As for who I am, I'll give you a hint. I didn't find the body, I dumped the body. You know which one I'm talking about?"

"Toscano."

"Very good, Danko. For a cop, you're not half bad. Just so you know, I didn't get a thrill from shooting those two girls. It was too quick. Not painful enough. So I switched weapons. I use a knife now. After all, I do have my creative tendencies."

"Listen, Toscano, where's Nicole? You owe me that much."

"I don't owe you jack. However, I do want her found so you could see my handiwork. She's in the park. Shouldn't be too hard to find."

Before Mike could ask any more questions, the killer hung up. Mike pressed the release button and dialed the precinct as Jill came out of the bedroom, saying, with a smile, "Your minute's."

Seeing the look Mike shot her, she said, "Mike? What is it? What happened?"

Before he could reply, the phone was picked up on the other end.

"This is Officer Danko," he said. "I need to speak to either Lieutenant Ryker or Sergeant Taggert. I don't care which, whoever is more interested that Toscano just called me and said where another body can be found. No, damn it, I'm not putting you on. I wish to hell I was. Yeah, I'll hold."

Jill went to her husband and hugged him. As Mike kissed her forehead, Ryker picked up the receiver. "Danko," he said, "tell me you misunderstood the guy."

"Lieutenant, I wish to God I did. He said the girl's name was Nicole Douglas and."

Mike was watching Jill so he didn't miss the look of surprise in her eyes. "Hold on a second, Lieutenant." He covered the mouth piece and said, "What's wrong, babe?"

"I.I.know a nurse with the same name. But, it can't be her. She was at work today."

"Do you have a number where I can reach her? Just to make sure we're not talking about the same person."

"555-9173. I know it's not a common name, but."

"I'll have Ryker check it out. Do you know where she lives?"

"I'm not sure. Somewhere on Clover."

Mike turned back to the telephone. "Lieutenant, Jill just told me she works with someone with the same name. I don't suppose."

"I'm on it. Give me a number where I can reach her and I'll send a unit to her place."

After Mike related what Jill told him, Ryker said, sarcastically. "You really know how to make my job easier, don't you, Danko? Listen, Taggert just came in and I'll transfer you. Tell him exactly what Toscano told you. Including where we can find this so-called victim. I'll check on Jill's friend."

"Thank you, sir."

When Taggert got on the telephone, Mike related everything Toscano had told him.

"Why you?" Taggert asked, after Mike was through.

"I don't know. Maybe because I was the one he talked to that night and wants to share his whatever he wants to call it. Glory or something. All I know is, he's blaming me for this one and."

"And it's bullshit. You're not to blame so don't go there. Did he tell you why he's doing this?" "Not in so many words. He likes the thrill. The pain and fear in his victims' eyes. It sounds like he gets a kick out of it."

"Terrific, I always liked a scumbag who loves his work. I just wish it was in another district.

"Look, I'm sending units to the park. I'll let you know what we turn up."

"Sergeant, if you don't mind, I'd rather not know."

"I hear ya, Mike, but you aren't left with much of a choice now are you."

"No, sir, I guess not. Will you call me back tonight?"

"Could you get any sleep if I didn't?"

"I guess not."

"Then you have your answer. Let's hope Toscano is full of cow pucky."

"You and me both, Serge."

After he hung up, Mike looked at Jill. Without a word, he pulled her into his arms.

"You okay?" he asked.

Jill shuddered. "I will be as soon as I know we're talking about two different women. Not that I want."

Mike kissed the top of her head. "I know, baby. I hope Toscano lied to me, too. You can't imagine how much to hell I hope for that."

Jill pulled away and looked at him. "But, you don't think he did, do you?"

Mike sighed and turned away. Jill always knew how to read him. Heading into the living room, he said, "No, I don't think he lied."

He turned to look at her. "Tell me something. The Nicole you work with, what does she look like?"

Jill was relieved that he hadn't used the past tense when talking about Nicole. She followed him into the living room where they both sat down on the couch.

"She's about twenty-five," Jill replied. "Long dark hair, about my height, give or take an inch. She has an offbeat sense of humor. I was thinking, I mean, I am thinking of setting her up with Chris. They just might hit it off."

Mike closed his eyes, wearily. Just like the first one. Maybe even the second one too, he thought. Same type

Out loud, he said, "Damn. I was hoping she was a midget. Or at least a blond or a redhead."

"I'm sure she'll dye her hair if you asked her nicely," Jill said, trying to make both of them feel better.

"Jill." Mike began.

"It's not her, Mike. Not until I know for sure. It's not a friend."

Mike pulled her close, as she fought back tears. "I know, baby. I know." *** An hour later, Taggert entered Ryker's office. Neither man had good news and they certainly didn't want to call Mike and tell him.

"What the hell am I dealing with, Eddie?" Taggert asked, as he started to pace. "She was a mess. The cop who found her, lost his dinner and I sent him home."

"That bad?" Ryker asked.

"The coroner can't even tell me what killed her. The beating she took or the stab wounds. All I know is, Toscano is an animal and we gotta take him down."

"I agree. Unfortunately, my news isn't much better. You able to identify."

"Are you kidding? The only way that girl is going to be identified is through fingerprints."

"I was afraid of that. When do you get the report back on the autopsy?"

"I told the coroner to rush it. I want the results as soon as possible."

"What about identification?"

Before Taggert could reply, there was a knock on Ryker's door.

"Come in," Ryker called out.

A plainclothes detective entered the office with a folder in his hands. "Serge," he said, "we have the id back."

"And?" Taggert demanded.

"Our guy really hates nurses."

"Damn." Taggert took the folder from him and handed it over to Ryker. He didn't have to read the report, he was at the scene and it was not something he wanted to relive or see again. At least it wasn't the murder scene. God only knew what that looked like.

"Thanks, Peterson," he said. "Go home. We'll pick this up tomorrow."

"Yes, sir."

Taggert looked at Ryker. His friend had turned a strange shade of green as he looked at the photographs of the victim.

"Oh, hell," Ryker muttered, as he closed the folder.

"You gonna tell him or should I?"

"He's one of my men so I'll do it," Ryker said, as he dialed Mike's number. He wasn't surprised when it was answered on the first ring.

"Danko," he said, "Taggert found victim number three. She's been identified by fingerprints. Tell Jill I'm sorry."

"Damn," Mike said. "Lieutenant, why did you have to."

"Because the girl's face was a mess and no one should have to see that."

"Great. How do I tell Jill that?"

"You don't. Just tell her Ms. Douglas has been identified and that you're sorry."

"I hear you. How was she killed?"

"We have no idea yet. It could be the beating or the stabbing. We won't know until after the autopsy."

"When will that be?"

"It's top priority. Hopefully, tomorrow. Danko, this isn't your fault. Toscano would've killed her whether you were home or not."

"I understand that, Lieutenant. What I don't understand is why blame me in the first place? Unless."

"Unless what?"

"Hang on a second, sir. I have to ask Jill something."

Mike placed the receiver on the counter and headed for the bedroom.

Jill was flipping through a magazine, but he had a feeling she wasn't seeing anything. She looked at him when he entered.

"Babe, did Nicole have a heart condition?" he asked, before Jill could say anything.

"I don't know. She never mentioned it. If she did, it would be in her personnel file. Mike, I need to know. Did they."

"I'm sorry, baby." Mike went to her and pulled her close. "They just identified her. Look, I have to get back on the phone. You okay?"

When Jill didn't say anything, he kissed her on the cheek, got up and left the room.

Picking up the receiver, Mike said, "Lieutenant, can you find out if Nicole had a heart problem?"

"I suppose it wouldn't be hard to find out," Ryker said. "What's on your mind?"

"I think I know why he blames me. He said, that I loused everything up because I wasn't home when he called. Toscano had planned on killing her after he spoke to me, but when he got back to her, she was already dead. If Nicole had a heart condition, the fear he had put her through."

"She would most likely have had a heart attack," Taggert said, once Ryker had him on the speakerphone. "That could explain the rage behind what he did to her. She must've died shortly before he walked in on her. The coroner could tell us for sure."

"If she did, it would've been just seconds before he entered the room." Mike couldn't finish the rest of his thought. God, he thought, that room must've been a blood bath.

"Danko," Ryker said, "what made you think that the girl had a heart condition?"

"Toscano was pissed off at me because she had died before he could kill her. She was suppose to be victim number three. The only thing I could think of was, that Nicole had a heart attack."

"It makes sense considering what he did to her," Taggert said. "Thank god she wasn't alive to endure it."

"Lieutenant, Serge, there's no doubt in my mind that he's going to kill again. He called the first two practice kills. He has to perfect his craft."

"Danko," Taggert said, "this guy is nuts. If he calls you again."

"Not if, sir. It's when and if it were up to me, tonight's call would be the last."

"I understand that, Danko, but if he's communicating with you."

"What if my wife picks up the phone and he starts 'communicating' with her? I'll be damned if she's gonna hear the garbage he told me tonight."

"I don't blame you. Look, if he does call and wants to talk to her, tell her to hang up."

Mike sighed. Taggert just wasn't getting it. However, Ryker apparently did, for he said, "Danko, Toscano's not going to go after Jill."

"How do you know? She fits the type of woman he obviously hates."

"Maybe, but there's one thing Jill has that these three women didn't." "And that is?"

"You, Danko. Jill has you. These girls didn't have anyone. As long as that's the case, he won't go near her."

"I hope not. For her sake. Is there anything else?"

Ryker looked at Taggert who shook his head. "No. Everything else can wait until tomorrow's briefing. Get some sleep.

"By the way, I teletyped the Army. Should hear back from someone in a day or so. Danko, don't worry, we'll nail this son-of-a-bitch."

"Yeah," Mike said, wondering if that was the case, "sure we will. Good night, sirs."

Before either Ryker or Taggert could reply, Mike hung up. Now, he had to go face his wife and try to answer questions he didn't think he had answers to. When he entered the bedroom, Mike was surprised to find Jill had fallen asleep. A reprieve, he thought. Until tomorrow, at least. *** The next morning, the Danko's were still asleep, Mike fitfully, when the telephone started to ring.

Mike reached out sleepily and fumbled for the receiver. "Hello?" he mumbled.

Toscano hung up. What he had to say was for only Jill. He wasn't ready to talk to Mike yet. Not until he found victim number four. Then he would tell that cop where to find her.

Oh, well, he thought. I can always reach her at the hospital. Who knows, maybe I'll find number four. After all, that's where I found Nicole.

He looked at the pictures of Jill he had taped on the wall behind an alter he had set up in one of his empty rooms.

"Soon, my Angel, it will just be you and me. I promise, you'll enjoy every second of welcoming. Then no one will touch me. Not even Danko. You will take your rightful place on the alter of sacrifice. You will be willing, won't you, my sweet Angel? Lucifer likes it when we have participants."

He blew a kiss at her picture. Toscano picked up a black rose and sniffed it. Do you like black, Jill? You will love these. I promise. And the pictures. You'll get those soon. You must see my handiwork. Embrace it as you will me. I will have you, Angel. So will our Savior.

Meanwhile, at the Danko's apartment, Mike reached out and gently shook Jill awake.

"C'mon, babe," he said, "it's time to get up."

Jill groaned and said, "Just tell me one thing."

"I love you." Mike grinned, as she opened one eye. She smiled back at him.

She sat up and said, "I love you, too, but that's not it. Tell me last night was a dream. One big, gigantic nightmare."

Mike's grin faded. He forgot that the last death had hit too close to home and not just because Nicole knew Jill or was a nurse, but because his wife fits the other victims. At least the first and third. He still didn't know what the second victim looked like. It could just as easily been her.

Kicking his feet over the bed, he said, "I've got dibs on the shower."

Jill gently reached out and took his hand. "Mike."

"I don't want to talk about this. Not now and not with you."

"I knew her, Mike."

Mike pulled away from her and stood up. "Yeah, I know."

He started to walk away, but Jill wouldn't give up. "Maybe I can help. Give you some kind of."

"Are you out of your mind? Do you know what Taggert is dealing with? I don't care if you and Nicole grew up together and you know her darkest secrets. You are not getting involved. No way." "But, Mike."

"No, damn it. Toscano doesn't play by the rules. He's certifiable. And you."

"And me, what?"

"Never mind. Just drop it."

Mike headed for the bathroom as Jill got out of bed. "I won't drop it, Mike and not because of Nicole. Because of you."

He turned around and faced her. "I'm dealing with it."

"Right. That's why you woke up in a cold sweat because you're dealing with it?"

Mike closed his eyes. Opening them, he said, "I'm not going to fight with you on this. The subject is closed!"

Before Jill could say anything, Mike entered the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

"Damn," Jill muttered. She hated it when Mike shut her out of any aspect of his life. After all, she wasn't a child and it drove her crazy when he treated her like one.

Pulling on her bathrobe, she left the bedroom as the doorbell rang. Going to the door, she open the door and was surprised to see a deliveryman standing there.

"Can I help you?" she asked, as Toscano started at her.

"Special delivery for Mrs. Danko."

"That would be me," Jill said, as he handed her a long white box.

"Than these are for you, dear lady. Enjoy them in good health."

Before Jill could say anything Toscano walked toward the elevators. As she closed the door, she thought that he was the strangest deliveryman she had ever seen.

Going to the counter, Jill opened the box and was surprised to see a dozen long-stem black roses. She took one out as she searched for a not from the person who sent them.

Once she found it, Jill pulled it out and began to read it as Mike came out of the bedroom, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

When he saw the rose still in Jill's hand, he said, "Secret admirer?"

Jill ignored him as she read, 'To my beautiful Angel, Soon we will be together forever. T.'

"Jill? I asked you a question."

"I know and yes they are from an admirer," Jill replied, throwing the flower and the note back into the box. "A sick and twisted one."

Picking up the box, she opened a cabinet beneath the sink and tossed it in. "I hope you left me some hot water."

As she started to move by him, Mike said, "Are you going to explain that or what?"

"What's to explain?" Jill asked. "You have your nutcase and I have mine. I guess we both have problems."

"Damn it, Jill this isn't funny! How long has this been going on?"

"Mike, I'll make a deal with you. You talk to me about yours and I'll talk to you about mine. Until then, you deal with Toscano and I'll handle my 'savior'."

"Your what?"

"He claims he's my savior. Look, Mike to quote you, I'm not going to fight with you on this. I'm going to take a shower."

Mike ran a hand over his face. This was getting old real fast. "Jill, we have to talk about this."

Jill folded her arms and said, "Fine. You go first."

"Not about Toscano. About."

"No. In case you haven't noticed, Danko, I'm a big girl and I don't need you protecting me all the time."

"Damn it, Jill, I don't need this right now! I can't take on Toscano and worry about you."

"Did I ask you to worry about me?" "I worry about you every time you walk out that door!"

"Don't! I can handle a few phone calls! What I can't handle is you shutting me out! Until you let me in, we have nothing to talk about!"

"Toscano is a certifiable crazy! You don't need to know what he does to those girls! There is no sane reason why he even killed them! So don't expect me to talk about it! Especially to you! The subject is closed!"

"Fine! Don't talk to me! I don't give a damn! Just talk to someone!"

As Jill started to walk away, Mike said, "I love you, Jill."

She stopped in her tracks and slowly turned to look at him and waited. Mike ran a hand over his face.

Finally, he said, "Want to know why I woke up this morning in a cold sweat? What my nightmare was about?"

Mike sat at the counter. He won't talk about what Toscano did to get his kicks but he did owe Jill the truth about the dream that he had awaken up from. The dream that as long as he lived, he never wanted to have again.

When Jill didn't say anything, Mike said, "It wasn't the victims I saw in my dream. It was you. Baby, this is hitting way to close to home. Two nurses are dead. You knew one of them. It could have been you, Jill, instead of your friend. Do you know what that does to me just thinking about that?"

Jill went to the counter and sat down next to him. Taking his hand, she said, "It wasn't me, Mike. I'm safe and I'm going to stay that way."

"I know that, baby, but it doesn't stop me from worrying about you. I especially don't like the fact that some creep sent you a dozen roses. And how many phone calls did you really get anyway?"

"Just one so far. Yesterday at the hospital." Jill suddenly stopped talking as Mike watched her.

"What, babe?"

"There's something." Jill shook her head. What ever was pricking at the back of her mind was gone. "I'm sorry, Mike. I guess it was nothing."

"You sure?"

Jill smiled at him. "I'm sure." "What did he say to you? Do you remember?"

"Nothing really. Except to say that he's my savior. And that he's going to take away all my fears. Oh, and he called me the Chosen One. Whatever that means."

Mike shook his head. "Your savior. Just what does he think he's saving you from?"

"Beats me. I told him I already had one, but he didn't seem impressed. Mike, he doesn't scare me. It's just creepy, that's all."

"If you were scared, would you tell me?"

Jill thought about it. Yes, she would have told him under ordinary circumstances, but these were far from ordinary.

"Probably not," she said, honestly. "How do you expect to take on Toscano and protect me at the same time. Not to mention keeping yourself safe while patrolling the streets. You're not superman."

Mike grinned. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Look, I don't have to take Toscano's calls. He has nothing to say that I need to hear."

"But you would never forgive yourself if you walked away from this. I know you, Mike, you would always be wondering if some how you could've stopped him."

"I could drop this whole nightmare in a heartbeat if it meant keeping you safe."

"As long as I'm with you, in your life, I am safe." Jill reached out and wrapped her arm around his shoulder, "It's you I'm worried about. What happened with Nicole, I don't care what Toscano said, her death wasn't your fault."

"It's not just Nicole, baby, it's this whole situation. I knew there was something wrong with him, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. If I hadn't turned my back on him."

"Mike, you're a cop. Not a mind reader. You couldn't have known."

"I should have. Jill, what if he calls and you answer the telephone? Can you honestly tell me you can handle his garbage?"

"No, but it's now me he talks to."

"I know, but, babe, you fit.I just don't want him eyeing you next."

"If he does, you'll be the first to know. Listen, Mike, if I promise not to go any where alone, will you stop worrying about me?"

"I can't promise you that, baby." Mike stood up and pulled her into his arms. "I love you too much to stop." *** An hour later, Mike entered the briefing room while Ryker was saying, "Toscano is wanted for suspicion of murder. Consider him armed and dangerous. You see him, do not try to apprehend him yourself. Call for back up and stay back.

"That's it, check your pin maps. Dismissed."

Mike rose to his feet as Terry, Chris and Ryker approached him.

"Glad to see you made it, Danko," Ryker said.

"Sorry, sir. Something came up and I had to fix it."

"That something going to happen again?"

"No, sir."

"Fine. I want to see you before you leave for patrol."

"Yes, sir."

After Ryker left, Terry said, "That something wouldn't have anything to do with World War III erupting in your apartment this morning would it?"

"Yeah, it would. Jill wanted to talk to me about Toscano. That was a closed subject. Until I found out she has her own nut case."

"You're kidding?"

Mike folded his arms across his chest. "I wish I was. I have to admit, though she's handling hers a lot better than I'm handling Toscano."

"Is he hassling her?" Chris asked.

"So far she has received a dozen black roses and one phone call at the hospital. By the way, he calls himself her savior."

Terry and Chris exchanged amused looks. "Her savior?" Chris asked. "What is he saving her from? You?"

"Who knows? All I do know is, she wouldn't have told me if I hadn't seen the flowers."

"Speaking of Toscano," Terry said, "Ryker told us you're on the receiving end of his psychosis."

"Is that what he's calling it now?"

"Hey, man, it's mixed company. He had to watch his language. Anyway, the point is, Taggert got the autopsy report back. Nicole died of a heart attack just prior to the multiple stab wounds and beating she took. The departmental shrink thinks that when he learned she was dead, he just went off on her. Pure rage."

Mike ran a hand through his hair. "That's just great. I've got a real winner on my hands."

"We sure don't envy you," Chris said.

"I bet. Was she."

"Danko," Ryker said, as he reappeared in the doorway, "When I said I want to see you before you leave, that doesn't mean when you feel like it."

Mike grimaced. "Yes, sir. I'm coming."

"Good luck," Terry said.

"Thanks."

Mike followed Ryker to his office where Taggert was waiting for them.

"Have a seat, Danko," Ryker ordered. "Taggert wants to fill you in."

"Don't do me any favors," Mike replied, as he sat down.

"I understand, Mike, but as long as Toscano is calling you, you should know what kind of person we're dealing with."

"I already know. What I don't know is why he picked me. It's not like I asked for it."

"I've spoken to a F.B.I. profiler and he never heard of any case where the same killer changes his mo as often as Toscano does. The only thing that ties these three killings together is the age and hair color. However, since two of the victims were nurses, chances are that's who he's going to continue to go after until he's caught." "I figured as much," Mike said. "I'm having a hard time with that."

"Why?"

"Because they all remind me of my wife. Speaking of which, she's got her own nut job to deal with, but I don't need to go into that now."

"Danko, I want to put a tap on your telephone. When he calls again, hopefully we'll be able to trace it and pick him up. Can you keep him talking long enough?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Serge, he called the night of the second murder. At the time I didn't get what he was trying to tell me. He said he was going to do it again."

"He didn't elaborate?"

"No. Last night he was pissed off that I wasn't home when he called. As if I don't have a life. The point I'm trying to make is, he calls whenever he feels like it. I can't pinpoint when. As far as keeping him talking, I'm gonna have to follow his lead."

"What ever you can do, Mike, I would appreciate it. Especially if it helps catch this guy."

"Why can't you find him? It's not like he's a ghost or something. What does he do? Melt into the walls?"

"Apparently he does just that. Danko, if you can get him to talk for two minutes, that would be enough to nail him."

"I can ask him why he's doing this. That should take all the time you need. He likes to brag."

"Try anything. I'm running out of options. I haven't gotten any calls from the public on this guy and that alone is unusual. It's almost like this guy does exist. Except you've seen him."

"Yeah," Mike said, sarcastically, "lucky me. I should've called in sick. Anything back on from the Army?"

"Not yet," Ryker replied. "You know how it is. Too busy playing war games to deal with us little people in law enforcement."

Mike couldn't help but grin at that. "Maybe we'll get lucky tonight."

"I'll keep my fingers crossed," Taggert said. "I'll let you know when we'll set up the tap."

Mike rose to his feet. "I can't promise you anything on that, sir, but I'll do my best."

"That's all I ask."

After Mike left, Taggert looked at Ryker. "He seems to be handling this better than I expected."

"I know," Ryker said, with a frown. "And that's what worries me." *** Later that afternoon at Memorial Hospital, Jill was getting ready to leave for home when she was paged for a telephone call.

Going over to the nurses' station, she picked up the receiver and said, "This is Mrs. Danko. Can I help you?"

"Hello, my angel," Toscano said. "Did you like my flowers?"

Jill rolled her eyes. "I loved them so much, they ended up in the garbage. What do you want?"

"You, Jill. I want you. There is so much I can teach you. I promise, you'll welcome every minute."

"I doubt that. Go to hell."

Jill slammed the receiver down and headed for the locker room. She had to get out of the hospital.

Opening her locker she took out her purse and tossed her cap inside. Slamming it closed, she left the locker room and was relieved to see Mike stepping out of the elevator and make his way toward her.

Just then the telephone on the nurses' desk rang. A young blond picked it up as Mike reached Jill and pulled her close.

"3rd floor nurses."

"I want to speak to Jill Danko," Toscano snapped.

"Hold on, a second." The nurse covered the mouthpiece with her hand and turned to Jill. "Jill, some rude jerk wants to talk to you."

"Tell him I'm not here," Jill said.

"Okay." Turning back to the receiver, the nurse said, "I'm sorry, but Jill isn't here. She's left for the day."

"Don't lie to me!" Toscano roared. "I know she's there. I saw her old man come in! Now, put the bitch telephone!"

When Mike saw the look in the nurse's eyes, he said, going into cop mode, "What's wrong?"

"It's this jerk on the phone," Alexandra Casey replied, not knowing whether to curse him out or slam the phone down. "He's pissed off because Jill won't talk to him. He knows you're still here, Jill. He said he saw Mike enter the hospital."

"Alex," Mike said, "keep him talking. Jill stay put. I'll be right back."

"Be careful," Jill said, as he raced to the stairs.

Alex turned back to the receiver. "Unless you calm down, pal, there's no way I'm going to waste my time to find her. She obviously doesn't want."

"Put that bitch on or you'll live to regret it!"

"Kiss my bare butt, jerk. Tell you what. Why don't you explain to Officer Mike Danko why you're calling his wife a bitch."

"You sent him to me? It's too soon, damn it! You'll pay bitch! You'll pay big time!"

Before Alex could reply, Toscano hung up and fan for the entrance as Mike came out of the stairwell.

All Mike could see was the back of a man's head as he ran for the exit of the hospital. By the time he made it to the doors, the man was nowhere to be seen.

"Damn," Mike muttered, as he headed back inside.

Back up stairs, Alex was looking at Jill who just shrugged.

"That creep doesn't like you very much, right now," she said.

"Good," Jill replied. "Maybe now he'll leave me alone."

"Don't count on it."

Before Jill could reply, Mike was heading back towards her.

"I lost him," Mike said, as he approached the two women. "He ran out of the stairwell. By the time I got to the parking lot, he was gone."

"Well," Alex said, "he's lucky. What a creep."

"What did he say to you?" Mike asked.

"Said if I didn't put Jill on the telephone, I'd live to regret it. Then when I told him you were on your way down, he said something really strange."

"What?"

"I quote, 'You sent him to me? It's too soon. You'll pay, bitch. You'll pay big time.' Unquote."

Mike looked at Jill, worry clearly evident in his eyes. "Tell me that's not your savior," he said.

"Your what?" Alex asked, her eyes wide in disbelief.

"He was," Jill said, trying to stay calm. "I have a feeling he doesn't want to save me any more."

Mike pulled her into his arms and wasn't surprised to feel her trembling as she held onto him.

"Well," Alex said, picking up her handbag, "if you two don't mind, I'm outta here."

After she walked away, Jill looked at Mike and said, "I'm sorry. You really don't need this right now, do you?"

"No, but I'll learn to deal with it," Mike replied, as he brushed some hair from her eyes. "How about you? You okay?"

"I'm fine. I guess I shouldn't have told him to go to hell."

Mike grinned at her. "You said that?"

"Yeah. And hung up on him. I guess he didn't like that either."

"Good for you. You ready to go home?"

"More than ready."

"Then let's get outta here." *** A half an hour later, the Danko's were entering their apartment as the telephone started to ring.

"I'm really beginning to hate that noise," Jill said, making a face at the instrument.

"Tell me about it." Mike reached for the receiver. "Go change. I'm going to take you out to dinner. You look like you can use a break."

Jill kissed him. "Just us?"

"Just us."

As she walked away, Mike picked up the receiver and said, "Hello?"

"I've got another one, Danko," Toscano said. "This time, I'm gonna get it right."

"Wait a minute."

"Sorry, Danko. Can't wait. You'll find her in the park tomorrow."

Toscano hung up and headed back to the bar where his next victim was waiting.

"Ready to go?" he asked.

Alexandra Casey turned and flashed a smile at him, not realizing it was going to be the last night of her life.

"Sure," she said.

"Then what are we waiting for?" Toscano reached for her hand as he thought, I never did a blond before. You deserve everything I give you for standing between my angel and me. You'll be screaming in pain, bitch, but not as much as Jill will. She betrayed me. And soon, I'll pay her back.

"Is something wrong?" Alex asked.

Toscano blinked. Slowly he smiled. "No, precious. Nothing's wrong. In fact, I can't wait for our games to begin. Can you?"

Alex smiled back. "I always loved games."

"Well, you'll love mine. I promise." *** The next day, Mike was in the locker room when Chris and Ryker walked in. "Danko," Ryker said, "just the man I was looking for. We got the autopsies back on all our victims and we now have a motive."

"Rape?" Mike guessed.

"Yeah. All of them."

Mike ran a hand through his hair. "What about the last girl he told me about? Did you find her?"

"Yeah. This time, she was a blond as well as a nurse. Alexandra Casey."

Mike froze in the act of putting on his gun belt, his heart in his throat.

"Who?"

"Alexandra Casey," Ryker replied. "Don't tell me. Jill knew her too."

Mike sat down on the bench and looked down at the floor. "We both did. In fact, she was on the receiving end of a conversation with Jill's 'savior', who by the way isn't her savior anymore. Damn, Jill's gonna freak." Looking up at Ryker, he asked, "Was Alex."

"Raped and stabbed. Danko, if you want some time off."

Mike got to his feet and slammed his locker closed. "No. I can handle this, Lieutenant. Besides, if I stay home, I'll go nuts."

"All right. You ride with Owens today. If you change."

"I won't. See you in briefing, sir."

After Mike left, Ryker turned to Chris and said, "I want you to keep an eye on him, Owens. If you think for one second he's losing it, you high tail it back here."

"I will, sir. Lieutenant, how much more do you think he can take?"

"I don't know, Owens, but from the look of things, it won't be much longer before he cracks and I want him inside when it happens."

"Understood, sir."

Meanwhile, knowing Jill was at the hospital and Mike at the precinct, Toscano entered the apartment.

Reaching inside his pocket he took out a thick envelope and tossed it on the counter.

He was about to leave when he suddenly changed his mind. Toscano wanted to see how the Danko's lived.

Entering the living room, he saw a picture of the Danko's and picked it up. Tracing Jill's face, he thought, So very pretty. Too bad you're going to die. I had so much hope for us, angel, but you destroyed it. Now, it's my turn to destroy you. Soon, you will know what hell really is.

Replacing the photograph, he headed for the bedroom. Seeing his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he headed inside.

Spotting a tube of lipstick he picked it up and, feeling inspirational, he wrote on the mirror, 'DIE BITCH'.

Replacing the top, he turned on his heel, left the bathroom and headed for the front door. He glanced once more around the apartment and said, "Sweet dreams, Jill. Give Danko my best." *** Later that afternoon, Jill entered the apartment and when she saw the envelope, she smiled, believing it was from since he usually came home for lunch and left her note telling her he had been there and loved her.

Picking up the envelope, she opened it and poured the contents onto the counter. When Jill saw the graphic nature of the photographs, the violence the victims had obviously endured, she started to shake.

"Oh, my God," she muttered. "Oh dear God, no."

Suddenly, a picture caught her eye. It was different than the rest she had just seen. Horribly different Jill realized as she shakily picked it up.

It was a picture of her and Mike taken the day they were at the beach. It was of the two of them making love as the waves crashed over them.

Feeling suddenly sick to her stomach, Jill ran for the bathroom as the telephone started to ring. She ignored it as she slammed the bathroom door closed.

Meanwhile, in the locker room at the precinct, Mike slowly hung up the receiver.

"What's wrong?" Chris asked.

"I don't know," Mike replied. "Jill should be home by now. She's not answering the phone and I don't like it."

"Call Terry. He'll check on her."

Instead of replying, Mike dropped another dime into the coin box and dialed Terry's number.

When he answered, Mike said, "Terry, it's Mike. Could you do me a favor? I just tried calling Jill and there's no answer. Can you go over there and check on her? Call me right back. Yeah, I'm still here."

Mike hung up and turned to Chris, who said, "She's okay, Mike. Probably in the shower and didn't hear the phone."

"I hope so, Chris. I sure as hell hope so."

When Terry reached the Danko's apartment, he rang the bell. Getting no response, he tried the knob and opened the front door.

"Hey, Jill," he called out. "It's me, Terry."

When he didn't receive a response, Terry entered the apartment and headed for the bedroom.

In the doorway, he stopped in his tracks as he saw Jill standing in the bathroom violently shaking. Terry didn't have to ask what was wrong. He saw the words written on the mirror quite clearly.

Oh, boy, he thought. Mike's gonna flip.

Cautiously, Terry approached his friend. "Jill?"

He placed a hand on her shoulder as Jill whirled around, terror clearly evident in her eyes.

Seeing Terry, she flung her arms around him and burst into heartbreaking sobs.

Suddenly the telephone started to ring. Terry's heart went to Jill as she pleaded, "Please, Terry. Please make it stop."

"C'mon, Jill, let's get into the living room."

Terry led her out and gently sat her on the sofa. As soon as Jill sat down, her hands went to her ears, trying to block out the ringing of the telephone.

"Stop it!" she screamed. "Make it stop!"

Terry snatched up the receiver and said, "Hello?" "You're not Danko," Toscano said. "I won't talk to you."

Before Terry could reply, the killer hung up. Terry followed suit and looked at Jill who had wrapped her arms around herself and was rocking back and forth, tears streaming down her face.

He went over to her and knelt down. "Jill?"

"I want Mike," she said, not looking at Terry. "Where's Mike? Why isn't he here?"

Getting to his feet, Terry said, "I'll call him, Jill. He'll be here before you know it."

Jill wasn't listening to him. All she heard were the victims' screams as they must have fought for their lives. All she saw were their ravaged bodies.

"Mike," she repeated, over and over again.

Terry went to the telephone by the front door and dialed the number to the pay phone.

When Mike answered, he said, "You better get over here."

"Jill?" Mike asked, worry clearly in his voice.

"She's fine, Mike. Physically, anyway, but she needs you."

"What happened?"

"I don't know." Terry turned his back on Jill and when he saw the pictures, he too felt sick to his stomach. "Holy shit," he muttered.

"What, damn it?"

"Pictures, Mike. Pictures of Toscano's victims. She saw them."

"How."

"Bad," Terry interrupted. "Real bad." Suddenly he saw the picture of Jill and Mike making love and bent down to pick it up. "Mike, get your ass home."

"I'm gone." Mike hung up and ran out of the locker room with Chris hot on his heels.

Terry hung up and looked back at Jill. Somehow, he had to get through to her. Mike couldn't see her like this.

Going over to her, he knelt down in front of her and said, taking one of her hands in his, "Jill, can you hear me? It's Terry. I called Mike and he's on his way home. C'mon, kid, look at me. It's Terry."

Finally, Terry's voice penetrated through Jill's terror. She focused her frightened eyes on him and, much to his relief, she said, "Mike's coming home?"

"He's on his way." Terry got up and sat down beside her.

Jill flung her arms around him and sobbed. "Please don't leave me, Terry. Please don't leave me."

"I'm not going anywhere until Mike gets home."

She clung to Terry as if he was a lifeline and in a way he was. A lifeline back to sanity.

"Who could do something like that to another human being?" she asked.

"I don't know, Jill. All I know is he's crazy. Taggert and Ryker are going crazy looking for him. And they will find him."

"When, Terry? After he kills again? God, Terry, I don't even recognize Nicole. That's who it is, isn't it?"

"I don't know. All I know is, he never should've sent them to you."

"He didn't send them, Terry." Jill pulled away.

Like Terry, she couldn't let Mike see her like this. She struggled for control as Terry waited for her to continue.

"He left them on the counter. The envelope had my name on it so I opened it. I wish I hadn't."

"I don't blame you. I'm sorry that you saw those."

Before Jill could reply, the front door was thrown open, causing her to jump. A very worried Mike and Chris entered.

"Jill?" Mike asked, concern clearly evident in his eyes as he pulled her up and into his arms. "You okay?"

"No," Jill replied, fighting back the tears that threatened to burst. "Just hold me. Please?"

"I've got you, baby. You're safe now." Mike looked at Terry, who had gotten to his feet. "What the hell happened?"

"Toscano happened," Terry explained.

He went to the counter and as he gathered the pictures, Terry noticed more pictures of Mike and Jill. Separating them from the other pictures, he handed some of the pictures to Chris and the rest to Mike.

"Jill said they were in an envelope, on the counter with her name on it. She thought the envelope was from you and opened it.

"God almighty," Chris said, as he looked from one picture to the next. "Jill, you saw these?"

None of the officers had seen the crime scene pictures, but they had heard rumors that the victims had been bad. Nothing prepared Mike and Chris for what they were seeing. The murders had been brutal and savage.

As Mike, who gently released Jill, looked at each one, he prayed none of the girls had been alive to endure it. He knew at least one victim had been dead prior to the beatings and stabbings. Seeing how Nicole ended up, he realized she got off easy.

When he finally came upon the pictures of Jill and himself making love, he froze.

"No," he muttered, shooting Jill a look.

"What?" Chris asked.

Terry made sure not one picture of his two friends got into the set of pictures Chris was looking at. Seeing the look of pure rage in Mike's eyes, he wished he had destroyed them.

Mike handed Terry the beach pictures and took the photographs Chris was holding.

"I don't care what you do with those," he said. "Just get rid of 'em."

"Where are you going?" Terry asked, not sure he wanted to know.

"Stay with Jill. Don't let her near the telephone."

"Mike?" Jill had been watching him and by the look in his eyes, she knew he had seen the pictures of the beach. She had never seen him so angry.

Without another word, Mike left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

Chris and Terry exchanged looks. Jill sank down on the couch, tears streaming down her face.

"He took pictures of Mike and me at the beach the other day," Jill explained. "We.we."

"Jill, it's okay," Terry said, gently. "You don't have to explain. Where do you keep the scissors?"

"Scissors? In the top drawer of the secretary. Why?"

Instead of replying, Terry pulled open the drawer, pulled out the scissors and started cutting up the pictures.

"If Ryker finds out you destroyed evidence." Chris started to say.

"What evidence?" Terry snapped. "These have nothing to do with the murders and no one has the right to look at 'em. Besides, Mike told me to do it and right now I would rather have Ryker pissed off at me than Mike. What about you?"

"Is there another set of scissors?"

"No, but you can take care of the message on the bathroom mirror that he left for Jill. It about sums everything up."

"Why not." Seeing Mike's camera he picked it up. "First, I better take a couple of pictures for Taggert. If we can't get him on murder, we'll nail him on breaking and entering."

Finally done cutting up the pictures, Terry tossed the scissors back in the drawer and looked at Chris. "I'm glad I'm no where near the precinct when Mike gets there."

"You and me both," Chris agreed.

The two cops looked at Jill and were surprised to find her sleeping. Terry went over to her and covered with the blanket that was laying on the top of the couch.

"How was she?" Chris asked.

"Not good, man. I've never seen her like that. If Mike had seen her.I hope Taggert finds Toscano. For his sake 'cause if Mike finds him."

"Tell me about it."

Meanwhile, at the precinct, Taggert was in Ryker's office going over the case when Mike entered and slammed the door closed behind him, making both officers sit back and take notice.

"That son-of-a-bitch has been stalking my wife the whole time!" Mike snapped.

"Danko," Ryker said, "what are."

"Wanna know what Jill saw when she came home today? In an envelope, with her name on it, she found these! Take a good look, sir!"

Mike tossed the pictures on Ryker's desk, making Taggert cringe. Only Ryker was used to Mike's temper. However, he's never seen him this pissed off.

"I thought you told me Jill's stalker was a religious fanatic," he said.

Picking one of the pictures, Mike tossed it over and said, "I was wrong!"

Written on the back was a note that said, 'To my dearest angel. May you forever rest in hell. T.'

"I should've seen it! I should've known it was Toscano who was behind the phone call and the flowers! Two stalkers at the same time! What the hell kind of odds are those?"

"Your wife saw these?" Taggert asked, in disbelief. "All of them?"

"How the hell should I know? I wasn't there! I should've been there! As it was she was alone! Does it really matter? One of those fucking pictures is enough to push her over the edge! Now, are you going to find the son of a bitch or do? 'Cause if I find him, there isn't going to be a piece of him left! Am I making myself clear?"

"Danko," Ryker said. "Calm down. You are not going after Toscano."

"Don't tell me to calm down!" Mike slammed his hand on Ryker's desk. "It's not your wife Toscano's after! It's Jill and if he so much as gets within five miles of her, I'll kill him! Now, either you two find him, or I will!"

Without another word, Mike stormed out of Ryker's office, slamming the door behind him.

Taggert started to get his feet, as Ryker said, "Let him go."

"Are you serious? Danko's acting like a madman. I already have one, Eddie. I don't need another one." "He'll calm down once he gets home. Besides, he has every right to be pissed off. We're not exactly getting anywhere on this are we?"

"Damn it, Eddie. I'm doing everything I can. This guy is way out of my league. Is it my fault."

"No one's blaming you. Toscano spent time in 'Nam. He knows how to melt into a crowd. That's what he was trained for. Are you?"

"No. So how do I stop him?"

"I have a feeling it won't be you."

"Danko? You're not condoning."

"No, but he's angry right now. He's a good cop and he also spent time in 'Nam. It's personal to Toscano. He wants Mike to know what he's capable of. I think he's daring Danko to stop him."

"Oh, Danko will stop him all right. But, at what cost?"

"Taggert, you don't know Mike. I do. A maniac is stalking his wife. He is getting calls from said maniac about his kills. The victims, except for the last, remind him of his wife. His worst nightmare has just come true. How do you expect him to react? Plant a flower garden?"

Taggert rolled his eyes. "No, but Eddie, can't you relieve him of duty or something?"

"No. I do that, and it's a written invitation for Danko to take matters in his own hands. The last thing I want is to arrest the man for second degree murder."

"The way he is now."

"He got it out of his system. As of tomorrow, he'll have the same hours as his wife. That way, she won't be alone if Toscano should drop by with any more packages."

"You have a lotta faith in him, Eddie. I just hope it isn't misplaced."

"It isn't. Besides, I have help in keeping him on an even keel."

"And what, pray tell, is that?"

"One Terrance Webster, officer of the S.C.P.D. If anyone can calm him down, it's our resident shrink." A half an hour later, a calmer Mike Danko entered his apartment and was relieved to see Jill sleeping on the couch.

Chris and Terry were sitting at the counter drinking beers. Mike noticed that the receiver was off the hook as he went to the refrigerator and took out a beer for himself.

"How did you get her to go to sleep?" Mike asked.

"We didn't," Terry said. "She just did. How did it go with Ryker?"

"It went. How was she? Really?"

"Terrified. Hell, that doesn't even begin to cover it."

"Thanks for being here. I just wish it had been me. Hell, I wish she didn't see those pictures. What she must've felt."

"Mike," Terry said, "Jill's a strong lady. She'll come through this."

"I hope so." Mike ran a hand through his hair as he leaned against the counter and faced his friends. "Jill doesn't deserve this. If Toscano's going after her because she's my wife.How do I explain that to her?"

Neither Terry nor Chris had an answer for him.

"Damn him," Mike continued. "That day Jill and I spent on the beach, she told me that was one of the most beautiful days of her life. Toscano ruined it for her. Just thinking about him watching us.It makes me sick."

"No one's gonna see those, man," Terry said.

"It doesn't matter, Terry. Jill saw them. It was her place, ours. You think I'm ever gonna get her to go back knowing Toscano had been watching us, taking pictures.I want to break that son-of-a-bitch's neck for what that alone did to her."

"You couldn't have known he was there," Chris said.

"That doesn't matter, Chris. He was, that's the point."

"No, man," Terry said, "you're wrong. The only way Toscano's gonna ruin it; what you and Jill shared is if you let him. He may have taken the from you guys, be he can't take away the love you two shared. No one can take that."

Mike realized Terry was right as he looked over at Jill. He loved her more than he loved anyone or anything in his life. Not even Toscano can change that. He would do anything to keep her safe, to take away the fear he knew she must be feeling.

"What I want to know is why no one can find him," Mike said, as he headed for the table and sat down. Straightening out his legs, he continued, "He can't be that good."

"He isn't," Chris said. "He's just got lucky. Someone's bound to come forward sooner or later."

"When, Chris? Before or after he kills my wife?"

"Mike, we are not going to let Toscano near her. Ryker'll have cops around her twenty-four hours a day."

"She's not gonna go for that. Jill likes to handle things on her own."

"Mike, you can't handle Toscano. Jill sure as hell can't handle him," Terry said. "Jill was a mess tonight. For a minute there, I didn't think I was getting through to her."

"Oh, that's just beautiful."

"Your name, the fact that you were on your way home, that's what got her through."

"So, what are you telling me?"

"I think Terry is telling you to take a leave of absence," Chris said. "Ryker offered it to you this morning. Why don't you take it?"

"And do what? Toscano's still gonna call. He's still gonna target some girl."

"At least you'll be around when Jill needs you. Instead of a phone call away."

"I should've been here tonight, Chris. Tonight was when she needed me. What more can he possibly do to her?"

"Mike?" Terry said. He had spent the last several minutes thinking about Toscano, trying to figure out what motivated these senseless killings, aside from the sex factor.

There was also something in one of the pictures he had seen. Something in it he just couldn't quite see.

"What?" Mike asked, looking at Terry as he sipped his beer.

"What exactly does Toscano say to Jill when he calls her?"

"I don't know. She never really told me. All she said was the calls were creepy, but not threatening. Until last night. Even that one was apparently more anger than hate. At least that's what Alex said."

Suddenly Mike felt a knot in the pit of his stomach. He never told Jill about Alex and he wasn't sure if he should.

He ran a hand over his face. "Anyway, you're gonna have to ask her. Why?"

"You said he calls himself her savior. Do you know if he ever said why or who he wanted to save her from?"

"Terry, I told you. I have no idea what Toscano says to her. She was handling it. Yes, he did say that, but that's all she told me. Now, will you get to the damn point?"

"That point is.Can I use your phone?"

Mike groaned. "You're killing me, Webster. Yes, use the phone."

Terry walked over to the kitchen extension and dialed the precinct. When it was answered, he said, "This is Webster. I need to speak to Sergeant Taggert. Yeah, it's important. Yeah I'll hold." Covering the mouthpiece, he explained, "If I'm right about what I saw in one of the pictures, we may have an answer to some of our questions. Yes, Serge." Terry turned back to the receiver. "I have a question. In the last victim, what was the symbol carved into her chest? Are you sure? One more. Was she alive? Thanks, Serge, you've been helpful."

Terry hung up, walked back to the counter, sat down and said, "Toscano is a Satanist."

Both Mike and Chris stared at their friend as if he had suddenly grown two extra heads.

"He's a what?" Chris asked.

"A Satanist. Devil Worshipper. The last victim had a pentagram carved into her chest. And yes, she was already dead thanks to Toscano cutting her throat."

"You can't be serious," Mike said. "The Army never would've let him in. And if he did, he would've been discharged with a section eight."

"Maybe they didn't know. Or he never was one when he joined up. You know what 'Nam did to some of the guys over there. Maybe something inside of him just snapped. It happens all the time. And the reason he's getting away with all of this is because he was trained to melt into night. Just like you were."

"I wasn't trained to butcher people, Terry."

"That's not what I mean. You, Toscano, you guys were trained to blend into your surroundings. That's how he's getting away."

Chris and Mike looked at each other. Terry had come up with some wild theories before to explain the actions of man and usually he had been right on. This time, though, it looked like he lost his touch.

"Terry," Chris said, "sometimes I really worry about you."

"Just hear me out, okay? It will all make sense in a minute. I know a pentagram carved in a chest doesn't mean anything, but, Mike even you said Jill's caller sounded like a religious freak by calling himself her savior. You also told us that Jill received black roses. Black is a symbol of death."

"Gee," Mike said, sarcastically, "I never would've guessed that."

"Look, if you two can come up with a better theory as to why Toscano is doing what he does, let me hear it."

"Listen, Terry," Mike said, giving his friend the benefit of the doubt. "It's a good theory, albeit a twisted on, but it doesn't explain why he chose me or Jill."

"I was getting to that, if you two would just shut up and open your minds."

"My mind doesn't open that far," Chris said, trying to lighten the mood. "But, give it a try."

"Thank you, Owens. Anyway, maybe he hadn't planned on talking to anyone about his killings. However, you can't go around killing people, get away with it and expect to keep it to yourself. You're gonna wanna share it with someone. Who better than a cop?

"Mike, do you remember what he said to you when he first called you?"

Mike thought back to the first phone call he received. The call that started all this madness. "The first time he called, he said he was gonna do it again. Until the second victim turned up, I had no idea what he was talking about. Hell, I still didn't have a clue until he told me about Nicole. Then it all made sense."

"What else did he say?"

"He blamed me for Nicole's death. Said it wasn't time for her to die. He wanted to do it his way. Then he told me he went from using a gun to a knife. Said it was more creative. Wants me to admire his handiwork. Called the first three killings practice kills. Never once did he mention Jill's name. If he had, I probably would've shipped her off to Siberia. I still might."

"And Jill has never told you what he had said to her?"

"No. Just that it was creepy and strange. Nothing in her mind to tie the two. She said she could handle it."

"When she wakes up, will you ask her?"

"That depends on her. If she's up to it, yeah, I will. If not."

"Okay. Last question. When you first met Jill, what was your very first impression of her?"

Mike stared at him. Taking a sip from his beer, he said, hiding a smile, "You're getting mighty personal, fella."

Terry rolled his eyes. "Just answer the question. What drew you to Jill?"

"Her eyes," Mike replied, with a smile. "She has the prettiest."

"Not her physical attributes, man. Those are obvious. What was it about her that made you fall in love with her?"

"There better be a good reason why you're asking me this.

"I guess it was her innocence. She was nineteen at the time. Worked in a bowling alley as a waitress/bartender. Her compassion, sensitivity and love for everyone around her knew no bounds.

"I don't know, Terry. There were a lot of things about Jill that drew me to her. What's the point?"

"The point is, what drew you to Jill is what drew Toscano to her. I don't think when he met you he intended to go after her."

"Then, Terry, in your infinite wisdom, why is Toscano terrorizing my wife? And don't tell me it's because she fits the profile. I know that."

Terry looked at Mike. He had a feeling his friend's not going to like what he was about to say. He glanced at Chris and knew his partner, too, had hit the nail on the head. Chris looked ready to bolt for the door.

Mike's patience was beginning to wear thin. "You gonna tell me or what?"

"You're not gonna like it," Terry admitted.

"Probably not, but tell me anyway."

"Mike," Chris said, "remember, this is only a theory."

Mike looked from Terry to Chris and back again. Finally he said, "Now I know I'm not going to like this. Do me a favor, Terry and just tell me what ever is on your mind."

"I think Toscano's after Jill because." Terry exchanged looks with Chris. Maybe I should've gone to Ryker and Taggert first, he thought.

"Because what, man?" Mike said. "A man could grow old waiting for you to finish a thought."

".because he needs a sacrifice," Terry finished, quickly.

Now, he and Chris waited for the explosion they knew had to be coming.

"A what?" Mike asked. "I don't think I heard you."

"Toscano believes that Jill would be the perfect offering to his 'god'."

Slowly, Mike put his beer down on the counter and looked at Chris.

"You agree with Terry's theory?" he asked.

"It explains a lot," Chris said. "Jill is the total opposite of what Toscano is and what he believes in. She would, in his sick mind, be the perfect sacrifice."

"Let me get this straight and both of you correct me if I'm wrong. You think Toscano is a Satanist. He is using the training he received in the Army in preparation for the ultimate kill. The last four murders being, as he calls it practice kill and he calls me to brag about it. He's terrorizing my wife because he thinks she would be the perfect sacrifice to offer to Satan. Am I getting this so far?"

"Mike," Chris said. "It fits."

Mike picked up his beer and finished it off in one swallow as Chris and Terry exchanged looks. Their friend was being way too calm.

Suddenly Mike slammed the bottle down and said, "Are you two outta your ever lovin' minds? Terry, you've come up with a lot of theories in the past, but that has got to be.There is no way in hell I'm going to explain to my wife Toscano is preparing her as a sacrifice. Do you know what that would do to her?"

"Uh, Mike," Chris said. He had been looking over at the couch where Jill had been sleeping. She was watching Mike with growing horror.

"Then explain the pentagram carved in Alex's chest," Terry said. "Or why he would send Jill black roses."

"Uh, Terry."

"I can't explain it, Terry! That's the damn problem! He's a sick, twisted son-of-a-bitch! Does he have to have a reason? There's not always an answer to why people do what they do! Can't you just accept that?"

Terry stormed to his feet. "No, I can't accept that! Not when two people I care about are going through hell! Jill has a right to know!"

Mike stormed to his feet and faced him. "Over my dead body! She is not going to hear word one about your crazy theory!"

"She knows!" Chris shouted, getting both men's attention. "Thanks to the both of you Jill now knows!"

Chris stood up and headed for the door. He'd had enough of these two. "Next time you two wanna get into a shouting match, go to China. I doubt she'll hear you then.

"Goodnight, Jill."

He left the Danko's apartment, slamming the door behind him.

"Why don't you get the hell outta here, too, Webster," Mike snapped, heading for the refrigerator. "And take your theory and shove it."

"I was just trying to help," Terry said.

"I don't fucking want it! Now get the hell out!"

Without a word, Terry left the apartment. He wasn't surprised to see Chris leaning against the wall across from him. "Ryker?" Chris asked.

"Yeah. I should've gone to him first."

"Terry, Mike will get over it. He knows you meant well. He's just a little crazed right now."

"Crazed doesn't begin to cover it."

"Let Ryker deal with him. If anyone can calm him down, he can."

"I hope so. For both their sakes. Let's get outta here."

Meanwhile, back at the Danko's apartment Jill was watching Mike, her eyes wide with fear. She had never seen him so angry. Especially with Terry. The two men were closer than brothers since the Academy and even though they had their disagreements, it was never anything like what she had just witnessed.

"Mike?"

He down a few swallows and looked at her. "Yeah?"

Mike felt like a real jerk for what had just happened between him and Terry. He knew Terry was just trying to help, even if his theory was nuts. For Jill to have heard that, it was more than he could take.

Tomorrow, somehow he would find a way to apologize to his best friend, but right now, he had assure Jill everything was going to be okay.

"What you and Terry."

"It's a crock, babe, and I really don't want to talk about it."

"What if he's right? What if that's why."

Suddenly Jill remembered Terry said a name before Mike threw him out.

"Mike, the girl Terry mentioned. Alex, that was her name, right?"

Mike sighed as he took a few more swallows of his beer. Alex was the last person he wanted to talk about right now. If he could hold off just a little while longer.

"Baby," Mike said, as he went over to her and sat down. "We'll talk about all of this tomorrow and I'll tell you everything."

"Mike, I have to know. Was the last victim Alex Casey?"

Mike didn't reply, but from the look on his face, Jill knew the truth.

"She was a blonde," Jill said, her eyes filling with tears. "Why would." Suddenly realization dawned on her. "Oh, God no."

"Jill?" Mike started to pull her into his arms.

Jill shot to her feet. "You can't tell me Alex's murder isn't my fault. It is. If I had just."

Mike stood up and pulled her into his arms, as she started to cry. "Jill this is not your fault. None of it."

Jill pulled away angrily. "Don't patronize me! Up until Alex, he killed brunettes. She died because I refused to talk to him.

"Jill, we don't know why he killed Alex. We may never know, but you are not to blame."

Jill wasn't listening to Mike. All she heard was what Alex had told them Toscano had told her. It was her fault. No matter what Mike said, her feeling of guilt wouldn't go away.

"Jill?" Mike was worried. He had never seen her like this. "Please talk to me."

She looked at him, tears still in her eyes. "I don't want to talk about this. Not now, tomorrow or ever. I'm going to wake up tomorrow and all of this will be just one big nightmare. Two women I know will be at the hospital, my husband wouldn't have blown his relationship with his best friends nor would he be at his breaking point. And I won't feel so damn scared that nothing my husband tries to keep me safe works."

"Jill." Mike reached out to pull her close, but she backed away from him, tears streaming down her face.

Mike dropped his hands to his side, not knowing what to say to her.

"Don't," she pleaded. "You touch me and then it's real. This isn't real, Mike. It can't be."

Without another word, Jill left the room and headed for the bedroom.

Before Mike could go after her, the telephone rang. Swearing, he picked up the table extension and barked, "What?" "Did Jill like the pictures?" Toscano asked.

Mike clutched the receiver hard in his hand, wishing it was the freak's neck. "What the hell do you want, Toscano?"

"Haven't you figured it out, yet? I thought it was obvious."

"You stay the hell away from my wife or so help, I'll break you in two."

Toscano smiled to himself. This was just the reaction he was hoping for. "But, the game's just started and she's so easy."

"I'm warning you, Toscano."

"Wrong, Danko. I'm in control and this is between you, me and pretty Jill. She's going to die and if you're lucky you just might get to watch."

"Not if I find you first, you son-of-a-bitch."

Mike slammed the phone down, picked up his empty beer bottle, which he left on the table and threw it against the door where it shattered into pieces. He picked his other bottle and downed it in one swallow.

Going to the refrigerator, he yanked out another beer and popped it open . All he wanted to do at this moment was get rip roaring drunk. As he started to down his third beer, the doorbell rang.

Cursing again, he went to the door and threw it open. Seeing Ryker standing there, he turned around and headed for the living room, not caring if his superior officer entered or not.

"Where's Jill?" Ryker asked, as he closed the door behind him.

"In the bedroom. Just so you know, I may not be up to par tomorrow, cause I'm going on a binge. All I want to hear is that you or Taggert brought Toscano down and since I just spoke to him that's not likely is it? So right now there isn't anything you have to say that I want to hear."

"Well, you're gonna hear what I have to say 'cause I'm not leaving until you do."

Mike rolled his eyes. "I don't need a lecture, Lieutenant. Want to know what I want? I wanna be able to look my wife in the eyes and tell her that son-of-a-bitch is off the streets and she's safe. I can't tell her that, can I? Tonight, I found out there's not much I can tell her. She's scared to death and I can't do a damn thing about it."

"Danko."

"Tell me something, Lieutenant. How do I get my wife back? Can you answer that one? How do I make her feel safe again?"

"You have another one of those?" Ryker asked, indicating the beer Mike was downing at a rapid pace.

"Help yourself."

Ryker went to the refrigerator. As he pulled out a bottle, he said, "To answer you question, you can start by telling the girl you love her."

"She knows."

Going back into the living room, Ryker sat down in a chair and faced Mike, taking a sip from his beer. Finally, he said, "Does she? Looks to me like you're feeling more sorry for yourself than for Jill."

"Lieutenant."

"I'm not done, Danko, so unless you want to drag this out all night, I suggest you shut up, sit down and listen."

Once Mike reluctantly complied, Ryker continued, "You have been blaming yourself for the deaths of three women. What about Jill? The last two were friends of hers, weren't they? Do you know how she feels about that?"

"She blames herself for Alex's death. Jill said she should've talked to him last night. If she had Alex would still be alive."

"Do you believe that? Is she to blame?"

"Of course not. No one can predict what goes on in that bastard's mind."

"Have you told her that?"

"I've tried, but she won't listen to me."

"What about you? Did you know who you were dealing with the first time you spoke to the guy?"

"No. But, I knew there was something about the whole scene I didn't like."

"I'm not talking about the crime scene, Danko. I'm talking about the killer? Was there anything in his demeanor that gave off warning bells?"

"I just got a sense that he was.I don't know, sir. I just didn't trust the dude. Call it a sixth sense."

"Was that 'sense' something you could've handed to the DA?"

Mike frowned. "No, I guess not."

"Then why are you beating yourself up over this? You just said that no one could predict what this beast will do next. Why don't you follow that advice and stop blaming yourself for something you can not control?"

"Lieutenant, if I hadn't turned my back on him."

"We would have the same outcome. Mike, you're a cop. You did your job. You're no more responsible for what Toscano's doing than Jill is or the Army. Less as a matter of fact."

Mike swallowed more beer and looked at Ryker. "What are you talking about?"

"That's one of the reasons I came over here. Figured it would be easier face to face than over the telephone.

"First, Webster's theory isn't as far out as you might think. Satanism is, I'm sorry to say, a growing religion. Cults that follow the black arts are popping up all over the country. What's unusual about Toscano is, it doesn't appear as if he belongs to any particular cult. At least according to the F.B.I."

"That's good to know. If we had to deal with more than one madman."

"Are you going to hear me out or keep interrupting me?"

"Sorry, sir."

"That's better. Another thing that sets Toscano apart from other Satanists is sanity. From what I've read, if I understand this right, Satanism is the opposite of Catholicism. What the catholic church believes in, Satanism makes fun of. None of the cults the FBI has checked out are into sacrifices. Oh, I'm sure Toscano isn't the only wacko out there, but the Feds haven't come across anything similar to what we're dealing with.

"However, the Army has. In Vietnam, Toscano was suspected of killing five Vietnamese prostitutes. All stabbed, raped and mutilated. Unfortunately, the powers that be couldn't prove it, so they threw him out."

Mike ran a hand over his face. "I don't get it. In the Air Force, we got a battery of psychological tests to see if we should even be in the there. Didn't the Army do the same?"

"Yes, and he passed with flying colors." Mike looked at Ryker in disbelief. Before the younger man could say anything, Ryker continued, "For two years Toscano was a P.O.W. during his third tour. What ever they did to him, it pushed him over the edge. It happens. You've been there and you've seen it. Maybe nothing like this, but it happens. So Webster wasn't off the mark.

"The colonial I spoke to nearly choked on whatever he was drinking when I told him what we are dealing with. He was one of the people who suspected Toscano of the killings, but just couldn't prove it.

"Danko, if anyone's to blame it's the Vietcong. Not you, Jill or the Army. Hell, the cults out there aren't even to blame. Toscano is, in a nutshell, insane. He believes that he will reap the rewards of Satan if he does His bidding. And killing women, in his mind, is doing it. The more he kills, the stronger he becomes or so he believes.

"If he did murder those five prostitutes, than his count is nine. In his mind, he will never be caught because he believes Satan is protecting him."

"He's just gotten lucky," Mike said, repeating Chris' earlier remark.

"Exactly and sooner or later, he's going to make a mistake and we'll have him."

"Yeah, Lieutenant. Sooner or later. That's not something Jill can hold on to."

"Well, you tell her to hold onto this. The Army sent us his record. I have the name of someone Toscano listed as next of kin and we have been trying to contact her for the last several hours. Hopefully, she'll come forward when she hears about these crimes."

"Lieutenant, it's been four days. Certainly."

"She could be out of the state, Danko. Give the girl the benefit of the doubt, okay?"

"Yes, sir. Do you think this woman will tell us where we can find Toscano? Or how to stop him?"

"Yeah, I think she will. Danko, we're getting close. Give that to Jill to hang onto." Ryker rose to his feet. "And while you're at it, tell the lady you love her. That may be all you both need."

As Ryker headed to the door, Mike said, "Sometimes I worry about Terry."

Looking back at his officer, Ryker said, "Yeah, well right now, he and Owens are worried about you. Let 'em in. While you're at it, talk to your wife. She has as much right to know what's going on as you do. More so, in fact. And give her some credit, will you. She'll come through this. You both will."

After Ryker left, Mike got up, locked the door and went to check on his wife.

He found Jill lying in bed, her back to him. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he gently rubbed his finger on her cheek.

"I'm sorry, baby," he said, softly. Mike couldn't tell if she was awake or not.

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to," Jill said, turning over and taking his hand in hers.

Mike frowned. "I know and he'll get one tomorrow. Maybe even a couple of six packs, too."

"Why wait? I'm sure he's still awake."

"I would rather talk to you."

Jill sat up. "Call him, Mike. I can wait."

Mike leaned in and kissed her. "I do love you, babe. I'm sorry I haven't shown you lately."

"You have. Maybe not in a way I'm used to, but you have."

"How about after I call Terry I make you something to eat?"

"Okay. I'm not hungry, but I'll try to eat something."

"Fair enough. I'll be right back."

Mike left the bedroom and went to the kitchen where he picked up the receiver and dialed Terry's home number.

When it was picked up on the other end, he said, "Hey, man, it's Mike. I just called.Look, Ryker was here.Yeah, he agrees. Look, Terry, can I get a word in?"

Jill entered the kitchen, wrapped in a bathrobe. As Mike's arm went around her, she saw him slowly smile and knew everything was going to be okay.

Between the man I love and his best friend, at least, she thought.

"Yeah, Terry, it's about eating crow," Mike said, rolling his eyes. "Two buckets full if you must know. Yeah, I know. It's just hard to accept that someone would want to do that to her. She's okay, I guess." He kissed the top of her head. "Yes, Terry, I'll talk to her. Good-bye, you pain in my ass."

Mike hung up and looked at Jill, amusement in his eyes. "I'm never gonna hear the end of this."

"So I gather he forgave you?"

"Yeah." He looked at her and brushed the hair behind her shoulders. "What about you? Do you forgive me?"

Jill kissed him passionately. "For what?"

Mike took her hand and led her to the couch. "For not being here when you saw the pictures. For letting Toscano take it this far. Not being able to stop him. For."

Jill gently pulled Mike's face down to her and kissed him. "There's nothing to forgive. Mike, you are not doing this to me and I'm not the only one he's doing this to. In case you haven't noticed, he's doing this to you, too."

Mike ran a hand through his hair. "I know and until tonight, I thought I had a handle on it. I'm sorry I lost my cool. But, it was justified. God, I wish I could wring his neck for what this maniac taken away from you."

He stood up and began to pace as Jill watched him. "I never thought not for one moment, that I could hate someone as much as I hate Toscano.

"When I saw those pictures of us.God, I don't know. I wanted to do to him what he's doing to us. The fact that you saw them." Mike turned and knelt down in front of her. Taking her hand in his, he said, "Baby, it tore my heart out. I just want to kill the son-of-a-bitch. What the hell does that make me?"

"Human, Mike," Jill said, tears in her eyes. "It makes you human."

Mike kissed the inside of her wrist. Getting up, he sat down beside her and said, "I don't know about that, babe. I mean, if I ever get my hands on him, I honestly don't know what I would do. That scares the hell out of me. To lose control like I did tonight, I'm amazed I got home in one piece."

Jill wrapped her arms around him and said, "It was justified, Mike. Everyone understands that. Especially me, Terry and everyone else who know you. You had every right."

"You can't tell me I didn't scare you tonight. I saw the look in your eyes after I was through yelling at Terry."

"It wasn't you, Mike. It was what you two were talking about." Jill shuddered as he pulled her closer to him.

"He's evil, Mike. There's no other word to describe him. Has anyone ever come across an animal like him? Has Taggert or Ryker? How do you stop someone who truly believes the devil is protecting him? It's insane."

Mike kissed the top of her head. Then he turned her to face him so he could look into her eyes. "Do you still believe Alex was killed because you wouldn't talk to Toscano?"

Jill pulled away. Sitting forward, she said, "It was, Mike. You can't convince me otherwise. I should've spoken to him. No matter how I felt, I should've listened to what ever he had to say.

"Alex, God, she didn't deserve." Jill looked at Mike, tears silently streaming down her face. "He's going to kill me, isn't he? That's what he wants."

Mike pulled her into his arms and held her as she silently cried. He knew no words were going to take away the fear or the guilt she was feeling right now. He didn't have anything to say that wouldn't sound lame anyway.

"What does he look like, Mike?" Jill asked, pulling away to look at him. "I want to see his face."

Mike reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumbled sketch. Without a word, he handed it to Jill.

Jill unfolded the picture and stared at Toscano's likeness. She had seen him somewhere before. Suddenly, recognition dawned on her and she started to shake.

"Baby," Mike said, as he saw the color drain from her face. "You've seen him? When?"

"Oh my God, Mike. He was the delivery man."

"Delivery man? What delivery man?"

"The one who gave me the roses yesterday morning. It was him. It was Toscano."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. I saw his face. Mike, it was him, I'll swear to it."

"Jesus," Mike said, sitting back stunned. "And I was in the shower."

Suddenly a thought dawned on him. Toscano had sent him a message. He could get to Jill anytime he wanted to and there wasn't a damn thing Mike could do to stop him.

Without a word, he got to his feet and headed for the bedroom. Jill followed him as he went to the closet and took out a suitcase.

Tossing it on the bed, he said, "You're getting the hell out of here. Tonight. I'll call Amanda and tell her you're on your way."

"No."

Mike stared at her. "What do you mean, no?"

"Will you leave with me?"

"No."

"Then I'm not going. I will not leave you."

"Damn it, Jill! Toscano's not after me! He's after you! Yesterday he proved how close he could get! I'm not going to let him get that close to you again!"

"You think sending me to my sister's is going to stop him? The only thing it'll do is give him three more targets to go after! I won't put them through that!"

Mike realized Jill was right. For all he knew, that madman could be right outside watching their apartment, just waiting for this opportunity.

He threw the suitcase on the floor and sat on the bed. "What am I suppose to do, Jill? Watch as he slowly takes a piece of you away from me? I can't do that."

"And I can't leave you. Mike, I love you and."

"I can't protect you, Jill. He's proven that. I can't make you feel safe."

Jill went to him. Seeing tears in his eyes, she reached out and brushed them away. "I am safe, Mike. Every time you hold me, I'm safe. As long as you're in my life, no one can hurt me."

"That's a crock. Toscano showed up at our door and I was in the damn shower. If he wanted.Jill, you could be dead right now and I wouldn't have heard a thing. How does that make you feel safe?"

"Mike, the key word is 'if'. You're right, if he wanted to kill me then, but he didn't. He didn't hate me then. He does now, but now I know what he looks like and I won't let him get that close again."

"Jill."

She sat down on the bed beside him. "Mike, look at it this way. As long as I'm in the picture no other woman will die. It's me he's focused on now. I want to keep it that way. I don't want him to destroy another family because of me."

"Alex's death wasn't your fault, Jill. What can I do to convince you of that?"

"Nothing. Mike, Alex was a blond. He never would've looked at her twice if I had just listened to what he had to say."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, Mike I do. And I can't live with another girl's death on my conscious. If I leave, that's what's going to happen and you know it."

Mike closed his eyes. Jill was right, no matter how much he didn't want to believe it. Toscano would go after another girl. Maybe the next one.

He buried his face in his hands. "God," he muttered, "I hate this." Mike looked at her, tears in his eyes. "I hate what he's doing to you. No one can hate you this much."

Jill brushed a stray tear from his eyes. "He's doing it to us, Mike. He's putting you through as much hell as me. More so, actually."

"How you figure?"

"Look what this is doing to you. It almost destroyed a friendship. I'm amazed Ryker didn't fire you tonight 'cause I can only imagine what you said to him."

Mike couldn't help but smile. "I highly doubt it, baby, but I sure shocked the hell out of Taggert. You should've seen the look on his face.

"By the way, Terry's theory isn't as wild as I thought. At least that's what Ryker said when he stopped by."

Jill looked at Mike in surprise. How did she miss him? "Ryker was here?"

"Yeah. Apparently, Toscano's count is nine." Seeing the look of surprise in her eyes Mike explained, "He's a suspect in the murder of five Vietnamese prostitutes. Same m.o. as the last victim." Mike couldn't say Alex's name without making Jill feel guilty. Or pissing himself off.

"I guess it stems from his years as a P.O.W. The Army booted him out, but couldn't find enough evidence to charge him with the killings."

"Do we have enough evidence?"

"I don't know, babe. There's not enough to nail him for stalking you. We can't prove it. As for the murders, I'll have to ask Taggert.

"By the way, he wants to put a tap on the phone. I'll have to keep that sick bastard talking for two minutes. I don't want to talk to him for two seconds. I just want to tear his head off."

"I can do it."

"Do what? Tear his head off?"

"Talk to him for two minutes."

"No way. There's no way you're listening to anything that freak's going to say."

"But, Mike."

"No. The dude will talk to me for two minutes. That's not the problem. The problem is I always feel guilty afterwards. Like I should be out there doing something to stop him."

"Mike, you are doing every thing you can. You listen to him. You put his face out there. What more can you do?"

"I don't know. That's the problem."

Jill kissed him. "I love you, Mike. And we will get through this."

Mike looked at her. "You know something?"

"What?"

"I'm worried about you. You're taking all of this way to calmly. A couple of hours ago you were freaking out. What happened?"

"Talking to you about it helps. As long as I don't close my eyes, I don't see them. The victims I mean."

"You were asleep before."

"But Terry and Chris were here and I could hear them talking. Oh, I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I knew I wasn't alone. Then you came home and I felt safer."

"I'm glad I still make you feel that way."

"Mike, as long as you're in my life, I will always feel that way."

Mike smiled at her. "I love you, babe."

"I love you too. Remember that."

He kissed her passionately. "I need to ask you something," he said, when they came up for air.

"What?"

"I need to know what Toscano has said to you. Do you remember anything about your conversations with him?"

"Not really. Like I told you, a lot of what he.Wait a minute. He called me the Chosen One and angel. He calls what he's doing a game. Says he has so much to teach me, but has to perfect his craft before he can." Jill stopped talking as the full impact of what she was saying hit her.

Seeing the look in Jill's eyes, Mike began to regret asking her anything.

"What, babe?"

"Terry's right, Mike. Oh my God, it makes sense now."

Jill buried her face in his chest, as he said, "Jill, what are you talking about?" She struggled for control as Mike's arms went around her. Finally Jill looked at him.

"The last thing he said to me last night, before I hung up on him, was he wanted me. Said I would welcome his gift."

"What gift? The roses?"

"Toscano, Mike. He meant I would welcome him. Oh, God. Mike, I can't do this. I don't want to talk about this any more."

Mike kissed her. "Okay, baby. We don't have to."

"Just hold me, Mike. Just hold me."

Suddenly the phone rang, startling both of them. Jill cringed at the sound.

As Mike started to get to his feet, Jill said, "No, Mike, just let it ring. He'll hang up."

"Jill, it could be Ryker. I have to answer it."

"It could also be."

"I still have to answer it."

Jill let him go and Mike went to the bedroom extension. Picking up the receiver, he said, "Hello?"

"Hello, Danko," Toscano greeted, cheerfully. "Have you figured it out yet?"

"Figured what out, Toscano? That you're a sadistic psycho who gets his jollies from terrorizing women like my wife?"

"They weren't like your sweet Jill. None of them were. She's pure and innocent, isn't she, Danko? He likes 'em that way." "Who likes them that way, Toscano? Satan? You're all powerful God? Is that who you're talking about?"

"So you have figured it out. Pretty smart. I knew I picked the right cop. Just like I picked the perfect sacrifice for my Master."

"In your dreams, Toscano. You are never getting near my wife again."

"Danko, I can take sweet Jill any time I want. However, I need to put her through more Hell first. She hasn't suffered enough for betraying me. You tell her she should've talked to me last night. It would've been over by now."

"It's over, Toscano. Every cop is out there looking for you. Pray they find you before I do. 'Cause you're the one who's gonna suffer. And that's a promise."

Before Toscano could say anything, Mike hung up. Taking the receiver off the hook, he turned to face Jill.

Seeing the bed empty, Mike left the room. He found Jill in the living room standing in front of the sliding glass door.

Coming up behind her, Mike said, "You okay?"

"No, Mike, I'm not. She turned to face him, tears streaming down her face. "I'm trying, but every time I start to feel eve a small touch of sanity returning, he calls. It's like he can read my mind or something."

"Jill, he's a psycho not a psychic. He just has lousy timing."

"When is this going to end? When is the body count going to stop? How many more women have to die before."

Mike pulled Jill into his arms and held her. He didn't have any answers to her questions. At the rate this was going, he didn't think anyone would, but he had to give her something to hold on to.

"Jill," he said, "there's something I forgot to tell you."

"What?" She looked at him with such fear in her eyes, it tore his heart out.

"It's nothing like that, baby," Mike promised. "The Army gave Ryker a name we can contact. They're trying to track her down. We're hoping she'll tell us where we can find him."

"Do you think Taggert and Ryker will find him?"

"With her help, yeah. It's a shot, babe."

Jill looked at him, uncertainty clearly evident in her eyes.

"It's something, isn't it, babe?" Mike asked.

"Is it, Mike. Is it something I can believe in? Hope for?"

"Yeah, for now."

"What does Ryker say?"

"He's the one who told me to tell you. If he believes this woman can help us, you should too."

"Do you believe it?"

"I have to, babe. She's all we got."

"Then I'll hang onto that. But, what if."

"Don't, babe," Mike reached out, brushed the tears from her eyes. "As Terry always says, have faith."

Jill tried to smile at that, but she failed. Mike pulled her into his arms and held her. "It's okay, baby. Let it out. It'll make you feel better."

Just then there was a knock on the front door. Mike felt Jill stiffened, her eyes wide with fear.

"Go to the." Mike started to say.

"Hey, man," Terry said. "It's us."

With relief, Jill went to the door to let in their friends.

When Terry saw Jill, he said, "How you doing?"

"Okay, I guess." She led the way to the living room. "Mike, I'm going to bed."

"Aren't you going to eat something?" he asked, "I'll reheat the spaghetti."

"You have it. I'm not hungry. Goodnight and please don't yell. I.I can't take it anymore."

"There won't be any yelling," Terry said. "I come in peace."

Jill didn't bother to say anything as she left the room.

Terry and Chris looked at Mike. "How is she really?" Chris asked.

"She was okay until I asked her what Toscano said to her. Then she put what we were talking about earlier together with his trash and came up with four.

"To top it off, Toscano called. Twice and admitted he was going to kill her."

"Did you ask him if he was."

"I laid it flat out. He was impressed. Said he picked the right cop after all. And the perfect sacrifice."

"He admitted to that?" Chris asked.

"Yeah. He said it's for his Master. What goes on in the minds of people like him? As long as I live I'll never understand this dude. All I know is, I want to see Jill smile again. I want to give her back her life."

"What about you, Mike?"

"I'm okay, Chris. It's Jill I'm worried about. She's scared to death and nothing I say or do is helping."

"Mike, when was the last time you had a good night's sleep?" Terry asked.

"What day is it? Look, Terry, I'm okay."

"Mike, you're not gonna do Jill any good if you end up in the hospital."

"Terry's right. You can't keep this up."

"What am I suppose to do? Pretend this isn't happening?"

"No," Terry said. "Take Ryker up on his offer. A leave of absence will do you a world of good."

"I'll think about it."

Terry and Chris just looked at him. With a sigh, Mike said, "Tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. If this woman, Toscano's friend doesn't show up by the end of duty tomorrow, I'll take an extended leave."

"And if she doesn't?" Terry asked.

"I see this to the end."

"Mike, what kind of deal is that?"

"Ryker said she is Toscano's next of kin or something. She'll know his hangouts. Terry, this could be over tomorrow."

"You don't know that."

"You're right, I don't, but if I can give Jill just that much to hold on to, there's a chance I can get her back. Otherwise, it won't matter if Toscano goes after her or not. She'll be completely over the edge and I'll never reach her.

"I can't lose her, Terry. Not like this. I can't stand seeing the fear in her eyes. She's struggling to keep it together. Trying to prove to me she can deal with this, but it's a losing battle. I can't be around her twenty- four hours a day. When she's outta my sight.God, she's not safe at the hospital, since that's how he must be keeping an eye on her. Hell, she's not even safe in our own apartment when I'm here."

Seeing the glances Terry and Chris exchanged, Mike explained, "Toscano was Jill's delivery man when she received the flowers. Wanna know where I was? Taking a shower."

"Is she sure?" Terry asked.

"Positive. She saw his face. God, Terry, he could've."

"But he didn't."

"What about the next time? He told me the second time he called tonight, he wasn't done putting her through hell. He wants her to suffer because she refused to talk to him. What more can he do to her?"

"With a guy like Toscano, who knows. Does Jill know about either of the calls?"

"She was here when he called, but I didn't tell her what he said and she didn't ask. So, please, unless you two can come up with some way to keep Jill safe, stop worrying about me."

"We can't, Mike," Chris said. "We're gonna help you."

"What are you talking about?"

"Jill won't be going any where alone and neither will you."

"Thanks, but."

"Don't thank us or Ryker," Terry said. "It wasn't our idea."

"Yeah," Chris said, sitting on one of the counter stools. "You see, it's like this. A cop, who we all know and love, barged into Ryker's office and started yelling at him, which under the circumstances, is perfectly natural. Well, unbeknownst to said cop, one of the older officers was walking by when he heard four words that made him stop and take notice. Terry, what were those words?"

Terry sat down next to him. "Got any more beer? This may be a long night."

"And getting longer by the minute," Mike muttered, opening the refrigerator.

Pulling out three beers, he handed two to Chris and Terry. Accepting the bottle, Terry opened it and said, "The four words were my wife, Toscano and stalking. Right, Chris?"

"Right. Anyway, after the angry cop left Ryker's office, this older cop goes in and demands to know why Ryker isn't doing something about what he was just told. Ryker said there was nothing he could do unless the cop or his wife ask for it.

"Older cop said, bull shit, since when did cops have to wait to help their fellow cops. Then he stormed out of Ryker's office."

"Meanwhile," Terry said, "two handsome younger cops showed up and told Ryker their theory. They were in the middle of discussing it when Sergeant Older called Ryker to come out."

"When he did," Chris said, "along with the two handsome cops, they were surprised to see around half a dozen fellow cops waiting. The older cop explained, in no uncertain terms, that as long as Toscano was out there, the angry cop and his wife got shadows. Volunteered, these cops did. Anyway, the older cop said, if Ryker had a problem he could take all their badges and shove 'em where the sun don't shine."

"Which could be quite painful," Terry added. "Ryker told them to do it. Not shove the badges, but the body guarding. Then, he turned to the two handsome cops and told them they had hospital detail. So, you're covered and Jill's covered."

"Whether you want it or not," the two guys said, in unison.

Mike stared at them. They were giving him a headache.

"Just one question," he said.

"What?" Chris and Terry said, in unison.

"I figured out who the two 'handsome' cops are." Mike rolled his eyes. "That's painfully obvious, but who was the 'older' cop?"

"You won't believe it," Terry said.

Mike sighed. This was going to be a long night. "Terry, is this gonna be another ten minute explanation? 'Cause if it is."

"Sanborn."

Mike blinked. Did he hear his friend right? "Buck Sanborn?"

"The one and only."

"I thought he hated my guts. Why would he."

"I asked him that. All he said was this was his way of saying he's sorry for what happened. You want a better explanation, ask him."

"I'll pass." Mike sipped his beer. "So, when does all this start?"

"Tonight. Buck wrote up the schedule and he's taking the first watch."

"He's out there now?"

"Go take a look."

Mike went to the balcony doors, opened them and stepped out. Sanborn was parked across the street and when he saw Mike, he gave the younger man a salute with this coffee cup. Mike stepped back inside and closed the doors.

"Tell him I said thanks," he said.

"We will. So, you can stop worrying about Jill. She'll be perfectly safe."

"Absolutely," Chris said, "and as of tomorrow you and Jill have the same schedule. Which means you can drop her off and pick her up."

"Now that I can work with," Mike said. "But, why didn't Ryker tell me this?"

"We asked him not to," Terry said. "I knew as soon as you cooled off, you'd accept the help. If it came from Ryker."

"I would've turned it down flat. They really volunteered?"

"All of us. And Buck's gonna try and get a couple of more. Just to be on the safe side."

"Why?"

"Are you kidding?" Chris said. "You and Jill, you're family. Besides, why should you have all the fun?"

"Chris, this is."

"We know," Terry said. "We also know you don't need to go through this alone. Since you're too pig-headed to accept help, we decided not to leave you any choice."

Mike grinned. "Pig-headed about sums it up. Thanks, I appreciate it and I know Jill will too."

"So, does this mean you're gonna stop worrying and take care of yourself?"

"If you're asking me, am I gonna let my guard down, not on your life. However, I can sleep easier tonight."

"Then go get some. But eat something first. We'll show ourselves out."

With that, Terry and Chris left the apartment. After closing the door, Chris turned to Terry and asked, "What's the beef Sanborn has with Mike?"

"It's a long story so if you've got the time and the beer, I'll tell ya."

"It's a deal."

With that, Chris and Terry headed for Chris' apartment.

After they left, Mike locked and bolted the door then he went to the refrigerator for something to eat.

Picking out an apple, he bit into it as he sat at the counter. Mike thought about the last few days and couldn't believe one routine call could mess up a life.

He knew now it could've been any cop and wished it had been just so he wouldn't have to see the fear in Jill's eyes. He loved her so much. All Mike wanted to was keep her safe.

Mike was grateful to Sanborn as well as Terry and Chris. Even if he couldn't watch out for her twenty-four hours a day she would be well protected.

All thanks to Sanborn, Mike thought. I wonder why.

Terry had told him to ask the guy. Maybe after all this is over, Mike would do just that.

Mike finished off the apple and got up to toss it into the garbage. Turning off the lights, he headed for the bedroom.

As he entered, he saw Jill was in the grip of a nightmare.

He sat down beside her and said, "Jill?"

But Jill wasn't hearing him as she mumbled, "No. Oh God, no!" Suddenly, she sat straight up and screamed, "Mike!"

He reached out and pulled her into his arms. "It's okay, baby," Mike said. "I'm here. It's okay."

Jill sobbed into his shoulders as he gently rubbed her back. "Don't ever leave me, Mike. Please don't ever leave."

"I'm not going any where, baby. That's a promise." Mike held her as her sobs quieted down.

Gently he laid her down on the bed and pulled the covers up around her chin.

As he started to get up, Jill grabbed his arm. "Please, Mike, don't go. Stay with me."

Mike sat back down on the bed and brushed the hair from her face. "Want to talk about it? The dream I mean?"

"No. I never want.Mike, it was awful. It seemed so real."

"It wasn't, babe. Just a nightmare, that's all it was. Hell, I'd be surprised if you didn't have them after the day you've just had. Talking about it might help."

Jill just looked at him with her dark eyes wide with fear. Finally, she said, "You wouldn't believe me."

"Baby, it was a nightmare. Why wouldn't I believe it?"

Jill shrugged. "I don't know. If you weren't going through this, if it was just me Toscano was after, would you believe anyone could be doing this?"

"Baby, I love you. I would believe anything you told me."

Jill sat up. She traced a line down his jaw. When she finally looked at him, he saw the tears in her eyes.

"Talk to me, baby," he said, taking her hand and kissing it. "Let me in." Jill hesitated, trying to put her dream into words. Finally, she said, "I see them, Mike. Nicole, Alex. Even the two girls I never met. It's as if I'm there. I.I want to help them, but I can't reach them. They're too far away."

"Do you see him?"

"Yes. And he's laughing, saying I'm next and to watch what he does. But, I." Jill swallowed.

The rest of the dream was terrifying. She didn't know how Mike would react if she told him.

Seeing Jill's hesitation, Mike said, "It's okay, baby, you don't have to."

"I need to, Mike. I don't even want to see.The nightmare changes and I'm in our apartment. You're sleeping on the couch, but you seem so far away. As I get closer there's something wrong. I don't see what it is at first, but."

Mike pulled her into his arms. He knew where this was leading and he didn't want her to re-live it.

"Baby, don't," he said, as she started crying.

"There was so much blood, Mike and seeing you like that. I wanted to die."

"It's okay, baby," Mike said. "It was just a nightmare. I'm fine and nothing's gonna happen to me. Okay?"

"It was so real, Mike. I didn't."

Mike gently pulled away to look at her. "It wasn't real, Jill. Toscano isn't going to get near either of us again. I promise."

"How can you stop him, Mike? He can be watching us right now and."

Mike stood up and took Jill's hand. He had to assure her everything was going to be all right from here on out.

"Come with me," Mike said. "There's something I want you to see."

Jill let Mike lead her out of the bedroom to the living room where he opened the sliding glass door. Stepping out onto the balcony, he pointed to Sanborn's car.

"We've got bodyguards," he said.

"Who?" "Buck Sanborn at the moment. Not sure who it'll be tomorrow night but where ever we go, we won't be alone."

"Buck Sanborn? Really? Why?"

"Yes, yes and remind me to ask him. In that order."

Jill smiled and Mike was relieved. It was the first real smile she had shown in days. There was hope yet.

Leading the way back inside, Mike closed and locked the doors. Pulling her into his arms, he said, "When you look over your shoulder tomorrow don't be surprised to see Chris and Terry. They pulled hospital duty."

Jill was relieved but she had to know. "Why, Mike?" she asked. "I mean, I know why with Chris and Terry, but Sanborn?"

"I honestly don't know, baby. All I know is, it was his idea. And I'm grateful as hell. Now, our world is just a little safe."

Jill reached up and kissed him. "Thank you," she said.

"For what?"

"For having terrific people for friends. I think I can finally get some sleep tonight."

Mike kissed her passionately. "Know what? Me, too." *** The next morning, a young woman in her mid-twenties entered the precinct. She looked nervous as she approached the desk.

"Can I help you?" Sergeant Older asked.

"I'm looking for Lieutenant Ryker."

"He's in a briefing at the moment. He should be out in a couple of minutes if you care to wait."

"I guess I can do that."

"May I tell him what this is regarding?"

"Nick Toscano. I got a note stuck to my door regarding him. Did he do something."

"Ma'am, if you wait right here, I'll get Ryker." As Older hurried away down the hallway, the woman muttered, "Not a problem, I guess."

Older entered the muster room as Ryker was saying. "That's it. Check your pin maps. Dismissed. Danko, I would like to see you for a minute."

As Mike made his way to Ryker, the Lieutenant looked at Older and said, "What is it, Older?"

"There's a lady at the desk who got your message about Toscano. She's waiting to see you."

"Get Taggert down here. Danko, want to sit in on this?"

"You better believe it," Mike replied. "Is that why you wanted to see me?"

"No, Danko. Wanted to see you because I'm concerned about you and Jill."

"We're getting there. Thanks to Sanborn. Lieutenant, do you know."

"Why he volunteered? You'll have to ask him. Now, let's see if we can end yours and Jill's nightmare."

"Yes, sir."

Mike followed Ryker and Older out of the room and down the hall where he saw a woman a few years older than Jill sitting on a bench watching them, warily.

She stood up as Older approached and made the introductions.

"I'll get Taggert down here," Older said. "You can use room two."

"Tell him to meet us there. Danko. Ms."

"Lanie Galina. Melanie actually," the woman replied. "Look, what did Nick do?"

Ryker opened the door to interview room two and Lanie entered and sat down in a chair. Mike entered and stood by the door as Ryker sat down.

"While we wait for Taggert," Ryker said, "can I get you anything? Coffee, tea?"

"A cup of coffee would be nice," Lanie said, as she watched Mike studying her.

"Danko, get the lady a cup of coffee," Ryker ordered.

"Yes, sir." Mike left the room as Taggert entered. Sitting a few seats away he introduced himself.

"Does that cop have to be in here?" Lanie asked. "He's making me nervous."

"Yes, he does," Ryker said. "This concerns him a lot more than the rest of us. You see, your friend, Toscano, is terrorizing his wife. He wants answers so he's not going any where until he gets them."

"Fine, but does he have to look at me like that?"

"I'm not goin' to bite," Mike said, as he placed a pot of coffee on the table. "I apologize if I make you nervous."

"Danko," Ryker snapped, "sit, shut up and listen. In that order."

"Yes, sir."

Mike sat down, trying not to stare at her. He was finding it very difficult. The woman was beautiful. How could she be connected to a lunatic like Toscano, he wondered.

"First, what can you tell us about Toscano?" Ryker asked.

"What did he do? Answer my question, Lieutenant and I'll answer yours."

"He's responsible for four murders, harassing a police officer, stalking and harassing said police officer's wife."

"It's in all the papers," Mike said. "Maybe you read about it."

"No," Lanie replied. "I've been out of town until this morning. Damn, he actually."

"He actually what?" Ryker prodded.

"Lieutenant, I've known Nick for almost twenty years. He's had problems and isn't a saint, so you have to understand something. When he got back from Vietnam, they did something to him. He never talked about it and I never asked. All he would say about those two years was God destroyed his life and Satan saved it. He felt he owed Satan.

"At first, it was all talk. At least, that's what I thought. But, the more he talked about it."

"About what?" Taggert asked, jotting down notes.

"The perfect sacrifice. An offering up to his God to show his loyalty. That's all he would talk about. That and turning someone."

"Turning someone?" Ryker asked, exchanging looks with the two other cops. "Explain that."

"To the dark side. If he could find someone who was in a word, good, and turned him to the devil, Nick believed Satan would protect him for the rest of his life."

"Jill," Mike muttered. "Would that be why he's stalking my wife?"

"Sure. If she's the opposite of what evil is, absolutely. Either that, or he's targeted her for sacrifice."

"And you listened to this?" Ryker asked, shocked. "Why didn't you come to us?"

"I didn't think he was serious. Before he left for 'Nam the third time, Nick wouldn't have hurt a fly."

"What changed your mind?" Mike asked.

"I don't know." Lanie thought about the last few conversations she'd had with Nick. "His eyes," she replied. "They are completely dead. There's no life, light or anything. It's like, he's not there any more. You know what I mean? It scared the hell out of me. If I had gone to you guys, would you have believed me?"

Mike looked at Ryker and Taggert and knew the answer. There was no way the two older men would've believe anything she had to say about Toscano. And even if they did, they couldn't do anything about it. There was no evidence at the time. It was Lanie's word against Toscano's. But, at least it would've been on record, if Miss Galina had come forward. Maybe the last three women would still be alive.

"Where can we find him, Miss Galina?" Ryker asked.

"I'm not sure. I think he's living at the beach. I can get in touch with him. Get an exact address. On one condition."

"What's that?"

"That he won't get hurt. No matter what he's done."

"What he's done, Miss Galina," Mike said, "was butcher two women and shoot and kill two more before them. All in the space of less than a week."

"Danko," Ryker warned. Mike rose to his feet, his eyes flashing in anger. "No, Lieutenant, she has the right to know. Toscano is insane. He's raped four women. Maybe more. Two of the women I just mentioned, were friends of my wife, who he has now targeted. Don't expect any sympathy from me because what ever happens to him, isn't by far close to the hell he's put my wife through."

Without another word, Mike left the room, slamming the door behind him. He wanted to call Jill. Hell, he needed to call her, if only to hear her voice.

He headed for the locker room, not caring what Ryker said or did when he caught up with him.

Meanwhile, back in the interrogation room, Ryker said, "I want to apologize for my officer's."

"Don't," Lanie said. "I can understand how he's feeling. Now that I think about it, I should've come to you. If I had.Look, let me call Nick. He doesn't know I'm back in town. I can meet him somewhere."

"Will you agree to wear a wire?" Taggert asked. "This way we can pull."

"No. No wires. He trusts me. Nick knows I wouldn't betray him. All I'm after is his address. That's all you're going to get."

"Miss Galina." Ryker started to say.

"No, Lieutenant. He's not going to know I betrayed him."

"He has murdered nine women, Miss Galina. He is terrorizing a friend of mine and a cop. If you want to help him."

Lanie rose to her feet. She'd had enough. "Take it or leave it, Lieutenant."

"You could be next! Don't you see that?"

"Lieutenant, what hair color did those women, he supposedly killed, have?"

Ryker rolled his eyes. "Except for the last victim, they were brunettes. Why?"

"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a red-head and yes, it's all natural. Nick hates brunettes."

"The last victim was a blond. Why does he hate brunettes?"

"I have no idea. Probably a mother fixation. Look, you want the address or not?"

"We'll take it," Taggert said.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. Handing it to her, he said, "Call me. As soon as possible."

"Okay. I will."

After the woman left, Ryker looked at Taggert. "I hope you know what you're doing," he said.

"Eddie," Taggert said, "you and I both know we can't force her to do more than she's doing. If she can tell us where he lives, I'll get a search warrant. Even if she doesn't help us more than that, right now, it's more than we can ask for."

"Then what?"

"Then we sit on his house and watch him like a hawk. Eddie, right now that's all we can do."

Ryker rose to his feet. "You better hope we catch this guy. I don't know how much more Danko, not to mention his wife, can take."

"I hear you. Let's hope all the evidence we need will be at the house. Eddie, it all can end tonight."

"I hope so. I'm going to check on Danko."

Ryker left the room. He had a feeling he knew where he would find Mike. He headed straight for the locker room.

Meanwhile, in the locker room, Mike put a dime into the pay phone and dialed the hospital.

When it was picked up, he said, "This is Mike Danko. I would like to speak to Jill Danko." A few minutes later, Jill came on the line. "Hello?"

Mike could hear the hesitation in her voice. He ignored it. "Hi, babe."

Jill was relieved. She didn't think she could handle Toscano. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at Chris, who was watching her closely.

"It's okay," Jill said to him. Turning back to the phone, she said, "Hi, sweetheart. Are you okay?"

"I am now," Mike replied, with a smile. "I just needed to hear your voice."

"Did that girl come in?"

"Yeah. I don't know how much good she'll be, but, I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed. I love you, baby."

"I love you, too. Will you be able to stop by for lunch?"

"I'll try. Want me to call you?"

"Yeah, I'd like that. Mike?"

"Yeah?"

"I really do love you."

"I know. See ya later."

"Bye."

Mike hung up, turned around and almost stepped on Ryker's foot.

"Sorry, Lieutenant," Mike said.

"For what, Danko?"

"My behavior in the interrogation room."

"Don't apologize. Before she left I felt like showing her the pictures you dropped off. Who knows, maybe I still will."

Mike felt a knot in the pit of his stomach. Leaning against the wall, he said, "She's not going to help, is she?"

"She will get his address, but that's the extent of her involvement. Miss Galina will not betray Toscano."

"The man's a butcher, Lieutenant! Doesn't she realize that?"

"He is also her friend and she wants to protect him. What would you do?"

"You don't want to know. Okay, say she does get his address, what then?"

"Danko, we will go to his house with a warrant."

"There's no way a judge is going to issue Taggert a warrant. What evidence do we have besides the word of a cop, his wife and a few photographs?"

"I show the District Attorney those, maybe we'll get somewhere."

"And maybe, someday, we can all ice skate in Hell. It's our word against his. How."

"What?"

Mike pushed himself off the wall. "He broke into the apartment yesterday. His prints could be there. Plus, Jill has seen him."

"At the hospital?"

"No. Outside our front door. He was Jill's delivery man." Seeing the confused look on Ryker's face, Mike explained, "Two days ago, she received a dozen black roses. Yesterday I showed her the composite of Toscano. She insists he was her deliveryman. She'll swear to it."

"All right. That's a start. I'll have Taggert send a couple of detectives to your place. We just might get lucky. When was the last time Jill cleaned the apartment?"

"Top to bottom, Saturday. The only prints that should be there besides mine and Jill's is Terry and Chris. Yours too."

Okay. I doubt Toscano wore gloves since he believes Satan is protecting him. If there's a trace of him in your apartment, that may be all the proof we need for a judge to issue a warrant. We'll pick him up on breaking and entering. That should get us into his place."

"And if it doesn't?"

"One step at a time, Danko. One step at a time."

As Ryker started to walk away, Mike said, "Lieutenant, do you think Miss Galina would meet with Jill?"

"What do you have in mind?"

"I figure if Galina could speak with her, see what Toscano is doing to her, to us, she'll change her mind about her involvement."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, sir."

Meanwhile, at Mike and Jill's apartment, which wasn't under the watchful eyes of the S.C.P.D since the Danko's weren't there, Toscano opened the front door and stepped inside.

In his hands was a medium-sized wrapped box, which he placed on the counter where Jill was sure to see it.

"Enjoy it, Jill," he muttered. "I know I did when I created it. See you tonight, my angel."

Without another thought, he left the apartment. How he wished he could be there to see the look on her face when she opened it.

Meanwhile, back at the precinct, Mike was leaving the locker room when he spotted Officer Buck Sanborn heading in his direction.

"Danko," Sanborn said, "I hope you and your wife slept okay last night."

"Yeah, we did. Thanks. But, I need to know. Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you volunteer to watch our apartment? I mean."

"I was wrong, Danko." At Mike's confused look, Sanborn explained, "At the tire store that day. I was wrong. You didn't put Andy in front of that knife, I did. I was too thorough. Too by the book. If I hadn't been."

"You did what you thought was best. We both did. We were both wrong."

"Yeah, we were. Anyway, I figured after what I put you through, I owed you. Last night, that was my way of paying you back."

"I appreciate it and so does Jill. Thank you."

"Anytime. Tonight, it's Hernandez and Peterkin."

"Okay." As Buck started t walk away, Mike said, "Sanborn."

"What?"

"We're even."

Sanborn waved his hand as he entered the locker room to change into his uniform. Mike headed for his patrol car. *** Later that afternoon, Mike entered the precinct; grateful the day had been crime free. For him, anyway. It gave him a chance to surprise Jill and take her out to lunch. Unfortunately Chris and Terry had tagged along.

When Mike told them in no uncertain terms, to take a hike, Terry had responded by explaining the complexities of body guarding.

By the time the four of them entered the restaurant across from the hospital, Jill was laughing. It made Mike's heart sing. He never thought he would hear a more beautiful sound.

Now, as he headed for the locker room to change, Ryker caught up with him.

"Good news, Danko," he said.

"Toscano's been busted?"

"Okay, maybe not that good, but Taggert just told me about the luck he had at your apartment. Toscano's prints were all over your place. We got him on breaking and entering."

"That's a start, I guess. Anything else?"

"Got results from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Now we know what kind of car he's driving."

"What took them so long?"

"You know how many people there are in this city that own cars, Danko?"

"Sorry, sir. What about where he's living?"

"Checked it out. He moved out the day Nicole died. No forwarding address."

"Damn. What about Miss Galina? Did you hear from her?"

"Not yet, Danko, but giver her time. She was out of town when he moved. It may take her a while to track him down."

"What ever.Listen, Lieutenant, I gotta go and change. I have a wife to pick up."

As Mike started to walk away, Ryker said, "It's almost over, Danko. Tell her that."

Mike stopped and slowly turned around, a steely glint in his eyes. "I won't lie to her, sir. You and I both know this won't end until one of us is six feet under. And I promise you something, it isn't going to be me. Find him, Lieutenant or I will."

Ryker watched him enter the locker room. He couldn't blame the man for being angry. He was angry, too. Even if they arrested Toscano right now, all they could charge him with was breaking and entering. With a good lawyer, those charges could be dropped.

Some how, Ryker had to convince a judge to issue a search warrant. Hopefully the B&E charge will be enough. Otherwise, the only two alternatives were a phone tap, which may not be admissible in court or, and this choice made his skin crawl, talk Jill and Mike into offering themselves up as bait.

Please, God, give me a wise judge, he pleaded. *** A half an hour later, Mike was stepping out of an elevator when he saw Jill at the nurses' station.

Walking up to her, he said, "Hello, milady. How goes the war?"

Jill smiled as Chris and Terry approached them. Nodding at them, she said, "Thanks to those two, it goes well."

Mike reached for her hand. "No calls?"

"None. You?"

"Zero. That's a good sign."

"What's a good sign?" Terry asked.

"Neither of us heard from Toscano." Mike stared at his two friends. They looked like death warmed over. "What happened to you two?"

"When Ryker told us we had hospital duty, he neglected to mention it included bedpans, mopping up operating rooms, the hallways.Not to mention restraining two gang members from beating the everlivin' daylights outta each other. And they were in the same gang."

Mike burst out laughing. "You two are under cover as orderlies? God, I'd pay a year's salary to see that."

Jill laughed too. "It had its moments. A woman had smuggled in her Bijou. Chris thought it was a fur muffler until it bit him on the hand."

"Ouch," Mike said, laughing harder.

"Yeah, ouch," Chris grumbled. "That little drop kicker had a jaw like a vise. I needed a tetanus shot and a rabies shot 'cause the owner couldn't remember if it had its shots."

"You couldn't remember if you did either, man," Terry said, "so don't go blaming the bundle of teeth. And it bit ya 'cause you yanked on its tail."

"How the hell did I know it was capable of movement?"

"Didn't the snoring tip you off?"

"Is that what that noise was? I thought it was my stomach growling."

Laughing, Mike looked at Jill. "Tell me he's kidding."

"No," Jill replied. "It happened. Chris told the lady he had to take her 'muffler' for safekeeping. He pulled on its tail and it bit him."

"And if I ever get my hands on that little monster, I'm going to drop kick him from one end of the hallway to the other."

"Wait until the guys at the station hear about this," Mike said.

"You wouldn't dare."

"He wouldn't," Terry said, "but I would. I can see it now. Officer Christopher Owens, attacked by a raging Bijou. It'll be priceless."

"How big was this fur ball?" Mike asked, as Chris glared at Terry.

Jill held her hands out about a foot and a half apart. Mike grinned. "That big huh? Wow, Chris, must've had a real fight on your hands. Life and death struggle and all that?"

"I'm not gonna live this down, am I?"

Mike and Terry looked at each other. "Nope," they said, in unison.

"Terry, I thought we were partners. Partners are suppose to protect each other."

"There's nothing in the book that says to protect thy partners from angry fur balls with teeth." Turning to Mike, he said, "You should've seen it, man. Here's Chris with this vicious furry thing with teeth clamped on his hand, he's shaking it up and down as the owner is screaming bloody murder. If it wasn't for Jill, I think we'd have either a dead cop or a dead dog."

Turning to Jill, Mike asked, "What did you do? Use the jaws of life?"

"Nothing so severe as that," Jill replied, with a smile. "I tickled it under its chin. It released Chris right away, rolled onto its back and was in seventh heaven."

"You tickled." That did it. Mike lost it completely. With tears running down his cheeks from laughing so hard, he said, "God, I wish I saw that. It's too priceless to keep to myself."

"C'mon, you guys," Chris begged, "you wouldn't do that to me."

"Wanna bet? I owe those guys for what they're doing. What a great way to pay them back."

"Terry, help me."

"Sorry, partner, but this is way too good to keep to myself. Mike, what do you think his nickname should be?"

"I don't know, Terry. How does 'The Bijou Cop' sound to you?"

"Hm. It fits. It definitely fits. Though, I'm sure I can think of something much more colorful."

Chris turned to Jill. "Help me."

"Sorry, Chris," Jill replied, straight-faced. "It's out of my hands. You know how these two are. Once they get their teeth into something, they just won't let go."

The three cops stared at her. "Tell me that wasn't intentional," Mike said.

Jill smiled innocently. "Sorry."

"Just remember one thing, Webster," Chris said, "you're partnered with 'The Bijou Cop'."

Chris turned on his heels and walked away. Terry looked after him.

"What do you think he means by that?" he asked.

"Well, if Chris will be teased, that means who ever rides with him."

"Hey, Chris." Terry hurried after him. "It was a joke, man." Mike turned back to Jill as she walked around the desk. Pulling her into his arms, he kissed her passionately. "How are you? Really?"

"I'm getting there," Jill replied, honestly. "I still jump when the phone rings. Then again, everyone around here is jumpy. Even the doctors. How about you?"

"I'm okay. Ryker says we're getting close. We know what car Toscano's driving. His prints were all over our apartment, so he can get arrested for breaking and entering."

"But not for anything else?"

"Not yet. Ryker and Taggert are still waiting for Miss Galina to call with an address."

"Then what?"

"Then Taggert goes for a search warrant."

"Will a judge give him one?"

"He has to, babe. Without it, we got nothing."

Jill looked at him. She had to know if he believed they could get a search warrant. "On a simple breaking and entering charge, they'll issue."

"He's suspected of four brutal murders, baby. Ryker's gonna offer up the pictures as evidence. No judge is gonna take the chance that we're going after the wrong guy."

She leaned into him as his embrace tightened. "God, I hope so."

"Ready to go home?"

"Yeah. If you promise to take the phone off the hook. I want, no need one night of terror free sanity."

"Consider it done. How about if I take you out to dinner?"

"With or without our chaperones?"

"Definitely without. I think you've had enough of those two ."

"For today, anyway. Do they always tease each other like that?"

"Constantly." "How do you stand it?"

Mike grinned as he kissed her. "I drive solo, baby. I drive solo."

Jill laughed as he took her hand and led her toward the elevator. *** A half an hour later, the Danko's entered their apartment. As Mike locked the door, Jill tossed the sweater she was wearing on the counter and saw the wrapped package.

"Mike?" she said, her voice shaky.

He turned to look at her. "Yeah?"

"Tell me that's from you."

When he saw the package, Mike felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He had a bad feeling about this.

"No," he said, softly. "Open it, babe."

"Can't we just throw it away? Like I did with the flowers?"

"If it's from Toscano, baby, it's more evidence against him."

"You open it then. I.I.I can't."

Instead of replying, Mike went to the phone and called Ryker. When it was answered, he explained the situation.

"Don't touch it, Danko," Ryker ordered. "Taggert and I are on our way."

"Just tell me one thing, Lieutenant. Was this here when the detectives showed up?"

"If it was, no one mentioned it. Probably because they figured it was from you. It's a natural assumption considering the circumstances."

"Yeah, I guess so. See you soon." Hanging up, he turned to Jill. "Ryker and Taggert are on their way. They'll take care of it."

Jill looked at him. "I'm beginning to feel really foolish," she said.

"Why?"

"What if it's nothing more sinister than a box of chocolates? How do I explain that?"

"Jill, if this is from Toscano, and we both know that's who left it."

"It could be from Terry and Chris."

"They would've said something to me. Especially since the pictures."

Jill fought against the fear. Mike pulled her into his arms.

"It's gonna be okay, baby," he said. "Ryker'll be here any moment."

Jill pulled away. "I'm going to take a shower."

"Okay. You still want to go out to dinner?"

"Yeah I do. Can we leave after Ryker leaves?"

"You bet."

Jill forced a smile. "I love you."

"I love you, too, babe."

Mike watched Jill as she entered the bedroom. Looking at the package he knew Toscano left behind, something told him that what ever was inside Jill shouldn't see it.

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Jill took off her nurse's uniform and stepped into the shower. Once she had the shower running, she let the tears she had been holding flow.

Jill knew if Mike saw her like this, it would break his heart. She couldn't face him at the moment. And she didn't know how much more she could take.

Whatever Toscano left her, it had to be horrible. Jill hoped she wouldn't have to see it.

"Please, God make all of this go away," she begged. "Please."

Finally as she slowly stopped crying, Jill heard Mike enter the bathroom.

"Babe, Ryker and Taggert just arrived. There's no rush if you're not ready to come out yet. Okay?"

"Thanks, Mike."

When he heard the catch in Jill's voice, Mike wasn't surprised.

"You okay?"

"I will be. Just give me a little time. Okay?"

"Okay."

Mike left the bathroom. Walking back into the living room, he said, "She's still in the shower."

"Don't worry about it," Ryker said. "It's better if Jill didn't see this."

"See what?"

Mike saw that the box had been carefully opened. With a knot in the pit of his stomach, he walked over for a closer look.

What he saw made him sick to his stomach. A doll with long dark hair was covered in blood, it's neck visibly cut. A knife had been plunged into her chest with a note that read, 'My dearest angel, my you rest in peace.'

"Christ Almighty," Mike said. "If Jill saw this."

"But, she didn't and she never will. Taggert, get this out of here."

"Yes, sir."

"I want it tested for fingerprints. And check the blood. I want to know whose blood it is."

"You got it. I'll wait for you in the car."

Taggert left the apartment. Mike ran a hand over his face. Looking at Ryker, he said, "What the hell are we dealing with?"

"A madman, Danko. He's sick, there's no other way to describe him."

"He's sending her a message. God I hate this. What if Jill had opened it? She would've lost it completely."

"Danko, Jill didn't open it. Be grateful for that."

"Toscano bought that doll intentionally. He went to all this trouble to show her what he's going to do to her. How the hell do you stop somebody like him?"

"Mike, we'll get him. With what we have now, there's no doubt a judge will issue Taggert a warrant."

"Then what, Lieutenant? The guy's mentally ill! A decent lawyer will get him locked-up in a hospital for the criminally insane! How the hell do you expect Jill to live with that after what happened with Andrews?"

"Danko, the DA's going for the death penalty. There will be no plea bargains.

"In this day and age, people don't buy the insanity defense anymore. They won't be fooled by his act."

"Damn it, Lieutenant, no sane man does what Toscano's doing!"

"And no insane man changes his mo after his crimes. An insane man does not call a cop and dare him to try and stop him. And an insane man doesn't know the difference between good and evil, God or Satan.

"His crimes are insane, but he isn't. Not by the legal definition."

Mike sighed in frustration. He knew Ryker was right, but it didn't make it easier to live with.

"How do I tell her about this?" Mike asked.

"You don't. She'll see it at the trial."

"There isn't going to be a trail." Mike said it with such determination, Ryker was stunned. "You think I'm going to put Jill through a lengthy trial, have her sit in a courtroom, forced to watch and listen to his crap, you're outta your mind."

"Danko, if Jill."

"When it comes down, Lieutenant, one of us isn't going to walk away."

"What are you going to do, Danko? Throw your life and Jill's away on this slime ball?"

"No, Lieutenant. I have no intention of doing that. You and I both know he's gonna try and get to Jill. Hurt her or worse. I'm just gonna change his mind."

"How do you propose to do that?"

"He's been the one calling all the shots. Telling me when and where, waiting for a reaction. Well, he's gonna get one. Only the next time, I'm the one who's going to do the pushing. We're going to get our life back. One way or another."

"Danko, no matter what you say, he's going to go after her. Pushing him could make it worse."

"It can't get any worse, Lieutenant! Don't you see that? Every damn day that he's out there, a part of Jill dies inside! She's slipping away from me and I can't stop it! Every time she gets a shred of hope back, he tears it out of her reach!

"You don't see the look in her eyes every time the damn phone rings! You don't see her visibly fighting for control! You weren't here last night when she woke up screaming from a horrible nightmare! You know what that does to me? It's killing me to see her like this! I want her back, sir and the only way it's gonna happen is when Toscano's six feet under!"

"Could you live with yourself, Danko knowing you killed him?"

"In a heartbeat. It wouldn't be the first time I killed a man." Mike went to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer.

Popping it open, he said, "Listen, Lieutenant, I'm not going to hunt him down. I wish to God I could, but I'm going to make damn sure it's me he comes after, not Jill. When he does, I'll be ready for him."

"It still amounts to the same thing, Danko. You go to jail. What happens to Jill then?"

"It doesn't matter. At least she'll have her life back."

"It wouldn't be much of a life without you in it."

Ryker and Mike turned to see Jill standing in the hallway wearing jeans and her husband's old academy sweatshirt. She had tears in her eyes as she stared at both of them.

"Mrs. Danko," Ryker began.

"Lieutenant, if you don't mind, I would like to speak with my husband. Alone."

Ryker gave in. Turning to Mike, he said, as he headed for the door, "See you at the station tomorrow, Danko."

Without waiting for a reply, he left the apartment, but instead of going down to the car, he went over to Terry's apartment and knocked on the door. Taggert could wait a little longer.

Meanwhile, back in the Danko's apartment, Mike looked at his wife and said, "I'm sorry, baby. I know I'm making things worse, but I love you so much it hurts to see you like this. I just want to tear his heart out, if he had one."

"You think setting him up is the answer? That makes you no better than he is. You are a good person, Mike. Don't let him destroy that."

"What about you? Should I just sit around and watch him destroy your life? I can't do that. Especially after tonight. I have to do something."

For the first time since entering the living room, Jill noticed the package Toscano had left her, was missing.

"What was it, Mike?" she asked. "What was in the box?"

Mike downed a healthy dose of beer. "Forget it," he said. "You don't want to know. Let's just say, it was twisted."

"That bad?"

"Worse." Mike went to her and wiped the tears from her eyes. "I hate seeing you like this. All I want is the old Jill back. The one who smiles all the time."

"I'm trying, Mike. I really am."

"I know, baby. I see it every time that son-of-a-bitch does something to hurt you. I just want to hurt him back.

"Nothing Ryker or Taggert do is working. Yeah, we're getting close, but not close enough. I want him, babe. I want this to end. For both of us."

"So do I, but not the way you want it to. Mike, if I lose you, Toscano might as well kill me because living without you is far worse."

Mike sighed. "Like I told Ryker, I'm not going to hunt him down. I may be crazed right now, but I'm not stupid. I just want him to focus on me, not you."

"He focused on both of us, Mike. Every time he calls you is proof of that."

"But, it's not me he wants to kill. It's you. I have to change that."

Jill reached up and brushed away a tear. "It won't work, Mike. You couldn't get him to change his mind. All you'll give him is the reaction he's looking for."

"Jill, it wasn't meant to go this far. You weren't meant to be a sacrifice. Galina said as much."

"What are you talking about?"

"It started out with him trying to bring you over to the dark side."

"Are you kidding? I never."

"If he pushed you hard enough, he could."

"And I changed that by refusing to talk to him. God, what kind of human being is he? Mike, if I wasn't.Who was it going to be?"

"Who knows. Maybe he figured you would choose him or her for him."

Jill threw herself on the couch. "God, this just gets better all the time."

"Tell me about it." Mike sat down beside her and gently tugged on the sweatshirt she was wearing. "You look awfully cute in that."

"Don't change the subject," Jill said, with a smile.

"Okay. You tell me what I should do. How do I get Toscano off your back without tearing him limb from limb."

"There's only one idea I have and you wouldn't like it. Plus, I don't really want it to go that far."

Brushing the hair behind her shoulder, Mike said, "Tell me. I might surprise you."

"Oh, I doubt that. You're calm now. I don't want to change that."

Mike grinned. "Neither do I, come to think about it. Still want to go out for dinner?"

"Yeah. I really need to get out of here."

The couple rose to their feet and went to the kitchen where Mike downed the last of his beer and then tossed it in the garbage can.

Picking up the keys, Mike held them out to Jill and said, "You wanna drive?"

Jill looked at him in surprise. "You're asking me.Mike, you hate my driving. You said I drive too fast."

"You do, but I would rather look at you so if I drove, we'd end up in the hospital."

Jill laughed. "Okay. I'll drive."

"Good girl." Mike handed her the keys.

Before they left the apartment, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. "I really do love you. Don't ever forget that."

"Not on your life, Danko," Jill said, with a smile.

With that, the Danko's left the apartment. *** Later that night, Jill was asleep while Mike was over at Terry's filling his two friends in on the latest developments. Not that he needed to, since Ryker had beaten him to it. That and Mike's shouting earlier that evening had clued them both in.

The front door opened and Toscano slipped inside. He had been waiting for this opportunity. When the Danko's would be asleep, to do just what was doing.

Stealthily, he crept to the Danko's bedroom. When he didn't see Mike sleeping beside Jill, he slowly smiled.

Foolish, Danko, he thought, as he made his way to Jill's side of the bed. Very foolish.

He watched as Jill slept, oblivious to his presence. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a black rose with a note pinned to it and placed it beside her.

Sweet dreams, my angel. For tomorrow you die.

He watched her for a moment longer. Reaching out, Toscano, gentle as a feather, traced a line down her jaw. Jill stirred, but didn't wake up.

So very pretty, he thought. Too bad it must end like this. It's all your fault, my angel. Yours and Danko's. We could've had it all.

Finally, he crept out of the bedroom to the front door. Opening it, he walked into the hallway and was heading for the elevator when he heard a door open.

"See two tomorrow," Toscano heard Mike say. "And thanks."

Stepping into the elevator, Toscano turned around and smiled as Mike saw him.

"Toscano!" Mike ran toward the elevator as Terry and Chris came out at Mike's shout.

The elevator doors closed as Mike reached it. He was about to head for the stairs when Chris and Terry reached him.

"Go check on Jill," Terry said. "We got it."

Without a word, Mike ran for his apartment, crashing through the doors.

"Jill!" he shouted, as the bedroom light came on.

Mike reached the bedroom as Jill sat up and said, "What's wrong?"

He gathered her into his arms and held her as relief swept over him. When Mike first saw Toscano, he had thought his worse nightmare had come true.

"Mike," Jill said, "what happened?"

Mike pulled away from her and looked at her. "Did he hurt you?" he asked. "If he so much as touched you."

"Who? What are you talking about?"

"Toscano. He was in the apartment. You didn't see him?"

"I was asleep. What do you mean he was in the apartment? When?"

Before Mike replied, he spotted the rose Jill had accidentally knocked off the bed.

Picking it up, he said, "That bastard was in here. In the bedroom while you were sleeping."

Jill stared from Mike to the rose and back again. Trying to keep her composure, she said, "What does the note say?"

"Note?" When Mike finally saw the note pinned to the rose, he took the pin out and read it. Without a word, he handed it to Jill.

"'I can take you any time I want'," Jill read. "Oh, God. I didn't know, Mike. I swear. I was asleep. I didn't."

As she burst into tears Mike pulled her closer to him and just held her. All he could think about was seeing Toscano in the elevator. How could he have been so damn stupid? He never should've left her alone.

"I'm sorry, baby," he said. "If I had been here."

"How did he get in? I thought Sanborn had people watching us."

"He does. Peterkin and Hernandez are out there. I checked before I left for Terry's."

"Then how did he get by them? Were they sleeping or something?"

Before Mike could reply, Ryker's voice said, clearly angry, "They weren't asleep, they were talking to me. Danko, get out here."

"Go," Jill said, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I'll be okay."

"You sure?" Mike looked at her. Right now, he never wanted to leave her side.

"No, but I'll try."

Mike kissed her and stood up. "I'm sorry, baby. I never should've left you alone. This is all my fault and I will make it up to you."

"Danko! Unless you want a crowded bedroom, I suggest you get out here! Now!"

"Coming, sir," Mike said. "I'll be right back, babe."

Jill forced a smile as he left the room. As soon as Mike left, Jill started to shake. She could believe Toscano had gotten into the apartment. She knew Mike had locked the door before he left, believing she would be safe. She even insisted that he go over there to talk things out with Terry and Chris. He had been too quiet at dinner so she knew he had to talk to someone.

She knew if Mike had thought, for one moment that Toscano would break into the apartment while she was home alone, he never would've left.

All Jill could think about was how lucky she felt to have been asleep at the time Toscano showed up. There was no telling what he would have done she awoke and started screaming. She didn't even want to imagine it.

She leaned against the head board as she heard Ryker say, "Where is your off duty weapon?"

"Locked in the bedroom, sir. Why?"

"Does Jill know how to use it?"

"Not a hand gun, but she's used a shotgun. Again, why?"

"Because the next time that son-of-a-bitch breaks in, I want one of you to blow his head off!"

Jill sat bolt up right when she heard Ryker's explosion. She didn't know who else was in the living room but she knew Mike would be just as surprised.

"Lieutenant," Mike started to say.

"Your wife is like a daughter to me! You think you're the only one affected by what this piece of shit is doing to her? To you? I want him and I don't care if it's dead or alive!

"What were you thinking, leaving her alone like that?"

"I was just next door. I didn't think Toscano."

"That's right, Danko! You didn't think! None of you did! Jill is to have someone with her around the clock! Not just when she's at the hospital! Twenty-four hours a day until this bastard is locked up or dead! Am I making myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," Mike, Terry and Chris said, in unison.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Ryker said, "Is she okay?"

"Yeah. I don't think it's hit her yet that he had been here," Mike replied.

"You two got lucky tonight. As of now, every cop in the district is looking for him. I don't care if we have to turn this town upside down to find him. We are bringing this maggot down. One way or another."

Mike glanced at the bedroom door. He didn't want Jill to hear his next question, so he went to the stereo and turned it on.

"Lieutenant," he said, "did you get the results back on the doll?"

"Yeah. The blood was our last victim's. The coroner thinks Toscano collected it after he cut her throat. The D.A. said that this little tidbit puts a whole new spin on things."

"You lost me," Mike said.

"By draining the blood from the dead girl to pour it over a doll, the stalking of your wife, he has determined that all of this has been premeditated murder. There is no doubt in his mind. He will be asking for the death penalty when Toscano gets to trial."

"If he lives that long," Terry muttered.

Ryker ignored him. "Now, we are all going to go by the book. If he pushes it, if it comes down where he doesn't leave us a choice."

"We got your message," Terry said. "Loud and clear."

"Good. As of tomorrow, I want the word out. Anyone caught protecting Toscano in any way, shape or form, will be charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree. They will be arrested on the spot."

"What about Miss Galina?" Mike asked.

"She's my first stop. If she refuses to cooperate, I'm gonna personally bust her ass and throw away the key. Now, go be with your wife, Danko."

"Lieutenant," Mike said. "I just have one question. Why the change of heart? Earlier, you told me."

"You almost lost the woman you love tonight, Danko and I came close to losing two people I care about. You tell Jill this is going to end tomorrow."

"Yes, sir, but can you promise."

"Danko, Toscano will have no place to hide after tomorrow. We will bring him down. One way or another."

Mike wasn't as confident as Ryker sounded, but he said, "Thank you, sir."

"Webster, Owens, unless you two are planning to sleep here, I suggest you both go home."

"Yes, sir," Terry said, as the two men headed out. Before Ryker left, he turned back to Mike and said, "It's my fault he got that close tonight, Danko. I'm going to make it up to both of you."

"Lieutenant, there's."

"Goodnight, Danko."

After Ryker left, Mike locked and chained the door. Then he went down the hall to check on Jill.

When he reached the bedroom, he saw that she was waiting for him.

"You okay?" Mike asked, as sat down beside her.

"I am now," Jill replied, as she reached out to hug him. "Ryker sounded really pissed."

"He is. How much did you hear?"

"Enough to be surprised. Did you know he thought of me like that?"

"Like a daughter? We'll you're not that much older than the girl he put up for adoption. Why shouldn't he feel that way?"

"I don't know. I mean, I know how he feels about us, but I never realized it went that deep."

"Well, Ryker has always been a mystery. At least you know how he feels about you."

"And you. He feels the same way about all you guys."

"I guess so. Listen, baby, I didn't come in here to talk about Ryker. I came in to be with you."

Jill leaned in and kissed him. "Is Ryker serious?"

"About what?"

"Arresting everyone who's helping Toscano?"

"Yeah. Including Galina. She tops his list."

"I don't understand Toscano. Mike, if he wanted to kill me, why didn't he? Why did he just leave the rose and the note?"

"What did the note say again?" Mike asked.

Jill got up and went into the bathroom to retrieve the rose and note from the garbage can.

Mike grinned as she handed them to him and climbed back into bed.

"I hope not all your flowers end up in the garbage," he said.

"Not all of them. Just the ones that give me the creeps. No more roses, okay?"

"You got it." Mike read the note again. "Sounds like he's trying to prove something."

"Well, he's certainly proved it. Mike, his actions don't make any sense."

Mike was thoughtful. Finally, he said, "Yeah, babe, to me they do. This note wasn't just for you. He's also showing me how close he can get. I have a hunch I know why he didn't try to kill you tonight."

"Why?"

"Because I was at Terry's."

Jill was confused. "I thought that's what he wanted. To get me alone and make his move."

"Maybe in the beginning." Mike rose to his feet and began to pace. It was starting to make sense. Mike turned to face her. "When he first started calling you, what was your impression of him?"

"He's nuts."

Mike grinned as he sat down. "Besides that. What did you believe it was all about? Love or hate?"

"Well, if those are the choices. Love in a twisted way. I mean, who does a self-proclaimed savior, save? The ones he thinks he loves."

"Exactly. When he called yesterday, I got him to admit a few things. One of them was he wants to kill you. However, he also said I might get to watch."

"Watch? You'd kill him."

"True, I would. However, can a guy as far gone as Toscano is believe I would try or would he believe he's too powerful to be stopped." "Wait a minute. You've lost me."

"In the beginning, it wasn't personal. He was daring me to stop him because we all thought I was the first cop on the scene. You don't alienate your co-conspirator so to speak by going after his wife."

Jill was totally confused. "But, that's what he's been doing."

"Not really. Until yesterday, he wanted to 'save' you. You were the Chosen One. That means one of two things. Even Galina wasn't sure which reason he would have to go after you.

"Reason one, a sacrifice. As scary as that sounds, that is one option.

"Reason two, what a better person to bring over to the dark side than someone like you."

"Wait a minute. If I was the one he wanted to bring over. Who was he going to be the sacrifice?" Seeing the look in Mike's eyes, she asked, her eyes wide, "You?"

"Think about it. A cop as a sacrifice. One, it pushes you right over the edge and two, it shows the world that not even a cop's safe from this madness."

"And now, because I didn't talk to him."

"He did call it a betrayal. Now, baby, it's reversed. Either way, in his mind, he wins. He gets his sacrifice and he brings someone over."

"He's sick. If he thinks he can get away with this. What if you still don't."

Mike leaned in and kissed her. "We'll catch him, babe. You have to believe that."

"Want to know what I want?"

"What?"

"I want to forget, for one night, that any of this is happening. I want to forget Toscano and how much he scares the hell out of me."

"Mike, I want to make love to you. All night if you have the stamina for it."

Grinning as he traced a line down her jaw. "I have the stamina," he assured her. "Are you sure."

Jill pulled him to her and kissed him. "I'm sure," she replied. "I need you, Mike. Can't we forget, for at least tonight, there's no one else? Please?"

Mike brushed the hair from her eyes. "You know you never have to ask."

Jill took his hand in hers and said, "Tonight, I do. Lately it's been.."

Mike kissed her hand. "I know, baby. I'm sorry."

"It's not just you, Mike. I haven't exactly shown enthusiasm lately."

Mike looked at her. "What's wrong, baby?"

"I feel like if this goes on much longer, I'm going to lose you." Jill looked at him with tears in her eyes. "I don't ever want that to happen. I can't."

Mike pulled her into his arms. "You won't. Nothing's going to happen. This time tomorrow, Toscano will be behind bars and our lives can get back to normal."

"What ever that is. Mike, I don't want to talk about this any more. All I want is you."

Mike gently, hungrily kissed her. Jill responded as greedily. She needed him so badly. Especially since Toscano broke in tonight.

Mike slowly inched her nightgown off her shoulders as he planted kisses. He needed her as much as she needed him. He had come so close to losing her, losing everything he ever wanted.

Jill reached for him and pulled him down, ripping his shirt open.

"Please, Mike," she pleaded. "I need you."

Mike was starting to take off his jeans when the telephone rang, destroying the moment.

Jill tried to stop him as he got off the bed. "Don't answer it," she said, grabbing his arm. "Just."

"I have to," Mike said, gently pulling his arm out of her grip. He went to the receiver as Jill snatched up her robe, angrily threw it on and stormed out of the bedroom, slamming the bedroom door closed behind her.

Mike grimaced, as he said, "This better be good."

"I told you I could get to her, Danko," Toscano said. "Toscano, I swear to you, you're a dead man."

"Did Jill like my rose?"

"You know something, Toscano, I don't even know why I'm wasting my time with you. You have no guts. You're a coward. Only cowards do what you're doing. Hiding in the shadows. Wanna know what'll get my attention? Try taking me on. Just you and me. You leave Jill out of it."

"Can't do that, Danko. I've waited a long time for her. She and I will be one."

"She'll never be what you want her to be. So back off or you'll live to regret it."

"Oh really? I don't think."

"You're not in control of this conversation. Go to hell, Toscano. By the way, tell Galina to enjoy her freedom while it lasts."

"What are you talking about?"

"You're so damn smart. Why don't you figure it out."

Mike slammed the receiver down, then he shoved the phone down onto the floor. Taking a deep breath to calm down, he went in search of his wife.

He found her in the living room staring out the sliding glass doors. She didn't turn around when he entered.

"I'm sorry, babe," he said.

"Sorry doesn't cut it, Mike. Not tonight."

Mike sighed. He knew he was in trouble the minute he reached for the telephone. What he didn't realize was how much he had hurt Jill with his choice. He was about to find out.

"Will you at least turn around and look at me?" he asked. "I deserve that much."

Jill turned around angrily. "Right now, you don't deserve much of anything. I asked for one night, Mike. One night to forget you were a cop. You couldn't even give me fifteen minutes."

"What if it was Ryker telling me."

"But it wasn't Ryker was it? It was Toscano as it always is. What did he tell you this time? He's sorry he missed you? He's determined to kill me? What did he tell you that was more important than us?"

"Will you knock it off? I don't need this right now!"

"I needed you! Lucky me! As usual, you weren't there!"

Mike knew this was coming. Jill had taken what happened tonight way to calmly. "How the hell was I suppose to know Toscano would break in?"

"I'm not talking about that, damn it! I was talking about what happened just now! I wanted, no needed to make love to you. I thought that was what you wanted too! After all, you haven't laid a hand on me in four days. How do you think that makes me feel?"

Mike stared at her. Here they were, in the middle of some psycho's twisted game and she's bitching about the lack of sex in their marriage. He must be losing his mind.

Finally, he said, "Christ, Jill when did you want me to make love to you? During, before or after your nightmare? After I threw Terry out on his ass last night? After Ryker."

"I just want you to love me," Jill interrupted. She said it so softly, Mike didn't think he heard her. He did notice the tears streaming down her face as she turned away from him.

Without a word, Mike approached her. Gently, he turned Jill to face him and reached to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"I do love you, baby," he said. "God, you're the most important thing in my life worth caring about."

"You have a funny way of showing it."

"I know and I'm sorry. I promise, when this is over, I'll take you somewhere for a nice long weekend. You deserve that."

When Jill didn't reply, he said, "Isn't that what you want?"

"I want you, Mike."

"You have me, baby."

"Not all of you. Even when you're here, your minds on Toscano and what he may or may not be doing. He has eighty percent of you while I get twenty. Call me selfish, but I want a hundred percent. I was hoping that's what I would get tonight. As usual, everyone else got it. Ryker, Toscano, Terry. When is it going to be my turn?"

Mike sighed. He didn't realize what his obsession with Toscano was doing to her. Some how he had to change that.

Pulling her into his arms, he said, "I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean to shut you out. Hell, I didn't even realize I was doing that."

"Well, you are. It hurts, Mike. I know you're trying to protect me, but every day that goes by is a day that pulls you further away from me. I'm scared that I'm going to lose you."

Mike kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry I make you fell that way, Jill. You have to believe I love you. Even if I'm too stupid to show it. I promise I'll try harder not to choose Toscano over you. I don't want to lose you. Especially like this. Please, will you forgive me?"

Jill looked at him. He looked so sad, she didn't have the heart or the right to say no. Not that she would have. She knew she was being unfair to him. Mike was trying so hard to keep it all together. Maybe harder then she was.

"I forgive you," she said. "Can you forgive me?"

"For what? You didn't do anything wrong."

"Yes, I did. I had no right to be angry."

Mike ran his hands up and down her arms. "You had every right in the world. You asked for one night. That isn't much to ask for. I had no right to let Toscano or anyone else take that away from you. For that, I'm deeply and truly sorry."

Jill clung to him as he held her tight. "I love you, Mike," she said. "I should just be grateful for what I have right now."

"You deserve better, babe. You deserve more. I promise, I will make this up to you. I don't know how, but I will make it up to you."

Jill forced a smile. "Don't make promises you can't keep, Danko. Just promise me, when this is over, I'll get my husband back. Right now, that's the only promise I want."

"You have it. I love you, babe. Please, don't ever forget that. Toscano is making me crazy right now, but it doesn't change how I feel about you."

Jill pulled away and turned back to the glass doors. Suddenly she felt chilled and not because of the cold.

Finally, she looked at Mike. "Is all this going to end, Mike? Is Ryker really going all out?"

"After Toscano broke in tonight, when Ryker saw how close I came to losing you tonight, he's pulling out all the stops. There's not going to hole deep enough for that sick son-of-a-bitch to slither into. We're gonna get him, baby. It's just a matter of time."

"The evidence you have, will it be enough to send him to death row?"

"The D.A. thinks so."

"What do you think?"

Mike smiled as he gently tugged on a lock of Jill's hair. "I think I should start showing my wife just how much I deeply love her."

Jill looked at him, hope clearly evident in her eyes. "You don't have to."

"I want to. This time, I'm gonna get it right. I may not have been able to give you one night, but I'll give you as much as you want."

"As if we had no tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Even though we'll have a lot of 'em."

"Sometimes, I wonder," she muttered.

Mike ignored her comment as he bent his head down and kissed her. Gently at first and then more passionate as Jill responded. Gathering her into his arms, carried her all the while kissing her to the bedroom.

Tonight, he was determined to make all of her fears disappear and to show her the love she should have been given for days.

When Jill saw the telephone on the floor, she knew, for a few hours anyway, Mike was all hers. Heart, body and soul. For now, it was enough. *** Later that night, Mike was jerked awake when Jill, in her restless sleep kicked him. Sitting up, he turned on the light. Jill was in the midst of a violent nightmare.

He reached down to wake her up when she suddenly sat up and screamed. He started to pull her into his arms when Jill lashed out at him, punching him wildly.

"Don't touch me!" she screamed. "Don't hurt."

Realizing she was still dreaming, Mike said, "Jill, it's me. It's Mike. You're having a bad dream."

Suddenly Jill stopped fighting as she realized who was holding her. "Mike?" she asked, confused.

"You were having a nightmare," Mike explained, as he pulled her closer. "I tried to wake you up."

"Did I hit you?" Jill asked, mortified when she saw the rising bruise on his cheek and eye.

"Yeah. Don't worry about it. I've had worse."

Jill burst into tears as he held her. "I'm so sorry, Mike," she cried. "I didn't mean."

"I know, baby." Mike held her as she buried her face in his chest. "It was just a bad dream. You're safe now."

Mike rubbed her back as she slowly tried to pull herself together. She'd had nightmares before, but never so violent, at least in her mind as the one she'd had tonight. The fact that she'd lashed out at Mike, the man she loved, devastated her.

Finally, when her tears subsided, she looked up at him and said, "Can you forgive me? I never."

Mike kissed her tenderly. "Baby, you were still dreaming. You had no idea who you were hitting. I'll survive. Okay?" When Jill didn't reply, Mike said, "You want to talk about it?"

Jill roughly pulled away from and got out of bed. "No!" she said. "I don't want to talk about it! I don't want to relive it! I don't even want to think about it!"

"Jill, it might help if you."

"No! You would only end up hating me! I can't."

Mike got out of bed and went to her. As he pulled her into his arms she started to shake.

"It was a dream, Jill. I could never hate you. You've got to believe that."

"I'm going to get some ice for your eye." Jill pulled away and headed for the kitchen with Mike hot on her heels.

"Jill, will you forget about the eye."

"I can't. Everyone at the station will think."

"I don't care what people think. Jill, all I care about is you. Talk to me. Please. It can't be that bad."

"You have no idea, Mike. It felt so real."

Mike pulled her into his arms. "It was just a nightmare. It wasn't real."

"He was raping me," Jill blurted, burying her face in his chest. "In the dream, he was raping me. I tried to fight him."

Mike felt a knot in the pit of his stomach. God, he thought what is going on in that head of hers?

Gently, he pulled away and looked at her. She was clearly terrified. "Is that why you came out swinging? You thought."

Jill nodded. "When I felt your arms around me, all I could see was Toscano. I'm so sorry, Mike. Please believe me."

Mike leaned down and kissed her. "I know, babe. It was just a horrible dream you never should've had."

He led her to the couch and sat down. "Start at the beginning," Mike said. "You talk about it, maybe you'll feel better."

Jill looked at with tears in her eyes. "How can I feel better knowing I had hit you?"

"Babe, it wasn't me you were hitting. Jill, do you think that's what he's going to do to you?"

"When you told me he had broken into our apartment last night, I was so grateful I didn't wake up. There's no telling what he would've done." Jill looked at Mike. She needed to know the truth. She needed to know everything. "Were the victims." "Yeah, babe. They were raped before being killed. Some were worse than others depending on how much they fought him. Alex fought like a tiger. That's why."

"I hate him, Mike. I hate what he did to four families, what he's doing to us. I'm never going to let him do that to me. I'll kill him first."

Mike pulled her close. "I'll never let him get that close again. I'm sorry I left you alone last night. It'll never happen again."

"I told you, it's not your fault. Toscano's crazy. He doesn't." Jill looked into Mike's eyes. "You don't hate me because of."

He gently kissed her. "It was the nightmare from hell, babe. How could I hate you for that?"

"Well, all the shrinks say."

"Who cares what the shrinks say? Half of 'em are crazier than their patients. No one knows you better than I do. This wasn't intentional. I gotta tell you something, though."

"What?"

Slowly Mike grinned. "You have one hell of a right hook."

Jill forced a smile. "When is this going to end? What if everything Ryker and Taggert had found out about him or will find, doesn't put him on death row? I can't go through this again."

"I know, baby and I won't put you through this. We'll get him. Maybe not tomorrow, but we'll get him."

"What about Miss Galina? With the threat of going to jail about to hang over her, what if she still won't help?"

"She'll help or get charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree as well as accessory to murder in the first degree."

"She's not killing anyone, Mike. Will all of that stand up in court?"

"Not only will it stand up in court, but she can get a hefty prison sentence. Listen, babe, she knew what he was going to do. She claimed it was all talk. Even if it was, she should've gone to the police. Especially after the first murder. Instead, she took off. She hasn't even called us with an address. Galina is helping him, Jill and I want her. If it wasn't for her, you wouldn't be going through this." "She's loyal, Mike and probably confused."

"Why are you defending her?"

Jill thought about it. Finally she turned to face him. "I don't know. Maybe it's because if it was you, I'd do what ever I could to protect you."

Mike stared at her in disbelief. "Even at the expense of four lives, you would still protect me? Why?"

"A) because I love you and B) I don't think you could be capable of four horrible murders. Maybe that's it, Mike. Maybe she can't be convinced he's a cold-blooded, sadistic killer."

"After tomorrow, she's gonna believe it. Ryker's determined to nail Toscano no matter what the cost."

Jill tried to stifle a yawn. She was so tired that she could barely keep her eyes open, but going back into the bedroom was something Jill wasn't ready to do.

As if reading her mind, Mike said, "You want to sleep out here? I'll make up the bed if you want."

Jill looked at him gratefully. "You don't mind?"

Kissing her passionately, he said, "I'll sleep on hot coals if it would make you feel safer."

Jill smiled. "You don't need to do anything that drastic. I'll go get some sheets. Do you want a blanket?"

"Yeah. As long as you promise not to hog it all."

"Scouts honor."

Mike kissed the inside of her wrist. "You were never a scout," he said, with a smile.

"I always wanted to be."

Jill stood up and headed for the couch as Mike watched her. Hopefully this time tomorrow, Jill's nightmares both real and imaginary will be over. *** The next morning Mike entered the station, wearing sunglasses to cover his black eye after he promised Jill that he would. It wasn't because he was afraid of what anyone would think, it was because he never could say no to her. As usual, lately, he missed briefing and headed for Ryker's office after he changed into his uniform.

He knocked on the door and poked his head in. "Can I see you for a minute?"

"Come in," Ryker said. "What's with the sunglasses?"

Mike took them off as he sat down. Seeing the look on Ryker's face when he saw the black eye, the younger man explained, "Jill had a nightmare early this morning about Toscano. She was still asleep when I started to hold her. She freaked out. It was an accident."

"Is she okay?"

"For now, yeah. Who knows what tonight will bring, though."

Ryker shook his head as he leaned back in his chair. "I'm sorry you two are going through this."

"Lieutenant, I was dealing with it until Toscano dragged Jill into it. Every time she closes her eyes, she sees him. And her mind, God, it's like her worst fears are coming to the surface. Especially when she's asleep. Like when Toscano broke in last night. I thought she was okay. I mean as okay as can be expected, but she dreamed Toscano was raping her."

"God. Is that why she lashed out?"

"Yeah. In her dream, she was literally fighting for her life. Sir, she didn't know the women had been raped before they were killed. I never told her, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. It's gotta stop. I don't know how much more she can take."

"Did you tell her about the doll?"

"No way and I hope she never finds out. That's why I don't want her to testify. If we ever get Toscano to court. I can't put her through any more of this. She doesn't deserve it."

"You right, she doesn't. Today, it will end for both of you. Sanborn went to pick up Miss Galina. She's going to spend some time in jail thinking about her actions.

"Taggert is got a warrant to search her apartment. If we find on piece of evidence that shows that Toscano had spent five seconds in her apartment, she will be charged with aiding and abetting, accessory before and after the fact as well as harboring a wanted man. The D.A. is going to throw the book at her." "What about Toscano?"

"If she doesn't turn him over, we will turn every dive in this town upside down until we find him. The car he's driving and the tag number is being broadcast every fifteen minutes."

Before Mike could reply, Ryker's phone buzzed. Pressing a button on the speaker, he said, "Yeah, Older, what is it?"

"Sanborn just came in with Miss Galina and Taggert is on line one."

"Have Sanborn put her in room two and not to leave her alone. Get the DA down here. Did she call a lawyer?"

"Yes, sir. He's on his way."

"Good. Let them stew for a few minutes. Older call Detective Austin and tell him to bring down those pictures Danko gave us. I want her to see first hand, what her 'friend' has done."

"Yes, sir."

Pressing another button, Ryker said, "Go ahead, Sam."

"I'm at Galina's apartment and guess what I found?"

"Toscano was at her place last night and every night this week?"

"Yeah. The doorman and the desk clerk will testify to it."

"Good. That's all I need. I'll call you with that bastard's address and the D.A. will get a warrant to search every square inch inside and out as well as his car. Keep your people close by."

"Yes, sir."

Ryker hung up and looked at Mike. "Let's go give that woman a reality check."

Mike grinned. "Yes, sir."

The two men left Ryker's office. Older met them and said, "The D.A. has the pictures and her lawyer's waiting for you in room 2."

"Good. Let's see which one loses their breakfast first," Ryker said. Turning to Mike, he said, "Would you like to do the honors?"

"You bet."

"The what are we waiting for?"

The officers entered the room where they found everyone either sitting or standing.

When Buck saw Mike's black eye, the younger man said, "A nightmare."

The older cop nodded in understanding. His ex-wife was prone to them. He glared at the back of Galina's head.

"Lieutenant," Lanie said, "I demand to know why I've been arrested. I did not kill those women."

"You didn't stop him either," Ryker said, as he and Mike sat down. "Nor did you call us to report him. That makes you an accessory. You have also let him into your apartment after we specifically told you we wanted him brought in. That constitutes aiding and abetting. Did you think this was a joke? A game we concocted for your amusement?"

"No. Of course not, but."

Ryker reached for the envelope as he said, taking the pictures out and tossing them in front of her. "Does that look like a game to you, Miss Galina? A week ago that mess were two women who loved life. Toscano destroyed that. Danko, would you like to explain to Miss Galina, who these two women were?"

"Gladly," Mike said. "They're unrecognizable, but a week ago, two of these women were friends of my wife. One she went to nursing school with. She had closely worked with both of them. Both smart, compassionate, fun- loving women with futures. A third girl was a nursing student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As was the fourth girl. Just because she was a hooker doesn't mean her life wasn't worth something to someone. Your boyfriend took their lives for no reason except to feed his own sadistic ego. They all deserved better!"

"Look, I'm sorry."

Mike pounded the table with his fist as he angrily stood up. "Sorry doesn't cut it! You want to tell their families how sorry you are, go for it! Just don't expect them to forgive you!

"You knew before the first girl was killed, what Toscano was going to do and you did nothing to stop him! You are as guilty for what he has done as he is! The two of you destroyed four families who will never get over this! Not to mention what the hell this is doing to my wife! Not only has she lost two friends to this sick son-of-a-bitch, but she's next on his list! If you think, for one minute, her life is normal, think again! You could have ended all of this before it began! Instead you ran away! And that, lady, makes you guilty as hell! Where is he?"

Lanie stared at the pictures. Until now, she believed Nick when he said that he had nothing to do with the killings. She could not believe someone she had grown up with could be capable of such madness.

She looked across the table at Mike. He hated her, she could see that and Lanie couldn't blame him. Right now, she hated herself, too.

"1092 Ventra Cove Road," she said. "That's his new place."

"Is he there now?" Ryker asked, as the District Attorney picked up the phone that was already in the room and made a call to the judge who had issued the earlier warrant for Lanie's apartment.

"I don't know where he is," Lanie admitted. "I swear to God, I don't know. He was gone when I woke up this morning.

"The judge just signed the warrant," the D.A. said, hanging up the phone. "He's sending it out by messenger who was in the office waiting."

"What happens to my client now?" Galina's attorney asked, speaking up for the first time.

"She's going to be booked as an accessory to murder in the first degree. See you in court counselor."

The District Attorney headed out of the room followed by Ryker.

As Mike headed out, Lanie said, "Officer Danko?"

"What?"

"I'm sorry."

"Save it. Maybe Jill will forgive you, but I never will."

Mike left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Ryker was waiting for him. "Let's go get this bastard." *** A half an hour later, Ryker, Mike, Taggert with his detectives and uniformed officers arrived at Toscano's beachfront home. Running to the front door as some officers ran for the back, Taggert, Ryker and Mike, guns drawn, pounded on the door.

"Police officers," Ryker said. "Search warrant."

When no one responded, Ryker nodded and Mike with all the force he could muster, not to mention the anger he was feeling, he easily kicked the door in.

The police rushed through as several others came in from the back door.

"He's not here," one of the detectives said, after a quick room to room search.

"Okay," Ryker said. "Let's do this right. Search and bag."

"Lieutenant," Taggert said, from one of the rooms, "you better come and see this."

"You all know what to do," Ryker snapped. "Get started."

As the detectives and uniform officers got to work, Ryker and Mike went in search of Taggert.

They found him in room where the windows were painted black, not letting an inch of sunlight.

A pentagram had been painted on the wooden floor with black candles all around it.

Across from the three officers, was an alter similar to the ones seen in churches. Behind the alter, tacked and taped were pictures of Jill, most of which were taken at the hospital as she was coming and going.

"Christ Almighty," Mike said, feeling sick to his stomach.

"Jill didn't know she was being photographed?"

"Didn't have a clue. God, she's gonna go nuts. Lieutenant, this goes way beyond Satanism."

"You're right, Danko, it's an obsession. The question is, how long has this been going on? I'm beginning to think it's a lot longer than we ever knew about."

"Lieutenant, Serge," another voice called out. "We found the room where the killings took place."

The three officers left the first room and entered the next. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that this was the room where at least three of the women may have been killed.

Taggert had been guessing that the first killing to place in Toscano's car then dumped in the gutter where he claimed he found her.

Blood was everywhere. Handcuffs dangled from the bedpost to insure the women could not escape.

A knife, possibly used in the last two killings, was placed on a nightstands. The windows in this room were also painted black.

"It's sound proof," a detective explained. "Not that he needed to bother. There isn't another house for at least half a mile."

Ryker shook his head. In all the years on the force he never dealt with anyone like Toscano before and he hoped to hell he never will again. Not even Jack the Ripper was this nuts and he was crazy as a loon.

"I want this place and Galina's apartment staked out round the clock," Ryker snapped. "As soon as anyone sees him, bring him down. I don't care how hard, just make sure it goes by the book."

"What now, Lieutenant?" Mike asked, a bit discouraged.

"We go back and talk to Miss Galina. She has to know where he hangs out when he's not trolling for victims."

"I know one place, but according to Terry, since he and Chris have been at the hospital, they haven't seen him."

"Has he called?"

"Not that I know of. Yesterday, the only calls we got were at the apartment."

Ryker was thoughtful. "Did Toscano see Webster or Owens the night you met him?"

"I'm not sure. It was badly lit. Why?"

"Is it possible he knows they're cops?"

"I don't see how." Suddenly something dawned on him. "Lieutenant, I think I know where he's hanging out. The diner across from the hospital. Yesterday, I took Jill there for lunch. Terry and Chris tagged along and I told them what was going on with Toscano. He could've been close enough to hear us, even though I didn't see him."

"That'll do it. Let's go talk to the staff. Maybe somebody will remember him."

Mike followed Ryker out of the house. As they got into Mike's unit, neither man saw Toscano watching them and the activity going on inside his house.

He could see time was running out. Something had happened for Satan to abandon him like this. The police never should have gotten this close.

"I have to take the control back," he muttered.

Suddenly, he realized there was only one person who could help him.

He ran back to his car, which he had hidden off the road, got in and headed for Memorial Hospital.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Jill was about to take a break when Chris and Terry approached her. She smiled at them.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi," Terry replied. "Hear from Mike yet?"

"No. Is that a good sign?"

"I have no idea. What about Toscano?"

Jill shook her head. As far as she was concerned, she never wanted to hear from him again.

"Now that," Chris said, "is a good sign."

"I don't know about that," Jill replied. "Can you guys take a break?"

She desperately needed to talk to someone and Terry and Chris were the next best thing to her husband with Ryker a close third.

Terry looked around nervously. "Is Attila the Hun around?"

Jill laughed. One of the senior nurses had been assigned to make sure Chris and Terry actually worked and she took her assignment very seriously. As long as the two officers were within shouting distance of Jill, they did everything orderlies were hired to do.

"She's on lunch at the moment, so you safe," Jill replied.

"In that case, let's go grab a cup of coffee."

Jill led the way to the break room where she poured everyone a cup of coffee.

Once they were seated, Jill said, "I don't know if it's a good thing not hearing from Toscano or a bad thing."

"What do you mean?" Terry asked, as he gratefully sipped the coffee.

"Well, when he calls I know he's focused on me or Mike. When he doesn't, it makes me wonder if maybe he found another woman to hunt down and."

"Jill," Chris said, 'you can't let Toscano do this to you. It'll eat you alive."

"Does Mike feel the same way?" Terry asked.

"I don't know," Jill replied. "I know he feels guilty after every call. As if he should be able to reach through the telephone and knock him senseless. Lately, he gets off the phone feeling angry. I can see it in his eyes. Sometimes he'll tell me what Toscano said, sometimes he tells me to drop it. It's the same way with the 'gift' Toscano left me yesterday. Mike won't tell me what was in it."

"Jill," Terry said, "you really, truly don't want to know."

"Why? Because it'll give me nightmares? News flash, Terry, I'm already having them in case you failed to notice."

Because of the design of the apartment building they all lived in, Terry's bedroom is against the Danko's bedroom. Needless to say, Terry hears everything that goes on, which leads to very interesting speculation. If anyone doubted the love the Mike and Jill had for each other, all they had to do was see Terry. He had no doubts. Sometimes, interrupted sleep, but no doubts.

"I noticed," Terry said. "At three o'clock this morning, I noticed big time."

Jill grimaced. "I'm sorry."

Terry waved away her apology. 'Forget it, I'll just wear earplugs tonight. Heavy duty ones. If I don't hear the alarm tomorrow, I'm blaming you."

"I'll come in and pour cold water over your head," Chris quipped. "That'll wake ya up."

"You do that and Ryker's gonna need to find me a new partner 'cause I'm gonna send ya to China with a huge footprint tattooed to your backside. That is if I don't shoot you first. Don't make me shoot you."

Jill was laughing. That was just what the doctor ordered. "You two are nuts. No wonder Mike drives by himself. You two would drive him crazy."

"Yeah, well at least we don't have to drive Ryker around all day long," Terry said. "That would drive me crazy and since I'm half way there with this one, I don't need the added grief."

Just then a nurse poled her head inside the room and said, "Jill, you have a phone call."

Jill stiffened. Taking a deep breath, she asked, "Is it Mike?"

"I don't know. Want me to find out?"

Remembering what had happened to Alex, Jill rose to her feet. "No, I'll take it in here."

"Okay. He's on line one."

Jill went to the wall phone, pushed a button and said, "This is Mrs. Danko. Can I help you?"

"They're closing in on me, precious," Toscano said. "Only you can help stop them."

Terry and Chris were watching Jill. When they saw her clutch the receiver, Chris got up and said, "I'll get a trace."

As he left, Terry mouthed the words 'keep him talking' to Jill and held up two fingers.

Jill nodded as she turned back to the receiver. "Why would I want to help you? I loath you for what you're putting me and my husband through."

"You have to help me. You're my only hope."

"And you're a psycho who deserves everything you get. I wouldn't help you if you were the last man on this planet. I would rather die first."

"You keep pushing this and you will. I swear it."

Suddenly Jill realized for the first time since this whole nightmare started that Toscano was running scared.

"You know something, Toscano," she said. "You really must be crazy if you think for one minute that I would do anything to help you. I'm not Galina. I don't give a damn what happens to you. I hope they shoot you for every thing you have done. You don't deserve anything less."

She looked back at Terry who signaled to keep him talking a while longer.

"Please, Jill," Toscano begged. "Call them off. I don't want to kill you."

"No, you don't want that," Jill said, sarcastically. "You just want to destroy my life, Mike's life and anyone else who gets in your way. Well guess what? It's over. I don't fear you any more. See you in hell."

Jill slammed the receiver down. Looking at Terry, she said, "Was it long enough?"

"Let's find out."

Terry and Jill left the break room and found Chris hanging up the phone on the nurse's desk.

"Well?" Terry asked.

"He called from a pay phone down the street," Chris said. "Ryker, Mike and half the police department are practically on top of him. It should be over soon."

Jill wanted to believe what Chris was saying, but until she saw Toscano in handcuffs, she wasn't going to celebrate yet. She looked at her two friends.

"Do you think we can see it from down stairs?" she asked.

Terry and Chris exchanged looks. They were armed so she would be well protected in case Toscano headed for the hospital.

"Why not," Terry said. "Just keep an eye out for Attila the Hun."

Jill smiled as she led the way to the elevators. When they reached the parking lot, they saw almost two dozen police cars and unmarked cars blocking off the entrance.

The uniformed officers and detectives were behind the doors, guns drawn aimed at a single person at a pay phone staring at them as if they were not there.

When Jill saw Mike and Ryker were among the officers, she was relieved. She knew he needed to be in on this as much as she needed to see it. Neither one could settle for anything less.

Ryker picked up a bullhorn and said, "Toscano, there's no place for you to go. Throw down your weapon, kneel on the ground with your hands interlaced behind your head."

"Where's Jill?" Toscano demanded. "She needs to be here."

"If you mean Mrs. Danko, she's not going anywhere near you. Now, you have five seconds to comply."

Suddenly Toscano's eyes fell on Jill. Slowly, he smiled and raised the hand that held the gun.

"Say bye-bye, my angel," he said, pulling the trigger.

As soon as Terry saw the raised gun aimed at Jill, he grabbed her around the waist as Chris pulled out his gun and opened fire. But not before Mike and half a dozen other police officers beat him to it. Terry dragged Jill down to the ground as the shots rang out.

When the smoke cleared, Toscano lay withering on the ground in pain. Slowly Jill and Terry stood up as he looked at her.

"We could've had it all," he said, as his body convulsed once and then lay still.

Mike got up from his position behind the door and when he saw Jill, he holstered his weapon and without a word, walked over to her and pulled her into his arms as she silently cried.

"It's over, baby," he said, holding her tightly. "It's finally over."

"Danko," Ryker said, approaching the couple, Terry and Chris, "take your wife home. I'll speak with her supervisor. And take the rest of the week off."

With tears in his eyes, Mike swallowed, grateful Jill was safe. "Thank you, sir." Gently pulling away, he looked at Jill and said, "Let's go home." *** A few weeks later, the Danko's pulled into a small parking lot at a beach. Mike turned off the engine and turned to face Jill.

"You sure you want to do this?" he asked.

She smiled at him. Finally Jill said, "I have to, Mike. If for no other reason than getting him out of my head."

"We can always find another beach."

"I know, but call me stubborn. I don't want to. I want to take this one back."

Mike leaned in and kissed her. "You sure you don't want me to go with you?"

"I'm sure. I have to do this on my own. To know for sure."

"Okay, but I won't promise to sit here and wait for long."

Jill traced a line down his jaw and said, her eyes sparkling, "I don't expect you to."

She got out of the car and started down the beach as Mike watched her. This was the last part of the nightmare Jill had experienced to overcome.

Her dreams had stopped as of the night before and the case against Galina was finished. She had pleaded no contest to all charges and was ordered to serve no less than one year and no more than five for her participation in aiding Toscano and his crimes. Once she got out of jail, Galina faced another year of probation before her slate was wiped clean.

Mike wasn't sure if he would ever forgive her for what she had helped Toscano do, but he didn't hate her any more. He felt sorry for her. Toscano was all she had left and now he was dead. That and the fact that she would have to live with the guilt was enough to make anyone feel sorry for her. Hopefully, someday she would be able to get beyond all of this and have as happy a life as he and Jill did.

Mike got out of the car and made his way to where Jill was standing at the water's edge.

As he wrapped his arms around her waist, Mike kissed the side of her neck as he asked, "How you doin'?"

Jill leaned against him and closed her eyes, letting his scent wash over her.

Finally she turned to look at him. Seeing the tears in her eyes, Mike said, as he gently wiped them away, "What's wrong, baby?"

Slowly, Jill smiled as she reached up and traced a line down his jaw line. "Nothing," she said. "For the first time in weeks, everything's perfect."

"Yeah? Everything?" "He lost, Mike. I don't see him any more. All I see, when I close my eyes, is you."

Mike pulled her close and with tears of his own, he said, "Welcome back, baby. I sure missed you."

"I missed me, too. I don't think I could've gone through this without you. Thank you."

He brushed the hair from her face. "For what?"

"For being patient with me. I know it's been hard on you."

"Hey, I love you. You've gone through hell these last few weeks. I didn't expect you to bounce back right away."

"To be honest, coming here had been the hardest part. I thought I would see Toscano behind every boulder and in every cave."

"And you don't?"

"No. Not anymore. All I see is us. For me, now it's finally over."

"I'm glad, babe. I know how much this beach meant to you. Can I ask you something?" When Jill nodded, Mike asked, "What would you have done if it didn't work? If coming here still scared you?"

Jill thought about it. Finally, she said, "Look for a another beach I guess. One as secluded as this one. No matter what happened, I wasn't about to let that creature rule my life. I'm glad I don't have to. There's just something about this place. I don't know how to explain it."

Mike kissed her. "You don't have to. I feel it too."

Jill looked at him. "Can we stay here for a little while longer?"

"Sure. We can stay as long as you want."

And that's just what they did as Jill pulled Mike gently down on the sand and they watched the sunset and the sound of the surf wash over them.

THE END