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Friday, June 30, 2017

OLD HABITS DIE HARD Part 3

John stood outside of LaBoulaie waiting for Blair to answer the door. She was taking a while. Of course Manning would come here. He expected him too which is why this was his first stop in his hurt for the fugitive.

John reached to knock the door again but Blair interrupted him before he could.

“John, what’s going on?” She looked him up and down. “What are you doing here?”

John stuck his hands in his pockets and took in Blair’s demeanor. She seemed to be oblivious. But Blair was a great liar. “Can I come in?”

Blair gestured him inside. “Is something the matter?”

“Yeah, something is the matter. Your ex-husband.”

Blair laughed at that. “Which one?”

“You know which one.” John wasn’t in the mood for small talk, not with Manning on the loose and two steps ahead of him.

“Oh God,” she rolled her eyes. “What did Todd do now?”

“The usual. He fled jurisdiction and I figured this would be the first place to look.”

Blair crossed her arms. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, John, but I’ve stopped taking in strays.”

“Manning didn’t come here?”

“Nope.”

John was unconvinced. He knew things between Todd and Blair ran deep. He reeled her in not too long ago when he was lying to her about murder Victor and framing Delgado. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Blair was pissed. John had a way of talking down to her that she didn’t appreciate.

“It’s just that Todd has a way of getting to you.”

He was really starting to piss her off. “After what he did to me? You really think I would give him the time of day after everything?”

“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “Come on, Blair. I know how Manning works. He’s done worse to you before and you always take him back.”

Blair erupted at that. “You don’t know anything about Todd and me, John, so don’t pretend that you do.”

Blair was getting defensive. Manning was definitely here. He just had to find him. John started pacing the room looking for hiding spots. “Didn’t mean to strike a nerve. I just meant that he is a master manipulator.”

“I’m through being manipulated.” Blair could hear the hurt in her own voice. She had spent the last decade or so being manipulated by men. Being used by men. Victor. Spencer. Eli. John even used her. Todd was the most heartbreaking. She opened up her heart to him again after everything, thinking that imprisonment humbled him. Made him realize what was important to him. He would never risk losing his family again, she thought. She couldn’t bear another heartbreak. Not from Todd. Those were the worst ones. But he did it again. Her world came crashing down around her. She felt stupid. She felt used. She felt humiliated. Was Todd playing her again? Was she really that easy of a target now? 

“Is that what Todd did here today?” John knew he was getting somewhere. “Did he come here and beg you to help him? Did he tell you he made a mistake but felt he had no other choice? Did he tell you how much he loved his family? Tell me, Blair.”

Blair looked at the ground. The truth was that Todd probably would have said all those things to her if John hadn’t interrupted them. “Todd isn’t here. Not anymore.”

“He was here? When?”

“Just before you got here,” Blair sighed. “He did just what you said. He came here and looked at me and said he needed my help… I guess I fell for it again.”

John walked towards Blair and lowered his voice. “Where is he, Blair?”

“He’s gone.” She shook her head. “When you were knocking, he wanted me to hide him but I couldn’t. He just begged me to stall you as long as I could so he could escape.” She pointed to the patio doors, indicating that’s where he left.

“Oh, Blair…” John sighed in exasperation and turned his head upward, staring at the ceiling. 
“Where’d he go?”

Blair just shrugged. “I don’t know, John, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to know.”

John rubbed Blair’s arm and headed for the door.

“John, wait!”

John turned back around to Blair. “What?”

“Before you go… please tell me. What did Todd do this time?” Todd didn’t get the chance to tell her and she knew John would give her a straight answer. Maybe a harsher version, but Todd surely would have sugar-coated it.

“He helped with that whole baby swap last year.”

That threw her back. “… What?” She knew that crazy woman’s role in Tea’s eventually heartbreak over her son really being dead. But Todd?

“He helped Heather. He had a hand in all of it. Making a mother think her child was dead. Giving it away to a stranger… but this isn’t exactly news to you, is it Blair? I mean it’s certainly not the first time Manning did something this despicable.”

It was like a stab to the heart. Blair couldn’t believe Todd could do that again. Not after Mexico. The most painful day of her entire life and Todd was responsible for it. But after many months, she believed in his sorrow and forgiveness. It was there. Not in the beginning but certainly after being stranded on an island. She saw his guilt. She forgave him. She believed him when he said he would never do that again.

“Oh Todd…” she started to tear up. How could he?

John noticed her heartbreak in her face. In her posture. He felt bad. He knew what she was thinking of. Maybe it was a good thing. Maybe he finally got through to Blair about Manning. About how he’s never going to change and how he’ll always end up hurting her. “I’m sorry, Blair.”

“Don’t be.” Blair quickly regained her composure. She hated showing weakness. She hated pity. She wiped away a tear. “Thanks for stopping by, John.” She walked him to the door.

“I care about you, Blair. I hate to see him do this to you over and over again.”

“Don’t worry. It will never happen again.” Blair gave him a weary smile and closed the door.
She stood there with her back against the front door. She took a deep breath, wondering if she had just made a mistake.

Todd quietly emerged from the coat closet and approached Blair.  “Let me explain.”

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Todd Manning, Enigma Chapter 1

The man was a puzzle. Years ago he had walked into the infirmary at Statesville prison intent on getting a certain young man to begin therapy. The young man had been full of self-loathing and anger, but the more they talked, the more he recognized a young man who had been damaged at a very young age. Todd had struck a nerve with him, and he had found himself liking the young man. That wasn’t supposed to happen. He had worked for years with sex offenders, and Todd was the first one that Ray had felt the urge to provide more than therapy for. He had wanted to offer protection and friendship, but at the time Todd had too many walls up. He had never been able to figure out what it was about Todd that had made him feel that way, it had just happened. Now years later, he had finally extended his hand in friendship and Todd had taken it.

He had received Todd’s call out of the blue. After seventeen years, he thought he had seen everything until he had started new therapy sessions with Todd. The sessions had been brutal. Together he and Todd and his wife Blair had peeled back many of the layers, that made up Todd. Now a new layer had been added. Blair had called asking for advice. Todd had recently awakened from a coma that had occurred after he was shot. He had taken to shutting himself in his office for long periods of time and she was scared something had happened to him during that long coma. Shortly after receiving Blair’s call, Todd had called on his own and asked for a face to face meeting. Ray had agreed to a meeting for later that afternoon, but he decided to get in touch with Dr. Wolek to find out what he could about Todd’s coma and recovery.

Ray sat waiting for Todd to arrive. He was still going over in his mind what Larry told him about Todd’s injury and subsequent coma. Larry hinted that something unusual had taken place when Todd woke up but then Larry had been called away in an emergency. Now Ray found himself wondering what else had happened to his friend this time.

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Todd got off the phone with Ray. He went looking for Blair, he wondered if she had ever finished the ring to hold the implant. He had been almost afraid to ask, in his mind he kept seeing the one from his dream. In his dream Blair had fashioned a ring with a delicate dragon on top, Todd needed to see the new ring so he could let go of the dream. He had called Ray for that very reason. He couldn’t get rid of the dream. He knew Blair was worried because he was spending so much time in his office, but he had been trying to find out more about Blair’s past. One thing sticking in his head was the need to find Blair’s father. Before his call to Ray, Todd had called Addie. He wanted to talk about Blair and even though Addie’s memories might be somewhat faulty, it was about time he had a proper chat with his mother-in-law. She had agreed to chat with him but had informed him that she had skydiving lessons and they would have to meet in the morning. Todd had been shocked when she said that, but he had agreed to see her the next day.

Blair was singing softly to herself when Todd wandered into the studio. He was still a little pale from his ordeal and she was worried about his state of mind. Todd had only told her snippets of the dream he said he lived while in his coma. All in all, he seemed happy and plans had gone ahead for getting Carlo and Kipling. Todd had informed Bo of the whereabouts of Kipling’s personal torture chamber after he had gotten confirmation from his reporter working inside. Then Jake had come over one evening and they had taken a drive. Blair wasn’t informed where they went, but she was pretty sure it had something to do with Carlo. When Todd had arrived home he had once again gotten quiet. He had also started staying up again and Blair knew it was because he was afraid to sleep. She stopped singing and went to him. “Hello, stranger, what brings you to my lair?”

He smiled shyly, “I was drawn here by your siren’s song Blair. Is that something new for Capricorn?”

“It’s one of the newer songs out there. Just thought I’d see if it would work for me. What really brings you looking for me, Todd?”

Yep, that’s what he loved about her, to the point. She had walked over to him and moved some hair out of his face, Todd backed up a bit. She was distracting as hell, “I was wondering if you’ve finished the ring and case for the implants?" How could he explain his dread to her? She had been hovering since he came home from the hospital and she hadn’t grasped just how traumatic the dream had been. How could he tell her everything that had happened without coming off sounding crazy? The reality of the dream is what bothered him the most. It hung over his head and that was why he needed to see that ring.

Blair was a little hurt when he backed away. Usually, he loved it when she touched his hair why had he pulled back now. She had planned on surprising him with the ring and watch but maybe since it was bothering him she could give it to him now. “They’re finished Todd, I was planning on giving them to you tonight, but if you’ll wait here I’ll get them." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and left the room.

Todd could make out the large blob in the corner of the room and realized it was the piano. He wandered toward it and felt his way around to the bench. Opening it he touched the cool ivories and let his fingers play across them. When he had been little, his mother had played. He could remember sitting and playing with the keys and making funny tunes back then. He closed his eyes and let his fingers begin their meandering. It had been such a long time ago in college when he had taken lessons, wanting to somehow get a little closer to his mother. He had gotten proficient enough to learn a few classical pieces, but he had a love for jazz that only Blair had an inkling of. She had once remarked that she had never figured him for a jazz lover until she had discovered his meager collection of artists. Todd loved the ease of movement jazz offered the player. He sat there and began playing 'My One and Only Love', hearing the saxophone playing in his head. He was deep into the piece before he caught the scent of her perfume behind him and his hands fumbled as he realized she had been listening. He regained his composure quickly and finished the piece bringing the song to an end and then he turned on the bench. “Sorry Blair, I just got lost in the moment.”

Blair was stunned. When she had started back down the hallway with the jewelry, she had been shocked to hear music coming from the room and was wondering if Todd had turned on the in-house stereo system from the room. Nothing had bowled her over more than to walk into the room and realize that Todd was making the music at the piano. “Todd, you never said you knew how to play the piano. That was great."

“It’s not like I hid it, it just never came up, and I haven’t sat down at one in a long time. My mother Bitsy used to play before she left and I decided to learn when I was in college. Not even Peter knew about it. It was just an elective in the middle of my school classes, so he didn’t pay much attention. I don’t know what prompted me to play just now. I guess I’m feeling sentimental for some reason. I’m a fair player, nothing to get excited about, but it relaxes me. I had forgotten how much till now. Did you get the ring?”

“I’ve got it right here. Give me your right hand.” Blair took the ring out of the box and carefully placed it on his ring finger. Since she was holding his hand at the time, even she felt the electric current that went through the hand when the implant came in contact with his skin. The shock sent a little quiver through her and she watched his eyes as they focused on her. Todd had felt the tingle from the ring and his senses came alive as his eyes fastened on Blair. God, it had seemed like years since he had seen her last. He stood up and pulled her into his arms, the ring temporarily forgotten, as his eyes feasted on her features and stopped mesmerized as she licked her lips. He took those moist lips, feeling them give under his assault, her arms wrapped around his neck and she began giving as good as she got. Todd lifted her up on the piano and slowly unbuttoned her blouse, his lips trailing kisses from her neck down, as he removed her bra and fondled her perfect breasts in his hands.

Blair arched in pleasure as he caressed her, then his hands and lips began their journey lower. Blair shivered in delight as he slowly removed her remaining garments, leaving her lying naked atop the piano, feeling the heat rise in her, as he took his time looking at her lying there. Her eyes widened when she realized he intended to take her there, and the feel of the cool piano beneath her did nothing to stop the fire raging in her as he straddled her, and took his sweet time playing his fingers along her like he was playing the piano just moments before. In her head, she heard the melody he had been playing and her body began moving to the rhythm in her head as he played, bringing her to the climax of his song.

Todd raised his head to look at her and saw her eyes half-lidded with pleasure. He kissed her gently and slid off the piano, grateful that it had held up to his lovemaking. Todd had been putting his jeans back on when Blair rolled on her side looking at him utterly unabashed, basking in the afterglow, Blair stretched like a kitten atop the piano, and Todd felt his loins tighten in response to the picture she made especially when she teasingly began to purr. “God Blair, give a man a break." She crooked her little finger and motion him closer. His lovely siren wasn’t fully satisfied and Todd found himself pulling her off the piano and twirling her to the more comfortable couch where, before he knew it, she had stripped him of his jeans and pulled him back on top of her. Later, his strength finally giving out Todd, collapsed beside her breathing hard, but knowing he could do no more. Blair sensed he had reached his limit and held him letting him rest against her.

When his breathing slowed, he levered himself off of her and reached once more for his jeans, holding onto the couch to steady himself. The dizziness he had felt on standing righted itself and he sat on the edge of the couch and watched Blair pad barefoot over to the piano to get dress. She was beautiful and he continued to wonder how he had gotten so lucky. Todd saw her reach down and pick up the second box on the floor near the piano and remembered the piece of jewelry that had given him his sight. He lowered his gaze to his hand and couldn’t stop the gasp that escaped him. It was the ring from his dream. He knew exactly what the second box held. A watch to match the ring, right down to the dragons. What did it mean? It was scary thinking about the coincidence. He prayed that was what it was, some strange coincidence that the ring and watch in his dream matched the ones Blair had just given him. What other answer was there?

Blair heard the gasp and had looked over to Todd to see what the sound had meant. He was staring at the ring and she wondered what had startled him. She had hated using the implants, the thought of letting Todd have any more contact with the things scared her. They had already inflicted so much pain on him, but for some reason, they were allowing him to see. She picked up the second box and walked over to him, handing him the box. His hands were shaking as he opened it and she looked at him with concern. “Todd are you alright? I knew we overdid it. I’ll never forgive myself if you relapse.”

The minute he had seen the watch, Todd’s mind had started to reel. “Samuel! Tom! One of you guys. I need you. This can’t be happening.“

Samuel and the rest of the guys had been staying close ever since Todd had awakened from his coma. He took over immediately as Todd found himself unable to cope at the moment. “Blair, he’s gone for a minute. I can’t explain right now, but it isn’t anything you did.”

“Samuel, I don’t understand. Why did he feel the need to go?”

“You need to give him time. Something happened when we were in that coma. We can’t even help him, except to give him someplace to go. I wish I had an answer just as much as you. I will tell you something about the ring and watch disturbed him, but I don’t know what exactly. He’s called Ray, whatever is going on, has him needing answers. So bear with him.”

Blair sat down next to Samuel, tears in her eyes. “I thought he would like the designs. He’s the master of Dragonheart and I wanted something unique and special to remind him of it.”

Todd reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes. “Blair, I love the ring and the watch. I can’t explain what’s going on. If I tell you, you’re going to think I’ve lost it. Hell, I already think I’ve lost it. I going to go talk to Ray. Hopefully, he’ll be able to help me make sense of all this. I’ll be back later. Thank you for the beautiful pieces you’ve given me to house the implants." Todd left her.


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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

OLD HABITS DIE HARD Part 2

Blair stood there wide-eyed with a hand on her hip, waiting for Todd to make sense.

Todd nervously looked beyond her shoulder to see if there was anyone in the living room. “Are you alone?” The absolute last thing he wanted was to see him there. Last he saw Blair, she went looking for him. What if she found himOh God, please don’t be here.

Blair looked back to where Todd was staring at, wondering what he was looking for. Had he forgotten? Todd ran off her fiancĂ© last winter and now he was here, out of the blue, and asks if she’s alone? The nerve!

Blair turned back to him and squared her shoulders. “Oh yeah, I’m alone.” She clenched her fist and punched him in the face. “Thanks to you, asshole!”

Todd was on the ground. He checked to see if he was bleeding and sure enough, his hand showed that blood was coming from his mouth. Damn, his girl still packed quite a punch. He couldn’t help but smile knowing he taught her that. This is the second time she knocked him off his ass with a punch to the face. The first was a case of mistaken identity, Blair was expecting Max. This time, Todd figured he deserves it. Before he could get to his feet, Blair slammed the door shut. There it was. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

Todd started slamming his fist to the door. “Blair! Blair, please, open the door! Blair!”

She locked the door and was relieved when she heard him stop knocking. Then she realized Todd’s not that easy to quit… and that there was another door inside on the other side of the living room.

She ran through the foyer and the living room to get to those glass doors leading out to the patio but Todd narrowly beat her and squeezed his way in.

“Dammit!” Blair slammed the door shut as Todd laughed and caught his breath.

I guess all that football paid off. “You should be quicker on the uptake,” he smirked.

Blair crossed her arms. “I’ll remember that next time.”

Todd looked to the floor. “There won’t be a next time.” He wasn’t sure he believed that but he desperately wanted to. He always found himself in this position. On the wrong side of the law. Trying to win back people’s trust. He just wanted to disappear now.

Blair noticed Todd’s somber mood. She couldn’t help but feel for him. She never could. No matter how much hurt, betrayal, anger he arose in her, they were still connected. She took a step towards him. “Todd…”

Todd noted Blair’s change of attitude. Five minutes ago, she looked at him like he was the last person in the world she wanted to see. Now, her eyes were searching into his soul. He never felt as bare, as exposed as when she was looking at him like that. He stepped forward so they were only standing mere inches apart. “Are you alone here?” His voice was soft.

“Yes.” Blair knew he was serious. She tucked her hair behind her ear.

Todd realized Blair was no longer wearing that pitiful excuse of an engagement ring. Finally! Tomas was finally no mas. Not the time to gloat about it now. “The kids?” He found it strange that Blair would be in the house all by herself.

“Sam’s on a school trip. Jack and a few of his friends went up to Viki’s cabin for the week.” She 
noticed Todd take a sigh of relief at that. “What’s going on?”

Todd looked into Blair’s eyes. Her big, green eyes. Those eyes that have destroyed him. Those eyes that have saved him. Sometimes filled with rage. Sometimes filled with love. This time, he saw concern. For him! After everything he had done…

He was staring at her. Damn. She knew how well he could read her… but she couldn’t look away. His eyes locked on hers and she couldn’t escape. He had such gorgeous eyes. They were almost gold. 

They would change color depending on his mood. When he was lustful they would turn a feral black. They’d also turn black in his anger. When he was vulnerable, they would brighten a few shades. Last year just before they had made love, his eyes were so bright. She stopped him from moving too fast, much like their first time together. She held his face in her hands and he looked up at her as he saw on the bed. His face was so vulnerable then, almost like a child begging to be lifted of all the lies that were torturing him. She knew something was wrong then. He had the same face now. Something was very wrong.

Oh God. She felt a pit in her stomach. “Is Starr okay?” She couldn’t bear the thought…

Todd was quick to assure her. “Oh, Blair, no, it’s not that. Starr’s fine.” Todd knew that wasn’t completely true. Starr was very hurt when she found out he lied to her about Cole and Hope. Still, he could explain that later. Right now, he just wanted to calm Blair’s nerves about their first-born.
Thank God. So if it wasn’t Starr, what was Todd doing here? And why was he so nervous? “Todd, what’s going on?”

Todd took another deep breath to prepare to tell Blair everything. Here goes nothing.

They were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Shit.

They both turned to the sound at the door.

“Blair, it’s John! Open up, this is an emergency!” He continued to knock at the door.
John was quickly becoming Todd’s least favorite person in the world. And that’s saying something. 

The fact that John married Blair didn’t help with his opinion of the guy. John and his sanctimonious attitude. He’d much rather deal with the likes of Bo Buchanan or John Sykes. John’s fixation on trying to protect Blair from him was beyond irritating. Didn’t he get it? Blair was no damsel. She didn’t need saving. And certainly not from him.

Blair slowly turned back to Todd. “What have you done now?”

His silence was deafening.

Blair went to go answer the door when Todd grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back to him. “I can explain everything. But first, I need you to help me.”

Blair looked back to the door and back again at Todd. His eyes were pleading with her. “Please.”

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thomas Lord: Cloaked Chapter 20

Todd was on the phone with one of his overseas sources, when Addie and Blair arrived back to the penthouse after taking the boys to school. He had gotten some news about Gregor and figured now was as good a time as any to talk to both his wife and mother-in-law.

Blair walked over and gave her husband a kiss, but noticed he was somewhat preoccupied. "Okay, what has you all bothered? Who was that on the phone?"

Todd had almost jumped out of his skin when Blair kissed him, he was so distracted by the latest news he had received. "I was on the phone with my contact in Germany. Blair, I think you, I, and your mother should have a talk. I think we need to get everything out into the open."

Addie had been about to go to her room to relax when she heard Todd's statement. She turned around and said, "So you're going to tell me what you were afraid to tell me before you left for Llanview."

"Yes Addie, you have a right to know everything Gregor Daimler has been up to since he left you all those years ago. Do you still want to know?"

Looking at Blair, Addie realized her daughter knew about Gregor. If her daughter could take the news about her father, then Addie knew she could too. "You go ahead and tell me everything, Todd."

Blair patted the seat next to her and her mother sat down. "Okay Todd what's the latest news about Gregor?" said Blair.

"Two things, Blair, I'm afraid Gregor might be one of Carlo's partners. I sent a picture of Gregor to the reporter who infiltrated Kipling's research facility. He called me a little while ago and informed me Gregor made frequent visits to Kipling's Home. That means Gregor knows Samuel Toddman is Todd Manning and that I just helped convict his two partners. On top of that, the word from my contact in Europe is that he's been moving large amounts of money around. There's something going down on the continent, some are speculating he's getting ready to jump ship from the corporation and his investors are some major players."

"What do you think it means Todd?"

"I think Gregor's running scared. He's trying to liquidate for a fast retreat so he can regroup without his investors being any the wiser. The Feds have just released the Odyssey.  I'm guessing that he's here, close by to that ship, because it's his avenue of escape.  If he thinks his Japanese partners might retaliate against him, because of Hesser's and Kipling's incarceration then he's going to protect himself by disappearing. I just don't think he'll leave without her."

"But you said he had no contact with her on the ward. Why do you think he would still take her with him?" Blair didn't like the idea of her half sister still being in his grasp. There had to be a way to stop Gregor from getting her.

"He'll do it to show he's still in power, and as far as he's concerned she's his property, and he won't let her go." Todd got up and carefully walked to the window. The light seemed a little brighter today. Could the eye doctor have been right? Were his eyes healing? He needed his sight back, he wanted to see Gregor's face when he told him he could leave, but not with Kym.

" Todd, I don't understand. You're saying Gregor was a partner with the same man who hurt you and kept you apart from Blair all these years. Do you think he knew you were married to his daughter?" asked Addie. She was trying to wrap her head around the fact that the man she had known so long ago was now working with criminals and had actually known what had happened to Todd all those years ago. Did Gregor know about Blair? If he did, how had he stood by and watched the man she loved, get hurt? Of course, that presupposed he felt something for his daughter. Just because he might know about her, didn't mean he felt anything at all for her.

"Yes Addie, he knows about Blair but there's something you still don't know about him." Todd paused he didn't want to hurt Addie and what he had to say next was going to. "You remember that article of mine that you read. You told me those men who hurt the girls should be punished and I shouldn't punish myself for their sins. Addie, Gregor is one of the men who is in charge of that ring of men. He's made a lot of profit off the sale of young girls and children around the world."

Addie paled as she began to understand the true scope of Gregor's villainy, then she recalled the other part of the conversation Blair had just had with Todd. "Todd, you said he was trying to leave the country, but he wouldn't leave without her. Who is this person you're talking about? Do you have proof that he has something to do with this awful enterprise?"

"The answer to both your questions is the same. Her name is Kym and she worked for Gregor. Over the last couple of years, she's been house mother to a number of girls kidnapped and trained to be sexual slaves for men around the world. The thing is, she herself was one of his victims back when she wasn't much older than the girls she looked after now. When she was fully trained she was sold to her master, who was Gregor Daimler. He used her because he bought her and she was his property, then he told her the unthinkable. Gregor told her not only did she belong to him but she was his daughter." Todd stopped as he heard the gasp come from where Blair and Addie were sitting. He needed to stop. Just thinking about Gregor doing to Kym, the same as his Father had done to Vicki all those years ago, made him sick.

Addie began to cry softly, she could no longer pretend that what Gregor had done to her had been anything other than rape. He had been the sane one and he had taken advantage of her innocence for his own pleasure. If he was so callous as to sexually use his own daughter to serve and please him, then there wasn't any love in the man for anyone but himself. Blair had been holding her and trying to comfort her and Addie knew why Todd had wanted to spare her. She looked up at her beautiful daughter and was very glad Gregor had not come for her. She smiled tremulously and said. "I'm alright Blair and thankful he didn't attempt to take you when you were young. I don't know what would have become of you or me if he had. How could he do that to his own daughter? Wait a minute. If this Kym is his daughter then that means she's your half-sister, Blair."

"I know Momma, Todd's been doing everything he can to get Kym out of Gregor's clutches since the night of the raid. Kym helped Todd with essential information that enabled the Feds and cops to make an organized raid and save all those girls and children. She had her hearing this morning and we're waiting to get word on the outcome."

"But won't Gregor attempt to get her if she's freed?" asked Addie

"He'll have to go through a couple of federal marshals and John McBain to get her. I don't think he'll make his move today. I think Gregor is trying to find out who Kym's so-called uncle is? That would be me and if Gregor thinks he can have Kym back he needs to think again." Just then the phone rang. Todd answered and listened. He spoke quietly to the person on the other end of the line then he hung up. "Kym is free. Now we keep her that way."

At the news of Kym's release, Blair began to worry about her. "Todd, if she's been released, wouldn't that just make it easier for Gregor to snatch her again."

"Blair as we speak, John should be getting her. I called Cassie after you left and asked her if she could help Kym. I was about to ask you to take me to Cassie's house, it's time all of you met."

"Why didn't you say so sooner. We could have already been there." Blair and Addie rose quickly and offering her arm to Todd, Blair led him from the penthouse while Addie locked up.

Inside the courtroom, just moments earlier, Kym had been told she was to be released. She turned to her lawyer and thanked him for his hard work and then she wondered where she was going to go next. As she looked toward the exit, she spotted Sid and his men but they didn't look like they were making their way to her, in fact, they looked like they were leaving. She felt uneasy about that. She had expected Gregor to have contacted her by now. Why was he allowing her so much freedom? Had he decided to let her go or was he using her for something? That was it, he was using her as bait. Gregor wanted Tom. She looked around and didn't see him anywhere in the courtroom and breathed a sigh of relief. Tom had said he wouldn't be there, but she would bet Sid and his men had hoped to find him there.

John had been watching the proceeding and had seen Sid and his men enter the courtroom. He had turned away from them so they wouldn't realize he was there, they had obviously been looking for someone other than Kym. Todd had been right, they were definitely fixated on finding him. They were so intent on locating Tom that they completely overlooked John. When the Judge had given Kym her walking papers, Sid had departed from the room pulling his phone from his pocket as he left. Ten to one he had called the boss. Sid had reentered the courtroom and spoken quickly to his pals and they had departed. John knew how these things worked. They were going to tail Kym to see if she might lead them to Tom. Well, he could certainly make their job harder.

John talked to one of the extra marshals in the room before approaching Kym. The marshal agreed to help provide a diversion by providing a couple more identical cars to match the one John borrowed from the agency that morning. Hopefully, they would be able to lose any tails Sid might put on Kym. John didn't want to let them get close to Todd, not at this moment. He walked over to her and saw the look of fear which was quickly replaced by recognition.

"You! Are you John McBain?"

"Yes, I 'm here to see you get someplace safe and out of the reach of you boss. If you're ready to go, we're going to leave through a different door." John led her toward the Judge's chamber and soon she was following him down some back stairs.

"You were there the night Tom was, you aided him after he took down Sid. Are you guys friends?" Kym asked. She was eager to find out anything she could about Tom.

"I'm not sure you could call us friends exactly, he and I don't usually mix in the same circles, but I do have a grudging respect for him. What he's done for you and the others has definitely raised my opinion of him a little more. For now, I'm here to make sure you get someplace where Gregor can't find you and to help keep him alive to see another day. He's been wracking up the enemies lately." they reached the garage level of the courthouse and John took a quick look outside and spotted the cars waiting for them. He and Kym entered the second car and they departed the garage.

"Can you tell me more about him? He isn't very talkative about himself. How long has he been blind?" Kym had entered the car and sat as close to the door as she could.  She needed to keep space between her and John or else her resolve might fail her. It was always a chore to control herself in the company of strong men, and John McBain gave off some great vibes, but he was there to protect her. She waited for an answer to her last question. She still was confused by the strange turn of events surrounding Tom's blindness. She hadn't really understood how he could see one minute and be blind the next, but obviously, he hadn't been able to see her the night before. She admired Tom all the more when she realized that he was still standing between her and Gregor and wasn't going to budge, blind or not.

John had gotten behind the wheel, contemplating how best to answer Kym's question. "Tom was blinded several months back and he's been taking entirely too many risks in spite of that fact. The man is a magnet for trouble and he's currently got a price on his head, but he refuses to live his life in the shadows. We've all tried to make him see reason, including his wife, but he won't listen. That's why I'm here, to make sure he continues to survive."

"I see." Kym had known the woman in the warehouse was someone close to Tom and now it appeared she was his wife. Kym felt a brief moment of jealousy but then it was overtaken by fear when she heard John say Tom had a target on his back. Why was he taking more risks for her? She was nothing to him. He should have just washed his hands of her once the trial was over, but Tom was determined to get her free of Gregor no matter what.
"Where are we going?"

"I'm taking you to the house of someone who can help get you into a new life, one where you'll be your own woman and not at Gregor's beck and call. Hang on we've developed a tail, I have to lose him." John began maneuvering through the traffic while keeping an eye on the rearview mirror. He turned down an alley and saw a delivery truck beginning to back up. Gunning it, John cleared the gap with barely a minute to spare and spun out onto the street with the tail lost. He then took a few more turns and found the street Cassie lived on. As he pulled into the driveway he watched a taxi exit. Todd was here.

Kym found herself looking at a beautiful residential home and wondered who John was bringing her to see. They walked to the front door which opened and a lovely woman greeted John and welcomed them in.

"You must be Kym, I'm so glad you made it here safe and sound. My name is Cassie. Let's go into the living room." Cassie wrapped an arm around the young woman's shoulder and realized just how slight she was. The girl was positively shaking. She was obviously worried about what was going to happen next.

Kym didn't know how to act around this woman. She seemed very nice but why was she worried if they would get there safe. Everything became clearer when they entered the living room. Three people were there, Tom and two women. One of the women was his wife, the woman who had been at the warehouse. The other woman was older but looked a bit like Tom's wife. She must have been his mother-in-law. Kym had expected to see Tom, but the two women were a surprise.

"Tom, why did you have John bring me here?"

"Before I answer that, I think introductions are in order. Kym, I never asked your surname? Perhaps you could tell me now."

"It's Daimler, like my father. That's what my mom put on my birth certificate. Little did I guess that I would end up with my father, after being taken when I was young. He allowed me to keep it after he bought me, it just cemented his hold over me." Kym could see the horror and the sympathy on the women's' faces. She never really felt comfortable around women because they could be cruel to someone like her. Yet these women weren't being judgemental they really seemed to feel sorry for her.

Todd heard something in her voice that reminded him of himself. It was a sort of bravado that she used to protect herself. He had used it a lot when he was younger. Then he had discovered his alters and they had helped him overcome a lot of those knee-jerk reactions to other peoples' opinions. "Very well, Cassie, Blair, and Addie I would like to introduce you to Kym Daimler. Kym, I would like to introduce my wife Blair Daimler Toddman, her mother Addie Cramer and her cousin Cassie Carpenter. My name, by the way, is legally Samuel Toddman, but my real name is Todd Manning. Tom is my given name, but I rarely use it."

Kym looked at the ladies and smiled shyly and then she realized what she had heard. Tom had just introduced his wife as Blair Daimler Toddman. That meant her surname was Daimler. She turned to look at Tom, but he was unable to see her shock. His words, the night before, reverberated through her head," my family is everything to me." That was it. Tom was putting himself in Gregor's line of fire for his family. She was Blair's half sister and therefore she came under his protection, she was family. "Tom you said I would meet my sister, how did you know?"

"I suspected it after you told me your story. You told me that your father mentioned having another daughter. I had been looking into Gregor because of his last name, to begin with, but after your story, things started falling into place and I received confirmation from Blair's mother recently that Gregor was indeed Blair's father. I didn't want you two to meet in the prison ward because I feared your father was having your visits watched. He knew your uncle was visiting, but I didn't want him to find out about Blair. I'm going to leave you to get acquainted with your family. John and I have an errand to run."

Blair looked up at him startled "Where are you going?" she started feeling those butterflies in her stomach. Todd was off to do something foolish and it looked like he had convinced John to go with him.

"It's nothing to worry about.  Blair, if all goes as planned, we'll be back for dinner. If not, you and Addie return to the penthouse and I'll see you there. Kym, Cassie and I have talked and she came up with an idea I believe you'll like. Hear her out, it will change your life. If things go the way I hope, you'll no longer have to worry about Gregor." With that, he took John's arm and they left.

Once they were in the car, Todd told John about Daimler's connection to Hesser and Kipling. Upon hearing the latest news, John wanted to take him back to Cassie's. "Are you crazy Manning, if he knows who you really are you're walking into the lion's den. I'm one man and you're blind you don't seriously think we can take them all on in those circumstances. You may be suicidal Todd, but I'm not. Let me get some more help before we undertake this."

" John, I'm not suicidal, but I need to see Daimler and the only way I see that happening is letting myself get caught. I know I can't defeat him, but I think I can bargain with him to back off and just disappear. I need to make him realize I'll keep his secret if he calls off his dogs and lets Kym go free."

John shook his head,"I hope you know what you're doing.  If this backfires, Blair will probably kill me."

Todd exited the car and took out his cane. He steeled himself for the next step going out to the docks blind as a bat. John was going to shadow him but not be with him. For some reason, today was different, was he making a mistake trusting in his intuition that Gregor would be curious enough to want to meet him before killing him. Well, he'd never know if he didn't go ahead and put the plan in motion. He began walking toward the dock area he had worked in with Bernie, at this time of day things were beginning to wind down and the dock traffic was easier for him to navigate. He suddenly heard his name being called.

"Yo Tom, where ya been, man?"

Todd recognized the voice as belonging to Joe, one Bernie's pals. "Hi, Joe. Had a bit of an accident, I'm looking for Bernie."

"Whoa man, ya mean that cane's for real. Wow, say sorry to hear that. But Bernie's not here, some lowlifes beat him up. He's off for a while, shame too, things are tight for his wife and kid with no money right now. The guys and me, we put a hat around got enough to get them some supplies at least. Hey, it's quittin' time, why don't you come with us guys and have a drink. Gotta hear what happened to you. What do ya say?"

"Sure Joe, why not. Can't talk to Bernie obviously."

"Boy, you sure got that right."

The guys gathered around him and herded him to the bar. John watched from afar and noticed Sid's group following at a distance. Todd had been right, they could have killed him already, but instead, they were just following. They were waiting for the right moment to snatch him.

Todd sat at the bar and the boys bought him a drink. He told his story of having to appear in court as a witness and how during the trial there had been a disturbance and during the chaos, someone had clocked him. When he had woken up he had been blind. The Doctors couldn't tell him if the blindness was permanent or not. The guys had been fascinated that one of their own was a witness in a trial. When they heard someone hit him they asked if someone had been trying to shut him up and Todd had nodded in the affirmative.

"Say." said Joe, "I remember seeing some strangers down at the docks looking for you, do you think they could have been working for the guy you were testifying against?"

"I don't know Joe? Did you happen to see them talking to Bernie? He  was the last guy I worked with, maybe they're the ones who hurt him." Todd wondered if all this conjecture was just for the benefit of the guys, or if Sid and his pals were close by listening.

"Gee Tom, you could be right. Those guys were some rough looking characters, if they took down Bernie, just to get to you, there's no tellin' what they'll do if they know your back here at the docks. You should hightail it on out of here. In your shape, man, you're dead meat."

Sid had been listening and watching. It appeared the guy was blind again and it rankled that he had been taken down by a blind man. Just who was this Tom guy? The boss had gotten real quiet when he had mentioned it had been like fighting two different men. It was as if those words had told the boss something. Then the boss had ordered them to bring him in. They had struck out at court finding this so called uncle for the Boss and had headed back to the docks to look some more for Tom.

He and his pals had been heading off the Docks when they had heard the name 'Tom' called out. Sid remembered seeing the guy for the first time since that night. His anger had almost gotten the better of him when he had noticed Tom was playing blind again. But he had watched the guy's uncertainty when the dockworkers had moved around him. Even here at the bar Tom's movements in picking up his beer and the awkwardness with which he reached for the bottle said the guy really was blind. Sid wasn't sure what to believe anymore. He would have liked to have taken Tom out once he left the bar, but instead, it looked like they were going to be taking him to the boss.

Todd finished his drink if Sid and company were here they had decided to not attempt to take him in public. They wanted no witnesses obviously. "Joe, you said Bernie was out of commission for a while. Where is he? Do you know?"

"Yeah man, they got him in Savannah General."

"Thanks, Joe, I guess I'll go see if he can have visitors. Thanks for the beer and the heads up on those guys. Maybe I'll see you guys later."
The guys got a laugh out of his parting line and Todd made his way to the exit. As he stepped out the door, he felt the gun in his ribcage. "Well, I wondered when you would make your play Sid."

"Shut up. If I had my way, you would be dead already. But I've got orders. You should have stayed away from the docks "Tom", you messed with the wrong people and you're gonna pay. Now move." Sid shoved his gun hard into Todd's back.

" If you give me an idea which direction you want me to go it would be helpful." Todd knew he was fanning the flames of Sid's anger, but there was really nothing he could do about it. He was blind and Sid would have to work with it. Todd felt two people grab his arms and they started hauling him along. Obviously, Sid had decided it was the lesser of two evils to just go with the flow and treat him as a blind man. Even if he didn't really believe it was true. The downhill grade told Todd they were headed back down the docks.

Sid led the way up the gangplank with Todd following, his hands on the rails to guide him and a man behind, holding a gun against his ribs. When they reach the stateroom level the two men took over his guidance again. Todd could tell by the sound, they were now on carpeting of some type. The Odyssey was definitely not a cargo ship. The insides of this deck were more like a cruise ship. He was pulled to a stop and Todd heard Sid knock on a door.

"Come in. This better be good ...Sid, you surprise me, I thought for sure you would have roughed him up a little bit. Please come in Mr. Toddman, or should I say, Manning. That will be all Sid, I don't think Mr. Manning is in any shape to do me any harm. You wait outside with your men." Gregor waited until his men had left before continuing. "I must say I never thought you were the man who stirred up all this trouble. You've had my colleagues traipsing all over Europe looking for you and then you magically appeared in Llanview the day of the trial. That was definitely a trick I didn't expect. The Todd Manning I heard so much about was never very helpful when it came to police matters. I'm guessing your Alter Samuel was responsible for this recent change. It was really quite clever of you to let us think Samuel was an alias, we never knew he was a personality till the trial. We kept waiting for you to get your memory back, but he was a puzzle we didn't solve.

"Yes well, Samuel didn't really appreciate the state your partners left us in. He felt it was his duty to make sure Hesser and Kipling got what was coming to them. I wholeheartedly agreed, as for this little venture. I just fell into this by accident, but couldn't seem to let it go unnoticed. You see, I really hate it when kids are hurt or mistreated. Once I found out what was really going on, there was no way any of those kids were going to be shipped out to all of your sadistic friends. Sorry, I put a crimp in your enterprise. NOT "

"You're really quite droll aren't you Mr. Manning but you see, you think you got the upper hand on me. You were so sure your friend Mr. McBain was able to elude my tail that it never occurred to you that I didn't need a tail, all the government vehicles had transmitters. I must say, Mr Manning, you do have yourself quite a little harem."

"Todd! Let go of me you Monster." Blair was struggling to break Sid's hold. "Todd, they broke in shortly after you and John left. they brought all of us here."

Todd was frantic, Gregor had all four women there was no telling what he would so next. "Leave them out of this Gregor, this is between you and me."

"Ahh but you see, Mr. Manning I don't just deal in children and young girls. Your beautiful wife Blair, and her sister Kym and even lovely Ms. Carpenter will all fetch a very sizable profit for me. As for my dear Addie, I'm sure one of my partners will know of some place where she can be put to use. Unfortunately, due to your current state you'll be unable to see them one last time. Sid, take them below."

Blair broke free of the hold on her and ran to Todd. "Todd, don't worry about us, you need to get out of here he means to kill you. I love you always remember that." she clung to him until hands pulled her roughly away.

He had held onto her for as long as he could. Then something inside him broke, he felt the cold spread through him, all his active senses told him where Gregor was standing. He knew the man was probably smirking at him, gloating over the fact that he had won. Sid had made one mistake he had left Todd with a weapon. With one twirl of his body, he brought himself within striking distance and drove his cane into Gregor. He didn't know if he had killed him or not but he knew he had given himself time to get to the door. Todd had just cleared the door and was making his way to the gangplank when he heard John's shout.

"Manning, get down!"

Shots were fired and Todd felt one bullet and then, a second, rip through his body, as he was falling, all he said was "Blair!"

***

Everything was black, his body felt so heavy. It didn't matter, nothing mattered. Blair had been taken from him, he started to cry.

"Todd, It's me, Blair. Wake up, Todd. Starr, I think he's coming around, go get Dr. Larry." Blair reached over trying to wake her husband. Her tears were streaming down her face. "Todd you need to come back to me. You've been asleep long enough. We're all so worried about you. Please open your eyes."

Todd heard her voice, but it sounded so far away. He was deluding himself, Gregor had taken her. Still, she seemed to be calling him. He needed to hear her voice. He struggled to open his eyes, light filtered in, then the vision changed and he could make out shapes and colors. Someone was bending over him, he knew that fragrance but how? She had been taken. How was she here? He tried to talk but the sound came out more of a croak. Someone put a straw in his mouth and he drank quickly, the water taking away the dryness. He tried to talk again, he needed to know if it was his imagination."Blair?"

Blair flung her arms around him hugging him. He was awake, then she began kissing him and laughing. She had thought he would never wake up, the Doctors had about given up hope.

"Blair let me check him out," Larry said to her gently. He began checking Todd's vitals and then he checked his eyes, there had been no significant improvement with them. "Todd this is Dr. Wolek, I'm sure you're feeling a little disoriented for now but that's not surprising. Do you know where you are?"

Todd was confused. What was Dr. Wolek doing in Savannah? "I don't understand, Blair did you bring Dr. Wolek to Savannah? How did you get free from Gregor?"

Blair looked over at Larry, "What's going on?"

Larry turned back to Todd. "Todd, we're in Landview, what made you think we're in Savannah?"

"That's where I was shot. Blair how did you get free, the last thing I remember was Gregor telling them to take you, Kym, Addie and Cassie below. I broke free and was trying to get to you when John yelled and the bullets hit me." What was going on? No one was telling him anything and now they had both gone silent. "Someone say something."

Blair spoke, "Todd I don't know who Gregor is. You've been in a coma since Christian shot you a couple of months ago. You managed to get a shot off and injured him. When John got there, you had been shot in the head and Christian had been knocked unconscious by your bullet which creased his skull. Your shot caused his aim to change and the bullet went through your skull at such an angle that it only damaged a small portion of your brain but it caused a subdural hematoma that sent you into a coma. Todd are you alright?"

It didn't seem possible. Everything that he had lived from the moment he had been shot by Christian had all taken place in his brain. It had been so real. "What about Hesser's trial and Jake being shot."

"Todd you need to calm down, the mind does strange things and there are many things about the mind that we, as doctors, don't understand. Hesser is still at large and Jake is alive and well. Whatever you've experienced was the way your mind was helping you heal. While your body and brain were mending your mind was letting you live a life until it was time to reawaken. I sure it seems real to you even now, but it didn't happen. Right now you need to just rest naturally. Your family has been here nonstop. I'll give them a chance to talk to you but then you need to sleep." Larry patted his shoulder and left him with Blair.

"My God Blair, it was all so real." Todd reached up to feel her face, "but I'm so glad it wasn't. In that reality, I had just lost you and I thought it was forever. There was nothing there for me to live for." he couldn't help himself, his tears flowed once again and Blair pulled him into her arms and cried with him because she understood exactly what he had been feeling.

Several hours later, a small celebration was taking place in his room. For now, he was on the mend and Christian had been removed from the equation. John and Bo still hadn't located Hesser's hideout but Todd knew where Hesser was and he would give them the information soon. He just didn't want to think about Hesser right then. The revenge that had been lingering in his heart seemed to have taken a holiday and Todd only wanted time to spend with his family. His dream still lingered and Todd was sure there was some pertinent information in his dream but he would talk to Ray about it at another time. The kids had brought in a horror film and they had ordered in pizza. With Hope in his lap and Sam beside him, Todd closed his eyes and listened to his family as they screamed and giggled their way through the movie. When it was over Addie and Starr took the boys and Hope back to Dragon Heart and Blair climbed into bed and rested her head on his shoulder, especially loving it when his arm wrapped around her tightly. "I thought you might never hold me like this again."

"Blair, I thought I had lost you too. I love you, always remember that." He drifted off to sleep holding her close.


*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Chasing the Monsters: 63

A few days had passed, and Todd and Blair felt rested and ready to go back to their children.  Blair noticed how pensive Todd was, and how much clarity seemed to be in front of the both of them.  Most, she could feel, in his body and his touch, the freedom and the lack of tension.  She hadn't felt that most of their life together.

They'd stayed an additional day, and soaked up all of the beauty of Greece that they missed the first time.  Then, packing the few clothing items and the large sacks of gifts they purchased for the family, they boarded Todd's private jet and waited for take off.


She said, "I'm glad we stayed, Todd."


"I'm glad, too.  I feel, like I'm rid of . . . stuff."


"Maybe you are."


"I just . . . feel different, is all."


"A good different," she said, tucking an arm in his.


"Yeah, only a few things to be cleared up, and that's up to Dad and Jack Ribsky."


She was surprised, "You mean it, don't you?  You're out of this."


"Yeah, I mean it.  I trust them to handle it.  Whoever it is, will pay, if he or she hasn't already."


"So what is next for us, Mr. Manning?"


"I don't know, Mrs. Manning.  I guess our son goes off to college, and we raise our children."


"Our children.  That sounds perfect." 


"What else is there?"


"Just you and me, I guess."


"Yeah, just you and me.  And Momma."


"Right, Momma.  What are you going to do about . . .  what you remembered?"


"Nothing.  She knows about it.  She doesn't need me to tell her."


"You're right."


"I am.  Remember back when she was being treated, she wanted to go with the sparrows?  I knew what she meant, I just didn't remember yet that I jumped."


"That must be why you were so scared when Sam went up to the roof that day."


"Maybe.  That's what Peter's voice was saying."


"What?"


"That Sam was braver than I was.  That I didn't even have the guts to kill myself."


"He had that wrong.  You were strong enough to choose to live.  And I'm glad."


They were quiet a moment.  He said, "Blair, we never talk about your life.  It's always been about me.  Somehow that seems...not fair."


She hesitated.  "Nothing much to tell."


"There must be, things?  I mean, you were . . . a foster kid."


"Some good, some bad."


"The best?"


"Probably camping, with the Moores.  They were nice.  They gave me back, though.  And the lady who taught me about fashion, of course."


"The worst?"


She cleared her throat.  "I had to hide in the closet from one of my foster fathers."


Todd smoothed her hair.  "Who is he?  I'll kill him."


She smiled lightly.  "He used to get drunk.  Most of the time he didn't bother me.  After he tried to touch me, I told on him.  I got taken away, and put into another one."


"What do you mean, 'tried to touch you?'"  His ire was up.


"Let's not do this, Todd, please.  It's years ago.  Long, long ago.  We've had enough of this stuff, haven't we?"


He filed it away for later, and went along with her.  "Yeah, if you say so.  Didn't you ever wonder about your father?  I mean, probably not.  Look at mine."


"No, I never bothered with it.  Especially after I heard the story of who he was, and what he did, to Momma."  She teared up.  "I guess I didn't want to know."


"You'd never really talk about it much, probably because my problems always monopolize everything."


"Oh, Todd, it's all right.  My stuff is my stuff, and it's over.  Yours was . . . brutal, Todd.  Just brutal.  My life turned out okay, later on.  I mean, I had Momma, and Dorian.  Dorian was a good pseudo-Mom.  She's over protective, but . . ."


"That's the word for it."


"She does love me."


"I know."


"She made things . . . better.  It was hard.  Momma wasn't well, and I would have been totally alone."


"I know."


"Let's just say we were both misfit kids, just differently.  That's why we're together as misfit grown-ups."


"I love you, my misfit wife."


"I love you, too, my misfit man."  She leaned in and kissed his mouth.


***


"It wasn't as hard as I thought," Ribsky said.  "I think I know where he is.  In Ohio, someone I knew on the force said he thought he moved there.  He did."

"Well, that's good enough, then," Timothy said.  "We can head there tomorrow."


"Sure, why not?"  Ribsky responded.


Timothy said, "Do ya think y'ar son deserves a call, eh?"


Ribsky didn't answer, instead he said, "Listen, my family's out of this.  If you're going to be my partner, you just . . ." he slowed.  "You just have to let me be, with this."


Timothy reached back into his memory and recalled how he had felt, after the death of Erin and Eric; how he had wanted to bury himself beside them and leave the world.  He said, "Okay, Mate, I get it.  Work first, eh?"


"Mission first," he corrected.  "That son of yours, I'm sure he could use closure, just as we could."


"I know that for a fact, he's been through unbelievable pains and troubles.  He deserves peace, as does his wife and his children.  When I think of what that man did to his son, adopted or not, it just . . . makes me blood boil."


Ribsky sat down, and opened a beer.  "Monster.  Can't believe things like this happen, but they do."  He paused, looking around.  "These digs are miles nicer than mine were," he said, to distract both their minds.


"My son's generous.  To a fault.  This is his idea, not mine."


"Hmf, he has taste."


"Always."


"He has a record.  You know I've looked him up."


"I imagined that ya did."


"I'd have expected what I saw, considering what he'd had done to him, and not remembered.  Undealt-with rage leads to more rage."


"He's paid."


Ribsky nodded.  "But have they?  Peter Manning's dead, but what about the others in this?  I'm starting to ask myself it they will."


"Only one way to know."


"There's other ways," Ribsky said.


Timothy sat forward, and put his forearms onto his knees.  "Ya sound like Todd.  Ya can't mean it.  A former police officer as y'arself."


"Why," he started, chugging the beer, "you never knew that police can break the law too?  These guys did, whoever they are, Ben, Molly's boss.  What makes me any different?"


Timothy didn't know what to say, but what he did know was that inside Jack Ribsky was a grief so profound that it was welling up as if ready to come out of every pore in his body.  "I think ya need to ask y'arself that."


"Why don't you drink with me," he said, starting to slightly slur his words.


"Because I don't drink anymore.  I promised my son and his family that.  I'm in recovery.  An alcoholic."


"Sober?  How long?"


"A while now, a few years."


"That's good.   I guess I shouldn't be drinking in your company, then."


"I can handle it."


He finished the beer, and tossed the can into the trash.  Then he said, "Can you handle me?  If I decide to teach Ben Miller a lesson, once and for all?"


Timothy swallowed.  "Depends on what ya mean."


"Some partner.  He ends up being part of the reason I lost everything."


"Ya lost y'ar wife.  And I know, that could mean everything."

     
"I . . . we had at least six months.  I planned to do everything for her that she wanted to do before . . . well, before she...died."

"I see," Timothy said, sitting back again.


"We didn't have much time, we knew it.  But I promised to take care of her, and she made a list.  We planned to do as much of it as we could.  Now . . ."


"There's no time," Timothy said, "none left.  Ya were taken by surprise, I know.  I can relate to ya.  My wife was shot to death in front of me, and my son, who I thought also died.  It's so hard when the time is cut short on us."


"I'd forgotten . . . or did I even know about your wife?"


"Ah, no matter.  It happened.  I can tell ya that."


Ribsky swallowed.  "You lost your wife, too.  She was young, huh?"


"Yes.  We had a great deal of plans, too, so I know how ya feel."


"I don't think you do," he said.  


Timothy noticed the man's voice was close to a low growl.  He said, "Y'ar angry.  Full of hate."


"Yep."


"Not a good place to be, My Friend."


"No other place," he said.


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