I finally crawled into bed almost four hours after my normal shift would end, so it wasn’t surprising that I’d only been asleep about five when the phone rang. It was Lorne, telling me the warrant had come through. Off the clock late and back on early, that’s just the way the job went during an active murder investigation. I told Lorne I’d be there as soon as I could and then made the call to Ronon and finally McKay.
The phone was answered by a muffled and grumpy, “What?” that was no doubt being spoken more into the scientist’s pillow than the phone.
“Rise and shine, cupcake,” I responded cheerfully.
“Fuck you, Sheppard. Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Time to search your buddy Beckett’s house.”
“It’s the middle of the goddamn afternoon,” he insisted, and while that might sound unusual to your typical nine to five Joe Office-Worker, for someone who worked graveyard, I knew exactly what he meant.
Still, duty called.
“Yeah, you’re right.” My sigh was dramatic, to say the least. “I’ll just get Sam Carter from days to cover for you. You just go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you.”
“You are one sorry ass bastard, you know that?”
I grinned at the resignation I could hear in his voice and how it became clearer as he sat up. “That was always my father’s claim, no matter how much my mama denied it.”
“For once I just might be in agreement with that hayseed son of a bitch.”
Rodney knew… my family, my past, my life I’d remade here in Seattle… he was one of the few, the very few, that I had ever opened up to about those things. Then again, I knew all the same things about him– and they were remarkably similar even though they were so incredibly different on the surface. Funny what a few too many beers over a couple of games of pool could tell you about a person and what you would tell them in return… and it wasn’t just that you should never shoot pool with a physicist unless you were prepared to lose every game and buy all the drinks that night.
He seemed to take my history personally. There was probably some term the head shrinkers would use to explain it… empathy, transference, vicariousness… whatever it was called, it explained a hell of a lot about why McKay brought me the ice the day before, why he was angry at the kid for punching me, why he insisted on working my cases personally instead of assigning someone else from the lab.
So when McKay called my dad a son of a bitch, he wasn’t just shooting from the hip, he was speaking from the heart. And it surprised the hell out of me that I wasn’t just okay with that, I was actually pretty thankful for it, too.
“How about I swing by and pick you up? That way you can drink your pot of coffee without worrying about running over pedestrians while you’re behind the wheel. You can barely drive in a straight line as it is, even when you’ve had a full eight hours of sleep.”
“Fine,” he grumbled through a yawn. “I’ll see you in an hour.”
He was still yawning when I picked him up, sitting on his front stoop in the deepening twilight with his briefcase between his ankles and his coffee cup cradled between his palms. He climbed in, tossed the case in the backseat and slumped down into his seat with little more than a mumbled, “Hey,” in greeting.
I didn’t take it personally. Hell, I should’ve probably considered it an honor that he had graced me with that much of salutation, take it as a mark of his admiration and respect for me that he hadn’t just hung up the phone when I called, even though he was the one that had said he wanted to come with me during the search in the first place.
It was a good five minutes before he finally noted, “Your face looks better. I figured you’d have two shiners for sure.”
I pursed my lips in mock sincerity. “It was touch and go there for a while. I think the ice swayed things in my favor.”
He rolled his eyes and took another sip of coffee. “Ass. Next time I’ll just let your eyes blacken up into your own personal homage to the Lone Ranger.”
“So would that make you Tonto or Silver?”
“Laugh it up, Kemosabi. If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be sitting outside that interrogation room waiting for the kid that masked you in the first place to roll over.”
“I guess that’s why I’ve got my own secret silver bullet.”
My grin was met with a rather smug one at the compliment that vanished behind his coffee cup as McKay resumed drinking. And he had just finished by the time we reached Beckett’s house, a modest but well-kept craftsman in a modest but well-kept neighborhood a few blocks from the University of Washington. Lorne was leaning against the patrol car parked across the street with Ronon and they both moved to meet us when we pulled up.
“She’s all yours.” Lorne handed the warrant over with a small flourish. “You want us to hang around?”
“Let us take a look see,” I told him. “I would hate for you boys to have to just turn around and come right back if we find another two piece doctor in the house.”
Ronon banged on the door and identified us, but, as we expected, there was no answer. So we let Rodney pick the lock. It was a hobby of his, so who am I to kick in a door when he’s right there with his set? The door swung open and I pointed my gun in, just in case. McKay gave a cursory sniff and shook his head.
“No four-day-old dead bodies in there.”
A quick once over revealed that not only was he right, but there didn’t seem to be any sign that anything was out of the ordinary. Still, we had a missing physician, a missing girl, and they were both tied to a dead man, so there might be something to lead us to one or both of our missing persons in the house. We let Lorne and the patrol head back to the precinct and started looking for clues.
Rodney took the front study. I figured if anyone could make heads or tails of the scientific mumbo jumbo we might find in there, it would be him. I took the bedroom in the back and Ronon took the backyard and small garden shed. And after forty minutes of rummaging through neatly folded underwear and socks, I’d come up empty handed. No signs of kinky sex fetishes, no signs of a girlfriend or boyfriend for that matter, no signs of drugs or other illegal activities. The closest thing to unusual I’d seen was the small tank with the turtle beside his bed. From everything I’d seen, Dr. Carson Beckett was just your run of the mill, normal guy with a bit of a neat streak to him. And I was just about to call it quits when I heard Rodney yelling.
“Ow! What the fuck? Stop it!”
“Rodney?” I was already darting out the room and down the hall, my gun at the ready.
“What in the bloody hell are you doing in my house?”
It was a voice I’d never heard, but given the Scottish accent and the claim on the real estate, I had a good idea who it belonged to.
“Cops!” Rodney was yelling. “I’m with the cops! Christ! Sheppard!”
But I was already there. “Freeze! Drop your… weapon.”
The weapon in question was raised above the physician’s head and was an umbrella that was mangled beyond use, mainly because it had been used to beat McKay into a ball on the floor.
“Police? You’re police officers?” Beckett panted from the exertion of beating said scientist into the fetal position he had assumed as blue eyes darted in confusion between me with my gun and McKay on the floor.
“Yeah,” I confirmed, reaching into my jacket breast pocket to pull out my badge. “Now put down the goddamn umbrella and step away.”
Beckett did as he was told, hands flying up when Ronon burst in through the back door with his own gun. “Sheppard?”
“It’s okay,” I called. “We’re okay.”
“Speak for yourself!” Rodney snapped as he uncurled and sat up with a wince.
“Dr. McKay?” Beckett’s surprise only grew when he finally got a good look at who he had attacked.
“Nice to see you again, too,” Rodney grumbled, leaning back against the desk.
“I… I had no idea it was you. I thought someone had broken into my home…”
I raised my hand to halt the explanation. “It’s okay, Doctor. Ronon, take Dr. Beckett into the living room and keep an eye on him. We’ll be in to talk in a minute.” When they were gone, I squatted next to McKay and did my best to control the twitching of my lips even as I retrieved his glasses from the floor and slid them back in their normal place on his face. “You all right?”
“I was nearly beaten to death by Mary Poppins. What do you think?” He touched a tentative hand to the back of his head, seeming surprised when it came back clean.
I looked myself, tilting his head to get a better view. His neck was red from the impacts but thankfully no blood. “I think that’s just one more reason why you should carry a gun.”
“He jumped me from behind,” he argued. “It wouldn’t have done me any good.” Rodney rolled his neck stiffly and I helped him stand.
“You’re right,” I tried my best to maintain a straight face as I consoled him. “You’re lucky it wasn’t winter else it might have been a snow shovel.”
Only it was his eyes that took on a glacial hue. “You think this is funny?”
“Well, you have to admit that death by parasol isn’t exactly something you see noted by the coroner very often.”
“And to think I brought you ice,” he growled.
“Ice. Good idea.” I took the out he’d unwittingly offered me. “I’ll go find you some. Just stay here.”
Of course he didn’t just stay there. When I came back with the ice, he was sitting in the living room with Ronon and Beckett. When I handed him the ice pack, the Scot seemed to snap out of his stupor and remember his chosen profession. “Oh, what was I thinking? Let me take a look at you, lad.”
Rodney’s eyes widened in alarm. “NO! You just stay over there. You’ve done more than enough.”
“I think Dr. McKay’s good for now,” I offered.
“That’s definitely an overstatement,” Rodney grumped with a hiss as he placed the ice on his neck, but I ignored him.
“We’re just a little surprised that you are, Dr. Beckett.”
“What? Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“Where have you been for the past four days?” Ronon asked.
Beckett’s befuddlement just grew. “My mum took a tumble and I went down to Portland to make sure she was being well cared for. James Fraiser was there when I received the call. He knew where I was.” When the three of us looked to one another wondering who was going to tell him, he demanded, “What? What is it?”
Best just to say it, I decided. “Dr. Fraiser is dead.”
“Dead?” His voice raised almost an octave. “How? What happened?”
Deciding to keep the truly gory details to myself, I informed him, “He was murdered.” The shock had his eyes opening even wider. “By someone who thought he had something to do with Miko Kusanagi’s disappearance.”
“Miko? But I just saw her the day I left.”
“Where?” Ronon demanded. “Her family hasn’t seen her in over three weeks.”
“At the research lab.”
“She was on campus?” Rodney asked, shifting the ice.
“No, we have a second lab where we do the majority of our work at the Genii corporate offices.”
“What does Acastus Kolya have to do with genetic research?”
My question had Ronon asking a few of his own. “What’s a Genii and who’s Acastus Kolya?”
“Genii Industries are held by Acastus Kolya, one of the wealthiest businessmen in Seattle,” Rodney explained. “He deals predominantly in real estate… apartments, office space, a few nightclubs and high-end restaurants, but he’s been known to invest in a few other things like avionics and navigational technologies, as well. Apparently, now he’s interested in pharmaceuticals.”
He was also interested in a hell of a lot more. Word on the street was that he was the financial backing behind one of the largest smuggling rings in the northwest. The problem was we could never prove it. He kept himself clean, kept his books even cleaner, donated whole buildings to orphans, financed hospital wings, set up soup kitchens, persuaded others in his tax bracket to do the same. Combine that with the fact that he was one of the most well respected men in Seattle with ties to almost every government office and deep pocket in the region, and the man was also one of the most insulated.
“Well, I can’t speak to his motivation, but from what I understand, he’s been funding the research for a few years now.”
Beckett’s caveat had me frowning. “So you haven’t always been on this project?”
“Oh, no. Only about six months. I met James at a medical convention a little less than a year ago and he invited me to come up from Portland to help him. At first I refused; Mum is very fond of Portland, says the green reminds her of home, and she didn’t want to leave and I hated to be so far from her given her age. But James kept insisting and finally Mr. Kolya himself came and visited and offered me… well, a ridiculous sum of money to be perfectly honest. So I can only imagine how important the research is to him.”
“McKay says the research deals with identifying markers in the blood.”
“A specific gene, actually,” he clarified. “Although once we can identify this one, I’m hopeful the application can be used for other genes, that is once we figure out how to modify the detector to find them.”
“Detector?” Rodney sat straighter. “You never said anything about a detector when I visited the lab.”
“I signed a confidentiality agreement, Dr. McKay. I couldn’t just prattle on about it, now could I?”
Beckett’s justification had McKay bristling. “Well, you are now, aren’t you?”
The Scot bristled right back and suddenly I had two prickly pears sitting in a goddamn living room in Seattle. “You weren’t investigating a murder were you?”
“I’m always investigating a murder or kidnapping or assault. And any technology that can help identify an assailant is vital to those investigations.”
“Unless your assailant is one of the handful of people with this particular gene, then it wouldn’t do you any good anyway.”
“If it can detect one, surely you can modify it to detect others.”
“We haven’t figured out exactly how to do that yet.”
“You mean to tell me the person that developed the technique couldn’t adjust it…”
“We don’t know who that person is.”
“We don’t know who that person is.”
That tidbit of information had McKay blinking in surprise. “Then how did you get the device in the first place?”
Beckett sighed. “It came out of Germany. But of course, with everything going pear shaped over there, it makes it rather difficult to collaborate with any German scientists. Although we just had a new scientist arrive from Czechoslovakia… Radek Zelenka… and we had hoped he might be able to help us with determining exactly how the equipment works.”
“So what’s so important about this gene anyway?” Ronon asked before I could.
“Honestly, I have no idea. All I do know is that those of us that possess it, when we touch the device, it glows a pale blue color and when we think about it, it will hover in midair.”
“Hover?” Rodney lowered the ice pack and stared in disbelief.
“Aye, hover. That’s what I said, isn’t it? I’ve done it myself.”
I furrowed my brow at the confession. “You have the gene?”
“Yes, I have it, Miko does, and supposedly a few others around the country have been identified. That’s one of the primary reasons the research has gone so slowly, there are so few people to assist with the experimentation.”
“And why the Kusanagi girl would be so valuable to Kolya,” Ronon observed. “So valuable that he might take drastic measures to keep her involved if she happened to want out.”
I simply nodded my head in agreement. “Well, sounds like there’s only one place to go from here. Looks like we’ll be dropping in on Club Athos.”
* * * *
Club Athos was one of those nightclubs owned by Kolya that Rodney had told Ronon about. It sat near the corner of First and Washington, where the long shadow of the mighty Smith Tower reached toward Elliot Bay a few blocks away. In fact, it was the tiptop of the high-end clubs owned by the businessman; partially because it was the one Kolya tended to frequent most often, but mainly because of the sultry songbird currently on stage.
Teyla Emmagan was the kind of woman that could make the Pope rethink his hat choice. A smooth fall of hair over the smooth peek of her shoulder and an even smoother voice that didn’t need anything more than the simple piano accompaniment. When we walked into the club, Ronon was so dumbfounded with the view he didn’t even question handing over his gun to the tuxedo-clad bouncer at the front door.
“Holy Toledo,” McKay mumbled, opening his jacket to show that he didn’t carry any weapons.
“Nothing that nice ever came out of Toledo,” Ronon observed, removing hat and coat and offering them up to the coat check girl.
I’d been here a few times before. Not to say I wasn’t as enamored with the singer as every man in the room, I was just a little more acclimated to her charms. Like I said, word on the street was that Kolya wasn’t as up and up as he liked his influential friends to think. And the irony was that the word came from Teyla. She had an in with Kolya very few people did, and she was willing to share some of the things she learned in private with the Seattle PD from time to time. I wasn’t sure why she was so willing to do so, seeing as the small amount we paid for the info was barely a drop in the bucket compared to what Kolya paid her to keep his political clientele entertained at Athos. But I wasn’t going to question her motivation.
The bouncer, however, wasn’t as accepting of my presence in the club.
“Detective Sheppard,” the man greeted with an unamused smile. “What brings you here tonight?”
“Steve,” I drawled at the tall man with hair so blond it was almost white. “It’s good to see you again. Where’s your buddy Bob?”
“Around,” his evasion held a hint of warning. I started into the club and he stopped me with a hand on my chest. “You know the rules, Detective. No guns in the club.”
“Sorry,” I lied. “I was distracted.”
I nodded toward the stage where Teyla was standing behind the microphone wearing a dress of soft gold that was so form fitting it looked like it was painted along her sultry curves. And God bless the artist who created the shapely silhouette. The slim skirt dropped to her ankles, although it was slit so high on the right side that it revealed one firm thigh. The top was cut low, allowing the simple crystal pendant of the necklace she wore to nestle someplace any man present tonight would have given his own right leg to nestle himself. She truly was a sight that could drive a man to distraction.
Steve, however, didn’t buy it. “Then let me remind you─ either the gun stays here at the front door or you can turn around and walk out of it.”
“And miss Teyla’s second set?” I handed over the revolver. “That would ruin McKay’s birthday dinner.”
My slap to Rodney’s shoulder had the man blinking behind his glasses before catching on. “Oh, yes, my birthday. Why else would we be here? No reason, none at all. Just my birthday.”
I pushed him on into the seating area when Steve frowned at his rambling. I hadn’t planned to bring McKay when I suggested the trip to the club, but seeing as he didn’t have a car and I didn’t want to drive all the way over to the precinct to drop him, and the man seemed genuinely interested in going with us, I figured I’d just let him tag along and use him as our cover story. Problem was, Rodney sucked at lying.
“He’s just a little excitable seeing as he rarely gets out of the lab.” With a final shove at his shoulder, I hissed, “Nice undercover work, Rodney.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve just never done anything like this before.”
“What? Gone to a club?” I insisted as we followed the maitre de to a table on the far side of the room, our path leading us right in front of the stage.
“Not one like this. Christ, is that the governor?”
Actually, it was. And while Rodney was being a little star struck by the guest list at the restaurant, I glanced up at Teyla and smiled with a tip of my head. That’s when the pendant she was wearing glowed a pale blue. I furrowed my brow when Teyla did her best not to do the same and she placed a hand over the necklace. But I caught the way her eyes darted nervously, even as she continued her song, and I followed them to where Bob and Steve were both watching us closely from their respective posts. Someone else also perked up at the illumination around Teyla’s neck.
He sat at his personal table with its commanding view of the stage from the center of the room, the high-backed booth providing a sense of privacy for him and his guests. His eyes narrowed on our small party, following our progress across the room until the governor leaned over and made a comment and he responded with a laugh before glancing in our direction once again.
So much for keeping a low profile tonight.
When we reached our table, he flicked his hand, summoning Bob and speaking into the large man’s ear before turning his attention back to his VIPs. The bouncer nodded in understanding and moved toward the back of the room where the kitchen was located.
“Heads up,” I warned. “I have a feeling we’re going to get some extra special attention tonight that has nothing to do with Rodney’s birthday.”
Teyla finished her song and the room applauded enthusiastically.
“Thank you,” she beamed. “We are going to take a break now and give Halling’s fingers a little rest before we start up again in a few minutes.” Her pianist wiggled his fingers dramatically at her joke and it earned a chuckle from the audience. With a final wave to the crowd, she left the stage and walked over to Kolya’s table.
Our waiter showed then and Rodney studied the menu before leaning over and asking me quietly behind the large paper, “So I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be doing here. Do I order food? Is that less conspicuous than just sitting here? But then what happens if we have to leave in a rush? How do we pay?”
With a sigh and roll of my eyes, I told the waiter, “Cake for the birthday boy and a round of joe for all of us.”
Rodney handed over his menu with a slightly abashed grin. “I guess that works, too.”
“You’re doing fine, Rodney,” I assured him. “Just relax.”
“I’m sorry, that’s just a little hard to do.” He straightened his tie nervously. “I feel like we stick out like a sore thumb.”
“You fidgeting sure isn’t helping that one, McKay,” Ronon pointed out.
“Well, for one thing, I feel completely underdressed. Everyone else is in a goddamn tux. And for another, you should talk.”
Ronon frowned at the scientist’s comment. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Are you planning on cutting a steak with that knife or blindfolding yourself with a napkin and throwing it at the singer while she’s spinning on a giant target on the main stage?”
Realizing he was twirling his silverware menacingly, Dex sat it firmly on the table and placed his hands under the table.
“Look,” I pointed out, “we’ve already caught the attention of anyone of any interest in this room. Let’s try to do our best not to give them a reason to kick us out before we have a chance to at least make contact with Teyla.”
“Oh, my God, I think she’s coming over here.” Rodney didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. “She is, she is coming over here. Right now.”
Teyla was sauntering deliberately toward our table, stopping along the way to answer a compliment or greet a patron. Kolya may have owned the establishment, but Teyla ruled it with a golden sway of her hip.
“That’s what we want to happen,” I reminded my worried dining companion.
“Oh, right, right.”
When the singer got within a few feet of the table, the necklace started glowing. The act seemed to renew the woman’s discomfort and she covered it, even as she covered her distress with a bright smile. “Detective Sheppard, it is so nice to see you once again.”
“Teyla, you’re looking amazing as always. And your singing isn’t half bad either.”
My teasing grin was met with a slightly chastising one from Teyla. “Such a charmer. No wonder you are dining with two men tonight.”
“Oh, let me introduce my new partner, Ronon Dex, and this is Dr. Rodney McKay.”
She nodded her head toward both of them, then reached her free hand out and took each in turn. “Welcome to Athos.”
“That’s an incredible necklace,” Rodney noted curiously.
“It was a gift… from Acastus.” Changing the subject deftly she noted with a cheerful tilt of her head, “Speaking of gifts, I understand it is your birthday, Dr. McKay.”
“Yes, yes it is. My birthday. Happy birthday to me,” he chuckled anxiously and I kicked him under the table to get him to shut the hell up.
Teyla graciously ignored the awkward response. “Then I shall sing a special song just for you during my next set.”
Rodney actually blushed at the offer, ducking his head at the attention and the act made Teyla smile broader. “If you will excuse me, I need to freshen up before I take the stage again.” She offered me her hand then, “Detective it is always a pleasure to see you here.” When I took it, the pendant blazed so bright I could see it through her fingers that suddenly clenched it tightly and she leaned in closer. “You are in grave danger,” she whispered in my ear. “Meet me in the back alley in ten minutes.”
When she straightened again, the smile was back in place. “Enjoy your evening with us here.” And with a final nod, she was weaving through the tables once again.
The waiter arrived then, the simple piece of cake we had ordered replaced by an elaborate tower of chocolate and caramel that had McKay alternately drooling in anticipation and looking to me in confusion.
“Compliments of Mr. Kolya,” the waiter told us.
I let my eyes drift back to the table were Kolya was sitting to see that he had been watching us, had probably seen the entire exchange with Teyla. When our eyes met, the studious expression changed to a small, knowing smile, and he raised his glass. I did my best to ignore the chill that smile sent down my spine, raising my coffee cup back in response.
“Oh, shit,” I murmured into my cup. “This can’t be good.”
It was one thing to know that Kolya knew who I was, knew why I came to Club Athos on occasion, and knew he was so secure that there was no need to even acknowledge my existence. It was another entirely to have him openly admitting that he was more than aware I was there.
Rodney glanced from me to the dessert and back again. “What do I do?”
“Eat the damn cake,” I told him through a forced smile. “But eat fast. We have a meeting in a few minutes.”
Ten minutes later, we were standing in the alley, McKay dabbing at a chocolate spot on his tie. “Well this is ruined. Although, I have to admit, the cake was worth losing a tie over.”
Ronon leaned casually against the dumpster outside the kitchen, his hat tipped down to hide his face in the shadows cast by the lone streetlamp at the mouth of the alley. But I had no doubt he was aware of everything around him. That was something I’d learned pretty quickly about my new partner; the more relaxed he appeared, the more alert he was.
“Is this where you typically meet Teyla when she has information for you?” Rodney asked, his attention turned from his tie to the blackness at the back of the alleyway we stood in.
“No. Usually she’ll pass me a note or sit and chat at the table. She’s never asked me to come out here before.”
Ronon straightened quickly when the door to the kitchen opened and I warned, “Showtime.”
But instead of Teyla, Bob appeared with a gun pointing at us. Son of a bitch, Teyla had set us up.
“Sheppard, you’ll need to come with me.”
Ronon stood in front of me when the bouncer made his request, even as I pulled Rodney, who was gaping open-mouthed at the man with the gun, to stand behind me. Of all of us, he was the only one unarmed, and I’d be damned if I let Kolya’s muscle kill an innocent bystander on my watch.
“You have to know that’s not going to happen.” Ronon’s ominous warning didn’t even have time to register before Bob was on the ground.
It took me a second to realize Ronon hadn’t been the one to take the man down. Teyla melted out of the shadows, delivering a final kick that made sure Bob was down for the count. No wonder that slit in her skirt was so high. Dex was looking at her with the same wary desire Rodney had shown when they’d brought out the special birthday dessert. Evidently singing only went so far with the man; a woman that can fend for herself must have been highly prized out on the Nebraskan wilderness.
McKay was busy jabbing his finger over my shoulder. “That’s what you get for messing with Seattle’s finest, buster!”
I raised my eyebrows and glanced back at the scientist. “Are you okay?”
“No, not really,” he admitted, letting his head fall forward to rest momentarily on my shoulder. “I think I ate too much sugar back there and that combined with the adrenaline rush of almost being kidnapped has made me a little light headed.”
“He would not have taken you, Dr. McKay,” Teyla pointed out as she straightened her dress. “He was only interested in Detective Sheppard.”
“Why would he be interested in Sheppard?” Ronon demanded, but Rodney was already snapping his fingers excitedly.
“The necklace! It glows like that cube Beckett was telling us about.”
Teyla nodded. “It is a Pegasus device.”
“What the hell is a Pegasus device?”
Teyla shook her head to dismiss McKay’s question. “There is no time to explain, but only certain people can make it glow. Aside from you, Detective, I have only ever seen one other person make it work─ a Scottish physician dining with Acastus. But even with him it barely lit.”
“You have the gene!” Rodney exclaimed. “No wonder Kolya wants you.”
“But why does he care if I have it or not? So I can make a necklace shine. Who cares?”
I’d never considered myself special. Never stood out in a crowd and that was just fine by me. Keeping a low profile suited a homicide detective. It kept you alive. Unfortunately, I was evidently special after all, and it had drawn the attention of the most powerful man in Seattle.
“Seems to me Kolya cares,” Ronon stated simply.
Rodney, faced with a chance to get a few answers, stepped forward then. “Where did he get the necklace anyway?”
“It was sent over from a German business associate Acastus has dealings with. From what I have been able to gather, the German government is also somehow involved and they are very interested in anyone who has the ability to operate the mechanisms.”
“There are more of these devices?”
Teyla nodded in response to Rodney’s question. “There are several, although I have only seen this and one other, and the other I have never seen operated.”
“Do you know anything about a girl,” Ronon asked, “Miko Kusanagi?”
“No, I am sorry, that name is not familiar.”
“What about the scientist… crap, what was his name?” Rodney grimaced at his inability to recall the name, but I did.
“Radek Zelenka,” I mumbled, still a little shell shocked over the news that I had this gene.
“Yes, Dr. Zelenka arrived a few weeks ago. He is staying with Acastus.”
“Can you arrange for us to see him?” Rodney asked eagerly. I supposed it was good that someone was excited about this whole mess.
“I do not think that would be wise,” she warned. “In fact, it would be best if you did not come back to the club and you must be very careful. I do not think Acastus will be deterred by what has happened here tonight.”
McKay seemed torn between wanting to learn more and his fear of endangering me. And that’s when I realized I needed answers. If I really was in danger, then the only way to stop it would be to find out exactly why this gene was so important.
“Set up the meeting,” I instructed. “He may be the only one with answers.”
Teyla nodded tensely. “Very well, I will see what I can arrange. I will be in contact.” Bob groaned and Teyla shooed us toward the opening of the alley. “But now you must go.”
“What about you?” I asked, suddenly worried that she might be found out.
“Go, I will be fine.” With that dismissal she turned back toward the building. “Help! Someone help me!”
Seeing what she was doing, I tugged on McKay’s coat sleeve to get him moving. Ronon was already jogging toward the street. I risked a final look back to make sure she was okay only for Teyla to hiss in shortening temper, “Go! And watch your back.”
Too bad I didn’t do a better job of it.
* * * *
The rest of the shift went by in a monotony of paperwork that couldn’t seem to penetrate the swirl of questions that had taken over my thoughts. I had the gene. What exactly did that mean? Why would Kolya risk openly taking a police officer just to get it? What would he have done with Rodney and Ronon if Bob had managed to fulfill his duty? It’s not like you can leave witnesses to a kidnapping, especially when they knew exactly who was behind it and they worked for the police department.
I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t even register McKay calling my name until he sat on the edge of my desk. “Hello? Attention all units, Detective Sheppard’s brain seems to be missing. Time to issue an APB.”
With a shake of my head, I took my motionless hands from the keys of my typewriter and scrubbed at my face. “Sorry, I was just a little distracted.”
“Really? It’s not like you’d need a detective’s badge to figure that one out, or exactly why that is, for that matter.”
I ducked my head, a little embarrassed that I was letting this get to me like it was. These sorts of things were par for the course. When you were a cop, there were always people out there who wanted to take you down. For some it was personal, for others, the fact that you carried a badge was enough. But this… for some reason this went beyond all that. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was a cop. Kolya wanted me despite the fact that I was a cop. He wanted me for me, and evidently being a cop was very little deterrent to keep him from trying to take me.
With a scratch at my neck, I worked up the courage to ask what I had been trying to avoid thinking about. “Hey, McKay, do you think this gene thing… do you think it’s dangerous?”
Rodney tapped his chin in exaggerated thought. “Well, let’s see, you were nearly taken at gunpoint to God only knows where as a result. So, I’d have to say, yes, it’s dangerous.”
“That’s not what I meant,” I admitted with a shake of my head. “Do you think it’s dangerous physically? You know, to my body. That it’ll make me sick or some shit like that.”
“Oh.” The way the scientist blinked let me know he hadn’t really considered that option. “Well… Beckett didn’t seem too concerned and he has it. Just because it’s genetic doesn’t make it deadly in and of itself. It could be something as innocuous as what causes your eyes to be hazel and your hair to tend to stand up the way it does or your mouth to curl that certain way when you smile…” Suddenly uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going, he straightened his glasses and cleared his throat. “Or account for your inferior intelligence and inability to recognize when it’s time to feed yourself.” With a tap at his watch, he pointed out, “It’s end of shift; time for breakfast. Ronon’s waiting downstairs to walk over to the diner with us.”
“My own personal body guards,” I snorted.
“Hey, consider yourself lucky. Most people would pay top dollar for this sort of support. You’re going to get off with buying us some eggs and bacon.”
“Just eggs and bacon?” I asked, standing and grabbing my hat and coat from the rack.
“I’m still pretty full from that chocolate and caramel monstrosity at the club. If nothing else, Kolya knows how to serve up one hell of a last meal.”
I did my best not to wince at the thought of how close he was to being correct in his assessment of the dessert. “At least it didn’t come to that.”
The sun was just beginning to pink the sky when we left the station and started the three-block walk down to the diner. Ronon walked between me and the street, dark eyes scanning the wet pavement while Rodney walked on my opposite side eyeing the dark clouds already building, the lack of conversation almost as palpable as the smell of rain on the air.
After about a block Ronon murmured, “There’s a black sedan with two guys that seem very interested in us. It pulled out of a spot across from the precinct when we left and just parked about a block up ahead.”
“Bob and Steve?” Rodney asked, worried.
With a shake of his head, Ronon removed that assumption. “No. New guys.”
“Bob probably has one hell of a headache after the beating Teyla gave him.” I grinned in renewed appreciation of the singer.
“These two are going to have to share his aspirin after I finish with them.” And with that, Ronon trotted on ahead to the car.
McKay and I held back, my hand resting on the revolver in my shoulder holster as my partner came up behind the car. When he was within a few feet, the car started again and peeled out of its parking spot. Ronon watched it go then turned and spread his arms wide with a shake of his head.
“Well, that wasn’t suspicious,” I drawled as the taillights quickly disappeared down the street.
“Guess we can at least eat breakfast a little more securely now.” Unfortunately, Rodney spoke a little too soon. Because that’s when Ronon started pointing behind us and running back in our direction.
I barely had time to turn before I was hit in the temple with the butt of a gun and a cloth sack was thrown over my head.
“Sheppard!” McKay’s yell was accompanied by an ‘oomph’ and I could only assume he took a hit himself.
I was fighting the stars that were exploding behind my eyes even as I heard the sound of tires squealing when a car came to a sudden stop nearby. My hands scrabbled futilely at the sack that was obscuring my vision but then were suddenly waving as I tried to keep my balance. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was the dizziness from being hit or I was being dragged backwards. When I was spun around and my body met the leather of a back seat and not asphalt, I figured it was the latter.
“Ronon! Stop them!”
Rodney. Thank God, he was okay. Unfortunately I wasn’t so sure about myself. The car was moving and I knew if I didn’t get out now, chances were I wasn’t ever going to get out until they took me wherever the hell they were planning to hold me. But whoever had grabbed me was pinning me to the seat with a knee in between my shoulder blades and my attempt to reach back and grab him was met with a punch to my jaw. Once again the world went grey around the edges and it had nothing to do with the fucking sack on my head. Oh, Jesus, I had to get out. I had to get out and get this bag off my head so I could breathe again.
The back window blew out then, glass raining down on my back along with the weight of the man holding me. I couldn’t tell if my assailant was hit with the bullet or just ducking to avoid that from happening, but the driver let out an angry, “Son of a bitch!”
Then another shot rang out, this one evidently hitting the tire seeing as the car careened sickeningly, making my nausea that much worse. Another shot and the driver lost control all together, the world spinning, tilting, then slamming hard into something solid and immovable. I felt the weight leave my back as both the kidnapper and I were thrown from the seat and then I didn’t feel anything at all.
It was dark, so goddamn dark, and McKay sounded so far away. The scrape of metal against pavement as Rodney grunted in exertion didn’t sound that much closer.
“Oh, Christ. Somebody call an ambulance!” A hand landed on my chest. “Sheppard, can you hear me?” Then fingers were at my neck, shaking so much I could feel it as they skimmed across my jaw and then my cheeks as he lifted the sack from my head. The fresh touch of cool, damp air that hit my face had me trying to open my eyes.
“R’ney?” I managed to form the name on lips that just wouldn’t seem to cooperate. Hell, none of me seemed to want to cooperate.
“I’m here,” he promised. “I’m going to get you out of here. Okay?”
I tried to agree, tried to help him, but my body was not in the helping mood, apparently. So I let him work his arms under mine and drag me from the car, my head lolling back on his shoulder as he did it, and I felt rain running down the side of my face when he sat us on the road beside the car.
“Ron..on?” I tried to sit up straighter, tried to see my partner to make sure he was all right, too. But my head felt like a giant bowling ball… one that someone had tried to pulverize with a sledgehammer.
Rodney’s handkerchief was pressed to my temple and I realized that wasn’t rain I was feeling, but blood. “Lie still. He’s fine. We’re both fine. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about you.”
I managed to force my eyes open then, saw Ronon’s image swimming in the distance as he knelt on one guy’s head, pressing it into the pavement as he cuffed the man’s wrists; I decided Rodney’s shoulder was a much more comfortable place to rest my own head, so I let it fall back. But there was still at least one more person to worry about.
McKay’s hand patted at my chest before finally coming to a rest there. “Dead. He’s dead,” he informed me with an exhalation of breath against my neck, the hand fisting briefly in my shirt. “But you’re not.” He moved his head and I felt the scrape of his stubble against my own, the warmth of his cheek pressed against mine. “You’re not,” he repeated in what sounded like a desperate need to reassure himself. “You’re safe.”
In the distance I could hear the sirens of the approaching ambulance, could feel the rapid beat of Rodney’s heart against my back, the strength of his arms holding me up, and I decided he was right. I was safe. And I let myself drift into the blackness that had been calling to me for a while.