A SECRET CHORD
Chapter Forty Four
New York City, 2005
"Funny story." Danny Messer poked his head into the AV lab. "There's this guy who works here – lab geek, questionable shirts, kinda scruffy - looks just like you. Only, Mac gave him a whole week off, or so I heard…"
"Uh huh. Anyone ever tell you you're hilarious?" Adam muttered. He had tucked himself behind a corner screen, half in shadow, like a school kid hiding at the back of the class.
"Oh yeah. Handsome fellow, in the mirror, every morning."
"I think your reflection is lying to you."
Danny chuckled. "No doubt." Strolling through the empty lab, he dragged a second chair across the room and plonked himself down beside the wary lab tech. "Nice cast. Bit dull, though. Let me just grab a pen and I'll sign it for you…"
Adam pulled away. "I'm good, thanks."
"Your loss. I do a great doodle of Stella. I could brighten that thing up in seconds."
"Yeah – that's pretty much what I'm afraid of. Look, Danny, no offence but I'm kinda busy here…"
"Which brings us right back to my opener. Why?"
"Why what?" Clearly, Adam was playing for time, hoping Danny would get bored and wander away again.
As if. The detective grinned. "Nice try, Ross. Why are you here? And the AV lab, for pity's sake? Right in front of Mac's office? Talk about hidin' in plain sight. You've got stones, I'll give you that."
"Mac… what?" Now it was Danny's turn to be flustered.
"He knows, okay, Danny - so you can leave me be and get back to whatever it is you're supposed to be doing."
"That would be working in here," Danny told him reasonably. "Unlike you."
With a sigh, Adam spun his chair until they were face to face. "Come on, Danny, can't you just let it drop?"
"Nope. Too curious."
"Fine. If I tell you, then will you let me be?"
"Yep." Danny dragged a finger across his chest, and back again. "Cross my heart…"
The glare that Adam gave him was unsettling. Danny shrugged it off, and waited.
"Are you always this annoying?" sighed the young man.
"Oh yeah. Ask anyone. So," Danny prompted, "Mac knows…"
Adam dropped his gaze and studied the sad row of pink fingers poking out from the end of his cast. "I was talking to him about… something…" When he hesitated, Danny didn't push. "Doesn't really matter what it was, okay? I told him I needed to find someone. He said I'd have better luck if I used the lab system. That I was welcome to do it. That's all."
"That's all?" That's not even half of it, Danny surmised. But there was something private here, he could tell; something deeply felt and painful to share. If Mac had wormed it out of Adam – well, that was quite enough for now. So, what can I do?
"Tell me the name," he suggested. "I'm not askin' for more. But I can help you look, right? I am a detective, after all – check the badge if you don't believe me."
Adam lifted his head. The joke was a bad one, but… was that a tiny smile? "You are," he said quietly. "Thanks."
Often, at the end of a long struggle, there came a state of weariness so deep that it was like a living thing; an all-consuming parasite. Mac had seen it in the aftermath of conflict. He himself had felt its leaden touch and fought against it. To his deep regret, he saw it now in Joseph Darrow.
How are you doing? The question was inane; no way to start a conversation in this place. Darrow's orange jumpsuit made the greyness of his pallor even more alarming. He was folding in upon himself, his shoulders bowed, his head an unbearable weight upon his neck.
"Joseph?" Mac said softly. Such was the silence in the room that he could hear the guard behind him shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"Why are you here?" Darrow's deep, impressive voice had been scoured away to almost nothing by his sadness.
Sensing a need to tread carefully, Mac took a little time to frame his answer. Darrow never looked at him, not even when he spoke again. "I thought you might want… closure."
"I don't want anything from you."
"I didn't think you would. I'm not the one who's offering."
Two pale eyes, like candles in the darkness. Mac tried not to flinch as they burned him with their gaze.
"I don't see anyone else beside you."
"No." He kept it simple. "Shall I call her in here?"
Now the man was hooked; he could see it. Darrow sat up straight. The effort cost him but his old-fashioned manners were deeply ingrained. "I don't know what you're talking about, Detective," he said.
Mac turned to the guard, who opened the door with a click and a groan. Moments later, a girl walked in. No, Mac thought as he watched her cross the room and slip into the seat beside him. A woman, now.
There was no trace of fear in Georgie's movements. First, she set down the paper bag that she was carrying. Then she reached out and took Joseph's hand. "How are you?" she asked him, and this time it felt like the right question. Mac leaned back, removing himself from the conversation.
"I'm…" Darrow faltered. "I'm sorry," he offered, at last.
"Why?" Georgie asked him, seeming genuinely surprised.
Darrow pulled his hand away from hers and clenched his long fingers together. "I tricked you."
She grinned. "Not the worst trick that's ever been played on me."
"I tricked all of you."
This time, when she reached out, Georgie managed to capture both of his hands. "You wanted to help us; that's all. And you did. You really think we're mad at you for that?"
Instead of replying, he gazed around the ugly room and then looked down at his orange jumpsuit.
"I'm mad at me," he said, at last. "I should have done things differently."
"Perhaps." She smiled again, letting her hands fall away. "I've brought you something." Glancing at Mac for confirmation, she lifted the brown paper bag from the floor and set it on the table. "This comes from everyone, okay? And I mean everyone." She gave Mac another sideways glance. "Even Adam."
The detective raised an eyebrow. Talk about full of surprises. He was going to have to keep a watchful eye on this odd new lab tech of his.
"What is it?" There was an innocent, childlike quality to Joseph's question. Mac was pleased to see that some of the pain had finally left his face.
"Letters. For you." Georgie reached in and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "Want me to read them out loud?"
Joseph was putty in her hands. He nodded.
"Dear Joseph," Georgie began. "My life was horrible. You took me out of it. No one else saw me but you did. Now I'm going to make a new life of my own but I won't forget you. I hope you're not sad. If they let me, I'll come see you real soon…"
Quietly, unnoticed, Mac left the room.
"What's that?" Adam's voice was sharp.
"Well," Danny said, "I'm no expert but…" Turning, he saw the look on Adam's face and toned down his smart reply. "It's music," he said. "A sound file – see?"
In two quick strides, the lab tech was beside him, leaning over his shoulder, breathing erratically. "That's it… that's him, I mean… How did you…?"
"Yeah." Danny tried, and failed to hide his smugness. "Well, you know… there were just so many Thomas Lawsons on file. We were gonna be here all day, sifting through 'em. And you said he was a pianist, so…"
Adam smacked his forehead. "I'm an idiot."
"No," Danny told him patiently, "you're just too close. Emotionally compromised." The phrase sounded good as it rolled off his tongue. Adam drew back and gave him a look. "Okay, sorry; you know what I mean. And I just remembered somethin' the boss told me once. Occam's Razor, yeah?"
"The simplest answer is often the right one." Adam nodded slowly. "Unless you're too blind to see it." He was angry with himself, Danny could tell. Narrowed eyes, clenched fists… well, fist.
"Stop beatin' yourself up about it… Hey, ya know what? This music's pretty good." Deftly, he turned the conversation. "I don't usually go for all that classical stuff – kinda yawn-makin'…"
"Philistine," Adam accused him, unclenching ever so slightly.
"I just know what I like. Nothin' wrong with that."
"No, there isn't." The more Adam focussed on the music, the more he seemed to relax. "I can't believe you found this… I can't believe I never looked. I had a tape, okay… I played it so many times, it got…"
"Like spaghetti." Adam gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry. I'm not always this grumpy, I promise."
"Eh." Danny shrugged. "I kinda like it. No one's perfect." Tapping a few more keys, he brought up a biography. "Says here, he's livin' in Brooklyn these days. That'll narrow it down, right?"
Danny obeyed and Adam bent over the keyboard. The fingers on his left hand flew so quickly, it was almost hypnotic. "Close your mouth," Adam suggested. "You look like you're catching flies."
"Ha ha. You know, you type faster one-handed than I do with two. That's ridiculous."
"No, that's skill."
Good, Danny thought, glad to hear the lightness in Adam's tone. Sometimes, being a smart-ass came in very handy. And that's skill, he told himself cheerfully.
"Got him!" Adam crowed.
Jason Eggar sat in his favourite spot on the floor in the place that Greta liked to call 'The Family Room'. It was a very good name. Here was his family, all together, like a bear hug – well, all except Daddy, but that was good too.
Mommy was cuddling Roo. She did that a lot now, and Roo didn't seem to mind it one bit. Jason had never seen them so happy before. They were right now, instead of all wrong.
When Greta bustled in to bring Mommy a cup of tea, Ruth slipped off the couch and settled down beside him. "What're you playing?" she asked. There was still a funny kind of sound in her voice - one that said she was sorry - even though she had already said it out loud, lots of times, when the nice cop lady brought her back.
"Spiderman is 'trolling round the city, okay?" he explained, clutching his one-legged friend. "There's lots of bad guys an' he needs to keep a look out. It's hard, when there's no one to help him."
"Then I guess he needs a friend." Roo dug about in the toybox and brought out a second, battered figure. It was a Barbie, but that didn't matter. When Roo was around, things took on a whole new shape. "This is Supergirl."
"Cool!" Jason's eyes were shining. "Has she got webs?"
Roo laughed, and Supergirl rose up into the air, soaring over his head. "No. But she can fly. She can do anything. Just wait and see..."
All was right at last in Don Flack's world. The case had been solved, the kids were safe and his black eye was fading nicely. He had a fresh mug of coffee in one hand and a donut in the other. On top of that, Kaile Maka was being unusually civil…
"I want to know where my daughter is."
The haughty demand carried all the way back to the bullpen. Flack lifted his head, as did Kaile, who groaned. They both knew that voice.
"I think the milk in my coffee just curdled," Flack muttered, abandoning his mug on a nearby desk. The donut, he scarfed down quickly. Rule One in Flack's Book of Life Lessons: good food should never be wasted, no matter how rude the interruption. "Judge Matthews – always a pleasure," he continued in a much louder tone, striding forward to rescue the stammering duty sergeant from the witch who had stolen his voice away.
"Flack," he filled in, with an icy form of politeness that screamed I don't like you. "Remember? We've met before, in court. And I was at your home the other day."
"Then you don't have to ask why I'm here."
"Don't have to help you, either," Kaile murmured, just loud enough to threaten Flack's composure. He cleared his throat and shifted around to try and hide the fact that he was swatting her away. He could almost hear her smirking at his back.
"You're looking for Treasure." Even as he said it, Flack knew that the sentence was ridiculous. He pressed his lips together, causing Judge Matthews to frown at him, full of suspicion.
"Then you're in the wrong place, I'm afraid. You need Child Services. We don't keep kids in lock-up..."
"No. You found my daughter – you and Mac Taylor. Correct? Holed up with her deadbeat friends in some dump of a warehouse?" Judge Matthews folded her arms. "That makes you responsible. I shouldn't have to see it on the news, Detective. I should have been told right away, as a matter of protocol. I'm a High Court Judge, not to mention Treasure's mother. I'll be taking her back now," she insisted.
Flack took a deep breath.
"No," he said, "you won't."
The bullpen had never been so quiet. If Flack had a pin, he would have dropped it just to hear it hit the floor. Judge Matthews gaped at him, speechless for once in her arrogant life.
"Your Honour," Flack added steadily. Timing had always been his gift.
The judge clawed back some measure of dignity, raising herself to her full height – just short of his chin. Flack stared down at the top of her head and waited for the next attack.
"If you don't produce my daughter in the next five minutes, Detective Flack, you'll find that I can make things very unpleasant for you. Ask around. I'm a powerful woman. I've ruined many a lesser man."
"I believe you," Flack said. Bending down, he whispered in her ear. "Thing is… if you don't leave this precinct in the next five minutes, I'm gonna tell the world - by which I mean the press, of course – that you lock your teenage daughter in her bedroom every night, like a criminal. That's why she left you – and that's why she ain't comin' back."
Judge Matthews gave a tiny squeak of impotent fury.
Flack straightened up. "See now," he told her politely, "like I said before – you came to the wrong place. Allow me to show you the way out…"
"Goodbye," Kaile added, behind him. "Your Honour."
Nowadays, the respected composer Thomas Lawson lived in an unassuming brownstone, in an unassuming part of Brooklyn. Ten blocks from my own place, Adam thought, still trying to wrap his head around that amazing fact. Standing on the sidewalk outside his old friend's home, gazing up at the high windows, he swallowed nervously. So many years had passed – and their friendship, though meaningful to him, had been so very brief. Would Mister Thomas even remember him? That small, frightened boy, who broke into his world and brought him so much trouble? Thomas had a new life now, just like Adam. And what right have I to intrude?
When Adam's mother came to him, soft as a whisper, and told him that Thomas was leaving, the boy had been utterly devastated. He understood – he was bright, after all – but the sense of loss was brutal all the same. Aching with sorrow, he crawled beneath his bed and stayed there for two whole days. In the end, it was Mary who coaxed him out. She gave him her Walkman – her own pride and joy – so that he could listen to the Music by himself. And the Music brought him comfort. Thomas had captured his essence, and it gave him strength to know that out there, in the world somewhere, was another human being who understood him so completely.
Ever since then, he had been single-minded in his goal to reach New York and forge a new life for himself. To be Somebody, not just a ghost in the shadows.
"Look," Adam whispered. "I did it, Mister Thomas."
He clutched his aching arm to his chest in a manner that threatened to become habitual.
"Stop that," he told himself crossly. No more hesitation. Was he a man or a mouse, for heaven's sake? Marching up the steps, he rang the doorbell quickly, before he could change his mind.
Pattering footsteps on the other side made him falter. "Wait," called a man's voice. "I'll get it."
When the door opened, Adam caught his breath. It stuck in his throat and he simply could not speak. Mister Thomas, his heart cried out.
"Can we help you?" the tall man said, one hand resting fondly on the head of a small boy with curly red hair.
"M…" Adam said. Inside, he was seven years old once again. Thomas peered at him.
"Daddy," the boy said, "what's wrong with him? Is he okay?"
Full of desperation, Adam reached inside his bag and pulled out an old, battered toy. A black cat, almost grey by now, with one button eye and a red sock heart inside him.
And there was the wide grin that Adam remembered, creased at the edges now but still the same in every vital respect. "Mr. Boo!"
"You remember," Adam croaked. The relief that he felt was blissful.
"He bringed you a toy?" said the small boy, eyes boggling.
"Adam," Thomas said, and two heads lifted at the name. "Go find your mother. We have a very important guest."
The boy skipped off down the hall, dancing from one checkered tile to the next, avoiding the cracks with alacrity.
"Your son… you called him…"
"Adam. Yes, I did."
"Oh!" He thought about that for a while. A child with his own name, living a normal, happy life. It felt good. Really good. His blue eyes crinkled at the edges and he shared a long look with Mister Thomas that made words quite unnecessary.
"I knew you'd come," Thomas told him, at last. "And I'm so glad to see you."
The world shifted and the years fell away, taking with them any sense of awkwardness or unfamiliarity.
Adam stepped over the threshold.
"Cup of tea?" Thomas said. "We have cookies…"
"Did you make them?" Adam gave a sly grin.
"No, thank goodness. That was Jodie. She can work miracles with food. I tell you, I've never been so overweight in all my life."
"You look just the same to me," Adam told him quietly as Thomas shut the door, folding them into the warmth of his friendly home.
Turning to study him closely, Thomas gave a nod of deep satisfaction. "You look very different," he said.
"I am," Adam shrugged his shoulders and gave a bright smile that lit up his whole face with absolute pleasure. "I'm happy."
A/N: I've said 'thank you' many times to all those people who have been following this story (and my other ones too), especially those who have been so very kind with their comments. Let me repeat myself one last time. THANK YOU! Maybe you don't realise just how much your support means? Let me show you. Originally, it was my intention to stop writing NY fic at this point. But. A very BIG but. Now that I'm here at the end of this story, I find that I don't want to stop after all. The site may be much quieter, but there are still some great people out there and their support and enjoyment of my stories has a lot to do with my wish to continue (you know who you are!). Then, of course, there's Adam and the rest of the team, who are just so much fun to play with. I want to write more! And I have more ideas! So have no fear…
ADAM ROSS WILL RETURN
(when a night out on the town goes badly wrong for Adam, Flack and Danny….)