First of all, I would like to thank everyone for the well-wishes. I appreciate all of them! I usually like to have at least three chapters pre-written before posting but, since there is only one more chapter after this and I've at least started it, I decided to go ahead and post (especially since it's taking a while to find time to finish that one; hopefully this will tide you all over until then!).
Also, thank you to all of the new readers who have suddenly appeared in this dead little fandom! I am not sure where the large handful of you have come from over the last few weeks, but it certainly makes me happy to see new names! Likewise, I also love seeing those readers who have been reading what I've posted over the last year or so continuing to do so. You are all wonderful.
Anyway, chapter five is ready and chapter six - the last chapter for this story - will be along as soon as I can manage it!
"I think I have it," Nigel whispered many hours later.
Woody sat forward in the rolling chair by the wall rigidly, his heart tightening in his chest. "Where?" was all he could bring himself to ask as he got awkwardly to his feet so he could shuffle over to see the map his friend had pulled up on the computer.
"Here," Nigel replied, gesturing vaguely to a strip of land between the Boston Inner Harbor and the Mystic River, exactly where he said she would be. "Somewhere near this boat arena. Notice these blocks, here? These are all apartment homes. Some are very nice, and others are falling into disarray while their leases are disputed by the owners. The big bank owners, not the renters." He paused for a moment, knowing the question before it was asked. "I followed this one car as it left the Common. I followed many, actually, but this one seemed to be the right vehicle. Look."
He pulled up a grainy street camera image of an older black Firebird. The photograph had been taken from the front at an intersection, catching as someone attempted to run a red light, but it also got the car actually stopped on the other side. Woody squinted at it. "That's her!" he suddenly exclaimed, pointing at the person in the passenger seat. "That's the woman who came to meet me in the park!"
"Madge," Nigel supplied, somewhat unhelpfully, using the information from the phone call previously. Woody ignored him. "Right. I was able to pick up pictures or video of this particular car eleven other times, all of which lead in the same direction as the area Jordan's mobile phone was pinging off of earlier. The car itself led us to a much more narrow destination." He brought the map back onto the screen again. "With the direction it was heading when I lost visual, I can take an educated guess and say they are somewhere in one of these two complexes."
The two complexes he pointed to were rather large, and Woody couldn't help the frown that tugged at his lips.
"However," his friend continued, seeing that expression and cutting him off before he could speak. "Given the information from the phone call we received earlier, we know she is being held in a building that is on the side of 'disarray', not one in good condition. That cuts the field down considerably. There are only a handful of units in each complex to search."
Woody sighed and closed his eyes tightly, feeling the anxiety in his stomach start to lessen and pushing back the impulse to shake his head. "Jeez, Nigel, you could always just cut to the point instead of trying to show off."
Nigel just chuckled and printed out the highlighted map. "Bring the information we have to your captain, mate. Your place in this mess ends here. Though I'm sure they'll still let you ride along to go pick her up, no?"
"Who was that man?"
"What? Who?" Jordan asked, bringing her eyes up from where they had been staring sightlessly at her hands, clenched in her lap. She was sitting on the floor of Madge's room, her back against the cot, with Madge sitting against the adjacent wall to her right. The other woman had been digging through her suitcase and she surfaced now with a small, dirty leather sack in her hands. There was no malice in the gaze as the warm firelight reflected it nor, Jordan realized, in her words. Only curiosity.
"The man I met in the park," she repeated softly, shrugging as she let her back hit the wall by her dilapidated bag. "He was really worried. You must mean a lot to him. More than just a coworker."
"Oh, I…I dunno. A friend." Jordan thought about the wedding ring she had stashed in her pocket and felt a stab of guilt. She hadn't referred to Woody in that way in a very long time, and suddenly all of it rose up in her mind – the quick wedding, her reluctance to tell her friends, and now how quickly she had removed her ring when she got here instead of accepting his place in her life – and settled in her stomach, not sitting well. She moved slightly, bringing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.
Madge pursed her lips, watching her closely from across the room. That weary stare seemed to cut through her. "I am not stupid, you know," she said tartly after a moment. "I may not have finished my PhD like you, but I can still read what is plain as day on someone's face. Who is he?"
"PhD in what?" Jordan asked with interest, trying to change the subject as soon as the option was presented as much for herself as for the situation. She bit her lip and kneaded her fingers against the muscles in her arms, attempting to let go of her shamefaced conscious.
"Advanced chemistry. Who was he?"
"Wait." She held up her hand, her eyebrows cinched in muted surprise. "Chemistry? Seriously?"
Madge glared at her, though the expression was broken by a small smile. "Yeah, from UNC Chapel Hill. I had to leave the program a few weeks before I would have gotten my degree to…deal with a family emergency. Things happened and I wasn't able to go back. You really that shocked, that a junkie like me can actually be smart?"
"No, that's not what I meant at all. I just…it's a small field, that's all. Damn, we could have been colleagues in another world." Jordan sucked in a sharp breath and let it out quickly. She didn't know why she suddenly felt a surge of trust for this woman. No, she did know. It was because Madge was opening herself up to her. Two perfect strangers thrown together by a bad situation, and here they were, talking as if there were no boundaries between them. "He's my husband," she finally admitted. "The man from the park."
"Thought you said you weren't married," Madge said softly. She wasn't angry, though, and Jordan met her soft brown eyes with her own lighter ones.
"It's only been three months," she whispered, running a finger over the naked space where her ring should be and giving a mirthless laugh. "We haven't told anyone. Not even our friends. You're the only person who knows now."
The woman nodded, silent. Now that the floodgates were open, Jordan found it hard to stop talking and she cleared her throat. "This was supposed to be our first Christmas together," she continued quietly, staring into the fire now as she recalled the last few weeks with a tight chest. "We bought a tree and everything and he was ready to decorate it and I…don't know, panicked or something."
"Why?" Madge asked, fingering her leather case mindlessly but not looking away. Somewhere else in the house, they could hear Jay pounding on the furnace in an attempt to get it to kick back on. The bizarreness of the situation did not escape either of them.
"I hate Christmas," Jordan said after a moment. "Well, I don't hate it. That's too harsh. I just…don't have very many good memories of it, I guess. But Woody…" She trailed off, trying to catch her train of thought as it attempted to leave her the way it had so often before when she had seen that fir and wanted to talk with him about why it made her uncomfortable. Instead she had just avoided the whole thing. "He was just so excited about being together this year. He bought a huge tree that is currently naked in our living room because he was waiting on me to get my ornaments out of the attic. His are already on the table, all sorted… But I don't have any. I didn't take a single one when I left for college, and I haven't bought any since. They all reminded me too much of -"
Her words hung broken in the air, the silence only touched by the pops from the fire since the banging had stopped.
"It just reminded me of a past I've done very well to escape," she added finally. But that wasn't the only thing she had been stewing over the since she had been confined here, and she bit her bottom lip for a second, her eyes falling down to her arms. "I think…I think he thinks I regret marrying him. I have this – this history, right? Of running away – literally, packing up and leaving – and I have this feeling that he's worried I might do that again. Maybe not now, but…later. I've done it twice in the time I've known him. I was gone for months. Before I knew him – I disappeared for years at a time."
Madge was silent for a long moment, weighing her words in her mind before speaking softly. "Are you going to leave him?"
"No," she responded truthfully. "Those two times…I was fleeing other things, anyway. Never him." Jordan chuckled humorlessly, though her lips did hold the slightest hint of a smile. "No. Woody's probably one of the best people I know. There's just…I dunno, it's like – his soul has something pure in it. Hey, don't get me wrong here," she hastened to add when Madge scoffed at her. "He's done some really stupid things in his life, and some of the mistakes he's made – well, they're on par with my own. But making bad choices does not make you a bad person. He came into my life at a time when I really needed him, you know?"
Madge laughed then, a deep, throaty one that Jordan had never heard from her before. "I almost feel as though you and I could have been friends. In that different world you mentioned before." Her smile faded slightly, and she unzipped the little bag and peered inside it without pulling out any of the contents. "Unfortunately my bad choices have made a deep impact on my life."
Not sure what to say, Jordan stretched her legs out and let one of them rest flat against the threadbare carpet. Before she could respond, the other woman continued in a soft, faraway voice. "I had a son. When I was younger than you, actually," she commented wryly. "Thirty years ago, it must be now. Unlike you, though, he loved Christmas. Still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, you know? Really enjoyed the Balulalow – that Scottish lullaby; I'd sing it to him every year. Now every time I hear it, I want to…" Madge paused, swallowing quickly before continuing as if it were part of the same holiday story she had started. "He died in an accident when he was seven. That's why I left my PhD program."
Her eyes were wet when she looked up at Jordan again, but she blinked quickly and averted them again. "My husband turned abusive after that. I guess he blamed me or something. He left six months later. And now -" She held up the leather bag, her hands shaking. "Now here I am. I lost the house after he left, my family is all gone…so I just moved around and around. I met Jay in Tuscaloosa. We've kind of, I don't know, taken care of each other on the streets until we were able to make it up here. His great uncle or someone owned this place, still pays the bills on it while renovations are made in other parts of the building to get it ready to be rented again. There," she said with finality, holding out her right hand. "That's my story. Nice to meet you."
Jordan leaned forward and took her trembling hand with her own, grasping it tightly. "Nice to meet you, Madge," she replied warmly. "We all have our pasts. That doesn't mean we have to allow our lives to be ruled by them forever."
Madge just shrugged, now turning most of her attention to the bag she had put in her lap so she could pull out a needle, the syringe already filled, and a dirty strip of cloth. Jordan hurriedly looked away, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. "You know," she said as the woman attempted to use the cloth as a tourniquet on her arm. "That stuff can kill you in one dose. I see it too often."
"Good," Madge replied roughly. "I've had enough living for this lifetime, thanks."
Knowing exactly how that felt, Jordan pulled her legs back up so she could wrap her arms around them again. "There are other ways to deal with the pain," she tried one last time. "I know some doctors in really good rehab clinics around here. It would be easy to pull a string or two; you'd have a spot in less than a day."
She was shaking too badly to tie the knot in the cloth by this point, and Madge's tears were turning real now as she saw her shot at release slipping away – and quickly. She had waited too long for this one and now her body wanted it so badly that she couldn't get her hands to cooperate. She cursed under her breath.
Her heart pounding at the thought that entered her mind, Jordan stood on her knees and slowly, very slowly, shuffled toward her. Thinking she was going to take the needle away, Madge pulled back and twisted away, but Jordan just knelt beside her and gently extracted it from her hand. "I am never going to do this for you again," she whispered, picking up the cloth and tying it where it should actually go on Madge's arm to make her vein pop enough for the needle. "And I can't believe I am doing it now, but God help me, I know what you're going through."
"Bullshit," was the angry response she got.
Jordan just narrowed her eyes and slapped the syringe back into Madge's quivering fingers. "Three times, I've done this shit. In college. After that, I got myself addicted to sleeping pills. And then, when I thought life was too hard? I swallowed the whole damn bottle. Don't 'bullshit' me. Also don't expect me to inject you myself."
She got up and stalked toward the cot again, purposefully turning her back on what she knew was going to happen next.
"Don't tell my husband," Jordan muttered under her breath into the sudden silence, wanting to break it so she wouldn't hear anything. "About the drugs. He doesn't even know I used to smoke. Though, I mean, I don't think he'd hold it against me. He knows my past is…colorful. He just hates drugs. I'm pretty sure he's disowned his brother because of his perpetual…whatever, I don't even know."
She chanced a quick glance over her shoulder then. Madge's head was lolled back against the wall, her arms limp at her sides. The syringe had rolled out of her grasp, and she wasn't paying attention to a word Jordan said now as the heroin moved through her body.
"Madge," Jordan whispered, going back to her side and crouching down. She received a brief twitch of the head as an indication her name had been heard, and she took the other woman's hand in hers, holding it against her chest. "Woody is going to find me soon, and the police aren't going to let you go. If I ask the DA to send you somewhere for detox instead of prison as your sentence…will you go?"
Madge nodded almost imperceptibly, but Jordan saw it.
"We can still be friends, hon. Whatever happens, okay?"
"…'kay," Madge breathed.
Jordan smiled sadly and, after softly kissing her knuckles, gently placed her hand back in her lap. "Madge, I have another question for you, okay? Just one more before you let go."
"Is your drug dealer the one who asked you and Jay to abduct me?" The thought had occurred to her while she had been staying there, but she hadn't been able to think of a delicate way to ask. Now, though…seemed as good a time as any. She wouldn't remember being asked.
The other woman gave one more tiny nod.
"Thank you," Jordan whispered. "I'm going to leave the room now."
She stood again and sighed, running a hand across her forehead and into her hair before stopping abruptly when she remembered she hadn't washed or brushed it since she had come to this place; it was full of knots and tangles that would catch her fingers. Frowning, she stepped toward the door, intending to go find Jay and hound him for information about his dealer. Suddenly, though, there was a sharp gasping sound from behind her.
Spinning back around, Jordan's heart all but stopped when she saw Madge slumped over on the floor, her mouth open as she tried to breathe. No air was being pulled into her lungs, though, the muscles refusing to move. Her jaw moved up and down as her eyes opened wide, unable to focus.
"Jay!" Jordan screamed, already knowing what was happening and that nothing she tried was going to work. "Jay!"
She pulled Madge away from the wall so she could lie flat. Within seconds, her body started twitching and seizing. Tears poured down Jordan's face as she tried to support her head. I should have taken the syringe, she thought angrily, her breath hitching. Why didn't I take the fucking syringe? But the rational side of her brain knew that cold-turkey withdrawal could have been dangerous, too. This, though – this was poison. Murder number five was happening right in front of her eyes.
"Jay!" she cried again, her voice going hoarse with the strength of it.
His footsteps were loud coming down the hall and, a moment later, he pushed the door open so quickly that the doorknob left a dent in the wall. His mouth dropped open in horror when he saw what was happening.
"Call an ambulance," Jordan begged, hunched over Madge's body as it continued to convulse. "Please, you have to call for help!" When he made no move to do so, transfixed by the terrible scene, she snapped, "She's going to die in minutes, Jay! Two, maybe three if we're lucky. She told me you were friends!"
"I – I can't!" Jay said, his voice shaking. "We'll all die if I call anyone, you don't understand!"
"No, you don't understand! This isn't an overdose! There was cyanide in the heroine you both were given!" Her eyes went back and forth between Madge and the man slumping against the doorframe. "This murderer – your dealer, whoever he is – was going to kill you all along! Me, too," she added as an afterthought. "But Madge, this woman on the floor right here, she is going to die unless she gets help right now. Use my phone to call an ambulance. Please! Jay, please!"
"But…but you're a doctor," Jay tried to argue feebly, looking desperately at her as though simply by pointing that out she would be able to fix everything.
"I cut up dead people, for God's sake! I – I don't have any tools or -"
Quite suddenly, the seizure stopped and Madge lay still. Without hesitating or continuing the conversation, Jordan leaned forward to check her pulse. When she didn't find it in her wrist, she frantically pressed her fingers to Madge's neck. Nothing. Almost losing her balance in her haste, she turned her head and held her cheek over the woman's mouth, which was still ajar. Not a hint of breath came from between her lips.
"No," she said in denial, forgetting Jay was even there now.
Immediately, she got up on her knees and clasped her hands together, one over the other, and pressed them rhythmically into Madge's chest. "Not you," she implored, ignoring the new tears so she could breathe fresh air into the woman's lungs in turn with the attempts to restart her heart.
Only Jay heard the cars pull up outside. He ran back out into the hallway and down the stairs, trying to make a quick exit out the door into the narrow backyard, but the front door was kicked open before he had made it into the kitchen.
A swarm of uniformed police officers filed inside, guns raised.
Finally giving in to his fear and growing grief for his friend as the last few minutes sunk in, Jay allowed himself to be pulled roughly outside and called to whoever would listen, "They're upstairs! Please, I think she's dead! She needs help!"
Woody, who had been held back and refused entry to the apartment while it was searched and emptied, heard Jay's plea and grabbed him forcibly about the collar, out of the other officer's grasp. Jay looked around at him, startled. "Who?" he asked sharply. When he didn't get an answer quickly enough, he gave him a shake. "Who's dead?"
Jay shook his head, eyes wide in fear. "It all happened so quickly -"
"Send in the EMTs. We have a body, second floor." The call came over the radio, and Woody released Jay and looked back at the crumbling building, feeling sick. Deciding it would be worth the reprimand, he sprinted toward the door, hanging off its hinges, and took the stairs two at a time. The hallway was dark, but he found the room easily by the cops mingling around it.
"Move," he said brusquely. "Out of my way, please."
There was a body on the floor. It was the woman he had met in the park, who had warned him to be careful. The one who had told him the person responsible for this whole situation was dangerous. Baffled, he tore his eyes away from her, anxious now to find the one he had come for.
Jordan was huddled in the corner as the officers took note of the scene, arms crossed tightly across her abdomen and her eyes glued on the dead woman on the floor. She looked small and angry and drained, and she hadn't yet noticed him standing there staring at her. He shouldered his way into the room itself around a handful of others, still unnoticed by her, and stepped carefully across the floor.
"Jordan," he whispered when he was a few feet away.
Hearing her name, she raised her head in confusion and turned her tear-streaked face to his. "Jordan," he said again, crossing the space between them now like it was nothing and taking her into his arms. She fell against his chest limply, feeling numb as he rubbed a hand up and down her back. "God, Jo, I was so worried about you."
She didn't reply, instead just turning her face to hide against his heavy jacket. There was still snow on the lapel and the cold felt good – shocking – against her skin. And then, unbidden, she began to cry again, heavy sobs of loss for the woman she had bonded with so quickly but barely knew.
"Hey, it's okay," Woody soothed quietly. "You're safe now."
She didn't bother correcting him, didn't tell him that she hadn't feared for herself the entire time she'd been here. That what she was really reeling from now was the sense of knowing that she had lost one more person who truly understood her and never would have judged, just like she would have loved them in return – even if that kinship had bloomed over just a few days.
Woody loosened his grip and began to lead her from the room. As they passed the mantle – the fire now extinguished, never to be lit by Madge again – Jordan paused and picked up the only thing she had remained curious about but Madge would not yet show her: The photograph. Fingers unfeeling, she flipped it up. A young boy, his smile bright and exuberant even though one of his front teeth was missing, beamed back at her. Not caring that it may have been considered evidence, she slid the frame off the mantle to carry out with her.
It wasn't until Woody asked if they had also stolen her wedding ring that she remembered to pull it out of her pocket and slide it back onto her finger.