~ Chapter 12 ~

As he sped towards Salem Place, John hummed along to the music emanating from his car speakers. He recognized the song as one that he and Kate had often danced to, and it brought back fond memories.

She really is a fine woman.

If Marlena hadn't returned from DiMera's island alive, John was positive that he and Kate could have been happy. He still harboured a soft spot for his ex-fiancée, and he was delighted that they had remained close. Although many of his fellow Salemites judged her harshly, he didn't share their negative opinions. As a result, he frequently found himself defending her behaviour. While she was often misguided, he firmly believed that she acted out of love for those she cared about. And, given their enduring bond, he was certain that she would be willing to help him now.

Pulling his silver sports car into a parking spot, he turned off the ignition, but delayed opening the door just long enough to hear the end of the song. The melody remained stuck in his head, bringing a smile to his face as he headed in search of Kate.

Kate had dressed as carefully as fifteen minutes would allow. She was determined to look her best for John, no matter what his agenda might be. More than likely, Marlena would be the subject of their conversation, as usual. What was it about the blonde that had so many of Salem's men falling all over themselves for her? Sure, she was pretty enough and smart enough, but, in Kate's opinion, her rival lacked fire, passion and a zest for life – not to mention a finely honed fashion sense. In short, she was bland and boring.

Oh, well. There's no accounting for taste.

Taking one last quick look in the mirror, she spritzed herself with John's favourite perfume, grabbed her jacket and purse, and left the hotel.

Maybe, if I'm lucky, Marlena will shift her affections to Alex North, which would leave John a free man.

Kate vowed to do everything in her power to make that wish a reality.

John was sitting on an outdoor bench, staring off into space, and Kate spotted him immediately. Smiling sweetly, she walked over and placed her hand on his shoulder.

"Hello, John."

It took him a moment to focus, but once he did, his eyes lit up in gratitude.

"Kate, thanks for coming. You have no idea how much I need a friend today."

I want to be more to you than a friend, but I guess this will have to do for now.

Sitting beside him, she gave him a comforting hug, all the while inhaling his wonderful, masculine scent. How she had missed being this close to him. Snapping out of her momentary daydream, she loosened her grip and made eye contact, assuring him of her full attention.

"You know I'd do anything for you. I value our friendship, and I want to help if I can. What is it that's bothering you?"

"It's the same old, same old. Dr. North."

"Has something happened to make things worse?"

The look John shot her made Kate instantly regret having voiced the question.

"How much worse can it get? My wife has amnesia, and she doesn't remember being in love with me. She's cutting herself off from everybody who cares about her. She refuses to spend time alone with me, but when that shrink of hers calls, she comes running."

Realizing that he needed to vent, Kate remained silent as John paused. It wasn't long before he resumed his tirade.

"Our plan was brilliant, but somehow the guy didn't fall for it. I know I would've. After all, you're charming, witty and beautiful. And yet, he barely seemed to notice you."

He's not the only one.

"I swear, he's like a dog with a bone. He's got his sights fixed on my wife, and he won't let go. Which would be great if he was devoting all of his efforts to helping her regain her memory, but it feels like just the opposite…"

John's voice trailed off as he felt Kate shiver.

"I'm sorry. I've been totally absorbed in my own pity party. You're cold. Let's go grab some coffee at Java."

She nodded her acquiescence and smiled at him thankfully as he slid his arm around her waist and steered her inside. Once they'd settled at a table, two steaming mugs of coffee between them, Kate detected the merest hint of an upturn to John's lips. She decided to probe for its cause.

"So, it's not all doom and gloom. Something must be going your way. I can see it on your face."

"Yeah, you caught me. I made sure that North wouldn't be anywhere near my wife today."

"Really? And how did you accomplish that?"

"Well, part of it wasn't my doing. Doc decided she wanted to be alone, so even though that means she's not with me…"

"She's not with him, either," Kate finished. "But how can you be sure he didn't follow her to wherever she went?"

John couldn't hide his grin.

"That's the beauty of it. I had Tek put a tail on North, so the minute he leaves the penthouse, someone will be right behind him. Smart thinking, right?"

"What if he finds Marlena, though?"

"He won't. I mean, even if he happened to lose the tail, how would he know where to look? I'm her husband, and I have no clue."

Kate shrewdly kept her thoughts to herself. In her opinion, Marlena had been a different person since she'd come back from the island, and John might not really know her all that well anymore. Still, there was no use shattering his illusions.

"Okay, so you've got an officer following Dr. North. Have you come up with anything else?"

"Not a damn thing! I was having trouble sleeping last night, so I logged onto the ISA website and did a search. Know what I ended up with? Nada. Zilch."

"They have nothing on him?" Kate's voice echoed her surprise.

"Beats me. I couldn't gain access, and that's never happened before. So, I got in touch with an old ISA buddy of mine, and even he couldn't help me. I still haven't figured out if he really doesn't know anything, or if he's under a gag order."

"Sounds like Marlena's doctor is definitely hiding something. There has to be a way of finding out what it is."

John heaved a discouraged sigh, and Kate's heart sank at the evident toll the situation was taking on him. His face was haggard, there were bags under his eyes, and he was sporting a five o'clock shadow when it was barely past noon. As she clasped his hand in hers, she was rewarded with a faint smile.

"Thanks for listening to me go on and on, Kate. I really appreciate it. No matter how down I get, you're always there and you don't complain…"

The ringing of his phone interrupted him in mid-sentence.

"John Black here."

"John, it's Tek. I'm afraid I have some bad news. We lost the tail on Alex North."

"No!" John's fist slammed the table, causing Kate to flinch. "Damn it, Tek, I trusted you with my wife's safety. How could you put her in jeopardy like this?"

"Officer Clark was the only one available when you called this morning. I can assure you that he understood the gravity of the assignment, but this is only his second year on the force, and he still has a lot to learn. Besides, he had a valid reason for taking his eyes off the subject. A little girl was in crisis. As a father yourself, you can understand…"

"I expect results, Tek, not excuses. Have you managed to locate North?"

"No, not yet. I've got several officers out searching right now, though, and I'll let you know the minute I hear from any of them."

"You'd better."

John disconnected the call and buried his face in his hands.

"What happened?" Kate inquired apprehensively.

"North slipped the tail. Tek doesn't know where he is. Probably filling Marlena's head with more psychobabble as we speak."

"Don't worry so much. Alex isn't from Salem. If he is out there trying to find Marlena, I'm sure all he's doing is driving around in circles. Maybe he's even gotten lost," she added, hoping to ease his mind.

Seeing the wisdom in Kate's logic, John began to relax. What she was saying made sense. There was no way that Alex, a stranger in town, would know where to find Marlena. His wife was perfectly safe.