Olivia had tried to find out exactly what was wrong with the doctor, but she had been stone-walled in her attempts. All that had been said was that Sister Marie had been moved from the convent and she'd let the detective know more when she did. No amount of cajoling had instigated any further information and Olivia had reluctantly driven back to the city. The journey had been almost suffocating in its silence reminding Olivia that in the past she had always enjoyed silence but this…this is intolerable. As they pulled up at the doctor's office, Olivia passed her the car keys.

"I guess you'll call me when you're ready. Take it easy Doc. Hey, you can't help everybody." Olivia slipped out of the car and was halfway down the block before Amelia tried to answer. Listlessly she climbed out of the passenger side door and locked the vehicle before wearily walking up the stairs into her office.

Teal had seen her boss in this kind of morose mood before but usually she had a handle of what the problem was - at this moment in time she didn't have a clue. And, knowing Amelia she wasn't going to be that forthcoming initially.

"Hey, I wasn't expecting you, are you alone?"

Amelia stared at her friend. Her eyes clouded as she tried to stop herself from snapping at the woman. She failed. "Alone as I usually am Teal. What did you expect, a brass band?"

Teal remained seated and watched as Amelia headed for her own office, "I'll fetch you lunch. Anything in particular you want today?"

"I'm not hungry. Can you make an appointment for me with Mother Sara?" She hesitated then said, "Now, if that's possible." Amelia shut the door behind her without waiting to hear the repy.

Teal placed a hand to her forehead. Not eating is bad, really bad, but asking for an audience with Mother Sara, that is the pits. What had happened since I last saw her? Can it have anything to do with that tall sexy detective? Hmm, I'd love some of her action…pity she isn't so inclined.

Dialling the number quickly, Teal arranged the appointment. Fortunately the Mother was free in an hour. Ending the conversation, Teal opened up her own sandwich. She placed a couple of the spares she always made for emergencies like this and took them inside. Her friend looked so lost and Teal felt for her knowing that it had to be a big problem to have her so upset.

"You have an appointment in one hour. I brought you these." She held out the sandwiches. "If you haven't eaten you'll never be able to face her." She wiggled her eyebrows. "You know I'm right," Teal joked hoping to see a semblance of a smile appear. It didn't happen.

"Thanks Teal. I know you mean well but right now I can't stomach any food. Do you know they never allowed me to try and help her? Right now I feel like I've failed her by taking her to see the obstetrician. If I hadn't they would never have known for sure…at least not yet. Maybe in that time I could have worked that miracle."

Sitting down across from her friend, Teal swung her legs like a child as she spoke. "Amelia, sometimes it's meant to be. You can't be responsible for everyone who can't take reality for its face value."

"You sound like the detective, Teal. She said very much the same thing. It isn't the Sister that has broken me Teal, it's the Mother Superior and how the Order is dealing with the situation. It's so very wrong!" The pain in the words rang a warning bell in Teal's ears. When Amelia was this distraught it usually didn't bode well. Perhaps it isn't a good idea to see Mother Sara.

"I don't want to speak out of turn but, is seeing Mother Sara right now a good idea? Wouldn't it be better to sleep on it?" The flash of eyes bore into hers. Yep I've spoken out of turn.

Amelia stood up and reached for her jacket and purse. "If I can't speak with Mother Sara when I feel like this, then when is it a good time Teal…when?" Amelia left with the wake of her words echoing in the room.

Teal deftly jumped from the chair and walked back to her own desk. Lunch wasn't going to sit well with her either until she knew what was actually going on. Maybe the detective can shed some light on this matter. Perhaps she'd call Olivia Santos in an hour or so and find out how the land lies. If nothing else, the detective had a sexy voice to go with that body and that would soothe any worry she had for a few minutes.

+ + +

Olivia attempted to open the door to the office but was surprised that it was locked. There could be only one explanation - Max was still on the case that he started the previous day. Using her key, she unlocked the door and strode purposely over to his desk and noticed everything was as she'd left it earlier that morning. Glancing at the cell phones, she saw they were still being charged. She gave the instruments a puzzled frown as she switched them off. In all the time she and Max had known each other there had never been a time when he hadn't called in to give her an update. Interestingly enough, it was the one thing he had taught her and that lesson had stayed with her through the years. Sometimes rash with her choices, communicating with Max was far smarter than taking dangerous risks without another's knowledge. He had saved her from the odd beating when he suddenly appeared when she needed it. In Max, she had found the perfect foil for her inability to take orders because he'd worked out early that she really could fend for herself. His gentle instruction had worked wonders in their professional working relationship.

Pressing the button on the answering machine, she listened to the half dozen messages but none were from Max. Then she dialled their service and listened to the others, but out of the twenty there was only one that was odd and it wasn't from Max. The hysterical voice of a woman was pleading for Max to call her back immediately. The clear fear of something or someone in the voice shot through Olivia like an electronic pulse. The name given was Danielle Frobisher. Now where have I heard that name before? Her eyes flicked to the newly opened folder of the case that Max had taken and there in bold print was the woman's name. Hmm this is interesting, Max hasn't been back to the office and this woman who hired him for a simple domestic surveillance case is hysterical. Flipping several pages through the opened folder, she glanced at the few notes that Max had made and one name popped out to gain her immediate attention. Axel Randal!

The outer door to the office opened and a burly, unshaven man with deep set eyes gave her the once over as he glanced around. The shifty look in the man's eyes had her senses honed to any unusual movement. Olivia watched with her hand placed strategically on the hilt of her gun that she had strapped around her middle. She hadn't removed her leather jacket so the weapon was hidden from view.

"I have a proposal for your detective. Is anyone here?" the man said in a voice that sounded like scratchy sandpaper. Olivia decided for the moment to play along with the fact that he didn't think she was a detective. Playing the dutiful office girl was all part of the daily grind and it served its purpose on occasion and today might be another of those days.

"He's out at the moment sir. Do you want to leave a message? I'll have him contact you when he returns. It shouldn't be long now." Olivia batted her eyelids in an exaggerated way as she produced a voice that was a cross between having a cold and Marilyn Monroe.

The man stepped further into the office and stood close to Max's desk where she was still positioned. With a smile that didn't reach his eyes, which were already clouded in a lustful gaze, he took in her body statistics. Men could always be relied upon to be taken in by a pretty woman and she could play that part well enough when required to. "Yeah, give him this card girlie, I'll be expecting his call." The man turned away and headed for the door and then spun around slowly. He'd obviously forgotten to say something. His next words had Olivia reaching for the edge of her desk. "Tell him I have some news about his partner." The tone of his voice said the news wasn't good.

She was unable to do more than stand there because she wanted to seize the stranger and make him tell her what he knew about Max. Breathing in deep, but slow breaths, she watched the man get into a Ford Mustang on the passenger side. So there's someone else with him. Reaching for the card, she looked at the numbers and the name then sat down heavily - Randal Enterprises.

Taking the folder that contained the woman's number, she dialled it quickly, and waited for a pick up…

+ + +

The convent of Mary Magdalene was a progressive institution and one that had grown in recognition for their good works in the community over the past fifty years. The reduction of the codes of discipline had been a great factor in this. Now many people saw this as a charitable institute rather than a religious order. In many senses it was both. However, religion was today, as in the past, the greatest calling for those affiliated with the convent. Amelia sat pensively in the vestibule waiting for her audience with the Mother Superior's. A few minutes drifted past before the clerk who worked for the Mother smiled at the doctor and beckoned for her to enter the office.

Once inside one could be forgiven for thinking it was more like the study of an academic than the head of a convent. Books on all subject matter adorned the numerous shelves that lined the walls and a well worn leather sofa, with a coffee table strewn with popular magazines, was in the middle of the large room. A medium sized classic replica writing desk with a boson's chair was to the right. The door to a private room to the left opened and a woman in her mid-sixties smiling warmly welcomed Amelia with a warm a hug. "My child it's been way too long since you last came to see me for a chat."

Amelia felt the comforting hug and a part of her anger and disagreeable disposition disappeared. For the moment she felt she was safe from the ravages of the outside world. "I'm sorry I left it too long Mother Sara."

"Let's have coffee. Chloe has gone to fetch us a new brew. I abhor the dregs of hours old coffee. Sit my child, sit and tell me what's wrong." The kindly words disguised a strong penetrating gaze.

Amelia complied with the request gratefully and seated herself opposite the Mother Superior. "Thanks I need the coffee."

The silver-flecked eyes bored into Amelia as they faced each other, "How is our young friend Teal? I haven't seen her for a while, not even at the services Sunday."

A slight smile creased Amelia's lips as she considered her friend. "Oh you know Teal she never was much for the practise of praying in church."

"Ah yes. She isn't the most reliable parishioner I know. Now my child how can I help you? Because right now, you look like the world has shifted on its axel and is about to stop." The Mother had known this young woman for over twenty years. She had been the head of the school Amelia had attended and had the pleasure, and sometimes the pain, to watch her grow into the woman she had now become. Her intelligence coupled with too much compassion at times threatened the fabric of her own sanity. Her deep need to be of use to the community had been a blessing in many ways but also a trial for Amelia. Thankfully, the profession she had chosen was at least in part a help to understanding herself as well as her patients. If only the young woman didn't think she could fix everyone's problems then she might find the peace she needed inside to live a more healthy life.

"Father Johansson will have informed you of my new case?" Her eyes flew to the Mother's and at the movement of acknowledgment she continued, "Mother I failed the Sister, I failed her big time and I don't know what to do?"

The pain etched in every word had Mother Sara's heart go out to the young woman. Amelia was brilliant in her own way but she suffered so for her talent. "I do not know all the details but I'm sure you did everything you could. Wasn't it only a few days ago that you were given this case?"

"Yes, and that's the point Mother. I wasn't able to do the right thing by the Sister. The convent clammed up and sent her away to an institution. I can't allow them to do that. She needs my help…never more so than now!"

Calmly, taking in the wretched words as Amelia spoke, Mother Sara digested the information before she answered. "Amelia you cannot interfere with the decisions of another convent. By the grace of God they allowed you to become involved and so by the grace of God they can refuse your help. Do you know of the place the Sister has been sent to?"

"Yes Mother, but that isn't the point…"

Holding up a hand to stop the flow of words, the Mother began again, "and this place, is it a good place for the problems the Sister is suffering from?"

Wildly Amelia looked around the room, wanting not to answer but knowing she had to she replied, "Yes, the doctors there are specialists in that kind of medical condition. However…"

Once more the Mother stopped Amelia with the wave of her hand. "However you believe you are better than they are and you want to help the woman, am I right?"

Was she right? Had her own vaulted aspirations of grandeur set herself up for this all powerful role and no one else could give the problem the insight she could? Was she finally losing it? There had been times when she had considered that she was the only one who a patient could possibly turn to. In most cases, since she had worked a long time with the patient, she'd been right. But this, this situation wasn't even a week of contact, though it felt like a year to her. There had been something that called to Amelia, her soul perhaps, which had been linked to that of Sister Marie's fate. She couldn't stand by and do nothing if she had the means to help.

Her head which was downcast shot up dramatically when she replied, "I don't think Mother Sara, I know!"

There was a knock on the door and the clerk stepped inside with deliciously smelling fresh coffee. A reviver if ever there was one.

Five minutes later, in a silence that was fraught with unspoken and unanswered questions, Mother Sara finally spoke again. "I have known you for a long time child and there is a part of you that needs, no indeed craves, to do the right thing by every unfortunate that is placed in your path. Don't you see Amelia that each time an obstacle is placed in your way you use up far too much of yourself in removing it? And, in some cases, the energy required robs you of the very essence that enables you to do what is right for your patient. This is one of those times Amelia. Let it go. Allow others to help the Sister. How can whatever she's going through be more important than stepping on others to achieve your goal?"

"Pragmatic as always Mother Sara. It's the very reason I came to you for guidance. You don't tell me to let it go, you ask me. Would it be too much of an imposition for me to check on the Sister and see how she's coping from time to time?" Amelia had been running on angry adrenaline and was now sliding into what could be observed as normality. Maybe she needed to check in to see a psychiatrist herself.

Mother Sara smiled warmly, feeling that the troubled wave that had crashed over Amelia now lapped sedately at the shore. "I am here to help Amelia just as you are. There is a time to stand and a time to let go and at other times you need to wait. Let us have the understanding that in this case you need patience and faith my child. The answer will eventually present itself. Now, tell me how things have been, other than this episode, in your life of late."

Accepting the words for the wisdom they offered, Amelia began to tell Mother Sara about the strange detective she had been working with. Now there was someone who could probably use her help as well.

+ + +

Sister Marie Clarice-Benoite had never doubted her conviction that the child she carried was a gift from God for it was the only explanation. Yet, here she was in a vehicle being delivered into the hands of medical people who would think her claims lunacy. Why didn't anyone believe her? She had thought that Mother Superior would, in time, understand how this came to be. She had even allowed the outsider to question her and confirm her condition. Doctor West had been kind to her and hadn't been quick to terminate her beliefs as to the conception of the child she carried. As she thought of the baby in her womb she protectively placed her hands over the swelling.

The gesture alerted the nun who was driving her to the hospital's location. She was new to the convent and therefore had had little contact with many of the nuns. It was the way of the convent to keep the new intake segregated from the older ones until they had been assessed of their talents. Her fellow Sister, she hazarded, was about her age and was apparently very troubled. The woman then turned her attention back to the endless miles that stretched out before them.

A tear was about to fall and Sister Marie quickly rubbed her eyes to prevent the other nun from seeing her distress. I have never lied to anyone in my life. Up to this point my honesty has been beyond reproach. Why then doesn't anyone believe that I can possibly be telling the truth, why? The simple question had been floundering around in her head from the moment the Mother had announced that it was for the best that she agree to treatment in a place that could help her since they couldn't. But, why can't they? I belong with them. I've committed her life to the Order and to what it represents. Apparently the only solution to my situation is to be flung out of the only home I've known and the family that I regard as my own. Will there be no end to the pain I've had to bear in order to bring this child into the world? Why is what I'm saying so wrong? Part of our faith believes there will be a second coming of our Lord. Am I such a bad person that this accolade shouldn't be bestowed upon me? None of this makes sense.

"I need a bathroom break at the next stop Sister Agnes."

The nun muttered something under her breath as she pulled up several minutes later at a small town service station. "Do you want to eat here too? It could be a while before we pass through another town."

Considering the proposal, Sister Marie gave the nun a small smile of thanks. "There's a diner attached to the gas station. Why don't you check to see if it suits you. I'll be only a few minutes and I'll meet you inside." Without waiting for a reply, Sister Marie quickly made for the restroom of the gas station.

Locking herself in the bathroom, she pulled out a card and smiled as she read the doctor's details, perfect! She had seen a phone booth at the side door and quietly made her way there. Discreetly checking that Sister Agnes had gone across to investigate the diner, she selected a few coins from the money she had been given for her hospital stay and dialled the number. A silent prayer on her lips that the doctor was in her office.

+ + +

Olivia had called the number of the hysterical woman and couldn't understand a damn word of the blabbered gibberish. Taking matters into her own hands, she finally managed to decipher the address given to her and retorted she would be there shortly. Picking up her and Max's cells, Olivia locked the office then walked to the back of the building where the storage area that they rented was. A few moments later, she'd opened up the secure doors and with a grim expression stared at the array of items inside. There was a range of clothing covered in plastic hanging from several racks which could be used for surveillance. On another rack her own personal wardrobe hung. In the centre of the room was a sophisticated array of computer and technical hardware ranging from cameras to listening devices. There was also an array of other items one would think belonged to the government rather than a small privately operated detective agency.

On one side of the space there was the garage area, where a discreetly armoured jeep stood in the back and in descending order of size, a silver Chrysler sedan, an old-type steel grey Jaguar XJS, and finally Olivia's pride and joy, a gleaming silver and purple Harley Davidson. Walking over to the bike, she stroked a slim finger down its streamlined leather seat and smiled as she recalled Max's expression when she'd first arrived at work on the devil machine as he'd nicknamed it. Devil machine it might be to some but to her, it had removed her from some tricky situations when speed was of the essence.

As she thought of Max, the question of where he was kept running through her mind. Clearly the guy who came into their office spoke as if her partner was in dire need, but that could be misleading. And, if it was true and the worse case scenario had to be faced she had to keep a clear head and not take justice into her own hands and run rampant. That was, until she knew there were no more avenues open to her. Right now, the hysterical woman who had engaged Max was her only hope of finding her partner and extricating him from whatever mess he'd fallen into. If anything had happened to him then whoever had perpetrated the event would have her to contend with - she wasn't in as bad a shape as Max.

Passing by the bike, she realized it wouldn't to be of any use if the woman had to be taken from her present position. Anyway, she hated having someone else on the bike. It was like a part of her own private world that she didn't care to share. The Jaguar was sleek and in her mind sexy, if she wanted to impress then she used the vehicle. Lately it hadn't had much play time and today was no exception, work was the priority. It was a toss up between the sedan and the jeep. No contest really - the jeep won hands down since she might need a little of its fire power - who knew what was going to be in store for her.

At the end of the day she had only one priority, Max. Everything and everyone else can go screw themselves. I really don't care and that goes for the doctor if she calls back.

Selecting a couple of items from the desk and a few extra rounds for her gun she took the Jeep's keys and climbed into the vehicle. Within a minute she was heading out onto the main street and her destination, Danielle Frobisher.

+ + +

"I'm sorry Sister but the doctor isn't available at the moment, can I have her call you back I'm sure…" Teal was surprised that the nun was calling.

"No! There isn't anyway she can call me back. Does she have another number I can call? It's urgent!" Sister Marie's voice sounded panicked.

"I'm sorry Sister but she'd left her cell behind in the office. I know she won't be much longer are you sure… wait a minute, I think I hear coming in." Teal heard a sigh of relief at the other end of the line as she craned her neck to see if Amelia really was walking up the stone steps to the door. Thankfully she was. As she opened the door she looked a lot more relaxed than the last time she'd seen her friend. This call could change all that and she pondered for a split second if she should say anything.

"Hi Teal, any sandwiches left?" Amelia smiled warmly at her friend.

With a wink, Teal held up the phone. "Sister Marie is on the line, she wanted to talk to you. It sounds urgent…"

Amelia's eyes flew open in astonishment as she quickly took the receiver from Teal's hand. "Hi Sister Marie this is a surprise…"

"Doctor West, I haven't got much time. I'm taking a great risk calling you but I need your help."

A serious expression settled on Amelia's features as she listened to the nun and finally replied. "I can be there in a little over two hours. You'll have to stall the next part of the journey. Can you do that Sister?"

Moments later Amelia stood with the phone in her hand lost in her thoughts as Teal gently removed the handset. She waited for her friend to come out of her daydreaming and when she didn't, Teal nudged her. "Penny for those thoughts Amelia?"

Amelia shook her head and brought herself back to reality. "You are never going to believe this Teal. The nun doesn't want to be placed in the institution and wants my help to stop her from being incarcerated there. I said I'd help, but to be honest I haven't a clue what to do, or, if I should even consider helping her. What will the church say?"

Teal grinned. It was just like her friend to involve herself without thinking. It was one of the traits she loved about Amelia and why they had managed to work together and remain close friends over the years. "Well the Church can mutter and moan all it likes, but if she doesn't want to go she shouldn't have to. She's not a danger to anyone I take it?"

Amelia considered the question carefully before she replied. "Not to anyone except herself maybe. If I do this I'm not going to be flavour of the month with Father Johansson or Mother Sara, never mind the Cascadian Order."

Teal laughed heartily as she considered the obstacles. "Well you can always do ten hail Mary's next Sunday to make up for any wrong doing. I know that's what I do when I eventually decide it's time to make up with God."

Amelia gave her friend a mock severe glance and then laughed. "You're right of course, I can do penance later. Right now, I need to have a plan. This really isn't my field of expertise."

"Might not be yours but we both know someone who probably wouldn't blink an eyelid out of place with this situation."

Frowning, Amelia looked at her friend and then, with at the slight leer on Teal's face, she realised who her friend was talking about. "Why of course, the detective. Can you call her Teal and ask her to be at my office within the next fifteen minutes otherwise I'll leave without her."

Grinning, Teal wondered if the demand was something the detective would appreciate; she doubted it very much. Amelia was preoccupied and thought everyone else was on the same page as she was. "I'll call her and let you know. I've left those sandwiches on your desk. Eat them before you leave, you might not get a chance to eat again for a while." Amelia waved a hand and closed her office door.

Teal dialled the detective's office number but it went to her service. The she tried her cell and waited as the ringing made her wonder if this was going to end up at voice mail. Teal was pleased when that delightful voice filtered into her eardrum. Wow sexy isn't a word for it.

"Hi there Detective Santos, any chance you can be at Doctor West's office in the time it takes to get across town?"

Olivia smiled as she heard Doctor West's associate's voice. The woman's voice sounded warm and friendly. "Hey, sorry Teal, I'm afraid I have an appointment I can probably see the doctor tomorrow morning."

Without thinking Teal muttered, "Oh damn."

"Is there a problem Teal?" Olivia heard the short burst and the tone behind it wasn't good. What has the doctor gotten herself into now? I only left her a couple of hours ago.

"I guess… actually I don't know for sure. Amelia had a desperate call from Sister Marie and Amelia has promised to help her. She needs your help to solve the problem…its way out of her normal field." Teal knew she might be speaking out of turn but if the detective knew there was a problem maybe she'd break her appointment.

Thinking quickly, Olivia knew she was a couple of minutes away from her destination and she could drag along the woman if necessary to gain some time. That way they could talk with the woman as she drove to the doc's place. "Teal I'm going to be about half an hour and tell the doctor I have the transport." The call ended.

Teal grinned as she dropped down from her chair and walked over to Amelia's office. She'd delay her friend with tactical problems whilst the detective arrived then neither would be aware that the timing wasn't what was asked for. All in the day of a good associate!

+ + +

Danielle Frobisher-Randal paced about her home. The woman she had talked to had sounded efficient though detached. What if she didn't believe any of what she was going to tell her? Was she as hysterical as she had heard herself sound on the phone? If she was then thank goodness her son was in a boarding school in the next state for another two months.

A vehicle drew up on the drive outside the house. It must be the detective. She'd asked security at the gate to allow the woman in if she could prove who she was. Either that or her husband's threats of earlier that morning had been factual and he was sending someone out to kill her. Where in the hell could she hide if he did, or worse yet, decided to do it himself? And what about that detective she had hired yesterday? What had happened to him? Axel hadn't been specific but his manner had been calculating and devoid of feeling. In all the years they had been together he had hidden this facet of his character well; or was it that she had been the one in hiding by not seeing what he was really like?

Danielle threw caution to the wind and peered out at the person alighting from the vehicle. It was a woman dressed in black leather and looked exactly how one would imagine the comic book character Cat Woman would look in the flesh. All she needed to round off the costume was the mask. The stranger strode purposefully towards the door and rang the bell. Normally the housekeeper would have answered but it was her afternoon off. Danielle opened the door hesitantly. "Hello?"

Olivia directed her eyes to give the woman who answered the door a stark glance taking in every atom of her body and appearance within a swift few seconds. This isn't the housekeeper. "Hi, my name is Santos, Ms. Frobisher is expecting me."

Danielle opened the door wider and allowed Olivia inside. Standing in the gleaming polished wooden panelled hallway, Danielle wrung her hands as she introduced herself quickly. "I'm Danielle Frobisher."

"Look, this might sound crazy to you but, I'm needed across town. Any chance you and I can have our meaningful chat in my car as we head that way? I promise to drop you off afterwards…or pay for a taxi when we get there."

Taken aback at the request, Danielle didn't know what to do initially but decided it was a good idea. What if Axel has placed a bug in the house? Knowing the little she did about him now, it wasn't a hard conclusion to jump to. "Sure, I could do with the air. Let me fetch my coat and purse."

Olivia watched the woman disappear up the curved stairway and pursed her lips gently as she considered how much the place must be worth. Certainly she might dream of living in a place like this, but wasn't likely to have such a tasteless place, unless she robbed the Federal Reserve of course. There were paintings of landscapes in the main entrance hall, a couple of family photos, and an old, and probably antique, sideboard that adorned one of the walls. Walking over to the wall hangings she engaged her photographic memory and stored the pictures in her head. One never knew when they might need this type of material.

"I'm ready detective, shall we go." Danielle had watched the detective glance at her photos and felt uncomfortable. Several were the only things she had left of her deceased family and another of her son taken last summer.

"Great." Olivia opened the door and allowed the woman to leave the house first as the smell of her perfume invaded Olivia's nostrils. It was a perfect mixture of allure and sophistication that was totally in keeping with her first impressions of the woman. At least she didn't look as hysterical as her voice had sounded on the phone.

As they left the grounds and the house behind, Olivia turned to her passenger and in a strained voice asked, "Where is Max?"

+ + +

Glancing at her watch, Amelia clenched her teeth together in annoyance. The detective was late, even later than she had been. The chances of meeting up with Sister Marie at the diner were rapidly sinking as she waited. Then, a vehicle screeched to a stop outside her office. Moments later Teal buzzed to tell her the detective had arrived.

"About time too!" Amelia announced as f her office door opened.

Olivia Santos flicked a derisive glance in Amelia's direction. "I hope that wasn't for my benefit doctor, or, I might just go out again and leave you to sort out your own problems." Olivia switched her glance to Teal who was watching from her vantage point in the outer office and gave a good-humoured chuckle.

With a heavy hiss between her teeth, Amelia gave the detective a scathing glance. "Look we need to leave immediately, and you said you had transport?"

"I do, but first I need the details of what this is all about so I can decide if it's worth me leaving my current case to help you in yours." The conversation she'd had with Danielle Frobisher had been interesting although it shed no light on what had happened to Max. With the current emotional crisis the woman was experiencing - shit scared of her husband - she was unlikely to find out from her him. According to Danielle, her husband wasn't going to be back in town until midnight. That left her enough time to help the doctor out and then make another visit to the Randal home; assuming this wasn't going to be a long situation.

Amelia quickly detailed her conversation with the Sister and Olivia pulled at her lip in concentration. "Let's go, we can't waste any more time. Teal, I need a favour. Will you contact this number for me and give this message to Captain David Tourney. When you explain it's from me he'll understand." Olivia handed the woman a slip of paper. Then, turning towards the door, she noticed Amelia standing there with her mouth open about to say something.

"I thought we were in a hurry?"

Both women left the building in a hurry. As Amelia was about to take a seat in the front passenger seat, she was astonished to see a beautiful woman sitting there. Who is this?

Olivia saw the look and grinned devilishly. If only it had been in less hurried times she'd have had some fun. "Danielle is coming with us. You don't need to know any more than that."

Climbing into the back of the jeep, Amelia was seething. What gives this woman the right to be here?And why can't I to know anything about her? It isn't fair! I'll just have to find out on my own then. There was no way the detective could prevent her from speaking with the woman over the next hour or so.

"Hi, I'm Amelia West." Hearing the grinding of the detective's teeth, Amelia was pleased with herself.

The stranger simply replied, "Danielle."

+ + +

Olivia had long since decided that the human psyche, particularly female, was all about contradictions along with a reasonable helping of common sense. However, not in all cases especially when capped off with the extremities of emotion. Today proved it to her again. The two women she was travelling with had all that baggage and more! From the moment the doctor was in speaking distance with Danielle she had begun her questioning. At times it amused Olivia, but mostly it irritated her. For once can't the doctor just do as she's asked? That wouldn't have been difficult, but no sir, she decided that she wanted to know as much as possible about the stranger on the journey with them, which she supposed if you had that disposition might be logical.

However, as nature wills it, the tables turned on the doctor and Danielle wasn't shy about asking questions either. Soon the women were in a full blown conversation. Eventually the tide changed in Olivia's favour as the doctor was finally asked what she did for a living. When that special word shrink popped up, all the niceties were over and Danielle became very, very frugal with her conversation. It didn't take a master's degree to know what Danielle was probably thinking, no sir.She probably thinks I'm here to discreetly check her out. Not that West could ever be termed discreet, which was a surprise for that profession. It was almost as if the woman needed to be friends with everybody she met. Still, it made for the odd icy blast in her direction from Danielle and finally a silence from the doctor. Thank god for small mercies.

Finally, Amelia relented in her silent approach and tapped Olivia on the shoulder, which wasn't the most sensible thing to do as she was the driver. However, it didn't appear to bother the detective as she moved her head a fraction acknowledging the pressure on her shoulder.

"Yes Doctor?"

Teal had told her that she had explained in part what the problem was, but with this stranger here in the vehicle, how much dare she say without breaking confidences. It was a dilemma that she had come across several times in her career thus far, but today was different. "I was wondering what the e.t.a. is going to be?"

"I've made up the time you thought we'd lost. We should be there in a little over half an hour." The words were clipped without any emotion at all. Is that for my benefit or Danielle's?

Danielle, for her part, was astounded at the turn of events. Of course she wanted the woman's help, or at least she thought she did but right now she wasn't at all sure what was happening. They were travelling to a dust bowl of a town, a couple of hundred miles away, and her predicament wasn't even being considered. When we arrive back in the city I'll call another private detective. It was the only thing she could think of in the interim. Listening to the silted conversation between the doctor and the detective she doubted they were friends. She wasn't exactly sure of the association they did have now that she had time to ponder their reactions to one other. It was fascinating to relax knowing that there was no way Axel could get to her. She knew it was a luxury she was going to have to savour as she continued to listen to the conversation.

"What speed have you been doing? I don't want us being stopped by the police -that would be the final straw." Amelia was appalled at the speed they were doing to reach their current location. Not that she had noticed the speed because the vehicle certainly didn't indicate to anyone inside that it was well exceeding the speed limits.

Olivia chuckled softly, but loud enough for Amelia to hear which she knew would irritate her more. "Don't worry Doctor there isn't a cop within a fifty mile radius."

"And how can you guarantee that may I ask?" Amelia didn't believe the detective.

For a fraction of second Olivia turned her head to stare at the doctor. Then, with a wicked glint in her eye and a slight tap of her nose, she whispered, "That's for me to know and you… never to find out." With a final wink she swung her gaze back to the road ahead.

Hissing between her teeth, Amelia sank back into the luxury of the soft leather backseat and began fidgeting with the door handle. "Do you have a plan when we meet up at the diner?" Silence was the answer, therefore Amelia asked again, this time her voice held irritation.

"A plan, no, do you?"

Exasperated at the reply, Amelia slid further into her seat seething inside. Isn't that the only reason she's here? "I do not, that's the reason I engaged you!"

This time Olivia laughed out loud. Danielle, who had been listening absently to them, smirked. She faced the window rather than the woman in the backseat thereby preventing the doctor from seeing her amusement. "I see. You engaged me did you? Perhaps I didn't understand my place in all this. How about when we reach our destination Doctor you can duly chastise me for not taking the whole situation seriously. Sound like a plan to you?"

"Oh you're impossible!" Amelia gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. I've had enough of this futile conversation.

Olivia was smiling as she turned to Danielle Frobisher. "Are you ok?"

Danielle grinned in response. Perhaps she would keep the detective around; she certainly wasn't one to be bullied into submission. "I'm fine. Wondering what's going on, but I'll wait for you to tell me when the time is right."

"Good. You catch on quickly…pity I can't say the same about some others." Winking, she nodded towards the backseat.

"I'm sure she's just worried about… whatever it is you're doing out here." Danielle was intrigue and didn't want to leave these two women until she knew what the problem was. It helped take her mind off her own troubles. Obviously it isn't a dangerous situation or I'm certain I wouldn't be sitting here.

Olivia remarked dryly, "'could be or she just enjoys riling me."

What can I say to that? Danielle returned to peering out of the window and saw in the far distance shadows something that might be a town. She certainly hoped so because a bathroom break was sorely required.

+ + +

"I'm sorry Sister, but we need to continue or we'll not reach our destination before dinner." Sister Agnes was becoming slightly annoyed at the wavering tactics of her fellow nun. She hadn't had any dealings with this particular Sister before, which wasn't a surprise. When she'd been asked to accompany her to the institution, which to her was a polite way of saying an asylum, she had been cautiously pleased with being honoured by a request from the Mother Superior. Not one to pass up the opportunity to prove her worth to her new order, she gladly embarked on the trip. Even the odd comment that had been passed her way about the other nun hadn't deterred her. Well, for goodness sake, she must need professional help if she is thinking the preposterous thoughts she does. Frankly she would have been one of those that would have either ostracised the nun and left her to her own devices or the man who had led to her current predicament. It was all, all so very shameful.

Sister Marie fiddled with the beads that hung from the chain around her waist and adjusted her posture in the vinyl seat to see the time. Over two hours had elapsed since she had spoken with the doctor and currently there was no sign of her at all, where is she? Stalling wasn't one of her better points and the fact that she was about to forsake the wishes of her order hung heavily in her thoughts. As she diverted her gaze to the children that were laughing at the soda-pop area, her thoughts naturally drifted to, oh to be young again with little to care about but what flavour of soda pop to ask for.

"What was your childhood like Sister Agnes?" The serene expression that accompanied the question took the Sister off balance for a moment.

Why can't we have this conversation in the car? Sighing heavily but making no effort to disguise her impatience, Sister Agnes replied in a short tone. "Happy, average, but happy. Now Sister it's time to go!" Standing to emphasise her point, she motioned towards the door.

Sister Marie peered at the debris of the small plain meal they had consumed. It must have been a marathon sitting, for such a simple meal. She blinked rapidly, her heart sank at the notion that there was nothing more she could do but continue to go along with the convent's plans for her. No matter how wrong they might be. "Of course Sister, of course. I apologise for holding us up." She slowly followed the nun outside towards their car parked in the virtually empty parking lot.

Opening the door to the car, Sister Agnes quickly took her seat in the driver's side and waited for the slowly ambling figure of her charge to eventually reach her. She knew she should be more charitable, especially with the nun's current state of health but she really found it difficult. What should have only been a three quarter hour stop lasted over an hour and a half. Sister Marie had been something of a trial and the Sister vowed that the next time she was offered such an opportunity she would have second thoughts before accepting. As she watched from the side window, her attention was drawn to a silver jeep that appeared from out of nowhere at a high speed and screeched to a stop behind her vehicle. What is this person thinking! There are plenty of spaces free for parking! Are they blind? The door of the vehicle opened and a woman, dressed in black leather, exited on the ground directly in the nun's path hiding Sister Marie from view. What is going on here? Finally galvanised into action, Sister Agnes jumped out of the car and ran towards the leather clad woman.

"What's the problem please? Sister Marie, are you alright?" There was an edge of panic in the nun's voice as she tried to remain calm.

Olivia Santos turned and, with a blank expression and piercing eyes that bored into the nun's, glared. The effect made Sister Agnes even more nervous as she faced a woman who gave that ambiance of being affiliated with Satan rather than God. It was in her cold eyes and features, not to mention the clothes she wore.

"Sister Marie requested a lift. I'm here to ensure that she arrives at her chosen destination without any problems. Do you have a problem with that?" Olivia was playing with the woman but, since she was a dour nun she was hardly likely to appreciate, or know, she was being teased. Still, it was always fun with the women in the penguin suits and, strictly speaking, it was an accurate comment.

Sister Agnes opened her mouth, but the words refused to flow. She gulped them back and tried again. "You can't take the Sister anywhere! She's with me."

Amelia had been politely asked to remain in the car while Olivia extracted Sister Marie. Initially she had complied until she saw the other nun appear and decided it was time she involved herself. After all it is my case!

"Sister, I'm Doctor West and I've received some news from the hospital where Sister Marie had tests. They need her back to confirm some of the findings." Crossing her fingers, Amelia did the unthinkable. "Mother Superior has given full backing to my involvement."

A puzzled frown crossed the nun's brow as she tried to decide if what this new stranger was saying was correct. Then she turned to Sister Marie who looked serenely happy. In context, perhaps it was true. They had no means of knowing otherwise, except… "I'll make a call to Mother Superior and check. It is only prudent."

Olivia gave the nun a small nod as she replied, "Why of course take your time, we'll be waiting." Leaning her lithe body against the driver's door, she heard the nun grunt something before turning away and quickly walking towards the gas station and the phone booth.

When the nun was out of hearing range, Olivia calmly turned to Sister Marie. "Sister I think now would be a good time to step inside the vehicle…oh, and strap yourself in."

"Thank you Ms. Santos, I can't tell you how…" Olivia held up a hand.

"Please Sister you can leave the gratitude or whatever you're going to say until we are away from here."

Sister Marie gave the detective a look that glowed and seemed to send happy signals all the way down Olivia's spine. Then she did as requested and strapped herself inside the passenger side.

Then Olivia turned her attention to the doctor who was looking around her as if she had all day. They hadn't! Doesn't this woman understand any request of her at all? "Doctor, do you ever do anything that another asks of you?"

"Of course I do. What a thing to ask!" she answered annoyed at the question. It was clear to her that her intervention was needed or it would look like they were kidnapping the Sister. In a perverse kind of way they were she supposed, but that wasn't an aspect to be dwelled upon.

Climbing into the driver's side, Olivia remarked pointedly, "It must be just when I ask you. Now if you don't get in this instant I'll leave you behind to explain yourself."

Blustering at the comment, Amelia climbed in quickly as the engine revved to life. The detective would have left me there too!

Seconds later, they were screeching out of the parking lot putting distance between them, the town and the figure they could vaguely make out standing watching them leave. Amelia gasped as she felt the g-forces she was similar to that of taking off in a jet. "What are we going to do now?"

At the moment Olivia didn't have any idea. However, as the miles ticked quickly by she did formulate a plan. For the time being, it would be an ideal solution and would cover everyone.

"Leave it to me. You're all in my hands now."

The strange statement was both frustrating and somewhat comforting to Amelia, as she smiled at Sister Marie, and gave her hand a comforting clasp with her own. "Sister, everything is going to be okay, you can trust us." As she said the words, she didn't exactly know if her words would be vindicated, only time will tell.

+ + +

Olivia pulled up outside the dark alley leading to the storage area behind her office building. As she did, her eyes immediately went to the dark windows of the office she shared with Max. A kernel of hoped dashed, as no light emitted from inside. For a second she'd banked on her partner being inside waiting to update her on his adventures.

"What are we doing here detective?" Amelia hadn't really known what to expect when she had left them in the detective's hands. However, arriving in this area of town had not been top of her list. A nice hotel or motel someplace would have been more to her criteria. Not this place, what is she thinking! Olivia dragged her attention back to the here and now and the irritating doctor.

"You asked me for help Doctor and this is it." Switching her attention to Danielle Frobisher she gave her a slight smile. "I think that tonight it might be wise to keep you safe. Assuming you have no objections, I'll visit your husband and find out how the land lies."

In the all time since they had picked up the nun, Danielle hadn't spoken. Her mind had gone over all kinds of interesting scenarios as to why they had kidnapped the woman - to her untrained eye that's how it looked. Although, the nun hadn't protested, in fact, she had been grateful. Even though she was a churchgoer, but not of the Catholic faith, the workings of the church had been a mystery to her. Her mind had progressed to the meeting this evening she had to look forward to although that was far from the way she felt about seeing her husband again. Her hands, if they had been malleable iron, would have been in some very interesting woven patterns, as she'd wrung them for most of the journey back to the city. Now she had the opportunity to take sanctuary with these women and wondered if she dare consider it. What other choices do I have? What about my son? Will Axel take his revenge on our only child? Her disturbed thoughts were evident as the detective gave her a sympathetic look. She then realised that she had to trust someone and, at least so far, this woman hadn't done anything to make her suspect it would be the wrong choice. Surely, the fact that the doctor and the nun are here too must signify something.

"None at all, thank you Ms. Santos." Olivia gave her a warm, for her, smile.

"Excellent." Steering the car into the back of the alley and punching a security code into a black transmitter on the dash of the jeep she waited for the steel door to open. She drove inside as the door slide shut instantly once the car had passed the threshold. Dim lights were activated and the three strangers to the building blinked at the change in the light.

Olivia, with a swift wave of her hand, spoke hurriedly. "Welcome to my world. You'll be safe here for the moment." She left the Jeep and walked over to the computer and depressed keys rapidly as various lights and equipment whirled into action.

Amelia jumped out of the car and circled the Jeep to help Sister Marie exit from the vehicle. The nun looked exhausted - who wouldn't be after her ordeal of the last few days. Not only, with the physical stress, but the mental as well. "Please Sister, let me help you." Amelia offered her hand, which the nun gratefully accepted. Then they followed Danielle towards the detective.

The Danielle character puzzled a part of Amelia. Where does she fit into all this? It must be another case the detective was working on. Considering the nice way the detective was treating the woman, Amelia assumed she must be an important client. That then begged the question, where do the Sister and I stand in the pecking order?

"Detective, Sister Marie is tired where can she rest?"

Olivia looked at the nun. She did look a little worse for wear, more so than she'd expected. Having a sick person around was a liability that she hated. If she was as under the same threat as Max apparently was, then this place might not be the best solution after all. Sending her back with the doctor to her home wouldn't be a good idea either. By now the church would be involved in a big way. Flicking several switches, an area of ambient orange light glowed from a heavily curtained area in the far side of the building.

"Take her behind those." Olivia pointed to the direction of the light. "There are a couple of beds there and a shower."

Amelia was astonished. What is this place? Once she'd settled Sister Marie she'd be back to find out exactly what this place was. "Thanks."

Danielle watched the two women disappear behind the curtains. "I know it's not my place, but was it wise to bring a nun to a …warehouse?"

Olivia barely acknowledged the woman's question as she concentrated on ensuring that the building was secure and all her bugs and surveillance equipment were functioning. She had to guarantee that when she left the three women alone they would be as safe as if she was with them, or as close as she could get.

"This isn't just a warehouse Danielle. Some would say it's better protected than a prison or a fortress. It's home to me, and trust me, you'll be safer here than any place I know."

Danielle watched the detective check console after console and the monitors that surveyed various areas around the outside perimeter. If anyone approached from any angle, even the roof, she'd know about it. Or, that's what she suspected anyway. "If my husband has hurt your partner Ms. Santos, I'm really sorry because it will be my fault for asking him to help me. And… and I want you to know that I wasn't exactly honest with him…"

"He knew who you were Danielle. Max was, is, an excellent judge of character. He wouldn't have taken the work if he didn't think that he could help you. If anything has happened to him…well it was a risk he and I willingly take every day. All part of the service Ma'am."

At that moment Amelia returned and heard the last few words. What service is that she wondered? "Hi. Sister Marie is sleeping. She couldn't manage a shower…she was too exhausted. Can we order take out from here? I'm starving."

Danielle watched the benign expression on the private detective's features turn to annoyance. If she were asked to hazard a guess about the relationship between the two of them, she'd be hard pressed to say that it wasn't acrimonious. However, the doctor had tried to be friendly to her earlier in the journey and hadn't been too disturbed when she'd rebuffed the pleasantries. "Yes, sounds like a good idea. I must admit I'm rather hungry too."

Raising her eyes to the ceiling, Olivia rubbed a hand over her mouth. This was why she didn't have any close friends or lovers on a permanent basis. They were never satisfied and always wanted something more. After they had gotten to know each other better even Max had known when to back off. "No take-out. There's a kitchen and well stocked larder up the mezzanine stairs, help yourselves."

Amelia hadn't cooked much in her lifetime. It had been one of those talents that God had seen fit not to bestow on her. The mere thought of cooking anything had her in the jitters. Toast, even sophisticated toasters, hadn't even been successful, burning it every time.

"Great idea, are you hungry Ms. Santos?" Danielle asked. Her face lit up at the thought of preparing her own meal. Axel had insisted that the domestic help was to be used at all times. She was the lady of the house and it would be beneath her to do menial tasks such as cooking for him. The only time she had been able to cook anything was on the rare camping trips she and her son took alone. Fortunately Axel had been abroad or he would have insisted that they had an entourage accompany them. Keeping up with the neighbours had been his biggest flaw… until now that was.

"Not particularly, though I guess a sandwich will be fine."

"Let's go Doctor. Do you mind if I cook?"

Amelia couldn't believe her luck as she smiled warmly at the woman she had first disliked for no real reason. "Not all, I'd be grateful. Oh and call me Amelia."

Olivia watched the two leave her personal space as she continued to download all the messages on the service and pick up any emails. The one she was most interested in had come and with it the affirmation that her partner was dead. As the information sunk in, she slipped lower in her chair and closed her eyes as emotions were overwhelming her as they had in her past. Finally she stood up and glanced towards the kitchen where she could see the doctor and her client talking amiably enough. Then, her steady gaze slid to the curtains and the nun who was sleeping there. She walked over to the area, silently peered inside and then went over to the bed where the nun was sleeping soundly. In repose, Sister Marie looked serenely happy. At least someone appears to have peaceful dreams.

Olivia then whispered to the sleeping nun. "I guess right now would be a good time to repent my sins Sister. However, it's way too late for me. And the thoughts that are going through my head right now wouldn't ensure deliverance of any penance on my part. I only want one thing and if you were awake you'd tell me that it isn't the way. For me Sister it is the only way… revenge." Opening the drawer of the cabinet at the side of the bed, she pulled out a notepad and pencil, scribbled a few words on the tablet and then ripped off the sheet. "Sleep well Sister. May God be with you at all times."

Striding out of the area she slipped her jacket on and left the note on the desk where she had been working. Picking up a set of keys, she strode over to the Harley and jumped on the back of its sleek lines. In seconds the engine roared into powerful life as the garage doors opened. She was gone before Amelia and Danielle had time to descend the stairs and ask what was going on.

+ + +

Amelia rushed over to the sleeping area to check on Sister Marie, hoping that the nun wasn't the cause of any upset. Danielle ran over to the consoles where the detective had been working before they had left her to make dinner. Neither of them had any idea why the detective had suddenly rushed off without a word. But a gut feeling in Danielle's stomach had her wondering if it had anything to do with her husband. She saw the message, read its contents and knew her gut had been right on the money.

"Hey Danielle, did she leave any clue as to why she departed so suddenly?" Amelia asked, as she walked closer to Danielle. Sister Marie thankfully was sleeping like a baby.

"Yes, read this." Danielle handed Amelia the note and watched several expressions cross over her face before the doctor gave her a perplexed expression.

"Why was it so imperative to see your husband right now instead of having something to eat and then go? What difference would another hour have made?"

Danielle wondered that too but she didn't have the answer. "Truthfully I don't know. She must have had some reason. It says we have to remain inside and not contact anyone until she returns. And, if she doesn't come back by the morning the security system will allow us to leave and reset once we've gone. Exactly how does that sound to you?"

A shudder ran down Amelia's spine as she thought about the question. "Sounds like there is a possibility that she might not be back. Exactly who is your husband? Do you think he poses a threat to her?"

Danielle swallowed hard and then nodded. "Axel isn't a nice man Amelia. He's threatened to kill me because I've employed this detective agency to look into some of his business practices. In fact, Ms. Santos' partner Max hasn't been heard from since he undertook the original surveillance yesterday. I think something terrible has happened to him."

The words from Danielle Frobisher were packed with terror leading Amelia to know it wasn't a fantasy. Her eyes, which to Amelia really did more often than not reveal the truth, echoed those feelings exactly. You couldn't fake that kind of fear especially not to someone like her who had seen through many people's different disguises to hide the truth. As much as she and the detective hadn't really hit on a rapport, she had no wish to see anything happen to her. If by some quirk the detective had found out that her partner had been killed, then that would be reason enough to go off on a perilous crusade at high speed. "Do you think that your husband is capable of murder Danielle or was he just angry at your actions and vented with words rather than take any physical action?"

The next words seemed to reverberate around the building. "He's capable of murder. I think I've always known that but never wanted to admit it."

Amelia reached for her cell and pressed the short code in her address book.

"She told us not to contact anyone remember?" Danielle sat wearily down on the seat next to the desk, finally comprehending that her life would never be the same again.

"Yes she did, but when did I ever take her orders to the letter. She'll probably expect that and have made the appropriate exceptions to her rules... I hope. Hey Teal it's me…"

part 5

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