The interior of the cottage was no less depressing than the outside, Mal decided as he looked around the living room. Despite the ever-present dust lining the shelves and other pieces of furniture, the cottage was definitely being lived in, if the recent, half-eaten pizza in a delivery carton on the floor next the couch was any indication. But other than that observation, the room yielded very little information of value, not that Mal knew exactly what he was looking for. When he had driven out here, he had been prepared to confront Paul Meyers, but seeing as that wasn't possible right now, he was somewhat at a loss. Still, he intended to make the best of the opportunity and gather as much intel as he could. You never knew.
Having exhausted his search of the living room, Mal moved on to the kitchen. The sink was filled with dirty dishes, no surprise there. The fridge was well stocked, although heavy on the beer, and didn't indicate that Meyers had planned on leaving town. Mal turned to the trash. Meyers appeared to be a fan of processed foods, especially fast food, Mal thought as he sifted through burger wrappers and take-out containers. Strangely enough, there were several wrappers from fast food kids' meals. Mal raised an eyebrow, not sure what to make of it. So far, there was no sign of any children living in this place, but then maybe they had been for a girlfriend's child or that of a relative. The one girlfriend Mal knew about, Corinne Dawson, didn't appear to have had children, but their relationship had allegedly been intermittent at best, so there might be other women in Meyers' life. Not that anyone with an ounce of sense would bring a romantic interest home to this dump.
Mal turned his attention to the kitchen cabinets. Between pots, pans and an inordinate number of boxes of macaroni and cheese mix, Mal discovered an opened box of cartridges for a .38 caliber weapon. A handful of cartridges were missing from the box. Even counting the shots Meyers had fired that morning, he wouldn't run out of ammunition any time soon, Mal observed grimly.
"Rose, what are you doing?" Des cried, startled when Rose suddenly got up from the couch. "Mal is going to kill me. And I really am too young to die, so you need to sit back down."
Rose ignored him. Using the wall for support, she had made it to her desk and began rummaging frantically among the scattered items.
"Where are the keys?" she demanded.
"What keys?" Des got up and walked over to Rose who was still searching.
"Jake's keys," she answered without looking up.
"Why would you..." Des began, but realized what Rose was planning half-way through. "Oh, no! You can't drive, not like this!"
With an exclamation of triumph, Rose snatched up the keys she'd found in a drawer. She started to make for the door, but suddenly swayed precariously and if it hadn't been for Des' for once quick reaction, she would have fallen over.
Taking advantage of Rose's seemingly dazed state, Des attempted to stir her back toward the couch, but she was having none of it. Des had just opened his mouth to admonish her, when Rose grabbed him by both arms.
"Des, listen to me. I have to find Malachy before it's too late, but to do that, I need your help."
Taken aback by the honest plea, Des stammered: "Too late for what? What's going on?"
"I'll explain it to you on the way, but we need to leave now if it isn't already too late."
Des nodded, very much against his better judgment. At first he had thought that Rose was just confused as a result of her injury, but he realized now that she was deadly serious. He still had no idea what was going on, but whatever it was, it was bad.
Mal's search of the cottage was drawing to a frustrating close. After searching the rest of the kitchen, then the bedroom and finally the minuscule bathroom, he was starting to realize that he had no idea what to do next. The blinding need to make the man pay had started to subside a little, allowing him to think things through more clearly. He hadn't thought of it before, but it was entirely possible that Meyers, having killed his girlfriend, had no intention of returning to the cottage. He might be on the run, trying to get out of town before the police even started looking for him. And thanks, at least in part, to Mal and Rose, he might just succeed. If they had told the police of their suspicions, the police would probably have an alert out for Meyers' car already.
Mal was still berating himself when the sound of a car pulling up outside startled him. Mal quickly considered. He would love to confront Meyers and punch this SOB's lights out but good. However, considering Meyers was probably armed that wasn't exactly a wise course of action. Mal hurried down the dim hallway. He had barely reached the back door when he heard a key turn in the lock of the front door. Without casting a look back, Mal slipped out the back door.
He was about to retreat into the woods adjoining the property when he spotted Meyers through the living room window. The formerly white curtains were nearly drawn shut, but a small gap allowed Mal to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside the cottage. Unlikely as it seemed, Meyers was busy rearranging the furniture. At least that was what it looked like at first glance. Mal paused to watch, puzzled. A few seconds later, the penny dropped and he realized what Meyers was doing. After he had cleared the coffee table with a swipe of the arm and pulled the table to the side, he began rolling up the rug beneath, revealing a trap door. Meyers opened it, climbed down the opening and disappeared out of sight. Mal continued watching for a moment. When Meyers didn't immediately reemerge, Mal slipped back inside through the patio door. Moving as quietly as he could, he walked into the living room, where the trap door still stood open. A series of stone steps lead down into what had to be a cellar. A faint glimmer of light was visible down below.
Mal dropped down to his knees to get a better look when a powerful blow from behind sent him falling forward, straight down the open trap door.
"Can you at least slow down?" Des asked in a shaking voice as he clung to the edges of his seat, his knuckles white. For someone who could barely walk in a straight line, Rose had managed to drive them all the way across town at an impressive rate of speed and, so far, without wrapping the car around a telephone pole.
"Would you prefer to drive?" Rose asked sharply as she cut another corner at a high rate of speed and steered to car onto a forest access road.
Des considered. "Uhm, I'd rather not," he answered weakly.
"Try Hood again," Rose told him.
Des did as she asked, but once again, only got the sergeant's voice mail.
He had just hung up when the car ground to a screeching halt. Des was jolted forward, dropping Rose's cell phone in the process.
Des bent down to search for the fallen item, while Rose climbed out of the car. He would have called after her telling her to wait for him, if he'd thought it would do any good. Rose seemed hell -bent on getting herself killed and him along with it. He had no idea what she was planning to do now that they had made it to Richter's place. Whatever it was, Des was afraid that it wouldn't end well, for any of them. His dire predictions appear to be confirmed when a gunshot suddenly rang out, following by two more in quick succession. The last shot shattered one of the car's rear side windows.
"Rose!" Des cried, not daring to raise his head to see what was going on for fear that the next bullet would hit him.
"Rose?" Des repeated when there was no answer. This couldn't be happening, he thought. If Rose had been shot, again, Mal would kill him. Provided whoever was shooting at them wouldn't kill him first. Then, Des heard the door on his side of the car being opened. He hunkered down as far as he could in a futile attempt to hide, but it was no use. A pair of hands grabbed at him, pulling him from the car even as he cried out in protest and fear. Legs kicking and arms flailing, Des tried to extricate himself form the killer's grip.
"Don't kill me, please don't kill me!" Des shrieked, screwing his eyes shut, as he continued to struggle. His left foot made contact with something soft. A pained grunt confirmed that he must have hit his target, however, if anything, the grip only tightened.
"Shut up!" a voice hissed in his ear. It sounded vaguely familiar, so Des chanced to open his eyes. He found himself staring into Rose's bruised face.
"How...what? What's going on?" Des stammered, relief flooding through him.
"Well, someone just shot at us," Rose replied, pulling Des to sit on the ground beside her, in relative safety on the side of the car facing away from Richter's property.
However, any relief that Des might have felt immediately dissipated as the reality of their situation sank in when another shot was fired, impacting Jake's car.
Someone was crying. Someone who sounded oddly like a child, something which struck Mal, even in his half-conscious state, as highly unusual. Memory was spotty and slow in coming back to his aching head. As he was becoming increasingly aware, he soon realized that his head wasn't all that was hurting. In fact, everything seemed to hurt. And come to think of it, whatever he was lying on, was awfully uncomfortable. All this added up to bad news. Mal cracked open one eye first, then when no bright light assaulted his eyes, he opened the other as well.
Wherever he was, it was dark. The air was cool and stale. Moving carefully, Mal shifted into a more comfortable, half-upright position, using the wall behind him to lean against.
"Hello?" he tried, feeling somewhat silly. There was a hitching breath nearby and the crying stopped.
"I'm Mal. Can you tell me your name?"
There was a long silence during which all Mal heard was ragged breathing.
Finally, when Mal had almost given up on receiving an answer, he heard a small voice: "Melanie."
"Melanie," Mal repeated. "Is anyone else here with you?" he asked,trying to get a better idea of the situation. Meyers might be crazy and trigger-happy, but a kidnapper? Mal hadn't seen that coming. This case was getting better and better in the worst way possible.
When there was no answer, Mal added. "It's all right, you can tell me."
His wait for an answer was interrupted by the sound of gunshots from above. Melanie let out a shriek and started crying again. Mal wanted to reassure her, but no words would come him. He wanted to believe that it was the cops that had come to their rescue, but somehow he couldn't really believe that he should have such luck. Aside from Rose, nobody had any idea where he had been going. If he knew his wife, right now, she was more than just a little pissed off at him for leaving her with Des at the office. As much as he regretted his current predicament, he was actually glad that Rose was safely back at the office. She had come far too close to dying today already. It would probably take Rose at least a few hours until she started to wondered where he was and he had no idea how long he had been out anyway. The way he had been behaving lately, it would serve him right if Rose just chalked up his continued absence to another bull headed, solo move.
But if it wasn't Rose and it wasn't the police, what was going on up there? Presuming always that he was in the basement of Meyers' house and not at a different location entirely.
"Miss! Can you hear me?" a voice, calm but with an urging undertone, brought Leslie back to consciousness. One moment, she had been lingering in comforting oblivion, the next, her senses were flooded with a veritable onslaught of sounds and lights. Nothingness was replaced by searing pain all over her body, made only worse by the bright light that suddenly blinded her.
She must have groaned in pain, because the light was removed immediately and a woman's face appeared in her field of view.
"Sorry 'bout that, but it's necessary to make sure you didn't hurt your head. Can you tell me your name?"
"It's Leslie...Baker," Leslie barely remembered to use her alias in time. As she did so, the events of the past few days came back to her in full technicolor. She was sure those goons roughing her up were connected to Sydney Parker. So he did suspect her after all and that was the warning he had decided to send her way. A fine copper she made, Leslie thought. Not only had she underestimated Sydney, she had also let two hired goons get the better of her. She needed to contact her handler, let him know what was going on before Sydney and Mervin got rid all of incriminating evidence tying them to Jake's murder.
"Listen," Leslie addressed the female paramedic. "I'm conscious and coherent and I hereby refuse treatment."
The paramedic sighed. "I'd advise against it given the severity if your injuries. But, it is your right to refuse treatment. Are you sure you don't want a doctor to check you over at the hospital? Just to make sure nothing's broken and you don't have a concussion."
"I'm sure," Leslie replied. "Just give me the form and I'll sign it."
"I understand, but since we are already en route to hospital, is it okay if we check you over? You can leave as soon as we arrive at the hospital."
Leslie thought over the proposition. It probably wouldn't hurt to let them make sure she wasn't about to keel over, so she agreed.