HUNG BE THE HEAVENS WITH BLACK

By

G M


The sun had not quite set onto the watery horizon when Steve McGarrett pulled into his space on the upper parking level of his condo. He was home a little earlier than usual this evening, but felt justified in the luxury. An above average work load, on top of an already pressing schedule, had made life more hectic than his usual break-neck pace. After these past few days he was anxious to get home at nights and get away from the press of responsibilities at the office.

'A sure sign you need a vacation,' came the unbidden thought as he locked up the car and strolled into the building. "Vacation. Right," he muttered. "As soon as this Palama business is over," he promised himself, already knowing it was a broken oath. After this case there would be some other crisis (there always was) and, typically, he would postpone the holiday he had meant to take for years.

As he rounded the corner of the front lobby he saw the Kenau family waiting for the elevator. A slight smile broke out on his tired features. He had run into them frequently since he had changed his quitting time. Surprisingly, he looked forward to the meetings.

Mrs. Ellen Kenau was a good-hearted widow who lived next door to him. In the brief periods he had been on vacation or on sick leave, she had proved a thoughtful, non-interfering neighbor by sending over occasional treats. She also did minimum neighborly things without being underfoot or obtrusive. He was the hero of his staff when Mrs. Kenau sent her renowned macadamia nut cookies for them. She prepared huge baskets of goodies at the holidays for him to take to his office crew, and she always watched his apartment when he was absent for extended periods.

Ellen baby-sat her two young grandchildren in the afternoon and evenings until the parents came home from work. Keoni was about ten; with dark, inquisitive eyes probing from beneath a bowl-shaped haircut. He was already a top interrogator, questioning Steve about all aspects of business at Five-0. A bit disconcerted at the obvious hero worship, McGarrett indulged the boy and obligingly responded to the queries with the seriousness deserving Keoni's mature attitude.

Api, the little girl, was about five and hopelessly shy. Steve inevitably ignored her, unable to relate to her youth or withdrawal. She reminded him a great deal of his youngest niece, who was about the same age. He had not seen his niece or younger nephew, or Mary Ann and Tom in years. He carried the stigma of the absentee uncle who sent money with the Christmas and Birthday cards. He always received polite phone calls and letters of thanks in return, but he knew it was a distant relationship he would probably never improve. Kids held a special place in his heart, but he wasn't always sure how close he wanted to get.

Precocious Keoni confused the issue by acting more like an adult than some grown-ups. With his mature interest in law enforcement, and winning personality, Steve found the exceptional young man endearing and easy to deal with.

"Mr. McGarrett!"

Keoni had spotted him and rushed over to walk alongside the head of Five-0 for the few remaining feet to the elevator. Steve made his polite greetings to Mrs. Kenau and Api, then ruffled Keoni's hair and inquired about Keoni's day. On the elevator ride up to their floor, McGarrett was updated on Keoni's homework scores and improvement in math. Then the spotlight was turned in the inevitable direction of Five-0.

"Did you have an exciting day, Mr. McGarrett?"

Steve smiled in spite of himself. "No, Keoni," he sighed. 'Just a very long one,' was his silent codicil. "I was in the office most of the day with meetings and paperwork. It piles up constantly." His tone reflected the drudgery of the task. He would much rather be out where the action was, specifically at the safe house with Palama. As head of Five-0 he had other responsibilities.

"You mean like homework?" Keoni sighed knowingly.

"Yeah," Steve agreed. "Police work isn't always exciting," he cautioned.

This conversation was amazingly similar to lectures he had frequently recited to an over enthusiastic Dan Williams when Danno had first worked cases with Five-0. Countless times he had tried to bring reality to the enthusiastic Keoni. Mingled with the exciting challenge, danger and risk, there was always the routine, the reports, the research. As with everything else in life, the job came balanced with its own set of highs and lows.

"What about that jade smuggling case?" Keoni wondered eagerly. "The paper said you were checking a Hong Kong connection."

McGarrett drew his wandering mind back to the conversation. "We're still putting the case together," he admitted. The elevator stopped and the small party walked toward the end of the hall. "I still can't discuss it, son. And don't believe everything you read in the papers."

"Sure," Keoni nodded knowingly, as if the keeper of a special pact. "But you'll explain it after it's solved?"

The dark eyes were sparkling with enthusiasm. Those small brown spheres contained internal fires eager for knowledge, acceptance, and inclusion in the action. At once, the eyes were both too young and too old to fit the boy's age, but they did fit the energy and optimism that almost exploded across the youth's expressive face. Keoni's intensity reminded him involuntarily of a vibrancy frequently sparking Danno's blue eyes.

'Comparing Danno and Keoni! You ARE too tired,' Steve chided himself for the sentiment. He chalked it up to missing Danno. The office HAD been a lot duller since Danno left, and yet again he wished his younger colleague was back on desk duty instead of on a dangerous assignment.

They stopped at the door to the Kenau apartment. Steve fondly ruffled Keoni's hair, promising continued updates on all current cases. He walked on to his door.

"Can I visit later if I need some help with math homework?" Keoni called out. "My dad said I could join Mr. Williams' little league team next year if my grades improve."

Absently, Steve nodded, already his mind was drifting to other spheres. Once inside the apartment he smiled at the thought of the energetic Keoni foisted onto Danno's lap for a while. Probably a dangerous combination, he warned himself. Briskly, he went through his nightly routine: opened the lanai door, changed into casual clothes, then fixed a tall tumbler of iced juice. Then it was back through the living room where he grabbed the phone, went out to the lanai, propped his feet on a small table, and dialed a memorized number.

"Hello, Steve." It was a statement of certainty. The voice on the other end answered with cocky self-assurance sparked with humor.

"You sound awfully happy, Danno," he quipped, a bit puzzled, a bit annoyed at the tone of his colleague. "Am I paying you to vacation?"

On the other end, Dan Williams laughed. "We're not having that much fun," he responded. "I had a bet going with Sammy that you'd call before seven-thirty."

A voice in the background shouted, "Without Danny to slow things up, Five-0 can go home early."

"Funny, Sammy," Williams quipped, then to McGarrett said, "You're knocking off early every night, Steve. I hope the trend continues after I'm back, I could get used to a seven to seven job."

McGarrett laughed at the joke that was not far off the mark concerning their lengthy office hours. He also realized he was getting predictable. In the two weeks Williams had been sequestered with their witness Eddie Palama, McGarrett had quit the office earlier than usual each night to come home and make his evening check-in call to the safe house.

Palama was a local hood who had been double crossed by the drug runners he was working for. To get back at the criminals, Palama was turning over evidence to put away major drug lords between Hawaii and Asia and all points in between. Palama in turn would be granted immunity and new identity.

Already two attempts on Palama's life had failed. To insure his safety for the trial in two days, McGarrett had rooted Palama, Williams and HPD officers Sammy Ho and Doug Kiley at an isolated safe house. Only the daily phone call kept McGarrett in touch with the situation.

It had been a very long two weeks. He missed the everyday contact with Williams more than he thought he would. He realized now how dependent he had become on Williams' skill and support. Dan was an ever-present part of his routine and the absence was noticeable. The extreme danger of the safe house job also made Steve anxious for the assignment to end. He would be relieved and happy to see Williams face to face in two days.

"By the way, Keoni Kenau's threatening to try out for your team this spring." There was just the slightest flavor of long suffering in the tone.

"As long as he stays attached to you, that's great. I can't handle that hero worship stuff like you can."

"It never lasts, Danno. Heroes have feet of clay like everyone else."

"Ah, that's what we're missing in quarantine, deep philosophy."

"I still think you're having too much fun, Danno," McGarrett maintained half-truthfully.

"How? Stuck in a lovely, lush valley, over-looking paradise and the pacific?" was the sarcastic reply. "Nothing to do all day but chat and eat and sleep. If only you'd have let me bring Officer Napala."

"I keep telling you she's not your type, Danno."

A belligerent, loud voice mumbled something incoherent and Williams was interrupted from a reply.

It was Palama. The witness was nervous, stir-crazy and angry at what he considered confinement almost as bad as jail. Over the two weeks he had become more abusive and abrasive to his protectors. Williams had said very little about the situation, so McGarrett was forced to read between the lines. Dan had his hands full with the uncooperative witness and the strain of living on the knife's-edge. For all concerned, the safe house would be gladly vacated at the end of these last, long, two days.

"I don't know why you didn't keep this job for yourself, Steve." This time there was a trace of soberness in the voice. Neither had lost sight of the perilous assignment, but typically, Williams was making the best of a tough situation and making it sound like a holiday. "Did I mention Sammy's a gourmet cook? I'm going to request him as a stake out partner all the time."

"So you've told me," McGarrett dryly replied.

Sammy Ho was well known throughout HPD as an expert Chef in his ethnic backgrounds of Japanese, Chinese, Polynesian and American. His cuisine was original, unusual and delicious. Being stuck there for two weeks had turned Williams into more of an Epicurean than usual. McGarrett, in spite of himself, felt left out. After all, Dan didn't rave about his cooking like this.

"I'm a gourmet chef, too," he reminded.

"I didn't forget," Dan admitted, "But you like all that healthy stuff -- not that it isn't great," he qualified too quickly. "Sammy cooks everyday stuff, you know?. Maybe we should have a bake off between you two or something."

The teasing in the tone was obvious. McGarrett had been set up. These little verbal sparring matches were typical of their conversations. Dan had nothing else to do, thankfully, than mark time. It was also his way of keeping in touch because he missed the daily routine of involvement at Five-0. He was anxious for the guard duty to be concluded.

Unmentioned, mutually lurking in the back of their minds, was the anxiety of the end of the confinement. If the drug cartel would strike it would be then. As the trial drew closer McGarrett found it more difficult than ever to keep his mind from terrible possibilities. The drug czars wanted Palama stopped very badly. Three cops, or more, were nothing in the scheme of the high price tag of International drug dealing. He wanted nothing more than to spend these last two days at the safe house, personally assuring that everything was in order and most of all that his men were safe. One visit to the secret location, though, would compromise their tight security. He was the only person on the outside with knowledge of the safe house location and he could not risk giving it away.

"Everything quiet today?" Steve asked, finally getting back to business.

"Yeah. We had a couple of hikers pass by this morning, but they didn't stop."

McGarrett's adrenaline kicked in. "They didn't see anyone?"

"No. Everything's shaka, bruddah."

"You're sure?"

"Steve, relax, it's cool. Hikers aren't uncommon around here."

"All right," McGarrett sighed, still tense. He had half a mind to go out there, as he had for two weeks. It was a risk he could not afford just to assuage his personal need to be in control of the situation. He had to trust Danno's judgment - - that's why he put his second-in-command there at the safe house. "Otherwise, it's quiet?"

"Dead quiet," Williams admitted seriously. "Just the way I like things."

"The way I hope things will stay," Steve countered. There was nothing really left to say but he was reluctant to break the connection. The phone conversations lessened his sense of isolation and made him feel part of the operation in the hills beyond Waimanalo.

"Just hold the fort two more days, Danno."

"Yeah," came the sigh from the other end. "I think I'll actually be glad to get back to work after this."

"Good, because there's a lot for you to catch up on," Steve said as a final dig. "I'll call tomorrow and go over your route into the city for Thursday."

"Fine," Williams agreed. There were more unspecified comments from that end and with a frustrated tone Dan said good-bye and hung up.

For several minutes McGarrett held onto the phone, deep in thought. More than ever he wished he was there, sharing the danger and anxiety with his friend. At this distance he constantly worried that between check-in calls something would happen and he would be powerless to help. Sighing with frustration, he replaced the receiver.

Steve's hand was still on the phone when the doorbell rang. He placed the glass on the table and went to the door. "Yes?" he called, standing to the side. Even though he knew it was young Keoni, the ever cautious cop in him never seemed to go off duty.

"It's me, Mr. McGarrett," came the young man's voice.

Steve turned the knob. Before the door was open more than a few inches it was rammed into his face with violent force. Dazed, all McGarrett saw was a dark blur as he was slammed to the floor. As his vision and senses cleared he realized several people had rushed into the room and the door had been shut. A pistol with a silencer was inches from his face.

"Slowly stand, McGarrett," was the order.

The voice was calm and traced with the slightest bit of an accent he could not place. At the other end of the weapon was a face masked by a tight nylon stocking. He glanced slightly to the side and noted the Kenau family hovering against the wall in fear. A ski masked gunman held an Israeli Uzi toward them.

With cautious, measured motions, McGarrett came up on his elbows and slowly rose to his feet. He gently rubbed at the blood on the side of his head where he had been hit. The injury hurt like hell and there was a screaming headache vying for his attention. He pushed aside the minor inconvenience of the pain and directed his attention to his gunman.

"What do you want?"

"Just a little information. Then we will leave you all alive and in peace."

His stomach muscles tightened in wary anticipation of something dreadful. He licked his lips, furiously thinking, assessing, planning. What he came up with was depressingly inadequate. He was caught cold and had no chance of overpowering the armed men -- particularly not with the three hostages present. The gunmen; masked, gloved, dressed in nondescript jeans, Aloha shirts and sneakers, were uniformly as average as tourists strolling Ala Moana Mall. The ski masked gunman had a duffel bag at his feet.

"What information?" McGarrett asked.

"Where are you holding Palama?"

The tightness in his stomach turned to a cold twist of fear. Of course, he could not comply. Studiously he ignored the frightened people to the side of his vision and addressed his gunman.

"I don't know where he is," he lied smoothly. "It's a secret location. It changes every day," he embroidered, hoping to buy time -- to con his way out of this somehow. At the same time he berated himself for not anticipating the true desperation and power behind the drug warlords they were trying to break. Obviously this was bigger than he had thought. He prayed the oversight would not cost any lives.

The spokesman's pistol was pressed against his face. "Our information says it is a fixed location, McGarrett. You've been there." The muzzle was pushed until his cheek bone ached from the force. "Where is it?" Ski mask brought his pistol to a dead bead on McGarrett's forehead. The brown eyes behind the mask were intent with murder. He had never felt closer to death.

"Where, McGarrett?" The accent was Maylasian or something similar, he thought automatically as his mind raced for clues or lies or anything he could think of to keep the dialog going.

"I don't know."

It was a flat, controlled, expressionless comment.

"Then we will have to jog your memory," the assailant said. With a nod of his head the second gunman grabbed onto little Api. She squealed in fright. Ellen Kenau stepped forward, as did McGarrett, to intervene. Ellen was slapped to the ground.

"No!" McGarrett was restrained by the pressure of the weapon in his face.

Keoki, enraged, kicked the gunman in the shin. The man grabbed for the boy but the little guy was too fast and ducked out of reach. The gunman leveled his pistol-with-silencer at the boy.

"No!" McGarrett shouted. "Keoni, stop!" He implored the gunman not to shoot. For a second he thought of making a grab for the pistol, but Ski Mask still held his weapon on the little girl and there was still murder in the man's eyes. This silent assailant was desperate and committed. A struggle would certainly result in Api's death.

"Behave, little boy," said the spokesman, "and you will live and so will your sister."

Keoni, still defiant, looked at McGarrett. Within him there was bottled spirit, rebellion and anticipation. Love, desperation and a need to act edged him to the brink of impulsive bravery. If McGarrett gave the go-ahead, the boy would do whatever was required; blind faith Steve had seen before.

A fist of anguish tightened around McGarrett's heart. His voice cracked as he ordered, "Sit down, Keoni!" His tone was harsher than he had meant to be, but it urged the impetuous boy to a kneeling position on the floor. Unwilling to reveal his momentary slip of emotion to anyone, Steve stared at the floor while he regained control. "I don't know the location," he repeated.

"Do you know how sharks get their victims?" The spokesman asked rhetorically. "As with all beasts, they pick out the weakest victim first." He nodded toward the little girl who was dissolved in tears and whimpering for her grandmother. Ski Mask placed the automatic near the top of the girl's head.

McGarrett forced down the anger and terror which constricted his throat. He shut out the gasps and cries of the Kenau family and refused to look at them. While he stared past the faces, his mind reflected on a different image: the secluded wooden house nestled against the lush trees and mountains of the windward coast. Two weeks ago, Dan and Doug had stood on the lanai of that house, waving good-bye to him as he backed the car away from the safe house. With complete trust, they had placed their lives in his hands.

"Your answer, McGarrett?"

He focused again. The image of the safe house and his officers dissolved and he stared at the Kenau's -- the three innocent people sharing this terror. They would probably all be killed anyway, but could he really stand by and helplessly watch as two children and their grandmother were executed before his eyes? He knew the answer the first time the gunman had asked for the information, but submission was impossible to comprehend.

"I'll take you there," he replied. "Let these three go."

The gunman shook his head. "Not a chance. No tricks, McGarrett."

"You'll be spotted," he grasped desperately for excuses. "There's a long driveway up to the house."

The spokesman whispered to Ski Mask, who briefly searched the room, then went into the bedroom. A moment later he returned with the keys to the Mercury, jingling them in front of Steve's eyes.

"My colleague will take your car. You give us the location and after the job is done we leave with everyone here alive and well. You will be safe, I promise."

His teeth clenched to keep them from rattling with uncontrollable anger. "And everyone at the safe house dead!" he shot back viciously.

"It is not our job to murder the innocent. Unless you force our hand. Now, McGarrett -- the location!"

Ski Mask's weapon was placed against the little girl's back as she cowered against the wall.

"It's in the hills above Waimanalo," he breathed out in a rush. "I'll take you --"

"Exact location, McGarrett!" Was the harsh interruption. "Every detail!"

McGarrett shut his eyes. The beautiful house with a stunning view of the coastline was impressed on his mind's eye. Only two days left -- he had never dreamed it would end like this.

"No," he whispered in anguish.

He had no choice, of course, and that knowledge created a black dead zone inside his soul. Tonelessly, he gave specific directions, named streets and turns which would lead to the long dirt drive which wound up to the house. His voice shook as he pronounced the death sentences on their key witness, two HPD Officers, and his closest friend. He prayed they would forgive him. He felt dead.

Forcibly, he clamped a total control of his ragged emotions, then he opened his eyes. Api was now under the protective arm of her grandmother, as was Keoni. The spokesman nodded to Ski Mask, who gave him a walkie talkie from the duffel bag, then left. It seemed a long time before the talkie came to life.

"Team two to home team. You hear me, bruddah?" came a distinctly local Hawaiian voice. "I'm in the car and driving windward."

"Read you," said the spokesman.

It was a brilliant plan, McGarrett grudgingly admitted. The hit man, or men, would make the strike, then report back. Their success at the safe house would probably dictate the fate of the hostages. What had the man meant about not killing unless they needed to? Was it a lie? Why keep witnesses alive? The men were masked. Did they really only intend to kill Palama? Perhaps they would leave the officers alive, too. He pushed away the irrational fantasy. No, these guys were smart -- too smart, he knew now. He had underestimated the intelligence and power of his opponents. The costliest, and possibly last, mistake of his life. It was all so clinical and efficient it was chilling. Under other circumstances he could have admired the efficiency of the operation. Now he could only loathe the deadly professionalism.

The leader repeated the directions to team two, and McGarrett felt his insides ripple and constrict. He just heard the orders that would murder everyone at the safe house. Once more he weighed the chances of overpowering the gunman and warning the safe house. No chance without killing two or three innocent people. There was nothing he could do but wait. Memories and images keeping him company in the private hell of agony in his tormented mind.

In his mind he imagined what was going on right now at the safe house.  Dinner, the kidding around, the antagonism with Palama.  One or two of the officers would be keeping a sharp eye on the surroundings outside.  One would be trying to deal with the uncooperative informant.  Danno would be handling everything, anxious to leave -- only two days!

Then the memories assaulted him.  The priceless moments experienced in the last several years since he  had know these officers -- known Danno.  How much he'd missed having Williams around for the last two weeks.  How was he going to manage now?  He would never see Danno alive again.  It was his fault.  He had killed his friend and he would never forget or forgive.

"Team two here, bruddah," the radio crackled with the voice of Ski Mask.

In the interim, McGarrett had sunk to the floor, his back to the wall. It was dark now, another edge for the enemy. The gunman had never let the weapon waiver more than a few inches from his face. At the sound of the voice Steve tensed.

"Go ahead, team two," was the man's reply.

"House in sight."

Impotent rage, burning anguish, roiled inside McGarrett with blinding force. It seemed to wash his whole world with red. He trembled with emotion.

"We're going in," came the voice again.

Without thought, Steve lunged at the man. He struck with enough force to tumble them to the floor and deflect the pistol's aim. Several shots sputtered out as Steve fought to gain possession of the pistol. Then he felt an exploding pain at the side of his head and the red anger was washed away with blackness.

* * *

As McGarrett's head cleared, memory returned almost instantly. He opened his eyes, blinking them several times to focus blurred vision as he frantically reviewed the sequence of events that led to his throbbing headache and the horrible, black ache in his heart.

Keoni was talking to him. In the background someone was crying. As the little boy's face came into focus, Steve gestured for the chattering to stop. He looked around and saw that Ellen and Api were sitting on his sofa, the hysterical little girl cradled in her grandmother's arms. There was no sign of the gunmen.

"I've already called the police," Keoni said, heedless of McGarrett's desire for silence. He pressed a hand towel against McGarrett's forehead. Steve took it from the boy's hand, saw the blood, and replaced the temporary compress. "I told them who you were, and they've sent for some of your men," Keoni said helpfully. "I asked them to contact Mr. Williams. He isn't here yet."

Rubbing his temples, McGarrett assessed the situation. Keoni was bright and resourceful and had everything in hand it seemed. More than he could say for himself, he thought bitterly. He swallowed hard. Keoni's admiration for Dan was only a few degrees less than what the boy thought of him. That hero worship would be shattered pretty soon when harsh reality wiped away the fantasies of imagination. Keoni's respect would turn to hate when he understood the depth of McGarrett's betrayal.

"Mr. Williams won't be coming," he said quietly. He didn't want Keoni to know that Danno was part of the safe house team. Not yet. He couldn't explain that now. "The gunman?"

"He pulled out your phone and ordered us to stay in the apartment. But as soon as I thought he was gone I went back to Tutu's. I keep a key in my shoe."

McGarrett patted him on the shoulder. He was proud of the young man's clear-headedness. "The Police are on their way, you said?"

Keoni nodded.

"This is important, Keoni," he said somberly, making direct eye contact with the boy. "Did the strike team call back and --," he cleared the catch from his throat, "-- and say anything? About the safe house?"

"No. After a while when no one called back and team two didn't answer, the man left."

The new sliver of hope instilled urgency in his intent tone. "Did he say anything at all? Where he was going? If he was going after team two?" He gripped onto Keoni's arms. "Did he say anything that would help us?"

"No," he repeated. "Who were they after, Mr. McGarrett?"

Realizing the alarm he was causing his young friend, he released his grip and patted the boy on the shoulders. "Never mind, Keoni. You did a good job, good job," he complimented. He sounded like he was congratulating one of his guys. The boy beamed with youthful, enthusiastic faith and McGarrett had to look away. Three of his men had trusted him -- Danno had trusted him. By now his three officers were dead. He would never forgive himself.

Voices in the hall alerted McGarrett to visitors and he slowly came to his feet.

"Steve?"

The cautious voice belonged to Ben Kokua. The detective was out of sight around the corner of the door.

"It's okay, Ben," he called.

The tall, muscular Samoan entered, his revolver drawn. In a glance he took in McGarrett's appearance and then the Kenau family. At his heels were two patrolmen.

"Security's breached. We've got to get to the safe house, Ben!"

He ordered the patrolmen to stay, take statements, and see to the comfort and safe relocation of the Kenau's. He offered the briefest of descriptions of the masked men. Then he told the officers he would keep in touch via the radio. To Ben, he explained events and emphasized the urgency of reaching the safe house immediately.

"Good luck, Mr. McGarrett!" Keoni yelled as he raced after the detective.

McGarrett stopped and the boy flew into his arms. The young face was bright with optimistic confidence. The hero worship untainted in eyes filled with innocent trust. Steve looked away, unable to stand the misplaced honors.

"Be careful."

"I will, Keoni. You go with the officers. They'll keep you and Api and Tutu safe."

"Thank you for saving us."

McGarrett shook his head. "I don't deserve your thanks, Keoni." His voice was barely audible, scraping past the anguish that knotted his throat.

As Ben Kokua raced them toward the windward coast, McGarrett gave the safe house address to local patrol cars. He notified Chin, who lived near the Pali, to meet them at the location. Everyone was to approach with caution in case the hitmen were still there. He ordered central dispatch to phone the safe house. A continuous busy signal answered each call. Without analyzing what that might mean he notified dispatch to send ambulances to the safe house.

Traffic on Pali Highway was clogged with remnants of the late commuters escaping Honolulu. McGarrett muttered curses and sarcastic comments under his breath as they weaved between cars. Every few minutes he would swipe a trickle of blood away from his eye. He was too anxious about the safe house officers to seek first aid for his troublesome head wound.

Only the barest of explanations were offered to Ben. He did not want to go into detail yet. He had to see what had happened with his people before he could talk about much of anything. His mind was consumed only with the safe house.

Just as they reached the dirt driveway, an ambulance, lights and sirens on, emerged from the dirt road onto the highway. McGarrett wondered who was inside. So far there had been no preliminary report from Chin. Was it because Chin was still assessing the situation? Was the report so grim, the detective was waiting to deliver the message in person?

As their headlights tracked across the front yard, McGarrett hardly recognized the house he had left two weeks before. Two patrol cars, another ambulance and a Five-0 sedan were parked at odd angles around the yard. Lights were on everywhere; house lights, headlights, revolving blue beacons that flashed eerie, tinted strobes on the scene. The front door was hanging in pieces, windows were shattered, dark bullet holes pocked the wood. Like a macabre setting for a surrealistic movie, the aftermath of violence against the backdrop of paradise seemed jolting and unreal.

Chin Ho Kelly was on the lanai issuing orders to a patrolman. Just then a sheet draped body was wheeled out of the door. Before the car had come to a stop McGarrett, leaped out and jogged up to the Lanai. He glanced at the body of an unknown man who was barely hanging onto life. One of the gunmen from his apartment? Looked like the second gunman, but McGarrett didn't waste more than a second in analysis.

"Where's Danno?" he asked breathlessly as he came to a halt next to his Chinese detective.

Kelly was calm and somber. "He's alive," was the curt answer to allay immediate fears. "They just took him and Sammy to the hospital."

Heart no longer in his throat, Steve caught a few breaths then hoarsely sighed, "Thank God. How are they?"

Chin's face was inscrutable. "Medics wouldn't say," he evaded.

McGarrett clenched his teeth. "How bad, Chin?"

"Bad enough," Kelly admitted, looking down. He held up an evidence bag that contained an Israeli Uzi. "The hitmen, there were at least two, used these."

McGarrett looked through jagged remnants of the splintered door, into the lighted front room of the cottage. Bullet-strafed furniture was upturned, red smears blotted the natural wood floor and throw rugs were scattered in careless disarray. Steve was morbidly compelled to enter the nucleus of tragedy; this was where his friend, his colleagues, his charges, had been massacred. Because, God help him, he was responsible for this; and part of his penance should be to personally study the crime scene -- the murder scene. He yearned to follow the ambulance carrying Williams, but he forced himself to tour the house first. Since he had not shared in the battle his men had fought, he would at least tribute their last stand by observing what they had gone through.

Slowly, he followed the trail of blood from the door to the hallway that lead to a small kitchen. Involuntarily, his nose wrinkled in distaste from the sour, rank stink of death and excessive blood. The blood belonged to a sheet covered body down the hall. Steve glanced into the kitchen where pooled red marred the floor; blood and bullet holes scarred the cabinets.

"Sammy was in there," Chin supplied quietly, reverently.

"That's Doug," he indicated toward the draped body.

McGarrett proceeded down the hall with a brief pause at the body of the officer, but he did not lift up the sheet. He stopped at a utility room at the back, the plaster and wood dotted with spent lead. A hit man, immediately identifiable by his sneakers, jeans and Aloha shirt, was inert in the doorway, Two exit wounds gaped at his back. Rooted in place, Steve glanced into the room and recognized Palama, the cause of this slaughter. The informer's body slumped by the back door, or more correctly, what was left of wood mercilessly splintered from gunfire. A great deal of blood was pooled in several places on the floor.

"This is where we found Danny," was Chin's soft explanation.

McGarrett shivered. He wondered if Danno was trying to get Palama to safety, or if the informant had fled toward the back in panic. Whatever the cause, it was here they -- Danno -- made the stand and was caught in a crossfire. The door splintered inward indicating a hitman outside as well as the dead one inside. The last stand. He glanced at the deceased killer at his feet. For all the good it did, McGarrett thought with rueful bitterness, Williams had given back at least as bad as he got. It looked bad indeed.

"Tell me about Danno." It was a demand in a tone grating with emotion, bleak and void of hope.

"He was chopped up, boss," Chin answered vaguely. "It's not good. Sammy looked worse. He took several hits, including one in the head."

McGarrett shut his eyes and rubbed his temples; striving to get a grip on his emotions, failing to shut out the desperation. He opened his eyes and quickly stalked from the room.

"Which hospital?" He asked, his voice cracking.

"Castle."

"Let's go," he ordered, indicating Chin's car. On the front lanai he paused to check with Ben.

"No sign of your car, Steve," Kokua reported. "The hitters must still have it. I've got an APB issued."

"Good, Ben, good. Stay on it. Help Duke out with notifying Sammy and Doug's families, and check on the Kenaus for me. I'll be at Castle Memorial."

He strode to the passenger side of Chin's sedan. When he opened the door he noted his red-stained hands. "Too much blood," he thought as he wiped his hands on his trousers. "We've spilt too much good blood today."

* * *

On the drive to the hospital, McGarrett's mind wandered disjointedly. He sorted through alternatives in the evening's events, in his decisions. His thoughts touched on the various images of the crimson-washed safe house, to the revolving red light of the ambulance as it was leaving the scene. Steve hoped Danno and Sammy had received the life saving attention of the medics soon enough to help them. He hoped the assassin died.

When they pulled up to the entrance of Castle Memorial McGarrett emerged from the car and for a frozen moment had the strangest sense of deja-vu. Years before it had been at this hospital that Dan Williams had received his first gunshot wound. It had been a tense crisis with Dan gut shot and held hostage and McGarrett frantic with desperate anxiety. Williams' life had been saved after that crisis. "I hope we're that lucky this time, Danno," he prayed as he rushed inside.

A covered gurney wheeled out of an emergency room just as they arrived. Red blotches dotted the stark, white sheet. McGarrett shivered with fear. As the body passed he stopped it, paused for a split second, then raised the sheet. He released a breath. It was one of the hitmen. He felt no sense of remorse or regret that the man was beyond interrogation. The thug had killed one officer and tried to kill two others. He deserved to die, was Steve's uncharitable verdict.

He was about to enter the emergency room when he heard footsteps along the intersecting corridor. Patrol Sergeant Duke Lukela arrived with a young, slight, Polynesian woman who was supported by plainclothes policewoman Sherry Watanabe. Duke introduced the young woman as Sammy's wife.

"Is there any word?" Mrs. Ho asked, her trembling voice barely audible. Tears scored her face and brimmed her dark eyes.

"We just arrived," McGarrett supplied gravely.

"Is it bad?" Officer Watanabe asked in tenuous control of her own tears of concern for her partner, Sammy Ho.

McGarrett opted for neutrality. "Not sure." It was a half truth. Things looked bad for Sammy and Danno. He couldn't bring himself to voice -- to admit -- the harshest truth.

This was always grueling, dealing with the wives. He wished Duke had not brought her, but for most wives it was impossible to keep away. The coconut wireless of HPD transmitted bad news almost instantaneously, and wives of injured husbands were quick to arrive at hospitals. It was one part of the job that McGarrett hated.

"I told him not to do this," she whispered to herself in words which trembled in the shroud of panic and fear. "But he said Danny had arranged a two week party for themselves." The tears were streaming down her face now and there was no holding back the bitterness and anguish. "Well where is Danny now? Can't he even be here when Sammy is dying?"

Duke tried to pull her aside in an effort to comfort her and shield her victim, McGarrett, from more verbal lashes. Lukela murmured a few words of empathy, but she turned away from the assistance and into Watanabe's arms. The policewoman glared daggers at McGarrett, obviously she also held him responsible for the debacle.

`If they knew how right they were . . . .'

Compulsively, McGarrett's fists flexed, a residual extension of anger. Some of compassion he felt for the woman dissipated. Even though he knew she was beyond reason, literally not knowing what she was saying, he was angered at the thoughtless, misdirected attack. Danno was not here to defend himself and was not to blame for this. He, Sammy and Doug had been doing their duty. The head of Five-0 had been the one to lead the hitmen to the victims.

"I wish it was Doug or Danny in there -- not my Sammy!"

Suffering his own kind of pent-up anguish, neither could McGarrett help himself. He unleashed a low, stinging retort. "Officer Doug Kiley is dead. He and Dan Williams put their lives on the line doing their job, Mrs. Ho! Dan Williams is next to your husband in the emergency room. They were both gunned down in the line of duty and I pray to God they both make it!"

Even as he spoke he knew the cutting words were unnecessary and cruel. He couldn't help himself. He took several breaths and walked farther down the corridor to give himself space. Neither of them were fit to communicate at the moment and he closed in his emotions until he could deal with them.

A doctor in smeared surgical greens emerged from the emergency room. Steve straightened from where he was leaning, coiled tension lending speed to his limbs as he briskly met the man who would be a messenger of great joy or dismal blackness.

"McGarrett, Five-0." His words were clipped and abrupt, denoting his urgency. "How are my men?"

"Five-0," the doctor muttered, shaking his head in weary surrender. "Your men responsible for this blood bath?"

McGarrett felt his hands, then arms shake. Guilt and pain swept over him. In a broken whisper he returned, "Those -- my men are victims -- not perpetrators of this attack!"

"What a mess," the doctor flung out bitterly. "Doesn't matter much who is responsible now. One down one to go."

The cruel announcement was accentuated by the slamming open of the ER doors. A body, covered in blood-stained draping, wheeled toward them. McGarrett found his throat and limbs freeze with trepidation. He could not move to identify this body. This time he may not be so lucky as the last corpse. There was a fifty-fifty chance this was his closest friend.

Down the hall, Watanabe was clinging to Mrs. Ho's shoulders Duke moved to help, but the women shied away. They could not advance toward the gurney. A brief exchange of glances with Lukela confirmed Steve's thoughts -- he had to be the one to ID the body. It was his job, just as this whole operation had been his responsibility. As the attendant swept past, McGarrett halted the gurney. He felt ill -- cold and weak all over. Part of him prayed this was not Dan Williams' body, yet the other part pitied and cried out that it should not be Sammy Ho's, either. With a shivering hand he removed the sheet and looked down at the face of a young oriental with a terrible gash taken out of the side of his head.

Mrs. Ho screamed and McGarrett's numb fingers dropped the sheet. Duke and the grieving partner led the young widow away. McGarrett followed the corpse with his eyes until it disappeared around a corner.

"What about Officer Williams?" Steve thickly asked.

"In surgery. He took three bullets."

McGarrett winced and forced himself to face the doctor, whose animosity was now forgotten by the more important issue of his friend's condition.

"One in the chest," the doctor continued. "Blood loss was serious and he was in no shape for an operation, but we had no choice."

McGarrett stared at the floor, unable to move. "Will he make it?"

"If he's lucky," was the dismal projection. "Bottom line --have the priest standing by tonight. After that he might make it."

With that heartless parathion shot Steve walked back into the ER. Woodenly, he went to the nearest chair and collapsed. "God help me," he muttered as he bowed his head in his hands. `When I saw the body I prayed it wasn't Danno,' he admitted to himself. `I didn't want Sammy to die -- but I prayed it wouldn't be Danno.'

Even now he was not sure his prayers would be answered. He felt only waves of remorse for his selfishness. It hurt to see others suffer, but neither had he wanted Dan to die. The thought oppressed him with a numbing pall clung close to his every fiber.

"Hung be the heavens with black," he whispered.

"What was that, Steve?"

McGarrett glanced up at Chin. He hadn't heard his detective arrive. "Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night," he repeated in a weary breath.

"Sounds like poetry."

"Shakespeare."

"Fancy way to say how we hurt."

"Yeah," Steve breathed in agreement.

Light in his world was perilously close to being extinguished. Unshed tears stung at the back of his eyes. He didn't know who he wanted to cry for. Himself, Dan, Mrs. Ho, Sammy? He grieved for all. For once, he doubted he had the strength to deal with tragedy, this tragedy. Already the burden of guilt was nearly overwhelming. If Danno died he would probably crumble. How could he forgive himself for what he had been forced to do?

Chin jostled his elbow and held out a cup. McGarrett took the proffered coffee without comment, never noticing Chin had even left. They waited in silence until Duke returned. Lukela had surrendered Mrs. Ho to Watanabe's care. Like a Master at Arms, Duke lingered as they awaited word.

No one asked what had gone wrong, for which McGarrett was grateful. The coconut wireless probably already had telegraphed the details of the hostage drama at the condo and the no-choice dilemma that had ended in death for at least two cops, and life for three innocent people. Steve hoped it balanced out somewhere because he couldn't balance it in his own mind. Not when the deaths were people he was responsible for, not if the death included Danno.

When the doctor emerged, McGarrett came to his feet, involuntarily flinching in expectation of another corpse. There was no accompanying gurney and Steve allowed himself a ray of optimism to brighten his black thoughts.

"Your officer is out of surgery and will be transferred to ICU," the doctor said. "If he makes it through the night he's got a good chance."

Hardly a glowing report, but McGarrett was willing to grasp any straw. Danno had a fighting chance and that was all that was needed. `You won't let me down, Danno,' he silently pleaded, `not like I failed you.'

"How 'bout if I drive you home now, Steve?" Chin asked.

Without looking at Chin Ho, Steve shook his head. He told Chin and Duke to go back to the office and tackle the near-hopeless task of apprehending the hitmen. He wanted to see Dan safely tucked in at ICU. As the officers left, McGarrett turned to face the doors of the emergency OR. It wasn't long before Williams was wheeled out. McGarrett followed the patient to intensive care.

It was a sobering walk through the hospital. McGarrett could not keep his eyes from the pale, inert form on the stretcher. He was very aware any passing minute could be the last time he would see his friend alive. The thought sent shivers up his spine. Determined to make the most of the bleak situation, he attained permission to stay with Dan on the condition he allow the nurse to administer to his head wound. Without protest, he agreed, then crowded into the room with the monitors, IV tubes and respirators.

For a long time McGarrett dispelled his nervous tension by sitting or pacing like a caged tiger in the small room. Each time he drew near the bed, he listened to the slow, laborious, scratchy sound of Dan's breathing and watched the infinitesimal rise and fall of the bandaged chest. The nurses came and went without comment and the night passed in a blur of non-time. Memories and future possibilities roamed in and out of his mind, but there was one persistent thought that returned time and again to haunt him.

When -- when -- not if -- Dan awoke there would have to be an explanation. McGarrett had traded the lives of the Kenau family for Sammy and Doug and Danno. How was he going to explain that trade to his best friend? In times of intense emotion, times of comforting or commiseration, he felt inadequate and unable to express himself. The deficiency seemed foolish when dealing with someone as close as Danno.

When he thought to check the time, it was almost three AM and there had been no change in Williams' condition. Tense, McGarrett paced the small room, frustrated at his helplessness. He heard the alert for a code blue in one of the rooms nearby and he shivered at the reminder of how precariously Dan's life hung in limbo. These pre-dawn hours were the worst; the black space when heaven and hell seemed to thin out and draw close to the earth, the hours when so many people slipped away from this world. These were the ethereal moments of fear and desolation and darkness.

The blackness of the night seemed tangible and McGarrett's hands trembled from feelings unseen, but present. For the first time during the vigil he was starkly afraid he was going to lose Dan. Unable to accept that possibility; unable to endure the haunting isolation, he crossed to the bedside and clung onto the hand of his friend.

In subdued, intense words he started, with difficulty, from the beginning. Driven by compulsion, he explained the gunmen and the horrifying choice they had given him. The words tearing from his soul, he told of his personal agony when he revealed the location of the safe house, knowing he had condemned his officers to death. He ended with a plea that Dan would hang on and fight his way through the pain and back to life, because he could not bear to lose his friend.

When there was no more left to say, drained of words, and energy, he released Dan's hand and walked to the far end of the room. He leaned against the wall, head back, eyes closed. It may not be enough, but he had done everything in his power to make penance to his friend, to convince Dan to fight against the blackness and stay with him here in this plane of existence.

"Mr. McGarrett?"

The soft voice startled him and he snapped his eyes open. A nurse was gently tugging at his sleeve.

"Mr. Williams is waking," she said, nodding toward the patient.

Crossing to the side of the bed, Steve saw Dan's arms twitch, eyelids fluttering, as if in a light stage of sleep. He gently placed a hand on Williams' arm.

"Danno?" He repeated the call several times before Williams' blue eyes gradually became visible from under the heavy lids. McGarrett couldn't help himself. He grinned, then softly laughed, releasing the nervous, tentative joy bubbling inside. "You're going to be fine, Danno," he assured. He didn't need a medical degree for the diagnosis, it was just something he knew.

Dan understood. His eyes reflected a tired acceptance before they closed and he drifted back to sleep.

* * *

It was nearly ten when McGarrett made his appearance at the office. After assurances that Danno's condition was improving and no longer life threatening, Steve had gone home, showered, changed and caught a short nap. By the time he arrived at the palace the staff was in full motion.

"Morning, Steve," Jenny greeted him with a worried glance.

Her unspoken reprimand of his worn condition was clear in her expression, but no explanation was required. If one of his guys was in the hospital, Steve would be there waiting until the danger was past. Especially if the patient was Dan.

Jenny handed over some messages and reported, "I checked with the hospital about a half hour ago." Her face brightened to a smile. "Danny is still out but doing fine."

Steve grinned and rewarded her with a wink of appreciation. "Thanks."

Ben and Chin joined him. He asked for updates as he scooped up a cup of coffee. The detectives followed him into his office and delivered their reports.

"We found your car at a parking lot in Waikiki," Ben said.

Chin shook his head. "Wiped clean."

McGarrett shook his head with knowing irritation. What had he expected? These killers were professionals and would not leave easily traceable clues behind. Steve leaned against the door frame of the Lanai door, his mind churning through the scant facts.

"We know for sure there was another gunman at the safe house. Found his footprints in the driveway and in the back where we found the shell casings from an Uzi."

"The one who got away," Steve muttered with dark bitterness. That was the gunman who had been the outside shooter who pinned Dan in the crossfire. Maybe the masked assailant with murder in his brown eyes. "One of the hitmen was a local.

"Wasn't the dead one," Ben reported. "His dental work indicates somewhere out of the country. We're running his prints through international records, targeting the pacific rim."

To track the remaining hitmen would not be simple. It was unlikely the killer had stayed on the island longer than it took him to go from Waimanalo to the airport. If, however, the one was local, he was probably hiding out on the islands. Or the man could have stayed behind for another purpose, like eliminating the only eyewitness to the safe house murders. Steps had been taken to ensure Williams' safety, and the Kenau's. McGarrett didn't think he or the Kenau family were in danger as much as Danno. The gunman had never intended to kill the hostages. They had only wanted information from McGarrett. Why keep him alive? And what would be the point of killing Danno, now? Palama was dead and that was all the drug bosses were interested in. Unless the local hitman got nervous and did not want a survivor of the killings.

"We have no leads on the men who held you and the Kenaus hostage," Ben continued. "No one saw them enter or leave the building. None of their clothing was found." He shrugged. "They must have had a car in the garage and just driven away. No reports yet on the fingerprints of the dead man. His clothing was tourist stuff from Waikiki."

"If he was a foreigner, we might never ID his prints," Chin reminded.

"Then why go to so much trouble to disguise themselves?" Ben wondered.

"So they didn't have to kill Steve and the Kenaus."

McGarrett growled in disgust. He had been no help at all. He had given a nothing description for his men to go on, and the gunmen had left without leaving any useful evidence behind.

"Keep checking," he encouraged with little hope. "Maybe something will turn up."

Duke arrived and also added his negative report on any possible suspects spotted at the airport.

"Mrs. Ho is holding up well, considering. She has the support of Sherry Watanabe and other friends on the force. Her family from Kauai has come over."

"What about Doug's family," Ben asked.

"His parents live on the mainland and are flying over for the body tomorrow. The Kenaus are in protective custody at a -- safe house," he finished uncomfortably. "Until you think they can go back to the apartment."

"Mahalo," Steve returned, not commenting on the irony of the situation. "I'll check in on them later."

More bitter than ever, McGarrett slumped into his chair. They had done everything possible and it meant nothing. It would be difficult to accept this as one of Five-0's unsolved cases. That would mean the drug czars had won; that hostages could be used to give criminals freedom, that witnesses were no longer safe, that a cop's life meant nothing. In the long term, it meant they had no case against the drug runners and would have to start all over again. Worse, there seemed to be some leak within the forces in Honolulu -- the leak which had provided information that McGarrett was the only one who knew where Palama was hiding.

The buzz of the intercom interrupted his dismal thoughts and he snatched up the phone. "Yes, Jenny?"

"The hospital on line two," she reported. He immediately switched over. "McGarrett," he snapped, his throat tight with concern.

"This is Dr. Chow," identified the woman on the other end. "You wanted to be notified when Mr. Williams was able to speak to you," she said. "He's conscious now."

"Thank you," he said as he flung the phone back.

"Danno's awake," he told his staff as he jogged out the door. He didn't need to say more.

* * *

He stepped quietly into the room and waited by the door for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the soft illumination, to let his pounding heart slow after rushing through the corridors. The nurse who accompanied him gave him a cup of ice cubes to relieve the patient's dry mouth. She left with a warning that the visit should be brief and quiet.

Dan looked the same as when McGarrett had left not so many hours ago in the early morning. A slight twitch of a hand and a nod of the head indicated the patient was awake.

"Hi," McGarrett said quietly as he pulled a chair over to the bed and sat close to his friend. He indicated the cup of ice.

"It's not beer, but it's wet," he offered. At the responding nod he slipped an ice cube into Dan's mouth. There were fewer tubes and monitors than earlier, but Williams' pale face was still wan and drooping with exhaustion. His eyes, barely open, were dull and groggy. McGarrett forced his mind away from the depressing assessment.

"It's good to see you awake, Danno," he said. 'Good to see you alive,' he finished to himself. Trying to instill an edge of humor he commented, "I thought you were going to sleep the week away."

"Sounds good," was the tired reply. "You okay?"

The concerned query sent a stab of anguish right through his heart. He had to clear his throat to cut through the tightness welling up inside. "Fine. Nothing wrong with me."

Williams looked relieved. "Doc wouldn't say," he said slowly, struggling between breaths. "Never sure what happened. Your car came -- knew something was wrong."

Steve laid a restraining hand on his friend's arm. Clearly the mystery of what had happened was a source of aggravation for Dan. McGarrett quietly told him to calm down and all would be explained.

`Easier said than done,' came the sarcastic thought. There was so much to say and Steve found he could not begin the explanation/confession. He gave another ice cube to the patient, then asked, "What do you remember? My car. Did you see anyone?"

"Two men. Knew right away something was wrong. Doug took Palama. I took door. Called to you." He paused to take in several breaths. McGarrett offered him water. "Shots tore in --a hitter in the house! Palama ran -- chased him -- hit -- I was hit -- tried to get out --trapped."

The words came faster and with more agitation. Williams' anxiety drove him to strain against the IV tubes. Alarmed, McGarrett leaned over and firmly pressed his hands on Dan's shoulders.

"Easy, Danno, easy. It's over. It's over. You did everything you could. Don't say anymore. You can talk about it later."

Relaxing against the pillows Dan's expression faded from agitation to fatigue. "What happened?" He asked between breaths.

McGarrett chose to respond to the complex question in his own order. Still formulating an explanation of his personal role in the massacre, he chose a different but difficult path.

"From what we can reconstruct, two or more soldiers from the drug cartel hit you. Palama, a hitman, --" he paused, gauging Williams' reaction -- summoning his courage. "Sammy and Doug, were all killed."

There was never an easy way to report the loss of colleagues. Over the years a certain detachment was established to distance the survivors from the blow of the death. The distance decreased when the cops killed were working with Five-0. To Dan, who had been living with these men for two weeks, who had been the lone survivor of the safe house, the blow was staggering. He tightly shut his eyes.

McGarrett released his hold on his friend's shoulder and retained a light hold on Dan's arm just to let his friend know he was still there. He shouldn't have mentioned the deaths, he silently berated. It was the worst part of the job, losing friends. It was a harsh reality every cop had to face. While he shared in Dan's grief, selfishly, he was relieved Dan was not one of the dead to be grieved.

"Sorry, Steve," Williams finally breathed. His voice was cracked and barely audible. "I blew it."

McGarrett was instantly on the defensive in behalf of his detective. "Because we lost Palama?"

Williams opened his eyes, brimming with tears, and looked at McGarrett. "I lost Sammy and Doug. I picked them for the job. I got them killed."

"You did everything you should have, Danno. I was at the house last night. I saw -- I saw how helpless all of you were. I know you tried to save Palama. You were crazy to risk yourself for that scum!"

"He was our case."

"I'd rather have no case and a live Dan Williams." McGarrett's voice grew coarse. "After I saw the safe house, I wasn't sure . . . ."

Dan drew in a ragged breath. Tears slid down his cheeks. "It was a nightmare. I thought we were all dead. I thought they had killed you to get to us. What happened?"

He patted Dan in reassurance, to reassure himself. `The worst is yet to come, Danno,' he thought grimly. `You still have to hear who caused all this misery.' He offered his friend another drink and waited for the younger detective to calm down. "I think the details can wait, Danno. You've got to rest --"

"No, Steve, I need to know." Williams gripped onto his arm. With his other hand he pointed at McGarrett's forehead. "Something happened."

McGarrett gave a nod. "There were three or four men, as far as we know," he began.

This was not how it had started in his rehearsal the night before, this was vastly different. This was not just a catharsis of purging guilt. This was the explanation of why he had risked his friend's life and wasted the lives of two other officers.

"Two of the men came to my apartment," he said taking in a deep breath. "They held the Kenaus hostage."

Dan's eyes widened. Even in his sedated state, even through the pain, he caught the significance of the curt statement. Understanding flooded into the blue eyes that softened with compassion. The empathy was difficult to receive under the circumstances.

McGarrett forced himself to retain eye contact. He owed that much to Danno. "Two killers with uzi's, Danno." his voice automatically dropped and scraped with emotion at the memory.

It was a powerful recollection; the terrorists, the fear, the risk of innocent lives, the betrayal, the expected loss of Dan. These were feelings he had not given himself time to deal with, and they forced their way into the forefront of his attention now.

"I hated myself -- yet, I--I told them the location, Danno," he whispered quaveringly. "God forgive me, what could I do? I couldn't let them kill those kids -- kill three innocent people right in front of me -- I couldn't just let them die." He folded his hands and dropped his head onto his knotted fingers. "Forgive me, Danno," he whispered, "not even to save you."

He felt a brief brush of fingers against his hand. "No choice," was Williams' whispered response.

Eyes bleary, McGarrett looked up to see there was still complete understanding in his friend's expression. No censure, no accusation, no condemnation. Just weary acceptance of what had been done, what could not be changed.

"Forgive yourself, Steve," was the quiet admonition.

He had come here filled with anguish at offering this sordid recounting of his black day in hell. He had come here to ask for absolution. Instead he had received so much more than forgiveness from someone who would not even acknowledge a betrayal. He marveled at the incredible, incalculable commodity of friendship. Steve wasn't sure he would ever recover from the incredible guilt he felt over his responsibility of the killings, but he knew a great portion of his regret had been wiped away at his friend's simple advice.

"You make it sound too simple," he responded, unable to yet let go of the penance he felt he needed to pay.

"Ain't no big thing, Bruddah," Dan quoted lightly. He shifted slightly, settling more comfortably against the pillow. His eyelids started sliding closed. "Look at the kids."

There was certainly no argument for that, Steve decided. When those kids had been under the gun he knew he could never allow them to be killed. Certainly he could not live with himself knowing he had let them die. On the other hand, he also knew that he could never have forgiven himself if Dan had died.

"How'd you get to be so smart?" he asked fondly. He smiled when he glanced at the youthful features of his dozing friend. In many ways his colleague was still as enthusiastic, as innocent and as trusting as a Keoni himself. "How'd I ever get so smart to have you for a friend?"

As he softly stepped to the door he glanced back affectionately at a man who was more of a strength in his life than he could understand. He would have to keep an eye on little league this year. Two of his favorite people would make the ball games -- the game of life -- more substantial than they could ever know.

* * *

When he emerged from the hospital the sun was centered high in the azure, tropical sky of Honolulu. The day was bright and warm and tourist-perfect. He had lost track of time while visiting Dan, but was surprised that it was so late. As he turned toward the parking lot a crush of reporters with cameras, recorders and note pads, came out of nowhere. In seconds he was virtually surrounded. Their combined chatter of questions was incomprehensible, their rude manner offensive. McGarrett shoved his way through, barely acknowledging them with his standard 'no comment' theme. He had no time for this riffraff and would not give them the dignity of his attention.

At the Palace there were more press people lurking to ambush him and he ducked into the doors before they could get too close. The lone HPD guard assigned in the first floor lobby since the shootings, was enough of a discouragement to turn the media away. As he skipped up the broad koa staircase, McGarrett ruminated on the disturbing questions that had been thrown at him. Although he despised the press he could not shut out their insinuating inquiries about his role in the murders of the policemen; his obvious blame for the massacre at the safe house.

By the time he swept into the office he had worked his temper into a full-fledged anger, but did his best to subjugate the distress and move on to the business of the day. He paused at Jenny's desk and forced a lid on his temper. There was no sense taking his irritation out on Jenny -- she wouldn't take any nonsense from him. She would see right though his mood and probably give him a mother-hen lecture. He tried to avoid those at all costs.

"Any messages?"

"You mean besides the press?" she retorted acidly. "They've been tying up the phones all day." She handed him a small stack of memos. "How's Danny?"

"Improving," was his vague reply.

Williams' condition was no longer a desperate preoccupation at the forefront of his thoughts. Now that he was at the office he could push his guilt and worry for Dan out of mind. While here, he had more than enough to occupy his attention. Besides apprehending the assassins and ferreting out the informant, there was a backlog of regular Five-0 cases which would demand the notice of the officers. Now that Dan was out of the action their jobs would not be any easier.

"He ready for some real kau kau yet?" Chin asked as he joined them. "I'll have my wife fix some ono manapua for him."

McGarrett smiled and shook his head, amused at the offer. "What a sacrifice, Chin. Manapua just happens to be your favorite."

Ben ducked out of his office to add his opinion. "What Danny'll need is some decent beer to wash down that miserable hospital food."

"Hey, wait a few days, fellas," Steve reminded, but already felt better because of the bantering. "Give him some time. Besides, we've got work to do."

The token complaints faded away and the detectives offered their negative findings of further investigations. No clues or prints on the Mercury. Only a discarded ski mask and hair samples were the sparse physical evidence left in the car. Nothing else from the apartment or the safe house. No leads on the assassins. No fingerprint ID. on the dead assailant. So far no hotels or car rental agencies recognized the dead hitman.

"Hey, McGarrett! How about a comment on the shoot-out!"

Joe Boyd, one of the most obnoxiously persistent investigative reporters on the island had emerged from the door at the far end of the office.

"How the hell did you get in here?" McGarrett snapped, incensed at the intrusion.

"Word has it there's a leak in your office --"

Ben moved quickly to seize the man in a bone crushing arm lock. The reporter protested, but Kokua quickly and efficiently had the man out of the office in seconds.

"I don't want that happening again," Steve said between clenched teeth. "I want enough HPD men here to seal the Palace if necessary!. We're not going to get anything done if we have meddling reporters underfoot!"

Without waiting for Chin's reply he stormed into his own office and slammed the door shut.

* * *

As the days slipped by, resistance had become interference and open antagonism by the press. A call from an irate Governor exacerbated McGarrett's anger. The heat was usual, was expected, but such intensity from all directions was ridiculous. At the same time, he was still emotionally unsettled from his own unresolved feelings of guilt and remorse.

Danno was alive and that was the most important factor in the aftermath of the shootings. He knew though, eventually Dan would be recovered enough to confront the situation with a clear head. There would be doubts and questions and bitterness from Williams. That threat of personal resentment was more of a stress on his mind than all the attacks from the press and the Governor.

Chin and Ben returned from their investigations with more negatives than ever. No leads and no clues on any front. Steve couldn't remember being so frustrated, so stonewalled on an investigation. The Kenau's were still under protective custody and continually questioned, but could add nothing useful to Steve's descriptions. Ben had even tried a mild session of questioning with Dan, but Dan was unable to recall any details of the assassins --it had all happened too fast. The session had left Williams drained and stressed, and Steve ordered that they lay off the wounded officer.

"What about the informant angle?" McGarrett asked his officers.

"The possibilities are pretty slim," Chin countered. "The DAs office, HPD, and us."

"That's still a lot of people," Ben reminded. "Officers, prosecutors, even secretaries."

"Then we have to work on that side of the street," Steve said unenthusiastically.

He rubbed tired eyes and glanced out the lanai windows. It was nearly dark. He was feeling the weight of emotional and physical fatigue. He needed to get away and go home. Remarkably he did not have any interest in staying longer at the office. He was worn out and his detectives were just as exhausted. Since this session was without the spark of energy usually provided by Danno, Steve felt himself bowing under the crush of depression. It was time to go home. It had been two days since he had seen Dan. He really should drop by.

He rose from his chair and pushed open the lanai doors. "Let's call it a night, gentlemen," he sighed. The cool air was refreshing but could not brush away his bone-deep fatigue. "In the morning we'll hit it again," was his half-hearted advice.

After his officers left the building, McGarrett remained behind. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the evidence board. There were photographs of tire tracks, the safe house, McGarrett's car found at the Ala Wai parking lot. There was an artist's sketch of two men's forms -- their build, hair, eyes, and no face.

One man was the silent gunman with brown eyes who had held him at his apartment. His ski-mask had been carelessly left in the Mercury. It had provided some of the few tangible clues: pieces of hair in the mask showed the man was of Hawaiian descent. They had not yet traced the mask or the owner further than that. Microscopic bits of soil, plants and blood from the floor of the car placed the driver at the safehouse.

This killer worried him. Probably a local, a former associate of Palama's and fellow drug dealer. Forced to turn hitman by the Malaysian bosses. That meant this survivor was dangerous, capable of killing to protect himself or his source of drugs, or both. The man was probably still on the island. He was not too bright (leaving behind the mask), and ruthless (he had been the shooter to trap Williams and Palama in a rain of excessive fire). Because this man was still at large Steve had kept the Kenaus at a beach safe house. He had also kept a tight guard on Dan at the hospital.

McGarrett sat in the long shadows cast by the soft dusk of the tropic twilight. Listlessly he stared out the open lanai doors. He was exhausted, but he could not leave, could not give up or give in to fatigue until this was over. He tiredly fingered a cookie, one of a pile, on his desk. In her own reaction to the crisis, Ellen Kenau had sent treats into the city with whatever officer ended his watch in the mornings at the safe house. The Five-0 staff was putting on pounds with the delicious kau kau. Williams and his attending guards, nurses, and doctors were chalking up the calories from her special treatment as well. It was a pleasant side-effect in an otherwise bleak situation.

Recrimination and regret bordered Steve's guilt in those quiet moments when his mind was over-taxed from logical thought and only the depression could filter through. His heart ached from the raw emotions brought to the surface at Sammy's funeral earlier in the day. Mrs. Ho would not talk to him. Sherry Watanabe had given no more than a barely civil greeting. Repeatedly he told himself he had made the only possible choice, he HAD been right, yet, he did not feel justified in the ends achieved. How could he ever vindicate the death of the two officers under his jurisdiction and the near death of Danno? Images of the blood at the crime scene; the tragedy of the funeral, kept playing across his mind.

'Never give in to threats,' had been his credo a few years ago when Dan was held hostage by terrorists. He had not given ground then and had expected to pay the ultimate price for his proud ideals. By some miracle, Danno had been spared that time, although another hostage was killed in his place. Then as well as now, Steve had felt guilty at his relief that Dan had not been the one murdered.

This time, Steve had renounced the high ideals to spare an innocent family, and himself, from execution. Maybe that was the root of his guilt. He had saved himself and put others -- Danno -- on the execution block instead. Again, by a miracle, Dan had been spared. Chance had saved him from the ultimate agony of Danno's death once more.

Numb from the tension, fatigue and mental torture, he left the office and took a long drive up the Makaha coast. When he returned to town he stopped in at the hospital, but Williams was asleep. He made a rare appearance at his apartment, flopped onto the couch and fell into a restless sleep until after dawn the next morning.

* * *

Stiff and sore, Williams made slow, small steps across the room as he traveled from the bed to the chair by the window. He was pushing all the limits the doctors set, trying to force himself to improve faster than humanly possible. He was anxious to get out of the hospital and continually tried to get an early release from the physicians. The last and best prediction was another two days and then he would be free. The room had become a depressing prison. He had to escape these sterile walls, although in his heart he knew there was no escape for the root of his distress.

His gaze shifted from the panoramic view of the scenic mountains.  Then his eyes strayed to the to early-morning edition of the newspaper on the table. Everyday there was some new, more painful fall out from the shootings. Each item made him more bitter, more anxious to be out doing something, more guilt ridden at his role in the nucleus of the tragedy.

Today the headlines quoted HPD Chief Grover's condemnation of McGarrett. The Chief defended his lack of cooperation with Five-0 by blaming for security leaks. Those leaks lead to the deaths of the officers at the safe house. There had been no comment from McGarrett, but the press blasted him for insufficient safety for his officers. One newspaper suggested the Governor call a special task force to investigate Five-0. From every angle, it seemed, McGarrett was the scapegoat of the debacle. He had never been popular with the press and this was their chance to really slam him.

Dan had not heard from Steve in a few days. He knew it was because the detectives were overloaded with work; pushing with super-human effort to solve the murders immediately, while still working on the regular caseloads. The task was harder since Five-0 was a detective short while he was in the hospital. Dan knew the routine, but still, in the back of his mind, he attributed the silence from McGarrett as personal condemnation.

Certainly Steve had nothing to say to an officer who had let him down. Dan had known a hit was possible. Why had he let his guard down? The shooter had been there in the damn house! They were questions he would never find answers for. He was sure he could have done something differently, but whatever it might have been, made no difference now.

He settled back in bed. Thoughts distantly drifting and he soon fell asleep. He dreamed of high surf and gunshots. Startled, he awoke to find his breakfast on the table. He glanced at the clock, surprised it was already mid-morning. He wondered what the guys were doing back at the office. He imagined the weather at the cemetery on the windward side of the island.

He returned to the window. Warm sunlight streamed in and he stayed there, sightlessly gazing at the shadows cast by the morning rays of a day filled with tropical promise for some, grief, for others. He tried, and failed, to think of anything other than the police funeral scheduled for that morning.

* * *

There was too big a crowd to reasonably accommodate the old, cramped Buddhist cemetery notched on a sloping hill off Pali Highway. Aside from the Ho family and friends, most of HPD and all Five-0 officers on duty, attended the somber service blending Buddhist custom and police ritual. The event was complicated and marred by the presence of the media, who had turned out in full force to cover the heart-wrenching burial that had turned to a controversial circus.

Carol Ho was nearly disabled with grief, and had to be helped to and from the grave site. McGarrett, Chin and Ben paid their respects, then kept a respectable distance from the family. McGarrett, Grover and Sherry Watanabe were the main targets of the news cameras -- Mrs. Ho being spared only because of the tight, protective ring her family had formed around her. Only Grover was crass enough to offer a statement as he was leaving the service. McGarrett and his men quickly escaped to their car and left out a rear maintenance entrance to avoid the media.

When they returned to the office, McGarrett urged his men to increase their already intense efforts to find the killers. Police funerals were wrenching services. Cops could never attend one without being ripped to the heart by the anger of the waste, the sorrow of the loss of one of their own. His own, McGarrett needlessly reminded himself. Sammy was working with Five-0. He wouldn't forget. He shuffled the papers on his desk, trying to reach a starting point for his next move. His mind, though, could not concentrate on work. Thoughts kept flinging back to the guilty relief that they had not been attending Danno's funeral.

* * *

With slow, measured steps he crossed to the phone and asked for an outside number. A voice that was familiar, which he could not place immediately, answered the phone at the Ho residence.

"This is Danny Williams. I'd like to speak with Carol Ho, please."

"Danny. This is Sherry. I don't think this is a good time."

It would never be a good time, Dan reflected. Sammy's funeral had been fully covered on the evening news. He could not attend, but he had watched all the reports. He had wept during the intensely emotional twenty-one gun salute offered by HPD officers. So angered at the slanted comments against McGarrett, he'd thrown a book at the TV. Steve, Chin and Ben had been grief-stricken and deeply effected by the funeral. Now, as he stared out the window and gazed at the long shadows cast by the final rays of the evening sun low on the horizon, he resolved to do what his conscience dictated he must accomplish. His call would probably be an intrusion, but he had to let Carol understand his regret.

"Sherry, I am so sorry about Sammy."

"Danny, please --"

There was a muffled voice from the other end. He heard his name. Then a hysterical cry throbbed his eardrum. Carol Ho shouted at him with hatred and bitterness, wishing Williams had been buried and not her husband. Mad with grief, she violently hung up on him. He figured he deserved the verbal attack, he had been the one who got Sammy killed.

With slow steps he crossed back to the window and stared out at the sunny Hawaiian afternoon. Shadows were stretching long, tall shapes across the hospital grounds as the hours slipped by. The phone rang and with effort, Williams crossed back to the bed.

"Williams."

"Good to see you're not so close to death's door as everybody thinks, Williams," a man stated.

"Who is this?"

"Joe Boyd. McGarrett's got good security going so I had to call to ask what happened at the safe house. Are you going to resign because of your failure? You know, there's pressure on McGarrett to throw in the towel, too. What do you have to say, about an internal investigation into the leaks at Five-0, Williams?"

Boyd, a local reporter, was a muck-raker of scandal and vice. Caught totally unprepared, Dan found no snappy comeback in response. He shook his head, mentally trying to figure the angle.

"You damn shark," was all he could mutter. "Moving in for the kill now that you smell blood. Leave me alone."

"Come on, Williams. Rumor has it McGarrett's taking the heat, covering for you so the Governor doesn't bounce you off the force. Personally, I think you'll both get bounced. What do you say?"

To numb to debate, Dan could only shake his head, unable to believe the man. "No," he muttered in a whisper.

"He finks on you, then you and your pals get hit," Boyd continued.

"You rotten liar!" Dan slammed down the phone. The force slid the instrument off the table. Dan lost his balance and tumbled to the floor.

The door burst open and a broad, six foot six officer of Tongan descent, named Hilton, plunged into the room.

"Danny! Whatchu doin' man?" He effortlessly lifted Dan onto the bed, then summoned a nurse. On her heels came Sergeant Lukela. After the nurse was assured there was no immediate threat to the patient, she left to call a doctor.

Duke leaned over Williams. "You okay, Danny?"

After inhaling a few times, assured he was breathing steadily, Dan nodded. "Just sore. I guess I don't have any balance, yet."

"What happened?"

After Williams explained the call he asked, "What's going on, Duke?"

"You can't believe anything that slime, Boyd says, Danny."

"He said they're pressuring Steve to fire me and Steve is taking the heat for this. Is that true?"

"Only the press is throwing accusations around."

"And Chief Grover."

Duke growled. "Chief Grover don't know nothin' bruddah. Steve knows you did everything you could at the safe house. Don't loose your trust in him because of the press."

"No -- no, I wouldn't. I'm responsible, Duke. They're using him as the scapegoat. I can't let him take the fall anymore."

Lukela shook his head. "Danny, how can you blame yourself? You were a victim."

"So is Steve," Williams insisted fervently.

"You're right. But people who count -- HPD, the Governor, the Kenaus, they don't blame Steve, or you. They know you were doing your job."

"Carol Ho and Sherry Watanabe blame me."

"How did they contact you?"

"I phoned a while ago. After Sammy's funeral."

Duke shook his head in silent recrimination. Frustrated and irritated with his younger colleague's attitude of self-castigation, Lukela could only offer his repeated support. The injured detective silently stared out the window without acknowledging Duke's words.

* * *

It was late into evening when an obviously disturbed Duke Lukela entered the inner sanctum of Five-0. Steve had known the reliable Hawaiian since Korea when they both served out of the same base. The sergeant was a forthright man, almost completely lacking in artifice and even worse at hiding his thoughts than the expressive Williams. The minute he entered the room McGarrett knew there was bad news on the horizon.

"What is it, Duke?"

"You're not gonna like this, Steve," he admitted outright. At the glowering storm clouds he felt sweeping his way, Duke wavered.

"What?" Steve barked.

"Joe Boyd got a call through to Danny."

"Damn leech! I'd like to drop him down Kilauea! Where's our security to keep those vultures out of our turf?"

"It won't happen again," Duke promised levelly. "But the damage is done."

With extreme effort, McGarrett got a grip on his temper. "What do you mean? What did he say to Danno?"

Lukela related Williams' depressed state, aggravated by the reporter and Mrs. Ho. His suggestion was to get Dan out of the hospital as soon as they could and put him in a more secure location.

McGarrett wondered if there was a place secure enough. It would be a long time until he felt it was safe to have Williams back in the open. Dan, the Kenaus and McGarrett were the only witnesses to the remaining gunman. At the Governor's insistence, McGarrett had a bodyguard on him at the Palace and at home; a situation he could not abide for long. What if Five-0 did not find the man? They could not hide forever. For numerous reasons, he needed to find the mystery man quickly. He had a sixth sense that time was running out. The secret of the safe house operation had been leaked from the inside. Even now, under protection, how long were any of them safe?

* * *

As soon as Lukela left, McGarrett seized the phone and called the hospital. "Danno, you all right?"

"Steve, what's going on?" The voice on the other end was on edge. "Boyd says everyone is blaming you for the attack on the safe house! Steve, it's all wrong --"

"Danno, stay calm," he insisted, yet his own voice had risen several decibels. "I don't want you to worry about it."

"If you're taking my heat --"

"Danno, I can handle it. You need to take care of yourself. I want you to concentrate on recovery."

"How can I forget what's happening?"

"Don't pay any attention to that fink Boyd or the rest of the press. You're letting them rattle you, Danno. That's not like you." It took several minutes of more reassurance to convince Williams that the situation was in hand. He promised he would be over to see his friend as soon as he could. He closed with another admonition that everything would soon be under control and resolved.

When McGarrett hung up he was knotted with rage. Personal attacks he was used to, but hitting Danno in the hospital was the limit. There had to be a solution to this crisis; the safe house hit, the leak, the loose hitman, the lurking danger. All the problems could be resolved if he could conclude the one focal mystery in the crime: the missing hitman. Find him and they find the leak, they find the murderer, they end the insidious anxieties unseen but felt by them all.

Steve snatched his jacket off the coat rack and left the office. Everyone else had already gone home. All the detectives were out tracking leads. The investigation was plodding, but progressing. They had come up with a list of Palama's associates and were cross-checking that list with people in the DA, HPD and Five-0. They had found the store in Kailua where the ski mask had been purchased, but no i.d. on the buyer. The fist of the law was closing on their unknown murderer, but it was slow -- maybe too slow. He had a few ideas of his own left to try right after he visited Danno.

As per McGarrett's command, the hospital now boasted more security than the Governor's office. he was pleased at the officers on duty outside Williams' private room. Soundlessly McGarrett entered and silently studied his sleeping friend. The strain of the ordeal had been etched with deep fatigue lines around Williams' eyes and cheeks. Even in exhausted slumber, he displayed the obvious rigors of severe injury, shock and violence. Steve thought of staying until his friend awoke, but he was too worn out.

Tomorrow he would turn his frustration and impatience into action. He would get out of the office, take the initiative and do something --anything rather than sitting around waiting for solutions to fall into his lap. With a last glance at Williams, Steve left for his apartment. Tomorrow he would have another talk with his fellow witnesses. Maybe one more interrogation of the Kenaus would dredge up something they had overlooked before.

* * *

McGarrett laid the last domino down on the tail end of a complex maze of white-dotted pieces. "Pau, Keoni."

The young man nodded acceptance of the defeat. "One more game and you'll tie my score. Want to try again?"

"No thanks. I need to check on Officer Wells and Api."

"They're just outside here, Steve," called Ellen. "I can see them from the window."

To satisfy himself, McGarrett left the table and crossed the small kitchen to look out at the side yard. Sandy Wells was washing sea shells with young Api. Farther down the beach, Officer Fred Wailua was fishing. Everything was secure, as it had been for more than a week. McGarrett still could not banish his unease.

"You worry too much, Steve," Ellen quietly commented.

He turned his attention to the Tutu expertly wielding a knife on slices of onion, tomatoes and fish. "I have to be cautious." Belaying that, he snatched a pile of lomi lomi salmon from the cutting board, deftly avoiding her weapon.

"We can't stay under your protection forever."

"I know. We're closing in, Ellen. Be patient. Your lives come first." He snatched another handful of the lomi lomi. "Is there anything else you've remembered about the gunmen? The shape of the face? The hands? The accents?"

Ellen shook her head. "One was a local boy. The other was from another island. Maybe Guam."

"Maylasia?"

"Could be," she shrugged. Keoni made a grab for the tasty treat and his hand was slapped away by his grandmother.

"You let Steve snack, Tutu, why can't I?"

"Piecing will ruin your lunch, Keoni."

"Besides," McGarrett smiled and winked at the young, would-be thief, "I'm the boss around here." He grabbed another handful of kau kau and slipped it to his ally.

"And he always appreciates my kau kau!"

The sound of a car alerted them. Steve went to the window by the door and watched an LTD sedan course along the long driveway from Kalani Highway. He scowled when a pale Dan Williams slowly exited. The car drove away without the accomplice waiting for the boss' reaction. McGarrett met his detective at the door. The haggard, wan appearance of Williams forestalled McGarrett's immediate recriminations.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Dan asked lightly as he stepped in without invitation.

McGarrett shepherded him into the sunken living room. "You're supposed to be in the hospital. What are you doing here, Danno?"

"Chin wouldn't let me help at the office."

Keoni gave a yelp of pleasure and surprise at the arrival, and leapt over to hug Williams. The assault almost toppled the injured man.

"Mr. Williams, I didn't know you were out of the hospital!"

McGarrett disengaged young Keoni. "Neither did I," was his sharp addition.

"Do you feel up to playing catch, Mr. Williams?" Keoni asked.

"No, he doesn't," McGarrett sternly answered for his officer. "He's going to his apartment!"

"Auwe, not before you get some kau kau into that boy," Ellen Kenau insisted from the kitchen. She shook her knife at the detectives. "He's been starved on that hospital junk! Just look at how skinny he is!"

Williams grinned at his confederate. "If it wasn't for your, supplements, Ellen, I'd have wasted away to nothing."

Mrs. Kenau urged Keoni into the kitchen to help. McGarrett glared at his conniving friend and helped him to the sofa.

"By the way, where's your shadow?"

"I gave Hilton the day off." At McGarrett's stormy expression, Dan quickly added, "I knew there'd be plenty of protection at the office. Or here."

"Danno --"

"Steve, I can't stay out of the action any longer. Let me do something -- anything. I'll pace myself, I promise. I could stay here --it would consolidate man-power. Anything, Steve. Just let me help, please. I need it."

The entreaty came fast and impassioned. There was no way for McGarrett to deny the desperation in his friend's face, the pleading in the tone. He knew how Danno felt. He also knew if he didn't give his consent, Danno might go off and do something stupid just to keep tabs on the investigation. Guilt and remorse could do that to a cop -- had done it before to Dan, and McGarrett did not want them to repeat that desperation. He had been through that himself. So he'd let Danno stay, but there was no reason to think he had pulled one over on his boss.

"I don't know, Danno. You're not well enough --"

"I promise to take it easy. Ellen can feed me health food. Anything! Let me stay, Steve. I--I need to work through this, to talk to you."

McGarrett's original, firm intentions crumbled under his friend's pleas. "All right."

Williams carefully eased himself more comfortably into the cushy sofa. There was no immediate response, and McGarrett understood. Dan's inner turmoil was a deep and private pain. It would not be easy to vent.

"How did you know I was here?" Steve asked to break the ice.

"I'm a detective, remember?" Dan responded dryly. "Besides, where else would you go? This is the nicest safe house Five-0 has," he quipped, then almost choked on the last words. Embarrassment flooded the moment. It was Dan who picked up the fumbled conversation. "I asked Ben to bring me."

McGarrett let the touchy subject die. He took a seat next to his colleague and worriedly studied Williams. "You sure you're well enough to be out?"

"I'm not catching a wave on the Pipe or anything," he said off-handedly. "I'll take it easy and it'll be fine."

Skeptical, McGarrett resisted a hypocritical remark about obeying doctors and limits. Still concerned, he silently vowed to keep a careful eye on Dan.

Williams sighed and sheepishly glanced at his friend. "Okay, it's not fine. How can it be?"

"Healing takes time, Danno."

"It's not just that, it's the whole damn, twisted mess. I know I'm responsible, but I don't even understand everything! Tell me what's going on, Steve." Confusion colored the tone and shaded the blue eyes. In that expression there was something more -- a faith, a belief, that was clinging to an ideal -- a paragon named McGarrett. Steve wanted to look away from that burning trust, but he could not destroy Dan's confidence like that, not even if that trust was no longer justified. "The press is killing you and we both know it's not your fault."

"How did Boyd get to you?"

"I don't know. That's history now, Steve," Dan reminded firmly. "Did you take the blame for the safe house hit to let me off the hook?"

There was a precursor of hurt and disappointment in the voice. McGarrett loved Dan more as a brother than a colleague or friend and would do whatever was necessary to preserve Dan's trust. He also knew there was probably nothing he could ever do or say to damage that incredible faith.

"Grover and the media have never been members of my fan club."

"Then we ignore them and get on with the case!"

"We?" McGarrett adamantly shook his head. "Not you. Not the shape you're in."

"I have to," Dan countered somberly. "This is my fault, Steve. I can't let you take the heat for me."

McGarrett was so incredulous he could only respond by shaking his head.

"I blew it, Steve," Williams went on. "I expected an attack before the trial. It was my job to save Palama and protect Sammy and Doug the best I could." His voice deepened with residual anguish. "I got them killed and I'm the one who survived."

McGarrett had been so relieved at his friend's survival, he had overlooked the possibility Williams would feel this kind of guilt. Even given the younger detective's proclivity for self-doubts and recriminations when things went wrong, this was ridiculous.

"I gave away the location of the safe house," Steve reminded bitterly. "You should blame me!"

Williams waved away the comment. "I was there, Steve. It was my job to keep them alive."

For a moment his eyes were vacant, seemingly remembering the indefinable horrors clouding the events of that fateful day. The emotional drain and physical weariness made him look a old and defeated. McGarrett placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. They weren't ready to face this yet. He wasn't sure when they would be, but right now the wounds were figuratively, and practically still bleeding.

"I wasn't even with them when they went down. I was trying to save the life of that slug, Palama. The hitman was at the door. Before I could fire, he -- he nailed us."

"You saw the gunman?"

Too choked to speak, Williams nodded.

"Ski mask?"

He nodded again. "Know him?"

"Too well," McGarrett snarled. The local with murderous demons in his eyes. He had fulfilled his mission and nearly killed Danno. That slime had a lot to answer for. He studied his friend's anguished face. Right now they had to focus on recovery, not details of the terror. "Let it go for now, Danno. We'll tackle this a piece at a time."

"Together?"

"Together."

After lunch the Kenaus went upstairs to complete school work. McGarrett brought Dan up to date on the lack of progress in the investigation. Although the facts were depressing the discussion was not. It was a comfortable routine they fell into as they batted ideas and theories between them. Hawaiian sunset had plunged the house into darkness before they realized how late it was. McGarrett turned on the lights in the house and brought them fresh coffee.

"The most accessible link is the informant," Dan reiterated.

"We've got a long list of suspects," Steve warned. He lead them to a table in the living room and removed several files from a briefcase. He lifted the stack of papers. "People in the DA's office or HPD who had access to information on the case."

Dan thumbed through the lists and whistled softly. "There must be some way we can narrow this down."

McGarrett spread out his hands in surrender. "I'm open to suggestions."

Glumly, Williams leaned his chin in his hand.

McGarrett's associating mental image was of a disappointed little kid. He pushed through some of the evidence pictures. He studied the artist's drawing of their suspect."  Bring back any memories?"

Dan studied the eyes surrounded by the mask. He finally shook his head. "I don't know, Steve. I don't remember much beyond the shooting . . . ."

Steve patted his friend on the arm. "It'll keep till morning. We'll go over it. I'll call Chin and tell him you're staying in the ground floor bedroom for a few days."

Too tired to argue, Dan merely nodded. "That's optimistic." Around a yawn he said, "Chin'll be glad to hear he won't have to come after me." He grinned at the memory. "He and Ben were pretty worried about your reaction to me showing up on your doorstep."

"They should be," was Steve's dark reply. "They should know better than to conspire with an escape when you belong in the hospital."

"When I'm back on active duty again you can suspend me," was Williams' return quip. A quizzical, amused look played on his face. "If you're out here at the safe house, and I'm out on medical, who's in charge?"

Deadpan, Steve replied, "Chin."

Dan's eyebrows shot up. "Then we better clear this up as fast as we can!"

They both smiled at the familiar joke. Despite the gravity of the case, and Dan's weak health, easy camaraderie had overcome the tension. It was such a natural habit to fall back on, it gave McGarrett a sense of solace to balm much of his guilt and a new hope for a quick solution to the case.

He went back to prepare the spare room for his friend, pleased Danno had come out here. Steve felt more optimistic than he had during the entire case. Putting their heads together, they had to come up with something.

By the next afternoon the two detectives had made several stacks of papers on the coffee table in the living room. After lengthy discussion and occasionally warm debates, the group of suspects had narrowed. The thickest stack, at one end of the table, represented the people who were the least likely suspects. At the other end was a thin stack with only five people who seemed to be obvious weak points in the governmental structure and thus prime suspects. In between the two extremes were the employees whose histories were vague enough to keep them temporarily in the middle of the suspect polarities. Without more data, they could go no further with their armchair detecting.

* * *

McGarrett returned to Honolulu to meet with Chin and Ben to get them quietly working investigations. With the current cold war between HPD and Five-0, inquiries would be slow and difficult. Williams surveyed the papers with distaste. The reports were two dimensional fact sheets. From them, and little else, they would have to discover a traitor, a killer. Fed up with the busy work and worn out from the mental exertions, Williams walked out to the lanai, grabbed a beach mat, and went to sun himself near the water. Given the combination of fatigue and warmth, he expected to soon be lulled to sleep. Yet the nagging accusation swirling in his mind pounded at his consciousness like the rough surf on rocks.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The rapid-fire shots hammered through the house like lead rain. Williams ducked low as he ran to the back of the house, forcibly dragging Palama. The druggie was petrified with fear and was too panicked to move on his own. Their only hope was the back door.

Williams ran into the small back pantry and skidded for the door. Palama fell to the floor. Williams had to use both hands to drag the man to his feet. He reached for the door. A shot from behind sliced his arm. He turned and shot a gunman coming through the doorwway of the hall.

"Palama, you a dead traitor, bruddah!" came a shout from outside.

Too late! Williams saw the gunman through the window on the top-half of the door. In the same instant the window and door exploded from gunshots. He was thrown back against the wall before he realized he was shot. He only felt the burning of hot lead in his chest as he slipped into darkness.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Dan snapped awake! Disoriented, it took a moment to comprehend he was laying in the sun, on a safe beach in Aina Haina. He glanced down the surf-line. Hilton waved at him. Williams shook his head, hoping to free his mind of the cobwebed nightmares that clung to his consciousness. If only those nightmares held a clue instead of recurring terror.

With a sigh he focused concentrated thought on solving the case. Someone represented in those reports, someone in a position of trust, had been responsible for the death of two good cops -- for his own near death. What would make a person betray colleagues like that? How would he react when he discovered the guilty person? Would it lessen his own sense of guilt? Would it lessen McGarrett's anguish?

Unable to answer those questions, unable to rest, he started walking and thinking. Which of his associates had sold out? He mentally reviewed the names, all officers or lawyers he knew; men and women he thought he trusted. Could he really trust anyone outside of Five-0? It was a scary question he didn't want to answer. Neither could he just sit in the sun and let Steve and the others do all the work. Williams still felt responsible for all this and was determined to aid in the quest for justice.

He returned to the house and stared at the stack of papers for a time. There was no sense tackling the middle bunch; just plodding details as far as he was concerned. Steve had given the top eleven possibilities to Chin and Ben. If only there was a way to cut some corners --

Williams snapped his fingers as the idea literally popped into his mind. There was a reliable HPD person who was not a suspect and who would be highly motivated to find the real informant. Dan glanced at the clock. Almost five. Sherry Watanabe would be off duty by now. Her partner, Sammy, had been killed. Even if she blamed Dan, she would want to see Sammy's murderers brought to justice. Partnerships transcended a lot of petty disagreements and brought odd people together for a common cause. Sherry would bend the rules for Sammy if not for any other reason.

Williams quickly showered, dressed and called a cab. He left a brief note to let McGarrett know he was following his own leads. With any luck, the next time he talked to Steve, he would be much closer to apprehending their informant.

* * *

To avoid a nasty collision with the press and economize on time, McGarrett met his officers for lunch at the budget cafeteria of Patti's Kitchen at the Ala Moana mall. The frugal family man Kelly had picked the tasty, inexpensive Chinese eatery.

'Well,' Steve thought, 'prices even Danno would appreciate.' "You can't beat it for anonymity," he wryly told his associates. "No one would ever expect to find me here!"

Chin gave the boss one list of personal finance records of people connected with the case. Then, a second list of phone calls made from the safe house. All the names on the list were legitimate connections for the officers, but Chin had passed the information along anyway. Ben contributed his list of Palama's known associates. McGarrett gave the detectives a sheet of paper with a list of the most likely suspects from the DA and HPD personnel. It was irritating when their investigation was tied up in so many vague paper trails. As they scanned the various names, Chin soberly shook his head. Ben gave a quiet whistle. Neither went so far as to voice their incredulity about the possible guilt of the good and true officers and attorneys named.

"Remember, use only people you are certain you can trust," Steve reminded. "Personally trust, gentlemen. We can't afford to let too many people know what we're up to."

"It won't be easy," Kokua warned. He scanned the names again. "I hope you're wrong, Steve," he said after a moment.

McGarrett sympathized with Ben's divided loyalty. These were officers Kokua knew on a very long term, intimate level. They were his friends. Now that he was working for Five-0 his loyalties were slightly divided. It was distasteful, but not a problem. Because Ben had the innate integrity needed to pull off this kind of investigation. No matter who was uncovered, the traitor had to be found for the good of the department, for justice.

'And for two Five-0 detectives who are in desperate need of absolution from their own spectres,' McGarrett concluded to himself

Taking a chance, he decided to risk a quick stop at his apartment. There were a few books and other items he needed for the duration of his stay at the beach house. Returning to the 'crime scene' was sobering. So much had happened since that terrible night; so much death and guilt and anguish. There was an awful lot of blame swirling around because of the tragic experience.

His mind replayed the events over again, going through every step. The memory crystallized every action and reaction. He was hit full-force with an understanding that none of them -- not the Kenaus, not Danno, not even himself, deserved the guilt. There was nothing any of them could have done to alter events. The revelation was like a gale of clean air into a smoky room. It clarified so much of what was wrong

"None of us are to blame," he reaffirmed aloud to the empty room. "Not any of us. We were all victims," he pronounced firmly to himself, to Danno. "Other people were responsible. Even if those guilty people are never found, it won't matter to us, because we'll still know the truth." It was a new revelation -- a release, a letting go he didn't think himself capable of. It was the only way he -- they -- could live with the crime. It had nothing to do with catching the criminals or seeking justice. It was acceptance and self-forgiveness. It was what they all needed. It was what Danno needed.

The evening traffic was irritatingly slow because he was impatient to get back to the house and share his conclusions with Danno. They had spoken the empty words of forgiveness and duty, but they had not understood. Now, McGarrett did understand.

* * *

Williams emerged from the taxi at the end of a short, gravel drive. The path lead to an expensive house on an expansive view-lot of Kailua. He angled past the new Thunderbird taking up most of the space on the curved path. He cast admiring glances at the Porsche convertible by the back garage -- obviously Sherry was better at saving her paycheck than he was. He paused on the doorstep of the scenicly located house in Kailua, hesitant to knock. What if Sherry, like Sammy's wife, blamed him for the deaths at the safe house? In that case Sherry would most likely slug him instead of talk to him. Involuntarily, Dan flinched at the thought, but forced himself to raise his hand. The movement sent shards of pain through his chest where injured muscles strained every time he moved. He ignored the discomfort and knocked. He would certainly not get anywhere standing on the porch.

Within a few seconds a sturdy, tall woman about his own age opened the door. She was shocked into speechlessness at the sight of her visitor.

"Hi," Williams began clumsily. "I know this is going to sound weird, but I came to ask for your help. This isn't easy for either of us, and I wouldn't blame you if you slammed the door in my face, Sherry, but I hope you don't."

The plea was persuasive enough to at least confuse her into neutrality. "Come in, Danny," she offered and lead the way into a comfortably furnished living room. Two sets of wide windows took advantage of the spectacular view of Hawaiian sky and blue Pacific. They sat across from each other in mutual wariness.

"I wanted to come and tell you how sorry I am --"

"If you're going to talk about Sammy, I'll throw you out, Danny. I know you didn't mean for Sammy or Doug to die. It happened. You lived. Don't try to pawn your guilt off on me."

Stung at the bitterness, he fell silent. What did he expect? Sherry blamed and hated him, just as Carol Ho did. What did he think this visit would accomplish?

"Any leads on the missing gunman?"

"Some," Dan admitted. Interest perked in her face. Sherry blamed him for the deaths, but he thought she would be willing to work together toward a common goal.

"We have to find out who leaked the safe house information to the drug leaders. As a friend of Sammy's, maybe you'd like to --"

"You have no right to ask me in Sammy's name!" she shouted. Anger and hurt were warring on her face. "If Sammy hadn't been with you he wouldn't be dead!"

"Don't you think I know that?" was Dan's agonized reply. "I've re-lived the attack in my mind a hundred times. I don't know what I could have done differently or how I could have saved them." She did not respond. He continued his entreaties. "Instead of blaming me so much, help me find those responsible for the killings! Please, Sherry. Someone on the inside -- one of our own people -- leaked the information on the safe house."

"So did McGarrett," she countered coldly.

"He had no choice," Williams defended vehemently. "Can't you see that?"

"All I can see is that Sammy is dead and your pal McGarrett -- and you -- are alive." The woman stared vacantly past him as she struggled with emotions. Dan strained to think of some persuasion to get through to Watanabe. A screen door at the back of the house slammed, and a sloppily dressed young man with stringy, long hair and sloppy surf wear sauntered into the room. Sherry was startled back to reality.

"Jer. I have company."

The young man suspiciously scrutinized Williams before he answered. "Don't want to intrude, bruddah," was his sarcastic reply.

"My brother, Jerry," the policewoman explained to Dan, but did not bother identifying the Five-0 officer to her sibling. "Jer, this won't take long. I'll be with you in a minute."

Jerry disappeared into the back of the house, silently obeying the dismissal from his older sister. Dan watched young Watanabe leave. There was a naggingly familiarity . . . . Within a few minutes, Jerry reemerged and noted Williams' interest.

"Eh, bruddah, what's da hassle?"

Williams shook his head. "I thought we'd met before."

"Not likely, Danny," Sherry broke in quickly. "Jer, don't you have something to do?"

"Sure," Jerry shrugged and left through the back door.

Williams wryly thought he'd be embarrassed too if he had a brother like that.

Sherry asked, "How close are you to finding the gunman, or the leak?"

"We're closing in. May take some time. If you would help --"

"I can't, Danny. Sorry."

"We need to find out who knew about the safe house, Sherry," he pleaded desperately. "Sammy was your partner for God's sake. Partners are responsible for each other."

Officer Watanabe leaped from her chair and slapped Williams hard across the face. "Don't you dare talk to me about responsibility!"

Rubbing his stinging face, Williams did not argue. His own guilt prevented any debate.

"You were responsible for keeping Sammy alive! There are things even the great Five-0 can't do, aren't there?" Sherry snapped. "You can't win the war against drug dealers is one! Keeping your men safe is another!"

Dan flinched more from the vicious verbal attack than the physical assault. The barbed words had hit a raw nerve that was still exposed. He did not have the heart or confidence to argue. In the darkest part of his soul he could only agree with the woman's assessment.

Dispirited, he said, "I promise I won't stop trying to solve this, Sherry. When we find the informant, and the gunman, McGarrett will publicly be exonerated. Justice will be done -- my personal oath on that, Sherry."

"Did you promise that to Sammy, too?" she asked coldly.

"No." Dan looked away and replied emptily, "I couldn't promise that to Sammy or Doug." He released a ragged sigh. "It was a mistake to come here."

"Please leave now," Sherry urged.

"Too late," came a voice from behind Williams.

The detective felt something jammed into his shoulder. He turned slightly to see Jerry Watanabe behind him; felt what could only be a pistol at his back.

"I can't let you keep investigating, cop."

Incredulous, Williams looked to Sherry, who wore an expression of regret. "You?" was all Dan could whisper to Sherry. "Why?" The shock finally thinned enough for him to ask, "How -- how did you know where the safehouse was?"

"Sammy called me several times. He wanted to talk."

He shook his head in disbelief. He turned and locked onto Jerry Watanabe's brown eyes -- He gasped. Eyes that belonged to the man behind the ski mask.

"Jer --"

"Shut up, sis."

Williams threw a disgusted glance at Sherry. "What loyalty. You were Sammy's partner."

"Shut up," she ordered, tears in her eyes.

"Don't try to explain," Jerry advised. "He doesn't deserve it." Jerry yanked the detective to his feet. The pistol was thrust against his spine.

Dan nearly collapsed from the shooting pains coursing through his chest. Jerry seized Williams by the arm and drug him out the back door. He nearly passed out when he was thrown against the hood of the Thunderbird.

"Killing me isn't going to end this," he gasped. He reached toward his chest, but his arm was mercilessly twisted back. After a rough search that left him throbbing with agony, his arm was released. He could feel blood seeping onto his skin.

Jerry roughly pushed Dan into the front seat of the car and slid in beside him. His hands were tightly cuffed behind his back.

"Get in, Sherry. We're gonna dump him somewhere else."

Sherry hesitated.

"You can stop this now, Sherry," Dan warned. His head was swimming from the pain, but he had to keep fighting. There was certainly no way he could overpower a man with a gun. His only hope was to appeal to the officer left inside the woman. "You loved Sammy. How could you betray him?"

The gun was jabbed deeper into his side and Williams cried out.

"Who else knows you came here, cop?"

"You think I'd tell you?"

The gun slashed across his face. He gasped for breath, for consciousness, as he felt his senses fade to gray, then slowly return. "Who knows you came?" The gun was pressed to his neck.

"I won't tell you anything."

Sherry crossed to the driver's side and pushed in on the other side of Williams. "I've come too far to stop now, Danny. Why did you have to be so pig-headed -- so stupid!. You didn't have to die!"

"Did Sammy?"

"No. It was a stupid mistake. Jerry didn't kill him. They were supposed to let Sammy live."

"You believed that?"

Her voice was subdued. "I had to. It was Jerry's life at stake. If Palama would have testified, Jerry 'd be exposed as a dealer. The drug boss would have killed him. I couldn't let that happen, Danny, he's my little brother. We can't let you ruin things, now, either. Who else did you tell, Danny?"

Williams leaned his head back against the seat. He couldn't clear his head enough to fight back anymore. Too tired, too nauseated to offer a verbal retort, he shook his head.

Jerry knocked him in the face. "Who knows you're here?"

Dan groaned words, but they were disjointed and slurred as he slipped in and out of awareness.

"He can be traced here," was Jerry's concern. "We've got to throw suspicion off of you, sis. At least until we can get an answer from him."

She shook her head. "No way he'll cooperate. Not Five-0. We're done, Jer. Once McGarrett links him to me, it's over."

"Then we have to skip the island. First, we dump the body."

* * *

The locked-up house surprised Steve when he arrived back in Aina Haina. Danno wasn't pouring over the files as expected. After depositing the armload of supplies, McGarrett did a quick search for Williams. Not finding his colleague in the house or within sight on the beach, McGarrett returned to the living room. His initial reaction at Dan's absence was irritation that his friend had done something so foolish, and done it secretly. He was irritated at Officer Wells, who should have been a better guard. 'The duty watch better have a good accounting for the lax security', he thought with irritation. Casting his eyes over the familiar room he spotted a slip of paper tucked under the phone.
 
 
 
Steve,

Thought I 'd do something useful and follow up on a lead. Went to corrupt Sherry Watanabe to our cause. Let you know any progress later. Good luck on your end.

Danny
 
   

McGarrett's initial irritation at his friend's impulsive activity clouded his immediate thoughts. Almost on an instinctive level, McGarrett's next reaction was one of alarm. The hitman was still at large. None of the witnesses were safe alone. There was something else, too . . . .

On the surface there should be nothing too sinister about Sherry's inclusion to the investigation, but McGarrett had stressed they could trust no one outside of Five-0. Sherry's name wasn't a suspect, let alone the low risk list. She had never been involved with the case at all. Was this a security breech? Not technically. So why was he upset that Danno had gone to contact a cop -- a former partner of a victim. He relied heavily on his instincts, and right now his inner alarm bells were ringing with staccato fervency.

It took a few seconds to register the source of anxiety. He had just seen the name, Sherry Watanabe, in another context, on Chin's new list of HPD personnel with suspicious bank account additions. Quickly he snatched the folded papers from his back pocket. No, her name was not among the names. Where had he seen the name? Ben's list of Palama's associates.

Watanabe, Jerry.

Then he read down the itemized phone bill from the safe house. Among the many calls listed: the Five-0 office; McGarrett's house, the DA's office. Bingo! Three calls to HPD extension 112, and two to a private number. The latter belonging to Sherry Watanabe of Kailua.

On the surface there should be nothing untoward about Sherry's name on the list. On two lists -- the coincidence factor narrowed. Add to that Jerry Watanabe's name and coincidence could no longer be considered. McGarrett was instinctively suspicious. Why had Sammy called his partner? Was Jerry related to Sherry? Kailua was where the mask had been purchased.

McGarrett jogged down the beach where Officers Hilton and Wells picnicked with the Kenau family. Calmly, he asked when Danno had left, but no one knew for sure. He jogged back inside and snatched up the phone. He dialed the Watanabe number. After what he considered an eternity of rings he hung up. He immediately dialed the office.

"Ben, contact your HPD friends. Get an APB out on Sherry Watanabe and on a Jerry Watanabe. Find out if they're related. I want a unit checking their addresses. I'll give you the details later. Alert the cars in the Kailua area. Get the make and number on her car and call me back."

He slammed down the phone and glanced over the phone bill again. There was no real evidence to make Watanabe a suspect. There could have been a legitimate reason for her to receive calls from the safe house. Only she would know that now. McGarrett was sure Danno or Doug had never called her. That meant the calls had come from Sammy. Purely on a hunch, McGarrett believed with those calls, Sammy had sealed his own death warrant.

The phone rang and McGarrett yanked it up. He wrote down the license number and make of Sherry's car and without revealing full details told Ben she was now a prime suspect as the informant of the safe house murders. "Approach with caution," he warned. "Danno is with her, and I don't know exactly what that means."

He turned to Sandy Wells, who had followed him up to the house. "Danno said nothing of his plans?"

The tall, red-head reported, "No. We came in from fishing about four, and he was gone."

McGarrett glanced out the window. Sunset was almost upon them. Soon would come the quick fade into night. If it was a simple visit to ease his conscience, Danno should have been back long ago. The thinly connected coincidences, the elapsed hours with no word from Williams, lead him to believe his suspicions about Sherry were right.

"I'm going to look for Danno. I'm also calling in extra officers for tonight."

"You don't think he'd bring Sherry back here!?" Her single statement made it clear she held a faith in Williams that was unshakable.

"Danno reveal the location of this safe house?" After all the grief they had endured? Never, never, never! "Not a chance! But security has been breached before."

* * *

Not until the Thunderbird pulled off the highway and down a narrow dirt road did Williams return to consciousness. He focused on the scene from the side window. The sun was low on the horizon. Almost sunset. Clouds were knotted on the distant line of sea/sky and drifting this way. He could smell the rain on the wind, feel the cool spray of fresh mist on his face. There was a storm coming with the dusk.

They were driving along a small road which wound through the cliffs above the beaches of the windward coast. Sherry noted he was conscious. For a moment they stared at each other in silent enmity.

"Why did you put on the masquerade?" He tiredly asked the woman beside him. "Steve said you were at the hospital. You were with Sammy's wife after the funeral. I talked to you on the phone."

"Don't get all self righteous on me, Danny! I loved Sammy, he was my partner! I was sorry he died!" The grief and regret were momentarily overpowered by her need for justification. "There was no other choice. They own my brother's soul!"

"Not to mention yours," he flung back disdainfully.

She slapped him so hard his cheek tingled with pain.

"Shut up, Danny!"

He caught his breath. "I hope your cars and house are worth the price." On the seat cushion, he wiped away the drops of blood where her fingernails had scratched him.

"I didn't want Sammy to be hurt," Sherry countered." Now her voice was shaking with regret and grief. "They told me he wouldn't be killed."

"And you believed drug dealers?"

"Don't even talk to him," Jerry said. "What does it matter?"

"I have to explain," Sherry insisted. "You don't know what it's like to hold the power of life and death over someone you love. To make a terrible choice between a brother and a friend."

"McGarrett does," Williams countered coldly. "So you let him take the fall for leaking the information. It worked for a while."

"What do you mean?"

"Holding McGarrett hostage was just a cover. You told them where the safe house was. Using McGarrett was to throw suspicion off an insider informant. Five-0 knew that. They were just waiting for evidence. Now you'll give it to them."

Williams could not find any compassion for Sherry. When someone deals with the devil and finds he's lied, there is no pity for the fooled. Nor could he find any understanding or mercy in his heart for one of his own who betrayed a trust, and thus, spilled the blood of other cops. He had nearly died because he remained true to that trust. Sammy and Doug and many others HAD died for that same code of honor and brotherhood. Her sell-out was an insult to every officer on the force.

It was maddening to know he had solved the whole puzzle. He'd discovered the gunman and the inside informant who could clear Steve of public blame, but he'd be killed before he could get the information to his friend. Upon reflection, he realized Sherry knew absolutely nothing about loyalty or love or sacrifice. The piteous conclusion did nothing to comfort him. She hated him. Her loathing was passionate enough, powerful enough, for her to pull a trigger and kill him.

The grief on her face was swept away with cold desperation. "If they knew you were onto me we'd all be dead," she assured. "Choosing between you and my brother isn't as hard as you'd like to believe, Danny. I already chose between Sammy and Jer, and Sammy lost."

The car came to a stop close to the edge of the cliff. Jerry shut off the engine.

Officer Watanabe looked away, unable to meet Dan's glare. Jerry prodded the gun into Williams' side. "Doesn't matter now, cop. In a few minutes, you and your friends will be dead. I should have killed them all when I had them in my sights."

Dan straightened and glanced down the slope. Just below them were the sprawling suburbs of Kahala and Aina Haina. Jerry started the car and they wound their way down toward the bay. The sun slipped down to touch the horizon. The reflected gold intertwined with the prisms of sea, clouds and rain to spread the sky with multi-pastel veils of color. The tropical beauty paled in the harshness of recognition. Jerry wanted to finish what he had started. They were headed for the safe house. Where he would kill the Kenaus, and Steve, if he was there.

"All of you know too much now, bruddah," Jerry confirmed the suspicions. "I'm gonna have to get rid of all the witnesses this time."

* * *

When HPD reported to McGarrett that Sherry Watanabe's Thunderbird had been spotted in the hills above Aina Haina, he gave orders to follow the car but not apprehend. He couldn't be sure of the exact situation. He did not want to precipitate any action which would endanger Danno, if he was with her. In the back of his mind he realized he was mentally flinching from this all-too-familiar hostage situation. Danno's life -- if he was still alive -- was on the line again. McGarrett's decision last time nearly killed Danno. This time he hoped his luck would be better.

The lanai doors were open and the last of the day's light spilled into the room. With the dusk came gusts of Trades, laden with misty rain. Filtered by the moisture and translucent clouds, the sun's reflection cast a strange orange tint to the grounds. Almost like a surreal sepia-tone movie, the Thunderbird coasted into the picture-postcard setting of the palm-lined beach house. The car came to a stop near the trees at the side of the curved drive. He did not like the stillness of the occupants -- two clearly silhouetted.

Staying at the corner of the window, McGarrett looked through binoculars at Sherry Watanabe, a man, and in-between, Danno, his head slumped back against the seat. From this distance there was no indication that Williams, or Sherry Watanabe, were in danger. McGarrett's instincts warned him his friend would have never lead them here, therefore, he had to be prepared for the worst.

Duke reported by radio. The house was surrounded by SWAT teams. He ordered the officers to standby with their sniper rifles.

The passenger's door of the Thunderbird opened and Sherry Watanabe emerged, walking slowly up to the house. She knocked on the door. Into the radio, he told his officers to hang loose while he talked to her. If there was an attempt to escape, the snipers were to aim for the tires or engine of the car to stop the vehicle but keep the passengers unharmed.

"Yes,?" he called out.

"Officer Watanabe. I have an important message."

Steve opened the door.

When she stepped in, she faltered, surprised at McGarrett's presence.

"Who were you expecting?"

"I -- uh -- I thought Officer Wells was here."

"She's gone. And so are the Kenaus. They're safe. Who's in the car with Dan Williams?"

She seemed to fold inward with defeat. "It doesn't matter."

"What doesn't matter? Who is it?"

"It doesn't matter. They're both dead."

"What?"

"My brother won't be taken alive."

McGarrett gripped onto her arm. His voice carried the intensity of his fist and the passion of his fear. "Your brother? Is he behind this? He has something to do with you leaking the location of the safe house?"

She gave a nod.

"Then we better do something. I don't want Dan Williams to die anymore than you want your brother dead."

She nodded again. It could have been in response to his words, or to some inner whispers of desperation. She wriggled free of his grasp and started out the door. He was on her heels, but she stopped and pushed him back. "I have to go alone. Jer will kill Danny if he thinks the game is up."

Granting her freedom was a force of will he nearly did not attain. Releasing her would be letting go of his only tangible ace in trade for Williams. Hostages came from both sides. If he let her go back with her brother, he could lose this slim advantage. If he did not, he could lose his best shot at negotiations. Either way, he could very easily lose Danno.

Gambling that this was the safest solution to the stand- off, he let go. She slowly walked back to the car and leaned against the driver's door.

"Jer, we're done. Give it up."

"Shut up, Sherry. We've got a prime hostage here."

Williams felt a surge of smugness at the turn of events. Like some supernatural magician, McGarrett, again, had come up with all the right answers and come to the rescue. Williams' confidence returned in an overwhelming wave of superiority. He just had to hang on long enough for McGarrett to pull this off.

"Give up, Jerry and you can come out of this alive."

"Shut up, Williams. It's your life on the line!."

Sherry shook Jerry's shoulders. "We're trapped, Jer. Maybe they can offer us immunity if we testify. We'll make a deal!"

Jerry slapped her in the face. "That's what Palama was doing, you idiot! Our only way out is to run."

"This is McGarrett!" Sherry countered. "We can't fight HIM!"

Dan broke in. "Listen to her, Jerry. McGarrett doesn't deal."

With vicious delight, Jer turned his attention to Williams. "Wrong, cop. I've seen him deal like a frightened little pig. He was quick enough to deal when he thought we'd kill that old tutu and her kids."

"You were in the apartment," Dan whispered incredulously.

"Yeah." He brought his pistol up to press into Dan's cheek. "And at the safe house. I wish I would have emptied my clip at you when I had the chance. And at McGarrett."

Sherry, fed up with the details of her brother's actions, turned back toward the house. "We used you, McGarrett," Sherry shouted. "I'm willing to deal!"

Jerry roughly shoved her to the ground. To McGarrett, he yelled out the car window, "You let us drive away, McGarrett, or I blow cop-brains all over this side of the island!"

McGarrett bit his lip at the ultimatum. He couldn't give them free passage. It would mean Dan's certain death and the possible escape of the people responsible for the safe house killings. He couldn't allow it. His only choice was to bluff the gunman into surrendering. McGarrett cursed Fate, cursed the fiends who were repeating this nightmarish scenario of holding Dan's life for ransom.

The confession about the leak had been heard by all the officers on the scene. The questions of guilt and responsibility were now publicly settled. He was not responsible. McGarrett looked back to his friend with a gun to his head. The question of guilt didn't matter much, anymore. He had more important priorities now.

With no real options left, McGarrett instinctively went for the bold, aggressive frontal assault. He stepped away from the house his hands were in clear sight. "Don't shoot. I want to talk."

"No," Williams warned, but his voice was barely above a whisper.

Jerry raised the pistol to fire at McGarrett, but Sherry forcibly held down the gun. "I'll deal with you, McGarrett."

Jerry shoved her away. Three quick shots rang out and Officer Sherry Watanabe jerked on the ground.

The car leapt into reverse and slammed a fender into one of the trees edging the driveway.

"Fire!" McGarrett shouted to the sharp-shooters behind the row of bushes. "Fire!"

Rifle shots sprayed the dirt and wheels. Tires exploded from the impact of the bullets. The car jerked forward until the rims of the wheels were buried in the sand that edged the lawn. Blood streaming from his face, Jerry pushed out of the car, mercilessly tugging Williams out onto the dirt. The cry of pain from the injured detective was clearly carried on the stiff wind.

Revolver in hand, McGarrett ran toward the car. He crouched down behind a thick-trunked palm, his strong voice on the wind. "Release your hostage and throw down your weapon!"

The gunman fired a shot toward the tree. McGarrett carefully drew a bead on the Thunderbird's driver's door. He was at the wrong angle to see Watanabe or Williams. The sun was down now and the darkness worked against him. Duke came up to join him. He ordered his officer to pass the word that the sharp-shooters were to stay alert. He didn't want any shooting unless they had a clear bead on the gunman.

"Give it up, Watanabe!"

"Never, McGarrett. I get a free ticket out of here, or me and your boy both go out in a blaze of glory!"

"He won't deal," Williams warned.

Jerry pulled Williams from the ground. "He will for you, I bet." Williams was thrown against the trunk of the car. The tip of the gun barrel was pressed to Dan's head. "Let's talk, McGarrett!"

"Don't, Steve!" Williams warned. "They set you up --" Jerry covered Williams' mouth. Dan, desperate to let Steve know the truth before it was too late, bit at Jerry's hand. "They knew the safe house all along, Ste --" Jerry smashed Williams' face into the hard metal of the trunk.

"I'm coming out," McGarrett called.

"No," was Dan's weak protest.

Jerry swung to his next target, McGarrett. In the dim glow of distant street lights, the Five-0 chief was exposed enough to make a good target. With the last bit of strength he possessed, Dan shoved the gunman to the ground and fell on top of him. If it took his last breath, Dan had to end the killings.

Jerry struggled free of the persistent Williams. A muzzle pressed against Jerry's temple.

"Don't give me the excuse," McGarrett said coldly.

Jerry released his pistol and stared down the barrel of McGarrett's police special.

McGarrett held the gaze for a moment. The murder in the deadly brown eyes had turned to fear. Steve felt an unholy satisfaction in the moment. Several HPD officers cuffed Watanabe and took him away. Lukela was ordering an ambulance for Sherry and Williams.

For Steve, the actions were a blur in his peripheral vision. His main focus was his wounded friend, now huddled in the dirt. McGarrett knelt down and lightly touched Williams.

"Danno, you okay?" He cringed at the fresh splotches of red spreading across Williams' aloha shirt.

"Alive, at least," was Williams' labored reply. "You?"

"Yeah," Steve whispered unsteadily as he held onto his friend. "I'm okay, now."

* * *

The emergency room doctor reluctantly released Williams to home recovery. As they drove back to the Diamond Head apartment, Dan leaned his head back against the seat of the Mercury and closed his eyes. From side glances, McGarrett studied his companion with undisguised relief. Williams' shoulder trembled, and McGarrett pressed a hand to his friend's arm.

"You sure you're okay?"

Williams released a deep sigh. "Yeah. I just can't remember when I've been so scared."

"Yeah," Steve agreed with feeling. "Another hostage situation."

Williams turned toward his friend, his eyes open now. "I was talking about you. What kind of a crazy stunt was that -- volunteering as a target!"

McGarrett couldn't help but grin at the stern reprimand. It wasn't often he got chewed out by his second in command.

"What's so funny?" Williams wondered indignantly.

"Nothing." After a moment, McGarrett sobered. "What were you doing trying to pick a fight with a mad gunman?"

With a scowl, Williams slowly straightened. He glanced away and looked out the window at the nearby coastline. "Save your skin," he responded with a subdued tone. "Pupule question, huh?"

"Yeah," Steve agreed kindly. "All I could think of was getting you out of there. I couldn't let anything happen to you, not after . . . ."

It was crazy, McGarrett knew, to be so wrapped up in keeping his friend safe. It seemed an impossible task since danger followed them in even the most simple tasks for a Five-0 officer.

"Guess there are no easy solutions," Dan sighed discontentedly. "I just wish it had all meant something. Maybe it would make Sammy's and Doug's deaths easier to understand."

McGarrett thought back to those frightening moments when desperation to save his friend's life had drawn him into impulsive risk. Williams', injured and bound had fought to protect him.

"It means something, Danno," he assured, patting his friend on the arm.

Maybe there was no easy way to justify the deaths of their fellow officers. Except that the Kenau family, and Dan Williams, were safe.

"You're alive."

It was cool and rainy when they pulled up to Williams' apartment. Dan stopped at a newspaper machine. The headlines were blaring the news: Five-0 and McGarrett were vindicated. The Watanabe's and the drug kings were given full blame for the safe house slaughter. Once in the apartment, Dan flopped onto his sofa and made a phone call.

"I'm going to explain it to Mrs. Ho," he told McGarrett.

The head of Five-0 was skeptical. "Do you think she cares?"

Williams gave a slight shrug. He straightened when someone answered the phone. "Mrs. Ho, this is Danny Williams. I wanted you to know what happened from me --"

He stopped abruptly. McGarrett couldn't understand the words coming from the other end. The irate yelling was easily interpreted, though. The most eloquent deciphering was from Danno's stricken expression. Even from a few feet away, McGarrett heard the click on the other end of the line. Woodenly, Williams hung up the phone.

"Sorry, Danno." McGarrett put a hand on his friend's arm.

"Not a happy ending for everyone," Williams sighed.

"No," McGarrett responded quietly, "not for everyone, Danno. But this time we finished with everyone alive."
 
 

PAU