The Play’s the Thing

By BH & gm

 

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

-- William Shakespeare, As You Like It

 

 

February 1976

 

 

The trunk of the black Ford LTD seemed to lift off the ground as the vehicle slid to an abrupt halt and rocked for a few moments before it settled to rest. A cloud of dust caught up and gently drifted past the windows as the driver and his passenger silently recovered from the emergency stop. The seconds of silence were finally broken by the taut-jawed man still clutching the wheel.

 

“You all right, Danno?” Steve McGarrett did a quick visual survey of the smaller man, who, with his hand gripping the dash board, was slack-jawed in surprise.

 

Hawaii Five-0 Detective Dan Williams slowly took in a breath and released it as he looked in his boss’s direction. “Yeah – you?”

 

“Yeah!” McGarrett growled and slapped the wheel.

 

The passenger collected the mic of the police radio, and with a slight shake of his head, issued a command. “Dispatch – Williams – Please roll a unit to the corner of Liliha and Ehako. We’ve got a truck, which has lost its load in the intersection.”

 

A few years ago, the second-in-command of Hawaii’s state police investigative unit would’ve followed protocol and used the designated police call sign of the vehicle in which he was cruising. As the years passed, however, he’d slipped into the more presumptuous habit of using his last name. It was a habit – one of several – which the sandy-haired detective had gleaned from his boss and mentor. It was a bit of a paradox for two men who were so impassioned about law enforcement and justice, but one neither dedicated any time to pondering. No Honolulu Police Dispatcher ever expressed doubt as to the identity of either of Hawaii’s two top cops – both men were known by every law enforcement officer in the state.

 

It was the driver’s turn to shake his head and sigh as Dan popped his seat belt off and opened the car door. Leaning on the top of the door, the detective did not bother to take his left leg from the frame of the vehicle before he headed off the visual query of the throng of onlookers spilling towards him. “We’re not hurt! A police unit is on the way!”

 

The dismayed driver of the ill-fortuned conveyance let out a monster-sized breath of relief as he turned to study the condition of the rickety pickup, which had spontaneously released most of its load of two-by-fours into the street almost on top of the vehicle of the head of Five-0. Had it not been for McGarrett’s quick reflexes, many of the wood planks would’ve crashed onto the hood and perhaps through the windshield.

 

Dan re-secured himself into the vehicle barely before McGarrett turned the key in the ignition and, with his head directed backward, slammed his car into reverse. He backed up enough to circumvent the road block, and gingerly navigated through the human traffic to continue their journey.

 

As the excess adrenalin relinquished its hold on his nervous system, the Five-0 chief settled back into a more routine driving posture, and cast a glance towards his protégé, who sat silently looking out the passenger window. Their years of association led them to be comfortable in silence, but McGarrett sensed Williams’ tense melancholy.

 

“Chin up, Danno – we’ve got eyes everywhere looking for him. It won’t be long.”

 

The younger detective sighed and nodded slightly in acquiescence. “Yeah, I know. It’s just that he trusted me to keep him safe. If anything happens to him…” His voice trailed off.

 

“The court order gives us a stay until tomorrow morning.”

 

“And then, that low life Whitman can go to press with his story – no matter how many witnesses to murders he exposes.”

 

Five-0 had been working for months to uncover sufficient evidence to indict a prominent Honolulu business man after several informants unofficially verified his involvement in a money laundering operation. With several missing persons suspiciously associated with the investigation into Harrison Sanders and his wholesale appliance company, nobody had been willing to step forward and offer any official testimony – until Raymond Padilla decided to speak for the record. A part-time janitor for Sanders, Inc, the slight, timid man caught Dan’s eye one day in the lobby of the company’s headquarters. Williams sensed the man’s fright, and so the detective waited until he could catch Padilla away from the prying eyes of the other employees.

 

It had taken weeks of back-and-forth with the older man, who was a recovering alcoholic, but finally, the day before, Ray Padilla decided that he trusted Dan enough to tell his story. The “invisible” janitor had actually overheard Sanders issuing instructions to two other employees to silence his accountant, who had apparently been prepared to go to the police with evidence of wrongdoing within the company. Numerous facts backed up Padilla’s assertions. Of particular interest was the fact that the accountant in question had not shown up for work two weeks earlier and had not been seen since. Knowing his life was in danger, the unassuming man extracted Williams’ most sincere assurance that his life would be protected.

 

It was early on this morning though that McGarrett received a phone call from free-lance reporter Kenneth Whitman, requesting verification that Ray Padilla had stepped forward to finger his employer in a murder. Steve, not generally inclined to respond to “fishing trips” by less-than-scrupulous journalists like Whitman, knew that the release of a story naming an informant would not only jeopardize the case but the life of their only witness. The head of Five-0 implored the reporter to hold off on selling the story with the promise that he would be proffered the facts as soon as charges were filed and the witness was safe in protective custody. Whitman, fearing that he would be scooped, declined the offer and, armed with the confirmation of his facts, let McGarrett know the story would be sold to the highest bidder – probably a local television station – within a few hours. Steve knew there had been no way around confirming Whitman’s information, but still cursed himself for hoping he would find a nugget of morality in the reporter. The Five-0 chief moved quickly to get a court order preventing local news agencies from releasing the story, but he knew they needed to get their witness off the streets sooner rather than later.

 

It was with near-panic that Dan reported Padilla had not shown up for work that day. With the APB issued, all the detectives could do was wait for the janitor to be found – alive -- they fervently hoped. The two officers were now heading back from Padilla’s small flat toward the Iolani Palace, where Five-0 made its home.

 

McGarrett empathized with his second’s troubled frame of mind, but was at a loss as to what else he could say that would reduce his friend’s anxiety about the peril in which their reluctant witness was unwittingly heading. So he did what any real guy – cop or otherwise – would do – he changed the subject. “Chin got a lead on the arsons in Chinatown – I’m gonna need you to back him up on a little of the legwork if Doc doesn’t clear Duke for field duty in the next day or so.”

 

Duke Lukela had been struck on the head and knocked unconscious during a stake-out the previous week. {episode – LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, TAKE HIS WIFE} The detective had been hospitalized overnight for observation and allowed to return to administrative duty in the Five-0 office. Now, all that stood between Duke and a return to field duty was Doctor Bergman’s signature, which the recalcitrant physician refused to give without the benefit of a full physical.

 

Williams nodded absentmindedly and opened his mouth to acknowledge, but the radio, which had been quietly offering an intermittent stream of banter between units in the field and the dispatcher, suddenly interrupted.

 

“Five-Oh-Two-Dispatch.”

 

Dan collected the mic, and, following the voice’s lead, copied with a by-the-book response. “Dispatch – Five-Oh-Two.”

 

The air of official-ness didn’t last long. “Danny—I got an emergency patch for you from some VIP at the airport.”

 

Williams shared a perplexed grimace with his boss. “A VIP? Who is it and why do they need to talk to ME?”

 

“The party has identified herself as the Duchess of Sonderbar.”

 

McGarrett felt more than he saw his friend jolt backward slightly. The driver took his eyes from the road for as long as dared to study Dan, whose eyes narrowed slightly – the name obviously meant something to the detective.

 

With a faint smile, Five-0’s second-in-command responded. “Patch the duchess through, Joe.” The radio clicked with static for a couple seconds before an elderly female voice could be heard.

 

“Helllooo! Is anyone there? Can you read me?”

 

A sigh preceded Williams’ response. “This is Detective Williams…YOUR GRACE!” .

 

“Danny! Thank Heaven I’ve reached you – that horrible woman in your office – what was her name? Wretched? She would not put a patch on you! I told her how important it was that I reach you, but she…”

 

“Wretched?” McGarrett breathed.

 

Dan nodded and explained quietly as the thin, but energetic voice rattled on. “Gretchen – the temp, who’s helping Jenny with the archiving project.”

 

“…but never mind that, dear… I must speak with you before I board my flight!”

 

Williams’ brow furled. “Aunt Clara, where are you?”

 

“I’m at the airport – didn’t the young man tell you?”

 

“WHICH airport?”

 

Honolulu Airport, of course dear now I need you to come meet me right away!”

 

Surprise colored Dan in both expression and voice. “Right now? What are you doing at the airport? Why didn’t you let me know you were coming?”

 

“Danny, I’ll explain when you get here now hurry my plane departs in an hour!”

 

“Aunt Clara – I – I can’t make it right now – I’m in the middle of… of work!”

 

“You’re always in the middle of work, young man.” The voice took on a teary tone, but the tenor turned angry as the tempo picked up. “You were in the middle of work last Thanksgiving when you cancelled your trip to visit me. You were in the middle of work when you cancelled on me again at Christmas. Danny Williams you turn your siren on and get to this airport THIS instant over and out!”

 

The two detectives sat in silence for several seconds, both staring at the road before them. It was McGarrett who recovered first. Clutching the wheel with both hands, he slowly took a sideways look at his passenger, who sat in apparent paralysis with the mic still positioned inches from his mouth. It was clear that the accusing, motherly salvos had been effective. The Five-0 chief cleared his throat before he casually inquired, “The Duchess of what?”

Dan did not move a muscle as he replied evenly. “Sonderbar …”

 

Williams sat quietly for several more seconds before he volunteered an explanation. “When I was sent to live with her not too long after Pop was killed, I her and her friends of being weirdoes. Later – when I came back home and moved in with the Kulanis – I started getting birthday cards and gifts from the Duchess of Sonderbar.” He gave a short laugh. “It took awhile, but one day I learned that sonderbar is German for weird.”

 

After catching the smirk on his boss’s face, Dan felt the urge to make an admission. “Okay, I wasn't the happiest kid on earth over being uprooted. Snatched from the beach and dropped into the heart of Manhattan - with Pop fresh in the grave, the culture shock was a lot to handle. Aunt Clara and the bizarre theatre people that roamed in and out of her place…” He paused to look out the window, and continued only after he took a minute to organize the plethora of memories he hadn’t pondered in years – if ever. “In retrospect, I can see that they all treated me like gold, but I wasn’t very... receptive. I hadn’t had much contact with her at all before then – Pop disapproved of her lifestyle and didn’t want me exposed to it. I guess his opinions carried a lot of weight in my mind.”

 

“As well they should’ve, my friend,” McGarrett offered.

 

"Aunt Clara is a wonderful, smart, funny woman. Just – unusual.”

 

The driver checked the lane before he turned right and maneuvered into the flow of traffic. A few moments of confusion clouded Dan’s expression – they’d just turned the wrong way if they were going to the Palace. Awareness of their new destination struck him in short order as they passed the first airport information sign. The obligation to attend his aunt had been a quandary he had not needed to broach with his friend. Dan’s lip turned into a crooked smile as he stared at the driver.

 

Feeling the expression of gratitude, McGarrett kept his eyes on the road. “The last thing I need is for my second-in-command to spend the rest of the day wallowing in guilt – for ANY reason!”

 

The message was loud and clear to Dan – his mentor did not want him feeling culpable over the situation with the missing informant. Too much self-reproach was unproductive – Steve had spent years trying to drill this into his head. The lesson was working, but not as quickly as the impatient chief of the state police unit would have it.

 

“Mahalo, Steve,” Williams intoned quietly as he replaced the mic onto its dash hook and settled back into his seat, visibly more relaxed than he’d been for the better part of the day.

 

 

 

Their first stop was the main terminal of Honolulu Airport where Dan trotted over to the most famous stop for kamaaina -- Auntie Dora's Lei Stand – and picked out a full, beautiful white and purple orchid lei. "Tradition," he explained. Then they drove to a sub terminal and parked the car.

 

Along with a small number of passengers awaiting charter flights, there was a TV news crew from Channel Four. Several recognizable reporters from the Advertiser, and other obvious media types that the Five-0 chief had ID’d from the local press pool as representing papers from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia clogged the area. Wondering what media event had brought out the hounds, he scanned the area and was surprised when he had his answer.

 

At the end of the private charter lounge, McGarrett spotted – amidst a sea of floral shirts – a bun of white hair, which gave the petite woman away before they reached the small group of passengers. Belying their numbers, the group's voices could be heard through much of the concourse. Certainly an eccentric gathering, he assessed as they drew closer. Curving around to get a clearer view, he saw Clara Williams standing next to a distinguished man - probably in his early seventies -- with white, wavy hair. Both were being questioned and photographed by Oriental reporters he did not recognize. A tall, thin man probably about seventy years old, wearing  -- no -- modeling -- a red and blue Hawaiian print shirt was attracting a lot of attention, too. Periodically, he would run a hand through his longish, brown hair, accented with thick sideburns. The group was completed by two men and woman about the same age as Clara, who were being interviewed in front of a TV camera.

 

Dismay colored Williams' expression as he stopped in his tracks. "Ah, nuts - she's got the entire circus with her."

 

“What is all this?” McGarrett wondered, his face twisted slightly into a bemused stare. “Your aunt’s troupe is famous?”

 

Dan hesitated before he agreed. “I guess they have a degree of… of notoriety – fame in some circles. Infamy is more like it. They travel all over the globe doing Shakespeare, dramatic readings, and whatever else strikes their eccentric fancies. They must be starting a new tour.”

 

McGarrett mused, “I would say that some degree of fame is a bit of an understatement, Danno. There are TV stations here.”

 

The younger detective gave a soft harrumph, and it was instantly apparent to Steve that his friend was distracted by the scene taking place before the television cameras and radio microphones. Williams gazed in his aunt’s direction with mild embarrassment. "Always in the spotlight. Never off stage."

 

Trying to hide the mirth from his expression, if not his tone, the boss gave his friend a comradely nudge with his shoulder. "Let's go visit with the Duchess."

 

When Dan showed no sign of moving forward, McGarrett prompted. “You don’t want that expensive orchid lei to go to waste, do you?”

 

Shaking his head almost imperceptibly, Williams reluctantly led the way as they meandered through the crowd, but stopped short and touched the taller man's arm. “Steve -- just -- try not to be too shocked no matter what they do. The one next to Aunt Clara is Devon Swain, and the one in the shirt that you’re probably appreciating is Jeremy Darcy. I don’t know his… his -- uh – companion.”

 

Highly amused at this quick prep, McGarrett bit his lip, nodding.

 

"The studious one is Sam Price – he's been friends with Aunt Clara ever since I can remember."

 

"I've met him," Steve was surprised to admit.

 

Dan was amazed. "Where?"

 

"He's attended several Pearl Harbor Anniversary ceremonies. He was on one of the ships in the harbor that day."

 

With a sigh and nod, Williams admitted that he had heard that at some point in the past. "Yeah, he's a nice guy, but he'll never let you forget his exploits. If you mention an old black and white TV show that he used to star in he'll be your friend for life. It was filmed here in Honolulu, actually. I think it was called Adventure Man or something. The gal standing there with him I don't know."

Williams halted behind the Asian reporters. “We can just wait till they leave,” he whispered.

 

They were close enough to have attracted the attention of Mrs. Williams and her snowy-haired companion. The elderly lady’s face brightened and she gave an enthusiastic wave. “Danny! Oh, Danny! It’s so good to see you! It’s my nephew, Danny Williams, my nephew!" Clara called loud enough for the whole world to notice, it seemed.

 

“So much for subtlety,” the shorter detective sighed as many of the reporters, and their cameras, turned in his direction. He took a breath. "Okay, ready... or not."

 

"Danno, they’re old people not armed combatants."

 

"They may be old, but trust me they’re armed."

 

McGarrett laughed at the amusing comment. "Danno, there's not much that surprises me anymore."

 

Snorting, Dan shook his head. "I hope you remember that when Jeremy makes a pass at you." Another deep breath. "And I'm apologizing ahead of time for -- anything -- they might say or do."

 

Gulping down a chortle McGarrett followed his reluctant colleague to the knot of dramatic players. “Okay,I’m forewarned and I forgive you!” Steve whispered in his friend’s ear.

 

Devon Swain, in a checkered sports jacket and red ascot, jumped up with enthusiasm and stepped towards the detectives just behind Clara. "Danny, dear boy!"

 

“Danny, darling! I’ve missed you so!” Clara beamed as she embraced her nephew.

 

“Aunt Clara,” Williams murmured as he finally allowed a genuine smile to brush across his features.

 

With the gaggle of press, cameras clicking and the TV lens close at hand, Williams fulfilled their tradition by placing the lei around her neck and kissing her aloha. Like the true showman she was, not missing any opportunity, the cagey old woman turned them both toward the cameras.

 

“My nephew, Danny, is the second-in-command of Hawaii Five-0. He and his boss, Steve McGarrett, have been gracious enough to come see us off for our new Asian tour.”

 

She gave them a fractional moment for their own flash of fame. McGarrett was stoically silent, not revealing his bemusement at being cornered so adroitly. Danno seemed less forgiving, but the signs of frustrated annoyance in the tight smile were detectable only to him, he suspected.

 

Then Clara continued her cleverly designed photo op. “The Manhattan Players will be touring for the next two months, starting with our ground-breaking Hands Across the Pacific opening in Beijing, China. We are the first theater troupe of our kind to be invited into that country and are pleased and humbled at the singular honor. Thank you all for coming.” She gave them a regal wave, and tugged at Williams’ arm.

 

“Danny! You’ve been holding out on us – you never mentioned you were Clara Williams’ nephew!” A reporter Dan recognized as a writer for one of the society pages injected quickly as the elderly actress was ending the audience.

 

Dan's response was preempted by Clara, who chirped, “I’m sure my nephew has more important things to discuss when he talks to reporters! Now please, I would like a few minutes alone with Danny before my plane leaves!”

 

With the petite woman’s beseech / command, the crowds loosened enough for the two Williams and McGarrett to slip from the circle. Clara steered them to the back of the lounge to afford them a little privacy while the press cleared the area.

 

Before other comments could be uttered, Aunt Clara embraced him with a fierce hug and held it for a time, her head buried in his chest. "How very good to see you!” she breathed.

 

A little embarrassed, Dan finally pulled her away. For a fleeting moment, as she looked up into her nephew's eyes, he thought he glimpsed a darker emotion – a raw poignant sadness on her face. Then instantly it was gone, brushed clear with a stroke of theatrical cheer. "You're looking so well,” she beamed and touched his cheek before turning her attention to the head of Five-0 offering her hand. "And Steve, what a delight to see you again."

 

Cordially grasping the delicate hand, he replied," A pleasure to see you again."

 

The rest of the troupe gathered into a circle and Clara made the introductions all around. Devon Swain was introduced as an old friend from London. So was Jeremy Darcy, who, when shaking Steve's hand, gripped it with both hands and held it for an uncomfortably long time, smiling and staring at him with intense interest.

 

His British accent was cultured and elegant, as if he should be living in a castle overlooking the Thames. "A great pleasure to meet you, Steve," Darcy cooed, winking. "This is my friend Ian St. John," he gestured effeminately to his companion.

 

Trained in passive expression and voice, McGarrett knew he never showed the inner flinch he felt, and his eyes traveled smoothly to the next person. Sam Price greeted him warmly and they exchanged a few cordial words about how nice it was to meet again. The English accented Alice Stanton, Clara’s old friend from New York, was introduced last.

 

General comments of the weather and the beautiful paradise of Hawaii passed the next few minutes. Jeremy moved close to McGarrett and asked what it was like being a policeman and carrying a gun. Dan rolled his eyes and looked like he was going to intervene, but was diverted by Clara and a tag-along Swain.

 

"We were just going to visit the pub," Alice announced to the two newcomers. "Shall we go have tea?"

 

"These are the states," Ian corrected with a disdainful huff, glaring at McGarrett. "The wild west. I don't think they believe in tea."

 

"He can be such a snob," Jeremy excused, leaning close enough for Steve to pick up the heavy scent of his cologne. "This is the tropics, dear Ian. Haw-why-ee.” He pinched McGarrett’s sleeve. “Do join me for a drink."

 

"I don't drink," McGarrett replied crisply and pivoted to step behind the actor.

 

"Devon, go ahead. I want to visit with my nephew," Clara announced to one and all, in a dramatic voice designed to reach the back seats in any respectable theater. Numerous heads around the concourse turned and noted the scene. "I so rarely have a chance to see him, you know. He lives in this paradise and I am so far away. Come along, Danny.” She shuffled over and took Steve by the arm and looped her other hand in Dan's. "Go ahead, have some drinks."

 

The slight, elderly woman steered them to a grouping of seats in the corner. "Let's have a little privacy, shall we?" she asked, and before either man could answer she continued, "Devon is a dear, but a little pushy. He's showing every sign of proposing this trip and I just don't want to dash his ego until we're through with the tour. Melancholy moods are fine if you are doing the Dane or Macbeth, but not the Dream."

 

Williams stopped in his tracks. "Propose?"

 

She looked at him and smiled -- a slight cherubic twist at the sides of her mouth. "Danny, didn't I tell you he divorced his last wife? Sherry, do you remember her? Maybe you never met. She was only Mrs. Swain for two years.” Clara took a seat and patted the chairs to the left so both detectives sat where she could see them easily, Danny next to her.

 

"Aunt Clara, why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

 

"Didn't I tell you about this Asian tour? I must be getting old! Yes, we're doing a Shakespeare revival -- but I don't want to bore you. How have you been?"

 

"Fine, everything's fine," he insisted.

 

In truth, Williams was still reeling from the series of mental flip flops he'd been doing in the last hour. The extreme stress over his missing informant, the startling call from Clara, and then her demand for his appearance at the airport. Now, the surging memories -- many unpleasant and guilt-ridden -- about the brief time he spent with Clara and her friends in New York. Added to that was the culpability she had reawakened in him -- all the missed holidays and years between them.

 

"Well, you work too hard." She stared at him for a well-timed dramatic pause to allow the accusation to sink in. "It's past time you were married, Danny. Are you dating anyone?"

 

"Aunt Clara," the younger Williams began to object with unsurprised exasperation, but his response was cut short.

 

"Danny, you're not getting any younger. Don't let life pass you by, and the same goes for you, Steve."

 

The Five-0 chief's eye brows raised in only mild surprise at being a co-target of the motherly advice, Dan noted. The lecture was a familiar one and the younger man sighed, striving for neutrality and politeness when he did not feel it. Clara loved to give him counsel and he was dismayed that she felt the privilege extended to Steve. A sense of urgency was pressing on his nerves about his informant, and he realized he was fidgeting, strained about work – the obsession Aunt Clara warned against in this embarrassing conversation.

 

"I don’t have a lot of time before the flight," she said, echoing his thoughts, "so let me just mention that if anything ever happens to me, my lawyer has everything in order –“

 

“Aunt Clara!”

 

“Now, it’s good for you to know these things, Danny, especially with all the traveling I do.”

 

“Okay, we’ve discussed it now can we stop? Let’s talk about your tour.”

 

The spry little woman pushed her chin out at her nephew in consternation. “If it’s one thing this family is bad about, it’s sharing information!”

 

Lack of communication was a bane to the Williams clan. Some rift dating back to the second world war prevented Dan from having a close relationship with Clara until he was in college. His own last wishes and legal arrangements – necessary to his dangerous profession – were set in order with Steve as his executor. A fact he had never mentioned to his only relative. Okay, so she was right about his workaholic tendencies and the close-to-the-vest habits of their history. That didn’t mean it was any easier to hear.

 

“Aunt Clara, THIS family is YOU and ME – that’s it – there’s nobody else!”

 

“Well, there’s not much I can do about it at my age, dear. Which brings me back to the issue of your dating—”

 

“Clara!” Dan nearly shouted in exasperation.

 

“Don’t raise your voice to me, young man, I’m old,” Her voice took on a frailty Steve suspected she could turn on and off like a faucet.

 

“You’re only old when it suits you, Duchess!” Dan retorted, but he lowered his voice in compliance.

 

She leaned toward the detective holding her hand, and dismissed the subject with a slight twitch of her head. “Please, dear, my time is limited. I’m trying to correct a family… shortcoming … while there’s still time.”

 

Dan blinked at her explanation. “Correct a— while there’s still time – what does that mean?”

 

“It means…” Clara hesitated as she studied her nephew’s questioning and obviously frustrated expression.

 

From the corner of his eye, McGarrett noticed Jeremy, Devon and Ian wandering back in their direction. He observed that Clara also caught the impending interruption, and her face flinched slightly with annoyance. A rare, unguarded moment for the thespian.

 

Finally, she completed her thought. “It means that I need for you to know that I love you.”

 

The spontaneous conciliatory tone of the petite woman, her keen eyes boring into him, made Dan regret that he’d done anything but agree with his only relation during this interview. With a sigh, he lowered his voice. “I love you too.”

 

“My attorney is Mister Franklin Royce – you met him once, dear, when you were just a youngster—”

 

Williams quickly brought his hand up and gingerly covered the elder Williams’ mouth. “Can we talk about something that does not have anything to do with dating or death?”

 

From the first meeting with Clara, and her little undercover gig for Five-0 {episode -- RETIRE IN SUNNY HAWAII - FOREVER}, Steve had been aware of Dan’s protective and concerned attitude about his only living relative. Despite his discomfort with her friends and mild embarrassment at her eccentric lifestyle, he loved his elderly relation very much. Her prying was generally excused because of his deep affection and respect for her.

 

Apparently undaunted by her nephew’s insistence on a subject change, she quickly reached up and squeezed the hand Dan had placed over her lips. Then she slipped her other hand into the pocket of her sweater. She gripped something in her fist and pressed it into Dan’s, holding both of his together in hers for a moment.

 

“Danny, here’s a little something I’ve been meaning to give to you. A locket. It's a family heirloom.”

 

Steve never saw the item but was touched at the sentiment. Perhaps in her advancing years, lonely for her nephew despite her obvious fame and collection of friends, she was missing out on precious time with Danno.

 

Devon Swain swept into the little gathering as if he were entering Stage Left. Clara rose, Dan and Steve with her. Jeremy stood next to McGarrett, right next to him, touching elbows. Glancing out the window, the head of Five-0 noted luggage being loaded onto a small jet and realized their time was up.

 

“I’m sorry to abbreviate this moment, but the steward has just announced that our plane is ready, my dear,” Devon declared as he placed Clara’s hand in the crook of his arm.

 

McGarrett took the lead and said his general farewells to the group, then turned to Mrs. Williams. “Clara, I hope you have a very successful tour. Perhaps we’ll see you again on the trip back?”

 

Her fixed smile faltered infinitesimally, but she recovered almost instantly. The eyes barely flickered from a guarded, even pained flash. “That would be very nice.” Taking Dan by the arm, she guided him with her to the door that would lead her and her companions out to the tarmac.

 

The rest of the troupe crowded around them and Dan stopped at the door to give Clara a last hug and kiss. She held him for a moment and it seemed she was trembling.

 

“If something happens to me, don’t forget that locket, Danny.” With a kiss on his cheek, she gave him another last hug, then quickly turned and scurried out the door, Swain hurrying to catch up to her.

 

Dan stood in the doorway for a moment before joining his boss and walking through the concourse to the exit. He pondered her atypical sentimentality and the undercurrent of… something. All that uncomfortable talk about misfortune happening to her was unsettling. She didn’t seem afraid of flying, and generally did not appear nervous. Still, it was an odd conversation. And what was all that about the locket? Fingering the jewelry in his pocket, he shook his head, puzzled over the whole scene.

 

“Why do I feel guilty?” he quietly asked the question without expecting an answer.

 

Steve offered, “I’ll give you some time off after this Sanders thing is over, Danno. Maybe you can catch up with Clara on her way back from the Orient.”

 

 

 

 

McGarrett released an almost imperceptible sigh of relief as he scanned the document in his hand. “Okay, Duke, it looks like Doc agrees with you.”

 

With a rare, broad grin, Lukela set the file he’d been holding on his boss’s desk. “I knew he would, Steve!”

 

“I knew he would too. Duke’s head is harder than a coconut,” Chin Ho Kelly chimed in as he pushed the door open and strode towards his colleagues.

 

The head of Five-0 tossed the medical release onto the blotter. “Duke, that means you’re back on the arson investigation with Chin!” To have all of his men available for field duty was one less headache.

 

Jenny joined the detectives, but it was not in celebration of the officer’s return. McGarrett could see from her expression that she had business on her mind. “Steve, there’s an emergency call from Honolulu Airport!”

 

Instantly suspicious given the recent encounter with Williams’ cagey aunt, Steve’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not a woman is it?”

 

“It’s Harry Kikiaola – the airport manager! There’s been a plane crash!”

 

The gravity of the news stunned McGarrett only momentarily before he turned and pushed the speaker button so that his detectives could hear the breaking news. “Harry, what’s this now?”

 

“Steve, a commercial aircraft went down. It plunged right into Mamala Bay right after take off. No survivors as far as we can tell.”

 

“My God,” the Five-0 chief closed his eyes, already pondering the enormous loss of life which invariably accompanied a catastrophe of this nature. “Coast Guard on the case?”

 

“Yes. As you know, the FAA will have jurisdiction in the investigation, and since the craft came down in the water, the Coast Guard is overseeing recovery operations. I’m required to notify you because the craft went down inside the Hawaii state line.”

 

“How many people were on board?”

 

“It was a charter. Archer Airways flight ten-tten bound for Hong Kong – twenty six people were on the manifest.”

 

Hong Kong… charter,” McGarrett echoed slowly as his brain absorbed the data and breathed into it a terrible ramification. A physically painful sensation welled up in his gut and clenched his heart as he strove to sound in control of his emotions through his next question. “The… the group that chartered the plane – was -- it the Manhattan Players?”

 

Duke and Chin exchanged surprised and dismayed glances and then traded them with Jenny. Their boss knew people who’d been on the unfortunate craft. Silently, they each took a step closer to McGarrett’s position as they listened to the airport manager confirm Steve’s fear.

 

“How did you know that, Steve?”

 

“My God…” Steve slipped around the edge of his desk and slowly lowered himself into his chair. “I watched the passengers board… Danno’s Aunt Clara was on that flight.” With the recollection of the petite, cheerful woman vivid in his mind’s eye, he had to clear his throat to swallow the emotion he felt as the explanation hit the air.

 

A rustling of papers shuffled through the speaker phone for a few seconds before Kikiaola’s voice returned with horrific news. “Hmmm…Williams… Williams… Clara Williams – yes -- I’m sorry to report that her name is on the passenger list. My God, Stev, please pass along my deepest sympathies to Danny.

 

“Thank you, Harry. Please let me know if I can do anything to help.”

 

Without bothering to allow his eyes to guide his hand to the speaker button, he fumbled for a few seconds before the connection was closed. Only the sound of a teletype machine in the outer office broke the silence for several seconds as each person who’d been within earshot tried to grasp the repercussions of such tragic news. When McGarrett could finally bring his focus upward to the faces of his detectives and secretary, he found their own devastated expressions almost too much to bear. His eyes moistened as he appreciated that they were each mentally moving toward the moment when Five-0’s second-in-command stepped through the door.

 

“Where is he?” Steve whispered as he brought a finger to his face for a quick pass at the corner of his eye.

 

Jenny, whose hands had both been clamped tightly over her mouth, tearfully responded. “He was in the file room last time I noticed… oh, dear… Heaven.” The petite figure shook her head slowly as one tear chased another down her cheek.

 

None of Williams’ Five-0 ohana knew Aunt Clara very well. Her brief vacation-turned-undercover-gig to the islands earlier that year had afforded them the pleasure and unique experience of meeting the feisty little woman, from whom Dan occasionally took phone calls. It was apparent from the long-suffering tolerance in his voice that the detective loved his elderly, eccentric relation, but drawing information from him about her was nearly impossible. Until they’d met her, the most promising theory on the topic was that Clara Williams was a boring little old lady, who wanted to regale her busy nephew with tales of the digestive woes of her friends and neighbors. It was with no small amount of mirth – and commensurate teasing of Williams – that they witnessed for themselves in short order that Aunt Clara was a funny, quick-on-her-feet actress, with a streak of mischief and inquisitiveness in her soul. With the boring hypothesis shot, the more accurate supposition – that Dan was mildly embarrassed by his talkative, eccentric aunt – came into play. They all knew it was true the day Duke laughingly accused Five-0’s second-in-command of fearing what Aunt Clara would say. The truth was visible in Williams’ expression for only a moment, but the astute detectives surrounding him had spotted it.

 

Caught up in the emotion of the moment, everyone in the room jumped slightly as Dan’s voice sounded from the doorway. “Nothing yet. Maybe I should take a spin back to Paddy’s apartment.”

 

With no sign yet of Williams’ imperiled informant, the sandy-haired detective was growing more agitated by the minute. When they’d returned from the airport, Steve had put his second onto other tasks in the hope of keeping him distracted until HPD could pick up Ray Padilla. It was obvious the ploy wasn’t working as Dan slipped with preoccupied attention to the IN box on his boss’s desk and dropped a paper into it.

 

The dread of preparing to break the immutable bad news to his friend filled McGarrett with nausea. There could be no delay though; news of the crash was probably already hitting the radio and television airwaves. Five-0’s second-in-command had been incommunicado in the file room, and for that, Steve was grateful. This kind of tragic bulletin was best gently delivered in the company of ohana.

 

“Danno…” The lead detective’s voice cracked slightly, a fact which immediately caught Williams’ attention.

 

Steve’s expression did not mask the distress the man obviously felt at that moment. Dan did a quick survey of the faces of his associates and was met uniformly with airs of grief.

 

“Sit down please.” McGarrett intoned.

 

With apprehension, Williams slowly turned his attention back on his boss, but he did not take a seat. “I hate conversations that start like this.”

 

Glancing away from Williams for only a moment, he addressed the others with a request that they be left alone.

 

Tense, the younger man corrected the request, saying the others didn’t have to leave for his benefit.

 

McGarrett wondered if Danno hoped the bad news would be mitigated by a group presence, but knew with a twist in his heart that there was nothing that could cushion this blow.

 

The man seated at his desk flinched slightly in frustration. There was just no easy way to tell someone that a loved one had just been killed. Standing, he came around the desk and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. He swallowed and met his protégé’s concerned eyes. “There’s been an accident – a plane crash…” He had to stop speaking, his throat tight with despair, silently praying that his astute second would grasp what he was trying to impart without the need for more information, but it was not to be.

 

Dan reacted as would most hearing of such a loss of life. His brow furled as he lightly pushed for more information. “A plane crash? Where?”

 

“It crashed into Mamala Bay just after takeoff. Harry Kikiaola at Honolulu Airport just notified me…"

 

Taking in the sad news, Williams absentmindedly acknowledged his boss. “Yeah – the reg states that Five-0 has to be notified of any incident on Hawaiian soil, whether a result of criminal mischief, human error, mechanical failure, or natural disaster, to include all bodies of water inside the state line, resulting in the simultaneous deaths of five or more persons.”

 

McGarrett was surprised for only a moment. Of course Danno knew that – Five-0’s second-in-command was the regulations specialist in the office – the one upon whom Steve depended to guide him through the morass of mundane details when dealing with the Feds or diplomatic issues. Williams’ talent for remembering – and being able to quote chapter and verse of the driest documents -- had prevented the head of Five-0 from missteps on numerous occasions.

 

Dan returned to the issue at hand, having not divined the most searing fact of all. “How many people were on board?”

 

It was all McGarrett could do to maintain eye contact with his friend. “Danno… it was Clara’s plane.” The words hung in the air alone with nothing to cushion their impact.

 

For a few seconds Dan stood there as the news branded into his memory for all time. Confusion clouded his face. “Aunt Clara?”

 

McGarrett's heart was breaking for his detective, but he could think of no comfort to offer except for that of his physical presence. “I’m so sorry, my friend.” Steve looked away for a moment to avoid the desperate searching in Dan’s expression – it was clear to McGarrett that his second-in-command was silently appealing to him to clarify the news – add something that would make it bearable. With dejection, the lead detective could not offer a word of balm. Eye to eye, he unsteadily whispered, “There were no survivors.”

 

Williams’ shoulders slumped slightly as he let the desk catch him dropping unceremoniously to its surface. “No… a mistake… there’s been a mistake – we just saw her… it’s not possible…” His face flushed as he looked down onto the nearby desk blotter.

 

The ringing of the main phone line interrupted the silence, but nobody moved. The moment was too fragile for the Five-0 ohana to be touched by outside voices. It was Dan though who collected the phone with a shaking hand. To deny routine was to accept the horror.

 

“Five-0.” His voice was trembled slightly, but he pressed on. “This is… Williams.” The detective listened at first with disinterest, but slowly the identity of the caller penetrated the fog of shock surrounding the officer. He stood. “Paddy… where are you? You’re in danger!”

 

McGarrett knew the name – Paddy was Raymond Padilla. The Five-0 chief watched his second struggle with the gut-wrenching emotion which had to be tearing at his insides. The determined fight to focus on the living was etched in his furled brow.

 

“I won’t let him hurt you, Paddy, but you’ve gotta tell me where you are… yeah… yes… I—I’ll come get you myself… I promise…” Dan ignored an errant tear rolling down his face as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. Finally, he swallowed a sob. “Stay there… out of sight… I’m on my way.” He roughly dropped the phone handset back onto its cradle and turned away from the desk. “Need to get Paddy.”

 

“Danno!” In a single stride, McGarrett reached Williams, but barely touched his arm before the distraught detective shied away and nearly ran for the door.

 

“I’ve gotta hurry!”

 

Steve took a few hesitant steps towards the door as Jenny and the other detectives moved to his side. Slipping his arm around the secretary as she pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her nose, McGarrett did not let his gaze falter from the point where he last saw his second-in-command. With nothing else to be done for the moment, each visually relayed their sorrow to the others before drifting out of the Five-0 chief’s office.

 

 

 

Rushing, trotting, through the Palace, gratefully Williams encountered no one. He broke into a run when he reached the outside steps. The tears cascading down his face drenched his cheeks, and yet he hardly noted it as he dashed the last few steps to his car. Fumbling with the door, he dropped his keys on the pavement and realized it was because he was shaking with such force. Quickly slipping into the car he dropped the keys again as the grief turned to heartbreaking sobs that shook him to the marrow. Scrambling for his keys again, this time he managed to get the car started and backed out as he fought to contain the wracking sobs. At the King Street gate he stopped, wiping his face and catching his breath to overcome the physical manifestations of misery that he could not hold back. Long moments were lost as he fought to control the emotions erupting like uncontrollable, molten lava. It was a battle of mind over matter and the fractured mental force took quite a time to conquer the shattered heart.

 

Another few deep breaths and he thought he was ready to roll, taking a minute to remember that he was picking up Paddy. From -- yeah, from – come on, Williams, focus! Ala Moana Mall at Pattie’s Kitchen. The mall – a clever spot for a snitch on the run – who would think to look for him at the busy lunch spot.

 

I can’t do this! He wanted to scream, and hit his head against the steering wheel, trembling and crying for a few moments before he was under control again.

 

Focus!

 

Wiping his face again, he pulled out into the lane, doubting the wisdom of driving a car in this condition. Thinking back to when Steve had tried to comfort him, stop him, he knew at the Palace he had friends waiting to support him. It would be such a balm to stay there. But this duty was not something he could pawn off onto someone else. He had given Paddy his word. Added to that reasoning was the selfish perspective that he could not take the sadness, the empathy that was waiting to swallow him with his ohana. As good as that seemed on a level where he desperately wanted someone to take away the pain, he knew that was not possible. And wallowing within the safety of friends also meant they would see him suffering, and he could not take that.

 

Whipping across several lanes he switched to another street and cut off another car before admonishing himself to keep his mind on driving. Impossible. Clara dead... No, he couldn’t accept it. Just not possible. He had talked with her just hours ago…

 

The memory of being together brought more tears and a few more sobs as he recollected his rush to get away. The distracting concerns for Paddy; his embarrassment over the troupe of actors… How could he have been so rude and cruel to her!

 

Gulping down the weepy, crushing knot in his throat, he determined again to get control of his emotions. He was a wreck – and he would cause a wreck if he weren’t careful.

 

On Ala Moana Boulevard, he attained a measure of calm and tried to latch onto that in his mind – extend it so he could function. Seeing Clara, that memory was both painful and pacifying. Yes, they were able to visit – a strange interlude which left him with the sense that she was acting – weird -- he decided with a shot of clarity… Yes… Very weird.

 

Deductive reasoning clicked in and he wondered over her words and actions. She was not edgy or nervous as if she had some kind of premonition. No, she wanted to talk about her will, though, he recalled, his heart plummeting and tears threatening again. Yet, she acted – as if – she – she was up to something?

 

A horn behind him honked and he was startled to see he was sitting in the left turn lane at the mall and the signal was green. Unaware of driving the distance already, he turned into the parking lot and examined the train of thought he had just caught.

 

Clara had been acting strangely… cagey and cryptic . . . as if trying to impart some important message with the abrupt comments on wills and instructions. Perhaps she’d had some crazy scheme going…

 

Cruising for a parking space, he pondered that meeting. Now viewed not from a perspective of grief, not from poignant sweetness, or even guilt, but from the angle of a suspicious detective, who knew the suspect well. What had she been trying to tell him? It was suddenly clear that the final meeting with his dear aunt was saturated with hidden messages!

 

Finding a parking slot, he hurried to the excellent cafeteria-styled Chinese restaurant favored by locals and tourists alike. Moving through the usual heavy crowd at the open-air mall, he kept his eye out for any threat to Paddy, but found it disconcertingly difficult to stay on track. There was a little, gray-haired old lady with a shopping bag slung over her arm. The sight stabbed him like a dart that her features reminded him of Clara – no -- he couldn’t think like that!

 

The smell of the sweet and sour pineapple chicken, the barbeque pork, the roasted ducks hanging in the window, assaulted him first before he turned the corner and stepped into the eatery. Weaving through the ever-present crowd, he checked the tables, then the line, then back to the tables in the corners…  Yes, there was Paddy, dressed in his janitorial overalls, a soda partially covering his face as if he was trying to hide behind the paper cup.

 

Making eye contact with him was the average-looking short, thin man, with slicked-back, gray-peppered brown hair and a sharp, angled nose. He fired nervous glances around them. By the time Dan made it to the table, Paddy was turned away from him.

 

“You wasn’t followed?”

 

“No,” the officer denied automatically.

 

Then he realized what a fatal mistake he could have just made! He had no idea if he was followed or not! Knowing both their lives were at risk because of his inattention and carelessness, he sat down next to the little man and took a moment to scan the restaurant. No sign of any of Paddy’s enemies.

 

“What’s wrong then?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You’re all red and upset.”

 

Williams self-consciously wiped his face. “It’s nothing.”

 

“You seem –“

 

“I said it’s nothing!”

 

“Fine,” he responded warily. “No reason anyone would know you was coming for me, right?”

 

“Right.” Taking a breath, he mentally stepped away from the taut emotions roiling within, and managed to concentrate on his current mission. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

 

Paddy agreed, taking a last snatch a some sauce covered noodle on an otherwise empty food carton.

 

The guy was relying on his word, his talent as an officer, to preserve his life and Dan was sobered by the trust and faith. A lance of hurt flashed inside, knowing Clara had entrusted him with what she felt were important final words—

 

No! Stop! He had to stop thinking like that!

 

Glancing around the packed eatery one more time, through watery eyes, he gave a nod. “Just stay close. The car isn’t far away.”

 

The short guy became his shadow as they moved through the lunch room and onto the sidewalk. Staying close to the buildings, Williams waited until the last minute to go into the open and cross the parking lot. Still no sign of a threat. They walked quickly to the LTD and dashed inside. Revving the engine, he popped it into reverse, and then drove off with a slamming force equal to Steve’s abrupt driving skills.

 

On Ala Moana Boulevard again, Dan turned Ewa and continually glanced in the rearview mirror and to the cars around. All seemed fine. No one following them. Keeping partial attention on the vehicles and people around him, he listened with gnawing anxiety at the myriad police reports that in some way pertained to the plane crash. Many emergency teams from various agencies were being scrambled, and HPD was working numerous details.

 

“Too bad about that plane crash, huh? Tragic.”

 

Dan cleared his throat and tried to speak, but only managed a grunt of acknowledgement, afraid he could not control the sobs again if he had to voice anything about the catastrophe. Another near fender-bender startled him to keep his mind on driving. Traffic was a little thick, as it was every day around noon. Honolulu streets were filling with people on their way to lunch, and tourists our for a day of fun and sun. Another beautiful day in paradise…

 

Clara had looked particularly nice in the orchid lei he bought her. Orchids were her favorite tropical flower. Good thing he remembered at the last minute. Had he been curt or inattentive to her? He had asked about her tour, but in his heart knew it was just small talk to keep her distracted so she and her strange friends would not make too bad of an impression on McGarrett, he miserably admitted.

 

“Where ya gonna take me?” Paddy broke into his thoughts.

 

“I – uh – thought---” He hadn’t thought at all, he realized guiltily, knowing his mind was almost entirely focused on Clara. Why couldn’t he do anything right today? At the airport all he could think about was Paddy! Now, protecting the informant, all he could do was wallow in memories and regrets with Clara! He continually forgot the little informant was here with him. “A – uh – safe house.”

 

“A nice one? On the beach?”

 

“Sure,” he agreed.

 

His last moments with Clara at the airport kept replaying in his thoughts. Everyone in the troupe seemed their usual crazy selves. Clara talked about the legal stuff – and Devon! Yes! His hand struck the steering wheel as the epiphany hit him. She was afraid Devon was going to propose to her! That’s it! She was going to duck out of sight and ditch the company and Devon!

 

“What?” Paddy shouted.

 

“Huh? Oh, sorry -- just -- I had the most incredible thought.”

 

She’s not dead, he realized! She did not get on the plane with the others! Steve and he had not actually SEEN her get on the plane! She ditched the troupe so she could avoid Devon! And – and what? Surely she would have contacted him! But then she heard about the plane crash? Yeah, and then she hung around the airport to find out what happened to her friends? Yes!

 

Was this a delusional dream concocted by a dazed, grief-stricken mind which was desperately grasping at straws? Was this the result of a nephew riddled with guilt over his inattentiveness?

 

No. Yes. Well, maybe, but it was possible! And it made perfect sense to him. As a detective, he had seen people pull a fast one for one reason or another. No one would have found them out except for bad luck or a strange coincidence. Poor Clara. In the theater timing is everything, and this time she chose her timing brilliantly. She would be mourning her friends, yes, but she was alive!

 

“Hey, uh, Williams, whatcha doing?”

 

“Huh?” He glanced at the janitor. “What?”

 

“I thought we was going to the beach! Why we going to the airport?”

 

Startled, he looked at the freeway sign ahead that directed lanes to departures or arrivals for the airport. The traffic was heavy and he realized the normal flow would be slowed because of the big investigation.

 

“There’s all this stuff going on with the crash –“

 

“I have something to do here.”

 

“You’re supposed to be protecting me!” he snapped back nervously.

 

“I am. You’re with me,” Williams firmly told him. “Can you think of a better place?”

 

The query made the man think for several moments as Dan swerved around some safety cones and drove into the back of the airport where the administrative offices were housed. Showing his ID to the guard, he rolled slowly past, did not even have to stop. It was a day when any law enforcement or Federal agent would be swept through with no questions, he grimly understood.

 

Paddy, in his cotton janitor’s overalls, became Williams’ gray shadow. They coursed through the maze of onlookers and airport types, and what Williams took to be the first wave of press sniffing out details of the tragedy. A few of them looked like the reporters that were here earlier covering the Manhattan Players’ departure. Tragically, they had a new, grimmer story to report, one that trumped the cultural tour.

 

The janitor followed the detective into the manager’s office, where Dan impatiently waited for a word with Harry Kikiaola. Not surprisingly, there were many demands on the manager’s attention today, and Williams used the time to check over the passenger manifest from the downed plane. It was a moment when his heart caught in his throat and tears burned his eyes when he read his aunt’s name right there in incontrovertible black and white. But she was not dead, he told himself as he blinked away the tears.

 

Overhearing the investigative measures from people in a nearby conference room, he knew the FAA, HPD and Coast Guard were already on scene. The chief FAA investigator for the Hawaii/Pacific region, Mick Windsor, was out with the Coast Guard inspecting the crash site first hand. Windsor was a friend of Chin’s, and Dan knew the case was in good hands. He could check with Mick later, but now he needed answers from Kikiaola.

 

Several official-looking men in suits exited, and he spotted Harry walking into his office. Without invitation, Dan entered, Paddy close on his heels, before anyone could stop him.

 

Looking disheveled and unimaginably stressed, the manager had a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Staring at a navigational chart of the bay, he squinted through the smoke curling around his face. Noting someone new entering the room, he glanced up. It took him a moment to register the appearance of Five-0 – which he did with a nod – then his face screwed up in sympathy.

 

That all-too-recognizable reaction from a casual business acquaintance almost floored Dan. His brave armor of denial nearly shattered with that one glance, but he recovered quickly.

 

“Hey, Danny, I talked to Steve. Really sorry about your aunt –“

 

“Your aunt was on the plane?” Paddy gasped.

 

“Uh, yeah, I mean, no - she wasn't,” he distractedly shot at the informant.

 

“Danny, this area is restricted –“

 

“He’s with me,” he explained to the manager, then said, “Harry, it’s possible that my aunt was not on the plane.”

 

Inhaling a puff of smoke, he coughed, withdrew the cigarette that had nearly dropped from his lips, and narrowed his eyes. “I gotta stop these coffin sticks,” he muttered to himself. Mashing the butt into an ashtray he gave total attention to the officer. “What makes you say that? She’s on the manifest. I checked –“

 

“Yeah, it’s hard to explain, Harry, but she could be here at the airport. I’m going to give a description of her to the security office. First I wanted to check with you and make sure it was really her plane that went down and who else might be aboard. I saw the manifest already. Is there anything else you can tell me? I guess she hasn’t checked in with anyone that you know of… has she?”

 

Slowly eyeing him with a wary stare the whole time, Kikiaola just shook his head.

 

“Okay, I’ll have security –“

 

“You know, Danny, security has a lot going on today –“

 

“I know, but they won’t be able to miss her. How’s the search going?”

 

The manager’s face was readably somber. “You can guess.”

 

Grimly, Dan sighed. “Yeah.”

 

He knew the waters here well. No need to articulate that the relatively shallow depth of the bay would be of little help to recovery teams. IF anyone survived the crash – didn’t Steve already tell him the official stance was there were no survivors? He couldn’t be sure – that moment of horror in Steve’s office was kind of a blur right now. There were also other realities to face. The initial impact from a jet hitting the water would almost certainly negate anyone coming out alive. IF anyone could have managed to free themselves of the seatbelt/ fuselage/ water, they would then have to contend with strong currents, injuries, fuel and oil-fed flames, and the schools of hungry sharks circling for an attack on the alive-or-dead victims.

 

Gulping down another knot of emotion, he stubbornly maintained his faith that Clara had exited the charter before it took off. “What can you tell me about the flight?”

 

Reluctantly, Harry told him that Archer Airways was chartered by the Manhattan Players for a flight from NYC to LA (an over-night layover) to Honolulu to Hong Kong. The group re-boarded the aircraft after a brief maintenance delay, which caused the pilot to roll to the hangar and confirm the tire pressure. Everything checked out and the flight was released. He paused, and Dan gave him the go ahead to continue. With softer, more compassionate tone and words, Harry finished, explaining that moments after take-off the captain reported a sudden loss of oil pressure. Then the aircraft dropped off the radar.

 

Emotions threatening to overwhelm him, Dan nodded, feeling unexpected mourning for Clara’s band of eccentric friends. He had not appreciated them in life, but knew his aunt would miss them terribly. The bottom line for the detective though was that Clara WAS alive! He had to believe that.

 

“Mahalo, Harry. I’m going to run over to security now.”

 

“Listen, Dan, let me do that. You’ve got enough on your mind—”

 

“YOU have a lot on your mind,” Dan countered soberly. “It’s okay. She could be waiting for me right now. I’ll just run down there. Mahalo.”

 

The trip to the security office was fast and only Williams’ badge got them through the heavy knot of officers, HPD men, airport reps and media types, the collection of which was starting to congregate enough to make a nuisance. Pulling his collar up around his face, Paddy slinked behind Williams, who told officers the little janitor was with him, and they were able to slip into the main security room and away from the crowds.

 

To his disappointment, Clara was not there. Dan gave the chief a run down on his theory that Clara was not on the plane and she might be hanging around waiting for news of her friends. Dan and Paddy were escorted down an inner hall in the back corridors of the airport, to a VIP lounge set up for family and friends of the victims. There was no one there. Faltering, but not deterred, Dan asked the personnel to search the airport – lounges, coffee shops, gift stores -- anywhere she might be. Then he interviewed the security and airline staff at the gate of the doomed flight. Many of them had already been interviewed by FAA and airport officers. They were mostly still available and Dan was able to talk with several of the airline employees.

 

During the exchanges, Paddy unobtrusively served coffee and donuts and remained a fixture at Williams’ elbow. Distractedly, Dan also noticed Paddy eventually started branching out. Apparently confident he was safe, the janitor fell into character and wiped up tables, threw away trash and fetched snacks for the overworked, over-stressed support personnel Dan was interviewing.

 

To Dan’s dismay, several people remembered Clara clearly boasting about him. They recalled the theatrical bunch boarding the plane. No one remembered the tiny woman leaving the gate, the tarmac, or the jet after it was boarded.

 

Realizing he was meeting all these people – even Paddy – under the worst possible circumstances, Dan felt his presence here on an interrogational level might not be helping anyone, including himself.

 

Maybe Clara caught a cab and went to his place? No, she had no key. And if she had shown up at the Palace – the only other place she would know to gravitate toward to find him – Jenny would have called. He thought perhaps she had gone somewhere else. Where? To find out the fate of her friends, of course! She was not going to be focused on him now – not his obsessive work hours nor his dating, nor Steve’s similar deficiencies – she was going to be worried for her zany, eclectic cronies.

 

Interrupting Paddy from making fresh coffee, he told the informant they were leaving. Complying with a nod, the man tagged along as they coursed through the airport, careful to avoid any of the media. Paddy had lost his nervous aura and was chatting about the unfortunate circumstances of the crash – how it affected so many people and was so sad. Careful to keep the comments generalized and not too specific about Aunt Clara, Dan realized his odd tag-along was now more absorbed in this great tragedy than in his own personal danger. It urged Dan’s motivation to a stronger level of commitment to keep the guy safe.

 

 

 

 

“Where we going now, Danny?”

 

“The Coast Guard station.” His enterprising aunt might go right to the top for information.

 

“Your aunt not one to stay quietly in the background, huh?”

 

Dan smirked, feeling better explaining a little bit about his aunt. Too energetic and exuberant about life to have died in a useless and sudden accident. “No, never.”

 

“Background, that’s me. Never set out to be noticed. Who notices a janitor? That’s how I got in this mess in the first place. Not like you. Must take after your aunt.”

 

“Not exactly,” he almost laughed, poignantly saddened about that now.

 

There had never been much contact between the Hawaiian Williams’ and the East Coat branch of the small family. Not with Dan and his Uncle Jim, anyway. Clara had been close to Dan’s mother and father, but during the war there was an estrangement after his parents died. Uncle Jim never talked about it and after his death, when Dan had been transplanted to stay with Clara, she did not discuss the rift either. He should spend more time learning about his family. The thought that it could be too late – that Clara had really gone down with the plane – was pushed far away from his consciousness. He could not accept that.

 

The Coast Guard station at Barber’s Point was packed with all manner of official and unofficial vehicles. Again, Dan’s credentials got him through the gate and again, his cryptic verbal okay that Paddy was with him (even while crouching down in the seat to avoid notice by the lurking media) seemed a good enough voucher.

 

Checking in at the main building, Williams kept Paddy in the background as he searched for Aunt Clara. Always with an eye on the informant, Dan moved to various officials asking after his elderly relative. No one had seen Clara out here and they assured no civilian would be in this area. In a moment of panic, he realized Paddy was gone. Frantically scanning the building, he was alarmed that the guy was outside washing the windshield of the LTD!

 

“What are you doing?” he half shouted when he raced out.

 

“My thing,” the informant shrugged. “What I’m best at. Just didn’t want to stand around idle while you were busy.”

 

“Well, mahalo, Paddy. I couldn’t find anything out. Let’s go.”

 

They cruised down to the dock where the knot of activity was thickest. Recognizing a few familiar faces of Coast Guard personnel, he was gratified to see the one who was clearly in charge was someone with whom he already had a working relationship.

 

Standing on the deck of a small cutter, FAA inspector Mick Windsor directed sailors with off-loading material. When Dan rounded the walkway, he stopped cold, gulping down a shivering sob. The men were lifting pieces of wreckage off the boat. Trembling, getting a grip and wiping his face clear of an errant tear, he tightened his fists until his fingernails dug into the palms.

 

He was going to get through this. Clara had not gone down on that plane! For a few moments he wrestled with control, hardening his resolve that his aunt did not die today, utterly denying that possibility. With another breath and he forced himself forward to confront this grim reality and prove this tragedy would not be too personal for him.

 

Windsor was a tall, lean man with fair, freckled skin and blond hair appearing white on his tanned arms. One of Chin’s informants on several cases in and around the airport, Windsor was appreciated at Five-0 for his frank and direct manner, his instinctively analytical views on investigations, and his complete cooperation with the authorities. More than a few times, he had been instrumental in helping to resolve cases or bringing illegalities to the attention of Kelly.

 

Removing his traditional panama hat, his straw-colored hair was so thin that it gave him the initial appearance of baldness. Taking off one of his work gloves, wiping perspiration from his face, Windsor glanced up and spotted Williams. His face, already somber and grim from the dismal task at hand, now grew sympathetic. He’d already heard – the coconut wireless at work again. Gritting his teeth for another tough interview, Dan moved forward.

 

Holding out a hand for his usual friendly and firm handshake, the Federal investigator cleared his throat. “Danny, I didn’t expect you here,” Mick called, meeting him half way. “I’m really sorry—”

 

“Look, Mick, I don’t think my aunt was on the plane.”

 

This startled the taller man into silence. His piercing green eyes studied Dan for a moment. “She’s on the manifest,” was his correct, even reply. Characteristically by the book. “Harry and I double checked.”

 

So, the airport manager had called ahead to warn/prepare Mick. Instead of bristling at the interference, Williams took it as friendly cooperation. They were watching out for him.

 

Tragedy like this affected everyone in Hawaii when it was on their home turf, just as the horrors of Pearl Harbor affected everyone in the nation that black December day many years before. The feeling of aloha that pervaded life here in the islands extended to cover all humanity involved in the misery. In the face of loss of life like this, people pulled together. Especially in the brotherhood of emergency services – cops, firemen, servicemen -- anyone working here for airport support. They were united in this, and with difficulty, Dan realized since many believed Aunt Clara was included as a victim, he would be singled out for their sympathy and aid. Well, he breathed deeply, avoiding the personal and most painful thoughts, he would accept the aid, but had to reject the idea that she was dead.

 

“I know it doesn’t sound logical, but I was there at the airport with her before she boarded.”

 

The green eyes darkened and grew watery and Dan looked away, over the azure, and silver glittering ocean, shivering when he realized he could see the cluster of boats out in the bay conducting rescue operations. Coast Guard, Navy, HPD were all participating in the event. Helicopters from various organizations circled the area. Gulping down the grief that again threatened to spill out, Dan shook his head, determined to stick to his guns here.

 

“Something – I’m not exactly certain what – was going on with her, and it’s possible she did not get on the flight.”

 

He looked back and saw the expression was still sympathetic. “I can’t let you out on the site, Danny, I’m sorry.”

 

“Five-0 has a right to be out there –“

 

“And you’re an officer who just lost –“

 

“I don’t think she’s dead!” Williams snapped back fervently.

 

He was at a loss to justify his need to be at the site since he thought Clara was still alive. His initial thoughts were that she was back at the airport. But she was not. What had brought him here? A morbid need to see if there were any bodies recovered? No, he realized, insight slamming into his grief-muffled mind. The meeting at the airport – it had been off – wrong – in ways he could not define or understand. At the time, he had offered a lot of excuses and near-at-hand clichés to deal with Clara’s weird friends. Now that he needed a reason, he knew where his core doubts and rejections were coming from. Not clairvoyant, Clara had not been apprehensive about the flight. Maybe she had not ditched Devon. Perhaps she was onto something else – something sinister. Thinking immediately of her undercover work for Five-0 last year, he became instantly suspicious that her wild imagination had lead her into acting out some fantasy/covert action. She warned – tried to warn – him during the course of their conversation, but he didn’t pick up on it. Whatever her game, it had taken her off the plane, though, and saved her life. Taken her where? Into hiding?

 

Then why go out to the plane? Because some of the answers to his questions might be out there.

 

“And if you don’t let me out there I’ll use other available means.”

 

Pushed into a corner, this tough investigator pushed back. “I’m warning you, this is a bad idea, Danny. Besides, this cutter isn’t going back out till we unload everything.”

 

“Right.”

 

Stalking back to the car, where Paddy was now cleaning the dash, Williams collected the informant and they zipped over to a less congested dock area where auxiliary resources were standing by. One of those was an HPD boat. Dan gave a wave to the officers on deck and asked when they were headed out to the crash site. They were ready to go, he was pleased to hear, and Paddy and he boarded.

 

 

 

McGarrett was in and out of the office most of the day, but listened to the police radio for updates on the crash. When in the office, Jenny would come in on pretexts until she finally stopped to question when he was going to contact Williams.

 

The tragedy was never out of his mind, and Steve ached for his friend and grieved himself for the spirited, charming aunt who had been taken away so suddenly. Several times he picked up the mic to hail his second-in-command, and each time he replaced it, aware that Danno had chosen to work out his initial grief on his own. Paddy was in fear for his life, yes, and needed to be protected, but someone else could have gone.

 

McGarrett knew it was wrong to let it go this long, but his own need for solitude to handle the tragedy won out over his warring desire to reach out and offer whatever comfort he could to his friend. Having been in this place before -- of watching his friend suffer -- as well as the mourning Danno was going through -- he recognized the value in balancing interference with keeping a distance.

 

By the afternoon, though, he determined he would call Danno in no matter what so the officer could take some time off and grieve. After that preliminary bereavement, there would be practical things to take care of – such as notifying friends – (that was something his Five-0 ohana could handle under Dan’s direction). There would be the myriad legal necessities of the will. Then the disagreeable, tedious tasks of taking care of the belongings, the house on the mainland, any pets…

 

The intercom buzzed and he responded. Jenny announced Harry Kikiaola on the phone. Gearing himself for a request for Five-0’s official entry into the tragedy, he answered. The airport manager took him completely off guard by his opening statement.

 

“Hey, Steve, just wanted to let you know Danny was down here and he wasn‘t doing too well.”

 

“Danno was there?”

 

“Yeah, he’s pretty shaken about his aunt, but he’s not buying that she’s dead.”

 

The statement was a rude shock. Right here in the office, Danno could not grasp the reality of the sudden tragedy, but Steve had imagined that phase of the mourning would have passed enough to not admit it to others. Showing his grief so openly was just not like Danno, and that worried him even more. Understandably, his first reaction was denial. He had even commented that they had just seen her that morning – yeah -- Danno was having trouble accepting the loss. That he went out to the airport and was so obvious about it was disturbing.

 

After Harry related the visit from Williams, Steve’s day-long anxiety grew to distress. Knowing his hot-headed, stubborn, impulsive friend, he knew what Danno was capable of during emotional extremes. Steve suddenly feared that his second-in-command could be a danger to himself more than anything else.

It was time to relieve his friend of duty to grieve. Steve asked Harry if he knew Danno’s whereabouts.

 

I know where he was a while ago. Mick Windsor said he was out at Barber’s Point wanting to get out to the crash site. Mick wouldn’t let him.

 

“Thanks, Harry.”

 

McGarrett hung up and instantly flipped on the HPD mic to get a call out for Danno on the radio. No response. Knowing his friend as well as he did, he knew there would be no way to dissuade Williams from carrying through with something he really wanted.

 

Rushing out the door, he yelled to Jenny that he would be out at the crash site. Barber’s Point was too far away, he decided and came to a skidding halt. “Order me a chopper at the Ala Wai pad,” he told the secretary, then jogged out the door.

 

 

 

 

Grief, disturbance for Danno’s well-being, remembered heartache from the past crowded for attention in Steve’s wounded heart. As the chopper lifted off from the helipad, the startling beauty of the moment transcended all other thoughts. Fleetingly he was suspended by the tearing polarization of everyday life against the pall of recent, sudden death.

 

Rocketing across the bay, they swept over brilliant white-hulled yachts and small boats. The alabaster sand of Waikiki, the blue water on either side of the reef, the incredible spectacle of the Hilton Hawaiian rainbow mosaic sparkling against the afternoon sun were all eye catching and dazzling. The multicolored swim suits, the elegant surfers gliding on the curls, the hotel catamaran whisking over the silver-shimmering sea – all bright and wonderful. Another perfect day in paradise.

 

How could tragedy strike in such tropical splendor? Hard to accept life going on as usual for so many people on this rock, but it inevitably did. Hardly anyone outside of his office would be personally affected by the crash, since the crew and passengers were from New York. Turning his attention to their destination, the gathered boats and other helicopters sobered him.

 

In the car, driving over to the pad, McGarrett had radioed and ascertained Williams was aboard the Coast Guard base-of-operations ship. Instead of contacting him there, McGarrett waited for a face-to-face.

 

Admitting he was not always tactful in his emotional moments, he was determined to put forth an extra effort to be gentle and patient in what he feared would have to be a confrontation with his friend. Danno was obviously hurting -- Steve knew this was tearing him up inside. His mission would NOT be to get to his friend and force Danno to go home. Rather, Steve was going to take him home and – gently but firmly INSISTED – he took some time off. The philosophy violated Steve’s personal mandate-cure-all that work was the answer to dealing with stress, grief… It was just not appropriate now.

 

After the drop off, he realized the wind was up and the ship pitched against the strong waves. McGarrett’s hair blew across his face and he brushed it back as he hurried across the rolling deck. Skin warmed by the Hawaiian sun and kissed by the salty air, the nearness of raw nature exhilarated the senses.

 

Commander Rix met McGarrett on the stern and stepped forward just in front of Williams –and Paddy -- whom Steve was surprised to see. Giving a handshake to the Commander, the Five-0 chief zeroed in on Dan.

 

His friend looked as expected – stressed, worn, his face reflecting plaintive grief -- his eyes red from recent emotional purges. The chagrined expression on Williams’ face told him the younger officer knew exactly why his boss had come out here.

 

“Just bringing Danny up to speed, Steve,” the Commander reported. He outlined that much of the wreck had been submerged and would take a few days to retrieve. No bodies were discovered, nor were any personal belongings or luggage, but given the currents this far out from shore, and the multitude of sharks in the area, divers hinted that finding whole bodies was problematic.

 

At this stark and hard-hitting reality, McGarrett kept his eyes on Williams. Danno flinched, but other than that did not react to the common knowledge – facts a proficient surfer would know without a second thought.

 

“This is Five-0’s jurisdiction, but I don’t know anything practical you fellows can do out here. FAA is going to cover the investigation.”

 

Looking at his boss, Williams took a deep breath and countered, “There is information that we are now viewing as suspicious.”

 

McGarrett remained silent, but his eyebrows shot up at the announcement. He knew that tone, that expression of determination on his friend. Danno was completely serious and totally unaware of how absurd the statement sounded.

 

Rix was shocked. “What information?”

 

Steve quickly debated if he should let Danno continue or get him off the boat right then. Suddenly curious, the Five-0 chief hesitated. Danno was sounding normal and level despite how he looked. Did his friend really have something?

 

“One of the passengers,” Williams continued, staring at McGarrett. “She exhibited – unusual behavior. Five-0 needs to check it out.”

 

“Are we talking sabotage?” Rix wondered.

 

“No,” Steve countered.

 

“I don’t know,” Dan quickly shot back.

 

“What are you saying?” Rix voiced, now alarmed. “What passenger?”

 

“Clara Williams,” Dan responded, now looking squarely at the Commander.

 

“Williams?” he was shocked. “A relative?”

 

“His aunt,” McGarrett supplied a little sharply. “And we’re not going to take this any further until we have proof.”

 

“Steve –“

 

“Will you excuse us please?” he asked and without waiting for a response grabbed Dan’s arm and stepped him over to the side of the deck. His hold on his friend was not released, but tightened. Remembering his self-promise for tact and patience, Steve took a breath before he plunged into the verbal fray and what was sure to be an emotional rollercoaster for both of them. “Danno, I know you’re hurting –”

 

“Steve, I’m serious. There was something going on with Aunt Clara. She was trying to tell me something,” he desperately interrupted. “I don’t think she got on that plane.”

 

Groaning, staring at his friend, whose defiant expression did not bode well, Steve shook his head. “All right, Danno, she was acting strange. But will you please just step back and look at what is going on? I know it’s hard,” he admitted, his voice cracking along with his heart.

 

Did his friend really need for him to spell it out? Why was he making it so tough? Because sorrow played out in so many myriad and varying ways – individual for each person experiencing the heartache, the loss, the disbelief, the emptiness, the abrupt change in everything connected with the deceased.

 

“Steve, she’s not dead.” His voice was trembling, the culmination of the terrible day, but Williams’ eyes were clear and bright with conviction. He was not pleading, but asking, his friend for support and help. This was how Danno had to play it for right now.

 

How else could McGarrett respond? He counted Danno as his closest friend. He had pledged carte blanche support in anything the grieving officer might need. Wasn’t this the cry for help he had been waiting for? The confused denial/ desperation/hurt that had surfaced in an unexpected, but not completely illogical way? Danno was a cop and was reacting like a wounded cop. McGarrett had to play this out with the most kind and compassionate spin he could manage. In other circumstances, his temper and impatience would have prevailed. But for Danno, he could do anything. Even this.

 

His fist squeezed the arm in his hold, and then patted the shoulder. “All right, my friend, you know you’re asking a lot.”

 

“I know, Steve,” he admitted with the ghost of a grin. “But just hear me out, please.”

 

Putting his arm around the shorter detective, McGarrett led them back toward the others. “Let’s get back to the office and sort it all out then.”

 

Steve announced they were leaving and would notify Commander Rix of any results of the investigation. Of course, all information would be processed through a joint task force of Coast Guard, Five-0, HPD and FAA. Steering his still-under-hand officer to the chopper, Steve did not question the tagalong of Paddy. They boarded the craft and took off, McGarrett pondering how he was going to handle the next phase of his conversation with his friend.

 

 

 

 

The trip from the helipad to the Palace was traversed in silence. Steve did not want to talk in the car. This conversation needed to be face to face where he could devote his entire attention to Williams. Much of his journey was wrapped around possible angles of his opening statement; gentle phrases he was not used to using, reasonable yet sincere persuasions which would bring Danno out of this funk of denial. Something clever, yet real that would break through his emotions to accept the loss, start grieving properly, and move on with life.

 

Apparently the silent Danno also felt this time should be used for reflection or building his case. Either way, Steve welcomed the meditative opportunity to prepare for the upcoming storm. All he knew, from the moment he had heard about Dan’s exploits, was that he had to do something after it was so sadly obvious to everyone that Dan was in complete denial of Clara’s death. Inventing theories to explain how she could have miraculously survived the crash was rejection in the extreme. Friends and ohana treated him with sad respect and then appropriately left it alone. As it should be; this was a family matter and Steve would handle it in private, not wanting the world to see his friend so openly distraught and irrational.

 

The best course of action was to take him back to the Palace, listen to Dan, and then try to manage to convince him to go home. When did he ever become a counselor, he wondered bleakly? Knowing this would not be a requirement under normal circumstances and certainly not with anyone else, not even the ohana at the office. Steve remembered the moments in his life when death had struck  – family, friends – and those feelings still stung him today as he recalled exact moments right down to the details of where he had been standing, who delivered the bad news, what he was wearing, what kind of day or night it had been.

 

This was now the care and handling of his closest friend and he had to get this right. The words he said, the actions he took would not only help Danno through the maze of wicked, razor-blade emotions, but scenes he would probably remember for the rest of his life.

 

Stepping into the office became a tableau-event – a stage-set drama -- in and of itself. Jenny rose from her desk, Duke and Chin came out of their cubicles. The other two secretaries and one HPD man just stared at Williams, who Steve noted, immediately seemed to shrink under the obvious, glaring inspection of pity.

 

“Danny,” Chin simply nodded, chewing on his unlit pipe stem.

 

“You okay, bruddah?” Duke asked quietly and offered an encouraging nod to show his support.

 

“Oh, Danny.” Jenny was already crying. “We’re so sorry about your aunt. She was so sweet.”

 

Typically, Jenny stepped over and gave him a big hug. Steve watched with a twisted stomach as Dan’s eyes closed, his face crinkled fighting off the emotions that struck with the overt display of sympathy. When the blue eyes opened they were staring at him in watery hurt. Knowing this was the first of probably several rescues required of him, Steve placed a resolute hold on Jenny and held onto Dan’s arm until the hug was completed.

 

Firmly pulling Williams along with him, Steve was surprised when Dan stopped him.

 

“I’m okay,” Williams told him, then the rest of the office.

 

“You’re so brave,” Jenny whispered and gripped his hand, unable to stop the mothering.

 

“No, I’m fine,” he refuted, looked at each of them.

 

“We can handle things here, Danny,” Chin told him, his comforting, fatherly nature springing to the forefront.

 

Duke placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. “We’re here for you. Whatever you need.”

 

“You should go home and rest,” Jenny ordered, glaring at Steve as if this was his fault. “You need to mourn properly –“

 

“No, no, it’s fine, Jenny. I’ll be okay. Clara’s not dead.”

 

Steve flinched and his heart wrenched anew when he saw the sympathetic stares of the others. Duke and Chin glanced at him and he knew it was time to get Danno away. He swept the others with an ‘I’ll-handle-this’ eye as he tugged Williams, and pulled him into the private office and shut the door.

 

Paddy moved to follow along, but Duke stepped in front of him, neatly pushing him into his own cubicle. “Hey, bruddah, why don’t you just wait out here.” It was an order.

 

“Danny needs to have some room,” Chin told him.

 

The HPD officer standing by the secretary’s desk leaned over to study Paddy. “Hey, isn’t he the guy you have an APB out on?”

 

Kelly and Lukela exchanged looks.

 

“That’s right,” Chin almost smiled.

 

“Guess we can cancel that now,” Duke nodded.

 

The officer went about his business and Paddy glanced around the room. “So, who does your cleaning around here? Ya like ‘em?”

 

 

 

 

For a few seconds, Steve regretted not diverting to Danno’s apartment and locking his younger officer in for the night. The scene just played out with the extended ohana would have been avoided. On the other hand, the head of Five-0 had the sense that the best place to objectively work through his friend’s irrational belief that his aunt had somehow survived the tragedy was in the office. This was where their true homes were. This was ground zero for the relentless hours of work and dedication. Here they would step through the facts together, and as logic chipped through the denial, Steve was determined to be there for Danno. It was true – had to be true in order for Williams to make it to the other side – an awesome wall of pain was headed for the surfing detective, like a thirty-foot wave at the Pipeline. Just like that moving mountain of water, this emotional wave was going to overwhelm, consume and crush his friend and there was nothing he could do to save Williams from the anguish. What he could do was minimize the hurt a little by letting Danno talk this through. Gently, he would attempt to push the conversation in the right direction so Dan would see the error of his ways himself and leave nothing for McGarrett to do but listen and provide support before taking Danno home.

 

“Steve, I know you doubt my theory, but once you hear it, I think you’ll change your mind.”

 

Williams paced over by the desk, and then turned to face his boss as Steve leaned on the edge of the desk. He didn’t want to be behind the barrier, sitting in his chair, but close, accessible.

 

“Okay, Danno, shoot.”

 

There was a pause, as if the younger detective expected an argument. Then he quickly plunged ahead after a deep breath. He repeated his comments about Clara acting odd, about her conversation over a will and last wishes, and her urging both of them to settle down.

 

“Marriage was really on her mind this time. She bugs me about that all the time, telling me to settle down and get married and all that jazz. Heck, she even started in on you, and she wouldn't normally -- okay, well, maybe she would, but still -- it really seemed to be on her mind this time." Pacing a circuit in front of McGarrett, Williams became a swirling storm of energy and sound. “Why? I’ll tell you why – I think her whole reason for the warnings and everything was because she was going to ditch Devon and company!”

 

Against type, McGarrett became the calm center of the hurricane in this moment – the stationary hub of reason as the colorful and plaintively poignant denials flew from the agitated officer. Never saying a word, Steve let his friend talk out the points while he offered nods or grunts, but never interrupted with a comment. What would he say anyway? Dan truly convinced himself that Clara did not die in the plane crash.

 

“Now you know how dramatic she can get,” he almost smiled in embarrassment, no doubt thinking about the misadventure earlier this year when Clara became an unexpected undercover operative for Five-0. {episode – RETIRE IN SUNNY HAWAII FOREVER} “I think she was playing at something, Steve, and she slipped away. I’d almost think it was sinister, except I can’t explain that. Maybe she hasn’t even heard about the crash yet!”

 

The ramblings sounded like they were being strung together off the cuff, but McGarrett did not interrupt. He allowed his second to talk it out, never commenting on the absurdity and the unrealistic stretches of imagination weaving this fabrication together.

 

As Dan neutrally laid out the facts in his investigation, Steve recognized a scary parallel – that his friend was acting in a manner that he could almost see himself performing! Inventing an investigation because that was where he could find solace.

 

Dan paced and expounded and Steve’s eyes burned with commiseration, knowing that, with the tremendous effort being expended to create this mythical mystery, Danno was going to come down hard when it really hit him that the story was nothing more than visions from his imagination. The desperate striving to make sense of it all stabbed right to his soul and reaffirmed his vow to let his friend down as gently as possible.

 

When Williams, clearly wearing the tension and grief of the day in his countenance and physical carriage, slumped, Steve came to his feet and stepped close. “Danno,” he gently began, “Let’s take this a little slower.”

 

Suspicious and defensive, Dan’s eyes widened, obvious what he was thinking. “You don’t believe me.”

 

How few times in their years together had he doubted his friend? He could not lie now, but tried a new angle, and tempered the truth. “I think you’ve been working hard at this all day and you’re about to collapse.”

 

Williams’ forehead wrinkled, as he assessed the neutral stance. Tone guarded, he wondered, “You do believe me?”

 

Wiping away a fine line of sweat on his face, Dan dug into his pocket and his face suddenly froze. Frantic, he grabbed at something and pulled his hand out, staring at the palm. He held the necklace Clara had given him before she left. It was painful for McGarrett to watch his face as he struggled with a shadow of grief, then forced it behind a wall of tough resolve.

 

“I forgot I had this,” was his thick explanation.

 

Steve tenderly put an arm around Dan’s shoulder, took possession of the jewelry and pocketed it. “I’m taking you home, Danno. You’re going to stay there and get a decent night’s sleep. Then I’ll pick you up in the morning and we can talk all this out with clear minds.”

 

“We have to move on  this now, Steve! There’s no time to waste in finding Aunt Clara!”

 

In a firm, but quiet tone, McGarrett ordered the officer to report on his investigation so far. When Danno outlined his steps of the day aloud, he was drawn to the obvious conclusion in McGarrett’s summation. All that could be done had been done. Five-0 could follow up what Williams already started. It had been a raw, long day and now it was time to take it easy. Only the briefest hint of resistance caused him to pause, then Williams held his eyes for a moment and seemed to appreciate Steve’s iron determination. This was not up for negotiation. Then he gave a tight nod.

 

Keeping a hold of Dan as they walked into the main office, Steve told Jenny his plans. Fortunately, she was on the phone and did not share more than an understanding smile to him and Dan.

 

“Take care,” she whispered to Williams, then went back to focusing on the call.

 

McGarrett noted Paddy was behind Jenny’s desk changing a ribbon in the typewriter. As he guided Williams through the office, he stopped to clue in Duke. Chin was nowhere to be seen. Steve proceeded, determined to get his friend clear of the work temptations before Danno protested and lobbied to stay.

 

“I was just keeping busy, trying to be useful,” Paddy explained as he joined them, wiping his hands on a cloth before stuffing it into a back pocket of the overalls.

 

“Nice work,” Dan commented quietly to Paddy, who walked beside the officer.

 

As they stepped into the hall, McGarrett was about to tell the informant to go back and remain with Lukela, but stopped himself as he noticed Williams holding the door open for the thin little man. Acting in a solicitous and custodial manner, Danno was watching out for his charge. That was a nice attention to duty, but it would also serve a dual purpose. A good distraction. Something to divert his friend’s attention from the unavoidable, impending wall of grief.

 

Again, the ride was endured in silence, all three men consumed with their own thoughts. Glancing frequently at Williams, McGarrett continually assessed his expressions and considered Dan’s mute pondering. No reaction one way or the other – good or bad – was evident. No breaking down and accepting Clara’s death, but no violent denials. It occurred to him that Dan’s usual flash-point temper was not in evidence at all and that it might be something to watch out for. The energy he displayed was all channeled to spinning this wild theory about Clara skipping out to avoid a marriage proposal.

 

 

Just returning from interviewing neighbors about an arson fire at a tourist shop, Chin barely sat down at his desk before the phone rang. Picking it up, he was surprised to hear the voice of his friend Mick Windsor on the line.

 

“I thought you would be pretty busy today, Mick.” Aware of the grim work required of FAA inspectors during this crisis, Kelly still smiled. He liked the tall, transplanted Oklahoman who always had to be warned to protect his fair skin from the intense Hawaiian sun. “You gonna bring us into the case?”

 

“First,” Windsor started, “I wanted to check on Danny. He was pretty wound up today when he came out here to the crash site.”

 

That was the first Kelly had heard of the visit and he frowned at the news. Williams was as headstrong as McGarrett in many ways, and – while it did not surprise him that their young friend was working some counterproductive plan of his own – it did dismay him.

 

“I think he’ll be okay,” Chin revealed, believing it. “Steve’s taking care of him.” Anyone who knew the top two officers of the unit would understand that phrase. Under McGarrett’s wing, Williams would be all right because Steve would make certain of it.

 

“Funny thing, Danny was insistent and, well, I just wondered what you thought of his theory, Chin. Cause we’ve come up with a little mystery of our own here.”

 

“What?”

 

“We were out here within thirty minutes of the crash. We have yet to find so much as a single passenger body part or a personal object anywhere.”

 

Born and raised here in Honolulu, Chin knew – for a crash in water so close to shore – not in the depths of the open Pacific -- that was unusual.

 

Mick continued, checking off the plane parts they HAD found, which included: a portion of the mid section of the fuselage – where one would expect to find personal effects such as purses, novels, cameras, jackets, there was nothing. The pilot’s and co-pilot’s bodies were spotted inside the cracked and partially buried cockpit, but theirs were the only human remains. Also, oddly, the divers noted that none of the passengers could have been wearing their safety belts – no signs of stress or tears on the belts.

 

“That’s very strange,” Chin admitted, ruminating on the anomalies.

 

You don’t think Danny could be right do you?

 

“Hmm,” Chin noncommittally breathed. “I don’t know,” he admitted, completely puzzled. Danny, emulating his mentor, was known to come up with brilliant – and accurate – theories without the benefit of connective-tissue evidence. None of the detectives or HPD officers who knew either McGarrett or Williams readily discounted their conjectures even if they seemed outlandish. So that was what Danny was doing today, conducting an independent investigation. “I’ll let you know, Mick.”

 

 

 

 

When they exited the elevator and walked onto the open corridor of the apartment building, Dan fished for his keys. Glancing at McGarrett, with a speculative tone, he asked, “So, you’re beaching me for how long?”

 

“I want you to rest tonight,” he stipulated with clear articulation. “I’ll come by in the morning and we’ll talk.” There – nothing for his sometimes-obstinate officer to argue about – flexible and reasonable, a timetable -- and the promise of support.

 

The smirk told him the message was received. “Okay.”

Entering his apartment, Dan crossed to the lanai and opened the door. Hands in pockets, he almost smiled. “You gonna lock the door, too?”

 

Surrendering a low laugh that he had actually been thinking that earlier, McGarrett returned, “Just get some rest. If you need anything at all, I want you to call.”

 

Dan nodded, his eyes distracted by the flowing curtain dancing in the wind.

 

“I mean it.”

 

“I will,” he promised.

 

Glancing at Paddy, who roamed into the kitchen checking out the fridge, McGarrett gave a last look to Williams, who threw him a nod that he was all right. Then McGarrett stepped out and closed the door, walking a few paces before he stopped and turned, finding it hard to leave, knowing what his friend was going to experience in the next few hours.

 

At some point tonight the grief would crash down on him and it would be agonizing. After losing his parents and guardian uncle already, with no relations left, Williams was taking this harder than Steve expected. Fabricating the imaginary disappearance tale as a fantastic defense against the pain was the proof. True, mourning had its unique stages and affects on people. Different levels and reactions were individual. When the reality hit Danno, it was going to be tough. Determining he would come back later and check on his friend – suspecting Danno would not call if he needed anything -- he walked slowly back to the elevator. Besides, he had to find a safe house for Paddy. Danno did not need him underfoot during this mourning process.

 

Unsettled, it wasn’t until he returned to the office that Steve readjusted his thinking to get back to work. It had been a distracting day and few Five-0 related duties were met with much of his attention. Briskly walking into the main area, Chin gave him a wave, so he stopped at his desk.

 

“Steve, got an interesting call from Mick.”

 

Just when his mind was shifting to other things, it was brought back to the tragedy. “What did he say?”

 

As Chin related the conversation, McGarrett grew disturbed at the report. No bodies after a whole day? Windsor had explained, and Steve agreed, that shifting currents, sharks and any number of anomalies, including the force of impact, could have moved the bodies from the wreckage, especially given the news that apparently no seat belts had been in use during the take-off.

 

Heading into his office, he closed the door and pondered, slumping behind the desk, not seeing the notes he stared at on the blotter. No bodies... No personal effects… Aunt Clara acting strangely… Did Danno have something in his cockeyed theory?

 

The phone rang a few times before he pulled out of his concentrated funk to stare at the offending intrusion, debating on whether to answer it or not, while knowing there was no option. “McGarrett,” he barked before the headpiece reached his ear.

 

“Steve, I heard the news through the coconut wireless,” the deep, grave voice of Niles Bergman announced. “How is Danny?”

 

“Doc,” McGarrett offered the one-word greeting. The call should not have been unexpected. The internal communications system of the Five-0 ohana was top notch, and between the wives and the cops, everyone within the inner circle of the unit had to know by now. Tragic news seemed to travel faster than the mundane, so it was unsurprising that this depressing, personal aspect of the disaster had reached Bergman.

 

People had been calling all day, a fact of which he was only marginally aware since Jenny handled most of the messages. The only exception had been the governor. Bergman had apparently called earlier, trying to get in touch with Williams, both for personal and professional reasons. The medical examiner was Dan’s physician of record, but there was no doubt that the man considered the Five-0 detectives a part of his extended family.

 

“It’s been rough,” McGarrett hedged, not feeling up to verbalizing too much.

 

“I’m sure. It must be devastating for Danny. How is he holding up?”

 

That was a good question. As much as he hated to reveal Danno’s embarrassing behavior, he knew Bergman, as a friend and their physician, would be the right person to turn to for advice.

 

“In truth, Doc, not great,” he sighed, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes, the image of Williams’ adamant, impassioned denials of a few hours ago ringing in his ears. “He can’t accept the loss yet.”

 

“It takes time, Steve.”

 

He cleared his throat. “No, Doc, I mean he really can’t accept it. He – uh – he’s making up some pretty tall tales to justify why she didn’t board the jet,” There was a noncommittal humph from the other end. Should he clarify or drop it? Admittedly, he was out of his league here, and a little help from someone with expertise in things psychological might be in order. The bottom line was that he wanted Danno to come to terms with this and move on. The longer he refused to accept reality, the worse he was going to feel when it really hit him. “He spent the day checking out every detail he could think of – trying to prove his aunt was still alive, and came up empty.”

 

Another hmmm, this time drawn out in expressive disappointment. “That doesn’t sound good, Steve. I don’t suppose he would come in and talk to my friend –“

 

“You know him better than that.”

 

“Yes, I’m afraid I do. Well, I’d like to talk to him, at the very least.”

 

“How about we give him another day, Doc? Let him see if he can work it out on his own.”

 

“Well, I assume you’re going over there to check on him regularly. Or more often,” was the wry addition. “If you think it might help, I can drop by, Steve. If not, then just let me know how he’s doing.

 

“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate your concern.”

 

Hanging up, he contemplated the offer from Bergman. Hand still on the phone, he debated on calling back the physician. Danno had him more worried than he could put into words. Gradually leaning back, releasing the instrument, he wondered if he was up to the challenges this task presented. It would mean talking to Danno, dealing with him on such a personal level… breaking down his barriers and opening up as he had not allowed himself to do in years. Even for Danno, he hesitated, but in reality, he knew he could do nothing else but support his friend in such a dire time of need.

 

Concern for his friend had edged out attention to work for most of the day. For a couple of hours, he half-heartedly focused on wrapping up the tasks which absolutely had to get done before he called it a day. Slowly though, his apprehension increased as the recollection of the conversation with Bergman continually inserted itself into his thought process. He should not have left Danno alone for so long – perhaps he should not have left him at all. Even though his friend should be resting, he decided that he was within his rights as a friend – nay, a brother - to check on him as soon as he could complete his mission-critical duties.

 

 

 

 

After Steve left, Dan went through the motions of removing his tie and jacket, and tossing the clothing on the back of the sofa. Unbuttoning his collar button he walked out to the lanai and removed his shoes and socks, putting his bare feet on the small table set between the two chairs and stared out at the blue ocean topped by an azure sky.

 

Billowed clouds in graduated tints of white, gray, and charcoal drifted toward shore with the promise of evening rain. Late-afternoon sun cast dying rays of gold, frosting the whitecaps with a shimmering burnished light across the blue water. Tinted sepia sails dipped and pitched with the sway of the waves.

 

The pleasant sight did nothing to settle his churning heart. The conversation with Steve had not gone as he expected. Geared for a battle, defensive and ready to take the offense, Steve had been passive, neutral and nothing but understanding. That was good, of course, but it had really taken the wind out of his sails. More than that, Steve's gentle and caring attitude brought home the depth of Steve's feelings. Without agreeing or disagreeing with Dan's suppositions, his friend offered only consolation and support. That really made him think.

 

For the first time since he formulated his ideas about Clara's disappearance, he pondered what he must sound like to others. What had Steve thought? That he was crazy? Too good of a friend to say so, he had tolerated the theories without judgment. Was he crazy? What did he look like to Steve? Was he right? It had seemed logical to him for hours, but now, in the solitude of his lanai, with Steve’s concerned eyes haunting him, he wondered if he was deluding himself over this tragedy.

 

"Thought you might be hungry," Paddy interrupted.

 

Dan sat up and watched with disinterest as the janitor placed a paper towel wrapped sandwich and bottle of beer down on the table. Paddy was already munching on a sandwich and sipping from a beer bottle. Plopping down in the other chair, the little guy stared out at the view and smiled even though his mouth was stuffed.

 

"Hey, ya sure know how to live, Danny. Great scene. Didn't know detectives lived this well."

 

"I'm thrifty," Dan absently commented.

 

"Eat up. You ain't had a bite all day. I didn't get that much, either after Patty’s Kitchen. Donuts. Coffee. You folks at Five-0 sure do like it thick and strong. Them cookies of Jenny's was a bit too rich for my stomach. I'm used to a decent lunch. You need to take better care, Danny. You protect the state, you know, got to keep up your strength. Here, eat.” He shoved the sandwich closer.

 

Despite his lack of appetite, Williams knew he better comply just to win back his solitude and silence. Munching on the sandwich, he was on the third or fourth bite before noting that Paddy loved to slather his meals with way too much mustard and mayo. Washing the food down with a gulp, Dan stared out at the sea, slowly growing convinced that he had just made a monumental mistake. That his theories were all wrong -- based on personal anguish and twisted emotions way too close to his heart to give him any clarity. Objectivity -- well-- that was nowhere in sight. What he really needed was some time alone. Needed to clear his mind and feelings and get some perspective.

 

Realizing what his next steps needed to be, he wadded up the towel and sandwich and tossed them onto the table, placing the beer next to them.

 

"Come on," he ordered, coming to his feet. "We're going for a drive."

 

Not bothering to change or even leave his .38 behind, he checked to make sure he had his keys and stood by the door as the janitor scurried to join him; sandwich, and beer in hand. Dan removed the beer from his possession and said they couldn't bring it in the car. Dashing to the kitchen counter, Paddy snatched up an apple and dashed out as Dan shut and locked the door.

 

Stepping into the cool darkness of the underground garage, Dan felt better the minute he laid eyes on his Mustang. Yeah it was his single source of ego and material pride, but he couldn't help it. More than a mere vehicle, it represented the culmination of years of dreams for the perfect machine. It symbolized just what it looked like -- sleek as the wind, bright as the sparkling sands of Waikiki -- gutsy and powerful like the pounding surf. Unlocking the door, he couldn't help but smile with pride when Paddy whistled in amazement.

 

"Man. you cops REALLY know how to live! This is what you drive? I love your car!"

 

"Yeah," he smiled as he slipped in, unlocking the passenger door.

 

The latches were popped, the engine gunned to life and the top rolled down to the background music of the Beach Boys in the tape deck. Pulling his sunglasses from behind the visor he fit them on his head and pulled the car out, dropping them over his eyes as they emerged into the startling brightness of the late afternoon.

 

"So where we going?" Paddy asked, touching the dash, playing with the automatic window and feeling the soft brush of the blue material covering the custom seats.

 

"Don't know," Dan admitted as he turned left, smiling as he noted Paddy stuffing his face with the sandwich and carefully folding the paper towel so not even a crumb escaped into the immaculate car. "I just need to drive."

 

"Whatever you say." the thin janitor grinned, beaming as he closed his eyes and turned his face into the sun.

 

As he usually did, Dan took the scenic route around the tourist stops of Blow Hole, Hanauma Bay, and Sea Life Park. Most of the beach worshippers were heading back to Waikiki/Honolulu now, and traffic climbing up the windward coast was light. Taking notice on a subconscious level, he appreciated the dancing waves to the right, the way the sun glittered on the sand and surf, the rainbows arching in the hollows of the mountains and peeking through the darkening clouds streaming curtains of rain out in the ocean -- the advance guard of the impending storm.

 

The wind in his hair was cooling, while the sun-heat on his skin was drawing a fine sweat, the fresh off-sea breeze filling his lungs. These elements culminated, as they always did, in the rush of freedom. The thrill of the pounding horsepower under his body merged with the exhilaration of his spirit unfettered and flowing with all around him as he raced through the beauty of his island home. The Hawaiians believed there was a power in every living thing; the wind, the moana, the aina. He could feel it – be one with it – every time he revved his car to breathtaking speeds and hugged the curving highway in a race north.

 

On a sensory level, he reveled in the momentum and aura of speed, life and energy. Thoughts heavy, though, his mind dwelled mostly on his aunt's fate and whether he had been denying all day an awful, horrific truth. Was she dead? Did she go down with her friends in that crash? Did he really have any solid reason to suspect an intervention of a kind Fate on his and Clara's behalf?

 

"Aunt Clara thinks all her quirky friends are just great," he began aloud, voicing the ponderous, troubling observations pressing down on him. "They were just plain weird," he concluded. Not wanting his traveling companion to reply -- not even considering this conversation but a train of inner thought -- he continued. "She always liked Devon's company," he condemned, "but he's really just a womanizing playboy if you ask me. The guy's been married three times! She would never be happy with that stuffed ego.” Passing a slow moving string of cars, he zoomed ahead and smoothly glided back into the lane. "I've never liked him. I don't blame her for ditching him.” He eased off the accelerator, thumb tapping the steering wheel. "Why she likes him, I’ll never know.” The thought was a lance of clarity, like a lightening bolt searing across the dark clouds of his inner vision. "She likes him."

 

He was having more and more trouble fitting the survival of Clara into the parameters of a rational situation. Where was she? What explained her absence? She had not contacted him. What else could it be? A yellow and blue Island cab nearly clipped his bumper, and he sped past it changing lanes, realizing he was probably not paying the attention to the road he should.

 

It made no sense that no bodies had been found yet. But what did that mean? He didn’t know. Did he suspect foul play? Sabotage on a troupe of elderly actors? Why? What kind of a threat did they represent? They MIGHT be considered a little controversial, breaking through the Bamboo Curtain into China, but this was such a little thing, hardly anything to cause a political incident on either side. What about those who hated the West and feared any influence from a democracy was evil? Then where was the terrorist claim of success, like all those nut cases liked to announce after acts of violence?

 

Long shadows stretched black-pencil outlines of the tall palms as they sped along the two-lane highway at Sunset Beach. Spectators were already gathering -- filling up the limited space on either side of the road so they could sit on the beach and catch the amazing visual of nature's artistry of twilight -- the reason for the name of this area. He didn't think about visiting his adopted ohana at Jim Kulani's surf shop up here. No time. His mind was completely focused on Clara and the need to get somewhere to think.

 

Since driving through the Waimanalo area, he’d felt a heavy weight in his chest as he reviewed that last scene at the airport. As they raced around to Haleiwa, the sun was behind the mountains and the cresting waves curled indigo/azure as they bubbled into the famous surf beaches. Past the sleepy North Shore, where the surfers were starting to pack their boards for the day, he realized why this inner discomfort would not go away. Steve had been silent because he did not buy Dan's outlandish theories of Clara's survival. As a cop, he knew that was because his suppositions were without any evidence of any kind to back them.

 

Reaching the deserted beach stretch at Kaena Point, probably Dan's favorite isolated meditation spot on the island, he parked on the firm sand just off from the end of the broken asphalt road. Immediately exiting, he rolled up his trousers to his calves, flung off his sandals, tossed them into the car, and walked toward the waves. Pacing along the hard packed, wet sand, he allowed the cooling water to caress his feet as he walked, hands in pockets, mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the bubbling tide.

 

Clara would not have deserted her troupe. They were her friends. Kooky, zany, and eccentric to the last, they were her buddies since the old war days of the USO during the war. Besides not thinking they were so bad, she actually reveled in their craziness! Despite their offbeat behavior, Dan could appreciate what it meant to be a friend, and Clara was as loyal to her friends as Dan was to his. Would he ever ditch his friends? No.

 

Legs trembling, knees giving way, he dropped to the sand, feeling the tears rolling down his cheeks and unable to halt their flow. She had never left them. He knew now that she would never do that. There was no reason to believe she was anywhere now but with her friends, at the bottom of the channel. Sobs shaking his whole frame, he fell, face in hands, into the sand, and wept.

 

 

 

The western sky was burnt-purple with the glow of twilight when he raised his head and wiped his face dry. Numb, as stunned and dazed as when he had heard the terrible news this morning, he felt tired, worn, and empty.

Coming to his feet, he trudged up the sand to the Mustang. Paddy, picking up trash from around the beach and stuffing it into a small brown bag, jogged after him.

 

Driving back, Williams took Oahu's middle freeways for fast and direct return to Honolulu. Still trembling as they cruised back in the waning tropical sunset, he was too numb to sob anymore, too deadened to think, and did not consider how he managed to get home without an accident. When he did reach his condo, mindless of his houseguest, he walked in a daze to the lanai and slumped into the nearest chair.

 

 

 

Shoveling the papers into his desk, McGarrett paused to scan the tidied office, making sure everything was in order before he closed up for the night. Satisfied, he locked the desk, and mentally prepared for the debate that might ensue if Danno was still in a resistant frame of mind. How was Steve going to refute the bizarre standpoint that his aunt was still alive? He fervently hoped it would not come down to a cold, hard delineation of the unpleasant facts in this tragic matter.

 

Dropping his desk key into his pocket, his hand snagged on an object. The necklace, he remembered with a pang of poignant melancholy. Drawing it out of his pocket, he studied the Victorian-styled blue cameo of a woman. Realizing it was a locket, he opened it. A white piece of paper fell out. Fetching his magnifying lens he read the tiny, neat print:

 

G58J3DX1  DT43WT 67PLAFM4,

 

Danny,

Call the number below and recite this information (and please dear, I know you’re a good policeman, but don’t ask too many questions.). Remember always that I love you – HRH, the Duchess.

 

 

 

G58J3DX1 DT43WT 67PLAFM4,

 

Steve didn’t know the exact cipher, but he knew a coded message when he saw one! Chilled, he felt instantly propelled right back to his NI days of intrigue and spies! What was this all about? Was that Clara’s handwriting? She used the special nickname between her and Danno – Duchess. It had to be from her! What did it mean?

 

Immediately, he snatched up the phone and dialed the long distance number. After only one ring it was answered by a non-descript emotionless voice. “Alpha whiskey zero zero. This is an unsecured line. Go ahead.”

 

More on instinct than knowledge, McGarrett recited the alpha-numeric string from the tiny piece of paper, using military designation for the letters. At the end of the message there was a pause, and then a neutral response.

 

“Received. Code name?”

 

What was he going to say? The Duchess was just not going to work! When all else fails, maybe a little of his island style shaking the coconuts out of the trees. How about the truth? “Steve McGarrett.”

 

The phone clicked dead.

 

Slowly hanging up, he pondered the strange turn of events. He could not fathom what was going on. Rereading the message, it did not become any clearer. The phone rang, and he glanced at the instrument, annoyed at the interruption, then did a double take. The secure line from Washington fed directly to his office. What a coincidence for Jonathan Kaye to contact him now.

 

“McGarrett,” he barked into the phone.

 

“Steve, I just got a strange call from one of our stations. Did you just call using the Golf- Juliet- Delta code?”

 

“I guess I did, Jonathan.”

 

“What are YOU doing with that code?”

 

“It’s a long story,” he sighed. “Let me ask you something. How did Clara Williams get hold of an intelligence code?”

 

“Clara Williams…  How could you know about her?”

 

At that, Steve snorted, “She’s Danno’s aunt and only living relative, Jonathan,” he snapped back into serious leveling. “What was she doing with a code?”

 

“I – uh – Danny’s aunt?”

 

“Yes, Jonathan, and I want some answers.”

 

“What is she saying?” he cagily returned.

 

Sobered, McGarrett broke the news that she and her entire troupe went down in a plane crash. The silence at the other end gave him shivers and he demanded to know what it all meant. "Jonathan, I need a straight story here!"

 

"Steve, Clara Williams, and the Manhattan Players are – were -- well -- they're ours."

 

"Ours?” The implication hit him instantly although denial was hammering in his brain with the overwhelming sound of a gong. "Ours? As in -- working for our side? As in operatives of yours?" He sucked in a breath.

 

"Yes. Steve, what happened? Are you telling me that Clara did not survive the crash?"

 

A little numb, Steve rasped out the only thing he could say. "No one survived."

 

Moans and quiet gasps came from the other end, but Steve's mind was already moving on from the shock. Appreciating Danno's current stunned reactions to the crash, he was also taken aback that his second's idea about the survival of his aunt was possibly a reality. Clara and her pals – Intelligence operatives! That put a completely new light on everything. Including his friend's sixth sense. Danno had insisted something strange, even sinister -- his words – had happened to his aunt. Her odd behavior had clicked into his subconscious without evaluating the logic and reason of what the evidence suggested. What had happened to Clara and her friends?

 

"Steve, you are looking into the possibility that this was sabotage, I hope."

 

"I will now," he assured, "but first I want some answers.”

 

"Believe it or not, Steve, they've been in the game since long before you or me. Since the war."

 

"World War Two. They were spies?"

 

"Every one of them worked for OSS. After the war, then there was the cold war of course, and if any of them had a retirement from the field, I never heard about it. They aren't active field agents any more in the usual sense of course, but they still work as couriers and perform little odd jobs that would fit such a unique cast of characters.” Even his sigh was pained, matching the anguish in his tone. "They were a prized lot, Steve and I'm very sorry to lose them. Doubly sorry to hear that Danny has lost such a wonderful aunt.” Clearing his throat, his next words were tentative. "Steve, you don't think Danny knows anything --"

 

Irked that Kaye was trying to find intrigue with his second, he shot back, "No, Jonathan, that’s pretty apparent from the note I have here.”

 

Kaye insisted on knowing everything and Steve gave over every detail, including, reluctantly, Clara's last interview at the airport. While he relived the emotions of the scene, Kaye noted the facts and shared his chilling supposition with the head of Five-0. Clara must have been worried -- thinking their identities and mission were compromised, and given the locket and information -- cryptically -- to her nephew. Skeptical that Clara knew anything about Williams-the-younger’s forays into espionage via his work with Five-0, he thought the entire snafu was coincidence in his favor.

 

While Steve could not look upon the amazing events as anything but tragic, he could see the agent's take on the chain of circumstances leading to the old, veteran spy -- Clara -- connecting with her nephew. A relation who happened to be a cop with glancing experience in these intrigues.

 

Mulling over what had evidently taken place, he asked the question itching in the back of his mind. “I don’t suppose you’re going to enlighten me about what she was involved with?”

 

“Well, if she didn’t spill it to you or Danny – and why should she – then no, sorry, need to know.”

 

Need to know… Steve really hated that phrase. After the conversation, Steve stayed at his desk for a while, pondering over the amazing revelations. As much as it pained him to admit it, there was no way to get around the fact that Danno had to know. Whether it was a comfort to him or not, Danno's theories about his aunt were close to being correct. There was no indication, really, that she left the plane and was spared, but there were certainly sinister events swirling around the elderly relative.

 

With the oddity of no bodies or personal affects being retrieved at the crash site, there was in  fact grounds for suspicion.

 

The head of Five-0 let his eyes drift towards the clock on his desk. Seven PM. He needed to talk to Danno. And say what? That his aunt was a spy? Hardly information that would help calm his friend’s distress. Steve felt a small dagger of guilt push into his heart, as he recognized that a discussion at this point would be more for his own benefit than for his friend’s. With any luck, Danno would be in the throes of a pain-insulating sleep. The spy conversation – not a favorite topic of Williams’ on the best of days – might be postponed. He would have to see how Danno was doing, first.

 

 

 

 

The sun had already slipped beneath the horizon when he arrived at the door of Williams’ condo. Taking a breath, still sorting out what he might say, McGarrett lightly knocked on the wood. There was no response instantly, so he withdrew his keys.

 

“Who’s there?” came a whisper from the other side.

 

Not Danno. It took him a moment to remember Paddy was still with his friend. Another unresolved issue to deal with.

 

“McGarrett. Open up.”

 

The locks were released and the door swung open quickly, with no one in sight. The janitor must be paranoid – and rightfully so -- he guessed as he stepped into the living room. The lanai was open and he breathed in the fresh, ocean air. The door whooshed shut and Paddy tidily locked up with alacrity.

 

“Glad you’re here, Mister McGarrett. I was gonna call you. He hasn’t moved since we got back.”

 

Not surprised to see his friend sitting in one of the chairs on the lanai, tension increased at the dire, unexpected news. He had come here ready to present the amazing new information about Aunt Clara to his friend. The still form on the lanai filled him with anxiety and washed all other mysteries and considerations from his mind.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“He’s like a scary statue, just sittin’ there. After we came back, he wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t move. I fixed him a sandwich and–“

 

“Where did you go?”

 

“Out to a beach on the North Shore. We took that sweet car of his and rode all the way with the top down –“

 

Chilled with apprehension, he knew Danno shot up to a favorite beach whenever he had something on his mind. The subject of discussion had not moved since McGarrett’s entrance, a fact which made his skin crawl with dread.

 

“He sat on the beach and cried his heart out, poor lad. Since then he hasn’t said a word. I been cleaning the cupboards—”

 

“Let me handle it, Paddy.”

 

He moved slowly through the room to stand for a moment at the threshold of the glass door. There was no reaction from his officer, and he stepped over to sit in the empty chair beside his friend. This was no time to bother him about sinister plots or spy players. Danno was in shock and needed to get beyond this dangerous emotional spot.

 

“Danno?” When there was no response to the quiet inquiry, he gently touched his friend’s shoulder. “Danno.” There was an infinitesimal shake of the head, but the glassy eyes, rimmed with red, continued to stare out at the ocean. He placed a gentle hand on the younger man’s arm. “Danno.” The tone was a little sharper, harder; the squeeze from his shaking hand tensely firm. No compromise now. “Danno, I need you to talk to me.”

 

“I didn’t take her seriously,” came the broken whisper, barely audible above the hushed surf from the beach nine stories below the lanai. As if every sound, aside from the eternal ebb and flow of the tide, had muted long enough for him to relay his tremulous message. “It was my – last – chance.”

 

Irony was not welcome, and McGarrett pushed aside the searing bitterness acknowledging the twisted and painful turn of events. Now was certainly not the time to bring up anything that hinted about mystery in Clara’s past. Danno had crashed. He had accepted that his aunt was dead.

 

“Last chance,” the plaintive whisper was repeated, the tone as empty as the accompanying daze.

 

“Danno, do you think you can get some rest?”

 

“Last… chance… I can’t make it up to her now…”

 

Swallowing down a knot of fear, Steve recognized this was far more serious than he had anticipated. Danno seemed to have spiraled into a dangerous, emotional abyss. Shock and grief had hit him harder than McGarrett had imagined it would. It had been the denial, of course, the insistence that Clara had survived. Then, at some point, probably driving his beloved machine through the sparkling, Hawaiian afternoon sunrays and bracing wind, sitting on his favorite scenic, tropical beach, it hit him. The crash had come and it had left him limp and empty of anything but pain.

 

McGarrett recognized too late he should have never left his friend alone. He should have been here to help. What could he do now? Completely inadequate for this kind of intimate interaction, valiantly he searched for something to say to ease the pain.

 

“Danno, it’s all right to— to— react. Grief is natural,” he quietly began. There was obvious evidence that what Paddy reported was true, that the younger officer had been weeping over his loss. That should have helped break through the initial phase of grief. It should not have left Dan so remote. Not to him. “Danno, do you think you can eat something, then maybe rest? Sleep would do you good.”

 

An almost imperceptible shake of the head was the only reply. With a shiver, he noted Danno’s hands were trembling even while gripping tight to the arms of the chair. He had never seen him like this, and it was unnerving. Scared, McGarrett went down on one knee to make eye contact with the distant detective. Williams blinked, but otherwise did not acknowledge him.

 

“I’m going to sit with you–“

 

“Go away, Steve,” came a sniffed-back sob. “I lose everyone close to me. Anyone I love ends up dead. Do you want to be next? I can’t afford to lose you,” he shook his head. The sob escaped and he sucked in a deep draught of air. “Just – just – go…“

 

Alarmed, McGarrett was speechless at the unexpected and shocking declaration. So certain, filled with such misery, the attitude and suffering made him ache with a whole new hurt and fear. Danno was slipping in a bewildering and frightening direction. How had this tragedy shifted from a heartrending accident for Clara to an all-encompassing crisis for Danno? He had thought it himself earlier today – Danno had lost so many people in his life. His single, remaining relative was the last straw, apparently. Her death had tilted him into profound depression.

 

Aside from the terror and heartbreak, enough of his innate resolve surfaced to stubbornly refute the assertion, “I’m staying right here with you, Danno.”

 

The object of his pity just shook his head and looked away.

 

Steve sat back in the chair, watching his afflicted friend. Out of his depth here, he knew he could not handle this alone. Danno needed more than just his silent and inadequate support. Williams leaned his head back in his chair, too, and closed his eyes, seemingly drifting into a light doze. The stress and ache of the day had to have played on his body as much as his nerves. Without much food and a lot of expended energy, he had to be exhausted. His twitching limbs attested to taut muscles not relaxed even when the mind had surrendered to a temporary slumber.

 

Taking advantage of the respite, slowly standing and backing away, McGarrett slipped inside to the phone and dialed Bergman’s home number. Dora Bergman answered and offered condolences, but the head of Five-0 distractedly ignored her small talk of sympathy. He cut through the amenities and asked for her husband to get on the line. As soon as the doctor was on, his explanation was terse.

 

“I’m at Danno’s, Doc. Can you come over?”

 

It was no small thing to summon the man after hours. That alone would speak more than his limited explanation. At least the Bergmans were close by, staying near Honolulu during the week in a beach house not far from Diamond Head. Not that distance mattered. The old friend and physician would have shot back from the moon to help Williams.

 

While waiting, McGarrett returned to the lanai and sat next to his friend, selfishly – he thought – relieved that his officer did not want to interact at the moment. Helpless and distraught himself, he breathed a sigh of relief at the knock on the door. Paddy scurried to hide in the bedroom, while McGarrett ushered Bergman inside.

 

The physician sat in the chair McGarrett had just vacated and quietly talked to the traumatized younger detective. There were no more verbal responses, just grunts, or nods of the head, to indicate acknowledgement of the questions.

 

Frowning at the head of Five-0 who was hovering behind the two seated men, Bergman explained, “Danny, I‘m going to give you something to help you sleep.”

 

“It won’t help,” he refuted blackly. “It won’t erase my mistakes.”

 

Steve couldn’t help but flinch, but neither of the other men reacted more than that to bleak self-indictment. He wanted to shake Danno out of this, but knew only patient, agonizingly slow time would help now.

 

“Steve, would you go get something to help wash down a few pills, please?” the doctor asked without taking his eyes off Williams.

 

Bergman probably wanted him away from the circle of intensity – no doubt he was adding to the stress level on the small lanai. Surrounded by unimaginable beauty, they were oddly knotted in a tiny microcosm of anguish here. The breeze from the arriving rain brushed away the subtle scents of tropical flowers, and served as nature’s metaphoric teardrops, a final aloha on the life of a remarkable woman, and the beginning of dark days for his closest friend.

 

McGarrett moved into the kitchen to get a glass of water, paying more attention to the tableau on the lanai than his chore. That there was no reaction from Williams of any kind to the proposal of medication set off even more alarms inside McGarrett. His friend was so dazed – guilt-ridden – nothing was penetrating the Stygian fog of misery. This was so outside the realm of the Danno personality that it made Steve ache. He had seen his friend in the throes of anger, misery, contrition, pain, remorse; most of those dark emotions surfacing when Jane Michaels was murdered. This was beyond anything he’d experienced before, or expected even in this tragedy. Knowing the sensitive younger officer, this extreme was rooted in the regret of what he saw as his failure as a nephew. Now that Clara was past the ability to forgive, it worked deep into Danno’s soul. Perhaps as devastating as Danno’s rift with his uncle, who tragically died before the two could make peace {fanfic – COIN series by BH}.

 

What was that impassioned crack about losing people he loved? The list he had just mentally reviewed were people Danno had loved and lost. How could there be any guilt attached to any of their deaths? It was ridiculous, but there was little reason connected to grief, he well knew. And deep beneath the buoyant personality of Williams lurked deeply buried angst from the past.

 

Sunset rain splattered on the concrete floor of the lanai, the trade winds blowing misty clouds of moisture onto the men. The weather was disregarded by McGarrett as he handed the glass to Williams, who ignored it. Bergman made a gesture to take it, but McGarrett was not going to let an intermediary come between him and essential connection with his friend.

 

Crouching down, he hunched in front of his friend and touched his hand. “Danno. Here.” The cool, wet glass was pressed against his friend’s arm. The tactile contact slowly emerged the dazed man to awareness and he accepted the water like a zombie.

 

Bergman handed the younger officer two pills. When there was no move to swallow them, the doctor ordered, “Danny, they aren’t going to jump into your mouth.” He pushed the hand and Williams complied woodenly. Downing the pills with a few gulps of water, then relaxing his hand, the glass nearly dropped to the floor. McGarrett grabbed it just in time to stop it hitting the tile.

 

“Danny, why don’t you go rest?” It was not a request and Bergman accentuated his order by gripping onto the younger man’s arm.

 

Falling in with the plan, McGarrett took hold of Williams’ other arm, slowly pulled his friend to his feet, and then, maintaining a firm grip, unhurriedly escorted him to the bedroom. Unobtrusively, he noted, Paddy had slipped into the kitchen. Bergman and McGarrett hovered in the doorway while Williams sat against the headboard of the bed.

 

“Call me tomorrow, Danny, let me know how you’re doing,” Bergman requested, then drifted away.

 

Sitting on the side of the bed, McGarrett placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Just take it easy, Danno. I’m right here. Everything’s going to be okay, trust me. It doesn’t look like it now, I know, but it will get better.”

 

Williams nodded and released a heavy sigh. “I thought it was all a plot.”

 

“What?”

 

“Clara’s disappearance from the plane. At the airport, something seemed so… not right,” he forlornly explained, staring at the far wall, his eyes blinking heavily. He huffed in a rough whisper, “I totally misinterpreted what was going on. I thought she was trying to tell me something she couldn't say out loud. The Duchess and her–” the voice broke. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “I dreamed up some ridiculous theory ‘cause I couldn’t handle the truth.”

 

Good. It looked like the denial phase was over, Steve considered. Despite the news about Clara’s secret vocation, there was no evidence yet of any conspiracy to take out the Manhattan Players. “We can talk it over later.”

 

He stayed there until Williams’ eye lids grew heavy. When the head started to droop, McGarrett grabbed the pillows and piled them to the side, then gently pushed the younger officer over to lean on them. Only when he heard the soft snores did he feel it was all right to shift. With gentle and gradual effort, he removed his friend’s .38, to offer Williams a more comfortable rest, then he slowly backed out of the room.

 

Standing in the doorway he pondered his next move. There was no need to stay while his friend slept, but he hated to leave. McGarrett knew there was nothing he could do for his Danno now. Time was the only healer that could help the grieving process. Later, when the numb shock and misery had been tempered with a good night’s sleep, he would be here to listen and talk, or to just sit and share the silence with his friend. Whatever Danno needed.

Closing the Japanese screen door of the bedroom, he joined Bergman in the kitchen with Paddy. They were discussing cleaning crews at the hospital.

 

“I see you’ve gotten to know each other,” he commented, then moved on to more important concerns. “Will Danno be all right for a little while? There are a few things I’ve got to take care of.”

 

“The sedative I gave him was a strong one. It should keep him knocked out until morning. He is most definitely in shock, but then he has a right to be. He’s suffered a terrible loss. Let me know how he’s doing in the morning. I know he’s unlikely to do that on his own,” the physician wryly assessed.

 

“Yeah, you’ve got that right,” he admitted, still preoccupied with worry at Danno’s breakdown of grief.

 

“Anything Dora and I can do, just let me know. I think she’s already got the women’s brigade arranging food or something.” He patted the Five-0 leader’s arm. “He’ll be fine, Steve, don’t worry too much.”

 

“Right,” he agreed unconvincingly. He knew all the trite remarks, all the clichés for death and loss and pain. Applying them to himself, or to his closest friend, was not as easy as uttering the empty commiseration.

 

Reaching for the door, Bergman turned back with a long-suffering sigh. “If his behavior still concerns you in the morning let me know.”

 

“Thanks, Doc,” the detective breathed as the door closed behind the physician.

 

McGarrett paused to mentally ponder his next moves. Danno was going to sleep for a while. By the time Williams awoke, Steve hoped to have more answers from the recovery teams. He had to stand ready to support Danno in the agonizing necessity of dealing with the dead; funeral arrangements, will, etc. That would all be after the Coast Guard recovered Clara’s body. He hoped that would be soon, so that part of the agonizing ordeal would be over and Danno could move on to mourning and putting the accident behind him.

 

Turning, he observed Paddy, rearranging mugs on a cupboard shelf. What to do with the informant who had been Danno’s shadow for the day? There had been no time to arrange a safe house or security plans. Not feeling social or hungry, he decided to get the informant a meal and give HPD a chance to set up a safe house. Not as laid-back and generous as Williams about letting strangers into his life, he was not going to invite the skinny, little guy back to his place, that was for sure!

 

“Come on, Paddy, time to go.”

 

“You think Mister Williams is gonna be okay? Been a tough day for the young guy. Maybe I should stay.”

 

The question was an affront to the protective leader, who considered care and attention to his staff as his prevue alone! A little irritated at the questioning of an order – he’d had more than enough of that for today – McGarrett was ready to snap out a harsher edict, but he paused. Seeing the sympathetic concern on Paddy’s expression he thought better of the rebuke. Paddy had attached himself to Williams as a protector, but now the roles were reversed. The churning events had helped take the tension away from the danger to Paddy. Now, it was time to face that reality.

 

“We’re going to allow Officer Williams to rest. And I’m going to take you to a safe house.”

 

“You plannin’ on eatin’? I scraped a bit of a meal together. But your detective doesn’t have much in the way of a packed fridge.”

 

Feeling a little more generous toward the strange interloper who had fallen into their lives on this fateful day, he smiled. “No, he doesn’t.”

 

“It’s your lifestyle,” the man advised. “Too busy. You guys should take time for a decent meal.”

 

His own stomach was growling in a reminder that he had neglected simple things like eating on this tumultuous day. His appetite wasn’t really there now, but his insides were telling him he should eat whether he felt like it or not. “Ever had Ono’s Barbeque?”

 

“Can’t say that I recall.”

 

“I’m going to call and get a hideaway set up. We’ll pick up some food along the way. I’ll have you guarded until the trial.”

 

“You mean till Mister Williams is himself again.”

 

Pensively, McGarrett glanced at the closed bedroom screen. “Yes. Until he’s himself again.”

 

Exiting, and then pausing at the door for a moment, Steve silently promised to be back soon. He didn’t want to leave his friend anymore than Paddy did – less.

 

 

The ache of loss had been dulled for a period of time unknown to Williams, but the persistent tormentor somehow managed to find a particularly weak place. Where guilt about mistakes now uncorrected into eternity lived, and pierced his heart anew. The nightmare was instantly unclear as Dan’s eyes snapped open. For untold moments, Williams stared at the luminous clock hands as their lime green arrows ticked the seconds and minutes in the dark bedroom. Mind muzzy, he could not drift away to sleep again, or come to a level of conscious awareness that was a state of normal functionality.

 

Feeling the weight of sluggish sedation on his system, he fought the lethargy, attempting to think. It was very hard. Beyond the detached, cottony shelter of the drugs, would be the sharp blade of anguished mourning. Here, insulated from emotions by chemicals, he was armored against the worst of the pain that, intellectually, he knew was waiting for him just the other side of the magic pills.

 

He did not want again to go through the uncontrolled weeping that had wracked him on the beach. Nor did he desire to hide in unconsciousness when there were things to do. Accepting Clara’s death had been rough. He wondered why he had been so devastated. He loved her, yes, but he had cried like a kid. He had said some pretty stupid things too. Nothing like what he had been acting like all day, though, he knew even in this gently altered state. Even though his stoic friend must have been embarrassed by his behavior, Steve had been patient and kind and must think he was a complete flake!

 

His mind snagged on the mysteries surrounding the crash, and he knew this was yet another crutch, but a more acceptable and reasonable one than his ultimate denial. This was who he was; an investigator, a curious cop who was naturally compelled to find solutions to puzzles. What had happened to the charter jet? And what was the mysterious message Clara was trying to tell him at the airport? And the necklace – the necklace!

 

Slowly, he edged up and sat on the side of the bed. What had he done with the locket? Her last gift to him and he'd lost it! Feeling tears threaten at the back of his eyes, he drew in a few deep breaths and tried to focus. No good. So much of the day was a blur. Standing unsteadily, leaning on his headboard, he searched his pockets. No locket. Had he dropped it in the car? His hand fumbled on the night stand for his keys, and, locating them, he stumbled out of his bedroom barefoot. Turning on the light in the living room, he leaned on the couch for support.

 

 “Stang… need to get down to the Mustang. Or the LTD? I must have left it there -- somewhere,” Dan mumbled to himself. “How could I….”

 

Williams made his way out the door at an uneven pace. Breathing in the cool, fresh, night air kissed with misty rain, the detective felt better. Coming to a stop at the elevator, he saw it was making a slow trek upward, and decided he was better off taking the stairs. He leaned heavily on the railing and took each step in measured, careful strides. At the landing, he paused to stabilize the mild vertigo hovering in his head. Glancing upward, it was with detached interest he noted three men walking towards his apartment. With the dulled reaction of one drugged for sleep, he casually noticed that they did not bother to knock, but kicked in the door… What? WHAT!!

 

He gasped. What was going on? Were they after Paddy? What had happened to the little janitor anyway? Did Steve take him?

 

"Hey!" Dan yelled indignantly.

 

The trailing intruder, a thin Asian, looked in his direction, and alerted his cohorts with a shout of his own. Immediately, the trio reversed course. For the first time in hours, Dan’s grief evaporated as a burst of adrenalin pushed him into instinctive action. They were coming after him! He raced down the flight of steps with all speed. With an under-his-breath epithet, he cursed that his revolver was upstairs.

 

The detective made a panicked, but clumsy, descent to the garage level. A half dozen missteps later, he reached the LTD and fumbled with the lock. He dropped the keys, then tried again and opened the door. As the engine started he grabbed the mic, dropping that once as well before making use of it.

 

“Central.” His voice was a dry croak. He tried again. “Central, this is Williams, put me through to McGarrett. Now!” He threw the car into reverse as he off-handedly considered that he should have just called for police backup from the nearest available unit. Before he could amend the command, his boss’s voice crackled through the speaker.

 

“Danno? What are you doing awake? Where are you? Do NOT tell me you are driving!”

 

The next instant he was jarred, slammed into the steering wheel, losing the mic again. Groaning, he felt a little sick and very disoriented, aware that Steve was calling to him from far away. Checking the rearview mirror, he moaned as he spotted the looming cement pylon that was way too close. In the trunk of the Ford sedan actually.

 

“I hit a pole. I’m not driving. The pole stopped me,” he mumbled into the mic. With his free hand he held onto his throbbing head.

 

“You tried to drive? Pole? Are you all right?”

 

The reason he was in his car bounded back to the forefront of his thoughts. “Guys… there are some guys – they’re breaking into my place!”

 

“Guys breaking in – Danno are you hurt? Did you hit your head?”

 

Insulted at the doubtful accusation, Dan countered, “I know when I see strangers kicking in my apartment door!" Almost as an aside he mumbled, “I could take care of them. If I had my gun… and my shoes… and I could see straight.” With the last wish, Williams shook his head in the vain attempt to bring his mind to a state of clarity.

 

“Danno, head for the Colony right now! I’m calling for back up. Until they get there, I want you somewhere safe. With witnesses in case there’s trouble. You understand? Danno, get to the Colony!”

 

Colony. A luxury hotel just down the street. Witnesses. Safety in numbers. “Colony. Yeah,” Dan agreed.

 

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. Danno, you got that?”

 

“Got it.”

 

Williams dropped the mic then exited the car and made his way out of the garage. Walk-running along Kalakaua, the tiki torch lights from the Colony became visible. At the sound of an approaching vehicle Dan turned in mid-stride. The quick twist of his head coupled with his continued forward momentum brought a wave of vertigo in tandem with the sound of screeching brakes. He was slammed to the street amid a blur of headlights and chrome washing through his shocked and disoriented senses. Menacing, distorted Asian faces crowded around him just before everything folded to black.

 

 

 

The blue strobe of the emergency light from the squad car flashed against the tall buildings along the avenue, signaling the police presence blocks before McGarrett reached the scene. Good – good – back up was there already to assist Danno.

 

His heart hadn’t beat evenly since the terrifyingly fragmented call from Williams. Steve and Paddy had ordered take out from Ono’s and were just entering the Mercury when Williams’ summons came over the radio. Racing across the few blocks of Waikiki night traffic, he could not navigate the couple of miles fast enough.

 

“Stay down!” McGarrett ordered Paddy, who was already folded flat across the back seat.

 

There had been some errant moans and squeaks from the janitor during the hell-bent drive. Finally, a shaking announcement struck Steve's ears. "Sanders musta figured out I was with Danny!"

 

The Five-0 boss ignored the speculative cry, and stopped just short of the HPD car one building away from Danno’s complex. Not the Colony, he assessed as he bolted out of the sedan to join two patrolmen. Noting that two other cruisers were parked in the fire lane of his second’s residence, he wondered in passing whether this set of officers was dealing with a completely different issue. The uniformed men were standing on the sidewalk, interviewing two people, one of whom was a gray-haired woman holding a tiny, leashed Chihuahua puppy.

 

The shorter, older, Polynesian officer looked up from his notepad and his eyes grew large with his recognition of the advent of the state police. McGarrett paused at the squad car, disappointed that Danno was not in the backseat awaiting his arrival

 

“Mister McGarrett!”

 

“Officer, where’s Dan Williams?”

 

The blank stare was enough to send chills along his arms. “Dan Williams? Haven’t seen him, sir. Maybe the guys who were first on the scene did.” He pointed with his head towards the flashing lights up the block. “We responded to the call for back up here, and came into a weird crime scene.”

 

Danno was his top priority, but the likelihood of an unrelated event occurring within minutes of a crime at his vulnerable colleague’s location seemed too unbelievable to be a coincidence. “What happened?”

 

“Definitely an odd one, sir.” He still seemed confused at the presence of the top cop of the islands. “A hit and run – sort of -- but after the victim was hit, the guys in the car leaped out, grabbed the victim, threw him in the back and drove away!”

 

Chills of dread now raced all along his skin. McGarrett instantly suspected it was his friend who had come to harm in this strange incident eerily consistent with Danno’s panicked certainty that someone had broken into the apartment. McGarrett tersely asked for a description of the victim and how badly he was injured.

 

The woman holding the little dog spoke up. “It was a van. A white one, and the young man who was struck by it was not dressed.”

 

Expecting the worst – a verbal sketch of Danno’s general appearance, obvious and bloody injuries -- he was taken aback by the prim comment. “Not dressed?”

 

“Bare feet, trousers and a white t-shirt,” the gentleman next to the officers corrected. “I retired from thirty-five years in the garment industry –“

 

“He was bleeding!” the elderly woman shuddered. “I could see it on his face and he wasn’t moving—”

 

Interrupting the woman again, the older man offered a more comprehensive explanation. The man and his wife were trying to house break their new puppy – this meant a couple of late-night sojourns out of their apartment up the street. Their attention was captured by a van careening out of what McGarrett knew was Dan’s parking garage, and – to their complete amazement – bouncing up over the curb onto the sidewalk directly at the young man rushing along towards the Colony.

 

“I think he was drunk. He wasn’t walking straight, weaving like a drunken sailor!" The woman’s expression displayed her distaste. “That’s when the three men – Japanese—”

 

“Or Chinese,” injected the old man.

 

“Or Chinese,” the woman agreed before she continued, determined to get her side of the story out. “That’s when they jumped out of the van and dragged the man into their car and drove away!”

 

“Van,” the husband corrected. “A panel van.”

 

“Yellow,” the lady finalized.

 

McGarrett held his breath and looked at the old man, almost expecting a correction, but a nod from the male witness signified that he was in agreement with his wife.

 

“You’ve got an APB out on the vehicle?” McGarrett demanded of the patrolman, whose name tag he now read as LOGAN.

 

“It’s not much of a description. A light-colored van with something painted on the side. Mrs. Sanchez here thinks it was a lei on a pail.” His grimace seemed to indicate he was reading McGarrett’s intense displeasure at the prevarication. “Something like this, sir,” Logan anxiously extended his notepad revealing a rudimentary sketch.

 

The lead detective snapped up the paper and began to sprint towards the underground garage of Danno’s apartment. Not sure what he expected to find, a glance at the wrecked LTD, still stuck against the cement pylon told him part of the story. Wincing, he checked the damage, automatically dreading the imminent wrangling session with the state comptrollers over yet another incident involving a Five-0 vehicle. Moving to glance at the front seat, he noted no signs of trauma, grateful there seemed no trace of damage to his friend from the low-impact crash.

 

An impatient ride in the elevator up to his friend’s apartment offered corroboration of Danno’s report that someone had gained violent access to the condo. The frame was splintered and the door dented in the shape of a foot. Two more HPD officers had already searched the apartment, and verified that the place was empty of human occupation. The senior officer reported to McGarrett that the door to Williams’ apartment had been ajar when they arrived. They called for backup when the elderly couple flagged them down.

 

The uniformed man relayed the results of their search – namely that no signs of a struggle were visible. Only the damaged front door gave any indication that a crime occurred. To satisfy himself, McGarrett cruised through the apartment, and confirmed what the officer had already reported. He saw only what he would have expected to see when he came to check on Danno. The bed was rumpled, shoes on the floor, police special in the drawer, right where Steve had left them.

 

The scenario confused him. Danno had left, without shoes, obviously in a hurry, but how had he eluded thugs who broke down the door to get him? Asian thugs. He didn’t know of any Asians in Sanders’ stable of strong arms, but that didn’t mean much. How did Danno have time to race to the LTD, and then get to the street? Presumably these were the same thugs after Paddy. How could they – and Danno had indicated multiple assailants – NOT capture a detective, lethargic and spacey from sedation?

 

The whole picture was twisted, including the conclusion that Harrison Sanders’ muscle men would risk nabbing not only Paddy, but Danno – second-in-command of the state police unit – on a public street in view of any number of witnesses. What else could it be though? Disappointed there were no other clues immediately available, he pushed the confusion aside and went to the phone. Calling Dispatch, he set the wheels in motion to find Sanders. Chin Ho was assigned to track down the suspect, and bring the man in. Duke was tasked with checking on Sanders’ known henchmen – including any new ones recruited lately -- and tracing their movements for the evening. Absentmindedly toying with poor Aunt Clara’s locket in his suit pocket, he miserably mused that its secrets would have to remain unknown until more important mysteries were solved.

 

 

 

 

“Danny Williams… Danny…” The sound of his name brought him slowly from the depths of unconsciousness. The voice was familiar, but held a vague dis-ease to the detective as he opened his eyes and struggled to focus. The smooth, bald head… a round face accented with distinctly Asian features...

 

“Where was the courier meeting the Players? Who is the spy? Which one of the old foxes is the operative?”

 

“Wo Fat,” Dan breathed, not certain his eyes were being completely honest with him.

 

Mild satisfaction saturated the Chinese gentleman’s expression. “Yes, my detective friend. I’m relieved to see that my incompetent contractors did not damage your brain when they invited you to attend me.”

 

“Attend…” Dan echoed. What on earth was happening? He’d been mourning the death of his beloved-but-kooky aunt – no – he’d been guarding a witness – no wait – he’d been doing both… Was he dreaming now? “Ow,” Williams slowly intoned as the shadowy, hairless figure harshly pressed a finger into his temple. Was he hurt? Why did a jab to his head hurt so much?

 

“Answer my questions, and then you can sleep,” the voice pressed. “The courier. By what signal will he be identified?"

 

Maybe his head hurt from grief… “Aunt Clara…”

 

“Is that a code name?” returned the voice. “Is it? Is…”

 

Had Aunt Clara called HPD Dispatch again?…  “No… code name is the Duchess of…”

 

“Duchess – of what? Answer me!”

 

The voice grew more insistent with another stab of pain to his temple.

 

A moan preceded Dan’s response. “Sonder… Sonderbar.”

 

“Her code name is the Duchess of Sonderbar?”

 

“Aunt Clara… poor Aunt Clara…” Dan softly whispered.

 

Wo Fat returned to stand next to the officer. "You will focus on my questions, Williams—"

 

Another poke to the bloody spot on the side of the prisoner's head produced a final soft moan from the officer before outside stimuli were ignored.

 

Wo Fat's eyebrows shot up towards his shiny scalp. He sent a glare to the underling with the offensively pink shirt, an angry concurrent rebuke spilling from his lips in Mandarin before he circled to the other side of the unconscious man.

 

“Are you sure you gave him the correct dosage?"

 

"Yes, absolutely, Wo Fat,” the trembling assistant insisted.

 

The Chinese spy took a single step backward to better take in the entire scene. "Then WHY is he reacting this way?"

 

"Maybe the blow to the head," the man offered tentatively. “But he answered you. Sir. The code name is Clara Sonderbar.”

 

The Chinese super spy’s attention shifted back to his sleeping prisoner as he considered another possibility. “Williams. Clara Williams." He laughed. “Could it be? Could it really be that the old woman is your aunt?” A toothy grin slipped onto the Oriental features. “Your dear, dear aunt.”

 

Wo Fat did not move his head as his eyes pierced the assistant, and was gratified to see Pink Shirt was still cowering. No longer angry, but for the sake of form, he blasted the underling for his incompetence before lighting on the problem at hand again. “I suppose you are going to tell me that another dose of sodium pentothal would prove unproductive.”

 

Clearly fearing the reaction his response would elicit, the shaking man agreed. He offered a hasty explanation that the prisoner could well have a concussion which made use of the serum problematic for a period of time at least.

 

 

 

Sore and dazed, Dan had trouble focusing as he struggled to wake up. He had dreamed of Wo Fat and walking on the beach with Paddy and now, to add confusion to his disorienting aches and pains, he was dreaming of Clara. She was calling to him. It magnified his guilt that he had brushed her off at the airport and not paid her proper attention. Why was he aching so much? He had a dizzying headache. How could his dream have such a real hard surface, as if he was lying on a floor? In addition, why did it smell like Aunt Clara's orchid lei? And Devon Swain's cloying aftershave?

 

Blinking his eyes open, he squinted, a bit startled to see looming shadows towering over him. Someone was holding onto him and it was a comforting embrace. What was going on? His last memory was the apartment. He had been talking to Doc. No Steve. Both of them. Something strange had happened though. Men. Breaking into his apartment. He had to tell Steve…

 

"Steve?"

 

"In my dreams," a British voice purred.

 

"Jeremy, hush!" came Clara's impatient reprove. Then gently, "Danny, wake up, honey."

 

"My back - I think I might have thrown my back out," another voice moaned.

 

“Please, everyone,” Clara sniffed.

 

The absurdity of his delusions reached the limit and Dan struggled to sit up and blink vision back into his eyes and clarity to his brain. The firm hand still on his shoulders, he focused on… on… Clara? There she was, sitting on the floor next to him; wearing the same dress and orchid lei she had worn yesterday before she departed from the airport -- his life -- this world.

 

"Clara?"

 

It wasn't possible, but there she was. He grabbed onto her hands, arms, and just shook his head. Tears rolled down his cheeks in spontaneous and effulgent expression of his shock and delight. "You're alive!” He threw his arms around her and sobbed, feeling her as solid, real and inexplicably with him again.

 

"Dear me, he IS emotional," Devon Swain observed from close by.

 

Clara patted his back as if he were a child. "Oh, Danny, it's all right. Of course, I'm alive. We're all alive. And all just fine. Whatever is the matter?"

 

"I always knew the Yanks were an emotional lot," Jeremy sighed knowingly. “Of course, channeled in the right direction, that could make for some very well-acted scenes.”

 

"Jeremy, give the boy a break! He's had it rough with that maniac Chinaman," Sam Price defended.

 

A strong hand gripped onto his shoulder. It was startlingly like something Steve would do. It gave Dan courage to sit straight and look around, breaking the comforting hugs from his aunt.

 

"What is going on?" he asked her in a trembling voice, wiping the still pouring tears from his face to no avail. "I'm so confused."

 

“Frankly, we're all a little confused, Danny,” Sam said from behind Clara.

 

Williams stared at his aunt. “You were dead."

 

"Oh, Danny, I am so sorry. What a wretched mix up there's been. Why did you think we were dead?"

 

There was something of an artificial tone about her -- since he knew her so well he could tell when she was putting on an act -- and this was one of those instances. Confused and emotionally shattered, he just shook his head. "You were all supposed to have died!" he told them, incredulous that it was not the case, happily. Never had he been so glad to be proven wrong. But how? "The plane crash. Your charter went down!"

 

"How dreadful," she returned, shocked.

 

"Most distressing, dear boy," Devon patted his shoulder. "Terrible shock."

 

“What happened? Where have you been?”

 

Clara put a delicate hand to her chest. “We’ve been detained by this wretched man –“

 

“He’s unhinged,” Devon assured. “As mad as Lear!”

 

Clara nodded. "When our charter left the concourse--"

 

Sam cut in briefly, "Right after we said our goodbyes to you and Steve."

 

The elder Williams continued, "The plane came into the hangar instead of taking off. We were told that there was a mechanical problem, and that we had to get off."

 

Alice half whimpered, "Then that horrible man started asking us questions." She fanned her self with a handkerchief. “I’m faint. That odious man promised to bring me my migraine medicine, but never did!”

 

Dan was visibly appalled. "What on earth is going on…"

 

 

 

 

Wo Fat observed the drama through a two way mirror and pondered the scene. Were they really actors? They did not flinch during their captivity. Were they innocent? They seemed to be exactly what they purported to be – a troupe of elderly actors. None had made the slightest slip. Even with the unexpected twist of Dan Williams’ arrival. Were they bad actors at the wrong place and the wrong time? Were his informants incorrect? OR were these senior citizens good actors and spies? Or just one of them?

 

Wo Fat gave a soft humph. It seemed every trip to Hawaii brought a new blend of vexation and triumph. So many times he had been thwarted - he could admit at least to himself - in his plans by the ever-troublesome Steve McGarrett. Mostly, he - Chinese Super Spy - was the one victorious in operations here in the US island paradise.

 

His covert mission now was to intercept the foreign agent before he -- OR SHE -- reached his -- OR HER -- intended contact in Asia, and ascertain the identity of the Chinese traitor. He would then offer a carefully-crafted substitute message for his new courier (who would obviously have to be up in his -- OR HER -- years) to take back up the chain of treacherous command, which had somehow taken hold in the highest echelons in Beijing. If he could infiltrate and topple this cell, his rewards would be many, and his status greatly increased.

 

The mission was important, and he had been asked personally by a person of influence to take on this job. He would succeed at all costs.

 

The optimism had not begun thus, certainly, he grunted and glanced at the side table where a scattering of photos covered the chipped varnish atop the worn old wood. Pictures taken by his incompetent operatives, he snorted. Surveillance of the Manhattan Players! The idiot with the camera did not alert him that just before the elderly actors boarded the plane they were in consultation with Steve McGarrett and Dan Williams -- his arch nemesis and sidekick! If the fools had informed him, then would the overly theatrical necessity of crashing the plane been necessary? Probably not! And because of a fluke last-minute message from the panicked pilot about a cockpit status light, the FAA believed mechanical failure with engine oil pressure caused the crash! So all ARCHER AIR planes were now grounded for inspections! And Wo Fat was trapped here at the airport -- unable to leave because of U.S. red tape over the crash! Good help, it seemed, was in short supply all too often.

 

"And WHY did the plane not crash in the open ocean!" The Asian spy nearly shouted, reducing Pink Shirt's height by another three inches.  Ignoring the response, he slowly rubbed his temple. That all of the suspects were old complicated things. They were delicate and interrogation for the course of the last day had been necessarily gentle.

 

Eyeing the actors as they fawned over the distressed detective, he knew that a suspected spy MIGHT have a member whose nephew was second-in-command of Hawaii Five-0. On the other hand, maybe not. Whoever it was, he decided was certainly a good actor. With a slight smile, he knew his next course of action.

 

The entire troupe would have to return with him to Beijing. There he would ferret out the truth with whatever means were necessary. And the American officer now in his clutches would join them. He COULD prove to be the leverage that would hasten a final solution. Yes, Wo Fat would once again be victorious. A side bonus was the eventual pain he would cause his favorite enemy, McGarrett.