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Cover art by gallicka
Title: High Stakes, Desperate Measures
Artist(s): gallicka and mific
Fandom(s): Hawaii Five-0
Rating: R for language
Word Count: 36k
Characters/Pairings: Danny Williams, Chin Ho Kelly, Kono Kalakaua, Steve McGarrett, Catherine Rollins, Adam Noshimuri, OCs
Warnings/Spoilers: Set a few weeks after 2.15.
Summary: The team struggles to locate Steve when he disappears, throwing them into a world of espionage. Not only do they have to race against a ticking clock, but they must enlist the help of a known enemy, and team-up with an agent of the NSA whom they may not be able to trust.
Author’s Notes: Thank you to my betas em_kellesvig and verasteine for all their support and hard work. This was a monster story and they gave me invaluable advice and love. Also huge thanks to my first readers perspi, tridgetand karefor their encouragement and suggestions.
Written for the casestory big bang.
Special thanks to gallicka and mific for their wonderful artwork. I have no words!
Link(s) to Story Master Post/Chapters:
Link(s) to Art Master Post(s):
gallicka's art is here.
mific's art is here.
All artwork is embedded throughout the story.
Thursday 2:12 pm
The calendar mocked Danny with its decreasing number of boxes leading to Grace's big day. He traced her drawing of a birthday cake in pink highlighter with his finger. Wrapping a hand around his mug of coffee, he was considering Googling party ideas when he heard a set of knuckles rap against his door.
His head shot up as Steve strolled inside without invitation. "I didn't say you could come in."
Steve hooked a thumb at the door. "I knocked."
"Yeah, but I didn't say you could enter."
Steve smirked, ignoring him, and planted a hip on the edge of his desk.
"You are fully aware that I'm allowed a lunch break to rest and let my brain recharge?" Danny sighed in exasperation. "Not that you would know the meaning of such a thing."
Steve raised an eyebrow, glancing around Danny's desk. "You're not eating anything."
"Not yet. I ordered from Baylee's. They deliver now."
Steve crossed his arms. "And you didn't inform the rest of the team?"
"No, no, I didn't, because I thought of it on the spur of the moment. Kind of like when you use a grenade as a lock-pick."
"I take it this little break doesn't have anything to do with our current case?"
"Yes, because outside my current thirteen-hour day, I have things not involving money laundering and members of the Tong to worry about." Danny sipped his coffee, eyes narrowing at his partner's black tee. "Weren't you wearing a blue shirt this morning?"
"I went for a run to clear my head."
"Of course, because physical exercise is your idea of a lunch break. If we had a shower installed, I have no doubt you'd bring a bedroll and sleep here."
Steve got that faraway look as if contemplating the ludicrous idea and Danny wagged his finger at him. "Don't. Just forget I said anything."
Shrugging, Steve snatched a pencil from Danny's desk and started twirling it. "Why are you moping?"
"Would you leave my stuff alone? You're like a child." Danny snagged the pencil back. "Grace's birthday is next week. She's turning eleven and I want it to be special."
Danny bit his lip; the pain of almost losing Grace to his ex-partner's revenge was still too painful. But this wasn't the time to have a discussion on how a spectacular birthday party for Grace wasn't going to erase the trauma of almost having her ripped away from him. The only person allowed to crawl inside his head was the HPD shrink — not his partner, who probably needed to be in permanent therapy.
"I was thinking of a themed party," Danny continued talking like he'd never paused. "You know something like Sponge Bob or Adventure Time."
Steve's clueless expression was comical.
"They're called cartoons," Danny explained.
"I guessed that, thanks."
Danny rolled his eyes. "Well, Rachel and Stan's idea of a party involves clowns and pony rides, as in real ponies."
"I never liked clowns as a kid."
"Clowns, and oh my God, mimes. Creepy as hell. Rachel thinks they're funny and all I can think of are possible serial killers, so no on the clowns. I just want something small and fun." Danny stared at his coffee and realized he'd already drank most of it. "But I know you didn't come in here to listen to me lament about birthday stuff."
"I don't mind talking about Gracie's birthday," Steve said with genuine fondness. "But I...um," he cleared this throat, "kinda need last week's paperwork."
"Excuse me?" Danny snorted, unamused. "Would that be the paperwork you said you'd do because I was too busy covering your ass when you were at the meeting with the Assistant DA? That paperwork, Steven?"
"Yeah, about that. See, I didn't get a chance to get around to it and Denning's been on me about this month's budget and there was that incident report last week regarding my temporary acquisition of a city garbage truck." Steve stood and gestured at the door. "We also need to meet with Kamekona tomorrow, see if he's heard anything from his sources. And...about those reports...I really need them by the end of day, so..."
"Get out!" Danny yelled.
Steve had the audacity to grin. "Thanks," he said, making a hasty retreat.
Danny looked for something to throw at him. They were at the apex of a long, two-month investigation into a major money laundering operation. Governor Denning's assistant would call soon requesting a midday update — not to be confused with the early morning or late afternoon update. But of course, Steve found a way to dump him with extra work despite all them running thin.
He stared at his nearly empty mug, forcing himself to find a fresh cup, his brain caught between their pending case and the need to make his Monkey's birthday a special event minus the spectacle of a three-ring circus.
He was so engrossed with party planning that he almost collided with Kono as she dashed out of her office with a file. "Sorry, brah, got to head down to the lab."
"No problem. Maybe we should install a yellow light or something," Danny laughed. "But before you go, did you talk to your friend?"
Kono scrunched up her face, realization slowly dawning on her. "Oh, you mean Kalie? Yeah, I spoke to her. If you want to hold a private party at Crazy Hook, you could do it on a Sunday after it closes. It's double the fee and the staff would expect good tips, but it wouldn't be a problem."
"Yes!" Danny pumped the air with an enthusiastic fist. "Thank you, thank you. I'll run it by Rachel and see what she says."
Kono chuckled. "Is Grace in a pirate phase?"
"You have no idea. All those Nickelodeon shows I could tolerate, but this I blame on Keira Knightley."
"Nah, it's all Johnny Depp's fault." Kono winked, waving good-bye.
Danny poured himself another cup of joe. Crazy Hook was a pirate reenactment dinner theater and booking it privately would really put a sparkle in Grace's eyes. Smiling to himself, he dumped sugar and cream into his coffee, spinning when someone snapped their fingers at him.
A man in his late forties dressed in a khaki Navy uniform, his breast pocket adorned with more ribbons than Steve's, waited in obvious impatience for Danny to address him.
Danny repressed the urge to urge to snap his fingers in return. "Can I help you?"
"Commander Tillman to see Lt. Commander McGarrett. His office, please."
Danny grit his teeth at the haughty attitude. "Sure, if you could tell me what this is about?"
"Sorry. This is a military matter," Tillman said dismissively.
"Concerning a case?" Danny asked, perturbed.
Tillman adjusted the cap under his arm, steel colored eyes peering down at Danny like he was an annoying errand boy. "Concerning things above your pay grade."
Danny's blood pressure doubled, a diatribe on the tip of his tongue, but he kept a lid on his temper, and yeah, Steve owed him for that. "Second office on the left. Can't miss all the paintings of ships on the walls."
Tillman gave a curt nod. "Thanks."
Danny followed a few steps behind and watched Tillman enter and close the office door. Steve glanced up, face going from surprise to shock, and he immediately sprang to his feet. Danny couldn't hear a thing, torn between eavesdropping or waltzing in to demand to know what was going on. Whatever Tillman had to say was obviously bad news based on the scowl across Steve's face.
Steve's eyes darted to Danny's through the window and Tillman quickly went over and closed the blinds.
Danny's natural curiosity was offended by the military's need to know policy, but it was the fact that some prick was with his partner, involving Steve in God knew what, that really aggravated him. Danny started toward the door when it suddenly flew open and Steve marched out with Tillman in tow.
"Hey, what's going on?" Danny demanded.
"I've been reactivated for a temporary assignment," Steve said succinctly. "I should be back soon."
What the hell?
"Activated? Hold up. Didn't you just do your training already...on the battleship?"
Steve bristled. "That was my AT. This is something different."
Danny had never seen the vein in Steve's temple throb like that before. "Different as in running off to lead a strike force different?"
"Different as in classified," Tillman barked, moving to wedge himself between Steve and Danny. "The commander and I are on a short clock, so if you don't mind?"
Danny had blocked their path without realizing it. "What about the case?"
"You guys can handle it without me." Steve pushed briskly by Danny, Tillman shadowing him. Then Steve stopped abruptly and turned his head, giving Danny a hard glare. "Tell Grace I'll be back in time for her party. And my vote is on a circus theme. Get three hundred clowns. No, three hundred and twenty-five."
"Ha, ha, funny," Danny grumbled at Steve's odd juvenile sense of humor. Then he sobered. "You know, the last time you snuck off to do something heroic, bad things happened."
Korea had been a couple of months ago, but the scars were still too fresh for Danny.
Steve swallowed, his voice low. "I've got to do this thing so bad stuff doesn't happen."
"Commander," Tillman practically breathed down Steve's neck. "We need to go."
Squaring his shoulders, Steve followed Tillman out, leaving Danny standing there, stunned. What the hell just happened? He checked his watch and cursed. He still had to update Governor Denning when he called and now they were a man down with no idea when Steve would return.
Danny shuffled around the obscenely neat stacks of files on Steve's desk for his notes on the money laundering case and finally uncovered his flash drive. "Yes!"
"Hey." Chin popped his head into the office. "I've got Denning's assistant on the horn and she wants an update."
"Tell her I'll call her back. Steve was supposed to use his report thingy to determine where we should look for the money trail, but of course he never communicated that pertinent piece of info before he skipped town."
He closed the door and went over to the big plasma, inserting the flash drive to study Steve's graph. "What the hell is this?"
Kono wandered over and whistled at all the multicolored lines of data and equations. "Those look like co-factors and probability rates."
Danny squinted at the screen. "They're what?"
Chin finished his call and joined them. "They're algorithms. I think those blue equations are circuits for predicting outputs of code."
Danny waved his hand between them. "In English, please?"
Chin chuckled with a huge grin. "These graphs show patterns that predict money transfers based on previous places the Tong have used to hide their assets. It's pretty sophisticated stuff."
Danny's eyes almost glossed over. "He's guessing where to locate the money?"
"His analysis has been pretty accurate thus far," Chin reminded him. "It's a model he adapted from his days in Naval Intelligence."
A long, heavy silence settled over them until Kono carefully broke it.
"Did McGarrett say how long he'd be deployed?"
"No, but he said he'd be back in time for Grace's birthday."
Kono stared at Danny like he'd grown two heads. "Her birthday's next Saturday. Why would they call him up for less than a week?"
"How would I know? The general guy came in, gave Steve his marching orders, and that was that."
There had always been a chance that Steve would get tapped for some secret mission despite how slim the odds. Steve had warned them during the first week the team had worked together. It was just – God, why right now? After the last few months of emotional shit, couldn't they all have some time to lick and heal their wounds?
Sighing, Danny scanned the plasma screen. "All right. Let's see if we can make heads or tails of this before the governor comes down here personally to grill us."
The sun was a blob of red and orange just above the horizon by the time everyone called it a day. Danny walked outside, relishing the warm breeze. His stomach rumbled loudly and Chin gave him an amused grin as they crossed the parking lot.
"Don't start," Danny snapped. "I'm sure you'll go home and cook something from scratch, maybe even have a nice glass of wine, while I'll nuke a pot roast because I've been too busy to grocery shop."
"You should have let Kono grab you something in exchange for letting her leave an hour early."
"She's been talking about going to that beach art gallery opening for weeks."
"I'm sure Steve's place is stocked." Danny frowned at him in confusion and Chin smirked. "Aren't you going to house sit while he's away?"
Danny stopped and rubbed both hands over his face. He had a key to McGarrett's house for emergencies. "Yeah, yeah. I'll drop by there tomorrow night after work."
Chin's face lit up mischievously as he spotted a familiar black truck. "Looks like you might have to pick up McGarrett when he returns."
"Um, no." Danny rolled his eyes. "If he got a ride there, he can get a ride back."
The next afternoon, he waited with Kono in a line that wrapped around a pink truck, dozens of tourists from a surfing competition crowding around them. The sun was directly overhead, baking Danny in his white dress shirt.
"You okay? You look kind of flushed," Kono teased.
Danny glared at her, hating the fact that, despite the ungodly humidity, she appeared cool and comfortable in her yellow tank top and jeans. "Oh, I'm spectacular. There's only like thousands of tourists jam-packing all the nearby restaurants, so our resident shrimp truck is catching the run-off."
"Told you it'd be crazy. The exhibit was part of a big kickoff for this event. The weekend is going to be off the hook," Kono said, glued to her cell phone.
Danny muttered a curse under his breath. "Do you have the time?"
"Seriously, brah. You need to buy a watch." But Kono took mercy on him. "It's two-thirty. Why? You got somewhere to be?" she asked without looking up from texting.
"I told Rachel that I'd try to meet her and Stan at six to discuss Grace's birthday." Kono quirked her lips and Danny sighed. "What? They're not down with the whole pirate thing and I'm sure as hell not going to deal with a miniature Barnum and Bailey's and a tent filled with freaks."
Kono finally pried herself from her cell phone and glanced at him. "You have odd views regarding the circus."
"People run away to join a circus for a reason," he told her.
The cell phone caught her attention again. Click, click, click.
He couldn't take it any longer. "Who are you texting?"
Embarrassed, Kono quickly stuffed her phone inside her jean's pocket. "Nobody."
"Oh, no. That's not nobody," Danny teased. "You've been glued to that thing since we stood in line. You got a new boyfriend or what?"
"Please." Kono turned her back to him, acting suddenly interested in their non-moving line.
"Nope. Can't dodge it now." Danny's smile widened. "You've made it too big of a deal to squirm out of it."
Frowning, Kono didn't look him in the eye when she spoke. "I was reading the news."
"The news? It's like you've been surgically attached to your phone the last half hour. What gives? And don't tell me it's a vested interest in staying current on world events."
Kono's shoulders slumped. "I was looking for international hot spots. You know...places where Special Forces units might be needed."
Danny felt like a schmuck. "Oh." Kono nervously rubbed her hand over her thigh and Danny fist-bumped her shoulder. "McGarrett's fine. He's not going lone wolf somewhere. I bet he has a whole platoon of big bad SEALs backing him up."
Danny knew he needed to work on his pep-talking skills when Kono didn't relax.
"Look. I'm not worried. Do I look worried? No. Because Super SEAL is out doing the thing he's trained for his whole life. Top of his BUDs class, remember?" Kono quirked an eyebrow, seeing right through him, and Danny acted offended. "Please. I watch Discovery. As soon as I learned what my partner used to do for a living, I did some research. Learned a few terms."
That earned him a smile.
Kono pulled a strand of her hair behind her ear. "Guess I'm just being paranoid."
Danny grinned bright and sunny, resisting the urge to ask if she'd run across any breaking news stories.
If he broke a few traffic laws and took a one-minute shower, then perhaps he'd make it on time to have dinner with Rachel and Stan. Yes, Stan. Danny still couldn't believe it, but how could he not grudgingly like the guy willing to take a bullet for Grace?
Walking inside HQ, he actually shivered as a blast of air conditioning cooled his sweat-drenched skin. Chin glanced up from his hunched position over a workstation and he waved Danny and Kono over.
"I think I might have figured out a pattern in the wire transactions. If things run their normal course, we should see a large deposit on Monday."
"Monday?" Danny clapped his hands. "That's great news."
Chin shook his head, obviously aware of Danny's upcoming plans. "What did you get from the Shave Ice King?"
"Not much. He said there's been an increase in chatter about a new score of black market electronics worth a quarter mil that might coincide with another deposit in the Bank of Rinse and Clean." Danny cupped his chin and considered the complex graph of sprawling data with a smile. "Who would have thought that Mr. Guns and Ammo was such a geek?"
"I'll be sure to let McGarrett know his algorithms had you pining over him," Kono razzed.
Danny's impending tirade was cut short by the sound of footsteps, and he turned around, surprised at their visitor. "Catherine?" He took in her blue camo uniform and the tired droop of her shoulders. "What brings you here?"
Catherine shrugged. "I came here looking for Steve. This is the first day of my seven-day leave. We have reservations at Azure's."
Kono whistled. "Sweet."
"Yeah, and pricy. Azure's has a two month waiting list," Chin added, impressed.
"All very true, except for the fact that Steve's not here," Danny said.
"When will he be back?" Catherine asked, annoyed. "Because he owes me for the eighty dollar cab ride from Pearl."
God really hated him, because of course Danny would have to be the bearer of Steve's bad news. "Steve's been, you know...called up."
"Called up?" Catherine echoed.
"Deployed?" Danny ventured.
Catherine pinched the bridge her nose. "What do you mean deployed?"
"You know...Back to duty." Danny grimaced. "Some Navy guy dropped by yesterday. Steve told me he'd been given an assignment but he'd return soon."
Catherine slid a black, nylon bag off her shoulder and onto the floor. "That doesn't make sense."
Danny's gut churned. "Why not?"
"We have a prearranged code he sends me if he's activated." Catherine no longer sounded annoyed, but worried. "I never got a message."
"Steve was in a real hurry; maybe he didn't have time," Danny suggested, but his excuse sounded weak.
"I don't understand." Catherine said. "All re-activations are done over the phone. You get the call and have twenty-four hours to report to the base."
Danny didn't want to hear this. No. This was paranoia, nothing else, but judging by Chin and Kono's anxious eyes, Danny wasn't alone in his growing worry.
"Maybe it was important," he suggested, trying vainly to keep calm despite his gut instincts. "Some special SEAL thing?"
"Steve's been in the reserves for over a year," Catherine countered. "He would never be recalled for a priority mission, not without months of special training."
Danny held up his hands to ease the growing anxiety in the room. "Steve did leave with the guy, so maybe this is some kind of need to know crap?"
Chin looked directly at Catherine. "Is there any way we can find out?"
"There would be orders," Catherine explained. "I'm not sure who Steve reports to, but his current employer would have to be notified and then it would go down your chain of command."
"That means Governor Denning," Danny uttered. "Great."
"There's only one way to be sure," Chin said and walked a few feet away with his cell.
Danny wanted to follow and listen in because Steve was not in trouble. Not after North Korea and Joe White skipping town and Danny almost losing Grace. They were due a break.
"Hey, Catherine, you want some coffee? Maybe sit down for a minute?" Kono asked. Catherine hesitated, her attention laser-lined on Chin's pacing. Kono stepped closer. "You've had a long day. Did you just arrive in port?"
Kono steered Catherine toward her office when Chin mouthed that he was on hold. Obviously exhausted, Catherine reluctantly picked up her duffel and followed Kono's lead.
Danny gnawed at his bottom lip and tried quieting the bubble of panic rising inside. Chin looked over and shook his head about making progress with the governor. Danny wanted answers now. He wanted to get rid of the pit in his stomach and apologize to Rachel for all the times he'd been late while drinking a hard-earned beer.
Most of all, he didn't want to be caught in limbo. When Chin froze mid-pace and closed his eyes, Danny steeled himself for the upcoming onslaught.
Danny didn't waste time and called Kono and Catherine back over.
Chin finished his call and exhaled heavily. "I just spoke to Governor Denning. His office wasn't notified about an activation for McGarrett."
Danny wanted to hit something. "But Steve didn't use a duress word. He didn't act like he was being coerced!"
"Okay," Chin conceded. "What do we know?"
That Danny let Steve walk right out of the office and into God knew what. No, he didn't have time for guilt. Danny focused on the facts and filled the team on Tillman's arrival.
"The guy was a jackass," he growled. "And Steve...he was agitated. Curt even for him."
"Okay, that's something," Kono encouraged. "Did Steve do or say anything odd? Anything at all?"
"No, he said he'd be back for Grace's birthday and –" Danny snapped his fingers. "He said that I should have a circus theme for Grace's party with three hundred clowns, no three hundred and twenty-five clowns, even though we just talked about how much we hated them. I thought he was just being a jackass."
"Does three hundred and twenty-five mean anything do you?" Chin asked.
Defeated, Danny shook his head. "Nothing."
Chin typed the number onto the screen. "It could be a code, an address, or part of a license plate."
Danny's mind was blank. "I don't know. But if Steve was in trouble, the number means something."
Despite closing in on a nine-hour day, Kono exuded nervous energy, her knee bouncing as she studied the screen. "It could be any combination of numbers. It could take hours just figuring out which ones McGarrett meant. Maybe we should start with something more tangible first? I'm going to check Steve's office for prints."
Danny had a flash of the Navy guy's visit.
"Tillman closed the door; you might get something off the doorknob. He touched the blinds, too."
Kono nodded and went to the supply room where they stored the forensic kits.
"I'll pull up all the security feeds," Chin spoke, moving to another computer station. "Let's see if we can get a face to go with your name. Do you remember anything at all about him?"
"Not much. His face was all hard angles. Kind of ruddy complexion. Square jaw. High cheekbones. Wait. I got a whiff of some sweet smell around him. Like clove cigarettes. Who smokes those?"
"Cloves are illegal – that might be something," Chin offered.
Danny nodded. "I'll write down a list of features while they're still fresh in my head."
It wasn't much. All he could picture was a smug, overconfident asshole. And evil. It was those cold, calculating eyes.
"If you could lend me a computer, I can log into Navy records and search for a Commander Tillman." Chin and Danny looked over at Catherine. She had remained quiet until now. "If Steve is on an op, then Tillman's file will verify that. I know how to read in between the lines. If Tillman is not in the records, then we know–"
"That this wasn't a military matter," Danny finished. He couldn't help smiling at her tenacity.
"What? How many times have I used satellites or traced radio transmissions for you guys?" Catherine reminded him. "It's called efficiency and proper use of available resources."
"Once we find McGarrett, he better take you to that restaurant, because if he doesn't, then I will," Danny told her before getting down to business. "I'm going to try tracking the GPS in Steve's phone."
But the roiling in his gut told him that it would be a dead end, because if Steve McGarrett, Navy SEAL, was in trouble, then Tillman was one cunning SOB.
One by one, they slowly gathered around what Danny dubbed the magic table. Catherine walked over last, arms crossed in front of her chest like a barrier.
Danny was nauseous with anxiety. "Steve's cell must be off because I can't trace it anywhere." But that didn't mean much without more context and he looked at Catherine to fill in some of the blanks. "What did you find out?"
Her face was a mask of professionalism. "There are five Tillmans in the Navy, but none of them have the rank of commander nor do they match your physical description or age. I used a few of my sources and got red-lined to Steve's CO at Pearl and he insists that Steve was not called up for any assignment or training."
"What about the CIA?" Kono asked. "Could they circumvent things?"
They were clutching at straws.
Catherine shook her head. "The CIA does use SEALs for black-ops and they could cover up the fact that Steve is working for them, but they would call or send an agent, not a fake naval officer to pick Steve up."
"Which leads us back to trying to identify Tillman," Chin concluded.
"I didn't get anything off the knob other than our prints," Kono chimed in. "Same with the blinds. He either wiped them off or was really careful."
"Okay, so no prints." Danny waved his hand at their high-tech equipment. "What about security? Did we get this guy's mug so we can run it through facial recognition?"
Chin grimaced. "He carefully avoided the cameras going through the lobby and security. In the few shots we have, his cap shielded his face."
"Wearing your cap indoors is against military protocol," Catherine muttered.
"He took off his cap when he entered HQ, but he either kept his back to the cameras or kept his face from view." Chin brought up their internal feed. "The best I got was a slight angle of his left side. But it's blurry as hell."
"Can we work with it at all?" Danny asked.
"Maybe, it'll take some time. Right now, let's focus on the outdoor security." Chin's fingers tapped the keyboard. "I want to go back to before Tillman's arrival."
Danny licked his bottom lip in thought. "It was, um...around three thirty? Sometime before?"
"I'll start at three."
Watching parking lot footage was mind numbing. A Ford truck, a BMW, and a Toyota all came and went. With each new vehicle, Danny drummed his fingers on the table, waiting for the asshole to appear on screen. Ten minutes after three, a black SUV parked in the far corner, almost too far for the camera to catch.
A man in a Navy uniform exited the vehicle.
"There he is, but I want to catch something first." Chin backed up the footage and zoomed in on the license plate. "Bingo."
"Tom, George, Union, Adam, 134," Kono said, running the plate number into the database.
Catherine studied the freeze-frame. "The license plate of a Navy motor pool car would start with the letter N and have official state plates."
"This guy is definitely not government or military," Kono said.
"No," Catherine replied, her body tensing like she was ready for a fight.
"Whoever Tillman is, he's good at avoiding surveillance. Even before he entered the building, I couldn't get a decent view of him." Chin brought up another camera angle. "Maybe we can find McGarrett and Tillman exiting."
Danny felt his heart race as Chin fast-forwarded until Steve appeared on the screen with Tillman inches away from him. The two men walked down the steps and into the parking lot. Steve was on full alert, eyes scanning the area for targets.
Tillman didn't have a gun trained on Steve, and even if he did, Steve could have taken him out in a blink of an eye.
No one said a word, all eyes focused on the screen, and Danny could hear everyone breathe.
As Steve reached the black SUV, he suddenly grabbed Tillman by the shoulders and slammed him hard against the door, shoving his Sig Sauer under Tillman's jaw. Steve was raging fire and Tillman cool as ice. Steve's body shook, but he eased up the more Tillman spoke, until Steve lowered his Sig. Danny would have given anything to hear what had been said.
Tillman held the power and he wielded it like a weapon, retrieving Steve's sidearm from his fingers with a toothy smile. Steve stood there simmering, and with a burst of anger, knocked Tillman's cap right off his head. If looks could kill, Tillman would have been a smoking crater.
What the hell kind of leverage did the guy have? It couldn't be about Shelburne; no, Steve's anger was too raw. Was Mary in danger? Steve only got this upset when it came to family.
A dark van pulled up from nowhere, parking behind the SUV. Four large men dressed in all black stepped out and surrounded Steve. It was like watching a brewing storm.
One of the goons roughly grabbed Steve's bicep and Steve threw an angry elbow in response. The other thugs descended on Steve, all five men colliding like atoms. Steve punched back, but it looked more like halfhearted frustration. Then, just as suddenly, Steve ceased moving, his body slumped between two goons like a rag doll, and they quickly dragged him into the back of the van.
Kono took a step back in shock. "What just happened?"
Chin rewound the footage and slowed it down, frame by frame. "There." He paused the fight. "I think the guy behind McGarrett had a syringe. Looks like he injected him in the upper arm right before Steve went unconscious."
Danny watched Steve go down, watched as Tillman stood by and supervised. Danny's mouth twitched as Tillman smiled, satisfied, and picked up his fallen cap.
One of the thugs climbed into the drivers' side of the SUV while Tillman pulled a pack of smokes out of his pants pocket and entered the passenger side. Five seconds later, both vehicles were gone.
Danny kicked his chair almost across the room. "Sonofabitch!"
He paced, fuming.
It took thirty seconds too long to regain control and Danny looked up at the carefully schooled expression on Catherine's face. Her spine was perfectly straight, her shoulders knotted with latent hostility. She was very Steve-like and he wished for some of that Navy training.
Chin rewound the footage. "I've got a clear image of Tillman's face," he said. "We can run facial recognition on it."
Danny stomped over within inches of the plasma and engraved that asshole's square mug to memory. Then he beamed in pride; Steve knocked Tillman's cap off on purpose to help them.
Kono stared at the screen like she couldn't believe what she'd witnessed. "What drug would work that fast?"
"I'll check with Fong and Max. We need to know what they've done to him," Danny said, pacing back and forth.
But he couldn't stop thinking about the footage, watching his partner as he was taken down. He wondered what they were doing to him now, wondered how much time they'd wasted catching one freaking clue. Danny slammed a hand down on the magic table. Worry, frustration, fear – everything slammed into him all at once.
Kono sent BOLOs on the vehicles while Chin used various traffic cams to follow them. Danny watched as Chin switched cameras each time he lost track of the van and the SUV, tapping into other feeds, and rewinding to the correct time stamps. Heeding all speed limits, the vehicles drove under a bridge before both bumpers disappeared from sight.
"What?" Danny demanded.
"Gone? They were just there!"
"I know, but they never appeared on the Liliuokalani Highway cam."
"Maybe they turned off?" Danny speculated. "Where's the next nearest camera?"
"On Chase Street, a quarter mile west, and there's nothing for three miles east of the bridge," Chin said.
"It doesn't matter," Kono said, breezing over. "I got a hit on the BOLOs. Both vehicles were towed by HPD this morning after being abandoned under the Naniloa Bridge."
Danny felt an impending aneurysm. "They switched vehicles."
"I already informed the lab and they're going over them as we speak." Kono was practically jumping out of her skin to leave. "I thought I'd go over and help."
"Do it," Chin told her.
"Wait!" Danny held up his cell phone. "Text from Max: 'Ketamine. Most likely'. Fuck!"
"Oh, god," Kono breathed.
"Look," Chin said, "If the dose was high enough to knock him out, maybe he won't hit the K-hole."
"No, if he's lucky," Danny spat, "he'll just have hallucinations, nightmares, euphoria, hypertension, rapid heartbeat, blurred vision –"
Kono grabbed his hand. "Danny."
"If this guy'll hit Steve with Special K, what else will he do to him?"
Chin shook his head. "Kono."
"I'm going, I'm going." She gave Danny's hand a squeeze and hurried out the door.
Danny scrubbed a hand over his burning eyes. Focus, he had to focus. "What else do we have?"
"I've got nothing on Tillman's real identity yet, but I've sent his picture to all federal agencies." Chin stared at all the pieces of their puzzle: the traffic cam footage, facial recognition program, and the mysterious number Steve had given Danny. Sighing, Chin slumped in his chair. "We need to make a list of possible suspects."
"You mean a list of people that Steve has pissed off, arrested, or threatened during his tenure at Five-0? Should I get a notebook or empty one of the hard-drives?"
Danny immediately apologized to Chin with a beseeching look.
"This level of sophistication and efficiency costs money," Chin contemplated. "Not to mention access to real pros."
Danny could think of one individual cunning and evil enough to pull off such a feat. "Do you think it could be Wo Fat?"
Anger flickered in Chin's eyes at the man's name. "I don't think so. Wo Fat tends to use his own people when operating on the island – some recruited straight out of the Chinese military – and these guys were all Caucasian."
"Who else has the balls and reach to kidnap a Navy SEAL?"
"Any number of international terrorist groups, foreign agencies, or drug cartels." Catherine walked over, all business. "Steve's been a SEAL and in Naval Intelligence for nearly twelve years and has commanded dozens of operations. That's a lot of bad guys."
"Anyone top the list?" Chin asked.
"I don't know." Catherine studied the freeze-frame of Tillman's arrogant smile. "We didn't talk about his missions, not that he would ever discuss anything classified."
Danny scanned the bullpen and saw only what-ifs. "We should probably search Steve's home. See if anyone paid him a visit or if he was secretly working on something."
"I'll go with you."
Catherine marched into Kono's office before Danny or Chin could say a word. Danny shook his head; she was a real firecracker.
"I'm not sure if that's a good idea," he told her when she returned carrying her duffel.
"I work in Naval Intelligence." Catherine adjusted the strap over her shoulder. "If Steve was digging into anything, I'll be able to spot the clues."
"She's right," Chin added.
It was more than that; Chin offered them both a reprieve. There were too many balls in the air with too much hang time before they fell back down to Earth. Danny needed to hook his claws into something to investigate, not smack his head against dead ends.
"Fair enough," he told her before turning to Chin. "I'll let you know if we find anything. And if your search rings any bells–"
"I've got you on speed dial," Chin told him.
Danny drew his weapon and entered the McGarrett home, checking both levels before letting Catherine inside. Holstering his weapon, he led her into the living room.
She dumped her duffel onto the sofa. "Are you always so cavalier?"
"No," Danny huffed, performing a quick survey of the room. "I'm well aware that you're a trained Navy officer. But you're not armed or a cop. Legally, I can't allow you to help clear a building just in case there's trouble and we're forced to engage. And considering who lives here, well..."
"That didn't stop you guys from working with Commander White."
Danny bristled at the man's name. "Not my choice." He wandered toward the coffee table and rifled through Steve's mail, dismissing bills and magazine solicitations. "No packages or letters."
"May I?" Catherine gestured at the stuff in Danny's hands. He handed her the small stack and she studied the envelopes. "Looks like they've all run through the US Postal Service." Opening the bills, she scanned the contents. "These look legit."
"I didn't know you and McGarrett were involved in spy stuff?"
"We're not. Most of my duties involve communications, and Steve, well, he was involved in covert ops, but not the stuff you see in the movies. I just figured if he got mixed up in something classified, a coded message could have been sent to him through the mail." Catherine sat down heavily on the sofa. "To be honest, it was a long shot. But it made me feel–"
She pulled the pins out of her hair and let the layers fall around her face. "Yeah."
The feeling was mutual.
"I get that," he said.
But Catherine obviously wasn't done by a long shot. "Do you know where Steve keeps his laptop?"
Danny handed over Steve's computer from the desk while he surveyed the living room for anything amiss. Everything was as military precise as he remembered it. Books aligned, carpet recently vacuumed – there was even a hint of Pine Sol in the air.
He shifted his attention to Catherine. "Anything?"
"I can't get pass his alphanumeric code. Guess old habits die hard," Catherine sighed. "Maybe one of your guys can extract his hard drive?"
Danny doubted they'd find anything. "Maybe Chin or one of the lab boys. Speaking of...that's my phone."
He answered his cell and listened to Chin's non-update. There'd been no hits on the facial recognition and it would take hours for a CSI team to go over the vehicles.
"Were they stolen?"
"No, rented. Fake name. Paid for online by a one-time Visa gift card. And it was one of those rental places that allow you to skip the registration desk and pick up the vehicle from the lot."
"Look, you're already at McGarrett's. Why don't you grab a few hours' sleep and meet us back at HQ? I'll catch a few in the office and Kono said she'd take a nap at the lab. Fong's got a cot. We all need to recharge so we can tackle things in the morning with fresh eyes."
No, not a chance. Not with Steve in danger, enduring God knew what type of hell, but exhaustion bred mistakes and would get Steve killed.
"Okay. Yeah," Danny muttered and hit end.
Catherine finished a call of her own, seemingly lost in thought.
"Guess this wasn't the getaway you had hoped for?" he asked her.
For the first time all night, Catherine shed some of her tough exterior, cracking a sad smile. "You never know with Steve. But this? Yeah..."
Danny really felt for her. "Must be hard. I mean...always being deployed."
"It works for us. Always has." Catherine slumped into the sofa. "The Navy is my life. The SEALs Steve's. Until recently, of course. Neither of us ever had time for much else. We understand each other; the stuff we can't share doesn't bother us."
Living with secrets could destroy the best relationships.
"My ex-wife could never take living with a cop. Not knowing if I would walk through the door at the end of the night." Catherine looked at Danny with a melancholy fondness. Obviously, she lived and breathed that type of risk daily. He cleared his throat. "Look, why don't you take the upstairs. I'm gonna take a nap here and head out early in the morning."
Danny wandered to storage closet and pulled out an armful of blankets, dumping them on the edge of the first cushion.
Catherine smiled. "Steve and I had a lot of fun times on that sofa."
Danny froze. The look of horror on his face must have been hysterical because it made Catherine laugh.
Catherine actually giggled before her face went serious. "A friend will pick me up and take me to the base in the morning. I'll see if I can learn anything from my contacts. Maybe, you know, look up anything that might be hard for a civilian to poke around in."
Danny admired her devious nature. "We're gonna find him."
"I know. You guys did before."
"He told you about that, huh?"
Her face fell. "It was hard to hide the evidence." Catherine licked her lips. "Funny. Every time I see him, I discover a new scar. I thought those days were behind him after the SEALs."
Catherine lingered at the bottom step, looking wistful. "He talks about you guys all the time. Steve hides his feelings behind a lot of barriers, but not when it comes to his team. He'd do anything for you."
Danny brewed a pot of coffee thick enough to caulk the kitchen pipes and dumped it into a thermos. A quick shower and scrambled eggs made him feel slightly human. There was little traffic on the roads at four in the morning and he made it to HQ in less than fifteen minutes.
He found Chin in his office surrounded by two computers and stacks of files. He wore only a white t-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. Danny wandered over and filled Chin's empty mug with piping hot coffee.
Looking up with red-rimmed eyes, Chin smiled. "Thanks."
"Have you slept yet?"
"Couple hours." Chin shrugged. "Figured we didn't have time to waste."
Danny leaned against the desk. "Any new leads?"
"Nothing so far. I just talked to Kono; she's on her way back. The forensics team went over the SUV and van with a fine toothed comb, but both vehicles were thoroughly wiped down. There's not a single fingerprint, and based on preliminary findings, Tillman had the insides vacuumed."
Danny felt like they were in the final inning of the World Series with nothing but strikeouts. "All right. Vehicles are a bust and we've gotten bupkis off the surveillance tapes."
"I went over Steve's desk to see if he might have had time to leave any type of clue, but I found nada." Blowing at his coffee, Chin took a long sip and put the mug down. "I rifled through some old cases to see if I could find anyone with enough juice to pull this thing off and narrowed it down to about three or four suspects."
"Let me guess," Danny said, crossing his arms. "The Yakuza are number one on the list?"
"Considering how hard McGarrett went after them this year and the fact that Joe White was accused of murdering Adam Noshimuri's father?" Chin snorted.
"Wasn't Steve supposed to have some type of pact with him?" Chin shot Danny a skeptical look and Danny waved his hands. "Yeah, I didn't trust it much either."
"Then there's the head of the Tong, given our recent investigation into their finances. I also discovered that Steve Ryan, that millionaire we busted for the murder of his wife, has ties to organized crime in New York."
Danny remembered that schmuck; Steve had ruined the guy's reputation in the media and blew up his vintage Porsche.
"But why pose as a Navy guy? Why not grab him at home?"
"I don't know." Chin sounded wrung out. "What about you? Find anything?"
"Nothing at Steve's home was out of the ordinary. Catherine went to Pearl right after I woke up to see if she could find anything on her end. I brought Steve's laptop just in case he was digging into something he shouldn't."
Chin wiped a hand over a day's worth of scruff. "I don't envy trying to crack his security."
"Look, you need to eat and shower. Then you can play hacker."
"I'll wash up in the men's room," Chin said, standing. "I have a spare set of clothes I can change into. McGarrett has a stockpile of food in his mini-fridge. It'll make do until we can have something delivered."
By six am, Danny's thermos was almost empty and that was a freaking tragedy. Luckily, Kono arrived with bagels and coffee from the 24-hour diner across the street. He could hear Steve complaining about drinking such toxic sludge, but the fact remained that Steve wasn't here—and that sat like a heavy stone in the pit of his gut.
Kono stood over the magic table, fingers tapping a staccato beat on the edge. "What's our next move?"
Move? They were running out of spaces on the chessboard, trapped and cornered with few options.
"Steve gave me a code. It's up to us to solve it," Danny told her.
Chin walked over. He'd changed into jeans and a green t-shirt, a bead of water dripped down his face. "I used NATO, letter codes, and basic ciphers, and haven't come up with anything."
"Maybe in the heat of the moment, McGarrett reverted to something he used in the SEALs?" Kono suggested.
They were clutching at straws again.
"If he did, then we're not going to be able to crack it without help," Danny admitted.
"Perhaps I might be able to provide some assistance?"
All three of them simultaneously drew their weapons in the direction of the voice.
"Hey, take it easy." A man of Middle Eastern appearance slowly held his hands out to his sides and waved his fingers. "I'm on your side."
The guy's mannerisms and cockiness screamed Fed or CIA, but Danny wasn't taking any chances after allowing Tillman to waltz away. "Really? Then you won't mind keeping your hands where we can see them?"
Chin took a cautious step forward while Kono covered him. "Who are you?"
"May I?" The man answered, pointing at his inside suit pocket.
"Nice and slow," Chin instructed.
The stranger pulled out a wallet. "I'm Special Agent Yasir Khalid, NSA."
Chin didn't miss a beat and studied the identification. "Looks authentic." Khalid smiled. "But Kono will call the governor's office for verification."
"After you hand over your weapon to Chin," Danny added.
Something about this guy pinged familiar on Danny's radar. He studied the tiny scar at the end of the guy's chin and tried placing the accent; it was nondescript like the talking heads on the nightly news.
"I'm here to help. And from what I understand, time is of the essence." Khalid lifted up the left side of his jacket and allowed Chin to retrieve his Sig P22. "There's a business card with my supervisor's contact information next to my badge."
Kono took the wallet from Chin and got on her cell. "Thanks, but I'm calling the governor first."
"Why? So he can call my supervisor? Don't worry, she'll answer," Khalid assured them.
Danny was sick of dealing with self-assured assholes. "Yeah. Why's that?"
"Because, Detective Williams, your unit just crossed paths with one of the international intelligence community's most wanted men."
Color Danny surprised – someone at the NSA offices actually answered the phone and verified the identity of the agent standing across from him. It didn't improve his mood.
"Forgive me for not rolling out the welcome wagon, especially since most drunks haven't even stumbled home from the bars yet. What did you do? Take a private jet?"
"I caught a military transport on its way to Pearl," Khalid clarified.
Danny stared at the agent. Khalid was his age with a lanky build. He looked nothing like an NSA agent – more like a GQ model. His dark wavy hair had too much gel and, really, how was that government regulation? Not to mention the perfectly groomed eyebrows and manicured nails. Manicured. Like his daughter's.
His suit cost more than a month's pay, complete with a purple pocket square in the left breast pocket. God, the guy couldn't be more fake Hollywood if he tried.
Danny hated him.
"Our facial recognition search brought you here, didn't it?" Chin asked confrontationally.
Exhaustion had obviously chipped away at Chin's normal easy-going manner and he waltzed up to the NSA agent, his voice deadly. "Then why didn't we get any hits?"
Khalid didn't rise to the bait. "Because your suspect isn't on any normal lists."
"Cut the crap!" Danny snarled. "If you know who kidnapped the head of the governor's task force, a freaking Navy SEAL, and our friend, then spill it. If not, I'll personally boot your ass out the door for wasting our time."
"The man that you're looking for is Ivan Maslov, a former Captain in the Belarusian secret police and an international arms dealer."
Danny did a double take. "Excuse me?"
"I know it's a lot to take in," Khalid placated.
Danny wanted to smack him and his composed persona upside the head. "No, I don't think you understand; the guy who waltzed into our office like some high ranking Navy prick spoke perfect English."
"Maslov was taught American English by a native speaker, learning it phonetically," Khalid explained, fussing with an errant hair that fell in his face. "You wouldn't be able to tell the difference."
"You're serious?" Danny groaned.
"Maslov is wanted by over a dozen countries and–"
"Wait," Chin interrupted, eyebrows furrowed. "You said Maslov was an international arms dealer? What's he doing with McGarrett?"
"We're not sure why he specifically went after Commander McGarrett," Khalid admitted, frowning. "This is a shift in his operations."
"Yeah, from weapons to kidnapping," Chin muttered darkly.
"It's more complicated than that." Khalid inserted a flash drive and brought up a picture of their suspect. "Eight years ago, Maslov went from selling shipments of automatic weapons to brokering stockpiles of nuclear materials from former Soviet satellite countries. When that didn't prove lucrative enough, he switched to espionage."
"Like U.S. troop movements overseas?" Kono ventured.
"Or passwords to top secret computer servers, plans for defense programs, lists of various undercover operatives." Khalid carefully looked from Danny to Kono to Chin. "He deals with that which commands the most money. He'd sell Pakistani secrets to India one day, then Chinese intelligence to the Russians."
"Why did he kidnap Steve?" Danny asked.
Khalid paused in thought before answering. "With all the recent successes of special operations across the globe, we think Commander McGarrett became a target because of his status as an ex-SEAL."
Chin nodded in agreement. "Because he's an expert on their SOP and training."
"Not to mention his background in intelligence and firsthand knowledge of various operations," Khalid added, grim-faced.
Danny rubbed a hand roughly over his face.
"And being the head of Five-0 means his record as a SEAL is more widely known," Chin continued talking, his own dawning horror of the situation etched across his face before it crinkled in confusion.
"But weren't part of his records leaked before when SEAL Team Nine was targeted? Danny confiscated one of Steve's files from a hit man a few months back."
"The Navy traced that leak and I reviewed the file in question. The cartel only had a hard copy pertaining to a specific mission in South America. Maybe that put Commander McGarrett on Maslov's radar. I'm not sure. But living here made the commander a perfect stationary target."
Danny glared at Khalid, trying to come to grips with the gravity of the situation. "Wait. Are you telling us that Steve might have been taken because he's basically a big piece of intelligence, and for all we know, could be half way across the world by now?"
Khalid looked Danny directly in the eye. "That's exactly what I'm saying."
Danny paced, fighting the urge to punch the wall. A drop of sweat dripped down his face and he angrily rubbed it away with the back of his hand. Christ. Steve had survived war and black-ops missions and he got nabbed at home?
"Where's the rest of you?" Danny poked an accusing finger at Khalid. "There's some international evil asshole running around kidnapping Navy SEALs and the NSA sends one freaking agent? What? Did you draw the short straw?"
"No, I volunteered," Khalid said, meeting Danny's fury completely unruffled. "It's called discretion. If I showed up with an entire task force and commandeered half the HPD, it would tip Maslov off. And believe me, Detective, we almost did it. That's how important we deem the situation."
His answer didn't defuse Danny's temper. "What if we locate Steve and need extra resources?"
"That's why SEAL Team Four is on standby," Khalid responded.
The guy had an answer for everything.
Danny's head spun and he struggled to control his thoughts. "Isn't SEAL Team Nine on the island?"
"Okay. So, now we've established who took Steve and why," Chin said, physically standing between Danny and Khalid. "Do we know how?"
"That is one of the reasons why I wanted to know more about the message the commander gave Detective Williams." Khalid pulled up photos of various businessmen and soldiers onto the plasma. "Maslov has an ingenious modus operandi. He does his research and determines who has access to the intelligence he desires. Then he approaches the mark and tells them if they do not hand over what he demands, he'll blow up a nearby target."
He scrolled through pictures of scarred and smoldering remains of neighborhoods and buildings.
"He's meticulous. Maslov targets hospitals or locations with the most innocent people. He also ensures there is a personal connection involved and the subject has either family or friends residing or working within the target area. Then Maslov threatens the mark. Tells them to either hand over the intelligence or he'll blow up the target."
"Jesus," Danny whispered.
Kono walked over from where she'd been quietly observing everything and stared at the screen in shock. "We're assuming that McGarrett would recognize Maslov on sight?"
Khalid closed the file on the bombings. "Maslov has been in the top ten most wanted criminals in the intelligence community for years. Not only would Commander McGarrett recognize Maslov, he would take his threat seriously."
"Steve handed himself over to keep Maslov from killing a ton of people." Danny didn't fault Steve, unsure what he'd do if their positions were reversed. But it still ticked him off that Steve hadn't found another option without serving himself up on a silver platter.
"We need to determine the location of the bomb and disarm it." Khalid pinned Danny with a glare. "Which is why the message Commander McGarrett passed on is so vital."
"Three hundred and twenty-five," Danny spat exasperated. "That's it. That's all he said."
"Think," Khalid pressured. "The number is most likely an address, somewhere with a personal connection to the commander."
"Wait." Chin snapped his fingers. "Maslov was standing right next to Steve when he spoke to Danny. McGarrett would never have used a number that would give away a message to Maslov."
Danny squeezed his eyes closed, recalling every detail of the conversation. "Steve said three hundred clowns. No, make it three hundred and twenty-five clowns."
"Maybe he meant six hundred and twenty-five?" Kono suggested.
"I've got to do this thing so bad stuff doesn't happen."
Danny's heart thudded painfully against his chest. Who was Steve protecting?
Six hundred and twenty-five. Six hundred and twenty-five. Six hundred and twenty-five.
That number rang a bell. It was right there, on the tip of his tongue. A familiar–
His heart stopped.
"No! He meant 625." Danny almost threw up. "Oh, my God. That's the address to Grace's school."