On this rainy Thursday morning, an exasperated Oscar sat at his desk perusing a file with a clenched jaw when his faithful petite secretary buzzed his desk. “Yes Callahan?”
“Mister Goldman, Barney Hiller is here.”
“Send him in,” he replied on an icy tone, not bothering to stand from his chair to meet his visitor at the door.
“Oscar,” Barney greeted with a smirk.
“Barney.” Oscar waved a folder in front of him. “I just had the report of your last mission.”
“I bet you have,” he snorted sarcastically. “Wasn’t my fault.”
Stewing in his juices but keeping a lid on his anger, Oscar slowly rose from his chair and walked over to Barney with a leer. “That excuse has run its course, Hiller. This is the tenth assignment in a row you managed to screw up.”
“Look Goldman, I never asked for this,” Barney lashed out with a steely glare. “You guys barged into my staid and peaceful family life, telling me I’d been reactivated for duty, then Wells cranks the power back and off I go.”
“If it had been up to me, you would have stayed in Denver. I knew you weren’t cut out for this work. You may be worth seven million, but Steve’s twice the agent you’ll ever be.” Oscar spat inches from Barney’s face.
“Awwwwwwwwwwww you’re going to hurt my feeling,” Barney derided.
“I don’t particular care for your feelings,” Oscar sassed back as he stepped over to the bar to pour himself a stiffener. “You’re a cold calculated jackass, but what could I do? The NSB had plans for you.”
“That must gnaw at you, doesn’t it?” Barney quipped with a silly grin. “See me fill in for your boy wonder?” Oscar’s quaffed his drink and plonked the glass down on the counter, then walked back to his desk with suppressed fury. “Look it’s not my fault he decided to take a six-year nap.”
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Oscar whose fist pounded the desk in a fit of fury. “Hiller I’m going to disregard that last comment for both our sakes. I swear I’m going to do everything in my power to have your license to kill revoked,” he said contemptuously.
“I’d kiss you for it, Goldman.”
Oscar flashed a look of disgust. “Don’t bother.”
“Look, what does it take you guys to get it through your heads that I’m not made for this kind of work?” Barney defended vehemently. “You hate my guts and I hate yours. Period! I don’t need this abuse.” A chilling silence feel between the two men, allowing Barney to recover his composure and heave out his frustration in a drawn-out exhale. “Goldman I respect the fact that you’re still grieving your lost. I may have butted heads with the man on occasions but for one I admire his fortitude in dealing with you on a daily basis. Heck after three years I’m ready to plaster you against the wall,” Barney said with a disarming honestly that pricked Oscar. But luckily Callahan’s timely interruption severed some of the mounting tension that was pushing Oscar to the brink of unruliness.
“Doctor Wells is on line two. He said it’s important.”
Oscar’s brows knitted in puzzlement at the urgency of the call before picking up the phone. “Rudy? Something wrong?”
“On the contrary. You won’t believe it, but he’s coming around.”
Worried made place to excitement. Eyes lit up at the news. “I’m on my way.”
“What’s the matter?” Barney asked with a bemused expression.
“Hopefully this is where you get off, Hiller,”
At the Medical Center, an anxious Oscar took the corners dangerously close as he hurried down the corridor to Steve’s room. He stopped at the door, breathless and overwhelmed with excitement. He closed his eyes and recovered his composure before stepping inside the dim lit room where Rudy was hovering over the bedridden patient.
“Rudy?” Oscar asked meekly as to ask permission to step forward.
“Oscar, come on in” Rudy beckoned the man over to the bed.
“I got here as fast as I could. You said he was coming around?” Oscar was sceptical seeing how Steve appeared in deep sleep.
“He did. Moans and groans and some stirs.”
“But didn’t you once said that those were involuntary reflexes?” Oscar challenged to dissipate false hope.
“They are when there’s no significant brain activity but in this case, he’s responsive. He’s broken through the surface,” Rudy explained to clear the confusion between the two realities.
“That’s good news.”
“Right now he’s drifting in and out of sleep. I’m trying to keep him awake.” Rudy applied both hands on either side of the dozy patient’s head to tilt it gently toward him. “Come on, Steve. Time to wake up. You slept enough, buddy.” When that failed he tried snapping his fingers to elicit a response.
“Did you call his parents?”
“I did before I called you. They’re taking the first flight to Washington.”
“What about Jaime?”
“She’s on her way. I tried Cassie’s home number but I got her answering machine.”
“She’s on assignment. I won’t be able to reach her until tonight.” Oscar’s gaze shifted from Steve to Rudy with a dark frown suggesting scepticism as to the doctor’s encouraging prognosis of his friend’s condition. “Rudy he’s still out of it,” Oscar observed, much to Rudy’s exasperation.
“Oscar after six years spent in a coma you wouldn’t expect him to just rouse out of bed as normally as you would in the morning,” Rudy scorned.
“Yea I suppose you’re right. Sorry,” Oscar expressed with regret for his impetuousness. Steve’s plight had been weighing heavily on his conscience since the day of the tragedy and to this day, the man had bore the cross of his decision to impel Steve to fill in for a fellow agent on a mission that was to seal his fate.
“Rudy?” quavered the timid voice from behind.
“Jaime!” Oscar exclaimed, meeting her halfway to the door to escort her to the bed.
“How is he?”
“We don’t know yet,” Oscar informed dismally. “Rudy’s still trying to bring him around.”
“But you told me he was out of the coma,” Jaime insisted while dreading a different version than the original.
“Technically he is, Jaime,” Rudy assured. “But as I explained to Oscar it’ll take some time before he’s back to his old self again….if ever.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean he’s not awaken from a ten-hour slumber. There’s bound to be some brain damage. I won’t know the extent of it until I conduct a battery of tests.”
“Rudy, I need to know who did this to him,” Oscar’s flagrant disregard for the human aspect of the situation was appalling to Rudy who turned to him with a glare.
“Oscar, you’re not serious?” Rudy was outraged by the mere suggestion of grilling Steve for information in this delicate stage of recovery. “You can’t expect him to remember! I guarantee he won’t. I suspect he’ll suffer from some type of amnesia.”
“I realize that, Rudy…”
“You’ve waited six years, Oscar. Surely you can wait another few weeks? You won’t get anything out of him anyway, at least not yet. He’ll require a period of adjustment.”
“Rudy…look,” Jamie said, pointing to Steve’s eyes. “He’s awake.”
Rudy bent over his patient to flash a light in the vacuous right eye to check the corneal reflex. The blank look staring back at him was evidence of some type of brain damage that Rudy had fearfully anticipated. “Steve, can you hear me?” he coaxed softly, raising his hand in front of Steve and sticking his index up. “Follow my finger.” He slowly swayed his finger from left to right to measure the response of the eye movement, which yielded the dreaded results.
“His eyes didn’t move at all,” Oscar observed on a slight accusatory tone that wasn’t lost on Rudy, thought he remained composed and focused on the problem at hand.
“He’s obviously confused,” Rudy offered as explanation to reassure the anguished audience unintentionally breathing down his neck.
“Steve, do you recognize me? It’s Jaime.” When Steve failed to react to her voice, she delicately placed her hand underneath his chin to tilt his head toward her. Dewy eyes searched the empty mirror of her friend’s soul to find a spark of acknowledgment. “Steve, please…give me a sign.” An impassive stare broken by a heavy blink was her only answer.
She hung her head to conceal the rush of tears to her eyes. She reached down to take a gentle hold of Steve’s limp hand to cradle in hers, hoping to elicit some response but once again the patient remained catatonic.
“I swear I’ll kill the man who did this to him,” Jaime vowed irately between teeth set in fury, her vials of wrath pouring on Oscar and Rudy taken unaware by her sudden outburst of anger.
“I don’t think this is the time nor the place to discuss this matter,” Rudy scolded, his steely glare warning the grieving woman to hold her temper in front of the patient.
“I’m sorry Rudy,” she atoned, sniffing back her tears. “This anger’s been penned up inside for six years. The cork was bound to pop eventually.” She gazed down at Steve to study his reaction to her flare-up. “He keeps staring at me with this blank look,” she lamented, biting her upper lip to suppress her overwhelming emotions.
“Give him time, Jaime.”
“Now I know how he felt when I awoke from my own coma.” The vacant expression foreshadowed a long winding road to recovery, one she felt too emotionally unstable to undertake. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” she cried in utter despair. “I just can’t right now.” She released Steve’s hand and hurried out of the room.
Oscar started after her but Rudy’s grip on his arm stopped him. “No! Leave her be. She needs to deal with this on her own right now. Remember how it was for Steve?”
Oscar nodded his understanding. “She’s not the only one who wants that man dead,” Oscar spat with dark devilish eyes ablaze.
“You’d better tend to her, Oscar. See that she gets home safely.”
“Do you honestly believe I can convince her to go back home after what’s happened here?” Oscar was astounded that Rudy could suggest such possibility. “She’ll want to stay with Steve.”
“Not a good idea. Steve is at a crucial stage of his recovery. He cannot be surrounded by people who are beside themselves. It could make matters worse. We need to proceed slowly and methodically. I have to conduct a few tests and you’ll only be under foot. So both of you, go home. And don’t forget to tell Cassandra.”
“I’ll do that.” Oscar cast a last look at Steve with a deep frown. “You take care of him.”
“Haven’t I always?” Rudy retorted on a bantering tone.
With a light-hearted smile and a pat on Rudy’s shoulder Oscar retreated and headed down to the waiting room where Jaime sat completed prostrate with her head in her hands. He eased himself next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Why the tears? He’s alive.”
Shaking her head in despair she whimpered, “I can’t help it, Oscar. It’s like all those six years came rushing forth. I just couldn’t handle it.” She peeled her face from her hands and dabbed at her tears. “I know I should be strong, but I just can’t right now. It’s too much.”
“Surely you must have suspected he’d be a bit bewildered after six years in a coma.”
“Yes I did and I thought I’d be prepared once the time came, but…” she faltered as the emotions rushed to her throat. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It had to come out sooner or later,” he soothed while giving her arm a comforting rub.
“I’ll just go for a walk to perk myself up and I’ll be back to sit with him.”
“Rudy advised against it…for now. He says that Steve is not yet ready to deal with people he doesn’t remember.”
“Then when?” she asked expectantly.
“He didn’t say. He has to conduct some tests then he’ll know.” He clasped her hand and patted it. Veering off subject, he offered amicably, “What do you say I invite you out to dinner tonight? I haven’t treated my best girl to a fancy restaurant in a while.”
“Thanks Oscar, but not tonight,” she declined politely. “I’m really not in the mood. I’ll take a rain check though.”
“Sure no problem.” He stood from the couch, giving a light tug on Jaime’s hand for her to follow suit. “I’ll have someone drive your car home. Right now you’re riding with me.”
Too weary to argue Jaime acquiesced with a weak nod of the head and let her boss escort her out of the hospital.
In mid afternoon Oscar got on the phone to Cassie’s hotel in Copenhagen to deliver to good news about Steve. The phone rang just as the agent was exiting the shower before retiring for the night, as it was six hours ahead. She quickly slipped on her bathrobe and hurried to answer the phone.
“Cassandra? It’s Oscar. Everything all right over there?”
She crawled into bed and laid on her back with a smug on her face. “Better than all right Oscar. The mission is over. I got the file.”
“Wonderful! Any problems?”
“None whatsoever. Although I may not be welcomed in Carrigan’s mansion anymore once he discovers his precious documents are gone and me along with them,” she quipped, relishing in her victory. “If you don’t have any objection I’ll catch an early flight tomorrow.”
“No in fact you’ll want to rush back to Washington after you hear what I have to say.”
“What?” the ensuing silence brought a cold chill down her spine. Her brows furrowed in deep concern. Slowly she resumed a sitting position on the edge of the bed and spoke solemnly. “What is it? Is it Steve? Don’t tell me he’s….”
“This morning he roused out of his coma.”
“Oh my God,” she wavered with a hand over her mouth. With lips quavering and eyes welling up with tears from the engulfing emotions stirring inside she stood from the bed to pace the room in an effort to recover her composure before besetting Oscar with questions he unfortunately could not provide answers for.
“But he’s okay?” she insisted.
“For now he seems to be. However he’s not altogether there if you get my drift. Rudy says it’s normal.”
“I would assume he would be a bit baffled after a six-year-long slumber,” she agreed with the rational behind Oscar’s statement of Steve’s present condition. “I’ll see if I catch a flight out tonight. I won’t be able to sleep anyhow.”
“It might be best to leave Copenhagen tonight before your gracious host discovers his papers are missing, if he hasn’t already. I took the liberty to book you on the 10:15 flight to Boston. You’ll stay at the Hilton Airport and fly to Washington at 8:30.”
Cassie glanced at the clock on the night table. “I might be able to catch it. I’ll call you when I get to Boston.”
“Okay and watch your back.”
“Will do.” One intake of air later she cried, “I can’t believe he’s back. I was seriously beginning to lose hope.”
“He’s full of surprises.”
“That he is. Okay I’ll see you tomorrow.”
No sooner had she hung up the phone that Cassie dissolved into tears of joy. “Oh Blue Eyes. You’re back. You’re back.” Her elation turned to trepidation as she gazed down at her glittering diamond engagement ring. “Should I tell you about this? Will you even care?”
In a stately home located in the heart of a remote area of Montana, a burly imposing figure of a man sat leisurely at his oak desk, a cigar in one hand and the phone in the other. His complacency and triumphant snort were both evidence of another successful corporate takeover orchestrated by his henchmen.
“Good job there, Tony. I’ll see that you get handsomely compensated for your trouble. And tell your men there’ll be a hefty bonus for each of them,” he crowed, leaning back against his chair to put both feet up on his desk. “Now you get your butts back here in case all hell breaks loose. (…) Alright I’ll see then. Again, good job,” he complimented one last time before hanging up.
“Mister Gregson, may I speak with you?” asked one of his associates from the door standing ajar.
“Come on in Alex,” he waved enthusiastically, beckoning his top aid to step forward. “Want a drink?”
“Euh no thanks, sir.”
“Well you don’t mind if I have one?” he asked rhetorically, not bothering to wait for the answer as he stood from his desk and walked over to the bar. “We’ve just acquired the largest illicit arms factory in the state. Naturally the browbeating and threats helped a great deal in getting the head of the firm to hand over the reins, but in the end we got what we wanted.” With a satisfied smug plastered on his face he took a swig off his drink and ambled back to his desk. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?”
“You’d better sit down, sir. This is shocker,” the man cautioned as he waited for his boss to comply with his wish. “And just remember not to kill the messenger.”
With deeply furrowed brows Gregson gave his man the evil eye as he advanced forebodingly upon him. “Just spill it, Gallagher. What have you done?”
“It’s not me, sir. Guess you can blame nature for what happened.”
“Stop talking in riddles I hate that!”
“Austin’s awake.” Gallagher steeled himself for the vials of wrath to pour over him but found a belated reaction instead.
“What do you mean awake? The man’s been a vegetable for the past six years.”
“I know but he emerged from his coma yesterday morning. Our mole just informed me. Austin is back.”
“What’s his condition?” Gregson queried, heedful not to yield to panic before acknowledging all the facts.
“Well right now I was told that he’s confused and suffers from amnesia. He has yet to speak and Jay tells me that there might be brain damage.”
“Good! Therefore we have nothing to fear. Austin won’t remember us nor will he his visit to my property down in Atlanta,” he assured his anguished associate and by the same token tried to restore his own confidence that his archenemy would not pose a threat.
“Sir, we cannot overlook the possibility, however remote it is, that he might regain his memory,” he stressed the implication of the situation that could mean the demise of their organisation. “If he does…well let’s just say we can’t afford it. He knows about us.”
“No thanks to you,” he countered matter-of-factly to wash the blame off him.
“Will all due respect sir, that blast brought the building down in ashes. It was inconceivable for any human being to survive,” he defended assertively. “And yet by some miracle he did. We should have handled that problem long time ago.”
“As I recall, Mister Gallagher, I did issue an order along those lines,” he sputtered with contempt, resenting the underlined insinuation that he was to shoulder the blame for the plan’s failure. He came to stand inches from Gallagher’s face; his steely glare warning him against challenging his authority. “You were the one who advised against making waves and allow the dust to settle while nature took its course.”
“Who would have thought a man would rouse after a six-year coma.”
“Always allow for all contingencies, Mister Gallagher. Now I trust you will address the little setback before it grows out of proportion?” he implied, hinting him to undertake the appropriate measures to eradicate the problem once and for all.
“I will sir,” Gallagher gulped nervously, aware of the consequences awaiting him should he fail at his task.
After landing at Andrews in early afternoon Cassie was driven to the Medical Center where Rudy met her at the entrance to brief her on Steve’s condition.
“The EEG and CAT scan revealed no serious brain damage. In fact there’s been significant improvement in that last few hours,” Rudy explained as he led Cassie down to Steve’s room.
“In what way?”
“Although he’s still fairly confused I’ve noticed signs of recollection. He’s clearly starting to remember.”
“That’s good news,” Cassie heaved in relief.
“When we get to his room I would ask you to let me do the talking first. It’s imperative not to force his memory back. It’s a gradual process that has to come naturally otherwise we’ll do more harm than good.”
“I understand. I’ll follow your lead.”
Rudy clasped Cassie’s hand and with a heartening smile he nudged her inside Steve’s room.
“Steve,” Rudy spoke softly to draw the dozing patient’s attention. “Are you awake? There’s someone here who would like to see you.”
Steve acknowledged the familiar voice by blinking his eyes open. He stared blankly at Rudy until Cassie came into view but to her sorrow, there was no spark of recognition.
“Steve, this is Cassie. Your friend Agent 35?” Rudy turned to Cassie and beckoned her to step closer to the bed. “Do you recognize her?” A droopy blink was their answer. “Come on Steve, look at her.” He encouraged Cassie to hold his hand and lean closer so he could better focus on her face.
“Hey Blue Eyes. Long time no see,” she whispered lovingly, flashing a beam as she delicately brushed her fingers against his cheek.
A frown crossed Steve’s brow as he studied her features; a sign that nourished a flicker of hope, which rapidly matured into a flame as he struggled to mouth her name.
With her heart brimming over with joy, Cassie bent forward with dewy eyes beseeching him to utter her name out loud. “Come on, Steve, you can do it. Say my name.”
“C….C…Cas….Cass…Cassiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie,” he stuttered, his whispering voice tailing off from the strain. Physically drained from the exercise he momentarily surrendered to his drooping eyelids to tap into his energy stock before prying them apart to stare into the mesmerizing brown eyes gazing down on him.
“It’s so good to see those bewitching blue eyes of yours,” she cried, squeezing his hand and leaning forward to brush a feathery kiss on his forehead. “Welcome back, 34.” His brow wrinkled at the moniker he failed to recognize. “It’ll come back to you,” she assured, alluding to the pet name. “Don’t force it. I’m just glad that you recognize me. You do, don’t you?” she asked expectantly, frowning slightly at the belayed response that finally came in the form of a weak nod.
Looming under the doorway was Jaime whose eyes flashed a bright shade of jealousy at the scene that played out before her.
No sooner had Steve turned the corner that Rudy submitted him to a strict routine of physical and mental exercises to which both Jaime and Cassie were invited to participate. Helen and Jim accepted Oscar generous offer to lodge at the OSI apartments nearby the Medical Center in order to stick close to their son and be involved in the recovery process.
Members of the personnel who, over the years, had developed a kinship with the comatose patient scrupulously monitored his progress. All reveled in his strong determination to beat the odds despite the grim prognosis of a full recovery, and with Cassie and Jaime by his side to provide physical and moral support during his therapy, Steve’s condition greatly improved over the course of a few days, though his amnesia lingered on.
Oscar was itching to question his top agent on the night of the explosion that plunged him into a six-year coma, but neither Cassie, Jaime nor Rudy deemed Steve ready to be subjected to that grueling interrogation.
Jaime gladly filled in for Cassie while she was away on mission. She relished the opportunity of having Steve all to herself for three weeks and planned on whipping his memory back into shape.
One particular afternoon as she was strolling through the hospital park with her arm draped in Steve’s arm she noticed a glaring melancholia slowly invading her friend’s spirit. After carrying on a one-way conversation with herself for nearly ten minutes, she pulled Steve aside and both sat on a bench.
“What’s the matter, Steve? You seem so faraway.”
Steve inhaled deeply in an attempt to chase away his blues but to no avail. He briefly hung his head in silence to phrase his thought before speaking solemnly. “Jaime, you and I meant a great deal to each other, right?” he asked straightforwardly, catching Jaime totally unawares.
“Euh yes…yes we did.” She slanted her head sideways to read his eyes and with a wide beam on her face, exulted, “You remember!”
“Some of it,” Steve admitted diffidently. “I have to thank my mother for that. She brought me several photo albums and many of the pictures were about you and me.”
“We went to school together and after my parents died, your mom and dad took me in and raised me like their own daughter. Guess you and I were destined to be together.”
“I can’t remember all of it, I’m sorry,” he deplored, shaking his head in despair.
Jaime leaned into him and laid her head on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, it’ll come back to you eventually.”
“Eventually!” Steve lashed out. “That’s just it,” he sprung to his feet and stepped up to a tree to bang his head against the trunk. “It’s been too long. I should have made some progress by now.”
“Steve, stop it!” Jaime commanded, yanking him away from the element of torture. “Steve listen to me.” When Steve failed to acknowledge her she grabbed a firm hold of his shoulders and impelled him to look at her. “LISTEN TO ME!” she fumed, releasing one hand to grip his chin. “You have just awakened from a six-year coma. Six years, Steve. You have to give yourself time.”
“I’ve been told I’m a stubborn cuss,” he joked with a smile tugging at his lips.
“That you are,” Jaime agreed laughingly. “But this is a totally different situation. You need to be patient. Just think…you’re alive. I thank God every day for that miracle.”
With a heavy sigh the smile melted into another despondent gaze. “It’s hard sometimes.”
“I know,” Jaime empathized, recalling her own experience.
“I see you, mom and dad and…” he choked as emotions flooded to his throat.
“Steve, we can start over. Create new memories. You don’t need to hang on to the past,” Jaime cajoled, pleased to see that the prospect of building a brand new life appealed to Steve.
“I want to Jaime it’s just that…”
“It wouldn’t feel right moving forward without knowing who I really am. I might be letting a lot of people down if I did.”
“And what about what’s right for you?” Jaime coerced, unwilling to lose the ground she gained in the last few days. “You have to think of yourself.” Steve’s diffidence to her counsel prompted her to act impulsively by planting a soft kiss on his lips. “Well?” she waited for a reaction that was long at coming. “Didn’t it feel right?”
“Yes…yes it did,” Steve smiled, leaning forward to claim her lips in a lingering kiss that newly set ablaze the cold embers within him.
Nearly a thousand miles away in a remote area Cassie was unceremoniously shoved inside a room by a burly man, closing the door on her face as she tried to escape.
“Damn!” she swore, pounding her fist against the concrete wall in a fit of fury. “How could I have been so dumb as to make that costly mistake?” She leaned against the wall and let her mind wander while staring at the ceiling. Her eyes closed on a heavy sigh as the reason for her oversight dawned on her. “Oh 34, I hope you’re doing better than I am.”
“I got it boss,” Gallagher announced as he walked into the main office. “Her real name is Cassandra Miller. She’s an OSI agent.”
“OSI agent? Then our information is incorrect. Austin did regain his memory, hence the reason why she’s here.”
“Could be a coincidence,” Gallagher opined but quickly retracted his statement when shot by a smoldering glare. “Or not,” he added sheepishly.
“Haven’t you learned your lesson yet, Gallagher? Never underestimate your enemies.”
“What do you intend to do with her?”
Gregson cracked a sneer as he leisurely settled in his leather chair behind his desk. “I have plans for her and for him. I’m going to handle it myself this time” he crowed wickedly.
“Dammit!” Oscar cursed as he smashed the phone in its cradle at the news he received of Cassie’s kidnapping, taking Rudy totally unawares as he stepped into the office.
“Did I catch you at a bad time?” Rudy asked rather rhetorically, as he suspected the answer to the question.
Oscar huffed out the last of frustration before beckoning his friend in. “Come on in, Rudy. I just got some bad news.”
“Cassandra. Gregson has her.”
“Did you say Gregson? As in Harry Gregson?”
Oscar frowned dubiously at Rudy’s question. “How would you know?”
“That’s why I came to see you. Steve had a bad night. He kept tossing and turning, mumbling something about a man named Harry Gregson.”
Oscar yanked his reading glasses off his nose and stood to attention to Rudy’s news. “What did he say?”
“Nothing much really, but it was obvious the man was causing him great distress. His vital signs skyrocketed. I had to rouse him out of his nightmare. When I later questioned him about it, he couldn’t recall anyone by that name.” He noticed Oscar was lost in his thoughts. “What are you thinking?”
“Can’t be a mere coincidence,” Oscar pondered to himself, oblivious of Rudy.
“I was thinking what if Gregson was the one who tried to kill Steve six years ago?” Oscar implied with a twinkle in his eyes at the notion of having unraveled the mystery.
Rudy’s brow furrowed deeper at Oscar’s assumption. “Do you hold proof of that allegation?”
“I’m hoping Steve will.”
“I told you he doesn’t remember.”
“But his subconscious does. Rudy what about hypnosis? Would that work?”
Rudy winced at the suggestion. “I wouldn’t risk it so early in his therapy. It could have adverse effects.”
“Then when?” Oscar seethed in spite of himself, then retracted, “I’m sorry Rudy. I didn’t mean to lash out at you. It’s just that Steve holds crucial information that can mean life and dead for Cassandra and by the same token help us nail that bastard once and for all.”
“I realize that, Oscar and believe me I do sympathize with your cause but if we submit Steve to hypnosis now it could jeopardize all the progress that he’s made so far.”
“Maybe that’s for him to decide,” Oscar stated matter-of-factly.
“Then you ask him,” Rudy challenged icily, washing his hands at the whole situation. “But you can be sure that I’ll be there to counsel him against the session.”
“Fair enough,” Oscar agreed, confident that Steve would be a willing subject once he was made aware of Cassie’s plight.
While the two rivals exposed their best arguments to gain Steve’s undivided attention, Gregson sent down for his prisoner to discuss a proposition.
Cassie was escorted to Gregson’s office where she found him leisurely sitting behind his desk, pompously puffing on a cigar as he relished his next victory over Oscar Goldman.
“What do you want Gregson?” Cassie peeved, clearly not in the mood for a friendly chitchat.
“Now, now Miss Miller,” he tsked her. “Is that any way to greet your gracious host?” Gregson intoned sarcastically.
“Gracious? My ass!” she spat “I’d rather live in a pigsty.”
“Ah yes, my apologies for the rude accommodations, but I had to ensure your safe confinement.” He casually stood from his chair and ambled over to the bar.
“Let’s get on with it,” Cassie sassed back with a steely stare.
“Drink?” he offered courteously, holding a carafe in the air.
“No thanks,” she replied with a tinge of annoyance.
“Don’t mind if I have one?” he sneered as he poured himself a tumbler of whiskey.
“Be my guest.”
“Please, make yourself comfortable, Miss Miller,” he beckoned her to a chair.
“Cut the crap Gregson,” Cassie snapped. “What do you want from me?”
Gregson flashed a cunning grin and walked back to his desk. “I want you to work in my organization,” he informed calmly, taking a sip of his drink.
Cassie stood aback and scoffed, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No, I assure you. The offer is legitimate,” Gregson reiterated with a triumphant smile plastered on his face.
“Even if I said yes, how could you trust me?”
“I don’t. But if you should stray I can assure you that your friend will die,” he warning unwaveringly, his glare sending chills down Cassie’s spine.
“Ok, I’m listening,” Cassie resigned, though she kept her cool.
“I want you to kill Oscar Goldman.”
“You heard me, Miss Miller.”
“You know damn well I won’t do it,” Cassie snapped with eyes ablaze. “You mind as well kill me now and be done with it.”
“That would be too easy,” Gregson taunted, casually leaning against the back of his chair. “It’s your friend Colonel Austin who will suffer the consequences of your refusal, not you.”
Gregson flashed a sly smile and nonchalantly stood from his chair to step up to Cassie. “You don’t expect me to reveal my sources, now do you?” he derided, relishing in the power of persuasion he held. “So, do we have a deal?”
With a jaw clenched in suppressed fury, Cassie’s eyes averted from Gregson’s sneer that raised her hackles. “How much time do I have?”
“Not long. I want this done before the end of the week,” Gregson ordered with a glare to emphasize his claim. “And beware Miss Miller. You will be constantly watched. One false move and Colonel Austin gets it.”
Cassie heaved out a heavy sigh and gave Gregson the evil eye. “Once I do this, you’d better watch YOUR back ‘cause I’m coming back for you,” she threatened with a scowl to match her subjugator’s.
“I’ll look forward to that meeting, Miss Miller,” he mocked with a triumphant grin.
“Am I free to go?”
Gregson gallantly waved to the door. “Of course.”
She threw Gregson a withering look before crossing to the door. Once she was out of the room, Gregson instructed his henchman to deploy his team to shadow the woman in her every move. “I’ll contact Gallagher to have his men stand by at the hospital in case Miss Miller doesn’t behave the way she should.”
“Do you honestly believe she’ll go through with it?”
“Whether or not she does, she and Austin will be dead by the end of the week anyway.”
Cassie hurried to a phone booth to contact Oscar but seeing how he was out of the office, she left a message with Callahan and hailed a taxi to the airport.