And yes, the Congregation of Devout Followers was a shameless Heaven's Gate rip-off.
"Mail call!" Duke called. He carried a bulging sack thrown over his shoulder - the week's fan mail. Without any further aplomb he overturned the sack over the Ready Room conference table, letters spilling out in a cascade. He didn't even bother to sort them out, just rummaged through them until he found a few with his name on them, then made himself comfortable in the nearest chair as he looked them over. The others joined him a few minutes later; Dive and Mallory first, then Grin, Wildwing and finally Tanya. It was something of a ritual, a form of stress-relief. One of the cheapest ways out there to get a really good laugh. "Who got the marriage proposal this week?" Duke asked.
"I did," Dive said. He threw himself into one of the chairs and scanned the letter he held in his hand. "I could be Mr. Frances Allbright if I play my cards right. Too bad she's older than you, Duke." He ducked the crumpled paper ball Duke aimed at him and opened another letter. "Now here's something. Engineer Tola Hanseen of the Nigerian National Banking Commission has several million dollars in securities that can only be accessed with my help. I get 10% and all I have to do is fork over my banking information."
"Good thing you keep your money in your underwear drawer, huh, baby brother?"
"Trust me," Duke drawled. "No thief is going to go in there. No matter how much money you have." He grinned and ducked another paper ball.
One of Tanya's hit the trash even as Mallory bit back a peal of embarrassed laughter. "This guy wrote a poem." She pulled it away when Duke leaned in for a glance, and the distinct red flush covering her face gave him a fairly good idea what the poem was about. That one joined its companions in the garbage pail.
Wildwing shook his head slightly as he scanned one of his own letters. "Who writes this stuff?" he asked rhetorically. "This is from somebody named Elysium who leads the Congregation of Devout Disciples. He says that we were sent by God to lead the Congregation to their new lives. As team leader, apparently I decide which of them is truly devout."
"Great," Dive said wryly. "My older brother judges the souls as they work their way toward salvation. I'm doomed."
Wildwing smiled as the rest of the team laughed. "Better remember that next time you decide to take one of the Duckcycles joyriding."
"Moi?" Dive protested. He reached across the table and grabbed a few more envelopes. "Really, bro, I can't believe you'd accuse me of such a thing. Especially without proof."
"That innocent ploy of yours didn't work when we were kids and it doesn't work now. Besides, who else would take it to Taco Bell, The Anaheim Mall and Captain Comics all in one day? You know, if you want to cover your tracks, you should try to avoid shoving all your junk in the seat storage compartment."
"Oh, look," Mallory interrupted. "I may already have won a million dollars."
"You already have a million dollars," Dive pointed out. "We all have a million dollars. I don't know about the rest of you, but I personally have several million dollars. We're so rich it's disgusting."
"Well, in your case, certainly..."
"What's American Express?" Grin asked Tanya.
"Like Visa, but green."
Duke examined an unopened envelope. "Who wants to be 'Occupant'?"
"Let Phil have those," Wildwing advised. "He always complains about being left out."
"MCI says they'll give us a better deal than AT&T," Tanya said suddenly. "But AT&T says they'll give us a better deal than MCI. That's a logistical impossibility."
"We're with Sprint, anyway," Grin pointed out.
"You're being awfully quiet," Mallory said to Dive. "What's that?" She leaned over before he could react and snatched the paper he held out of his hands. "Mallory!"
She scanned it quickly. "Dive-"
He snatched it back. "It's no big deal."
"Excuse me, but it certainly sounds like it! If I got a letter like that-"
"So what exactly did that poem say?"
"-when I got a letter like that I'd certainly consider it a big deal."
"Do I really need to point out that I'm not you? 'Cause if I do, I'm gonna worry a lot more about you than this."
By now they'd drawn the attention of the others. "Another one?" Duke asked. "That's what? Four?"
"Four?" Mallory asked. "No big deal, huh?"
"Four what?" Wildwing asked.
Dive mentally threw his hands up in surrender. "Four letters from a psychotic with access to a post office. It's nothing."
"Nothing? Ha! Whoever wrote this is nuts!" Mallory poked a finger at the paper.
"No kidding, Einstein! I just said that!"
"Guys, chill," Wildwing instructed. "Dive, what's up?"
Dive sighed and handed over the letter. "It's the same handwriting every time, but there's never a name or return address so don't bother asking who sent it. And I still say it's nothing."
"This doesn't sound like nothing, little bro," Wildwing objected.
Dive scowled. "We've all gotten some nutcase writing to us before. There's nothing new here."
"Yeah, but the same person, four times?" Wildwing returned the letter reluctantly - it was more than slightly disturbing, and he wasn't surprised at all when Dive immediately threw it in the garbage. "Just be careful, okay?"
"Hey, no problemo, Wild. I saw The Fan, you know?"
Wildwing shook his head. Then Grin unwrapped a box of chocolates and they let the subject drop.
"Don't look now, but I think we're being followed."
Tanya gave Mallory a confused glance. "What?"
"I'm serious." Mallory didn't look up from the rack of clothing she was searching through. "We're being followed. A woman, about twenty years old. Blond hair. Green shirt, jeans. I've been watching her for the last thirty minutes. She's definitely following us."
"Why?" Tanya followed Mallory's lead and pretended to be examining the clothing.
"How should I know? We attract trouble like honey attracts flies."
"Maybe she wants an autograph," Tanya joked.
"We going to do anything about this?"
"Uh-huh. Come on." Mallory strode away from the clothing rack before Tanya could say anything. Tanya scowled at the retreating back of her teammate and hurried after her. "Dare I ask what you intend for us to do?" she asked sarcastically.
"Whoever's following must have a reason for it, right?" Mallory asked rhetorically. "So we go outside, get somewhere nice and secluded and wait for her to catch up to us, right? Then we ask her, real nice, just what she thinks she's doing."
"Brilliant," Tanya sighed. "What if she's armed?"
Mallory shrugged carelessly. "So what?"
"How did I know you'd say that?"
"You're psychic," Mallory teased. "Over here." She tugged on Tanya's arm, pulling her into a small alley between two shops. "It's nice and private. Let's see if our mystery woman wants to talk."
Tanya sighed. "Normally, when you're being followed by a suspicious stranger, you try to avoid alleyways."
Mallory waved her off. "Please. We could take her in our sleep. Now hush, she's coming."
They both watched warily as the young woman approached them. She stopped a few feet away and regarded them both with a hard gaze.
"Doesn't look overly thrilled to see us, does she?" Tanya muttered.
"Still think she wants an autograph?"
Tanya shrugged. "Maybe she wants to have a word with us about that game we lost?"
"What game? We've never lost a game!"
"Maybe she bet on the other team?"
"Somehow, I'm not seeing that, Tanya."
"We could ask her?"
"I'm quite comfortable where I am, actually." Mallory stretched and leaned against the alley wall. "It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining-"
"We're in an alley."
"-I'm in no hurry to go anywhere. Let her glare until she's ready to say something."
It didn't look as if their mystery woman was in any hurry to break the stalemate. She stood in the entrance of the alley, a half dozen feet away, and stared at them coldly. Tanya fidgeted, wanting to say something, but willing to follow Mallory's lead as long as it didn't involve any sort of firefight. It was a fair qualifier - many of Mallory's plans involved weapons fire of some sort, usually unintentionally.
Mallory had a shopping bag full of shoes and sweaters. She managed to dig a catalog out of it and started browsing. Occasionally she would point to something and ask Tanya's opinion. After a while she realized Tanya was only approving of the purple clothes and Mallory decided to shop in silence.
The girl watched them, an indecipherable expression on her face. Tanya offered a tentative smile, and the blonde girl took a defensive step backwards, scowling. "Stay away from me," she snapped.
Tanya blinked, surprised at the hostile retort. Mallory snapped her magazine shut. "That's our line," she growled. "You're the one who's been following us around for the last hour. You care to explain yourself?"
The girl aimed a particularly hostile glare at Mallory, and didn't flinch at the glare being aimed back at her. Tanya cast a sideways glance at Mallory. She would've flinched, and she'd been one of Mallory's best friends for nearly a year.
"Don't try to turn any of this back on me," the blond bit off. "I'm not the one who started this."
"Started what?" Mallory demanded.
The blonde visibly bit her tongue and shook her head almost violently. She turned on her heal and strode away.
"What was that all about?" Tanya wondered.
"Wow," Mallory said dryly. "A psycho. So hard to tell them from the rest of their kind, sometimes, isn't it?"
"Don't let any of our fans hear you say that," Tanya scolded.
Mallory shoved the catalog back into her bag and pushed herself away from the wall. "All right, let's get out of here. I've lost my interest in shopping."
"All right," Tanya agreed a little too cheerfully. "Let's head back to the Migrator."
Mallory grinned at her as they left the alley. "You wanna stop for dinner on the way home? It's still pretty early."
"No Mexican," Tanya warned. "And if you think I'm going to one of those fast food places Dive and Wildwing always drag us to..."
"Ew," Mallory agreed. "How about something simple? Burgers and fries? That place out by the mall has a great salad bar. You know - the one with the fake celebrity photos on the walls? Good mixed drinks, too."
Tanya rolled her eyes. "I won't ask how you know that, Miss "I'll turn twenty in three months.' "
"Dive's the one who told me," Mallory defended herself with a grin.
"I'd really avoid mentioning that to Wildwing, if I were you," Tanya said.
"I dunno. The next time he puts worms in my boots... or cold pasta in my sock drawer... or mayonaise in my suntan lotion..."
"Wildwing kills him and we forfeit the rest of the season while looking for a new forward," Tanya finished.
"You take all the joy out of my fantasy life, you know that? Anyway, Wing wouldn't hurt him. He'd just ground him till he was too old to play." Mallory stopped. "What the-?"
Tanya followed Mallory's gaze to the Migrator, and the piece of white paper that had been shoved through the front grill. "A parking ticket?" She guessed. "Although the meter maids usually put those under the windshield wipers."
"They're called traffic cops, and they couldn't reach the Migrator's windshield. No," Mallory's eyes narrowed. "It's handwritten." She jogged the last few steps to the Migrator and pulled the paper from the grill. She skimmed it briefly, and her face tightened in an expression of anger.
"What is it?" Tanya asked warily.
Mallory handed it to her, eyes dark. "Read it."
"Honor of his presence... unworthy recipients..." Tanya mumbled aloud as she read, her voice growing louder with each line. "Don't cross me, or I will eliminate you once he is mine? What the hell is this?"
"I couldn't say for sure," Mallory said tightly, "but it sounds like those letters Dive's been getting. And the handwriting is even similar."
Tanya stared at the paper in her hands. "You don't think she's stalking him?"
"Why else would she be following us?" Mallory asked. "Stars, this is giving me the spooks. Let's skip dinner and get back to the Pond. Wildwing's going to want to know about this."
It was a rush, Mallory reflected, to have an entire stadium full of people screaming and shouting and cheering you on. Never mind that if she missed this shot those same fans would probably start throwing hot dogs. That just added to the adrenaline rush.
Duke and Grin came up on either side of her, knocking aside the Cohawks forwards and clearing the way to the goal. Mallory poured on the speed. She knew there was only a few seconds left... She approached the Cohawks goal at full-speed and let the puck fly -
The buzzer sounded.
-and it slammed into the back of the net. Mallory slid to a stop and held her breath. The stadium was suddenly silent.
"And it's good!" The announcement caused a cheer to rise from the spectators and Mallory whooped. "The Mighty Ducks and the Cohawks are tied at 3-3 as we go into overtime!"
Mallory skated to the edge of the rink, accepting the congratulations the rest of the team offered as they filed into the locker room. She dropped onto the bench and leaned back against the wall nodding absently when Wildwing passed her a water bottle. She was still riding the adrenaline high and the game had been a close one. She felt like she was going to laugh with pure exuberance and drop dead from exhaustion at the same time.
Nosedive grabbed a water bottle from his locker and leaned against the wall. He undid his helmet and set it onto the bench beside him, dragging a hand through his hair. He looked as exhausted as Mallory felt. "Nice shot," he complimented.
"Thanks," Mallory said. "It was no Stanley Cup, but..."
Dive smiled at the teasing. His rather high-spirited celebration after his game winning, last-minute goal during last season's championships had earned him a lot of good-natured teasing from his teammates. "Damn close. Now if we can just do the same thing during overtime this'll be a great game."
Mallory did laugh now. "Only thing good about this game is going to be the shower and very long nap I'm taking after it's over."
Dive took a long drink of water. "Sounds good to me. Since when did The Cohawks get so good?" He winced slightly as he shifted on the bench. "Even without LaCrashe slamming me into the boards every five minutes, they're doing pretty good."
"Speaking of which," Tanya interrupted, "are you all right? You hit the ice pretty hard last time."
Nosedive rolled his eyes as suddenly all attention was on him. Mallory smirked sympathetically. As the two youngest members of the team she and Dive both suffered their share of their teammates over-protectiveness. Mallory felt she escaped the worst of it due to her experience in the military, but poor Dive... First Wildwing and now Duke playing the protective older brother. And lately it had gotten even worse. In the two weeks since she and Tanya had had that confrontation with the strange woman Dive had received another one of those letters, and twice more they'd spotted that woman following one or another of them. She'd almost scared the hell out of Duke one day by jumping out in front of his Duckcycle and Wildwing and Tanya had been confronted at Electric Land just a week ago. Wildwing hadn't said what happened but he'd made it clear that until this was taken care of he didn't want Dive going off alone. The fact that Dive had only ditched his "chaperones" a handful of times indicated that he was taking it almost as seriously as the rest of them were.
She had to smile though, as she watched Dive try to fend off Tanya's ministrations. He did a pretty good job of convincing her he was fine, then ruined it all by flinching when she slapped him on the shoulder. They were now arguing over whether it was serious enough to need immediate treatment or if it could wait until after the game was over.
Dive won by default when they ran out of time and began to head back out to the ice. Mallory took one last sip of water before getting back to her feet. "Let's do this folks."
She cast Dive a sympathetic grimace as she walked past; Tanya was still fussing. For such a - a techno-geek - Tanya was certainly a master of the whole mothering angle.
They were taking positions when it suddenly occurred to Mallory that they were missing someone. "Where's Dive?" she asked Grin.
"He didn't come out?" Grin asked.
"Oh, hell," Mallory left position and skated back to meet Wildwing, who'd apparently noticed the same thing. "What's going on? Where is he?"
The ref called to them to get back in position so they could get on with the game but they ignored him. "I didn't see him come out of the locker room, did you?"
"No. Tanya!" Mallory called. "Where's Dive?"
Tanya shook her head, and raised her hands in an exaggerated shrug. "I assumed he was following me."
"Mallory, see what's keeping him," Wildwing directed. "I'll see if I can't calm down the ref."
Mallory skated off the ice, ignoring the curious murmur arising from the crowd. She had a really bad feeling and she couldn't explain why. He was probably just hurting more than he'd let on and had stopped to grab an aspirin or something. It wasn't like anyone could get inside their locker room. No way was this anything like that. No way.
"Dive? Nosedive, where are you?" The locker room was empty, further increasing her sense of foreboding. "Stars. Where did he go?" There was no way anyone could have gotten into their locker room. Dive was fine.
So where was he?
Duke l'Orange Couldn't remember the last time he'd been so nervous.
Well, to be honest, he wasn't nervous; he was scared. And it had been even longer since he'd been scared.
It was a ridiculously inexplicable feeling. They'd certainly faced bigger threats. A simple kidnapping was the least of what they'd faced over the last year. So why was it getting to him so much?
The others didn't seem to be handling this much better. Mallory was pacing, Tanya sat in her chair trying not to look worried and failing miserably, Grin hadn't even attempted to meditate and Wildwing-
Wildwing was in even worse shape than Duke.
They'd forfeited the game once it became obvious that Dive was missing. A search had revealed nothing. Dive's wrist comm had been tossed in one of the showers, making it impossible to trace him. There were no security cameras in the locker room - it had been discussed when they renovated the Pond, but Mallory had claimed that having cameras in a locker room was creepy. Since theft hadn't been a concern, Wildwing had Tanya remove that part of the security surveillance. He could have kicked himself for it now, in retrospect.
Then, with no leads, no clues, no other option, they had turned to the police for help.
Klegghorn had almost choked on his donut when he'd seen Wildwing and Duke standing in his office. But he'd been all business once he realized what was going on. For all his bluster and complaining, he'd never been one to turn away from trouble, even when the Mighty Ducks were involved. Duke and Wildwing had filled him in and Klegghorn had done everything he could. He'd talked to each of them and gotten descriptions of the woman who'd followed them as well as urging them to remember as much as they could about the letters Dive had received. He'd sent their descriptions to a sketch artist who worked for the Anaheim PD who promised to put together a sketch of the woman and run an ID check. Klegghorn had then come down to the Pond to check out the locker room.
One problem had been solved during that visit. Klegghorn had checked the room over quickly. One item in particular held his attention. Dive's water bottle lay on it's side in the middle of the locker room, it's contents spilled over the floor. "Is this his?" he'd asked.
"Yeah," Mallory had replied. "Why?"
"I'm willing to bet it's been tampered with," Klegghorn said. "A sedative, maybe. If it is a young woman we're talking about here, then it's unlikely she would have been able to take Nosedive by force. But with drugs..." He shrugged. "Your friend's not the biggest guy. If he was unconscious, or drugged into a stupor, even a teenage girl would be able to drag him out of here."
"Without anyone seeing?" Duke demanded skeptically. "I think someone might have noticed her dragging a giant duck out of the rink!"
"You've gotta be kidding me," Mallory groaned.
"The boiler room," Tanya said slowly. "It has a door to the outside. So maintenace and repair can get at it without having to come inside."
"How tight is your security during a game?" Klegghorn asked.
"Pretty loose, actually." Wildwing ran a hand across his eyes. "We've never worried about it before."
Klegghorn hadn't said anything, just nodded. Then he'd carefully tagged the bottle, not disturbing the area around it. "I'll call for someone from the lab to come and take a look at this. What I don't understand," he'd continued, "is how this stalker of yours knew which bottle to drug. Unless it was someone close to you guys."
"Actually," Wildwing had cut in, "there's a simple enough explanation. Dive always has that flavored water, the rest of us drink the regular stuff. It came up in an interview we did a few months ago. We were teasing him about it. Anyone who bothered to read that would have known what to look for."
Klegghorn just sighed. "So basically, half the sports fans in the country are on our suspect list."
Klegghorn had just shaken his head and promised to call them as soon as anything turned up.
They still had no leads, few clues and no other options and all they could do now, as Klegghorn had pointed out, was wait.
Which brought them to the here and now.
Duke sighed and shifted slightly, trying to get comfortable. They were gathered in the main room, no one having come up with any better idea of how to spend the time while they waited. Duke would rather be anywhere else doing anything else than sitting there doing nothing.
But he'd be there because there was nowhere else he could be. He couldn't search for Dive because he hadn't the foggiest idea where to look. He couldn't leave because the team needed him.
He was about to jump out of his skin.
Klegghorn chose that moment to start obsessively ringing the doorbell. Duke bit back astartled yelp and went to the upper level bring him in.
"We've got a pretty good lead," Klegghorn said right off. He read from a folder he led. "Her name's Sharon Armstrong. 19 years old, 5'8, brown eyes, blond hair, Caucasian. She's not all there if you know what I mean. It's not the first time she's done something like this either. Last year she was forcibly escorted off the fairways after, ahem - assaulting a certain pro-golf player and six months ago they arrested her for assaulting a member of the American gymnastics team."
"Assaulting?" Duke asked reluctantly.
"Yeah. She kissed them."
"That's assault?" Mallory asked.
"It is when she knees the bodyguard in the groin, grabs the guy by the collar and then starts babbling about eternal destinies and stuff. The athletes never wanted to press charges over something so silly, so the authorities hushed it up, kept it out of the news. She was remanded into her older brother's custody after a psychiatric evaluation revealed that she suffered from severe delusions." Klegghorn turned to another page of the folder. "The brother's name is Maxamillian Armstrong, age 25, 6', brown hair and eyes, Caucasian. He works at a restaurant just across the highway from here and according to his coworkers, his sister dropped by to see him today only about an hour before Nosedive was reported missing."
"I don't get it," Mallory said. "She never tried to abduct any of these other people, did she? Why Nosedive?"
"Convenience," Klegghorn said simply. "Those other athletes live across the country. New York, Boston, Chicago. Nosedive is probably the first obsession that's lived within walking distance."
"Where can we find them?" Wildwing asked.
Klegghorn didn't even bother with his usual speech about contacting the proper authorities. "Max Armstrong inherited an apartment building from his parents. They both live down there."
"An address?" Wildwing prompted.
"I'll tell you when we get there."
Wildwing frowned slightly as Klegghorn's intention struck home. "We want this kept quiet, Klegghorn. Getting this in the news is only going to hurt us and the Armstrongs."
Klegghorn nodded. "That's why I'm coming. This girl doesn't deserve to get shot by a rookie who doesn't know better. And your brother doesn't need the hassle of every reporter in the state making him relive this a hundred times. Odds are we can handle this ourselves, without anyone getting hurt." He opened his desk drawer and pulled out his service revolver. "But maybe we can't. And that's why you're not going without me."
The Armstrong's apartment building was pretty much what Duke had expected. It was big, dark and empty. Proof that stereotypes start somewhere.
Wildwing gave the order to split up. "Duke, Grin, Tanya, you go in through the back entrance. Mallory, Klegghorn and I will take the front. If anyone finds anything let the rest of us know through the wrist comms. Got it?"
They got it. Duke's team took the back entrance of the apartment building. The lock was absurdly simple to get around; he was surprised someone else hadn't hit this place already.
The hallway was dark but in good repair. Duke wondered why the Armstrong's didn't have any tenants. By Klegghorn's account they were hurting for money.
He received the answer to his question as the three of them carefully made their way deeper into the building, checking each doorway and room they passed. Duke heard a soft voice singing as they approached another hallway. Gesturing for the others to stay behind he carefully peered around the corner.
It was the same girl who'd jumped in front of his Duckcycle not a week ago, Sharon Armstrong. She was dressed in a long pale blue sundress and white sandals, her hair fell to her waist in a wave of sunshine. She was carefully easing shut the door from which she'd just come and she was singing.
She stepped away from the door and paused, watching it. Then her face split into a wide grin and she practically danced down the hall away from Duke. Her dress swirled around her ankles and she sashayed across the floor and her hair spun around her head and face like a golden halo.
Duke didn't move until she'd disappeared around the corner at the far end of the hall. He moved slowly, listening to hear if she returned. "Come on," he said to Grin and Tanya. "She was doing something in one of these rooms."
Duke was no longer surprised that the Armstrongs had no tenants. If Sharon acted like that all the time, it would probably discourage a lot of people from renting from the Armstrongs. And from what he'd seen of several of the rooms they'd checked during their search Sharon seemed to have free run of the place. Many of the rooms bore evidence of living; some like a child's play fort, others like libraries, others still were a bit frightening. Dive was obviously not the first obsession this young woman had had. Duke had seen collections of photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, and assorted other items associated with many other professional athletes, all of them about Sharon's age.
"Grin, stay here," Duke instructed. "Warn us if you hear anyone coming." He carefully tried the door Sharon had just closed; it wasn't locked. He swung the door open as quietly as possible, holding his puck launcher before him.
This room was like the others, but the pictures and articles were all of Dive. Amongst magazine covers and newspaper articles were candid shots - pictures taken at the mall, restaurants, outside the Pond. She'd been following him for a while. It was frightening, disconcerting... and pitiful. This girl needs help, Duke thought sadly.
Duke and Tanya entered the small apartment and split up, Tanya taking the area to the left, Duke to the right. It was Tanya who found him.
"Back here, Duke," she called. "He's here."
Duke hurried through the dark apartment to where she stood over the still form of their missing teammate. "Is he all right?"
"He's out cold," Tanya said worriedly, "but I think it's just the sedatives she gave him. I think he'll be all right. He probably has no idea anything's happened."
"He's the lucky one," Duke grinned a little. "I'll tell Wildwing we have him."
He didn't get the chance though. As he reached for his communicator Grin's voice came from behind him. "Someone's coming. Sounds like the same person who left before."
"Sharon," Duke scowled. "Got great timing, that girl. Tanya, stay with Dive-"
"Duke, I think we should just get the others and get out of here." Tanya turned to face Duke, holding two syringes in her hand. "I found them in the dresser. I can't tell you what's in them without taking them to the lab, but..."
"You're not suggesting...?"
"I think she intends to kill Dive," Tanya said flatly. "And herself."
"Great Mother of Ducks," Duke murmured. "Tanya, call Wildwing, tell him what's happening. Grin, stay here. We're gonna keep Miss Armstrong the hell away from him."
From out in the hall came the soft sound of singing.
Wildwing, Mallory and Klegghorn hit paydirt when they searched an apartment on the first floor. Klegghorn jimmied the lock and threw the door open as he strode into the room. He gave the place a good once over while a young man stood in the middle of the main room and stared at them in shock. He fit Klegghorn's description of Maximillian Armstrong perfectly. "What's going on here?" he demanded unsteadily. "Who are you?"
Klegghorn stepped forward before Wildwing could say anything. "Klegghorn, APD. We'd like to have a little look around the place."
"Why?" Armstrong demanded. "This is private property. Unless you have a warrant- "
"We have reason to believe your sister, Sharon Jessica Armstrong, is involved with the disappearance of one of their teammates," Klegghorn interrupted, jerking his thumb at Wildwing and Mallory. "Do you really want me to get a warrant?"
Wildwing knew a cue when he heard one. "We want this kept quiet, Mr. Armstrong. As soon as we have him back, it'll be over."
Armstrong shook his head. "You must be mistaken," he said hollowly. "Sharon couldn't be involved with anything like that." He didn't seem to believe what he was saying himself.
"Mr. Armstrong," Klegghorn began, but he was cut off by the electronic chime of Wildwing's communicator. He stopped speaking as Wildwing said, "What is it?"
"We found him," Tanya's voice reached Klegghorn easily. "He's all right. We're in a room on the first floor, on the east side of the building. Number 104. There's a bit of a problem, though."
"What is it?" Wildwing asked tightly.
As Tanya explained about the poison she'd found and what they believed Sharon's intentions to be, Klegghorn watched Max Armstrong's face get increasingly paler. The young man was shaking his head in denial. He obviously didn't want to believe what he was hearing about his sister.
There was silence for a moment when Tanya stopped speaking. "We'll be right there," Wildwing said.
Klegghorn faced Armstrong squarely. "Help us and this'll never make the news. Stand in our way and you'll be forcing us to cause a commotion."
Armstrong seemed to wilt before their eyes. "I'll show you the way," he whispered.
Sharon Armstrong wasn't happy to see them.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded suspiciously.
"Hey, Sharon," Duke said carefully. He didn't want to upset her if he could avoid it. The poor kid didn't mean harm. She didn't know what she was doing. "My name's Duke."
"I know who you are," she said. She watched them both warily, as if she expected them to jump her at any second. "Why are you here? I don't want you."
"I know you don't, Sharon," Duke said. "But we have to be here."
"No you don't," Sharon said petulantly.
"Oh, but I think we do," Duke objected. "You have a friend of ours."
Sharon suddenly smiled. "Is that why you're here? Oh don't worry, I'll take good care of him. You don't have to worry."
"Yes we do," Duke said. "Yes we do."
Sharon stared at him with wide, panicky eyes. "You're going to take him away from me. You can't! You can't!" She lunged at him and caught him off guard. She shoved him and he stumbled; by the time he caught himself she'd dashed past him toward the bedroom.
"No, damnit!" Duke went after her. "Grin!"
Grin had apparently heard the commotion because he was blocking the doorway. Sharon wasn't discouraged, she kept running, apparently ready to ram him. Instead she bounced off him. She landed on her back on the floor and stared up at him with something akin to shock. Duke took her by the shoulder and helped her to her feet. She was practically in tears. "You can't take him away," she moaned. "Please."
Duke and Grin exchanged somber glances. It was unsettling to be faced with this situation. Duke wanted to be angry with this woman who had hurt a member of his team, a woman who had caused them all so much worry, but he could find only pity in his heart. Sharon Armstrong was a confused, delusional young woman, but she wasn't evil.
"I'm sorry, Sharon," Duke murmured, "but we still need him. We're not ready to let him go just yet."
She did cry then, and that's how the others found them when they arrived only moments later.
"Run that by me again?"
Wildwing laughed at the look on Nosedive's face. "Don't worry about it, little brother. You're better off not knowing."
Max Armstrong had been allowed to take his sister back to her rooms, Klegghorn following as he extracted a promise from Armstrong that Sharon would receive proper treatment. The others had remained behind.
The sedative had worn off while Duke and Grin confronted Sharon Armstrong and Tanya had begun to fill Dive in. Wildwing had taken over once he arrived.
Tanya took the two syringes from the bureau and carefully wrapped them in a piece of cloth - and old t-shirt she'd taken from the closet. "I'll get rid of these once we get back to the Pond," she said. "I have the equipment to dispose of them safely."
Wildwing nodded his approval. "Sounds good." He offered a hand to his brother and helped him to his feet. Tanya had assured them that the effects of the sedative were not serious, but Dive was still a little unsteady on his feet. Wildwing wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders to steady him and gestured to the others. "Let's get out of here."
Dive sighed and slumped against his brother's side. "I'm tired."
"You can sleep for two days if you like, once we get back to the Pond," Wildwing assured him.
"That sounds really good. Really, really good. Ridiculously good."
"Mind you, you'll be doing it in the infirmary."
Dive pulled away. "On second thought, I'm not all that tired." He stumbled, managing to trip over his own feet, and barely avoided the floor.
Wildwing and Duke exchanged a look over his head. "The infirmary," they chorused.
"Come on! Tanya doesn't let me play video games or watch movies or listen to music while I'm down there! Haven't I been through enough?"
"No loud rock music?" Wildwing asked Tanya. She grinned widely at him. Wildwing laughed. "Strap him down, Taunny."
"Don't call me Taunny!"
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