“What the hell happened to you, Dalavanna?” Angela’s pinched  her lips together, but Frank didn’t miss the hint of relief that flashed through her eyes. Relief that, to Frank, only solidified her innocence.

“Bar fight.” Frank couldn’t afford to take chances. Not when the woman he loved was infected. He needed Angela’s trust, but he couldn’t tell her what he was about to do.

Angela shook her head. “I tried to stop you.”

Waving her off, Frank fell into a chair.

“If you’d actually read the case file, you’d know that alcohol expedites death.” When Frank failed to react, she threw her hands up in the air. “Why did you bother coming back? Did you decide your life wasn’t complete unless you were able to spend the last of it as a thorn in my side?”

Amused that not even a topic as sensitive as death had dulled Angela’s insensitive retorts, Frank smiled. “Maybe I’m feeling like my last hours on this planet should be useful.”

The appraising look Angela gave him reflected her doubt. “We don’t have any leads on the stolen Yersinia pestis. Don’t suppose that bar fight of yours served a purpose?”

Frank shook his head.

“And you lost your gun!” Angela shot him a chilling look, like he’d just kicked a puppy.

As much as Frank enjoyed pissing Angela off with such swift frequency, time was running out. Matt had given him just a tiny dose of the vaccine. Enough to clear Frank’s head and temporarily quench his thirst. Enough to prove that Matt possessed the real vaccine. “Ang, what’s our plan?”

Our plan?”

“Fine, Miss Top Agent. What’s your plan.” Frank had never called her that to her face. It felt maliciously satisfying. He’d surely be dead within a day. No point in withholding true feelings now.

“We need to find our top suspects. One of them has the Yersinia pestis.”

Studying Angela, Frank noticed that other than her frazzled hair and baggy eyes, she seemed fine. No beads of sweat lining her forehead. No continuous glances at the water cooler. He’d even bet her temperature was a perfect 98.6 degrees.

“Let me see the suspect list again.”

Tossing him the file, Angela glided into a chair. Frank walked it over to the far corner, near a window. The dark haze suggested midnight. Maybe later.

“I think we can rule out the first one. He’s got a pretty solid alibi according to Walsh,” called Angela from her desk chair. “But look it over. Trying reading it. I’m getting more coffee. You need a pick-me-up?”

“No.” His special cab idled just three blocks away. It’d be so easy slipping out the side door with the top secret file. The one that would guarantee Maggie’s safety. Her life.

Instead, Frank decided reading through the file while he still could was a better course of action. Before the fatal flu returned with a vengeance and deteriorated his ability to think and analyze. If his instincts were hazed by the virus and Angela really was the rat, he’d figure another way out of the building.

Of course, she wasn’t the one holding his ex-fiancé hostage.

~*~

It’d taken a heated argument to convince Angela that they both needed a power nap before they pursued their top suspects. When Angela interrupted her sentence midway through with an agonizing yawn, she finally gave in. “Just an hour, Frank. Then we switch.”

“Of course.” Frank toasted with his coffee mug. “One thing before you slip off to dreamland.”

Angela fought another long yawn. “What?”

“What do top agents dream about?”

Angela threw a notepad at Frank, smacking him in the arm. “So violent!”

“Wake me in an hour.”

Despite his joke, Frank did have a serious question. “Ang, why are several of these pages blacked out?”

“You don’t have a clearance high enough to see them.”

He should’ve known that Miss Top Agent had earned a top secret clearance at a level above the one he even knew existed. “Hand them over.”

Angela shook her head. “Can’t.”

“Ang, I’m dead in a matter of hours. Maybe I can leave you with some good rabbit trails to follow when I’m gone.” Already he felt beads of sweat forming along the back of his neck. The fatal flu returning.

“Don’t touch my brief case.” Angela pointed. “You’re not allowed to read files of that security level. Not even Walsh has seen that one.” Heading toward the door, Angela tossed over her shoulder, “One hour. Not a minute more.”

Frank sent her a salute.

Hardly waiting a full minute, Frank dashed across the room and yanked the super top secret file from Angela’s briefcase. When she’d mentioned that not even their boss had seen this file, Frank had been surprised to say the least.

Within minutes, Frank knew why Matt wanted this file so badly. It contained a list of every pharmaceutical plant around the world manufacturing the vaccine—the real vaccine. The one that would protect the world from dying if this fatal flu epidemic reached the mainland.

Slipping off his watch, he set the timer. The one that’d wake Angela. He scribbled an address on the notepad she’d chucked at him earlier. Having just received a small dose of the vaccine before being shoved out of the dark building in Honolulu, Frank had had enough sense to pay attention to his surroundings.

He only hoped that Angela would figure it out. If not, he could save Maggie. But the rest of the world, including himself, might not be so lucky.

Frank set the watch on an end table. “Sorry, Ang.”

Slipping out the side door, Frank hurried the three blocks to find the car waiting for him. The driver, pleased to see the folder in Frank’s hands, threw the car into drive and sped away.

~*~

Frank’s incessant thirst nearly clouded his judgment. But one look at Maggie’s reddened eyes quickly refocused his intentions. The woman he loved, despite how she’d ripped out his heart, looked so helpless with hands cuffed around a metal pole in front of her. Tears slid beneath the red bandana gag they’d tied around her mouth.

“You have it then?” asked Matt, hopping up from his chair behind the mahogany desk.

Shrugging off the two guards intent on restraining him, Frank pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. And a lighter. “Easy there, Jones.” Unfolding the paper, Frank held it up. Inches from a flame. “We’re going to start doing things my way.” The paper whooshed up in flames.

A gunshot fired. A hole appeared in the center of Matt’s head seconds before he dropped to the ground.

The guards shackled Frank’s arms with their massive hands.

“And why would we do that, Frank?” A big, burly man with a gray mop of hair stepped from the shadows and stood beside Maggie. “Let me see if I understand your way.” Walsh rested a firm hand on Maggie’s shoulder, making her shudder against her gag. “You’ve memorized my precious little list, forcing me to give you both the vaccine in exchange for the locations.”

Frank had to steel his expression. He’d not let Walsh know that he’d just unraveled his entire plan. “You don’t need the list?” Frank kept his voice even, eyes focused on Walsh and his crisp white dress shirt. Despite the filthy, dusty building, Walsh’s expensive clothes were pristine.

“Oh, I do. Make no mistake. But I don’t have to kill either one of you quickly, you see.” Walsh ran a finger down Maggie’s arm, ultimately reaching for her hand. “For each location you withhold, I’ll start with severing a finger from your girl.”

Maggie whimpered, squeezing her eyes shut.

Six locations. Only six in the entire world where they were mass producing the vaccine. “How would you know I’m telling the truth?”

Walsh, the bastard, actually broke out in belly-rumbling laughter. “You’ve never been a good liar, Dalavanna. You have a tell.” Walsh extracted a knife from his pocket. One that Frank recognized from Walsh’s many boasting stories at the office. It’d cut a finger clean off with little effort and had. “Let’s try the first city. If I think you’re lying, we’ll get rid of this pesky ring finger. It’s not like the bitch needs it anyway from what I hear.”

“Beijing.” Frank had to give Walsh one. One to reassure him he’d be honest. And admitting that the Chinese were preparing for an attack against an epidemic some of their own had created only made sense. Walsh had likely deduced that one on his own.

“Looks like someone still loves the woman that left him standing alone at the altar.” Walsh chuckled. Frank hated that gurgly laugh.

For once, Angela’s earlier tactlessness about his failed wedding had done some good. It’d steeled him up against Walsh’s icy stabs. Frank bit past the emotional distress. Whatever the reason Maggie had run, she didn’t deserve this.

“Moscow.” A blatant lie.

Dropping Maggie’s hand, Walsh folded his arms. “Now, you were doing so good, Dalavanna. But maybe I struck a nerve with the whole wedding thing.” Reaching again for Maggie’s delicate hand, he positioned the knife above her pinky. “Guess you won’t mind her losing a finger or two after all.”

Maggie screamed beneath her gag, the metal of her cuffs clanging against the pole as she tried to jerk away from Walsh’s touch.

Frank struggled against the muscled guards. His symptoms, back with a vengeance, weakened him beyond usefulness.

“There’s an art to cutting through the bone,” said Walsh. “There’s a way to sever a finger quickly. But there’s also a way to saw slowly through the bone. Methodically.”

“London.” Frank yelled. The truth this time. He couldn’t afford to give Walsh any more cities. The existence of the majority of the world depended upon him taking those other locations to the grave.

“Isn’t that sweet, Honey?” Walsh said to Maggie. “He does want you to keep your precious fingers after all.” Walsh positioned Maggie’s thumb for execution next. “We’ve got four more locations to go.”

“Chicago.”

“See, Dalavanna. When you lie, you bite the bottom of your lip. Just the slightest from the inside. Someone without training would never see it.” Clamping Maggie’s thumb between his fingers, Walsh drew a single drop of blood. It bounced off the floor, breaking Frank’s resolve. He’d nearly screamed Sacramento when another gunshot echoed.

Maggie screamed.

The two clamped grips fell away from Frank’s arms, their bodies slumping to the floor.

Never in his life had Frank felt relief seeing Special Agent Davis standing in the doorway, gun pointed and smoking. Nor had he thought he’d be happy to see Miss Top Agent ordering her own team about. The same team that had taken down everyone in the building.

Frank ran to Maggie, yanking off her gag and pulling her into his arms. “We need that vaccine. Now!”

~*~

Maggie slept deeply inside the Hilton suite. They’d have a lot to talk about when she awoke. But the fact that she’d agreed to jump on a plane to Oahu—the only one allowed on the island at the time—with Walsh knowing Frank was infected was something.

“Why didn’t the vaccine you gave me work?” Frank asked Angela as they sat on the deck and soaked in a Hawaiian sunset. The riots had stopped once the first mass shipment arrived in Honolulu. Enough to vaccinate everyone on the all the islands twice. “Matt said you’d been given a placebo, but obviously that’s not true.”

“You did get the vaccine,” said Angela. “But it was mixed with a little malaria.”

Frank bolted upright from his lounge chair. “Malaria?”

“Relax,” Angela waved a nonchalant hand through the air. “It was a tiny dose. And you’re fine now. I needed you to believe that you were infected. You’re a horrible liar.”

“Malaria has the fever and sweating symptoms,” said Frank, choosing not to acknowledge the liar comment. “But what about that thirst? I thought I was going to die if I didn’t have water.”

“That’s your own fault.”

“What?”

“I tried to get you to stop drinking so much.” Angela reached for a fruity alcoholic beverage of her own, sipping it with a smile. “You were just dehydrated.”

“Where does Matt fit into all of this?” asked Frank, certain Miss Top Agent knew the answer to that too. “I thought it was odd for him to show up out of nowhere like he did, but I didn’t quite suspect he was behind the whole epidemic. You think you know a guy…” Frank shook his head, remembering the cases they’d solved together. How well they’d worked as a team. He’d have never pegged Matt to switch sides.

“He was a pawn.”

“Whose pawn?” Frank asked, then immediately knew the answer. “If Walsh was the one giving you orders—”

“He wasn’t.”

Shaking his head, Frank reached for a glass of water. No more rum for this guy for a while.

“I know you have a few things to sort out,” said Angela, her eyes pointing inside the hotel suite. “But once you do, I have an invitation for you.” Angela sipped her drink. “My team… Let’s just say it’s not as basic as it seems.”

Frank sputtered a laugh. “I kind of figured that out with the super top secret clearance. So who do you report to?”

“The Director.”

“Of the CIA?”

Angela nodded. “If moving to Hawaii appeals to you, I could use a man like you on my team.”

Suddenly the idea of drinking didn’t seem so crazy. Frank craved a mai tai, wishing room service could read his mind and just make one appear. “Why would I want that? You bossing me around all the time?” Frank shook his head. “What made you even ask?”

“Because you have something I don’t.” Angela watched the sun dip below the horizon.

“Immaturity?”

Angela laughed. A true, hearty laugh that Frank had never heard before. “Impulsiveness.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“At times, it’s a very good thing. It’s why most of us are still alive.”

“Okay, now I really need a drink.” Frank hopped up from his lounge chair. “I must be losing my mind, because I think you just gave me a compliment.”

~THE END~