CHAPTER ONE

"Hannibal..."

"Look, Face, I'm not any happier about this than you are. But I need Murdock to fly us down there, and, no offense, but BA will be of more use actually taking this guy down than you would be. And you know we can't leave Amy alone, not now."

Face shook his head, resigned. "It would've been nice if Tovey had let us know about these other guys before."

"He had no way of knowing this dirtbag had called in hired guns. Hell, he doesn't even know who this guy is for sure, just that he's working out of San Diego - and that's a little too far from LA to ensure a quick rescue if Amy gets into trouble." Hannibal grinned. "At least she won't be so upset about baby-sitting if she's got some adult company."

"Hey, those three kids are Amy's job. Mine's security. Strictly security."

Hannibal grinned even wider. "Sure, kid. Just be sure to tell her that."


*****

Amy parked the car on the street and looked over at the house. Or at least, the high fence surrounding the property. The house itself was hidden from the street by distance and trees. All but the one high turret. She knew this was one of the original homes in the area and that much of its surrounding land had been sold off over the years. Still, the grounds surrounding what must be a massive Victorian were some twenty acres of thick woods.

It had taken forever to find the house. She'd found the "main drag" without any problem, but after that none of her turns seemed to be where she was told they would be. She was nervous enough under the circumstances. Shivering suddenly, she looked up and down the darkening street. Face was supposed to meet her here, but he was still en route. She picked up the receiver to her car phone, glaring at it. It had stopped working almost as soon as she had driven into this neighborhood. Tossing it back on the seat, she started the car and pulled up to the gate. She would just have to try and call him from the house.

She reached through the car window and rang the buzzer. She expected to hear a voice through the intercom, but instead, the ornate metal gates merely swung slowly open. She took a quick look around to see if there was a camera somewhere, but if there was, it was well hidden. She hesitated before putting the car in gear. She didn't like the look of this place, not one bit.

As she drove along the long narrow drive, she kept glancing to the sides. Nothing but trees and small bushes. She couldn't see the house at all, not even the lights. Between the tree cover and the clouds that had sprung up just before dusk, her only real view was that in the headlights. She began to wish she'd waited for Face to show up.

After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only a few minutes, Amy suddenly drove out of the trees and saw the house, sitting stark and stern in the middle of a large clearing. Cupid-like statues surrounded a formal rose garden in front of the house, the driveway separating them. Amy could see a dim light through the window in the front door; otherwise the house was dark. She frowned. She was supposed to meet the nanny - well, college student - who looked after the kids. But it looked like no one was home. Almost immediately, lights shown through several other windows.

Automatic timers?

Amy glanced in the rearview mirror, hoping to see the headlights from Face's car, but no luck. Gritting her teeth, and chiding herself for being silly, she stepped out of the car and walked determinedly to the front porch. Before she could even reach for the bell, the massive front door opened, revealing the figure of a very tall, thin woman. Amy stepped back involuntarily. Embarrassed, she looked at the woman's face, realizing she was somewhat older than Amy. So, not the nanny.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Mrs Tovey? I'm Amy Allen. Your husband..."

"You've come to look after the children."

"Yes, yes, I have. Uh, I'm sorry. Mr Tovey hadn't mentioned that you would be here, too. I was to take over for the nanny."

"There's no one here except me, and the children. I can't stay. I have to leave."

"Oh. Well, is there a number where I can reach you? In case..."

"I have to leave now."

"Okay, well, maybe if you could just introduce me to the children before you go..."

"I have to leave now. I can't stay. Take care of the children."

Mrs Tovey moved past Amy, off the porch and past the car. Amy watched, perplexed.

"Uh, Mrs Tovey?"

"Take care of the children. Keep them safe."

Amy watched as the woman continued down the drive, eventually disappearing into the woods.

Amy turned, closing the door firmly behind her. Looking around, she saw the steep staircase going up to the still dark second floor. She stepped forward, glancing first to the left, where the formal parlor was dimly lit. Empty. She looked to her right, where the austere dining room held a large table with a pristine white tablecloth, laid out for a meal. It was also empty. The house itself was perfectly still.

Where were the children?