|Manda Rider 3: Endgame
Author: Raven O'Connor PM
COMPLETED Someone from Michael Mackenzie's past has kidnapped Manda. For her release, Michael has to accept one impossible demand that could prove unlawful and dangerous.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Drama - Chapters: 21 - Words: 70,087 - Reviews: 104 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 06-10-04 - Published: 03-22-04 - Status: Complete - id: 1558477
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"NOOO!!" Manda finally screamed as she stared at Michael's unmoving body.
"Isn't it nice to be able to finally eliminate annoying pests like you two?" Young said, with a smirk. "Now, I'm going to finish you off for good, Miss Rider."
Manda tried to run, but her injured leg was failing her. She could only look at the barrel of the gun, knowing it would be the last thing she would see before she died. For a moment, she could almost see the outcome of this scenario. Her end.
"Goodbye, again, Miss Rider."
A blur of movement tackled Young to the ground before she could even pull the trigger.
"What the --"
It was Michael. Somehow, he had miraculously gotten up and was struggling with the woman for the gun. Manda could only watch in stunned silence. Michael grabbed Young's wrist and slammed her hand against the concrete. She cried in pain and the gun dropped from her hand, and Michael swiped it away from them. Young refused to be defeated, and gave a blow across his face with her fist. Manda found herself wincing as she watched. Michael didn't even return a counterattack when Young did it again. Michael continued pinning her down.
"Knock her out, Michael!" Manda yelled at him in frustration.
He took a chance to look at her, hesitating. "She's a woman."
"Huh?" She looked at him in confusion. She half-crawled toward him.
"I... I'm not comfortable hitting a woman," he admitted.
"You mean you would let a woman beat you to death, and you'd do nothing about it?" she shouted at him when she reached beside him. "ARE YOU INSANE?"
He winced. "You don't have to shout into my ear!"
Manda curled her fist into tight ball and smacked it against Young's jaw that knocked her out instantly. "Mission accomplished," she said, glaring at him. He sighed in relief, and scrambled away from Young. He sat on the ground, facing Manda, while taking a deep breath.
At that moment, she heard running footsteps heading toward them. She turned and saw Agent Daniels and his colleagues. He had a concerned expression on his face.
"Miss Rider! We've heard shots and headed here as fast as we could. We were almost on our way to the station when we noticed you two were missing," Daniels said. Then his eyes widened when he saw her leg. "You're shot!" He turned around to face his men. "GET ME A PARAMEDIC NOW."
A couple of FBI agents grabbed Young and cuffed her wrists. Manda let out a breath in relief. She glanced at Michael.
"I thought you were shot," she told Michael.
"I played possum," he said with a sheepish smile. "When I saw Young about to pull the trigger, I dropped to the ground, but she managed to get me though. It's only a graze." He showed her his right upper arm. His hand was smeared with blood when he touched the wound.
"I should have said thanks, but what you did was stupid, and -- and dangerous. I really had thought you were dead. I've already told you not to take risks for me! Why didn't you listen?"
She felt his eyes watching her until her vision became blurry.
"Hey... Don't cry. There's nothing to be upset about." His voice came out gentle, and soothing, as he placed his good arm on her shoulder.
"I'm not crying!" But she was horrified and embarrassed to see droplets of tears on her hands. She turned away from him, but the movement of her leg caused her to wince in pain. "My leg hurts. And where is the paramedic?" she called out to no one.
"They're on their way. Just hold on," Agent Daniels said, looking worried, taking wrongly of her tear-streaked face as her pain from her wound.
"Good," she said. "I just want to forget everything about this case."
Michael headed to the FBI field office after the paramedic had tended his wound. Manda was still in the hospital, and he would visit her later as soon as he had finished giving his statement to Agent Daniels. Michael had known the routine quite well. He should have anticipated the process would take hours. He also didn't expect that Daniels had transferred Thorn to New York for further interrogation. Thorn had leered at Michael when he was about to be brought into the room, and Michael had fought an urge to strangle the man with his bare hands.
"Are you happy now, Mikey?" Thorn growled. "I know ya wanted to kill me right now. I can see it on your face." He gave a twisted smile.
Michael didn't answer. "You're a coward, Thorn. So what if my Dad had sent you to that rehab center in the first place? Taking it out on me was an act of cowardice. I'm not scared of you anymore."
"Oh, really? Mikey has come to his senses, eh? You'll be eating back your words sooner than you think! Remember that." He spat out before he was led to the interrogation room.
Michael tried not to appear shaken by Thorn's words. Instead, he merely shrugged before he left the office. By the time he reached the hospital, it was almost nine PM, and the visiting hours were over. Disappointed, he decided to go back home.
He didn't expect again to see Rodriguez and Oborski at his home, discussing something with Mr. Mackenzie in the living room. He already hated the smug on Rodriguez's face. Either he was a good actor, or he didn't know his wife had already been arrested.
"You look pretty cheerful, Rodriguez. The trial going well?" Michael asked casually.
"The judge has given the prosecutors three days to find the evidence, or he'll throw the case out," Mr. Mackenzie replied in a bored voice.
The evidence.Even if Pavlov could testify against Rodriguez, without the evidence, her testimonials would be meaningless. And according to Daniels, only Manda's dad knew where he kept it. The problem now, Manda's dad was still in coma. He hated the sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought that Rodriguez would be scot-free again.
"Perhaps the FBI can find out from Cherry Young," he said tactfully. He was inwardly pleased to see the startled and panicked look in Rodriguez's eyes.
"And how might you know of this information, young man?" Mr. Mackenzie looked at him in disdain.
"I was there," he said and left the room before both men could say anything.
He was weary by the time he reached his room. He went to the bathroom and cleaned himself up. How could they find where Mr. Rider had hid the evidence? They could search for clues at his office, or his home. He would need Manda's help for that though, but it wasn't looking too good now that Manda was in the hospital. He sighed, and sank down on his bed, putting his face into his hands. He hoped Manda's dad would wake up soon. He'd hate to think what would happen if Mr. Rider couldn't make it. Manda had been facing too many deaths lately. Stifling his yawn, he quickly undressed before going to bed into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, Michael arrived at the hospital as soon as the visiting hour had started. Manda was lying on her bed when he came into her room. She looked cleaner than yesterday, except for the visible bruises on the side of her face, and a few stitches just below her hairline. Her hair was smooth, and neatly combed, but she still looked pale. She gave him a wan smile when she saw him, and lifted herself to a sitting position carefully.
"Hi," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"The usual." She shrugged.
"How's the leg?"
"Still hurts after the operation. I might not be able to walk properly in a few weeks. In the meantime, I have to use a wheelchair." She made her face, glaring at a wheelchair next to the bed.
"Here. I bought you this. Your favorite all-time food." He handed her a flat purple box. He had bought it downstairs from the drugstore.
She lifted the lid, and smiled. "Chocolates. Thanks." Then her expression turned somber. "Michael, I'm sorry."
He lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "What's to be sorry about?"
Her face reddened in embarrassment. "I've really had thought you had killed Pavlov."
Michael couldn't help feeling a little insulted, but after what she had been through lately, he knew she couldn't help it. "Forget it." He waved it off.
"No. I know you wouldn't kill anyone, but when Thorn mentioned how you'd do anything for me, I was afraid..."
"You don't have to listen to Thorn. I know where my conscience lies. You... You just have to learn to trust me."
He could see the relief look on her face as she nodded. "Any word on my Dad's condition?" she asked, changing the subject.
He shook his head slowly. "He's still the same."
"I can't wait to be released tomorrow."
"I'll drive you back to Apple Point."
She shook her head. "I want to go straight to the hospital. I haven't seen my Dad since he's admitted there."
"I'm sorry about your dad."
"It's all in a day's work." She gave a bitter laugh. There was a thoughtful look on her face. "My dad had said something to me before he was unconscious. I can't figure out what he meant."
"What is it?"
"One of them had something to do with Pavlov's evidence."
"Maybe you should repeat to me his exact words."
She frowned in concentration as she tried to recall her memory. She repeated what her father had told her, and Michael was a little perplexed after she finished telling him. Jambiyas collection? Manda was only a replacement? For whom? And Pavlov's evidence was Manda? Mr. Rider must have been really hallucinating.
"I certainly don't have Pavlov's evidence," Manda told him. "I don't know what to make of the rest of his words."
"Maybe he's telling you the location of the evidence. I've seen your dad's Jambiyas collection. Maybe he's hidden something in there," he suggested.
Her eyes twinkled a little. "Maybe you're right," she said, and then she frowned. "But I can't go out of the hospital now."
"I'll do it for you," he offered.
"Okay," she agreed with a reluctant nod. "My house keys are in the drawer. My dad has moved his study to the basement. His Jambiyas are down there," she added as Michael retrieved the keys from the drawer.
The sudden knock on the door made their heads turned toward the sound. Agent Daniels was at the door.
"Ah, I was hoping to talk to Miss Rider first, but apparently someone else has beaten me to it," the agent said good-naturedly. Even though he was smiling, Michael could tell the agent was exhausted. There were black circles around his eyes, and his suit was rumpled, as if he'd been sleeping in it.
"How's the case going?" Michael asked.
"Ms. Pavlov is ready to testify. She's more determined than ever since the attempt last night."
"Why did she want to go against Rodriguez after all these years? What's the catch?"
"No catch," Daniels replied. "Her family had been working for Rodriguez for years, and she inherited the job from her father, who died long time ago. Rodriguez wouldn't allow anyone working for him to go out of his 'empire'. She was bound to work for him from the beginning, and she told us that she hated every moment of it. She wanted out, but didn't know how until she saw the article about you two."
"About us?" Manda stared at him in amazement.
"Yes. Both of you had helped to bring down Andrew Kane's operation not too long ago. Kane was one of Rodriguez's important men. Pavlov admired your motivation to fight people like Rodriguez. You believe in what you're fighting for."
Michael felt his face grew warm by the sudden compliment that he wasn't sure of what to do about it. He was used to people complimenting on his looks, or his brains, but never like this. Never about a cause. As he glanced at Manda's stunned expression, he could tell she felt the same way, too.
"That... That's nice," Manda finally said.
"We could use people like you to join us," Daniels told them seriously.
Michael coughed. "Well... uh, I don't think I'm cut out for that."
"That's what beginners think. After a little training, you'll be ready to work with us. What do you say?"
Michael glanced at Manda, who was contemplating about her decision. Her father had always wanted her to join the FBI. Now that her father was in critical condition, getting recruited into the FBI would mean a lot to her now than before. Or would she back off completely because of the risks? Manda had never told him what her real ambition was. At the university, he knew she took a little of everything, from Criminology to English Literature. It was as if she was still undecided of what she wanted to be.
"I'm sticking to my major," Michael spoke up, while Manda was silent.
"Hey, at least I tried," the agent said with a wry grin. "Anyway, I need to get back to business. The prosecutors would like you two to testify against Rodriguez in front of the Grand Jury."
Manda and Michael exchanged knowing looks.
"We'll be ready," she told him firmly.
"Good. I'll be in touch. Now, if you don't mind, Mr. Mackenzie, I'd like to get a statement from Miss Rider alone."
Michael complied and left the room.
Michael arrived at the Rider's house almost an hour later. The house still looked the same since the last time had stepped in here. He entered the house with the keys he had gotten from Manda. The scent of honeysuckle was still there when he stepped into the living room.
He didn't want to waste time lingering in the room. If he remembered correctly, the door that led to the basement was in the kitchen. He went through the kitchen, stopping for a moment to shake his head at the dirty dishes in the sink, before he found the door to the basement. He turned the knob and swung the door open. His hand reached around to flick on the light switch.
The room brightened, and he found himself facing a stairs that went down to the basement. He went down, and directly opposite of him was Mr. Rider's Turkish Jambiyas collection. He rushed over and inspected the glass case. He pulled the glass door open. Gleaming blades winked at him as he felt around the interior of the display case. Everything seemed intact. His fingers ran over every crack around it.
"Hello. What's this?" he murmured when he touched a small metal hook between the border of the display and its frame. He lifted the hook, and then heard a faint click. The crack between the display and the frame widened, and Michael pulled the display toward him. There seemed to be hidden hinges behind it, and he pulled it open like he was opening a door. Behind it lay a large manila envelope. Judging by the brown aging color of the envelope, Michael guessed it had been here very long. His heart thudded excitedly as he picked up the bulky envelope.
Unable to hide his curiosity, he pulled the flap open and fished out a folder. His heart almost stopped when he read the file name. It wasn't Pavlov's evidence. It was something else entirely. He opened the file and skimmed through it with an expert ease. He was glad he had the ability of speed-reading. He still couldn't hide his shock after he had read it, and as he placed the file into the envelope, he knew he had to show this to Manda in person. It might change her life forever.
"Manda!" Michael couldn't help shouting as soon as he stepped into her room. He grew embarrassed when he noticed a nurse giving him a disapproving glance as she tended with Manda's medication.
"Michael, what's wrong?" Manda asked worriedly after the nurse had left. She sat up slowly on the bed.
"I've got --"
"Wait. Did you hear?" she interrupted him with an excited look.
"Hear what?" he couldn't help asking in impatience.
"Agent Daniels has found out where my Dad has kept the evidence."
"That's good to -- What?"
"I told him what my Dad had told me. Agent Daniels figured it out right away. It was right under his nose all this time." Manda shook her head with a chuckle. "Dad wrote the bank name and the vault number at the back of my picture on his office desk. Daniels told me my dad never fails to look at it every morning."
"Wow. That's great. That means the prosecutor would be ready for the trial."
"Uh-huh. This would be the endgame for Rodriguez's empire. Once Rodriguez is sentenced, which I hope he would be, the FBI will have to clean up all the mess. I'm sure there are other Rodriguez's men running for cover."
"Sounds like he's going to be very busy."
"They are." She nodded. "Isn't this great?"
His expression must have betrayed him when she looked at him and asked, "What's wrong, Michael? You look as if you've seen a ghost."
"Uh... In a way," he mumbled, unsure how he was going to break the news to her. "I've found what your dad has been hiding." He handed her the envelope, before he stood back and waited.
She seemed reluctant to open the envelope, as if afraid to find out, but after the last moment she pulled out the contents. Her black brows furrowed as she read the file name.
"I don't understand. The casefile of Logan Rider. Who's he?" She looked up at him in confusion.
"The son of Blake Rider and Lauren Kavanaugh-Rider." He paused a moment to let the statement sink in. "He was your brother, Manda. You had an older brother." Michael couldn't blame her stunned expression. He knew it was a lot to swallow.
"B-But that's impossible! How come my parents kept this from me? And why did you say I had a brother? What happened to him now?" Her voice came out in a rush.
Michael calmly opened the folder. "I don't know why your parents kept it as a secret, but your brother died when he was five years old -- murdered. He was one of the victims of a serial killer. I've read the file. The killer had been prosecuted and sentenced to death."
"But I would have remembered him! If Logan was my brother, there would have been pictures of him around the house." She still refused to read the file. He could tell she was very upset, and he hated to be the one to tell her about this.
"You probably couldn't remember him. You were only one year old when he was kidnapped and murdered. There are lots of his pictures inside the envelope. Maybe his death was too painful for your parents that they didn't want to remember that it ever happened."
She picked up one photograph of a young boy with curly black hair and blue eyes. He was smiling into the camera, and Michael could see a slight resemblance between the boy and Manda. But the boy looked too much like a younger version of Mr. Rider.
"I'm sorry," Michael said.
"It's not your fault. I'm the one who asked you to look for it."
"I mean about your brother -- the way he died."
"I wonder what he'd do if he didn't die. He probably would join the FBI -- just like Dad had wanted. Now, I understand why my dad told me I'm just a replacement." She turned her head away from him and wiped her eyes, as if embarrassed to be crying in front of him.
He sat at the edge of the bed, facing her. "It's okay to cry, Manda," he told her in a gentle voice.
She shook her head vehemently. "I've been crying too much lately." But she buried her face against his chest when he pulled her closer to comfort her.
"There's nothing you can do now about your brother," he told her. "But I'll think of something to cheer you up. Now that Rodriguez is out of the way, we have nothing to worry about."
"I have to worry about my dad. I have to worry how I have to support myself from now on." She pulled away, blowing her nose with a tissue, which he couldn't figure out where she had gotten it. She gave him an embarrassed look. "Sorry."
"No problem." He smiled, glad that she looked a little composed.
"I'll probably be busy looking for a part-time job after the exam is over. And you... you'll be busy with your marriage."
"I've told you I'm not marrying Angela," he said in annoyance.
"I find that hard to believe. Angela strikes me as someone who is determined to get what she wants."
He didn't answer her. He knew how resourceful Angela could be, but he knew one thing -- he didn't feel anything for her like he used to feel. He had to resolve his problem with Angela soon -- as soon as he figured out what she was planning.
"You sound as if you don't want us to hang out together," he remarked in apprehension.
She looked up at him in surprise, noticing how she hesitated with an answer. "Your father wouldn't like it."
"I'm not letting that stop me. It never has before," he told her firmly. He took her hand when he noticed she was wearing the bracelet. For some reason, he was pleased to see it around her wrist. She flushed as he fingered the bracelet. "I don't understand. You'd refused to accept it."
"I know. I'm sorry about that. I was... upset about everything," she murmured. "Friends forever," she read the inscription. "Do you really mean it?"
"Just my wishful thinking," he told her, tucking her long black hair behind her ears.
Her cheeks colored, and she looked at him shyly. "I'll try. I don't really have a great record of keeping friends, you know."
"That's one risk I'm willing to take."
"Thanks, Michael. That's the best gift a person could ever have." She surprised him with a hug, and a peck on his cheek.
This time he felt his face grew warm. He caught a whiff of lavender when she pulled away. Their eyes met and locked. They smiled.
"Do you think you're ready to crack the books on Monday?" he asked her. "We still have to worry about exams."
She made a face. "Meeting in the library, again? After what had happened?"
"You're not suggesting we study in your room, are you? There could be other kind of... distraction," he said with a mischievous hint.
"There's nothing distracting --" she stopped when she realized his meaning. She glared at him. "Fine. We'll go to the library. You really have a filthy mind. You know that?"
He suppressed his smile. If she knew what he had been thinking about her these past few days, he would receive another black eye from her. But he was surprised to find that he didn't mind. He didn't mind going through the trouble for her. It was worth it.
Heh, the story finally ends. Or is it? I know some of you are wondering when is Michael going to marry Manda. I'll have to think about that. ;) But don't worry, there will be Manda Rider 4, for anyone who's interested. It might take a while to be posted though. I'm leading a busy lifestyle nowadays. :(
Anyway, I would like to thank everyone who has reviewed this story. Sorry about those cliffhangers, but I did try to tone it down. I love cliffhangers, that's why. I'm not sure what I think about this story, but I did enjoy writing it. I'm just too critical when it comes to my own work. I know there are some parts that still need to be worked though. Other than that, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks.