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 Family Reunion

 

Chapter 4

Gary leaned back in the seat. He'd almost left a message for Daniel...letting his son-in-law know that they needed to talk. He'd already told Charley he didn't want anyone but Daniel to know about this potential grandmother. Wasn't so certain he wanted Daniel to know just yet. Not until he knew for certain that the woman wasn't just a fraud. He'd called to let Casey know he was leaving, but hadn't been able to speak to her. According to Walter, Casey and Daniel had flown to Chicago at the last minute to attend a lecture given by one of Daniel's friends, and were due back at the SGC in time for lunch tomorrow. He'd be back in Silver Springs shortly thereafter. And he'd know for certain then just what he'd be telling Daniel about his paternal grandmother.

He'd been thinking about the...problem. Had decided that meeting Mrs. Jackson face to face was the best way to handle the situation. He'd already decided to drive to Butler; the small town wasn't more than an hour or so drive from Kansas City. If she was really who she claimed to be, he'd talk to Daniel and let the archaeologist determine the next step. But he had to make certain. There was always the chance that this was some twisted plot by the NID to nab the members of SG-1 in general...and his daughter in particular. He'd heard of similar methods being used by other agencies to catch a person of interest.

As if on their own accord, his thoughts turned to Charley. He'd called her from the airport, told her his plan to visit Butler, Missouri. And had asked her to accompany him. She was always spot on when it came to people. If she said Muriel Jackson was the real deal, well then, she was. He wondered, a bit bemusedly, if his secretary didn't have a touch of 'the gift' as well.

When the plane taxied to the terminal, he glanced out the window beside him. Caught a glimpse of the lovely blonde secretary standing with a group of people waiting for the passengers of the flight to disembark. He didn't want to examine it closely, but he did recognize the flare of excitement that seeing her caused. It brought a frown to his face. Especially when he realized in that moment that he hadn't kissed Janet goodbye. She had smiled and waved and disappeared into her office, and he'd just turned around and left. Airman, you have one hell of a problem on your hands, he grumped to himself.

That Charley's face lit up when she saw him was nothing new. Wouldn't acknowledge that the hug they shared was something new. Nor would he admit to himself that she never seemed as happy to see Lucky or Dancer or Jesse.

"Good flight?" Charley asked as they walked through the terminal to the parking garage.

"Same old, same old," he replied.

"Still up for some barbecue?" Her voice was teasing. Her eyes weren't.

He looked at her. Whatever was happening...whatever awareness he suddenly had...he would ignore for now. "I'm starving," he replied. Something in the back of his mind echoed that sentiment. And it had nothing to do with food.

"Me, too," she said softly. "Everyone's been so busy, no one has been in the office lately, so it's been awhile since I've been to BB's."

"Guess we'd better order the big platter," he grinned.

"Guess so."

That his fingers wrapped around hers meant nothing. He'd known the woman for years.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Janet looked up from the report she had been working on and smiled when Teal'c appeared in the doorway. "Hey, stranger! Haven't seen you around for a couple of days."

"My apologies, Doctor Fraiser. My schedule has been quite full. Two recruits are just recovering from the flu. I have been attempting to assist them in catching up with their classmates."

"I understand. And remember what we discussed?"

The Jaffa smiled. "Indeed...Janet."

The petite doctor beamed another smile. "Much better."

"I am on my way to the commissary for lunch-" 

And Casey isn't around, she thought with a silent chuckle. 

"-and thought I would see if you were free to accompany me."

Janet looked at the folders on her desk, all reports waiting for her signature. "That's the best offer I've had all day. Sometimes, the paperwork makes me want to scream."

"I find it rather annoying as well. Particularly when I am forced to fill out numerous forms for the same reason."

Janet giggled. "Nothing says 'military' like multiple copies of redundant forms."

"That your military has been able to win so many of its battles is surprising, given the penchant for such waste of time, which would be better used for training."

"I don't suppose there was much paperwork for you to deal with as First Prime."

"There was not."

"Ever miss being First Prime?"

His cheek twitched. "Each time I am forced to fill out request forms for equipment that should be issued to each cadet upon arrival."

Her giggles became a full laugh. "Let's go, before someone comes in here with something else for me to sign, initial, or fill out."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Gary scratched his name on the forms that Charley put in front of him. There had been at least a dozen, several were contracts...for the security services that Franklin Enterprises provided.

He sat back in his chair. Forty-six. That was the number of companies that FE was monitoring. Over half of them had signed up in just the past few months, the result of Dancer's ever successful sales pitch.

The new equipment that they were using meant that they'd been able to let support contracts with local security agencies lapse. They would provide all of the monitoring for the companies that had hired Franklin Enterprises. Which in turn meant visits to each site at least once a month to make certain the equipment was functioning properly. Two years earlier, when their customer list was a mere twenty-three companies, Jessie had explained the need for at least one warm body to be in the 'control room' twenty four hours a day. It was necessary, in order to provide true security. Someone had to be there if an alarm was triggered. Someone had to keep an eye on the remote cameras and heat sensors and motion detectors. Dancer and Lucky had been able to find and hire security companies - near each of the clients - who were willing to meet the stringent requirements of Franklin Enterprises. Buying the equipment necessary to handle the job 'in house' had meant needing the fees that came into the business monthly. Shortchanging their clients wasn't an option...not with what they were earning from those companies. So...hiring 'outside' help had been a temporary solution. It hadn't been an ideal solution, and certainly not what Gary had intended, but building up the business had to be done in steps. With Jessie's expertise, and Dancer's ability to locate the needed equipment - top-of-the-line, most up-to-date in security hardware - the switchover from hired companies to the equipment owned and operated solely by Franklin Enterprises had begun.

For the past six months, Jessie had, at Gary's insistence, been interviewing potential employees. Their job would consist solely of sitting in the control room, and just...watching. Calling the authorities in whatever city to report any problems that crept up. Jessie had everything set up so that a trained monkey would have been able to do the job. But discretion and dependability were key factors in any person hired to do the job.

With the number of monitoring systems involved, Jessie had suggested two people per shift, three shifts of eight hours each, five days on, three days off. Gary had approved, and hiring had begun. They hadn't set out to hire military only. That was, however, how it had turned out. Simply because the nine men and three women had all served in a security capacity in the military, and understood that what they did at Franklin Enterprises, while not a state secret by any means, wasn't to be discussed outside the walls of the building.

He had yet to actually meet any of these new employees. Which Charley had been complaining about for weeks. So, as long as he was here...the secretary had arranged for all of the 'monitoring teams', as Jessie had dubbed them, to meet their boss face-to-face. When he closed the last folder, he grabbed his coffee cup, heaved a sigh, and followed her into the control room.

Gary was still somewhat amazed that he could go into the large room, and watch what was happening, in real time, in forty-six different locations around the country. Apparently the team on duty consisted of a man and a woman. All of the people in the room were all wearing black pants, a black tee shirt with the small FE symbol, and black windbreakers that had 'Franklin Enterprises' written in gold on the back. He didn't remember okaying that...but no doubt Charley had a sheet of paper somewhere with his signature on it, declaring that such a 'uniform' was acceptable. He wondered briefly if Dancer, Lucky and Jessie had windbreakers like that, and where the hell was his?

"Okay, gang, this is the guy who signs your checks," Charley said, in way of introduction. "The man who started this company, and built it up from nothing."

He could feel the heat in his cheeks. "I didn't do it alone. I had a lot of help," he protested. Noticed that each face broke into a smile at his declaration. He looked over at Charley. "There'd better be a windbreaker for me in my closet," he growled.

"We wouldn't forget you, boss," the woman grinned. "Okay, the two seated at the stations are Bob and Carol."

"No jokes," Carol said immediately.

Gary grinned. "I didn't think you were old enough to know about that reference. That movie came out a long time ago. As long as you," he motioned with his cup to the other couple, "aren't Ted and Alice, I'll be okay. You know, 'Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice'. "

Chuckles filled the air. "Debbie and Brian," Charley said. The two nodded. "Joanne, Ricky, Brad, Damon, Randy, and Judge," she recited, pointing to each of the people sitting at the conference table. She pointed to the men who were standing beside one of the server towers. "And those two thugs over there are Kyle and Jim."

"I'm glad to meet you, and as belated as it is, welcome to Franklin Enterprises," Gary said. "Just so you know, I get full reports every week on everything that goes on here. Jessie has told me that all of you are damned good at what you do, and he's confident that if any emergencies arise, you'll take care of everything quickly and professionally."

The group exchanged glances, their faces revealing their pleasure over the words of praise.

"We've been damned lucky so far," Gary continued. "Don't get complacent. Statistics alone indicate that all hell is bound to break loose sooner or later."

Heads moved up and down in understanding.

Never one for small talk, Gary shifted uncomfortably. Now what the hell was he supposed to say?

"I suppose you need to head out now?" Charley suggested.

He glanced at his watch. Almost ten. "Yeah, I really do. It was nice to meet all of you."

The sentiments were returned, and those not working stood to make their way out as well.

Charley turned to one the woman she'd introduced as Debbie. "I don't know how long I'll be gone...if your shift starts before I get back, just put the answering machine on. Message number seven."

Debbie nodded. "No problem."

With a nod, Gary followed Charley back into the reception room. "When did this company get so damned big?"

"That's what happens when you're good, Gary," the woman said gently. "Franklin Enterprises has a reputation. A very good reputation. Not one of the companies with a Franklin security system has been hit. Dancer said that word on the street is that the system can't be beat, and if anyone even attempts to hack in, goons in black vans show up faster than the Feds do."

Gary chuckled. "I'm sure that Jessie and Dancer have nothing to do with that little tidbit hitting the streets."

Charley's blue eyes sparkled. "Oh, no, not at all." She took her purse from the closet behind her desk. "Ready to find out if your son-in-law has a grandma?"

"Yep." He led her to the bank of elevators. Through the garage to the SUV owned by the company.

"Do you have any idea how you're going to tell him, when this little old lady turns out to be the real deal?" She settled into the seat, fastened her seatbelt.

"Not a clue," Gary admitted. Traffic was light, considering it was Friday morning. Most people were probably trying to clear their desks, get everything done early, to make the most of what promised to be a beautiful weekend.

Charley patted his arm. "You'll think of something."

"Maybe you should come to Silver Springs," Gary suggested. "You're good with this sort of thing. You could help me tell him."

"Uh...no," Charley said quietly.

"To which part?"

"The Silver Springs part."

He glanced at her, noticed the frown on her face. Returned his attention to the traffic around him. "Why not?"

"You're not stupid, Gary," Charley snapped.

"Maybe not...but I am confused."

She shook her head. "You're involved with someone."

"What the hell has that got to do with anything?" he asked, exasperation in every nuance of his being.

"Maybe you are stupid," she said softly.

"I have no idea what the hell you're talking about! Charley, you've been one of my best friends for twenty damned years! What the hell is the big deal about coming to Silver Springs to help me tell Daniel about his grandmother?"

She turned to stare out the window beside her. Only recently had the thought of being more than Gary's friend crossed her mind. Cookie had been her best friend. Gary was Cookie's husband. That meant she'd never even looked at him 'that way'. But when he'd casually mentioned, during one of their almost daily phone conversations, that he'd fallen in love, and then told her about Janet, she'd realized in that moment that she'd loved Gary for a very long time. It had been difficult to reassure him that his interest in a woman fifteen years his junior wasn't a big deal...that age didn't mean anything. What she had wanted to do was to scream that there was a woman closer to his own age, a woman with similar life experiences...someone who knew him better than anyone, right in front of him.

When he took the exit for the smaller county highway, he almost cursed out loud. Just when he needed the distraction of traffic to help him avoid thinking about this...thing...whatever it was between him and Charley...there was none. Gary wasn't a stupid man. He'd noticed the way Charley had looked at him the night before. The subtle touch of her fingers against his hand or arm as they talked and laughed. The way she seemed to snuggle into his arms when they'd decided that a dance or two was just what they needed after stuffing themselves with barbecued ribs and coleslaw and cornbread. The way she suddenly seemed jealous over Janet.

He rolled his eyes mentally. Just when the hell had everything changed? When had Charley gone from being his friend to being the woman that he...Oh, shit. He braked slowly, pulled the SUV to the side of the very empty highway.

"Gary? What's wrong?" Charley asked immediately, her eyes wide. She had glanced behind them as if she expected to see that they had picked up a tail.

"We need to talk."

"Now?"

"Now," Gary said firmly. "Something....something changed, Charley. I don't know when-" He broke off. That wasn't exactly true. Not now that he thought about it. When he had started seeing Janet, he'd dealt with his feelings of guilt. Feeling as if he was cheating on Cookie. The first time he'd made love to the petite doctor, he'd spent the remainder of the night trying to figure out why he felt so...excited. It wasn't just the love he was feeling for Janet. It was a sense of freedom...something he hadn't felt in years. Not since he'd met Cookie. He wiped a hand over his face. "Oh, Christ."

"Talk to me, Gary. If you can't talk to your best friend, who can you talk to?" Charley said gently. Kept her hands locked together and in her lap.

"I love Janet. She's a sweet, vibrant, wonderful woman."

Not exactly what she wanted to hear, Charley thought. She nodded, forcing back the tears that threatened to fall.

"I didn't allow myself to feel that...to feel anything...after Cookie died. Then I found Casey, and it was okay to love her, because she's my daughter. Then Janet bounced into my life, and offered her love, no strings attached. And it was okay to love her, because I knew it would never be anything more than just a lovely interlude. We'd have a good time, and then she'd meet the man who could offer her forever, and we'd go our separate ways."

In spite of herself, she could feel the hope surging in her heart.

"You've always been there, Charley. You kept me together after..." he closed his eyes as memories of those dark, cold days immediately following Cookie's death filled his mind. "You were there every day. Kept me going. You're the one who pushed me to move to Silver Springs, so I could be near Casey. To have time with her. God, what am I going to tell Janet?"

That tiny flicker of hope flashed upward, became a flame that burned hot, filling her entire being. "Tell her about what?"

"Charley, I think I'm in love with you," Gary admitted quietly.

"You think?"

"Hey, right now, in this moment, I'm not too damned sure about anything. Only that you'll always be there for me, no matter what."

She shook her head sadly. "No, Gary. Not any more. I can't. I've waited. I didn't even know I was waiting, until you told me about...about her." How petty was it that she couldn't even say his lover's name out loud? "In that moment you stopped being Cookie's husband. That's when you became the man I love."

He struggled to make sense of what he was feeling...the emotions that were churning inside him. He honestly loved Janet. She was an incredible woman, and she'd always be a friend...if she'd allow him to be her friend, that was. But he'd never fallen in love with her. That was why...he realized in that moment...that was the reason he'd never been able to move in with her. To make what they had something more...permanent. "I guess I had to take that first step...to start living again," Gary said slowly.

"I guess so," Charley agreed.

"Let me ask you something, and be honest with me."

She raised an eyebrow. "When has that ever been a problem?"

He grinned. "Janet asked me to move in with her. I...I couldn't do it. I just couldn't take that step. I was never able to explain it to myself, let alone to her. So I avoided the topic. And she never pushed. She'd tease me about it from time to time...but when I changed the subject, she let me. And..." He paused. "The past few times I was...with...her, it was like she really didn't want me to stay."

Charley frowned. "What's the question?"

"Has she figured out I'm not in love with her?"

She thought about the question. About what he had told her. "Probably. The fact that she's not pushing for a commitment, or even an explanation, might mean she's not exactly in love with you, either. Didn't you say that the two of you...got together...on the heels of a break up?"

Gary nodded. "Yeah. She wasn't broken up about it, I mean, she was hurt, that's just the nature of the beast. But at the same time, it wasn't like she had expected anything more than what she had with the guy."

"You were her rebound romance. She was your...first step...in coming back to life," Cookie said slowly.

He scrubbed his hands over his face. "A fine, fucked up mess this is," he grumped.

"Something tells me Janet isn't going to be as upset as you're worried she will be." How about that, Charley thought. I said her name, and didn't even wince!

"I just hope she won't hate me. She's one of Casey's best friends, and it will be damned uncomfortable at get-together's if she does."

Charley smiled. "Somehow, from what you've told me about her, I don't think that will happen."

He took a deep breath. Wrapped his fingers around the soft hand of the woman he loved...was in love with. "Now what?"

"Now we talk to Muriel Jackson and find out if she's really Daniel's grandmother."

"And then?"

"We'll figure it out," Charley promised.

With a weak smile, Gary nodded. Pulled back onto the two-lane road. They'd figure it out. Cookie had said damned near the same thing when they had finally admitted to one another that the love was there, deep and pure and true. Much like what he felt for Charley. For a moment, he felt as if Cookie was nearby, rolling her eyes, and telling him it was about damned time he'd figured it out. Thanks, babe, he said silently. Certain that Cookie was still watching out for him.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The town was small, only the main street was paved, the others all carefully graded dirt and sand. Because the town was laid out in a grid, it didn't take long to locate the address that Gary had found for Muriel. The house was a modest ranch style, similar to those around it. The garden was full of green sprouts...the yard would be beautiful when the profusion of bushes and flowers bloomed, and he could see the newly tilled dirt for a garden in the back.

Gary knocked on the screen door, noting that the heavy, inside door was open to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.

"Just a minute!"

Not expecting company, Muriel Jackson hurried into the living room, wiping her hands on the wide, gingham apron tied around her waist. She'd been baking pies for the church bazaar that would be held the following day. She didn't recognize the couple who stood on her porch. "Yes?"

"Muriel Jackson?" Gary asked politely.

"That's me." She responded automatically. No doubt Marty would have a hissy fit about that, she thought.

"I'm Gary Franklin. We spoke on the phone yesterday."

Her heart skipped a beat, then began beating wildly. "You've found Daniel?"

The look of hope on her face was his undoing. "Yes, ma'am. Actually...well, this is going to sound strange..."

Muriel opened the door. "Please come in."

Charley smiled. She could see Daniel in his grandmother's eyes. The way she held her head as she watched them enter her home. When Gary caught her eye, she nodded happily.

"Please, sit down," Muriel invited. She perched on the edge of her rocker as the couple settled onto the sofa.

"Mrs. Jackson, I have no idea how to tell you this. So I'm just going to start sort of in the middle."

"All right."

"Your grandson, Daniel Jackson, is my son-in-law."

For a moment all she could do was stare stupidly at the man. "You know Daniel? You know my grandson? Is he all right? Is he safe? Is he happy?"

Gary smiled at the questions of concern that tumbled from the elderly woman's lips. "He's fine. He's an archaeologist, but you already knew that. He works for the Air Force, doing classified work. He's a loving husband to my daughter."

"I see. Does she treat him right?"

He grinned. "She treats him with as much love and care as he treats her."

Muriel sat back. "Does he know?"

"Not yet. But I have the feeling he'll be hell bent to meet you when he finds out you're looking for him."

Her heart fluttered again. "Are you sure? He has every right to tell me to take a flying leap off a tall building."

"Daniel isn't that sort of man," Charley said quietly.

"He's like his father," Muriel murmured. "Forgiving." She'd only just found the stack of letters. They'd been in a box in the basement. It had been on top of Melburn's desk, moved when Marty and Adam had brought the desk upstairs. Her son had never stopped writing, even though she had. The letters had arrived sporadically it seemed, according to the postmarked dates, one every other week or so for a couple of months, and then nothing for months at a time. Letters that talked about a girl named Claire...whom he'd met and fallen in love with in college. How they'd decided to wed. Then the letter announcing the birth of his son. He'd even written a letter to his father. It hadn't been an apology. But he had been reaching out, trying to mend the rift between the two. And then, they had stopped. Not one of those letters had never been opened. She had no idea how Marvin had managed to hide them from her. But he had. If only she had known...

It was a spur of the moment idea. Probably a bad one. But suddenly Gary didn't want to waste any time in bringing about the reunion between Daniel and the grandmother who obviously loved him, even if she didn't actually know him. "Mrs. Jackson, I'm going to be flying back to Silver Springs this afternoon. I'd be more than happy to pay for a ticket, round trip of course, if you'd like to accompany me."

"Oh, my!" Her hands flew to her chest, pressed against the heart that pounded beneath them. "I don't know-"

"I realize it's sudden. Is there someone who can take care of your house for a few days?"

"Well I know Helen would, she's my best friend's daughter. And Marty, he's the sheriff here in town, he'd be willing to drive by to check on it as well."

"I noticed a Rexall Drug store on Main Street. How about if Mrs. Taylor and I go have a soda there, and come back in about an hour?"

She'd never flown in her life. But, oh, to be able to meet Daniel...to hold him in her arms and know he was all right, that the son of her Melburn was all right...She nodded. "I'll be ready."

Gary nodded in return. "We'll be back in an hour."

 

 

 

Charley waited until they'd pulled out of the driveway. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Probably. But you know as well as I do that Daniel is going to want to meet her. She needs to see for herself that he's okay."

She smiled. "Yeah, it was obvious, wasn't it?"

He chuckled. "Slightly. She didn't waste time in looking for Daniel once her husband was gone. I'd say she's been thinking about this for a very long time. Why make her wait any longer than necessary?"

"Let's just hope Daniel will feel the same way."

"I'll tell him about her first. I won't take her to his doorstep unannounced."

"Good idea."

 

 

 

Her hands were shaking when Muriel picked up the phone. "Susan? Oh, Susan you'll never believe what's happened!"

"Then tell me, for heaven's sake," Susan insisted.

"Mr. Franklin, from Franklin Enterprises is here. He's Daniel's father-in-law!"

There was a short pause. "Did you get his credentials? Did you ask for ID? Did he ask for money?"

It was Muriel's turn to pause. She had recognized the voice as belonging to the man she had spoken to over the phone. "No, but I know it was him. I talked to him, remember? He offered to pay my way to where Daniel lives...round trip!"

Another pause. "I'm on my way over."

"Susan!" It was too late. By the time she could redial, Susan would be walking in the back door. With a sigh, Muriel went back to the kitchen to check on her pies. Then to her room to pack a bag. Her instincts were telling her that Mr. Franklin was on the up and up. And she wasn't about to pass up a chance to meet Daniel as soon as possible!

 

 

 

Gary looked up when the sheriff walked into the drug store. He and Charley were the only customers in the small cafe section, sitting at the counter sipping on chocolate malts that were the best he'd tasted in years.

"Afternoon, folks," Marty said amiably.

"Sheriff," Gary nodded. Couldn't help but grin when he thought that the entire scene seemed taken directly from an old western movie.

Charley smiled. "I'm going to get my ID. Gary, get your license."

Marty's eyes went wide. "I don't recall asking for any identification."

Her smile went wider. "Ours is the only 'strange' vehicle in town. We're not here ten minutes and the sheriff comes in. You're checking on us. And that's a good thing," she added with a wink. She handed her driver's license to the man.

Gary had withdrawn his driver's license, his gun license and the permit to carry, which he actually wasn't doing at the moment, and a business card. "We just came from Muriel Jackson's home. She hired me to find her grandson. Who just happens to be my son-in-law."

Marty scrutinized the cards, handed the licenses back, pocketed the business card. "Now how about that?"

He chuckled. "Yeah, what are the odds? I offered to pay round trip air fare for her to accompany me to Silver Springs, Colorado. That's where Daniel and Casey, my daughter, live."

"I see."

"When Daniel finds out about his grandmother, he's going to be hell bent to meet her. And from what I could tell, Mrs. Jackson is just as anxious to meet her grandson."

"I reckon she is," Marty allowed. He nodded his thanks when Peggy, part owner of Rexall's, put a cup of coffee in front of him. "Didn't even know she had a grandson."

"Son of her oldest," Gary replied.

"Um...that would be Melburn, as I recall."

"Did you know Melburn?"

Marty shook his head. "My dad went to school with him. He was long gone before I came to be."

Gary nodded his understanding. "I know this sounds...crazy. Hell, it's hard for me to believe, and you wouldn't believe some of the things I've seen. But this is all on the up and up. You can check out my business. I also have an apartment in Silver Springs, I can write the address on that business card."

Marty took a sip of his coffee. "Oh, I'll be checking you out. For now, I'm going to believe that you're not some shyster out to bilk a nice old lady out of her life's savings."

Charley began to giggle. "Here..." she scribbled a number on a napkin, then grabbed her cell phone. Dialed a number. Winked again at the sheriff as she waited for her call to go through. "Delores? Charley Taylor. I'm going to put someone on the phone. He's going to give you a number. You just give him the balance. Yes, I'm sure. Hang on."

Not certain what was going on, Marty recited the number. His eyes went wide, flew to Gary when he heard the response. Handed the phone back to Charley. Visibly shook himself. "That could have been a set up."

Gary sighed. "Could have been. Do me a favor. Go to your office. Call the Wells Fargo bank in Kansas City, Kansas. Any branch will do. Give them that number. Tell them that the password is 'Cookie'."

"We'll be here for another-" Charley glanced at her watch, "forty five minutes."

Marty took another sip of coffee. Nodded at Peggy, and hurried out to his car. By now, Joan up in Independence should have a name and address for the SUV parked in front of the drug store. He checked the business card when she gave him the information. That had checked out. He headed for the small office that had 'Sheriff' written in gold letters on the window.

 

 

 

The phone call to the bank had been interesting. As soon as he had given the number and the password, the nice lady on the other end of the line had been more than willing to tell him anything he wanted to know. When he'd asked to speak with her supervisor, telling her that he was working on an investigation, she'd obliged. The supervisor, however, had been upset to learn that anyone would be investigating a fine, upstanding member of the community like Mr. Franklin. And yes, the business had been operating for some time, over sixteen years as a matter of fact.

No doubt about it, Mr. Gary Franklin of Franklin Enterprises was exactly who he said he was. And there was no doubt that a man of his means had no reason to try to cheat a little old lady out of a few thousand dollars, at the most.

Wasn't that something, that Miz Jackson had called the very investigator who was related, by marriage, to her grandson? Just what were the odds of something like that happening?

He made one more call before he went back to the drug store. He figured that Miz Jackson should know that the man who had been in her home was exactly who he said he was. At least he'd been polite when he'd met the man and his...wife? No, there hadn't been rings on either finger. Associate? Friend? Lover? Didn't matter. He'd not made any accusations. He wouldn't have to apologize.

 

 

 

Susan stomped through the back door. She'd been waylaid by Betty Zylstra, and that woman had wanted to chat...it had been almost impossible to get away from her. "Muriel Jackson, have you lost your mind?"

"Of course not. And for your information, Marty just called. He checked them out, and they're just exactly who they say they are."

The news took the fire out of Susan's eyes. She dropped onto the closest chair. "Oh. Well."

"Could you water my plants tomorrow morning?" Muriel asked, bustling about, pulling the pies from the oven and putting them on waiting trivets.

"Of course, dear."

"And have Helen stop by to pick these up," she said, pointing at the pies. "You have a key, I'll have to lock everything up before I leave. Something about insurance."

"Of course."

Muriel sat down at the table across from her best friend. "Oh, Susan...my grandson!"

Susan reached out, grasped hands as old and gnarled from time as her own. "I'm so happy for you, Muriel. I'm so glad to know you're not alone...that there's family to care for you."

"Oh, I don't know about that. Daniel is very busy, after all. He does classified work for the Air Force."

"What on earth does the Air Force need with an archaeologist?" Susan demanded to know.

"Well, I don't know. But remember that program we watched about the Navy and their marine research projects?"

Susan nodded slowly. "I suppose there might be some project or another that would need skills like that."

"Of course there is. Now, I have to finish packing. I'm flying to Silver Springs, you know." She paused at the doorway into the living room. "I just realized, if Mr. Franklin's daughter is married to my grandson, we'll be seeing a lot of each other."

Susan smiled. "I rather imagine you will."

"He's a very nice young man. Reminds me a bit of Ralph."

Following her friend, Susan began to rattle off warnings and suggestions, getting the occasional, absent reply. Never noticed that her friend was barely listening, too excited to do more than think about the trip she was about to take. And the grandson she was about to meet.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Gary took the time to call the SGC. Requested that a message be sent to Daniel...asking that the archaeologist not leave the mountain until he'd arrived. He had no idea what his daughter and son-in-law might have planned for the evening, and he didn't want to take the chance of playing phone tag, or trying to catch up with them at one place or another. He figured that the waiting room on level two would be as good as any for the meeting of grandmother and grandson. It would certainly be more...private...than a restaurant. He'd talk to Daniel...alone...in his office first. He gave a silent chuckle. Okay, he'd talk to Daniel with only Casey present. Because no doubt his daughter wouldn't want to leave her husband's side.

The ride back to Kansas City was quiet. Muriel Jackson and Charley conversed a bit, exchanging their thoughts on the houses that they passed, or whether or not that was a good place to eat.

Grateful that he'd planned ahead, Gary drove directly to the airport. Had a seat on the plane beside his in a matter of minutes. Explained the security procedures, then waited patiently while the elder Jackson inspected the conveyor belt before relinquishing her purse and the small suitcase she was carrying. Thankfully the guards on duty weren't extremely rude. He'd always wondered if during training, the TSA instructors conducted classes on 'Surly' and 'Grouchy', with follow-up courses in 'How To Be A Total Asshole'.

Once seated on the plane, Gary wondered if he was doing the right thing. His heart told him that he was.

"Follow your heart."

He could hear it as plainly as if Casey was standing beside him. He smiled. Wished that he could have met his daughter's beloved Grandma Rose.


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