AUTHOR: Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: August 2004
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: Angst, romance, UST, Crossover: blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to a JAG character. AU.
SPOILERS: Zero Hour, minor ones for Abyss and Desperate Measures
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season Eight, follows Zero Hour. Gates of War series, follows This New Dawn. Previous stories in this series are archived at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/sg1/sg1index.html
SUMMARY: Sam's life is complicated by a stalker.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thanks to the person who was so helpful with my research concerning stalkers. You know who you are. No worries, darlin', the ship sails on! :)
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc.
This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
(Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Sam Carter wearily climbed the stairs from the basement where the washing machine was merrily sloshing away. She had cleaned out the fridge, taken the trash out, and started a load of laundry. Schroedinger meowed and snagged her pants leg as she almost went past him without petting him. After all, he was the only cat who had visited another planet. That merited special treatment as far as he was concerned. She bent to pick him up.
The phone rang. Still holding Schroedinger, she answered it. "Carter residence."
There seemed to be no one on the other end. She jiggled the hang-up button a couple of times, still nothing. "Telemarketers!" She growled, turning the word into an oath as she dropped the phone back to its cradle and sat down.
A few minutes later, it rang again. "Hel-LO!"
"Oh! Sorry, Jack! Somebody called a minute ago and didn't say anything, but I know there was somebody on there."
He laughed. "Kids making prank calls. What'cha doin'?"
"Well, nothing really."
"Why don't you do nothing over here instead?"
She grinned. "I don't think having my car parked in front of your house is keeping it low-key," she teased.
"Soooo--park it around back."
"OK," she laughed. "What are you doing for supper?"
"That depends on whether you want pizza or Chinese."
"Chinese," she grinned, mostly because she knew Sirikat and Jamie liked it better. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes or so." On a whim, she got the cat carrier and started to put Schroedinger inside. She happened to notice something, though, he was missing a patch of fur. On further examination, his right front paw was bloody. She washed it off and looked for an injury, but the blood wasn't his.
"Weird. Have you been fighting, huh?" It wasn't unheard of for Schroedinger to get into a fight. Even though he'd been fixed, he still defended his territory with no quarter asked and none given. When he'd been in a fight, though, he usually ended up with clumps of the other cat's fur caught on his claws.
She dialed her next door neighbor's. "Hi, Mitzi?"
"No, this is Kelly. HEY MO-OM! PHONE!"
The receiver clattered, then Mitzi picked up. "Hello?"
"Mitzi, it's Sam. Did Schroedinger get in a fight? He's missing some hair and there was blood on his paw."
"I don't know. Kelly, did Sam's cat get in a fight today?"
"No, but I think someone tried to take him. He came running up on the deck with his fur all fluffed out, and a car squealed out of the alley."
"And you just now decide to tell me this?"
Kelly said with twelve-year-old logic, "You didn't ask til just now."
"Kelly Franklin!" Mitzi yelled, loud enough for Sam to hear her without the telephone. "Jeez, Sam, I'm sorry. I won't let him out in the back yard again unless I'm standing right there to watch him."
"Yeah, now we know, I won't let him out alone either. He's always so good about staying in one of our back yards that I never worried about it before. Whoever it was may have just learned a lesson about trying to steal cats," Sam said, scowling.
"Who would do something like that?"
Sam had been wondering about that herself. It wasn't like the Franklins had any enemies. And Sam could see her own enemies coming after her, but not her cat. "I don't know, Mitzi, but if I catch him I'll have him up in front of a judge so fast his head will spin."
"Oh, yes, if I see anyone snooping around here I'll call the police myself." She sounded alarmed, and no wonder--her kids had been playing in the back yard when this had all happened.
"Listen, Mitzi, I'm on my way out. If you see any strange cars around or anything like that, call me on my cell, OK? I mean, even if it isn't enough to call 911?"
Sam hung up then looked at the phone for a moment. Then she dialed a Washington number. It rang four times, then a man answered. "Barrett."
"Hi, Malcolm, it's Sam Carter. Listen, I don't want to sound like a neurotic female here, but someone tried to take off with my cat today. I'm probably paranoid, but after what happened a couple of years ago--"
Barrett's voice turned serious. "You aren't paranoid, Sam, you can't afford to take the chance. Isn't your cat the one who went--uh--visiting a friend for a while?"
"I'll see what I can find out and get back to you."
"Thanks." Sam got her sidearm and checked it before putting it in her purse, as she always did on her way out. She resolved to check her burglar alarm thoroughly when she got home.
Jack's log-cabin style house was on a secluded cul-de-sac, set back from the street on a large lot. Parked out back, someone would have to be actively looking for her car to spot it back there. The delivery boy had just been and gone.
Sam let Schroedinger out of the carrier, much to Jamie's delight. Jamie, the cat, and Jamie's dog Brownie kept each other occupied in the living room while the adults set out plates and silverware. The two rooms connected by a large pass-through window, so Jack could keep an eye on him while he worked.
Sirikat joined them in the dining room. "Something smells good!" She saw the anger in Sam's eyes. "Am I interrupting something?"
Sam said, "No, of course not. We haven't been arguing. I'm going to kick someone's--rear end. Somebody tried to catnap Schroedinger!"
"Kid you not, my catsitter's daughter heard them squeal out. He's missing some fur, see? And there was blood all over his paw and it wasn't his."
Jack said, "Good for him. I hope he clawed something important." He was a dog person himself, but that didn't mean anything. Anybody he caught abusing any animal was in for trouble. "Any idea who?"
Sam shook her head. "I called Agent Barrett just in case it was our old friends, and he said he'd check it out."
"Better safe than sorry." He would never forget arriving just in time to prevent a rogue NID doctor from murdering her in order to study her brain. That had been one of their closest calls, and he would be forever ashamed that she'd been missing all weekend before anyone even noticed.
Sirikat scowled. "If we were on Daltregon, I would suspect someone of wanting to put a curse on you."
She had such a dark look on her face that Jack said, "Hey, it's too early for Halloween."
"Yes, but...." She caught his warning glance and looked over to where Jamie was playing with the dog and the cat, and acquiesced. Whatever was going on, if necessary they would deal with the would-be cat-stealer, without scaring the boy while they were at it.
Jack didn't say anything over dinner, they never brought work home to Jamie. Even if a three-year-old's lack of security clearance hadn't been a factor, the boy was very insecure about the safety of the people he cared for. There was no need to tell him about the hair-raising situations that regularly happened at work, even if they weren't classified. But Sam could tell Jack was upset about something, and it wasn't about the attempt on Schroedinger. It didn't take much to figure out what was bothering him.
SG-1's last mission had been more or less routine, if you counted getting trapped in an Ancient lab for three days and then getting into a firefight with a rather large mob of Ba'al's Jaffa at the Stargate as routine. It wasn't until they'd got home that she had found out Ba'al had convinced Jack that he was holding them prisoner. It had all ended well, but she could only begin to imagine what Jack must have been thinking. He had never told her the whole story about what he had gone through as Ba'al's prisoner two years ago, and she doubted that he ever would. She decided to pull a Scarlett and think about that tomorrow--otherwise she would get upset, and Jamie, sharp little tack that he was, would pick up on it immediately.
After supper, things quieted down. Jamie went to bed, after his usual nightly game of catch-me-if-you-can, then Sirikat went to her room to watch TV and write letters home. Sam and Jack started a chess game and quickly got absorbed in it. Their playing styles were different enough that every game was always a challenge. Sam's ability to memorize the board and play several moves ahead made her a good player, but Jack could play several strategies at once and still do the unexpected at end-game.
Sirikat came through on her way out to the back yard for her evening prayers, with Brownie trotting behind her, just as Jack check-mated her. Sam laughed, "Best two out of three?"
"Sure, set up the board again. Want a beer?"
By the time they finished a close third game, Sirikat had already gone to bed. They disposed of the empty bottles and put away the chess set, then Sam snuggled next to Jack on the couch and he reached for the remote to put Leno on. Drowsily Sam said, "I should go home sometime."
He agreed, "Yeah, sometime." But the arm he put around her shoulders gave the lie to his words.
Sam said quietly, "I'm sorry about this week, Jack. I know we must have put you through hell."
"It wasn't your fault. There's no way you could have known."
"I am so proud of you. It can't have been easy to double-cross Ba'al. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when he found out you suckered him with that worn-out ZPM!"
He couldn't help a self-satisfied grin, but at the same time he felt an echo of the ice-cold dread he had felt, knowing what Ba'al's reaction would have been if SG-1 had been his prisoners.
Sam touched his face. "Jack, I know I don't have to tell you this, but you did the right thing! You know if you'd given him what he wanted, it would have only made things worse even if we had been his prisoners. He wouldn't have been satisfied with the ZPM. As it is, he knows now it wouldn't do him any good to try using us against you, so we're that much safer. He doesn't have any incentive to take hostages for blackmail."
He nodded. "I know, Sam." At the end of the day, they were here and safe and together. There was never any use worrying about what might happen tomorrow. She had worries enough of her own, he didn't want her to have to carry his as well. "Sam, we got a perfectly good couch and a couple of sleeping kids. I can think of lots better things to do than worry about Ba'al."
Her eyes darkened. "Now that you mention it, yeah," she said, in a sultry tone he hadn't heard before.
He kissed her, then drew back, laughing a little. "I'm still about half afraid a bunch of SFs are gonna bust in here and drag us off to the stockade."
Sam said, "No. More. Regs." She punctuated each word with a kiss.
After that they got down to some serious making out. Sirikat or Jamie could come walking through any time, and they had already agreed to take it slow. But it had been a long time for both of them. Their bodies had other ideas.
Sam became dimly aware of a noise that didn't belong. She opened her eyes. Schroedinger was crouched beside the sofa, staring at the back door and growling. "Jeez, Cat, I should've named you Daniel!"
Jack laughed. Daniel had a talent for showing up right when things were getting interesting.
Schroedinger let out a low "Mrowwwwl" and still kept staring at the kitchen door.
Jack's hand had got under her shirt somehow, and she decided she really didn't care how much the cat growled.
Five minutes later, though, Brownie started barking like crazy from upstairs in Jamie's room.
Jack swore and got up, then swore again when his bad knee protested the sudden movement after Sam had been lying on it. He was going to have to get a bigger couch, because he could see spending lots of winter evenings piled up right here in front of the fireplace with Sam.
Brownie came running down the stairs, which meant Jamie was awake and wouldn't be far behind. Sam hastily poked her shirt tail back in her waistband.
Sirikat's door opened. "What is happening?!"
Jack turned out the kitchen light and checked out the yard. Whatever was stirring up the animals, he didn't see anything. After a moment he turned the yard lights on. Still nothing.
By then Sirikat was there, with a pair of sweat pants skinned on under the long T-shirt that she had been wearing as a nightgown. Her hair was hastily pulled back into a ponytail with a rubber band. Her night vision was better than theirs, so when she said there was no one in the yard now, they were sure she was right. Even so, she had a deceptively innocent looking walking stick, and Jack and Sam both armed themselves before they ventured outside to try to find out what was going on.
Jack found a pot of geraniums overturned near the deck steps. "You know, it could have been a mountain lion. Everyone says they're in the woods back there."
Sirikat joined him, looking around at the bottom of the steps. "No tracks, if it was. Just people. But wait--someone was here after I came inside!"
Jack took a closer look. Over the moccasin print that Sirikat had left when she returned from her prayers, there was the imprint of a man's shoe. "Sirikat, go back inside and clear the house, then stay with Jamie."
She nodded once and her eyes flashed as she turned, silent and moving faster than any human. He and Sam searched the grounds thoroughly, but no one was there now. Sirikat reported from the stargazing deck that the house was clear and Jamie hadn't seen anything.
Then Jack spotted something that made him see red. Someone had keyed the word "bitch" into the paint on Carter's car door, the side facing away from the house.
Sam had a lot of things to say about that, for which she was happy that Jamie was inside the house.
Jack said, "Sam, taken together with somebody trying to grab your cat, this sounds like someone's stalking you."
"That's silly. Stalkers are, what, ex-boyfriends and groupies. I don't have anybody like that. This is going to cost a fortune!" She slammed her fist into her hand, releasing some of her anger at the price of a stinging palm. "Jack, can we call the cops? I mean, if it's on a police report that I was here this time of night--"
Jack looked like he was about to blow a gasket. "We don't have to worry about that any more, remember?"
"You need a police report to get your insurance to pay off. Besides--either we're together or we're not, and I'm sure as hell not ashamed of anything!"
She unclipped her cell phone from her belt and called the law. Once they were sure it was safe, Sirikat came out with Jamie in her arms and they stood around getting madder by the minute.
There wasn't much to it when the police arrived. They took pictures of the damaged car and the footprint that Sirikat had found. There wasn't much they could do about the attempted catnapping, since Sam had only heard about it second-hand and Schroedinger was fine.
Jack said, "I don't want you to go home alone, Sam, somebody had to have followed you here to be sneaking around in my back yard."
The older of the two cops said, "Listen to him, ma'am. Whoever did this--it's personal."
Sam replied, "You bet it is." Her tone reminded the cop that he was talking to an extremely pissed-off Air Force lieutenant colonel. Even if he didn't know that getting into firefights with aliens was a regular part of her job, he could see right away that this wasn't someone you wanted to mess with. Unfortunately, whoever had keyed her car didn't seem to have sense enough to figure that out.
"Ma'am, just use your common sense. I don't want this to lead to anything I'd have to arrest you for."
She went cold and got herself under control. If anything, that made her look even more dangerous. "Thanks, officer, I appreciate that."
After the cops left, Sirikat took Jamie back up to bed. Jack and Sam double-checked all the doors and windows, then the three of them stood in the kitchen hashing it all out.
Sam said, "I can't hide out from this creep, Jack, I'd be looking over my shoulder from now on and I refuse to live like that. If someone wants trouble, right here's a good place to find some."
"There's nothing wrong with a little backup, is there? Whoever this is, he knows where you live, and he knows you hang out here. He would have had plenty of time to get into your house while you were here," Jack reasoned.
Sirikat said, "I will go home with you, Sam. Whoever this is, would likely underestimate the two of us, to his misfortune." She looked at Jack. "There will be less confusion for Jamie that way. And someone who had designs on a helpless animal--" She made a gesture to avert evil, rather than finish the sentence, that such a person might also harm a helpless child. "Let us say that I would rather meet him away from Jamie."
Jack wanted to object--but these two could take care of themselves very well, thank you. Also, he knew what a temper Carter could have when she really got riled up, and this jerk had done a good job of riling her up. She would be much less likely to take risks if she were looking out for Sirikat. "OK. Just--if you catch the guy, don't do anything that will make the six o'clock news!"
The two women exchanged a positively evil look, and Sam assured him, "Don't worry, we'll be very discreet."
Jack found himself wondering if he should count the zats back in the armory.
Sirikat threw a few things in her backpack, and Jack watched them drive off before he called the mountain to report the incident. The SFs would drive by both their houses several times that night.
Sam and Sirikat carefully cleared her house from basement to attic, as well as checking the yard. Last they checked the garage. There was nothing out of place, and to the best of her knowledge no one had been inside who didn't belong there. The burglar alarm was working fine.
Sirikat suggested, "We'd might as well go to sleep. Whoever it was, I think we scared him away."
"I hope so. Yeah, we'd may as well call it a night. I have to get my car in somewhere before work tomorrow."
Both of them slept as lightly as if they had been offworld in hostile territory, but it was an unnecessary precaution. Nothing disturbed them all night. They had just started breakfast when Jack called to report that everything was all right there too.
Sam remembered the silent caller the day before, but when she checked with the telephone company to see who had made the call, it had been from a busy pay phone at a convenient store a few blocks away.
Meanwhile, Sirikat checked the alley that ran behind Sam and Mitzi's houses. There was nothing back there to help identify the culprit.
Once Schroedinger was safely in Mitzi's house, they had to hurry to drop the car at the body shop. Sam just about went ballistic when she heard the estimate. The real kicker was that she could have done the work herself if she had the time. As it was, she could either pay for it herself, or let the insurance pick it up and raise her premiums. She signed off on it and they caught a cab up to the mountain.
Sam set a new world's record for changing into BDUs and made it to her desk a good thirty seconds before colors. Sirikat stood respectfully as the Star Spangled Banner played over the PA system, then the lab erupted as the techs started asking Sam about the stalker. The young queen shook her head and grinned. Gossip traveled through the SGC just as fast as it did through a longhouse back home. Apparently one of the SFs had mentioned it to Chloe and now the whole science department knew about it. She doubted Sam liked being the center of attention, but it was no bad thing to have more people on watch for more of this person's nasty surprises.
They didn't waste much time on it, though. SG-13 had brought a blaster rifle back with them from their last mission and the scientists were very excited about it, both for the weapon itself and for the very efficient battery that powered it. Sirikat excused herself and detoured past the commissary for a cup of tea on her way to the archaeology department, where she spent much of her time helping out.
Jack took the time to call Jonathan to let him know what was going on. Jack didn't really expect trouble at the daycare center, but he knew Jonathan would make sure there wasn't any.
The day went by routinely. Jack drove Sam home, and they checked her house inside and out. There was no sign that her "secret admirer" had been back. When she went next door to collect Schroedinger, Mitzi told her that nothing eventful had happened.
Back in Sam's living room, Jack asked, "Are you sure you'll be OK here by yourself? These whackos escalate. It might not be just keying your car the next time."
"I'm not going to let this guy run my life, but I don't know what to do about him until he surfaces again. Whoever he is, he's smart, and he's good if you and Sirikat couldn't track him. I'm hoping that if I don't appear to be taking him seriously, he'll get overconfident and tip his hand before someone gets hurt. I just wish I knew when anyone had time to get this fixated on me."
Jack nodded. "I wonder if it could be someone from the mountain. That's hard to believe, but Lord knows none of us has time to collect a lot of enemies from town."
She didn't want to think that of anyone from the mountain either, but he had a point. "Well, if it is someone from the SGC, we could eliminate anyone who was on duty when the incidents occurred. That ought to whittle down the list of possible suspects quite a bit."
"I'll have security look into it. Do you have any admirers from NORAD or Homeland Security? Anyone who's shown any special interest in you when you come in and out?"
She shook her head. "No, nobody who stands out."
"What about Felger? He has a thing for you," Jack suggested. He had always thought Felger was a pain in the mik'ta, well before he found out the scientist had a crush on Carter.
She shook her head. "Had, past tense. He and Chloe have been an item for a couple of months now. I know because he asked me to shuffle things so that he wouldn't be writing her performance reviews. They've been seeing each other ever since, and I think it's getting pretty serious. Besides, he isn't the world's greatest liar, and he seemed pretty surprised when he heard about it this morning."
"Well, that narrows the list by one. Two, if you assume Chloe doesn't think she has to be jealous of you any more," Jack teased.
Sam glared at him. "I hadn't considered the jealous would-be girlfriend angle. I wonder if Freya's in town?"
"Oiy! She's more the type to try to club me over the head and drag me off to her cave than to get jealous of you."
She giggled at his reaction. "Well, who else has been throwing herself at you lately?"
"Carter, I was in the deep freeze for weeks. I was kinda out of circulation!" He defended himself.
She turned serious and a little pale. "I know."
"Sam, for cryin' out loud, it isn't the elephant in the living room. It wasn't like I was suffering or anything. All I remember are a few weird dreams before I woke up on Thor's ship. You guys were the ones who just about got yourselves killed trying to get me thawed out." He put his arms around her and held her close. Words were not enough. He had gone into cryo knowing with all his heart and soul that if it were in any way humanly possible, they would bring him home. "Seriously, though, did you notice anybody acting, I don't know, obsessed or anything while I was down there?"
She shook her head, but didn't break their embrace. "Umm--you're asking if anyone was fanatical about not leaving anyone behind? The whole SGC was doing everything and then some to get you back, but--no one made me jealous, so I guess no."
He knew how focused she got when something like that went down. At the SGC, where her lab was more or less considered safe territory, he wondered if she would have noticed if someone had been acting strangely. Offworld--she would have caught it right away.
"I don't like it, but pretending to be careless may be the best way to draw him out," O'Neill admitted. "I'll leave my cell phone on. If anything looks fishy, call me."
"I will," she promised.
He kissed her good-bye.
Sam watched him off, locked up and made sure her security system was working, then fed Schroedinger and sat down with her laptop to check her email.
That was when she discovered her inbox had been mail-bombed with porn spam. It wasn't just people without clothes doing things that shouldn't be done with a camera in the room, either. Sam considered herself a fairly open-minded person but this was some really hard-core non-consensual stuff that she found completely revolting. Not only was it disgusting, it had flooded her mailbox and probably bounced stuff that might have been important.
Nothing but coincidence logically connected this to the other incidents, but Sam was sure it was the same person. Coincidence only went so far. She had a freemail address that she used as a spam trap. Consequently her home address usually stayed fairly free of spam, and even the spam trap didn't get this kind of sewage. She logged on to check her work email. It was still spam-free. So this was someone who knew her home email but not the cheyenne.mil.gov address.
It took her all of five minutes to set up a filter that would delete the spam off her server at regular intervals to keep her mailbox from exploding.
Whoever this pest was, he or she had sense enough not to email her anything directly. It would be child's play for a hacker like her- to find out where that came from. But there was no way she'd ever be able to find out how the porn spammers got her email address, even if the stalker himself didn't know much of anything about computers. Even so, there was the disquieting sense that no part of her life was safe from this unknown presence.
For that matter, whoever it was, he or she was pretty smart all around. Except for keying the car, none of the incidents even merited a police report--yet they had forced her to go on a state of high alert that would really start to affect her daily life if this went on for any length of time.
What he didn't seem to get was that Sam Carter had never asked for a safe, sane, orderly life. If he wanted to play on the edge, he'd find her already out there ahead of him.
She closed the computer and took a stroll down to her basement work room, pulling a handful of cheap miniature wireless cameras from a box. She'd bought them when they were the fad and never really had occasion to do more than play with them. Now, it was a few moments' work to put new batteries in them and check to make sure they were working properly and communicating with the desktop that was the center of her house's wireless network system. She drew the curtains and turned out the lights as if to go to bed, but then she went to work and put the cameras in strategic positions to have good views of her front, back and garage door areas. She placed the two remaining cameras to cover the street in front of her house and the back yard. Schroedinger observed all these preparations with great interest and followed her back down to the basement, where he hopped up on the corner of the work bench to supervise.
She turned on the monitor and pulled up the control panel for the security system, and popped up the cameras. She set it to save an image from the continuous feed once every five seconds, and installed another hard drive to make enough room to save a week's worth of images when she was on a mission. "All right, let's see if we can't catch you red-handed."
With that, she and the cat went upstairs to sleep.
The next day her bot reported that it had deleted over 2000 spam emails from her account overnight. She called her ISP and let them know what was going on, so they would know she wasn't responsible for the waste of bandwidth, and left it up to them to do something about the hit on their resources. She hoped they would black hole the sources of the spam and get it out of a lot of other people's mail boxes as well, but that wasn't really her concern any more.
Her spy cameras showed nothing of interest other than a teenage kid in baggy pants and a ball cap cutting through her yard at two a.m. Wondering if he'd managed to sneak home undetected by his parents, she deleted the night's images to clear off the hard drive, and got ready for work.
She took the cat to Mitzi's. As soon as they got up on the porch, Schroedinger smelled something he didn't like and started to wriggle and growl. She investigated.
Another cat that looked almost exactly like him was lying in the bushes, its neck obviously broken.
Mitzi answered the door. "Sam? What's the matter?"
"Keep the kids inside. Somebody put a dead cat in your azalea bush."
Mitzi took Schroedinger inside and checked on the kids while Sam called security at the SGC, and then called the police.
Had the stalker seen her putting the cameras up? Or had he just decided to demonstrate that no one around her was safe? Either way, this was too serious to ignore. Whoever did this had to be nuts. He had just graduated from an annoying vandal to a potential homicidal maniac.
The city cops took it seriously, but there was only so much they could do aside from stepping up patrols in the neighborhood. Once again, no one had seen anything. The park across the street was always in use, so unfamiliar cars were always around.
Sgt. Kellemeyer couldn't do much more than that either, although she was incensed that someone had killed the cat.
Jack hit the ceiling when the sergeant returned and made her report, but he was just as frustrated as everyone else. There was simply nothing more anyone could do until the stalker made a mistake, and still nobody had any idea who it might be.
As soon as everyone got to the SGC, SG-1 including Sha're, Sirikat, and Sgt. Kellemeyer sat around the briefing table trying to come up with some new ideas.
Sam said, "The only one I can think of who was this crazy would be Jonas Hansen, but he's been dead for years." She looked up at Sha're. "Could a ghost do this?"
"No," she said categorically. "Ghosts are energy. Whoever did this had to be able to type on a computer and dial a telephone and hold a key in his hand--and kill that poor cat. You have a living enemy, of this I am certain."
Teal'c said, "There is Pete Shanahan."
Sam's head shot up. "My brother's friend? Are you serious?"
"His ex-wife considered him sufficiently dangerous to acquire a gun and a guard dog," Teal'c stated.
Sam had to admit it made sense. A police detective would know how to avoid leaving evidence at the scene of a crime.
Jack said, "He was jealous of me before. Maybe he found out somehow that there's nothing legally keeping us apart any more."
Daniel said, "One of her old boyfriends stalked one of my foster sisters one time. He spied on her for a long time before he actually did anything."
"What happened?" Sam asked.
"The police didn't take it seriously because we were all just kids. He raped her and beat her half to death. Then he told her he was leaving her alive on purpose so he could do it again after she got out of the hospital."
Jack asked, "And--?"
In a stony voice, Daniel said, "The police never found him."
The room went silent. It was obvious from the look in Daniel's ice blue eyes that the police never would find that rapist. Most likely nobody else ever would either. They all knew that Daniel had lived a very rough life from the time his parents had been killed until he landed at the SGC, but they had never realized he had anything like that in his past. Jack got his tongue first. "Jeez, Daniel--"
The archaeologist replied, "She's married now, still living in Baltimore a couple of blocks away from our foster parents and raising a bunch of kids. I hope she doesn't think about it very often any more."
With a sudden, crystal clear understanding, Sam told him with all the assurance and confidence that she could muster, "Daniel, I'm not a high-school girl. Nothing like that is going to happen to me. I won't let it. I want him to think I'm being careless so that he'll make a mistake and give himself away. But it's just an act and I have my eyes wide open."
Daniel returned her gaze and nodded, relaxing as he realized she was right.
Teal'c said, "If it is PeteShanahan, then we must turn the tables and begin to watch him. Once we have proof, then we can take action."
Jack said, "You and Daniel take a road trip up to Denver and see what he's been up to. Sergeant, do a check on him. He knows about the program. He could be a hell of a security risk if he's gone whacko."
"Yes, sir!" Kellemeyer replied.
Teal'c said, "I will visit his ex-wife again before we leave for Denver, O'Neill. If he is the one, he may be harassing her as well."
Sam said, "I'll give Mark a call and see if he mentions Pete."
The briefing room cleared out as they all went in different directions. It was just as well because Jack had all of fifteen minutes to prepare for SG-16's mission briefing. They really didn't need this stalker distracting them. Crap like this got people killed.
He went into his office and still expected to find George Hammond sitting behind the desk. Sgt. Davis had already pulled the files he needed to review for the briefing.
That was routine. Dr. Borgstrom put a UAV image of a crumbled wall on the wall monitor, indicating a section where the beginning of an inscription was still partially visible. It was very likely Ancient, probably either "water" or "eagle" but there was no way to tell because the end of the word was missing. Borgstrom said, "SG-2 visited the planet four years ago, and found nothing of particular interest. It is uninhabited, and judging from the weeds and saplings that were chopped off by its activation, no one has used the stargate in quite some time. The possibility of ancient ruins on the planet merits a second look."
Bowen chimed in, "Besides, it's a good excuse to take the MRV for a test drive. The sensors will help us pick up ruins in that heavy ground cover."
O'Neill grinned. The MRV was a new development, a hovercraft designed for travel through the stargate. Ever since it had been approved for field testing a week ago, every departing team had made a pitch to be the next ones to take it out. "The geeks agree with you this time, Major." Jack tossed the keys. Bowen and Reed both grabbed for them but Bowen was quicker. He pocketed them with a smug grin on his face. Reed scowled, Borgstrom chuckled and even Ren'auc laughed quietly.
The four of them were still in high spirits when they headed out. O'Neill asked Davis, "What else do I have this morning, Walter?"
Davis pulled up his day planner and said, "Mission planning with SG-2 at 1000h, followed by budget reviews for the infirmary and the cafeteria. Then you have that conference call with Generals Hammond and Vidrine after lunch, sir."
"Thanks." Jack sent an airman for a pot of coffee and realized he had almost an hour before SG-2 arrived. He made a wry face at the stack of file folders waiting in his inbox, and got to work.
Teal'c and Daniel knocked on the door of Annette Ditraglia's apartment. No one answered.
The door of the apartment across the hall opened and an old man looked out. "She moved out!" He informed them.
Daniel asked, "Did she mention where she was going?"
"Nope, just packed up and left," he said. "The super was bangin' around in there yesterday, made a hell of a racket. You could ask him. His office is in the basement."
Daniel thanked the man, but wasn't sure if he heard him, because he closed the door right then. He shrugged and they went downstairs.
The building super, a tall skinny guy with a big gray handlebar moustache, was in his office working on an air conditioner. He looked up from his work and favored them with a grin when they knocked on the door frame. "Help you boys with somethin'?"
"Yes, sir. We're trying to locate a tenant of yours, an Annette Ditraglia?" Daniel replied.
"Oh, yeah. She moved out about a week ago. If you don't mind me asking, what's your business with her?"
Daniel showed his credentials. "It isn't about her. We just want to ask her a few questions about someone else. I can't go into specifics, I'm afraid."
"Air Force employee, huh? Well, okay. I think she moved to Denver with her boyfriend. I don't know his name, but he was pretty good sized fellow with short brown hair, and he was wearing a Denver PD T-shirt the day he helped her move. She was always a real good tenant, but I can't say I'm gonna miss that big ol' dog of hers!"
Daniel and Teal'c exchanged a disbelieving glance. "Thank you, sir. You've been a big help."
They went back to their car. Teal'c said, "I find it difficult to believe that she would have gone back to Shanahan, after the discussion that I had with her."
Daniel said, "People go back to abusive partners all the time."
"I suppose it is possible that she has begun a relationship with another police officer."
"I guess we'll find out when we get there."
It took some doing, but the two of them finally discovered that Pete had resigned from the police force. Beyond that, citing privacy concerns, the police department wouldn't give them any other information. They went to the library and checked the city directory, where they found Pete's address. No one was home, and they saw a neighbor lady picking up his mail.
Daniel stopped outside chain link fence around Shanahan's property. "Ma'am, we're trying to find Officer Shanahan. Do you know how to get in touch with him?"
"I wouldn't tell a couple of strangers if I did!" She snapped back.
"Ma'am, I wouldn't be bothering you if it weren't important. Do you know about Pete's problems with his ex-wife?"
"That was over a year ago. Since then he's started going to church. He and Nettie reconciled."
"We just need to talk to them."
"I'll tell you what. I'll give you his cell phone number, and if he wants to meet with you, he can tell you himself where he is."
"Thanks." He gave her his notebook and pen, and she wrote the number down.
They tried the number, but no one answered.
Teal'c said, "We should have brought Sha're. She could have investigated the house."
"She's briefing SG-13 on one of Apophis' planets," Daniel replied. "From what I've read about stalkers, they seem to fixate on one target at a time. This doesn't make sense."
"We are only assuming that he is a stalker. He could be something much worse."
Daniel scowled and opened his cell phone. A moment later he rang through to Sgt. Davis, who put him through to O'Neill. "Jack, it's Daniel. We're in Denver. Pete's ex-wife moved out of her apartment, apparently she's gotten back together with him but we haven't been able to locate either of them. Pete quit his job and has a neighbor picking up his mail."
Jack scowled, "That doesn't sound good!"
"I have his cell number."
"OK, give me that and I'll see what I can find out from the phone company. You guys might as well head back here. Where ever he is, it doesn't sound like he's still in Denver."
They had a long drive home to worry about Annette's safety.
O'Neill cursed quietly for a few moments after he hung up the phone. Carter's and his personal problems had just mushroomed into a potential security land mine for the whole SGC. Wonderful. Just freakin' wonderful.
He reached for the phone again and dialed Sam's lab.
"Did you get hold of your brother?"
"Yes, I did, he hasn't heard from Pete in a while. Mark blew up at Pete for doing the background check on me, and that was the last time they talked."
"Damn. He and his ex-wife have both disappeared. With what he knows about the program, and the unstable way he was acting around the time his marriage broke up, this could be a train wreck waiting to happen."
"Oh, geez, this mess just keeps getting bigger and bigger," she groaned. "OK, sir, I think you should check with Admiral Chegwidden to make sure on this, but I'm pretty sure we're justified under Homeland Security to check on more than just public records and credit reports."
They both realized how much of that kind of thing Hammond had just quietly taken care of. Jack said, "Let me see if I can get hold of the Admiral, then I have Pete's cell phone number. Maybe we can find out from that where he's been the past few days."
"If we're lucky, they went to Acapulco or somewhere that will rule him out," Sam replied.
Jack thought as he waited for his secretary to put the call through to JAG HQ that his life never worked out that neatly.
By the time Daniel and Teal'c had almost got back to Colorado Springs, Jack called Daniel to tell him Shanahan's last calls on his cell had been from a small town called Cottonwood Gulch, about an hour east of the Springs on US 24, and that he owned a blue Ford Taurus.
Daniel replied, "That isn't much to go on. When was the last call?"
"A week ago. His last purchase on his credit card was around the same time, at the Wal-mart in the same town."
"Cottonwood Gulch is just a wide place in the road. There can't be too many blue Tauruses."
"Keep me posted. And, Daniel, keep your eyes open."
"Yes, sir," Daniel smirked.
"If you get hurt taking dumb chances, I won't mess with you, I'll just turn Sha're loose on you," Jack threatened.
That shut Daniel up in a hurry. Teal'c only raised an eyebrow, but Daniel just knew the Jaffa was snickering at him. He paid no attention. Teal'c was just as wary of the wrath of Sha're as he was.
Jack finished up the last of the day's paperwork, reading SG-9's mission reports from the trade talks with Medrona. It had taken a lot of convincing, but after five years the Medronans had finally agreed to allow study of the Touchstone--under careful guard. The hope was that they could discover how to make more of them.
He secured the files that he had been working on and locked up his office. The briefing room and his secretary's office were both dark. It was 1900 hours. He called good-night to the control room crew and headed to Carter's lab.
He had expected to find her still working, as usual, but instead he caught the tail end of an argument and a string of curses as she pocketed her cell phone.
"What's the matter?"
"They still don't have my car ready. Something about matching the paint."
"Well, you gotta drive a foreign car," he jibed. "C'mon, I'll give you a ride in my Ford."
"I swear, when I get my hands on that jerk--! What a pain in the mik'ta. Give me a minute to square things away." She checked on a couple of computer simulations and made sure there was plenty of paper in the printers. Bill Lee had an experiment going, she checked on it for him and entered her observations in the lab journal. After that, all she had to do was log off her computer and get her purse.
"Jack, where's Sirikat?"
"She and Cassie were going shopping." Things changed. Not too long ago she hadn't been allowed off the base without an escort. Now she fit right in.
He wondered if she would stay on Daltregon after she brooded. Vanira kept close track of her little ones. Sirikat had come and gone over the past couple of years, but until now her absences had always been temporary. Now she was a grown woman by her culture's standards and she was about to start a home and a family of her own. It was the right thing, the natural thing...but he wasn't ready to let her go.
Just in case something had happened at Sam's house while she was gone, Jack decided to wait until after he dropped Sam off to get Jamie from day care. They cleared the house and checked all the doors and windows, but everything seemed to be as she'd left it. There were no messages on her answering machine, and when she checked her email, the spam had dropped off dramatically. She figured her ISP must have done something.
They went next door to collect Schroedinger. Mitzi brought him to the door. "I found out who the cat you found belonged to. His name was Leo and he lived two houses on down the street, the old lady who lives in the upstairs apartment. Sally Murtagh. I'm starting to wonder if this isn't someone who has it in for the whole neighborhood."
Jack said, "We have an idea who it might be. Someone who wanted to date Sam and wasn't happy taking no for an answer."
"Did you tell the cops?"
"No, ma'am, there could be some classified things involved so I wouldn't be able to tell them much more than I told you. But we are checking it out, and if he's our guy, we'll take care of it. That doesn't mean stop keeping an eye on the neighborhood though. If you see anyone up to no good, don't fool around, just call 911. Let us worry about the classified information later. It's entirely possible that we're chasing the wrong guy."
"You sound pretty sure, though."
"Well, the guy does have a history. Just don't let your guard down quite yet, OK?"
Sam said, "I'm so sorry about Mrs. Murtagh's cat."
Mitzi scowled. "It wasn't your fault. But that SOB will be sorry about it too if he gets caught around here!"
It was hard for Jack to say anything to her, because he'd gladly beat the crap out of the guy if he got his hands on him. "I know how you feel, ma'am. Just don't get yourselves in trouble with the police over this guy."
Mitzi nodded. "No one's going to lynch him, General, but tarring and feathering might not be out of the question. My husband was fit to be tied when he found out about Mrs. Murtagh's poor cat."
"He wasn't the only one. I'm just sayin', the idea is to stop the guy, not land in jail."
She nodded. "Well, the word's got around anyhow. The whole neighborhood's on the lookout. And Sam, I hate to say this to someone in the Air Force because I'm afraid you'll take it the wrong way--but if you get scared over there by yourself, come on over and stay with us, I don't care what time of the night it is."
The last thing Sam would ever do was bring trouble to Mitzi's house with her kids there, but she smiled, touched by the offer. "Thanks."
She and Jack walked across the two front yards to her door. "Stay for coffee?"
"I wish, but it's getting to Jamie's bedtime. You could always come over...y'know, if you get scared here by yourself."
"Yeah, right," Sam scoffed--but the smile in her eyes took all the sting out of it. "You look out, too--this idiot keyed my car at your place, and you're probably about his least favorite person right now."
Jack had thought of that, but he assured her that he would be careful. She leaned into his kiss, and he walked out to his truck with a big smile on his face.
In Gloria's driveway, after he put Jamie in the car seat, he dialed Sirikat's cell phone. She answered with a cheerful "hello." He could hear mall music and a crowd in the background.
"I guess I don't have to ask if you've eaten!"
"We're having tandoori chicken."
"There's an Indian place in the mall?"
"It's called Pacific Rim!" She said loudly, talking over the crowd. "Good! But everyone wants to try it! We had to stand in line forever! Cassie's going to bring me home in an hour or so."
"I think I'll take Jamie you-know-where, so don't worry if we're not home when you get in."
Sirikat laughed. If Jack had said "McDonalds" right out, he would never have kept Jamie in his car seat until they got there.
Jack was confident in Sirikat's ability to take care of herself and Cassie--not that Cassie was at all helpless, having grown up rough-housing with Jack and Teal'c. Under the guise of horseplay, they had taught her a lot of self-defense moves while she was little, and by the time she was eleven or twelve she'd been taking serious martial arts lessons. The two of them were sensible and wouldn't take any dumb chances.
Since Jack didn't have to worry about feeding two hungry teenagers, he and Jamie ate in MacDonald's instead of going through the drive-through. Jamie's all time favorite food was fries with lots of ketchup. Jack thought the kid would live on french fries if he got the chance. He tried not to indulge him too often, but once a week or so they ate there. Jamie ate a couple of bites of his hamburger, but cleaned up his fries and scarfed quite a few of Jack's besides.
Sure enough, by the time they got in, the lights were on and Cassie's car was there. Jack unfastened the car seat straps and let Jamie out. Halfway up the walk, though, Jamie remembered that he had left his finger painting in the truck. They went back after it, and Jack bent over to pull up a weed beside the driveway. When he looked up, Jamie was reaching into the back seat, and there was a spot of red light on his back.
Jack shouted a warning and grabbed him, shielding him with his own body as he got them both under the truck. Sirikat killed the lights and yelled from the door, "What's wrong?"
"Sniper in the trees over there!"
Every light in the place went black and he heard Sirikat telling Cassie to call 911.
Jack had his sidearm, but he also had his hands full. When Jamie realized something was really wrong, he started crying and trying to get loose. Jack knew if he let go of him the boy would make a beeline for the house. If they tried that, there was plenty of starlight for the gunman to see them. Even if he were carrying Jamie, Jack knew all too well he couldn't protect him. A bullet could easily pass through both of them.
At the same time, it was all too possible that the guy might put a round into the gas tank. While explosions and fires weren't as common in real life as on TV, it was still a definite possibility. Using the bulk of the truck as cover, he went out the other side and dived into the ditch between his property and the next house over.
The high weeds there were a fire hazard, but right now Jack was praising the Lord for his neighbor's sloppy gardening.
"Jamie! Stay in the ditch until I tell you to move!" Only now did Jack have the chance to get his sidearm. The ditch was deep enough that Jamie had full cover down there.
There was a high-pitched yelp from the other side of the house, then someone took off. Sirikat's doing, he had no doubt.
"Now's our chance, son." Jack lifted Jamie and darted to the house with him. Cassie took him. He hadn't known she owned a gun, but knowing Janet he really wasn't surprised to see the little snub-nosed .38 in her hand or the steely look in her eyes. He was perfectly confident about Jamie's safety as he took off to back Sirikat up.
He came up on her so quietly in the dark that he startled her, and almost got a face full of bo staff for his troubles, before they sensed the naquada in each other's blood and she recognized him.
"Don't do that!" She scolded, bringing the bo staff back to a ready position and visibly calming herself. The weapon was deceptively innocuous in appearance, merely a straight hardwood walking stick her own height and a little more than an inch in diameter. But in the hands of a blended pair who had been trained by masters of the staff such as Bra'tac and Teal'c, it was a deadly weapon, and Jack had no doubt but that he would have been badly hurt if she had followed through. He apologized, if he had sneaked up on her and gotten hit he would have had no one but himself to blame. "Where is he?"
"Somewhere up the creek bank here. It wasn't a gun, it was this." She handed over a laser pointer.
Jack let out a string of oaths as they gave chase, half angry and half relieved that there had never been any danger to Jamie in the first place. "What kind of an idiot would do something like this!"
Sirikat grinned in the darkness. "One who screamed like a child and wet himself when I whacked the seat of his pants. He dropped the laser pointer, as he ran."
They followed him for a good quarter mile along the creek, but it was dark and he had plenty of cover, as well as a good incentive not to get caught by the two of them. He got to his car and made a getaway before they caught up with him.
They met the cops halfway there, and there was another tense moment while they identified themselves and explained.
By now the cops were getting more than a little fed up. This was twice now the guy had caused trouble on their beat, and this was the kind of so-called practical joke that got people killed. Sirikat went with the police to show them where the car had been parked, while Jack went home to check on Jamie. By the time he got there, his knee was burning. He thought he must have twisted it going up and down the creek bank, although he really hadn't paid any attention to it at the time. He was really annoyed that they hadn't got a look at the car or even a glimpse of the license plate.
"Cass, it's me, open up!"
There were more cops there. "I've been telling them, I didn't really see anything, just heard the yelling."
"There was nothing to see, Officer. He was about five ten, light build, wearing black clothing. I just got a glimpse of the guy, but Sirikat got close enough to whack him on the ass with her bo staff. She's probably given the other two officers a better description than that by now."
"She went after a guy that she thought had a gun when she only had a bo?"
Jack didn't go into why Sirikat wouldn't carry a pistol unless she was forced to, and then Kat was the one who fired it.
Cassie looked at the officer. "Under the circumstances, wouldn't you?"
"Well, when you put it that way..."
Jack knelt to check on Jamie, and his knees went weak with relief when he realized his son was OK except for a few bumps and scratches. Jamie hadn't really understood what was going on, so from his point of view he had been safe in his father's arms the whole time. He was way too excited to get to bed anytime soon, though!
Sirikat got back as he finished putting bandaids on a few of Jamie's scratches. She locked up and put her bo within easy reach right inside her bedroom door.
Cassie said, "If you guys don't need me, I think I'll go land on Sam tonight."
"Good thinking. I'll call her and let her know you're coming," Jack said.
After the police and Cassie had gone, Jamie was calming down in front of the TV watching the Little Mermaid for the 500th time, and Sirikat was safely inside, the reaction hit Jack. He sat down with his phone and called Sam. She was furious that Jamie had been drawn into this, and almost came charging over there, until Jack told her Cassie was on her way.
Sirikat sat down beside him when he hung up. "No harm done," she said.
"It could have been, God damn it! When I saw that red dot--"
"The world ended, I am sure," Sirikat replied, in complete sympathy. "But it didn't, not really. We are all safe."
"You hit him a good one?"
"He stand up or lie on his stomach quite a while, I think."
"Well, that's something, anyhow!" he grinned.
"This is just one man, one very foolish man. I should have hit him in the head."
"You probably would have killed him. I wouldn't have cried if you had--but that isn't you. You don't use deadly force unless it's called for, and after you saw the laser pointer--well, it wasn't called for."
She nodded. "I know, Jack. He should not have gotten away from me, though."
"He got away from both of us," Jack said. "You know, he has to know this area pretty well to lose us, as often as we've gone running down by that creek."
"I know, I thought that myself. Jack, are you sure you're all right? Do you want some beer? My mother always said, ale is good to cure a scare."
"No, I want to keep my wits about me. I doubt he'll come back, but I don't want to be too sound asleep if he does."
Sirikat nodded. By the time Jamie's video ended, he was sleepy enough not to put up a fight about bedtime. He was going to be the only one in the house really sleeping that night.
Cottonwood Gulch was a small town quartered by the highway running east-west and Cottonwood Creek north-south. There was a little business district along the highway just past the Wal-Mart store, consisting of a gas station with a garage attached, a truck-stop diner, and a mom and pop grocery store. Surrounding that were a handful of residential streets, two churches, and a grade school.
Daniel and Teal'c had driven past everything in town twice. They had just about given up when Daniel noticed a sign outside the Bethel Baptist Church announcing a couple's retreat. "Didn't the neighbor lady say Pete had started going to church? Well, I wonder....Pull in here, would you?"
Gravel crunched under the SUV's tires as the Jaffa found a spot in the crowded the church lot. There was nothing going on in the church building, but a huge tent had been set up out back and the last verse of "Amazing Grace" resounded from inside, to the accompaniment of several guitars, a keyboard and a set of trap drums. Apparently this had been the last hymn of the service, because the minister stood in front of a huge bank of amplifiers to offer the closing prayer and the benediction. Beyond the tent, someone lit a bonfire and people lined up for hot dogs and marshmallows.
Daniel and Teal'c walked up to the minister, who welcomed them warmly. "I'm sorry you missed the song fest."
"As am I," Teal'c replied.
Daniel said, "This is a long shot, but we're trying to locate some folks, a police officer named Pete Shanahan and his wife Annette."
"Oh, sure, they've been at the couples' retreat out at the campground for a couple of weeks. I don't believe they came to the songfest tonight. There was going to be a workshop this evening and I believe they were attending."
Daniel looked up and grinned as he heard a kid yell, "S'MORES!"
"You've got quite a crowd here! Listen, we don't know the area around here too well. Could you give us directions to the campground?"
"Sure, get back on the highway and head east about a mile. Turn left at the hardware store and keep going till you see a sign for Bethel Retreat. It's about another half-a-mile after you make the turn."
The sign wasn't that easy to find in the dark, they had to turn around in someone's driveway. The sign directed them onto a dirt road which was really nothing more than a couple of wheel ruts. They were glad they had used one of the base's SUVs instead of driving Daniel's car. But when they reached the retreat's parking lot, they found Shanahan's car there.
The camp was composed of several small cabins around a screened-in open chapel, where about twenty couples sat listening to a lesson based on I Corinthians 13:1-13.
Daniel said, "There he is."
Teal'c said, "That is his ex-wife as well, DanielJackson."
The two were sitting very close together in the front row.
Rather than interrupt the workshop, they wandered to the cook house, just across from the chapel, and sat down on the steps. A short film on preventing domestic violence was shown, and then there was a half-hour discussion before the workshop broke up with a prayer. The couples stood around talking for some time afterwards. Some of them wanted the guy who had presented the workshop to autograph copies of his book, while others stood around talking to friends and enjoying the pleasant evening.
Pete and Annette walked by them without recognizing them on their way back to their cabin. Daniel called, "Excuse me, Pete, could we talk to you for a minute?"
"Yeah, I--oh, hi, Dr. Jackson. Teal'c. What can I do for you?"
"Well, you can start by telling me where you've been for the last week or so."
Shanahan was too experienced a cop not to know an interrogation when he heard one. "We've been here at the retreat since Sunday before last. Mind telling me what all this is about?"
"Somebody's been harassing Sam Carter, vandalizing her car, making spooky phone calls," Daniel said. "I can give you a list of times and dates."
Annette said, "That won't be necessary, Pete's been right here at the camp since we got here, except for a couple of evenings when we all went into town to the revival meetings. There are at least twenty or thirty people who can vouch for his whereabouts the entire time."
"Nettie, don't worry about it. I don't blame them for suspecting me. If I hadn't found the Lord I might still be the kind of person who'd do that kind of thing. Is she all right?"
"Praise the Lord. Annette and I have been together the entire time. It is a couples retreat."
Teal'c asked in great concern, "AnnetteDitraglia, all is well with you?"
She smiled and put her arm around Pete's waist. "It's Shanahan again, and yes, thank you for being concerned, but it really isn't necessary. Pete got saved a couple of months ago and we've reconciled. We're living in my great-grandfather's cabin on my parents' property, and Pete's taken a job with the sheriff's department. He starts next Monday, after we get home from the retreat. We believe that the Lord has given us a miracle."
Daniel said, "Congratulations, and good luck."
Pete said, "Listen, I've worked a few of these cases, and I--well, I guess I've got an insight into how these folks tick. If you'll tell me what's been going on, I might be able to help. At least I hope I can. I'd really like to make it up to Sam for all the trouble I caused her."
Daniel gave him a long measuring look. Pete was genuinely contrite, and anxious to help. He told Shanahan what had been happening. Shanahan was able to prove he had been at a revival meeting that had lasted until almost midnight the night that Sam's car had been scratched, and the workshop had started an hour before this evening's incident at Jack's house.
Teal'c wrote his address and two telephone numbers on a scrap of paper. "AnnetteShanahan, that is my telephone number. If you ever have reason to call me, do so at any time of the day or night. If I should be unavailable, the second number is that of my friend O'Neill."
"Thanks, Murray...Teal'c...whatever your name is," she said in a gently bemused tone of voice, and smiled up at her husband. "I appreciate this, I can't tell you how much, but Pete has changed, and we're working hard on making our relationship work this time. We're both in counseling, and we've both learned a lot. He isn't the same person who hit me, and I'm not the same person who let him."
Daniel said, "Pete, we owe you an apology."
"No, I understand. I would have thought the same thing in your place, and you had to check out a lead. The Bible says you reap what you sow. But listen, I hope you get this guy quick. He sounds like a real sick pup. This thing tonight with the laser pointer, and the cat--you've got someone who isn't thinking the same way the rest of us do. Whoever he is, he thinks he's perfectly justified in his claim on Sam, and in his mind, all these insane things are reasonable ways for him to convince her of his feelings for her. I'm pretty sure that eventually he's going to snap, and turn violent towards human beings. He'll probably try to kidnap her. I don't doubt that Sam can handle him--she sure didn't have any trouble knocking me on my a- uh, keister. If anyone gets in his way, or if Sam tries to fight back and loses, he probably could kill someone. You're probably looking at a loner, someone who works part time or not at all, who has nothing to do all day but worship her. It's probably somebody who lives near her, too, someone who watches her in the park and in neighborhood shops."
Daniel said, "Thanks, Pete."
"No problem. Listen, give me a call and let me know when you get the guy, and if you need any help, let me give you the camp caretaker's phone number. He'll know where to get hold of me."
After Daniel took the number down on his handheld computer, they said their good-byes and got on the road. Daniel checked the time and decided to call Sam even though it was getting late. He couldn't get a signal at first, but when they got to the highway he got a connection. He wasn't surprised that she and Cassie were both awake, after the evening's excitement. He was able to confirm that it wasn't Pete, and passed on the detective's profile of the stalker.
Sam assured them that she and Cassie were fine, but Teal'c still decided to drive past her house just to check on things before going home.
Then Daniel called Jack, and updated him. "You're sure about his alibi?"
Daniel said, "Yeah, we know he was in the workshop for at least half an hour, and there were all kinds of witnesses that he's been there all evening. His wife vouches for him, and she's back with him because she believes he's changed. I don't think she'd lie for him if she thought he was up to his old tricks again. Besides, he wasn't limping, and if Sirikat had hit him on the butt with that staff of hers, he would have been."
Jack had to agree with that. "Somebody local, huh? I don't know how well Sam knows her neighbors, but I'll bet if there's anyone like that who lives close to them, the lady next door would know. I get the feeling nobody around there could scratch their ass without Mitzi hearing about it."
Daniel laughed. "Probably not. We'll see you in the morning, Jack."
After that, Jack called Sam. "Did Daniel tell you it wasn't Pete?"
"Yes, and I'm trying to think of who it could be."
"Like I told Daniel, I'll bet if anyone in your neighborhood fits the profile, Mitzi would know."
Carter snickered. "We'll ask her in the--wait a minute, what's--"
Glass shattered and there was a loud thud. She dropped the phone and Jack heard Cassie yell, "What in the blue hell!" Then there was gunfire, a lot of it, Cassie's .38, what sounded to him like a Desert Eagle or some other huge handgun like that, and then finally Carter's 9 mil. Everyone was yelling and swearing at once, and Cassie shrieked. And then he heard a scuffle, the phone clattered, then the line went dead.
Jack kicked the afghan off and dived out of bed, rushing to the safe to get his sidearm. He yelled, "Sirikat! Call 911, tell them there were shots fired at Sam's house! Then call Jonathan and tell him to get over here until I find out what's going on."
The tone of Jack's voice scared Jamie to death, and he started wailing at the top of his lungs. Sirikat scooped him up before he could run after Jack. "Go! I will call them! No harm will come to Jamie, I swear it!"
Jack broke every speed limit in town, but there were already patrol cars in front of Sam's house when he got there. Apparently the shooting was over, because the neighbors were all out in their yards trying to find out what was happening. Jack jumped out of his truck and ran to the house.
A cop stopped him. "Hey, you can't come in here!"
"Get the hell out of my way! Sam! Are you OK? Sam!"
From inside, Cassie said, "Jack! Get out of the way and let him in! You idiot, that's General O'Neill!"
At the word "General," the cop stepped aside and let him in, apparently forgetting for the moment that he was a CSPD officer and not an MP any more.
Jack just about freaked when he saw Cassie lying on the floor with bloody bandages on her shoulder and surrounded by cops and paramedics.
"I'm OK! I just got scratched, but you've got to get Sam! He busted through the window and we shot each other and I dropped my gun and Sam shot him and he shot the gun out of her hand and he hit her on the head with the phone and he dragged her out the back door and I couldn't stop him and YOU'VE ALL GOT TO QUIT STANDING HERE AND DO SOMETHING!"
The paramedic confirmed, "She'll be okay, she was just grazed. But it was such a big round it took a chunk of her shoulder with it."
A cop went into the kitchen and yelled back through the house, "Got a big blood trail here, LT! He probably has been hit twice!"
That was all Jack needed to know. He and several cops went out the back door, following the blood trail. It wasn't long until Daniel and Teal'c got there, and so did Major Griff, who lived nearby, and a couple carloads of SFs from the mountain. Daniel stayed to ride to the ER with Cassie, while Teal'c and the SFs went after the first crowd.
They didn't have far to go. The cops had surrounded a small wooden shed at the end of the alley at a respectful distance. One cop was keeping a hysterical old lady out of the line of fire.
Teal'c joined O'Neill. "What has happened?"
"He's wounded, Carter and Cassie both tagged him good. He dragged Carter into that building. I don't know how the hell he's still moving. We haven't figured out yet how to get close enough to find out what's going on in there. If he sees us he'll probably shoot, and I don't wanna take the chance he'll shoot Carter."
"I see no way to do that myself. We cannot see into the shed, but the cracks between the boards are more than wide enough to give him a good view of the alley and the back yards."
"If Sam's awake, all she'd need is a diversion," Jack said.
Teal'c picked up a whiskey bottle from the weeds beside the alley. "Perhaps this would be a diversion, O'Neill?"
Jack said, "Bingo! Everybody, keep out of sight and keep quiet! Give me a minute to get in position." There was still some whiskey in the bottle, he splashed it on himself and went the long way around a house. Singing loud, off-key country music, he very convincingly staggered down the alley, waving the bottle. He stumbled into the back of the shed, knocking over a bunch of trash cans and making a hell of a racket.
A shot shattered a board over his head and he hit the dirt, crawling rapidly to the front of the shed as a fight started up inside. He yanked his sidearm out of the back of his belt. Immediately before he got to the door, there was a male scream, then some scuffling. Sam yelled, "Get on the ground and put your hands on the back of your head NOW! Don't make me blow your brains out, you little shit!"
Completely sober now, Jack called, "Carter? You got him?"
"Yes, sir, he's under control, but I need a medic in here right now!"
They swarmed the building. Sam's right hand was bleeding, but she held the Desert Eagle firmly in her left. Jack said a Hail Mary for the CO he'd had who insisted that everyone at least try to qualify with their off hand, a custom that he had continued with every outfit he'd ever commanded.
The stalker was a terrified teenage kid whose clothing was soaked with blood. He had the shocky look around his eyes that Jack had come to associate with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
The cops got Sam out of there and into Jack's arms. He got the Desert Eagle away from her--which took some doing, her adrenaline was still going and her knee-jerk reaction was, of course, to hold onto her weapon. When he made it an order, she let go, and he handed it to a cop. A paramedic wanted to look at Sam's hand. There were plenty more paramedics to deal with the kid.
"Jack--you reek like a brewery! You almost freakin' got yourself shot! What were you thinking?!" She shouted.
"If you hadn't taken care of him, I was going to. Let the guy look at your hand, damn it!"
At least the paramedic distracted her from yelling at him. He knew what that was all about--relief turned terror into anger. He watched over her shoulder as the rest of the paramedics worked on the kid.
Teal'c said, "You should see this."
O'Neill stepped closer to the shed to see what he was talking about. The walls were covered with snapshots of Sam, taken through her windows, at Jack's house and around the neighborhood. From her differing hair styles in the photos, they had been taken over a period of three or four years. "Jesus Christ!"
Sam gawped. "How do I attract all the nutballs! Oh, God! He could've shot you or Jamie! He did shoot Cassie! Let me go, I've got to see if she's OK!"
"ColonelCarter, CassieFraiser is not seriously injured. DanielJackson is with her. Calm yourself."
"CALM myself! When there's a--OW! GOD DAMN IT!" She yelled in her best command voice, scaring the poor paramedic half to death.
"Colonel, ma'am, if you'll just hold still for a moment--you've really gotta let me take care of this, you have some broken bones in your hand. It could give you some real trouble if you don't get it took care of right now."
"OK. Sorry. Go ahead."
A squad pulled up and the kid was rushed inside. It took off, sirens screaming, followed by a cop car. Momentarily, another ambulance arrived for Sam, but she refused to go. "I'd rather have my own doctor look at it. Jack, check on Cassie, please! There was a lot of blood. I've got to know for sure that she's all right. Teal'c's here, he can take me up to the mountain."
Jack held her a moment longer and kissed the top of her head, getting himself under control. Then he went back to Sam's house.
A cop said, "Ma'am, we need a statement. We'll have to accompany you."
Teal'c said, "You may follow us to Cheyenne Mountain and wait outside. When Colonel Carter's wound has been treated, she will give you your statement. I do not believe that young man is going anywhere within the near future."
Jack knew Sam wouldn't relax until she knew beyond all doubt that Cassie was out of danger, and he wasn't much better. The Desert Eagle was a powerful weapon with a hell of a lot of stopping power. Cassie and Sam both were really fortunate that the kid hadn't been big enough to handle a gun like that.
Cassie had already been taken to the hospital when he got there, and Daniel had gone with her. Jack found out from the cop at the scene where they had gone, then discarded his whiskey-soaked shirt and found an Air Force tee in the back seat of his truck.
By the time he checked on Cassie, who was being patched up by the very cute young ER doc, and got up to the mountain, Sam was talking to the cop in the parking lot. Her hand was heavily bandaged and her arm was in a sling.
Jack told her, "Cassie's getting more stitches than grandma's knitting, but she was feeling good enough to flirt with the doctor. She's gonna be fine. He said she'd probably get to go home once he's done embroidering, and she'll need PT for a while to keep from losing any range of motion in her shoulder. Daniel's going to keep her company and take her back to his place when they release her."
"Oh, thank God. Jack, I swear, it was the shoot out at the OK Corral in there! I've never been so scared in my life as when Cassie got shot protecting me!"
"I heard it, remember? How are you, Sam?"
"Minor concussion, and the hand. I'm fine. I've got to go back to the infirmary and let Doctor Brightman work on my hand a little longer. What about the kid, is he going to live?"
Jack said, "Hell if I know. I was worried about you and Cassie."
The police officer told her, "I just got an update on his condition a little while ago, ma'am. He's lost a lot of blood and they're operating on him, but neither bullet hit anything vital. They said he's stable and doing well."
"Stable isn't the word I'd use," O'Neill said.
"He'll live to do some serious time, if they don't lock him up in the mental hospital first," the cop said.
Sam said, "I'm glad I didn't have to kill him."
Jack could understand that. Some of the so-called soldiers he'd had to kill had been just teenagers. He'd had absolutely no choice, but it was still something that he would have to live with for the rest of his life.
The cop told Sam, "If you and your friend hadn't been armed he might have killed you both. He would have taken the girl hostage to make you behave, and she could have come out of it a whole lot worse than she did."
Teal'c said, "Indeed."
"That's all I need, ma'am. The prosecutor's office will contact you if you need to testify, but I expect this one will plead out pretty fast."
Jack thanked the officer, then he and Teal'c got Sam back downstairs to the infirmary. Brightman wanted more X-rays before she decided whether or not she needed to send Sam to Academy General to have a specialist operate on her hand.
"It's just a precaution, Colonel. The bullet itself didn't hit you. It was the hilt of your own weapon that cut the palm of your hand and broke two of the bones. It's a relatively clean fracture and I'm pretty sure we'll be able to immobilize it without surgery. Even if it looks OK, though, I'll still want Dr. Morganstern to look at your x-rays tomorrow and give us a second opinion just to be sure."
"No problem," Sam muttered.
"What smells like booze?"
Sam stifled a laugh. "Your commanding officer."
Brightman went beet red and opened and shut her mouth like a goldfish.
Teal'c said, "The stalker was holding ColonelCarter at gunpoint. O'Neill pretended to be drunk in order to create a diversion."
Carter winced and grabbed at the back of her head. Brightman gently restrained her before she could forget and use her injured hand. "Are you in a lot of pain?"
"About what you'd expect from getting hit upside the head."
"Are you done with the cops?"
"Then I want you into a gown and into that bed as soon as you get your x-ray done."
Carter grumbled, but didn't argue when Jack took her elbow and steered her down to the x-ray room. Right then, she just wanted to lie down.
By the next day things had settled down. The kid had come through surgery fine and was now in the psych ward, so he wasn't going to be a weight on Sam's conscience. The front of Sam's house was a disaster area, with bullet holes in the walls, a blood-soaked carpet, and a broken picture window. Jack brought her and Schroedinger home with him until the damage could be repaired. Sirikat worked on healing both Sam and Cassie's injuries.
When Sirikat finished with Sam and turned to Cassie, Jack sat down on the couch beside her and put his arm around her.
Sam said, "We were so quick to jump to the conclusion that it was Pete."
"It was a logical conclusion. You didn't even know that crazy kid."
"No, I didn't, but he lived three houses up the alley from me. I don't even know his name. I should have known my neighbors that well, at least."
Jack held her to him and eased her aching head to rest on his shoulder. "When? There are only so many hours in the day, Sam."
"His name was Henry Burch, by the way. The old lady's his grandmother."
Sirikat said, "You should be resting, Sam. You can have my room."
"The couch is fine, Sirikat. I don't want to put you out."
"I don't mind. Go and sleep."
Sam allowed herself to be persuaded. She got dressed for bed and lay down. Jack brought her a glass of water and the pills that Dr. Brightman had sent home with her, only to find Jamie snuggled up to her, sound asleep. She swallowed the pills quietly and set the glass on the night stand.
Cassie had gone to sleep on the couch, so Sirikat called Daniel to let him know he didn't have to pick her up. She put down a quilt folded in half lengthwise to make a pallet on the floor, just like home to her. She ducked in just for a moment to grab some pajamas, then went down the hall to the bathroom to change.
Carter said, "Jack, I'm sorry I brought this down on us."
O'Neill shook his head. It had been in no way her fault. "You didn't. I don't know what we can do about people like that. Henry was living with his grandmother and apparently she's an Alzheimers patient. She isn't in any shape to keep an eye on him. They were living off her social security and he had plenty of time for his, uh, hobby."
"I wonder where he got that gun? He sure isn't old enough to have got it legally."
"The cops think it belonged to his dad. He ended up with his grandma when the parents split up, and they haven't been able to find either of them yet. I feel sorry for the old lady, but at least she isn't sleeping under the same roof with a whack job any more."
Carter had to agree with that. "It's so creepy that he's been following me around for so long and none of us knew. Orlin, Fifth, Henry--I wonder if there are any more of them sneaking around in the bushes." She'd tried to make the remark sound flippant, but she shuddered violently in spite of herself.
Jack reached out to stroke her face. "It's over. Get some sleep."
He made a non-committal noise. He might or might not doze off during the night, he didn't care, but he was going to stay right where he was. Now that they had weathered this storm, he was going to enjoy riding at anchor for a while. Now he could just watch over the two of them while they slept, and love Sam without guilt or censure. The peace of mind he had only found in Minnesota the last few years was right here in Colorado Springs now.
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