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Fanfiction: Ghosts - Part I

Fandom: Airwolf
Series: The Lost Season (Story 15)
Summary: An old enemy of Hawke's father turns up to cause trouble for Dom.
Rating: PG-13
Author's Note: Hawke/Caitlin. 
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.  Written for entertainment purposes only.

 

Ghosts

Part 1


Airwolf screamed joyously over the Valley of the Gods on the way back to her Lair. Her chosen pilot, Stringfellow Hawke, eased back on the stick and sighed contentedly as they came to a halt above the funnel of the cave. He slowly lowered the world’s most technologically advanced helicopter into her hiding place. He pushed the helmet off his head as the rotors slowed and the noise of the engines died away before settling back in his seat and running his hand over the front console of the machine.

The special bond between him and Airwolf seemed to have deepened since the previous week when it had been revealed that the helicopter occasionally operated using a self-preservation code that enabled her to act independently for her own survival. It had rightly worried Hawke as the original intention of the code had been to consolidate her creator, Moffett, as her only pilot. But after the first initiation of the code, Airwolf had examined her records under her educational programming and determined that her choice of pilot was the man who had taken flying first; Hawke. Airwolf had rewritten her own computer code and the team were comforted that they could fly her safely without fear that she would take control but it had left an important question unanswered…was the helicopter exhibiting an embryonic intelligence?

Hawke sighed and ran a hand through his short brown hair. He glanced at his watch and swore. He’d been due at the airfield an hour ago; Dom and Caitlin were going to kill him, he thought as he hastened to the lockers, stripping his uniform as he went. It took him minutes to secure the Lair with practised efficiency and he patted Airwolf’s flank fondly before heading out on his motorbike. His mind turned to his small family as he gunned the engine and sped across the Valley floor to the main road.

His marriage to Caitlin O’Shaunessy was only a month old but it was built on the firm foundation of their existing friendship and their trust in one another; it felt solid and something he could – did – lean on. He was enjoying being married, he realised. He liked the stability of knowing Caitlin was sharing his life yet knew him enough to give him space when he needed it. He liked being a husband and he loved his new wife with an intensity that scared and humbled him in one breath. He wasn’t alone anymore, he thought with satisfaction. He was looking forward to adding kids to the mix even if they had decided to wait a while although he was beginning to think that they might not wait as long as they had previously discussed…

He smiled inwardly. He knew Dom was disappointed that the couple were waiting before starting a family; no doubt the older man was hankering after a new generation of kids to bounce on his knee and be a wise mentor to like he’d been for Hawke and his elder brother, Saint John. Dominic Santini still remained a surrogate father to Hawke and had been since his parents had been lost in a tragic boat accident at sea.

Dom had been more than a father figure to just him and his brother, Hawke thought. Dom’s niece, Jo Santini, had also benefited from Dom’s generous and warm hearted upbringing. The feisty blonde had recently visited with her uncle seemingly determined to stay more in touch after a visit late the previous year had helped renew old familial ties between them. Hawke was still a little nervous at having her around. Jo had discovered Airwolf’s Lair and had helped her uncle save Hawke and Caitlin but he couldn’t help thinking that despite her assurances that their secret was safe, that something was going on with her. He sighed. Jo had left that morning for another exotic location to do a job as an interpreter so he wouldn’t need to worry about her presence again for a while.

Michael would be pleased that Jo had moved on again, Hawke thought with a twinge of amusement. If he was worried about Jo’s presence then the deputy director of the FIRM, even though he was still unaware of Jo’s discovery of Airwolf, was even more so. Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III worried about everything, Hawke reflected with less amusement. The reason for his hasty ride back to the airfield was because they were going to be late attending a meeting with the spy to discuss Airwolf’s future. Whilst it had been established that Airwolf could fly safely under the self-preservation code, Hawke knew Michael was still concerned at whether Airwolf was developing her own intelligence. They were all meeting at the newly rebuilt Red Star complex at Devil’s Anvil to discuss the situation.

Hawke scowled; as far as he was concerned there wasn’t a discussion to have. Besides, it wasn’t as though Michael wouldn’t have another Airwolf soon enough; the spy had finally admitted to him that the FIRM was building another one, supposedly faster and more technologically advanced than Airwolf. He’d even put his valued senior aide, Marella, in charge of the project although Hawke was tempted to think there were some personal motivations behind that decision.

Hawke braked hard to make a turning. Michael could keep the new Airwolf; Hawke would keep the original. He frowned. If Michael ever found Saint John, Hawke was going to have to make a tough decision; could he hand Airwolf back to the FIRM? He focused harder on the road. The FIRM was being amalgamated with another agency called the Company and Hawke felt even less obligation to them than he did to the FIRM. The only aspect of keeping Airwolf that truly bothered him was the knowledge that it would mean reneging on his deal with Michael. His relationship with the other man had evolved since Michael had first sat in his cabin and offered Hawke the deal; they were friends and that meant something to Hawke. He just hoped he wouldn’t have to choose between that friendship and Airwolf.

He sighed as he entered Van Nuys airport. At least the amalgamation of the FIRM with the Company in July would bring them all a step closer to finding his brother. They’d discovered the previous year that Saint John had made it out of ‘Nam; had joined a Special Forces group running covert operations after being rescued by them from the Vietcong. He’d left the Special Forces and joined an intelligence agency doing something similar; Michael was convinced it was the Company and that as soon as they were joined up he would be able to get to the answers.

Hawke eased off the accelerator as he saw the familiar sight of the Stars and Stripes banner of Santini Air. He hated to admit it but the after years of fruitless searching he was nervous that he might actually find his brother and a lot of that had to do with the fact that he wasn’t sure Saint John wanted to be found. His older brother had never contacted Hawke since the moment he’d left him in the ‘Nam jungle except for a goodbye letter left in an old footlocker. It left Hawke wondering whether his relationship with his brother would ever be the same again; every time Hawke thought about the lack of contact it added to the ball of hurt gathering inside him.

He braked as he pulled up and switched off the engine. He’d think about Saint John another time; he had his current family to deal with first…and Caitlin was already headed out the hangar towards him. Hawke hopped off the bike and before his redheaded wife could say anything, spun her around and kissed her.

Caitlin smiled and brushed his fringe from his blue eyes. ‘Don’t think that’s going to stop me ragging on you.’

Hawke quirked an eyebrow. ‘Maybe I didn’t do it right.’ His head dipped again and they were both breathless when he eased back. ‘How am I doing now?’

‘Better,’ said Caitlin, ‘I may even forgive you for having to phone Michael with the news we were going to be late and getting yelled at.’

Hawke winced. ‘He gave you a hard time, huh?’

Caitlin patted his arms sympathetically. ‘It’s was nothing compared to the hard time he’s going to give you.’

Hawke sighed. ‘I guess we should head out.’ He glanced back at the hangar. ‘Is Dom coming?’

Caitlin nodded. ‘He said he was but…’

‘But?’ Hawke frowned at the concern gleaming in his wife’s blue-green eyes.

Caitlin gestured at a black sedan parked outside the office. ‘Some guy arrived about an hour ago and Dom’s been sequestered in the office with him ever since.’ She bit her lip. ‘It looks like a standard issue Fed vehicle to me.’

Hawke’s blue eyes scanned over the vehicle and he silently agreed with Cait’s assessment. ‘And he’s been here an hour?’

‘Over an hour.’ Caitlin folded her arms across her chest.

Hawke looked at the closed office door and back at Caitlin’s worried expression. He rubbed his chin. ‘So what are they talking about?’

Caitlin sniffed. ‘And what makes you think I would know?’

‘Because your curiosity wouldn’t have allowed you to go a whole hour without listening at the door.’

‘Hey!’ Caitlin threw him a mock punch. ‘I’m not that bad.’

Hawke dodged the punch and sent her a knowing look.

‘OK,’ she admitted, ‘I tried to listen in. Once.’ she stressed at the roll of his eyes, ‘And I couldn’t hear anything anyway,’ she said ending on a sigh.

Hawke pulled her into his arms and rubbed a hand over her back. ‘Have I told you today how much I love you, Mrs Hawke?’

‘I love it when you call me that.’ Caitlin hugged him as she smiled up at him.

The office door suddenly opened and they broke apart a little self-consciously, their arms remaining around each other’s waists as they turned to watch Dom bustle out of the office with another mature man.

The visitor was about the same age as Dom and around the same height but there the similarity ended. He was heavier than Dom and carried the weight badly, his gut hanging over the tightly belted trousers of the ill-fitting dark suit under the crumpled overcoat. His face hung with jowls of flesh reminding Hawke of his dog Tet and the guy had a full grey moustache that swamped his upper lip. The look was completed with the bad comb-over. The man held out a meaty paw to Dom who shook it briskly.

‘Thanks for coming out and telling me.’ Dom said seemingly oblivious to the young couple standing nearby.

‘Only doing my job, Santini.’ The man’s brown muddy eyes slid away from Dom and landed on Hawke.

Hawke stared back icily.

Dom followed his guest’s stare and his eyes widened. He cleared his throat. ‘Well, you’d better get going.’

‘Yeah.’ The brown gaze returned to the older pilot. ‘Look after yourself, Santini and remember…’

‘I know, I know.’ Dom waved away the other man’s concern as he hurried him into his car. ‘I’ll call you if I hear anything.’

The guy sighed and finished hauling his body into the car. A couple of minutes later the black sedan drove away from the air service heading out of Van Nuys.

Dom watched the car leave before he turned to face Hawke and Caitlin. His heart sank at their curious expressions.

‘What was that about?’ Hawke asked his head jerking in the direction of the departed car.

‘Ah nothing important.’ Dom said with a false cheerfulness that set Hawke’s teeth on edge and had him exchanging a concerned look with Caitlin.

‘Dom…’

‘Look, why don’t we all head out to lunch?’ Dom said talking over the younger man. ‘My treat.’

Hawke’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Now I know there’s something wrong. What is it?’

‘Nothing.’ Dom gestured vaguely. ‘Pete’s an old friend who just dropped by to say hello.’

‘Who happens to be a fed?’ Hawke asked suspiciously.

‘Come on, Dom.’ Caitlin added. ‘We can see something’s wrong.’

Dom sighed. ‘I’m going to say this only once; nothing is wrong and besides,’ he gestured, ‘it’s my business so I’m going to thank you both for staying out of it.’ He held their gazes for a beat and the stern paternal stare had both Hawke and Caitlin shuffling their feet like guilty teenagers.

‘We’re only worried about you, Dom. That’s all.’ Caitlin said.

‘I know, honey,’ he smiled at her, ‘and I appreciate that. Now why don’t we get that lunch, huh?’

Caitlin sighed. ‘As much as I hate not to take you up on an offer of lunch – we can’t.’ She shoved her hands in her pockets. ‘We’re supposed to be meeting Michael at Red Star, remember?’

Dom slapped his hands to his cheeks dislodging the red baseball cap on his head and looked heavenward for a brief moment. ‘Mamma mia. I’d forgotten all about that.’

‘Well, if you two guys are ready now?’ Caitlin gestured at the Jet Ranger. ‘Maybe we ought to get moving.’

‘You go ahead and get her started,’ Dom said, ‘I’ll just lock up.’

Hawke nodded at Caitlin and she sighed as she walked away to comply with the suggestion. He caught Dom’s arm before he could move. ‘Hey, Dom. I know you want us to leave it alone but if you’re in some kinda trouble…’

‘Nothing like that, kid.’ Dom reassured him. ‘Pete was just catching me up on some old friends, that was all. Really.’

Hawke held his gaze for a heartbeat before slowly nodding. ‘I’ll help Cait with the pre-flight.’

‘Good idea.’ Dom managed a small smile. He watched Hawke walk over to the helicopter before he hastened back inside. He closed down the computer and turned to leave but hesitated and unlocked the desk drawer where he kept his personal papers. His hand rested on a tattered file…an old photo poked out and he was holding it before he knew what he was doing. It was of the Hawke family taken shortly before the tragedy that had left him with two orphaned boys. Dom sighed and returned the picture to the file before he relocked the drawer. His craggy face was lined with worry but he knew Hawke would come to find him if he stayed in the office for any longer; he would deal with it later.

That’s right. Everybody stay still now.’ Dom lined up the shot carefully and depressed the button on his brand new camera. He lowered the equipment and grinned at the Hawke family gathered on the picnic blanket in front of him. ‘Perfect.’

The two boys immediately moved, grabbing the discarded baseball gloves and ball to continue the game of catch that had been interrupted with their father’s best friend’s insistence on taking a picture.

Boys!’ Jane Hawke pointed at the bottom of the garden. ‘You know the rules. Move away from the house.’

Both boys rolled their eyes at their mother but immediately followed her order.

Alan Hawke chuckled and stood up. He was a tall man, near to six foot, with blonde hair that was still neatly cut short in an army style he hadn’t quite been able to ditch. He offered his petite wife a callused hand and pulled her to her feet.

Dominic, you’ll have to let me have a copy of that picture.’ Jane’s brown eyes twinkled at him as she swept the grass off her skirt.

Sure.’ Dom held up the camera. ‘No problem.’

The boys are growing up so fast.’ Jane murmured softly her gaze drifting back to her sons.

Alan squeezed her hand that he was still holding and his wife turned to smile at him.

I’d better get these things cleared away.’ She looked dispiritedly at the debris from their barbeque piled on the wooden table on the patio.

I’ll give you a hand.’ Dom offered.

Jane dismissed the offer with a shake of her head. ‘We didn’t invite you to do dishes. Stay and talk to Alan. You two have barely had a chance to talk all day.’ She didn’t wait for a reply but picked up a stack of plates and disappeared up the back porch steps, through the French doors into the house.

Alan picked up a couple of bottles from the cooler and gestured at the seats to their left. They settled into position and clinked the bottles together in a friendly toast.

Dom took a long pull on the cold beer. ‘Ah I needed that.’ He glanced up at the sun beating down on them. ‘I tell ya, there’ll be a heck of a storm needed to break this.’

You’re not wrong.’ Alan reached into his pocket and offered Dom a cigarette before lighting one for himself. He blew out a thin stream of blue smoke and his sky blue eyes landed on his boys. ‘She’s right you know.’

She always is.’ Dom quipped.

Alan pointed at his sons. ‘They’re growing up too fast, Dom. String’ll be thirteen this fall.’

Thirteen.’ Dom whistled. He shot his best friend a curious look; it wasn’t like Alan to be so introspective. ‘They’re turning into fine young men, Al.’

Yeah.’ Alan leaned back in his chair. ‘They are. I kinda worried about String for a while there, back when my Dad died last year. He’s a sensitive kid, takes things to heart.’

They were close.’ Dom pointed out gently knowing Al’s own relationship with his father had been fraught.

Yeah.’ Alan glanced at Dom. ‘Dad left him the cabin.’

You upset about that?’

Alan shrugged. ‘Mainly I was worried about String. He seems to be working it out though.’

He’s tougher than he looks.’ Dom noted wryly. ‘Smart as a whip too. They both are.’

You got that right.’ Alan said proudly.

What’s this about?’ Dom asked unable to wait for the other man to come around to whatever it was that was bothering him.

Alan blew out another stream of smoke and stubbed the cigarette out in the oversize ashtray on the small table between them. ‘Jane’s pregnant.’

Jane’s….’ a smile started spreading across Dom’s face, ‘but that’s great…congratula…’

Alan hushed him mid-word and sent an anxious look down the length of the garden. ‘We haven’t told the boys yet.’ He sighed and pushed a hand through his hair. ‘And don’t tell Jane I told you; we’re meant to be keeping it secret until she’s a bit further along especially after what happened last time.’

Dom looked down at his shoes and sighed. The Hawke’s had lost a baby girl to a stillbirth a few years after their younger son had been born. It had devastated Jane and he knew Alan had grieved for his daughter in his own way. His own eyes slid to the boys; they had been too young to remember they had even had a baby sister at all. ‘Is Jane OK?’ Dom asked quietly.

Alan nodded. ‘I’m trying to get her to take things easy but you know how she is.’

She’ll be fine.’ Dom reassured him.

Guess it’s rattled my cage.’ Alan admitted ruefully. ‘I wasn’t expecting to go through it again.’

Surprise, huh?’ Dom said a little amused at the chagrined expression on Alan’s face.

Kinda.’ Alan took another gulp of beer. ‘We’re getting too old, Dom.’

Nah. You’re only thirty-five, Alan and Jane’s just a couple of years over thirty.’ Dom laughed. ‘My mama had my baby sister Francesca when she was forty-five.’

I guess I’m worrying how the boys’ll take the news.’ Alan confessed.

They’ll be thrilled.’ Dom said. ‘Look how close they are.’

Alan’s gaze flickered back to the game of catch and he suddenly found himself wondering if his boys were too close; Saint John was extremely protective of his little brother and String worshipped the ground the older boy walked on. He worried whether one day in the distant future Saint John would tire of his role and String would have to deal with discovering his idol had clay feet. Maybe adding a new sibling would help balance things out. He sighed. He guessed everything would work itself out in time. He dragged his attention back to his conversation with Dom and decided to change the subject.

I have some news.’

Oh?’ Dom raised a bushy eyebrow at the change in Al’s tone. It usually meant one thing; trouble.

Alex came to see us the other day.’ Alan said.

Alex.’ Dom’s brow lowered ominously. Alex Brannigan was Jane’s brother but he was also a bad lot.

He had a lead.’ Alan reached for another cigarette. ‘On Sallis.’

Sallis?’ Dom’s dark eyes widened. ‘You can’t seriously be thinking of going after that guy again, Alan.’

You were there too, Dom. You heard what he said.’ Alan blew out the match and flicked it into the ashtray. ‘He all but admitted he did it.’

I know.’ Dom gestured. ‘That’s why I think we ought to stay out of it. Let the authorities deal with it.’

The man murdered my father, Dom.’

You may be right,’ Dom acknowledged, ‘but that’s even more of a reason for us to stay out of it.’

They can’t catch him.’ Alan pointed out. ‘Sallis is too well protected.’

And what makes you think we can catch him?’ Dom asked with exaggerated patience.

I have a plan.’ Alan said.

No.’ Dom shifted in his seat. ‘No. Leave me out of it.’

I need someone backing me, Dom.’

There was silence.

Dom sneaked a peek at Alan and saw his friend gazing back at him seriously. ‘I said no.’ He repeated exasperatedly.

But you’re going to say yes,’ Alan replied, ‘especially when I tell you the plan.’

Doesn’t my saying no mean anything to you?’

Only when you mean it.’ Alan slapped a hand on Dom’s shoulder. ‘Besides, who else is going to keep me out of trouble, huh?’

Dom sighed and handed Alan his empty bottle. ‘I think I’m going to need another one of these.’

Alan grinned and one of his eyebrows quirked upwards. ‘You might be right.’

Part 2


‘Dom!’

The insistence in Caitlin’s voice had Dom jerking upright and his startled eyes glanced around the cockpit of the Jet Ranger. The bustling noise of the helipad on the top of the Red Star headquarters caught his attention and he took a deep breath. He’d been so engaged with the memory of his past; he took another deep breath and left the dream behind as he adjusted to the present. ‘We’re here?’

‘We’re here.’ Hawke confirmed turning to glance at the older man. ‘You fall asleep back there?’

Dom gave a self-conscious chuckle and rubbed his eyes. ‘I guess I did.’

Hawke and Caitlin exchanged a worried look but they didn’t question the older man as they climbed out of the helicopter and made their way through the Red Star building.

Marella’s office was only a couple of floors down. She had taken a large corner of the building with large picture windows that looked out onto the harsh natural landscape around the complex. Sunshine flooded through the room which was separated into three sections; a desk and chairs took up one side whilst a seating area had been placed into the right angle between the windows; a large oval table and chairs took up the other side of the room. The colours had been chosen to compliment the view and natural hues decorated the walls and soft furnishings. It was a comfortable space and the Airwolf team made appreciative, complimentary noises as they settled at the table to enjoy the luncheon Marella had organised for them.

‘You know we never get this kind of service when we attend one of your meetings, Michael.’ Dom needled the spy happily as he helped himself to a large portion of the salad.

Michael pushed his wire-frame glasses up his nose and stared with his good eye at the pilot. ‘If I’d known it put you in such a good humour, I would have started feeding you years ago.’ He rejoined.

‘Gentlemen.’ Marella’s dark eyes chided them both.

‘This is great, Marella.’ Caitlin waved a fork around. ‘I love what you’ve done.’

Marella smiled. ‘Thank you.’

‘If we’ve exhausted the topic of food and décor…’ Michael smoothed the lapel of his white suit. ‘I’d like to move on to the reason why we’re all here,’ his gaze slid to Hawke, ‘even if we are starting late.’

Hawke shrugged away the disapproval.

‘Is Karen joining us?’ Caitlin asked referring to the woman had become the expert on Airwolf’s computer programming and who had discovered the code.

‘Not today.’ Marella said. ‘She submitted her report to me so I can go over her conclusions.’

‘So what were they?’ Hawke asked.

‘Karen believes there is a possibility that Airwolf is demonstrating real intelligence but that it’s ambiguous.’ Marella said. ‘Airwolf is programmed to review and analyse her data and to use that analysis to better optimise her systems for performance. She’s also programmed with the self-preservation code to act independently if required to survive.’

‘We know all this.’ Hawke said impatiently.

‘Karen believes that you could argue therefore that Airwolf when she adjusted the self-preservation code to replace Moffett with you, and the rest of the team, she was simply extrapolating her own programming and hence…’

‘Not really showing intelligence.’ Caitlin concluded.

‘Right.’ Marella nodded as she forked up some rice. ‘The argument being that her analysis of her data simply proved to her that she had a better chance of survival with you all rather than with Moffett. Her self-preservation code then gave her the independence to adjust the code.’

‘But?’ Dom prompted. ‘I’m guessing there is a but isn’t there?’

‘You’re right.’ Marella sighed. ‘Logically Airwolf should not have been able to adjust the code because she was acting in violation of Moffett’s instructions.’

‘Which under the original self-preservation code she shouldn’t have been able to do?’ Caitlin checked.

Marella nodded again. ‘Karen thinks Airwolf made an interpretation of the original code to mean if Moffett was flying her she could not act independently. It allowed her to act with the independence she needed to alter the code when she was grounded.’

‘Don’t the logs say what she did?’ Hawke asked.

‘Karen says there’s nothing conclusive in the logs.’ Marella said. ‘It is a question of interpretation.’

Michael stroked his moustache. ‘So which interpretation do we go with?’

‘I kinda like the idea of our Lady being intelligent.’ Dom said around a mouthful of food.

‘Me too.’ Caitlin chimed in. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to look at her just as a machine anymore regardless of what we decide.’

‘She has a point.’ Dom said chuckling.

‘Yeah, she does.’ Hawke met Michael’s gaze. ‘Whether she is or she isn’t, isn’t the point. She might be and that’s what we need to focus on.’

Michael sighed. ‘I agree with you, Hawke.’

‘You do?’ Dom’s surprise evident in his raised voice.

‘Yes, I do.’ Michael pointed a finger at the older pilot. ‘Airwolf might be intelligent; that’s the situation.’ He looked back at Hawke. ‘The question is what do we do now.’

Hawke leaned back in his chair and regarded the other man thoughtfully. ‘OK, Michael. Spit it out.’

‘What?’ The spy attempted an innocent look.

‘Please.’ Hawke shifted again and gestured at him. ‘As if you don’t have a plan already worked out.’

Marella hid her smile behind a napkin; Caitlin used her water glass.

‘I might have some suggestions.’ Michael admitted huffily.

‘Well don’t go keeping us in suspense.’ Dom motioned for him to get on with it.

Michael adjusted his tie. ‘In the short term I suggest we do nothing.’ He felt a moment’s satisfaction at the flicker of surprise that crossed Hawke’s face. ‘If she is intelligent, she seems happy to fly under your command; I don’t think we necessarily have anything to worry about.’ He paused. ‘It’s the long term or rather medium term that worries me.’

‘You mean the merger with the Company.’ Hawke said.

Michael nodded and stabbed a finger on the wooden table. ‘There’s no guarantee that when it happens in July, I won’t be removed as your contact. They may even come after you and try to recover Airwolf.’ He frowned. ‘If there is a remote possibility that Airwolf is intelligent, we can’t risk them getting their hands on her.’

‘Go on.’ Hawke encouraged, his blue eyes narrowing on the spy.

‘I think we need to find someway so they think they’re getting Airwolf,’ Michael said, ‘but we keep control of her.’

‘You want to give them a fake.’ Hawke concluded.

‘Not entirely.’ Michael gestured. ‘The machine would still look like Airwolf, have her capabilities, it just wouldn’t be…Airwolf.’

‘It’s a good idea, Michael.’ Caitlin said. ‘But it’s not as though you have a dozen copies of her lying around.’ Her eyes widened at a sudden thought. ‘Do you?’

‘No, of course not.’ Michael responded.

‘But we do have one in production.’ Marella pointed out.

‘The new ship?’ Hawke frowned.

‘The basic frame and shell are pretty similar.’ Marella said. ‘It’s the rest of the technology and armaments that are being upgraded.’

‘So you’d use the frame and shell you have to just install a copy of Airwolf’s current design and technology instead.’ Caitlin deduced.

‘Exactly.’ Michael said.

‘Won’t they start asking questions when you can’t produce a next generation machine?’ Hawke asked.

‘We’d claim this frame and shell had design faults and re-requisition the materials; continue the build of the new machine. We’re actually very ahead of our schedule and a set-back like the one I’ve described wouldn’t be unexpected.’ Marella explained. ‘We can order existing Airwolf parts on the basis that we’re stockpiling spares for the original…’

‘But in actuality you’d be using them to…to build another one?’ Dom shook his head. ‘Incredible.’

‘So there’d be three machines.’ Hawke said. ‘One in the hands of the Company; your new, improved version which ends up as Company property eventually…’

‘And you keep the original.’ Michael said. ‘And don’t tell me the thought hadn’t already crossed your mind.’

Hawke ignored the sudden heat in his cheeks. ‘But you’d want access to her?’

‘For studying, if it turns out that she is intelligent.’ Michael conceded.

‘I don’t think it’s such a good idea to have all…all of these choppers around.’ Dom said. ‘One Airwolf is dangerous enough but three?’ He shook his head. ‘It doesn’t seem right.’

‘I kinda agree with Dom.’ Caitlin said sitting back in her chair and folding her arms. ‘I don’t like the idea of handing her over to the Company but I’m not sure giving them a substitute is any better.’

‘I’m not thrilled with the idea of having so many out there either.’ Michael admitted.

‘We could pretend to blow her up.’ Hawke suggested.

‘It might work.’ Michael conceded. His fingers tapped a restless tune on the wood whilst he turned the idea over in his head. ‘We could blow up the Lair; place some scorched spare parts in there. They’d never know the difference.’

‘Lovely.’ Dom commented. ‘And what’s from stopping them arresting us for destroying government property, huh?’

‘And if you use Airwolf after the explosion, they’re going to quickly realise what happened was a scam.’ Marella pointed out.

‘So that brings us back to the idea of the substitute.’ Michael said.

They were all silent.

‘I guess nobody’s thrilled with the idea.’ Michael said eventually.

Hawke shrugged. ‘It’s better than turning Airwolf over to the Company if she is intelligent.’

‘The words devil and deep blue sea spring to mind.’ Dom said shaking his head.

‘Are you sure you can build another one without anyone knowing?’ Hawke checked.

Michael and Marella nodded.

Hawke sighed. ‘How quickly?’

‘A few months.’ Marella said. ‘It’ll be tight.’

‘Then I guess we’d better leave you to get started.’

‘You need to find another hiding place either for the Company to find the substitute or to hide the original Airwolf.’ Michael said as the Airwolf team got to their feet. He reached for his crutches; his knee was still recovering after surgery.

Hawke nodded. ‘We’ll start looking.’ He gestured at the crutches. ‘How’s it going?’

‘Slowly.’ Michael said with a smile to soften the complaint. ‘I’ll be in touch.’

Hawke slid his hand into Caitlin’s as they made back to their chopper.

‘I still don’t think this is a good idea.’ Dom said as Hawke shut the cockpit door and reached for the headset.

‘Yeah, Dom,’ Hawke said wryly, ‘but then you never think any idea is a good idea.’

I don’t think this is a good idea.’ Dom said keeping his voice low as he handed the binoculars to Alan.

You never think any of my ideas are good ideas.’ Alan replied in a stage whisper. The two men were lying on their stomachs on the grassy embankment that overlooked the Florida villa they were checking out.

That’s because they usually end up with one of us being shot at,’ Dom returned, ‘and it’s usually me.’

It is not usually you.’ Alan denied fiercely. ‘I’ve been shot at plenty of times too.’

Huh.’ Dom said. ‘At least you’re not denying we get shot at a lot.’

Alan’s lips twitched upwards for a moment before movement in the villa caught his attention. ‘It’s him.’

Great.’ Dom said. ‘It’s him. Can we go home now?’

Alan nudged him and started to scramble to his feet. ‘Come on. He’s leaving.’

They raced down to the rental car they’d left by the roadside and as Sallis’ car passed them, they gunned the engine and started to follow.

You’re going to lose him.’ Alan warned.

If I get any closer, he’s going to make us.’ Dom said. ‘And who’s driving this heap of junk anyway? You or me?’

You insisted on driving.’ Alan pointed out. ‘He’s going left.’

I see him.’

Dom made the turning and frowned. Sallis was heading into the outskirts of Miami. They followed him as he traversed the back streets of the city until he pulled up in front of an Italian restaurant. Dom stopped the car further up the road as they watched Sallis enter the small building.

You have to be kidding me.’ Dom said. ‘An Italian restaurant?’

You know the US Mafia, Dom. They all like to pretend they have ties back to the old country.’

Old country. I’ll give them old country.’ Dom scowled. His eyes widened as Alan opened the car door. ‘Where are you going?’

I’m just going to take a look.’

No!’ Dom grabbed Alan’s jacket. ‘You’ll be spotted. Sallis might know what you look like.’

Fine.’ Alan slammed the door shut. ‘You go.’

Me?’

Well, you’re the one who pointed out that I shouldn’t.’

Dom shook his fist at his friend before caving under Alan’s beseeching look. ‘You are so going to owe me.’ He got out and headed for the restaurant. He ambled up to the menu on the outside and started pretending to peruse it whilst peeking inside the window. He recognised Sallis straight away with the jet black hair slicked back, pale skin and the thin pencil moustache. The hit man was sat at a table with three other men; Dom figured them all for henchmen. There was an air of informality about their gestures and animated conversation that he decided wouldn’t be there if one of them was actually the boss.

Can I help you?’

Dom started at the deep baritone beside him and he turned to look at the man nervously. His eyes travelled over the tall, muscular figure who was bizarrely dressed in a waiter’s outfit that did nothing to disguise the sheer size of him. Dom swallowed hard and gestured at the menu. ‘I was just seeing whether the menu looked interesting.’

We’re closed.’ The giant folded his arms over his chest. ‘Private party.’

I see.’ Dom gave him a wide smile. ‘Maybe another time then.’ He took a hasty step back from the menu and walked swiftly back to the car.

Well?’ demanded Alan as soon as Dom got in.

Dom answered by starting the engine.

Hey, what are doing?’ Alan asked.

I’m moving the car before that goon watching us gets suspicious.’ Dom explained pulling out into the traffic. ‘We’ll head round the corner and watch Sallis’ car from there.’

Alan subsided. ‘So?’

So, Sallis is having lunch with some of his buddies.’ Dom said. ‘That’s it.’

No meeting with the big boss?’ Alan asked. ‘No new assignment?’

Didn’t look like it to me.’

Damn.’ Alan scowled. ‘If we can catch him planning another hit…’

It’s a big if, Al.’ Dom said. ‘And don’t forget that we’ll have to make sure we inform the authorities the minute we know someone is on his list.’

I know.’ Alan sighed. ‘I just…I just thought it would be easier than this.’

Dom looked over at Al and seeing the despair in the other man’s expression, swallowed the reply he’d been about to make about hoping Al was ready to give up. He sighed. Putting away his father’s killer had become an obsession with Al and Dom realised with a sinking heart that Alan wasn’t going to find peace with his father’s death unless Sallis was put away.

We’ll find a way to get him, Al.’ Dom said pulling in at the corner where they could continue to observe the restaurant from a neighbouring street. He switched the engine off and turned to his friend. ‘It might just take us a little bit of time. That’s all.’

Alan smiled and patted Dom’s arm. ‘You’re a good friend, Dom.’

‘Are you sure you don’t want to join us for dinner?’ Hawke asked as he pulled on his battered leather flying jacket.

‘Nah!’ Dom waved at the mountain of paperwork on his desk. ‘I’ve got this to deal with.’

‘OK. Well, if you change your mind…’

‘I’ll give you a shout.’ Dom ended. ‘Go. Cait’s waiting for you in the chopper.’

Hawke nodded and clapped a hand on the other man’s shoulder. ‘I’ll lock up on my way out.’

‘Thanks, kid.’ Dom gave him a brief hug before shoving him at the door. ‘Now get going will ya?’

‘Night, Dom.’

‘Night.’ Dom called absently as he sat down at the desk. He waited until he heard the sound of the outer door closing before he pulled the file from the upper drawer and opened up the contents.

Jumbled up memories spilled over the over-crowded desk; transcripts, evidence, witness reports and…photos. His fingers were trembling as he picked the photo he’d taken in the Hawke’s backyard. A twelve year old Hawke smiled back at him; his arm thrown over his brother’s shoulder in a way that had defined the easy camaraderie between the brothers at that time. Dom pushed the feeling of guilt away. He knew Hawke was worried but he was damned if he was going to get the boy mixed up in it all.

‘Ah, Al.’ His finger traced his friend’s face and he wondered briefly whether it would have made any difference if he’d refused to help him; if he’d tried harder to talk Alan out of the pursuit of his father’s killer. Another photo caught his attention and he set the one he held aside to pick it up.

Elijah Hawke looked back at him. Dom had met Elijah and Alan’s English mother, Katherine, at Alan’s wedding. It had seemed to him that Elijah and Katherine had been so in love with each other, they excluded those around them including their own child. Alan had never gotten along with his father. He’d followed after him into the military but Alan had stayed there, transferring into Army Intelligence when the war was over and taking a desk job in Los Angeles as a permanent posting to provide stability for his small family. His father, a State judge, had seemingly never understood his son’s choice of career. Katherine’s death in a tragic car accident soon after Alan had married Jane had seemed to widen the space between them. It had only been the birth of the boys that had given any hope; if Elijah hadn’t understood his son, he seemed determined to understand his grandchildren and Hawke had been his favourite.

Dom sighed and picked up the old police report. He could still remember the night Elijah had died like it had just happened. He’d been with the Hawke’s having dinner; a happy chaos of family banter and exchanges. The knock at the door had come just as Jane was serving dessert. Alan had gone to answer the door; he’d come back in ashen with a sheepish police detective following in his wake. Even in his grief he’d been careful though to break the news gently to his sons. For Hawke it had been the first loss of his young life; he’d broken away from the table and ran out to the back porch. It had been Saint John who’d gone to him whilst Jane had hugged her husband and brought coffee for the policemen.

Elijah had been gunned down outside the courthouse.

It looked like a professional hit.

They may never get the killer.

Dom had watched the words sink in and knew his friend wasn’t going to leave it at that. Guilt at his relationship with his father; anger at the chance for reconciliation being ripped away; a last desperate attempt to prove something to the old man…Dom could guess at Al’s motives.

He placed Elijah’s photo to one side. The last photo he picked up had him scowling.

Sallis. Edward Gordon Sallis. The hit man of the Cordelli family and undoubtedly Elijah’s killer. Alan had been thorough in his search for his father’s killer. The Cordelli’s had been the police’s main suspects; Angelo Cordelli, the youngest son, had been indicted for murder and Elijah was presiding as the judge in the trial. The Cordelli’s had tried to buy him and when that had failed, threatened his life. Elijah had ignored the warnings. Alan had managed to place Sallis at the scene of his father’s murder; had shown the hit was similar to the MO used by Sallis; circumstantial but enough for the police to arrest Sallis in the hopes of getting a confession.

Dom had gone with Alan to the police station where they had been allowed to watch the interrogation from an observation room; Sallis had initially refused to budge from his story of having a drink with a friend at the time of the murder. But there had been a cockiness and a pride in his work that the police had played on and eventually he’d began to talk about a hypothetical situation; how he might have killed a State judge. It matched every part of Elijah’s murder but at the end, Sallis had sat back in his wooden chair and smirked as he repeated that his story was only hypothetical. A lawyer had arrived; a hand-written sworn statement from the friend in hand; Sallis had walked. The evidence was too circumstantial; the hypothetical ‘confession’ too legally fragile. Sallis had disappeared and for a few months, Dom had hoped that Alan had let it go finally. He should have known better. The trip he and Alan had taken to Florida to hunt down Sallis had been a catalyst for the events that led to the final tragedy…

A noise in the hangar caught his attention. He frowned and stared into the dark space.

‘String? Is that you?’

Dom hurriedly pushed the file back into the drawer and got to his feet. It would be just like Hawke to have come back. Dom took a step into the darkened hangar and reached for the light…

The blow stunned him, sent him reeling back into the office. He crashed into the desk and the paperwork went flying across the floor; a lamp smashed. He tried to regain his balance; dislodged the pictures on the wall; tried to defend himself as his attacker hit him again and again until he blessedly passed out…

Continued in Part II.

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