by Kate Webster
© January, 2001
2225 hours...Seventieth Avenue, Los Angeles
The tan Chevy with primer paint in LAPD Officer Pete Malloy's rear view mirror was weaving over the middle line again. He kept checking it as he continued to drive his off-duty yellow sports car down the rainy avenue towards his apartment. There was something hinky about that guy, and right now Malloy wasn't in any mood. He'd bowled seven perfectly lousy games and taken about all of Ed Wells' ribbing he could handle in one night. He just wanted a hot shower, a cold beer and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep! And he couldn't believe all the traffic on Seventieth tonight.
The disheveled sedan swerved over the double yellow again, causing the oncoming traffic to veer out of its way, honking wildly. Oh, the idiots you see when you're off duty! Pete sighed, trying to shake the nagging annoyance of witnessing something he couldn't control. Well, actually, he could've stopped the driver, but it was difficult in an unmarked car - and alone. And dangerous. The Chevy had three occupants. Besides, it was a major hassle unless he witnessed a crime or a major traffic violation. So far it was only reckless operation, and possibly a deuce. He'd watch them a little longer and if it became obvious that the guy was drunk, he'd consider attempting a stop.
When they approached Grayson, their light winked green and the stopping traffic began to gather at the intersection from both sides of the cross street. The tan Chevy sped up, passing Pete on the left, directly into the path of oncoming traffic in the now crowded intersection. Horns blared and brakes squealed as drivers tried to avoid the inevitable collision, the wet pavement causing more skidding than control. Pete had maintained command of the situation, thanks to his defensive driver training, until the careening Chevy slammed into his fender, sending the sports car into a harrowing spin. He recovered quickly but had to proceed through the jumble ahead, cars skating on the slick road surface as they tried to avoid striking each other. The revolving tan dervish clipped a motorcycle, its hapless driver dumped onto the pavement with his bike on top of him.
The crashing sound of the concussion and twisting metal set Pete's teeth on edge. He fought the reflexive tension in his shoulders, willing himself to relax and maneuver past the accident. Pete cut the wheel all the way to the left, barely swinging between the collision and the oncoming vehicles, then made a hard right, slaloming the car back into his own lane and coming to rest against the curb, narrowly missing a telephone pole. He held the wheel tightly, his knuckles white, feeling his heartbeat like a mini earthquake throbbing through his entire body. Breathe, Malloy! he chided, as he took his car out of gear and removed the key.
He hit the ground running, back towards the accident to check for injuries. The motorcycle had taken quite a spill and the Dodge was smoking ominously. He thought he'd seen kids in the back seat as he swerved past the blue vehicle. Pete prayed he was wrong. The tan Chevy sped past him, doubling back, missing his leg by inches. It twisted in a U-turn towards his parked vehicle, scraping the side with a sickly grating sound as they tore up the street. It took a second for his police instincts to recover from the near miss and the obviously deliberate damage, to focus on the license plate disappearing in the distance. One-Four- Seven-Ocean-Nora-Ida he repeated under his breath as he made his way towards the smoldering Dodge.
"Call the police!" Pete cried to the onlookers who'd come out onto their porches in response to the cacophony. "Tell them we need fire and ambulance! Tell 'em to step it up!"
He reached the Dodge as the engine flared, tongues of fire licking from beneath the hood. Pete pulled desperately at the doors on the driver's side, freeing the female in front and two young children from the back.
"Come on," he yelled over his shoulder, as he backtracked to his car to retrieve the fire extinguisher from his trunk, herding the kids along with him. "Over on the sidewalk, away from the cars!" Pete heard the sirens way off in the distance. Godspeed! he willed the responding crews in a ragged breath, returning to the now flaming blue vehicle.
2240 hours...Grayson and Seventieth
The responding emergency units had converged on the accident scene within moments of each other, approaching from both directions. The crash-littered intersection was bathed in strobing red light. As soon as the first police unit arrived, Pete deferred to 1-Mary-7's control, moving to direct traffic at the far end of the crash. He'd stopped just long enough to borrow Burroughs' radio to call in the hit skip vehicle. He would have liked to have chased the cause of this multi-car accident, but with several injuries and a car about to bloom in flames, he'd had to let it go. As he loped to the middle of the avenue, waving to the second motor unit as it arrived, he hoped someone stopped the car before they were responsible for more havoc tonight. Why the hell did people insist on driving while intoxicated!
2310 hours...Grayson and Seventieth
"Who belongs to the yellow sports car?" Burroughs called to Pete as he wove his way through the maze of public safety vehicles and dinged-up cars still at the scene.
"That would be me." One corner of his mouth drew up in a wan smile. "You done with the others?"
"No, but I just didn't see anyone with it." The motorcycle officer gave a sympathetic look. "You don't work tomorrow morning do you, Malloy?"
"Actually, I do," he sighed. He'd identified himself as an off-duty policeman to the unfamiliar officers when they'd arrived on scene.
"Want me to take your report now?" he offered. "Get you outta here?"
Pete considered the suggestion a moment, figuring he shouldn't ask for special treatment. But it was getting really late. He had to be on duty by six hundred hours, which meant an alarm blaring in his ears just a little over five hours from now. "I guess not..."
"Hey, you've been doing traffic detail. Helping us out. We can cut you a break. Come on over and we'll get your statement and assess the damage," Dick Burroughs smiled, leading Pete to the yellow vehicle sitting somewhat away from the fray. "Have you outta here in no time."
Pete recounted the facts of the collision with his usual precision, despite the creeping fatigue and his water-logged condition. Blessedly, the rain had stopped about half an hour ago, but not until after it had soaked through his canvas windbreaker as well as the cotton shirt and tee beneath. He shivered as the chill set in. Burroughs finished the report quickly, handing the book off to Pete to sign.
"Well, there's not much damage," the motor officer sighed, giving Pete's car a last assessment. "But in today's market..."
"Yeah," Pete growled, opening the driver's side door. "This thing is a cash machine. It eats money!"
"What the hell?" the motorcycle officer gasped. Pete wheeled around to face him, unsure of what had caused the exclamation. "Deichman! Over here!" Burroughs eyes were wide as he stared at the floor behind the driver's seat. A couple of plastic bags and three limp twenties lay in a heap on the tan carpeting. One bag filled with a greenish brown leafy substance and the other a multi-colored array of capsules.
"Call a supervisor," Pete said in an even tone, his eyes never leaving the stash on the floor of his car. What the hell, indeed!
2313 hours...Grayson and Seventieth
Two black and whites swung past the flares, the ambulance, a fire truck and the scattered debris, stopping just beyond Malloy's yellow Matador X Coupe. Pete recognized the officers, Woods and Brinkman, who emerged from the radio car and his commanding officer, Sgt. MacDonald, from the supervisor's station wagon. Officer Deichman met the sergeant as he exited his vehicle, the two men conversing over the open door. Jerry Woods and his partner hung back, giving Mac privacy as he was apprized of the situation, both cautiously avoiding any eye contact with Malloy.
"What happened?" Sgt. MacDonald asked, a bit later, approaching Pete as he leaned against the mangled fender of his sports car, flanked by two traffic officers.
"I wish I knew," Pete shook his head.
"This doesn't look good, Pete," the Scotsman sighed. "Deichman said they found the drugs in your vehicle?"
"If you're going to arrest me, Mac, you better do it by the book." Pete's face was a study in stoicism, but his eyes showed the pain and embarrassment his friend knew he was feeling.
"Give him his rights, Woods," MacDonald sighed, unable to continue looking at Pete. He couldn't let his personal feelings for his friend get in the way. Malloy seemed to be handling this professionally; he had to do the same.
"Mac -" Woods protested, his face slack with shock.
"It's okay, Jerry." Pete forced a wan smile. "By the numbers. Which means you need to search me first." He turned his back and assumed the position, his hands behind his head, fingers interlocking.
Mac swallowed hard at the sight. He knew what Pete meant. If this was going down, he wanted everything done in order. No chance of throwing the whole thing out on some technicality, with the question forever hanging in everyone's mind if he really did it. Only a clean, solid arrest gave him the opportunity for full vindication. But he also knew that Pete was protecting his friends from letting their feelings get in the way of doing their job. That's so like him, damnit!
Jerry Woods took a deep breath and patted him down, then looked towards the sergeant. "You don't want him cuffed, do you?" Woods asked pathetically.
The commanding officer shrugged and nodded. Pete placed his hands behind his back with resignation to accept the handcuffs, then turned around towards the two officers again, his face a blank. Mac could only imagine the emotions behind that composed mask.
Jerry pulled his notebook out of his breast pocket to begin the Miranda, but couldn't continue. Malloy was training officer of his division. He'd gone to him with problems and trusted his counsel. They were fishing buddies, friends, and deep in his heart Jerry knew Pete would never be involved in anything like this. The words he'd quoted a thousand times stuck in his throat as he looked at Pete's face.
"You're gonna have to do this yourself, Sarge." Jerry Woods shook his head and put the notebook away.
MacDonald sighed and took his own notebook from his pocket, stepping towards his friend standing patiently handcuffed. His heart broke as he uttered the words.
"You have the right to remain silent...."
0237 hours...Los Angeles Police Headquarters...Central Division
Officer Jim Reed placed his off-duty gun in the weapons locker in the wall across from the lockup, slamming the door with a vengeance. He'd been trying to calm the growing rage he'd felt since Mac's phone call had awakened him. He still couldn't believe what he'd heard when Jean had handed him the receiver: Pete Malloy, the man who'd taught him everything he knew about being a cop, had been arrested for possession and suspicion of dealing in narcotics. Jim couldn't understand how the world had suddenly turned upside down, but he wanted some answers. He'd gone to Mac's office, but the sergeant was in a closed door meeting with some higher brass, no doubt discussing Malloy's arrest. Jim decided to seek his answers from the horse's mouth.
The scene that met him as he entered the lockup did nothing to allay the fury he'd been fighting. Inside the dismal cell, Pete sat with his back against the wall, knees drawn up towards his chest, his sandy head buried in broad, freckled hands, the picture of dejection. Reed spoke softly to the guard, asking to be admitted to the cell despite the rule against it. Reynolds thought for a moment and then made a quick phone call to his commanding officer to check, before taking the ring of keys and opening the cell door. Pete didn't even hear them approach, or at least he made no show of noticing.
"Malloy," Reynolds called through the mesh of the door. "You got a visitor."
Jim hadn't believed he could feel worse than when he'd first seen Pete sitting there, until he caught a glimpse of his friend's face as he raised his head. Pete adjusted his expression immediately, finding a smile somewhere for his partner's benefit, but that momentary glance was enough for Jim to see his anguish.
Pete looked like hell. His face pale and drawn with fear and frustration, his hair disheveled by his own clawing fingers, but it was his eyes that frightened Jim the most. And those haunted eyes weren't disguised by the smile he faked in greeting. Not from his partner.
"Mind a little company?" Jim managed to keep his tone light, despite the emotions that assaulted him. Pete tried to respond verbally, but his own voice betrayed, so he simply gestured his acceptance. The door unlocked, and Jim was ushered into the tiny cell. Pete made room for him on the small shelf that served as a bed by swinging his legs to the floor. "You okay?"
"I've been better," Pete admitted in something just above a whisper. The sound of his usually upbeat partner's depression made Jim's heart break. "What are you doing here? It must be two a.m."
"Nearly three," Jim corrected. "I heard you might need me."
"Thanks." Pete looked away, covering his face with his hands to hide the emotion that threatened to flow down his cheeks. "But I don't see what you can do." The two men sat in silence for some time, Jim feeling better. Now that he could see his friend it was easier to believe the whole thing was some ugly mistake.
Pete, however, wasn't comforted much by Jim's presence. It was even more difficult to swallow what was happening with Jim there to witness. Though it always made him a bit uncomfortable, he knew that the younger officer looked up to him, perhaps even idolized him a bit. He'd failed in front of him in their time together, but this was serious, and his innocence didn't seem to make it easier.
"So who set you up?" Jim finally broke the silence between them. Pete would have laughed at that idealistic view of Jim Reed's, if that part of him had been functioning. Jim's hero just couldn't be guilty, so the whole thing had to be a sinister plot. But somehow it wasn't as funny as it should have been. This time it was the truth. A scary truth that Pete still wasn't quite able to grapple with. Pete should have had some sarcastic reply at the ready, but nothing came to him.
"You got me, partner," was all he could manage.
"And you've got me." Jim Reed clasped his friend's shoulder so firmly it actually hurt. "Don't forget that."
Pete looked away again. He wasn't much on showing emotion, Self-contained one of his previous partners had called him. It had been a long time since any living thing had been as close to Pete as Jim Reed and his family had become. And he had to admit, his nerves felt like someone had been using sandpaper on them. Frazzled didn't begin to describe it. But he wasn't about to allow the breakdown he felt coming, not yet. There was still way too much ahead of him for that.
"Jim," he began a bit later, when he'd regained control of his voice. "I think you oughta know. This could come down on you, too."
"Guilt by association, huh?" Jim's tone was lighter than it should have been, under the circumstances. "I think I'll take my chances, partner." Pete did smile at that, though it didn't touch his eyes.
"I'm serious, Jim. I have no idea what's going down here, how far reaching or from what direction. You may well be implicated before it's over. Just being around me could get you dirty."
"Then bring 'em on!" Jim roared, jumping to his feet and pacing the tiny cell. "Come on, Pete. You can't just sit there and let 'em do this to you."
"I don't have alotta choice," he sighed. "If you'd been there..."
"What happened?" It was the first question Mac had asked, too. It was what everyone was going to want to know. Hell, he wanted to know himself.
Pete buried his head in his hands again, not willing to relive the waking nightmare quite yet. Scenes from the evening's insanity flashed through his mind like some mad slide show, assaulting his already overloaded nerves. He shuddered and Jim was at his side in the same heartbeat. He felt the reassuring hand on his shoulder, tensed at its touch and then relaxed with a sigh, bringing himself back to reality and the present.
"They took my shield," he said in just above a whisper. It was the last image that had imprinted on him as he reviewed the facts, trying to figure out how to explain what went wrong. It broke Jim's heart.
For the next ten minutes Pete focused on reiterating the night's events with the detached, impersonal style Jim had seen him use for reports to a shooting review board. It was a tactic Malloy employed to keep himself calm, professional. Jim had often admired that ability, and emulated it over the years, but it baffled him now. The nightmarish details were all too personal, too close for comfort.
It turned out that Pete had gotten his wish. Someone had stopped that tan sedan not half a mile from the scene of the accident. The driver and his two young friends had been brought in for questioning, and were being cited for leaving the scene, but they had a defense. At the moment, it was seemed pretty iron clad. The driver stated that they had fled out of fear for their lives. They claimed they'd met Malloy earlier, in the back parking lot of the bowling alley. There had been a quarrel over the terms of a business deal. It seemed they'd been doing some work for Malloy and he wasn't happy with the profit margin he was turning. Supposedly, the off-duty cop had pulled his weapon and threatened the kids. A road duel had ensued, eventually resulting in the accident.
"Have they set bail?" Jim grasped at something to relieve the tension. He knew there'd be no problem raising the funds to release Malloy. Every guy in the division would gladly do whatever he could to help. Pete shook his head wordlessly. It was the middle of the night. No doubt he'd be spending the remainder of it within these four dismal walls. "Well, it won't be long," Jim continued, trying to shake Pete out of the despondency that frightened him more than anything else. "We'll have you out of here and then we can do some investigating and find out what's going on."
"Yeah," Pete agreed, though the sound of it was hardly convincing.
"You don't have any idea who the guy was?"
"Never saw him before," Pete sighed.
"Are you sure? I mean, we didn't arrest him once or something?" Jim persisted.
"I haven't got a photographic memory, Reed, but I rarely forget a face. Even if I can't put a name to it, I usually remember something," Pete shook his head. "With this guy, I keep coming up empty."
"But he knew you?"
"Oh yeah," Pete consented. "He knew me all right. And where I'd been all evening. I couldn't have given a better rundown if I'd been keeping a log. Of course, we disagreed as to what I'd been doing there, but I doubt I'll find any witnesses to the contrary."
"Pete." Jim shook his head. "It's not like you to be so negative."
"I guess I'm not feeling much like me right about now," he shrugged.
"Don't let this get to you. You gotta fight that helpless feeling and get through it."
"You betcha," Jim winked, slapping his partner on the knee. "And I know. I learned from the best."
1035 hours...the next morning... Municipal courtroom 4
Malloy's shoulders were slumped over the table where he sat, sandy head in his shackled hands. Pete jerked at a pressure on his shoulder. The officer standing guard beside him was not a friend, so he couldn't imagine why he would touch him. Pete looked up, not into the stern young face expected, but at familiar blue eyes and a sympathetic expression. Jim was in uniform. He couldn't be spared among the ranks for the entire watch, but MacDonald had wanted him in court this morning, if needed. As if anything short of a direct order would have kept him from his partner's side. They'd been waiting like this for twenty minutes, while the attorneys, the judge and Sergeant MacDonald met in closed session in the Judge's chambers. Things didn't look promising.
First, the late night phone call requesting Pete's release on recognizance had been flatly refused. Then the next morning, a weary and rumpled Malloy had stood before Judge Madison Abernathy to hear his face-to-face denial of bail at any amount, due to extreme risk of flight, citing the fact that Malloy had no family ties to the area. The judge was a hardnose on police corruption and apparently viewed this as such. He seemed to have little compassion for the accused standing before him, or much interest in that little detail of the American judicial system regarding a man's innocence until proven guilty. A cop shouldn't get himself in a situation to need to rely on that, was Abernathy's take on the whole thing.
Mac returned from the judge's chambers ahead of the attorneys and the bailiff, passing the table where Pete sat between two armed officers. The Scotsman winked as he took his place in the row behind, leaning forward to speak to Malloy.
"You know that extra bedroom you helped me paint last year?" Mac said just above a whisper. Pete nodded, a look of total confusion on his drawn face. "Well, you're going to be spending a lot of time there the next few days." Pete wasn't able to make sense of what he was telling him and eventually shifted his attention to the judge, who was just returning to the bench.
It all became clear when the courtroom was called back to order and Judge Abernathy released Pete Malloy to Sgt. MacDonald's personal custody on house arrest. It had taken him twenty minutes to make the deal. Twenty years of MacDonald's exemplary police career would be the collateral.
"Mac -" Pete tried to find the words to convey his feelings. "You put yourself on the line...your reputation."
"I seem to recall somebody doing that for me once when things looked pretty bleak." The sergeant smiled, clasping his friend's shoulder firmly. "Doogan, get those cuffs off him, now!" he ordered of the young guard beside them. Pete rubbed his wrists when he was freed of the restraints, more for the feeling of liberty than physical discomfort; they hadn't been tightly clasped. "We'll swing by your apartment so you can grab some things."
"Mac..." Pete stopped, unable to finish the thought. There were no words for what he wanted to say. The last few hours had been a nightmare and though little had changed, his friend's support gave him a ray of hope that eventually he could make sense of what had happened to him, vindicate himself of the charges and return his life to normal. He hated to admit it, but there had been several times during this horrific night when he'd doubted the chances of that ever happening. He'd almost given up. For Peter J. Malloy, those moments didn't come often.
1725 hours...William MacDonald residence, Los Angeles...
Pete maneuvered the speeding black and white through the littered street. Twisted carcasses of vehicles jumbled along the dark avenue, burnt out hulls surrounded on every side, the debris of a dozen collided cars in his path. The pavement was like black glass, slick and slippery as he sped past a car full of screaming children, trapped within the flaming chassis as they spun past his window. Adam-12 slammed into a fire truck to its right, twisting in a frantic arc back into the fray. Pete Malloy's hands were sweating as they gripped the steering wheel in white-knuckled panic, following the wildly accelerating tan Chevy sedan careening into the oncoming traffic. Horns blared, assaulting Pete's ears as he desperately tried to concentrate on managing the patrol car on the slippery road. The car ahead slammed headlong into a telephone pole, splintering the support and sending electrical wires down upon the crowded street in a shower of sparks. Angry blue lightning danced over the tops of cars as the current bled from the ruptured cables.
The door flew open, the driver escaping the steaming wreck as he fled the scene. Pete stamped on the brake pedal, practically forcing it through the floorboards as he struggled to bring the unit to a halt. He jerked at his door handle, hitting the street at a run. Pete's legs pumped frantically as he chased the driver who bailed from the tan sedan and set off through the yards beyond. His heart beat wildly, threatening to burst from his heaving chest.
He rounded the corner after the dark figure heading for the trees. They scaled a fence, Pete slipping and landing with a thud on the other side. He righted himself and continued after the fleeing suspect, catching up to him with a sudden spurt of energetic speed. He tackled the broad-shouldered thug just as they approached another stand of trees. They collided with the hard ground, rolling together in a tangle of arms and legs, the rocky earth battering Pete's back and arms with each crushing somersault. Pete's feet finally found purchase, forcing the suspect against the ground with a knee to the small of his back. He sat back on the suspect's legs, straddling him with a shaky stance as he pulled his arms behind his back to cuff him. He found his own balance at last, standing on wobbly legs, and yanked the suspect to his feet, jerking the man around towards him.
Furious eyes flashed at Pete with vengeance. The face that scowled back at him sent chills to his very soul. It was frighteningly familiar.
It was the face that stared back at him from his mirror.
Pete gulped air violently, lurching forward, clutching the linens to keep from tumbling out of the narrow bed. The thrumming of his racing heart beat loudly against his eardrums. Pete's eyes flew open. Flustered he tried to take in his surroundings, confused by the unfamiliar furnishings. This wasn't his apartment with its spartan organization and neatness. Floral curtains filtered the late afternoon sun onto cheerful yellow walls. He remembered that color, that intense saffron. Mac's, he finally deduced, falling heavily back onto the pillow, catching his breath. It was a dream, he reminded himself, but if that were the case then why did he feel he'd just run the marathon? And why was he lying in the MacDonald's guest room?
Because it wasn't a dream. Not last night, anyway. The wild and demented images of his nightmare had been only slightly distorted visions of the chilling reality he'd lived over the past nineteen hours. Had it only been that long? Just a little bit more than a double shift? Impossible! It seemed, to Pete he'd aged a decade since then.
He stretched aching muscles, stiff from his fitful dream and sore from the night's ordeal. The delectable fragrance of something savory wafting on the air caught his attention. His stomach loudly growled its reply. How the hell could I be hungry? Pete thought he'd lost his appetite permanently. Rubbing his face with his hands, he realized he hadn't eaten all day. Purely mundane thoughts like food had been banished by anxiety and shock. He sat up slowly, swinging his legs over the side.
Mac popped his head in at the door. "About ready for supper? Mary runs a tight ship around here. Meals served promptly," he smiled.
Pete knew the strict discipline in the MacDonald household was more Mac's doing than it'd ever be Mary's. Besides, she'd told him when he arrived, just before noon, to make himself at home, come and go as he pleased. She'd keep a plate covered for him in the fridge if he didn't make it to the table with the family. Pete remembered, with a twinge, the dark thought that bit of sincerely meant hospitality had seeded in his beleaguered brain. Come and go as I please...If only I could!
"Be right there, Mac," he forced a smile for his host. "Just gimme a minute to wash up."
"Yeah, and comb that mop, huh?" MacDonald referred to the younger man's tousled red-blonde hair, trying to add some levity. He knew Pete too well to have missed his clouded expression. "We aren't formal around here, but set an example for the kids, will ya?" He clapped his friend on the back as Pete made his way down the hall to the bathroom.
"Doin' the best I can, Mac," Pete said ruefully He closed the door behind him, missing the transformation of his commander's features, from feigned, but fairly convincing smile to pained grimace.
Mac knew how Pete must be feeling. He'd faced his own crisis with being falsely accused not so very long ago. For a while it had looked as though he'd take the fall but hard for something he hadn't done. The injustice had hurt and frightened him, and it had been Malloy who stood by him. Pete had put his own career on the line, having his veracity severely questioned for support of his friend. The sergeant hoped to be able to repay a little of that friendship now.
As a house guest, Pete was more than welcome, anytime. But this was a unique situation. There had been a quiet discussion with Mary this morning when Mac brought Pete home, immediately after the arraignment hearing. He'd had to get back to the station, but when he returned home that night, both parents sat down with the kids after school and explained their visitor and all the ramifications. It wasn't going to be easy. The media had grabbed onto the story of a corrupt cop's arrest like the proverbial dog with a bone. It hit the papers with the evening edition and the print media was only the beginning. Thankfully, Pete had slept through the afternoon's onslaught. Mac had been surprised when he'd phoned home and Mary said she'd checked in on Pete and found him snoring softly. He hadn't expected Pete to be able to rest under the circumstances, but Mac was grateful the exhaustion had finally taken him. Pete needed to sleep, needed to refuel and regroup. There was still much ahead of him to endure.
Mary MacDonald had set a hearty table in honor of their guest. Her legendary pot roast was sure to tempt Pete's lagging appetite, a casualty of the strain he was under. And, despite the harrowing experience and the dark cloud that still hung over his head, Pete found his mouth watering by the time he took his place opposite Elizabeth and Billy at the maple dining table. Mac served up a heaping plate of the juicy beef and steaming vegetables and Mary passed him the home-baked rolls. For the first time in what seemed an eternity, Pete felt something other than despair and fatigue.
He listened to the easy rhythm of family banter: a rundown of Elizabeth and Billy's day at school; Mary discussing the gardening chores she had planned for Mac on the weekend; innocuous sibling rivalry. Harmless, contented sounds that flowed over Pete like a balm, and also made him incredibly lonely. He shook off the negative feeling, grateful he wasn't expected to keep up his end of the conversation. Pete wondered if the absence of Mac's day at work as subject matter had anything to do with his presence, or did the sergeant always keep that to himself?
"Hey Pete," Billy began. Elizabeth was uncharacteristically quiet as she helped her mother serve dessert, a warm peach cobbler. "Ya wanna throw the football around later?"
"Billy," his father intervened, before Pete had a chance to respond. "I imagine Pete's gonna want to make it an early night. He's pretty tired."
"Yeah," Pete sighed, finding a smile somewhere for the boy he'd watched grow from a toddler. "Maybe tomorrow, huh Bill?"
"Sure," Billy MacDonald tried to hide his disappointment and even more, his embarrassment. It had been an honest gesture of friendship, wanting to include Pete, and make him feel at home, to pretend for a moment that the reason for his visit was benign, pleasant. Pete took a mental note to make it up to the boy. Maybe that fishing trip they'd talked about, without his dad, just the two of them. If he ever had the chance.
The kids helped Mary clear the table and then excused themselves under the guise of finishing homework. Pete felt like the five hundred-pound gorilla that nobody dared mention as he hauled himself off the chair. He knew it was his own fault. The MacDonald clan had made him more than welcome, but it didn't change the heavy feeling in the air, or the weight that hung on his heart.
"You want a beer, Pete?" Mac offered, leading him to the den. The Packers were playing tonight and it was televised.
"Naw, I...eh... better keep a clear head," the younger man refused wearily. "In fact, I should probably turn in early..."
He looked kind of lost to Mac. For all his personal experience in the matter, he had no idea how to help his friend's suffering. He could see Pete was already feeling stir crazy, pent up energy and frustration emanating off him in waves. Knowing that feeling from the inside didn't give him a clue how to alleviate it for someone else.
"Sure," Mac acquiesced, walking Pete to the staircase. "I'll see you in the morning then?"
"Yeah, Mac. Thanks." He mounted the stairs slowly, stopping about halfway to the landing. "Who..." Pete rethought asking the question, but decided he had little to lose. "Who's on the case?"
"Last night. Who was assigned to the investigation?"
"Miller," Mac replied flatly.
Pete nodded silently for a moment, "He's thorough."
"Yeah," MacDonald smiled. "He'll do his best, Pete. We all will."
"Sure, Mac..." Pete started to turn upstairs again, but stopped, staring at nothing in particular on the wall beyond.
"Yeah," he shrugged, turning his attention back to his host. "I was...just wondering about terms of the house arrest...I mean...can I get some air?"
"I could go with you," Mac offered.
Pete nodded, inferring from Mac's invitation that he would not really be allowed to leave the house alone, even for the shortest of walks. Grasping that concept wasn't particularly pleasant.
"Maybe later, if that's okay."
"Anytime you say," Mac assured his guest.
Pete felt that much more trapped. He'd just exchanged one lockup for another, albeit the warden here was decidedly friendlier, the bed softer and the food much better.
Mac continued, "Did I tell you about Billy's gym we put in the basement? He's got the whole setup, punching bags, gloves and all. You can really get out some tension down there. Would you like to try it? Work out a little?"
"I don't know..." He started to head back upstairs, that lost look clouding his face again.
"Hey, why don't you come downstairs and I'll show it to you. It's really great. Billy's pretty proud of it," MacDonald tried once more.
"Okay." He followed Mac to the basement. Pete Malloy knew when to take a hint. "Hey, Mac, this is quite a deal. Joe Lewis would be envious." The long-time friends avoided one another's eyes for a while as Pete pretended to inspect the equipment. Pete might be able to read Mac's intent like a large print novel, but he didn't have to like it, or tumble to it. And MacDonald, for all those years in stripes, always preferred a low-key command style; present the problem and let his officers come to the solution on their own.
"Well, if you ever wanna try it out..." Mac shrugged.
"Thanks, Mac." Pete finally met his eyes again. He also knew what to do when out-flanked and out- manned...strategic surrender. "I think I will."
Pete slipped into the red leather gloves, Mac securing the laces at his wrists before leaving him alone with the speed bag and his frustrations. He went at it with a vengeance, his fists striking the black and white leather bag in swift staccato. He worked up quite a sweat, slapping the speed bag in quick succession for nearly ten minutes, then moved to the heavy canvas bag hanging nearby. Pete put all the anger and defeat of the past twenty hours into each lunge, connecting solidly in one violent blow after the other, a grunt of pained satisfaction accompanying each strike. Pete continued to pummel the weighty canvas thing as though it had transformed itself into the tangible substance of his predicament: a looming, hulking monster. He lost track of time, his eyes no longer focused, the breaths coming hard and quick, as he attacked the faceless enemy with mind-numbing furor.
Mac came down the stairs half an hour later, watching the scene with fatherly concern. Pete seemed almost possessed as he flung himself against the unyielding weight. He'd hoped the exertion would help to clear his friend's thoughts and give release to his indignance.
"Pete." There was no reply. "Pete!" Still nothing. Mac drew himself up to that commanding stance twenty years on the Los Angeles Police Force affords and bellowed, "MALLOY!!!!!"
Pete threw himself into the heavy bag, hugging it with all his might. The force of that final lunge had been his last bit of energy. He held onto the swinging canvas and swiped at the blinding sweat pouring from his brow. He panted like he'd just run twenty city blocks in a foot pursuit, forcing air in and out of this cramping lungs.
"Yeah, Mac," he managed, the words pushed through the ragged gasps for oxygen.
"Sure," he wheezed, letting go of the bag and bending forward, huge red gloves resting on his knees as he tried to regain control. His shirt was soaked through.
Mac approached slowly, his worry replaced by amusement. "I'd hate to see the other guy."
Pete rested his pounding head against the gray canvas His eyes closed against the fury of a moment before.
"I just got a call from the Captain," Mac said. The announcement snapped Malloy to attention. He held onto the swinging weight as he raised his eyes to meet Mac's. "He wants you in his office first thing in the morning." Pete squinted, trying to read between the lines, but as was often the case with MacDonald, he held his counsel, not allowing any emotion on his face.
"Eh...sure, Mac," Pete panted, still trying to catch his breath. "He...say what for?" Pete leaned into the bag again, still feeling the a bit off kilter.
"I'm sure he'll tell us tomorrow," was Mac's only answer. "He...eh...wanted me to ask...if you had any other weapons we needed to...secure."
Pete felt the blow of the words as real as the still throbbing effect of the strenuous exercise. He met the sergeant's gaze. "Just the pistol you impounded last night at the scene," he replied, his voice level.
"Nothing at the apartment we should take...for safe keeping?" Mac asked blankly. It was apparent that he was only the unwilling messenger. "Maybe a hunting rifle or something?"
"Nothing, Mac." Pete let a bit of the hurt and irritation show in his voice. "I swear."
"Okay, I'll let him know." He quickly changed the subject. "Oh, and Reed called. I was going to come get you but when I told him you were down here working out he said for you to just give him a call when you were through."
"Thanks, Mac." Pete raised his right wrist to his mouth and pulled at the laces with his teeth. Once loosened, he put the gloved hand between his body and his left bicep and pulled, slipping his hand out easily. He used his free hand to unlace the left. Mac leaned against the banister, watching.
"Wanna take that walk now?"
"I better call Jim, first," he sighed. "He was up most of the night, then worked today, when he wasn't in court. Get it over and let him get some sleep."
"There's an extension there, behind the bar. Come get me when you're done. I'll just let Mary know we're going."
"Thanks, Mac." Five minutes later he was on the phone with his partner.
"You get any sleep?" Jim Reed's worry reached across the connection, like something tangible.
"Some," Pete sighed. "I'm gonna turn in soon."
"Yeah, me too." His friend stumbled for words. They rarely ran out of conversation and they certainly had issues to discuss, but it seemed so artificial over the phone. "Anything I can get you?"
"Naw. Mary's takin' real good care of me." Pete tried to keep it light. "If I'm not careful, I'll gain ten pounds."
"Good thing you hit the punching bag," Jim joked.
"You're a real pal," Pete quipped. A twinge grabbed at his heart; sorrow, panic maybe. That moment of normalcy served to underscore the insanity. He shrugged it off. "You call for anything in particular?"
"Just checking," Jim admitted. "You hear anything?"
"Captain Moore wants to see me. First thing tomorrow," he replied, studiously keeping his tone neutral.
"What's that about?" his friend asked, a note of worry in his voice.
"Don't have a clue," he breathed. "Listen, you better get back to that wife of yours."
"Yeah, okay," Reed agreed, realizing Malloy wasn't in the mood to talk. "I'll see you around the station then, tomorrow?"
"Maybe," Pete allowed. "Give my godson a hug for me, would ya?"
"Sure thing, Pete," Reed assured him. "Jean sends her love."
"Thanks, Jim," Malloy replaced the receiver and stared at the wall. This wasn't going to get any easier.
0800 hours...Office of Captain Moore...LAPD Central Division...
"MacDonald. Malloy." Captain Moore greeted the officers with his usually clipped delivery, indicating the seats he expected them to take with a curt nod.
"Captain," both men responded in unison, sitting opposite their commander.
"Malloy, suppose you start at the beginning." Moore settled back in his own chair, a pen in his hand.
"Captain?" Pete's brow furrowed in question.
"The other night. What happened?"
"It was all in my report..."
"I read the report," Moore interrupted. "Now I want to hear it from you."
"Yes, sir." Pete Malloy's hands were splayed on the knees of his chinos. He could feel them moisten the material as his nerves kicked in. Not again! his mind pleaded as he set the defenses a lifetime of police work had built and launched into yet another telling of the nightmare.
Twenty minutes later he'd somehow gotten through a complete narrative without a breakdown. He wondered how many more he had in him. Pete sat in silence, feeling light headed and wishing he'd joined the MacDonald family for breakfast, though his churning stomach assured him he might have made the right choice after all.
"Very well," Moore nodded. "Sergeant, I suppose you have things to get back to."
Mac stood, crossing to the door. Pete joined him silently.
"Malloy," the captain summoned. "You weren't dismissed." The look in Pete's eyes as he turned slowly from his sergeant brought a sympathetic smile from MacDonald.
"Yes, sir," he replied, standing stiffly at his chair as the sergeant left the office, shutting away the familiar bustle of the hallway with the soft thud of the door. Pete wished he'd been in uniform, like the friends he'd glimpsed in the corridor. He missed having his hat brim to fiddle with while he was standing in the silence. He suddenly didn't know what to do with his hands. Moore watched him for a full minute, then without a word he crossed to the credenza and pulled two paper cups from the stack.
"Black, no sugar, right?" Moore confirmed the officer's preference, picking up the carafe to pour them both a cup of the fragrant brew. Pete could only nod. He'd momentarily lost the power of speech, he was certain of it. The captain placed the cup in the officer's hand. Pete's acceptance a reflex, as he returned to his desk with his own coffee. "You had breakfast?"
Pete shook his head, still silent, his eyes shut a moment against the dizzying emotions.
"No appetite, I suppose." Moore shook his head slightly as he regarded the man before him. "You haven't changed, Pete. You always did take things hard."
"Captain?" Pete's voice was quiet, hesitant. "Is there...did I miss something?"
"You?" The older man chuckled. "That's doubtful, isn't it?" The younger officer still looked confused. "Sit down, Pete," he offered in not quite a command. "I'm sorry about this morning. Making you go over the details again like that, but it was necessary. These are very serious charges. You understand?"
"Yeah," he started to agree, then something went off in his head. "No, sir, I don't..." Pete stopped, taking a breath. "Permission to speak frankly, sir?"
"Always," Moore smiled enigmatically.
"I gotta say, I'm confused. I mean, you didn't ask questions or even take a single note, and I didn't say anything today that wasn't in the reports the other night."
"No, you didn't," Moore acknowledged. "But you did say them to me."
Pete stared at his commander, still not sure he was following the logic.
"How long did we ride together?" the captain asked the rhetorical question, his hand still resting on Malloy's personnel packet, brimming with every fact of the officer's career.
"Five months, Skipper," Pete responded, gripping the chair. "You broke me in." Why did he suddenly feel like that wet-behind-the-ears rookie, taking a reprimand for some stupid mistake?
"It nearly broke me doing it," the older man laughed, his eyes softening with the memory of the fresh faced, young and oh-so-eager recruit who had grown into the officer before him. "Got to know you pretty well during those months. Never seem to forget the ones who cause you trouble. The stubborn ones. Questioning ...arguing. The ones you know are worth the effort." Pete felt a stinging sensation in his eyes, a lump in his throat he knew he'd never swallow down. Moore saw that Malloy's stoic reserve and carefully constructed defenses were wearing thin. "I knew if you looked me in the eyes while you made that report, then I'd know the truth."
Half-an-hour later, Pete emerged from the captain's office feeling as though a weight had been lifted. Captain Moore's faith in him had been a shot in the arm. It didn't make sense somehow. The pre-trial wasn't until tomorrow. He was still in that bureaucratic limbo that was not quite suspension, administrative leave, awaiting the outcome of the judge's decision and the possibility of an IAD investigation after that. He was on house arrest. Even here in the police station, he was under constant guard. Officer Greene was waiting just outside the Captain's office to escort Pete back to Sergeant MacDonald's custody. Pete's weapons were impounded and shield number 744 still lay in the safe in Mac's office. How could he be a police officer without badge or gun? And if he wasn't a cop, what was he? How did he define his existence without it, after more than ten years? And with all those questions still unanswerable, and the indignity of his current situation, why did he suddenly feel a purpose again to his life? Pete was amazed how his Captain's words of support had buoyed his spirits.
He walked to the watch commander's office with a lighter heart than he'd felt since that kilo of marijuana had been discovered in his back seat two days prior and his world had ceased to make sense. The familiar corridor was filled with officers filing reports and booking suspects. It must be a busy day. Pete knew all the patrolmen - this was his watch - and he nodded to Brinkman as he passed. Pete noticed the uneasy look in the other officer's eye as he returned the greeting reluctantly. Brinkman had been one of the officers who responded with MacDonald when Pete was arrested. Maybe he feels odd about being a part of that, Pete decided, shrugging off the chill he'd gotten at the less than friendly greeting.
Jerry Woods was at the lockup, having just booked a prisoner. He looked up and did a double take when he saw Pete in civvies, a tan tweed sports coat and tie. Jerry glanced uncomfortably at the uniformed shadow at Pete's side.
"Hey, Pete," he smiled, though Pete noticed that his eyes darted up and down the corridor. "How ya doin'?"
"Okay," Pete replied. He'd decided on abandoning any attempt at an honest reply to that question until this was long behind him. "Looks like you're keeping busy."
"Yeah," Woods answered, fidgeting from one foot to the other. "We're shorthanded, so it's pretty rough out there." It was obvious the officer couldn't wait to get out on the streets again, anything to end this conversation.
"Well, take it easy," Pete sighed. He was partially to blame for the watch being under-manned.
Pete and his escort headed again towards the watch commander's office, to check in with Mac before meeting with the attorney Captain Moore had arranged. Moore had also told him that Jerry Miller from detective division wanted some time with him. They'd gone over the evidence found in his car that night and had a lot of questions. It was shaping up to be one long day.
It was nearly noon when Pete finally finished with his attorney and Detective Jerry Miller and his partner. He leaned against the wall of the brightly lit, nearly deserted corridor outside the detective division, a deep sigh escaping him. Officer Greene stood nearby, giving Pete as much privacy as the terms of his arrest would allow.
The tension of the last few hours had settled as a headache at the back of Pete's skull and a knot in his stomach. Detective Miller had been cautiously optimistic, citing the only connection with the evidence was its discovery in Pete's vehicle. There were no fingerprints at all. But Pete knew Miller well enough to read between the lines, and he knew the detective was putting as good a face on things as was possible, for his benefit.
The attorney had stated that they would argue Malloy's car had been unattended at the accident scene for well over twenty minutes, and was also unlocked all evening behind the bowling alley. Pete was taking more than a little heat from his brother officers because of that oversight. The only case the prosecution had was the testimony of the witnesses who'd claimed in their statements to have a business relationship with the officer and to having been threatened by Malloy. Detective Miller had run them for wants and warrants and come up with a prior juvenile rap for the driver, who was now eighteen, and absolutely nothing on the others. It was possible they'd given fake names. They were running descriptions through the national service. The lawyer said it came down to reliability of the witnesses, and with Pete's ten years as an exemplary officer, it seemed pretty clear who the court would believe. Pete wasn't so sure.
His head told him the chances were excellent that by the same time tomorrow all this would just be a bad memory, but his heart...well, he knew why they called it disheartened, anyway. He closed weary eyes, willing his nerves to calm. The worst was over, for today anyway, there was nothing left to do but wait until tomorrow's pre-trial hearing.
"Hey, Partner," Jim said quietly. Pete's sad gray eyes opened slowly to meet his friend's questioning smile. He hadn't noticed Jim's approach. "You okay?"
"Fine." Pete sincerely wished people would stop asking that question. It was so pointless, and he was beginning to resent being forced, by courtesy, into lying every five minutes.
"How'd things go with the Captain?" Reed ventured. The glimmer in Pete's eye at the mention of their commanding officer had to be a good sign.
"The old man was fair," Pete concluded, pushing away from the wall to join Reed as they made their way toward Mac's office, tailed by the ever-present Officer Greene. "He just wanted to hear the whole thing from me."
"He say anything afterwards?" Jim wasn't sure it was his business. He knew that Moore and Malloy went back a long way.
"Officially he can't do anything until the whole thing's resolved, Jim." Pete didn't feel the question an imposition. He wasn't sure if that was because he felt close to his partner, or if the morning's meeting with the detectives and this whole mess had just worn him down. "But he wished me luck and gave me a bit of advice." It was an oversimplification, but Pete knew he could never express the extent of what had happened, not even to Jim.
"Sometime maybe you'll share it with me," Jim smiled, leaving his friend an out whether he wanted to talk or to keep his usual privacy.
"I hope I never feel the need," Pete replied sincerely as they drew up to the watch commander's office. Pete was still adjusting to the changes since the LAPD had abandoned the 'team concept' experiment of the last year and returned once again to the line of command he'd always been used to. But there was something comfortably familiar about MacDonald being in his glassed-in office and roll call in the old table-lined room down the hall.
"Hey, I was just going for seven, you wanna come?" Jim offered with such a natural tone that it pained Malloy to hear. He'd noticed the last couple of days that he could function fine through this nightmare, until faced with something totally normal. Then he felt as though he'd come unglued.
"I...eh...should probably stay close to the station," Pete hedged, unwilling to burden his friend with the details of his house arrest. He glanced at Greene with sympathy. As difficult as this was for Malloy, he figured it had to be tough on the cop who had pulled the duty of watch-dogging a fellow officer. "Thanks, anyway."
"I was just gonna grab something in the break room," Jim added. It was apparent he missed his partner and really wanted to spend time with him. He probably hoped that Pete would open up and discuss things, his fears, but that wasn't going to happen. Pete felt he'd already dragged his friends too far into his nightmare as it was.
"That's probably not such a good idea, Jim," he sighed, still smarting from his encounters with Brinkman and Woods. The way he was feeling, a single word from Ed Wells could be deadly. "Thanks anyway."
Mac met them at the door, coming into the hallway to greet the three officers.
"Pete," he smiled warmly. "How'd it go?"
"Rough," Pete admitted, knowing MacDonald understood only too well. "Now we wait."
The sergeant nodded, dismissing Greene with an unspoken command. Mac noticed Jim hanging close by. He'd been assigned to an L car because his watch commander knew he didn't need to deal with all the questions a temporary partner might bring. Mac also knew how close these two were, and that adjusting to someone else in the car would have only reminded Jim of his partner's absence all day. There'd be time for matching him with someone else, if things went that way, but for now Mac would spare Jim Reed that.
"So, you ready to go?" MacDonald asked Pete, putting on an easy manner.
"Yeah, Mac," Pete sighed. "Whenever you're ready. I can wait somewhere if you want."
"No," MacDonald smiled. "I've got a better idea. Reed, why don't you take Pete around to my place before you get back on the streets."
"Sure, Mac!" Jim didn't even try to hide his delight in the assignment. His reaction was infectious. Even Malloy wasn't immune and was smiling a bit himself as they headed for the lot and unit 1-L-27, together.
1635 hours.... Backyard, William MacDonald Residence...Los Angeles...
Pete had kept his word to Billy and the two of them were working up quite an appetite running plays in the MacDonalds' spacious back yard after Billy had come home from school. To make things interesting, they'd been keeping score and Pete was ahead. Nobody was more surprised than Pete.
"Pete," Mary called from the kitchen window. "Phone's for you. It's Jerry Miller."
"On my way," he called, tossing the football to Billy across the yard and taking the stairs two at a time.
"Hey," Billy cried, catching the pass easily. "This is only a time out, Pete! I'm not letting you quit without giving me a chance to catch up!" The boy's smile and comfortable manner had been a balm to Pete's aching heart. "I figure my only chance is to wear you out. I got youth on my side."
"No," Pete chuckled, holding the screen door. "You've got age on my mine!"
Jerry had a few more questions, and he'd received the results from the fingerprinting of Malloy's Matador X. There were too many prints to get anything concrete beyond Pete's and the officers at the scene, but again Miller tried to be encouraging. The call didn't take more than ten minutes, and Pete was on his way back outside as soon as the receiver hit the cradle. But the voices in the yard stopped him just inside the kitchen door.
"I guess you ex-cons stick together." Pete heard a mocking young female voice through the screen door.
"Pete's not an ex-con, Laurel!" Billy argued. It hurt Pete to hear his young friend's sincere loyalty. "You don't know anything!"
"It was in the newspaper, Billy!" It was Billy's younger sister, Elizabeth MacDonald. "And on the noon news. He's on house arrest here."
"Beth!" Billy exclaimed, furious with his sister for her betrayal. Mac had explained to both of them that Pete was under investigation and staying with the MacDonalds until the charges could be cleared. Billy viewed her words to her friends as an act of family treason.
Behind the door of the kitchen Pete shuddered with the shame of hearing doubt in Elizabeth's words, her unspoken accusation, the question that had shaken her faith in him.
"He should be locked up! He's a drug pusher. I can't believe your father would have him in the house!" another young girl was saying. "Couldn't he get in trouble just for knowing him?"
"No, stupid!" Billy exploded. "You don't get in trouble for being friends with someone!"
"Yes you can, Mr. Know-It-All!" the voice yelled back. "It's called being an accessory!"
"Billy doesn't care. He's been in jail," the girl named Laurel jeered. "But I'd think your father would be concerned about his reputation, Elizabeth. He could lose his job!"
"Well, I'm not staying around here. If you guys want to take your chances with some felon, go ahead." The other girl's tone was much too contemptuous for her years. "Who knows what he might do to young girls! My mother says he's the worst kind of criminal, because he's a dirty cop."
"You take that back, Claudia!" Billy shouted, sounding like he was nearing his limit.
"I'm with Claudia," Laurel said. "If you want to come over to my house, Elizabeth, we could work on cheers over there. My folks wouldn't mind if you had dinner with us. At least you wouldn't have to eat with him."
"You mean he eats at the same table with you? Oh, you poor thing!" Claudia's haughty manner was like fingernails on a blackboard, but it was Elizabeth's soft-spoken betrayal that cut like a dagger.
"I'll tell my mother we need to study for biology." She ran up the steps toward the door that hid Pete from view. She'd turned to face her friends as she reached the landing. "Daddy said there's something called a pretrial tomorrow. I just hope they put him away for good!" She bounded into the kitchen, barely missing a collision with Pete on her way in. She looked up into his dejected face with a flash of something between disgust and fear. Confused tears welled in her deep blue eyes as they searched his for something... confirmation... condemnation? Pete stood frozen in her gaze, unable to refute the silent indictment. Before he could speak in his defense or reach out to console her, Elizabeth fled to her room. That was the final blow.
Pete turned away feeling as though he was going to be sick. His hands were trembling as he escaped into the powder room off the kitchen, splashing cold water on his face, trying to cool the heat of his humiliation. Elizabeth had curled him around her five-year-old finger the first time she'd batted those long, dark lashes. She'd gazed up at him with her big blue eyes and said Pete all those years ago, and he'd been a goner. From that moment on she'd always teased him by calling him her boyfriend, saying she was going to marry him and become Mrs. Elizabeth Malloy when she grew up. But he hadn't realized until now just how firm a grip she truly had on his heart. He grabbed the edge of the counter, taking deep breaths and praying to regain control.
He returned to the backyard a few minutes later to find Billy sitting on the steps, alone.
"So, what was the score again?" Pete asked as though his soul hadn't suffered the virulent stroke that only a loved one could deliver.
"You were ahead by three," Billy replied, his voice tinged with despondency. Pete was acutely aware that he wasn't the only victim of the girls' unthinking cruelty.
"Well, you'd better do some serious catching up. Your Mom's putting dinner on now." Pete grabbed the ball and went long.
Twenty minutes later Pete called the game, once he'd let the boy get a respectable two point lead. It hadn't been difficult for Billy to unknowingly take advantage of Pete's tentative hold on concentration. They headed inside just as it was approaching dusk.
"Mac has a supervisor's meeting," Mary explained when Pete and Billy came in. "He phoned to say not to hold dinner. And Elizabeth is eating at Laurel's, so why don't you two get cleaned up and we'll sit down."
Thankfully Mary missed the look on her son's face as he headed for his room, but Pete caught it. He wondered if he should have a talk with Billy, but decided that was probably Mac's department. If things didn't go well tomorrow, the MacDonalds would have a lot to talk about with both their children.
After a supper of trout, which Pete recalled landing on his last trip with Mac up north, he offered to help Mary with dishes. She tossed him a dishtowel and they soon fell into an easy rhythm of work and conversation.
"You were really a help today, pruning the rosebushes and clearing up those other chores," she smiled as though this were just any visit, rinsing a glass and passing it to Pete. "If I had waited for Mac to get to it, I'm afraid they would have taken over the entire yard."
Pete dismissed her words with a shrug. "It gave me something to do - got me out into the fresh air." Truth was he had already started to feel closed in, more from the prospect of what might lie ahead than any lack of hospitality on the part of his hosts. He was a prisoner, and it wasn't sitting well.
Mary kept the chit chat light, but Pete suspected she had more on her mind than roses. When the talk turned to the next morning's pre-trial, he was sure of it. He kept his response nonchalant, but Mary wasn't convinced.
"You might snow that husband of mine, but I'm a mother, Pete. You can't fool me," she chided, handing him a casserole she'd finished washing. "If you need to talk, there are people ready to listen."
"I'm fine," he sighed, setting the dried dish with the others on the counter. He was getting so tired of that word. "It'll all be over tomorrow, anyway."
Mary wondered if he believed that, even a little. Maybe it was living with a cop for nearly twenty years, but she could see through the best-laid defenses. She suspected that it was a requisite of the job they be so stubborn. So stoic. She handed off the big blue platter that had held the broiled fillets at dinner. "How's Judy taking all of this?"
Something went off in Pete's brain, like an explosion. He stiffened, his ears ringing, feeling the prickling sensation that he knew was a symptom of shock. He ought to recognize it, he'd felt it enough in the last two days. The platter slipped from his hands and smashed to the floor, breaking into a dozen jagged pieces. Malloy felt sick, surveying the blue destruction at his feet, the crashing sound jerking him back alert in the next moment. Mary's platter lay in pieces, scattered on the floor, and Pete was genuinely mortified over his clumsiness.
"Oh, Mary," he gasped, kneeling to retrieve what could not be recovered. "I am so sorry."
"I've always despised that platter!" She was laughing. "Mac's mother gave me that thing. Personally, I think it's hideous. I've tried to get rid of it...even thrown it out a few times, but he'd always drag it back in."
"Now I've done it," he moaned, picking up the broken shards of pottery. "Destroyed a family heirloom!"
"Nothing of the sort. Careful, you'll cut yourself! Here, let me do that."
Pete lowered himself to sit on the floor, knees against his chest, his head leaning back against the cupboard door.
"Pete," she smiled patiently at his look of total frustration and fatigue. "What is it? Did Judy take this badly? I'm sure if you just give her time, she'll come around."
"I didn't give her the chance," he sighed, his eyes fluttering closed.
"What do you mean?" she queried.
"I don't know where my mind's been," he groaned. "I never called her."
"What?" Mary exclaimed.
"It's been in the papers, on the news..." He covered his face with his empty hand. "She must think...God, what she must think of me! What she's been going through!"
"Give me that!" Mary demanded, taking the ceramic shards from him. "And march yourself straight in to that phone and call the girl! Do you hear?"
"Now?" he gasped. "After all this time? She'll hang up on me, for sure!"
"As well she should." Mary chuckled, swatting him playfully on the shoulder. "And then you'll just dial the number again and call her back. And make it a good apology, Pete. It should sound sincere."
"How does, 'I'm the world's biggest schmuck' sound?"
"It's a good start," she smiled, her soft brown eyes were sympathetic. "Now go..."
Pete stared at the green extension for ten minutes before he finally got up the nerve to pick up the receiver and dial the seven numbers he knew by heart. He tapped the table with his index finger as the connection went through. His hand flew to depress the button in the cradle when he heard the first ring. What was he so afraid of? He and Judy had become incredibly close over the last year.
She'd been there when he was shot during the raid with Narco, when Jim had saved his life. She'd stayed by him in the hospital, keeping his spirits up during the long weeks of recovery and therapy with games of gin rummy, books of crosswords and an ever present smile. She'd been patiently supportive and hadn't made a scene, but after Pete was released there had been long talks about his continuing on the force. She had wanted to keep him safe, had tried to convince him to join her father's hardware business in Fresno. Pete had understood her motives, had known she wanted the best for him, but he'd given her a no-nonsense refusal. Amazingly, it hadn't ruined the relationship. He had since tried to make her see how much his work meant to him, and she had struggled to come to terms with the dangers. They'd made great progress over the past ten months.
He dialed her number again, this time letting it ring four times before a moment of panic had him reaching to terminate the call. She answered just before his finger depressed the button again, her voice soft and distant and oh so familiar. He didn't hang up, but he didn't answer either.
"Hello?" she said for a second time. Silence. Pete couldn't speak. He had no idea what to say. How did you start a conversation with the person closest to you in the world, when that world had turned upside down and you'd taken forty hours to call and tell her?
"Is anyone there?" Judy's voice had an edge to it. Was it just the irritation of what she must think was a wrong number, or was it a reaction to everything that had happened? His arrest had been all over the news by now, and not just the print media. And when they'd exhausted the few facts the police had released, they filled in the blanks with ugly speculation. He knew it must have hurt her deeply, embarrassed her at work, and confused her greatly.
He heard the dial tone in his ear, loud and insistent as it callously signaled the lost chance. He hadn't spoken to her, not a syllable to comfort and reassure. He felt like a real jerk. She was probably thinking that she was getting prank calls, maybe even worrying that because of the trouble Pete was in, the scandal, someone was now targeting her and maybe even David. He just had to talk with her now.
He dialed the number yet again, feeling his heart beating in his ears. He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. He still had no idea what to say. How could he apologize for leaving her alone through this? Until that moment he hadn't considered how this whole thing would impact Judy. And David...had he heard about this? He was nearly ten, and middle school could be a cruel place. Had the kids at school made the connection between the news articles and the Pete Malloy that took David fishing and to the ball game, taught him how to throw a football?
"Hello?" came the guarded greeting on the other end of the line. He had to speak to her. It didn't matter what he said, he had to let her know it was him. He stammered a moment, making an odd series of noises, unintelligible and meaningless.
"Hello?" Her voice sounded nervous, frightened behind the guise of irritation. "Who is this?"
He tried to form the simple word, his own name, but it just wouldn't happen. All he could think was that he'd failed her miserably. And this time he couldn't blame that defeat on some fiendish set up. The neglect had been his. Not only couldn't he imagine her ever forgiving such thoughtlessness, such selfish indifference, he didn't know how to begin to ask. But something tugged at his heart. He had to let her know it did matter.
"Don't hang up!" he finally stammered. "It's me."
1554 hours...Courtroom 7...Municipal Court...Los Angeles...
Pete Malloy sat behind the table, pulling at the constricting tie around his throat and staring up at the seal of the City of Los Angeles on the wall in front of him. He'd seen the seal a couple hundred thousand times, he supposed. It was prominently displayed on the building where he worked; his black and white patrol car and every other one like it in the city bore the logo in full color on both doors. For over ten years he'd worn a tiny brass and nickel version of it in the center of the badge just over his heart. And he'd spent more than his share of time staring up at it in courtrooms during that career as a Los Angeles police officer, but this time was different. He wasn't trying to make good on a bust, put a felon behind bars with his testimony. This time, he was the accused, facing possible conviction, jail time and everything that could mean to a cop. Today he was fighting for his very life.
They had been playing a waiting game for over half an hour now, anticipating the return of the judge and the attorneys from a conference in chambers. It reminded him eerily of the arraignment hearing a couple of days before, when Mac had fought for his release after bail was denied. Today he wasn't certain the reason for the closed-door session. It was wearing on Pete's nerves.
The only thing he knew for sure was that the witnesses for the prosecution, the kids from the hit skip tan Chevy, weren't in the courtroom. It was possible that they were being held elsewhere, especially considering they'd claimed that Pete had threatened them, but it was more probable that they hadn't shown up. Pete wasn't sure what that could mean for him legally. They had the evidence in his car. It had been a large enough stash to make possession a serious charge on its own, but he knew that the case the prosecution was trying to make would be strengthened greatly with the witnesses' testimony. During questioning that night, the kids had put the hat on Malloy, stating that they were working for him and he was hassling them about profits. If they made that case, he was sure this was going to be a tough rap to beat. Knowing that he was innocent, and was being set up by someone, though he couldn't imagine who, wasn't making the waiting any easier.
He looked behind him, at the crowded courtroom. Most of these people he recognized from the local media, and he'd heard there were some citizens groups who'd taken an inordinate interest in a case involving an officer of rank being busted for drug trafficking, which is how the prosecutor had filed the charges. He sighed deeply, feeling the tension in his neck as he surveyed the murmuring crowd. It was bad enough he had to face what was about to happen. He didn't need an audience.
"Relax, partner," he heard at his right, turning to see the sympathetic face of his friend, James Reed. He'd asked for the day off to accompany Pete to the preliminary hearing, for moral support. Pete had argued with him, saying he didn't want anyone there, that if things went badly he really didn't want to have to face friends. Jim had listened intently and then done exactly what he thought was best, despite Pete's wishes. Kinda like working patrol with him, Pete mused. He'd come to respect his partner's instincts, even if he did make him crazy with worry sometimes when he took his own initiative instead of following his senior partner's orders or heeding Malloy's advice. Jim Reed was a good guy, a damned good police officer. It was a source of pride to his partner and former training officer that he was currently one of the most respected, and decorated of the division. Pete threw him a weak smile, acknowledging his admonition. Relax indeed!
There was a stirring at the door leading to the corridor outside the judge's chambers. It was lost on the whispering crowd of onlookers, but Pete caught it immediately. He'd been so focused on that door and trying in vain to imagine what was going on beyond it that he'd probably heard the first touch of the hand on the knob. The bailiff appeared, allowing the two attorneys to precede him into the courtroom. He called the court to order before the judge entered. Pete was already sitting ramrod straight at the defense table, his gray tweed sports coat turning those enigmatic eyes a troubled gray-green as he watched his attorney round the oaken table to join him. Attorney Hynes wore a neutral expression, but Pete would've bet money it was good news. A couple of moments later, he wasn't entirely sure he'd won that wager.
"What's going on?" Pete asked, not certain he wanted to hear the answer.
"The witnesses for the prosecution didn't show, probably skipped town the same night they were released," the lawyer began with a satirical smile.
"And I was an extreme risk for flight!" Pete said with irony, but no mirth.
The defense attorney went on to explain, "Well, without them, the prosecution realized that they didn't have a very strong case. The evidence was indeed found in your car, but they knew the tactic we would take with that one: the car being accessible all night, to anyone with the slightest motive."
Pete nodded, trying to follow all of this even though his mind was reeling.
"We'd also given them the report from Jerry Miller and the boys in SID," Hynes continued. "There were no fingerprints linking you to the stash in his vehicle."
"Right," Pete agreed.
"Without those witnesses and the lies they don't seem prepared to tell as truth under oath, the only case they have is highly circumstantial and easily defeated," the attorney leaned against the heavy oak table, his coat open, hands shoved in his pockets. "They requested the conclave with the judge and me to discuss the situation and make an offer to drop the charges."
The attorney was smiling by the time he finished filling in his client at a whisper, awaiting the judge's return. His face took on a quizzical frown when Pete didn't smile back. They sat in silence, staring at the bench until Judge Abernathy appeared, then stood as the court was called to order. They were on their feet again as the judge read the motion to dismiss and ruled in the affirmative. The courtroom behind him erupted, but Pete stood trance-like through it all. He didn't even respond to Jim Reed's exuberant response, relieved in the extreme for his partner's good fortune.
Pete didn't want a dismissal. He needed to be found not guilty, vindicated, his name cleared beyond all question. When the shock had worn off, he quietly argued with his attorney about it, under the hubbub of reporters and onlookers leaving the courtroom, jockeying for a place where they could catch Malloy as he exited the courtroom. His attorney just smiled, clasped his shoulder and told him to take it and run.
"You'll go home, pop the top on a cold brew, put your feet up and it'll hit you. You're lucky, Pete."
But he didn't feel lucky. All he could feel was an empty sense of the whole thing being incomplete. He wanted closure. He wanted it all to be over. With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he left the courtroom, his partner by his side, he realized that for him, it might never be.
1630 hours...Pete Malloy's Apartment...Los Angeles...
He called Judy as soon as he returned from the preliminary hearing, but there was no answer. He must have just missed her, he thought. He decided he'd try her later, that she'd probably had a late meeting or went to dinner with a girlfriend. He didn't even bother to change out of his dress clothes, just rid himself of the jacket and the noose of a necktie, grabbed something quick for supper and tried to eat, even though he didn't have much of an appetite. Then he snatched a beer from the fridge, despite the eerie reminder of his attorney's words, and sat down in front of the black and white portable in his living room, tuned in the game. It was the Rams, his favorite team, but he couldn't seem to get into it. He ended up dozing on the sofa, getting a crick in his neck for his trouble, and when he finally did wake up, it was nearly one a.m. He couldn't call Judy that late. He'd just have to wait until morning.
He wondered briefly, as he brushed his teeth and headed for bed, why she hadn't tried to call him. They'd only spoken for a few moments the night before. Actually they'd probably spent less time on the phone than he'd taken screwing up his courage to call in the first place. She'd sounded distant, but he'd chalked that up to being a little angry with him for waiting so long to call. She'd ask if he was all right and he'd fought down the irritation that question had come to bring, realizing she had likely been worried sick. She asked where he was, if she could come to him, but he'd hedged by saying he was getting ready to turn in. He knew he couldn't keep it together in front of her just yet.
He'd told her the preliminary hearing was set for the next day and that he would know something then, but he'd spared her, or was it himself, the possibly dire consequences of that knowledge. She'd ask if she could come, and he urged her not to, though it meant he might never see her again except in the cold and impersonal visitor's room of a prison. He just couldn't have her see it happen if that's the way it went down. He'd ended the conversation abruptly when he felt his control slipping, telling her a little white lie about having to get off the phone and assuring her he'd see her after this was all over. He'd expected his phone to be ringing off the hook when Mac dropped him at his apartment, and now he couldn't even get her on the line. Had this whole thing driven a wedge between them after all? Was it the shadow of the charges, or his stupidity at waiting so long to call?
That forlorn thought accompanied him to a fitful sleep, his first in relative freedom since this whole nightmare started. He knew he should be feeling happy, or at least relieved that it was over, but somehow the whole thing had that nasty sense about it of never quite going away.
Pete tried calling her the next morning, before he caught a ride with Mac for his shift, but there was still no answer. He had been reinstated with the police department and returned to work amid a flurry of media speculation and outrage. There were pickets at the station when he arrived, but Captain Moore stood by the decision to restore him to duty. He and Mac had both told Pete to hang tough, that things would soon blow over. He felt rotten that there was no resolution, that the question was still hanging there. And, though he figured it was just his imagination, some of his fellow officers seemed distant. This made him wonder.
He was grateful to his partner for his steady support, for trying to make things as normal as possible at his return. Jim hadn't said a word in the locker room to welcome him back. Pete knew by the look in his eye, as Jim picked up the conversation commiserating with the Rams loss the night before, that his partner was sincerely thrilled to have him back, but he acted as if Pete had just been on a regular two days off. For Pete, it seemed another lifetime ago since he'd donned that navy LAPD uniform.
He had shrugged off Mac's offer of light duty till he got back in the groove, feeling that he'd already been away from patrol too long. With pickets outside the station, he couldn't see how working the desk would be much of a reprieve from an angry public reaction. He might as well be doing his job out in the field when the stares, the questions and the abuse, if any, came his way.
"Ya wanna drive?" Pete asked Jim as they approached the lot. His partner nearly tripped at hearing the offer. He stared at the keys dangling from between Pete's finger and thumb.
"Not unless you have some reason for wanting to ride shotgun," Jim replied, unsure of why Pete wouldn't want to drive. It was something of a joke around the station that Jim Reed only got to drive the requisite number of days per year, his partner usually keeping a tight hold on those keys. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Pete exhaled with a shrug. "Just...thought..."
"Then quit kidding around and let's get out there, huh?"
Pete slid into the driver's seat of the black and white, for the first time in eleven years feeling strange behind the wheel. It was the same way he'd felt while he was dressing in the locker room. How could something so familiar seem suddenly foreign? He pulled the patrol car out into traffic.
The emotions weren't lost on Jim Reed, sitting three feet from him. He sensed his friend's pain, wishing Pete would talk about it, but Jim knew the odds of that were pretty slim. It was good to have him back, but he knew it was going to be a long shift.
Reed and Malloy had been partners long enough to have developed a routine. They worked as a team and knew each other's weaknesses as well as strengths. When Jim noticed a slight hesitation as Pete got out of the unit on their first call, he automatically took the lead. He'd give Pete a bit of time to get his sea-legs again. Jim couldn't imagine what it must be like for his partner after all he'd been through.
By the time they called in for code seven Pete was acting much more himself, but Jim still felt that quiet hesitation from his usually confident, out-going partner. It gave him pause. He was sure that when something went down, Pete Malloy would rise to the occasion, but he couldn't shake the feeling of carrying his partner and mentor, for the first time ever. He didn't mind doing it, but something just seemed out of joint with the world with Pete not his sanguine self.
Pete stopped a couple of times during work and tried Judy's number from a pay phone, but still got no answer, He decided to swing past her place on his way home. Jim dropped him off at the impound lot so he could pick up his car, the crushed side looking worse in the light of day. It was driveable, so he'd just have to live with the damage until he could get it to a good body shop, Mac's brother's maybe? After everything that had happened he wasn't really worried about something like a banged up quarter panel, but it did remind him of the accident. And the accident made him think of this whole nightmare, so he knew he'd get it in for bodywork before too very long.
He tried Judy from the office of the impound lot, again there was no answer. Perhaps there was some trouble with her phone, he reasoned. It was what he wanted to believe, what he had to believe at the moment, even if it meant deluding himself. He turned the car in the direction of her house, suddenly feeling better at the thought of finally seeing her, and putting some distance between himself and what he couldn't change. Maybe they'd all go out for pizza, Pete, Judy and David, something normal and sane. Pete pulled into the drive, noting that Judy's car wasn't there. He got out to check for a note like she sometimes left for him when she had to run an unexpected errand. To be honest, he just didn't have the heart to turn the car around right away.
The house was locked up tight, as though she'd been going out of town. Rookie, the retriever pup that Pete had gotten for David's birthday last month was missing, along with his chain and dish. The doghouse they'd built on Pete's days off sat with its empty doorway gaping at him, making him feel suddenly lonely.
A rather nervous neighbor, who said Judy had taken David up north and didn't say when she'd return, confirmed their absence. She had recognized Pete from a neighborhood cookout a couple of months back, but she spoke to him through four inches of open door like he was on the most-wanted list. He thanked her weakly and returned to his car with its smashed side jeering at him. It was going to be a while before this got any easier.
The next couple of days were trying to say the least, as the picket line grew outside the station. They shouted at cars as the officers went to and from work and taunted the cruisers as they rolled for service. They'd been given warnings about blocking the entrance and the sidewalk, but they abided by the letter of the law that Sgt. MacDonald had laid down, continuing within those restrictions. The marchers didn't show much sign of tiring of the protest, unlike the officers. And it wasn't just the pickets - the phones were ringing off the hook. The desk had been forced to put on extra manpower to offset the extra calls about the scandal.
The public was calling for a formal investigation by Internal Affairs and the city law department, alleging everything from mishandling of evidence to a cover-up of corruption in office, and insisting on Malloy's removal from the force. This was the main reason MacDonald hadn't put Malloy on light duty, even without Pete's objections that he wanted to remain on patrol. Mac couldn't imagine his friend having to field one of those calls.
Pete was feeling pretty low, trying to put this all behind him and get on with his job, but what really rankled him was Judy's disappearance. He regretted how he'd left things with her, when they'd talked on the phone. He wished he could explain it to her now. He supposed he had the phone number for her father's up in Fresno, but whether it was pride or something more noble, he decided to give it a few days. If she needed space from all of this, from him, he'd give it, even if a bit reluctantly.
Jim had invited him over for dinner on their only day off that week, to help put together an entertainment center for the family room. While the prospect of a night of home improvement wasn't the most appealing way Malloy could think of to spend an evening, the promise of one of Jean's home-cooked meals and a few hours in the company of his godson tipped the scales.
Jean Reed outdid herself with a mouth-watering lasagna and a chocolate cake. Being a grateful guest, Pete didn't let the opportunity slip to tell his hostess just how much he appreciated her efforts, even if his lagging appetite might have kept him from managing seconds.
"You didn't finish your cake, Pete," Jean noted. " Are you sure you feel up to putting that thing together?"
"I'm fine, Jean," he lied with a wan smile. "Besides, you want it to stand, don't you?"
"Oh," Jim sniffed, getting up from the table to make his way to the rec room. "So that's how you're going to be!"
"I think you two better get started before you're not speaking to each other," she laughed, taking the plates Pete had carried to the kitchen. "After I finish the dishes, and give Jimmy his bath, we'll bring you guys a couple of beers and inspect the job."
"There aren't that many dishes, honey," Jim gave her a quick peck on the cheek before leading Pete into the rec room. "This thing will take a couple of hours, at least."
"A couple of hours?" Pete's eyes widened. "We do have to work tomorrow, you remember?"
"Relax, Pete," Jim laughed. "We'll be done in no time."
"I think that's what Sarah Winchester said when they started construction on her house," Pete quipped, already starting to feel more himself surrounded by happy family banter.
"I help you, Unca Pete!" Jimmy called after the men, still in his booster seat.
"Maybe a little later, Sport," Pete winked. "We may need your help."
When he entered the rec rom, Pete was surprised to find the project neatly arranged: instruction sheets, tools and parts stacked in several piles on the brown shag rug, the tiny screws, bolts and washers all separated into little Dixie cups and set out on the surface of a folding TV tray.
"A couple of hours, huh?" Pete snickered, surveying the massive project laid out before them.
"It'll be a piece of cake with both of us working," Jim assured him as he grabbed his tool box and handed Pete a screwdriver.
Twenty minutes later they were still trying to determine which piece of that cake was called Back 'C' and which was Front 'E'. The drawings on the instructions were more than a little unclear and there seemed to be a page missing. While Pete didn't agree, Jim was certain the manufacturer had pre-drilled the holes on the wrong side of Center Upright 'A'.
They were connecting Side 'F' to Bottom Shelf 'J' about ten minutes later when Jean opened the door to the rec room.
"Jim," she summoned, in her company-is-here-so-let's-not-quarrel voice. "What happened to all the Dixie cups from the bathroom?"
"I'm using some of them, Honey, but there should be another box under the sink," he replied, fitting a bolt through the hole in Side 'G'.
"Well, Jimmy won't brush his teeth without one and I can't..."
Just then, the aforementioned James A. Reed, Jr., clad only in his Superrman underwear, ran into the middle of the rec room, straight for his "Uncle" Pete, trailing a damp bath towel behind him like a cape. The towel brushed the TV tray, upsetting it and its hundred or so tiny bits of hardware into the deep shag carpeting. Jean reached for the little escapee but missed.
"No!" his father shouted, watching the contents of two dozen paper cups fly.
"I help now!" Jimmy announced as the three adults stared dumbfounded at the mess.
"Jean!" Jim exclaimed. "You said you were going to keep him out of here!"
"Well, if you hadn't taken all the cups we wouldn't have had to bother you!" she retorted, embarrassed to be talked to like that in front of a guest, even if it was only Pete.
"Jimmy!" his father hollered, helpless across the room as his son grabbed a handful of tiny screws in his chubby little fist. "Put those down!"
Pete saw his godson's cherubic face wrinkle into a frown as he looked from one angry parent to the other. Jimmy opened his mouth and let out a confused and frightened wail as the tears began. Pete scooped up the little one in one hand as he extricated the dangerous screws from the tiny fist with the other.
"Why don't Jimmy and I go get him dressed in something more appropriate," he offered as he strode over the various parts of the entertainment center and left the couple in privacy to work out the unkind words.
When they returned a few minutes later, Jimmy wearing his Spiderman pajamas and a contented smile, the Reeds were on hands and knees, searching for screws, bolts and washers in the long, thick carpet. The air in the room was still prickly with tension, so Pete dropped the youngster into his mother's lap.
"I'll do this, Jean. Somebody needs to brush his teeth." Pete tweaked his godson's nose before taking up the search at his partner's side.
Jean whisked the toddler out of the room, retrieving one of the three Dixie cups left in the box Jim had heisted from under the bathroom sink. The two men continued to comb the carpet for lost hardware, placing it into the dropped cups as they sorted.
"How about that beer now?" Pete suggested when they'd finished retrieving the tiny parts. "I know I could use one."
"I'll get it," Jim agreed, standing awkwardly.
"Pete," Jean called, poking her head back inside the doorway. "Your godson has a request."
"What?" Pete smiled up at her expectantly.
"Could you read him his bedtime story?" she asked. "I hate to bother you two again, but he insists on The Monster at the End of This Book and he claims that Mommy doesn't do Grover as well as Uncle Pete."
"That godson of mine knows talent!" Pete's face broke into a broad grin. "I won't be long, Jim."
"Yeah," the elder James Reed groused a bit. He walked towards the door, but before he reached it, he let out a holler, hopping on one stockinged foot. "Owwww! Dammit!"
"What happened, Honey?" Jean asked with concern.
Jim plucked the thin screw out of the bottom of his foot, a pained expression on his scarlet face. "This!"
"Sorry!" Pete managed through the laughter he couldn't control. He was leaning against the wall, eyes twinkling and holding his sides. "Is his tetanus shot up-to-date, Jean?"
"Yeah," she was having her own problem with holding back the giggles. "We keep pretty close tabs on those around here."
0500 hours ...Parking lot of Malloy's apartment building...Los Angeles...
When Pete came tripping down the stairs from his apartment on the upper level to the concrete apron surrounding the pool, a bit of his usual spring had returned. He'd finally gotten a few hours sleep, unencumbered by the nightmares that had been plaguing him for days, since the night of his arrest. It had been the Reeds' company that made the most contribution to improving his mood. As always spending time with his godson did wonders for Pete Malloy, and despite his dismal mood before, he'd found himself relaxing by Jimmy's bedtime.
That improved frame of mind had lasted into the morning and he rounded the corner towards the parking lot actually looking forward to his upcoming shift. It was a beautiful day, one of those the chamber of commerce liked to put on postcards. That ought to keep the crime to a minimum and the citizens in good spirits. Maybe he had been wallowing in self-pity all this time. After all, life goes on.
At the first glimpse of his vehicle, the black mood returned like a kick in the stomach. The yellow body of his sports car was covered in mocking graffiti, angry words scrawled across the hood, the quarter panels, the roof and the windows, proclaiming him a drug-pushing pig among other vulgar epithets and threatening words. It shook him to the core. He couldn't possibly drive it in to the station like that. Thoroughly disheartened once again, he returned to his apartment and called to ask Jim for a ride to work, scornful of the fleeting good humor of a moment ago.
Pete was more taciturn than usual during their shift, but his partner was probably lucky he wasn't speaking, with the disagreeable mood he was in. When he returned home that afternoon, Pete changed into sweats and lugged a bucket of sudsy water downstairs to begin the arduous task of scrubbing the defaced vehicle alone, having waved off his partner's offer to help. It was much more tiring than it should have been. The ignominy drained his strength more than the physical exertion. He felt hot tears of anger stinging at his eyes as he ground the scrub brush against the slanderous mutilation. Would there never be an end to it?
"You just can't get along without us, can you, Malloy," he heard Ed Wells' familiar taunting behind him.
He turned to see the wisecracking officer, flanked by Woods and Reed, similarly dressed in sweats and tees, toting buckets and cleaning equipment. Wells carried two six packs under his arm. Pete rubbed the sleeve of the Dodgers sweatshirt across his eyes, presumably to rid himself of perspiration, but it was salty tears that had threatened to blind him, Pete's composure in jeopardy of breaking in the face of his friends' gesture of kindness.
"You want to stop jawing and start scrubbing, Ed," Jim jumped in, saving Pete from attempting the witty comeback he knew his friend wasn't up to.
"Yeah, Wells. Get busy and pass those brews around, would ya?" Jerry Woods smiled at Pete's still-incredulous look.
"I don't know, Malloy. I think the graffiti might be an improvement," Ed quipped as he popped the top on a sweating can of beer which he handed to Pete. "This thing always was pretty ugly."
Jim tossed a soggy sponge at the shorter officer, hitting him squarely on the forehead. Soap suds spattered and flew on impact. Wells reacted with such a look of shock that all four friends started laughing, in spite of the seriousness of their gathering. Even Pete chuckled a bit at Wells' look of stunned consternation.
They made quick work of a difficult job, even applying a coat of wax to the abused surface except where the body shop would have to do its work. Can't get along without them, indeed! Malloy thought.
1600 hours ...Police Headquarters...Central Division...
It looked as though the protests and the phone calls might have abated by the time Pete's first full week back to work was over. Captain Moore and a lieutenant from Public Affairs had held a press conference, stating that the courts had made their decision, that the evidence against the accused officer hadn't been substantial enough to bring to trial. The police spokesman assured the press that every charge was being fully investigated, and all appropriate action would be taken and the best thing for the citizens of the city to do would be to cease the controversy and work together with local police in their continued fight against drugs and violence in the neighborhoods.
Things were returning to normal at the station. Pete was feeling more relaxed, back on that usually even keel he rode, and though his partner and his close friends could still tell the difference, he was almost back to his old self. He'd given up the thought of calling Judy, deciding that what needed to be said was best done in person. Pete had planned to take the drive to Fresno on his days off and initiate the discussion, despite the possible outcome. It was the one variable in this fiasco he felt might be partially under his control. He had to know where they stood.
As Pete left the station his last shift of the week, Mac motioned him into the C.O's office, handing him a summons.
"The State of California vs Hector A. Mendoza?" Pete read aloud. According to the date on the first page, the trial would begin in ten days.
"You're named as a witness for the prosecution," Mac explained, taking a seat behind the big metal desk.
To Pete's way of thinking, that was certainly better than being the defendant again. He had been the arresting officer in an incident that resulted in a substantial drug bust and implicated a prominent businessman. There had been more than the usual number of continuances and judicial delays in bringing it to the bar.
"That arrest was nearly a year ago," the officer sighed. He was certain he didn't remember all the details and right now, the last thing he wanted to face was more time in a courtroom, especially on what could become a fairly public trial. "And I was on my way outta town for a coupla days."
"Look, you'll have plenty of opportunity to meet with the D.A. when you get back," Mac assured, sensitive to his friend's look of dread at the sight of the court papers. "You've testified in dozens of cases since you've been with the department. A few minutes with the files and it'll all come back. Go! Have a good time on your days off. Put it out of your mind and relax. You can worry about reviewing the files when you get back."
"Thanks, Mac," Pete replied as he left the office. It had been a bit of a jolt, seeing a summons, but it turned out to be just another tangible sign of life returning to normal. Business as usual. Pete tossed his keys into the air, catching them with a smile.
0725 hours...Los Angeles Freeway...
Pete set out early, not affording himself much of the extra sleep granted by a day off. He was on the road by seven, heading north. Most of the rush hour traffic was headed into the city, so he made his way through the surface roads to the complicated Los Angeles highway system as quickly as the congestion would allow. He turned the car onto the freeway at last, slipping into the flow of moderate traffic and switching on the radio. Pete rarely needed the company of noise as he drove, but today he felt it might help him to relax. He increased the pressure on the accelerator, speeding up to join the other vehicles merging into the established pattern. His hand tapped the steering wheel in time with a popular tune, consciously trying to loosen up.
He released the gas pedal a bit as his car matched speed with the other traffic. However, the yellow coupe continued to accelerate, speeding toward the station wagon ahead. He pulled his foot back, releasing the pedal completely to drop velocity and keep an assured clear distance from the vehicle in front of him, but the sports car continued to race toward the tail lights of the brown Buick. He tapped the pedal, trying to release it, but the car just spurted forward.
Pete shifted out of gear to clear the acceleration problem, only to hear the engine raging beneath the hood. He changed lanes to avoid colliding into the back of the wagon as he struggled with the beast that had suddenly roared beneath him with a life of its own. He quickly surveyed the traffic around him, calculating how to get his vehicle off the road without slamming into the other cars traveling along in the morning rush. He touched his brake, but there was no appreciable slowing. The yellow sports car acted as though it had become possessed.
Pete glanced at the speedometer of the Matador X. He was now doing ninety-five miles per hour, slaloming past the cars in front of him like a series of moving traffic cones. Pete felt the tension build in his shoulders as he gripped the steering wheel, maneuvering through the vehicular maze before him, heading for the outside lane. There was an exit approaching. If he worked this properly he could get the car off the freeway and that much closer to help. Something was seriously wrong and he was running out of options as he tried to play keep-away with the speeding traffic.
Pete finally made it to the right hand lane, the car still refusing to slow despite his efforts. The only strategy left was to kill the engine. He turned the key in the ignition, cutting the flow of fuel to the racing motor just before the exit ramp. A yellow school bus swerved into his lane. The coupe was still going too fast to avoid a crash. Momentary terror of the inevitable collision flashed in Pete's mind's eye. There were children in the back of the bus, laughing and clearly visible through the glass emergency exit door. He fought against the unyielding wheel, stiff now without the power steering, and veered his car towards the concrete retaining wall. The sports car skidded against the cement barrier, metal crunching with a sickening racket, finally slowing its pace in the destruction. It was all Pete could do to keep from being thrown back into traffic before the yellow coupe finally came to rest in the shoulder, against the barricade, just below the sign for the exit.
0758 hours...Los Angeles Freeway...
"Let me have a look under the hood," suggested the California Highway Patrol officer who'd responded to the scene of the accident. He'd just finished listening to Pete's mechanical recitation of the incident. Pete had miraculously escaped all but minor injury, though he felt like he'd been run over by the school bus that had continued on, unscathed and oblivious to the ruin left in its wake. He'd likely be sore for days from wrestling the obstinate steering and the impact with the concrete retaining wall. Pete pulled the release as Officer Garrett struggled with the damaged hood and peered inside. He let out a long whistle.
"What was that for?" Pete asked, closing the driver's door and joining the highway patrolman at the front of the car. He leaned over the fender, trying to see what had struck Garrett as peculiar.
"I'm gonna call for a police hook and the traffic investigator. This baby's going in for evidence," he replied, closing the hood again and heading for his motorcycle.
Pete followed him, feeling even more off balance. To say he'd had a bad week would be a gross understatement, and suddenly that prickly feeling on the back of his neck had returned. Now what?
"I don't understand," Pete began, as Garrett waited for a clear frequency to broadcast. "I told you how it happened. I went for the wall to avoid slamming into the back of a school bus."
"Yeah, but you didn't tell me why." Garrett shook his head. "You failed to mention that somebody tried to kill you, Malloy."
1056 hours...Los Angeles Police Garage...
"Then there's no way it could've been accidental?" MacDonald asked Detective Sergeant Jerry Miller as they leaned on the mangled fender of Pete Malloy's sports car.
"Tony says it's definitely a Ford part, Mac," Miller shrugged, holding the metal piece between two fingers. "And what's left of this thing doesn't look much like a Mustang."
"Pete's always taken his car to the same garage and they've never even touched the hoses," Jim Reed offered, his back against the wall nearby. He'd been called from the field as soon as Garrett radioed the incident into the watch commander's office.
"Well, this hose clamp didn't get under the hood of a Matador X Coupe by accident." Miller shook his head, looking over at Pete pacing a few yards away. "And, I'd be willing to bet it wasn't jammed into Pete's throttle mechanism by mischievous leprechauns."
"Then you agree with Garrett's assessment?" MacDonald said quietly. "That his vehicle was sabotaged?"
"I don't know who he ticked off, but somebody's got it in for Malloy, that's for sure." Miller's face was stone. He was just as worried as Mac and Reed, but not just for Pete's safety.
They were all a little concerned about Malloy's state of mind. This had to be wearing on him. Mac wanted to pull him from active duty, but he knew he'd have a fight on his hands. And the fact was the last couple of incidents had been to Pete's off duty vehicle, so the odds were that taking him off the roster wouldn't have much impact.
"Malloy," MacDonald summoned his friend, who ceased his impression of a caged tiger to sprint across the garage floor. "I'm gonna have Reed give you a ride home."
"I need to get a rental, Mac. I thought I'd make a couple of calls..." Pete tried to keep his tone light.
"I don't think that's a good idea." His commander shook his head. "For the moment I'd prefer you carpool with another officer."
"Mac -" Pete started to protest, but the look on the big Scotsman's face put an end to the discussion before it began.
"A couple days," he smiled sadly, sympathetic to his officer's feelings. "Until we get a handle on exactly what's going on here. This is a little more serious than graffiti, Pete."
"I was on my way outta town," he complained.
"Well, I want you close by for a while, if you don't mind. Where I can keep an eye on you." MacDonald clasped his shoulder firmly. "And, I think I'm pulling you from the field for a few days, just to be on the safe side."
"Mac -" Pete growled. This time he was ignoring Mac's warning look.
"Think of Reed's safety, okay?" the sergeant offered. There wasn't any retort for that. Mac was right.
Pete simply shrugged his surrender, hands shoved deeply into his pockets. Maybe it was just as well. He certainly didn't want Judy in the middle of all this and he had no idea how he would have explained what was happening without getting her all worked up about his safety.
1750 hours...outside Malloy's apartment building...
"Are you sure you don't wanna come over?" Jim persisted as Pete stood leaning in the passenger window of his partner's sedan. "Jean's making macaroni and cheese, and Jimmy'd love to see you." Jim was trying to make light of it, but Pete knew he was worried. Trouble was, he had more to concern himself with than Malloy's safety. Jim had a family to consider. Pete had certainly thought about them, and he was sure the thought had occurred to Jim. They had no idea who it was targeting Pete, but since they'd been partners for several years, it was a pretty safe bet that Reed and his family might easily become the next targets.
He'd been car pooling with Jim for the last few days, per Mac's orders, and he still wasn't sure what bothered him more: being the target of some killer or living without wheels. No, that wasn't entirely true. Pete missed having a car. The guys at the police garage figured his car was totaled, but Pete really didn't want to make any permanent decisions, not just yet anyway. The sabotage of the throttle had definitely been an act of deadly intent. He would consider replacing the vehicle after he'd had some time to think. Someone had tried to kill him.
"I'm fine right here," Pete assured him. "I think I'll just watch a little television and call it an early night."
"Well, stay put," Jim admonished, unwilling to leave Pete alone, despite any potential threat to his own family's safety. "Don't go wandering around. And if you need something, call!"
"Yes, mother!" Pete quipped, smiling even though it had been days since he had fooled anybody with that act.
"Seriously, Pete," his partner scowled. "You heard Mac..."
"I heard both of you," Pete chuckled. "I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."
"Like you did in the car the other day?"
"Okay, okay! I'll stay home," he surrendered. "I'll lock my door! I'll call if I need anything. Happy now?"
"Ecstatic!" Jim winked.
2303 hours...Pete Malloy's apartment complex...
Jim Reed had knocked twice and there was still no answer from his friend's apartment. He was starting to wish he'd gone with his first impulse and called for police backup, despite his worry that Pete would be annoyed at the fuss.
"I hope I did the right thing by calling you, Officer Reed." Mrs. O'Brien fidgeted beside him in the dark. "I just didn't feel right about it. Something just isn't right."
Even though Pete had tried hard to keep it from her, his landlady was aware of the problems he'd been having. She could hardly miss it, in the papers and on the news. She had baked Pete an apple pie, something to cheer him up a bit, but when she went over earlier to get him, there had been no answer. Pete's partner had slipped her his phone number months ago, in case she or her favorite tenant ever needed anything, so when her worry got the best of her, she'd called him. He hadn't wasted any time in getting there.
"You did exactly the right thing, Mrs. O'Brien." The handsome young man smiled at her. "But I think maybe you should go back to your apartment, just in case."
"In case of what, young man?" she asked defiantly, her hands on her hips.
"In case Malloy is just sleeping and doesn't take kindly to being awakened," Jim chuckled, trying to make light of things for her benefit. "I'll take full responsibility. Leave your name out of it entirely."
She complied reluctantly, leaving her extra key with him and strict instructions to return it along with a complete report.
Pete had promised to stay in all evening, so Jim was almost certain he was there, and Mrs. O'Brien had reported hearing voices and music about an hour earlier. That made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Jim shrugged it off, thinking maybe some of the guys from the watch had stopped by to keep Pete company, or maybe Judy had come back from Fresno. He knocked once again, using the side of his fist and banging as loudly as possible. Still no answer.
He wondered if Pete was a heavy sleeper. He'd been having a hard time getting shuteye the last week. When Jim had finally suggested sleeping pills, Pete admitted that he still had a couple of the ones the doctor prescribed after he'd been shot in the Narco raid, but said he didn't like the way they made him feel afterwards. However, it was possible that he'd given in, taken one and was just too far out to hear the door, or Mrs. O'Brien's phone calls. He hated the thought of breaking in, knowing that Malloy would rib him endlessly, but with everything that had been happening lately, he was plenty worried. He took Mrs. O'Brien's extra key and opened the door.
Jim grabbed at the door jamb for support as he stared in disbelief at the scene before him. The usually well-ordered apartment was trashed. Sofa cushions had been dumped onto the floor and a chair overturned completely. The coffee table was on its side, its contents spilling on the carpet, but worst of all was the stench. The strong scent of alcohol was challenged by the putrid smell of vomit. Jim felt himself about to gag as he made his way through the debris of the living room to find his friend. The place looked like the aftermath of a wild party gone horribly wrong. He had to find Malloy.
Jim heard a radio in the back of the apartment and scooped a broken lamp out of his way to get to the hallway. The music was coming from the bedroom, the door just ahead slightly ajar. Jim's foot got caught on something dark on the floor, the blue canvas jacket he recognized as the one Pete had been wearing earlier. None of this made sense. Malloy was meticulous about his things, neat to a fault; his old Army training would have never allowed the place to get like this. Jim resisted the urge to grab the abandoned jacket like some link to his partner. Jarring as it might be, as his cop instincts kicked in, Jim would have to treat his friend's apartment as a possible crime scene. He pushed open the door, trying to make out the room's interior in the shaft of light from the hallway.
Pete was sprawled on the bed, half clothed and unconscious. His open shirt and unbuttoned chinos were stained and reeked of alcohol and vomit. Jim snapped on the light, a girl jumped up from the other side of the double bed, grabbing her discarded clothing and running past him into the bathroom before a stunned Jim could stop her.
"Hey!" Jim yelled as he followed her into the hallway and secured the slammed door from the outside, sure that she had something do to with all this. He'd deal with her in a minute.
Entering the bedroom again, Jim noticed the drug paraphernalia on the night stand, a plastic bag, an empty green balloon with a white powder residue, a hypodermic needle and a spoon. Jim reached out to the body lying on the bed, praying Pete was still alive. His skin was warm, there was a light beading of perspiration on his forehead and upper lip. Jim grasped his friend's shoulder, trying to rouse him, but Pete was unresponsive and didn't seem to be breathing. There was a sickly blue cast to his features. Jim felt for a pulse, but maybe because of his own heart racing he couldn't find one.
As he leaned over Pete, the stench assaulted his nostrils and the gravity of the situation hit him squarely. Suddenly both hands were gripping Pete's shoulders, shaking him hard.
"Pete!" he shouted into a passive mask that only resembled his partner's face. "Pete! Why!"
Pete's mouth fell open as his head was thrown back from the force of the jerking. That sight jolted Jim back to his senses. Someone had done this and his unconscious friend was hardly in any condition to give him answers. Feeling a bit guilty, he lay Pete back on the bed gently. He snatched up the extension on the table next to the damning evidence and called the station, requesting an ambulance for a possible OD and leaving an urgent message for Mac. His heart sank as he replaced the receiver in the cradle with trembling hands and nothing more to do but stare in horror at his partner's still face.
When Mac arrived, the ambulance crew had already begun their preliminary examination. Pete was alive, but with such slow and shallow respiration it was no surprise that Jim hadn't been certain.
"Pulse is very weak," the younger member of the ambulance crew reported. He flashed the light into Pete's staring eyes. "Pinpoint pupils, unresponsive."
"Blood pressure is 70 over 40," his partner reported quietly, his face registering the extreme concern he had managed to keep from his voice. "Look at this, Ben," he held one of Pete's hands toward the other attendant, the nailbeds showing the same distinctive blue tinge. "We better get him rolling."
"Yeah, let's start some oxygen, just in case," Ben suggested, already fitting the mask to Pete's face.
"I got Rampart on the line," the other paramedic announced. "We're starting an IV. Dr. Brackett wants him transported as soon as we can."
Jim watched them, helplessly. MacDonald had taken the girl into the living room for questioning, refusing to allow Jim to participate. It must have been the flash of anger in Jim's eyes when the sergeant arrived that had warned him the younger man was nearing the end of his control. Watching them work on Pete and seeing him unresponsive was tearing at Jim's gut. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the bureau. The face that stared back at him was pale and grim, and scared. He touched the brush lying on the dresser. It was Pete's. Jim didn't like the way he was thinking. He returned his attention to the body on the gurney just as the crew was fitting a blanket around Pete's limp body.
Jim held the door as the attendants carried the gurney out to the ambulance. Seeing the tubes connected to his friend made his heart sick, and didn't do much for his stomach either. But he bit the inside of his mouth and resolved to accompany his partner to hell and back, if need be.
"Reed," MacDonald summoned, when it looked like he was starting to follow them to the curb.
"I'm going to ride in with them, " he explained, standing in the open doorway.
"Not just yet," the sergeant shook his head. Jim looked past him to see the girl, frightened and agitated as she sat on the sofa next to a very distressed young officer. The place was still a wreck, the foul odor overwhelming. Mac had seen enough overdoses in his day and from his non-medical assessment, Pete's chances looked grave. He wanted to keep an eye on Malloy's partner just a bit longer and he didn't want Jim having to deal with the possibility of losing Pete on the long ambulance ride.
"Mac -" Jim cut off the protest, focusing on the girl on the sofa
"She says there was a small party here tonight. Everybody left a couple of hours ago except for her - Malloy sent them away so...they could...eh... be alone."
"She's obviously a hype, Mac. I don't think I care what she has to say," Jim spat. "She's part of this, of what they did to Pete."
"Why don't you continue, Miss...eh...Bambi," MacDonald prompted.
"Like I told you, man, Petey made everybody leave cause he was...um...getting...all... excited you know...and uh....I wouldn't let him do anything with the others here. I'm not into group stuff, you dig?" She looked at Jim as though she expected to find sympathy in his eyes. His fists were clenched at his sides, the whole story making him sicker than the stench of the room. "We...um... went back into the...eh... bedroom there...and messed around for a while. But Pete was coming down from his high by then...eh....you know, man, the pills and booze were wearing off...and he ...well ... he...eh...he couldn't...get...into it...if you know what I mean?"
Mac looked as uncomfortable as Jim felt. The story was disgusting on its own, but to think that she was talking about the man they knew was more than either of them could bear.
"He was really getting steamed about it, about...eh...not being able to...you know...and I tried to calm him down. He's a big guy and I was pretty scared. Then he decided to shoot up with some of the stuff he'd bought for me. But I think he took a little too much, cause he just...passed out after that."
It was everything Jim could do not to slap her senseless. MacDonald saw the emotion flash in those intense blue eyes. He felt for Jim. Truth was he was pretty upset himself.
"Why don't you go to the hospital, Reed," Mac suggested. He watched as the young officer hit the door in a single stride. "Code 2!" he ordered at the retreating figure before turning his attention back to the only witness to the evening's events and the ugly picture she was painting of Pete Malloy.
1420 hours...Rampart Hospital
Dr. Kelly Brackett swung through the door of the employee lounge, a neutral expression fixed on his angular face. Nurse Dixie McCall had paged him, saying that Officer Reed was waiting and had some questions for the doctor. They'd brought his partner, Malloy, in the night before on an overdose: alcohol, pills and heroin. It hadn't looked promising. They'd worked on him well into the morning. Brackett had stayed way past his shift to be on the team.
He remembered both officers from a few cases they'd brought him and, specifically, one when a diabetic child had wandered from the hospital. It had been Reed and Malloy who had found the boy and rushed him back in the nick of time. Pete had been the one who'd smuggled a puppy in to the boy, a birthday present. Last night hadn't been a good shift for Brackett. It was difficult dealing with such grave circumstances when it was someone he knew, someone he liked. But it really rankled Brackett when someone who knew better used drugs. And Pete was a cop. Brackett had no tolerance for that sort of behavior. He swallowed his anger as he opened the door. He'd have to curb his frustration long enough to see what it was Reed wanted.
"Officer Reed," he greeted when he saw the strapping man pacing in the lounge. He was young and good looking, but his face showed the lines of concern and lack of sleep. Brackett figured his own must reveal pretty much the same. "Dr. Kelly Brackett."
"Yeah," Jim returned the salutation with one of those quick, forced smiles. "I remember, Doc."
"I hoped to see you last night, but..."
"How is he?" The younger man cut to the chase. His blue eyes were intense as they stared at Brackett, begging for answers every bit as much as his words. The doctor took a deep breath and motioned for Jim to sit at the table with him.
"Your partner is lucky to be alive. He did OD. Nearly enough heroin to kill a man his size, besides the ethyl alcohol and amphetamines in his system."
"Ethyl alcohol?!" Jim's eyes widened. "What the -"
"That alone could've killed him, if he had consumed a large enough quantity."
"Why would ..." Jim fell silent, his thoughts too dark to utter.
"Fortunately the heroin wasn't administered intravenously. In the case of an overdose, death usually occurs within a few minutes. If injected subcutaneously, what the hypes call skin popping, it can take anywhere from two to four hours. That gave him the time we needed, but I'm afraid he's slipped into a coma. We're monitoring him closely. So far there's been no change."
"This is all so...unbelievable," Jim mumbled.
"Do you know when he started using?" Brackett asked cautiously.
"He wasn't a user!" Jim's temper flashed. "No way!"
"Officer Reed." Dr. Brackett raised a hand to halt the protest. "I understand your frustration, and I commend your loyalty, but the evidence..."
"I don't give a damn about the evidence!" Jim spat. "What happened to Malloy was a set up! Just like the junk in his car and the sabotage and..."
"Okay, listen. Why don't we start at the beginning."
"You don't believe me." He willed himself to calm down. "Why should you? It looks bad, I know. But there's no way that Pete was a drug user."
"What about the junk and the car?" Brackett kept his voice calm, soothing and interested. "What's been happening?"
"Somebody's been trying to discredit Pete. I don't know who and I don't know why, but they're doing a pretty good job." Reed was calming down, the cop instincts clicking in. "Now it's gotten deadly."
"So he's been having problems at work?"
"You could say that. He was on suspension before and they put him on desk duty," Reed replied reluctantly. He felt suddenly very protective, didn't want anyone thinking badly about his friend, especially under the circumstances.
"Had he been despondent lately?"
"He didn't do this to himself!" Jim crushed the empty coffee cup he'd been playing with.
"Hey!" Brackett tried to mollify the police officer's rage. "It doesn't matter to me how he got this way, so you've nothing to prove. The fact is, your friend is lying upstairs in a coma. What I'm trying to do is determine his chances of pulling out of it."
"He didn't take those drugs willingly!"
"Okay," Brackett agreed. "Let's say I believe you. I've no reason not to. It's pretty obvious this was the first time he'd mainlined, anyway."
"He didn't -" Jim broke off the protest, suddenly processing what the doctor was saying. "What do you mean, obvious?"
"Well, there was only one needle mark, no old tracks on his arms."
"So, you're saying it's obvious he wasn't a user?"
"I can't prove that with what I've got, no." He almost smiled at Jim's expression. "But those facts could be used to support that position, yes."
"Pete's a fighter. He's not the suicidal type." It seemed to calm Jim talking about his friend in that way. "He doesn't believe in giving up. And he's got more will to survive than any man I know."
"Those are all good things," Doctor Brackett continued. "But in light of his recent problems, how much has that will been diminished, would you say? Has he been...depressed...at all?"
"Yeah, I suppose, I mean, it would get to anybody, what's been going on, but..."
"Does he have any family?"
"Nobody close. No immediate family, no."
"And he's not married. Is he seeing anyone seriously? Anybody we should call? Perhaps a girlfriend might be of help."
"I don't know how serious Pete would say it is...there's a girl. But..." he drifted off, remembering his conversation with Judy almost a week ago. "She's out of town." Jim shook off the chill he felt uttering those words. He hoped that she would reconsider, that she'd realize Pete couldn't be guilty, and return. So far, she hadn't. "What are his chances, Doc?"
"Heroin acts on the respiratory system. Coma and death from respiratory paralysis are the usual pattern. We're treating him with Naloxone, a drug that binds up addictive drugs. It's given to rid the body of the heroin. Other treatment is symptomatic."
"And how is he responding?" Jim was twisting the already mangled paper cup in his nervous hands. Brackett felt for the young man, but his years as a doctor had taught him that sympathy wouldn't help either his patients or those left waiting for news. Facts were the only thing of value he had to give.
"Coma is very unpredictable," he began with medical wariness. "I couldn't begin to give odds with any degree of certainty..."
"Doc," Jim cut him off mid-sentence, growing agitated and impatient. "Is he gonna make it?"
"He seems strong. From what records we have, he's in excellent health and keeps himself in good physical condition? Am I right?" He watched as Jim nodded. "So those factors all give him the best possible chances for survival."
"You're hedging, Doctor," he pressed.
"The next few hours are the most critical," he admitted. "We're trying to stimulate him, to wake him if you will. A familiar voice might just help."
"May I see him?" Jim's eyes were bright with emotions barely held in check. His admiration of the man lying upstairs was evident. Admiration and affection.
"You may find it be a bit disturbing..." Brackett said uncertainly.
"I'm a cop," Jim protested quietly. Rationally, the doctor thought. "I think I can handle it."
"He's your friend," Brackett countered. "That can make it difficult."
"May I see him?" he repeated the question, a bit more forceful this time.
"I'll arrange it."
1516 hours...Malloy's hospital room
Jim had steeled himself for the worst. Remembering the scene in Malloy's apartment the night before had been difficult, but he figured it was good preparation for what lay ahead. But there was no way to prime for the shock he felt when he saw his partner lying so helplessly among white hospital sheets, tubes and wires running in all directions from his limp body to various pieces of equipment surrounding the bed. He tried to comfort himself with the fact that Pete was cleaned up and comfortable, in contrast to the way he'd found him the night before. He was being monitored carefully, but the face lying before him was hardly a picture of peaceful repose. He wondered what thoughts hid there, just behind those closed eyes. How much of last night did he recall, and in his present state was his mind trapped in some fearful hell Jim could only imagine? He breathed a silent prayer that such was not the case.
"He may be able to hear you. Often that's the case. Try to communicate with him, but remember to keep it positive, encouraging," the young nurse smiled. "You can use the call button if you need anything, or if there's a change in his condition, though we're monitoring him pretty closely at the nurses' station."
"Thank you," he nodded, taking a chair from against the wall and moving it closer to the bed. He sat there watching Pete's breathing, even and deep. At least it seemed his body was at rest. He knew his friend had been having trouble sleeping lately, with everything that was happening, so that was something for which to be thankful.
"Hey, Pete. It's good to see you." Jim wasn't sure how one went about talking to someone in a coma, but he figured he'd just act as though his friend was awake and hope for the best.
"You gave us a pretty big scare last night, but the doctors say you're strong and they're hopeful." He felt a pang of guilt, lying to his friend while he was prone and helpless, but he wasn't about to tell him the truth on that one. "Now it's up to you. We all need you to wake up."
He hadn't actually expected Pete to suddenly open his eyes at that, but he did feel a twinge of disappointment when there was no response at all to his voice. He reached out without thinking, taking his friend's hand as if shaking it, hoping that, perhaps, physical contact would break through. Jim thought sadly that if Pete were alert, he would never have managed such a gesture.
Jim had no idea what to say, especially with the nurse's admonishment to keep it positive. So he launched into a rundown of anything and everything happening at the station, and not related to Pete's problems or disturbing in any way. This consisted almost exclusively of the antics and banter of their fellow officers, most notably Woods, Brinkman and the irrepressible Ed Wells. He'd talked pretty much nonstop for nearly forty minutes before running out of steam. There had been no noticeable change in the monitors blinking and beeping around them and even more disheartening, not a single sign of any response from Pete.
Jim sighed, leaning his head on the side rail and closing weary eyes. He felt suddenly all alone, for the first time really allowing himself to consider the possibility that Pete would not recover. He might never again hear that reassuring voice in the night beside him in the patrol car, never laugh at his quick-witted comebacks or listen to another of his partner's well orchestrated stories. The thought that Pete's infectious laughter, or the smile that lit his entire face, making him look all of twelve years old, might be lost forever brought stinging tears.
The nurse returned, checking on the visitor more than her patient, whose condition could be determined by the monitors at the desk. She stood at his side, a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Mr. Reed," she summoned, not wanting to invade his obvious grief, but the show of emotion couldn't do anything to help her charge, lying still before them. "You were up most of the night. You're probably exhausted. Why don't you go home, get some rest. Tomorrow you'll be much more help to him if you've had some sleep".
He knew she was right, as he rubbed his eyes and stood, returning the chair to its place by the wall. Jim took one last look at Pete's still form in the bed, before turning sadly and heading for home. He had no idea what he'd tell Jean.
1425 hours....Malloy's room, Rampart Hospital...
As Jim Reed again sat vigil at Pete's bedside, his mood had been little improved by a night of sleep. That wasn't exactly an accurate assessment, as Jim had hardly had a night's sleep. He'd laid beside his patient wife, tossing and turning for most of the night, lying flat on his back staring at the ceiling in the darkness for the rest, save perhaps the ninety minutes of fitful sleep that pure exhaustion had finally afforded him. He'd awakened groggily and worked an eight-hour day shift, partnered with Jerry Woods, at Mac's generous insistence. Jim realized that the Sergeant had put him with an officer Mac knew would watch Reed's back, since he was understandably distracted, and though the thought would normally have rankled him, he was grateful for it.
He'd started the visit with Pete on an upbeat note, having psyched himself up for it on the ride from the station. But, there had been no change, and Dr. Brackett had said that every hour Pete remained in the coma his chances of awakening were decreased. It was difficult to stay optimistic looking at the motionless form of his spirited friend, senselessly stilled by some faceless villain with a revolting appetite for cruelty.
Again, he'd begun his litany of the day's oddities, quickly running out of material. It had been a fairly routine day, quiet actually, and Ed Wells was off, so there really wasn't much to talk about. He shrugged after the few moments of silence that had followed his rundown and decided that since the whole idea was merely to talk to Pete, hoping he'd respond, rehashing the previous day's monologue couldn't hurt. In fact, perhaps repeating stories would spark Malloy's impatient response. He was grasping at straws, trying to fill the time with words when the emotions went far beyond what language could ever convey. Most of all he wanted Pete to respond; anything, a word, a sound, a movement that couldn't be dismissed as involuntary.
"This little guy walks into a bar..." he began. "With this squatty-looking yellow dog on a leash..." His voice betrayed him, cracking with emotion before he could even finish the first sentence. He remembered the day he'd first repeated that stale old joke of Wells', and his partner's long-suffering response. He could still see Pete's expressions, eyes rolling as he struggled to keep from strangling the young officer who insisted on finishing the tired tale. And Jim recalled how Malloy had throughly enjoyed it when half the watch rolled with laughter at the lieutenant's recitation of the same lame story and the joke was on Reed.
He'd give anything to hear one of his partner's acerbic quips or even a clipped Shut up, Reed! right about now.
Four years of jokes and banter, arguments and encouragement flooded Jim with a dozen different feelings. At that moment, Jim knew he would settle for a single word from his friend's silent lips.
A memory from years ago came crashing in on him, a night when he'd feared that Pete was truly gone, that help had come too late. Discovering Malloy lying still on the ground beneath the wrecked black and white, a terror had gripped Jim's heart. But kneeling beside him, he'd hear a single beautiful word...
"Partner..." Jim whispered, fighting tears.
But, wish though he might, Pete lay silently beside him nearly an hour later, his breathing, even and slow, the only response Jim was likely to receive. Once more Jim felt the loneliness seep through his defenses. He took up Pete's hand again and began retelling a story about Jimmy at breakfast. He'd gotten to the part where the oatmeal was flung against Jean's new wallpaper when he thought he felt a slight pressure against his palm.
"Pete?" he called, squeezing the hand he held. "Come on back, buddy! Come on, Partner!"
There was no response. Jim swallowed the disappointment hard and continued to tell the story about Jimmy, drawing it out with as much detail as possible. He was convinced it had been the mention of Pete's godson that had prompted his reaction. Jim refused to heed his own cautionary thoughts that it had simply been an involuntary muscle twitch. The breakfast story finished, he hopefully launched into another about Jimmy's attempts at riding the tricycle Pete had given him for his third birthday. Again he felt the light pressure against his hand.
"Come on, Pete!" he begged shamelessly, clasping the broad hand he held. "I need you, Partner! Help me! Please! I can't do this alone! I need your help!"
"Reed-" The raspy whisper was barely audible, but Jim didn't miss it.
"Yeah, it's me, Pete." Jim didn't mind the tears this time. They signified relief and the first moment of happiness he had felt in over a week since this nightmare began. He realized he should signal the nurse, who came running when he hit the button. He wondered if she had noticed any other changes on her monitors that he might have missed in his joy at the sound of Pete's voice.
But the phenomenon was not repeated in the nurse's presence, and Jim tried to hide his disappointment. Her sympathetic look and the gentle pat on his shoulder as she left twenty minutes later told him he'd failed to keep it from her. That didn't bother him as much as it should have.
Left alone, he turned his attentions once again to the body lying silently before him. He blinked back the frustration and fear that came from that image of helplessness. The man in that bed had admonished him, laughed and mourned with him. He'd put himself between Jim and danger, they'd played on the same team, and competed against one another in friendly rivalry. Now, Jim sat here willing Pete to blink an eye or move his hand, just to utter a single syllable. Anything to prove that he was still among the living.
"Come on, Pete! You can do it. Show 'em, Partner! Show 'em you're still there! If you won't do it for yourself, do it for me." He bit his lower lip, fighting back the emotions that were most likely as much due to fatigue as feeling. "Or better yet, do it for your godson. He worships you, Pete. You know, he thinks you hung the moon!"
"Moon...." came the breathy and obviously labored reply. "Men...on...moon..." Malloy swallowed hard, fighting to make contact. "... doze..." Jim sat in stunned silence. No doubt Pete was just repeating what he'd said, letting him know he'd heard him. He refused to believe it was merely mimicry; it had to be an attempt at communication. Whatever it meant, it was the last response that day. Reed made his way home, happy and disappointed all at the same time, and mostly just very, very tired.
1930 hours...Reed's living room...
Jim Reed couldn't sleep. He'd grown tired of staring at the ceiling of their bedroom, struggling to keep from disturbing Jean trying to get some rest beside him. He'd moved to the recliner, watching TV but not really paying much attention. Jim's mind kept drifting back to his friend lying helpless and alone in a hospital across town. He'd flipped to a channel that was replaying the day's news and caught an interview with Neil Armstrong, who was visiting the area on a promotional tour for NASA. He watched, through half-closed eyes, with marginal interest. It beat fretting about not being able to sleep.
Suddenly it dawned on him, the interview had been broadcast earlier on this station, the same station that had been playing on the set in Pete's hospital room. And, the fact that Pete responded right after he'd mentioned the moon, could there be some significance? Jim felt a growing excitement about what that might mean; that Pete was coherent and responsive, trying to let his partner know that he was hearing what was going on and, especially, what Jim was saying.
"Honey," he summoned in a loud whisper, plopping down on the bed next to her. "Jean? Are you asleep?" She stirred, but only to adjust the pillow beneath her head.
"Sweetie...I think I've got something." He laid a hand on her back, pulling down the blanket at bit. "Jean? You awake?"
"I am now," she sighed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "What's up?"
"You know what Pete said today..."
"No, listen -" Jim was animated, his eyes flashing with the prospect of an answer. "He said moon..."
"Yes, sweetie. You told me already. You were talking about Jimmy and you said he thought Pete hung the moon, and..."
"And Pete responded!" Jim exclaimed. "There was a broadcast earlier...Neil Armstrong. It was on the same station they had on the TV in Pete's room."
"Don't you see?"
"Not really." Jean ran a weary hand through her dark blonde hair.
"He was trying to tell me that he heard it -"
"Neil Armstrong?" Jean shook her head. "Pete was watching Neil Armstrong?"
"He must have heard it...and me talking about the moon...and he made the connection...he wanted me to know..."
"Honey." She brushed a dark, stray lock from his forehead, her eyes softening with sympathy for his pain.
"Pete wouldn't exert that kind of energy, to fight through the fog, just to mention something he heard on TV!"
"Pete's in a coma." She was trying to be gentle with her opinion. "He was parroting what you said."
"It's a response, honey, but it's not communication."
"You're not a doctor," he dismissed. The more she fought his theory, the more he felt compelled to defend it.
"And neither are you, Sweetie. You're his friend and you're desperate for some kind of progress. You're not looking at it rationally."
"You're determined to set yourself up for certain disappointment."
"You've written him off!" Jim jumped up from the bed as though being close to such treason was intolerable.
"I pray for him every day, Jim. But I'm trying to be practical," she sighed. "What happened to Pete...it's a lot to come back from."
"He was trying to tell me something." He was pacing now. "It was too hard for him to say anything, not to have some significance!"
"Sweetie, come to bed..."
"Maybe it has something to do with the place where Armstrong is making the appearance..."
"Jim!" she begged.
"Or the date and time of the interview. I should call the station and ask..."
"James Alan Reed!" Jean demanded, her patience at an end.
"This is crazy!" She stood, putting her arms around his trim waist. "You're all worked up about something that you don't understand."
"He spoke to me, Jean." Jim was trembling as he held her close. "Pete spoke. He's in there, Honey, and I have to help him find his way back."
"I know, Sweetie." She was crying, for her husband, not his partner. "I know."
After Jean returned to bed, failing to coax him to join her, Jim finally decided that it could be a reference to the date of the first moonwalk, which he unfortunately couldn't recall. It was probably a wild goose chase, but Jim preferred to hang onto that sliver of hope despite the inevitable defeat.
0550 hours...Police Headquarters...
"Mac, do you know when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?" Jim Reed asked the non-sequitur as he popped his head into the watch commander's office.
"Good morning to you, too, Reed," the Scotsman laughed. "Yeah, what about it?"
"No, I mean, do you know when? The date?"
"Sorry. I remember watching it, but I couldn't tell you when exactly. It was about three years ago, wasn't it? '69 I think."
"Yeah, I thought so too." Jim nodded. "I remember it was hot. Must have been summer?"
"Could be," MacDonald replied, completely confused. "Eh...Jim...isn't your kid a little young for science reports?"
"Funny, Mac." Jim actually chuckled. That was the first time since Pete's arrest. It was a good sign, the sergeant hoped. "Just working on something."
"Okay. Five minutes to roll call," the commander called to Jim's retreating back. He spied Jerry Woods exiting the locker room. "Hey Woods!" he summoned.
"What is it, Mac?" the affable officer responded, quickening his step to meet the Sergeant at the door to the watch commander's office.
"How's Jim been holding up?" he asked quietly when they were alone inside.
"About as well as you'd expect," he replied with a tinge of sadness. "Malloy and him, they were real close."
"Yeah." Mac's blue eyes were shiny with his own sorrow. He fought down the urge to call Woods on his use of the past tense. Pete was a good friend, and, if only by association, Mac had come to have a soft spot for Jim Reed. And Mac knew the partners had come to mean more to each other than co-workers. "Hey, keep a close eye on him, will ya?"
"Always, Mac," Jerry agreed.
"No, I mean especially close. He's acting a little..." ...squirrely today Mac finished the sentence in his head. "I think it might be getting to him."
"Sure thing, Sarge."
1023 hours...Police Headquarters....Captain Moore's office...
"Jim figures whoever is behind all of this was trying to kill Pete and make it look like he OD'd after some drunken orgy - to really discredit him," Mac reported to Lieutenant Simmons of IAD and the pained expression of Captain Moore.
"And what is your assessment of the situation?" Simmons asked warily. "The girl's statement seems to point to Malloy's willing participation."
"I can't believe the girl's story." MacDonald shook his head. His heart broke every time he remembered the scene he'd discovered at Malloy's apartment. "Pete's never given any indication..."
"Maybe you're just too close to the situation, Sergeant," the Lieutenant suggested. "Too personally involved to be objective."
"I have to agree with Sgt. MacDonald," Captain Moore said softly. "But for the time being, it might be a good idea to remove both you and Reed from any investigation of this case."
Mac started to protest, but one look at Captain Moore's face silenced all argument. He was right. An impartial team was the only way to fully clear Malloy's name from this insidious scandal. And, MacDonald knew that Moore was just as worried about Pete as he was. The old man was strict but fair, and most of all he cared about the men of his command, but especially those he'd personally trained. And Moore had been Malloy's first partner, his training officer. Even though promotions had kept them from remaining close friends, there was a connection that could never be broken. MacDonald merely nodded his acceptance.
1625 hours....Malloy's room, Rampart Hospital...
After those initial few words, Jim had tried to get Pete to respond, but he'd remained mute, still and silent for two whole days. Nevertheless, his partner had returned faithfully to his side every day after completing his shift.
"Officer Reed." Dr. Brackett wasn't able to keep the smile from his face as he met Reed in the corridor outside Malloy's room. "I have some good news."
Jim's heart skipped a beat as he stopped in his tracks, hardly daring to breathe as he awaited the doctor's words.
"Malloy opened his eyes during my examination this morning," the doctor said with a twinkle in his dark eyes. "It was momentary, but he seemed to be attempting to focus on the light shining into his pupils. He even blinked once against the brightness."
"Really?" Jim was so excited at the prospect it was the only word he could manage. "He's awake?"
"I'm afraid he's still unresponsive," Brackett shook his head a bit sadly. "So far he just sits and stares. But the coma is past."
"But...if he's out of the coma..."
"It could be brain damage from the drugs, or he might just be unable to grasp what's happened to him," Brackett placed a hand on the officer's shoulder in an uncharacteristic show of feeling. "But let's take the progress as good news for the moment, shall we?"
"Sure, doctor." Jim tried to process all that the words might mean.
After the doctor's report he'd been hopeful that Pete would make another attempt to communicate, but they sat in silence for over an hour, save Reed's constant monologue. Jean had tried to get Jim to stop going to the hospital everyday. It wasn't that she wanted him to give up on his friend, but it was breaking his heart, and hers to watch him. And even though Pete didn't speak a single word, this was one day Jim was glad he hadn't listened to his wife's concerned advice.
When Jim came in the next afternoon Nurse Leigh Baker was feeding Malloy, talking to Pete despite the fact that he was not responding beyond opening his mouth to accept the spoonful of oatmeal she offered. Leigh was a young nurse that had shown a real interest in Pete's care. Pete and Jim had helped her out once and apparently she hadn't forgotten the favor. Jim watched them for a while before he spoke and after an exchanged greeting, he asked her to leave it with him, stating that he would finish feeding Pete.
That got a response. Pete overturned the bowl, shouting NO! at the top of his lungs. The nurse jumped, as startled by the sound of his voice as the sudden commotion of the bowl clattering to the floor, spilling its contents.
"We will have to restrain him if he's getting violent," she warned, standing behind a chair as though it was a shield against further expected outbursts.
"He won't be violent," Jim assured her gently. As though in corroboration, Pete had fallen silent once again. "Just let me alone with him. He can eat later." Jim smiled at her look of mistrust. "I'll clean up the mess." He bent to do so as she reluctantly left the room, the door closing behind her.
"Why'dya go and do that?" he continued after several moments of silence, still mopping up the oatmeal from the floor. "Ya act like that and they will put you away, for good!"
"Sorry, Partner." The words were barely a whisper. It was hoarse from lack of use, but it was Malloy's voice.
"Pete!" Jim was at his side, his face beaming. "Pete - you know me?"
"'Course I know you, Reed." Pete closed his eyes wearily. "Sorry about the mess."
"Hey, that's okay." Jim looked suddenly confused. "If you could talk, why haven't you before?"
"Nothin' to say." His eyes were still closed.
"Nothing...nothing to say!" Jim was almost angry at the man sitting before him. Almost. But he'd waited too long to hear that voice to allow anything it might say get him really steamed. "We've only been talking about your life here!"
"What mess did you think I meant?" Pete opened one eye halfway and watched his partner's face for a moment.
Jim fought the urge to fold his partner into the biggest bear hug Pete had ever had. He knew that even in his weakened condition, his partner would never allow it, but that realization did nothing to diminish his joy at hearing Malloy's acerbic wit, weakly spoken, but intact.
"Pete, whatever's happened, we're gonna..."
"Fix it?" he snorted. "Yeah, right."
"I mean it. Mac and I are working on it..." It was true. Neither officer had allowed Captain Moore's orders removing them both from the official investigation to deter them from doing everything in their power to find whoever was responsible for nearly killing Pete.
"I've heard the news, Reed." They had kept the television on to try to get him to wake up. The truth was, Pete would have done so two days earlier if they hadn't. The news broadcasts had made him wish he couldn't hear and since he couldn't speak, there was no way to ask them to turn it off. Then when he was finally able to push through the fog and wake up, he'd had to watch it as well.
"That musta been rough." The younger man bowed his head, wishing he had been able to clear things up by now. He sat backwards on the chair next to the bed.
"They said something about a girl." Pete looked uncomfortable. "That part didn't make alotta sense."
"Yeah," Jim sighed. "We...eh...we found a girl in your apartment. You don't remember, huh?"
"Nope." He shook his head. "Alive?" That look of distress lining Pete's face had deepened.
"Yeah, she wasn't hurt," Jim reassured him quickly. "She was...eh...in your bed."
"Gee, sorry I missed it." It was Pete's humor, but there was no mirth in his voice. "Who was she?"
"Some hype. Name of Bambi. We tried to hold her for questioning, but there wasn't anything to pin on her, so she was released."
"What was her story?" Pete asked, a strange look in his eyes. Was it sadness or fear?
"You don't wanna hear this now," Reed protested.
"What was her story?" he repeated with exactly the same inflection, for emphasis, but the look had changed. Jim knew the new one. It usually accompanied orders, lectures, dressing-downs. It was a look to be obeyed.
"She said there was a small party with lots of booze and pills." Jim was on his feet, fighting the urge not to tell him, but Pete had probably heard the worst, at least in capsulated form on the television reports. The media had been having a field day with this one. "You were ...eh...pretty high and feeling good, and you sent everybody home. Everyone, but her. There was a bit of a ruckus, but then everybody else left and the two of you..." Jim was obviously getting more and more uncomfortable with the details.
"Shall I bail you out here, Partner?" Pete's laugh sounded grim. "I don't imagine she claims we played Parcheesi."
"She said that after..." Jim was pacing now. The whole scene had made him sick, and the retelling wasn't doing much for that quickly inhaled lunch. "That...eh...after you...went into the bedroom...your high was wearing off...so she suggested you shoot up with her...and you did."
"All neat and tidy," he sneered, realizing fully the trap that had been carefully laid for him.
"Of course, that's all a pack of lies," Jim offered, there was something about his voice that made it more of a question. They sat looking at one another for a full minute. Neither speaking, hardly blinking or breathing. Jim silently begging him for reassurance. But why? He knew Pete was innocent. He'd been working day and night to prove just that. But somehow, having to rehash the scene in Pete's apartment had been too much for his exhausted nerves, and he just needed to hear him say it.
"If you have to ask, we have nothing more to say to one another." Malloy's mouth was a tight line.
"Pete..." Jim wished he could take it back. He wasn't certain the last time he'd seen that look on Pete's face, but he remembered the first. They had worked together a total of four hours, and the concerned rookie had sincerely wanted to help his obviously troubled partner. He'd made the mistake of asking Malloy why he was leaving the force. He hadn't known what an imposition the question would be. He wouldn't begin to understand it until the night he'd killed a man himself. An older, wiser Jim Reed knew he probably would never fully understand the cruelty of his question unless he'd faced his own partner's death, and as close as he'd come this week was as close as he ever wanted to be.
"Yes, Jim." His eyes fluttered closed in fatigue. "All lies." Pete heard the relieved sigh from his partner and it cut like a knife. He knew that Jim had been fighting his battles while he couldn't and that Jim must believe in him, in his innocence. He also realized how hard it all must have been, and wondered what the scuttlebutt at the station was really like. How much heat was his friend taking on this one?
"Do you recall what happened that night?" Pete heard the police officer he'd trained from a pup asking him. Ya don't give up, do ya, partner? he thought as Jim clarified the question. "Anything at all?"
"Ambush," he sighed, feeling that foggy sensation returning quickly. Could he still be fighting the drugs in his system after all this time?
"Huh?" Reed had pulled up a chair a few feet from Pete's bedside.
"I was ambushed at the door when I returned to my apartment. Two guys, they forced me to open it, pushed their way inside."
"But you were supposed to stay inside the apartment. All night."
"I know, Mother, but Wally and the Beav wanted to go to the malt shop...." He leveled a stare at Jim that told him to shut up without the unkind words having to be spoken. "I went for a walk in the park, a little after dark."
"I was stir crazy, Reed! I was climbing the damned walls!"
"Okay, okay." Jim felt a pang of guilt for not checking in on him that night. He hadn't had dinner with Jean in a week, since Pete was arrested and he'd meant to call afterwards, but... "So, then what happened?"
"There were two of them; one really big guy. They'd brought liquor, turned out to be ethyl alcohol and a bag of some kind of pills, reds, I think." Pete felt the prickly fingers of panic grip at his throat as he began to recount the repulsive scene. There was a tiny voice in his head screaming not to go over that territory again. Never again. "I can't quite...it gets foggy sometimes..."
"It's all right. We've got the toxicology report," Jim said patiently. It was his victim-interview voice. Pete recognized it, but didn't protest. He'd be doing the same things if the roles were reversed. "Take it slow. Just tell me what happened."
"They tried to get me to drink the stuff, nearly choked me to death pouring it down my throat. It burned, really bad, and I gagged a couple of times," Pete grimaced. "Geez, I musta been a mess when you found me, partner."
"You could say that." One corner of his mouth quirked into a smile. Jim wondered if they'd ever put enough distance between them and this nightmare to mine a bit of humor out of it. He doubted there was that much space on earth.
"They kept pushing the pills down my throat and I tried to vomit them back up. I guess I did but they just kept at it. Pills and booze." Pete took a ragged breath.
Jim recognized his partner's well practiced tactic. Having to relive the incident must be harrowing, yet the police officer at the core of Pete's soul was fighting through that to get at the facts. He's amazing! Jim thought with pride, allowing a wave of relief to wash over him. Pete , the Pete he knew, was going to make it!
"They broke open the capsules and mixed them in the alcohol." Pete had recovered a bit and was continuing. "I remember everything started getting hazy and strange after that and then I guess I musta passed out."
"Two of them?" Jim repeated.
"That's all I saw," Pete nodded.
"One big one. The other one a male?" Jim questioned.
"Yeah. Two guys! Like I said," Pete insisted, his voice taking on that exasperated patience that usually made Reed chuckle.
"You don't remember the girl?" Jim watched his partner quizzically.
"Uh, no, Partner." He cocked his head, looking almost like the old Pete. Almost. "Sorry. I don't remember that little detail. But don't worry, I doubt that'd be much of a story, with me unconscious."
"And, it was just booze and pills. You don't remember them injecting you with anything?"
"Injected?" Pete looked stricken at the thought. Jim merely repeated the question.
"You don't remember them injecting you with anything?"
"It's possible," he shrugged. "Like I said, everything gets blurry. But I wasn't alert at the time, that's for sure."
Jim paced to the window and stared out for a time.
"What was it? Smack?" Pete's voice was low and very serious.
"Yeah," Jim replied in an equally quiet voice. "Enough heroin to kill you."
"Which was no doubt their intent," he surmised.
Both men were silent for a while in the face of the possibilities they both knew only too well. Jim was thankful that Pete had been spared what he'd figured would have been the hardest part for his partner to face. Having to feel the injection and knowing that he was helpless to stop it would have been horrific.
"But it didn't." As usual, it was Pete who recovered first.
"No." Jim looked at his partner again. For the first time since they'd begun this conversation, Pete was looking back at him intently. "You were lucky. Dr. Brackett said if they'd hit a vein..."
"I was lucky almost four years ago, when they partnered me with a hard headed rookie name of James A. Reed." Pete was smiling, genuinely this time.
Jim couldn't meet Pete's gaze. He was too busy dealing with the confusing mix of pride and humility the unexpected compliment brought. But in the light of such praise, he felt his failure more keenly.
"If I hadn't gotten that call from Mrs. O'Brien...if I had just phoned your place and figured you were asleep and didn't hear the ring...if..." He left unspoken the if that really bothered him. If only I'd checked on you earlier.
"Hey, partner." Pete held up a cautionary hand. "Ifs will get you nowhere. You came over and you found me. Now, what are we gonna do about it?"
"I still can't believe we're having this conversation," he smiled. "I've gotta call Mac!"
"You'll do nothing of the sort." Pete stopped him with a glare.
"Why not, Pete? He's been worried sick!"
"And I'm sorry about that." The older officer continued his stare. "But I plan to keep this little chat of our under wraps for a while."
"Somebody tried to have me killed. And I know who."
"How?" Jim jumped. "I mean, how do you know for sure?"
Pete watched his friend sadly, deciding to keep that memory to himself. It would have the chance to visit its terror on one policeman's dreams and that was quite enough. He could see in brilliant Technicolor the scene in his living room: hands shoved in his mouth, forcing down the capsules and gagging him with the caustic liquid as he knelt on the stained carpet. Pete would bet that he could hear those words for years to come, waking him in a cold sweat: You better pray, Pig, 'cause you're gonna die!
"They made sure I knew," he stated simply. "If they were so intent on it before, do you think they'll change their mind knowing that I have that information as well?"
"Yeah." Malloy's eyebrows shot up towards his tousled hair. "But, how did you...?"
"You told me," Jim smiled.
"Well it was more of a riddle, like on Bazooka Joe. But, you gave me a clue and after some false starts and a lot of research, we figured it out."
"You said Men on the moon, and I just figured you were repeating something I'd said. And, you said the word dose, which didn't make any sense. Until that night, when I got home and saw Neil Armstrong on television. I couldn't stop thinking about you saying that, choosing that particular thing to respond to, and started believing there was significance. Eventually I checked the records for the date of the moon walk, nothing rang a bell, until the DA mentioned the Mendoza trial, and I put two and two together. The day you arrested him was the day of the moon walk."
"I was still pretty bad off when I said that. It was the one connection I could make at the time, and since you had mentioned the moon," Pete smiled wanly. "How many people know about this?"
"Me, Mac, the DA."
"Assistant D.A. Preston?" Pete looked concerned.
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "When he got back from Europe and found out that his star witness was comatose..."
"Preston cannot know I'm lucid." Pete's voice had that listen-to-this-or-we-could-both-be-dead quality Jim hadn't heard since he'd finished his probation. "Do you understand?"
"This has to proceed the way Mendoza planned. At least for the time being." Pete held his gaze with a life or death intensity. "Ya gotta trust me with this, Jim."
"Okay." Jim obviously wasn't convinced. "What about Jean?"
"Huh?" Pete's thoughts had clearly been elsewhere.
"Can I please, at least, tell Jean that you're okay?" he pleaded quietly. Pete shook his head, his eyes closing. He'd do almost anything to spare Jean Reed the distress he knew she was suffering on his behalf. She fretted over him almost as much as she did her own husband. "Pete, she's so worried...."
"I know, Jim," he sighed.
"I don't know if I can keep it from her, Pete. She's been so upset, and she knows me pretty well..." Jim gave him a sheepish smile. "She's gonna notice when I'm finally able to sleep and I'm humming in the shower...."
"Can you assure me that she won't have contact with anyone until we're ready to reveal our trump card?" Pete sighed.
"You want me to handcuff her to the bed?"
"Reed, what you two do in the privacy of your own..."
"Pete!" Their eyes locked in a moment of pure fun. It dissipated quicker than it had come, but they both felt it, the old friendly banter that kept them from dying of boredom on long nights of quiet patrol. The good natured ribbing that allowed them to face danger, trusting each other implicitly and not having to deal with the overly-emotional consequences. The friendship that had developed past partners, past brothers in the last few years. It felt good.
"I think it's a bad idea. But, I know how you two are...if you must tell her, you gotta swear her to secrecy. My life could depend on it." He leveled a no nonsense look at him. "All of our lives."
"Thanks," he smiled. "She's been praying for you."
"Tell her not to stop." Pete looked away for a moment, the closeness of the conversation becoming too much to handle. "Have you heard from Judy?" he managed through a clenched jaw some moments later. Pete hadn't mentioned his concerns about her sudden disappearance to Jim, but he'd been out of contact for days. She might have made it back to the city.
"Jean spoke to her the other day," he replied softly. "She called to see...she'd heard...that you were in the hospital."
"How is she taking all of this?" Pete hurried past Jim's answer, his concern for her evident in those eyes, the color of an angry Irish sea.
"She took David up north, to her sister's a couple of days after the arrest," Jim answered cautiously. He watched the realization hit Pete squarely. "She called Jean the day they left, gave her a number where she'd be. She asked Jean to keep her informed...she didn't want you to..."
"This must be tough for her." Pete's eyes were welling with tears, threatening to betray his strictest discipline.
"Have you talked to her at all since any of this happened?"
"Phone call...the day after...what could I say?" Pete shut eyelids tightly against a losing battle. "Tell her...I'm sorry," he managed, fists forming in defiance as he nearly gave way to the emotions that were tearing at him. Jim watched him for a moment, then looked away, giving him privacy to regain control. Jim knew the last two weeks had been hell for his friend. He'd done all he could, well, nearly all, and he'd try even harder to make up for not being there that night.
"She just had to get David away from it all, I think," Jim attempted to make sense of it for him. He knew in a way it must feel like abandonment, though he suspected Pete would have wanted her as far from this trouble as she could get. "Hard for a kid to understand."
"Jim...I can't..." Pete begged for the conversation to end. He knew why she'd left, or at least part of the reason. He wished he could have helped her explain all this to David. The kid had taken to Pete, and their bond was a major reason he and Judy had become so serious an item so quickly. Pete had even been accepting the idea, realizing that he was allowing them to be important in his life. Now all that was jeopardized, and what agonized him most was how much this must be hurting them.
"Can I tell her you're out of the coma, at least? That we've talked?" Jim watched his partner grapple with the question. He had come a long way at reading the moods of Peter Joseph Malloy, despite his doubts during their first trying days riding together. And, he could see him fighting against what his heart wanted: to set her mind at rest. The cop in him finally won over his emotions.
"Tell her..." He took a deep breath, and Jim saw the pain in it. "Tell her the doctors are optimistic," he decided at last.
"I'll tell her," he whispered. "She still..."
"Don't!" Pete's voice broke with the warning. He knew that his friend was about to reassure him Judy still cared. "I can't...right now...okay?"
"Sure," Jim sighed. "So, what next, partner?"
They spent the next twenty minutes planning their strategy, Pete assuring Jim that they would let Mac in on what was happening as soon as it was safely possible. Jim had filled his notebook with a list of the police files and court documents that Pete needed to research and have photocopied, as well as the other things Malloy required. They went over the plan one more time just to be certain. Pete was taking no chances. Both men felt the familiar rush of working together on a case, the two of them against the bad guys. It was a good feeling.
Jim saw Pete's eyes go to the door, and they both heard it swing open. Jim looked up to see the two men enter, and when he turned back to Pete, a vacant stare had replaced the animated countenance of a moment before. The keen eyes that had sparked with the excitement of the hunt were empty and unfocused. Jim couldn't imagine how his friend did it, and wondered just how long he had been playing this game and with how many of the hospital staff.
"Reed, isn't it?" Dr. Kelly Brackett's sharp eyes looked from patient to visitor as he entered the room with his colleague.
"Doctor," Jim nodded, acknowledging the physician he'd spoken to on several occasions since Pete's admission that horrible night nearly a week ago.
"This is my associate, Doctor Joe Early," Brackett introduced. "He's a neurosurgeon. I've asked him to have a look at our friend, here. How is he doing today?"
"About the same," Reed lied, watching Pete fake a catatonic stare. It was eerie how convincing it was. Jim wondered if the doctors could tell the counterfeit.
"Well, I didn't like the looks of his progress when I was in this morning. Let's see if things are any better , shall we?" Brackett took a light from his pocket and began an examination. Pete didn't flinch, didn't budge. Jim gripped the back of the chair. How long could Pete keep up this pretense? He wished they could let the doctors in on the secret, especially Dr. Brackett. He'd been so caring and helpful, it seemed a shame to fool them. But Pete was convinced that he could still be in danger, and his argument was that anyone who knew his real condition might be put in jeopardy as well.
"Anything?" the white haired doctor beside him asked.
"Same as this morning." Brackett shook his head sadly. "You want to give it a try?"
"Sure." Joe Early took his own light and began a similar examination, flashing knowing looks at Brackett in between his ministrations on the patient, who still made no move. Dr. Early straightened up slowly, a long exhale signaling the end of the exam. He looked toward Dr. Brackett, and the two men nodded.
"What is it, Doctor?" Jim couldn't keep still.
"You were right to call me in. It's worse than I thought. We're going to have to operate," Early said with gravity. "I don't think we should wait. I'll scrub up. You get us an operating room, Kel."
"You're the expert, Joe," Brackett said with sadness. "I'd hoped he would respond without having to open him up. Brain surgery is so risky."
"I know, but there's nothing else to do," Early replied. "I only hope he's strong enough to survive. It's a delicate procedure. I'd say we'll be in there several hours, at least. That's after we drill through the skull and expose the brain tissue to..."
"Wait," Reed exclaimed. "You're not going to operate?"
"We haven't any choice, Reed." Brackett shook his head as he and Dr. Early walked to the door.
"Okay, nobody leaves this room until we get something straight," Pete ordered, suddenly animated again. The only one shocked was Jim Reed, who hadn't yet caught onto the physicians' charade, but he'd had his share of shocks for one day, so he could be excused. The doctors merely smiled at one another and came back toward the bed.
"You want to tell us what this is all about?" Brackett folded his arms across his chest as he demanded of Malloy.
"First I've got to have your word that this goes no further." Pete was all seriousness. "Lives are at stake. This is not a game."
1535 hours... Malloy's Hospital Room... Rampart Hospital.
They brought Mac in on the second day, neither officer wanting him to worry a moment longer than was necessary. MacDonald was ecstatic when he walked in, expecting to see the same comatose body he'd found on his previous visit, lying still and seemingly lifeless among the stark white sheets; and discovered, instead, Pete sitting up playing gin with a little blonde nurse. To keep Pete from becoming bored, which had looked like a distinct possibility, Leigh had been taken in as a confederate and assigned to his care, feeding, and entertainment by Dr. Early.
"Hi, Sarge!" Pete grinned, looking up from the cards.
Jim clapped the sergeant on the back. "Eh...there's something we wanted to tell you, Mac," he cracked.
"I think I got the message," the big Scotsman smiled, his clear blue eyes welling with emotion he didn't try to hide. Within two minutes he was on the phone from Pete's bedside and a police guard was installed at the door to Malloy's hospital room. Visitors and staff not on the very short list were turned away.
With the help of Drs. Early and Brackett and Nurse Leigh Baker, they succeeded in keeping Pete's true condition from anyone for the next three days. During that time, Jim had been extremely busy, preparing all the materials Pete had requested before arranging for the meeting with the assistant district attorney. The trial would proceed as planned. And though he was listed on all materials filed with the court, Malloy would indeed be a surprise witness for the prosecution. The danger was still very real, but they decided to move Pete from the hospital a couple days before the trial began.
2145 hours...James Reed residence.....Los Angeles....
Malloy and Reed had been playing a fierce game of Horse at the basketball hoop in the Reed's backyard for the last forty minutes. The score was tied and Jim had the ball. Pete tripped, slamming into his partner as he tried to prevent the shot from making the basket, but Jim prevailed, winning by one point. Pete bent over, hands on his knees, desperately gulping ragged breaths, while Jim retrieved the ball as it bounced off the house.
"You want a beer?" Reed asked, tossing Pete a towel for the sweat pouring off him. He'd never seen Pete play so hard before, like his life depended on the game.
"Naw," Pete gasped, still breathless from the workout his young partner had given him. The very thought of alcohol right now made him shake. "Better not."
"How 'bout a Coke?" he offered, handing Pete the ball.
"Yeah, that'd be great," Pete nodded, mopping his brow. He'd collapsed onto the low retaining wall at the edge of the patio. He watched as Jim sprinted into the house, wanting to throw the basketball at his retreating figure. Show off. How he could possibly not be winded was beyond Pete's comprehension. There wasn't that much difference in their ages.
"Here." Jim handed the ice-cold bottle into his partner's waiting hand. They sat on the patio wall, under a spreading tree. "Jean says we better knock it off. Jimmy's been up three times wanting to watch his Uncle Pete get creamed!"
"Comedian!" Pete chuckled, nearly choking on the swig of soda he'd just taken. "It is getting late, I suppose." The two men fell into a companionable silence that was familiar territory for the longtime partners. They'd logged a lot of hours sitting like this, an arm's length apart, but usually they were at work in an LAPD patrol car. Over the years they had learned to read each other's moods, the slightest shift in emotion registering on the other man's radar like a spike. So Pete's altered frame of mind was evident to his friend immediately.
"You okay?" Jim asked quietly in the growing darkness. Pete had been unusually quiet since they had moved Pete to the Reeds' from the hospital, for the last two days before the trial.
"Just thinking," Pete replied with a sniff.
"Don't strain yourself," Jim joked, trying to lighten the mood, sensing that the thoughts hadn't been entirely pleasant. Pete's reaction told him the humor hadn't worked. "Pete..."
"I came awfully close, almost bought it this time," the older man sighed. This wasn't like Malloy to brood or to acknowledge his anxieties. He certainly had Jim's attention. Pete stood, walking to the tree nearby, his back to Jim. "I've never felt so...helpless..." His voice caught in his throat. Pete leaned a shoulder against the rough bark of the tree. "So...scared..." It was an admission that Jim would never have expected of his partner. It hadn't come without price. Pete shuddered and Jim could hear the tears in his voice. He gave Pete the privacy of looking away. "And then...I heard your voice," he continued. "I knew you were still standing by me..." The words failed him, again.
"You remember the night we met?" Jim asked after a moment. Moved by Pete's confession, he stood, only a few steps from his friend, watching him in the light from the dining room window. "You were all set to resign. But, you didn't. You said you couldn't...because of me."
"Reed -" Pete started to protest. It hadn't been his intention to say as much as he had already, any more and he didn't think he could stand it.
"How many times do you suppose you saved my bacon while I was a probationer?" Jim chuckled. "Kept me from getting shot, or landing in I.A.D.?"
"That was my job." Pete shook his head. "I was your training officer, responsible for you."
"It isn't very often that you get to pay that back," Jim said softly.
"You've covered me..." Pete dismissed. "Many times since then,"
"Well, when I get anywhere close to even, you let me know, huh?" Jim insisted. He placed a hand on Pete's shoulder. Jim could feel him tense initially, then relax when Jim made no move to break the contact.
Pete choked back the emotion that threatened to stop the words. He looked at the young man beside him, remembering - everything. "Thanks, partner."
1740 hours....James Reed residence....Los Angeles...
Originally Pete had wanted to go home to his own apartment, but nobody thought that was a particularly good idea, so his desires were vetoed. He would stay with the Reeds. Jean Reed was thrilled. She had prepared to fuss all over him, one of the reasons he wasn't so happy with the arrangement. But as the partners were waiting for Jean to finish dinner the night before the trial, Pete playing with Jimmy while Jim watched in the family room, Pete had started to think that maybe this wasn't so bad a place to hang out for a couple of days.
"What about Judy?" Jim asked as he watched his young son using Malloy as a jungle gym. "Don't you think you should call her? We've got the number."
"No," his partner responded after a moment's thought, his eyes never leaving Jimmy. "I think we oughta just give her some space, leave her out of this. Until it's over."
"Too late," he heard from behind him. The voice was soft, feminine and familiar. "Too late."
He turned toward the sound, saw her framed in the doorway beaming at him with a look that warmed his heart. Despite the little monkey hanging on his pant leg, he gathered her into a desperate embrace. Pete breathed her name as he held her fast.
"I guess I don't have to ask if you've gotten your strength back." She struggled from within his firm bearhug.
"Sorry," he chuckled, but only released her a bit, just enough to keep from smothering her. "When did ...?...How did you...?...What are you doing here?"
"Which question would you like me to answer first?" she giggled into his shoulder. She was crying softly, tears of relief and joy.
"Doesn't matter," he sighed deeply, his own contentment evident in the sound.
"Pete..." Jim tried to interrupt. Neither of them seemed to notice so he tried again. "Eh...Pete?" Still getting no reply he retrieved his young son and headed for the door. "Come on, Jimmy. Let's go help mommy with dinner and leave Uncle Pete and Judy alone for a bit, okay?"
"Honey." Judy pushed against his shoulder gently when Jim had closed the door discreetly. "Let go a minute. I wanna get a good look at you."
"Nope." Pete shook his head, trying to hold her even closer. "Gotcha now. I'm not letting you go."
"Pete!" she insisted with a laugh. He complied a bit reluctantly, allowing her to give him a good once over. "You've lost weight," she observed, her hand patting just above his much trimmer waist.
"I needed it," he chuckled, pulling her to him again.
"Nuh uh. I always thought you were just about perfect," she sighed, feeling the comfort of being in those strong and gentle arms.
"Silly girl!" His face was buried in her coppery hair. It smelled of flowers and was soft against his cheek, damp with happy tears. "I'm sorry about all of this," he whispered. "I didn't think you understood."
"I'll let that go since you've been ill," she quipped, swatting his shoulder playfully. "I just needed to get David out of here, all the stuff with the papers and the TV."
"How's he doing?" he asked, finally releasing her. The subject of David's reaction to the past couple of weeks was one that had plagued him.
"He never lost faith in you," she smiled, sensing his worry. "He's your staunchest supporter!"
"Must have been tough," he sighed, moving them both to the overstuffed sofa. They sat very close, touching as much as was decently possible.
"Pete." She turned his face to meet hers. "I didn't leave because we ever doubted you."
"Yeah, I know." He looked away. It was a most unconvincing performance. He held the small, soft hand in his, feeling suddenly that nothing bad could happen with her so near. There was a knock at the door of the rec room. Pete and Judy looked amusedly at one another before he called with a chuckle, "Come in!"
Jim stood just inside the door. "Can I see you a minute, Pete?"
Pete disentangled himself from Judy's embrace and met his partner at the door. Jim held up one hand, dangling from his finger was a set of keys.
"What's that?" Pete asked, his face scrunched into a questioning frown.
"Keys," Jim chuckled. "To my 'Vette."
Pete's jaw fell open. "You're giving me the Corvette?"
"Not to keep, wiseguy!" Jim laughed. "I thought you and Judy might like to take a little drive."
"You thought, did you?" Pete smirked, recovering from the shock of being offered the keys to Jim's beloved classic. "Don't you mean, your wife thought we'd like to take a drive?"
"Jean and I discussed it," Jim admitted, which was closer to the truth than his first statement, but still put him in a better light than he might deserve, despite his sacrifice of the classy wheels. "She's packing a basket supper for you two."
Pete took the car out on the coastal highway. Pulling into traffic the first time admittedly reminded him of his not-so-freak accident and the totaled yellow sports car still in Police Impound. He wondered if Judy had heard that story, but thought better of ruining the night with its recitation. Pete drove on with the top down. As the sun began to set, the warm ocean breeze on his neck felt good. Like freedom...which was still a long way off.
They stopped on a lonely stretch of beach near Santa Monica. It was privately owned, a resort that was closed for the off season. He pulled the car as far out onto the sand as he dared and parked, helping Judy out and retrieving the blanket and basket from the trunk. Pete spread the blanket in front of the sculpted grill of the silver blue classic as Judy laid out the supper Jean had prepared. Pete felt an indescribable warmth connected to the gifts of his friends.
After they ate, the newly reunited couple walked along the deserted beach, hand in hand, content to watch nature's kaleidoscope as the fiery orb slipped into the ocean. They talked of things important and trivial, making up for lost time. Eventually the conversation turned to David.
"Are you sure he's all right? It must be tough for a kid to understand what's been going on," Pete said softly, his concern for the boy evident in his tone.
"And it's easier for an adult?" Judy chuckled, squeezing his hand. "The night after you were arrested, I tried to explain it to David. There was something in the papers and one of the kids at school started saying things..." She watched Pete's attempt to hide the pain he felt at imagining David's taunting playmates. "He told me, 'Pete didn't do it, Mom. I know he didn't.' And after you and I talked that night, it sounded like things might just go from bad to worse before you got it all sorted out and had time to talk to him. I decided to take him where he wouldn't have to hear all the lies." Pete's eyes were closed. Judy sensed that struggling with so many emotions was beginning to take a toll. "I just didn't want anyone spoiling his trust and I knew you wouldn't be able to reassure him anytime soon."
He was playing with the soft hand he hadn't relinquished. He had believed himself abandoned, had felt that it was the worst of all the blows he'd suffered through this whole fiasco, but he would never tell her. He didn't really understand her leaving without word, even if her concern was for David, but he let it go. She was here now. That was all that mattered. Pete stopped, leaning against some of the rocks near the shore, pulling Judy close, silent in his thoughts. She didn't pry. Pete Malloy was used to keeping his own counsel.
After a while, he bent down and took a handful of small stones, began skipping them into the tide, watching as they fought against the waves. It felt like a release, like letting go of each bit of the last two weeks. But Pete was surprised that it didn't seem to stop the hurt. Now that things were almost over, the fear and uncertainty and shock subsided, that seemed to be what was left. He wasn't sure how to grapple with that. "Where is David now?"
"He's fine. Spending time with his grandparents," she said simply, cozying into his offered embrace again. "Besides, he should get used to giving us a little time alone. Don't you think?"
"So nothing's changed?" he asked, fiddling with the last of the pebbles in his hand.
"Not with me." She pulled his arms tighter around her, like a blanket. "How about you?"
"I didn't know how you'd feel," he said quietly. Fact was, he had been having second thoughts the last couple of weeks. He'd wanted to see her, to assure her that he was okay, to make sure she and David were all right with everything that had happened, to make certain that she understood. But her sudden disappearance had set off flares for him. He wasn't sure she could handle his life as a cop, and most of all he wasn't at all certain it was fair to ask her. There was more at stake here than just Judy. There was David to think about.
"I wanted you both as far away from this as possible," he continued. It was truth, even if it wasn't everything. He wasn't under oath until tomorrow. "And I didn't even have to argue with you about it."
It was late when he returned the Corvette to the Reed's garage after taking Judy back to her place. Pete made his way quietly, not wanting to disturb the sleeping family. Jean was up, in the kitchen making cocoa. He tried to slip past, not really wanting to field questions tonight, but she caught him.
"You want some cocoa?" Jean asked, pulling her robe closer about her. "Put you right to sleep."
"You weren't waiting up, were you?" He looked troubled. "Jim gave me a house key and said..."
"Jim fell asleep on the sofa," she laughed softly. "I couldn't sleep. I guess I was sort of worried."
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "We got to talking and then..."
"Pete," she sighed. "Speaking of talk...you need to have a long one with my husband."
"What's wrong?" his brow furrowed. "Jim's okay, isn't he?"
"Jim's fine." She put her hand on one hip. "The talk is for you! So he can explain to you that they don't make wedding rings out of kryptonite!"
"Oh," Pete laughed. It was a nice sound. Jean hadn't heard it in way too long. She hadn't escaped the worry over her husband's partner of late.
"When are you gonna marry that girl?" she insisted. "You don't suppose she's going to wait around forever, do you?"
"She's stuck by me so far," he said with a grateful smile. Even if he was having doubts, he had to give Judy a lot of credit.
"So what are you waiting for?" the pretty blonde wife of his best friend insisted.
"Could I...eh... get my life back in order first?" he chuckled. He had a lot of things to get in order before he made such a permanent decision that would impact on so many lives besides his own.
"Then you're thinking about it?" Jean seemed to need confirmation
"We're...talking," Pete hedged, not sure himself right now where things stood. It had been so clear a couple of weeks ago, before - everything.
"Yeah, well just don't talk too long," she admonished. "Take some action."
"Yes, ma'am!" he smiled, taking the offered cocoa from her hand.
0900 hours...Los Angeles County Courthouse...
The morning of the trial, Pete Malloy entered the courtroom flanked by two uniformed officers. It was an eerily familiar scene for the beleaguered policeman, but for the first time in a couple of weeks he wasn't seated at the defense table. He took his place just behind the district attorney, next to his partner. Pete would have been lying if he'd said that he wasn't nervous; today he wouldn't be on trial, but he was still seriously embroiled in the proceedings, and his heart was nevertheless racing.
He jumped a bit at a touch on his shoulder. It was Judy. He'd asked her not to come; this time not for his own ego's preservation, but her protection. He smiled up at the gentle concern lining her face, selfishly glad that she had ignored his caution this time. Pete covered her hand where it rested on his tweed jacket with his own broad one and gave her a wink before she took a seat behind him.
Sergeant MacDonald entered next, wearing a navy suit and a light colored shirt that made the clear blue of his eyes even more intense. After twenty years of wearing that navy LAPD uniform, Mac still chose the color in his civilian attire. The big Scotsman nodded at Judy and took the seat on the other side of Pete. After the usual pleasantries exchanged with Jim Reed, he leaned in to speak privately with Malloy.
"We talked with the kids last night. Mary and I couldn't bear to have them worrying any longer and since your recovery would be going public today..."
"It's okay, Mac," Pete smiled, interrupting the sergeant's apologetic explanation.
"I was given a letter to bring to you." He pulled it from the pocket of his suit coat.
Pete looked at him curiously, took the envelope from Mac's outstretched hand and read the rounded adolescent writing, To Officer Pete Malloy, my Hero.
"Billy," he said in just above a whisper, affected to the extreme by his young friend's faith and kindness.
"He says you owe him the rest of a football game?" Mac replied, not quite understanding the reference, merely serving as messenger.
"I owe him more than that." Pete gripped the thin envelope, keeping what hold on his emotions was still possible.
"He believes in you, Pete," Mac smiled, sensing how touched his friend was in what must be a trying time. "But the letter is from Elizabeth."
Pete's head snapped up, a quizzical look furrowed his freckled brow. The shame of that moment in the MacDonald's kitchen, just after this nightmare had begun, flared red in his cheeks.
"We had a little discussion while you were in the hospital. She...eh..." Mac looked genuinely pained at the thought of his daughter's actions, which she'd confessed in dramatic detail. "She came to me...told me...everything. Right before she put herself on punishment. Grounded, for a month."
"That's stiff." Pete found a smile for the father who felt somehow responsible, and for the implied forgiveness in the daughter's disclosure of the incident.
"You don't know the half of it," Mac grinned, acknowledging his friend's unspoken pardon. "There's a major dance coming up this month and she had a date with the center of the basketball team. But she wanted...well...I think she probably told you what she wanted in that letter."
"I...eh...I'll read this...later," Pete stammered, completely nonplused.
"Mr. Mendoza is a respected businessman, a productive and esteemed member of the community. He is on the board of trustees of a number of worthy charitable organizations. The prosecution promises to show evidence that my client has been involved in what we would agree to be some heinous crimes. We intend to present evidence of Mr. Mendoza's generous contributions to a variety of worthwhile causes, both monetary and in his sacrifice of time." Burns, the tall, handsome defense attorney paced before the jury box.
"The prosecution have leaked information regarding charges they claim to be considering against my client for his alleged participation in recent unfortunate and very public events in the life of their witness: Officer Peter J. Malloy. Mr. Mendoza was in Sacramento on the night of Officer Malloy's arrest for possession and distribution of narcotics. Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza were in Acapulco for their wedding anniversary the week that Malloy was found overdosed on heroin and in the company of a prostitute after a wild party in his singles-only apartment. My client has been slandered by the allegations as surely, ladies and gentlemen, as he has been victimized by the Los Angeles Police Department's harassment regarding these fraudulent and spurious drug charges..."
Pete glanced at Mac. They'd heard this kind of tactic used before; the question was, would the jury buy it this time around. He watched the defense attorney carefully. The ivy league gray suit and prep school smile was meant to intimidate the witness and ingratiate the jurors. What really made Pete shudder was the possibility of Mendoza getting off. Somehow, this time, it was personal. Pete had a little too much of himself invested in this particular case.
Mendoza sat smugly at the defense table, watching his highly paid advocate romancing twelve good citizens of Los Angeles County with his glib delivery. The defendant was the picture of respectability and success. A natural charisma exuded from the dark good looks, enhanced by his conservative and expensive designer wardrobe. Pete dared a look directly into the eyes of the man who had ordered not only his execution but the destruction of his reputation. He felt a slight shiver as the realization washed over him of just how close Mendoza had come to succeeding in both. The thought of him leaving this courtroom acquitted of the charges made the officer sick to his stomach.
He knew that evidence had been gathered carefully, by the book. They had crossed every "t" and dotted each "i". He'd seen to some of it himself. Hector Mendoza and the LAPD went back a lot of years. He'd been like a slippery eel, eluding capture or conviction nearly every time, hiding his illegal activities behind various questionable charities, waltzing out of courtrooms with a slap on the wrist for a simple misdemeanor and time served. Pete Malloy knew only too well the destruction his business had caused in Adam-12's district, the lives ruined, the kids whose promise had been stolen by addiction, the crime associated with the desperate pursuit of that next fix. It had taken a great deal of effort, from the detectives to the prosecutor's office to bring him to trial this time. One of the key pieces of evidence that would tie Hector A. Mendoza to one of the largest drug syndicates in Los Angeles was in a notation on the arrest report signed by Officer Peter J. Malloy, badge number 744. Yeah, it was personal all right.
The artful attorney finished his opening statement, promising that he would show that poor Mr. Mendoza had fallen victim of a campaign of police harassment, hatched from a personal feud between his client and a frustrated and misguided police department. The man at the defense table turned toward Pete...and smiled, ever so slightly; one corner of his mouth turned up in gesture of derision. Mac laid a cautionary hand on Pete's sleeve, pulling the officer's attention from Mendoza to MacDonald. There was a question in Pete's gray eyes. Mac tapped Pete's hand which was balled into a tight fist. Pete sighed, relaxing with the exhale, flexing his hands as they lay on his knees. Keep your cool, Malloy! he chided himself.
The prosecution called Peter J. Malloy to the stand. He stood ramrod straight before the bench, his left hand on the black leather Bible, his right raised, swearing to tell the truth and nothing but...
Over the shoulder of the bailiff, Hector Mendoza caught Malloy's eye, one dark eyebrow raised in ridicule. Pete blinked once, trying to erase the image of terrorizing threat Mendoza was attempting to plant in his head, and continued the oath. He took the stand, stating his name and verifying for the record his rank as Senior Officer Three and his eleven years of service with the Los Angeles Police Department. In light of the defense attorney's mention of news items regarding recent allegations and events, District Attorney Preston requested the Court to allow a reading of the highlights and commendations of Officer Malloy's career. Feeling a little embarrassed, Pete sat and listened to his own accomplishments listed, seeming like some ironic eulogy, following the last weeks' nightmare.
Preston then led him through the evidence, the details of the investigation and the arrest, just the way they'd practiced two days before. The cold precision of the recitation had a calming effect, allowing Pete to find that professional center that sustained him in times of stress. The cross-examination was a different story.
The attorney for the defense began with an easy, benevolent tone, intended to charm and disarm the members of the jury and the police officer on the stand. It might have worked with the twelve civilians seated in the jury box, but the veteran patrolman wasn't buying. Pete kept his composure, fighting every urge to battle the obnoxiously engaging barrister in his endeavor to portray his client as innocent prey and misunderstood philanthropic messiah to the downtrodden. The image was so far from the truth as Pete Malloy knew it made his blood boil, but he couldn't rail against the lies. He wasn't permitted to present the facts as he knew them, merely answer the deceptively plotted questions.
"Officer Malloy," Attorney Burns smiled broadly as he approached the witness stand. "We have all heard of the unfortunate incidents you have suffered in the last few weeks. It must be uncomfortable for you to have to appear in court today, what with your recent troubles with the legal system on your own behalf."
"It's a part of my job," he replied.
"Well said!" Burns pounded the rail in front of Pete. "But it must make you doubt the fairness of the judicial system, an establishment you have been a part of for, what was it, eleven years?"
"Yes, sir," Pete responded to the last question, then realized it had sounded like he was answering the first. "I don't doubt the system."
"Then you have a stronger faith than I, Officer Malloy," he smiled at the jury conspiratorially. "Officer Malloy," the defense attorney directed, his voice dripping with sweetness. "Is this your signature and badge number on the bottom of this report?"
Pete took the pages from the attorney's hand and inspected them before agreeing, "Yes, sir. It is."
"You were the arresting officer on the night in question, were you not?"
"Yes, sir," Pete answered simply.
"And you had occasion to stop Mr. Mendoza's vehicle that night? A 1975 Cadillac on the corner of Rayburn and Fourteenth?"
"Yes, sir," he replied to the somewhat redundant question, willing himself to remain calm.
"And what was the nature of that stop?"
"It was a traffic stop." The officer flexed his hands on his knees, fighting the nerves and agitation he was feeling.
"And the reason for that stop?" Attorney Burns leaned against the defense table, Hector Mendoza's menacing smile just over his shoulder.
"Mr. Mendoza failed to comply with a posted stop sign," Pete answered, his voice professionally calm.
"So it is your contention that my client just went right through the stop sign?"
"He failed to properly stop, yes."
"Did he slow down?" the attorney asked.
"Yes," Pete said in a level tone that belied his frustration.
"I see. So Mr. Mendoza did brake his vehicle. Was it what you policemen call a classic rolling stop?"
"He slowed down and then continued through the intersection, failing to yield proper right-of-way to on-coming traffic," Pete qualified.
"And isn't that what a policeman calls a rolling stop?" Burns insisted, a bit impatiently.
"Yes," came the simple reply.
"Thank you, Officer Malloy," the attorney sighed melodramatically to the jury, as though he'd had to work for the answer. He was playing this scene for all it was worth. "Now, you pulled Mr. Mendoza over for this alleged traffic violation. And then you proceeded to search both his vehicle and his person. Is it normal practice to do so, Officer Malloy? To search a citizen's vehicle and/or person when stopping them for a simple traffic violation?"
"Not normal practice, no, but..."
"So you do not search everyone who fails to stop at an intersection?
"Well, that's a relief, isn't it?" Burns chuckled, now standing in front of the jury box, making eye contact with a few of the jurors who were smiling at his joke. "And what would cause you to search a citizen, Officer?"
"If we had probable cause to suspect a crime..."
"Probable cause? That sounds like law enforcement terminology. What is probable cause, Officer Malloy. Could you explain that to us ordinary citizens?"
"Probable cause is facts or circumstances that would lead a prudent officer to believe a crime has been or is being committed."
"I believe you call that P.C. in your slang, don't you?"
"Sometimes," Pete shrugged a bit.
"And you felt you had probable cause to search Mr. Mendoza on the night in question?"
"And what was that P.C. in Mr. Mendoza's case, Officer Malloy?"
"I observed something inside the vehicle."
"While you were searching the vehicle?"
"No. I observed it before the search was conducted."
"And was it in plain view?"
"Yes, sir. It was lying on the front seat. It was clearly visible when Mr. Mendoza was pulled over."
"Before you rousted him from his vehicle?"
"It was visible before Mr. Mendoza was asked to exit the vehicle, yes," Pete restated.
"And what was this item that caused you such concern, Officer Malloy? So much concern that you yanked Mr. Mendoza from his vehicle and began a body search of his person."
"The item was a gun. A .45 caliber revolver," Pete answered. "And Mr. Mendoza was asked to..."
"A gun!" Burns gasped in mock surprise. "Well, it is certainly understandable that you would be concerned about a weapon. Did you ask Mr. Mendoza about the gun?"
"Before or after he was patted down and handcuffed?" The attorney didn't give him a chance to answer before continuing. "Isn't it true, Officer Malloy, that my client was lying face down on the hood of his vehicle before any questions were asked?"
"I asked him to exit the vehicle and put his hands on the car while I checked him for other weapons and then he was questioned about the gun," Pete replied honestly.
"Isn't it true that you drew your weapon and pushed the gun in his face as you forced him from his vehicle?"
As the questions became more shrewdly worded, Pete began feeling less steady, struggling to keep his equilibrium. "I drew my weapon, yes, but I didn't..."
"Objection -" the prosecutor called. "Your Honor..."
"But, Your Honor - Defense isn't allowing Officer Malloy to answer the question he is asking him..."
"The witness will answer," the judge insisted. "The attorney for the defense will restate the question."
"Was Mr. Mendoza given a chance to explain why the gun was there?"
"He was given every chance to..."
"Was the gun registered to him, Officer Malloy?" he interrupted yet again.
"And isn't it true that he had the registration in his wallet, there at the scene? That it was offered for your inspection?"
"Yes, after..." Pete tried to answer.
"And did Mr. Mendoza give you a reason for why he was carrying the weapon?"
"He said that he was carrying a large sum of money," the officer offered.
"So he had the gun for protection?" Again Burns didn't give the chance for a reply. "And as you say, the gun was in plain sight, so it would not qualify as a concealed weapon, would it? Exactly what crime was being committed by my client to constitute probable cause, Officer Malloy?"
"A weapon was found in his vehicle," he insisted quietly.
"And that weapon was legally registered to Mr. Mendoza and in plain sight, not concealed," the attorney redirected. "Is it your contention that my client brandished the weapon at you menacingly?"
"Did he point the gun at you, Officer Malloy?"
"No, he did not. But..." Pete shook his head.
"Isn't it true, Officer Malloy, that Mr. Mendoza wasn't even touching the weapon on the seat beside him? That he had both his hands on the steering wheel of his vehicle as you had demanded of him?"
"Yes sir. But the weapon still posed a threat. And there are specific regulations for the transport of a..."
"Officer Malloy, was the night in question the first time you had ever encountered Mr. Mendoza?"
"No," Pete answered after a moment's hesitation. The prosecutor had warned about this line of questioning. It had seemed so academic back then.
"So you knew my client before this traffic stop?"
"I had encountered Mr. Mendoza. I didn't know him personally."
"So how did this previous encounter come about?"
"My partner and I had arrested him, several years before."
"You had arrested my client previously?"
"Do you recall the date?"
"July 13, 1969."
"So you do remember, the exact date of that arrest," Burns posed the rhetorical question. "And what was the outcome of that arrest?"
"The outcome?" Pete was confused. He'd expected the question to be about the charges. He reminded himself that expectations would jackpot him, especially with someone as slick as this attorney.
"Yes, Officer Malloy. What happened? Did Mr. Mendoza go to jail? Was he convicted of the charges for which you and your partner arrested him on this previous occasion?"
"So he was not convicted?"
"No, he was not," Pete repeated.
"And why was that, Officer Malloy? Did it have something to do with your conduct at the scene? Or your partner's?"
"My conduct? No, it..."
"Isn't it true, Officer Malloy, that the previous case brought against Mr. Mendoza by the charges resulting from your arrest was dropped due to improper search and seizure procedures by you and your partner?"
"The court decided that the evidence would not be admissible, but..."
"But what, Officer Malloy? Are you going to sit there and tell me that the judicial system failed? That you had probable cause in that case for the illegal search you did of my client's premises?" The lawyer had skillfully set the trap, springing it nearly in mid-sentence, like an instantaneous Jekyll/Hyde transformation.
"That's not what I'm saying, I....."
"Objection..." Preston stood behind the prosecution's table.
"Your Honor - I am attempting to determine if Officer Malloy had reason to treat this traffic stop differently than any other stop he made that night - or any night."
"Your Honor - I fail to see the relevance..."
"The Prosecution fails to see the relevance of evidence which speaks to differential treatment of my client by the arresting officer? Of a pattern of such prejudicial treatment of Mr. Mendoza by the Los Angeles Police Department?"
"The Defense is harassing the witness..." the prosecutor argued.
"I fail to see the relevance of the Prosecution's claim of harassment..." the defense mimicked.
The judge banged his gavel twice, a look of irritation on his stern features. "Counsels will refrain from petty bickering before the bench. I will hear the Defense's line of question and if I feel, after a fair hearing, that the evidence has no relevance, I will rule it stricken from the record."
"But, Your Honor..." Preston began.
"I believe I have made my ruling, Mr. Preston," the judge dismissed.
"Yes, Your Honor." The assistant district attorney returned to his seat.
"You may continue," the judge nodded to the defense attorney.
"Officer Malloy," Burns continued. "According to the report of the night in question, you called for another unit to respond to the scene. Is that correct?"
"Yes. I called for a supervisor."
"Is that usually the procedure for a simple traffic stop?"
"I was riding alone that night," Pete explained. "I called for a back up when it became apparent that this would be more than a simple traffic stop."
"Is a traffic violation normally an occasion to call for back-up? Did you feel threatened, Officer Malloy? By an unarmed man that you had already searched for weapons? A man you were holding at gunpoint?"
"My gun was..." Suddenly Pete felt he was being attacked, yet as he glanced at the jury, they seemed to be enamored of the gray suited strategist.
"And you didn't just call for back-up, did you Officer Malloy? You called for a supervisor. Isn't that what the report reflects?"
"That is what I said," Pete replied, a bit defensively.
"Why did you call for a supervisor? Did you feel the need for supervision? Aren't you a training officer? A field supervisor, yourself? I believe your rank was stated as Senior Officer Three? Why would you need a supervisor?'
"I wanted him there before I began my search..." Pete justified.
"Before you began your search...why was that? Did you feel incapable of conducting the search on your own? Or did you feel you couldn't be objective because of a personal prejudice against Mr. Mendoza?"
"I called him because I was going to be searching the vehicle. I had reason to believe that I might find..."
"What reason? Your previous encounter?" The defense attorney was a master at discerning human weaknesses, playing them like a Stradivarius.
"I..." Keep your cool, Malloy, he chanted silently.
"Are you saying that you were treating this arrest differently because of the previous encounter you had with Mr. Mendoza? The arrest that was thrown out of court because of your illegal search?"
"It is standard procedure to call for a backup unit when..." Pete answered as calmly as possibly under the adverse circumstances.
"A backup unit, yes...but we're talking about a supervisor?"
"I called for a supervisor..." he began to explain again.
"Why?" Attorney Burns smiled.
"Objection!" The prosecution was on his feet again. "He's badgering the witness."
"The Prosecution seems to think that Officer Malloy is in need of assistance, Your Honor," the defense attorney offered an excuse. "But he is a trained professional. I'm certain..."
"Your Honor - the witness is attempting to answer the questions..."
The judge hit his gavel on the bench again. "I will not tolerate this in my courtroom. Both counsels, approach the bench." There was a short whispered conclave in which the judge warned them both against the theatrics and ordered the defense to continue.
"Officer Malloy," Burns began again. "Why did you call for a supervisor?'
"I was preparing to search the vehicle," Pete said simply.
"Is that common practice?" came the question.
"It is common practice to call for back-up. Sometimes..."
"But you called for a supervisor. Why?"
"I wanted to make sure everything was done by the book."
"But it wasn't by the book, was it? You just said the book would have you call for backup," he smiled with feigned patience. "Why a supervisor?"
"I was covering all the bases."
"Because you didn't want it thrown out this time...isn't that it, Officer Malloy? Because you wanted to be certain that your arrest stuck. You had it in for Mr. Mendoza...a vendetta."
"No -" Pete defended.
"I have nothing further for this witness," the young attorney dismissed, returning to the table where his client waited with that same self-satisfied smile.
"Redirect?" the judge asked of Preston.
The prosecution attempted damage control in the next few minutes, by allowing Pete the chance to clarify his actions that night, most notably by letting him finish a sentence. The officer tried to relax, but the cross-examination had severely jangled his already overwrought nerves.
Pete was dismissed from the stand quite quickly once the defense felt their point had been made, preparing the way for the procession of character witnesses who would testify to Hector Mendoza's altruistic pursuits and generous support of culture, education and the arts in the less affluent areas of the community. The young bookkeeper of the Boys and Girls After-School Center argued that the large sum of money discovered in Mendoza's Cadillac on the night in question was actually funds for that organization that the humanitarian was transporting to the bank for deposit. Pete nearly choked, coughing as he tried to control the involuntary restriction in his throat at the disgrace. The judge tapped his gavel and threatened to expel him.
Pete wished he could leave. He'd thought it uncomfortable to witness the reading of his own achievements into the record. But he seriously needed fresh air after three hours of listening to the chorus singing the praises of a man he knew to be a ruthless parasite who preyed on the district, making money on the pain and anguish his illegal activities caused. He also had personal knowledge that the man was a killer. He had ordered Malloy's death, when merely discrediting the officer was not enough for his nefarious purposes. The hoodlums in his apartment, forcing pills and alcohol down his gullet had made certain the officer knew who had ordered his death. Had Hector Mendoza gotten his way, Pete Malloy not only would be dead, but unable to defend the accusations those staged circumstances of his demise would have made against him. His own reputation ruined, the defamation of one of their top officers would have brought shame on the Los Angeles Police Department in the resulting media frenzy. Even though Pete was still drawing breath and would return to active duty as soon as this trial was completed, the fallout would likely continue to haunt both him and the department.
1618 hours...Los Angeles Courthouse...
The courtroom erupted in a cacophony of reactions, the swell of noise all the more jarring for the moment of breathless hush that had proceeded the verdict. Dozens of reporters converged on the doors, making escape impossible.
Pete Malloy sat in the midst of the joy and anger, in stunned silence. Beside him, Sergeant MacDonald shared his surprise with his usual coolness, but Jim Reed had taken to his feet in unspoken outrage.
"I don't believe it," Judy gasped finally, when the muteness of the three policeman before her became unbearable. "What just happened here?"
"We lost a major battle," District Attorney Preston sighed as he hefted his weighty trial case. "And now - we have work to do."
"What?" Jim mouthed, his voice barely audible as he struggled with a growing anger. "What's left? He got off!"
"On these charges..." Preston smiled sympathetically at Pete's desolate stare and up at his partner's frown. "We begin the discovery process on Monday for The State of California vs. Mendoza, et al for charges of assault on a police officer, conspiracy, attempted murder and a whole sheaf of others. As I said...a lot of work."
"So he can get off again, on some technicality? Or make Pete look like the villain?" Jim's hands were now closed in fisted rage.
"He can't win them all." The voice was quiet, but strong. It belonged to Pete Malloy.
Pete was smiling as he and Jim left the courtroom, bravely facing the media circus. He knew that public opinion was still another battle to be fought. There were those outside the force who would always hold his innocence suspect, but he was hopeful that he could more easily regain the trust of his fellow officers.
"Oh, and by the way," Pete said to his partner beside him. "Jimmy's right."
"Right about what?" Jim asked.
"I did," Pete replied, his gray eyes twinkling.
"Did what?" Jim frowned.
"The thing about me hanging the moon," Pete chuckled. "My godson's got it right!"
Jim shook his head, incredulous that Pete had pulled one over on him so easily, but glad to have the old Malloy back. "I'll...eh...make a note of it."
1315 hours...James Reed Residence...Los Angeles...
Pete Malloy pulled into the driveway in front of the Reed's neatly kept ranch a week after the trial, in a royal blue '66 Mustang with a white rag top. The vehicle had spots of primer paint, but it was obvious that the restoration was nearly complete. Actually the only thing needed was the final paint job. Jim and Jean Reed came out to meet Pete. They'd planned a celebratory barbecue. They might have lost the trial, but Malloy was alive, back in uniform, and driving 1-Adam-12; it seemed enough for a bit of rejoicing.
"I thought you were gonna pick up the new car today," Jim greeted him as Pete opened the Mustang's door, and reached in the back and retrieved the things he'd brought.
"I did." Pete's smile went from ear to ear as he leaned against the deep blue fender. "How'd ya like her?"
"Why is it men always refer to their cars as female?" Jean Reed joked, taking some of Pete's burden in her hands as they greeted one another warmly.
"Because..." Pete began, folding his arms across his chest as he prepared to hold forth. Jean's eyes rolled towards Jim in jovial conspiracy at the sound of Pete's pontificating voice. "We find them exciting, enchanting..." Pete winked at his partner. "And expensive!" Jean shook her head at his teasing look.
Jim was still inspecting the vehicle, its left front quarter panel sanded to perfection and covered in primer, ready for paint. "Pete, this car's at least eight years old!"
"Ten," he corrected. "Isn't she great? 271 horsepower Challenger High Performance V8. You should listen to her hum. Heavy duty suspension and 22 to 1 overall steering ratio. Corners like a dream. Limited slip differential, front disc brakes. This baby'll stop on a dime! Inside are individually adjusting deep foam bucket seats with leather-soft all vinyl interior, a deluxe steering wheel, a rally pac with tachometer and clock combination, a push button radio. Outside she's got a convertible top with vinyl Tanneau cover, in perfect condition, deluxe wire wheel covers with knock off hubs, white sidewalls." He finally took a breath, his eyes dancing. "She's just about the perfect car!"
"Pete," Jim said as he pulled his head out from the passenger window where he'd been snooping during Malloy's rhapsodizing. "This is your car!"
"Yeah, that's what I've been saying, partner . Picked it up this morning!" That look of pure joy was still on his face. It was starting to amuse Jean. He was like a kid with a new toy, worse than Jimmy by a long shot!
"No, I mean..." He rounded the hood and faced Pete squarely. "Pete. I recognize a little defect in the headliner just above the passenger side. It's just a little flaw, but it was always right in my line of sight. There couldn't be two of them alike. This is your old Mustang! "
"Isn't it terrific?" Pete's soft gray eyes twinkled.
"I thought you went to buy a new car." Jim was nearing full rant, and Pete seemed to be enjoying it just a little too much. "We looked at the brochures and you'd decided on that Trans Am?" Jim had been harassing Pete for a week, making him drive past every car dealer in their district and bombarding him with catalogs and literature on all the major sports cars available.
"You know, funny thing about that." He slapped his partner's shoulder as they headed to the Reeds' front door, following Jean inside. "I went back to that car lot yesterday to see Benny. He showed me this brand new, 1976 Trans Am, turbo 400, silver metallic, honeycomb wheels, screaming chicken logo on the hood."
"Like the brochure?" Jim agreed, still confused as to why there was a ten-year-old car in front of his house.
"Yeah, well I took it for a test drive," Pete drawled. "Great little car, handles real nice, plenty of power under the hood."
"Uh huh?" Jim was starting to get annoyed. "So what happened?"
"Well, I brought it back and Benny went into the showroom to answer a phone call and have the manager start the paperwork. While he was gone, I started wandering around at the back of the lot, just looking, you know, and can you believe it? I mean, I traded her years ago! What are the odds that I'd find her again?" Malloy's face was permanently lit with the excitement. Jean escaped to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on lunch. "And she's in great shape. The guy who had her was in the middle of a restoration when his wife informed him they were having twins. He traded her on a brand new station wagon, one of those with the woodgrain on the side...you know." Pete rolled his eyes in mock disgust to Jean's playful glare. "The guy had just overhauled the engine. I only have to get her painted. I'm thinking ...the same original Midnight Blue. I called Mac's brother from the dealership and set up a time. It's a sweet car, Jim. You mark my words, she's gonna be a classic!"
"You bought your old car back?" Jim shook his head. "You went there to get a brand new Trans Am and you came home with your own used car?"
"I always loved that car, Jim," Pete said with a twinkle in his eye.
"You know, Malloy," Jim laughed, heading into the kitchen for a beer, with his partner in tow. "You're starting to worry me. You're getting squirrelly in your old age, partner!"
Thanks to Cathy for invaluable help on this one (can you believe we're finally finished?) and for never letting me get away with ANYTHING! <g> To Lee for reading and understanding. To Debbie, who's a good friend even if she isn't an Adam 12 fan, for the resource materials on the medical references.
And as always, to the Adam 12 writers, Messrs. Webb, Cinader, McCord, Boyett and this time especially...Milner...for creating characters that are just too much fun to play with for us to put all the toys away...just yet.