That Most Brutal Teacher
by Kate Webster
"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn."
- C. S. Lewis
The paper targets took each piercing blow, recording his accuracy. It hadn't been a stunning performance.
The lights came up in the silence that followed the round of shooting. The line of officers removed their ear protection, emptied the spent rounds and reloaded.
He felt the pounding in his head again. Jim had the mother of all head colds. He pulled a tissue from his slacks pocket and blew his dripping nose. He was miserable and looking at those paper targets wasn't making him feel one bit better.
They began calling out the scores from the opposite end of the line. Jim's partner Pete Malloy was just before him, standing to Jim's right.
"Malloy. One hundred. One hundred. And, one hundred! Excellent, Malloy!" the proctor commented, his face showing his surprise at the rare perfect score.
"Impressive, Pete!" Detective Sergeant Jerry Miller smiled as he approached from behind the officer, ready to take his position for the next round of qualifiers. "Mind if I take your spot? I could use a bit of luck."
"You dicks don't get enough experience on the streets," Pete joked as he packed his weapon in the leather case.
"Actually, it's piano lessons and dance recitals that keep me off the range too much these days," Jerry chuckled. "Hannah is seven now and she's got a social life I'd have envied at twenty-five."
"You went straight into the Army at seventeen, Jerry. You married your high school sweetheart. You never had a social life."
"Jealous, Malloy?" Miller cracked as he unzipped his own gun case.
"Not on your life!" Pete laughed out loud.
"I could've used the luck," Jim groused, leaning against the dividing wall.
"Reed," the proctor called out. "Seventy-five. Eighty. Sixty-five."
"Ouch," Miller said under his breath as he loaded his duty weapon. Malloy flashed him a warning glance before turning to his partner.
"You ready?" Pete made his voice as light as possible.
"Yeah," Jim shrugged, his dismal mood showing. He wished he could just go home, crawl into bed and forget this whole day. Jim hated being sick.
"Well, let's go. I gotta stop by Barney's and pick up that new leather duty jacket before watch. You want me to drop you by the station before I go, since you're feeling rough?"
"Don't patronize me, Pete. I'm not in the mood."
"Whoa!" his partner cautioned. "I'm just trying to be helpful."
"Are you sure you're up to working tonight?"
"I'm fine," Jim struggled to keep his sore nose from exploding. "Let's just go, huh?"
"Sure, partner," Pete agreed, opening the door that led to the parking lot. "But I'm not quite sure which of the Seven Dwarves I'm riding with: Sneezy or Grumpy."
"I guess that'd make you Dopey, huh."
"Man, you are cranky today. D'ya get any sleep at all?"
"I was up coughing most of the night."
"I should take you straight home to Jean."
"Stop nagging me, Pete."
"I swear, Reed," Pete continued as he unlocked the door of his restored midnight blue Mustang. "I've seen a hungry dog with a bone more willing to let it go than you."
"Let what go? My awful scores?"
"If that's what's bugging you, yeah."
"I've never shot that badly...even at the academy."
"It's probably that head cold," Pete reasoned with sympathy. "I'm surprised you can walk straight."
"Yeah, well don't worry about it...with your perfect score you can carry me, I suppose," Jim let a little sarcasm in his tone. With that monster cold, he could hardly be expected to control how he sounded.
"Thanks! I was wondering if you were gonna ever congratulate me."
"Pretty proud of yourself, are you?"
"Yeah, I am," Pete beamed. "Do you realize the last time somebody scored three one-hundreds?"
"Okay, okay...you're the king of the range!"
"Jim...give it a rest! You had a bad day and I happened to have a really good one. Who cares? You qualified, that's what matters."
"I lost my brass."
Pete had been hoping they wouldn't have to have this conversation yet. Jim was already in a bad enough mood. "There's another day to qualify. You can reshoot and use those scores. I'll even come out with you if you want."
"Why?" Jim blew his nose. "You can't do better than three one-hundreds."
"It's gonna be a long night."
Jim was sullen as the partners dressed amid the raucous locker room banter. Pete stayed low key, but still remained the center of attention because of his perfect score at the range. News traveled faster in the LAPD than in most small rural communities. He walked a thin line between polite acknowledgment of his co-workers' jovial congratulations and deflecting the comments altogether in sympathy for his partner's mood. When Ed Wells came in with his own wicked brand of sarcasm and started up the talk about the range again, Jim was pushed to the end of his endurance. He slammed his locker shut and grabbed his gear, his shirt tail still flapping and marched out the door.
Pete sank to the bench. He really wished Jim would go home tonight. He knew he wasn't feeling well and this thing with the shooting range seemed to have him rattled. It was going to be a tricky shift, surfing Jim's mood. He dropped his head, slipping into his duty shoes and tying the laces as he tried to sort out his partner's predicament.
When Pete entered the roll call room, Jim was already sitting against the far wall, beside Rusty Benning, the permanent desk officer. Sure his partner was already pretty tired of hearing about that perfect score at the range, and a little bored with it himself at this point, Pete found a seat in the second row. He decided to give Jim his space for a while and hope he found a way to shake this off.
Forty-five minutes into their shift they hadn't said ten words to each other. They'd checked out the shotgun and 1-Adam-12 in complete silence, stowed their gear without comment and hit the road accompanied only by the sound of the radio in the background. Pete decided to let Jim stew a while until he needed to talk and then take his lead from whatever cues his partner gave. But when they'd handled two calls and still Jim had said nothing, Pete started to wonder if he wouldn't have gotten more conversation in an L-car.
They were leaving the scene of a domestic dispute when Jim made a comment under his breath. Pete wasn't sure he was meant to respond, but he took the opportunity.
"I hate those calls," he stated as he tossed his hat on the seat and slid behind the wheel. "I don't know why people can't either get along, or move on."
"You don't just give up on marriage because you have a few disagreements. You learn to work things out." Jim stated with a twinge of anger in his tone. "But I suppose things look pretty black and white to a bachelor who can't even stay in a steady relationship."
"I swear, Reed, you're more upset that Judy and I didn't work out than we are."
"I still can't believe you bailed as soon as it started to get serious, like she was going to pin your wings down under glass. Marriage isn't so horrible, you know. You might even like it."
"I plan to give it a go one of these days," Pete chuckled. "And hey, we're still friends. David's on my Little League team this year." He turned the key and moved into traffic. "Besides...Judy and Frank seem really happy. He's not such a bad guy, gets along great with David and he isn't quite so likely to get himself shot!"
"He's an insurance salesman, isn't he?" Jim asked seriously, but something about the timing of the question set Pete to laughing.
"You got a point there, partner." It took Jim a moment to catch the humor, but when he did, he only shook his head with an ironic smile on his face.
"You gonna clear us?" Pete reminded.
Jim looked annoyed again, though Pete figured that this time it was directed more at his own forgetfulness. He picked up the mic and advised dispatch of their status, but he ended the broadcast with a wheeze and a cough. It reminded Pete of a really funny old commercial for some cold remedy product, but he couldn't recall the brand name. If he hadn't been sure his friend was achy and suffering, the connection would have been laughable.
"You feeling any better, partner?" Pete asked after putting another ten blocks between them and the family dispute.
"I'm fine," Jim said tightly. Miserable was the word that came to Pete's mind. He still sounded really congested.
"You wanna stop and get a cup of hot tea or anything?"
"Just drive, would you?" Jim whined, wiping his already sore nose.
"Hey. I just thought--"
"I don't need you coddling me like some ol' lady." Jim blew his nose. "It just makes it worse, okay? So lay off, huh?"
"You got it," Pete answered, swallowing what he really wanted to say. He'd give him a wide berth tonight, but Jim was quickly pushing the limit. He knew his partner felt rotten physically and Jim hated not being one hundred percent. He seemed to take his own basic human frailty as a character flaw. Pete was also keenly aware that Jim was dwelling on his failure at the range. And Jim could dwell better than anyone.
Pete resigned himself to a long silent shift, determined to keep his own feelings out of it and just be ready for any opening. He kept stealing glances at his partner, gauging his mood and perhaps more importantly the true state of his health. Jim pulled out a paper from his inside jacket pocket and started reading in the dim light from the desk on the dash.
"What's that? A bulletin?"
"No," Jim sniffed, retrieving a tissue from his hip pocket, obviously not intending to elaborate.
"So, you gonna fill me in here, or leave me in the dark?" Pete prodded with a smile.
"You wouldn't be interested," he mumbled, his head still bent at the paper. Jim blew his nose noisily and his partner winced, wishing he could wave a magic wand and take away that nasty head cold.
"Then I take it it's not work related."
"What?" The annoyed reply came amid another coughing jag.
"The paper," Pete winked. He'd pester Jim into talking if need be. He knew Jim Reed well enough to know that silence was a warning sign, and if he could get him to talk it would be to both their advantage. "If it's something to do with work, then of course I'm interested. I rely on you to keep me informed and on my toes."
"It's the posting for the Investigators I exam next month."
"Oh," Pete took the surly tone in stride. Everyone got a little grumpy when they were sick, but his partner had it down to a science. "You thinking about taking the test?"
There was no answer from the passenger side of the black and white.
"So you think you'd like to be a detective, huh?" Pete tried again.
"Maybe," Jim sniffed. "You saying I don't have a chance?"
"No," Pete protested with a chuckle, a little surprised at Jim's response, even considering his dismal mood. "Not at all, partner."
"So what do you think?"
"I think," Pete took a breath, calming himself before continuing. "I think you have great instincts, and if that's what you want to do..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jim cut him off.
"It doesn't mean anything, Jim." Pete gripped the steering wheel a little tighter than usual. "Forget it."
"No," Jim insisted. "Tell me what you think."
You really don't want me to do that right now, partner. Pete plastered a neutral expression on his face and replied in a voice that sounded calmer than it was. "I did. I am. If you want to be a detective, go for it!"
"Just because you don't."
"We're not talking about me," Pete said with a great deal of restraint. "You're the one taking the exam."
"And you think that's a mistake?"
"I never said anything like that," Pete defended. "I think you'd make a good detective. You've always had an interest in that direction. Might be right up your alley. Jerry Miller seems happy at it."
"And we shoot about the same," Jim mumbled pitifully.
Pete sighed, wishing they could get off the subject of the range. "Maybe you should talk to Jerry. He might be able to answer some of your questions."
"I don't know why you haven't taken it before."
"I like what I'm doing now. It's why I became a cop." Pete smiled. "And I look dashing in the uniform."
Instead of the expected laughter, Jim fell silent again. Or at least as silent as one can be while blowing his nose. A part of him knew Pete was just trying to cajole, to pull him out of the dumps, but he was too miserable to comply.
"What's wrong with being a detective?" Jim asked sometime later.
"For you?" Pete shrugged. "Nothing, partner. I'm all for it."
"It's a step up. A better job," he reasoned. "I have obligations. A family to think about, a house that needs a new roof and something breaks every other day, a kid to put through college..."
"I thought my godson was going to get a basketball scholarship?" Pete tried to detour the conversation with a bit of humor.
"You can't count on things like that," Jim said through the stuffiness of his head. "Kids are a responsibility. You have to plan for the future."
"I understand that."
"No, I don't think you do," he replied. "You don't have in-laws wondering why your bank account isn't fatter, why you're still working vampire hours or the only one who can't make it to the family reunion this year."
"Jim, if you want to take the exam, take it." Pete interrupted with irritation seeping into his voice. He took another in a long line of deep breaths, reminding himself yet again that Jim was sick and obviously stressed about something. His next words were patient and sincere. "I hope you do well. I'm sure you will."
"Now you're patronizing me!" Jim totally misunderstood.
"I'm..." Pete blew out a frustrated breath. You are SO close, buddy! "I'm not, Jim. Let's just forget it, huh?"
"Well, you asked."
"Jim," Pete sighed audibly. "Look, why don't we see if we can get seven, huh? Maybe you'll feel better if you eat something. A bowl of soup or..."
"Will you get off it, Pete?" Jim grumbled. "I don't need a nursemaid."
"What you need is a good night's sleep!"
"Just leave me alone," Jim pulled his jacket more tightly around him. "I told you I was fine."
"Sure, Jim." Pete turned back to the road with a shrug. They drove in silence for twenty minutes before Jim spoke again, the tension thicker than the smog over Los Angeles.
"It isn't just the money," he said without preamble. "I went to college, Pete."
So that was it. Pete had been a cop long enough to know that it wasn't a prestige job, and some times that was harder to take than others. Pete had gone to college himself, though it hadn't been straight out of high school like his partner. He'd taken the military detour first and after a few semesters, he'd quit to take the job with the police department. He'd gone back a couple of years later, part-time when he could fit the classes into his work schedule. He hadn't graduated yet, but he did plan to finish one day.
"I want the chance to make something of myself."
"You are something, Jim," Pete said with real conviction. "You're a damn good cop."
"I had potential. More potential than that," Jim asserted, punctuating the comment with another cough and a sneeze.
"Oh, I know you're way smarter than the rest of us dumb street cops," Pete snapped, dangerously near the end of the rope he was giving his partner.
The radio interrupted what promised to be a doozy of an argument.
"All cars and 1-Adam-12...a 211 in progress, 4271 Los Alamos Drive at the market. Possible hostage situation inside. 1-Adam-12, handle code three."
"1-Adam-12, roger." Jim replaced the mic as Pete hit the toggle for the siren and overhead reds and the black and white sped up, suddenly all business again.
Fourteen blocks later, Pete killed the siren, turning the black and white in at the curb about twenty feet from the market's entrance. Jim unfastened the shotgun but as he pulled it from the rack, Pete grabbed it, giving the order for Reed to cover the entrance from behind the passenger door of the cruiser. In the next moment Pete was out his side of the car, shotgun leveled at the lighted doorway, waiting.
A tall skinny suspect emerged, carrying an automatic handgun that looked appreciably larger against his gaunt frame. He also held a small duffle bag, but no hostage in sight. Pete felt himself relax one notch at not having that immediate complication.
"Freeze! Police!" Pete bellowed, his voice steady and clear. The scarecrow of a man wheeled in his direction and fired off a series of shots that sent the patrolman into a crouch behind his opened car door. He returned fire in the next second. Less than a breath had passed but it was enough. The suspect took off down the street, the lanky man apparently able to avoid Pete's bullets by slipping in between them.
Jim was off in foot pursuit so quickly, Pete had to raise the muzzle of the shotgun to assure that he didn't shoot his partner as he streaked across his line of sight. He uncocked the gun and followed at a sprint. Knowing how sick Jim was Pete figured his friend could barely breathe. How he was running in the damp night air was beyond him.
Jim tackled the perpetrator a few blocks from the market, the two of them landing in a pile of disassembled cardboard boxes next to a dumpster behind another commercial building. Jim was cuffing him when Pete caught up with them. The older officer pulled the notebook from his breast pocket and began reading the Miranda, grabbing the guy when he noticed that Jim was breathing pretty hard and still hadn't caught his breath. He handed the prisoner off to Woods' partner who'd followed them in 1-Adam-37 and then turned back to see about his partner.
"You okay?" Pete asked, concern lining his face when he found his partner nearly doubled over, the victim of a wracking coughing fit. Jim shrugged off the hand that had made its way to his shoulder. "Hey! I was just making sure you were still alive. It's my job, you know!"
"Would you..." Jim jerked out of Pete's grasp. "I said I'm fine!"
"Fine." Pete threw up a hand in surrender.
"Fine!" Jim spat back, turning on his heel and heading back to the cruiser.
"Hey, Pete," Jerry Woods caught up to him as Malloy made his way to the unit parked at the curb. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah, Jerry, we're fine," Pete lied.
"Pete," Woods grabbed Pete's arm in a friendly gesture of restraint. "Maybe it's none of my business, but, you and Reed..."
"It's okay, Jerry. Jim's a little under the weather, that's all."
"I'd sure hate for you guys to have a problem."
Pete saw the sympathetic look in his old friend's eyes. He knew what Jerry meant. Partners had to rely on each other so much sometimes that even the slightest misunderstanding could be cause for concern.
"We'll be fine, Jerry. Thanks." Pete started again for the car.
"What's the matter, Malloy?" Ed Wells called after him. "Trouble in paradise?"
"Can it, Ed," Pete cut him off, shouldering the shotgun as he turned his back on Wells.
"Sounds like there's a bit of friction in 1-Adam-12 tonight," the shorter officer goaded. "You two having a little lovers' quarrel?"
"I'm warning you, Ed." But as he circled the front of the cruiser, Pete decided it was high time to get this aberration under control. He opened the door and slid behind the wheel, handing Jim the shotgun.
"Are you sure you trust me to secure it?" Jim sniped. "You certainly grabbed it from me quick enough back there."
"Sure?" Pete repeated, his face turning red with frustration and anger kept just barely in check. "No, I'm not sure at all. I just figured if you wanted to take a shot at me, I'd give you the best chance at close range."
"Why? Cause I couldn't hit the side of a barn? Is that what you think?"
"Jim!" Pete turned away, put the key in the ignition and started the engine, his foot pressing down on the accelerator, racing it. He slammed it into gear and pulled away from the curb, silent but fuming. Pete knew better than to drive when he was angry, but he wasn't about to have this conversation within earshot of any of their brother officers.
Pete thought over the whole day, back to the phone call this afternoon when he and Jim had agreed to meet at the station before going to the range to qualify. He remembered a little tension in Jean's voice when she answered, but at the time he'd chalked it up to Jim's sickness setting the entire household on edge. Now he wasn't so sure there hadn't been more behind her tone. Maybe his partner's bad day had started long before his unfortunate showing at the range.
"Look," he finally broached the subject again, when he'd gotten some distance from both the scene and his own anger. "You got two choices...we go back to the station and you go home and have Jean take care of what ails you, or we get seven and talk this thing out. Now what's it gonna be?"
"Don't pull rank, Malloy," He slouched in the seat, digging in his pocket for a tissue again. Pete felt about three inches tall, bullying Jim while he was sick, but they had to get this straightened out.
"I'm not pulling anything," Pete's voice was even, his patience exaggerated to disguise its thinness. "I'm just worried that you're really not up to this tonight."
"You're not my training officer anymore," Jim wiped his already red and swollen nose and fished a cough drop out of his pocket. "Maybe I'm ready to move on."
"Right now you look ready to pass on, partner. You have to feel miserable!" Pete said with sincerity hiding behind a chuckle. "'Cause you sure look terrible!"
"You think every problem can be cured with humor." Jim complained, nearly spitting out the cough drop as he spoke. "Well, life is serious, Malloy. Maybe if you'd ever settle down, get married and take on some real responsibility, then you'd understand."
Dispatch broke through the tension between the two men in the cruiser. "All units in the vicinity and 1-Adam-12, a 415 fight group with juveniles, at the stadium, Los Angeles City College, 855 Vermont. Shots fired. 1-Adam-12, handle code three."
Pete hit the siren and the reds and swung the black and white in a tight circle as he headed back the way they'd come. There had been a rock and roll concert at the stadium tonight. Hundreds of kids were expected. It was likely there had been drugs, and it sounded like they'd hit more than a few sour notes. Jim picked up the microphone and acknowledged the call, cutting himself short as another wave of coughing hit.
"At the risk of getting my head bit off here," Pete began, breaking his usual rule of silent concentration while responding to a call. "Are you sure you can handle this, Jim?"
"Just drive," Jim answered tersely. "I'm not your responsibility anymore. I'm all grown up."
Well, you're acting about three years old there, my friend, Pete thought with a shake of his head. And the day you cease being my responsibility will be the day you have to find a new partner.
Malloy wheeled the black and white onto a busy Melrose Avenue.
"I thought the call was 855 Vermont," Jim commented through another bout of blowing his nose.
"The campus police and administration building are on the Heliotrope side," Pete replied. "We'll start there. Have 1-Adam-16 take Vermont, and the next two cruisers to respond should set up at the Monroe Street entrances."
Jim picked up the mic and began coordinating the responding vehicles as Adam-12 turned off Melrose Avenue onto Heliotrope. The lights from the row of bungalows illuminated a mass of panicked students fleeing the campus across the street in front of the cruiser.
"We'll need to set up a command center if campus police haven't already," Pete continued, planning their strategy. "Mac's probably on his way, but he's coming from the station and by the looks of things we can't wait for him."
Reed and Malloy burst from the car almost before it had stopped and ran for the makeshift barricade made up of two county cruisers. A handful of campus police were huddled behind the open doors, taking cover from flying rocks, bottles and other debris.
The rioters had effectively blocked off the administration building and were breaking out windows and lights, leaving a mine field of glass and debris on the darkened quad. The scene was one of mass confusion, the instigators hurling whatever they could get their hands on, turning ordinary objects into projectile weapons.
After a quick conference with the deputies, Pete sent Jim around the administration building to coordinate with the other LAPD units on Monroe and then approach the disturbance on the quad from behind the library. The main problem seemed to be directly in front of the administration building, much too close to the campus police headquarters for it to be a strategic location. Pete hastily sketched on a campus map notations of the various deployed LAPD units and left the paper with Lieutenant Ward of the campus police. Then he set off himself at a run down an access road between the theater building and the gymnasium. He had noticed what looked like the perfect vantage point and he meant to get there and try to get this mess under control.
A shot rang out from across the quad as Pete reached the location he'd scouted. He ducked behind a concrete screen and pulled his gun from its holster. There was more gunfire in front of the administration building; screams of the running students and the shouts of demonstrators reverberated in the night. The situation had just escalated dramatically. Pete wondered where Jim was positioned and if he was close to the shooting. He hoped his partner was up for this and that he could keep his head, make the quick decisions necessary in the midst of such chaos. Normally he might have worried about Jim's safety, only because they were separated, but tonight his thoughts were much darker than usual. Jim's head cold and mood put Pete on red alert.
MacDonald arrived a full three minutes behind the other units, the situation in front of the administration building already at a frenzied high. The sergeant was directed to the command center, such as it was, and met with Lieutenant Ward, the officer in charge of the campus police. The Lieutenant shoved Pete's map into Mac's hands as he gave hurried directions down the winding access road between the theater and Jefferson Hall. It was the one artery not blocked by a police vehicle, and that location gave a clear view of the entire quad. MacDonald wasted no time in driving his station wagon around the narrow roadway between the buildings, cutting his lights and parking at an angle in front of one of the landscaped islands.
As he opened the driver's door a bullet shattered the window in front of him. Mac dove out and onto the ground, hunkering down behind the open door, using it as a shield as he trained his weapon on the dimly lit quad. Most of the lights had been broken, leaving shadowy pools of obstructed visibility. Another bullet whizzed past Mac's ear; that time he saw the direction of the flash and returned fire toward the clump of trees the rioters were using for cover as they opened fire on the black and white.
There was more gunfire from the area to Mac's left, the library and the administration building. Mac emptied his gun and quickly reloaded. A tiny comet arched through the night as a Molotov cocktail was lobbed at the front of the library. The explosion sent people shrieking in all directions, flushing them from hiding and exposing new victims to the gunfire and projectile weapons still flying through the darkness. Mac reached for the microphone, flipping the toggle to public address.
"This is the police!" he announced, his voice held a practiced calm despite the fact that they had the makings of a full fledged riot on their hands.
All of Mac's officers had reported in at the command center or were accounted for by others, explaining where they were securing prisoners or assisting the ambulance crews with injured civilians. All except one. Pete Malloy was conspicuously absent.
Before Mac arrived on the scene, Pete had taken charge of the initial deployment, coordinating the responding officers amidst the mass confusion in the quad. And according to the sketch he'd given Lieutenant Ward, Pete should have been on the far side of the theater building, between that corner and Jefferson Hall. But that's where Mac had stopped his station wagon, and there had been nobody in that quadrant. Even now that the disturbance was quelled, there was no movement from that area. Mac had gone by that section after the shooting subsided, on his way back across the quad to the command center near the campus police headquarters. If Pete had been there, he would have seen him. There must have been a problem that pulled Malloy from the position he'd planned, but what was keeping him from checking in at the command center? Mac handed the clipboard to Ed Wells and headed off in the direction he should find Pete.
It was dark. Most of the lights had been taken out by rocks, bullets and other flying objects. The quad was littered with shattered bottles and other debris. Broken glass sparkled in the beam of his flashlight and crunched under his feet. Mac scanned the area for the missing officer, his gut churning at the thought he kept pushing down. Pete Malloy was a pro. He knew the procedure and there was nothing that would keep him from reporting back to the command center, either in person or at least by sending a message through one of the other officers. Yet he hadn't, and that had Mac worried.
There had been a lot of gunfire tonight and more than a few airborne projectiles. If Pete had been struck by flying debris, or hit by a bullet, he could be seriously injured and alone in the darkened quad. It was the only explanation for his absence that made any sense, but Mac found himself praying that there was some other reason that Pete had failed to show at the command center. He tried to calm his fears by planning the strongly worded lecture he'd give the old veteran about the basics.
The light on the theater building's entrance had been shot out, the area barely visible outside the beam of his flashlight. Mac fought down the creeping feeling of dread as he approached the quadrant that on the map had been marked Malloy in Pete's distinctive tiny block letters. And according to the sketch he had given to Ward, Pete should have been east of the theater. Yet there was no movement from that area, no trace of figures in the shadowy half-light. No sign of the senior lead officer.
Something bright glinted in the beam of the flashlight, catching Mac's attention. A dark figure lay sprawled on the steps, partially hidden by the decorative concrete screen, still and silent. Mac felt the hot sting in the back of his throat, the bitter taste of fear. Please God! Not Pete! He moved closer, quickening his steps, shining the beam again in the direction of the body.
His flashlight bounced off the shiny oval of an LAPD badge, recognizable even at that distance, and a service revolver still clutched in the hand lying across the chest of the prone figure. The light caught the frighteningly pale face, a dark pool of blood on the stair beneath the sandy blonde head. Mac stopped in his tracks, the scene before him sending cold terror to his very core. His worst fear lay a few yards in front of him. Pete Malloy was dead.
Mac shook off the paralyzing image and moved toward the body, instincts automatically kicking in as he fought down the feelings that would make the duty ahead impossible. Something moved. The shaky hand that still held desperately to the gun was now pointing the weapon vaguely in Mac's direction.
Mac froze. He fought off the shuddering cold that ran through his body at the sight. He didn't know whether he was more relieved that Pete could still be alive or concerned that he was injured and probably incoherent, wielding a weapon.
"Pete. It's a four. It's over," he called. There was no answer, but the gun was lowered slowly to Pete's chest. His grip on it seemed to lessen.
Mac mounted the stairs cautiously. Pete's face was pale, even more so against the dark red spreading down the side. He was bathed in sweat and breathing hard. It was more than apparent that he was in pain.
"Pete. It's me, Mac," he said tenderly, fighting the fear gripping at his heart.
"Mac?" The word was more breath than sound.
"Yeah, Pete." He dropped to one knee beside his fallen friend. "It's a four. Give me your gun."
"Jim?" Pete rasped, finally surrendering his weapon into his sergeant's gentle hand. "Is he...okay?"
"I'm sure he's fine, Pete. Just relax and worry about yourself right now." Mac turned in the direction of the command post, several yards beyond. "Get an ambulance! I've got an officer down!"
"Mac!" Pete's unfocused gaze was suddenly direct and determined. "Find...Reed!"
"Malloy," MacDonald gripped his friend's shoulder as Pete struggled to sit up. Mac lowered him to the ground, moving his head to a more comfortable angle, away from the steps. "I don't have any report that Reed's in any danger. I'll look for him after I get you into an ambulance."
"What hit me?" Pete asked in a whisper, a shaking hand moving weakly to his face. "It felt like..." His words drifted off as his eyes fell shut again.
"Pete," Mac pulled a white handkerchief from his back pocket and placed it against the blood stained face of his friend, fighting emotions he'd never admit. "I'm afraid you took a bullet."
Pete focused on Mac's misting eyes again, the unspoken question clear. Mac turned and summoned anyone near enough to hear his voice. "Get an ambulance over here on the double!"
"Mac... musta... grazed me..." Pete rationalized. "It's... just a... scratch."
The sergeant knew the words were meant to comfort the worry Pete must have seen in his eyes. He understood the logic of his friend's's self-diagnosis; a bullet to the head was deadly; there was no other option. So if he'd taken a shot to the head and lived, it must have glanced off. Merely a surface wound.
Logic aside, Mac knew the truth. Pete was lying in a pool of his own blood, a gunshot to the side of his head, and yet he still clung to life. But for how long?
"We're gonna get you to the hospital, Pete," Mac promised, pushing down the hopelessness he felt at the gesture. "Just lie there and rest."
"Jim... could be... in trouble... Mac..." Pete nearly whispered, the pain throbbing in his head, getting worse with each breath. "He's been sick... all night. See... he's all right."
"Pete." Mac wanted to comfort his friend's concern for his partner, but his own fears were more immediate. He didn't want to watch the man bleed to death in his arms.
"Make sure... my partner....is okay," Pete forced through clenched teeth as the world started to spin and go black.
"Pete," Mac called as he watched Malloy lose his struggle to hold onto consciousness. "Woods! Tell that ambulance to step it up!" He prayed it wasn't a futile exercise.
"Whatcha got, Mac?" Jerry asked, stuffing another suspect into the back of a black and white.
"Pete's been shot!" Mac replied with impatience, hovering over his friend on the ground. "Just do what I told you, huh?"
Across the quad, beside the library, Jim Reed deposited two more handcuffed prisoners with the transport vehicles that had arrived, and headed past the administration building to the command post.
"You seen Pete?" he asked Ed Wells, who he found leaning against one of the county cruisers.
"Not since you two were snapping each others' heads off," Wells jibed. "You check in yet, Reed?" He consulted the list and saw a checkmark by Reed's name.
"Yeah, Walters said he'd check me in while I was rounding up those guys. Where's Mac?"
"He went off looking for some joker that didn't check in yet," Wells sighed. "Left me here to hold down the fort. I haven't even had seven yet and--"
"Did Pete check in?" Jim felt a prickly fear at the back of his neck, watching Ed Wells run a finger down the list a second time.
"Doesn't look like it." He shook his head. "Must be who Mac went after. Wouldn't wanna be Pete."
Jim didn't wait for him to finish that thought, but headed off in the direction Pete had said he would take, around the back of the theater building and down an access road between that and Jefferson Hall.
Mac's station wagon was sitting at an angle where the road opened onto the quad. Jim's flashlight shone on the white driver's door, a bullet hole evident even in the dim lighting. The shattered windshield sparkled in the beam. Jim wondered if Mac had been hit, though he hadn't heard anything about it and he thought that even Ed Wells would have mentioned that.
The sound of running footsteps on the gritty debris-strewn walk made the sergeant turn away from his injured officer a moment. Jim Reed was coming across the quad at a frantic pace, gun still in his hand.
"Mac?" Reed panted as he skidded to a stop above them.
In the beam of Mac's flashlight, Jim was every bit as pale as his partner, but two bright red apples flushed on his cheeks, and his nose was doing a pretty convincing impression of a famous reindeer. It all served to make his pallor more pronounced and worrisome.
Pete wasn't kidding Mac thought solemnly. Reed was obviously sick and the tension and activity of the last half hour had done nothing to help his condition.
"Reed," MacDonald tried to distract him quickly. "Go check on that ambulance, will you?"
"Pete!" Reed fell to his knees on the hard, cold concrete, ignoring the order, what color was left in his face draining rapidly. Mac feared he'd have two casualties in a moment. "What happened?" The younger officer's voice was barely a whisper, his eyes fixed on his partner's still, blood-soaked face.
"Pete was hit, Jim," Mac said guardedly. "And he just passed out." He was barely holding his own emotions in check; there was no way he could deal with Jim's grief and still function. He had to keep Jim calm.
"Pete." Jim bent to touch Pete's arm, lying limply across his chest. "Oh God! Pete, talk to me."
"Reed," came the hushed reply. "You....okay?" Pete's eyes flickered open, unfocused and watery. "Don't hit me... huh? Just... checking."
"Stop worrying about me, would you?" Jim choked back the fear he felt at seeing so much blood. He suddenly regretted the harsh words that had passed between them tonight. He knew his friend had just been concerned about him, as he was about Pete at the moment. If anything happens to you, partner... "What happened?"
"I bobbed... when I shoulda weaved... I guess," Pete tried to smile. He seemed to be coming around a little more, but Mac still regarded him with that worried frown. Jim lifted Pete's head from the littered stairs and placed it carefully on his lap.
"You hit any place besides--" Jim couldn't finish, his own face a study in fear.
"I think.... this'll be... enough," Pete quipped. "Would you not... look at me... like that? Just... grazed me.... I'll live."
"Course you will," Mac sniffed, sounding more certain than he felt. "Woods!"
"They're pullin' up now, Sarge!" Jerry replied.
"Stay with him," MacDonald ordered Reed, though it was hardly necessary. "I'm going to get them over here."
"Pete," Jim blinked, feeling the aftermath of the adrenaline rush as his body began to crash. "I'm sorry, about tonight and all."
"Don't you dare," Pete shook his head weakly. "You're not getting off that easily." He drew in a ragged breath. "We're having this discussion... when I'm not... fighting to stay awake... you hear me?"
"I wanna be strong enough... to yell at you... properly," Pete continued, that lopsided smile still evident on his frighteningly pale face.
"I just wish..."
"Look," Pete struggled, as the ambulance attendants approached with a stretcher. "Help me sit up, huh?"
Jim shook his head.
"Come on," he begged. "I don't wanna be lying here.... It's just a scratch..."
The look in Pete's eyes made Jim reluctantly oblige the request. He knew Pete didn't want to be found looking helpless, and it made him relax just a bit to know his friend could still care about such things. That might be a good sign.
"And will you do me one more favor, and go home?" Pete urged his partner as Mac knelt beside him again.
"That's not gonna happen, and you know it," Jim smiled sadly. "Reports to write, shooting team, detectives, a re-enactment."
"At least... get him some hot tea... or soup or... something, Mac," Pete protested, trying to ignore the techs applying a blood pressure cuff to his arm, and a compress to his forehead to slow the bleeding. "He oughta be in bed."
"I'd say you both look like a bed is in your immediate future," Mac observed, his hand on Pete's left shoulder. Since he'd first found him, Pete seemed to be stronger and Mac wanted to believe that meant his friend had been right about the bullet only grazing him. But there was an awful lot of blood. Way too much blood. And he had his suspicions that most of Pete's bravado was an act for Jim's benefit.
"I'll stop by the hospital as soon as they cut me loose here," Jim promised while the crew loaded Pete's stretcher into the back of the ambulance.
"Go home!" Pete objected.
"Hey, I thought you weren't going to argue with me till you felt better," Jim laughed nervously.
"I could make an exception," he sighed, lying back against the pillow as his strength ebbed again.
"I'll see you soon," Jim asserted, squeezing Pete's hand. He couldn't even remember taking it in his, but now it worried him how cold it felt.
"Pete," Mac leaned into the ambulance. "I'm sending Cody with you, to be liaison from the hospital to us."
"Cody?" Pete grimaced. Jeff Cody was a rookie, on his second night of patrol. He and Brinkman's unit had pulled up after the shooting had ended and most of the suspects were already in custody.
"He'll be more use to me there than standing around here wondering what to do," Mac smiled.
"Gee thanks, Mac," Pete winced again, only this time it was from the pain. "I take a crack on the head... and you're giving me a rookie... to look after."
"That way I know you'll stick around to keep an eye on him," Mac admitted.
"I swear, Mac," Pete raised his hand in a weak attempt at joking. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Of course not," the sergeant nodded. "'Cause Cody's gonna be looking after you."
The fresh-faced kid came running, having gotten the summons that MacDonald wanted him for a special detail.
"Yes, sir," he drawled in that Texas twang of his after the sergeant had briefly outlined his duties. He jumped into the back of the ambulance.
"We'll get the guy who did this, Pete," Jim's eyes held more than just worry. "I promise you, he'll pay."
Jim and Mac closed the doors and the ambulance took off with siren blaring.
The medic began swabbing the site with antiseptic, his brow furrowing.
"How's it look?" Pete asked weakly.
"Head wounds always look worse, you know," the medic smiled tightly as he continued, eyes not quite meeting his patient's. "They bleed so quickly, make it look really bad when it's just surface." But despite his assurances, there was something about the wound that said the bullet hadn't glanced off as Pete kept insisting. It was still in there, which meant it would have to come out.
"Unofficially, it could have been a lot worse." The young medic applied a fresh square of gauze to the site to try to slow the bleeding. "You feeling all right? Not dizzy or shocky or anything?"
"I guess I winked out there for a moment at the scene," Pete replied. "Then I felt a little better, but..."
"It's okay," the medic urged gently. "You can tell me. I promise to keep it quiet."
"I feel like the world is spinning," Pete admitted through the oppressive dryness in his mouth.
"I could tell you something to make you feel better, tell you it's from riding backwards," he responded in an almost playful tone. "Close your eyes and it might ease a bit."
"Thanks," the officer said as he let his eyes fall shut.
"Malloy?" Cody called from the other side of the ambulance.
"Yeah?" Pete replied, his eyes still closed. "What is it?"
"Well, the sergeant said I was on hospital duty," the rookie repeated. "But I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to do exactly."
"He just wants someone there... as a liaison... between the hospital... and the police," Pete explained patiently. "It's pretty easy duty, Cody. You hang around the nurses' station... drink a lotta coffee... chat up some of the student nurses, and wait."
"Wait for what, sir?"
"Word from the doctor. They might have to stitch me up a little... and MacDonald probably wants to know... the minute I'm released," Pete looked at the fresh-faced kid and made a note to get MacDonald back for this assignment, somehow. "You might have to fend off a couple reporters if this thing gets out. Just tell them the truth...that you know absolutely nothing."
"What is it now, Cody?" Pete let the weariness seep into his voice.
"I was just thinking how ironic this is," the rookie mused aloud. "I mean, I heard about the perfect score you got at the range, and now this. You get shot."
"Yeah, ironic," Pete sighed, closing his eyes again, feeling the world spinning and knowing that this time it had very little to do with riding backwards in an ambulance.
The ambulance's red lights receded down Heliotrope, leaving the cluster of officers in semi-darkness. A silence loud as thunder had followed the siren's wail. Each was mourning in their own way but the prayers of all were with the man they had served with, side by side. A comrade. A friend. And one thought haunted them all: that they may have said goodbye for the last time
Two figures stood apart from the others, their silence palpable, their sorrow visible despite the stoic expressions. The sergeant had known the fallen officer since Pete's first day on the job. The time that had separated them by rank had also made them stronger friends. It had been all he could take to surrender that friend into the hands of others tonight, trusting their care would be enough.
The young man at his side had begun his own police career under Pete's watchful and caring eye. Both longed to be with him in these crucial moments, perhaps his last on earth.
"Mac...let me go with Pete!" Jim finally gave voice to the ache they both felt. "You've got dozens of guys here..."
"Reed," MacDonald chided. The officer knew the procedure, what was needed yet at the scene, but Mac also knew Jim was struggling with the same fears and feelings tearing at his own soul.
"He might not even make it to the hospital...I don't want him to die alone!" The very real possibility that his partner and friend could die tonight twisted in his gut, but he hated that he'd spoken it aloud.
"Jim." Mac's eyes were soft with shared emotion. Duty held him here, but his heart would have jumped in the back of that ambulance ahead of anyone. "You can't do anything for him..." Mac's broad hand gripped Jim's shoulder.
"I can be with him, Mac. I can make sure he's not alone..." Jim wouldn't allow himself to finish that sentence. Not again. He was afraid to give the nightmare too much power by giving in to the fear. He fought down the images that loomed in his imagination.
"We have a job to do," Mac argued.
"It won't help Pete..."
"It will help us find who did this. You know what Pete would want us to do."
Jim shrugged away from Mac's touch, moving back to the spot where they had found Pete lying apparently lifeless on the steps to the theater building. Someone had marked the ground and one of the detectives was preparing to take pictures of the site. The area was now bright with lights as the investigators began searching for clues and gathering evidence.
Jim's weary eyes fell upon a dark circle lying on the steps. He stood staring at the object, transfixed by its significance and sentiment. He dropped to his knees or more precisely, his legs gave out beneath him, eyes still glued to the dark object lying an arm's length away. Mac had followed. His concern had grown since the moment Jim had seen Pete's body lying motionless. He still wasn't certain they wouldn't have two casualties.
Jim took up the watchcap, abandoned on the stairs. The stiff band was mangled where the bullet had creased it out of shape. There was a small tear in the blue fabric just above the twisted band, its edges singed, ragged and hard, stained with blood. Jim's fingers hovered just over the damaged hat as though it still held the residual energy of the tragedy and the man who had worn it. Stinging tears blurred the image, making way for the memory of scarlet against the ashen face of his friend. With a shudder he wondered if he'd ever see that face in life again.
Jim squeezed his eyes shut tightly, forcing the fear back down for now. He turned at the touch on his shoulder, surrendering the hat into evidence and standing unsteadily beside his sergeant.
"Let's get to work huh?" Two pair of damp blue eyes locked in an unspoken pact. They'd get each other through this night, then sit vigil at the hospital. Shared pain might be bearable.
Jim busied himself gathering shell casings, noting the location and position of each one on slips of paper inserted in the small plastic bags. Mac had hooked him up with Walters, assigning Bill's usual partner to Brinkman since Cody had been sent with the ambulance. Jim figured that Walters was meant to keep an extra eye on him. He wondered briefly if Pete had said something to Mac about his illness and their argument earlier in the watch. Eventually, though, he realized that the sergeant was probably just concerned because Jim's partner had been shot and he was making sure someone was there who could help him get through it.
Walters had been around as long as Malloy, was a Field Training Officer and had lived through more than one officer shooting. Jim noticed that Walters kept watching him, never moving more than a few feet away. He also kept up a running conversation of inane comments and grousing about ungrateful students and kids in general today. Jim didn't figure that Walters expected an answer and he couldn't have paid attention if he'd tried. His thoughts were full of the night's events and the partner he was sure he'd already lost.
He combed through the broken bottles, shattered bits of street lights and debris, searching for shells, Molotov cocktails and other weapons the demonstrators had used. He'd much rather have been on his way to Central Receiving, looking after his partner.
If he had to be picking through the littered ground, Jim wished he could at least be working at the scene across the quad. He watched as the investigative team swarmed over the steps in front of the theater where moments before his partner had been, making light of his wounds.
Though Pete had vehemently maintained he'd only been grazed, that the bullet had glanced off, leaving just a scratch, it didn't look much like a surface wound. Pete had been fighting to stay conscious and bleeding badly. It was clear that the injury was more serious than he was saying, probably a lot worse. Jim wondered how much Pete knew. Was he just putting on a good front, trying to spare his friends, or did he really believe what he'd kept insisting?
Jim knew his friend well enough to be sure that he'd try his best to keep the awful truth from them as long as he could. And he was certain that, when the time did come, Pete Malloy would go out with a smile and a snappy comment on his lips, if at all possible.
Jim shivered despite his wool jacket. He couldn't get rid of the vivid images of Pete's deathly pallor and the bright red flowing from the side of his head. When he'd seen him first, lying silent and still, he'd feared the worst had already happened, leaving them without even a chance of saying their goodbyes. He knew that even if Pete were right and survived this injury, he would never forget that hideous sight or the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as his knees hit the ground beside the motionless body of the best friend he'd ever had.
Pete had been his mentor, his partner. He'd saved his life on more than one occasion. But more than that, they had become true friends. There had been a time when he wouldn't have believed that possible. Pete was a private man, a solitary soul and at the beginning of their partnership he'd put up walls, barricades against getting close to anyone at work. But Jim had discovered almost immediately that Pete was trying to protect himself from the hurt of another loss, to insulate himself against the pain of the recent death of his former partner.
Now, four years later, they were closer than any other team in the division, and Jim would bet you couldn't find better friends in the entire department. Tonight he knew first hand the terror of losing a partner. He feared he'd soon know the same pain Pete had suffered. It was the one thing about police work Pete hadn't taught him, the subject they never discussed. He shook off the specters of a bleak future, of serving at his partner's funeral, explaining his death to the godson who idolized him, of going on without Pete. Quickly he said a prayer that he was jumping to conclusions, that by some miracle Pete would pull out of this with nothing more than a scar and a story most people wouldn't believe.
"Jim!" Walters was calling him and from his tone and the hand on Jim's arm, it wasn't the first time he'd been summoned.
Jim was staring at the glaring pool of light across the quad, the stairs were dotted with detectives taking measurements, snapping pictures and scribbling in notebooks. Even from that distance, the blood stain was visible on the second step. Pete's blood.
He kept hearing the echoes of angry words snapped at each other across the front seat of Adam-12. They had quibbled with one another in frustration before, disagreed and argued over how a call was handled. But they had never fought as they had tonight. And somehow, Jim felt all that strife was responsible for the awful tragedy that had separated them. He knew he'd never forgive himself if Pete didn't come out of this alive. He would shoulder the blame for the rest of his life no matter what the outcome, and no one could ever convince him it hadn't been his spiteful words that struck down his partner.
"Jim!" Bill Walter's voice was gentle but strong. "You okay?"
"Yeah..." Jim replied, shrugging off the ghosts that gripped him, and the hand on his arm. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You sure? Maybe you got hit on the head by one of these brewery missiles..."
"No...I was...just...." His words fell off as his attention drifted back across the quad, to a spot of red against sandstone.
"Pete's too stubborn not to make it," Walters quipped. "He wouldn't miss telling this fish story for years to come."
"I hope you're right," Jim mumbled, feeling the wrenching in his stomach again.
"'Course I am!"
But Jim wasn't so sure. He wished he was in the ambulance as it screamed through the crowded streets of Los Angeles to Central Receiving Hospital, holding Pete's hand, encouraging him, willing him to keep breathing. He tried to imagine Pete lying on the gurney, making jokes and laughing at all the concerned faces. Jim gave a silent prayer that such was the case.
Across the quad at the command center, Mac was having almost as much trouble keeping his mind on the work at hand. His eyes kept stealing toward the buzz of activity around the spot where he'd found the fallen officer. He couldn't help wondering if they would even find any clues to who had shot Pete. And even if they did, how could it possibly make any difference?
A bullet to the head. It was unrecoverable. Yet Mac couldn't bring himself to write off his old friend just yet. They'd been through so much together and he just refused to believe that Pete would die. But what if he did survive? Imagining Pete living with the probable effects was just as impossible. There would likely be permanent damage, serious debilitating consequences. Pete was a fighter, strong and stubborn as they came, but Mac couldn't bear to see him disabled, crippled or perhaps even worse. What if there were brain damage? The sergeant shook off those negative thoughts with a few strongly worded chastisements directed inward. He wouldn't even let himself think that way--not yet. He'd try to keep a good thought and hope for the best, the impossible: a full recovery. But he knew that reality might be much different. Anything short of death would be an unexpected gift. He only hoped they all had the grace to accept whatever came.
It was personal this time, not just one of his men, but a friend. He and Pete had a lot of history and Mac found himself struggling with his own fears and feelings as he attempted to show a professional front. Anyone who knew him well had to see through that thin facade.
Mac wondered how Jim Reed was faring. This night had to be excruciating for the young man. He wished he could have let him accompany Pete to the hospital, but it was for his own good. Truth was, Mac didn't hold much hope of Pete surviving the ride in the ambulance and there was nothing worse than that long ride once hope and your partner had died. He didn't want to make losing his friend any harder for Jim. Pete would never forgive that.
Mac busied himself with the details of coordinating the clean up with the campus staff, and the investigation at the scene as well as the numerous arrests. He worried a little less about Jim now that he had Walters sticking to him like glue, but only a little. His heart went out to the younger officer. Not only did he feel for him, he suffered a similar pain. He'd have given almost anything to be with Pete himself. He could hardly fault Jim for wanting the same. He breathed a quick prayer that they would both get another chance to fulfill that wish.
Jim strode sadly toward the lonely black and white, dreading the trip back to the station, alone. The fact that he would finally get to drive should have given him pleasure, and he knew the irony would have amused his partner, but it only made him more miserable. He leaned heavily on the rear quarter panel, unable to bring himself to reach for the handle of the door. Pete's door.
Jim knew that the unit was driven 24/7 by any team assigned to Adam-12's beat, but he always thought of it as their car. And since it was Pete who did all the driving, the handful of times he'd been behind the wheel, he still felt it belonged to Malloy. That he was only there by Pete's permission. Even though it was a subject of conversation almost daily, now that there was no choice, Jim wasn't so keen on the experience.
But the patrol unit was his ride back to the station and the sooner he got there, completed the paperwork and changed clothes, the quicker he could get to the hospital and sit by Pete's bedside. Jim fished in his pocket for the key.
"Hey Jim...." It was Mac, approaching from the opposite side of the vehicle. "Why don't you give your keys to Wells and ride back with me?"
"We need your car to transport the last of the prisoners but I want you back at the station right away."
"I figured you didn't want to waste any time," Mac's smile was empathetic. "And I made a promise to your partner to see that you got something hot, remember? Come on."
Jim handed over the keys, glad not to be facing the ride alone. But the thought of Pete bleeding and clinging to life, being placed in the back of an ambulance and still worrying about his partner's head cold brought up disturbing thoughts. It was pointless to wish he could call back the angry words that had passed between them, and it was cold comfort to know that Pete's concern showed that he held no grudge. As he followed Mac to the supervisor's station wagon, he wondered if the sergeant thought this was his way of granting Pete's last request.
It was a quiet ride back, through the darkened streets. Even the police radio was muffled as the various units went about their duties throughout the city. Jim sat in the passenger seat, fiddling with his own hat lying in his lap. He wished he could have kept Pete's cap with him, some tangible object, a connection. A surreal feeling of separation crept over him now that he wasn't actively doing anything, a strange sense of impending loss that neared panic. He needed something to hold on to.
Jim realized Mac was probably watching him fidgeting. He placed his hands on his knees, to quiet them. The fabric of his left pant leg was stiff and scratchy. He had forgotten about the bloodstains. He had cradled Pete's head on his lap, not noticing or caring at that moment about the consequences. Now the thought made him queasy and a little shaky. He was glad that Jean wouldn't see his uniform before it could be cleaned.
He closed his eyes, trying to push back the memory. So much blood! Pete's face pale against the scarlet blood and the dark blue of the uniform. Jim started to tremble. He knew his body was shutting down after the shock; he had to fight it. He was sick, too sick to be working though he'd argued all night to the contrary. But what he was feeling now had much more to do with emotions and fear.
Jim felt his gorge rise, a dizzying nausea threatened. He grabbed the door handle and swallowed hard. When the illness passed, he opened his eyes again, an inky Los Angeles night coming into focus through unshed tears.
Jim had never thought about it before, but the inside of their cruiser and Mac's supervisor's wagon were almost identical. Sitting in the right hand seat, the dim light of the hot sheet desk and the indicator on the radio, he could have been riding in Adam-12.
He looked to his left, at the space that would have been occupied by his best friend had this been their unit, but in his place was a particularly quiet Sgt. MacDonald. His own mood wasn't any lighter. Jim knew his thoughts were mirrored in those blue eyes, squinting into the night.
"How're holding up?" Mac asked. After a quick glance at his passenger his eyes returned to the road.
"I'm okay, Mac," Jim replied.
"So Pete was just being a worrywart?"
"Why?" Jim asked, startled. It felt strange talking about Pete as though he wasn't in danger. As though it wasn't possible that he was already dead. "What'd he say?"
"Just that you had been sick all night. He was concerned, that's all."
"He shouldn't worry about me. Not tonight."
"Jim," Mac's tone was gentle, caring. "He's a survivor. He's going to get through this."
"You believe that?" Jim asked incredulously.
"I'm not willing to count him out yet."
"Yeah." The reply was noncommital. That's how Jim felt.
"And besides," the sergeant smiled. "That's what he does. Worry about you. You're his partner."
"Yeah." Jim winced, glad for the darkness as he recalled the fight he'd had with Pete on that very subject.
"You okay?" Mac asked in the darkness several blocks later.
"Huh?" His mind was more than just a few blocks away.
"I'll call the hospital when we get to the station," Mac promised.
"Uh huh." It wasn't really an answer.
"Jim?" The sergeant turned a concerned scowl towards Jim.
"I need to call Jean..." he muttered, still lost in his thoughts.
They pulled into the lot a few minutes later. The corridors were crowded with officers and people being booked after the demonstration. Jim headed for the locker room and a pay phone that wasn't being used. Mac shouldered his way to the C.O.'s office to see if there had been any news from Central Receiving, and if not, to find out why.
Cody still hadn't checked in so Mac dialed the Emergency Room and asked to speak to the rookie. After a quick update, MacDonald went in search of Reed, to give him what news there was and to fulfill a promise to Pete. Mac hoped it wasn't his last promise to Pete Malloy.
"Hey, Reed," he called as he stuck his head inside the alcove. "Can I see you in the break room?"
"Sure, Mac," Jim replied, dropping his pen.
"Just bring that paperwork along."
When Jim entered the break room, Mac was removing a can from the vending machine. He motioned for Jim to take a seat at one of the empty tables.
"It isn't mother's chicken soup," he apologized as he set the steaming can next to a cup with a string and tag hanging down the side. "Maybe it'll keep you upright for another hour or so."
"Thanks, Mac," Jim mumbled. "But I...I'm not really hungry." The truth was, he couldn't even imagine putting anything in his mouth, let alone keeping it down.
"Eat!" the sergeant barked. "And that's an order! In fact, I think I'll join you." Mac poured a cup of coffee into a stoneware mug from the shelf above, shoveling a spoonful of sugar in and stirring it as he took a seat opposite Jim.
"Pete's in surgery," he began. "It's hard to tell how long it will be, depends on what they find when they get in there."
"Uh huh." Jim looked a lot more interested in the words than the food in front of him.
"But he's still hanging in there. That's a good sign. He's conscious."
"Yeah, the nurse said he'd be awake throughout the procedure."
"Awake?" Mac's eyebrows raised.
"So they can monitor progress during surgery. Know if they touch a nerve or something when they are working in the..." He suddenly looked a little shaky.
"Jim?" Mac reached across the table, laying a hand on Jim's arm. Mac couldn't imagine lying awake while someone was cutting into his brain. No wonder the hideous image had shaken Jim to the core.
"Sorry," he shook his head wearily. "Just talking about someone messing around inside Pete's brain..."
"They have their best surgeon on it, Jim."
"Yeah, I know." It seemed cold comfort. The whole thing had taken on the tone of a bad horror movie, except they were stuck in the middle of it, and Pete was the helpless victim. Something inside Jim railed at that characterization of the man he knew as so strong and steady. The man who had been worried about Jim's head cold as he was placed in the ambulance.
"Speaking of which, how do you know so much about the surgery?"
"I...eh...called the hospital..."
"You - " Mac stopped, chuckling. Shoulda known! "Did you talk to your wife yet?"
"Yeah, Jean said it was just on the news. They said an officer was shot, in critical condition."
"Why don't you finish your paperwork in here. Then you can head out."
"And finish that soup!"
Jim finished the reports, half-heartedly downing the soup and most of the tea. He hardly tasted either, between the cold dulling his tastebuds and worry stripping the enjoyment from anything. He read over the reports, missing his partner's proof-reading as another pang of guilt and loneliness hit at Pete's absence. Jim was exhausted, sick and shaky, but somehow he'd find the strength to drag himself to the hospital. He had to see Pete, to be near and satisfy himself that everything possible was being done for him. He just wanted a chance to sit at his bedside, then he could sleep.
He remembered the night Pete was shot during the undercover drug bust, when Jim had pulled him out of the line of fire. It was a night similar to this. Jim kept wanting to break free and get to the hospital, but there were arrests and paperwork and questions to be answered first. All the while he had worried about Pete in surgery, and just like tonight, word came slowly, when it came at all.
Jim jogged the pages together on the table and placed them in his report book, gathered the trash from his impromptu meal and stood stiffly. Tossing the cups and napkin in the garbage, he pushed heavily on the door. The corridor was still crowded, though things were a little quieter. Jim strode to the Watch Commander's office to hand in the reports and say good-night to Mac. The sergeant had been particularly caring and Jim knew Mac wanted to be with Pete almost as much as he did.
As he neared Mac's office he could see through the glass that the captain was in with him. Val Moore's face was grave. He knew there was a special bond between Pete and the captain. Moore had been Pete's training officer and Jim knew how close that relationship could be. It didn't matter that it had been years since the two men rode together, Jim saw the telltale lines of worry.
Suddenly the thought struck that there might be news from the hospital, news that would explain those long faces inside. That possibility hurled Jim forward with a desperation that nearly made him burst through the door without knocking. He stopped himself just in time, a quick rap against the glass and he was admitted.
Captain Moore nodded, his eyes shiny as he took a chair against the wall.
"Those your reports?" Mac asked the obvious question, like some code between them, routine masking the unspoken concern.
"Yeah. All finished." Jim fidgeted a moment, not knowing what to do with his hands. "Any word?"
"Not yet," Mac replied softly. "I'm expecting a call any minute. I told Cody to call in every half hour whether or not there was any news."
"You going up to the hospital, Reed?" Captain Moore asked quietly.
"Soon as Sgt. MacDonald cuts me loose," he answered.
"Well, let me take a quick gander at these," Mac took up the sheaf of pages. "But you'll need to see the shooting team before you leave."
"I know, I know," MacDonald acknowledged the protest with a shake of the head. "But you know the drill. You and I both have to put in our appearance before we can..." Mac's words were cut short by the jangle of the desk phone. "MacDonald," he answered in a clipped tone. "Yes."
Jim took a seat in the chair pulled up to the desk, watching Mac and trying to determine if the call was from the hospital. A series of uh-huhs and one word questions followed. Both Jim and Captain Moore were on the edge of their seats by the time MacDonald replaced the receiver in the cradle. A long sigh escaped him, his head bowed on his hands, weary eyes closed. Jim thought he'd explode before the sergeant finally spoke.
"Pete's going to make it!" Mac said with a smile when he raised his head to face them again. He watched with relief as the faces gathered relaxed with the news.
"He was in serious condition when I called before," Jim said with a frown. "Are you sure they said he's going to be okay?"
"His condition was upgraded to stable almost immediately after surgery," Mac assured. "He was awake through the whole procedure, so he's pretty worn out. But they say it looks good for recovery."
"That's great news," Captain Moore sighed, leaning back in his chair against the wall.
"What's great news?" Jerry Miller asked as he entered from the corridor with his partner Johnson. They both showed the fatigue of a long night. "We sure could use some."
"Pete," Mac replied happily. "He's out of surgery and they say it looks like he's going to make it."
"That is good news," Jerry said without a smile. His face didn't seem to change expression at all.
"If we're wrapped up here, Val, I'd like to go see him," Mac requested of their commander.
"Eh...you might wanna wait a bit on that, Mac," Miller sighed, handing a folder to Captain Moore, who immediately opened the file and started reading. "We got some of the ballistics tests back."
"That's more a job for you detectives, isn't it?" MacDonald argued. Everyone knew how eager he was to check on his wounded officer. There were a few moments of awkward silence as the captain continued to read. He leveled a look at the sergeant over the folder before he spoke.
"Have a seat, Mac," the captain said in an ominous emotionless voice, still paging through the folder. "I'm surprised we got these back so quickly."
"Johnson and I swung by the hospital to pick up the slug," Jerry said, taking another of the chairs from the wall and turning it backwards against Mac's desk, straddling it. He looked weary and a bit nervous. "And I got a couple of friends in the crime lab."
"Is that the report on the bullet that got Pete?" Jim asked, his brows knit in concentration.
"Yeah," Johnson replied tightly. "Maybe we better do this someplace else. Maybe down in..."
"I think we can do it right here," Moore interrupted. "Go ahead, Sergeant Miller. Why don't you give us your report."
"The bullet they pulled from Pete's skull," Miller began flatly, making it sound cold and academic. But anyone who knew him could bet it took a great deal out of him to do so. Pete was a fellow officer, and a friend. "Was police issue ammunition."
"Police ammo?" Mac frowned, looking from Jerry to Jim and then the captain. Val Moore's eyes dropped closed for a moment, but then he focused on Jerry Miller again.
"We're going to have to check the weapons of all officers at the scene."
"You don't think it was one of my officers?" Mac glared at Miller.
"Everyone is going to need to test fire before they go home," he repeated evenly. "Sorry, Mac. But we should have the ballistics results sometime tomorrow."
Mac didn't get to the hospital till nearly three a.m. He spoke for a moment with the officer outside Pete's room, a man from A.M. watch who had relieved Jeff Cody about two hours before. Then Mac stopped by the nurses' station to verify that a visit at this hour was prudent with Pete's condition. The doctor was writing orders in Pete's chart and looked up when the sergeant identified himself. He took Mac into a small alcove down the dimly lit hallway.
"Sergeant MacDonald, it's a little early to be officially optimistic, but that's one very lucky guy in there."
"A lot of well wishes and prayers have been going up for him, Doctor," Mac replied, feeling the tension of the night taking a toll.
"I don't think I have to tell you that he came very close."
"No," Mac felt that same tightness in his throat, the feeling he'd gotten when he first saw blood trickling down Pete's face. "I can't believe he's not..."
"Very lucky," the grey haired doctor picked up the conversation, when it looked like Mac couldn't continue. "There is a hairline skull fracture. Think of it as a crease on the surface of the cranium. It was caused by the bullet as it moved along the skull bone beneath the scalp. Approximately two centimeters long. It doesn't seem to have penetrated the skull, or that the brain tissue was compromised. There is evidence that he's suffered a concussion and the presence of subdural hematoma."
"It sounds pretty serious, Doctor," Mac managed, blinking at the daunting list of details, only half of which the sergeant actually understood. "What are his chances?"
"He's strong and more than holding his own at the moment. But for the next 48 hours we'll be monitoring him very closely. There is always the chance of complications."
"What kind of complications?"
"Most worrisome right now would be the development of meningitis, if we were wrong about brain tissue damage and the extent of that fracture. I don't anticipate that, but we can't rule it out at this time."
"What about permanent damage?" Mac asked cautiously. He wasn't entirely certain he wanted the answer to that question just yet. He was so thankful Pete was still alive, any bad news could certainly wait. "Will he be...will there be..."
"I can't speak with any certainty to the extent of his injuries this soon," the doctor picked up when he realized Mac couldn't continue. "But the prognosis is promising. I'm hopeful that Officer Malloy could make a full recovery."
"I was wanting to look in on him a moment..." Sergeant MacDonald sighed, relieved in the extreme.
"He's been out of surgery for a couple of hours and when I left his room a few minutes ago, he was dozing but hadn't been able to fall into a deep sleep. The nurse suspects that he's waiting for something. Perhaps your visit?"
"Thank you, Doctor."
Mac promised the nurse not to wake Pete if he had finally drifted off, and not too stay long it he found him awake. He wished he could promise that he wouldn't disturb her patient, but that he knew would be a lie.
MacDonald walked softly into the dimly lit room. He could make out Pete's face, swathed in bandages and settled in the middle of a cloud of pillows, illuminated by the glow of the small light beside his bed. Sandy blonde bangs stuck up above the gauze that wound around his head securing the packing over his left temple. That errant tuft of hair made him look like a small boy who'd tumbled from his bicycle instead of a policeman who had fallen to a bullet to the head. Pete's eyes were closed but there was a less-than-peaceful set to his features. Mac doubted his friend was truly asleep. He approached the bed slowly, not wanting to wake him if his assumption were wrong.
"Unless you have something for me better than those ice chips, I'm not interested," Pete quipped quietly, his eyes still closed. He didn't move.
"I'll bet you're hungry," Mac said softly. "I hear you never got seven tonight."
"Mac?" Pete identified immediately, still not opening his eyes. "Thought you were one of the nurses. Not hungry. Just tired of ice chips. I figured you'd still be out at the scene."
"The nurse says you should be sleeping," Mac tapped his hat on the rail of the bed, a gentle chiding gesture. "You want me to leave?'
"Naw," Pete opened his eyes slowly, trying to focus on Mac's face through the pain medication and extreme fatigue. "I've been waiting for you...or Jim. He still at the scene? Or did you finally get him to see reason and go home?"
"We're done out there. The detectives are crawling all over the place, but patrol is finished," the sergeant replied.
"There's a chair over there," Pete offered. "At least I think I remember the doctor using it earlier. Why don't you bring it closer."
"How's this?" Mac asked once he'd made the adjustment and sat next to the bed.
"Better," Pete gave him a weak, crooked smile. "Now I can tell it's you by more than just the voice."
"Not seeing clearly?" Mac's brow furrowed. The doctor hadn't mentioned any vision problems, but he'd been a little vague as to long-term damage. Leaving himself an out, Mac had mused.
"Just the pain medication. I was fine before they started that. It'll be all right, Mac," Pete comforted his friend's concern.
Mac wondered if Pete truly believed that or if it were just more rhetoric. He still wasn't sure what Pete knew, or how much he was able to grasp of his present condition. But one thing was clear: it was so much like the Pete Malloy he knew to be worried about how the rest of them were handling all this.
"I'm kinda surprised Jim went home without a fight. I figured he'd show up here first, even if he was dead on his feet. Whadya do? Handcuff him?"
"It's the stripes," Mac joked, though it didn't show on his face. "You just don't have quite enough of them yet."
"I'll have to remember," Pete closed his eyes again. He was getting weary and the medicine was making it harder to stay alert. "I'm glad he went home." Pete said after a long silence.
Mac almost believed he'd drifted off to sleep and the comment caught him off guard. "You're worried about him?"
"The last thing Jim needed was overtime."
"Was there a problem tonight?" the sergeant asked guardedly. "You and Jim?"
"Not a problem. He was pretty sick...that head cold," he answered, not looking at his old friend. "Gets grumpy when he's not a hundred percent. Like it's a personal insult or something."
"So he was less than a hundred percent tonight?"
"Mac--" Pete's eyes opened and he tried to focus again. "You on a fishing expedition or something?"
"I heard a couple things, that's all," Mac replied with a shrug. "It's gonna come out, Pete. You might as well tell me now."
"Tell you what? What's gonna come out?"
"Pete, if your partner was impaired tonight, it was your duty to..."
"He wasn't impaired, Mac!" Pete stirred on the bed, causing a stabbing, blinding pain. Mac stood, frowning at his friend's discomfort.
"Should I call the nurse?" He reached out to help, not certain quite how.
"Naw," Pete winced, adjusting on the pile of pillows. "Just moved too quickly."
"Maybe I should go. Let you rest."
"Not until we finish this conversation," Pete warned, looking a little more comfortable. "Now just what are you trying to get at?"
"I need to know if Reed wasn't up to par on watch," Mac answered evenly. "I didn't want to do this tonight, but it's important, Pete."
"He had a head cold," Pete insisted. "And what did you hear?"
"That the two of you were sniping at one another," Mac leveled a stare at the man in the bed. "That's not like you."
"Pete," the sergeant shook his head. "Let's make it easy on both of us. I don't want to do this with you just out of surgery, but I didn't want you to hear it some other way."
"Hear what?" Pete was getting agitated again. "I feel like I'm being interrogated. What's going on, Mac?"
"We got the ballistics report back on the slug they removed."
"That was fast," Pete blinked, trying to take in all the possible clues from Mac's demeanor. "Who's on it? Miller?"
"Yeah," Mac nodded. "He and Johnson rushed it through."
"It was police issue ammunition, Pete," Mac said quietly.
Pete felt like the bullet had gone straight through his heart. All he could see was Jim Reed's face, ashen with grief. He remembered Reed's sympathetic eyes hovering over him at the scene, the tears he'd tried not to let fall, the whispered vow to get the guy who'd done it. He also remembered the watch they'd spent that night in 1-Adam-12, the angry words, the frustration. But all he wanted now was to talk with his partner.
"Who?" Pete heard himself asking, though it hardly mattered. Whatever officer had pulled the trigger, it had been a tragic accident. One that threatened to end the career of more than one of LAPD's finest.
"The final results won't be available until the morning," Mac replied sadly. "They were just finishing the test shooting when I left the station. I didn't want you hearing any of this from some stranger. I was afraid they might have a television in your room or something."
"Does Jim know?" he asked in just above a whisper.
"Told him about an hour ago," Mac answered sadly. His expression told Pete the answer to the foremost question in his mind. Reed wasn't taking it well. He hadn't really expected him to, but he hoped he'd been a pro.
"Thanks, Mac," he answered automatically. His thoughts were filled with his partner and the rocky shift they had worked. If they'd told him, then they probably had already interviewed him about the shooting. Maybe Jim was the one who'd told Mac about the argument. Pete hated it that he'd had to go through it by himself. He remembered Jim trying to apologize at the scene.
"Take care of him, Mac," Pete managed through a crushing sadness. It made sense now why Reed hadn't come to the hospital. He was probably in shock himself. He knew Jim might not be able to talk to him right away, but if it happened that he was the shooter, his partner was going to need someone to help him through this. "I'm making him your responsibility. You hear?"
"I'll do everything I can," the sergeant promised. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah...yeah, I'm fine," Pete sighed, feeling the force of the news hitting him, cascading through his system. "Just tired."
"You want to talk about it?" Mac offered, watching his friend for signs, trying to gauge his reaction.
"I think it's probably the medication, makes me really sleepy, you know?"
"I meant...the shooting. Or tonight's watch?"
"No, I'm really too tired, Mac." Pete feigned a yawn.
"Pete," he leaned over the bed rail. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, Mac," he lied again. "Just really tired. It's been a long night."
"You want me to go?" Mac took the hint.
"I think I'm gonna sleep for awhile if you don't mind."
"I'll see you tomorrow," Mac nodded. "If you need anything, just have the nurse call me."
"I can use the phone, Mac," Pete affirmed. "And I don't need a thing." There was a bit of an edge to his voice and he cared less than he ought.
"Just in case," the sergeant insisted gently as he walked to the door. "Even if you just want to talk."
"Sure." Pete surrendered, starting to actually feel the fatigue he pretended.
Jim Reed lagged as he tread the length of the corridor, the simple movement an act of sheer will. His limbs felt like lead, but he knew it wasn't only the germ warfare attacking his system. And it was more than the sixteen long hours since he'd left the normalcy of his home and family, sixteen hours that had changed his life in devastating ways. Jim knew it was the burden of what had happened in those hours that weighed him down like bricks tied to his arms and legs.
He leaned wearily on the door to the locker room, pushing it open with the sinking thought that there would be nobody at his partner's locker. Pete's clothes still hung inside but he wasn't coming for them, not tonight. Jim was thankful. All reports were anticipating a full recovery, but it would still be quite a while before Pete returned to the station. Jim had intended to stop by the hospital on his way home, to sit by his friend's bedside, cheer him up with a joke or two, apologize for this night's quarreling, stand guard until he fell asleep. But now he was heading straight home, too miserable to face Pete tonight. He would go home to his worried wife, confused no doubt by his cryptic call three hours ago. Jim had no idea what he'd tell her; he couldn't deal with that just now.
This moment and no other... he kept hearing the words, like a mantra in his brain. One thing at a time.
That voice sounded chillingly familiar and it brought a lump to his throat. It was Pete who had taught him that, years ago. He'd walked him through his first night, his first reprimand, the first time he'd shot and killed a young teenaged sniper, always with the same sensible advice: This moment and no other...one thing at a time. Repeated softly in his ear. It struck him that a few hours before he'd been fighting against Pete's tutelage and care, now he was clinging to his words and wishing his partner were here to say them again.
The locker room should have been empty, change of watch had been hours ago, but there were several officers on overtime, just finishing from the scene, test-shooting at the crime lab or cleaning up paperwork. There was a small knot of men around the second bank of lockers. Jim made his way to his own locker on the other side of the room and put the key in the lock quietly. The last thing he had strength for was a conversation.
"Well, he didn't have that good an aim this afternoon on the range," Officer Burns was saying as Jim opened his locker.
"I wouldn't mention that around Reed," Jerry Woods' voice warned.
"Jerry! You don't suppose he shot Pete just for beating his score?" Ed Wells quipped.
"Ed!" Woods and Brinkman chided in unison.
Jim reached into the locker for his jacket. The buzzing in his head was worse than ever. He felt faint and suddenly incredibly cold. But the worst pain was too deep to be measured and went straight through his heart.
Two of the officers came around the corner and froze when they realized who was behind the opened locker door. Jim shrugged the red canvas windbreaker over his uniform, grabbed his other clothes and slammed the door. He crossed the room without so much as a look in their direction and headed for the parking lot and the long drive home.
Jim was shaky when he pulled the car into his driveway fifteen minutes later. Traffic had been light due to the early morning hour, but he'd had to maneuver through his own obstacle course of horrifying images and paralyzing emotions. He sat behind the wheel, his hands trembling as they gripped it tightly, trying to keep from falling apart until he'd seen to this last duty. He still had to tell Jean.
The house was dark, except for the usual dim lights left on during the night. Jim let himself in the back door from the garage and laid his keys on the counter. He tripped over Jimmy's Slinky dog left forgotten on the kitchen floor, and after catching himself against the table, he scooped up the toy. Suddenly the memory of his son's second birthday overwhelmed him: Jimmy's godfather beaming in delight at the boy's giggling reaction to the springy toy he had bought on impulse. Recalling the happy scene, Pete's expression mirroring the joy shining on the child's face, caused Jim to start shaking all over again. The last time he had seen that face, it had looked much too pale, almost lifeless. He wondered now if he'd ever look on that smile again.
"Jim?" Jean called softly in the darkness. She crossed the kitchen, finding the wall switch by touch and bringing light to the shadows. "Honey? Oh, I'm sorry!" she soothed when she caught sight of the toy. "I didn't realize he had that in here. Are you okay?"
"I thought you'd be in bed," he mumbled, moving to deposit the toy on the counter.
"I was waiting up for you and I guess I dozed off on the sofa." She reached for him, her eyes filled with concern. "Jim! You look terrible! And you're burning up, sweetie!"
"Don't..." he warned weakly, turning from her.
"Honey?" she wrapped her arms around his waist from behind, leaning her head against his back. "How's Pete?"
The trembling started again, violently. Fatigue and stress were quickly taking a toll.
"Jim!" Jean's voice raised an octave, panic evident. "Oh, honey, no!" He realized her misconception but still didn't have the power of speech to correct it. He simply gathered her to him in a desperate embrace. Holding her made the trembling a little less noticeable.
"Oh, honey..." she sobbed. "You said he was going to be okay..."
Jim shushed her with a hand to her lips, shaking his head. She buried her face in his jacket.
"He's alive," he managed. "Sorry...I guess you thought..."
"Pete's okay?" Jean's smile brightened her tear-stained face.
"Uh huh," he brushed back the hair that had fallen in front of her face. "Surgery went...okay, I guess..." His words fell away as emotion and fatigue caught up to him.
"Jim?" she touched his face. "Sweetie, you're really sick!"
"'m okay," he protested.
"I'm all right." He could no longer stop the quaking.
Jean pulled away long enough to grab a towel from a drawer by the sink. She ran the tap until the water was cool and dampened the cloth, then turned to place it on his feverish brow. Jim was clutching the Slinky toy to his chest again and shaking, his breathing fast and shallow.
"What if...I'm the one?" he forced out, barely a whisper. "What if...I shot...my best friend!"
Almost an hour later, Jean had gotten him out of his uniform and on the sofa. They were wrapped in each other's arms as he told her as much of the night's fiasco as he dared. The one point he hadn't held back was how the uncertainty was eating at him. She cried with him and held him as he poured out the story. It had been several minutes since either of them had uttered a word, their breathing nearly synchronous.
"Did he say anything?" she asked quietly.
"Huh?" Jim was fading fast. Between the cold, the late night and the emotional drain, he was at his end.
"When you saw Pete at the hospital. Was he awake?"
"I didn't go..."
"I thought you ..."
"I couldn't, Jean!" Jim squeezed her hand, a tiny lifeline of support. "How could I possibly face him?'
"Jim, he's your best friend," she soothed.
"I just couldn't, honey."
"James Reed," she chided gently, a kiss softening the already tender tone. "He's probably worrying, wondering where you are."
"I'm sure he was asleep anyway," Jim argued weakly. "Sleeping off the anesthetic from surgery and drugged up with pain killers."
"Does he know what happened?"
"I don't know," Jim looked away from her, unable to meet her eyes for the shame he felt. "Mac went to see him. He might have told him. Probably didn't want him to hear it somewhere else."
"So Mac went, and you didn't?" she chastised, her eyes sympathetic and misty.
"How would he hear in the hospital?"
"It's already all over the station," he sighed, remembering the awkward and painful scene in the locker room.
"Oh, Jim!" she sighed, her hand stroking his stubbly cheek.
"Jean, until the investigation is over, I can't be sure."
"Whoever it was, they have to know it was an tragic accident," she asserted. "Nobody could ever believe otherwise."
Jim mulled over that last statement, wondering just how true it really was. At the moment, after their bumpy night, he couldn't even be sure what he believed. He had to admit the questions he was fighting were ugly and frightening.
Jean finally got him into bed. Depleted and shaky from the head cold and the emotions of the night, he gave little resistence. But sleep wasn't so easily obtained for either of them. Jim lay staring at the ceiling until he assumed Jean was asleep, then the silence allowed the thoughts to return, and a nightmarish doubt tore at his soul.
They had said the prognosis was hopeful, but how did you survive a bullet to your skull? Pete's well-being was his foremost concern, but even if he could walk away without a scratch, the nasty fact was an officer had pulled the trigger. One of their own had shot his partner, his friend. And as he reviewed their deployment and relative positions with IAD the realization had been undeniable: it could easily have been Jim's own gun that sent that bullet to Pete's brain. Soundless sobs wracked him, roiling up from the depths of his battered soul. Jean wrapped comforting arms about him and held him until exhaustion finally took them both.
Jean woke to find an empty bed. She'd finally found escape in slumber, much deeper than she'd imagined possible and somewhere in the night as she was dreaming, her husband had slipped out of her embrace. She sat up groggily and grabbed the robe at the foot of their bed, shoving chilly feet into a pair of scuffs and padding down the hallway. Jean peeked into Jimmy's room, smiling at the peaceful face in repose, unaware of the tumult that had rocked his happy home. She had hoped to find her husband curled into the narrow bed with their son. But the tike was alone except for Duffles, the beloved stuffed elephant his godfather had bought him at the circus. It remained his constant confidante over a year later.
Jean wiped at silent tears and leaned against the door frame. Pete Malloy was like family. He had become so enmeshed in their lives over the last four years that it was hard to find a portion that didn't include him in some way. Her heart broke as she thought of her husband's agony over what had happened.
She headed down the hallway, and found Jim draped on the sofa, long legs hanging over the edge, the rest of him tangled in a thin blanket. He was pale, his skin covered in a veil of sweat, the expression on his face in sharp contrast to the beatific one she'd witnessed in Jimmy's room. Jean bent to kiss his forehead, gauging his temperature against her cheek as she often did her son's when he was feverish.
But Jim's skin felt cool, clammy. The fever seemed to have broken during the night. He looked like he'd had a difficult time of it, and she wondered if it had only been the coughing that had kept him awake and on the sofa these last couple of nights or if his trouble sleeping had come from other sources. Jim had been irritable lately, and preoccupied, and she regretted more than one snippy exchange.
"Jim?" she called softly, brushing an errant lock of dark hair from his eyes. "Sweetie, why don't you go back to bed?"
"No!" He jerked awake, grabbing at some unseen enemy that doubled for the blanket in his momentary confusion. Jim sat bolt upright, staring at her blankly a moment.
"Honey," Jean soothed. "I'm getting up with Jimmy anyway, and you'll be more comfortable in bed."
"Sweetheart, you don't have to be anywhere for a few hours and you really need some rest."
"I can't sleep."
"Come on," she urged with a look that warned not to argue. "I'll rub your back until you fall asleep."
"Like you do Jimmy?"
"Hmmm," she smiled. "Both my Jim's get cranky when they're sick."
"Don't!" he warned, the icy fingers of the previous night's specters suddenly reminding him it hadn't been only a bad dream. Pete was still lying in a hospital ward at Central Receiving and it might have been his bullet that put him there. "I'm not cranky."
"Okay," she humored him. "But you're coming to bed. Cranky or not, you can't deny that you're sick."
"I'll just toss and turn," he argued as she tucked him beneath the comforter. She had already closed the blinds to stave off the just rising California sun.
"Well, you'll have more room in here to toss and turn," she countered.
"I can't win, can I?"
"You should have stayed in bed yesterday." Jean was sorry as soon as she'd said it, knowing where Jim's mind would take such a statement. She tried her best to cover the mistake. "Now let me take care of you with a minimum of argument, huh?"
"I wish I had listened to you."
"Jim," she shushed his self recriminations with a finger to his lips. "You have to stop blaming yourself, doubting yourself. You don't know anything for certain yet. Just rest now, please honey?"
He closed his eyes as she directed but it didn't close out the memories that continued to play like some horror movie behind his eyes.
Jim woke from a fitful sleep a little after noon, soaked with sweat and trembling. Jean had come back, in answer to his moans and one unintelligible shout. He shrugged off her concerned pleas to consult the doctor and went to take a shower while she made him a brunch for which he had no appetite.
The watch commander had called twice while he slept and left the same message both times, not to wake him but to be sure to have him call whenever he did get up. She waited just a bit longer, wanting him to have something on his stomach before he faced the nightmare again in the light of day.
Mac slipped into the dim room, the curtains drawn against a brilliant California sun. It had seemed to MacDonald on the drive from the station somehow unfair that it be such a beautiful morning. After all, Pete was lying helpless, struck down by a horrible accident, still struggling against infection and complications. It would be days before they knew for certain what damage had been done and just how complete a recovery could be expected.
But even in the half-light, his coloring looked a little better than it had the night before. His face was relaxed, peaceful, without that mask of pain Mac had tried not to acknowledge on his previous visit. He stepped quietly to the side of the bed, watching his friend's tranquil repose.
"I hoped to find you awake," he whispered, his hand on the railing. "This is something I wanted to tell you myself."
Pete lay motionless, except for the slow, rhythmic breathing. Mac was glad to see his friend resting more comfortably at last.
"Oh...Pete..." Mac sighed, collapsing in the chair beside Pete's bed. He'd held up through a sleepless night and hours of questions with IAD, but his nerves were nearing the end. His hands trembled slightly with exhaustion and strain.
"Mac?" Pete called from the silence. His eyes fluttered open slowly, finally finding Mac's face in the darkened room.
"I didn't mean to wake you," the sergeant apologized, straightening himself.
"You got...something to tell me?" Pete tried to focus, despite the fuzzy feeling from the sleeping pill he'd finally accepted the night before. He seemed to remember something was supposed to happen this morning, if it was morning. He had a vague feeling that it might be.
"But you were sleeping."
"'m awake now," he replied in a less than convincing slur.
"The final ballistic reports came back," Mac said quietly, giving this visit a second thought. He certainly didn't want Pete to hear the news from some uncaring source, or even a well-meaning stranger, but he wished there were another way to do it. Moments ago Pete had looked so relaxed, serene and now Mac was about to destroy that peace with information that couldn't possibly benefit his recovery.
Pete blinked, steeling himself for the news. He'd already been told that the slug they removed had been police-issued ammunition. It was almost certain that one of his fellow officers had fired the bullet that struck him, the bullet that had come much too close to killing him. It really was of very little consequence beyond that knowledge. No matter whose gun, it had been accidental. Pete knew that officer was already going through the agony of an IAD investigation and his own private hell of regrets.
But the drugs were effecting him more than he'd realized. Pete's thoughts kept drifting on their own as sleep tried to claim him again. Heavy lids drooped over unfocused eyes despite his valiant efforts.
With a slight jerk, Pete pulled himself from the seductive arms of slumber to squint at Mac in the dimness. There was something he needed to know. A missing piece that had worried his dreams.
"Ballistics?" he mumbled.
"Yeah," the sergeant fidgeted, not meeting Pete's eyes.
The silence stretched on between them. In that hush Pete's medicated, discipline-loosed brain skittered over the possibilities, and landed unsettlingly upon the nightmare he'd been avoiding for hours. In fact, that very stubborn thought had been the reason he'd finally given in to the nurse's plea to accept sedation. Dear God...not Jim! Another jolt brought him back to relative consciousness.
"Yeah..." he prompted sleepily. He'd fight off that groggy feeling until he knew. He had to know.
"It was my gun..." Mac stated as though it wasn't surreal, impossible. "I shot you, Pete."
"Wha-" Surely he'd heard incorrectly. The drugs were making him foggy. He was dreaming. Pete fought through the fuzzy abyss towards his friend's face. Those gentle blue eyes were filled with unshed tears. "You....Mac? You...shot...me?"
Before the sergeant could reply, a medical entourage invaded the room noisily.
"Good morning!" a robust dark-skinned nurse announced cheerfully. Her countenance was open, broad and blooming with a sunny smile. Those that followed her into the room were wearing smiles as well. Mac felt like he'd been struck across the face by a circus clown troupe. "I'm sorry! I wasn't aware you had a visitor, Officer Malloy."
"I...eh..." Mac sincerely wished the ground would open up and swallow him whole.
"Well, we won't be long. But it's time to change the dressing and the doctors want to inspect the wound. Check on Officer Malloy's progress. You'll have to step outside for just a bit."
"Sure..." he stammered, moving to do just that.
"Mac..." Pete called, his face wrinkled in a muddle of confusion.
"Your friend will be right outside," the merry nurse assured. She was already removing the gauze from around Pete's forehead while a smaller, quieter version of herself applied the blood pressure cuff to his upper arm and two white-coated doctors watched with guarded scowls.
"Mac..." Pete tried to reach for the sergeant, who was already halfway out the door.
"He can come back in as soon as we're finished," the shorter nurse soothed. "Just a few minutes."
But when they left, after poking and prodding, consulting and reapplying the bandages, Mac didn't reappear. He had paced outside the room at first, waiting his turn as patiently as a man in his position could. But it had finally occurred to him that there was nothing more to say, save perhaps an apology. And how did one say he was sorry for nearly killing a friend?
Bill MacDonald sat at the red light, oblivious to the blaring horns honking around him. The scene before him was a blur of garish colors and haphazard signs, traffic swirling past as people moved about in their everyday lives. He didn't see the people any more clearly than he heard the honking motorists. His mind was elsewhere, back in a hospital room at Central Receiving and across town and time on a darkened quad.
"Hey, buddy!" the red faced man yelled through the closed car window he was beating against with a grimy fist. Mac turned toward the banging, screaming man, barely visible through his tears.
"What the hell is wrong with you!" he bellowed.
"I'm sorry," Mac mouthed, wiping at his eyes and pulling himself back to the present.
I'm sorry. They were words he hadn't been able to find when he'd wanted them, back in Pete's room. They had come to him in the hallway, as he stared at the closed door and paced the busy corridor. But somehow they seemed so hollow, inadequate.
He put the car in gear and moved through the intersection. He regained emotional control enough to drive home, chiding himself for the lapse at the light. He'd had about four hours' sleep the night before, if you could call it that, and the morning had been filled with tension as he was questioned by Internal Affairs Division, pored over maps of the campus and detailed re-enactments. Then Mac had wanted to go talk to Pete, to give him the news in person. But the emotional strain combined with the fatigue was quickly catching up with him.
As he pulled off the highway, he started to feel a shudder form deep within. By the time he turned the Dodge into the driveway between the manicured lawn and Mary's roses, he knew that if there had been one more block to drive, he wouldn't have made it. Mac stared at the neat white house with freshly painted green shutters and felt the disappointment flood over him. The usual peace and joy that came from seeing his cozy home was gone, unattainable in the midst of his guilt and shame. He dragged himself from the vehicle and up the back steps to the kitchen door.
Mary was at the sink, cleaning a basket of strawberries. The smell of something baking filled the sunny kitchen. She turned at the sound of him coming through the door, a confused smile on her face.
"What are you doing home so early?" she asked gently, stepping into his arms. Her soft brown eyes searched his face worriedly. "Is Pete..."
At the mention of Malloy's name, Mac's last bit of strength slipped and he felt the world shift beneath his feet. He grabbed for the counter, his eyes closing to keep the room from spinning. Mary held him closer, fearing the worst.
"Honey? What happened? I thought after the surgery they said he was going to be okay?"
"There's no change," Mac muttered, his voice weak with fatigue. "He's still out of it. Painkillers, I guess."
"The way you dragged in here, coming home so early, I thought," she was staring at her husband, watching his face darken ominously. "What's happened, Bill?"
"The ballistics report came back," he sighed, leaning heavily against the sink.
"Oh, no," a hand flew to her mouth. They had discussed the possibilities last night, when Mac had finally made it home. Without telling her the details, he had confided in her his worry that the shooter might be Jim Reed. She'd met the Reeds and liked the young couple a lot. She knew he and Pete Malloy had been partners for longer than most teams stayed together. It would be difficult for any officer to face such an accident, but his own partner and friend? Mary's eyes filled with tears as she imagined the sadness this unfortunate incident would cause. She leaned against her husband's sagging shoulder, wishing she could comfort the burden he carried for the men of his command
"Does Pete know it was Reed?" she asked softly, stroking his cheek tenderly.
"It wasn't Reed," he choked out, holding her against him desperately. "It was...my gun. It was...me."
Pain slammed Pete's body as he drifted to consciousness late the next morning. Fiery daggers stabbed at his head and radiated throughout his body. He tried not to even breath, afraid the activity would cause even more discomfort. Pete lay there hoping that one of the nurses who had awakened him every hour during the night pushing pain medication with the eagerness of a downtown drug peddler would wander in soon with a similar offer. He'd refused it before, but he was feeling much more amenable to eradicating the pain at this point.
Most of yesterday was a complete blur. Somewhere around eleven in the morning, Pete had awakened, still groggy but deeply shaken by a hideous nightmare. It hadn't taken long before he realized it wasn't a dream. Mac's visit was real. Saundra, the cheerful black nurse, had mentioned it, apologizing for shooing him from the room earlier that morning. So if the visit had been the real thing, Pete had to assume the images his drug-assaulted mind recalled were just as legitimate. He'd spent the hours since, praying they were being grossly skewed by the medications.
In an attempt to clear his head and regain full control of his mental faculties, Pete had declined all pain medication since early afternoon as well as the sleeping pills the sympathetic nurses urged. It had been a rough day and a very long night.
And it was an excruciating thirty minutes after he awoke this morning before anyone came through his door. Then it was Detective Jerry Miller. Pete bit the inside of his cheek to help conceal the misery and forced a ghost of a smile.
"Hey! Looks like they've got you plumped and fluffed," Miller greeted cheerfully as he walked toward the bed, but his tone took on a note of concern as he neared. "You feeling all right, Pete?"
"Terrific," Pete quipped with more than a touch of sarcasm.
"You sure you're not in pain?" The detective didn't miss much. He reached for the call button and summoned a nurse, not looking for his friend's reply. Pete merely closed his eyes, accepting without argument. Miller stood by quietly as they waited for the nurse, then motioned that Pete was in need of medication.
"Are we in distress, Mr. Malloy?" the slender brunette in the crisp white uniform asked her patient gently.
"I can only speak for one of us," he replied, eyes still tightly shut against the pain.
"You ready for that shot now?" she confirmed, prepping the syringe she'd brought in anticipation of his need.
"'fraid so," he managed through clenched teeth. She administered the hypo through the port on his IV, rubbing his arm gently with her hand when she'd finished.
"Relax," she prompted. "You should feel some relief in just a few moments."
"Thanks," he whispered, eyes still closed, but no longer squeezed shut.
"Are you up to a visitor?" she queried sometime later, still holding the hand she stroked.
"Yeah," he answered slowly, the drug already easing the pain, leaving only a dull ache. "Jerry? You still there?" Pete opened his eyes and the detective's face swam into his line of vision.
"You sure? I could come back," he offered.
"No...I 'spose we need to get this over..."
"I'm just here working on my Florence Nightingale impression," he chuckled. "We can talk about the other night when you're more yourself."
Pete blinked twice and gave a weak approximation of his trademark crooked grin for the nurses' benefit. "I don't remember seeing you before..." he said, that Malloy charm a bit slurred.
"I was in several times last night trying to get you to take that shot and once to draw blood work," she smiled, a soft, cool hand brushing damp hair from his sweat-dotted forehead. "You were a little out of it."
"Is it...Drea?" he seemed to recall an image in his pain fried brain.
"See, you do remember." She had a comforting way about her. "Feeling better now?"
"All you have to do is ask. The doctor prescribed pain meds as needed."
"I didn't want to be doped up."
"Well, it will start to subside in a day or two, but today will probably be the worst of the pain. And you need your rest, so take the meds if you need them. And no stress!" The last words had been directed to his visitor who nodded contritely as she left them alone.
"So what do you need to know?" Pete prompted, relaxing considerably as he become more comfortable.
"I told you," Miller replied, sliding a chair up to the side rail of the bed. "I'm just here to visit a sick friend."
"Hmmmm..." Pete eyed him suspiciously.
"You heard the boss: no stress," Jerry quipped, gesturing toward the door that had closed behind the nurse.
"So stop stressing me and get on with it. Ask away." Pete raised his right eyebrow a bit, trying to put on a casual air.
"They tell me the surgery went well, and you should make a complete recovery," Miller hedged. "That's good to hear."
"Come on, Jerry. It isn't like you to pull punches."
"Do you remember anything about the other night?" he asked with a shake of his head at Pete's insistence.
"Parts of it are a little hazy," he admitted, reaching for the cup of water on the table over his bed. Miller grabbed it, adjusting the bendy straw and handed it to Pete. He took a sip and swallowed slowly before returning the cup to the table, again with Jerry's assistance. "But I think I recall anything you might need to know."
"You remember the shooting?" Miller confirmed. "Because it's pretty common to have trouble with that."
"I don't have any trouble remembering being hit, Jerry," Pete replied softly. "I lost a bit of time afterwards, but the shooting and before are pretty clear, considering the medication might be dulling my memory a bit."
"We can do this later, Pete."
"We need to do it now."
"Why?" Miller shrugged. "If I'm in no hurry."
"The sooner you talk to me," Pete swallowed hard, taking the plunge. He spoke the words he'd feared aloud. "The quicker Mac's off the hook. Am I right?"
"That might take some time, Pete," Miller looked away. "That's not my call."
So it was true. He'd heard correctly. It was Mac after all. Pete tried to harness his swirling thoughts. "The process starts with you..."
"Mac said he was here," Jerry said gently. "But he wasn't sure you understood what he'd told you yesterday,"
"I was pretty out of it, I guess. They had been giving me stuff to manage the pain. But sometime during the morning I remembered his visit. It seemed so... disjointed...so I started refusing shots, till I could get clear..."
"Ask me the questions, Jer," he insisted, with more force than either of them had thought him capable.
As promised, Pete felt much more like himself by the next afternoon and was able to ease off the pain medication again without intolerable suffering. The doctors had requested that visitors be kept to a short list for the time being, as they continued to monitor his progress but began to move from intense observation towards rehabilitation. Most of the men from his watch had taken to calling the nurses' station for updates. A few would even stop by the ward and spend a little time in the sunroom at the end of the hallway, where they would likely find a fellow officer watching television, or reading one of the three-year-old magazines. On hand, in case they were needed. It was the type of perhaps unnecessary vigil that Pete himself had kept numerous times when a brother policeman had been injured on the job.
The nursing staff had taken a particular liking to Malloy, if for no other reason than his nearly miraculous circumstance, and kept their patient aware of each call and every visitor holding vigil in the lounge. And if any one of the other occupants of the ward had been receiving half as much attention from the nurses, the hospital would have been forced to re-designate the entire floor as intensive care. By the third day of his stay, he was on the verge of distraction at the thoroughness of one particularly attractive member of the staff.
She had been his nurse for at least one shift of every day since his admittance, and the second day, she'd been forced to work a double, trading with a co-worker whose sister had just given birth. The first two days she'd barely registered as a blip on the edges of Pete's radar, but as he was able to get by with less medication and became more coherent, he'd noticed she was pretty. By that afternoon the friendly brunette had become his favorite nurse. And she seemed to enjoy Pete's company as well, spending time in his room as she wrote reports and did her paperwork, chatting with him if he were awake or just keeping an extra eye on him if he slept.
So her appearance in the doorway to his room an hour after the lunch trays had been cleared brought a quick smile and a bit of the old Malloy twinkle to his eyes. But when she announced that it was time for his sponge bath, Pete began to protest, bargain and otherwise attempt to wriggle his way out of any and all participation in the event. He wasn't happy about the whole idea but she was the last person he wanted to see him in such a situation. He kept fast-talking while she set up the supplies on the wheeled table nearby, negotiating through the adjustment of the bed rail and the folding down of blankets. By the time she had rung out the sponge, he realized it was a lost cause.
"Close your eyes and try to enjoy this," the pretty nurse brushed her hand down over his face, urging his eyelids to close.
"Enjoy?" Pete said incredulously.
"Just think about...baseball," she suggested with a smile. "You like the Dodgers?"
"Trust me, the Dodgers are the last thing on my mind right now," Pete squirmed. It wasn't making it any easier that she was an elegant brunette with smokey brown eyes.
"Most people find it relaxing," she replied as she swabbed his arms with the warm, scented sponge.
"Yeah, well, I'd feel a lot more relaxed if you'd let me take a nice leisurely shower," Pete argued. "By myself!"
"I'm afraid we can't let you on your feet for a couple of days," she smiled sympathetically. "With a concussion we have to be very careful of your equilibrium. Besides, I'd have to send someone in with you and I don't think you'd like taking a shower with Carlos as much as this." She steadily continued bathing his lower limbs as they discussed the alternatives, or lack thereof.
"I thought I told you to close your eyes," she chided as she caught him watching her with a look somewhere between intense chagrin and acute interest.
"You also said to enjoy the process," Pete replied with a lopsided grin and a twinkle playing in his green eyes. There was a certain advantage to his position and he decided, since he seemed short on options, to play it to it's maximum benefit. And maybe he could still charm his way out of the really embarrassing part of this process.
"Is that a smile? You must be feeling better," she giggled, the soft tinkling of it the most pleasant sound Pete could recall hearing in a very long time.
"Well enough to bathe myself," he attempted, hoping to work a deal before things got any more involved.
"Sorry," she shook her head, removing the hospital gown from his shoulders, folding it down over his abdomen, but exposing Pete's arms and chest. "Nice try though."
Pete felt the cool air against his flushed skin. He wasn't sure where embarrassment ended and arousal began, but he sincerely wished this whole procedure would come to a swift conclusion before the difference became academic and he really made a fool of himself. She was by far the prettiest nurse assigned to him, and though he wanted to get a chance to know her better, he hadn't meant for her to get to know this much about him so soon.
"Isn't this refreshing?" she smiled, as she wrung out the sponge with fresh water and stroked his chest with its warm, clean-smelling softness. "You'll sleep much better after this." She continued as though it didn't make the slightest difference that she was about to remove the discarded gown and strip him of the shred of dignity he had left. A freshly laundered gown lay folded on the bed by his side and as she leaned across him, he was surrounded by the scent of jasmine; her light, pleasant cologne and felt her warmth, so very close. He also felt his heart rate increase exponentially.
"Am I in the wrong room?" Reed had amazing timing! "I thought this was Officer Malloy's room, but he's in no condition to be wrestling nurses."
"That's my partner," Pete sighed, feeling his cheeks flush even more. To add insult to injury, there was to be a witness to his mortification.
"We're just finishing," she replied, straightening quickly. "If you'll wait just a moment."
Pete's eyes held a pleading she couldn't deny. She opened the clean gown and began to slip it over his arms. He attempted to help the process along by raising off the bed, but a wave of dizziness forced him back against the pillows. The nurse straightened the fresh gown down over his body, whisking the old one from underneath with a practiced hand. Pete couldn't believe his luck. He'd never ridicule his partner's timing again.
"We can finish this later," she smiled, adjusting the sheets and blanket up around Pete's chest. She gathered the items she'd been using and stood by the bed. "I've been talking to Officer Reed several times a day since you came in and I know he's been anxious to see you." She moved to the door, addressing the rest of her remarks to Jim. "Nice to finally meet you in person. He's doing much better today. Stay for as long as you like, and I'll come back in whenever you're through."
"Thank you, Drea," Pete smiled, the blush beginning to subside.
"She's something!" Jim commented after watching her leave and noting the expression on his partner's still crimson face. "Sorry I interrupted."
"I was about to get her phone number," Pete shot his friend a playful look of warning. An unspoken agreement passed between the partners that nothing just seen would go beyond this room.
"It looked like it was way past that point," Jim chuckled as he approached the bedside. "And you do seem to be feeling better."
"It's good to see you, partner," Pete said quietly, a mist in his eyes.
"Really good to see you," Jim replied, blinking and looking away a moment. "I wanted to be here the night you came in, but..."
"They would have had you in the bed next to me, if they'd gotten a look at you that night," Pete quipped. "And it sounds like you've been keeping pretty close tabs on me." The truth was, as the nurses gave Pete a rundown of all the phone calls they received asking after him, Jim Reed's name had been the most often listed.
"I guess I was pretty much a mess. And the way I acted. That stupid fight," Jim looked at the floor. His mood had gone quite suddenly somber. "And when I saw you, pale as dea--" Even now he couldn't bring himself to say the word aloud. "All that blood!"
"I should have let you say what you wanted then, I guess."
"You thought you'd only been grazed. A scratch you said. You thought we could talk later." Jim shook his head, the magnitude of what might have happened nearly as heavy on his heart as it had been that fateful night. "And there almost wasn't..."
"Jim, stop looking at me like that. I'm on the mend. A coupla days and I'll be outta here."
"A bullet in the head, Pete!" Those intense blue eyes were shiny with emotion. "If it had been a hair to one side...or at a slightly different angle..."
"It wasn't!" Pete shut his eyes against the throbbing in his head and the subject he still wasn't quite ready to discuss this with anyone, especially not his partner. It had been close, too damn close. But he recovered his composure quickly, for Jim's sake, and looked up at him with a hint of a smile. "'Course Jerry Miller said my hat's never gonna be the same!"
"Yeah, the band was -- I'm glad you were wearing it!" Jim asserted. The shadow of the tragedy that might have been still colored his tone as he eyed the gauze hiding the physical scar. "Jean kept me home. Figured you didn't need to be fighting off my germs on top of everything. But we called to check on your condition."
"I know, Jim."
Jim felt the warmth of unspoken pardon for any imagined transgressions of friendship. "But that head cold wasn't the only reason I stayed away that first night..."
"It's okay, partner."
"I was afraid with the range, the cold, the fight," he sighed deeply, feeling Pete's unconditional forgiveness, even before continuing the confession. "The way my luck was running, I thought it had to be me. My gun. And as much as I wanted to be here for you. I just couldn't face it, face you with that."
"I knew you'd be thinking that way."
Jim stared in disbelief at his friend. "How could I think anything else, after..."
"Jim," Pete's voice was weighted with the pain and sadness he'd been suffering along with his partner, despite their separation. "I'm fine. The doctors say I'll make a complete recovery. There's no permanent damage. Except for a little ...amnesia."
"Yeah," Pete smiled. "That whole night's a blank."
"But...you just...we were just talking about it ...just a minute..."
"Sorry, partner. All of it. Gone!"
Jim regarded Pete for a long moment. A grateful tear shone in his deep blue eyes as he allowed his partner's retrograde absolution to wash over his wounded soul. Pete had forgiven him even before he knew the truth.
"So...what's in the bag?" Pete changed the subject in the next breath.
"Oh, yeah," Jim took a bit longer to switch gears as he remembered his package. "Well, I know how you hate it when people bring flowers to the hospital."
"And I deeply appreciate your restraint," Pete's eyes twinkled.
"Well, the Reeds had a family meeting to decide what I should bring," Jim was enjoying the look of amused anticipation on his partner's face. He was drawing the presentation out as long as possible. "And your godson insisted on sending you...this!"
An adorable, stuffed elephant with floppy velvet ears emerged from the bag. "Duffles!" Pete gasped, nearly dumbstruck by the vastness of Jimmy's gift.
"I was a little surprised he let this out of his sight," Jim smiled from ear to ear, remembering the determined little face that had offered up the cherished object.
"I've never seen him sleep without it," Pete almost whispered as he stared at the toy in his hands, their visit to the circus the year before coming clearly into focus. Little Jimmy had adored the circus. Laughing at the antics of the clowns and giggling at monkeys and trained dogs. Awed by the acrobats. But the roars of the big cats had been more than his two-and-not-quite-one-half-year-old sensibilities could stand. His doting godfather had attempted to lend discreet support without calling attention to his distress.
Jimmy had, however, been fascinated with the gentle, massive pachyderms. And that hadn't gone without notice, either. As they were leaving the crowded coliseum, Pete spied the soft, slightly sad-looking stuffed elephant with droopy ears so velvety they begged touching. He would never forget the complete enchantment in the child's eyes when the bundle was presented, chubby hands grabbing it with eager glee. It had become a constant companion, his comfort object of choice. The little boy's sacrifice today tugged at Pete's heart.
"He said he didn't want you to be alone in the hospital," Jim explained softly, his father-pride mirrored Pete's shining eyes.
"You told him I was here?" That news finally pulled Pete's attention from the amazing gift. "I'm not convinced that was such a good idea, Jim. He doesn't need to be upset about me and he's sure to make the connection and begin worrying about something happening to his father."
"We could hardly keep it from him. He sensed something was wrong and he overheard Jean and me talking about you. He wouldn't be satisfied until we told him what had happened to his Uncle Pete."
"You didn't tell him!"
"Calm down, worrywart! We told him you hurt your head. Okay?"
"And did that suffice?"
"Jean assured him you were going to be fine and that he would see you soon and maybe even talk to you on the phone in a day or so." Jim chuckled at Pete's expression.
"He would have noticed the bandages when you came home, anyway."
"You don't think Jean was going to let you go home by yourself, do you?"
"It would be wise to concede. In your condition, partner, you wouldn't have a chance against Jean. She's already got your room ready."
Pete shook his head, forgetting the caution necessary in light of his injuries, and was slammed by pain for the oversight. A reflexive hand flew to his forehead before he could stop it. Jim knew.
"I'll tell her you accept," Jim chuckled.
"Sorry to interrupt..." the dark haired nurse poked her head in again. "But I have to get his vital signs. You don't have to leave, Mr. Reed, and I'll be as quick as possible."
"Not an interruption," Jim assured. "He's here to be taken care of."
Pete was spending the time during this exchange hiding the stuffed elephant beneath the covers and trying to look nonchalant.
"Well, we're doing our best," she smiled, fitting a blood pressure cuff on Pete's arm and slipping the stethoscope around her own neck. "Your friend is awfully popular around here."
"Not surprising," Jim smiled, a sly look in his deep blue eyes. "Pete's always been a favorite with the ladies."
"Really?" She shot Pete a playful glance. "Seemed a bit shy to me."
Pete reddened with the appropriate embarrassment, remembering the sponge bath cut short just in time.
"Shy? The Strawberry Fox, shy?"
"Reed!" The warning sounded every bit as ominous as it would actually have been had Pete not been confined to a bed.
"Strawberry Fox?" she smiled, a teasing look in her dark brown eyes. "That sounds intriguing."
"Not nearly so much as you'd think." Pete's eyes flashed a warning at his partner.
"What's in the bag?" she changed the subject deftly, smiling at Pete in sympathy. "Presents? Just because you're in the hospital?"
"Almost makes it worth it, huh?" Pete winked.
"Not even if there are keys to a cherry red Ferrari in there!" she shook her head.
"No keys," Jim replied. "But it's from Jimmy."
"My godson," Pete informed her proudly. Jim pulled a slender red plastic bottle from the bag.
"Bubbles?" she giggled.
"He didn't want his Uncle Pete to be bored in the hospital."
"A perfect gift!" she smiled. "Sounds like a thoughtful kid. How old is he?"
"Three and a half. But he's smart for his age," Pete boasted.
"We'll put those to good use as soon as you're feeling up to it.
"Andrea..." A young blonde student nurse poked her head in the doorway.
"Mr. Conner in 317 is giving Margot a problem about the meds again."
"I'll be there as soon as I'm finished here."
Pete watched as the perky blonde left the room, then turned a confused look toward the brunette who was taking his pulse and writing on a chart. "Andrea?"
"What is it?" she smiled down at him.
"Yes...is there a problem?"
"I thought it was Drea. I've been calling you Drea."
"I thought...I mean..."
"You were really out of it that second night. You were refusing pain meds and having a rough time of it. Drea was about all you could manage."
"But you never corrected me."
"I didn't see any reason to."
"It's okay. Really. I'd just as soon you keep calling me Drea." She patted his arm as she finished with it.
Jim winked at Pete from over Andrea's shoulder.
"I'm going off duty now, but I'll be back this evening," she explained.
"Will you be my nurse again?" Pete asked without thinking.
"According to the schedule. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, sure." He tried not to act like it was a big deal.
"I'll let Saundra know you have a visitor and she won't bother you again until your partner leaves." She gave a little wave as she let herself out the door.
"Like I said, she's really something," Jim stated with a sly smile.
"Nice girl," Pete admitted.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"What did she mean about that second night?"
"Nothing," Pete shook his head.
"Sounded like something to me."
"She sat with me most of the night. I was trying to go without pain meds to clear my head."
"Calm down, partner! It was two days ago!"
"Well, at least you had good company."
"Not as though I was the least bit coherent. I'm surprised I remember her at all."
"I'd be really worried if you didn't!" Jim chuckled.
Pete gave a look that almost approximated his usual scowl, which delighted Jim to no end. He actually laughed aloud.
"Bubbles?" One side of Pete's mouth twitched into a smirk.
"Hey, those were your godson's idea!" Jim defended.
"I'll just bet!"
"Your nurse seemed to like the idea."
"Uh huh," but his focus seemed to drift and the dark mood that fell over him wasn't lost on his partner. Jim gave him a few minutes before he plunged in.
"You okay, partner?"
"I was just...wondering...if you'd talked to Mac."
"He's been on administrative leave...until the SRB hearing."
"What are they waiting for?"
"It's only been a few days."
"More than enough time..." Pete bit off the last words. He knew what the hold up was; they were waiting to see how he came out of this. It wasn't fair, but the severity of his injuries were going to effect the outcome of the shooting review board. "So, you haven't seen him?"
"Not since...that night." Jim looked at the floor as though there were something fascinating there. "He took care of me. Just like he promised you when we put you in the ambulance."
"Mac's great," Pete sighed. "I just wish he'd call."
"He hasn't?" Jim's attention was on his partner again, his eyes wide. "I'm surprised at that."
"Mary's called, at least once each day, to ask about my condition. But never Mac."
"I figured he'd be around every day." Jim could imagine what Mac was going through. He had spent some agonizing hours himself thinking that he was responsible for Pete's shooting. He knew Mac had to really be hurting if he wasn't visiting Pete in the hospital. For all their teasing to the contrary, Mac was really a caring, compassionate CO and usually nothing would keep him from the bedside of one of his men.
"He was here the first night and again the next morning. I was pretty out of it, pain medicine and all. I tried to focus, but..."
"I'm sure he understood, Pete." He knew his buddy well enough to know that Pete was more concerned with Mac's feelings than his own pain. Jim had been on the receiving end of that concern, more than once. The morning Pete mentioned would have been the day the ballistics report came back. Jim could imagine what it had been like for Mac then. He'd been sweating it himself, sure it had been his fault. But to have to come face to face with Pete, admitting what happened, that would have been gut wrenching.
"A bunch of doctors and nurses came in, made him leave. He was supposed to come back. Maybe I drifted off, but I asked and the nurses said he left."
"Probably just has a lot on his mind lately." It was definitely an understatement, and he knew he wasn't fooling Pete one bit. Jim had been worried about MacDonald himself, but didn't have the relationship Pete shared with their sergeant, so he hadn't done anything to contact him. He wished there was something he could do to bring the friends together. They both seemed to need it.
"Jim. I know why he hasn't come back, or called. I just wish..." The pained look on Pete's face wasn't from the injuries, nor could any amount of medicine stop the ache he felt for his friend.
"You want me to call him? Go over there maybe?"
"No. No, Mac probably needs some time. I'd just like to talk to him. I wish he didn't have to go through all this, for an accident. And I really wish he wasn't doing it all alone."
Jim watched as Pete struggled with the frustration and longing. He tried to think of something to say that could ease the tension and the misplaced guilt. But words failed, as they often did. He finally decided to change the subject.
"Hey - all the guys are pulling for you..." Jim interjected in the tense silence. "There's usually somebody in the lounge down the hall, if you ever want company or need anything."
"Yeah...so they tell me. Drea says it looks like we annexed the sunroom for Central Division."
"Everybody was so worried, and they're just glad you're gonna be okay."
"Well you can tell 'em now that I'm all right. They can go home."
"Jean sends her love too, you know."
"I've never been more aware of my friends," Pete swallowed hard.
"You just want 'em to go home?" Jim joked.
"They've gotta have better things to do," Pete chuckled.
"It's really good to see you, know that you're okay."
"You've called every day, got detailed reports."
"Yeah." Jim blinked as he remembered the scene several nights before. "When they took you away on that stretcher and it all seemed so unreal. But seeing you, talking with you..."
"I know, Jim," Pete smiled. He understood all the things his friend was finding hard to say. Sometimes it was just hard to express the emotions, to expose them without feeling weak or sentimental.
"Well, I'd better go. I have to be at work in about half an hour. Is there anything you need? Something I can bring you? A pizza? Duke's chili cheeseburger? Dancing girls?"
"A ticket out of here?"
"Before you've gotten the brunette's phone number? I wouldn't want to sabotage your love life like that!"
"I'll stop in on my way home. Call the station and leave a message if you think of something."
"Jim..." Pete stopped him at the door.
"Bill MacDonald!" Mary's voice preceded her down the stairs to the garage in the wee hours of the morning. "What do you think you are doing? Do you realize what time it is?" She stopped halfway down the steps, amazed at the sight before her. What used to be a neat two car garage looked more like the scene of a church bazaar. Boxes were everywhere. Empty boxes apparently, as their contents seemed to be strewn on every surface available.
"Go back to bed, Mary."
"What are you doing? It looks like a hurricane hit!"
"You've been after me to clear out this stuff..." he began.
"I've been asking you for two years. What possessed you to start tonight?"
"No time like the present." The smile wasn't any more convincing now than it had been for the past week.
"This is ridiculous. Come to bed."
"I can't leave this mess. I'll just get it in order..."
"It'll take you a month to get this past chaos!" she chided.
Mac bent his head, returning to the task. Mary stood watching him for several minutes, wishing she could say what she was thinking.
"Bill," she called softly. "Honey, come to bed."
"I'll be up when I'm finished with this."
"You can't stay up all night out here."
"I can't sleep. Might just as well finish."
"Bill MacDonald," she was losing her patience with his stubborn side.
"Go to bed, Mary. I'll come in later."
"You can't keep on like this. You're going to make yourself sick." She stood there until she realized there would be no answer, then slipped back upstairs. She wouldn't get any sleep tonight either, worrying about him. She wished he'd talk about it, if not with her, with someone. What he really needed was to talk to Pete. But if she couldn't even get him to make the phone calls to the hospital--the calls he insisted she make each day to check on Pete's condition--what chance did she have?
Andrea slipped into the room as the light was just peeking through the blinds at the window. The staff shortages were getting worse. This was the second extra shift she'd worked in the past three days. It was starting to feel like she'd just left. In fact, she had, only eight hours before. Andrea had checked her turnover reports, then headed for the ward's favorite patient. Like all the other nurses, she had been keeping an extra watch on Malloy and was anxious to see how he was progressing. Her shift had ended before his partner left last night and there had been such a change in Pete's mood at Jim Reed's appearance that she couldn't wait to find out how the rest of the visit had gone.
Pete was still sleeping, the sheet rumpled as though he'd had a difficult night. Andrea shook her head with a weary smile, noting on the chart that her stubborn charge had refused his sleep meds again last night. She moved to straighten the covers and noticed an odd lump and something protruding from beneath the wrinkled sheet. Andrea pulled gently at the hem of the sheet and uncovered a sad-looking stuffed elephant with extra large floppy ears. She stifled a giggle, replacing the toy in the crook of Pete's arm and adjusting the covers so the elephant's head and trunk stuck out from beneath the snowy white.
Her patient stirred, his hand moving instinctively to the toy elephant. His eyes fluttered open, searching the sleep-muddied images until he found Andrea's now familiar face. He returned her smile, almost reflexively, though unsure of the reason for her quizzical look.
"Good morning," she beamed.
"Morning," came a raspy reply. He gladly accepted the straw she offered, the cool water welcome to his hoarse and scratchy throat.
"Friend of yours?" One perfect brow raised in question.
"Your bed-buddy," she snickered.
Pete followed her eyes to the stuffed animal at his side.
"I hope the pictures come out," she teased.
"You didn't!" he gasped.
"No--but I should have. I'm sure your fellow officers would be fascinated."
"You wouldn't..." he pleaded.
Her only response was an enigmatic chuckle as she began to take his vital signs.
"It's my godson's," he offered in explanation.
"I thought he sent you bubbles."
"That was to keep me from being bored. Duffles here is so I wouldn't be alone."
"Oh, I see..."
"He's almost four," Pete continued. "Jimmy, I mean."
"Yeah. It's his favorite stuffed toy."
"And he gave him away?"
"I think it's more of a loan," he chuckled.
"You must be pretty special to him."
"I'm his godfather." Pete grinned from ear to ear.
"Well, I think it's adorable. I'm sure the other nurses will get a kick out of it."
"Eh...that's why it was under the covers...I...eh...didn't really want this to get out."
"If it's all right with you, I'm going to move him a bit so I can finish taking your blood pressure." He watched her gently tuck the treasure into the corner of the bed, a wistful look in his eyes. Her assessment had been correct; the child's gesture had made him feel very special.
Andrea began removing the bandages, smiling at Pete as they took up their usual banter to keep his mind off the procedure. But as she started cleansing the wound they both fell silent and Pete's eyes closed.
"How's it look?" he asked quietly.
"It's coming along nicely," she replied, continuing to clean the site.
"No...I mean...." His eyes opened, glancing at her and then away quickly. "I just wondered what it looks like. How bad is it going to be?"
"Once it's finished healing, your hair should cover it." She regarded him for a long moment. "She won't even notice in a few weeks."
"Your girlfriend. That's what you're worrying about, isn't it?"
"There's no she. At least nobody steady. Not for a while now."
"Well, any girl who has a problem with this isn't worth a second look. You're a great guy; funny, attractive, and this isn't going to change that."
"Thanks," he chuckled nervously. "But that's not what has me concerned."
"Oh? So why the worry lines," she smiled down at him.
"I just don't want everyone looking at it...remembering."
"He's bound to be a mother hen," Pete sighed. "But it's not just Jim..."
"Huh?" He frowned.
"It was a friend who shot you, am I right?"
"Yeah," Pete answered slowly. "It was an accident."
"Of course. And you don't want to remind him with a scar, is that it?"
"Something like that." Pete agreed. "I'd rather I didn't serve as a reminder to anyone, if it's all the same."
"Like I said," she assured. "Your hair will grow back and cover it."
"How much of my hair is gone?"
"Well, they shaved around the site to do the surgery, but it won't be long before it's back to normal."
"How bad does it look?" Pete asked quietly.
"Didn't the doctor talk to you about this?" Andrea stopped what she was doing, regarding him with a bit of a frown.
"He told me about the damage, the fact that the skull wasn't broken, but..."
"Nothing cosmetic, huh?"
"Well, you might be able to feel a groove beneath the skin after it heals, but I don't think you'll see anything," she explained patiently. "Some people develop an affectation of rubbing the site, a secret imperfection, but you don't seem like a brooder to me."
"That's not what worries me," He looked away, his thoughts far off and darker than they had been in a long time.
"It may take a while, Pete, but I don't think anyone will be able to tell."
"I just...I haven't seen it and... everyone keeps staring at it. I figure it must have taken half my head off."
"Not at all," she soothed. He still didn't seem comforted. "Hang on. I'll be right back."
She covered the wound and left him for a moment, returning with a slim compact. "Here. I probably shouldn't do this, but since you're imagining so much worse than it is...."
Pete took the mirror from her and raised it as she removed the gauze. He stared at the wound for several minutes in silence.
"You okay?" she asked gently, a hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah." He continued to gaze into the mirror at his shaved head and the black, spider-like stitches in his scalp.
"I'm okay." He lowered the mirror and closed his eyes.
"I shouldn't have let you see it."
"No, it's fine. I just...I don't want to wear something around that will constantly remind me, and everyone else."
"It'll pass, Pete," she comforted as she began to dress the wound again.
"You'll see," Andrea smiled.
He handed back the mirror. "Thanks."
"I don't know if I did you any favor."
"No. It helped, I guess."
"Actually it could be an asset," she said brightly. "Make you look rugged and exciting!"
"Well then, why am I worried?" he chuckled.
"I don't think you're gonna be dateless on a Saturday night because of the scar," she said lightly as she put the mirror away and began arranging the wound care supplies.
"Can I get that in writing?"
Andrea took a pen and scribbled something on a page of the small pad from her pocket. She tore out the paper and folded it once, handing it to a confused Pete. "Here."
"My phone number," she smiled, slipping into the rubber gloves. "You find yourself alone on a Saturday, you can call me."
"I may take you up on that."
"So...tell me about your godson."
"Yeah. Sounds like quite a kid...giving up his Duffles for you and all."
"He's terrific." Pete couldn't keep the pride from his voice or the twinkle from his eyes. "My partner's kid. Very bright, though I'm not sure where he gets it. I think he's going to play for the Dodgers."
"Hmmm? Think he can win us the pennant?"
Later that morning they got Pete up and with the help of a cane and the steadying arm of his favorite nurse, he took a few turns around his room. He even spent a few minutes standing at the window, taking in the view of a smog-socked Los Angeles. In the afternoon Andrea finally succumbed to his incessant pleas and accompanied him on a stroll down the corridor to the sun room. Jerry Woods looked up from a three-year-old Field and Stream to meet Pete's flushed but smiling face with a beaming expression of his own. But the exertion was a little more than he'd anticipated. After a few moments to sit and catch his breath, Pete allowed the nurse and his old fishing buddy to escort him back to his room. Exhausted but triumphant, he napped, sleeping better than he had since before the accident.
He nearly missed Jim when he stopped by after work, the same as he had every day since his first visit. But if he hadn't been awakened by the shave-and-a-haircut knock at the door, the aroma of a juicy Duke's chili cheeseburger would likely have roused him. That or the glare of the thousand watt smile lighting his partner's face as he entered bearing the precious cargo.
"You get clearance for that?" Pete asked after the usual pleasantries had been dispensed with and Jim was unveiling the still steaming succulent sandwich.
"Would that stop you?" Jim was surprised at what he read as hesitation in his friend's questioning eyes, and more than a bit worried.
"'Course not!" Pete laughed, eagerly plucking the prize from its grease soaked bag. "I'd just have you stand guard at the door till I finish it."
"He got the all-clear," Andrea snickered as she slipped in quietly, closing the door carefully behind her. "But I'd no idea that thing would smell so...so...well so much! It might as well scream contraband. Hurry up and eat it before the other patients want one and we're all on report!" She produced two cans from the pocket of her jacket and handed them to Jim. "I brought you a coupla sodas from the machine in the nurse's lounge. Maybe you should help him with that."
"Nothin' doing!" Pete pulled the sandwich away from his partner's reach. "This one's all mine!"
"Well go easy, okay? Your stomach's not used to all that, after a few days in here."
"My stomach's been crying for one of these," he managed through a mouthful of beef and cheese and special chili sauce. "This is what real food looks like."
"If he gets sick," she leveled a stern look in Jim's direction. "You're taking full responsibility!"
"Does that mean I have to clean up after him?" Jim gave a great imitation of true fear that the worst might happen.
"Absolutely!" Andrea laughed, placing a second napkin over Pete's chest.
Jim stuck around for a couple of hours, watching a replay of the race with Pete on the television. He was about to leave when the dinner tray arrived. Having eaten more than half of the cheeseburger, Pete was in no condition to make even the smallest dent in the creamed chicken over toast. Whether it was out of worry that the night nurse would give his partner a hard time or simply his seemingly bottomless stomach, Jim polished off most of the meal, including the tapioca pudding Pete couldn't even bring himself to touch.
The next morning's perambulatory took them the length of the ward twice, and Pete was game for a third when Andrea called a halt. She was afraid he'd overdo it and finally convinced him another walk after lunch would do him more good. He actually finished the tuna salad and fruit cocktail on his tray, having worked up enough of an appetite that even hospital food seemed palatable.
When Andrea came to take him for his afternoon constitutional she found Pete embroiled in negotiations with the orderly to float him a loan of five dollars and include him in the baseball pool, betting on that evening's Dodgers away game.
"You're both going to be in major trouble if the head nurse gets wind of this," she chided when the orderly had fled the scene of the crime. It was all she could do to keep the smile from her lips, but it shone like a beacon from her dark eyes. "And I'm surprised at you...gambling! An officer of the law?"
"A friendly little wager on a sporting event," he rationalized, the innocent look of a choir boy lighting his features. "And if you have any idea that cops never gamble, I wouldn't visit the locker room at the station anytime soon, if I were you. Wouldn't want you disillusioned."
"Den of iniquity, huh?" she giggled, as she lowered the railing on the side of his bed.
"I think the police may have started the concept of the baseball pool. Some of those guys will bet on anything!"
"I suppose now isn't a good time to admit to the nurses' pool about you, then."
"Yeah. They're betting on how many laps you'll do this afternoon and how long it'll be before you sweet talk the doctors into signing your release papers."
"How many days you down for?" His eyes danced with a face-splitting grin.
"That would be cheating," she shook her head, steading him as he stood carefully. "But if you make it three times around the ward this afternoon, I can afford that new scarf I've been admiring in the window of the hospital gift shop."
"What color is it?" Pete asked as he slipped his arms into the robe she held.
"Blue. With big yellow sunflowers."
"I'll make that third round," he promised with a smile.
He was good as his word, and she had no trouble convincing him to return to his room afterwards, though she was sure she'd have had a fight on her hands had it not been for the joke about the pool.
"What I can't understand is why you didn't go for four or five. Don't you have any faith in me?" He complained as they returned.
"I do, but I'm also your nurse and I don't want you overdoing things and suffering a setback. You want me to win the pool on your release date, don't you?"
"Hmmm!" he gave her a playful scowl as she helped him back into bed.
"So who do you have in the baseball pool?" she asked as she made notes on his chart.
"St. Louis? I thought you were a Dodgers fan."
"I am," Pete explained. "But the way they've been playing this season...I figure if they lose...I win money and if they win...I won't mind the loss."
"Makes sense," she giggled.
"What about you?"
"Oh, I never bet on baseball." Andrea shook her head, laughing. "Only sure things."
"Talking baseball?" Father Jack Furillo stuck his head around the half-opened door. "Must be feeling better." He'd been a regular visitor since the first day Pete was admitted. He was at the hospital anyway so Jack made it a point to stop in and spend a few minutes with his childhood friend. Granted the first couple of days, Pete hadn't been up to any company and Father Furillo merely stood by his bedside and offered prayers heavenward. Thanks for sparing him and requests for healing. Then as Pete became more coherent, they'd been able to chat a little. But this visit Jack had cleared some time on his schedule and he had an agenda.
"Hey! You're looking good." The priest's jolly tone filled the room as he entered. "What are you hanging around for? You're taking up valuable bed space!"
"Tell them that, would ya?" Pete smiled.
"A little. Can't read or watch television for long. It still gives me a headache."
"What does the doctor say?"
"That it's normal and will go away in a few more days," Pete assured.
"In the meantime?"
"I'm getting a little tired of all the fuss," he replied. "I don't know why I can't just go home."
"I heard it's 'cause you're so popular with the nurses. They don't want to let you go."
"Guess you'll have to stop being so irresistible," Drea winked as she packed up her supplies.
"It's hard when you're just naturally charming."
"Give me a break!" Jack moaned.
"I'll leave you two alone." She started for the door. "If you want to talk later, I'm here all day."
"Thanks!" Pete smiled.
"Nice girl. I see you've staked a claim."
"She's my nurse," Pete replied, not truly answering. "So, what brings you here? I thought I was getting better?"
"I'm wearing a collar and carrying a Bible, not a cowl and a sickle, Pete."
"But a hospital visit from a priest can't be a good sign."
"I'm glad all my parishioners don't take it that way," Jack chuckled. "If you prefer, I'm not here on official business. Just visiting an old friend in the hospital."
"If you're here as a friend, where's the junk food?" Pete asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
"You're supposed to smuggle in a greasy burger and fries or pizza or something."
"Sorry. Didn't know the rules," the priest shrugged. "I've got a stick of Juicy Fruit?"
"Is the food that bad?"
"Haven't had much appetite until yesterday and I lost that when they served breakfast."
"If I'd know, I would have brought some of Clara's famous flapjacks in my jacket pocket," Jack quipped, referring to his indulgent housekeeper.
"Naw. Maple syrup makes a nasty stain on tweed."
"So what's this about the Dodgers?" Jack grabbed a chair, turned it around and straddled it. The movement, so unpriestlike, reminded Pete of their school days and made him smile.
"I would've be in the starting line up this Saturday, but I'm missing batting practice," Pete quipped.
"Oh, that is bad luck," Jack chuckled. "You seem in high spirits." Jack observed Pete more closely. He knew that Malloy charm could hide a lot of pain.
"Just a little stir crazy at this point."
"They have you up and around yet?"
"Oh yeah," Pete shrugged. "We did the 440 this morning."
"Sorry I missed that," Jack played along.
"I was poetry in motion."
"Well, it shouldn't be long then before they're booting you out of here," he encouraged.
"That's what I'm hoping."
"Someone who didn't know better might get the impression you don't like it here."
"If I'm still here by Monday, I'm making a break for it," Pete announced, his eyes twinkling.
"Don't ask me to help, I'm a rotten liar," Jack joked, but he was still eyeing his friend for signs. "No problems then?"
"What kind of problems?"
"Worries? Nightmares? In the aftermath of that kind of trauma, it's pretty common to have a little difficulty adjusting."
"I'm fine, Jack," Pete said stubbornly. "Somebody send you on this wild goose chase?"
"I told you - I'm here on a social call."
"Then put away the beads, Father."
"Sorry! Occupational hazard."
"Well, I promise not to give you a ticket for loitering if you'll leave the counseling back at the confessional."
"You know, it wouldn't hurt to talk to someone. Especially after what you've been through."
"Hey. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he shrugged. "That's all. In my line of work that's an occupational hazard."
"You can discount it if you want, but it happened. And you have to live with the fallout."
"I live with that all the time."
"I suppose you want me to say that I'm rethinking my life, my goals."
"I don't want you to say anything except the truth."
"The truth is, I'm fine."
"Well, that's good. I just know that if it happened to me, I'd be doing some serious thinking."
After a long silence, Pete spoke up."About what?"
"Huh?" So much time had past, Jack wasn't certain of the reference.
"What would you be thinking about?"
"I'd probably be questioning a lot of things in my life," the priest prompted gently, taking his lead from Pete. "Am I doing what I really want? Am I happy with the way I'd leave things if I was to die?"
"I'm just not much for introspection."
"Pete, under the circumstances, it's completely normal and understandable."
"I've thought about the possibilities." Pete spoke without meeting Jack's eyes. "You don't do my job long without a stray thought or two in that direction. But I guess I always figured I'd know that I'd have to face down death."
"It didn't happen like that."
"One minute I was behind a cement screen. It seemed adequate protection. I was bobbing out from it to take aim and fire, then ducking behind. Then I'd been struck by something and out cold. I never knew what hit me. A rock, a bottle, a piece of debris. The thought of a bullet never occurred to me. When I came to, I was staring up into a friend's worried face."
"That had to be frightening."
"Actually, I was calm. I couldn't believe I'd been shot, even when they told me. Certainly not in the head. A bullet to the skull..." There was a long pause before he continued, his voice nearly a whisper. "I guess I should be dead."
"But you aren't," Jack interjected, but not until after the silence had stretched out between them a most uncomfortable time.
"No, I'm still here," Pete said as though it amused him a little.
"And that bothers you?" Jack's brow raised.
"Not enough to complain about," Pete chuckled. "But it does make you wonder."
"Why were you given a second chance? What are you supposed to do with it?"
"I've never been big on destiny. I usually think of life as pretty random."
"Not a very Catholic view."
"You're talking to me here, not Bishop Sheen."
"I rarely confuse you two," Jack winked. "So life's random, eh? That's your theory?"
"To believe in a plan for things brings a lot of troubling questions. A lot of why's."
"Wars, famine, earthquakes?"
"A few of the top ten, yeah."
"You said usually. Does that mean you've been thinking differently?"
"To believe in a random universe would require me to face the fact that I'm only alive because..." Pete closed his eyes slowly. He had hardly let himself entertain thoughts of how close he'd come, and only then in the privacy of the long quiet darkness. To admit it to someone else, in the light of day, was becoming too much for him to handle.
"Pete," Jack summoned softly after a long silence. "Whether or not you believe it's a second chance, you've been given an opportunity to re-assess. That's a little daunting sometimes. Don't try to do it all at once."
"I'm okay," Pete shrugged off the emotions he'd allowed to touch him.
"It's bound to shake you."
"Is this the part where you comfort the patient?" Pete quipped.
"This is the part where we talk about death."
"There's a lovely thought."
"You said you'd thought about it," Jack reminded.
"It's not exactly a subject for conversation."
"You'd be surprised how often I talk about it," Jack replied matter of factly.
"I guess in your job..."
"I'm sure it comes up in yours too. So let's hear it. What went through your mind?"
Pete blew out a long sigh. "There's a loaded question."
Jack leaned forward on the chair, crossing his arms on the back of it and smiling at his friend's squirming. "It usually makes a bit of an impact. I'm fascinated to hear what you thought. Any unfinished business come up?"
"I've made all the arrangements. I wouldn't leave anything hanging legally. I don't leave anyone behind."
"I think that may be an overstatement," Jack interjected.
"I meant that there are no survivors to worry about," Pete looked out the window, away from Jack's honest gaze.
"What about your partner?"
"Reed?" Pete's brows knit with the question.
"I talked to him a few times since you've been in. He seems really concerned. I think you'd create quite a void for him if you died."
"I meant family," Pete argued.
"Aren't you his son's godfather?"
"The night after you were brought in, I came up to see you. You were pretty much out of it, so I just slipped in, said a quick prayer and then spent some time with your nurse. While I was there, your partner called. He was worried and upset that he couldn't come see you, but afraid of giving you further complications with the cold he had. The nurse had me talk to him a while and I got the impression you mean quite a lot to him. That you'd be leaving a great deal behind there."
"Pete, maybe you need to acknowledge that relationship for the importance it has."
"We've become friends...but..." his words drifted off as he fingered the edge of a velvety ear on his beloved godson's toy elephant.
"There's a freedom in feeling disconnected, thinking no one relies on you, that nobody will be left destitute at your passing. Especially, I'd think, in such a dangerous line of work."
"Freedom or loneliness?"
"Does it feel lonely?" The question was gentle, but point blank.
"It feels odd knowing that I might be wrong about it," he finally admitted.
"You mean that someone would care?" One brow raised in mock surprise.
"Isn't that what you've been trying to convince me?" Pete laughed.
"I know I'd care," Jack's smile signaled a change of mood. "I'd probably end up preaching the funeral. So try to hold off till I'm a monsignor at least, would ya?"
"Wise guy." After a moment Pete sighed, relieved by the joking. But his own words turned serious again.. "That night, I saw something in Jim's eyes when they found me. I knew that look, from the other side."
"You lost a partner once, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Before Jim and I were assigned together. I remember thinking, I didn't want him to feel what I did. And I sure didn't want to be the cause." Pete looked away, composing himself for a moment. "It's always been okay before. I never tried to get myself killed, but whatever happened, I knew it would be... just me."
"But it's not." Jack said sympathetically, touching Duffles' head for emphasis.
"Complications," Pete smiled, tears welling in his eyes.
"You have been thinking," Jack acknowledged.
"I don't know how it will effect...my job," Pete sounded a bit unsure. "How I'll handle it."
Jack watched his friend a long time before answering. His voice was quiet, but full of pride and confidence. "I'd imagine you'll handle it like you do everything else. Like a pro."
"It's not the first time I've faced this, I guess," Pete shrugged.
"But this time feels different somehow?" Jack searched Pete's face.
"I suppose not...really...." He sighed deeply.
"You considering a career change?"
"I don't know," Pete shrugged. "I can't really imagine myself doing anything else." Conviction was returning to his tone. "My partner was thinking about taking the test for detective, but I guess now he's decided to stay put for awhile. Stay on patrol at least until the next time around."
"But not you?"
"The sergeant's exam will be offered before long...but...I just don't know yet."
"Ever thought about the priesthood as an option?"
"That's a little bit of an over-reaction, isn't it?" he laughed softly.
"Not at all," Jack smiled warmly. "You know, the two, they're not that different really."
"I don't think I'd make the cut," he shook his head.
"And why not?"
"I couldn't give up women indefinitely and I hear that's part of the entrance requirements," Pete insisted.
"Yeah, with all that natural charm, I suppose that could be a problem," Jack joked. "Not to mention the devastating impact on the entire female population of Los Angeles County!"
"We all have our crosses to bear."
As the day approached, Pete was less and less sure about spending his convalescence with the Reeds. He admired Jean, adored his godson and Jim was probably his best friend, but as he got better, the prospect of being a houseguest under those circumstances grew less attractive by the moment. He argued his ability to get along on his own to no avail. The doctors, nurses and his partner all seemed in cahoots to deliver him into Jean Reed's eager care.
He had been walking around the hospital, antsy to be released, feeling quite capable and nearly back to his old self. He'd even fought the mandatory wheelchair to the door, and though he'd lost the battle, he bounded out of it to the waiting sedan at the hospital exit.
But the ride across town let him know that progress might be just a bit slower than he'd anticipated. By the time Jim pulled into the driveway, Pete was looking a little like a bowl of lime Jell-O: green and shaky. Jean met them and caught the expression on Pete's face. She gave him a hug as he exited the vehicle and slipped a steadying arm around his waist as she ushered him into her home. He didn't lean on her, but the support was there if he needed it. He smiled his unspoken thanks as she led him to an overstuffed chair in the living room.
"Unca Pete!" James Reed Jr. shouted with glee as he lunged toward his godfather's knees. Jean reached out to intercept and Jim dropped the bags in his hands to try to catch the airborne tike, but it was Pete who scooped him into his arms in an eager embrace. The action would have toppled him if he hadn't already been heading for a sitting position. As it was, the two landed arm in arm, in the comfy chair with a soft thud, laughing and happy to be together.
"Jimmy, do you remember we talked about playing with Uncle Pete?"
"Honey, you have to be gentle with your uncle..."
Pete raised a hand to silence both parents' admonishing and hugged the child to him with a huge smile.
"Can I see you boo boo?" Jimmy asked innocently. Jean's hand went to her son's shoulder, to quiet his childish indiscretion, but Pete reached up and removed the ball cap that had hidden the bandage and his half shaven head. The child sat perfectly still, eyes riveted to the sight of his godfather's wound. The tiny face had grown suddenly serious, his little hand stretched toward Pete's cheek, touching him with tenderness beyond his years.
"Do it hurt?"
"A little bit," Pete admitted, understating his condition. "We need to play quietly for a few days," he continued in an even voice, minimizing the dangers, not wishing to frighten the child. "But we can race the cars on your track a little later if you want."
"Yah!" Jimmy clapped his hands joyfully.
"Honey, not so loud!" Jean scolded gently.
"He's okay," Pete protested as Jim pulled the toddler off his lap.
"Let's give you a minute to settle in first." Jean smiled, a hand on Pete's shoulder. "Can I get you anything? Maybe something to drink?"
"That would be great," Pete sighed.
"We'll go by your place and get some more clothes and things after dinner," Jim offered.
"Or maybe tomorrow," Jean interjected. "A good night's sleep would probably be best. I'm sure we can find something of Jim's that you can wear till then."
"Yeah, sure," Jim agreed, noting his wife's concerned look from behind Pete. "No rush."
"I really hate putting you out like this. I think I'd be okay at my place."
"Nothing doing!" Jim argued. "Jimmy and I have been looking forward to your visit for over a week. Huh, big guy?"
"Here's some iced tea," Jean announced as she placed the glass on the table by Pete's chair. "Dinner will be ready in about an hour. Just relax here until then."
But it wasn't long before Jimmy had Pete on the floor, playing with the race track the partners had painstakingly put together before Christmas. As Jean watched them from around the corner, she found herself wondering which one was approaching his fourth birthday. More than once she moved to intervene, worried that Jimmy was overtaxing Pete's endurance, but her husband finally pulled her back into the kitchen, with a convincing argument that Pete was enjoying himself and had certainly earned the right.
The play got louder and more energetic, but Jean refrained from curtailing the fun. Jim had joined with his favorite blue Corvette, but he was losing to both Jimmy's red T-bird and Pete's bright yellow Mustang. She shook her head as she watched her three boys locked in combat and giddy with delight.
She was taking the roast out of the oven when the doorbell rang. "Could you get that, sweetie?" she called from the kitchen.
"I geedit!" Jimmy cried, struggling to a standing position, until his godfather restrained him with broad, gentle hands.
"Not so fast, sport! Let's let your dad get that," Pete chuckled as he held the squirming toddler. What began as an arresting hold quickly turned into a rather one-sided tickling match. Pete seemed to be enjoying it every bit as much as the giggling young Master Reed.
"Don't mind the children playing on the floor," Pete heard Jean Reed apologizing to their guest as he tried to settle down Jimmy once again.
"Are they both yours?"
Pete knew that voice, stifling a giggle above him. He looked up into the warm smile of which he'd grown so fond.
"Drea?" he gasped, scrambling to his feet. But he miscalculated, stood up a little too fast and reached toward the wall for support.
"Are you all right?" Her eyes held all the concern he'd seen in them over the past several days.
"Fine," he nodded slowly. "Just moved a little fast."
"Why don't you two sit down for a bit. I'm just putting dinner on the table," Jean suggested.
"Can I help with something, Jean?" Andrea asked politely.
"No, thank you," she dismissed as she ducked back into the kitchen, motioning for Jim to take charge of Jimmy. "Just keep Pete company for a few minutes."
"You didn't know I was coming?" she deduced as they sat on the sofa after the Reeds' exit.
"No," he smiled, trying not to make it sound like such a shock. "But it's a nice surprise."
"I knew they hadn't said anything before you left the hospital today, but I'd assumed that once they brought you home..."
"It's okay," he interrupted. "It's nice to see you. I just wish I'd known so I could have..." She stifled another laugh as he searched for the right word. "Well I would have changed clothes or..."
"Not been sitting on the floor racing cars?"
"That might have helped. I would have liked to have made a better impression."
"I was quite impressed. It looked like you were winning."
"Funny!" he quipped.
"Pete, if this is awkward..."
"Not at all."
"I think the Reeds meant for it to be a celebration of your homecoming..."
"Jean's pulled some brilliant maneuvers before, but..." Pete looked at the woman who had been at his side through this whole ordeal. He hadn't realized how much he'd come to enjoy that smile and to rely on her strength and comfort. Until that moment he hadn't allowed himself to think about how much she had meant to his recovery. Having her here was just about perfect. "This time, she really outdid herself."
The conversation flowed without hesitation during dinner and barely slowed even when Jean presented the chocolate cake she'd baked in Pete's honor. The partners spent the meal beguiling their dates by retelling stories of some of their favorite capers. The tales were reruns for Jean, who still enjoyed watching their excitement in the telling. And the real audience, Andrea, found them fascinating, funny and just a bit frightening. The evening was the success Jean had hoped.
After dessert, it was Jimmy's bedtime and if anyone had ideas that he would go to bed without his godfather's assistance, they were quickly convinced otherwise. Though he was probably pushing the limits, Pete was more than eager to comply with the toddler's insistence. Jean finally was able to negotiate with her son to let her get him into his pajamas. That left only the bedtime story and prayers to Pete, who was anxious to return a borrowed toy that had come to mean as much to him as it ever could to its tiny owner.
Soon after Pete returned to the living room Andrea insisted that she couldn't stay long, begging an early shift the next day. But everyone knew she was more concerned about keeping her former patient up when he really needed his rest. When Jim offered to walk her to her car, Pete shot him a look that would have bent steel. That and Jean's obviously bogus comment about hearing Jimmy calling for his father moved Jim out of the way long enough for Pete to escort their guest through the door.
"That was close," she giggled, as they slipped out.
"He's usually quicker on the uptake than that," Pete chuckled. "I think he's being a little over-protective."
"Well, you did just get out of the hospital," she reminded him as they sauntered down the walk. "Taking it easy was doctor's orders, wasn't it?"
"Hey! I'm not a patient anymore. See, no wristband! And you're no longer my nurse."
"So if you're going to insist on taking care of yourself...then do it."
"Yes ma'am!" Pete laughed as they approached Andrea's white VW Bug.
"Yeah," he admitted with a shrug. "But it feels good."
"You're entitled, I suppose." She reached up toward the bandage on his forehead, stopping herself when she saw his scowl.
Pete took her hand in midair and held it with a gentle but firm grip.
"I was just wondering, how you were doing. Sorry, it's a hard habit to break."
"Being a nurse?"
"Worrying about...you." She looked back at the house. There were no shadows at the windows, but that wasn't really her reason for turning away.
"I'm glad you came tonight." He hadn't let go of her hand.
"Yeah, I'm glad Jean called." She smiled up at him again.
"I'll have to thank her," Pete nearly whispered as he leaned down, pulling her closer. After what seemed an eternity, their lips touched in a brief and tender kiss.
She pushed away slightly, eyes still closed. "I think we stepped over a line here."
"Sorry," he sighed. "I didn't mean to..."
"Nurse and patient. I think maybe we've moved beyond that."
"To...what?" Pete smiled.
"We made that move a long time ago." He leaned back against the sloping hood of her VW. "It doesn't take a medical degree to know you gave me treatment above the norm."
"You were everyone's pet project," she shook her head slightly, as if to deny his allegations. "But you're right. After I got to know you, there was a little something personal to the service."
"So...how did I misread the signals?"
"I never kiss until after the first date," she giggled, opening the car door and slipping inside.
Pete closed the door after her, leaning into the window. "What are you doing Saturday?"
"Saturday? What did you have in mind?"
"Our second date," he replied with a sly wink, kissing her quickly on the cheek.
Pete returned to duty several days ahead of schedule, bugging the doctors until they gave in, though a bit reluctantly. He'd only spent two days with the Reeds before insisting that he could handle things alone and returning to his apartment. Jean sent him a hamper full of food and cooked extra every day, dropping the casseroles by each afternoon with elaborate denials that she was checking up on him. As much as he protested, the food was delicious and after the constant attention at the hospital, the company wasn't completely unwelcome either. Jim made an appearance at Pete's apartment after work each night, so he was hardly alone for the next few weeks.
Pete was doing better than anyone had expected, but nobody saw any reason for him to hurry back to work. No one except Pete, who was bored out of his mind and anxious to put the whole mess behind him.
Fifteen minutes into his first day back he began wondering if he'd made a mistake. When he wasn't fielding direct questions about the injuries, he was trying not to notice his co-worker's eyes drift up from his face to the bandage. Pete knew what the were thinking, and he couldn't blame them. It was a reminder of how vulnerable they all were, how quickly things could go horribly wrong. But most of all, it was the tragic circumstances surrounding the accident that captivated everyone.
The only thing more obvious than Pete's new, much closer shaven hair style and wide adhesive strip that hid the actual scar, was Mac's absence. Sergeant Wayburn from traffic investigation had been rotated into the commanding officer's slot and though it was a temporary reassignment, the new face behind the desk at roll call made Pete nervous. But no more disconcerting than the void caused by the lack of his friend's presence.
As she woke, Mary MacDonald saw the familiar shape of her husband's frame silhouetted against the shaft of light from the bathroom door. Another sleepless night. She'd tried everything, but he was inconsolable. He hadn't gotten more than a couple of hours sleep a night in weeks. During the day, she'd find him dozing off in front of the television or out in the lounge chair with a book in his hands, only to awake with a start, looking as exhausted as ever. He would simply drop out of the conversation, staring off into space, or spend hours in the garage, alone, busying himself with doing nothing.
"Bill?" she called, sitting up and reaching out for him in the semi-darkness.
"Go back to sleep, honey," Mac soothed, pulling away from her hand. "I'm going out to the sofa. I don't want to disturb you."
"Sweetie, lie down. You've got to get some rest."
"I'm fine. Just can't sleep."
"You've been having trouble sleeping for weeks now. Maybe you should see the doctor."
"I'm not seeing a doctor."
"You can't go on like this."
"I'll be fine...I just..."
"Bill, are you sure about quitting the department?" He had told Mary of his intentions not to return to the LAPD, but so far, no one else.
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"Plenty, considering the idea was that it would make you feel better. But I can't see that it's helped at all."
"I can't go back, Mary." There was a fatalism in his voice that she wasn't used to hearing from her husband.
"You were cleared of it all. You didn't do anything wrong."
"It isn't that simple. It doesn't matter that it was an accident. I nearly killed one of my men."
"He's more than one of your men. Pete's been a friend for a long time."
"And that doesn't make it any easier," Mac sighed.
"Maybe if you talked to him."
"I can't. I can't even go back to work and you want me to talk to...him."
"He has a name, Bill." She was rubbing his shoulders, feeling the tension there. "And I imagine Pete's having as much trouble with this as you are."
"I'm sure he'd have a lot more trouble if I returned to work."
"Then if you're so sure about quitting, that it's the right thing to do...why are you still having trouble with the decision?"
"I was a cop for almost twenty years. That's a long time. It isn't easy to turn your back on that."
Mary slipped her arms around his neck, her head on his shoulder. "It's more than that. I think you need to call Pete and talk to him."
"You know I can't do that."
"He's your friend," she reminded gently.
"What am I supposed to say?"
"You two have never had a problem finding something to talk about."
"We've never had to deal with this before."
"You've got to do something to get over this. And you know as well as I do, until you talk to Pete, things aren't going to get resolved."
"I'm going out to the sofa." He rose, snatching up his pillow and a quilt from the foot of the bed.
"Bill," she reached for him.
"Go back to bed. There no use both of us losing sleep over it."
He actually believes I'm going to be able to sleep? Mary thought with a sigh as she punched the pillow and tried to convince herself not to go after him.
Jean dropped by on Pete's second day back, coming into the lobby only a few minutes after roll call, with Jimmy in tow.
"Unca Pete!" The three year old exclaimed, jumping excitedly when he spied his godfather behind the desk. "Unca Pete's a p'liceman!"
"Shhhh! Jimmy, quiet," Jean shushed the boy, but it was no use. The rare stimulation of seeing his beloved Uncle Pete in his uniform was too much for the child to contain.
"Hey, sport!" Pete smiled from behind the desk. "What are you doing at the police station?"
"We got Daddy's lunch!" the boy announced with pride.
"Well, let me see if we can catch him before he gets out on the street. Wouldn't want him to go hungry." Pete picked up the phone and dialed two numbers for an inside line. "Good morning, Jean."
"I thought maybe I was invisible," she laughed.
"Hardly!" he winked. "Why don't you give the champ a hand up here and he can help me fly the desk until Officer Reed shows up."
"Oh Pete, I don't want him to be any trouble."
"No trouble at all..." Pete reached out to accept the toddler, cradling the phone receiver between his chin and shoulder. "Yeah, Bob, is Jim Reed still back there or have they left already?" There was a pause in which Jimmy began playing with the sharp shooter medal hanging from Pete's uniform shirt. "Yeah? Great! Have him stop by the desk before he leaves, wouldya? Thanks!"
"He's here?" Jean asked concerned. She'd hoped she could catch him and give him the brown bag filled with goodies she'd prepared and he'd forgotten.
"On his way," Pete nodded as he put down the phone and turned his attention back to his godson.
"Whassis?" Jimmy asked, fingering the shiny brass medallion.
"That's my medal," Pete replied simply.
"That's Uncle Pete's special medal because he's such a good policeman," Jean interrupted with a cautious smile in Pete's direction.
"You need a uniform if you're gonna be representing the Los Angeles Police Department on the front desk, Jimmy," Pete chuckled, understanding Jean's warning against too much talk of guns to arouse the boy's curiosity. "Or at least...a hat!" He plopped his own brand new watchcap on top of Jimmy's tiny head. The boy nearly disappeared entirely beneath it, giggling. His godfather couldn't keep himself from laughing out loud either.
"Look, Mommy!" Jimmy cried from beneath the oversized topper. "I'm a p'liceman like Unca Pete!"
"Pete..." Her face held none of the mirth that had both Pete and Jimmy in near hysterics.
But before Jean could begin a diatribe on why her son didn't need any encouragement toward a future in law enforcement, the door behind them opened and a tall grey-haired officer emerged.
"What's all this?" Lieutenant Reynolds bellowed as he came through the door. "Malloy! I thought you could be trusted to keep a lid on things out here!"
"That's exactly what I'm trying to do, sir," Pete struggled with another fit of laughter. "Put a lid on this kid! Just doesn't seem to fit."
"Whose is he?" The older man chuckled. Obviously his gruffness had all been bluff.
"This is my godson, Lieutenant." Pete nearly burst the buttons on his shirt. "James Reed, Jr."
"Reed?" The lieutenant exclaimed.
"Yes, sir?" Jim had poked his head through the door in answer to Pete's earlier summons, just as his name was mentioned.
"This one yours?" Reynolds brusque exterior had returned.
"Eh...yes, sir." Jim reached for Jimmy who squirmed into Pete's willing grasp, apparently sensing his father's attempt at control and enjoying the fun too much to see it end.
"Then can you tell me one thing, Reed?'
"Why is he on the front desk..." The older man's eyes narrowed in a practiced stare. "And outta uniform?"
Pete and the lieutenant burst into laughter, causing Jimmy to follow suit. A confused Jim Reed moved to his wife's side, searching her face for some explanation.
"Honey, what are you doing here?" he asked quietly as he pulled her a little away from the giggling gang behind the desk.
"You forget something this morning?" Jean turned a sweet smile up to meet his furrowed brow.
"Eh...forget? I...don't..." Jim stammered. Jean handed him the brown paper bag.
"I guess I did," he chuckled.
"He didn't forget, Jean," Pete teased as he played with Jimmy at the desk to the delight of them both. "It was just an excuse to see you and get a second good-bye kiss. I know my partner. He's a big sneak!"
"Thanks, buddy!" Jim quipped as he and Jean walked back towards the desk. "Nice back up!"
"Any time, partner!" Pete winked.
"Any time, partner," Jimmy mimicked, lifting the cap on the punch line.
"And what are you doing up there, big guy?" His father tapped a finger against the tiny nose.
"Helpin' Unca Pete!"
"So I see." Jim sent a look over his son's head to his friend and partner. "Probably could use it."
"Daddy," Jimmy suddenly lost interest in Pete's much too big cap as he let it fall behind him. His eyes were glued to his father's uniform shirt. "How come you no got a good p'liceman medal?"
"Eh...listen, Champ, why don't you help me with..." Pete attempted to distract the child but it was no use.
"Like Unca Pete's got. A good p'liceman medal," the child explained.
"What's a good policeman medal?" the lieutenant piped in.
"I don't..." Jim's face said he had no answers.
"Jim?" Jean pulled at her husband's sleeve, turning him back toward her. "Where's your medal?"
"My..." Jim stopped short, suddenly realizing that her hand was on his chest, where his own shooting medal usually hung. His head dropped to meet the question in her eyes.
"Partner, did you forget that thing again?" Pete attempted a rescue. "You know, if I don't keep my eye on him, he'd forget to wear his badge some days."
"Pete..." Jim interrupted.
"I guess I should have given you a better once over in roll call."
"Partner...." Jim gave his friend the cut sign.
"A little much?" Pete asked in a mock whisper.
"Just a bit," Jean answered for him. "Jim?"
"Honey, can we..." he faltered a bit as he looked at the wrinkle above her nose. She was worried, and he hated to do that to her for any reason. "Jean...I..."
"Jean, remember when Jim was sick with that cold?" Pete jumped in again when it looked like Jim was coming up empty. "That was the night we went to qualify and..."
"I...eh...I didn't make the cut for the medal," Jim admitted quietly. "Then later that night...Pete got sh-- eh..." He looked at his son. Pete was trying to keep him occupied but those big blue eyes were watching everything. "With Pete in the hospital, suddenly it didn't seem so important. And I just haven't gone to requalify yet."
"And you couldn't tell me this?"
"I...well, I didn't...it really didn't seem like such a big deal...after everything else that happened..."
"That's been quite a while. Pete's back to work already." The set of her jaw meant he was in a lot of trouble, and the tone of her voice when she said Pete's name seemed to convey that he might want to watch himself as well.
"We've been talking about going out to the range to qualify..." Pete offered. "Just haven't gotten to it..." His words fell off as he got a good look at Jean's glare. "I think this is where we get lost, Champ."
"Honey," he gently guided her away from the desk again. "Can we talk about this later?"
"How much later?" She leveled him a no nonsense stare. "When were you planning on telling me?"
"Jean," he began again quietly. "When it happened, I admit, it was a big disappointment. But a few hours later, Pete had been shot and was on his way to the hospital and then none of it seemed to matter. After that, I just forgot."
"Forgot to tell me?"
"Yeah, I guess I did. I'm sorry, honey."
"Is there anything else you haven't told me?"
"That you're beautiful when you're angry?"
"Don't be cute. It isn't going to work."
"Sorry. But it's true."
"Uh huh." Jean was trying hard to keep from smiling. "You sure there's nothing important you've forgotten?"
"Just my lunch...and you took care of that."
"Then it's surprising you don't trust me and share stuff with me more often."
"Sweetie...the shooting brass is not a problem. I'll requalify. Pete and I were going to go together."
"Well see that you do!" she chided prettily. "I don't want to have to explain to my son why his father isn't wearing a good policeman medal."
"Uh...why does..." he looked at his wife's expression and decided he could pretty well guess why Jimmy thought that a sharp shooter medal was an award for good police work. "Honey, how long do you think you can keep him from the realities of my job?"
"With a little cooperation from you two overgrown boy scouts...as long as I can!"
"He knows we carry guns."
"There's a lot more to being a policeman than that. And right now, I'd prefer our son learned about those other things."
"Hey, Daddy! Look at me!" Jimmy cried. He was wearing Pete's leather jacket and his watchcap again, standing on the desk with his godfather behind him protectively, smiling broadly.
"It think it's time I took him home," Jean sighed.
"Before they both end up in IAD!" Jim finished for her.
Pete flew the desk the first few days, but by Thursday he had been cleared for street duty. He nearly danced from the locker room to roll call, buying Jim a coffee on the way. But when car assignments were given out, Jim was still riding with Brinkman and Pete was partnered with rookie Jeff Cody.
Sergeant Wayburn was doing what most good commanding officers would, putting a promising but still unsteady probationer with his most senior training officer. But understanding the reasoning behind the decision didn't make it any easier to accept.
Pete knew complaining would do no good and just being back on the road felt like he'd won the lottery. But he had hoped to hit the streets with his own partner, and keeping an eye on a probationer his first day back in the saddle was hardly easing into things.
A week later, Pete was beyond frustration, and his car assignment with an over-eager probationer was the least cause. As much as he missed working with his regular partner, Mac being gone was grating on him. And by all accounts, Mac wasn't coming back anytime soon. The Shooting Review Board had cleared MacDonald, ruling the shooting an unfortunate accident. The detectives had determined that the bullet struck Pete after ricocheting off a nearby lamp post positioned between Mac and his intended target. The detour in its path had slowed its velocity, probably lessened the severity of Pete's injuries and completely negated Mac's culpability.
But after the administrative leave had been lifted, Mac still hadn't returned to duty. First he took a week of vacation, for which no one could blame him, but before that time expired, he applied for a leave of absence. The reasons given hadn't been made public and when questions arose as to the duration of Mac's leave, the answers were vague at best.
Wayburn was fine as a commanding officer and though his style was different than MacDonald's, that wasn't the real reason Pete was bothered. Every time he saw someone else in Mac's place, he was reminded of what brought them there, and the pain in his heart hurt every bit as much as the physical injuries had.
He managed to meet with Jim for code seven and they stopped at the market on Alaverda Street where they left their respective partners at the café. The friends grabbed a couple of tamales from one of the street vendors and walked past the colorful stalls of merchandise, talking about their absent sergeant and what, if anything, could be done about it.
"Maybe you should talk to him," Jim suggested. "You two have been friends for a long time. He might listen to you."
"I can't get him to take my phone calls, Jim. How do you figure I'm gonna get him to listen to anything?"
"Go over there."
"Huh?" Pete's eyebrows skewed on his forehead.
"Just show up. He can't avoid you if you're standing on his doorstep."
"Is that what you'd do?" he asked incredulously.
"You mean if you were acting stubborn like Mac?" Jim smiled.
"Well, I meant, would you do that to Mac?"
"I haven't been his friend as long as you have. I'm not his fishing buddy..."
"Okay, so I go over there. What's to say he will let me in?" Pete argued.
"How long can you stand being partnered with Cody?"
"Point taken," Pete chuckled. "But that's not the only reason. This has gone on long enough. Mac should be back at work."
"Don't tell me! I'm convinced. It's Mac you need to be talking to."
"I don't think I'm somebody he wants to see just now," Pete sighed.
"I think you're exactly who he needs to see, Pete.
That evening Pete entered the MacDonald's well stocked garage, the walls covered in all manner of tools hanging on pegboard. Country-western music coming from the radio on the far shelf made Pete smile. Mac's flirtation with the cowboy fantasy always amused him. The boots, the music, the Louis L'amour books he read didn't jive with his hesitation around horses.
Two feet in the expected cowboy boots protruded from behind the white enameled box of the washer, amid a daunting array of parts. Pete made his way carefully through the minefield on the floor and leaned against the appliance that had been pulled away from the wall to allow Mac to get behind it.
"Hand me that crescent wrench, will ya, sweetie?" came from inside the metal box.
Pete located the requested tool and placed it in Mac's waiting hand.
"Thanks, hon," he replied.
"So when does Mary's new washer arrive?" Pete asked quietly, a sly smile playing on his lips.
"Pete!" Mac gathered his wits about him, nearly hitting his head on the washer as he sat bolt upright. "I thought you were Mary."
"I gotta change my aftershave!" Pete chuckled, a grin splitting his face. It did his heart good to see his friend after all that had happened. "So if I help, will you be done with this tonight?" Pete suggested. "Cause it's about time you got back to work, don't you think?"
"I'm taking some time off," Mac shrugged, scrambling to his feet.. "Starting a new job next month."
"New job? What new job?"
"My brother needs some help in his business." Mac began making a major production of putting the tools away, wiping each one down completely, avoiding Pete's eyes.
"The auto body place?"
"Yeah, the one in Beverly Hills."
"You're not serious!"
"The business has really taken off," Mac shrugged.
"You're a cop, Mac," Pete interrupted. "Not an auto mechanic."
"I won't be working on the cars." The former sergeant turned away, fiddling with some tools on the top of the washer.
"Well, that's good at least," Pete quipped.
"I'll be in the office, handling things for him on that end and working with the girl that does the books."
"That's not the desk you belong behind," Pete chided.
"He needs the help, someone he can trust so he can work a little closer with the guys in the garage."
"So you're just quitting?" Pete accused pointedly.
"Call it an early retirement."
"Let's call it what it is...you're quitting." Pete wasn't buying it. "Now ya wanna tell me why?"
"I have my reasons." Mac avoided Pete's eyes.
"I'm not prepared to discuss this with you."
"Well then, we're doing it off the cuff, but we are gonna discuss it."
"Give me one good reason why you should retire."
"I shouldn't have to give you any reasons," Mac said quietly. "I nearly gave you the ultimate reason."
"It was an accident," Pete insisted.
"One that never should have happened."
"When did you become better than the rest of us? 'Cause that could have happened to anybody."
"It happened to me, Pete, and it almost cost you your life."
"Most accidents in our line of work have those kinds of consequences. But you're talking about compounding it with a deliberate mistake."
"How do you figure that?'
"You have to know the impact you've had on the division..." Pete began.
"Let's not get overly dramatic, Pete."
"Mac, there are a whole lot of guys who wouldn't be cops if it weren't for you." He let that sink in a moment before continuing. "I know I wouldn't."
"Pete, we've always been honest with one another. Don't start snowing me now."
"No blizzard, Mac." Pete perched himself on the workbench and continued, a determined look in his eyes. "Remember the night Steve was shot? You were there, supporting me, keeping me from tripping over my emotions. I'd have blown apart that night without you. I knew I had to be a pro, but..." Pete pushed back the memory of horror he still battled in his dreams. "I wanted to be the one to do the notification. I owed Steve that, but I also know I wouldn't have had the strength to do it alone."
"No--you've had your say, made your gesture by quitting. Now I'm going to have mine."
"That was just one time, Pete," Mac argued.
"If I take the time to list them all, I'll be ready for retirement. There have been a lot of incidents where your quiet guidance has kept the lid on when things could have gotten out of hand. You've helped us over the rough spots. You've been an inspiration to dozens of exemplary officers. You've talked more than one of us into staying when leaving seemed the only sane solution."
"That's what a sergeant is supposed to do."
"Then you're doing a damned good job of it. So why are we talking about you leaving?"
"Pete, maybe I'm just too old for this anymore. My reflexes, my instincts are just..."
"Your instincts are better than most of us veterans out there on the street. And I'd stack your reflexes up against any young buck straight out of the academy. You're not too old, Mac. That's crap and you know it."
Mac's eyes went to the wide adhesive bandage that still covered Pete's wound site. His barber had styled the hair much shorter than normal so the section that had been shaved didn't seem so noticeable until it all grew out. But it was still a visible reminder to all who knew, who had sat vigil, praying he'd live through the nightmare. It was a hideous reminder to Mac's guilty conscience.
Pete caught the direction of his friend's gaze and felt the shiver of emotion. "Mac, it was a tragic accident. It nearly took me out. I'm not gonna let it destroy you." He watched as that big quiet man sank onto the stool beside him.
"I felt so..." but Mac had spoken too soon, the feeling there but the words still failing him.
"I can't even imagine what's been going through your mind. But I know this, if you don't get back to work, neither one of us will be able to put this behind us."
Heavy lids closed wearily over damp blue eyes. The tension released in Mac's shoulders first. His body relaxed by inches as he drew in a ragged breath, eyes still tightly shut against the floodgates he'd been holding back for weeks. A gentle, freckled hand gripped his shoulder, but the closeness was too emotionally charged and Pete pulled away before they both lost the battle. The two men sat in silence, years of memories flowed between them without a word being spoken.
"I didn't know what to say," Mac finally managed after the long silence. "How to tell you I was sorry. It sounded so hollow."
"It wasn't necessary. All I wanted was to know that you were all right." Pete shook his head with a smile playing on his lips. "Now, can we move past this and get to work on Mary's washer? I don't want you having any excuses. If you don't get back on watch, I'm gonna be stuck with Jeff Cody as a partner. And Reed's bound to explode if he can't keep an eye on me for the next few weeks. You know what a mother hen he can be."
"Can't imagine where he picked that up," Mac smiled his gratitude, his eyes shiny with all the things he couldn't say.
Two days later Pete swung out of the locker room a full fifteen minutes early, whistling as he made his way down the corridor. The sight of broad shoulders in LAPD blue and a head of wavy dark hair bent over the desk in the CO's office made his heart sing. He stopped before the glass office, made three quick raps on the door before he pushed it open.
"Hey, Sarge!" he called in greeting, leaning against the door jamb.
"Well, it's a special occasion," Pete winked. "Good to have you back, Mac."
"We'll see if you feel that way at the end of watch," Mac countered, the twinkle in his blue eyes the only clue to his joking intent. "So, what can I do for you, Malloy?"
"You've already done it, Sergeant." Pete smiled. He pushed off the door with a jaunty salute and headed for the break room and a cup of coffee before meeting Jim Reed in roll call.
"Mac!" Pete began his summons, arresting MacDonald's retreat down the corridor to the office at the completion of roll call.
"What is it, Malloy?" The big Scotsman turned to meet the officer chasing him.
"Those car assignments..." Pete began, still reeling from the shock that he was again partnered with Cody, the rookie. "You can't be serious!"
"You have a problem with your assignment?"
"Well...yeah...I mean..." Pete took a breath. He rarely questioned a ranking officer, almost never out loud. And though he and Mac had a relationship beyond rank, he would never use that. This wasn't going to be easy. "Reed and I were hoping...eh...we..."
"You want to speak with the Captain?" Mac offered. "Make a formal complaint?"
"No!" Pete's eyes flew wide. Surely his friend didn't think he would do that. "I just..."
"What?" MacDonald was waiting, his face a blank.
"Well...it's just that I've been partnered with Cody for a week and I was sort of thinking..."
"I see what you mean," Mac interrupted.
"You do?" Pete's eyebrows went akimbo. That was too easy.
"Sure. I don't know how I could have missed that." MacDonald called down the hallway. "Reed!"
Jim Reed stopped just inside the door to the parking lot. "Yeah, Mac?"
"I'm changing your car assignment."
"Really?" he smiled hopefully at his friend who was leaning against the wall next to MacDonald with a look of restrained satisfaction playing on his freckled face.
"Yeah...I'm putting Brinkman in Adam-53."
"What about me, Sergeant?" Jeff Cody asked a bit nervously.
"Cody, I'm putting you with one of my finest officers. Someone who will not only be able to answer all your questions, and take care that you're safe, but will be an example to you of the best the LAPD has turned out."
"Who are you eulogizing, Mac?" Pete chuckled, his arms folded as he listened.
"Officer James Reed."
"Reed!" Pete gulped. "But..."
"Do you have any objections to what I've said?" Mac challenged. "Some problem with his abilities, or do you take exception to him as a training officer, perhaps?"
"But what?" Jim asked, the look was a teasing warning shot across his friend's bow.
"So...what's my car assignment, Mac?" Pete asked, realizing there was no way to answer his friend's question and win.
"You?" Mac's smile became broader with every word. "I've got something special planned for you, Malloy. Something that will really utilize your unique talents."
"I can hardly wait!" Pete winced.
A week later, back to his old assignment in Adam-12 along with his usual partner, Pete sat on the bench outside the shooting range, watching Jimmy Reed as he sailed a leaf boat in the fountain. The child's parents had taken a walk on the grounds of the academy, hand in hand as they strolled up the checkerboard sidewalk, leaving Jimmy to his godfather's indulgent care. The partners were waiting for the range to be available. They had combined their monthly qualifying with the convenient and free parking for nearby Dodger stadium. There was a playoff game with the Cincinnati Reds. Pete was treating Jimmy to his first professional baseball game and it was a toss-up as to who was more excited, the child or the proud godfather.
The younger James Reed soon tired of the floating plaything and began pulling on Pete's hand to join him in some new pursuit at the other end of the square. From his jacket pocket, Pete revealed the rubber ball the three of them had been playing catch with earlier on the track field. Leaning against the low multicolored stone wall, Pete began bouncing the ball to the boy and watching with restrained amusement as his little legs scampered to retrieve it. Though Jimmy's range was limited and his aim undeveloped, he happily carried the prize back toward his beloved Uncle Pete and tossed the ball across the six or seven foot gap with four-year-old precision. This activity occupied him for another few minutes until the tyke missed the bounce and the ball took off in the direction of the street. Pete bolted after his godson as the boy chased the errant toy, bound for parked cars and the road beyond. But as Jimmy's tiny feet hit the sidewalk, he stopped short.
"Uh, oh!" He pointed as the ball rolled off the curb.
"I'll get it, Champ," Pete sighed with relief, proud of his obedient charge. He squeezed the boy's shoulder, refraining from grabbing him up into his arms. His tiny godson was growing up and Pete was impressed. He bent to snatch the ball from its resting place beside the wheel of the commandant's vehicle. When he straightened and turned back, the child was standing transfixed, his gaze locked on the ground beneath his feet.
"Read me the story, Uncle Pete," he requested with childlike innocence. Below Jimmy's bright red Buster Brown sneakers lay a square of bricks, many engraved in memoriam with the names of officers who had served the force proudly and given the ultimate sacrifice.
"Let's finish playing ball," Pete attempted to misdirect.
"No." The small boy stood riveted to the spot. "Read it to me...pwease!"
"It isn't a story, exactly, Sport." Pete sat on the wall near the child, to lower himself, matching eye level, but also because his knees were threatening to give way.
"What it say?"
Pete felt the clutch at his heart. Mortality was a subject they didn't cover in the godfather manual, especially its heightened potential to touch so close to home in the family of a cop.
"Those are names, Jimmy..." Pete swallowed. He'd always been honest when answering the boy's ever-increasing questions, but this time it would be a lie of omission.
"Who?" Those big eyes turned up to meet him in silent indictment.
"Police officers." It was still within the realm of veracity. Where are Jim and Jean?
"Do you know 'dem?"
"A couple of them," Pete's voice was deep with emotion held in check. His eyes fell on a slim brick in the middle of the square. Unshed tears made the image melt into oblivion, but the simple block letters were etched on his memory. Steven Daniel McGill...1943-1968...Son, Husband, Father.
Partner, Friend were glaringly omitted, Pete thought sadly.
"Where my daddy's name?" The child tugged at Pete's chinos, yanking his attention back from dark memories. "Show me."
"It's not here, Champ." Pete chased away the ghosts of so long ago.
"How come? He a p'liceman."
"These are the names of men who aren't officers anymore," Pete said truthfully.
"Why they not?"
"A lot of reasons..." Pete's explanation drifted off. "But they were very brave."
"My daddy is brave!" Jimmy demanded with youthful arrogance.
"Yes he is," Pete agreed, tousling the head that was now within reach. "The bravest."
"Then how come he not got no brick?"
"Because he's still a policeman," Pete stated simply. And may his name never lie there! He felt a chill, remembering the ceremony long ago when he'd stood between his former partner's widow and Mac as the inscribed brick was laid in its place, nearly two years after Steve's tragic death. "These names aren't policemen anymore."
"They don't wanna be?"
"They can't be. They...got hurt."
"Like you, Uncle Pete?" The child's face was suddenly quite serious. "You got hurt in your head. Where your name?"
Before Pete could swallow the massive lump in his throat, he heard a sweet voice from behind them.
"Jimmy!" Jean swept the now smiling child into her arms, his questions forgotten. She put him down again, took his hand firmly and led him across the road to the vending machines for a cold drink, rescuing his godfather in the nick of time.
"Sorry, partner," Jim's quiet apology broke through Pete's dark thoughts.
"No... I..." Pete watched the mother and son as they skipped along the checkerboard sidewalk. "I just didn't know what to say."
"You did great." His partner sat beside him on the wall, noting his friend's gaze fall back to the sobering square of memorial masonry.
"I didn't really address his questions. I had no idea how."
"You gave him answers, good enough for now. And you didn't lie."
"How long...how much did you hear?"
"Enough to know we chose his godfather wisely." Jim smiled. "They sure ask the darnedest questions, huh?
"Cuts right to the heart of the matter," Pete nodded. His thoughts were obviously far deeper than he'd revealed with Jimmy.
"You came close," his partner ventured. "Too close for comfort." He watched as Pete continued to stare at the bricks beneath their feet. "There was a point where I thought you might have bought a spot here."
"No!" The younger officer insisted. "We need to have this discussion."
"I thought you'd left me to face something you'd been through, but never talked about," Jim continued as though not noticing the unwilling audience. "I saw you lying there, a pool of blood beneath your head and all I could think was 'Damn you, Pete...you never told me how to handle this!'"
"That's what you thought, huh?" Pete raised one eyebrow.
"Then you spoke to me, and I had a whole different set of problems."
"You did well, from all reports." A small, proud smile crept across Pete's face, but disappeared just as quickly. "And maybe now you know why I couldn't talk with you about it."
"I understand now. I've been initiated."
"Well, not quite," Pete sniffed. "As long as I'm still breathing, I'm not eligible for installation here and you don't exactly qualify for membership."
"That's one club I never want to be a card-carrying member of," Jim chuckled, relieving some of the tension. "But I think maybe now you owe me answers to a few of my questions."
"I'm pretty well drained of answers at the moment."
"I could bring Jimmy back over..." Jim threatened jokingly.
"Whadya wanna know?" That lopsided smile was back in residence again.
"We been partners four years now, Pete. And you never talk about him," Jim played with a leaf he'd picked up from the wall. "I know, if the worst had happened, my future partners would get pretty sick of hearing the name Pete Malloy."
"How much do you know about my father?" Pete asked after a long silence in which he'd been watching Jimmy playing on the green inside the track, across the road.
"Your dad? He died when you were pretty young, right?"
"Yeah. What else?"
"He was in the service. Army, right? And he's the one that taught you to shoot."
"Uh huh. That it?"
"Pretty much..." Jim chuckled, finally getting Pete's point. "You don't talk about him much, either. But Pete, we're partners and..."
"And Steve and I were too," the older man sighed, finishing the thought. "I just...look... let's not ruin the evening. You got plans for Saturday?"
"The weekend? Not really. You wanna come over?"
"You think Jean could spare you for a while?"
"You wanna go fishing?" Jim asked, reading his partner's unspoken message. Pete Malloy always found it easier to open up with a rod and reel in his hand. "I think she could be persuaded."
Twenty minutes later, they emerged from the shooting range with smiles as broad as Christmas morning.
"You two seem pleased with yourselves," Jean greeted as she and Jimmy met them coming down the steps into the courtyard.
"Like the cat who swallowed the canary!" Pete laughed. "I'll never be able to live with him."
"I take it you qualified." His wife smiled as she was scooped into Jim's eager embrace.
"Qualified?" Jim exclaimed. "Honey, you are married to a marksman extraordinaire!"
"You're gonna have to buy him a new hat! He will never fit that head into the old one!" Pete quipped.
"Jealous?" Jim taunted playfully.
"No, I'm happy with my score."
"It wasn't three one-hundreds," Jim jibed.
"Well, if perfect scores came along every day, they wouldn't be a goal worth the work to achieve, would they now?" Pete smiled contentedly.
"Did you make a perfect score, honey?" Jean asked with surprised pride.
"Eh...not quite. But I did better than I ever have. A personal best."
"And I'm buying dinner," Pete declared. "I guess that's hot dogs and popcorn at the game."
"You're getting off cheap," Jim pretended to complain.
"That was the deal, wasn't it?" Pete defended.
"That was the deal," Jim agreed.
"That's the deal!" Jimmy aped with gusto, which prompted his father to grab him up and tickle him until his mimicry changed into a fit of giggles.
The family headed down the sidewalk together, toward the parking lot and the road beyond, leading to Dodger stadium.
"You care to make a friendly wager on the game?" Jim asked the empty air, as he realized too late that Pete had fallen behind. Jim looked back to see his partner hesitating at the memorial, a look passed between them that said Pete would catch up. Jim took Jean's hand and continued on, giving his friend the moment he seemed to need.
Pete stood staring at that same small brick in the midst of a sea of names, most of which he did not know. But that one carried memories, images and responsibility. He reached out to pluck a single jasmine blossom from the hedge, twisting its white, waxy trumpet between his fingers before kneeling to lay it gently on the brick. Steven Daniel McGill...1943-1968...Son, Husband, Father.
The laughter of familiar voices carried over the distant sounds of a crowd forming at Dodger Stadium. One tiny laugh in particular drew him from the spot. Life waited for him. He had given enough homage to death for one day.
Pete looked over his shoulder to see his partner retrieving the toddler who was growing so fast. He and Jean placed the child between them, letting him swing on their arms as they slowly made their way down the walk to the gate of the Police Academy.
Pete straightened, brushing the knee of his khakis. By the third step he was sprinting across the colorful brick sidewalk, just as he had years ago as a cadet. "Hey," he shouted. "Wait for me!"