Things That Go Bump . . .
By The Code 3 Wannabes
© FGS, October, 2000
"Hey, Pete!" Jim Reed chirped as Pete walked by on his way to his locker.
Pete grunted something that he hoped passed for a "good morning".
"Rough night last night?"
Pete turned a bleary eye on his junior partner. "Gee, how'd you guess?"
Jim turned a blazing smile at him. Pete resisted the urge to squint at the glare from all those teeth. "I dunno, Pete," Jim said. "Maybe it was the growl you just gave me."
"Four hours that baby cried." Pete didn't bother keeping the whine out of his voice.
"Four hours? Heck, that's nothing. Jimmy cried six solid hours one night. Took him to the doctor the next day and found out he had an ear infection. I think Jimmy recovered sooner than Jean did."
"Well, tell your wife I know exactly how she feels," Pete sighed, then reached into his locker for all the bits and pieces of his uniform. He just hoped he remembered how to put them all together.
He managed to get his tie on somewhat straight, but before he could get his equipment belt fastened around his waist, a tremendous, jarring thud shook the building, jolting it so hard that Pete had to grab at his locker door to keep from falling down. Jim had been sitting on the bench putting on his shoes, and he tumbled backwards to the floor.
For an instant, the twenty-odd men scattered in the room stared at each other in shocked silence, then excited voices broke loose.
"What in the--"
"Was it an earthquake?"
Pete helped Jim to his feet. "You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jim assured him. He glanced around the room, up at the ceiling and at the walls. Pete followed his partner's gaze, but everything looked normal.
"What do you suppose it was?"
Jim shook his head. "Felt like an explosion," he said uncertainly.
"Come on, partner. Let's find out." They both headed for the locker room door.
They joined their colleagues as they all spilled out of the locker room into the hallway, curious about the jarring jolt, but apprehensive as well. Police officers weren't especially loved in Los Angeles in the best of times, and the possibility of a bomb being placed in their building was very real.
The scene in the hall was one of organized chaos. People were scurrying about, mostly heading for the nearest exits. Some uniformed officers were shouting orders, trying to keep the civilian employees and visitors calm. Others were leading handcuffed prisoners out of the cells.
"Must have been an explosion," Pete said to Jim, his voice terse. He didn't want to say the word bomb just yet. There was no visible smoke, but these people were concerned about something.
"Yeah." Jim's reply was clipped.
Sergeant MacDonald came out of his office just about the time the crowd of officers pulled even, his face creased with a concerned frown. He motioned them the other way. "We're evacuating the building. I need some of you to get out there and clear the streets."
"What happened, Mac?" Sanchez asked.
Mac's frown deepened. "Something exploded in the downstairs parking area."
"Was it a bomb?" Pete asked, finally daring to voice his fears.
"We don't know yet."
"Was anybody down there?" Jim asked.
"We're not sure," Mac hedged.
"Let's get down there, then," Jim made a move in the direction of the stairs, but Pete grabbed his arm and Mac made a peremptory gesture. "The fire department will handle that. We've done all we can do for now. Now get out there and keep the streets clear." Mac's voice held the tone of command, but his face was sympathetic.
"Let's go, men," Pete turned and headed out the back way, his irritation and fatigue forgotten in the new rush of concern over the explosion.
Once outside, Pete, as senior officer, deployed the portion of the watch that surrounded him to various locations around the police building, where they kept the sidewalk and streets clear and helped the occupants of the building get across the street to a safer location.
Pete and Jim took the side of the building where the suspected explosion had occurred. Smoke billowed out of the underground facility, but there were no visible flames. The sidewalk and street were mostly clear, so they didn't have much work to do in keeping people away from the possible danger. A colleague brought them a yellow sawhorse with which they blocked off their side of the walk and stood guard to make sure no curious onlookers got too close.
"You think it was a bomb?" Jim asked.
"I dunno. Could be. Then again, that old boiler might have just gone up." Pete shrugged his shoulders. He really didn't want to believe it was a bomb.
"Hadn't thought about that," Jim admitted. "You're right -- that thing's on its last legs."
"Yeah." Pete agreed, as the sound of a siren split the afternoon air.
"I just hope nobody was down there," Jim fretted. "But change of watch..."
"Yeah," Pete said again. That was something else he really didn't want to think about. "The fire department's here now, though," he nodded toward the two red vehicles screaming their way, "and we'll find out."
Within minutes, several firefighters had entered the parking area to begin their search for the cause of the heavy smoke. Hoses snaked out from the engines and slithered their way into the building. The scene outside was eerily void of any blaze or obvious signs of destruction.
Pete glanced over at his partner as they continued to keep traffic and onlookers at bay. It wasn't difficult to guess what Jim was thinking. The same concern was on his mind. Each minute that passed meant another minute with no answers. What was really going on in there?
"Malloy! Reed!" Mac emerged from behind one of the emergency vehicles, motioning to them. The fire captain followed him, holding a handie-talkie that sporadically crackled with voices.
Pete quickly checked his left as Sanchez approached him.
"You guys go, Pete. I've got it," the other officer waved him on as he took over their side of the street.
Nodding acknowledgment, Pete joined his partner and moved quickly to Mac's location. The terse expression on the sergeant's face told him that something besides some smoke was in the air.
"This is Captain Bonner." Mac gestured toward the older man wearing a turnout coat. "His men have made a cursory search of the parking garage."
"Is anyone hurt?" Jim asked, looking at the entrance expectantly.
"Not that we know of, Officer," Captain Bonner answered, a trace of hesitation barely noticeable.
"Pete. Jim. Captain Bonner's men are checking the boiler room right now, so the whole place is still an unsecured area. The bomb squad's backing them up, just in case."
"What's going on, Mac? What'd they find?" Pete hadn't missed the look that passed between the two men in command.
"I think you better see for yourself," Mac answered, grimly.
"Officers, remember that this is still a dangerous site," Captain Bonner warned, firmly. "I'm reluctant to let you inside but I'm also concerned about the safety of my own men. They're used to taking risks when it involves fire and rescue but this...."
"What are we waiting for, then?" Jim asked, looking at his colleagues and already taking a step forward.
"All right. Come on," Mac replied, turning in the direction of the structure. Bonner accompanied them even as he continued to give orders and receive reports from his men.
Inside, smoke still hung in the air like misplaced smog, but not as thick as before. Pete blinked his stinging eyes and heard Jim muffle a cough as they walked through the acrid fumes.
Abruptly, Mac and Captain Bonner stopped in front of them, then stepped to the side. Pete and Jim stared at the black and white parked a few feet away. Pete felt an uneasiness creep through him as he took in everything. The driver's side door was wide open, as was the back left passenger door. A police officer's standard-issue hat rested on the pavement near the back of the squad. The remains of a broken nightstick were visible beneath the body of the car.
"Whose car?" Jim asked.
"It was assigned to Wells and Brinkman," Mac answered.
"Has anyone seen either one of them since the explosion?" Pete asked.
Mac's blue eyes clouded. "I was with Wells in my office. I heard Brinkman tell Ed that he was going to put their equipment in the car. That was about three minutes before the explosion."
Pete and Jim exchanged a look. "I guess we should start looking," Jim remarked quietly, an urgent undertone to his voice. He bit back another cough.
"That's a job for the fire department, son," Captain Bonner shook his head. "You can see there's no one under or in the car, and he's not in the vicinity. If anyone's down here, they're probably in that mess," Bonner pointed to the smouldering mass of twisted beams and shattered concrete surrounding the entrance to the mechanical room.
Pete found his heart in his throat. If anybody was beneath that pile of rubble, the prospects of them still alive seemed dim. Pete fervently hoped Brinkman had somehow escaped the blast. He'd known Brinkman a long time and liked him, despite the officer's warped sense of humor and penchant for doing dumb things. One look at Jim's face told Pete that his partner was thinking along the same lines. Jim was probably thinking of Brink's wife and three kids.
"I believe I can offer you one assurance," Bonner spoke again. "I'm 99 percent sure this wasn't a bomb. I believe your boiler exploded. Of course, someone could have planted a bomb in the mechanical room, but the explosion definitely came from there."
"That's something, anyway. Thanks, Captain," Mac said tersely. He turned to Jim and Pete."You can check these cars on your way out," Mac indicated an assortment of black and whites and civilian vehicles with a wave of his hand. "Check for victims. When you get back outside, ask and see if anyone saw Brinkman upstairs after the blast."
"Right, Mac." Pete nodded. He pushed his worry out of his mind and tapped his partner on the shoulder. "Let's go, Jim."
Pete and Jim checked each car as they came to it, stepping around shattered glass and other debris slung by the blast. Each car proved to be empty of victims and they finished the job quickly.
"Man, I'm glad to get out of there," Pete said when they reached the sidewalk on the street level. He wiped tears from his eyes and cleared his throat.
"Makes me glad I'm not a fireman," Jim agreed. The younger officer wiped perspiration from his brow and looked back down into the parking area. "For more reasons than one."
"No need borrowing trouble," Pete said sagely. "Maybe he got out." Take your own advice, Malloy.
"Maybe. Hopefully." Jim sighed. "Let's start asking if anyone's seen him."
They walked over to Woods and Grant, who were the closest to them, and inquired about Brinkman. Neither officer had seen him. The story was the same with the next five officers they questioned. No one seemed to have seen the veteran officer. Pete's anxiety level bumped up a notch with each negative response.
"Let's check the guys on the other side of the building," Pete suggested, when they'd queried everyone within their immediate sight.
"Right," Jim agreed, rather dispiritedly.
There was a knot of five officers standing on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the police station, ostensibly holding back onlookers and evacuated civilians from the building, but they appeared to be talking more than working. Pete and Jim joined them.
"Any of you guys seen Bob Brinkman around here?" Pete asked.
"No, can't say that I have," Chris Jacobs responded.
"I saw him in the locker room way before the explosion," another officer spoke up. "But he was leaving to check out a shotgun."
"Haven't seen him since the boom," Cal Simpson, a Foothills officer temporarily filling in while Central Division was shorthanded, said. "Is he missing?"
"The unit he was assigned to was parked nearest the explosion," Jim explained. "We found a hat and a broken nightstick near the car."
"That doesn't sound good," Simpson mused.
"Any word on what happened?" Jacobs asked.
"Fire Captain says he's 99 percent sure it was the boiler," Pete informed.
"I hope he's right. I'm gonna feel a whole lot better when I know for sure somebody didn't plant a bomb down there," Jacobs stated.
"I'm gonna feel better when we find Brinkman," Jim almost sighed.
"If he's still in one piece, you mean," Simpson amended.
"Hey, who called a meeting without telling me?"
Seven heads cranked around at the cheerful voice that called to them from down the sidewalk. Bob Brinkman was walking their way, a grin on his wide face.
"Brinkman!" Pete barked, irritation overriding the huge sense of relief that washed through him at the sight of his colleague. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Hey, what's the matter?" Brinkman stopped in mid-step, holding out both hands palms up in appeal. "Aren't you glad to see me, guys?"
Jacobs smiled. "I'll go find Mac and tell him, Pete." He swung a thumb toward the station and received a nod from Pete.
The other officers converged on Brinkman, shaking their heads and grinning. All except Jim, Pete noticed. His partner's face still held the innate concern that he could never hide in a million years.
"You okay, Bob?" Jim asked, watching as Brinkman received back-slapping and handshakes from happy colleagues.
"Oh, sure, Reed. No sweat," Brinkman replied easily, waving him off as the men returned to their temporary duties.
"So, Bob." Pete folded his arms in front of him. "Like I said, where the hell have you been?" He wasn't ready to let Bob Brinkman off the hook just yet.
"Well, uh...," Brinkman's eyes dropped to the sidewalk as he scratched his right ear.
"Come on, spill it." Pete's glare pushed for an answer.
"I was...uh, in the john," Brinkman replied, lowering his voice as he looked back up at them.
"What?" Jim cocked his head slightly, not sure if he had heard correctly.
"You heard me, Reed. I was in the john, for crying out loud. Give a guy a break."
"A break? There's an explosion in the station, you turn up missing under suspicious circumstances, every available officer is searching for you...and you want a break?" Jim took a deep breath, frustrated by Brinkman's casual attitude.
"Hey, let me tell you something, Reed." Brinkman looked over his shoulder and almost whispered, "It's not the place to be when the building blows up, okay? The stress of the explosion jammed the door. Nothin' like having one of those firefighters burst in the room when your pants are down, so to speak."
Pete couldn't hold back his laughter, noting the pinkish hue progressing upwards from Brinkman's collar. Another one for the books! He glanced at his partner, relieved to see a huge grin replacing the worried frown. And then a thought hit him. It had been floating out there but his mind was just getting around to processing it. He'd been so caught up in Brinkman's reappearance...
"Bob?" Pete felt Jim's attention immediately snap back on him.
"Your nightstick and hat. What are they doing down in the parking garage by your unit?"
"I left 'em back in the...you know. Didn't remember to grab 'em. Everything was so crazy."
"Pete?" Jim asked, his body tensing with that one word.
"Yeah, I know, partner. We still have a mystery. And we could still have a missing officer."
Mac blew out a frustrated breath as he stood beside his patrol wagon, trying to sort out all the officers and firefighters milling around the station. Above the excited chatter of adrenaline-pumped men, he could hear the divisional roll call coming across every radio in every unit on the lot, and across the hand-held CC unit he had clipped to his belt. Change of watch, the absolute worst time for something like this to have happened. AM Watch was ending, but Day Watch hadn't even had their morning briefing yet, so there easily could have been an officer at the station, not cleared or even noticed, who was now buried under the rubble in the basement.
Lieutenant Moore hurried over to him. "Mac, who was assigned to the car in the basement?"
"Wells and Brinkman, but they've both been accounted for," Mac said.
Moore took in the crowd in the parking lot with a disapproving glance, one that made Mac cringe a little inside. "Then lets get all the men lined up for inspection. They're standing around gawking like a bunch of rubbernecking civilians," Moore snapped. "We'll never find out who's missing this way."
"Yes, sir," Mac said quickly, berating himself for not doing so sooner. He pulled a bullhorn out of the back of his car and raised it to his lips. "Attention!" he called, and had to repeat it two more times before the clamor died down. "All officers not involved in traffic and crowd control, form an inspection line along the back fence, well away from the building!"
He was relieved to see professionalism return to the force as the men all moved quietly and quickly to the back of the lot in subdued silence. Mac watched the kaleidoscope of expressions flit across each man's face as they lined up-worry until the usual man in the spot beside him turned up, then relief, and an occasional weak smile and elbow to the ribs. Mac usually didn't let that kind of horseplay go undisciplined, but he let it slide. These men wore the blue, but they were still human. And he knew the same emotions were probably tripping across his own face as he studied the growing line. He picked up the clipboard with the day's watch attendance sheet and tallied each face against the list of officers due to report for duty today, and against the sheet from the previous watch.
After everyone lined up, six names remained unchecked on his sheet: Reed, Malloy, Woods, and Sanchez from Day Watch, and Paul Culver and John Harrison from AM Watch. Reed and Malloy were directing traffic, Woods was currently standing by the Lieutenant talking, Sanchez was leaning into his unit responding to the divisional roll call. That left two men. "Any of you on AM Watch seen Officer Culver or Officer Harrison since end-of-watch?"
One of the AM Watch officers raised his hand. "Culver was in the locker room changing. He left about 5 minutes before the blast."
"And Harrison already left for the day," another officer called out. "I saw him pull out of the lot before the explosion."
Mac nodded, then turned worried eyes toward the station. Paul Culver. "Lord, let it not be so," he whispered, then jogged over to give the potentially bad news to Lieutenant Moore.
"1-Adam-12 Daywatch clear," Jim said into the radio mic. He released the red button and glanced at his watch. "Only one hour and twenty-six minutes late," he appended with a touch of resignation.
"Be grateful we lived to go on patrol," Pete laughed.
"1-Adam-12, clear," the dispatcher parroted.
Jim winced at the unfamiliar voice. Until things calmed down around the station and the fire department deemed the building safe, emergency procedures had been implemented. That included routing calls through a different location with different dispatchers.
"I like her voice," Pete commented, noting his partner's discomfort.
Jim rolled his eyes. "Don't start that, Pete. You never win."
"One of these days, the law of averages..."
Jim groaned. "No, Pete. No law of averages lecture today. Not after this morning."
"Hey, what are you complaining about?" Pete asked. He stopped the car at a boulevard stop, checked the traffic then moved on. "Everybody got out unscathed. Including your doppelganger."
"My what?" Jim's eyes bugged out as he gaped at his partner.
"Your doppelganger," Pete repeated. "Your twin. Your double. Culver."
"You made that word up," Jim accused.
"No, I didn't," Pete insisted, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh at the bewildered expression on Jim's face.
"Where'd you hear it?" Jim demanded.
"I didn't 'hear' it anywhere. I read it in a book."
"Yeah, you know...made of paper, with lots of words in them?" Pete's grin widened. Teasing his partner drove away some of the exhaustion left over from his sleepless night.
Jim made an exasperated noise.
"I do read books, you know," Pete continued. He ignored the glare that Jim was giving him.
"So do I," Jim countered. "But I've never seen that word, doppelgranders, or whatever."
"Doppelganger," Pete corrected. "German for 'double.'"
"Actually," Pete raised his hand, index finger pointed as if lecturing, "it's supposed to be like a ghost of a living person. But since Culver's alive, I guess I really shouldn't use that term."
"Thank God for that," Jim breathed. "Whoever would think having a fight with your wife would save your life? If he hadn't called her to apologize and have her meet him for breakfast, he might not be here."
"Yeah. Lucky. He got so excited that she said yes, that he left his hat and baton in the parking lot. So besides a few dinged up cars and broken windows, the only casualties of the boiler wound up being Culver's equipment. I'm sure he won't mind paying to replace them, considering the alternatives."
"I guess not. It's a small price to pay for saving your life and maybe your marriage in one day," Jim agreed. "And then we thought we'd lost Brinkman...." He was quiet for a moment, then said, "You know we really don't look alike."
"No, you don't look a thing like Brink," Pete agreed.
"I'm talking about Culver!" Jim's voice betrayed his continued exasperation with his partner.
"Jim, you two are ringers."
"No, no, we're not. His hair is lighter, and it's cut differently, and he's a little heavier than I am, and his nose is a little crooked." Jim ticked off the differences on his fingers.
"Ringers. Sorry, partner, but it looks like you were separated at birth." Pete shook his head.
"Jean doesn't think so," Jim's reply was almost a pout.
It was Pete's turn to roll his eyes. "I refuse to ask 'why not.'"
The dispatcher interrupted further conversation.
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, unknown trouble, 4519 Magnolia. 1-Adam-12, handle code 2."
Pete pulled up to the house on Magnolia Street and leaned forward to glance at their surroundings. Quiet neighborhood. So far.
"1-Adam-12, code 6 at 4519 Magnolia." Jim glanced at Pete quickly as he replaced the mic, then opened his door.
Jim walked across the right side of the lawn, surreptitiously looking for any signs of trouble as Pete walked up to the front door of the residence. An elderly couple stood behind the screen door, the woman peeking out from behind her balding husband.
"Sir? Did you call the police?"
"Yes, sir, Officer. I'm Mr. Heidelmeir. Henry Heidelmeir. And this is my wife, Ida."
Pete nodded, then gestured toward his partner who was still checking out the premises. Jim continued to look around as he joined Pete on the front step.
"I'm Officer Malloy and this is my partner, Officer Reed. Exactly what kind of trouble are you having, Mr. Heidelmeir?" Pete asked, concerned for the frail-looking pair.
"Well, Officer Malloy, I'm a little embarrassed...," the old man stammered, looking back at his wife.
"Go on, Henry. Tell them." Ida Heidelmeir spoke in a soft, lilting tone as her thin, wrinkled fingers clutched her husband's sweater.
"Mr. Heidelmeir, before we can help you, we have to know the problem," Pete urged, keeping his voice affable.
"It's that vacant house on the corner." Mr. Heidelmeir held up a slightly shaking index finger and pointed across the street.
Both officers turned and surveyed the two-story house surrounded by an expanse of overgrown weeds. In an obvious state of decay, the wood-framed structure needed more than a coat of paint in order to be fit for habitation.
"Been empty for years. Me and Ida...well, we've been hearing things over there. In the middle of the night."
"What kind of things?" Jim asked, pulling out his notepad and pen.
"Strange sounds. Sounds carry in the night air, you know? And lights blinkin' off and on." Mr. Heidelmeir paused, then took a deep breath. "Oh, I know what you're thinking. A couple of old fogies like us probably can't hear or see worth a plugged nickel. Our eyes are playing tricks and we left our hearing aids out in the rain. Isn't that right?"
"No, sir," Pete answered, admiring the slightly defiant tone in the old man's voice. "We take every citizen's report seriously. If you believe you've seen or heard something suspicious, we'll check it out."
"Really. Now is there anything else you can tell us?"
"Just that it's been three nights in a row. Always between 1 and 2 in the morning. Me and Ida, we don't sleep much anymore."
"Have any of the other neighbors complained?" Jim focused on the yellow house across the street, closest to the empty building.
"Oh, you mean Mr. Glickman? No, no, he works nights down at the canning company. Sleeps all day. And nobody else around here has noticed anything. Just me and Ida."
"All right, Mr. Heidelmeir. Mrs. Heidelmeir. It's probably just some kids playing around but we'll take a look."
Mr. Heidelmeir bent down slightly as his wife whispered into his ear. Shaking his head, he smiled, "Ida is convinced that the place is haunted."
"I'm sure it's something a little more down to earth, Mrs. Heidelmeir," Jim replied, trying to reassure the old woman with a smile.
"She wants you to be very careful," Mr. Heidelmeir patted his wife's hand, still attached to his arm. "And so do I."
"We will," Pete nodded, then walked alongside his partner back to the squad.
As Jim called in the address of the abandoned building, Pete continued to study the area in question. Nothing stuck out as unusual, but someone could be taking shelter in it. Or, as he had told the Heidelmeirs, it was probably kids. Big kids, he corrected himself as he heard Jim close the car door.
"Pete, the house is listed under the name of real estate company. No occupants for the last five years."
"Doesn't look like the realtors are too concerned about it, does it?"
"Well, come on, partner. Let's find out what's been going bump in the night."
"I'll take the back," Jim offered as they pushed through the sagging gate in the weathered picket fence. Half the pickets were missing or broken.
Pete nodded and headed up the sidewalk to the porch. He tried the front door; locked. He rubbed at the layer of grime on the window and tried to peer inside, but a filthy lace curtain blocked his view. He stepped back off the porch and looked at all the windows on the front of the house. Amazingly, the glass panes were still intact on all of them. He tried opening the first floor windows, but they were either painted shut or secured from the inside.
He heard footsteps swishing through the waist-high weeds. "Find anything?" Jim asked as he came around the corner.
"Yeah, back door's unlocked. Should we go on in and check it out?"
"Might as well. House is supposed to be empty, so there's no unlawful entry to worry about. Come on."
They walked in silence to the back. A set of warped, wooden bulkhead doors led to a cellar, and a rickety set of stairs led upward to the back door. "You check the cellar?" Pete asked.
Jim shook his head. "The doors aren't locked, though."
Pete pulled up on one of the doors and propped it open, then climbed down the concrete steps. Cool musty air swelled damply around him. He fished out his flashlight and checked the dark interior. Empty, except for a dead rat in the corner and a host of spider webs in every nook and cranny. He shivered as goosebumps paraded down his bare arms, then hurried back into the bright sunshine.
Jim grinned at his hasty exit. "OooooWEEEEOOOOoooo," he sang, fluttering his hands in mock terror.
"Reed, grow up," Pete snarled.
"What's the matter? Bogeyman down there?"
"Nothing's down there, so can it, would you? Let's check the rest of this place so we can get back on patrol."
Jim grinned wider, then adjusted his hat and mounted the stairs to the back door. "I don't guess you have a silver bullet, in case Dracula's in here."
Pete didn't dignify Jim's feeble joke with a comment. They entered the house and found themselves in a mudroom off the kitchen. Jim pulled out his baton and used it to knock down the cobwebs. "Big house like this probably had a happy family in it once, but I don't think anybody's been in here in the last fifty years," he said. He walked through the kitchen, then stopped and turned on the faucet over the sink. No water came out, but that made sense. The realty company would have the utilities shut off. He pushed the handle back the way it was and hurried after Pete into a bare room that had probably been the dining room. As Jim looked at the faded squares where pictures must once have hung on the dingy wallpaper, he found himself straining to hear the laughter of children echoing in the vacant room. But the silence of the empty house settled heavy around him. He'd never admit it to Pete, but he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stir just a little, like someone was watching him. He swiped at his neck and told himself to quit imagining things.
"Reed, look at that," Pete said suddenly, nodding his head toward the stairs on the far side of the room.
Jim grunted as he realized the balustrade and steps dead-ended at the ceiling. "Huh. Now why the heck would somebody build stairs that don't go anywhere?"
"You got me, partner. Let's see if there's another set so we can check upstairs."
They walked slowly through the rest of the first floor, finding lots of cobwebs, dust and a little bit of trash, but nothing more sinister than a lizard basking on a sunny windowsill. And no stairs. Jim chewed his lip. "So how do you get upstairs?"
"Maybe you don't," Pete suggested.
Jim gave him the look the comment deserved, but Pete just shrugged. "You ever been up to the Winchester mansion?"
"No, what's that?"
"House built by Sara Winchester, up in San Jose. She was the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune and crazier than a squirrel. She thought that if she ever quit building on her house, she'd die, so she had workers adding weird rooms and stairs to nowhere and all kinds of goofy things."
"Did it work?"
"Did what work?"
"Forever adding onto her house. Is she still alive?"
Pete grinned. "Nope. But the house is still around. Has 160 rooms."
"I'm glad we don't have to search that place today." By this time they were back in the dining room. Jim stared at the steps again. "Maybe the guy that built this place is her cousin."
"Maybe," Pete agreed, then climbed the steps.
"Pete, they don't go anywhere," Jim protested. He glanced uneasily around the room. I could swear someone's watching me.
"Call it a hunch," Pete called down, and sure enough, he was right. He pushed at what looked like a ceiling panel and it swung upward and to the left. "Voila. Open sesame."
Jim shook his head and followed Pete to the second floor. "I'll take the left," he said, heading down the hallway. He checked three bedrooms, all empty, then came to a bathroom. He touched the cracked porcelain of the antique fixtures. "Seems a shame," he whispered, looking at a once-graceful clawfoot tub that was so rust-stained and cracked it was unusable. There was a layer of dust and debris on the bottom of the tub, and the toilet bowl was dry. An axe leaned against the wall in the corner. Jim thought that was odd, but then in this house, somehow it seemed to fit right in.
Turning his back on the silent bathroom, leaving the door open, he reached the last room at the end of the hall and checked it. Empty. He carefully opened a closet door, and jumped when a mouse scurried out over his foot. He took a deep breath and looked inside the walk-in closet. The was another door at the far end. He walked across the hardwood floor and reached for the knob, but the door behind him suddenly slammed shut. Jim jerked around, fumbling for his gun in the sudden darkness as he felt his way back to the closed door. He paused when his outstretched left hand brushed wood, then he slid his hand down the paneled door until he found the knob. He grasped it and turned. Nothing happened. He turned it the other way, but the door refused to open.
He hefted his gun as he considered what the best course of action would be, then decided to try the door at the opposite end. He made his way carefully back and tried the knob. To his vast relief, the door swung inward, revealing a narrow set of stairs leading both directions. Probably the servants' stairs. He took a steadying breath and decided to go up. His size eleven feet barely fit on the narrow treads, so he had to take care as he climbed. He reached a small trap door at the top and opened it slowly. He raised his eyes above the level of the floor and looked around at the attic. A clump of leafy green plants in a corner caught his eye. "Aha," he muttered, then climbed all the way into the attic, holstering his gun.
A table had been set up in a corner, and flourescent plant lights suspended by chains hung above four neat rows of healthy, leafy marijuana plants. The lights were hooked up to a timer set for 1 a.m. Jim glanced at the gable ends of the attic. The windows were covered with black plastic, but even as he watched, a breeze from outside flapped one of the black squares inward. "That explains the blinking lights," Jim muttered to himself, "but how are they getting power to the lamps?" He looked further and discovered several car batteries and a small transformer in a corner. "And they must be hauling the water up in buckets." He shook his head at the effort some criminals would go to in their illegal endeavors. If they worked that hard at legitimate jobs, they'd own corporations.
He left it all untouched and headed back down the stairs, bypassing the pesky second floor closet and taking the steps all the way down to the kitchen. Still feeling like he was being watched, he hurried across the dining room, back up the dining room stairs, and to the right. "Pete?"
He stuck his head in each room as he passed. "Malloy!" he called. Still getting no answer, he headed back to the part of the house he had checked. Maybe Pete was already up in the attic. He walked into the last bedroom and over to the closet door, still closed. He reached for the knob and gave it a hard yank, expecting it to stay shut. But the door unexpectedly flew open, and he let out a startled yelp as Pete stumbled into him.
"About time you showed up, Reed!" Pete growled. "I was locked in that stupid closet."
Once Jim brought his thundering heart under control, he grinned. "Same thing happened to me. I walked in and the darned thing slammed shut on me. But there's a staircase at the other end."
"Yeah, and you'll never guess what's growing in the attic."
"Marijuana," Pete sighed.
"Yep. About fifty plants, I'd say."
"All right. Look, go call it in. I'll get up there and take a look."
"Be careful. The steps are really narrow," Jim cautioned, then headed down the hallway. As he passed the bathroom he stopped. I could swear I left that door open. He listened, but the only noises he heard were the faint creaks and pops all houses make, plus a muffled clumping that had to be Pete's footsteps up in the attic. Jim worked some moisture into his suddenly dry mouth and pulled his gun back out. The door wasn't latched, so he stood to the side and gently pushed it open. The room was still empty. He took a deep breath, chiding himself for his paranoia. Old houses settle, get out of square and doors swing shut on their own. That's all. He holstered his gun and turned to go, but then he noticed something else.
The axe was gone.
This time the shiver on the back of Jim's neck crawled all the way down his back. Someone was in this house.
Jim's hand automatically moved to the butt of his gun and again he swallowed to bring moisture back to his dry throat. He stood very still, listening for sounds that might give away the presence of someone besides Pete in the house. All he could hear for a few seconds was his own harsh breathing and the roar of blood in his ears brought on by his sudden surprise. Jim made an effort to slow his breathing and settle his jangled nerves.
Get a grip. If anybody's in here, it's a flesh-and-blood human, not some disembodied poltergeist. Just a couple of pot-growers who suddenly found cops in their private little lab. They're just trying to take the evidence and run.
But the idea that somebody might have an axe as a weapon concerned him a little.
Jim drew his gun again as he swept the hallway with his eyes. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. An errant draft stirred the hair on Jim's forehead but failed to disturb the mantle of silence blanketing the old place. He couldn't even hear Pete moving around in the attic.
Pete wanted me to call it in, but if there's somebody in this house I don't want to leave him here without warning. I'd better go tell him.
Jim started back toward the room with the stairs, but a creaking sound from behind him caused him to stop and whirl, gun pointed. But as before, there was nothing there. A sudden thought came to him and he walked quietly and slowly toward the trapdoor leading to the main stairs. He'd left the panel open on his last trip up the steps. Somehow he had a feeling it was now closed.
Jim kept his gun at the ready and as he passed each room on his way to the trapdoor, he stopped and checked it. Each room was empty, each closet occupied by nothing more than cobwebs, dust bunnies, and the occasional dead bug or rodent. He was beginning to think he had just imagined that axe in the corner until he came to the end of the hallway where the trap door was located.
The trapdoor was, indeed, shut.
I knew it! Somebody IS in here! Now, do I go back to Pete, or open this up and go downstairs?
Jim stood, staring at the now-closed panel, debating on his next course of action. If he went back to Pete, whoever was here might get away. On the other hand, if he opened the panel and went downstairs alone, if there was more than one, they might get the drop on him.
In the next instant, the decision was made for him.
Jim flinched as a thunderous crash pounded the ceiling directly above him, followed by another jarring impact. Pete! Ignoring the bits of plaster dropping in his path, he made a mad dash for the closet door and prayed it would open. It took every bit of control to resist breaking it down. But he wouldn't be much help to his partner if he was ambushed before he got there. Cautiously, he gripped the knob with his left hand for what seemed the hundredth time and yanked it open. Gun still fixed in his right hand, Jim quickly checked the interior. Nothing.
He repeated the process with the door leading to the narrow steps. Time had slipped into low gear and convinced him that he wasn't moving fast enough. The vertical passageway was clear in both directions but the noises from above had ceased. Jim didn't know if that was good or bad, but either way, it worried him. He looked up, focusing on the entry to the attic. His natural instinct to sprint and take two or three steps at a time kicked in before he realized his mistake. Almost immediately, one foot slipped on the undersized step. His knee cracked on the hard edge of the next step. Grimacing against the unexpected fire that splayed through his leg, Jim quickly braced himself against the wall and looked at the attic door again. Still no movement or sound. I gotta get up there.
Half-limping, half-climbing, Jim pulled himself up to the attic trapdoor and paused to listen. Besides the sounds of his own labored breathing, he couldn't hear a thing. Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he steadied his gun and he tried to position himself. God, please don't let me be too late.
He reached up with his left hand and slowly inched the trapdoor open just far enough to look into the room. From his vantage point, he could only see about four inches above the floor. I can't see a thing. Not good. Not good at all. He tightened his grip on his gun, and shoved at the door. At the same time, he sprang forward and up the last few steps. His left knee gave out on the last step, and he tripped.
And the man swinging the axe missed Jim's head by inches.
Jim flattened himself against the floor as the axeman pulled his arms back for another swing. Jim felt the air move as the blade whizzed past his left ear and thunked against the wooden floor. The blade didn't bite in, and Jim barely managed to squirm out of the way of the man's next stroke descended toward him. He rolled desperately first one way than another as the axe plummeted down again and again. He tried to raise his gun to fire, but the man was too fast with his swings. Off balance and growing increasingly out of breath, Jim struggled to keep one step ahead of his assailant, but he was losing ground and he knew it. There has to be somewhere to hide. Not daring to take his eyes off the flailing axe, he tried to remember the layout of the attic beyond the tables holding the marijuana plants.
The break Jim was praying for finally came. The axe swung down again, this time biting into the plank flooring. In the few seconds it took his attacker to wrench the axe free, Jim finally managed to scramble to his knees and raise his gun.
"Hold it right there, mister!" he yelled, his voice hoarse from exertion and adrenaline. "Drop the axe, now!"
The man hesitated, weighing his chances.
"Drop it!" Jim yelled again. Don't make me stand up, mister, because the way my knee feels, I don't think I can. He glared at the suspect in a battle of wills, careful to keep any expression of pain hidden. Pete, now would be a really good time to come out from wherever you're hiding.
The man decided to take his chances. He suddenly dropped down and rolled behind some boxes, taking the axe with him. Jim fired, but he knew he'd missed. He scrambled awkwardly to his feet, heavily favoring his left knee. He braced himself with his left hand against the sloping ceiling as he backed away from the area the suspect had disappeared into. That end of the attic was a rabbit's warren of boxes. Following the suspect through there in the shape he was in was asking to get his head lopped off.
Jim stopped just shy of the stairwell opening, and took a quick glance around. He finally spied his partner, lying motionless beside the marijuana tables. Praying that there wasn't another stairway at the other end that the suspect could escape down, he limped over to his partner, keeping his gun up and ready to fire at the first movement in the shadows.
"Pete!" he hissed. When he heard no response, he reached down and fumbled for a pulse, flicking his eyes in lightning glances between the boxes and Pete. As he touched Pete's neck, Pete jerked.
"Reed," he mumbled as he struggled to sit up.
Jim helped him as well as he could while keeping his gun hand free. "You okay?"
"Gimme a minute and I'll tell you," Pete grimaced as he held a hand against the back of his head.
"Sorry, partner. We don't have a minute."
"Whas' happening?" Pete slurred.
"An angry pot grower with an axe just tried to turn me into shark bait. That's what's happening," Jim said tersely. "We've gotta move. Can you do it?" Jim kept his eyes trained on the dark silhouettes of boxes across the way, where their suspect crouched in hiding. He risked a quick glance back to Pete, who, in his estimation, didn't look like he could move anywhere.
"Where's he?" Pete fumbled for his revolver and managed to bring it out with a shaky hand.
"Holed up over in that pile of boxes across the way. I don't remember an exit on that side of the room, do you?" Jim's eyes tracked back to the shadowy labyrinth.
"You're askin' me? Can't remember my name right now." Pete made an effort to roll over to his knees.
Jim offered him his left arm and Pete braced on it to get to his haunches.
"How you feeling'?" Jim whispered.
"Like I rode the tilt-a-whirl ten times in a row," Pete moaned quietly.
Jim glanced at his partner again. Pete blinked rapidly, apparently trying to clear his vision and get his bearings. The older officer looked a bit pale, and he held to the corner of one of the marijuana-bearing tables for support. He can't move right now. Jim sighed quietly and made a decision.
"Pete, I'm gonna flush him out. You stay here, and if he gets past me, take him."
Pete transferred his grip from the table to Jim's arm. "No way," he hissed. "I'm no good to you right now. Sit tight and wait for our backup."
Jim winced. How to break this piece of bad news to his partner? "Uh, Pete, there is no backup. I didn't make the call."
The quick glance Jim stole at his partner revealed that color had returned to his face. It was flushed red. And if looks could kill, Jim wouldn't have to worry about the suspect's axe any longer. "Sorry. I didn't get the chance. We're on our own here."
"Great, just great." Pete muttered. He took a two-handed grip on his revolver and aimed in the general direction of the boxes. "Just be careful."
"Always." Jim slid sideways, trying not to put much weight on his aching left leg, across to a better vantage point away from Pete. His eyes never left the boxes, but he detected no movement. He sighted carefully with his revolver. "All right, mister!" Jim barked authoritatively. "You got nowhere to go. Throw out the axe and come out slow."
A quick shuffling sound came from the boxes. It sounded like the suspect was trying to dig his way deeper into the shadows.
"Give it up, mister!" Jim repeated. "You're trapped in here! No way out! Let's do this the easy way!"
"You heard him, buddy!" Pete snapped from his position. Somehow he'd managed to put some energy in his voice. "Two to one...not good odds. And in five minutes we can have half a division outside armed with shotguns. You got no chance."
"Throw out the axe. Come out with your hands up!" Jim ordered again.
"No way, fuzz!" For the first time, the suspect spoke, his voice a booming basso and filled with contempt. "You come in and get meeeeeeeeeahhhh!" The suspect ended his invective with a bloodcurdling screech that sent chills down Jim's spine.
The screaming continued from behind those boxes. It sounded like the suspect was being torn limb from limb. Sharp slapping noises and dull thudding accompanied the screaming and boxes began flying in all directions.
Jim and Pete exchanged a quick, wide-eyed glance, then Jim took a few hesitant steps toward the suspect.
"Help me! Help me!" The suspect's voice sounded more like a soprano than a bass now, as he shrieked and screamed. "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!"
Suddenly the axe came sliding out across the floor, followed closely by the suspect, who was rolling around, slapping at himself. "Help me! Don't shoot!"
Jim took three quick, painful steps across to where the axe lay, and kicked it out of the way with his right foot. He trained his gun on the suspect. "Okay, freeze! Don't move!"
"I can't, I can't!" The suspect squealed, still rolling around and slapping at himself. "I give up, just get 'em off me!"
"What?" Jim asked, following the suspect around with his gun.
"Spiders! They're on me! They're all over me! Get 'em off!"
Jim had to bite back an irrational urge to laugh. A closer look at the suspect revealed that he was covered with cobwebs, but Jim could see no spiders.
"Take it easy, man!" Jim cried. "All you have on you is the webs. I don't see any spiders. Stop rolling around!"
"I feel 'em! I feel 'em!" The suspect insisted.
"I'm gonna shoot 'em off if you don't stop moving!"Jim threatened. "Now get on your face and lie still!"
The suspect finally complied, but he kept twitching and moaning. Jim finally got the man's hands cuffed behind his back and shook him down. He found neither weapons nor spiders on the suspect's person.
"Okay, pal. Up. Let's go." Jim reached down and lifted the suspect to his feet.
"Are you sure there ain't no spiders on me, man?" The suspect whined.
"I'm sure, buddy." Jim pushed him toward the door. "Pete, can you walk?" Jim asked.
"Of course I can walk," Pete scowled. "I just got my bell rung, that's all." Pete narrowed his eyes at the suspect.
"Well, hey, man," the suspect shrugged. "At least I hit you with the dull end."
"How about that? You got an assist from a spider web!" Mac laughed after Jim recounted the takedown of the suspect.
After Jim had managed to limp down the stairs, making sure Pete didn't keel over and the suspect didn't run off screaming away from the spiders, he had called for another unit to transport the prisoner back to Rampart Division, where, as Mac had radio'd earlier, prisoners would be kept until engineers could determine their station's structural safety. He figured that Pete needed to get to Central Receiving for a look at his head, and the way his left knee was throbbing, a look at that was probably warranted as well.
Mac had rolled on the call with Adam-43, and had listened with amused concern as Jim related the story of their encounter in the "haunted house," while Pete chimed in with comments of his own.
"After dodging that axe, I was happy to take help from anywhere," Jim declared.
"Not a bad bust, either," Mac praised. "Narco's sending a team out here to recover the plants and paraphernalia and make a search of the premises. They're hoping this guy'll lead them to some bigger game."
"Well, if he clams up on 'em, all they have to do is go fetch a couple of spiders from somewhere and threaten him with 'em. He'll sing like a canary." Jim grinned.
"I'll be sure and tell Sergeant Hardwick," Mac promised. "Now, how about I get you two checked out over at Central Receiving?"
"Aw, Mac, I'm fine now," Pete protested.
"No argument," Mac insisted. "Jim says you were out cold for several minutes. We're not gonna fool around with a head injury. And Jim's walking like some old man."
"How about this for irony?" Pete asked rhetorically. "We're in the station when the boiler blows up and we don't get a scratch. Then we walk around a deserted old house and wind up in the ER."
Mac shrugged. "Life's funny like that. At least in our business. Well, hop in my car and let's go."
"Mac, I can drive," Jim balked. "My vision's fine, and it's my left leg that's bum, not my right. It's not that far. If I don't drive you'll have to have somebody come pick up the unit, then pick us up at Central Receiving. And someone's gotta wait for Narco to show."
"Fine with me, as long as you're sure." Mac agreed.
"I'm sure. You think I'd ever pass up a chance to drive?" Jim grinned again.
"He's probably glad I got bonked on the head," Pete grumbled.
"That's not a nice thing to say about your partner, partner," Jim teased. He held his hand out to Pete palm up. "Keys, please?"
"I'm sitting here with a splitting headache and you're taking the scenic route to the hospital!" Pete complained as Jim drove them to Central Receiving.
"I'm just taking the back roads to avoid traffic," Jim responded mildly. "We'll get there faster that way."
"This is three miles out of the way," Pete insisted.
"Pete, pretend this is a Greyhound bus. Leave the driving to me," Jim said.
"You're deliberately torturing me," Pete mumbled.
"I'm not torturing you!"
"That's what you think."
Jim sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Hey, watch the road!" Pete snapped.
"Good grief, Pete, you're worse than my mother-in-law!" Jim pulled the car up to a four-way stop sign and made sure he came to a complete stop. Once the intersection was clear, he moved on.
"I'm just making sure," Pete said. "There's another stop up here, but it's only a two-way."
"I know that..." Jim trailed off as his eyes caught a blur of movement off to his right.
A fiery red late-model Camaro came barreling down the cross-street at a high rate of speed. The cross-street had the right of way, but there was a child in the cross-walk, skipping across the street.
"Pete..." Jim tapped his brakes and pointed.
"I see him, but I don't think the kid sees the car," Pete commented, his voice tense.
"Is he gonna stop?" Jim fretted.
"He's moving too fast!" Pete exclaimed. "And we can't do anything!"
Just as Pete spoke, the driver of the Camaro apparently caught sight of the child, for he hit his brakes, squealing and burning rubber in the effort to stop. The rear end of the car fishtailed, but the car still headed straight for the child, who'd stopped in her tracks when she heard the tires squeal.
"He's gonna hit her," Jim cried. "Move, kid!"
Almost as he said the words, the Camaro struck the little girl. Even though the car's speed had been reduced, the impact was enough to knock the child well into the intersection. She rolled limply into the street and lay motionless.
"Oh, God," Jim moaned. He brought the black-and-white to a stop and jerked the mic off its holder as Pete bailed out to go check on the child's condition. "1-Adam-12 requesting an ambulance at the corner of 7th and Oak. Car versus pedestrian TA. This unit not involved. Request AI team and a supervisor this location."
"1-Adam-12, roger," the dispatcher acknowledged.
Jim opened his door and limped toward where Pete knelt over the little girl. "Is she..?"
"She's alive," Pete responded tersely, "But she's in bad shape." Pete absently patted the injured child on her shoulder.
Jim stared down at the little girl's broken body. Amazingly, there wasn't any blood, except for a scratch on her forehead, but her body was twisted abnormally and her face was slack. Anger surged through him, and he looked over to where the Camaro sat, finally stopped, engine still running. The driver, a young negro male, had not moved from the car.
"I'll go talk to the driver," Jim said, with a final look at the little girl. He walked toward the Camaro, mentally calming himself before confronting the driver. He'd gotten about halfway there, when the driver made a sudden move with the gearshift. He threw his car into reverse and started screeching backwards away from the scene.
"Hey! Hey!" Jim exclaimed. "Hold it!" He waved at the driver to stop, but it was obvious the young man had no intentions of obeying. He backed the Camaro into a driveway and made to turn around.
"Of all the..." Jim muttered, then turned and raced for the unit, ignoring the stabbing pain in his left knee. He dove in the driver's side reaching for the switches to ignite the reds and the siren.
"Jim! Wait!" Pete exclaimed, but his exclamation was drowned out by the wail of Adam-12's siren as Jim peeled the unit out in pursuit.
"One Adam-12 in pursuit of 480 suspect....," Jim's eyes flickered from the suspect's car to the streets around him, trying to keep everything in sight. "Northbound on Oak, approaching 8th Street. Request backup to intercept late model Camaro, red with black top, California license Nora Henry Ocean....," Jim dropped the mic and grasped the steering wheel with both hands as the car in front of him swerved unexpectedly to the left. A shower of gravel sprayed from the Camaro's tires as the driver executed a wild forty-five degree turn. The front end of the car dipped and jerked erratically, smashing into a bright orange sawhorse. Chunks of splintered wood scattered into the wind.
Jim rounded the curve cautiously, momentarily slowing down in anticipation of the hazardous terrain ahead. Adrenaline still on his side, his right foot pushed down steadily and the squad picked up speed once again. Several other road signs were tipped on their sides or in pieces after being sideswiped by the Camaro. Jim felt the shocks on the squad vigorously protesting the numerous potholes and crevices in the damaged pavement.
"1-Adam-12, unable to receive your last transmission. Please repeat."
Jim quickly reached for the mic, grasping it firmly with his right hand. "One Adam-12 repeating, license Frank Henry Ocean eight-two-eight. Suspect now headed north on 8th Street. Request any available unit for backup."
"1-Adam-12, roger. All units standby, 1-Adam-12 is in pursuit. Any available unit respond."
Jim instinctively jerked the wheel to avoid a shiny object spinning towards the windshield. A metal hubcap glanced off the passenger side mirror and sailed into oblivion. The car ahead was showing no signs of slowing down, still leaving dangerous debris in its wake. Jim gritted his teeth as the squad bounced roughly across more perilous gaps on the surface. Pete's never going to let me hear the end of this. The only positives he could think of at the moment was knowing that the street was under construction and sparsely populated.
"1-Adam-12, what is your location?"
"1-Adam-12...still northbound on 8th Street, approaching Birch."
"1-Adam-12, roger. 1-Adam-36 is en route."
Jim carefully touched the brakes as the Camaro suddenly slowed, then veered off the street onto adjoining vacant lots. Instantly, he was confronted with the reason for the driver's reckless decision. Road work equipment and a bright yellow dump truck sat unmoving and abandoned in his path.
He turned and followed the suspect, traversing the open area like an obstacle course. Mounds of dry earth were heaped near the fractured roadway. Overgrown weeds loomed ahead of him in the undeveloped section, undoubtedly concealing holes the size of one of his tires. Unidentified litter crunched and cracked beneath the squad's tires.
"1-Adam-12...cross street 8th and Birch. Suspect's car has left the road, now traveling parallel to construction site east of 8th Street. Request ETA of One Adam-36."
"1-Adam-36 reports ETA of one minute."
Jim knew it was risky to continue the chase but he couldn't let the guy escape. Not after seeing him hit that child. No way. He winced, feeling the undercarriage being scrapped as the black and white bucked over another hidden knoll in the landscape. Desperation made a poor navigator and it showed as the suspect continued to drive unevenly. Jim was relieved to see that the distance between the two cars appeared to be growing smaller. But that relief was doomed to a short life.
The red Camaro disappeared.
Jim almost blew it.
Thinking the suspect had somehow managed to make a turn, Jim's momentary confusion left him only a split second to avert complete disaster. His heart in his throat, he stood on the brakes, jerked the wheel hard to the left and prayed as the black and white fishtailed sideways and slid through the loose dirt. Just when Jim was sure he was going to follow the Camaro's lead and roll the black and white down the steep embankment, the patrol car shuddered to a stop. Jim slapped the switch to kill the siren, then grabbed the radio. "1-Adam-12, suspect vehicle TA'd at construction site, 8th Street north of Birch. Respond an ambulance and AID to this location."
Jim didn't wait to hear dispatch acknowledge. He threw open his door and stood up, forgetting in the rush of adrenaline that he'd injured his left knee. He had to lunge for the window frame of the door as the damn thing nearly buckled on him. He tested it more gingerly, winced, then hobbled around the front of the patrol car, leaning against the fender and hood as he made his way to the edge of the drop-off. The Camaro was upside down, one tire still spinning lazily. A wisp of smoke ghosted off the engine. Even as Jim watched, the driver door jerked, then opened. The driver crawled out on his belly, then scrambled to his feet, apparently unhurt. He glanced up toward Jim, raising a handgun.
Jim hit the dirt as the bullet whanged off the hood of the patrol car and buzzed over his head. A second shot followed, but it went wide. Jim unsnapped his .38 and cautiously eased around the front of the car. The suspect was fleeing on foot. Jim glanced down at his knee, then hurried back to the radio.
"1-Adam-12, now in foot pursuit of 480 suspect at 8th Street construction site, heading north!" he barked, then scrambled to his feet. Ignoring the sharp protests in and around his knee, he slid down the hillside after the suspect.
A worried Pete looked up as Sgt. MacDonald's station wagon roared around the corner and screeched to a stop. The Scotsman slung open his door and strode to where Malloy sat in 43's unit. Pete's head still pounded, the pain made worse by concern over Jim's whereabouts, alone in pursuit. Pete had bad memories of rolling the black-and-white not so long ago when he'd gone off in pursuit by himself. So Pete had left the ambulance traffic and accident investigation to the officers of Adam-43 and gone to sit on the radio, where he'd listened with increasing tension to the link operator's report of Adam-12's pursuit.
When the dispatcher reported that Reed had gone off in foot pursuit, it was all Pete could do to keep from appropriating Adam-43 and going off after his partner. He decided, after a brief internal debate, that doing that would be a bad career move, so he'd refrained. But it didn't keep him from worrying.
"Malloy, what's your partner thinking out there?" Mac demanded as he drew even with Pete. "I thought you two were headed to Central Receiving. Now all of a sudden he's off in pursuit."
"Mac, we saw him hit the girl right in front of us," Pete explained. He rubbed at his head. "We called for assistance, stopped to help and the guy bugged out. What else could we do?"
"Nothing," Mac sighed. "How bad's the girl?"
"Pretty bad," Malloy shook his head, but didn't take his eyes off the radio. "She's been unconscious since it happened. They just took her to Central Receiving right before you got here."
"Come on with me. 43's got this under control." Mac jerked his thumb in the direction of his wagon. "Let's go help 36 rescue your partner."
Pete nearly fell over himself scrambling from the front seat.
Jim transferred his revolver to his left hand so that he could brace himself against the ground with his right hand as he careened down the steep embankment in pursuit of the suspect. He attempted to take the stress off his left knee, which protested painfully with each shuffling step Jim took. Jim's eyes never left the suspect, who had put quite a bit of distance between himself and the officer.
I'll never catch him with this bum knee. I need backup.
Jim finally reached the bottom of the embankment and level ground. He ground his teeth against the pain and increased his speed. He transferred his gun back to his shooting hand.
"Halt! Police!" Jim yelled out at the suspect. "Hold it!"
The suspect ignored him and ran on. So did Jim.
Jim surveyed the construction area as he ran, trying to guess what the suspect's next move would be. They ran inside a bowl-shaped crater, an area obviously being dug out for a foundation of some kind. The dirt underfoot felt soft and spongy. Loose rocks and gravel lay everywhere, making for unstable footing. The way Jim saw it, the suspect was going to run out of real estate pretty quickly. The perpetrator would either have to turn and stand his ground, or scramble up the sides. Either way, Jim didn't like the odds. Out here, exposed, he might as well have a bull's eye painted on his chest. And Jim knew with certainty he could not make it up the steep sides. His knee reminded him of that with each step he took.
The wail of a siren split the background, indicating that his back-up had finally arrived. A feeling of relief washed through him. That had to be the longest damned minute in history.
The suspect obviously heard the siren as well, for he suddenly stopped running, then turned and took aim at Jim again.
Jim tasted dirt as he dove out of the way of the two slugs the suspect popped off at him. He rolled over twice, as he heard the third shot fire. Rocks dug into his chest and back and he felt something start to burn in his knee. He looked up, saw the suspect turn to run again, and scrambled to his feet with a groaning grunt.
It was all Jim could do to force himself to run. The pain in his knee dug into him with fiery claws that made every step agony. But the suspect began to scramble up the steep sides of the pit and Jim thought that if he could just push himself a little harder he might at least keep him in sight for Adam-36.
Keep moving, keep moving...it doesn't hurt that bad. This creep might have killed an innocent kid! You can't lose him!
Jim ran on as the suspect scrambled up the sides. And then suddenly, the break Jim needed fell like a gift from above. The suspect stumbled, tripped, and rolled back down the embankment in a cloud of dust. His gun flew from his hand and fell to the ground.
Got you now, you creep! Thanks for being clumsy. A feeling of elation surged through Jim. The feeling dulled the pain a little and Jim increased his speed in order to close the gap to the suspect while the felon was still dazed. That move turned out to be a mistake. After only a few accelerated strides, Jim's left knee completely buckled underneath him and he fell to the ground awkwardly. The force of the impact with the ground drove his breath from him in a grunt, and caused him to lose his grip on his revolver. The gun tumbled from his hand, bounced once, then slid to a stop in loose dirt about seven feet in front of him.
Jim groaned and forced himself to look through the red haze of pain that clouded his vision to check on the status of the suspect. His heart lurched when he saw the felon roll to his feet and head straight for the gun, lying in the dirt in the no-man's land between them.
Jim's next reaction was borne out of instinct and self-preservation. Exposed and unarmed, Jim rose clumsily onto his right leg and lurched forward with one last boost of energy. His hands reached out in a desperate effort to repossess his own gun. If he was lucky, he might get there a second before the other man got to it.
The suspect saw Jim and had the same idea, throwing himself toward the weapon. The eyes of both men met in that instant shared before smashing into each other. Dust flew from the impact of two bodies hitting and falling to the ground as one. Jim clasped the butt of the gun in his hand but felt two other hands already trying to take it away. Rolling shoulder to shoulder with the assailant, he struggled to gain some type of leverage. Just keeping the barrel of the gun pointed away from himself was difficult enough.
"Police! Freeze, mister! Now!"
Jim was a little shocked to hear Pete's voice thundering down from the rim of the crater, but he didn't take the time to ask why his partner and not Adam-36 had responded as his back-up. The suspect ceased moving at the sound of Pete's voice and released his grip on the revolver. Jim edged backwards carefully and a little awkwardly, keeping his gun pointed at his assailant. The man lay on his back, hands and eyes surrendering to the hazy sky.
"On your stomach, arms all the way out," Jim ordered, still trying to catch his breath. As he sat balanced on his right side, he heard rushed footsteps crunching the gravel and rocks behind him. The relief that began a moment before solidified as his partner stood next to him. "Don't get me wrong," he said, smiling at Pete. "I'm glad you showed up, but why the heck are you here? I was expecting 36."
"Mac figured the cavalry needed a little help, especially since they called in their own TA about a minute ago."
"Yeah, they just got bumped into by a trash truck backing out of an alley," Pete said as he kept the suspect covered.
Mac approached with handcuffs. As he finished securing the young man, he looked at both officers and shook his head. "You two are something else, you know that?"
"He's talking about you, you know." Pete looked down at his partner, eyebrows raised. Watching Mac escort the prisoner, he offered his hand to the younger officer.
"He said two, Pete."
"Yeah, I noticed that," Pete sighed.
Jim holstered his gun and held onto Pete's arm as he attempted to rise on shaky limbs. His partner wobbled unsteadily as both men tried to maintain their balance.
"You're a big help, Pete. Why didn't you go on to the hospital?"
"Seems my partner had other ideas. Like chasing lone criminals on a gimp leg across an excavation site the size of the Sahara." Pete glanced upwards at the squad, wincing. "And I'm not even going to ask about the car."
"Sorry. Hey, how's the little girl?"
Pete shook his head, "I don't know. Why don't we make that trip to the hospital and find out?"
Mac looked over his shoulder as he started dragging the suspect up the hill. "You won't be going in Adam-12. Reed, you managed to give it two flat tires. We'll get another unit to transport the prisoner to Rampart, then I'll take you both to the hospital in the wagon."
"The little girl's going to be fine," Sergeant MacDonald eyed his two battered officers struggling to get into his wagon, one on crutches and one holding his head and squinting in the bright sunshine. "Which is more than I can say about you two. You're both a disgrace to the department."
"Glad the little girl's gonna be all right," Jim said, then muttered something unintelligible under his breath as he yanked on a stubborn crutch. He finally wrestled it into the car, but not before knocking it into Mac's leg.
Mac yelped and grabbed his shin. "Reed!"
"Oops, sorry," Jim said. "You all right?"
Mac glared at Jim briefly as he rubbed his shin. "I'm fine. Just scoot over so your partner can sit down before he falls down."
Jim took his tangle of crutches and slid across the back seat. Pete didn't say a word as he sank down into the relatively dim interior. He immediately leaned his head back against the seat and shut his eyes.
Mac shook his head. Of all the officers on my watch, those two manage to get themselves in more crazy scrapes than all of the rest combined. One with a sprained knee and a bruised patella and the other with a concussion. I guess I should be glad it wasn't worse. He shut the door on his two walking wounded, then went around the front of the wagon and got in behind the wheel. "Reed, you said take you both to your house, right?"
"Right, Mac. Pete's coming home with me, right, partner?"
Pete grunted an acknowledgment without opening his eyes.
"I feel for Jean," Mac quipped. He cranked the engine. "Did you warn her that you're both disaster magnets today?"
"Mac," Jim complained. "None of this was our fault."
"That's what they all say," Mac retorted, slowing down for a stop sign. "I just hope I get you guys home before I get caught up in your fiascoes."
"Mac, I'm telling you-" Jim's thought was interrupted by gentle but unmistakable jolt of the car.
"What the heck was that . . . oh, great," Mac moaned as he glanced in his rearview mirror. "I knew I should have called you guys a cab."
Jim craned his neck around and saw the hood of a very ancient Studebaker kissing the rear door of the station wagon. He turned back around and slouched lower in his seat. "Mac," he started.
"I don't want to hear it, Reed," Mac snapped. He got out of the car and marched back to the little old lady climbing down out of her car.
Jim caught Pete eyeing him. "What?"
"Five thousand men in the division and I have to pull Calamity Jim."
"Hey, this is not my fault. I didn't get up this morning and plan on getting in the path of everything that went bump in the Division today."
Pete shut his eyes again. "Mmm-hmmm. Tell that to my aching head."
"You know, we could hang all this just as easily on you, partner."
"Never happen. Everybody knows the junior partner is always the troublemaker."
Jim rolled his eyes and then craned his neck so he could see how Mac was doing. "Uh oh," he muttered.
"Uh, that little old lady that bumped into us? She's, uh, whacking Mac but good with her purse."
With a grunt, Pete sat up and looked out the rear window. He watched silently as Mac wrested the purse from the old lady and marched back to the station wagon. Mac flung the purse onto the front seat, and gave Jim and Pete a look that promised a lengthy, painful death. "Neither of you clowns say a word!" he snapped, then returned to the irate little old lady.
Jim lolled back against the seat and shot an amused glance at Pete. "So, are you gonna say anything?"
"Do I look like a man wanting to commit suicide?"
Pete looked back over his shoulder one more time and winced as he saw the little old lady was now brandishing an umbrella. "Jim?"
"Maybe you oughta call us that cab."
Jim glanced back and groaned, then reached for his crutches. "We better go help him."
"What do you plan to do, whack her with you crutch?"
"I doubt that'll be necessary."
Pete looked back once more. "I dunno, partner, looks like she's got Mac against the ropes."
"You just stay put," Jim grunted, and got out of the car. Pete eased himself around sideways in the seat and watched as Jim approached the old lady. She turned her umbrella on him, but he managed to grab it long enough for Mac to recover and pull out his cuffs. Mac spoke a few words to Reed. Pete couldn't hear what he said, but it caused Reed to turn around and crutch back to the patrol car. Pete leaned over as Jim bent down and stuck his head in the window.
"A cab?" Pete asked, disbelief stretching his voice an octave higher than normal.
Jim shrugged helplessly. "Unless you wanna walk."
"I don't believe it."
"Uh, actually he told me to have the station call Jean and tell her to meet us," Jim admitted, winking at his partner.
Pete groaned. "One of these days, Reed, I really am going to trade you in."
"Aw, you don't wanna break in a new partner . . . think of all those bumps down that road." He favored Pete with a large, wicked grin, then laughed.
Pete gave Reed a full five-second stare. "One of these days, Reed, I'm gonna bump you, right onto your can."
Jim hid his smile, although the glint of humor in his eye didn't fade. "Why don't I just call my wife?"
"Why don't you," Pete agreed. He shut his eyes and waited until he was sure Jim was in the front seat, with his back toward him, then he smiled. Crazy meatball . . . guess I won't trade you in.
This story is what can happen when three somewhat demented Adam-12 fans get bored one day and decide a round robin story is just the ticket. What's really frightening is that we may do it again . . . bwa ha ha ha!