By E.A. Mallory
Jean Reed placed a hot plate of food on the dining room table, then walked into her bedroom to let her
husband know it was ready. On her way through the door she spotted the clothes they'd left on the floor
the night before, and stooped to retrieve them. She playfully tossed them into the hamper with a hook
shot that would have made her husband proud. Her smile deepened as she glanced into the master
bathroom. There's my man.
Her husband, Jim, meticulously checked his face in the mirror, looking for any spots his razor might have missed. Jean knew that he prided himself on meeting the highest standards of the LAPD uniform code. He's so proud of his job.
She watched quietly as Jim, apparently satisfied, rinsed the stubble out of the sink. When he had finished that task she called cheerfully, "Breakfast is ready."
"Good, I'm starved!" he replied. "That smell's been torturing me all morning. Sausage and eggs?" He gave her one of those smiles that always made her heart jump.
How does he still do that? She turned to head back to the dining room, a little embarrassed by the schoolgirl shyness she still felt whenever her heart turned flips for him.
"And fresh blueberry muffins," she answered over her shoulder. She couldn't see his face, but she could picture his delight. That breakfast had been a favorite of Jim's as long as they had been married.
Jean enjoyed doing little things for him, like preparing his favorite meals. She liked to tell herself that she only did it because she loved him, but another reason came unbidden to her mind whenever she saw his appreciative smile. What if this is our last morning together? I want it to be special. Jean shook herself as the unwelcome thought threatened to darken her morning. No, I won't think like that.
She heard Jim's footsteps behind her, so she paused near his place at the table and waited for him to sit down. Instead, Jim snuggled up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. The last vestiges of her dark thoughts vanished as she wrapped her arms around his and relaxed against him. They held each other quietly, savoring the moment. I wish we could stay like this all morning.
But it was not to be. She could feel his hold on her loosening as he shook himself back to reality. He hates to be late for roll call. She gently disentangled herself from him and turned to face him, smiling up into his eyes. Six years of marriage had done nothing to lessen the magic they both felt at such moments. If they weren't careful, he could end up late after all. . . .
She kissed him lightly, and then pushed playfully against his shoulder. "Jim Reed, you'd better sit down and eat before all my hard work gets cold on the table!" She tried to muster an annoyed expression, but knew she couldn't manage it. Jim only grinned at her. He never seemed to mind such scoldings, especially when they involved food. He squeaked his chair up to the table, and she shushed him. "Don't wake Jimmy!" Their toddler rarely slept this late, and Jean was enjoying the break.
"Sorry," he replied, right before his first forkful made further talking difficult. A moment later he decided to ignore the difficulty. "Mmmm, this is so good," he garbled to her, jabbing his fork at the plate for emphasis.
She lingered for a moment, watching him dig enthusiastically into her cooking, before heading back to the kitchen to serve herself.
Jean returned promptly, and spoke up again as she seated herself across from Jim with her own plate. "Did you remind Pete that he won't need to pick you up today after all? Remember, Mom said she'd lend me her car so you can take ours."
Jim nodded and responded with something that must have meant "yes," though his mouthful of sausage made it unintelligible. He swallowed and told her, "Yeah, he knows. Hey, he had another date with Judy last night."
Jean smoothed her napkin over her lap, and leaned forward with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye. "Judy again, huh?"
Jim merely nodded as he chewed.
Jean's fingers began running around on the rim of her orange juice glass, the way she unconsciously did when she contemplated something. When she remained silent for several long moments, Jim glanced up at her.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked.
"It sounds like the old bachelor might be getting serious." Jean couldn't hide the delight in her voice. "What can we do to help that along?" Neither Jim nor Jean could understand why Jim's partner hadn't settled down, and so they had appointed themselves his official, though unwanted, matchmakers.
"I don't know," replied Jim, looking thoughtful. "It seems to me that we don't need to pressure Pete. When he thinks we're pushing him, he just puts more walls up."
Jean paused, her fork suspended in midair. "You don't think he'd put walls up between himself and Judy if we. . ."
"No, I'm not saying that," Jim shook his head and wiped the corners of his mouth with a napkin. "I'm just saying that Judy seems to have gotten Pete's attention in a different way than any other lady I've seen him with. I just have this feeling that I need to back off so I don't mess with a good thing."
"Oh, Jim, you're no fun!" Jean pretended to pout at first, but then couldn't keep from returning the mischievous grin she saw on Jim's face.
"Oh, we'll have our fun with them, don't worry!" Jim assured her with a laugh.
Jean chuckled with him. Pete had become much more than just a working partner for Jim, and Jean considered him a surrogate older brother. If only they were partners in a law firm, or an auto repair shop, or a shoeshine stand, for pity's sake. What makes them have to be cops?
Try as she might, Jean could never push those thoughts out of her mind for long. But she put up a brave front for Jim. She had long since given up on convincing him to try another line of work, and so she decided to be as good a sport as she could in a difficult situation.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, and then Jean spoke up again. "Jim, I appreciate what you're doing, taking on these double shifts and all. I know it's hard work for you, especially with all the extra classes and training you've been volunteering for. You know I really would love to have a second car, but. . . ."
Jim cut her short with a shake of his head. "Honey, I know you don't like me volunteering for double shifts. But I really don't do it that often, and we'll get that car a lot quicker this way. Pete doesn't seem to mind picking me up whenever I need him to, but I know it has to be a drag for him sometimes. And your parents are so generous with their second car, but still . . . . " He shook his head.
Oh, Jim, you're always giving to other people, but you hate letting other people give to us!
He took several long swallows of coffee, as if preparing himself for the long day ahead. "Pete's working a double today, too."
"Oh? What's he saving up for?"
Jim took a bite of blueberry muffin, and nodded approvingly at it and her. He waited until he swallowed to answer her.
"Oh, there's this newfangled kind of fishing rod and reel that he's been drooling over. To hear him tell it, it's the best invention since the fishing hook. It isn't often that Pete gets eloquent, but he's almost poetic when he talks about that gear." Jim gestured expansively as he described his partner. "He gets a faraway look, his eyes shine, and he grins from ear to ear." He stopped waving his muffin around, and dug some butter out to spread on it instead. "I'm telling you, the man's in love."
"Humph," Jean replied. "Maybe we'll have to settle for marrying him off to his tackle box."
Jim laughed, then sobered again. "Seriously, honey, you know it'll take forever to save up enough for a second car if I don't pull the occasional double shift. And look at it this way. If your parents didn't have two cars, your mom couldn't lend us one, could she? Maybe when we have two cars, we can use the second one to help people out sometimes."
He popped the last of his muffin in his mouth and chewed contentedly. Then, as if in afterthought, he went on, "Besides, I can't let Pete work a double by himself. Someone has to look after him."
Jean managed a little smile at the long-standing joke between the partners. Though each was a highly competent officer, each liked to pretend that the other couldn't make it without him.
Someone has to look after me, too.
Jean felt certain that her disappointment showed on her face. But she stayed quiet, deciding not to make an issue of it. I didn't really expect to change his mind. Stubborn as usual. Doesn't he understand I'd rather have my husband around than an extra car?
She fought off the dark thoughts as she often did, by remembering all his wonderful qualities. He's kind and considerate, he's a great dad, he's easy to talk to - well, about everything other than his job, that is. He doesn't drink too much, or cheat on me, or knock me around like so many men do to their wives. And besides that, we're crazy about each other. I should be thankful that the only problem we have is his badge. . . .
Jim polished off his breakfast and thanked her, as he always did. So many of my friends complain that their husbands don't appreciate them. I'm so glad it's never been that way for us.
She went with him as he finished the last few rituals of the morning. The last one was her least favorite. Watching him load and holster his off-duty revolver never failed to invite frightening thoughts. She made the effort to push them away as she gave him one last kiss and sent him on his way. God, go with him. Please protect him.
Pete Malloy listened to his partner's voice all day, every working day. Sometimes Jim chattered too much, but this time Pete didn't mind at all. The topic was one of Pete's favorites; namely, the antics of his godson, James Allen Reed Jr. Years of practice enabled Malloy to listen to his partner with one ear and the radio with the other, and keep both eyes alert for trouble, while still maneuvering Adam-12 smoothly through Los Angeles traffic.
After a brief pause to check a plate against his hot sheet, Jim continued his story. Pete could tell from the tone of his voice that this would be a good one.
"….so, Jean tells me, in the middle of church, Jimmy says that he needs to go to the bathroom. He's still pretty new at that, so she knew she couldn't delay him one minute. She took him to the bathroom, and while they were in there, somehow he got away from her. He ran out of the bathroom and Jean went chasing after him, picking up his pants and his diaper where he dropped them along the way. By the time she caught up to him he had gotten into the sanctuary, and planted himself in the middle of the center aisle, laughing his head off, wearing nothing but his shirt! The pastor was so surprised that he just stopped preaching, and before you knew it, the whole congregation was in stitches. And Jimmy loved every second of it!" Jim laughed so hard his whole body shook. "What I wouldn't give to have been there!"
Pete laughed with delighted horror, his eyes sparkling even as they kept watch on traffic. "Oh, I wish I could have seen Jean's face! What did she do?"
Jim had no chance to reply. The radio crackled to life with a call that sent such trivial thoughts undercover.
"Any unit in the vicinity and 1-Adam 12, a 415 man with a bomb, hostages held, at the television studio . . ."
Pete drew in a deep breath as Jim jotted down the address and acknowledged the call. Great, just great. Pete hated bomb scares. They made him more jittery than he cared to admit. Somehow, the potential of being blown to smithereens sent his imagination racing, and his professional armor seemed to have little defense. He glanced at his partner, and found Jim's face to be equally grim. They rolled code three, silent except for Jim's clipped navigational directions.
"Clear left," Reed advised, and Pete steered the unit around the corner onto Jefferson Street.
"There." Jim nodded toward 1-L-20, their watch commander's car, strategically parked in a lot diagonally across from the TV station. Pete nodded; he had seen it too. The familiar marked car would serve as the command post for their entire operation, with their sergeant overseeing every detail. Pete rolled Adam-12 up beside the L-car and nodded to his superior.
Sergeant MacDonald acknowledged Reed and Malloy, then turned to watch Adam-36 drive up. Officers Ed Wells and Bob Brinkman stepped out of their car as Reed and Malloy did the same. They in turn were soon joined by several others, all awaiting their orders from MacDonald.
Pete spoke up first. "What's the plan, Mac?"
The sergeant looked his men over with a grave expression. He seemed to share the others' apprehension, though he didn't let it interfere with his professional demeanor.
He pulled a large sheet of paper from the front seat of his car, unfolded it on the hood, and referred to it as he briefed his officers.
"Pete, you'll cover the studio door inside the station. That would be right here." Mac pointed to the assigned area on the sketched plan of attack. "Wells will be with you."
Mac turned his attention to Pete's partner. "Reed, I'm going to need you outside. SWAT won't be able to get here for a half an hour, and frankly, you're the best athlete I've got. I need you for tactical operations here. . . ." Mac pointed out Jim's assigned area, and then did the same for each of the other officers.
Pete felt his apprehension ratchet up a notch. A bomb scare was bad enough. A bomb scare without his partner by his side. . . Pete inwardly shuddered at the thought.
Come on, Pete, pull yourself together. You're the veteran on this team, remember?
As Mac elaborated on the details of the plan, Pete's professionalism kicked in, and he pushed his fears down out of his reach. I'll take time to feel those later. He forced his mind back to full attention as Mac continued.
"Does each of you understand his responsibilities?" The sergeant looked each man in the eye, and each man nodded in the affirmative. "Then go to it," Mac responded.
Pete watched as Jim loped away. His long strides quickly took him around the corner of the station and out of Pete's sight. Take care of yourself, partner.
Pete and Ed Wells made for the station door on the near side of the building. They carried the burden of a single, all-important responsibility. "Secure the door to the studio," Mac had said. Simple enough. As long as nobody decides to blow that door up. . . .
Once they got inside the station, things seemed to go smoothly. The map a frightened employee had drawn for them proved accurate thus far, and they quickly made their way down the right halls and around the right corners. When Pete was certain he'd found the studio, he gave Wells a nod and gestured toward it.
Both men warily approached the specified door, then adopted standard positions on either side of it, guns drawn. Pete eyed the door suspiciously. If it did blow up, he didn't want to be too near it. Where could I stand for best tactical advantage and still be as safe as possible from an explosion? He studied the door next to it. I wonder if those rooms adjoin. But surely the employee would have marked that on his map. He glanced briefly at the map to confirm that the rooms were separate. Should be ok.
Suddenly his musings were cut short by the sound of the sergeant's voice booming over the PA, ordering the bomber to surrender. Pete instinctively flattened himself against the wall, glancing at Wells to make sure he'd done the same. Things could get really hairy now.
For several long minutes the officers heard nothing but the sound of their own breathing, and finally Pete commanded his fingers to loosen their death grip on his revolver. Relax, Pete, or you'll do something stupid.
After a few more minutes had passed without incident, he and Ed exchanged relieved glances, and Pete re-assessed their situation.
I know we're going by the book, but I still don't like being so close to this door. A little further back would be better.
As he sidled away, Pete motioned to Wells to do the same. Ed seemed quite happy to comply. This is probably ridiculous of us. In an explosion, what difference would a couple of feet make? But that thought didn't stop him from inching away a little further, his eyes glued to the studio door. His practiced eye summed up distance and angles, and he was sure he could still get a good shot from here if he needed to do so. I don't think I'll find anything better than this. He took his position and tried to prepare himself for anything.
Pete wiped sweat from his eyes and glanced toward Ed, nodding to him that he was satisfied with his position. Wells gave him a worried look and gestured him to move away.
Why, what's wrong? Pete glanced around quickly, and began to turn questioning eyes back toward Ed.
Suddenly, everything went off kilter, and Pete stumbled backwards. As he struggled to regain his balance, he fought even harder to comprehend what was happening. Before he could do either, something cracked hard into Pete's skull. Stunned and hurting, Pete toppled onto his unseen assailant, and both crashed backward into the darkened room next to the studio. Pete's gun jolted out of his hand and fell with a clatter to the floor. He felt vaguely alarmed, but mostly felt himself sinking. Don't lose consciousness now, Malloy! Pete fought to obey his own command. Somewhere, above the haze, he could sense an urgent need for immediate action.
Through his now blurry vision Pete saw Wells a half a step behind, leaping to his rescue. Wells's voice jarred Pete back into action, as he heard the familiar words. "Freeze, Mister!"
Secure the sidearm! Pete forced his foggy brain to think and reached an unsteady arm toward where his gun had fallen. But his hand came up empty, and a moment later he saw his own revolver pointing straight at Wells' chest. He batted at his assailant's arm, trying to knock his aim off, while at the same time he scrambled for his footing. But, thanks to the blow he'd received, his limbs weren't responding as they should.
Wells confronted a different kind of helplessness. He stood, held at bay by Pete's gun, unable to risk firing toward Pete in the poorly lit room.
The attacker took advantage of the situation and slammed and locked the door, closing Pete and himself away from the other officer.
The whole episode had only taken a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to Pete.
Malloy started to struggle again, but his attacker quickly turned the weapon his way. Pete found himself staring into the barrel of his own gun, and he didn't like the feeling.
"Give me your handcuffs, now!" the assailant said, in a scared, shaky voice. Pete struggled through blurry vision to size up his attacker.
He's practically a kid, and scared to death.
Pete considered fighting the kid for his gun, but then he caught sight of the bomb strapped to the young man's chest.
Merciful heaven, I had actually forgotten about the bomb!
Pete could hear Ed Wells yelling outside the door.
"Give it up mister! The place is surrounded. It'll go much easier for you if you let the officer go unharmed!"
Scared or not, the kid refused to budge. "I'm warning you! I'm not playing games! People are going to start taking me seriously, and that had better include you!"
Wells yelled back. "You're not going to get away with this, mister! You'd better give it up now!"
"NO!" the perp shouted in reply. A few moments later Pete thought he heard Ed's footsteps running for help.
That's right, Ed, go tell Mac how we messed this up. And get me some help! And by the way, if you find the jerk that drew this map, choke him for me, would you?
Pete vision was clearing rapidly, and he got his first good look at the nervous young bomber. What he saw didn't impress him. The kid looked like a classic misfit. His face presented no attractive features at all, just a moonscape of old acne scars. Unkempt, dirty blonde hair stood in wild, bushy cowlicks on his head. That, combined with his undershot lower jaw, made his whole head look top-heavy.
Pete had an almost unconscious prejudice against chinless people. No chin, no spine. He was about to be proven wrong.
"Are you listening to me?" The bomber's voice jolted Pete out of his reverie. "Give me those cuffs NOW!" He jabbed the revolver toward Pete for emphasis.
The ominous looking box on kid's chest worried Pete even more than the gun.
Pete handed his cuffs to the skinny kid with a feeling of resignation, and felt himself shudder as the cold metal snapped around his wrists.
God, don't let today be my last. . . .
Mac barked some orders into his microphone and threw it absently on the seat of his L-car. He wished he knew how things were going inside. He turned and looked over the group of civilians that were gawking from behind the police cordon. Why can't those rubberneckers find something better to do? Then he squinted against the sun as he noticed one of the civilians gesturing wildly at him. Mac recognized him as the employee that had drawn the map. After a quick survey of the surroundings, Mac jogged over to him. The man looked agitated. "What's the matter, Mr. . ." Mac searched his memory for the name ." . .Seaforth?"
"Oh Sergeant, I'm so sorry! You have to go warn your officers! On my map I neglected to show that the studio adjoins the room next to it. That could be important for them, couldn't it?"
Mac's stomach dropped, and he had to fight back the urge to give the man the kind of tongue lashing he usually reserved for errant officers. Important indeed. . . .
Without a word to Mr. Seaforth, Mac spun on his heel and ran back to his unit. He grabbed for the mic, then froze when he spotted Ed running out of the building, alone. The expression on Ed's face made Mac's mouth go dry.
Oh no. Something's gone terribly wrong.
Jean Reed struggled through the door from the garage into the kitchen, a bag of groceries in one arm and a sleeping toddler in the other. She dropped the grocery bag onto the counter with a grunt, belatedly hoping that it wasn't the one with the eggs. Must have been that bag boy's first day on the job, she thought with more than a little irritation.
Jimmy stirred against her shoulder, and she patted his back to quiet him. He had only just fallen asleep in the car, and he needed another hour's napping to restore his sunny disposition. Jean sighed. He certainly wasn't sunny in the grocery cart. She carried the toddler into his room and put him in his bed, smoothed the hair on his head, and smiled despite herself. He looked like such an angel when he slept. And he looked just like his father. She kissed him lightly on the head and went out, shutting the door behind her.
Several trips later, she finally finished moving heavy bags from the garage, and sighed as she began to load up the refrigerator and cupboards. Ugh. I'm hot, and I'm tired, and I'm not in the mood to deal with groceries. And I still can't believe my little kitchen TV died! The set Jim had bought her not long before now sat useless on the counter. He said he'd get it fixed, one of these days.
Jean left the bags for a moment, walked to the living room, and switched on its TV. At least I'll be able to hear it while I work. She returned to the kitchen and grabbed a bag of frozen peas, when the sound of a newscaster made her stop. It's not time for the news. What's wrong?
"…To update those of you who are just tuning in, we are experiencing a crisis here in our own studio. A man with what appears to be a bomb is holding our anchorman, a cameraman, and a police officer hostage, and is demanding airtime in exchange for their safety. We have set up a makeshift studio here in order to bring you coverage of events outside of the station. At the top of the hour, we will stop transmitting from here, so that the bomber can begin broadcasting his message from inside the station to the people of Los Angeles. . ."
Jean let the peas drop back into the grocery bag and hurried back to the living room. Where is that station? She had more difficulty with directions than her husband did, so it took her anxious mind a few moments to pin down the location. Dear God, it's in Jim's area! Please don't let it be him, or Pete! Jean turned to prayer almost reflexively, especially concerning Jim's safety.
The groceries sat forgotten on the kitchen counter as she gave her full attention to the screen.
As promised, after a few long minutes Jean and the rest of Los Angeles had their first look at the hostage situation. A young man, practically a boy, stood nervously in front of the camera. Some kind of box with wires on it was strapped to his chest. Jean barely spared him a glance, as she desperately wanted a better look at the hostages. There, behind the bomber and to the left, she could make out a pants leg that looked like LAPD regulation blue. I've never been so glad to have a color TV. She glued her eyes to that pants leg, waiting for it to reveal more about its owner. But after a few moments, her ears tuned into the young man's words. His voice had all the passionate conviction of a zealot.
"I don't want to hurt anybody, but there's a greater cause out there. The environment is being destroyed, and this station is refusing to air the facts about it. Our cause must be given equal air time!"
Get out of the way, you idiot! Let me see who that is!
Jean quickly got her wish. The young man paused to think, and then seemed to realize the little detail he'd forgotten. "Oh, and just so you know I really DO have hostages. . . ." with that, he moved out of the camera's way, revealing his captives.
Oh dear God, it's Pete! She anxiously looked him over as best she could before the bomber returned to the center of the camera's focus. Pete looked dazed to her. How in the world did this scrawny youngster get the best of him? And where in Heaven's name is Jim?
She tuned out the youth's ranting about otters and sea birds, looking for clues that might tell her something about her husband. Her anxious eyes found no sign of him. Fighting down her rising panic, she snatched up the telephone, and began endlessly dialing and re-dialing the police station's number. Busy, busy, busy. Come on, answer the phone!
Warren Beasley felt shell shocked. He wiped nervous sweat off his brow and stared at his hostages, then at the gun in his own hand. I never wanted things to go like this!
He had been keeping things well under control in the beginning, instructing the cameraman to put him on the air at a certain time, and practicing what he planned to say. He was holding the microphone and checking the on/off switch when he had heard the police PA system booming at him.
"Give it up! The building's surrounded. There's no way out. Put down your weapons, all of them, and come out with your hands up!"
Beasley wasn't known for his boldness, but he had already gotten in way over his head, and this act of desperation had forced iron into his spine. After a moment's speculation he had gone to check the hallway, using the adjoining room's door for safety reasons. But when he'd opened the door, a cop had nearly fallen on him. Panicked, Beasley had responded with more force than he ever would have imagined himself capable of.
Now he stared, terrified, at his hostage and at the gun in his own hand. What have I done? I'm no fighter. How am I going to get out of this mess? Cops don't like people who attack cops. He felt his resolve crumbling, and even began to consider surrendering, when the cop on the floor spoke up. "I think you've bitten off a lot more than you can chew," the officer said.
If the cop hoped to scare him into surrendering, his plan backfired. I didn't come all this way to turn back now. I'm not going to be intimidated by a stupid flatfoot.
Warren Beasley felt his resolve returning. He would get his message out to the people, and then, finally, he would be somebody! He glared at Pete with fire in his eyes.
"I can chew this and a whole lot more! You'll see. They've been preparing the public for my appearance, and soon they'll be listening to me! I'm the one doing the talking around here. As for you, you keep your mouth shut!" Beasley spit his words at Pete with all the venom in his soul, clearly beginning to enjoy the power of his position.
The cameraman's voice broke in. "It's time," he said, and switched on the camera.
Finally, Warren Beasley stood in the limelight. While the camera rolled he poured his heart out, and he felt sure that nobody laughed at him. He didn't care that he had bought himself more trouble than he had ever imagined. He had sacrificed everything, but it would be worth it. He would be not merely a hero for his cause, but also, if necessary, a martyr.
Jean Reed continued to divide her attention between the television and the telephone. What could Jim be doing? If he's ok, why hasn't he called? By this point she could dial the police station's number without looking. Surely they would have said something if another officer had been injured. Or maybe they're waiting until I'm notified. The thought wrenched at her gut. She dropped the phone into its cradle, jumped up and hurried to the door. No patrol car pulled into the driveway, no officers greeted her with somber expressions. She sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. Waiting and not knowing is the worst.
Her eyes were searching the street in both directions when her worried thoughts were interrupted. Jimmy had begun to cry in his bedroom. She glanced at the clock. Oh, no, he hasn't slept nearly long enough. He'll be cranky for sure. Maybe he'll go back to sleep if I don't go in there.
She caught sight of the groceries when she looked around, and chided herself for her carelessness. Jim will be home just fine, and he won't appreciate spoiled food. She walked back toward the kitchen, trying not to trip while craning her head around to see the TV. She wanted to keep her eyes on a certain shade of blue.
Another glimpse of Pete stopped Jean in her tracks. He remained seated, looking no different than the last time she'd spotted him. Her eyes returned to the would-be bomber.
What did that kid say his name was? Beasley, that's right. Warren Beasley. He sounded scared, pleading with people to have pity on both him and the environment. He almost sounded too frightened to be dangerous, except that his words sometimes took on an ominous edge.
"It doesn't really matter if an anchorman and a policeman die," she heard him say, "because without a healthy ocean, our whole planet will die! How can I make you understand?" Beasley paused to think, seemingly uncertain of what to do next.
After a moment a look of determination crossed his face, and then he spoke again. "Today's air time isn't enough. I demand to see the president of this TV station right here, right now, promising me he'll provide more coverage for environmental issues. And until then, turn off those cameras!"
"No!" Jean protested aloud. "I need to know what's happening." But the image on the screen faded, giving way to the annoying chatter of various commentators and reporters. Jean glared at them as they re-hashed everything she'd just seen. They're so impressed with themselves for being part of such a big event. She shook her head, disgusted. When will they let me see Pete again?
Jim Reed fumed as he slipped into the business suit that Mac had provided from undercover supplies. He inwardly cursed Ed for failing to protect Pete, and Mac for separating them in the first place. Needed me outside for tactical ops, did you? Now you need me in undercover clothes, preparing for a dangerous rescue mission, with Pete's life hanging in the balance.
He shook his head just thinking about it. Ed's a decent enough cop, and it really isn't fair to blame him for what had happened. And of course Mac isn't to blame either. But Jim couldn't help thinking things might have been different if he'd been there. And, though he would never have admitted it, blaming Ed or Mac felt much less painful than blaming himself.
I should have fought Mac on this. I should have been there with you. Jim's worried expression stared back at him from the mirror, but it was Pete's face that Jim saw.
Don't worry, Pete, I'll get you out of there if it's the last thing I do. He checked his necktie in the mirror and straightened it, then ran a comb through his hair one more time. If he didn't look like a convincing executive, they might all get blown to kingdom come.
For a while the regular television programming appeared, but Jean still neglected her groceries in favor of re-dialing the police station. At last she got through, and presented her questions to a woman with a very nasal voice.
"No ma'am, we have no word of any injuries to officer Reed."
"Can't you tell me anything more?" Jean pleaded.
"I'm sorry, that's all the information I have at this time." replied the official-sounding voice. Jean heard a trace of sympathy in the tone, but it was clear that she could coax no more reassurance from official channels. She mumbled her thanks and hung up, blinking back tears of frustration and fear.
In the nursery, Jimmy's wails continued to intensify, distracting Jean from her speculations. He's not going back to sleep.
With a heavy sigh she went to his room and picked him up. His tears instantly switched off, and he beamed at her with one of his Jim-like smiles. "You rascal!" she scolded him. "If those had been real tears, you wouldn't have turned them off so quickly!" She smoothed the hair down on his head and cradled him to her shoulder.
Whether because of his mother's tension, or his own lack of sleep, Jimmy's smile soon faded again. Jean brought his favorite bedtime toy and his blanket, and carried him to the living room. The TV was showing some ridiculous comedy, and she plunked the tired child in front of it. He looked like he might cry again, but after some uncertain moments he decided to play peek-a-boo with his blankie and bear.
Jean kept an eye on him as she unloaded groceries, noticing how his every facial expression mimicked his father's. God, let his Daddy and his Uncle Pete be ok! she silently prayed.
She attended to the nearly warm milk and softening butter first, and then shelved the non-perishables, but still heard no more news from the TV station. Her hands fell on a box of crackers she'd purchased that morning, and she opened it. A few of these and some cheese should do wonders to cheer Jimmy up, she thought, and hoisted him into his high chair.
Jimmy did cheer up considerably, though he spent as much time playing with the crackers and crumbling them on the floor as he did eating them. Jean tried to keep up her patience with him, but found it unusually difficult. She longed for the news to break in and rescue her from the inane sitcom. Nothing could seem funny to her right now. Any more canned laughter and I'm going to explode.
Finally she heard the sound she had waited so long for.
"We interrupt this program to bring you continuing coverage of the hostage situation in our studio. . . ."
Jean jumped from her chair. She hurriedly got Jimmy down from the high chair and busied him with toys. I hope he doesn't see his Uncle Pete in there, she thought, but she had no time to worry about that now. The reporter was speaking.
"We are reporting to you live from our makeshift studio outside of the station. The station president is on his way into the building at this moment to hear the bomber's demands in person. Once he enters the studio itself, our coverage will continue from inside, thanks to our courageous cameraman and anchorman who are being held hostage there."
What about the courageous cop, you egotistical. . . .
The cameras zoomed in on a man in a business suit, a very familiar looking man. Jean sat bolt upright in shock. That's Jim! She didn't recognize the suit, but she knew every nuance of the man inside it, and there could be no doubt. A rush of terror ran down her spine. The president, my eye! What if the bomber knows you're not the president?
"Jim, what are you doing?" she whispered softly, though she would much rather have yelled at him as he disappeared through the doorway.
Pete Malloy squirmed a bit on the hard floor. His head hurt, his backside felt sore, and his mind still seemed as fuzzy as cotton balls. How did I let myself get into this situation? He flexed his handcuffed arms as best he could, trying to keep the circulation going. I made a rookie mistake, plain and simple. Ten years on the force and I still make rookie mistakes.
Pete shook his head with disgust, then wished he hadn't. It only made the throbbing in his skull worse. He closed his eyes against the pain, briefly re-living the whole fiasco that had landed him here. After a few moments he opened them again. Pete, now's not the time to relive the past! He shifted his weight, trying to ease his discomfort. His attempt brought him little relief. There'll be time enough to go over my mistakes with Mac, he thought ruefully. But I'll be glad to take some heat from him. It'll mean I made it out of here alive.
Pete surveyed the setting, forcing his mind to focus on priorities. Deeply rooted instincts began to re-surface, forcing him to shoulder responsibilities which, in his current state, he could scarcely bear. His eyes took in everything they could about the would-be bomber, the other hostages, and the room. Who would he be willing to release first? Probably the anchorman. He'll want to keep the cameraman to get himself on the air.
Pete paused to close his eyes, wishing he could rub his aching head. Come on, think! What can I say to get the anchorman free? And how am I going to get the rest of us out of here in one piece?
After a few minutes he felt stronger, as the familiarity of protocol replaced his earlier confusion. He opened his eyes again, looking for anything that might give him an advantage. He turned his attention to Beasley, who was talking on the phone, probably with the police negotiator. After a few moments the young man hung up and turned to address Pete, his expression triumphant.
"There, you see? They're going to send the president of the station in here to talk to me personally. I never could get in to see him before. I told you I could handle things!"
Pete instantly went on full mental alert. He tried to keep his face neutral, but his thoughts went into high gear. There's no way they're sending a civilian into this situation. It'd break every rule in the book. I wonder what they're up to.
Shortly after Jim entered the station, the camera inside the studio took over. Jean sat bolt upright as she saw Beasley react to the knock on the door. Dear God, please. . . .
As Beasley moved to the door, the anchorman behind him took a risk by speaking quietly to the audience.
"Please keep children away from the TV, ladies and gentlemen, as there's no telling what this man might do."
Jean checked Jimmy, but he was absorbed in his toys and paying no attention to the screen. She turned back in time to see her husband step into the room. She also saw Pete in the background, trying to keep his face neutral, but obviously relieved to see his partner.
I wish I could feel relieved.
As Jim entered the room, he sized up the kid and his arsenal. The boy's scared, there's no doubt about that. Sometimes scared people do crazy things.
Play it cool, Jim, play it cool.
He tried not to be too obvious about looking over the bomb, thankful for the voluntary "Explosives Management" training he'd taken on the job. This bomb doesn't look real to me, but am I sure enough to take a chance on being wrong?
He looked past the boy and addressed the two seated hostages in turn. "Are you all right, Officer? Mr. Hansen?" he asked. Pete and the anchorman nodded, but Pete's slightly pained expression didn't escape his partner's notice.
Reed returned his undivided attention to the boy. Every bit of police instinct he had told him that this boy wanted a peaceful resolution as much as he did. Be calm, he told himself. Give him an acceptable way out of this. And he spread out his hands and offered to talk.
Jean didn't really want to watch the drama unfolding before her, but she couldn't tear herself away. The bomber had at least two ways that he could kill her husband, and she couldn't help feeling that, if she let her vigilance lapse, she might somehow let the worst happen. It wasn't rational, but who could be rational at a time like this? So she watched, and waited, and prayed.
Her husband's voice sounded calm as he made promises to the young man.
." . .Yes, I agree with you. These serious issues deserve more attention. I will arrange for weekly reports on environmental issues...." Jim used his most soothing voice.
That's the voice you use with me sometimes, when I'm upset at you. Is it all an act then too? Jean felt angry, even somehow betrayed. But nothing felt worse than the fear. It wrapped itself around her stomach like an anaconda, and it squeezed tighter with each moment that passed. Jean knew her husband could not keep his promises to Beasley. She knew that the kid, with his bomb and his gun, could call Jim's bluff at any moment. If he did, her husband would probably . . . no, I won't think about that.
Jean watched as Beasley looked Jim over with a critical eye. "How do I know you're not a cop?" he asked.
Jim replied without hesitation. "Search me. I don't have a gun."
Jean's jaw dropped as she watched her husband submit to being searched. She usually hated thinking of him carrying a gun, but now she hoped fervently that he had one, that he would draw it now and put an end to this nightmare. But Beasley came away empty-handed.
"You went in there unarmed?" Jean cried aloud. She hadn't meant to speak so loudly, but her outcry called Jimmy's attention to the TV.
"Daddy on TeeVeee!" Jimmy's face lit up with a delighted smile.
Jean snatched him up and moved him away from the TV, angry with herself for letting him see. Jimmy wailed "Daddy" in protest and reached toward the set. Do you hear him calling you, Jim? He needs you. She hurried her son to his bedroom and closed the door behind her.
She sat on Jimmy's little bed and nestled him in her lap. As she began to unconsciously rock back and forth, her hands instinctively reached to stroke Jimmy's hair, trying to soothe both him and herself. She scanned the room, finding its cheery decorations a jarring contrast to her mood. Her eyes stopped at a framed photograph which sat on Jimmy's dresser. It showed Jim, relaxed and happy, wearing one of his prize-winning smiles. He held Jimmy in his arms, and both wore matching Dodger's T-shirts. Jean felt a lump forming in her throat as she contemplated it.
Jim, you know I love Pete like a brother, but why would you die for him when we need you to live for us?
She felt instantly guilty for the thought, but shook off that feeling and replaced it with anger. She knew that Jim had been right, that a gun offered no defense against a bomb, that finding him armed would probably have set Beasley off. But she felt so afraid, and nothing made her angrier than fear.
At the command post, Sergeant MacDonald wiped the sweat from his brow. His anxious eyes took in every detail. Each officer attentively held position at his post, as Mac knew they would. They were fine men, all of them. Mac swatted absently at a fly. His eyes returned to the doorway that Jim had entered a few minutes before. Has it really only been a few minutes? It seems like forever. Worry clouded his eyes again. Two of his finest were in that building, one of them a hostage, probably with a head injury.
Mac frowned and shook his head. He hadn't liked Jim's idea about posing as the station president, but no one had come up with a better plan. Mac thought an older officer might be more believable in the role. But Jim argued passionately that he worked more closely with Pete than anyone, and that they understood each other intuitively.
Mac remembered the fervor in Jim's argument. "Look, we don't know how badly Pete's injured. He may not be able to do or say much right now. He needs someone in there who can practically read his mind, and that's me. Besides, I won't look as young to that kid as I do to you."
Mac had relented. He knew that Jim's instincts usually served him well, especially when he was working to help his partner out of a tight situation. Let Jim handle this. He'll do it. Remember Griffith Park.
Pete's rollover accident in Griffith Park had demolished Adam-12 and nearly killed him. It had taken hours of searching to find him. Had it not been for Reed's stubborn determination and well-honed instincts, Pete wouldn't have been found until too late. And of course, Pete had saved Jim's neck more than once. Those two always come through for each other.
Mac fought down the uneasy feeling in his gut and tried to believe his own confident-sounding thoughts. Jim will get them out, and himself too. He repeated the words over and over in his mind like a mantra, even as he attended to all of the other duties at hand.
If Jim can't pull it off, I'm gonna blame myself for the rest of my life.
A report from Adam-17 broke into his thoughts, and he picked up his mic to acknowledge it. "1-L-20, Roger that and maintain your position." His left hand kept hold of the mic, but he reached back with his right hand and rubbed at his neck, in that spot where the tension always settled. Sometimes I wish I were still in the thick of things, instead of standing here waiting for reports and giving out orders. I hate waiting.
Mac thought back to the time, not long ago, when Jim and Pete had been missing for hours. In a rare breach of protocol, they had failed to call in a code 6, and their situation had gone sour. As far as dispatch knew, the officers were still on routine patrol, when in fact they were hostages in the back of a camper, and Jim had a bullet in his thigh. By the time anyone knew the officers were missing, they had been already been driven to some God-forsaken place in the farthest reaches of the county. Hours had passed before they were found, and each hour had left Mac more certain he would never see his colleagues again.
Mac still felt his stomach tighten when he recalled that awful night. He remembered how horrible it had felt to go to Jean's doorway to tell her that Jim was missing. He remembered how pale she had looked, and how shaken. The first words out of her mouth the moment she'd opened the door had been "Is he dead?" in a terrified whisper.
Mac blew out a long breath. He didn't want to have to go to Judy or Jean with his hat in his hands today.
God, please, not today.
Jean returned from her neighbor's house, grateful that she could always leave Jimmy there on a moment's notice. Mrs. Hanover, their neighbor, had been happy to watch Jimmy, and she promised to turn off her own TV set to protect him from whatever might be broadcast.
Jean glued herself to her TV again.
Who is going to protect me?
Jean watched helplessly as her husband stared calmly into the barrel of a gun and made empty promises to the boy who held his life in his hands. One wrong word, and his deception could be uncovered. If he gets caught. . . . she bit her lip and forced the thought from her mind. Jim was talking again.
"You know, son," Jim said, "I spent some time as a war correspondent in Viet Nam. I've seen lots of bombs."
Jean jumped. Couldn't you come up with a more convincing lie than that? She anxiously scanned the boy's face, wondering if he'd caught the deception. He didn't seem to react to it, but Jean couldn't relax.
Jim continued calmly, "Now, I hate to tell you this, but your bomb doesn't look real to me."
Jean caught her breath in a ragged gasp, horrified at the risks her husband was taking. What do you want that boy to do to prove it's real, detonate it?
Her eyes widened with terror as the gunman grabbed at his bomb with one hand, and jabbed the pistol in her husband's direction with the other. She saw Jim flinch in response. But no disaster followed, and after a brief moment, Jim's calm voice broke in again.
"Don't misunderstand me. I think it's a good plan to have a fake bomb. That way, the cops can't really get you for trying to blow the place up. You just scared some people. That was pretty smart."
The boy relaxed marginally, and Jim managed a sincere-looking expression of concern. "But what about the gun? That looks real enough. Did you bring that in with you, too?"
Jean noticed that the boy looked chagrined as he shook his head in the negative.
"It belongs to that cop over there. I never meant to hurt him, but he surprised me, and I hit him, and then I had to grab his gun so the other cop wouldn't shoot me. I never wanted it to be this way, I swear."
Jean felt some hope as the boy's guard dropped a bit. But then she saw her husband move one step closer to him, and the boy instantly aimed the revolver squarely at Jim's heart again. Jean's own heart fairly leaped out of her chest, and she angrily hissed at Jim not to take such chances. She noticed her hands were shaking.
For a moment Jean's mind went back to this morning, back when they had lazed in bed, not wanting to begin their daily routine. He had wrapped his arms around her and held her close. She had cuddled up and rested her head over his heart, loving its reassuring rhythm, and enjoying the feeling of oneness that had lingered with them from the night before.
But that same heart now beat unprotected, only a few feet from the barrel of Pete's own gun.
Jean felt her anger crumbling into fear again. Oh, God, bring him home to me! But she could not afford to give in to fear, and so she stoked the embers of her anger back into flames.
"So help me," she directed her comment now to Beasley, "Don't you dare kill him. I want that privilege for myself!" The last word came out as a sob, but she quickly pulled her armor back together, sparing only enough emotion to enable her to pray. Her husband was talking again.
Jim Reed activated every instinctive nerve he had, trying desperately to read the kid in front of him, while keeping Pete in his peripheral vision. Pete still sat on the floor, but he looked less dazed. To his credit, he was slowly trying to work his handcuffed arms under his legs and out to the front.
I've got to keep this kid distracted. Jim spoke up again. "How old are you, young man?"
"Nineteen." The voice sounded wary.
"Do your parents live around here?"
Beasley exploded. "I don't have to answer your questions. You have to meet my demands, or they die! And keep those cameras rolling" he yelled, switching his attention from Jim to the cameraman.
Jim chided himself. He seemed to have lost whatever ground he had gained. This boy shifted unpredictably from one attitude to another, and that made him more dangerous. Move toward the sad, frightened Warren, and the dangerous Warren would likely emerge.
Play it cool, Jim, play it cool.
Pete hadn't spoken, but it was Pete's voice that Jim heard in his head. Talk to the peaceful side of Warren. Coax him out. Jim considered his next words and actions very carefully.
Jean realized she had been holding her breath for a while. She forced herself to exhale, fighting down her irrational fear that the sound of her own breathing would startle Beasley into opening fire. The bomber continued to stare at Jim with a mixture of fear and desperate resolve.
But then Jim took on a subtly different posture, and it froze Jean's heart. She recognized the stiffening of his spine, the slight shifting of his weight. She had studied his every nuance for years, starting in the days when she adored him anonymously from the high school bleachers. She knew he was readying himself, poising himself for action. She glanced nervously at Beasley. Had he noticed? But he seemed unaware of the change. Jean waited breathlessly for Jim to jump, or strike, or do whatever he was preparing to do. Instead, he just spoke again.
"Warren, I don't think you really want to kill anyone." With that, Jim took another step toward the gunman.
Jean's heart pounded in her ears.
Jim continued speaking, his eyes riveted to Warren's. "After all, you've made your point. You've told Los Angeles about the problems of pollution, and you've gotten all the promises you asked for. If you kill innocent people, do you think that will make our citizens more sympathetic to your cause? And how will you fight for your cause if you're in prison for the rest of your life?"
Jim took another step closer to the boy, who responded by backing up and gesturing nervously with the revolver. "Don't come any closer, Mister, I'm warning you."
Jim stopped obediently, but his body still seemed poised for action. Jean unconsciously leaned closer to her husband's image on the screen, willing him to be careful.
Behind the gunman, Jean could see that Pete's arms were now in front of him. But she had only a brief glimpse before the gunman and Jim took up the whole screen again. Jim's voice became even more soothing. Jean, on the other hand, felt even more terrified. I wish I could look away.
Jim continued to address Warren with calm intensity. He made up his mind that he would not fail, and used that confidence to gain an edge over the nervous young man.
"Warren, you did it! You accomplished everything you came here to do! You did a good job. You're a hero for your cause. And you said it yourself, you never wanted to hurt anybody. It's time to go now. It's over."
With that, Jim Reed took his life in his hands, trusting his instincts, his reading of the boy, and his partner. He stepped forward and reached out an open hand, palm up, clearly gesturing that the gun should be given to him. He made no further movement, and did nothing aggressive, but every muscle remained poised and ready to leap away if things went sour. At this range, his chances of escaping a bullet were nil, but at least he might be able to catch it somewhere other than his chest.
Of course, that's all a moot point if I'm wrong about the bomb. . . .
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Pete rising to his feet, ready to do whatever he could, but allowing his partner this one try at a peaceful resolution. Jim carefully avoided shifting his focus, not wanting to betray his partner to Beasley.
For long moments Jim and the bomber locked eyes. Neither Reed nor Beasley knew what the latter would do next.
Jean could not believe her eyes. Are you crazy? You expect him to just hand it to you? You're going to get yourself killed, and it will be all your fault! How could you do this to me, to Jimmy? Her hands balled themselves into fists until the nails dug into her palms.
The stalemate continued for several eternal seconds. Then, slowly, Warren's body seemed to slump a little, and he peacefully handed the gun to Jim. Jim nodded in approval and pocketed the weapon. He then told Warren that he was a police officer, and placed him under arrest. Pete moved closer, though he could offer Jim little more than moral support.
Warren surrendered peacefully, submitting to a search, to the removal of his phony bomb, and to being handcuffed with the tie wrap Jim had concealed in his sock. He listened placidly as Jim read him his rights, and then made no protest as Reed retrieved the handcuff key and freed his partner's hands.
Pete rubbed his wrists and shot a grateful look at Jim. Then the officers and the former hostages walked out of camera range, and the station switched over to the makeshift studio they'd used to handle all other coverage.
"That's right, ladies and gentlemen. We couldn't tell you before now, but the man masquerading as the station president was none other than LAPD officer James A. Reed, a three-year veteran of the force, and a hero to us all." The anchorman with the plastic-looking hairdo continued to buzz about the courage of everyone involved, and about the happy ending. And he replayed countless bits of footage, enjoying the sound of his own endless commentaries.
Jean stared at it all in dumbfounded silence. Her frayed nerves refused to believe it could be over. Her body began to shake uncontrollably and she began to sob, even though a calm, rational voice in her head kept telling her she was being ridiculous. It's over, for Heaven's sake! What are you bawling about now?
That rational voice had no effect on her sobbing at all. She sank down into her favorite armchair and let her emotions take over until she, and they, were exhausted.
At last her mind turned to Mrs. Hanover and Jimmy. I promised her I'd let her know what happened as soon as it was over. She stood shakily to her feet, surprised at how weak she felt. She made her way into the bathroom, splashed cold water on her face, and tried to pull herself together. Can't let Jimmy see me like this. Besides, I'm being a fool! He's all right, he's all right.
She repeated the reassuring words until her heart began to slow to its normal pace, and then braved the trip across the lawn to collect her son. Strangely, her sense of relief quickly gave way to anger again. He won't even be home after this shift! Him and his double shifts! He had better call soon. It's bad enough I have to watch him risk his life on TV. It'll be worse if he doesn't even have the consideration to phone.
Sergeant Bill Macdonald stood shaking his head at his stubborn charge. Pete, as usual, waved off all attempts to take him to the hospital.
"Mac," Pete said in his most charmingly obstinate manner, "I don't have a concussion. The paramedic said so himself. I remember everything that happened this morning, and I know who the President of the United States is. I don't have double vision, unless there's really only half of you." Mac had to chuckle at the joke. Pete sounded okay to him, and the paramedic dismissed him with a wave of the hand and a roll of the eyes.
"All right," growled Mac, as usual failing miserably in his attempt to look irritated. "Get in there and do your paperwork before I change my mind. And Reed, if he starts to look woozy or act weird, get him to Central Receiving immediately.
"I assume you mean 'weirder than usual'," Jim replied with a grin. Pete rolled his eyes at him, and Mac gruffed something about smart alecky upstarts. But then the sergeant became serious again.
"Hey, by the way, I don't want you two to take your second shifts. You've been through enough for one day."
Both partners protested loudly, starting with Pete.
"Mac, you don't know what I'll go through if I don't have that new rod and reel this weekend! Think how therapeutic it will be for me to have it, how relaxed I'll feel when I use it. How could you deny me this chance at recuperation?"
Jim chimed in next, putting on his pitiful puppy-dog face that usually worked when he wanted something from Jean. "Aw, Mac, think how therapeutic it will be for me to have my new Corvette. . . ."
Mac threw his hands up in surrender. "You two are the most impossible men I've ever had to work with. Do you have any idea how much easier my job would be if I weren't always having to worry so much about you?"
The dryness of Pete's tone was offset by the sparkle in his eyes. "Aw, Mac, I didn't know you cared!"
"I'm touched," added Jim, placing his hand over his heart with exaggerated emotion.
"Get to work, you two!" Mac almost managed to look irritated, but not quite. No amount of teasing could hide the bonds of respect and affection among the three men. Theirs was a friendship forged in very hot fires, and hardened into steel.
As the two younger officers turned to go, Mac stopped them with a word. They turned to face him, and saw the softness in his expression.
"Good work back there, guys," he said warmly.
Jim and Pete acknowledged it with a nod, and they each left for their respective duties.
The rest of the shift had been maddeningly uneventful. There had been nothing more exciting than a slightly intoxicated driver to help them work off all the adrenaline of the morning. By the time his second straight shift began, Jim began to wish he'd never volunteered for it. He felt exhausted and irritable. And he definitely did not feel like dealing with the many petty disputes and snappish traffic violators he encountered.
Jim looked over at his more experienced partner. How in the world is he handling this so well after the morning he had?
But despite Jim's worries to the contrary, the day finally did come to a close, and the time came to head into the station for the day's final paperwork. Yet somehow, Jim felt no relief at the thought.
At the station, Jim and Pete bent silently over their stacks of forms, each lost in his own retelling of events. Or so it seemed. Actually, Jim was more lost in worry over his wife. He had called her, of course, right after the bomb scare, and had let her know that he and Pete were okay. But he knew that wasn't enough. I'd better call her again. He excused himself to Pete, and then steeled himself as he moved toward the phone on the wall.
Jean made it clear as soon as she answered that she was very, very angry. Jim kept the call short, pleading the need to finish his paperwork, and even said "I love you" despite knowing that she didn't want to hear it. After he hung up he slumped against the wall for a few moments, his hands shoved far into his pockets, his eyes staring at nothing.
A sigh from his partner brought Jim back to reality. Pete sat scowling at his paperwork, the way that he always did when he wasn't quite sure how to spell something. Jim trudged back to the desk, appreciating the fact that Pete had pretended not to overhear his conversation with Jean. They worked in silence, Jim trying to focus on the task at hand. He found it almost a relief to recall the events of the past, rather than dwelling on what awaited him when he got home.
Jean's emotions swung wildly for the rest day. She hadn't known her anger could burn so hot, yet she often found herself overwhelmed by love and gratitude. The roller coaster took its toll on her, of course. But worse yet, she could see how Jimmy suffered from her mood. I can't do this to him.
She called her parents to see if he could spend the night with them. They agreed, of course. Jimmy was the apple of their eye, and they came by to pick him up as quickly as they could. They were calm and relaxed, having been unaware of the whole situation until after it ended. Maybe I should watch as little TV as they do.
Of course they stayed and chatted for a while, until Jean pleaded her fatigue and sent them on their way. But having the house to herself failed to bring the expected relief. Now that Jimmy had gone with her parents, Jean had nothing to focus on but her own tumultuous feelings.
Jean tried to focus on something, anything. Housework, a book, the TV, whatever. But nothing mattered enough to hold her attention. What am I going to do?
Finally her thoughts congealed on her one greatest need. She gathered her keys and purse, and headed out to the car. I don't know if I'll hug him or punch him, but I know I have to see him now!
Deep down inside, she knew which she would do. Even as she drove, she felt her anger crumbling. She knew she only wanted to see him, and hold him, and feel his strong arms holding her. Hot tears began to fall again, and she brushed them away with a fresh surge of anger. Why do you always end up making me cry? After a moment she realized she'd forgotten something very important, and lifted up a belated prayer. Thank you, God. Thank you so much.
The drive to the station took only a few minutes, and soon Jean began making her way through the familiar halls. She glanced in various alcoves and places where she knew the officers did their paperwork, but the station seemed strangely quiet. She wondered where Jim could be, and that wondering brought back the helpless feelings she'd battled all day. She worked up a smaller, more manageable dose of anger, just enough to keep her from falling completely apart. She knew that the sight of him, the living, breathing sight of him, would melt her into butter if she weren't careful.
There! Around the corner, still hidden from view, Jim and Pete were there. Jean could hear their voices, and she was certain she had heard Jim say her name. For some reason she began to tread softly, and took up a position right near the corner, still out of sight. She wanted to hear what they were saying.
Pete listened patiently as his partner unloaded on him.
"I just wish she hadn't seen all of that," Jim continued. "She sounded so angry when I talked to her." He slammed his pen down on the table.
"She'll get over it," Pete replied, not unkindly.
"Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe one of these days it will be too much. Maybe today was too much. I'm almost afraid to go home. Afraid I'll find her packing her things, and Jimmy's things. . . ." His voice trailed off as he obviously contemplated the unthinkable.
For a few moments he fell silent. And then Jim jumped out of his chair and began to pace the small alcove, his voice stronger, and with more than a hint of anger.
"It's just so unfair, you know it, Pete? I did everything right today. I came up with the plan to impersonate the station president. I kept my head. I played it cool. I recognized the bomb as a fake. I read that kid like a book, and played him like a fiddle. I got him to surrender his weapon without a fight. Heck, I'm already hearing talk of a Medal of Valor. All of Los Angeles thinks I'm a hero. And I'm afraid to go home!"
Jim stopped in his tracks as if for emphasis, his blue eyes stabbing his next question straight into Pete's.
"Is that right, Pete? Is that the way things ought to be?"
Pete laid his pen down, wisely keeping silent. Jim rarely got so upset about Jean. They had a good marriage, probably the best Pete had ever seen. And Jean was a wonderful woman. But even the strongest marriages had their problems, and police marriages had problems on top of problems. And you wonder why I've never married, partner?
Pete knew that work crises didn't bring out the best in Jean. He decided he'd better let Jim vent his frustrations before he got home. Jim continued to pace, jostling his chair each time he went by it.
"Do you know what, Pete? I felt less afraid staring down the barrel of your service revolver than I am about facing Jean right now. Do you know why? Because the worst that kid could have done was kill me. But Jean, she could tear my heart out of my chest! I'd rather die than lose her and Jimmy. If she left me, I'd be the living dead, going through the motions with no heart left. I love her and. . . and Jimmy. . . with everything that's in me." Jim's last sentence ended with a strangled sound, as if he were fighting back tears. He gripped the back of his chair until his knuckles turned white as he struggled to master his emotions.
Pete didn't trust himself to speak. He'd never seen Jim so distressed, and it tore at his gut. God, don't let his fears come true.
After a moment, Jim continued, his voice steadier, calmer. "But she can't understand that my work is as much a part of me as my right arm is." With that, Jim slumped back into his chair. "So I guess I'll spend the rest of my life worrying about whether she'll be there when I get home."
Pete waited a few moments, until he felt sure that Jim had finished. His partner seemed completely deflated. Now what can I say to him? I've got to try to restore his focus, and his confidence.
Pete reached over and placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "She'll be there. Now finish your paperwork so you can go home and see that I'm right."
Jim glared at the papers that Pete pushed toward him, then sighed, retrieved his pen, and began writing without further comment.
Jean stood riveted in her eavesdropping place, her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes. She had to pour all of her strength into stifling the sobs that wanted to overwhelm her. Softly, careful not to make a sound, she turned and retraced her steps to the car, praying that her shoes would not make a noise to give her away. She needed to sort through her feelings before she could face Jim.
Jean drove home in a blur. She could hear Jim's words, and his pain, echoing in her mind. And though she hadn't been able to see his face, she knew him well enough to imagine each expression on it. She could see him almost as if he were there, pouring out his agony in front of her. She fought back the sobs until she got home and closed herself into her room.
Jean crawled into the bed that she shared with Jim, with the man she loved more than anything, the man whose pain still reverberated in her mind. She thought back to the standoff on the television, and her questions to him that he couldn't hear. "Why, why, why are you doing this?"
Of course she knew why. He was saving lives, making a difference. He was a hero, and she knew it.
I'm so proud of him, how brave and strong he is. But I've never told him. If he knew I felt that way, he'd never quit his job. And that's all I want him to do.
Without warning, Jim's question to Pete replayed itself in her mind, as if it were now directed at her. The memory mercilessly reproduced the raw emotion in his voice.
"Is that right? Is that the way things ought to be?"
Jean hugged Jim's pillow close to her. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she sobbed.
Jean could clearly hear her own voice in her memory. The words she recalled could have come from any of a dozen heated arguments. "I can't take much more of this. I can't live like this." How many times have I said that to him? She always felt sorry as soon as she said it. As soon as she saw the fear that leapt into his eyes. Yet she almost always said similar things the next time a storm brewed in their home. I was just blowing off steam. I didn't know he really thought I meant it.
Or did I? At the moment, Jean didn't trust herself to know her own heart. Maybe I wanted him to think just that.
She knew full well that she would never leave him. She loved him too much.
I know what it's like to dread being left behind. Do I really want to make him feel that way?
She pictured the homecoming that he must be anticipating. He knew what to expect from her when he'd frightened her. She replayed various scenes in her mind, remembering how she would have pouted or yelled, wanting to make him hurt like she had hurt.
In her mind's eye she studied her husband's face. An image came back to her, from a photo that had been taken on their honeymoon. She remembered the expression on Jim's face, the absolutely unbridled joy that her love gave him. How could I have let him doubt?
Jean's thoughts returned to the present, to the expression she expected to see when Jim came home. She could picture the emotional armor he so often wore. It broke her heart. She never wanted him to feel like hiding from her again. But how could she break down the walls she had helped to build?
God help me to know what to do!
Jim dragged out his paperwork as long as he could. He checked and double checked all of the spelling, and then went over Pete's reports with equal care. He felt disappointed that he couldn't find enough misspellings to warrant a complete re-write. He cast around in his mind for another excuse to stay away from home, but came up blank.
He blew out a deep sigh that puffed out both his cheeks, and then leaned back and dug his knuckles into his eyes. He felt wrung out, and the edges of the morning's stress still lingered with him. I'm not ready to face the angry silent treatment at home. Or the angry tongue lashing.
Jim wondered idly which it would be, and which he preferred. Then he threw his pen down with a disgusted growl. Neither alternative was bearable.
"Partner?" Pete's voice snapped him back to reality. Jim started, then flushed a little, embarrassed at his own emotional state.
"Jim, go home. No matter what she says or does, put your arms around her and hold her tight. You'll get through this thing together. I know you will." With that advice, Pete thumped him on the shoulder and left.
Jim trailed along behind him toward the parking lot. He unlocked the car and slouched into the driver's seat. For a few moments he rested his forehead against the steering wheel, then straightened up and shook his head. No point delaying the inevitable.
He drove home slowly, killing his headlights before pulling into the driveway, so he'd be less likely to wake Jean if she had fallen asleep. Dear God, please let her be asleep. I'd like to put a good night's rest between today and her wrath.
Jim slipped quietly into the house, relieved at not finding Jean in the living room. He turned off the lights and made his way down the hall in the dark. He stopped first at Jimmy's room, silently opening the door for a glimpse of his son. I'm so sorry I didn't get to see you today.
A chill of fear ran through him when he saw the little bed standing empty, but then he realized that Jean must have sent him to her parents'. So I don't even get to see you now. I'm sorry, son. I should be home more for you, and for your Mommy.
But then who would have been there for Pete. . . ?
What do you do when the needs of the people you care about most conflict with each other?
He carefully closed the toddler's door, and turned reluctantly toward his own. He paused with his bedroom doorknob in his hand, bracing himself for whatever might come. After a few moments he turned the knob, hardly daring to breathe.
His bedroom door opened silently for him, and he heard no sound when he stepped into the room. Thankful, he slipped out of his clothes and crawled carefully between the sheets, trying to avoid disturbing Jean.
Jean remained still next to him, and Jim began to think himself extraordinarily lucky. But then her voice startled him, speaking his name. Instantly, he put up his guard, and felt a gulf open up between the two halves of the bed.
Jean turned toward him, and he could see from the glow of the streetlight that her face was streaked with tears. Even with his best armor on, the sight of her tears tugged hard at him. He wanted to reach up and brush them away, but he couldn't be sure she would want that from him. So he stayed still, propped on one elbow, hopelessly at a loss for words and unsure of what to do. She must still be so angry.
Jean moved closer to him and pressed her forehead against his chest. He jumped slightly, startled by her willingness to be close. He hadn't expected that, and as his arm instinctively reached around to embrace her, he felt uncertain that she'd welcome his touch. But then she lifted her face to look at him again with a warm expression.
"Jim," she began in her softest voice, "about everything that happened today…." She paused, seeming reluctant to continue.
Jim drew in a deep breath, wondering what to prepare himself for. He had braced himself for her anger, but her softness left him without a defense. Where could this be going?
Jim jumped in to the uncomfortable silence. "I'm so sorry about that, honey. I'm really sorry." It felt lame. Pete would be surprised to know that Jim was ever at a loss for words. But sometimes Jean could still leave him stammering like an idiot, like he did the first time he ever spoke to her in the gym after a game.
The sorrow in her eyes deepened, and she reached up to touch his cheek with her hand. "What do you have to be sorry for?" she asked.
His jaw literally dropped.
For a moment she lowered her eyes, evidently trying to come up with the right words. Jim remained silent, glad that he had to wait for her to speak up, and not the other way around. He wouldn't have had a clue what to say. As he waited, a new, frightening theory began to take shape in the back of his mind.
Is she being nice in order to break the bad news to me gently?
Was she about to sweetly shatter his world? Jim began to feel a crawly sensation at the back of his neck, and his protective shell came back to full strength.
Jean's eyes shot up to his, as if she had felt the change. "Jim?" She reached back up to touch his face again, and he averted his eyes from her gaze. He was simply too terrified of what he might see if he looked into the windows of her soul.
"Jim, please don't put walls up. Not now, when I'm trying so hard to break them down."
He forced himself to meet her gaze, but his heart remained guarded. Please, say what's on your mind. I can't stand this suspense.
She looked away from his eyes again. "Jim, I. . . I'm sorry." Jean seemed to struggle with the admission, but once she said it, the rest came rushing out. "Jim, I love you more than you can possibly imagine. I'm so proud of you, of what you do. I'm proud of the difference you make every day that you're out there. I'm proud when I tell others what my husband does for a living."
She lifted her eyes back to his. "You are a hero to me, but I never wanted you to know it." She reached up to briefly touch his cheek. "When I get mad at you, it's not because I don't love you. It's only because I'm so afraid." She sighed deeply, and he felt her body relax a little, as if relieved of a heavy burden.
Jim's breaths came quicker, but not with the same fear as before. Now he found himself afraid to believe what he heard. It sounds too good to be true, but I want it to be!
She continued, "Nothing makes me more angry than feeling alone, afraid, and helpless. Do you know what it's like to feel that way?"
The question stirred up some painful emotions. Jim allowed a humorless smile to play briefly across his face. If only you knew! Maybe I could even tell you about those times, if I weren't so afraid of how you'd react . . .
Jean found a faint smile of her own. "I guess that was a stupid question." She paused, then asked, "Jim, what do you do when you feel that way?"
Jim had to shift gears in order to start putting his own feelings into words. He wasn't sure he wanted to. But a million images flooded his mind, from dark alleys and warehouses, from hospitals and banks, from all the places where he'd felt those very feelings. His eyes drifted from hers as he focused inwardly. How do I cope with them?
Jim realized that the silence had become uncomfortably long. The neighbor's cat yowled outside the window. The clock ticked abnormally loudly on the night stand. He cleared his throat.
"Well, I have to focus on my job, on what my training tells me to do."
"Yes," Jean replied, "But where do you get the strength to do that?"
"Well. . ." Jim had to think about that. Uncomfortable memories tugged at his thoughts, forcing him to fall back on his training. Recite the facts.
"I guess I use different strategies at different times. Mostly I get myself good and mad. That always puts starch in my spine. And I pray if I have a moment to."
"Then you do understand!" The intensity in her voice made him look back into her eyes. The depths that he saw there left his emotions spinning wildly. This is big, very big. But do I dare hope it's going to be good, too?
Jean continued. "Jim, I get mad because it's the only way I know to be strong. When I feel afraid and helpless, it's the most awful, vulnerable feeling in the world. I hate that feeling, more than any other I can name. And nothing makes me feel that way more than the fear of losing you. I can't imagine my life without you." She paused to blink back the tears that threatened to spill over onto her cheeks.
Jim waited quietly, focusing on breathing as her silence threatened to deafen him. He had no idea what she might be preparing to say. Her words so far had reassured him, yet he could feel her body trembling. Good news wouldn't make her so upset, would it?
This can't be good news.
When she finally spoke, she couldn't meet his eyes, and her voice told him how small and scared she felt.
"Jim, I want you to know I would never --- could never leave you."
It took Jim a moment to absorb what he had heard. Even his highest hopes hadn't reached that high. Comprehension came gradually, in growing waves of relief and disbelief that swept over his whole being.
Could I have heard her wrong?
When he finally found his voice, he could only muster a whisper. "Would you say that again, please?"
Jean said nothing. She seemed hesitant, still afraid.
With one crooked finger he gently lifted her chin, raising her eyes to his own searching gaze. Her eyes betrayed her vulnerability. Jim wanted desperately to comfort her, and even more desperately to understand. Did she really mean what she said?
He moved closer to her, and his arm drew her to himself. He buried his face in the soft locks of hair that were draped over her neck.
"Please," he whispered again.
He felt as if a dam broke inside of her, so dramatic was her response. Her body shook as she wept, but she melted willingly into his embrace. He held her tighter, nuzzling into her neck, his right hand gently cradling the back of her head.
After several long minutes her weeping subsided, and she gently pushed against his shoulder. He yielded, moving back to bring them once again face to face. Her eyes shone with something more than just her brimming tears.
She reached up to cradle his face in her hands, her eyes piercing deep into his. He drew in a deep breath, suddenly feeling vulnerable too. He saw an openness in her face that he hadn't seen in years, and it threatened to break down what remained of his defenses.
After a moment she broke into the silence.
"I would never--- could never--- leave you."
The tears he had held at bay fell at last, and he crushed her to him with a choked-back sob. She wept with him, feeling the last scales of armor crumbling away between them.
They held each other for long minutes, their hearts trembling at their closeness.
When Jim found his voice again, his words came out as a torrent. "Honey, I love you so much! I know it's hard for you sometimes, and I hate that, I really do. I'm so sorry for the sacrifices you've had to make. Please believe me. I love you more than I could ever say."
Jean managed to find her own voice after a few more moments, and surprised Jim with the question she asked. "So, now where will I find my strength? I don't want to always find it in anger, but I also don't want to feel like I've got no. . . ." she seemed to search for the right word, ". . . .no voice in this side of our marriage."
Jim stared at her, in awe of seeing a part of her soul that she had never dared to show him before. Slowly he began to comprehend her fear, and the tremendous emotional risk she had taken.
His answer required a great deal of vulnerability on his part, and he unconsciously averted his eyes from hers. Instead he watched one of his fingers as he used it to lightly stroke her arm.
"Jean, it's your love that's held me fast all these years, not your anger. I swear, my thoughts always turn to you and Jimmy when I'm in danger. I don't take the risks lightly."
"But you still take those risks!" her voice pleaded with him, even accused him. "How can I live with that?"
Jim paused, fighting down the urge to put some armor back on. No, not now. Hopefully not ever again. He silently sent a quick prayer toward Heaven, wondering how to answer a question that had no answer.
Suddenly Jim's mind went back to a sermon he'd heard, two weeks ago Sunday. What was that the pastor said?
Jim smiled as the words came to him. "Faith, hope, and love," he murmured.
"What?" A puzzled crease furrowed her brow.
He smiled into her eyes, and reached to brush some stray hairs away from her face. "Faith, hope, and love," he repeated. "Honey, I may sometimes have to use anger to enable me to chase down a suspect, or pull the trigger, or stare gunmen in the face. But faith, hope, and love are my deepest strengths. If I didn't have those, I couldn't face what I do. I couldn't believe I could make a difference. I couldn't believe that life could even be worth living."
Jim paused, shaking his head as he sought the words that matched his feelings.
"I wouldn't have cared if that kid shot me today, if I didn't have faith, hope, and love. They make life worth it. They allow me to believe in the One who is looking out for us. What greater source of strength do we need?"
Jean listened quietly until he finished. "Is that really enough?" she asked softly.
Jim averted his eyes and shook his head, not wanting to say what he felt. But after a few moments he looked back into her eyes, keeping his own unguarded.
"Honey, I hope and pray with all my heart that I'm never taken away from you, from Jimmy. But if I am, you have to believe that God will see you through it. You have to. Because if He's not big enough to do that, well, then He wouldn't be God, would He?
"I guess," Jean replied. She seemed uncertain.
Jim sighed. "Honey, any other promise I could give you would be hollow, wouldn't it? Even if I quit my job I couldn't guarantee I'd be alive tomorrow. In the time I've been working, I've seen a few cops die, it's true. But I have seen far more shop owners and motorists and John Q. Citizens die, far more. Life and death are in God's hands, not mine. We have to trust Him with that."
She smiled into his eyes, and her own were moist.
"I'll try, Jim, I'll try."
Jim suddenly began to feel just how exhausted he really was. The sudden release of so much tension left him contentedly drained.
Jim rolled over to lie on his back, and invited Jean to snuggle with him as she had that morning. Could that really have been only this morning? Seems like years. He heard her sigh contentedly as she rested her head on his chest. He kissed the top of her head, and smoothed her hair with a gentle hand. But after a very few moments, his hand fell still, and his breathing evened out into the slower rhythm of sleep.
He never realized when Jean joined him in slumber, just moments later.
"They're here!" Jim called. Jean hurriedly finished helping Jimmy into his jeans, then scooped him up and carried him to the living room. Pete and Judy were making their way up the driveway, carrying a potato salad and soft drinks to complement the steaks that Jim had ready for the grill. They hoped to push the ordeal of yesterday's bomb scare out of memory by the laughter and good food they all planned to share.
Jimmy yelled from Jean's arms, "Unka Pete, Unka Pete!" He nearly bounced out of his mother's arms with excitement, and Pete beamed him one of his broadest grins.
As soon as everyone had been warmly welcomed and the food was safely in the refrigerator, the ladies parted from the gentlemen, each little group immersing itself in its own separate interests.
Jim and Pete went outside to check on the coals, and then out to the garage to check the progress of Jim's latest vehicle rebuilding project. Jimmy squealed his delight at going with them, firmly held in his Uncle Pete's arms.
Jean and Judy stayed in the house, chatting easily together. She's always been so easy to talk to, from the first time I met her. I hope she and Pete stay together.
Inwardly, Jean kept track of the time that passed, wondering when to bring up the subject she and Jim had planned. After about ten minutes she decided to dive in head first, trying to keep a mischievous glimmer out of her eye.
"Judy," she asked casually, "Have I ever shown you our wedding pictures?"
"No, you haven't," Judy replied with a delighted voice, "but I'd love to see them."
Soon they were oohing, aahing, and giggling over the photos. It was amazing how much younger Jean and Jim had looked just six years ago, and how starry eyed and terrified they had looked at their wedding.
"Are you sure you guys were of legal age?" laughed Judy, studying one particularly youthful looking image.
"Yes, of course we were," replied Jean, trying to sound indignant. Soon their laughter drifted outside, audible even in the garage where the men were gathered.
Pete whistled. "Jim, you have worked a miracle with this car!" He surveyed the classic Caddy from every angle, shaking his head at all of the hard work his partner had put into it. "You know, I thought you'd never get your money's worth out of it, but now I bet you really can sell it for a profit." Pete moved around for a better look at the passenger compartment. "You know, you could just keep this and use it as your second car."
Jim looked at Pete in astonishment. "Aw, Pete, you can't be serious! I mean, this is a nice car and all, but it's no Corvette!"
Pete nodded, his expression slightly amused. "Well, Mr. Corvette, you've done a bang-up job on this." He fingered a barely visible patch on the upholstery. "You can hardly tell it's there."
Jim beamed, delighted by his partner's compliment. "It only needed some TLC," he replied with a shrug.
Pete pulled his head out of the car's window and straightened up. He gave Jim that look, the one that always meant he was about to broach a serious subject. Jim felt himself move to low alert. "What, Partner?"
"Well, speaking of TLC, I was wondering . . . how did Jean handle yesterday's --- events?" Pete looked slightly worried as he asked.
Jim flushed a little, grinned and looked down at his toes. "Let's just say that I have seriously underestimated that woman." He looked back up at Pete, his head still cocked to one side like it did when he had to talk about something uncomfortable. But the smile remained broad on his face.
Jim shifted his weight, folded his arms, and looked inwardly for several long moments, still smiling.
"Well?" Pete finally asked, with his best exasperated tone of voice.
"Well, we worked a lot of stuff out, that's all." Jim shrugged, looking down again. His heart still soared whenever he thought of last night, and he didn't know how to share his feelings with Pete without getting too emotional.
"I suppose that's why you can't wipe that grin off your face," drawled Pete. His tone sounded dry, but he smiled as well.
Jim blushed. "No, it wasn't like that. It's just that we talked a lot, got a lot closer." Jim looked at Pete, his heart shining out of his eyes. "I'm not worried about us any more."
Pete's expression held a quiet joy. He thumped Jim's shoulder, but he didn't speak. The atmosphere in the garage was so emotionally charged that neither man could feel comfortable. How do women stay so open with each other all the time? Jim wondered.
The sound of Jean and Judy's laughter broke the awkward silence. Oh, I almost forgot! I hope I'm not too late. Jim thought back to the plan he and Jean had made earlier. How can I get Pete to the window? Jean's counting on me. . . .
Pete shook his head as the merry sounds wafted from the house.
"What is it about women? They always laugh when they get together." Pete may have dated a lot of women in his life, but he made no claims about understanding them.
"Do you suppose they laugh at us?" Jim mused.
"Why don't we go find out?" Pete replied, with a twinkle in his eye that always meant mischief.
"You mean, spy on them?" Jim managed to sound delighted and appalled at the same time.
"Let's just call it 'surveillance', Partner, and leave it at that."
Jim grinned and nodded his agreement. Perfect! I can't believe he fell for it!
Pete put Jimmy down and watched him run to his swingset. When he was safely occupied, the men undertook their secret mission.
They adopted their best police stealth techniques, hunkering down low to cross the lawn. A few moments later they stood flattened against the back wall of the house. By now the laughter had stopped. They could see the ladies through the window, their heads bent over something on the table. Whatever it was, they were quite absorbed in it. Pete and Jim moved closer, Pete nearest the window, straining to catch whatever the women said.
"Daddy, what doing?" Jimmy called out from his swing.
"SHHH!" Jim hissed at him. He and Pete waited breathlessly to see if they'd been caught, but they heard nothing unexpected. The ladies were still talking, and after a moment Pete dared to peek through a corner of the window.
"Oh, Judy, I knew you'd have good suggestions! That's just wonderful!" Jean's voice bubbled with enthusiasm. "My wedding album has always looked too plain to me, but adding those special touches will be perfect. Thank you!"
Judy smiled and gave her friend a little hug. "I'm delighted. I absolutely love wedding albums, and decorating things is my favorite thing to do."
Jim listened, pleased with the direction the conversation had taken. He had promised to deliver Pete to the window, and he had done so. It had been far easier than he had imagined it would be. Wait 'til I tell Jean that Pete came up with the idea before I could even suggest it!
Jim hoped Jean had seen their approach. Now she just had to keep up her end of the bargain.
Jim was not disappointed.
"Well, now, Judy, when will it be your own wedding album you're decorating?" Jean's voice sounded perfectly innocent. Jim grinned in anticipation, and craned his neck until he could see Judy's face.
Judy blushed a little, and smiled shyly. "I don't know, Jean, but I must admit, lately I've been wondering the very same thing."
Pete turned as white as a sheet, and his jaw slackened. Jim grinned widely behind him. Oh what I wouldn't give to be able to read his mind right now! Pete began turning toward him, so he wiped the grin off his face.
Pete's eyes were like saucers, and he looked absolutely terrified. Jim couldn't stifle a snicker. When Pete glared at him, Jim lost whatever reserve he had.
"You didn't look that scared when you were handcuffed in the studio with the mad environmentalist!" Jim guffawed. He nearly doubled over, laughing so hard at his friend's consternation. From the swingset, Jimmy joined in the laughter, without any way of knowing what it was about.
Pete struggled to regain his composure, but things were about to get worse. Judy and Jean walked out into the yard, Jean looking triumphant and Judy looking mystified. Judy planted herself face to face with her spluttering date, her hands on her hips. "What's so funny?"
Jim and Jean were soon wiping tears from their eyes as they watched Pete grasping for something intelligent to say. After a few moments, the co-conspirators turned away and moved off a few steps, hugging each other and enjoying the success of their little venture. "I told you we'd have fun with them," Jim reminded her.
Jean looked back at her two good friends, who were now glaring at them as they realized they'd been set up. She chuckled again. "Yes, you did. And you were right."
With thanks to K.F. Garrison for her invaluable beta-reading and her kind encouragement.