Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
(a short, short story)
by KF Garrison
"I'm telling you, this guy had a knife that hadda be fifteen inches long! Looked like a damned machete!"
Grant's holding forth, as usual. The guy probably had a penknife.
"The wife and I went down to Catalina...."
Brinkman and that wife of his. I guess they're getting along this week.
"Court was the biggest waste of time this morning...two of my cases got booted out of court before they started."
Yeah, Ramirez, I sympathize. Sometimes ya gotta wonder why we bother.
"So this little guy goes into this bar..."
Ah, Wells is telling another one of his bad jokes. I hope Reed doesn't hear it.
Thinking of his partner caused Pete to search the room for Jim Reed. The tall, gawky, impossibly young rookie should have been standing at his locker, changing, but a quick check there showed only an empty space and a closed locker. Pete glanced at his watch. Ten minutes 'til roll call. He'd better get a move on.
"Hey, Pete!" Bob Brinkman called from his locker. "Still raining out, I see."
"Cats and dogs," Pete agreed.
"That reminds me of a joke," Ed Wells piped up. "You see, there was this bartender..."
"Spare me, Ed," Pete pleaded.
"Hey, give me a break, Malloy. I'm just trying to lighten up the mood around here," Wells explained.
Pete shook his head as he walked by the much shorter man. "Try a little harder," he suggested. He's right, though. We could use a good joke or two around here. Things just haven't been right since Stenzler got killed.
Pete hung his jacket in his locker and started getting dressed. His mind wandered back to ten days earlier, when an armed robbery at a local market had ended in the death of a young rookie police officer. Bill Stenzler, twenty-four years old and fresh from the academy, had been on the job less than three weeks when a thug gunned him down in that market parking lot. He'd died at Central Receiving Hospital a few hours later, leaving a young widow, a stunned partner, and a watch full of officers grieving and wondering over the senselessness of it all.
For Stenzler's partner, Jerry Walters, the past ten days had been spent in a nightmare of guilt and second-guessing himself. As Stenzler's training officer, the usually cocky and irrepressible Walters had borne the blame for the young man's death. Pete had spent the better part of two hours at Walters' home a few days ago, helping the officer sort through his feelings on the unfortunate incident. Walters had asked the usual, unanswerable questions: What did I do wrong? Could I have saved him if...? Why didn't I protect him better? Pete turned and watched Walters, a six-year veteran, as he put the finishing touches on his tie. Jerry still looked grim, but it appeared he'd finally made peace with himself over the situation.
Pete could certainly sympathize with Jerry Walter's feelings. Stenzler's death had been like rubbing salt in an open wound for him. He'd lost his own young partner in a warehouse shootout just about a month prior to that, and though Pete's partner had a little more time on the job, and a couple of years on Stenzler, it hadn't made accepting his death any easier. Not for him, or for his late partner's wife, left a widow with a six-month-old baby. Pete thought he'd buried the emotions from that loss deep inside and gotten on with his life; but when he'd seen Stenzler dead in his coffin at the wake, the feelings sprang up with a vengeance. Guilt, despair, and anger had all threatened to overcome the emotional equilibrium Pete thought he'd regained after his partner's death. He'd walked away from the wake once more repeating the mantra, "Never again, never again." He would never again lose another partner. Not while he had any power at all over the circumstances.
Pete had even tried to assure he'd never lose another partner by leaving the force. But on the very night that Pete had planned to be his final one as a Los Angeles Police Officer, his watch commander, Lieutenant Moore, had pulled a green-as-grass rookie out of his hat and presented him to Pete as a partner.
Damn Jim Reed anyway. Why did he have to be so likeable? So eager? So vulnerable? And damn Val Moore, too. Somehow he knew. He knew I couldn't abandon someone like Reed. What a dirty trick. Malloy sighed and straightened his tie. And here I am, involved again.
Involved far more than he wanted to be at this point in a partnership. In fact, he couldn't even think of Jim Reed lately without his gut twisting in sympathy. Reed and Stenzler had been academy-mates; friends, fishing buddies. Their wives were best friends. The very day Stenzler had been killed, Reed had been bubbling over with excitement over a fishing trip he and Stenzler had planned for later that week. A fishing trip that never happened. Instead, Reed had spent that weekend at Stenzler's funeral, fighting to hold both himself and his young pregnant wife together, emotionally.
Watching Reed struggle with the loss of a friend so soon after entering the service, watching him deal with the aftermath, watching him face his own mortality, watching him struggle to comfort and reassure his wife, when all the while he needed the same comfort and reassurance, had been far more difficult for Pete than he ever imagined.
Pete felt completely inadequate trying to counsel the young man on how to work his way through the loss, especially since he himself still felt the sting of his own partner's loss so keenly. And he certainly had no words of wisdom for Reed concerning his marriage. A confirmed bachelor his entire adult life, Pete's experience in that venue was completely nil.
Doesn't do any good to dwell on it. Pete put the finishing touches on his uniform, pushed the unpleasant thoughts from his mind, gathered his baton, hat and briefcase, and headed for roll call.
He ran into Jim Reed out in the hall. Though fully dressed and seemingly ready to go, the rookie looked flustered.
"Roll call's this way, Reed," Pete drawled, stepping in front of the young officer.
"I've gotta get my briefcase and stuff," Reed explained breathlessly. He raked at stray strands of dark hair that had fallen across his forehead. Pete had already learned that little motion of Reed's indicated nervousness.
"Where've you been?"
"Sergeant MacDonald wanted me to correct a couple of things on that last report I wrote yesterday. I kept referring to the PR by the wrong name."
"Oh, sorry," Pete sympathized. "I probably should have caught that before you turned it in."
Reed's expression went from exasperated to almost sunny in the space of a beat. He flashed Pete a smile, revealing too many dazzling white teeth. "That's okay, Malloy. If I'd been more careful I would have caught it myself."
"Stop taking the blame for everything," Malloy chided. "Not everything that goes wrong around here is your fault."
"Yes, sir," Reed agreed obediently. In another lightning-fast mood swing, his features fell into an expression that Pete had already learned meant I'm-sorry-I-hate-myself-I- can't-do-anything-right.
Pete sighed. "And what did I tell you about calling me sir?"
"Uh, sorry, sir..uh, Malloy, sorry," Jim stammered.
"Go get your gear, Reed, and I'll see you in roll call."
"Yes, si.....okay," Reed scurried off to the locker room.
"Pete, stop scaring that rookie to death," Sergeant MacDonald called from down the hall.
Pete turned and walked over to his Sergeant. "I thought that's what rookies were for, Sarge," he grinned.
"How soon we forget," MacDonald shook his head. "How's he comin' along, Pete?"
"He's learning. He's gettin' there."
"He's gonna be a good one, isn't he, Pete?"
"Of course," Pete assured him. "Under my expert tutelage, what else do you expect?"
"Oh, brother," Mac moaned. "Seriously, is he bouncing back after Stenzler's death?"
"It's been hard on him, Mac. But his head's on straight." He's finally starting to lose that sad look in his eyes.
"It's a hard lesson to learn, so soon." Mac put a piercing look on Pete. "What about you? How're you doin'?"
"Me? I'm fine." Pete returned the look.
"I'm just asking," Mac grinned.
Pete shrugged. "And I'm just answering." He raised his eyebrows and walked on into the roll call room.
"1-Adam-12, PM watch clear." Reed informed dispatch of their patrol status, hung the mic back on the holder, and settled back in his seat.
"I'm sick of this rain, aren't you?" Pete asked.
"Yeah," Reed agreed. "I hate wearing the slicker. It's like a straightjacket."
"I don't like driving in it three days straight."
"You want me to drive a while?" Reed asked hopefully.
"No!" Pete replied, a little sharper than he'd intended. "But thanks, anyway," he amended more gently, when Reed's face fell again.
"Just let me know if you ever want me to," Reed offered. "I'll be glad to spell you whenever."
"Don't worry, I'll let you know." Pete struggled to keep the sarcasm from his voice. So eager. He's gonna be hard to hold back before too long.
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, see the woman, a 459 report. 765 Morton Drive. 1-Adam-12, handle code 2." The call from dispatch drew Pete back to the present.
"1-Adam-12, roger," Reed acknowledged. He scribbled the address down on the pad that sat on the dashboard-mounted desk. "Man, what burglar goes to work in weather like this?"
"A hungry one," Pete grinned.
"Reed, are you gonna clear us?" Pete asked, a bit irritated. How many times do I have to remind him to do something so easy?
"Oh...sorry." Reed jerked the mic off the holder. "1-Adam-12, clear." Reed's voice held a gruff edge.
Pete looked over at his partner. That was a tone of voice he'd not heard since Reed's first week on the job, when he'd gotten angry at a careless mother whose children had overdosed on her stash of pills. Pete had lectured him on detachment and the dangers of judgment. He thought Reed had learned the lesson, but here he was again, his posture tense, jaw clenched, eyes smoldering. Angry over a 459 report? Is this gonna be a habit of his?
Pete gave Reed a few minutes to relax, but when his partner's jaw remained clenched, he knew he had to say something. "Okay, what's the problem?"
"Huh?" Reed jumped guiltily.
"You heard me. What's your problem? You look like you're mad at the world."
"Don't give me that. Spill it. And consider that an order."
Reed sighed and stayed silent for a long moment. The only sound in the car was the rhythmic swish-swish of the wipers trying to clear the windshield of the rain. Finally, he blurted, "It's just....that woman..."
"What about her?"
Reed took a deep breath. "You saw the house...where she lived....she had little of nothin', and some low-life came in and took what little she had."
"Yeah. Happens all the time."
"I don't understand why."
"Why what?" Pete pressed. He stopped the black & white at a traffic light.
"Why people want to hurt other people like that. I just don't understand it." Jim turned guileless blue eyes to Pete.
The words may have been rhetorical, but Pete could see the sincerity behind the question in his young partner's eyes. And the frustration.
"It's not your job to understand why," Pete reminded him firmly, but quietly. "It's your job to do what you can to stop it."
"You're right, I know. I'm sorry," Reed blew out a frustrated breath. "It's just....hard...to bury the feelings sometimes."
Boy, don't I know that. "But you've got to learn to do it," Pete cautioned, "because if you don't you're going to end up a nut case."
"And stop apologizing!"
The radio beeped three times, and the voice of the link operator came through the set. "All units in the vicinity and 1-Adam-12, a 211 in progress, at the market. 9226 Van Arden. 1-Adam-12, handle code 3."
Pete stiffened and saw Reed do the same. 9226 Van Arden was the address of the market where Stenzler had been shot.
"1-Adam-12, roger," Reed acknowledged crisply.
"We're right on top of this one; maybe we'll catch them in the act." Pete flipped on the reds and siren, and accelerated the black and white. And I'm not sure that's a good thing right now. "Take it easy," he counseled. "Get the shotgun outta the rack. When we get there, do exactly what I tell you."
The link operator broke through again. "1-Adam-12, additional on your 211. Two Caucasian male suspects, armed with pistols. 1-Adam-36 will back you up on your call."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Reed acknowledged again. The gruff edge had disappeared from his voice, to be replaced by a tone that could only be called nervous.
Pete silently cursed the rain and darkness that hampered visibility. It would be a factor at the market too; just one more complication to make a volatile situation even more dangerous. A knot of anxiety bloomed in his gut; but he refused to let his thoughts wander down that self-destructive path. Just don't let either of us make a mistake.
They were only six blocks from the location when the call came through, so Reed barely had time to put the mic back on the rack before he called out, "Nine-thousand block!"
Pete killed the siren and guided the black and white through the final surge of late rush-hour traffic to reach the parking lot of the market. As he pulled up to the corner nearest the alleyway that ran beside the small establishment, he also killed the headlights, hoping not to give away their presence. The interior lights of the market illuminated it against the darkness of early evening, revealing the form of the two armed men, still in the process of robbing the market.
"Okay, Reed, we'll move into position and wait for our backup before we make a move, so they can cover the back."
"Right." Reed nodded, his voice tight. He gripped the shotgun in a white-knuckle grip.
Pete searched his partner's face for signs of fear, but found none. He looked keyed-up, but not afraid. "Relax, and remember your training," he said calmly. "Do what I tell you to do."
"Yes, sir," Reed nodded again.
"Take up position on the corner there and stay out of sight."
"Yes, sir." Reed cracked open his door, but Pete gripped him by the arm and stopped him from bailing.
"These yellow slickers make attractive, easy targets. Stay low."
Pete sighed and watched as Reed quickly moved into position and brought the shotgun up to sight the door of the market. Pete drew his own gun and took cover behind the door of the black and white. The robbers had their backs to Pete & Jim, apparently oblivious to the officers' presence. Where the hell's 36? These guys aren't gonna stay in there forever. He chanced a quick glance over at his young partner. Just stay focused, Reed.
Quick movement inside the market drew Pete's attention back to their quarry. The bandits had turned and were headed for the door. They're coming out, and no back-up's arrived yet. Great. "Reed!" Pete hissed. "Change of plans! They're coming out!"
Reed nodded and stared intently down the barrel of the shotgun.
The door to the market burst open and the two armed suspects ran out.
"Freeze! Police!" Pete barked, raising up on his haunches enough to be seen. He thrust his gun through the crack between the door and the car body.
The two robbers pulled up short, clearly startled. The lead man pulled his handgun up and popped off a shot at Pete, while the second one darted back into the market.
Pete ducked down by the door as the bullet pinged off the frame. He heard Reed yell, in a harsh, authoritative voice, "Drop it, mister! You're covered! Drop it!"
The bandit apparently decided not to argue with both barrels of a shotgun. Pete heard the handgun clatter as it hit the pavement. Attaboy, Reed! Pete stood slowly, extending his gun hand again.
"Hands up, pal! Now!" Reed ordered.
The suspect complied immediately.
"I've got him covered, partner," Reed said breathlessly.
Pete nodded and moved from behind the door. So far, Reed had handled himself admirably. But there's still another one loose. "Face down on the ground! Arms away from your sides!" He called to the suspect. To Reed, he added, "Watch yourself, the other one's still inside."
The suspect did as he had been ordered, so Pete holstered his revolver and pulled out his cuffs. While Reed kept the shotgun trained on the suspect from his position at the corner, Pete retrieved the discarded handgun and stuck it in his belt, then knelt beside the now-prone suspect. "Left hand behind your back, buddy." Pete snapped the handcuffs on the left wrist. "Now the other one!" Still no sign of 36, and who knows where that other suspect went.
A crash and bang from the rear of the market, followed immediately by the sound of running steps, brought Pete's head up with a snap. He saw Reed turn his head at the sound as well, then whirl around and point the shotgun at the rear of the market.
"Hold it! Police!" Reed ordered.
But the footsteps continued.
"He's taking off!" Reed yelled to Pete, and, before Pete could say anything, Reed started in pursuit of the fleeing suspect.
"Reed!" Pete cried. "Reed! Wait!" In the middle of cuffing his suspect, Pete could not follow his partner. Despite the cold November rain, Malloy felt sweat break out on his forehead, as he heard Reed's running footsteps fade into the distance.
Pete finished slapping the cuffs on his suspect and hauled him to his feet just as Adam-36, with Brinkman at the wheel, sped into the parking lot. He screeched the unit to a halt in front of Pete.
"What have you got?" Brinkman asked, as Pete propelled the suspect toward 36's car.
"Take this guy! He and another guy robbed this market and Reed's gone after the other one on foot."
Brinkman's eyes widened. "Alone?" he asked. He got out of the car and took the suspect by the arm.
"Yeah." Pete turned and ran towards the back of the market, drawing his gun again. "I'm going after him!" He called over his shoulder.
Pete tried to ignore the growing anxiety twisting in his gut. He tried to banish the image of Stenzler's body lying on the pavement, nearly dead, and tried to keep from imagining finding Reed in the same condition. Damn you, Reed -- running off in the dark, where I can't follow -- again! If you're not dead already, I'll kill you myself.
Rain pelted Pete's face as he searched the alleyway behind the market for any sign of the yellow slicker that would indicate he'd found his partner, but it was deserted. He ran to the fence that separated the alley from an adjacent service road and looked over it. He saw no sign of either Reed or the suspect.
"Damn!" Pete raced back to the black & white. "I'm going to see if I can find him!" He called to Brinkman. He hoped he didn't sound as frantic as he felt.
Pete peeled the unit out of the parking lot and headed into the street. The area around the market consisted of a maze of small alleyways behind older businesses, connected by a service alley. The smaller alleys were too small for the black & white, so Pete turned into the service road. He searched both sides of the road for his partner, but the fences lining either side obstructed his view. Frustrated, Pete decided to park the car and search this new area on foot. He flipped on the reds, grabbed a flashlight and stepped out into the rain.
Pete trotted down the length of the fence, shining the light over it, searching, searching... Nothing! He ran to the opposite side and looked there. As moments passed with no sign of his young partner, the anxiety within him threatened to overwhelm him. The vision of two young, dead police officers kept insinuating itself in his head. Please, God, don't let Jim be the third! When the Pete's search of the far side of the fence came up empty, he decided he needed to call for help.
Pete sprinted back to the unit, dove inside and jerked the mic off the rack holder. Before he could call out, however, the radio burst to life.
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, meet 1-L-90 on Tac 2."
"1-Adam-12, roger!" Pete acknowledged breathlessly. He switched over to the proper frequency. "1-Adam-12 to 1-L-90, go!"
"Malloy, come on back to the market," MacDonald's tinny voice boomed over the radio. "Your partner's back with the suspect." MacDonald paused. "All in one piece."
A wave of relief washed over Pete, and he allowed himself a brief moment of thanks to the higher power that protected fools and police officers before the emotion flip-flopped over completely to anger.
"Roger, Sarge," Pete acknowledged, doing his best to keep his voice level. "On my way. Switching back to frequency one." He put the mic back on the holder, put the car in gear, and headed back for the market.
Reed's a dead man. I'm gonna kill him. I'm gonna nail his hide to the wall. Running off into the night without a back up -- idiot! I'm gonna bust his chops so bad! He's gonna learn his lesson this time, if I have to beat it into that thick skull of his! Trying to be a hero! I'll hero him....
Pete pulled into the lot and saw Sergeant MacDonald's station wagon parked behind Adam-36. Both suspects had been secured in the back of 36, and Brinkman stood guard. Brinkman's partner was interviewing a civilian and jotting down notes. Pete located Reed standing with MacDonald at the rear of the station wagon. Pete stalked over to the young man, driven by his anger.
Reed looked up with a goofy-looking grin, but that quickly faded when he caught sight of the furious scowl scrawled on Pete's face.
"Just what the hell did you think you were doing?" Pete demanded, his voice an angry yell.
"Uhhhh...." Reed mumbled, obviously taken aback by Pete's reaction.
"Did I tell you to go running off by yourself?"
"Well, uh, sir, I, uh, saw the suspect running out the back of the market, and he didn't stop when I yelled, so, I uh, thought I'd...."
"What did I tell you your first night out about thinking before you're supposed to?" Pete yelled.
"You said, uh, that I'd think myself dead." Reed admitted, looking sheepish.
"That's right, I did. Did it not occur to you that running off into the night, alone, after an armed suspect might be a good way to wind up dead?"
"I guess not. I just didn't want him to get away," Reed said.
"You just wanted to be a hero, huh?" Pete went on. He ignored the semi-amused look that MacDonald sent his way. "I thought you'd learned your lesson after you tried to play Sergeant York that first night in the park! But just in case you didn't, let me repeat myself: you do what I tell you to do and nothing else! Have you got that, junior?"
"Yes, sir." Reed nodded.
"I'll let you know when you're ready to start thinking on your own!" Pete continued his dressing-down. He still hadn't vented his anger completely. "And while I'm at it, let me tell you this. I don't care if you've been on the force six weeks or six years - don't go where I can't follow! Ever!" Pete stuck his finger under Reed's nose for emphasis.
"Yes, sir!" Reed nodded again.
"You've got a short memory, Reed,"Pete growled, "We just buried a police officer - your friend - dead before his time! You want your wife to go through what Bill Stenzler's wife just did? You want your child to grow up without ever having seen its father?"
Of all Pete's chastisements, that one seemed to hit the hardest. Reed's face fell, and he looked stricken. Pete instantly regretted hurting his partner with a painful memory, but he wanted to make sure that Reed got the message.
"Reed," MacDonald said, touching the young man on the shoulder. "Go back to your unit and wait. Malloy'll be right there."
"Yes, sir," Reed said quietly. He turned and trudged back toward Adam-12.
MacDonald waited until Reed was out of earshot, before speaking. "That last statement was a low blow, Pete. That one went a little too deep."
"He's got to learn, Mac," Pete insisted. "I don't want to hurt him, but..."
"I think it's you that you don't want to hurt," MacDonald contradicted. "I think you're so scared of losing another partner, you're going a little overboard with Reed. Stenzler's death opened up that fresh wound, didn't it, Pete?"
Pete looked at a point over MacDonald's shoulder and said nothing.
"Uh, huh. I think you're more angry that Reed scared you and made you lose your cool than anything. Pete Malloy - Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected. Reed ruffled your feathers and you didn't like it."
"Mac, he shouldn't have gone off on his own like that!" Pete objected.
"I agree. You were right to call him on that. Like you said, six weeks or six years - a police officer going off like the Lone Ranger, without back up - that's a sure fire way to get into trouble," MacDonald put a sympathetic look on his face. "But you can't hold him back forever, Pete. He's young, strong, and eager. You've got to let the leash out a little bit so he can learn. Teach him, yes. Keep him safe, yes. But don't break that spirit, Pete. He's had a tough time dealing with Stenzler's death as it is. Don't keep throwing it at him to try to keep him in line. That's counterproductive. Don't make him scared to act. That's just as dangerous as going too fast."
Pete sighed. "Okay, you're right -- I went too far with that. I'll fix it with him."
"He's got all the skills, all the background he needs to become a first-rate cop," MacDonald continued. "And he's got a hell of a training officer to point the way - if the training officer will just relax a little."
"I get the message, Mac," Pete conceded.
"Good." Mac flashed him a smile and clapped him on the shoulder. "Now go over there and find something to brag on him about, so he'll get that kicked puppy look off his face."
Reed had his head bowed and didn't look up when Pete slid into the black-and-white behind the wheel. Now that the young man had his hat off, Pete noticed that water dripped down Reed's face and neck. And he still had that stricken look on his features.
Kicked puppy is right. I really did go too far. "Your hair's soaking wet," Pete observed neutrally.
"Yeah." Reed still didn't look up.
"There's a towel in the trunk."
"I'm all right."
"You lose your hat in the pursuit?" Pete asked.
"Yeah. When I tackled him."
"He put up a big fight?"
Reed lifted his head. "Not too much."
Don't break his spirit, Mac says...looks like I did that already. "Look, Reed. About what I
said about Stenzler, I was outta line..."
"No, no, you're right," Reed said, his voice strained. "I....I didn't even think about the danger. I sure don't want Jean to...." he trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
"I'm sorry I said that, Jim," Pete apologized.
"It's okay," Reed offered weakly.
"No, it isn't. Jim, your instincts were right on - you were right to want to stop the guy. Nobody faults you for that, and it takes a lot of guts and smarts to think quickly and come to a decision like that. But there are times when you have to think of your own safety. You're just not quite ready to go off on your own like that. What I said about not going where I can't follow - that's going to apply for as long as we're partners, and long after you're partnered with somebody else. Partners have to work together."
"I understand," Reed nodded.
"MacDonald says I have to let your leash out a little more," Pete said wryly, allowing a corner of his mouth to turn upwards.
"Yeah?" Reed asked, his expression lightening.
"Yeah. But just a little at a time, okay?"
"Okay. I promise to think twice before I run off," Reed said sincerely.
"See that you do." Pete put a stern look back on his face, but he spoke with a twist of sarcasm. "Now, what lesson did we learn today?"
"Don't go where you can't follow," Reed parroted, dead-pan.
"Good man," Pete grinned. "Now, ready for your next lesson?"
"Sure," Reed agreed eagerly. The broad smile returned to his face.
"The next one is, 'how to write a proper armed robbery report,'" Pete teased.
Reed's face fell again, but the spark was back in his eyes. "Oh, joy."
"It's not all bad," Pete argued, as he cranked up the unit. "I'm springing for the coffee."