High Stakes

by Medic Girl

Cold sweat dripped down Pete Malloy’s neck, chilling him to the core. He hated dark places. He hated not knowing where Reed was. And he hated the sick, helpless feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him something was wrong, bad wrong. The thing he hated the most about this job was the speed at which things could go from relatively okay to completely gone to hell.

It had been simple enough. They had been called to a prowler outside a window on the edge of their area, a rather remote location surrounded by trees. Prowler calls were usually easy…they scared off whoever it was as soon as the cruiser pulled up, they comforted the scared victim, reminded them to keep their doors and windows locked, then cleared and went for 7. Of course, not this time though.

Reed had called them out at the address, and they had exited the cruiser, putting on their hats almost simultaneously. Reed grinned. The young man had been in an exceptional mood all day. They were all getting together at his house the next night, all the guys for a poker game. It was kind of a celebration, an official act of graduation for Jim making it through his probation period. He was as excited as a little boy.

For the millionth time, he asked his partner as they headed up the sidewalk to the house, “You’ll be there, right, Pete?”

“Of course I’ll be there!” he reassured his friend once more. “I never missed a poker game in my life. But you’re the one who’ll have to explain to Jean that I took all your money. I’m good at cards. I’ve been told I’ve got an excellent poker face.” Pete evaluated his answer, and decided it was preferable to something touching like No way I’m missing your graduation party, buddy.

Reed chuckled as he knocked on the door. “I believe that! I guess we’ll have to play for peanuts, then!”

Malloy shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I only play for high stakes!”

An attractive woman Pete guessed to be around Jim’s age opened the door as far as the chain would allow. “Police?” she asked timidly.

“Yes, ma’am,” Pete replied. “I’m Officer Malloy, this is Officer Reed. What seems to be the trouble?”

Without opening the door, she pointed to the side window. “There was a man! He was peeking in the window!”

Jim and Pete looked at each other for a moment, the unspoken communication of the partners quickly devised a plan, and Reed nodded, going to check out the shrubs surrounding the window. He was only a few steps away when a dark shape shot out of the shrubs toward the back of the house. “Pete!” He drew his weapon and dashed off after the suspect.

Malloy cursed under his breath, and tensed to go after them. “Lock your door!” he told the woman.

“Go around the other side,” she told him. “You can meet him coming around.” He nodded quickly and was off. Which was how he wound up where he was, crouched in the dark against the back corner of the house, waiting for some sign of his partner or the man the he was chasing.

It was black as outer space where he was, and he could barely make out the outlines of the trees. He knew, just knew something was wrong. Knew it as well as he knew his own name. It just felt wrong. Then he heard his partner call to him, calmly. “Pete? You around here? I lost him.”

Pete stood up to go meet him, then heard the younger man cry out. He froze, body tense. Wanting so badly to call to Jim, he knew he couldn’t give away his one tactical advantage. He couldn’t help Jim if he was dead. The sounds of a struggle pointed him in the right direction, but he stayed back, thinking Jim might be winning. The yelp of pain, however, brought him out of the corner, gun drawn. Maybe he could get the upper hand before things got worse… “Freeze!

As he stepped out from the side of the house, his movement triggered a motion-detector floodlight. All three men were bathed in light, and it was a scene that Pete Malloy could definitely have done without. The prowler was tall and muscular, and the element of surprise had ensured he got the jump on Reed. He had the young officer’s left arm twisted up behind him and a .9 mm jammed forcefully under Reed’s jaw. “Drop the gun!” a deep, gravelly voice demanded.

“I can’t do that,” Malloy said, taking a moment’s pride in the fact that he had kept the waver out of his voice. “Just let my partner go.”

The man laughed. “You really think I’m gonna do that? Drop your gun or this nice lady is gonna have your friend’s brains all over her yard!”

Pete’s mind raced, and he met Jim’s terrified eyes. I’m sorry, Jim. I don’t want to hurt you, but this is the best way. Please understand! “You think that’s gonna motivate me? They’re his brains!”

The gunman laughed dryly, but perhaps a bit uncertainly. “You cops are all brothers. You gonna let me shoot your brother?”

Pete kept both his gun and his eyes level, but what he was going to say would probably hurt Jim. In fact, it hurt him to say it. But he had to convince this psycho that he had a worthless hostage. Preferably without convincing Jim of the same thing. “He’s no brother of mine! Just some snot-nosed rookie they stuck me with. Can’t even train him…see how quick you got the drop on him? Go ahead and shoot him if it gets us down to business.” The hurt that flashed through Jim’s eyes cut into his heart, and almost threw him off his game. I’m so sorry, partner, buddy, I don’t mean it! You have to know that!

“I don’t believe you,” the gunman said, slightly nervous, less confident than before. “You’re bluffing!”

Malloy steeled his resolve again. “I don’t bluff.”

Sweating, he decided the best thing to do was test this. If this cop was telling the truth, he was in serious trouble. “So if I shoot your buddy…?”

“You’re the only one it matters to. Not that he’s much of a shield. I wouldn’t care a bit to put a bullet in him if I knew it would go through him and into you, if there wasn’t so much paperwork to go along with it.” No backup. This wasn’t good. If he couldn’t bluff this guy into letting Jim go, this wouldn’t end well. It might even end with a dead cop and a dead suspect. And one that might as well be. He wouldn’t survive losing another partner, especially not this partner. Which was ironic, since he had to convince this man of just the opposite. “But then, I could get fond of paperwork pretty quick if need be…”

He wanted so badly to look into Jim’s eyes again, to give him some kind of reassurance that he didn’t mean what he was saying, that he would get them out of this okay, but he was afraid that if he did it would give him away. He had to keep his eyes locked onto the gunman’s eyes. “So…?”

The gunman’s eyes got wide, reading nothing in Pete’s eyes to contradict his statement. “You’re bluffing!”

“I told you, I don’t bluff. You want me to prove it?”

“How you gonna prove it?” the man asked with a sneer. “You’re not gonna let me hurt him. You can’t fool me, you pigs are all brothers!”

Malloy kept his gaze locked, never wavering. “Yeah, brothers… just like Cain and Abel.” He put his hands in the air, still holding his gun. He took a step forward, then another, unable to believe that the young man was willing to fall for this. It was obvious he was high. As he got closer, the guy seemed to get a little more twitchy so he stopped only about ten feet from his partner. He observed Reed as best he could without giving away what he was doing, but there was a problem with that nagging at his guts. If he couldn’t let the gunman see his concern, he couldn’t let Jim see it either. There had to be a hundred discreet ways to let Reed know what he was doing, but none he was willing to risk his best friend’s life on. Even the hint of wrongdoing on his part and the guy could blow Reed away before he could even blink, and he seemed just squirrelly enough to do it without hesitating.

“I got no problem with you killing him. In fact, like I said, if it gets you out of the equation, I got no problem taking him out myself.” He slowly, deliberately lowered his gun and pointed it at Jim’s midsection. Only then did he look into his partner’s eyes.

He was completely taken aback at what he saw. There was no longer any fear there. Only absolute trust. Even with the barrel of Malloy’s service weapon pointed at him, there was nothing there to indicate that he believed anything that was being said. Thank God. The last year working together and becoming close friends had left them with an almost telepathic communication. I’m sorry, buddy. Forgive me.

Just doing what you have to. How can I help?

Wait for it… And please trust me.

You got it.

Malloy pulled back the hammer on his gun.

The gunman’s jaw dropped. “Dude! You’re crazy!” He jerked the gun away from Reed’s jaw to point it at Malloy, but before he could aim his hostage dropped to the ground. The man’s grip on Reed’s wrist was still iron-solid, and Jim cried out in pain as his shoulder dislocated. Malloy pulled the trigger. In less than a second, he was on the ground beside his human shield, bleeding from the bullet wound in the opposite shoulder to the one Reed was clutching in pain. Malloy grabbed the gun, and handcuffed the suspect quickly so he could turn his full attention on his wounded partner.

“Jim, are you okay?”

He groaned and pulled himself into a sitting position, cradling his left arm. “Been better. If I’d known dislocating a shoulder hurt so much, I’d have tried a better plan.”

Malloy knelt down to check the younger man’s injuries. “Yeah. I had a plan, you know.”

“I know. I just got bored.” He grinned, which turned into a wince as another bolt of pain shot through him. Malloy gave him a look. Gonna have to do better than that… “Okay, he was about to shoot you. I had to get out of the way so you’d take the shot back. It was too close to miss me, you wouldn’t have taken the shot.”

Pete smiled, marveling at the young man who had become so close to him in such a short time. Jim was right. If he couldn’t fire without hitting Reed, he wouldn’t fire. Even with all the trash he had to talk, the horrible things he had to say, his partner still trusted him that much. Something with a little too much emotion for his taste tried to escape his mouth, so instead he teased Reed as he helped him to his feet. “You sure about that? I said I’d shoot through you to take him out in a second…”

Reed hissed in pain as he steadied himself against Malloy’s shoulder, than managed to chuckle. “You’re lousy at bluffing, Pete. If you can’t do better than that, the poker game tonight should be a cinch!”

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