by CE Fox
© CE Fox, October, 2000
Author's note: This story takes place sometime after the final episode of the series. There is a reference in it to Jim's bout with post-traumatic stress that took place in "The Stuff of Nightmares", which can be found on the Tac2 website. Readers may want to read it first, but reading that story is not vital to the enjoyment of this one. - C.E.
Pete Malloy woke up with a start. He kicked at the covers until they knotted up in a ball at his feet, then
sat up, rubbing his face until the nightmare faded. Three nights running, the same dream had yanked
him kicking and gasping from sleep. Despite his Irish heritage, Pete wasn't one to put stock in
premonitions and superstitious nonsense, but tonight, as he looked around his moonlit bedroom, he
"Man," he muttered. He climbed out of bed and staggered to the bathroom down the hall, glancing at the clock. Two a.m. Crazy. The dream had come at two a.m. each time. He kept the lights off as he splashed his face. The cold water washed away the last of the cobwebs, but he knew he was also watching the rest of his night's sleep circle the drain. He dried his face with a towel and leaned against the sink, listening to the sounds of the apartment building, never completely silent, even at this dead hour of morning. The man who lived in the next apartment was an insomniac-Pete heard the indistinct murmur of his television set. And the floorboards creaked above his head as the couple with the colicky baby tried to soothe it to sleep. Pete listened to the faint, insistent cries. The Reeds were lucky their son never had colic.
Thinking about his partner Jim brought the unpleasant memories of the dream back.
He walked through the deserted Central Division station, the echo of his footsteps unnaturally loud in the silent hallways. Where was everyone? He glanced at the wall clock, but he knew it was the middle of watch. The station should have been filled with LAPD officers.
And Jim. Where was Jim?
Pete turned a corner and found himself in a hallway he'd never seen before, one with no doors, no windows. Just a dead end. He glanced behind him, but where he should have seen the corridor leading to Mac's office, he saw another long, blank hallway. His heart fluttered uneasily, then set up a heavy thudding against his breastbone.
He wanted to yell for his partner, but his throat and jaw felt locked shut. He turned around and headed back the way he'd come, only somehow it wasn't the way he'd come at all. He didn't understand how he could be so lost in a station he'd worked in for ten years.
"Jim," he tried to call again, managing only a strangled whisper. His heart pounded faster. He reached the end of the white corridor, but there was no way out. Swallowing hard against a rising wave of panic, he spun around. This time, he saw the familiar hallway outside Mac's office, but instead of bringing relief, he felt the knot of fear tighten another notch. He glanced in Mac's window, but the Sergeant wasn't behind his desk.
He walked down the hall, one hand on the wall, just to make sure it didn't disappear on him again. He hesitated before the locker room door, almost afraid to open it. He took a deep breath and shoved at it with his forearm. The gray lockers and exercise equipment looked normal enough. "Jim?" Pete called out again. No answer.
Next, the break room, but it was empty. Panic continued to bubble uneasily in his gut. "Jim?" he yelled, breaking into a jog. He had to find Jim. Something was wrong, horribly wrong. He had to find Jim.
"Jim!" he bellowed, but the walls seemed to swallow his shout.
The squad room. Jim had to be there. He was running now, each pulse beat screaming at him to hurry, hurry, but no matter how fast he ran, the door stayed just out of reach. Finally, with a wordless shout, he pushed his legs faster and lunged through it.
Jim was seated in one of the swivel chairs, his back to the door.
Pete hurried over. "Jim," he panted, "something's wrong."
When Jim didn't answer or even turn to acknowledge that he'd heard, Pete reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. Jim flinched, then turned his head up toward Pete. Jim's blue eyes were filled with terror, his hands clenched in a death grip on the edge of the table. "Pete . . . don't let me . . . " he gasped, then the room dissolved around them and they were falling . . .
Pete shivered. The dream always ended that way. He growled impatiently at the lingering sense of dread still hovering around him and rubbed his face again. "It was just a dream," he said, wincing at the loudness of his voice in the silent apartment. He glanced at the phone, overcome with a sudden urge to call Jim, to make sure everything was okay. He got as far as dialing the first three numbers before he slammed the receiver down. "He'd kill me, waking him up in the middle of the night for nothing."
Unable to find any good reason to stay up, Pete crawled back under the sheets, even though he knew sleep would be a long time coming.
Jim Reed's whistling rendition of Yankee Doodle trailed away as he caught sight of Pete. "'Morning, partner," he said cautiously as he opened his locker and pulled out his navy blue LAPD uniform shirt. Pete already looked like the end of a long hard shift. "You feeling okay, Pete?"
"I'm fine," he said, but his expression said otherwise. "Didn't sleep too well last night, that's all."
"Nah, nothing like that."
Pete's caginess convinced Jim to drop the subject. "Well, you're never gonna believe the stunt your godson pulled last night."
Jim was glad to see Pete smile. "What'd he do? Find the cure for cancer?"
Jim grinned, then laughed. "No, nothing like that. Jean and I were sitting in the living room, just listening to the rain and relaxing. Jimmy was back in his room playing, or so we thought. Then it dawned on us-he was being too quiet. I went back to check on him, and here he comes down the hallway, smeared head to toe with petroleum jelly and this huge grin on his face. Then he says to me, 'Make me soft all over, Daddy.' Kids!"
Pete grinned. "That's my godson," he said proudly.
"Yeah, well, you can have him," Jim groused. "It took us an hour to get the grease out of the carpet."
"And you want me to get married and have kids of my own."
"Ah, I wouldn't trade Jimmy and Jean for a million dollars. You know that."
"Yeah, partner, I know," Pete said softly. A worried expression crossed his face, then he turned away to put on his tie.
"What's the matter?" Jim asked immediately.
"Nothing's the matter."
"Pete, if there's something you want to talk about . . . "
Pete turned around, a pained expression on his face. "Jim, nothing's the matter."
"Then what's bugging you?" Jim shot back. The hesitant days of his rookie tour, when he walked on eggshells around his partner, were long gone.
Pete pinned on his badge and slammed his locker shut. "Reed, for the last time, nothing's bugging me. Now would you mind getting dressed so we won't be late getting out on the street?" He picked up his briefcase and helmet bag and headed out the door.
Jim watched the door swing shut behind his senior partner. Something was bugging Pete, and he'd have it out of him by the end of the day or his name wasn't James A. Reed.
"Is it money?"
Pete glanced over at Jim. "What?"
"Whatever it is that's bugging you. Is it money?"
Pete looked away from Jim's guileless blue eyes. "No, it's not money. Would you just lay off?"
"Pete, you'll feel better if you talk about it," Jim insisted.
"Every other A-car driver has a partner. I've got Dear Abby," Pete muttered.
Jim pulled a face and looked out his side window. "If that's how you wanna play it, fine. I was just trying to help."
Pete felt a pang of remorse, but he didn't want to talk about the dreams, least of all to Jim. Jim would think he was a headcase. Maybe he was a headcase. Maybe all these years on the job, all those dangerous spots when he'd felt death's fingers brush the back of his neck, maybe they were all piling up on him. He sighed without realizing it, then felt Reed's gaze burning a hole in the side of his head. "Reed, I'm fine," he growled through clenched teeth.
"Sure, Pete, whatever you say," Jim snapped.
Dispatch broke in before the tension in the patrol car blew the windows out. "1-Adam-12, unknown trouble. 1444 Moorepark. Code 2."
Jim yanked the mic off the hook. "1-Adam-12, roger," he snarled, then shoved the mic back in place. "Malloy, you take the cake, you know that?"
"Reed, settle down. If I have a problem, it's my business, all right?"
"Pete, how long have we been riding together? Six years? Doesn't that entitle me to ask why you're all out of sorts?"
"Five and a half years and no, it doesn't."
Jim glared at him for a beat, then turned to watch traffic. By the time they hit the 1400 block of Moorepark, Pete felt like the silence in the unit was going to choke him. He parked along the curb. "Wonder what we got," he said.
Jim didn't say anything as he climbed out. He slid the baton out of the door and into his belt holder, then headed up the sidewalk. Pete hurried to catch up, tempted to remind Jim to leave their troubles in the car, but Jim was a seasoned officer now. Pete didn't see the need to a bad situation worse by pointing out the obvious and making Jim feel like an idiot.
Pete heard the raucous clamor of angry voices arguing in the house before they were half-way to the porch. Jim glanced at him, but didn't say anything. He didn't need to. They'd responded to so many domestic disputes that by now Pete figured they could do them in their sleep. He winced. Poor choice of words. Jim mounted the steps and approached the front door. Something breakable crashed to the floor inside, and a furious female voice screamed, "I'll kill you!"
They both stiffened, then Jim pounded on the door. "Police! Open up!"
When a second shout failed to motivate the occupants, Pete drew his gun, then nodded at Jim. Jim stepped back, raised his right leg, and kicked hard at the latch side of the door. The door crashed open, banging against the far wall and rebounding so Jim had to shove it open again with his left arm. He ducked into the room, moving to the left as Pete followed on his heels and moved to the right. The room was empty, nothing but broken china littering the floor and a smoldering cigarette in an ashtray to mark that anyone had been there. Pete heard a door slam in the rear of the house.
"I got the back," Jim muttered and darted through the doorway down a hall. Pete checked the rest of the house, but whoever had been arguing so violently was gone. Reed came back, shook his head. "No sign of them. Saw a car with two occupants disappearing down the alley, but it was too far away to get the plate."
Pete nodded. "They must have made up in a hurry. We'll call in a Code 4 and write it up. We can come back later and check on them."
Jim nodded, then glanced around the room. "Look, uh, Pete. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Pete said. He brushed past Jim and walked back to the unit. He called in the Code 4 as Jim secured the front door to the house.
Jim dropped into his seat, tossing his hat to the back. He brushed his hair down where the hat had forced it to stand straight up, then glanced at Pete. "Look, whatever's bugging you, you can tell me about it whenever you're ready. Or not at all, if you don't think it's my business. I'll understand."
Sure you will, partner, Pete thought wryly, but he took the apology and the words at face value. "Thanks, Jim."
Jim ground his teeth together to keep from saying anything else as Pete started the patrol car. He'd never seen his partner so distracted, at least not since that very first day together when Pete was still struggling over whether to stay on the force. But this time, Pete's partner hadn't just died-Jim took a deep breath just to be sure-and there'd been no bad news about anyone in the Division that he knew of. Maybe Pete had gotten bad news about his family.
Jim pulled out his report book, making sure he didn't look at Pete with anything Malloy might interpret as concern. He would play this cool. At least for now.
"I didn't say anything!" Jim immediately protested.
Pete gave him an odd look. "All I was gonna ask is if you plan to clear us."
"Oh." Jim cleared them with dispatch, then watched the neighborhood slide past as they headed down the street. He rolled down his window part way. "Nice day."
"Jean told me she was going to plant rosebushes this afternoon." Roses should be a safe subject.
"That'll look pretty."
Jim gave up trying to make conversation and let the radio traffic fill the silence. Adam-34 had a call for a possible 502 on Wilshire. Adam-19 requested wants on a plate that ended up being a North Hollywood stolen. Then even dispatch fell silent, with only an occasional hiss of static to entertain Jim. He shifted in his seat, rolled down his window a little more and resisted the urge to leap screaming from the car.
"Jim, take a look at that," Pete said softly.
Jim snapped his head around, looking in the direction Pete had pointed. A towering plume of smoke about half a block away stained the clear morning sky. Jim grabbed the mic as Pete hit the lights, siren and accelerator simultaneously. "1-Adam-12, notify the fire department-we have a structure fire at the Supermart at Pico and Delaware. Request another unit to assist with traffic control."
Jim heard Adam-34 take the back-up call as he bailed out of the car and jogged toward the front of the store, which anchored the center of a strip shopping mall. "Get back, folks!" he called as he scanned faces looking for someone who might be the owner. "Who's the owner?"
A small man in a green jacket with "Supermart-Where the Prices Are Best" sewn on the lapel stepped forward. "I'm the manager."
"Is there anyone still inside?"
"I don't think so," he said uncertainly. "It's hard to know. Customers were all over the store when the freezer motor caught fire. The fire spread into the paper goods aisle, and then next thing you know, the whole store's full of smoke."
Jim looked at the smoke boiling out of the broken storefront windows. No way he could find anyone in there now. He studied the businesses on either side of the store. He glanced at Pete as he walked over. "I better make sure everyone in the strip mall is out."
"Be careful, Jim," Pete said.
Jim shot him a puzzled glance, but nodded. He jogged toward a small hardware store on the east side of the burning grocery, but before he reached the awning-covered sidewalk, a shout above his head caught his attention. He looked up and saw an elderly man waving frantically at him.
"Officer! Up here! We can't get down!" An elderly woman's head appeared at the parapet next to the man's.
Jim glanced back, but Pete was already across the lot, directing traffic so the fire department would have clear access to the scene. He spotted the store manager. "Hey!" he yelled. "Does your building have a fire escape around back?"
The man shook his head, his eyes widening as he looked where Jim was pointing. He hurried over. "How did they get up there? They must have climbed out through the ladder in the storeroom! Why, I can barely climb that ladder myself. How in the world do you figure they managed it?"
"I don't know, sir," Jim answered over his shoulder as he ran to the hardware store. He didn't have time to discuss how the elderly couple managed to get up there. He just knew he had to get them down before the flames ate through the roof, and the best way to do it was with a ladder from the hardware store. He burst through the door, yelling at the clerk to bring him the tallest extension ladder they had, then evacuate the store. The clerk gave him a wild-eyed stare, then hurried to the back of the store. Jim ran back outside to check on the elderly couple. They were still peering over the roof's edge, safe for the moment, but smoke was already billowing around them. "Hang on, we're getting a ladder!" he called.
The old man nodded, then stepped back from the edge as the hardware clerk banged the extension ladder against the brick wall. "Here you go, sir," he squeaked, then moved underneath it to steady it.
Jim tossed his hat on the ground, then clambered up the ladder. As he got a clearer look at the old couple, his heart sank. They looked too feeble to make it down a ladder. Still, there wasn't any other way. "Sir, can both of you manage the ladder?" he asked, smothering his doubts.
"Yes, yes. Just hurry!"
Jim moved down two rungs as the elderly lady swung her leg over the edge. The man tried to follow, but Jim held up his hand to stop him. "Sir, you'll have to wait for me to come back. I don't think this ladder can handle three people."
The man retreated back to the roof, and Jim touched the woman's back. "Are you ready?"
"I think so," she said querulously.
"Okay, just take one step at a time," Jim reassured her, then started downward. He gripped the ladder on either side of the woman, staying one rung below her, ready to catch her if she slipped. It seemed to take them forever to reach the ground. Jim steadied her as she stepped off the last rung. "Pete!" he yelled, then handed her over to the store manager when Pete didn't respond. "Get my partner, would you?" he snapped, then clambered back up the ladder.
The smoke burned his nose and throat as he reached the top. "You okay?" he asked, coughing. And I used to think I wanted to do this for a living . . . .
"I'm fine, fine. Just get me down." The wiry little man flung himself over the edge of the roof, nearly missing the first rung. Jim caught him, steadied him, then they started down the ladder. Jim felt heat radiating from the brick wall and had to resist the urge to hurry. As they descended the ladder, the smoke thinned, but it still made Jim's eyes water. The old man above him started to cough, then his foot slipped off the rung. He started to fall sideways, and Jim had to lunge to catch him. He managed to snag the back of the man's shirt. The ladder quivered under the sudden shift in their weight, but the kid below kept it from toppling over. He pulled the man back onto firmer footing.
Pete's alarmed voice floated up from beneath him. "Jim! You all right?"
"Yeah," he rasped, then took a deep breath. "Are you okay, sir?"
"Yes, officer. I'm sorry. My foot, it just . . ."
"Don't worry about it, sir. Let's just take it slower, okay?"
Jim felt like kissing the ground as he stepped off, but he settled for making sure the old man didn't fall off any more rungs. Once the man was safely on the ground, Jim rubbed his sleeve across his eyes and blinked. "That smoke's something else."
"Jim, you sure you're okay?" Pete demanded.
Jim nodded, glanced at Pete, then did a double take. "I'm fine, but what about you? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Pete gave him a weak smile. "If that old man had been any heavier, I'd be looking at one now. That was quite a chance you took," he added sternly.
"Pete, all I did was climb up and down a ladder," Jim said. He shook his head at his partner's odd behavior, then helped the old man sit down on the curb. A city paramedic hurried over with his equipment, and Jim stepped back out of the way after assuring the fireman he was fine. The store manager appeared at his side, holding out his hand.
"That was wonderful, officer, simply wonderful," he gushed, pumping Jim's hand violently.
Jim retrieved his fingers before the man shook them off at the elbow. "Thanks. Just doing my job."
Pete pulled Jim away. "Come on, Mr. Hero. Let's keep those crowds back, unless you plan on putting out the fire barehanded while you're at it."
"No, Pete, I'm not planning on it," Jim said, then left Pete to yell at a lady blocking the road as she rubbernecked from her yellow Volkswagen.
"Pete, it wasn't that big a deal," Jim protested with half a laugh. "So the guy slipped on the rung. We didn't fall."
"Well, you could have, and then what would I have told Jean?"
Jim turned an incredulous gaze on his partner. "Pete, don't tell me I'm gonna get it from you now. It's bad enough that Jean's been harping constantly about how dangerous my job is. But so help me, if you suggest I start flying a desk, I'll throw you out of this car, and I don't care if you are driving."
Jim waited for Pete to make a crack back at him, but Pete only fidgeted uncomfortably and kept silent. "That tears it," Jim muttered. "Pete, you either tell me what's bothering you, or just take me back to the station right now and I'll get a new partner."
"Jim, for the last time, there's nothing."
Jim was certain smoke must be coming out of his ears. "Pete, look-"
"1-Adam-12, missing child, 6392 Wayside. Respond Code 2."
Jim acknowledged the call, then glared at Pete. "Don't think you're off the hook."
Pete raised his eyebrows in his most innocent look."What hook? Everything's fine."
Jim kept his silence until the arrived at the address, a one-story stucco in the center of a run-down block of similar houses. "Wonder what this is all about," he mumbled as he saw an obviously drunk woman stagger out the front door and wave at them. He got out of the car and met her half-way up the sidewalk.
"Oshifers!" she slurred. "You gotta find my kid." She wobbled slightly and he put a hand to catch her before she fell over. She grabbed his uniform shirt. "My kid . . . him and Frankie ran off."
"Okay, lady," Jim said, prying her hands off his shirt before she ripped off all the buttons. Her heavy perfume assailed his nose like a burst of tear gas. He squinted his eyes and maneuvered upwind. "What's your name?"
"My name is. . . ." She stopped to consider, then brightened. "Gloria. Gloria Steinbach."
Jim's hands were full keeping her steady, so Pete pulled out his notebook and started taking down the information. "Ma'am, what's your son's name and how old is he?"
"Louis, and he's eight," she said, hiccoughing slightly. "We were havin' a cookout and he ups and disha-disappears. Shtupid kid."
"When was that?" Jim asked.
"Uh, musta been three o'clock . . yeah. That's it. Three o'clock." She fixed a bleary gaze at Jim's face. "Hey, you're a real cutie!"
Jim grimaced, knocking away the hand that was patting his cheek. "Ma'am, pay attention. You said three o'clock. Do you mean three o'clock Sunday afternoon? Yesterday?"
"Yeah, three o'clock Shunday." She giggled and threw herself at Jim. "Wanna put the cuffs on me?"
"No! Now, lady, cut it out!" Jim snapped, then gave Pete a helpless glance.
Pete smirked, tucked away his notebook and pried the woman's arms from around Jim's neck. "Ma'am, you don't want him. He's an old married man. Boring as heck."
Gloria giggled. "Maybe I like boring," she said, giving Jim an elaborate wink.
Jim glared at her. "Ma'am, about your son. Do you have any idea where he might be?"
"I tol' you already. He's with Frankie."
"Well, who's Frankie?" Pete interjected.
"Frankie Goldman. Lives down the shtreet with that no-good tramp mother of his. You know she just throws herself at anything in pants." Gloria patted her platinum blonde hair primly. "She ain't got class, none at all."
"Unlike some other women we know," Pete muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes at Jim. "Look, lady, do you have Frankie's address?"
"It's that yellow house on the corner." She tried to point and nearly fell over, using the opportunity to make another grab at Jim.
Pete snagged her hands as Jim skipped out of reach. "We'll check it out, ma'am. Now you just head back into your house and wait for us, all right?"
Gloria simpered at Jim one more time, blowing him a kiss, then staggered her way back to her front door.
"Lordy," Jim muttered under his breath.
"Must be an awful cross to bear, being a 'real cutie'," Pete smirked, then laughed at Jim's glare. "C'mon, partner. Let's go find her kid. Five bucks'll get you ten he's up in a tree house in the back yard, happy as a clam to be away from his mother."
Jim grinned as he climbed into his seat. "No bet."
Pete pulled the car along the curb outside the yellow house. Jim noticed several large trees in the backyard, any one of which could hold a tree house. While Pete headed for the front door, Jim walked down the sidewalk to the back yard. He stopped at the gate and looked around. No tree house, but there was a small pup tent in the far corner. "Louis! Frankie!" he called. "Come on out."
The flap of the pup tent shivered, then opened and two young boys emerged, one a fiery red-head and the other with hair the color of summer wheat. They stared at Jim with wide eyes. "Wow," the redhead whispered. "Are you a real cop?"
Jim smiled. "Yeah, I'm a real cop. Which one of you is Louis?"
The tow-headed boy made a face. "I am. My mom sent you here, didn't she?"
"She sure did. She's worried about you."
"I told her that I was spending the night at Frankie's. She even helped me pack. I don't know why she never remembers," Louis said with a martyr's sigh. He turned to his friend. "I better go. I'll come back later."
Jim unlatched the gate and let the boy through. Louis was a small kid for his age, barely coming up to Jim's equipment belt. Jim tapped him on the head. "Your mother forgets you a lot, huh?"
"Yeah," Louis said, shrugging his shoulders. "She gets these sick spells."
Jim carefully hid the sadness he felt for the kid. He had a feeling the little guy knew exactly what his mom's "sick spells" were, but like so many youngsters in his plight, getting him to admit his mother was a drunk would be nearly impossible. "C'mon, Louis." Jim held out his hand and the young man took it, giving Jim a sunny, uncomplicated smile.
"Am I going to get to ride in your patrol car?"
"Yeah, for a little ways."
Pete met them at the curb. "Louis Steinbach?"
"Yeah," Louis said, smiling sheepishly.
Pete smiled back, then glanced meaningfully at Jim. Jim opened up the back door to the black and white. "Hop on in, Louis. My partner and I have to talk cop for a minute," he said with a grin.
Louis clambered into the car and immediately draped himself over the back of the front seat as his wide eyes took in the radio and shotgun. Jim shut the door and walked a few feet away to Pete. "What's the matter?"
"I talked to Frankie's mom, Mrs. Goldstein. She told me that Louis is over here because his mother was beating him. She called Social Services but they haven't been able to verify anything."
Jim frowned. "Louis said he's just staying overnight. He said his mom helped him pack."
"Well, somebody's not telling the whole story."
"How do you want to handle it?"
Pete took off his hat long enough to run a hand over his short-cropped red hair. "Let's go back to the Steinbach house, see if there's a father around, or another relative who's sober. We can't leave Louis with his mother the way she is right now."
Jim nodded, then they both returned to the unit. On the short drive back to the Steinbach house, Louis peppered Jim with questions about the car. They were both disappointed when Pete braked in front of Louis' house.
Gloria apparently saw them pull up, because the front door immediately opened and she stumbled down the sidewalk. "Louis Steinbach, you get out of that car this minute!" she shrieked, grabbing at the rear passenger door and wrenching it open.
Jim scrambled out of the car and pulled the woman back before she forcibly hauled her son from the unit. "Hold it, lady," he said sternly, holding her arm firmly. "Let your son come out by himself."
Louis clambered down from the car and hurried into the house, giving Jim a look of relief mingled with fear and shame.
Pete came around the front of the unit. "Mrs. Steinbach, is your husband home?"
"My husband?" she shrieked, then threw her head back and laughed. "You gotta be joking. I ain't got no husband. That rat ran out on me when Louis was three months old."
Pete's gaze flicked briefly to Jim's, then he said, "Is there another relative that can come stay with the boy until you sober up?"
"I'm sober!" she protested, but the hand she shot out to steady herself against Jim's chest belied her words. Jim grimaced and pulled her hand away from his badge.
Gloria giggled and patted Jim's cheek. "I love a man who plays hard to get," she whispered, then planted a kiss on his chin before he could jerk away.
Pete intervened and pulled Mrs. Steinbach away. "Put a call in for a Juvenile officer to come out."
Jim scrubbed his chin with the back of his hand, gladly relinquishing her to Pete. He radioed for assistance, then kept his distance from Mrs. Steinbach. "Pete, I'm going to talk to Louis."
Pete nodded absently, keeping his attention on Mrs. Steinbach. Jim walked up to the small front porch and found Louis sitting forlornly in the porch swing. "Hi, son," he said quietly.
"My mom's a drunk," Louis mumbled, staring at his untied blue sneakers.
Jim squatted down in front of the boy and started tying his shoes. "Your mom has problems. But we want to help her. That means that for a little while, you'll have to stay with another family, until she gets better."
Louis looked, his eyes filled with tears of misery. "I don't want to leave her," he said, then started to cry.
Jim put his hand on the boy's thin shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "It'll be all right, son," he said softly. The boy jerked away from his touch and ran into the house. Somehow the slamming screen door felt like a blow. Jim debated whether to enter the house after the boy and decided to let the Juvenile officer handle it. He sighed and stepped off the porch.
"Jim!" Pete yelled.
Jim looked up, startled, and saw Pete point to the roof behind him. Jim spun around and saw Louis crawling out of the upstairs dormer window. "Louis!" he shouted. "Stay there!"
"I'm gonna jump unless you let my mom go!"
Jim's heart leaped into his throat. He gave one frantic glance toward Pete, then ran to the porch and jumped up on the rail. Praying the gutter would hold his weight, he grabbed it with both hands and swung his right leg up and hooked it over the edge of the roof. A heave and a grunt and he was on the roof, scrambling for Louis, who fortunately was so dumbfounded at how quickly Jim had scaled the house that he had stopped in his tracks.
Jim scrambled across the worn asphalt shingles, one hand down as he half-crawled, half-ran across the steep pitch. His reached Louis and grabbed him by the waist. He hauled him back to the window and shoveled him through. "Son, don't ever try a stunt like that again," he said fiercely, crawling over the sill after him. He found himself in what had to be the boy's bedroom, but it was so sparsely decorated and furnished it could have belonged to a monk. A Dodgers pennant hung on one wall, a Rams poster on the other. A single bed and a chest of drawers barely filled the empty floor space. Jim couldn't see any toys at all. "Louis, is this your room?" he asked doubtfully.
"Yeah, it's my room. What of it?" Louis stood with his arms folded and a resentful glare in his eyes.
"Nothing," Jim assured him. "It's very neat."
"You mean I don't have any toys," Louis muttered, dropping his gaze to stare at his feet. "I wish I was dead."
Jim knelt down again. "Louis, look at me," he said, tilting the boy's chin up. He made his voice as gentle as he knew how. "You don't want to be dead, believe me. Things may be kind of a mess right now, but we'll help you and your mom get it straightened out as best as we can. Now, promise me you won't do anything to hurt yourself."
Louis gazed somberly at Jim, then nodded. "I promise."
"Good," Jim said. He heard the front door open and a voice call out. "Up here!" Jim yelled.
A few moments later, a female officer came into the room. "Is this Louis?" she said, with a friendly smile toward the boy.
"Yeah," Jim said, standing up and guiding the boy toward the Juvenile officer. "He's pretty upset."
"I bet," she said softly. She took Louis' hand and led him from the room. Louis looked back once at Jim. Jim waved, then they were gone. Jim glanced around the room one last time, then headed downstairs to rejoin his partner.
"You took a pretty big risk, jumping up on that roof like that," Pete said as they pulled out of the station after booking the Steinbach woman and writing up the reports.
Jim shrugged. "Seemed like the only thing to do. Poor kid."
"Don't let it eat at you, Jim," Pete said, knowing what a useless gesture it was. Jim always let things eat at him.
"I won't if you'll stop letting whatever it is eat at you."
Pete glanced at Jim in surprise. "What?"
"I saw how you acted after I came down from the roof. You were shaking like a leaf."
Jim's voice held a note of puzzled disbelief and more than a little concern. Concern Pete didn't want. He shifted uncomfortably, then sighed. "All right, all right. So I overreacted a little. I was afraid you'd fall and break your neck."
"Pete, that's twice today you've told me you were afraid I'd fall and break my neck. Why the sudden lack of faith in my ability to stay upright?"
Pete really didn't want to explain himself to Jim, but he couldn't see a way out. "Okay," he said flatly. "I'll tell you the reason why one time, and I don't want to hear about it again, or listen to your pop psychology analysis, understood?"
Jim frowned, but nodded. "Okay."
"It's just that I've had this crazy dream three nights in a row. I'm looking all over for you in the station, and when I finally find you, we both start to fall. So I'm a little edgy about heights. That's all."
"Three nights in a row?"
Pete turned a glare on Jim. "I said I didn't want to hear about it again."
Jim held both hands up. "Fine. I won't say a word." He clamped his mouth shut and stared out his side window, but Pete could read disapproval in every angle of his partner's posture.
"All right, out with it," Pete said in resignation.
Jim shook his head. "I don't have anything to say."
"Reed, the day you don't have anything to say is the day they'll be playing the bagpipes for you and handing the folded flag to Jean. Out with it!"
Jim grinned a little, then shrugged. "Pete, honestly, I don't know what to tell you. I don't know anything about dreams."
That silenced Pete for a moment. He stared at Jim, then looked back to his driving. "I don't believe it."
"Believe it, Pete," Jim said. "I don't have the first clue."
"All the harebrained theories I've had to put up from you and when I finally need your advice I get this. Thanks a lot, partner."
"Gonna trade me in?"
"I just might," Pete threatened. "You're not the latest model any more."
Jim laughed, and despite himself, Pete smiled. Maybe the dream was just that: a dream. Nothing more, nothing less. He glanced at the radio. "You wanna clear us sometime today?"
"Nah, thought we'd play hooky this afternoon."
Pete grabbed the mic, shooting a disgusted look at Jim. "1-Adam-12, clear," he muttered, then threw the mic at Jim. "I am going to trade you in."
Twenty quiet minutes later, Jim thought he had a theory about Pete's bad dream. "Pete," Jim started, then bit his tongue. Pete probably didn't want to hear about it.
"You're dying to tell me what's wrong with me, just say it."
"I'm dying to tell you what's wrong with you," Jim dutifully recited
"Well, forget it. I've decided it was just a dream, plain and simple. I don't want your nickel psychiatry, Lucy. So don't worry about me, all right?"
"Pete, you ought to know by now that I'm a worrier by nature and by habit, so telling me to quit worrying is a waste of breath."
Pete sighed. "Tell me something I don't know," he muttered. "Jim, it's nothing, really. It was just a stupid dream."
"A dream you've had three nights in a row," Jim reminded him.
"That doesn't really mean anything."
Jim grunted. "Well, you know what happened to me. I kept having bad dreams and it just about put me in the funny farm."
"Yeah, but that was because you'd gotten shot and then seen a thirteen-year-old hostage get his brains blown away. I can't exactly use that excuse."
"You seem to forget that you got shot about a couple years ago in that narco raid," Jim commented. "My little meltdown took a while, too, you know."
"Thank you for reminding me, Mr. Medal of Valor Winner."
"Hey, I didn't ask for that medal. I mean, is it my fault my partner threw himself in a crossfire and got himself plugged for his trouble?"
Pete grinned. "Okay, okay. Look, the dream had nothing to do with me getting shot, so chase some other rabbit."
"Well, the only other rabbit I have to chase is that you're having a premonition."
Pete turned his head and gave him a full second of disbelieving stare. "You gotta be kidding."
Jim sniffed and rubbed his nose, which was still itching from Gloria Steinbach's perfume assault. "Yeah, sounds pretty squirrelly," he admitted, "but I've heard that sometimes people have dreams and they later come true."
"Go back to nickel psychiatry, Lucy," Pete said.
Jim started to frame a retort, but dispatch interrupted. "1-Adam-12, prowler there now, 4500 West Chestnut. 4500 West Chestnut. Respond code 2."
Jim acknowledge the call, then thoughtfully looked at the address he'd scribbled down. "Didn't we respond to a domestic dispute at that address about a month ago?"
Pete nodded. "Yeah. Wife threw a magnum of champagne at her husband during their wedding anniversary dinner."
"That's right. Real loving couple." Jim sneezed, then sneezed again and blinked his eyes. "You know what? I think I'm allergic to Gloria Steinbach's perfume."
"Well, she certainly got close enough for you to get a snoot full."
Jim sneezed. "Darn drunks," he muttered.
The "prowler" turned out to be the meter reader. Pete waved off the PR's embarrassed apologies, and Jim cleared him, then sneezed four times in a row.
"God bless you," Pete said after he was certain the eruptions were ended. "You need me to stop at a drug store?"
Jim groaned and dug at his eyes. "No," he finally said. "I'll be all right in a little while. I'll just have to stay away from Gloria Steinbach."
"That might be hard, partner," Pete said drily. He winced as Jim sneezed yet again. Allergies had to be hell. He was glad he didn't have any. Pete glanced over as Jim dug his palm into his left eye. "You wanna stop that before you give yourself a shiner?"
Jim pulled his hand away and blinked several times. "Was there anything in your dream about your partner being a victim of ADP?"
"Assault with deadly perfume."
Pete grinned."Nope. You were clear-eyed and breathing fine, as far as I could tell."
"Good. That means you can quit worrying about me falling on my face today, anyway," Jim grumbled as he fished out a handkerchief. He blew his nose noisily and put the handkerchief away. "Maybe we ought to swing by the drug store after all."
"You gonna be able to finish the shift?" Pete asked with some concern.
Jim nodded. "Yeah. I'll be fine. I just want to get some eye drops. I'm afraid if I take anything for my nose I'll get too sleepy."
"I'd prefer you awake," Pete agreed. "But if we have to sneak up on a bank robber, don't sneeze."
By the end of the shift, Jim was happy to remind Pete that aside from his reaction to Gloria Steinbach's eau du tear gas, nothing more dire than a bruised knuckle had befallen him, and that wouldn't have happened if Jim had been paying more attention when he rehooked the mic after requesting code 7. After the prowler-turned-meter-reader call, the shift had fallen dead quiet, a deuce and one juvenile shoplifter comprising the most exciting calls of the afternoon. An hour before the end of shift, Jim had finally taken some medicine for his sneezing. As he shut his locker, Jim yawned. "See you in the morning, partner," he said.
Pete gave him an offhand wave as he pulled his own jacket on. "Sure, Jim. Go home and get some sleep."
Jim nodded, then paused at the locker room door. "You too, Pete," he said, his tone serious.
Pete looked up, surprised, then nodded. "I will."
Damn! Pete swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stared at a stray moonbeam slicing through the dark room. He didn't bother looking at the clock. He knew it was two a.m. He flopped back down against his pillow. Why?
The ceiling didn't offer any answers.
"Maybe you should talk to somebody," Jim said hesitantly. He tossed his hat into the back and settled into his customary passenger seat as they readied to hit the streets for PM watch.
"I don't know. Maybe," Pete sighed.
Jim cleared them, and mindful of his scraped knuckle, replaced the mic carefully. He grinned faintly. "Remember that watch when I had to chase that deaf kid all over creation, and me just over the flu?"
Pete nodded. "Yeah, you were a little testy when you came back empty-handed and covered in ashes from tripping over a gate into a trash can. Somehow I questioned your sincerity when you asked if I might have scraped my knuckle on the radio."
Jim laughed as he flexed his sore finger. "So what happens? I scrape my own knuckle on the radio. How clumsy is that?"
"Pretty clumsy," Pete said absently.
Jim chewed the inside of his cheek, hating the fact that he couldn't seem to bring Pete out of his funk, and hating still more that he didn't understand what was causing it in the first place. He liked problems that he could solve with logic and planning and organization. Figuring out why the most level-headed man he knew suddenly seemed to have taken a dive off the deep end put a knot in his stomach.
His discomfort didn't escape Pete's notice. "Look, Jim, don't let it eat at you. I'll survive."
"I guess I just want to help," Jim said with a shrug.
"I know. And I appreciate it, really. Now start paying attention to our district."
"How about a priest?"
"A priest," Jim repeated. "Maybe you could talk to a priest and see what he says."
Pete gave Jim such a long, disbelieving stare that Jim felt his cheeks start to burn. "It was just a thought," he muttered, then busied himself checking a perfectly innocent Camaro against the hotsheet.
"Maybe I will," Pete said quietly, so quietly that Jim wasn't sure he heard right.
Pete shot another glare at him. "It's not completely out of my character, Reed."
"It's not that," Jim rushed to assure him. "It's just that I'm amazed you're actually taking my advice."
"Reed, watch the streets."
Jim smiled to himself and went back to watching Los Angeles.
Pete stepped into the foyer of the old parish church, wondering if this was a case of doing something really stupid in the name of "it sounded like a good idea at the time". He tried to count back the years to the last time he'd attended mass, outside of a funeral or a wedding, and he was faintly ashamed to realize that he hadn't voluntarily warmed a pew since before he partnered up with Jim. He looked at the flickering votive candles and saw an elderly woman, dressed in black, drop a coin in the box. She lit a votive with a wavering hand, snuffed out the match in the box of sand provided, then crossed herself after praying for some unknown loved one. She turned for the door. Pete stepped back into a shadowy doorway, but she saw him.
"Hello, officer," she said with a shy smile.
"Is there a problem with the church?" The smile trickled away as she glanced at his gun.
"No, ma'am," Pete assured her.
She nodded, her features relaxing. "My late husband was a police officer."
"Twenty-seven years with the Los Angles County Sheriff's Department."
"He must have been a good officer."
"Oh, he was. The job was everything to him," she said a touch sadly. "Everything."
"Is he retired?"
She spoke softly, almost as though she hadn't heard Pete. "He never darkened the doors to a church. I think that's what killed him, in the end. Carrying around all those bad things that he had to deal with every day. And never asking for God's help. He thought he could handle it all by himself, but he couldn't. No man can, no matter what they think. They said it was a stroke, but I think his heart just finally broke. No, no man has the strength by himself to live under that burden."
"Yes, ma'am," Pete said, uncomfortably aware that her words were pricking places in his soul he'd rather not see stirred up.
She started slightly, then patted his arm. "Ah, listen to the ramblings of an old woman. You go talk to the priest, young man. He's a kind man." She gave him a smile and left.
Pete took a deep breath, feeling a bit like his soul had just been x-rayed. He swept a hand over his hair, then headed into the sanctuary in search of the parish priest. He used to know the priest here, but that was six years ago, and he had no idea if Father Antonio Brentes was still the man in charge or not. Ranks of empty pews filled the dimly-lit sanctuary. Pete glanced up at the large crucifix hanging above the altar, belatedly remembering to pause and genuflect before he crossed the front on his way to the offices.
"As I live and breathe, don't tell me that's Pete Malloy!"
Pete smiled at the short, energetic man advancing on him from the hallway behind the confessionals. "Father, good to see you," he said, holding out his hand.
Brentes shook Pete's hand, eyeing him up and down. "You look good, Pete."
"So do you. Been a long time."
"Too long, Pete."
There was an uncomfortable pause as Pete tried to decide if he should justify his long absence. Why the hell did I listen to Reed anyway?
"Well," Father Antonio said, finally breaking the silence, "are you here in an official capacity or have you finally seen the errors of your ways and are coming back into the fold?" A twinkle in the man's dark eyes kept the sting out of his words.
"Neither, I guess," Pete said with a rueful smile.
Brentes raised his eyebrows. "Why don't we go to my study," he suggested, then paused. "Or perhaps the confessional?"
Pete couldn't help wincing. "Ah . . ."
"My study it is," Brentes said quickly.
Grateful to be let off the hook so easily, Pete followed the priest out of the sanctuary, down a short hallway and through a heavy wooden door into a small study lined with bookshelves. Two leather arm chairs sat facing each other, a small table between them holding a candle and a Bible. "Please, sit down. Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
"No thanks, Father," Pete said as he perched on the edge of one of the armchairs.
Brentes settled into the other chair and smiled. "Pete, lightning is not going to streak down from the ceiling to smite you. Just relax and tell me what's on your mind."
"Am I that transparent?"
"Pete, if a perfect stranger suddenly walked into my office looking as nervous as you do, I'd know something was up."
Pete fiddled with his hat. "Okay, Father, I guess I just have a question about something."
"Fire away," Brentes said, then glanced at Pete's gun. "Well, in a manner of speaking."
"Don't worry, Padre. I'm on break. My partner's out in front in the patrol car eating a coney. He'd kill me if I interrupted him by shooting my gun," Pete smiled. Then, realizing he was stalling, he took a deep breath and then blurted, "Do you believe in premonitions?"
Brentes paused before he spoke. "I'm not sure. What exactly do you mean?"
Pete told him about the dream.
Brentes let out a low whistle. "Pete, if it were anyone but you asking me that question, I'd probably brush them off by telling them not to eat so much pepperoni pizza late at night. But unless you've changed in the last six years, which I doubt, you're still the same level-headed, completely sane Pete Malloy I knew then."
"Well, my partner's questioning my sanity right now, but I don't think I've changed that much."
Brentes smiled. "You care about your partner quite a bit, don't you."
"Yeah, I broke him in," Pete said. There was a lot more to their friendship than that, but Pete was uncomfortable enough talking to the priest without going into the whole kid-brother-I-never-had bit.
"And you still feel responsible for him."
"Think that's all this is, then? My sense of responsibility going into overdrive?"
"Could be. Or it could be a warning."
Pete couldn't help pulling a face. "I always figured that sort of thing was nothing but superstitious nonsense."
"Well, there's plenty of precedent for it in the Bible. Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. Many Old Testament stories document God warning people through dreams."
Pete's innate skepticism bubbled up. "I guess," he allowed.
"But you don't think that kind of thing can happen nowadays," Brentes said with a smile.
"Well, not to me, anyway."
"Why not to you?"
That stumped Pete. He rubbed at a nonexistent smudge on his hat brim, then finally asked, "So what should I do? I can't keep Jim from every possible hazardous situation, not in our job. In one shift alone he was up and down a ladder helping people out of a burning building and up and across a roof keeping a kid from committing suicide. All I could do was stand there and watch and listen to my knees knock together."
"I can't tell you what to do, Pete. I can't really tell you for sure your dreams come from heaven or hell, but I will tell you one thing."
"I'll be praying for you. And your partner."
Pete stood up and held out his hand. "That's worth more than any advice. Thanks, Padre."
"See you some Sunday or Saturday night?"
Pete laughed softly. "Maybe, Padre. But for now, I have to get back on patrol."
"Vaya con Dios, my friend," Brentes said softly.
Pete nodded, then left. He found Jim scrubbing melted cheese off his tie. "I can't leave you alone for a minute," Pete cracked.
Jim gave up on his tie. "So how'd it go?"
"He thinks God's giving me a warning," Pete said, keeping his tone light.
Jim was silent for a long moment, then he rubbed his chin. "Something occurred to me all of a sudden."
"All this time I've been worried about you, but I'm the one in trouble in your dream."
Pete started the engine. "That's right, partner. If all this warning mumbo-jumbo is true, you better watch your step." And I better watch your step, too.
"Terrific," Jim muttered. "Look at that. There goes mowing the lawn tonight."
Pete flipped the wipers on as the first fat drops of rain splattered across the windshield. "And that also means we'll probably be working more traffic accidents than you can shake a stick at."
"Yeah, first rain after a dry hot spell. That water'll combine with the oil on the asphalt and make it slicker'n . . ."
"Yeah, I know," Pete cut in before Jim could finish his analogy.
Jim grinned despite his stymied gardening plans. He could do it tomorrow, he guessed, although he hated the idea of spending his day off doing yard work. He was more in the mood to hit the beach. He and Jean had talked about it, but they hadn't made any definite plans. Jim looked at the darkening sky and wondered if the beach would even be an option tomorrow. "Looks like it's trying to settle in for a deluge."
"Did you put the slickers in the trunk?"
"Yeah. Heard rain was in the forecast."
Pete pulled over to the curb. "Better get them out now before it starts raining any harder." He jumped out and hurried through the raindrops to the trunk. While he was still outside, a call came in for them, a 211 in progress at a bank about two blocks away.
"Pete!" Jim yelled, then responded to the dispatch.
Pete tossed the raingear in the back seat. "What've we got?"
"211 at Leland Way and Comstock."
"Leland Way and Comstock? Jim, is your bank getting hit again?"
"Sounds like it. At least I know about it this time."
Pete hit the lights and siren and any further conversation was impossible. As they raced down the boulevard, Jim thought back to the time he walked in on a 211 in progress when he stopped at the bank to make his last car payment. Besides getting bashed in the head, he'd nearly gotten killed when the suspects used him as a hostage to get out of the bank. Now it would have been handy if God had warned Pete about those two goons before I stumbled in on them like some kind of fool.
Pete killed the siren a block away, then pulled up to the curb just down from the bank. No other units had arrived, as far as Jim could tell. He unlatched the shotgun from the rack on the floor and pulled it free, keeping an eye on the front door of the bank. "I don't see anything."
"Me neither. They're either still inside or already gone. Let's take a look."
They both eased out of the car and ran lightly down the sidewalk, ducking under some short palm trees near the entrance. The foyer was empty. "No customers in sight," Jim said. He couldn't suppress a shiver; the temperature must have fallen a good fifteen degrees.
"Yeah, looks like the suspects are still in there. Let's wait for back up."
While they waited, Jim surveyed the building itself, which was a typical flat-roofed brick and stone structure. Jim scanned the roofline, but it was unlikely that there'd be anyone up there.
"Don't even think about it, Reed," Pete murmured, following Jim's gaze. "You're not going up there."
Jim smiled faintly, then stiffened as the front doors to the bank suddenly swung open. "Pete."
Two armed men, their faces obscured by nylon stockings, hurried out of the bank toward a brown Chevy parked along the curb. The one on the left saw Reed and snapped off a quick shot in his direction. Jim flinched, but the shot went wide, gouging a furrow in the concrete wall beside him. The flying chips stung Jim's cheek. He started to raise the shotgun, but Pete was already running toward the black and white. "They're already in the car. Let's go."
Jim hurried after Pete, then grabbed the mic even before he got his door closed. "1-Adam-12 now in pursuit of 211 suspects, westbound on Comstock. Suspect vehicle a brown Chevrolet Nova, license 3-5-7-Ida-Nora-Adam."
Jim finally got his door closed as Pete gunned the engine. The Nova had a head start, but had to slow when the rear wheels hit a slick spot on the road and fishtailed. Pete eased up on the accelerator before they did the same. "Gonna be tough," he muttered. "We can outrun 'em but not on these wet streets."
Jim just nodded, keeping one hand on the dash. The Nova turned left on Commerce, and again started to skid out of control. This time, the driver didn't slow down. "He's gonna TA," Jim yelled just as the Nova sideswiped a telephone pole and plowed into a bus bench. But instead of stopping, the driver jumped the curb and accelerated down the sidewalk.
"Idiot," Pete muttered.
"Good thing the rain's keeping people off the sidewalks."
The Nova traveled along the sidewalk for a full block before the driver yanked it back on the street. The car's right front tire blew as the full weight of the car slammed down onto the pavement. Sparks showered behind the Nova as the rim ground along the asphalt. Pete dropped back a bit.
"1-Adam-12, be advised 1-Adam-34 is Code 100 at Comstock and Fortuna."
"Four blocks up," Jim muttered, then acknowledged the link operator. "I don't think we'll make it that far."
He'd no sooner said the words when the driver ahead of them tried to make a right turn onto Figeroa. The Nova's back end slewed out of control, and the compromised front end kept him from stopping the skid. The Nova spun completely around, then slammed into the signal light pole. Jim readied the shotgun as Pete angled the black and white across the front of the Nova, keeping it from pulling forward. Jim bailed out of his side, ducking behind his open door an aiming the shotgun at the suspects. "Hands up where we can see 'em!"
Once the two suspects had their empty hands raised, Pete yelled for them to get out of the car. Jim kept his shotgun trained on the driver as the man crawled groggily out from behind the wheel. "On the ground, buddy," he snapped. "Arms spread out away from your sides."
Jim didn't relax until after Pete had both suspects in cuffs, then he reached for the mic. "1-Adam-12, pursuit is now Code 4. 211 suspects TA'd at Comstock and Figeroa, this unit not involved. Request a tow truck, ambulance and Accident Investigation."
Adam-34 pulled up and Jerry Woods stuck his head out his window. "Four?" he asked.
Jim nodded. "Thanks anyway, Jerry."
The older officer nodded, rolled his window up against the still-falling rain, and drove off. Jim pulled out their slickers from the back seat and tossed one at Pete. "I dunno what good putting this on will do now," he groused. "I'm already soaked."
Pete gave him a wry look. "Just don't slip in a puddle and fall, all right?"
By the early hours of morning, as they slogged through a double shift, Jim estimated an inch or more of rain had fallen on the city, and at least half that amount had sloshed into his shoes. He wiggled his toes and winced at the soggy squish. He'd changed socks once, then gave up. Weather like this meant perpetually wet feet. He reached over and turned the car heater up another notch.
Pete immediately turned it off. "Lay off the heat, would you? I'm about to broil."
"C'mon, Pete, I'm cold. It's gotta be 40 degrees out there."
Pete sighed and turned the heater back on. "All right, old lady. There you go."
Jim hunched his shoulders as he rubbed his arms. "Days like today make me want to apply for permanent desk duty."
"It's not that bad."
"Well, maybe not, but I don't like damp weather." He scowled at the wet scenery sliding in the shadows past the patrol car windows.
"No kidding," Pete drawled.
"And I don't like pulling a double tour."
"Yeah, what a day for four officers to call in sick."
Jim grunted. He squinted sourly at the sheer drop off on his side of the road, then at the curving road ahead of them. "We need new wipers," he said, trying to peer through the smear of water on his side of the windshield. "I hope you can see better out your side."
"We'll finish checking the hills, then stop by the garage, get Tony or whoever's in tonight to change them." Pete's stomach growled loudly enough for Jim to hear over the pounding rain. Pete winced. He'd overslept and didn't have time for breakfast. Lunch was nothing more than a peanut butter sandwich he grabbed on the way out the door to squeeze in errands before shift, then, thanks to Reed's suggestion he talk to a priest, he'd skipped supper. His body was starting to feel the pinch in a big way. "Call in for seven. I'm starving."
"I told you you should've got a coney," Jim grinned as he grabbed the mic.
"Just call it in, would you," Pete growled.
Jim laughed. He started to raise the mic to his lips, but a car ahead of them caught his eye. He watched it for a moment, until he was certain it really was weaving back and forth in its lane and wasn't just a figment of lousy windshield wipers. "Looks like a possible deuce up there."
"I was just thinking the same thing," Pete said, reaching down and flipping on the reds. He tapped the horn, and the car pulled over. He sighed. "And I guess it's my turn, isn't it?"
Jim grinned in satisfaction. "Yep. Get out quick so you don't let all the heat out."
Pete rolled his eyes as he pulled up behind the deuce. "Call it in, Reed."
Jim called in the car's plates and watched Pete as he waited for dispatch to come back with the DMV. Pete leaned down to talk to the driver, then straightened back up and headed back to the black and white, motioning for Jim. Jim opened his door and stood up, mindful of the drop-off less than a foot from his side of the car behind the wooden guardrail. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"Lady says the steering's going out on her car. She doesn't seem drunk, and I could smell something burning, like steering fluid maybe. DMV come back okay?"
"Don't know . . . oops, hang on," Jim said as he ducked his head back in the car to listen to dispatch. He straightened back up. "Car's owned by Clara Hargrove, 5992 Flora Avenue. No wants or warrants."
"That checks. Call a tow truck, would you? I'm gonna get the flares."
"I'll tell her to put on her hazards when I'm finished." He reached back down for the radio. He was already so wet he didn't bother climbing all the way back into the car's shelter. He called for a tow truck, idly watching a set of headlights crest the hill in front of them. He waited for dispatch to acknowledge, then replaced the mic. He missed the hook and the mic fell to the floor with a soft thud on the driver's side. "Drats," he muttered. He pulled on the cord to retrieve it, but it tangled in the shotgun. "Of all the-"
He leaned on one knee across the front seat, aware that if anyone was watching they'd see his right leg sticking out of the car like a drunken stork's. He untwisted the mic cord from the barrel of the shotgun, then very carefully and deliberately hung the mic back on its clip. He winced as he heard Pete suddenly shout. Drats again, he saw my leg.
Jim glanced out the back window, surprised to see Pete waving his arms frantically. Jim jerked his head to look out the front just in time to see the twin headlights of the approaching vehicle veer over the center line straight at the black and white. He didn't have time to flinch before the impact.
Time seemed to stop for Pete. He had jogged about thirty feet behind the patrol car to place the flares, then turned around in time to see a produce truck lose control on the slick road. He shouted, saw Jim look up, but then all he could do was watch as the truck slammed into the left front fender of the unit. The truck sideswiped the black and white, shoving it sideways toward the cliff's edge. The wooden guardrail splintered under the impact, and black and white's right tires slid over the edge. As the soft mud disintegrated beneath the weight of the vehicle, the car tipped sideways and disappeared completely. The truck continued on its runaway course, passing less than fifteen feet in front of Pete before slamming into and through the wooden guardrail. Pete watched it careen down the hillside until it disappeared. There was a sudden thundering explosion, then silence; a terrifying, absolute silence.
For a few seconds Pete couldn't move. He stared at the empty space where Adam-12 had been parked, his mind momentarily refusing to accept what he had seen. Then training kicked in and he ran to the spot where Jim and the car had gone over. "Jim!" he yelled, praying to hear his partner's voice assure him everything was all right. He peered over the side, expecting to find the black and white in flames at the bottom of the canyon.
He was relieved to see the car's lights shining up from the gloom from only about thirty feet down. Pete squinted into the dark. All four tires seemed to be on solid ground, but Pete didn't like the way the car was angled on the steep hillside. There was no telling what lay below the car. It could be level ground or a drop-off. If Jim had been thrown clear, he might have fallen ten feet or a hundred feet. Pete swallowed hard and started picking his way down through the brush.
"Jim! Can you hear me?" He thought he heard a weak cry. He moved faster, scrabbling and slipping on the slick mud, grabbing for handholds in the wet vegetation. "Jim! Are you okay?" he shouted.
No answer. Pete slowed down the last ten feet and hauled out his flashlight, shining it on the wreck. The windshield had shattered, and the front fender and his door were heavily damaged, but it didn't look like the car had rolled. "Jim, I'm almost there!"
"Pete . . ." Jim's voice sounded strained, but to Pete's ears it was like sweet music. At least Jim was alive.
"Jim, I'm coming," he yelled, taking even more care placing his steps on the dark hillside. The last thing he wanted to do was slip and bump into the car and send it over the edge. He finally reached the black and white. He grasped the driver's door handle and started to pull on it, but the car creaked and slipped down a few inches. Pete pulled his hand back as if he'd touched a hot burner.
"Careful!" Jim immediately cried out.
Pete bent low to get a better look through the broken window into the interior. "Oh, my God," he whispered. The car was inches away from . . . emptiness. Far below Jim, street lights at the bottom of the canyon winked feebly through the rain. God only knew what was holding the patrol car in place. Jim had somehow managed to grab hold of the steering wheel, and that was all that was keeping him from sliding out his open passenger door into eternity. Pete shoved the flashlight in his pocket and then carefully brushed the broken glass from the window frame. "Jim," he said softly, "don't try to move. I'm going to reach down and try to pull you out of there."
Jim looked up at Pete's voice, and Pete froze, his blood turning to ice as he gazed into the same terrified eyes he'd seen at 2 a.m. the last four nights in a row. He pulled his hands back.
"Pete . . . don't let me . . . "
I never told him he said those words . . . Oh, Lord, Brentes was right. I can't touch him. I can't. He couldn't explain any of it, but Pete knew with a greater certainty than he knew his own name that if he so much as touched Jim's shoulders, they'd all slide down to the bottom of the canyon. He licked his dry lips, hating what he had to say. "Jim, I'm afraid if I try to move you, the car will fall."
"Pete, I can't keep holding on much longer!"
"Jim, you gotta try. The car's too unstable. I'm going to go around and see if I can find another way."
"Pete . . . don't . . . " A spasm crossed Jim's face.
"Are you hurt?" Pete immediately asked.
"My leg . . . I dunno. I think it's broken." Jim grimaced again and tried to hitch himself up a little higher. The car creaked and Pete's stomach bottomed out.
"Jim, don't move. Don't move."
Jim dropped his head, but his grip stayed tight on the steering wheel. "Hurry, Pete," Jim pleaded, his voice muffled.
Pete eased around the side of the car and leaned over to look around the end, again hauling out the flashlight. The ground appeared firm enough, so he carefully lowered himself to an outcrop of rocks just beyond the black and white. From that vantage point, he finally saw why the unit hadn't fallen all the way down the cliff. The right front tire had come to rest against a small tree, and the right rear tire had caught on a rock that looked far too small and crumbly to support a ton of patrol car. Pete examined the hill just below the car. If he was careful-very, very careful-he might be able to ease across below the car and try to get Jim out from beneath. If they moved slowly, it just might work.
Or the shift in weight could bring the car down on top of him.
Lord, what do I do? You showed me this was gonna happen, so now show me what to do about it. No answers streaked down from heaven, so Pete took a cautious step toward the black and white. If today's my time to go, then I guess going out trying to save Jim is as good a way to die as any. He shook off the dark thoughts. "Jim, I'm coming. Hang on." He winced at his poor choice of words. What else is Jim gonna do?
Pete gasped as his foot slipped on some loose gravel, but he regained his balance. Now he was almost directly under the car, and he didn't like it. Didn't like it one bit. The way the hillside dropped off, the only firm ground was a ledge nearly fifteen feet below the car, too far away for Pete to help Jim out. Jim would have to either drop all that way, or swing at least four feet to the left to get his feet on solid ground, and with a broken leg . . . no way.
With a frustrated glare at the car and the treacherous hillside, Pete backtracked and crawled back around top. "Jim, it's no good. I have to get some help."
Jim nodded, but the look in his eyes tore straight through Pete. He thinks I'm abandoning him. "Jim, I'm sorry," Pete choked out. Then, feeling like he was leaving his friend to die, he turned and scrambled back up the slope.
Jim's right hand slipped off the rain-slick steering wheel. He managed to grab it again, but not before terror sent his heart bounding wildly around his chest. He took several deep breaths, trying to calm down, but his heart kept thundering away. His leg throbbed in time with each beat. He didn't know how he'd injured it exactly. Maybe crushed it against the guardrail. He wanted to look down, see if it was bleeding, but then he'd also catch sight of all that empty space yawning just below his feet. . . .
No! I won't fall. Pete will find a way. He'll find a way.
Jim kept repeating that to himself, praying it was true.
Pete had completely forgotten about Clara Hargrove. He crawled up to the roadside and gave her a blank stare when she tearfully asked him if the other officer was dead. "No, he's alive," he finally said. "Do you have any rope?"
She shook her head. "No, I don't. I'm sorry."
Pete wiped rain from his eyes and stared up and down the road. If Jim had made the call for the tow truck before the accident, they could use the cable and winches to secure the car. But Pete had no idea if Jim had made the call, and no way of knowing the tow truck's E.T.A. If he had planned a perfect catastrophe, he doubted he could have done it any better than fate had done today. "Look, my partner may have called for a tow truck before the accident. If one comes, for God's sake, flag it down. And if anyone drives by in the meantime, stop them and send them for help. I've got to get back down there."
The woman nodded several times and started to say something, but Pete turned back around and headed down the hill.
He started to shake.
Jim felt it coming, that helpless, uncontrollable tremor that seemed to start deep in his gut and spread from there until his hands and knees trembled like an old man's.
And he was cold, so cold. Turn up the heater, Pete . . . I'm freezing . . . don't like rainy weather . . . .
He jerked his eyes open. He was shocked at how close he'd come to drifting off. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then opened them wide. The little lights popping at the edges of his vision retreated.
It was getting harder and harder to keep hanging on. He could barely feel his hands. Only by watching them clench the steering wheel could he be sure that he still had a good grip. And the rain kept pouring down on him through the broken window, drenching his uniform, the steering wheel, the seat. The chill settled deep into his bones.
His hand slipped again. He gasped and tried to grasp the wheel again, but his fingers refused to move. They brushed uselessly against the cold, wet metal. Jim bit his lip in frustration. Maybe if he could somehow hook his elbow through the wheel . . . but he'd have to move his legs to hitch himself up high enough.
Well, a man's gotta do . . . Gritting his teeth, he raised his left leg. Instantly, arcs of pain flashed all the way from his right ankle to his hip, but he tried to ignore it. It's no worse than when I got shot . . .
But it was. It was a thousand times worse, more pain than he really knew how to deal with. He thought he heard Pete call his name, but there was a buzzing ring in his ears and the lights started popping again. The fragile handhold he had on the steering wheel started to slip.
Pete thought he saw movement in the car as he made his way down. At least he's still alive. He had figured out a plan, makeshift at best, but at least it was something he could try. He needed to find a downed tree, or a discarded board, anything that he could prop against the same rock and tree holding the car. Then maybe he could stand on it, get Jim out to safety and let the car do whatever it wanted. Lord only knew if it would work, but it was the only thing he could come up with.
He flicked the flashlight beam all around the hillside, but he didn't find anything suitable on the way down. He looked in the car window. "Jim," he called.
Jim didn't move.
"Jim!" he said more sharply. Taking a chance, he lifted the handle and tried to open the door. It wouldn't budge. Then he noticed Jim only one hand clasped the wheel. "Jim!"
He didn't answer, and to Pete's horror, Jim's hand slipped off the steering wheel. Pete lunged through the window for Jim's arm, catching it by the sleeve just before Jim slid out of reach. The car groaned and creaked, but held fast. For the moment.
Pete pulled on Jim's arm until he could get his other hand around Jim's wrist. "Reed!" he shouted.
Jim's head moved. "Pe-ete."
Pete set his jaw and pulled harder on Jim's arm. "Partner, I need you to help me," he gasped. "You have to grab the steering wheel."
"Cold . . . so . . . cold," Jim mumbled.
Pete couldn't get a good grip on Jim's wet arm. He deliberately made his voice harsh. "Jim, grab the wheel! I can't hold you. C'mon, now!"
Jim sluggishly raised his right arm and made a clumsy attempt toward the wheel, but it was obvious he was too weak to grab it, let alone hold on after Pete let go. Pete leaned down a little further and transferred his grip to Jim's shoulder, ignoring the panicky voice screaming in his head not to. He grabbed Jim's uniform shirt and hauled him at least a foot higher. The car rocked slightly, then slid almost six inches. Pete froze. And waited.
The car didn't move, but Pete didn't relax. "Jim, I need you to help me," he said in a low, fierce tone. "You have to hold onto this steering wheel, just long enough for me to get below the car. Then I'll give you a shout and you can let go and I'll catch you. Can you do that?"
Jim nodded and slowly grabbed the steering wheel. Pete watched as Jim's knuckles whitened, then he released Jim's shirt. Jim slid back down, but his grip on the wheel held. Pete blew out a worried sigh, then hurried around to the other side of the car. He looked down at the ledge and made it to be about a twelve foot drop. He'll come down out of there like a ton of bricks, completely dead weight. Pete swallowed. Jim weighed somewhere around 180. "This is gonna hurt," Pete whispered, then crawled down onto the ledge.
The ledge was part of a notch in the hillside. It looked like Pete could catch Jim, then push both of them toward the back of the notch. If the car fell, hopefully it would clear them. Pete braced himself and reached up. He could just touch Jim's right leg as it dangled out of the patrol car. The uniform pants were ripped, and Pete winced as he spied the jagged white edge of a bone showing through a bloody gash. No wonder he's out of it. No telling how much blood he's lost. He took a deep breath. "Jim, let go!" he yelled.
" . . . let go!"
Pete's voice broke through the buzzing in Jim's head. He blinked slowly, unsure of where he was, unsure of anything except that he had to hang on. He had to hang on.
Pete's voice came again. "Reed! Let go!"
I can't. Jim stared at his hands. He had let go once, and started to fall. He didn't want to do that again.
"Jim, I'll catch you. Now let go!"
Jim turned his head toward the voice. He saw Pete's face, way down below his legs. He looked again at the steering wheel, then slowly, slowly unfurled one hand. He shook his head hard, trying to clear the fog. Another handhold. Get another handhold. He reached down and braced his hand on the hump on the floor between the seats.
He hesitated, suddenly unsure what he was supposed to do next. His thoughts drifted again, skating away from him like water through his fingers.
Pete's voice cut through some of the fog. Jim looked at his left hand and forced his fingers to unfurl. He braced his right hand harder against the floorboard.
His precarious hold on the floorboards lasted all of a half-second. He started to fall. He slid across the seat, finding no purchase there, then bumped his right hand against the door handle. He grabbed it, halting his slide. He felt a pair of hands touch his left leg.
"Reed, no!" Pete shouted. "Don't!"
Jim couldn't understand why Pete sounded so angry. Did he want me to fall? A surge of his own anger made him tighten his grip on the door.
The car shuddered, then started to slide.
Pete saw the tree's roots slowly rip free from the muddy hillside. The car jerked, its springs groaning, then started to move. "Jim, for God's sake, let go!" Pete yelled. When Jim didn't fall, Pete set his jaw and yanked hard on Jim's left leg.
Jim grunted, but didn't let go. Pete thought he heard him mumble something, but he didn't have time to ask him to repeat himself. "I'm sorry, Jim," he whispered, then grabbed Jim's injured right leg. Jim immediately flinched.
And lost his grip.
Pete staggered as Jim's weight came down on him. He braced himself, flung both arms around Jim's legs and shoved him toward the back of the notch. He felt something wrench in his lower back. They hit hard on the stony ground, Jim landing on his side and Pete unable to keep from landing on top of him. Pete felt something catch on his rain slicker. He flinched, but then heard a ripping sound and the tugging vanished. He kept his protective stance over Jim until the loud crashing of the car tumbling off the cliff faded.
Pete crawled off Jim. "Jim," he said softly, giving Jim's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Jim, can you hear me?"
Pete checked Jim's neck for a pulse. Faint, but steady. Careful not to move his partner, he leaned around, fished out the flashlight once more and looked him over. Jim's eyes were closed. Pete tried another gentle shake, this time getting a small groan in response. "Jim," he said again. "Wake up, partner."
Jim moaned again, but didn't open his eyes and didn't move. Pete frowned. Maybe Jim had hit his head in the fall. He ran his hand lightly across Jim's hair and, without moving Jim's head or neck, felt as much of the side of Jim's head as he could. When he pulled his hand back, the wetness he thought was rain stained his fingers crimson. "Damn," Pete whispered.
Broken leg, maybe a concussion or a fractured skull. Probably hypothermia on top of all that. "Partner, you sure got yourself in a mess," Pete said softly. He shrugged off his slicker and then pulled off his jacket. Both were damp, the slicker ripped, but they were better than nothing. He tucked both around Jim as well as he could without jostling him. Rain pelted against Pete's back, soaking his uniform shirt almost immediately, but he barely noticed.
Something had to be done about Jim's leg. Pete eyed the jagged end of bone and the blood-soaked pant leg queasily. No wonder Jim had been so out of it-that had to hurt like the dickens. Pete had broken a few bones in his life, but nothing as bad as this. Vaguely remembering something about compound fractures severing arteries, he reached down and gently felt the ankle below the break. It was cool. He felt Jim's hands for comparison, but they were just as clammy. It would take a doctor to tell if Jim still had blood flow to that foot. Just the thought of Jim losing his leg made Pete ill. "Hang in there, partner." He couldn't really do anything about the fracture, but he could try to stop the bleeding. He took off his uniform shirt, the peeled off his tee shirt. He balled the tee shirt up against the wound, and wrapped the uniform shirt around it to hold it in place. Jim never moved.
Without a shirt, the rain felt like ice. Pete wrapped his arms around himself, but it didn't really help. "Partner, you're gonna owe me for this one," he groused. He considered running back up the hill, see if Clara Hargrove had a blanket, but he couldn't leave Jim. Resigning himself to being a little chilly for a while, he settled down on the ground where he could keep an eye on Jim's face. He watched Jim's chest rise and fall with his breathing. "Keep on breathing, Jim. Keep on breathing."
When the steady rhythm of Jim's breathing didn't change, Pete relaxed marginally, although without busying himself with Jim, he had time to notice how much his own back was aching. And to notice that he wasn't shaking from just the cold.
"I guess you won't really owe me," he said softly, talking as much to keep himself calm as to try to get any reaction from Jim. "You pulled my fat out of the fire more times than I can count." He paused, feeling his throat unaccountably lock up. He coughed, blinked, then swiped his nose with the back of his hand. "Damn rain."
Truth was, Pete wasn't very sure that Jim was going to pull through this one. Jim was the toughest man Pete had ever met, but this time. . . . He shook off the dark thoughts. What I wouldn't give to hear one of Jim Reed's corny jokes right now. I'd laugh from here to Sunday.
Sunday. He looked up toward the clouds. God, I haven't done too well in that department, have I? For a while he blamed it on his lack of attendance on his ever-changing shift schedule, but he knew that wasn't the real reason. The real reason was that he was mad at God. He was furious at Him for letting that punk sniper kill his partner. Eventually the anger cooled to apathy. Until this past week and a half. Lord, you could have gotten my attention some other way.
Pete looked at Jim and realized sadly that maybe God had been trying, and he just hadn't been listening.
Pete thought about the occasional times Jim had mentioned going to church with his family. Jim had invited Pete to church once or twice, but didn't push it when Pete politely declined. Making Pete Jimmy's godfather was as close to talking about religion as they ever got, aside from occasional light chitchat, especially around Christmas. Pete remembered the year they had to search for a missing little girl up in the hills. As they drove along the quiet road before getting the call, Jim had seen a big neon-lit cross on the top of a church. He had smiled and pointed it out to Pete, mentioning how it was like a beacon. And sure enough, they'd found the little girl almost within the glow of its light. Another time, they'd broken up a fight between a theology student and some construction workers. The student, on his way to Sunday school, no less, had started the fight after hearing the workers taking the Lord's name in vain. As they drove away from the scene, Jim had made one brief disgusted comment about idiots twisting the Bible to suit their purposes and making normal Christians look bad, but that had been it.
And up until now, Pete had been grateful his partner hadn't ever tried to push him back into the fold. Jim knew Pete believed in God and all, but just wasn't into the whole church bit. But as he looked at Jim's ashen face, he couldn't help wondering if maybe he had paid more attention, taken Jim up on the rare invitations to church, this whole mess could have been avoided. So whose fault is it, God? Yours, mine or Jim's? Or is this just those messes that life hands out at random?
Pete didn't have a clue. And thinking about it didn't make him feel any warmer. He touched Jim's shoulder again. "C'mon, partner, wake up. Don't make me get mad at God all over again."
Jim didn't oblige him. Pete shivered and thought a good old-fashioned heat wave would certainly be welcome right about now. One like that warm spell they had last winter. Pete chuckled a little. "Hey, Jim, remember the time we had that January heat wave and you toasted yourself to a crisp when you fell asleep in the back yard?" Jim had been barely able to tie his shoes, his feet were so sore. He had taken seven in the locker room, soaking his feet in a tub of cold water.
Thinking warm thoughts wasn't stopping the parade of goose bumps marching up and down his wet arms. He went back to watching Jim's chest rise and fall. After a minute of that, he stared out at the rain. "Jim, I'd give anything if you'd wake up and tell me one of your stupid jokes. I promise I'll laugh."
He shut his eyes against the rain dripping in them and sighed. He almost didn't hear Jim's hoarse whisper. "So this little guy walks into a bar . . ."
Pete's eyes flew open. Jim was looking up at him with a faint smile. Pete felt a wobbly smile of his own spread over his face. "Welcome back, partner," he said, his voice shaking.
The brief glimmer of humor that sparked in Jim's eyes faded. "Pete . . . cold . . ."
Pete pulled the slicker and jacket closer to Jim's chin. "I know, partner. Hang in there. Help will be here soon."
"What . . . what happened?"
"We TA'd, sort of. Long story. I'll tell you later."
Jim's eyes drifted shut again, sending Pete's heart immediately into overdrive. "Jim!"
"I'm still here," he said softly, but he kept his eyes closed. "You still wanna hear . . . my joke?"
Pete laughed. "Anytime, partner. Anytime."
Jim wished he could oblige Pete and finish the joke, but he felt too awful. Somebody was hammering at the inside of his skull, and somebody else had set his leg on fire. And as if those miseries weren't enough, he was freezing, and apparently lying on a rock that was digging into his left arm. For some reason, that was bothering him more than anything else. He slowly rolled onto his back.
"Easy, partner," Pete said. "Don't move around."
Jim felt a surge of irritation. All Pete had been doing lately is telling him not to move, not to let go, not to do this or that. I'll move if I dang well want to. But as the pain roared up his leg, he had to admit moving hadn't been the best idea. But he wasn't going to let Pete know that. He waited until he was sure he wasn't going to throw up, then opened his eyes again and looked at his partner. His shirtless partner. "Where's," he started, then cleared his throat and tried again. "Where's your shirt?"
"Around your leg."
"Oh." Jim thought about lifting his head to look at his leg. Too much trouble. "Somebody coming?"
"I hope so. Did you get the call in for a tow truck?"
Jim had to think hard. That was another lifetime ago. "Yeah," he finally said.
"Shouldn't be long, then."
"What time is it?"
Pete looked at his watch, then looked again with an odd expression on his face.
"What?" Jim asked.
"My, uh, watch stopped. Musta broke the crystal when I pulled you out of the car."
Jim felt like Pete wanted to say more, but when he didn't, Jim asked, "What about the other truck?"
Pete shook his head. "Went over the cliff. I haven't had a chance to see if the driver's alive or not. The fire department will have to use ropes to get down there."
Jim finally raised his head, just enough to look around a little. "Where's our car?"
"At the bottom of the canyon."
There didn't seem to be much else to say. Jim raised his arm to shield his face from some of the rain. He dislodged the slicker laying over him. He shoved it toward Pete, amazed at how heavy it now seemed. "Put it on."
Pete immediately tried to cover Jim with it again. "No, partner. You need it more than I do right now."
Jim shoved at it again. "Take it. I'm not . . . not that cold."
"Jim, you're a lousy liar," Pete said, but he took the slicker and stood up to put it on. "I'm going to check up the hill. Don't move, all right?"
Jim just nodded. He supposed he should be irritated at Pete again, but truth was, he didn't feel like he'd ever have the strength to be able to move again, ever. He watched Pete clamber up the rocks and crane his neck to look up the hillside. Pete's grim expression suddenly lightened. "Down here!" he yelled.
Jim struggled to raise himself on his elbows. "Tow truck?" he said hopefully.
"Better-Wells and Brinkman," Pete said, then called back up the slope. "Call for the fire department and an ambulance. Jim's hurt!"
Jim heard Brinkman's muffled reply. Then he heard the sound of muffled cursing, and Ed Wells suddenly tumbled head over heels down the rocks. "For cryin' out loud, you guys had to pick the side of a cliff to TA on," he grumbled. Pete helped him to his feet. His annoyed expression faded as he caught a glimpse of Jim. "Hey, Reed, got yourself in a real mess this time, didn't you?"
Jim worked up half a smile. "Ed."
Ed transferred his gaze to Pete. "How bad?"
"Bad enough," Pete said grimly, much to Jim's embarrassment.
"Not that bad," Jim said, trying again to sit up. The world immediately started swirling around and he couldn't help moaning a little as he collapsed back.
"Yeah, I can see that, Reed," Ed retorted.
"It's not," Jim protested, but even to his own ears, his voice sounded weak. Of all the guys on watch, why'd it have to be Wells that found us?
"You got any blankets in your car?" Pete asked.
Wells yelled up to Brinkman to bring down blankets. "So what the hell happened? Here we were patrolling the edge of our district and some lady up there practically threw herself on our hood.. She was half-hysterical, saying something about a police car going over the edge. Then I see the broken guardrail and hear you yelling."
Jim only half-listened as Pete filled Ed in. He didn't want either man to know it, but he was fading fast. Too much cold. Too much pain. He just wanted to check out for a while . . . go to sleep . . . maybe it'll all go away like some bad dream . . .
Ed Wells had never seen Pete look that worried. And he'd never seen Jim look that bad. He swallowed hard and worked mightily at keeping up the brash facade he'd perfected over the years. "Don't worry, Pete. Reed's too damned stubborn to die."
Pete gave him a smile that didn't come close to reaching his eyes. Ed was saved from having to come up with any other comforting banalities by his partner's arrival with the a blanket. Ed snatched it from him. "Took you long enough," he snapped.
"Hey, I had to call in for the ambulance and fire department," Brinkman protested.
Ed helped Pete tuck the blanket around Jim. When he was certain neither Pete nor Brinkman were looking, he gave Jim's shoulder a quick squeeze, then he hurriedly stood up. "Brinkman, go sit on the radio. I'm going to stay down here."
Brinkman gave Pete a sympathetic glance. "He'll be all right, Pete. He's tough as they come," he said softly, then scrambled back up the hillside.
Ed waited until Brink was out of earshot, then he watched Pete pace back and forth. "You better sit down before you fall down, Malloy. You don't look a whole lot better than your partner."
Pete ignored him as he continued pacing. Ed sighed and walked over to the edge. He could barely see the black and white's lights, still miraculously flashing, down at the bottom of the canyon. He shuddered, imagining what could have happened if Pete hadn't gotten Jim out. No wonder Pete looked so rocky. That had to have been a gut-wrencher. He turned his attention back to Jim, who was still pale and unconscious. Ed shivered. Reed, don't you dare kick off. Don't you dare do that to your partner.
The sound of sirens snapped both their heads up toward the cliff top.
"Thank God," Pete breathed.
A fire department light unit set up blazing halogen lights that illuminated the hillside as bright as day. Pete and Ed watched as five firemen hurriedly scrambled down the hillside with ropes and a stokes basket. Two of the firemen had paramedic insignia. They swarmed over the small ledge and Ed decided the best place for him was back up the hill. He slid and slipped his way to the top. Brinkman was waiting for him. "How's Jim?"
Ed shook his head. "I don't know, Brink. But I do know this-if you ever pull a stunt like Reed's, I'm trading you in!"
Pete struggled up the hill behind the firemen carrying Jim in the stokes basket. He didn't like the paramedics' grim expressions, but then paramedics seemed to always look grim. He wanted to ask them what they thought Jim's chances were, but he didn't want to bother them. He had answered their question about how long Jim had been unconscious and if he knew if he'd been unconscious at all before that, then watched in silence as they took his vitals and called them in to a hospital and then stuck him with an IV needle. He heard snatches of their soft conversation, mostly words like "hypotensive" and "hypothermia" and "shock". Lord help him.
Pete swallowed hard against the hollow pit growing in his stomach. Now that they were finally moving, he wanted to push the paramedics, force them to go faster up the hill, but he didn't. He just kept his eyes on Jim's face and willed him to keep breathing.
When they emerged topside, Pete was vaguely aware that two other LAPD units had arrived, but he didn't look over to see who it was. When someone touched his sleeve, he jumped.
"Sorry, Pete," Mac said. "How is he?"
Pete shook his head, too numb with worry to reply. His world had narrowed down to just one thing, watching that stretcher.
"Pete!" Mac said sharply.
Pete had to force his eyes away from Jim. "Mac?" he said, then it seemed like the tunnel he'd been so focused on narrowed down still further. He stared at Mac's lips, trying to figure out what he was saying, but there was a roar in his ears that drowned out Mac's words. Pete blinked, then suddenly found himself kneeling on the ground.
"Easy, Pete. Take it easy."
"Jim . . ."
Mac's voice was soothing. "He's being taken care of, Pete. Wells, get one of the paramedics over here."
Pete was vaguely aware of footsteps sloshing through the puddles around him, then somebody gently pushed him down on his back. He blinked as the rain splattered his face. It seemed to clear his head a little. He tried to sit back up, but two hands forced him back down. "Lie still, officer," a stranger's voice told him.
Pete shut his eyes. "My partner . . ."
"Is going to be just fine. We're concerned about you right now."
The man then asked him a barrage of questions. No, he never hit his head; he hadn't been in the wreck. No, he never had fainting spells. No, nothing hurt. He finally brushed away the hand that was poking his abdomen and sat up. "Look, I'm fine. I just want to check on Jim!"
The paramedic glanced up at Mac, who shrugged. "Put him in the ambulance with his partner. And Pete, let the hospital check you right over completely. You've been through quite an ordeal and I want to make sure you're okay."
Pete nodded tiredly. "All right, all right." The ambulance attendants hurried over with a stretcher, which Pete eyed sourly. "I don't need-"
"Pete!" Mac's voice brooked no argument, so Pete resigned himself to the indignity of being carted off on a stretcher like some kind of damn wounded war hero. They slid him into the back of the ambulance onto a ledge beside Jim's gurney. The doors slammed shut, the siren crescendoed to a high wail and they were bumping along the road toward the hospital. It felt good to finally be moving. And it felt good to be out of the rain.
Pete raised himself on one elbow. "How is he?"
The paramedic smiled. "Ask him yourself."
Pete turned a startled gaze on his partner and saw Jim's eyes were open and looking sleepily around above the oxygen mask covering his face. "Hey, partner, welcome back. Again."
Jim knocked aside the oxygen mask. "Pete . . . you hurt?"
"No, partner. I'm fine," Pete assured him. He pulled Jim's arm down and resettled the mask. Jim's eyes fluttered closed.
The paramedic noticed Pete's sudden alarm. "Don't worry. His BP's coming up. He's gonna be fine," the paramedic said.
Pete reached over and gave Jim's hand a squeeze, then settled back down on the hard ledge. He stared at the roof of the ambulance and directed some very private, very grateful thoughts toward heaven.
An hour later, Pete was grousing at a far-too-perky nurse who was trying to get him to drink a glass of orange juice. "I don't want any orange juice. I just want to get out of here and find out how my partner is!"
"But sir, the doctor said your blood sugar was too low. You need the juice!"
"I need my clothes!" Pete roared.
Tiny and perky she might be, but she didn't intimidate easily. She stuck her jaw out and held the cup under his nose. He glared at her, but took the orange juice and downed it in a long series of gulps. "Satisfied?"
She wrinkled her nose at him and flounced out of the room. The door had barely swung closed before it swept back open. Mac walked in. "Pete, how are you doing?"
"I'm fine," he growled. "But they won't let me out of here."
"Where would you go?" Mac countered reasonably. "Jim's in surgery, you're off duty for the next couple of days-"
"Administrative leave. The lieutenant's orders. He wants to make sure you're okay."
"The doctor said I'm fine. I just have a sprained back from catching Reed when he fell out of the car."
"What about that fainting spell?"
Pete shrugged. "I hadn't eaten since the night before. Low blood sugar and high anxiety. Simple as that."
Mac didn't look convinced.
"Mac," Pete pleaded. "I'm fine. They even ran an EKG to make sure." He pointed to the wires still taped to his chest. "Now tell me, how's Jim? Nobody will tell me."
"He's up in surgery getting his leg set. He was a little hypothermic, but they warmed him back up pretty quick. Barring complications, they expect a full recovery. Gonna be in a cast for several weeks, then probably on desk duty until he builds strength back up in that leg. You'll be in an L-car or with a new partner for quite a while, I'm afraid."
Pete had already figured that out. "How's Jean taking it?"
"She's doing fine. She's in the surgery waiting area with Jimmy and her mother. She was almost as worried about you as Jim."
"Nope. She heard you'd passed out and was afraid you'd had a heart attack."
"Heart attack? Mac, I'm not that old!"
Mac snickered but didn't reply. Pete finally felt a wry smile twitch the corners of his mouth. "So where's the doctor? I want out of here."
"I'll go find one. Hang tight."
"Jim already did, Mac," Pete said softly.
Mac frowned, then nodded. "I guess he did at that, didn't he?" He touched Pete lightly on the shoulder and left.
Pete listened to the faint beeps of the cardiac monitor softly toll the rhythm of his life. The beats were steady, calm, nothing like the frenzied racing pulse he'd felt when the car started to slide. When life had slowed down to one instant, one galvanic, horrible set of seconds where one slip could have meant eternity for them both. He shut his eyes, suddenly back on the wet, cold hillside, feeling the weight of his partner's body coming down on him, feeling the impact of the hard ground. Hearing the faint crunch of his watch smashing against the rock . . .
Pete opened his eyes and looked at the mangled remains of the instrument still on his left wrist. Beneath the shards of broken crystal, the hands read 2 a.m.
Jim poked a pencil as far down into the cast as he could, but it was hopeless. The itch that was driving him mad was too far down. He tossed the pencil onto the bed table with a growl. Then he grabbed the trapeze bar hanging above him and tried to ease himself into a more comfortable position. That didn't work either. Jim was just about to let loose a frustrated string of all the four-letter words he could think of when the door to his room swung open.
"Hey, partner, still lazin' around, I see." Pete Malloy rocked on his heels as he grinned.
"Pete, get me out of this contraption," Jim pleaded, waving his hand at the traction cables holding his right leg up at a 45 angle.
"No can do, partner," Pete said. He looked over the wires and pulleys, then inspected Jim's toes where they protruded out the end of the cast. "You could use a pedicure."
"Is that why you came? To annoy and insult an injured man?"
Pete pulled his hand out from where he'd been keeping it behind his back. "Nope. Brought you a ranchburger from Duke's. On the house. Duke told me to tell you he's sorry you got a busted leg but don't expect any more freebies once you're back on your feet."
Jim pounced on the box. "Tell him thanks. I think," he mumbled after he shoved a huge bite into his mouth. "This sure beats gray mystery meat on stale bread."
Jim swallowed. "How's your back?"
"Oh, it's fine. Was just a little stiff for a day or so."
"I guess I owe you another steak dinner," Jim said, smiling ruefully.
"Actually, I owe you." Pete dug around in his pocket, then pulled out a coin. He slapped it on the table.
Jim picked it up. "A nickel? What's that for?"
"In payment of psychiatric services rendered, Lucy," Pete said, a wry smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.
Jim frowned. "I don't get it."
"Look, don't make me have to spell it out, Reed. It's embarrassing enough admitting you were right."
"About the dreams."
"Oh," Jim muttered. He took another bite of hamburger and shrugged. He didn't really know what to say, and the silence dragged a little longer than was comfortable. "You, uh, got plans for the weekend?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do."
Jim waited, but Pete didn't elaborate. "Hot date?" Jim finally prompted.
"No, not really."
"Going fishing with Woods?"
"Uh, no. I've had enough fishing trips with Jerry."
Jim was starting to feel like he was on a fishing expedition. "Are you gonna tell me or do we have to keep playing twenty questions?"
Pete gave him a hurt look. "I forgot how grouchy you get when you're injured."
"Okay, okay. I'm, uh, going to see somebody I haven't talked to in a long time."
"Oh yeah? Who?"
Pete didn't answer, just gave Jim another enigmatic smile and headed for the door.
Pete turned to look over his shoulder. "I'm gonna see a man about a car."
The door swished quietly shut. Jim yelled again, then wadded up the hamburger box and hurled it at the closed door.
Pete heard Jim yell, then heard something thump against the door. He smiled, thought about sticking his head back in and telling Jim what he meant. But he couldn't. Not yet. He still had too many questions, too many doubts. But he figured it was time-past time-to start looking for some of those elusive answers.
"I'm going to church, partner," he whispered. "Gonna see a Man about a black and white He didn't let roll down a cliff."
He gave the door a silent tap with one knuckle, then stuffed his hands in his pockets and headed for the elevator.