by Kate Webster
Pete hated warehouses. They were filled with all the things a cop didn't want to face when someone out there had a gun and an inclination to use it. But Pete's loathing had a more personal origin. He'd lost a partner in a scenario very much like this, a warehouse at night. There had been nothing he could do to stop it then. He still woke from that nightmare, with cold sweats, two years later.
Pete's current partner was out there, somewhere, in those shadows. He shook off the creeping feeling of dread that threatened to paralyze, focusing on the rhythm of his own breathing as he waited in the dark. Jim Reed was a good cop. They had served together for two years now. Pete had trained him straight out of the academy, and he could be sure the young officer knew what to do. But that conviction did nothing to change the fact that Pete Malloy hated warehouses.
"Pete!" He heard his partner shout in warning from somewhere in the distance. A weight from above slammed into him, forcing the air from his lungs with a crushing blow that flattened him to the floor. At the same moment something hard and metallic connected with his occipital bone, the darkness enveloping him.
"Pete!" The whispered summons came from behind him, somewhere in the murky darkness. He didn't dare answer and reveal their location. The enemy had Company C surrounded. Pete lay face down in the dirt, feeling the sweat trickle from beneath his helmet and down the back of his neck. There were gritty traces on his freckled face, grime deep in the creases beside his eyes as he squinted into the night.
He gripped the stock of his government-issue M-14 rifle, lining up the cross-hairs on the target in front of him. It moved and he squeezed the trigger, emptying the weapon's rounds into the inky expanse before him.
"Malloy!" the drill instructor bellowed. So much for the battlefield illusion carefully created for these night training maneuvers.
"Yes, sir!" the nervous recruit snapped in response.
"Malloy!" the massive Southern officer barked as he loomed over the soldier-in-training, barely nineteen. "Who gave you the order to fire, boy?"
Colonel Peter Malloy slithered beneath the thorny branches, flattened against the ground as he inched his way to the edge of the foxhole. The enemy was within his sights. His troops had suffered major casualties, but revenge would be sweet. He grasped the M-1 Garand Rifle in freckled hands, squinting through the sight on the top, training the weapon on the Nazi barricade before him. He would make them pay for the loss of so many of his men.
"Peter Joseph Malloy!" the voice demanded, jarring him from his planned vendetta.
When his mother used all three of his names he knew better than to ignore the summons. Pete scrambled from his hiding place beneath the honeysuckle that grew over the fence and ran along the property line. He was still clutching the broomstick gun his Grandpa Joe had helped him make. It wasn't the air rifle Pete had been hoping for last Christmas, but if he used his imagination, it was every bit as powerful a weapon as the one U.S. troops had carried when they invaded Normandy.
His mother didn't care much for guns, even if this one had previously occupied her pantry, keeping company with the mop, fourteen quarts of home-canned tomatoes and Aunt Maeve's bread-and-butter pickles. But his father had promised to teach him to shoot a real one...someday.
"Coming, Mom," the gangly redhead called as he scurried down the hill past the apple tree and his grandmother's blackberry bushes.
"I've been calling you for ten minutes, young man," the mother scolded as the boy reached the back porch. "You're filthy! And your arms scratched up like the cat attacked you. You've been crawling around under those honeysuckles again, haven't you?"
"We were just playing Army, Mom," Pete explained, stealing a glance over his shoulder at two friends making a strategic retreat over the back fence toward their own homes and mothers.
"With that gun?" A tall man in an olive drab uniform drawled, stepping from behind the screen door. The eyes were the same gray-green, like a gathering storm over County Cork. The man's face was similarly sprinkled with freckles, but the red of his hair had faded to a sandy blonde. Still, there was no denying the boy was his son.
"Dad!" Pete barreled into the soldier, forgetting that he'd given up hugs along with his teddy bear and bedtime stories on his last birthday. Spindly arms encircled his father's trim waist, the boy's grimy face buried itself in the wool uniform jacket. His father was finally home from the war.
"You fighting the Germans?" Sergeant Malloy asked his son, who nodded his reply.
Young Peter was dangerously close to tears and that was another thing he'd put aside from babyhood. It was just that he had nearly given up ever seeing his father again. He had prayed diligently for this day for two years.
"Well, then, you'll have to have a better weapon, son." The father reached behind him and retrieved the long, flat box.
Pete recognized the drawing and design of the box immediately. The Daisy Model 25 Air Rifle. He should know it. He'd spent enough time drooling over it in the window of Cunningham's store on the way home from school.
"Santa mentioned that he'd forgotten to drop this off here at Christmas and wondered if I'd bring it with me." The furloughed serviceman winked at his wife over the tousled red hair of their overjoyed son.
Seven-year-old Pete Malloy wasn't entirely certain which surprise was more overwhelming, but the combination was too much for his youthful resolve. Happy tears streaked through the dirt on that upturned, bespeckled face. "Thanks, Dad!"
"Pete!" Jim Reed cried out, watching helplessly as something dark dropped from above and slammed into his partner. A length of pipe caught a bit of light in the dim warehouse as it crashed against the back of Pete's head. From his vantage point several yards away, Jim saw the pouncing suspect too late to do more than shout a warning.
The next second he leaped out of his hiding place, gun trained on the felon hulking over his fallen partner, shouting Freeze! The man tried for Pete's gun, but when Jim assured him it would be the last thing he did in this life, the attacker's hands raised in surrender. It took no time for the officer to pat down the suspect and snap on the cuffs, securing him to a support beam, but it seemed to Jim an eternity before he was kneeling over Pete's limp body, checking for a pulse.
"Pete," Jim Reed called softly, his hand on his partner's shoulder. Worried blue eyes searched the slack face for signs of life. Pete had gone down hard. With a blow to the back of the head from the attacker and then the impact with the floor, he was out cold.
Jim fought back all those familiar symptoms of panic setting in and glanced back at the thug who had attacked his partner, his friend. He let the seething anger push back the fear and returned his attentions to the body lying still beneath him.
"Pete?" Jim hoped his voice didn't sound as shaky as it seemed to him. "Come on buddy, wake up." He looked up as Ed Wells rounded the corner.
"He okay?" came the uncharacteristically quiet question from the usually glib officer.
"Get an ambulance," was the only response Jim could manage. He wasn't prepared to speculate on his friend's condition. Not just yet. "And get that creep outta here, huh?"
"Sure, Reed," Wells answered in all seriousness, moving to do just that.
"Come on, Pete," Jim pleaded, gripping his friend's shoulder.
"Come on, Pete," Dennis Morgan taunted. The tall, dark-haired full-back was the bane of sixteen-year-old Pete Malloy's existence. "What are you, a wimp? Afraid you're gonna get in trouble and get kicked off the traffic patrol?" Morgan always made being a good student sound like a social disease.
"I don't have any wheels, Morgan," Pete shrugged, shoving big freckled hands into his blue and gold letterman jacket.
"Well, pinch some, Big Red!" Morgan laughed, lighting a cigarette, letting the match burn down until it singed his fingers. "You know how to do that, don't ya?"
"Steal a car?" Pete's eyebrows nearly flew off his forehead. "I think I'll pass."
"Come on, Petey Boy! How ya gonna drag race if you don't have a ride?" Morgan's big dopey sidekick, Larry Taylor, slapped Pete on the back so hard he nearly knocked the almost-six-foot half-back out of his Keds.
"Why don't ya nab your Pop's Buick? It ain't gonna win any prizes, but at least you'll be in the race."
"I can't..." Pete broke off the protest, changing tack. "I don't ...want to race you, Dennis. Let's just leave it at that, okay?"
"No, Malloy, it's not okay! You made me look bad in front of the girls and I challenged you to a drag duel. Now either you get yourself a set of wheels and meet me on the ridge at nine o'clock, or you're as cowardly as I've always thought. Yellow as that turtleneck of yours!" Morgan was leaning against his bright orange customized T-Bucket. The souped-up hot rod, riding low on wire wheels, its powerful engine exposed, painted and chromed down to the fuel line, made Pete Malloy swoon.
Pete had been working since he was twelve years old to try to save money for a car of his own, but it still seemed as unattainable as a trip to the moon. Dennis Morgan's father owned two local car dealerships and rode around town in a brand new Cadillac every six months. His son had always been a spoiled bully but somehow when his father handed him the keys to that classic chromed beauty, the kid had gone out of control. Dennis thought he was the hometown version of James Dean. And Pete Malloy was his favorite foil.
At eight-thirty that night, a figure emerged from the second story window of the Malloy's red brick home and swung to a limb of the spreading elm. It dropped from the tree and slipped into the side door of the garage, silent and unseen. There were two other prowlers hiding behind the boxwood hedge, waiting. The three boys raised the garage door as quietly as possible and began to push the brown '44 Buick Sedan down the driveway and onto Sycamore Street. When they passed the lawn of number 147, Pete turned the key in the ignition. His friends jumped in the passenger side and they took off for the ridge and the drag race against Dennis Morgan's hot rod.
Pete drove his father's Buick toward the appointed spot, but as they came to the turnoff from the main road, Bobby Peters spied the sheriff's black-and-white prowl car sitting at the upcoming intersection.
"Hey, Pete!" Bobby gasped. "It's the cops!"
"Great!" Pete spat. "Just terrific!" He continued on the main road, not turning up the winding hill to the ridge. He would rather take the grief from Morgan and the others at school than wrestle with the long arm of John Law tonight.
When they passed, the black-and-white pulled in behind the Buick. Pete watched in his rear-view mirror as the officers followed him. If he wasn't going to the ridge, he needed to turn the car around and head back toward home, but the patrol car was directly behind him. There was no way he could turn around now, without arousing their suspicions.
The young man kept stealing glances in the mirror, watching the police car as it trailed behind. Pete could feel his heartbeat quicken. His palms were sweaty on the steering wheel and there was a huge lump in his throat. He'd never been in any real trouble before, certainly not with the police. What had he been thinking when he sneaked out of the house and took the car without permission? At the moment, he didn't have a good answer for that.
As they approached the next intersection, Pete noticed that the patrol car's turn signal was blinking. All he had to do was calm down and once they had passed, turn the car around and head back home. Hopefully his father had slept through this shenanigan and he would be able to sneak back into the house undetected. Tomorrow all this could be nothing but a bad idea.
Pete pulled the Buick onto a side street, making a quick K-turn then backtracking down the main road toward home. As they approached the turnoff for the ridge, Pete noticed the bright orange hot rod in the opposing lane.
"There's Morgan," Bobby stated the obvious. "Now what?"
"We're going home," Pete replied, determined to put this night's bad judgement behind him.
"But Pete," Bobby argued. "He'll think you're chicken."
"He can think what he wants," the 16-year-old said with resolve. "We're going home."
They passed the customized Model T, continuing on, retracing their earlier path. The T-Bucket made a U-turn in the middle of the road and began following the Buick, honking their horn and yelling. Pete glanced in his rear-view mirror. The hot rod was dangerously close to the Buick, closing the gap whenever Pete sped up to try to get away.
"He's gonna hit us!"Jack Furillo yelled from his perch, hanging over the back of the seat like some acne-faced, adolescent Kilroy.
"That guy is crazy!" Pete exclaimed, his eye on mirror. If the Model T hit them, he couldn't imagine explaining the damage to his father or ever being off punishment in this lifetime.
"Pete!" Bobby cried from the passenger's seat, eying the T-Bucket in the Buick's side mirror.
"I see him," Pete snapped, his knuckles white on the wheel.
"Well do something!" Bobby shouted.
"And just what are you suggesting I do?"
"Get outta here!" came the answer from both of the friends.
"Take the back roads. Dennis doesn't know that way. You could lose him through there," Jack encouraged.
"Across the fields!" Bobby proposed.
"Are you nuts!" Pete choked. "How am I gonna account for the mud and grass to my Dad?"
"Well it's gotta be easier than finding an excuse for a bashed-in rear end!" Jack quipped.
"Come on, Pete. The turn-off's coming up. It's the only way you're gonna lose him!" Bobby urged.
"Pete!" Jack grabbed the back of the seat, leaning as far into the front as possible.
"Okay! Okay!" Pete surrendered, whipping the steering wheel hard to the right. The Buick's tires squealed in protest as the heavy vehicle careened off the paved road, a cloud of dust in its wake.
Not to be shaken, the hot rod followed, spinning completely around in reaction to the unexpected turn, nearly losing control. But Morgan was on Pete's tail again in no time, bumping down the uneven road filled with ruts from tractors and much heavier equipment than the two vehicles speeding along in the night.
The T-Bucket gained on them, attempting to get around the Buick on the left, where the dirt
roller coaster that passed for a road disappeared. Pete held tightly to the wheel as it jerked
against his grasp. He fought with all his might to keep control of the accelerating ton of steel.
Morgan laid on the horn, the sudden blast beside him startling Pete. An expletive escaped his lips as he jumped at the blaring noise.
"Pete! Look out!" Bobby screamed as the Buick plummeted into the unseen irrigation ditch. The hot rod swerved just in time to miss the drop and continued down the dirt road into the night.
"Everybody okay?" Pete asked when the car had finally come to rest at a precarious angle at the bottom of the ravine.
"Oh, man!" Bobby moaned. "What a ride!"
"You okay, Jack?" Pete asked, turning in the driver's seat, craning his neck to see his friend.
"I'm okay," Jack muttered, as he pulled himself up from the floorboards. "But I'm glad I'm not you right now!"
"Tell me about it!" Pete sighed. "Come on. Let's see how bad it is. We gotta get this thing outta here!"
The boys couldn't assess the damage very well in the dark, so they started trying to push the heavy Buick out of the soggy trench. It quickly became apparent that they were succeeding in nothing more than burrowing further into the mud.
"Pete, we gotta get home!" Bobby whined.
"I know that, Bobby!" he snapped, realizing that despite the challenges ahead, getting there would still be the easiest part of his evening.
"We're not gonna make it, Pete," Jack said as gently as it could be said. "We're just getting in deeper."
"Tell me something I don't know," the redhead sighed, leaning heavily on the mud-caked fender.
They heard an engine approaching in the darkness. The way his luck was going, Pete figured it was probably that police car they'd seen earlier. At this point, he'd rather take his chances with a ticket than have the conversation with his father he knew was coming. Pete squinted into the night to see a pair of headlights, the configuration distinctive and familiar. It was Morgan's T-Bucket. The vehicle stopped a few yards from the edge of the ditch, that souped-up engine purring with sickening precision.
"You guys stuck?" Dennis Morgan laughed, stating the obvious. Pete chose to ignore him, turning his attentions back to the hopelessly mired Buick.
"Come on, Pete - do you want some help or not?" Morgan demanded. "If they find you in there, the cops'll realize we were racing, and Sgt. Maxwell plays poker with my Dad."
Was it possible there was something that could scare Dennis Morgan?
"Okay, help us out of here then," Pete invited.
Five strapping football players pushed at the Buick trapped in the quagmire of the irrigation channel, but to no avail. Pete's foot on the pedal only served to kick up a fountain of mud that covered the boys from head to toe. They worked as a team, like they did each Friday on the gridiron, suited up in Central's blue and gold. They forced the Buick along by inches as the tires spun wildly, unable to find purchase.
Suddenly, the tread got traction and the beast lurched forward unexpectedly. Instead of climbing the steep, slippery incline, the Buick tipped over on its side. The kids barely escaped being plowed under as the vehicle turned over. Pete scrambled out of the open window and sat on the upturned side of the Buick.
"Terrific!" he wailed.
Pete lay still as death beneath his partner's watchful eye. Jim took two fingers and tenderly felt for a pulse at the side of Pete's neck, praying under his breath. His hand was trembling as it touched the dappled skin just above the dark blue collar of Pete's uniform. He couldn't tell if what he felt was his partner's pulse, still clinging to life, or his own nerves throbbing through him as the shock set in.
A rivulet of blood ran from a cut on Pete's forehead down the side of his face. There was more blood from his nose; a small pool of red bloomed from beneath his head. Too much blood.
Jim's hand moved to the trickle of red from the corner of Pete's mouth. The damage to which that might bear evidence could be severe: internal injuries ... serious ... life threatening.
No! Jim's heart screamed, the sound tore from him in a strangled sob. Where was that damned ambulance? He gripped Pete's shoulder, trying to find some balance as his world started spinning out of control. Get hold of yourself, he sighed, thinking how Pete would have chided him. He wished right now that his partner could yell at him for letting his emotions get in the way.
"Hang on buddy," Jim whispered, blinking back the fear that threatened as he watched his friend's still form. "Don't leave me...not now...not like this..."
"Not like this!" Pete prayed silently, his head thrown back, eyes closed tightly against this night gone suddenly so out of control. "Not again!"
The brand spanking new probationer he'd been assigned to train tonight was out there in the darkness, in that gunfire, with no backup. The order he'd given had been to stay put, behind the next tree, but the kid had taken off into the night. Pete had told the lieutenant he didn't want this duty. It was his last night as a cop. Why couldn't he have just put in his eight and gone home? Why did he have to face this nightmare - again?
In an instant his mind was back in that darkened warehouse two weeks before. He could feel the cold, hard concrete beneath his knees as he knelt beside the body of his young partner.
Steve McGill was just shy of twenty-six. He had a pretty little wife who baked Pete cookies, nagged Steve to bring him for a home-cooked meal and worried about him almost as much as she did her own husband. They had a baby, just six months old. Pete had attended the christening.
Steve had gone fishing with Pete on their last days off. The partners spent hours sitting in a leaky boat in the unforgiving rain, and most of the trip drying out around the fire back at the lodge, drinking beer, playing cards and telling stories. Pete started off as his training officer, but they soon became friends. Now Steve lay lifeless at his partner's feet, shot by a sniper's bullet in the darkness.
Pete secured the gun lying next to Steve's limp hand, placing the weapon in his own belt, cop instincts kicking in. He felt a touch on his shoulder. He knew it would be MacDonald, but refrained from turning to meet his sergeant's eyes. Pete's hold on his own emotions was tentative; facing Mac at this point would be his undoing.
"Malloy -" the big Scotsman soothed, his broad hand remained gentle on Pete's shoulder. "The ambulance is here."
"Not yet -" Pete begged. He knew they'd called the coroner, that the ambulance wasn't taking Steve for treatment, but to the morgue. Time had lost all importance.
"Come on, Pete..." Mac encouraged. "The crew is here. Let him go."
Pete wheeled around to face him at last, but the curse died on his lips as he saw the tears in MacDonald's blue eyes.
"The lieutenant is waiting for you outside," the sergeant said quietly.
"Mac," Pete swallowed his own pain once again. "Can I ride in with McGill?"
"Pete, you can't do anything for him," Mac sighed. He understood the young man's feelings, that was evident in his expression and his compassionate tone, but there really was nothing to be done.
"I can see to this..." Pete muttered sadly. "And the notification."
"You sure?" his sergeant's face was sympathetic.
"Yeah," he replied, resolute. "It oughta be me."
Two weeks later Pete found himself up against a tree in the dark, worrying about some kid he'd only just met. Like McGill, Reed was young, married and about to be a father. Why'd he have to tell me that? Pete sighed as he opened his eyes again and searched the blackness for some sign of his young charge. And why'd they have to give me another probationer on my last night out?
"Reed!" Pete called into the night. Why didn't he listen to me when I told him to stay put? "Reed!"
"Reed." Mac's hand was reassuring on the young man's shoulder. "The ambulance is on it's way."
"Mac," Jim turned a frightened look toward his commanding officer. "He's not...I can't get a pulse..."
MacDonald frowned, kneeling beside Jim and reaching for Pete's throat with his own hand. After a moment, his expression softened. "I got one, Jim. He's still with us."
"It's okay," Mac smiled, his hand gripping Reed's tensed shoulder. "It's a little weak, but it's there. Malloy doesn't give up that easily. He's a fighter."
Jim rocked back on his heels, turning to look at the big Scotsman's face as he leaned over his friend. They were close, Mac and Pete. Jim wasn't even sure how close, but he knew there was a bond between the two. A bond so special neither talked about it. He'd often wondered if Malloy and MacDonald had ever ridden together. If there was some story that he had yet to hear of how one had saved the other's life. Maybe they were just fishing buddies. Pete took his fellow anglers' friendships pretty seriously. Whatever the reason, they were close, and that was apparent on MacDonald's features as he watched over his fallen friend now.
"Why do they always look so young?" MacDonald said in just above a whisper.
"Oh, nothing," he shook his head. "I was just...lying there...he looks like a kid."
"He's bleeding, Mac," Jim stated the obvious. "Where's that ambulance?"
"The ambulance is code three..."
"The ambulance is code three..." Pete heard MacDonald's voice over the broken radio. He couldn't respond. There was a problem with the microphone on his radio, but he doubted he had the strength left anyway. The pain was getting more severe, his abdomen had gone rigid. The discomfort radiated up his spine to just beneath his collarbone. He knew there were internal injuries, probably a couple of broken ribs, maybe a concussion.
He dropped the wire from the radio microphone and slid down to lie flat on the ground. That seemed to relieve the pressure a little. It had been a long night.
He'd never really lost faith, though things had looked pretty hopeless. He'd rolled the black-and-white down a bush-covered hill in Griffith Park, his radio inoperable, his location masked better than he could have ever managed deliberately. He knew that bulldog streak of Reed's just wouldn't let this go.
His only worry had been whether he could hold out until they stumbled onto him. He'd been praying they would find him in time, but surprisingly his thoughts weren't only for himself. He knew how hard his partner would take it if they didn't. He'd lost his partner once; he didn't wish that feeling on anyone. And Reed took things hard, real hard.
But just when things had looked the bleakest, he'd heard Mac call to an L-car, and Reed's voice respond.
"1-L-15 this is 1-L-20. Give me your location," Mac summoned.
"At the...intersection of...eh...Vermont and Normandy." Even as out of it as he was, Pete could tell his partner was lying. Jim was in the park again, against Mac's directive, searching where he knew Pete had to be, despite what the search team believed. As usual, playing one of this hunches.
"Reed. Are you in the park?" Mac apparently heard the deception too.
"Yes," came the clipped admission. "Look...Mac...let me make this one run through and then I'll stay north of the freeway. I promise."
"Okay. One pass and then out."
"Stubborn...jerk ..." Pete forced between clenched teeth. The pain was getting more severe,
and he was growing weaker. But he knew his partner was still searching for him, in the park.
"Mac, I've got him!" Reed's excitement came across the radio frequency. "About two miles south of Travel Town on Reese Drive and Griffith Park Road. My reds are on."
"Roger L-15. We're all en route." Pete could hear the relief in his sergeant's voice as well. "Ambulance is code three."
Pete closed his eyes, relaxing for the first time since this whole ordeal began. It wouldn't be long now. All he had to do was hold out for a little longer.
"Just hold on a little longer," Mac said in a whisper, his hand on Pete's arm.
"The ambulance is pulling up," Ed Wells gasped as he sprinted up to the officers huddled around Pete's still unmoving body. "He awake?"
"No." Mac shook his head.
Wells leaned hard against the metal shelving. "Damn!" Jim watched as the usually annoying officer fought with his own worries for Malloy. Pete always did say Wells was a marshmallow inside, but Jim rarely saw evidence like this.
"He'll be fine," Mac assured, though Jim doubted his conviction. "They'll get him to the hospital and the docs'll fix him up good as new."
Jim heard a clattering in the distance and looked up to see the ambulance crew with a stretcher at a full run as they made their way through the crowded warehouse.
"Over here!" Jim shouted. "Hurry!"
The crew checked Pete's vital signs and then gently turned him on his back. Jim had to close his eyes when he first caught sight of this partner's face. An ugly bruise had already started on the right side. The left was smeared with his own blood and dirt from the floor of the warehouse.
"I think we've got a concussion," one crewman announced to his partner after shining a flashlight in Pete's unresponsive eyes. "We'd better get him to the hospital."
It's about time! Jim sighed. He'd been unable to keep his impatient fears from showing while he watched them hover over his friend. As they started to roll the gurney away, Jim followed at their heels.
"Hey," Mac grabbed at Reed's uniform sleeve. "Where you think you're going?"
"I'm gonna ride in with Pete ..."
"No, you're not." The sergeant shook his head. "I need you here, Reed."
"Mac!" he cried, certain he'd risk insubordination charges if the sergeant kept him from accompanying his partner to the hospital.
"Jim. He's unconscious," Mac reasoned firmly. "He won't even know you're there."
"When he wakes up, Mac, he's not gonna be alone." Jim turned on his heel and followed the gurney at a sprint. MacDonald wasn't calling him back. He was allowing this defiance, but that hardly mattered. Nothing was going to keep him from his friend's side.
Jim jumped into the back of the vehicle as the crew secured Pete's gurney into the ambulance.
"You his partner?" the taller of the two ambulance attendants asked Jim when the doors were closed.
"Yeah," he nodded. "Is he...gonna be...all right?"
"We're doing all we can," the man assured quietly.
"He's -" Jim stopped. He couldn't say what was on his mind. It would sound ridiculous. But he wanted them to know how important it was that they help his friend.
"He's in good hands," the ambulance driver called over his shoulder. "Brian's the best."
"We'll take good care of him, don't you worry," Brian assured him. "How long you two been riding together?"
"Little over two years," Jim replied past the lump in his throat.
"Your first partner?"
"Only one, yeah," Jim answered quietly, his eyes never leaving Pete's battered face.
"Me and Greg. We been together almost four years," Brian smiled as he worked on Pete. "Just sorta forgot to change up. Now it's habit, I guess. Ya get used to a guy, ya know?"
"Yeah." Jim thought he'd scream if they didn't change the subject from partners. "Is he..."
"I think he's comin' around," Brian nodded toward Pete's fluttering eyelids.
"Pete!" Jim gasped.
"Hey, it's okay..." Brian tried to calm Pete as he started to jerk on the gurney. He pressed down firmly on his chest to hold him on the stretcher, trying to tighten the straps around him. Pete moaned as though he were in pain and continued to fight Brian's efforts to keep him down, though he still wasn't awake. "Greg! Kill that siren!"
"What's happening?" Jim questioned, concern lining his face.
"I think he's coming to, but the siren may have startled him. We get that a lot, but for a cop, it has to push different buttons," Brian tried to explain as he fought with Pete to keep him on the gurney. "Pull over, Greg! I need help back here." The ambulance was already coming to a stop.
"I can help," Jim offered. "Tell me what to do."
"Help me hold him and I'll strap his arms down."
"Pete," Jim begged, his voice much steadier than he felt. "Pete, calm down, partner. It's okay. They're just trying to help you."
Greg burst through the doors and hauled himself into the back of the ambulance. "Come on, guy. Let's go easy on Brian, huh?"
"I think he may have a coupla cracked ribs," Brian tried to explain as the three of them restrained Pete's flailing limbs. "When I put a little pressure on his chest to hold him down, he moaned and reacted like he was in a whole lotta pain."
"Well then, don't do that again. I don't think he likes it much," Greg chuckled as they were able to get Pete calmed down. Jim sat watching, feeling helpless. "I wouldn't doubt it about the ribs. He's gonna be one sore boy when he wakes up."
"I just wish he would wake up," Jim muttered.
"He might be better off sleeping through it," Brian smiled sympathetically.
"Now, do you think you can keep it quiet back here so I can get this heap back on the road?" Greg joked with his partner as he patted Jim on the shoulder.
"We'll do our best," Brian winked. "As long as he doesn't go into convulsions again."
"Just relax," Greg said softly to their patient as he helped Brian settle the blankets around Pete. "And leave the driving to me."
"Just relax and leave the driving to me." The police sergeant smiled at the weary young soldier in the seat beside him. "You look plum tuckered out."
"The only modes of public transportation I haven't been on in the last sixty-five hours are a boat and a rickshaw!" Pete sighed as he stretched his long legs in front of him. He had been on the road for more than two days solid. A jeep from the camp to the airstrip in Paris, the trans-Atlantic flight, his second in as many days; the plane from New York to California that stopped in Denver and Houston with lay-overs in both. Then there had been another bus from the airport to his hometown. He'd finally decided to walk the last two miles from the bus station rather than wait on a cab, until a local cop saw him lugging his heavy duffle bag, stopped and insisted he ride the rest of the way in the cruiser.
"Home on furlough, huh?" the sergeant asked just as Pete closed his eyes. He obviously wanted to chat and that was the last thing the exhausted private wanted at the moment.
"Just a few days," he replied simply. He didn't want to get into the reasons for his hardship leave with a perfect stranger.
"Well, your family will be glad to see you," the policeman continued.
"Yeah," Pete sighed. He still hadn't gotten used to the fact that home would never be the same place he'd departed a few months before. When he'd left that neat brick two-story at 147 Sycamore to head for basic training, his father had been on that porch, waving goodbye. Pete had no idea that it would be the last time he saw Timothy Malloy alive.
As he made his way up the walk of the small brick house, he heard his cousin call out, "Aunt Mary! It's Pete!" Mrs. Malloy came running and Pete grabbed her up in his arms, lifting her easily off the sidewalk.
"You look..." she stopped in mid-sentence, burying her face in his shoulder as the trembling began and tears threatened to return. He held her fast, wishing he could take her pain. "Wonderful!"
"Mom -" Pete didn't know what to say. He'd only had seventy-two hours to try to figure it out, but now that it was here, he had no idea what words could make the least bit of difference.
"He looks exhausted to me," Pete's pretty cousin, Anne interjected from her place on the stairs. "And starved, I'll bet."
"Hey, Nan," he smiled wearily, looking up at her but not letting go of his mother for even a moment.
"Aunt Mary," she continued, her voice practical and calm. "Why don't we get Pete something to eat."
"I'm not hungry," Pete managed, though he wouldn't even attempt to argue with her suggestion that he was exhausted. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept, or just stretched out flat.
"Not even for my apple pie?" his mother tempted, wiping at her eyes. "When did you eat last, dear?"
"I don't know," he lied. It had been three days ago, the night his unit arrived in Europe. The night the lieutenant had told him about his father's sudden heart attack. All the time since was quickly becoming a bleary haze. But he wasn't lying about having no appetite.
"Well, that settles it. Your mother hasn't eaten much, either. What do you say we break out a couple of those casseroles the neighbors keep bringing." Anne set off. "I'll be in the kitchen if anyone cares."
"No so fast, there, Nan!" Pete let go of his mother with a gentle kiss to her forehead that promised for the next seventy-two hours at least, he would never be far. "Come here." He grabbed Anne's tiny hand in his and pulled her to him in a warm embrace.
"It's good to have you home," she sighed, very near tears at the moment.
"Missed me, huh?' he managed a weak chuckle, tapping her nose playfully. For one brief moment there was the joy of being together, but it faded as quickly as it had come, overshadowed again by the pall of his father's death.
"Why on earth would I miss you?" she swatted his shoulder. "Now, let me get busy, would ya? Some of us have work to do."
Pete let her go, reluctantly, returning his attentions to the mother who kept staring at him with a wistful smile and misty eyes. He knew the reason why. Somewhere in the last few months, the boy had become a man. Pete had recognized the soldier staring back at him from his shaving mirror. It was the same face he'd welcomed home when he was seven years old. It was his father.
"How was your trip, darling?' she asked as he walked her to the other side of the porch. Pete sat his mother in her favorite wicker chair and leaned against the railing across from her. He reached instinctively for the pack of Lucky's in his breast pocket, then aborted the move, realizing what he was doing. He'd never smoked in front of his mother before. Pete didn't think now was the best time to start.
"It was fine, Mom," he lied again. The truth was, he had never had a worse three days in his life and he couldn't wait to take a shower and lie down on a bed, even if sleep might still be difficult.
"It took such a long time," she commented, no doubt searching for something neutral to discuss. Pete knew the feeling, intimately. Being home, with people who loved him, made the hurt all the more intense. He knew they'd talk about his father, when the time came, but right now he just wanted to be with her.
"It's a big country, Mom," Pete smiled sympathetically. He could only imagine how the time must have dragged for her, waiting for the Red Cross confirmation that they'd even been able to locate one serviceman in thousands, and then his long trek back home. "And an even bigger ocean. Europe is a long way off."
"Well, I'm glad you're home," she returned his smile, tears welling in her eyes. "Seems like you've been gone for a year."
"It's only been three months, Mom," he shook his head.
"Are you arguing with your mother?" her eyes flashed with something like teasing, but it was quenched by the tears that welled in those faded blues.
"Never," Pete sniffed. "Since I'm here, is there anything you need me to take care of?"
"Not just now, honey. Annie has been handling everything just fine so far."
"She seems so grown up," he commented about the cousin he'd tormented affectionately since as a three-and-a-half-year-old he'd first been allowed to hold the tiny pink bundle. "Or did I just not notice before?"
"Aunt Mary," the girl they'd been discussing called from the screen door. "It's Blanche Davison. I told her Pete was here, but ..."
"It's all right, sweetheart. It will only take a minute," Mary Malloy shook her greying head as she stood and moved back inside. "I've been waiting for her call."
Pete followed his mother into the house, but he continued on to the Malloy's neat and well-used kitchen. He found Anne putting a casserole into the oven, an assortment of Tupperware and Pyrex bowls filled with salads and desserts lined one of the counters.
"You got enough food here, Nan?" he tugged on the apron strings around her slim waist. She turned into his arms, grabbing her favorite cousin to her tightly.
"I'm sure glad you're home," she sniffed, wiping a tear. "It's been...hard, P.J."
"Sorry I wasn't closer," Pete sighed, hugging her warmly. "I should have been here..."
"That wasn't your fault," Annie smiled, busying herself with chores again. "You couldn't help that the Army had other ideas."
"Yeah." Pete hopped up on the counter next to the wide porcelain sink, nabbing an apple from the fruit basket sent by Mr. Osborne of Osborne's Pharmacy, where Pete had worked the soda fountain and made deliveries after school his sophomore year. "If you'd called a few hours earlier I wouldn't have been on my way across the Atlantic."
"So when do you go back?"
"I report in three days for re-assignment," he answered quietly. There was more behind the statement than he was willing to show.
"Re-assignment? Aren't they sending you back to your unit?"
"The Red Cross might help me get passage home for the funeral, but Uncle Sam isn't gonna fly one lowly serviceman back to Paris." He shook his head. "The lieutenant said I'll be attached to a new division. It's hard to tell where I'll end up." He tossed her a crooked smile, not wanting to upset her with the fact that he hadn't seen anything of France but the inside of a troop transport and the base, or that he was already missing the buddies he'd made during basic training. "Sometimes they try to keep ya stateside after, being the only son, you know. Maybe even close enough to get home now and then...like California."
"Oh, P.J.!" She realized what that would mean to him. He had written her several times of his excitement to see Europe and the world. California would be a major disappointment. "No Eiffel Tower?"
"Worse! No Can-Can girls!" he joked, shrugging off her sad expression. "Look at it this way. I won't have to learn a foreign language or eat snails!"
"That's my P.J." she smiled. "Always looking on the bright side."
"Is that what the U.S. Government taught you?" Mary Malloy exclaimed as she caught sight of her son's lanky frame perched on her counter, his long legs dangling. "Get down from there!"
"Yes, ma'am," he smiled, glad to hear her sounding more like the mother he remembered. Her constant endearments and deferential treatment since he'd gotten home had been making him nervous. Pete slid off the counter and pulled out a chair at the enameled kitchen table, holding it as his mother sat down. Anne fetched her a glass of iced tea. "That's smelling really good, Nan."
"I thought you weren't hungry?" she reminded with a bit of playfulness.
"That was when I thought I'd be eating your cooking. Mrs. Albright's chicken casserole has revived my appetite," he replied, trying his best to keep things light. Being home was bringing a lot of emotions to the surface and making him more aware of how tired he was.
"Well, save room for my pie," his mother admonished.
"Aunt Mary, have you ever known P.J. to turn down dessert? Especially your pie?" Anne asked with a smile. "Your mother started baking all your favorites as soon as we got the call from the Red Cross that you were being shipped home," she explained as she opened the oven door to remove the casserole. Pete was there in a heartbeat, taking the oven mitts from her and getting the hot casserole out himself.
"Well, maybe the Army taught him something useful after all," Mary mused, still watching her son with that nostalgic look in her eyes.
"No, Aunt Mary," Anne laughed, observing as her cousin finished setting the table with the plates she'd gotten out of the cupboard. "They've sent us someone else. He looks like Pete and sounds like him, but this can't be our Jammies!"
Anne's use of the old, hated nickname tripped her cousin's trigger. Pete grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her in the air. She was upside down in an instant, gasping for breath, arms flailing at his legs in retaliation. "I've put up with P.J." he threatened, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "But I told you never to call me that, again!"
"Put your cousin down, Peter," his mother warned. "You're both too old for such nonsense."
"Say you're sorry!" Pete insisted, holding her legs over his shoulder, her hands just shy of brushing the tile floor. "Say you'll never do it again."
"Okay," Anne gasped, laughing so hard she could hardly speak at all.
"Say it!" Pete demanded. "You're sorry! And you're my adoring, obedient slave, forever! Say it or I'll drop you on your head!"
"Peter Joseph! You aren't dropping anyone on their heads tonight! We're all too tired for this," his mother's smile belied the severity of her tone. "Now put her down, gently, and let's eat."
"Mom," he protested. "She hasn't said she's sorry."
"Annie girl, tell Peter you're sorry and let's stop all this. It isn't at all appropriate."
With that Pete didn't wait for the apology. He swung Anne easily into his arms and set her down carefully.
"Sorry," she mouthed, looking deep into his red-rimmed eyes. Pete smiled his forgiveness. "I've just missed ya....Jammies!"
He held her fast as she tried to squirm an escape. "She'll turn her head," Pete's voice mimicked a low, menacing threat. "Or she'll fall asleep. And then I'll have you alone and all bets are off." He squeezed her tightly before letting her go and joining his mother at the small kitchen table.
"We should eat in the dining room," Mary suggested as an after thought. "It's Pete's first night home. It should be special. Get out the candles, Anne, and the china and..."
"Mom," Pete laid a broad, freckled hand over his mother's wrinkled one. "This is special."
"Yeah, Aunt Mary," Anne agreed. "The kitchen is cozier."
Pete nearly fell asleep during dinner. He could feel his body shutting down with the relaxation of being home. The long arduous journey had taken a toll. The next morning he was surprised at how soundly he'd slept. He couldn't even remember taking a shower or crawling into the narrow bed in his old room.
But in the morning fatigue was shrugged off once again out of necessity. He faced the day ahead with only thoughts of duty. Wearing his dress uniform made it easier to remain detached, to think in terms of obligations rather than personal loss. The funeral had a surreal feel to it that Pete had no way of knowing was more common than he would have believed, uniform or no. He supported his mother, stood by her as friends and the few family members left paid their last respects. He served as pall bearer, hoisting the polished casket on his shoulder with white gloved hands. He folded the bright stars and stripes that draped the veteran's coffin in honor and handed the token to the veiled widow. He thanked the well-wishers, paid the limo driver, accepted the blessing of the priest. But he never once owned the pain and grief the day commemorated. Not for himself.
Later that afternoon his mother began boxing up his father's things. Pete would have preferred a dozen other ways of spending their brief time together. But he had no idea when he'd get back home, and didn't want to leave her to deal with the sad task alone, so he helped without complaint. Mary Malloy could still read her only son's moods, though the Army might send him hundreds of miles away, take her energetic boy and turn him into a quiet man. After a couple of hours, she suggested he take a walk, making excuses that he was getting under foot. He saw through her compassionate ruse, but took the opportunity to get some air.
In his haste he'd grabbed a jacket of his father's as he escaped out the back door, but instead of returning to get one of his own, he just shrugged into the old blue windbreaker. It smelled of his father's Old Spice at the collar. A shudder ran through him as memories tugged at his heart, but he ran from them, literally. Deciding to sprint for a while, he stretched muscles that were crying for the release of exercise and pumped blood to a brain that didn't want to remember, to accept. Not yet.
He ended up beside the lake. Pete knew that piece of land well. It was the place his father had taken him to teach an eager four-year-old how to hold a bamboo pole and stay as still as four will allow, waiting for the bite of a fish on the line. In the fifteen years that followed, Pete had spent thousands of hours in this tranquil place. It was where he went to sort things out, to plan, to dream, to come to grips with mistakes and decide the best recourse. He'd run away from home a handful of times between the ages of five and eleven, and always found his way here. When enough time had passed that the boy was ready to discuss whatever intolerable condition had made it necessary to flee the security of his happy home, his father would arrive, poles in hand. After drowning a few worms and some quiet talk, both Malloys would return home with dinner in hand, and smiles on faces.
The very ground seemed to be filled with memories. Pete picked up a handful of stones, skipping one over the placid surface of the lake. It barely made a sound as it sent shallow ripples across the expanse of calm. He remembered the last visit to this spot, the day he left for boot camp. Neither of them had spoken for the first hour they were there, fishing in silent tandem as though a word would break the spell. But when his father finally began, it was perhaps the most serious conversation the two ever had. He talked about leaving home, the world beyond their small community, the temptations, the dangers and the exciting lessons his son would learn. He talked about the war, and Pete was certain he'd never shared some of that with another living soul. It was the sort of thing you only told your only son, about to face reality for the first time outside your scope of influence. Away from the safety of home.
Pete had shared in the conversation eventually, telling his father of the dreams he had to travel and see the world, to explore what was over the horizon and how other people lived. They talked about his future, and what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. They even talked about girls and marriage, and Timothy Malloy revealed to his son the secret of what had first attracted him to a little slip of a thing called Mary.
In retrospect, it was as if his father had known it would be their last talk. Pete realized that such thoughts might have been floating in the back of the elder Malloy's mind on that sunny day three months before, though his fears were likely for his son's safe return. The heart attack had been sudden, without warning. His father had no premonition, no touching last words to loved ones. He'd been alone in the back yard, mowing the grass. The mailman, hearing the mower and knowing it was Mary's day to volunteer at the library, had come around back to chat with Tim and grab a glass of lemonade, as usual. He found Timothy Malloy lying lifeless on the cool, shady lawn.
Pete tossed the rest of the stones into the lake. He grabbed larger rocks and hurled them into the water, angered by its peacefulness, despite the irrationality of the emotion. Pete took up a fallen branch and heaved it at the already churning lake, watching with little satisfaction the frothing his tantrum caused until he could see nothing for the sting of angry tears. Pete gave in to the rage and sorrow he'd been holding back, and like a break in a dam when finally let loose, grief came in torrential sobs. Eventually he collapsed, exhausted against the exposed roots of an ancient tree that had witnessed each word and every poignant silence between father and son.
Obligation finally stirred him from the reverie that had followed his outburst and he headed back down the path toward home. He would be forced to leave her the day after tomorrow, but he'd spend as much time as he could with his mother before his orders sent him away. And if they offered assignment stateside, he'd take it gratefully and make it home as often as possible.
He found her out in the garage, in his father's workshop, a place of dubious order that made a kind of sense to the son, but had always been a source of frustration to Mary Malloy.
"Mom," he kissed her forehead, feeling the emotion still shaky in his untried voice. "I can do this out here."
"I know, sweetheart," she smiled, touching his cheek with a time-softened hand. "All this stuff is yours, of course, but I'm looking for something specific."
"Okay," he replied, sitting on the squeaky metal stool his father would never throw out. He'd twirled in it as a boy, loving the noisy protests as much as the spinning. He watched his mother going through the boxes and shelves filled with his father's tools and tackle as though it were an archeological dig. It was the part of himself Timothy Malloy had never shared with her. It was perhaps the part Pete knew the best.
Pete figured she was looking for something promised to one of his father's fishing buddies, or perhaps even borrowed and unreturned. He was shocked when she turned with the faded green box in her hands and a bright eyed smile.
"Here it is!" she beamed, extending the object of her search toward her son's confused frown.
"Dad's spinning reel?" Pete questioned, still not understanding her meaning.
"It was his favorite," Mary replied with nostalgia.
"I know," he answered, remembering the times he'd wanted to try it, and the one time he'd been granted the privilege. Who would be using it now?
"You can do whatever you like with the other stuff here," Mary said with more than a touch of sadness. "But your father was very clear about what should happen to this."
Pete took the box she handed him, wanting one last look at his father's treasured reel.
"He put it up, the night you left. Said he wished he'd given it to you then," she brushed at a stray tear with the corner of her apron. "But he didn't know where you'd be stationed, or what kind of fish they had there."
"Thanks, Mom," Pete finally managed, folding her to him.
"He was so proud of you that night. He finally admitted how much he was going to miss you," she remembered. "'Mary, he said, we did all right with that one.'" She patted his back, like she had when he was little. "Well, I'd better get started. You want to help me move those boxes of your Dad's clothes into the trunk. I need to drive them over to Sarah at the Aide Society before they close."
"Mom, for the rest of my visit," he let her go reluctantly, "Why don't you just leave the driving to me."
"Lookit, why don't you just relax and leave the driving to me," Reed smiled, both hands on the unit's steering wheel.
"That's why I can't relax, 'cause you're doing the driving," Pete groused.
"I haven't had any complaints from Jean," Reed continued, apparently oblivious to Pete's warning glare. "I manage to get to work every day without any problems..." The younger officer tossed a look at his unwilling passenger in emphasis, reminding his partner of the driver's license he'd forgotten to renew. Rubbing it in, just a bit. "...legally."
"Ever since St. Christopher got knocked outta the box as the patron saint of travelers, I figure your time could be up any second," Pete muttered.
"Nag. Nag. Nag." Reed's eyes twinkled with the joke.
It wasn't often the probationer got the chance to drive and Pete wasn't dealing well with his enforced stint riding shotgun. It was his own fault, and that was what was really rankling him. He'd let his driver's license lapse, a careless mistake. He was going to catch some ribbing from the other officers for being so stupid, but he was more worried about how he was going to get through the watch not driving.
It made him nervous sitting there in the passenger seat, having to let Reed drive, not being in control. Pete Malloy made it a point to always be in control. And though he'd never made the connection quite so clearly before, driving was a big part of that on the job. He couldn't really complain about Reed's driving. He wasn't doing badly, considering, but Pete didn't have to like it.
"All units and 1-Adam-12, a 415 woman with a gun, shots being fired, in front of 11310 Los Filos," the radio squawked. "1-Adam-12, handle code three."
"Another code three. Baptism of fire for you today," Pete complained as he reached for the mic to acknowledge the call. He watched as his partner wheeled the black and white through traffic toward the address. He called out the side streets, as Reed usually did for him.
"I killed him, I killed him," the wretched woman wailed as they pulled to the curb in front of her house. She was wielding a gun, leaning against the railing of the porch for support.
"Take it easy, partner," Pete admonished as they both bailed out the driver's side of the black and white. "...we don't know which way she's gonna jump."
"What's the plan?"
"Tell those guys to lay back and hold their fire," he referred to the backup unit that had skidded to a halt behind Adam 12. "She's out of her head."
"See if you can distract her. I'll try to get around behind her."
"Watch yourself," Reed warned with concern.
"Get going," Pete deflected the worry with work. Concentration. "Keep your head down."
"Keep your head down," Brian warned Jim as they exited the ambulance at the Emergency entrance. He hopped down from the vehicle and reached for the side of the gurney to help Brian and Greg ease it out to the parking lot.
"Careful with him," he said under his breath, unaware he'd spoken the caution aloud.
"Hey, we do this all the time," Greg smiled. "Haven't dumped one on the ground since our second day."
"Sorry," Jim shrugged, his hand on Pete's shoulder as the gurney bumped along the ramp and into the automatic doors. He felt so helpless, as though Pete's safety was further and further from his grasp with every moment. These ambulance attendants seemed nice enough, but he wasn't happy leaving his friend to someone else's care. Yet the closer they got to the busy emergency room, the quicker it seemed Pete was being taken from him.
He accompanied them into the curtained cubicle, followed by a charge nurse and a young intern. Sounds surrounded him as they elbowed past to get to the patient. Jim wanted to help, but he realized that he was quickly becoming a hindrance to the procedures. He was just in the way. Yet he knew he couldn't leave Pete's side for an instant.
"I'm going to need some information on the patient," the nurse announced after listening to the ambulance attendants rattle off the basics of Pete's injuries to the doctor. "Are you his partner?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jim replied absently, watching as they began unbuttoning Pete's shirt. Jim felt his stomach churn as he witnessed his partner being undressed by strangers, those strong arms moved about without their will.
"Here's his badge," Brian handed the shiny shield to Jim carefully and started to unbuckle the gun belt.
"May I have his name, please?" the nurse persisted.
"Careful," Greg cautioned as they slipped the leather belt out from under Pete's hips. "Here, Jim."
Reed took the gun belt without taking his eyes from his partner's still form. Pete looked pale beneath the sprinkling of freckles, and somehow small against the white sheets, surrounded by a growing team of medical personnel. Jim wished there was something more he could do than stand there holding Pete's gear in his hands.
"If you can't give me the information here, we'll have to ask you to leave the room."
Jim wheeled on the nurse, who barely came to his chin, his eyes flashing blue flame as he turned his annoyance on her.
"I'm not leaving him!" Jim shouted.
"Hey!" Brian intervened, a hand across Jim's chest. "Nobody's going anywhere. I think we're just a little stressed right now, but we're all here to take care of your partner, okay?"
"Look, I need to get this information so they can treat your friend," the nurse said with a softer tone. "Now, why don't we start with a name, huh?"
"Malloy, Peter J." Reed answered, swallowing his anger and frustration..
"Malloy, Peter J." Lieutenant Carpenter called.
"Yes, sir!" Pete Malloy replied, snapping to attention. It was his first day as a probationary officer. He was as stiff as his new leather gunbelt.
"You'll be with Moore in 1-Adam-12 today," the commanding officer ordered, with a knowing glance toward veteran training officer Val Moore.
"Yes, sir!" the eager recruit acknowledged as the lieutenant continued the duty roster.
After inspection Pete stood beneath the apron at the edge of the parking lot, watching the officers dispersing to a dozen black and white units. He couldn't remember which one of the men he'd seen in roll call was Officer Moore.
"Malloy, right?" the tall, dark-haired officer with laughing blue eyes sidled up to the fresh-faced rookie.
"Yes, sir," he replied, trying to remember who the congenial officer was. His joking with a grey-haired officer about a fishing trip had gotten Pete's attention in the locker room, but there were so many people to meet.
"Bill MacDonald," the officer smiled, extending a hand. "We're in 1-X-rayray-43. We'll probably see a lot of you today."
"MacDonald," Pete repeated. He wanted to remember the name of someone who'd taken the time to be nice.
"I'll try to get Val to meet up for Code Seven later. We'll take you to Duke's. You like chili?"
"Yeah," Pete answered eagerly.
"Well, let's just hope dispatch cooperates, then," MacDonald chuckled. "And hey, good luck!"
"Malloy?" A tall thin officer with a long, dour face had approached from behind.
"Yes, sir?" Pete spun around, startled.
"You planning to go on patrol today?"
"Yes, sir!" Pete swallowed.
"Well, let's get out there, shall we? The criminals aren't taking a coffee break."
"Yes, sir." He followed the senior officer to the black and white.
"Put your gear in the back," Moore ordered in a clipped delivery that put Pete's every nerve on alert. The rookie slid into the passenger seat, hoping to catch up for lost time, only to receive an exasperated look from his training officer.
"The shotgun?" Moore asked.
"It's secured in a rack under the front seat of the vehicle..." Pete recited from the manual. Reaching down between his legs, he felt the empty space. His face fell slack.
"It is," Moore replied. "Usually after it's been signed out."
"From the kit room officer," Pete sighed, realizing he was off to an unauspicious beginning. He hopped out of the cruiser and headed back into the station. The next moment he was in line behind Carl Reeger, a classmate from the academy.
"Who'd ya pull, Pete?" Reeger asked quietly.
"Moore," Pete answered in just above a whisper.
"I got Perkins," Reeger said. "And he's already bit my head off three times! I swear I don't breathe right for him!"
"I know the feeling. Hey, if there's anything left of us after watch, you want to go out?" Pete's smile was broad and open.
"Sure! If we survive, we'll have something to celebrate!" Reeger laughed.
When Pete returned to 1-Adam-12 a few minutes later, Moore was a couple of yards away, talking to the lieutenant in hushed tones. Pete secured the shotgun in its rack and the new hot sheet above the desk on the dash as he waited, willing himself to relax. He tried to remember every word of the last six months training and drew a hopeless blank.
Val Moore was an eleven year veteran of the LAPD. He'd served the first five in the Van Nuys division and since his transfer to Central six years ago, he'd become the number one training officer. He was planning to take the sergeant's exam in the spring. Moore had been married for fourteen years and had three kids, two boys and a girl. Moore had a quiet, by-the-book style that gave Pete confidence. And despite their rocky start that morning, he felt lucky to have been assigned to him.
Pete had the radio procedure down pat right away, glad he'd paid close attention during those classes, and he watched Moore intently on every call. Afterwards they would review each encounter as they drove their beat, Pete making notes and asking questions.
They responded to a traffic accident at Westchester and Seventieth. Pete directed traffic while Moore saw to the ambulances. When the injured were on their way to the hospital, the officers began interviewing witnesses as the men from Accident Investigation took measurements, dealt with the tow trucks and cleared the street of debris. Pete filled pages of his notebook with facts and quotes from two drivers whose vehicles hadn't been directly involved and a couple who had been sitting on their front porch at the time and saw the whole thing. When he'd finished, he joined Moore back at the black and white to complete the report.
As he began to give Moore the information from his notebook, Pete realized that he had failed to get the names and address of the couple. After the embarrassing revelation to his training officer, he hauled himself out of the cruiser and walked back to the corner house. Pete knocked on the door, swallowed his pride and asked the simplest of all questions. He wouldn't make that mistake again.
A couple of hours into the watch, they took a call for a 211 at a liquor store on South Clemente. Moore hit the reds and squinted at the road ahead with even deeper intensity.
"They covered this at the academy," he confirmed quietly.
"Yes, sir," Pete replied, feeling his heart rate jump. He quickly reviewed everything he'd ever been taught about the scenario they were about to face, mentally replaying the simulations from his six months' training.
"Watch yourself," Moore warned, chancing a glance at his young partner as he flipped off the lights and pulled the black and white up to the rear of the building.
A man flew out of the front door, a flash of steel in his hand warning of the weapon. Pete took off at a run after the dark-clad thug, racing past the entrance to the liquor store and down the street, knees pumping. Pete caught up with the gunman when he ran into a fence in the alley about six blocks from the liquor store. The rookie lunged at the suspect, peeling him off the fence as he tried to scale the barrier and dragging them both to the ground. After a bit of a scuffle, Pete got the upper hand, secured the man's weapon in his own belt and had the guy cuffed before Moore caught up to them with the cruiser.
"You got it under control, Malloy?" the training officer asked, his brow furrowed as he strode toward the dusty rookie and his prisoner.
"Yes, sir." Pete smiled triumphantly, steering the suspect to the waiting black and white.
"And I suppose you already gave this gentleman his rights?" Moore said quietly, a wry smile softening that foreboding face. "While you were climbing the fence, perhaps."
The rookie pulled the notebook from his breast pocket. Coloring deeply but not missing a beat he began, "You have the right to remain silent..."
They met 1-Adam-19 at the front of the building, and Reeger and Perkins watched the prisoner while Moore and Malloy went inside to talk with the owner.
"My partner will take the report, Denny," Moore nodded toward Pete as he entered the store, still brushing off his brand new uniform.
"Since when did Howdy Doody join the force?" the bald-headed owner laughed at Pete's freckles and eager smile.
"Officer Pete Malloy," Pete introduced, keeping his annoyance under wraps. He snapped open the report book and slipped the pen from his breast pocket. "I have a few questions, sir, for the report."
"I guess the kid don't ruffle easy, huh?" the man eyed Moore with residual doubt.
"Well, it wasn't any marionette who tackled that perp out there," Moore slapped Pete on the shoulder. A momentary look of pride passed from the veteran as he stepped back to let the rookie take charge.
Pete was falling into a rhythm by the time he took the call to meet 1-X-ray-43 at Duke's Longhorn Café. Dispatch cleared them for a code seven and a few minutes later Moore pulled in behind the other unit. MacDonald was leaning against the back fender with that ever-present smile.
"How's the kid working out?" he asked Moore with a twinkle.
"Ya haven't shot him yet, I see," Owens cracked as they walked through the door of the small café.
Pete followed the other officers into the Western motif restaurant. A blonde waitress wearing cowboy boots and carrying menus met them with a smile.
"Ya boys want a booth?" she drawled, indicating a wide wooden table by the windows.
"That'll be great," Mac smiled, leading the way."How's the chili today?"
"Same as always, Mac," the short, crusty owner called from behind the counter. "Perfection!"
MacDonald motioned for Malloy to slide in beside him and the rookie gratefully obeyed. He'd been worrying about how he'd fit in and whether the other officers would give the new guy a hard time, a sort of hazing he'd heard was common in some divisions. So far he'd gotten off pretty easily. Moore wasn't so bad once you got used to him, and his quiet manner made Pete feel he could ask questions without fear. And Bill MacDonald seemed to be friendly and inclusive.
"Who's your friend there?" Duke asked as he sidled over to the officers' booth. He gave Pete the once over.
"Malloy," Pete smiled broadly, "Pete Malloy."
"And this is the owner of this fine establishment," Mac introduced. "Duke, meet our newest recruit."
"They're makin' em a lot younger these days," the small man observed. "You have to have him home by nine o'clock?"
"Pete's been in the Army and everything," Moore offered, with a sympathetic glance at the color rising from his young partner's collar. "He's all of twenty-six."
"Twenty-six!" Duke's eyebrows jumped. "I was gonna ask him for ID if he ordered the coffee!"
"If he drinks much of your coffee, he won't make twenty-seven," Owens wise-cracked, setting the entire table into chuckles.
Pete ordered the requisite chili and a cheeseburger and fries on the side, enduring the snipes about being a growing boy from his fellow officers with good humor and a shrug. During lunch he learned a little more about the others.
MacDonald was new to Central, having transferred from Hollywood Division only two months prior to Pete's arrival. He was married to a former school teacher and had two small children-a boy named Billy who by all accounts was going to be a star quarterback for the Rams and President of the United States, and a sweet little blue-eyed angel named Elizabeth who, MacDonald's partner Owens warned, would steal Pete's heart on sight.
Ray Owens had been on the force and with Central Division for eight years. He was a confirmed bachelor and spent his off time on a fishing boat he owned with another policeman assigned to a different watch. He was working on getting MacDonald out there on the water and when he found that Pete was also an angler, he warmed to the rookie immediately, even offering to take him out the next time they had the same day off.
Their forty-five minutes flew by, and before he knew it, Pete was back in the black and white, patrolling the streets beside Officer Moore. It was getting dark and he started to realize how much harder it was to see things like the make and color of cars or be sure of license plates and details of physical descriptions. And as the city fell into darkness, the calls came on top of one another. It was turning into a busy night.
Two more hours into their shift they responded to a call for shots fired in a commercial area on their district's east side. Shopkeepers in the area had not been able to give a description or tell the police anything more than the fact that a gunman was shooting into the crowded street. 1-Adam-12 arrived to screams and staccato gunfire and a scene of utter confusion. They bailed out of their black and white and met up with 1-X-ray-43 parked diagonally at the curb.
"What do we have?" Moore asked Owens and MacDonald as they crouched beside them, using the patrol unit as cover from flying bullets.
"That storefront up ahead, the one with the laundromat," MacDonald indicated a building about a block up the street. "There are apartments above. Apparently the guy is holed up in there, and from the looks of things, he's pretty heavily armed."
"He's got a damned arsenal!" Owens spat. "He's already hit a couple of people on the street and that blue Chevy up there, he got the driver as he drove by."
"Anybody know who he is, or why?" Moore asked the officers who'd been on the scene a few minutes before 1-Adam-12 had arrived.
"He's a nut," Owens summed up. "And nuts don't need a reason."
Moore motioned for Malloy to take a position behind their own black and white, to get a different angle of coverage. The gunfire had stopped for the moment, but the officers figured it was only a momentary lull. They took cover again behind Adam-12 and watched the street for signs of movement.
A young woman in a green coat ran for a white station wagon, trailing a small, frightened boy behind her, with a tight grip on his wrist. Two shots rang out, one making contact with the front of the car as she opened the driver's door. The boy ran back toward the other side of the street, spooked by the close call and crying terrified tears, frozen in the middle of the street. His mother dove into the car, screaming what must have been the child's name, but in such a fit of hysterics, it was impossible to make out with any clarity.
Pete watched the child, who was trembling so hard it could be seen from behind the cruiser half a block away. He couldn't have been more than three, eyes wide as he stood trapped by panic. Two more shots rained down on the street, miraculously missing the boy who still didn't move and had stopped crying as well. Pete realized the kid must be in shock, standing there, an easy target. He holstered his gun and leaped from his hiding place, sprinting into the middle of the street.
"Malloy!" Moore screamed after the young officer dashing into the line of fire.
Pete ran toward the frightened child, ignoring his training officer's cry and the bullets zinging past him. He scooped up the small boy, hugging him to his chest as he rolled beneath a truck parked against the curb. Pete heard a sharp pop followed by a hiss as the front tire of the truck was struck by a bullet meant for him.
The child in his arms was still trembling but he didn't cry out. His eyes were glazed with terror. Pete tried to calm him, but his own heart was racing as he listened to the shots ringing in the night, his view of the scene now reduced to a sliver from beneath the truck's greasy undercarriage.
"It's okay," he whispered into the child's ear. "We're going to get out of here." Pete tightened his grip on the youngster and crawled out the other side of the truck. He carried the boy into the grocery store closest to the truck and handed him off to the grandmotherly owner's wife with instructions to keep him there until this was over. Then drawing his weapon once again, Pete took off out the door, heading for the cover of 1-X-ray-43.
The stand-off lasted another twenty minutes, finally ending when police determined which apartment the gunman was shooting from and burst in, surprising him. He was distraught over losing his job and his marriage breaking up and had been under psychiatric care. Fortunately the casualties were few and only the driver of the unlucky blue Chevy had been seriously injured.
Malloy ran back into the grocery, retrieving the still frightened child, and handed him over to his mother and an ambulance attendant before he returned to his own unit and Officer Moore.
"Malloy!" Officer Moore's face was stone, his jaw taut. Intense eyes flashed a warning of the anger he held he check.
"Yes, sir," the recruit blinked in the face of the senior officer's wrath.
"What the hell was that?" his voice was low but not to be ignored. "You think you're John Wayne or something?"
"No, sir, I..."
"Better shut up and listen, Red," MacDonald sniffed as he took the shotgun from Moore's grasp. "Eh...I'll secure this for you, Val. Less temptation that way."
"This is not a joke!" Moore glared at Pete, who was standing ramrod straight, awaiting the dressing down he knew he probably deserved. "You could've gotten yourself killed with that lame-brained stunt! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Pete swallowed, not exactly ready to face the facts of just how close he'd come.
"Did you hear me give an order for you to rush in there like the U.S. Cavalry?"
"No, sir," Pete wanted to add that there had been a kid out there in the line of fire, frozen in panic, to say that he hadn't really taken the time to think it through thoroughly, had acted on impulse; but Officer MacDonald's warning shake of the head silenced his explanations.
"No! Because I didn't give any such order! Nobody in their right mind would give such an order! Especially not to a ROOKIE!" Moore took a breath, to calm his own frazzled nerves as much as for emphasis. "Do you hear?"
"Yes, sir," Pete nodded slightly.
"What the hell were you thinking?"
"I..." Pete glanced at Mac, who put a finger to his lips. "I...wasn't, I guess, sir."
"No! You weren't! And do you know why you weren't?" Moore didn't wait for a response. "Because you're a probationer. That's why you're riding with me instead of being assigned a gun and a car and sent out here on your own like some B Movie hero. Probationers aren't supposed to think, they're supposed to listen. Probationers are supposed to do what they're told, and only what they're told. Otherwise, they get themselves dead. I haven't lost a probationer yet, and I will not have you dying on me! Did you hear that order, Malloy?"
"Yes, sir," Pete blinked again.
"Now, secure the rest of our gear and wait for me in the unit," Moore ordered. "Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," he nodded.
"Repeat it back to me, Malloy."
"Secure the gear and wait for you in the unit, sir."
"Any of that confusing?"
"Then do it," Moore's eyes were ice.
Pete took the shotgun and other gear from MacDonald and walked alone to the black and white parked half a block down the road. Since Moore had the keys to the trunk, Pete stowed the equipment in the back seat and opened the passenger side door to let himself in. Reaching under the front seat to secure the shotgun in its rack he felt the trembling begin. It started in his hands, but by the time he was able to snap the gun into place, he was shaking all over. He'd run directly in the line of fire to save that kid. He could have been killed.
"You okay?" That steady, comforting tone had returned to Moore's voice as he slid into the seat next to Pete. There was no answer, so he asked again. "You gonna be sick?" Pete managed a shake of his head. "It's okay, you know. Happens to the best of us sometimes."
"'m okay," came the weak reply. He wouldn't admit it, but he had been wondering if he was about to lose that chili and cheeseburger.
"It's a little daunting, looking down the barrel of your own mortality." The older man's eyes were soft with sympathy for his young charge.
Pete wasn't sure why the change from the anger of before, and frankly he found it more than a little unsettling. He could take the yelling, he probably deserved that, but this gentle understanding was going to be his undoing. He kept seeing the scene in slow motion: running into the street, scooping up the kid, rolling under the truck and this time he saw the bullets, the danger.
"I'm sorry," he muttered under his breath, realizing how he must have frightened his partner. "It was a dumb stunt and I..."
"It was the bravest thing I've seen in a long time," Moore chuckled, a hand on Pete's trembling shoulder. "Though admittedly stupid."
Pete just stared at him in the dim light of a street lamp.
"Promise me you'll get smarter as we go along, huh?" the senior officer smiled. "You sort of grow on a person, you know?"
"Promise," Pete laughed nervously.
"You know the lieutenant is going to chew on you a while?" Moore said as he pulled the black and white away from the curb a moment later. "Me too, I suppose."
"I'm responsible for you," he replied simply.
"But I'm the one who messed up," Pete argued.
"Try to remember that the next time you get it in that thick head of yours to play hero, will you? I'd like to see you make it to your next birthday."
"And his birth date?" the admitting nurse asked as she noted Jim's answers on her clipboard.
"When will the doctor be in?" he answered, frustrated by the slow motion to which this whole procedure seemed to have disintegrated.
"I need a birth date," she insisted. "The doctor will be in shortly, Officer Reed, but I need to get this paperwork completed."
"October 15...I'm not sure the year..." he tried to do the mental arithmetic.
"Does he have a driver's license? A wallet?"
"Yeah," Jim swallowed hard. The thought of removing it from Pete's limp body made him feel sick to his stomach. He didn't want to keep being forced to think of Pete as helpless.
"We'll handle it," Brian offered quietly. The ambulance techs had been gathering their gear to get back on the road. "Is he right or left handed?"
"Eh...right..." Jim shrugged off that shocky feeling that was starting to threaten his
composure. He watched as they retrieved Pete's wallet, hardly disturbing him as the intern and
nurses worked at cleaning his wounds and prepping him for the tests that had been ordered.
Greg handed the leather wallet to Jim with a sympathetic smile.
Mac appeared in the cubicle's opening, his face grave as he watched the team working on his friend. Jim opened the wallet, feeling he was violating his friend's privacy, despite the necessity.
"Nineteen thirty-five," Jim began, but his voice caught as he looked at his partner's license. "November?"
"I thought you said October?" the nurse clarified.
"I did...I...I thought it was..."
"May I see the license?" she said, trying to mask her annoyance. Jim handed it over to her, that tingling sensation beginning again.
"November 15, 1935," she read.
"Reed," Mac was at his elbow.
"I didn't even know his birthday," Jim felt the world spinning out of control. Why? It was a little detail, but suddenly he believed he'd failed Pete.
"Why don't we go outside for a minute?" Mac offered.
"No, I want to stay with him."
"We'll be right outside," the sergeant reasoned.
"I don't want him to be alone," Jim argued.
"Jim, there are plenty of people here with him. In fact, we're in the way. Come on." They moved into the hallway, Jim taking a last look at his partner as they passed through the cubicle.
"Mac, I didn't even remember his birthday," Jim moaned.
"That's not important."
"He's not just my partner...we're friends...I should know his birthday!"
"Reed, you're under stress."
"You don't understand. I've always thought his birthday was in October. I mean, Jean keeps all that stuff on a calendar, but I should at least know the month."
"I remember a year or so ago...we took this call...a zoning dispute...this little old lady who was doing horoscopes in her apartment. She told Pete he was a Leo and he just agreed with her, you know how great he is with old people. It made her feel good," Jim's eyes had a faraway look as he recalled the day so long ago. "Later when we were in the cruiser, I stopped him and said 'Isn't your birthday in October?' and...he didn't correct me...just said, 'At heart I'm a Leo'."
"That's Pete," Mac smiled sadly. "Don't you see, Jim. It didn't matter to him then and it wouldn't matter to him now."
"It matters to me!"
"You're worried about him. We all are," Mac soothed.
"If only I'd..." Jim began to pace, brooding over the last hour and blaming himself. Had his warning come a moment earlier, Pete might have had time to react, to defend himself. He might be okay, instead of lying helpless a few feet away.
"Jim," MacDonald shook his head sadly. "I was there too. I could just as easily blame myself..."
"But I saw it, Mac!" Jim pounded his fist against the wall he'd stopped to lean against.. "I saw it happening!"
"I don't suppose it would do any good to send you home."
"I'm staying with Pete," Jim insisted.
A doctor walked briskly past and toward the cubicle where they'd left Pete. Jim followed despite Mac's restraining hand.
"He hasn't regained consciousness?" the doctor was confirming as Jim peered through the curtains.
"No, doctor," the intern shook his head, handing the chart to the tall older man in a pristine lab coat.
"Malloy?" the doctor noted as he gave the chart back, and turned to the patient lying on the gurney.
"Pete," the intern added, referring to the name on the clipboard.
"Pete?" the older doctor called, looking down into the battered face. "Pete!"
"Pete!" he heard Mac's summons in the distance. Why did he sound so far away? Pete had been less than a car length from him only moments ago. Or was it? Time could no longer be precisely measured. It had warped into an eerie slow motion that couldn't be trusted. It might have been days, or this self-same moment, perhaps a lifetime...It had been a lifetime ago for the man lying there.
"Pete?" the voice was softer this time, further away though it came from just behind him now. It was still Mac's voice, though that wasn't possible. It sounded too much like someone else's. Pete couldn't place the voice, or the memory attached just now. His brain was refusing to function in either past or future. The present was the only safe haven. This moment and no other. As though he could only concentrate on his own breathing in and out, his heartbeat, the cold. Why was it so cold?
"Pete?" There was a touch. A hand on his shoulder, gentle and firm, heavy and warm. So warm! Pete felt so very, very cold.
He began to tremble. There was a ringing in his ears and a bitter, metallic taste in his mouth. He tried to swallow, but his throat constricted. It felt as though he would gag. Most of all, he couldn't stop shaking.
"Malloy!" The summons had changed, its content and its tone. But the voice was the same. His father's. No...again that was impossible. His father was dead...long since dead. The voice belonged to his partner, and yet that too was wrong. The man wasn't his partner, and yet he was tonight.
"Pete...come sit down," Mac was coaxing gently, his hands fixed on Pete's quivering shoulders, guiding him away from the body lying on the ground. Someone should move that body.
Pete heard sirens converging, lights flashed around them as he let himself be led to the black and white at the curb. The tremors hadn't stopped. Neither had the buzzing in his head, but he was starting to remember snatches of things. Disjointed scenes came crashing in on him like some hellish movie, badly spliced and played at the wrong speed. Shots fired. Police officers in danger. His partner pinned down by a sniper. Pete closed his eyes, trying to shut out reality as it slammed into him full force.
"Pete?" Mac was standing beside him, a steadying grip on his shoulder as he held Pete up against the fender of the cruiser. "You okay?"
Pete turned to face him. Mac's expression was grave and sympathetic, his eyes watching him intently. Pete couldn't seem to find a way to respond, his voice still not his own to command. He merely nodded, wanting to ease the concern he saw in MacDonald's sad, blue eyes.
"The sergeant is on his way," Jerry Woods said as he joined MacDonald and Malloy beside 1-X-ray-25. Other officers surrounded them, but their faces swam just beyond Pete's recognition.
"MacDonald?" Sergeant Moore's unspoken question was understood by the officers who had gathered around the patrol unit. Everyone else scattered, finding something to make them look busy. All save Malloy, who was still staring at the body lying in the grass a few yards away. Why didn't someone cover it up?
"Who-?" the older man started to ask, but one good look at Pete, pale and shaken, served to answer the question. His stern countenance softened immediately, dark eyes searched Malloy's face sadly. "Pete?"
"Yes sir..." He'd found his voice at last, or some voice. What came out sounded too shaky and hollow to belong to Pete Malloy.
"You okay, Pete?" Moore's tone was gentle and patient. Pete nodded mechanically. "You feel sick or anything?"
"No sir," he replied, the feeling coming back to his extremities.
"Pete," Moore leaned against the fender, beside the man he'd trained from a probationer. His face was lined with worry, as he watched the young officer. "You recognize me?"
"Yes sir," Pete nodded. "Sergeant Moore."
"Woods," Moore summoned the officer who was trying not to be noticed as he watched from a few feet away. "Stay here with Pete a minute, huh?"
Jerry moved instantly to obey. Moore motioned for MacDonald to step aside with him, and though they were still well within earshot, they began discussing Pete among themselves.
"If he calls me sir one more time, I'm getting him an ambulance," Moore said in just above a whisper. "This isn't his first shooting, Mac."
"No, but it's the first time he's killed a man," MacDonald said quietly.
Pete didn't hear anymore of the exchange as his memory kicked in, answering the sergeant's question in merciless Technicolor...
Jim watched through the gap in the curtains as the team continued to work on his friend. A sweet-faced nurse was leaning over Pete as she gently cleansed the blood and dirt from his face. The bruises were swollen and an angry purple, the cuts and scrapes had stopped bleeding either on their own or with what the medics had already done. But just looking at Pete's face made Jim wince. Pete had to be in pain. Maybe Brian had been right: it was better if he slept through the worst of it.
The nurse wrung out the sponge and moistened it again from a basin of cool, clean water. She smiled down into Pete's face as she brushed back the sandy forelock that had fallen forward.
"Phwebtt!" Pete blew quickly upward, pushing his sandy forelock straight up in a blast of air.
"See Jimmy. Now you try it." The ten-month old in his lap simply laughed at his godfather's antics.
"Come on, Jimmy. You can do it." Pete stuck out his lower lip and blew upward, the blonde hair bouncing on his forehead. The child gurgled his delight, reaching up to grab at the lock of hair.
Pete blew into the boy's face to show him what to do, fine baby hair flying off the smooth pink skin. Jimmy's eyes got big as saucers. Pete watched him carefully, gauging the boy's reaction, but when the child's face began to bloom into a grin, he repeated the process, surprising him yet again.
Pete held the giggling bundle, laughing himself at the child's innocent joy. He'd never admit it, but he enjoyed time spent with his godson more than he would ever have imagined.
"Okay, Sport. Let's try this again." Pete sent a puff of air upward, disturbing the strand of sandy blonde he'd pulled down onto his own freckled forehead for this important lesson. Jimmy's eyes danced. Pete blew a gentle gust at his godson's dark, feathery bangs, sending them straight up. He chuckled at the startled look in his little charge's eyes. Jimmy screwed up his tiny face and sprayed a shower of baby spit across his godfather's shocked face.
James Reed Jr. laughed so hard at the result of his mimicry he nearly tumbled off Pete's lap. Pete would tolerate such an assault only from this child he held most cherished in his heart. He merely wiped his spattered face and continued his efforts to refine Jimmy's technique.
By the time Jimmy's parents returned from the movie, Pete had succeeded in teaching their son the nuances and the little cherubic face sputtered in delight to show off his new trick with a noisy chorus of Phwebtt! When Jim was able to speak through the laughter, he said that watching his friend's usually neat hair flying about was the funniest thing he'd seen in weeks. But Jean Reed seemed a bit annoyed.
"Pete!" she exclaimed as she came into the living room after trying to put the munchkin in bed, only to find the partners still laughing. "I have enough problems getting that energetic little imp to bed without your intervention."
"I'm sorry, Jean," Pete managed to sober. She sounded angry, but the memory of a sparkle in her eyes as she'd watched her son's joyous demonstrations, made him feel a little less guilty.
It was months before they broke Jimmy of indulging in the behavior at the most inappropriate
and embarrassing times, like the middle of church. And he was almost to his second birthday
before he stopped greeting his godfather with an exuberant Phwebbt! as though it were his
Uncle Pete's given name. All of that delighted Pete Malloy no end.
A soft, cool hand brushed the hair from his forehead. Pete opened his eyes slowly, focusing on the blonde looking down at him with concern lining her brow. Her skin was like sweet cream, her eyes clear ice blue.
"Officer Malloy...are you okay?" she asked in a gentle, measured tone. Her voice was pleasant, inviting.
"Yeah," he shook himself back from a stunned daze. "I'm fine."
"I'm so sorry," she apologized, rocking back on her heels as he struggled a bit to sit up. "I didn't mean to..."
"It's okay, Cadet, " he interrupted, feeling his cheeks flush as he took in twenty-four pairs of feminine eyes watching his humiliation.
"It surprised me when you went down. I didn't think I could overpower you like that..."
"You didn't overpower me," he argued, the annoyance showing in his voice as he dusted himself off. "I just wasn't ready...I..." The truth was, he'd been distracted. Cadet Jane Hayes had looked up at him with those intensely blue eyes and he'd forgotten the leverage exercise they were working on. In fact, he'd lost track of the entire class of female cadets. She'd taken advantage of his momentary disorientation, executed the move he'd been demonstrating with impressive expertise and sent Pete unceremoniously to the mat.
"I thought the object of the exercise was to use the element of surprise," she cooed, with a look so close to batting her eyelashes that Pete thought he was in a silent film melodrama.
"Well, you certainly did that," he snapped, turning his attention to the rest of the class.
He ignored her for the remainder of the session, the heat of embarrassment finally leaving his face. When Sergeant Warren dismissed the cadets, Pete busied himself with gathering his gear. But the pretty blonde cadet waited for him.
"I hope you're not mad," she began, playing with the zipper of her warm-up jacket.
"Why should I be angry?" he shrugged, not meeting her eyes. He'd done that once already, to his peril.
"You're not going to hold a grudge, are you?" she goaded. "I mean, you told us to use what we had, to take the assailant by surprise."
"And you passed with flying colors, Cadet," Pete said tightly. "What is it you want?"
"To say I'm sorry," her voice sounded suddenly sincere. Pete looked up in time to see the change in her expression. "You just seemed so cock-sure of yourself and I couldn't resist when I saw an opportunity."
"An opportunity to show off?" he spat.
"I'm sorry I embarrassed you..." she said as she turned on her heel.
"Oh, come on," Jane pivoted at the door. "Admit it! I got the better of you."
"If they haven't already," Pete shifted to lecture mode, "I'm sure your instructors will make it clear to you just how dangerous that kind of attitude can be on the streets."
Pete watched as she strode out into the corridor, leaving him unsatisfied.
"I guess you won't be so quick to bet on your beloved Rams in the future," Sgt. Warren laughed. "At least not with me. I suppose I should have told you it was a class full of women."
"She's trouble," Pete passed judgement. It wasn't like him to make a snap decision about a trainee, but something about Jane Hayes' cool confidence bothered him. Or was it what she did to his confidence that had him in a lather?
"Hayes?" Warren chuckled. "She's an excellent student. Top third of her class."
"She still has a lot to learn." Pete shouldered his gym bag and headed for the door.
"The cadets usually go to Harry's after class," the sergeant offered to Malloy's retreating form. That stopped him in his tracks.
"I don't recall asking," he tossed over his shoulder.
"Good luck," his old friend threw back.
Pete hesitated outside the old hangout. Harry's hadn't changed in the six years since his graduation from the academy, and the familiar sights, sounds and smells brought back a flood of memories. Good times, for the most part. Even when he'd come here thinking his career as a police officer was over before it began, a visit to this old place in the company of friends had given him the courage to keep at it.
Pete had driven around the block three times, trying to convince himself that he didn't want to go inside. But he couldn't get Jane Hayes out of his head. He'd been rude and that wasn't his style, especially with a pretty girl. He hated to leave things like that. She'd attacked his pride and he liked to believe himself beyond that. He'd been embarrassed. He hadn't felt like this since he'd slipped and fallen while executing a particularly impressive maneuver on the monkey bars in front of Jenny Anderson, the prettiest girl in the third grade. Twenty-five years later he'd thought himself well past that sort of humiliation, but Jane Hayes had proven that theory dead wrong, in front of two dozen witnesses.
"You going in?" he heard from behind him. Even the Fates wouldn't be that cruel. He turned to face those same blue eyes that had done him in earlier. Jane Hayes stood staring up at him with a frankness that practically dared him to respond.
"After you," he replied with as much gallantry as could be mustered in the face of his previous embarrassment. "I'd like to talk to you..." he said quietly as he held the door for her.
"Didn't you say enough back in the classroom?"
"That's just what I wanted to talk about." He was trying to find the charm that usually got him past any girl's defenses. "I was a little out of line."
"Then you don't think I'm a show-off?"
"I don't know enough about you to judge," he replied, gesturing toward a booth in the back with a question in his smile. She nodded her agreement and followed him.
"So you're here to learn more?"
"I'm here to apologize," Pete sat opposite her, motioning for the waitress, "but I'm always eager to learn."
"You're slick," she shook her head. "I suppose that sort of thing works on most women?"
"Look...I'm just trying to make up for being a little quick to judge and saying some things I've thought better of. I didn't have any other motive." He stood to go.
"Wait," she stopped him. "I guess you're not the only one who should apologize. I was unfair back in class...and I haven't given you much of a chance since. I just...well, I guess I'm a little defensive. Being a woman in a man's profession."
"You don't make it easy on a guy," Pete grinned.
"And you did look pretty funny lying there sprawled on the mat...the expression on your face..." Jane seemed to be on the verge of the giggles.
"Is this part of the apology?" Pete quipped. She was decidedly prettier when she smiled, though it was hardly necessary. If Pete hadn't been the object of the joke he might have enjoyed it more.
"Jane Hayes," she extended a hand across the table, tongue firmly in cheek. "And you must be Pete Malloy. I've heard so much about you from Sgt. Warren. Nice to meet you."
"Would I be way outta line if I bought you a cup of coffee?" Pete replied, glad for a chance to start again.
It hadn't been the most romantic of meetings and those fireworks had only been the beginning of an intense and volatile relationship.
Pete met her at the shooting range on the weekend, having promised to give her some pointers. It was a lame excuse to see her again, he supposed, but it had worked and Pete Malloy wasn't a man to mess with success.
She wore a soft blue sweater that set off her pale complexion, Nordic blonde hair and made her eyes even more intensely compelling. Pete loaded his off-duty weapon and let her fire several rounds, keeping close watch on her technique. He patiently detailed the ways she could improve her aim, demonstrating his words with a near perfect round of his own.
Then Pete stepped up behind her, his arms encircling her as he showed the proper stance and the best way to hold the weapon for maximum control. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on him. As he held her distractingly close, he'd gotten a whiff of her perfume. It was hard to keep his eye on the target and his mind on his shooting. As in life, control was mostly an illusion.
A couple of boxes of ammunition later Jane was shooting well enough to qualify, much improved from her beginning scores. Afterwards they stopped by Harry's for a casual dinner and made plans for the range on Pete's next day off.
Pete always prided himself on keeping it light, having a good time without allowing things to get too serious. But they'd only been dating a few weeks when he realized that he'd stopped seeing anyone else. That thought alone should have sent the confirmed bachelor running for cover, but something about Jane had him thinking things he'd never imagined he could.
The day after her graduation from the academy, Pete picked up Jane before dawn and headed out of the city. They stopped for breakfast at a quaint little diner, just before the 15 North exit. Slowly they climbed the winding road past yucca plants and rocky terrain, up through clearing skies into the snow blanketed mountains that seemed a world away from smog-covered Los Angeles. The sun was bright by the time they passed through the village of Wrightwood just before the turnoff that would take them to the ski lodge.
Pete had chosen well. Most of the tourists went to Big Bear, a bit closer to the city, but much too crowded and commercial for his tastes. Wrightwood was rustic and romantic. And the skiing was awesome, with breathtaking views that seemed to go on forever.
Jane slipped into the cold weather gear she'd brought while Pete unloaded his own ski equipment.
"For someone who's never been on the slopes, you sure make a fetching ski bunny," Pete smiled, admiring Jane in her fur-trimmed pink parka.
"I have a friend who skis," she laughed lightly. "And luckily she's my size. At least I'll look the part."
"I give you by lunchtime," Pete handed her the poles as he hefted a pair of skis and his boots over his shoulder. "And you'll be jumping moguls with the hot dogs!"
"Just lead me to the cocoa concession, and I'll happily watch you from there."
"Come on," he chuckled, an arm around her shoulders as they made their way to the lodge to rent Jane some equipment and get their lift tickets.
They spent the morning on the bunny slope with Pete teaching Jane the fundamentals. He was thoroughly enjoying the process, standing just behind Jane, his hands on her waist as he demonstrated how to shift her weight, to control her direction and speed and how to stop. Relaxing by the minute, Pete laughed at the foibles of the first timers sharing the slope, and Jane's humorous self-consciousness. She was athletic and poised in most situations and though she exhibited a natural talent and learned quickly, it was still a struggle that amused him no end.
They had lunch by the fire in the pub, biding their time, thawing fingers and toes and sipping cocoa afterwards, taking in the spectacular view of the desert below. Jane suggested they spend the rest of the day right there, stretched out in stockinged feet, lazily gazing at the scenery and the other skiers. Pete was having none of that, threatening to throw her over his shoulder and head for the summit.
"Really, Pete," she argued as he pulled her out of the overstuffed sofa. "Why don't you leave me here and take a run or two by yourself. I've seen you eyeing that powder up there on the expert run all morning."
"Powder, huh?" Pete chuckled. "You're started to sound like a skier already."
"Sounding and being are vastly different. You came up here to ski and I'm just holding you back."
"I came here to spend the day with you," he smiled, holding her parka as she slipped into it. "And I'm enjoying every moment."
"It's all right. I hate to see you stuck on the bunny slope all day. I could watch at least one run."
"You can't watch me ski," he chortled. "Besides...you're coming with me. We're riding the lift up the slope and you're going to take a run down the mountain yourself."
"Oh, I think I need a few more lessons," she shook her head.
"You've graduated, my dear, from Pete Malloy's School of Skiing! Valedictorian of your class! Now....the student/faculty mixer!"
"Jane!" he joked, eyes dancing. "The powder awaits! Let's go skiing!"
Beginner's luck being what it is, her first time on the slope went smoothly. She arrived at the bottom exhilarated and ready for another go at it. But coming around a turn on her second trip down, Jane lost control and landed in a snowbank, skis, poles and limbs akimbo. Pete had been pacing his own descent, following her with a watchful eye, so he saw the accident, but too late to stop before he'd passed her by. With a quick adjustment, snow flying wildly, he made his way back around to find her struggling to stand, awkward with the heavy boots and cumbersome skis. Despite himself, as soon as he was certain she wasn't injured, he started to chuckle.
"Just what are you laughing at?" she demanded.
"That is the worst snow angel I have ever seen!" he shook his head, hand up to his mouth as if that could stop the laughter.
"Snow angel?" she stared at him with exasperation. "Are you going to help me up or stand there giggling?"
"Well, if I have a choice..." The sentence was cut off by nearly involuntary guffaws. Poor Pete was trying.
"Would you stop that!" she chided, still attempting to free herself from the snowbank.
"I'm sorry!" he tried to sober. "But you were right. Someone helpless on the ground is funny!"
"Okay! We're even. Boy you do hold a grudge! Now please help me out of here."
They finished their descent and returned the equipment, then spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking and playing in the snow, enjoying one another and working up quite an appetite. Pete had made dinner reservations at the restaurant in the lodge. It boasted fabulous cuisine and a fantastic view. Neither of them wanted to leave. They lingered over a shared dessert, holding hands across the table. Then, arm in arm, they took a last walk in the snow before starting for home.
"This has been a perfect day," she sighed, leaning against Pete's chest. "Relaxing. Exactly what I needed after the last six months."
"It's been a while," he chuckled. "But I remember those days. I still have nightmares about PT classes and those ten-mile runs up Suicide Hill!"
"Well today makes that all seem a long way off."
"I'm glad you had a good time," Pete smiled into those eyes that could break through all his defenses. He crooked one freckled finger to lift her chin, bending to touch her mouth with a brief, questioning kiss. Pete hesitated, waiting for her response. Jane smiled up at him, running a slender hand up his arm and behind Pete's neck, encouraging his tentative touch. He pulled Jane closer, feeling the thrill of her in his arms. His lips brushed her forehead, down the bridge of her nose, along one blushing cheek and then the other, before they discovered her parted lips yet again. His mouth claimed hers, his kiss more ardent than he'd ever dared with her. Pete felt his pulse race as she seemed to melt into his embrace.
After a time Jane pushed gently against his shoulder, gasping for a breath of air. Pete did the same, trying to clear his senses and cool his desire.
'You'd better be careful," she warned. "I think I might be falling for you."
"A girl can get hurt that way...falling, I mean," he chuckled, staring into those eyes that stirred emotions he'd always shied from before.
"Yeah, and you've got quite the reputation," she smiled.
"Lies," he joked. "All complete and utter lies."
"I have it on pretty good authority."
"I promise, if you fall, I'll catch you," he held her closer, as if to prove his point. "Or at least, help you up."
"I think I liked it better when you were the one on the ground," she giggled.
"I'd rather we were both firmly standing on our feet." He bent to meet her lips again with a gentle kiss that soon became more urgent, more insistent.
This time it was Pete who pulled away. "I suppose we should get started. It's a long drive back to the city." He sighed, stroking his hand along her jaw line, his thumb touching her lips, still quivering from his kiss.
"I wish it didn't have to end," Jane leaned against him, her head tucked beneath his chin. "It's been so perfect."
"Well it isn't over yet," Pete smiled, burying his face in her scented hair. "We still have the drive home, and it's a small car. You won't be far away."
He slipped his arm around Jane's shoulders as he headed the car onto the southbound freeway. Her head on his chest felt comfortable, but it aroused feelings he'd been fighting all evening. Her hand rested on his leg, sending painfully pleasant sensations through him. Pete pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped, turning the key to quiet the purring engine. He wished he had the same control over his emotions.
Pete reached for her in the darkness, pulling her into his embrace. His mouth found hers instinctively. No delicate preamble this time. His need was apparent as he drew kisses from her like a drowning man gasping air. She answered his passion with equal excitement.
He held her to him, his hands strong and insistent. She sighed in submission. He kissed her deeply, taking her face in his broad hands. His fingers ran through the flaxen silk of her hair, but it was bound tightly in the back with a barrette. Pete snatched the clip from her hair, freeing it and letting it cascade loosely to her shoulders. He moved down her throat, his breath hot and quick as he tasted creamy skin. His heart was racing, his blood throbbing as he gave in to the desire he'd tried to deny. Klaxons went off in his brain as he struggled to quench the burning need.
"Janey!" he gasped, realizing he was probably frightening her with his advances.
"It doesn't have to end," she sighed. "It's such a long drive back. And neither of us has to work tomorrow. I hear they have beautiful bed and breakfasts up here."
"Jane?" he gulped as the meaning of her offer began to sink in. It was enticing, deliciously tempting.
"Too fast?" she questioned, her hand on his flushed cheek as she watched his shocked reactions. "I just thought..."
"No. It's timed perfectly," he smiled awkwardly. "But I think I had better take you home."
"I'm sorry," she seemed embarrassed. He hadn't meant to do that.
"No, it isn't you...I just...I don't want to take advantage..." he kissed her gently this time, his eyes misty. "I'll drive you home. But I think I need a minute and a little air." The truth was, if he didn't get out of that car on the instant, she was in danger of seeing a side of him Pete wasn't quite ready to show. His senses were on overload with emotions he'd always been able to keep in check. He'd let things get much too far out of hand.
"Pete?" she looked stricken. He smiled, touching her face lightly.
"It's okay," he assured her, though he was shaky himself on how true that was yet. "Just give me a minute." He slid out of the car and walked a few yards to a hillock, over-looking the twinkling lights of a small town in the valley below them. Pete breathed deeply, willing his body to return to its usual discipline, trying to make himself relax.
Jane watched him from the car for a while, then followed. She approached warily, but as soon as he saw her, he reached out in invitation. Her arms slipped around his waist as he folded her into a warm embrace.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"Hmmmm!" he sighed. "For what? The fun we had today, or being irresistible?"
"I didn't quite play fair," she said softly.
"I'm fine," he assured, this time feeling the confidence he spoke. "And it wasn't your fault. I'm a big boy. I take full responsibility. And I should apologize..."
"It is a long drive back. You must be tired. We could get separate rooms...make a fresh start in the morning."
"You'd need extra locks on your door and your gun by the bed," he chuckled. "And I make no guarantees even then."
"I don't want any guarantees," she whispered, her hand rubbing his back beneath the canvas windbreaker.
"I'd better take you home," he laughed, feeling how fragile the hold on his control. "While one of us has enough resolve to get us there."
It was a little over a month later when Pete found himself on the marina, alone. Jane was forty minutes late. Pete wouldn't have been nearly as nervous if she wasn't the most punctual girl he'd ever met. He paced outside the restaurant, looking at his watch for the umpteenth time. The boats in the marina had lost their appeal as his worry mounted.
Jane was working a vice detail in Hollywood division. She'd been bubbling with excitement the night before, telling Pete the details and how thrilled she was to be doing real police work. Pete had a bad feeling about it the moment she'd announced her new assignment. He'd expressed concern, but she was so worked up about it, he hated to spoil her first big caper.
He was dropping a dime into the pay phone on the pier when Jane came breathlessly around the corner.
"Sorry I'm late," she panted, her cheeks flushed against that porcelain skin.
"I was just calling the station..." Pete didn't try to hide his annoyance or his worry.
"Oh, Pete!" she laughed, taking his arm. "I'm not that late!"
"Nearly an hour," he chided. "I was beginning to worry."
"You were watching the boats," she chuckled as they entered the restaurant. "I'm surprised you even realized I wasn't here."
"What boats?" he quipped, deciding to put his lecture on hold. "How'd it go today?'
"It was a blast! I'll tell you about it later. Right now, I'm starved!"
After dinner they took a drive, Pete trying to decide just how to get into the conversation he knew he'd put off long enough. But every time he tried to start, Jane launched into another excited story about her day in Hollywood.
Pete had to be on duty at five a.m. so he swung into the parking lot of her apartment building before it got too late. The talk he wanted to have would just have to wait.
He walked her to the porch, taking her keys and opening the door before handing them back.
"You want to come in for a while? Cup of coffee, maybe?" she offered sweetly.
'I shouldn't," he shook his head. "Five a.m. comes mighty early."
"Hmmm," she stepped into his arms. "You seem preoccupied. Is everything all right?"
"Yeah..." Pete replied with no conviction, his hands loosely around her.
"You're a terrible liar," Jane shook her head. "Come on...out with it!"
"We don't have the time..."
"I have time." She leaned back against the railing. "And now I'm worried. What's up?"
"I just don't like the idea of you working vice," he said after a long silence.
"You don't like it?"
"No. I'm not crazy about the woman I care for being bait for those kind of characters."
"Pete...I'm a cop!"
"So am I, but I'm not making myself a sitting duck for every weirdo and pervert in Los Angeles!"
"Hollywood," she corrected.
"I'm serious, Jane. It's dangerous."
"That's why I trained so hard," she smiled. "I'm just doing my job."
"You don't have to take on the most hazardous assignment you can find."
"Are you worried?"
"Yes! I'm worried!"
"Well, I worry about you too, but I don't ask you to give up police work."
"Why is it different? Because I'm a woman?"
"Since you put it that way...yeah."
"I can't believe you, Pete Malloy! I can't believe you'd say that."
"When it comes to you, I guess I'm just old fashioned," he took her hand. "Honey, it isn't like you intend to do this for long."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well...you're not looking at the force as a career. You won't be doing this when you're married and have children."
"Well I'm not married, and as long as I'm not..." she took a deep breath, the anger tinting that alabaster skin. "I suppose you'd rather I worked the desk?"
"Or communications, juvenile. There are a lot of other jobs in the department."
"Pete...I didn't become a cop to sit at a desk and answer the phone. It's an important job, but it's not what I want to do," she smiled, her hand tracing those lines from his brow, as though they could be erased. "I'm sure I won't be working vice forever, but right now...this is what I want to do."
"And what I say doesn't matter?"
"It isn't fair for you to tell me that I can't."
"You're right," Pete agreed, after another long and awkward silence. "I haven't any right to tell you what to do." He drew her close, taking a long last look. "Take care of yourself." His voice nearly broke as he bent to bestow one final, lingering kiss.
"Take care of yourself," Brian smiled, his hand on Jim's shoulder as he and Greg loaded the
last of their gear on the stretcher. "And I hope everything's okay for your partner."
"Thanks," Jim replied automatically. They were preparing to move Pete, and he wasn't paying much attention to anything else.
Jim Reed followed the gurney and its entourage down the brightly lit corridor. He knew they wouldn't allow him inside Radiology, but he was determined to stay as close to his fallen partner as possible. He wasn't the only one keeping vigil. Mac was in the waiting room outside the emergency room, feeding dimes to a pay phone as he contacted Lt. Moore and the captain, as well as a call to Mary, his wife. He was fielding the media's constant questions and worrying about his friend in that quiet way of his.
"I'll be right out here, partner," Jim vowed, his hand reaching for Pete as the gurney was wheeled into the darkened X-ray room. The door closed, leaving Jim alone in the hallway. Alone and feeling a sudden crushing loneliness.
He paced the wide corridor, wondering at the deserted feel to the place. There was a palpable quality to the quiet, the hushed noises of equipment in the background that seemed to absorb all other sound. Time stood still.
Jim leaned heavily against the cold block wall, closing weary eyes that burned and itched. He remembered the dusty warehouse, the grit beneath his feet as he crouched in the darkness, trying not to make a sound. He could see the flashes of the gunfire as the sniper tried to keep the police at bay. To his left, in the shadows, he could make out his partner, his rifle poised and ready. By some trick of the lighting, he could see Pete's face, intensely gazing into the blackness surrounding them. Why didn't he see the attacker sooner?
Jim pushed off the wall, walking again as though he could out-distance the images that haunted him. He caught sight of himself in the darkened window of an empty office. His uniform was covered in dust and dirt from the warehouse. He looked a sight. Trying to brush some of the debris from the dark cloth of his sleeves, his hand felt a stiff patch, rougher and darker than the rest of the fabric around it. Jim stared at the stain. Suddenly he realized that it was blood, his partner's blood. Don't leave me, Pete! he prayed silently.
He'd seen it happen, the attack, Pete falling, the man looming over him menacingly. Jim knew those pictures were burned on his memory, that they would come back to add terror to his dreams. He could still see his partner's face, battered and bloodied. He didn't want to remember him that way. Jim returned to the pacing, not caring about the appearance of his soiled and dirty uniform.
He played with the brim of the watchcap in his grasp, a nervous habit he'd seen most officers adopt. It was something to do with their hands. His fingers felt for the familiar split in the rim at the back, an imperfection he toyed with instinctively like a secret that somehow gave solace. But it wasn't there. Jim lifted the cap and peered inside. Malloy, PJ - 744 was scrawled in his partner's tiny hieroglyphic writing on the label. He'd been carrying Pete's hat all this time, his own most likely still back in that shadowy warehouse. Something about holding Pete's hat made him feel both comforted and shaken.
"Jim?" the feminine voice broke through his lonely thoughts. He turned to find his pretty young wife, standing in the empty hallway, her eyes searching his face with concern.
"Jean...I..." His words fell off as he realized that he had failed to call and put her worries to rest. Now she stood before him and he had no excuses to offer.
"How's Pete?" she inquired as she slipped her arms around Jim's slim waist.
"He's still unconscious," Jim replied, pulling her close in a desperate embrace. "What are you doing here?"
"I figured if I wanted to know anything, I had to come find out myself." She laid her head on his shoulder, rubbing her hand across the tensed muscles in his back.
"I'm sorry..." He kissed the top of her head. It smelled of her shampoo, of home. The first bit of normalcy he'd felt in hours. "I just...time got away from me and I...How did you find out?"
"It's been on the news, Jim."
"You must have been worried sick." He felt about three inches tall. He hated the thought of concerning her needlessly.
"I knew it had to be Pete," she shook her head, leveling him a look that spoke the words she'd save for much later. "If you'd been the one hurt, Pete would have made sure to call me by now."
"Jean...." He looked into her eyes and knew that some day soon they'd talk about this and he'd get a well-deserved chastising. But since she had satisfied herself that her husband was really all right, her only concern was for their friend. They walked a few yards down the hall to a bench and sat, holding each other and talking in whispers. Jim filled her in with the less frightening details, and Jean assured him that Pete was too strong and way too stubborn to give up. Mostly, they just held onto one another, Jim drawing strength from her presence. The irony of how such a tiny girl could fortify him was a mystery of life he'd long since stopped questioning.
"Mac says I should take you home," she said finally. "You must be exhausted, Sweetie."
"I'm not leaving him." Jim's own stubborn streak was showing. "He wouldn't leave me."
"Honey, Mac said the doctors think it might be a while before he wakes up..."
"I'll be here when he does," Jim insisted.
"Jim, you need some rest. He's in good hands. There's nothing more you can do for him."
"I'm not leaving him."
"James Reed, you're so obstinate! But Pete would tell you to go home and get some rest. He's going to need you when he wakes up, and you won't be able to help him if you're asleep on your feet."
"Jean..." He didn't have any logical defense. What she said made sense. Pete was being cared for, and Jim knew they wouldn't let him stay in the room, but he just couldn't seem to let go. To do so seemed like abandonment. "Let's wait 'til he comes out of X-ray, maybe gets settled in a room. Then if he still isn't awake...I'll go home...I promise."
"Okay, Sweetie," she touched his cheek. It was rough with stubble, his eyes dark and red-rimmed as he fought emotions she hoped to get him to share when she had him home in bed. She knew him well enough to read the fear behind those eyes.
The door to Radiology opened. The young intern emerged with a grave look on his face. He adjusted his expression when he caught sight of Jim and Jean, but they'd both seen the shadow.
"We're moving him to the P & F ward," he said quietly. "It will be a while before we have the film back."
"Still unconscious..." he shook his head. "Why don't you leave your phone number with the charge nurse on the ward and if there's any change, we'll get hold of you. But it might be some time..."
"Doctor," Jim wanted to ask him the impossible: to promise that his friend would be all right. He amended the question before asking. "Do you have any news? Any idea about his injuries?"
"He definitely has a couple of cracked ribs, some bruising as well. His nose is broken and he has a concussion. Beyond that there are some contusions and abrasions, but it's the fact that he hasn't regained consciousness that is of concern right now."
"Is there anything that can be done?" Jim asked quietly.
"We're doing all we can. Right now it's up to your partner. He seems strong. That's in his favor."
"He is strong, and stubborn," Jean smiled, squeezing her husband's hand supportively.
"Both good things for his recovery," the intern nodded. "All we can do now is wait. And you might as well go home and get some rest."
"That's just where he's going, Doctor," Jean said with determination.
The doctor excused himself just as the gurney was moved into the corridor.
"May we go with him to his room?" Jim asked the nurse. It was the same one he'd seen earlier, the girl with the sweet face who'd bathed Pete's battered face so tenderly. Somehow her being there made him feel a little better about his promise to go home with Jean.
"I don't see why not," she smiled sympathetically. "He's going to be in the P & F ward. The doctors thought maybe having others in the room would be good for him. Help stimulate him to wake up."
"That makes sense," Jean agreed, holding tightly to Jim's right hand. His left was resting on the rail of the gurney. "If nothing else, he will wake up to tell them to shut up!" She tried to get Jim to smile, but the efforts was lost on her worried husband.
"Then we'll be sure to put him in with a couple of real talkers!"
They accompanied the gurney to the P & F ward, Jim's eyes never leaving Pete's bandaged face. Once the orderlies and nurses had moved him to the bed, they let Jim and Jean into the room.
The nurse touched Jim's arm gently. "You want a moment alone?" she offered softly. He merely nodded. She pulled the cubicle curtains as they left to give them some privacy.
Jean held onto his hand, "Sweetie?"
"I won't be long." He kissed her briefly, then turned away. She slipped through the curtains, leaving him alone with his silent friend.
Jim stood by Pete's bed, struggling with frustration and fatigue. He reached out and placed a hand on Pete's arm, lying on top of the neatly tucked covers.
"I've got your hat, partner," he said softly. There was so much he wanted to say and here he was, babbling about hats. "I'll keep it safe for you, till you get out." Pete lay motionless beneath the bandages, except for the even breathing. Jim tried to be comforted with the thought that he seemed to be resting peacefully at least.
"They want me to go home for a while. You know how Jean worries." Jim bit his bottom lip, fighting the feelings that tugged at his reserve. "Don't give up, you hear me?"
"Don't give up, you hear me?" Tim Malloy encouraged his young son as he prepared to pitch another ball.
"But Dad..." Pete argued, dragging the bat across the dusty home base in the empty baseball diamond. "I just can't get it."
"Never accept can't, son," the tall, lanky man shook his head, walking from the pitcher's mound toward the red-headed boy squinting beneath the Dodgers baseball cap.
"All the other kids are better at this and I just keep striking out."
"Well, we're gonna practice until you can hit that ball outta the park!" Tim smiled, his broad hand on his son's boney shoulder. "You'll get it. You just needed a coach. I'm sorry I've been away." His father had just returned from two years overseas in the Army. Mary Malloy had tried to fill in where she could, but baseball was a little out of her element. "But I'm home now. And you're gonna make those little league tryouts. I promise you that."
Two hours later Pete was connecting on about half the balls pitched to him, and except for a few fouls, they were straight and high.
"Let's work on your fielding," his father offered when Pete insisted he wasn't tired, or the least bit ready to go home yet. The kid had two years of afternoons in the park with his father to catch up on. Pete scooped up his glove and ran into the field to catch the ball his father tossed his way. The boy had talent for grabbing them on the fly and he could run, there was no doubt about that.
"I think you outta try for short stop," the elder Malloy suggested as they walked home just before dark. "You did great with those grounders I hit to you."
"I just wanna make the team," Pete confided. "And not strike out every time."
"You did fine today. We'll work on it every day till the tryouts, if you want. You'll be a regular Babe Ruth by the time next Saturday comes."
"Thanks, Dad!" Pete beamed.
"Just remember, son," Tim Malloy's arm was around his boy's shoulders. "Don't give up."
"Don't give up, you hear?" Pete gasped as he strained against the weight threatening to pull him over the edge. "You can do this...just hang onto me."
The frightened kid shrieked as he twisted in Pete's grasp, the rushing water in the storm sewer pulling at the boy as it swirled around his waist. Torrential rains had turned the hills into muddy death traps and flooded the city's emergency drain systems. Big brown eyes stared up into Pete's as the ten-year-old held on desperately to the officer's arm.
"Oh God!" the distraught mother wailed behind Pete as he leaned further into the narrow opening. "Please save my Tommy!"
"My partner's doing all he can, ma'am." Steve McGill tried to quiet her as he held the back of Pete's duty belt for support. "The rescue squad will be here soon." But Pete knew they might not have time to wait for the experts with all their fancy equipment. If he lost his hold on the boy, it would be too late.
"Okay, Tommy," Pete encouraged. "We're going to pull you up. You just hold on tight, ya hear?"
"I'm scared!" Tommy sobbed, looking like he would give in to the current at any moment.
"Just look at me," Pete smiled, exuding a helluva lot more confidence than he felt. His arms ached from the exertion, feeling like they were being yanked from their sockets. But he was determined not to lose this one. Please God...not this one!
"That's it...just keep looking up here at me." He took a deep breath and braced himself against the concrete opening. "Hold on tight, Steve," he beseeched his partner. "Don't let go..."
Pete reached down and snatched the boy's other arm, trusting his own safety to Steve's hold, pulling the boy out of the rushing water. His partner steadied him, pushing against the curbing, keeping both Malloy and the boy from tumbling back into the storm drain. One more burst of effort would have them out, but Pete felt like he was at his end. He chanced a look into those trusting eyes and hauled the child to safety. McGill's face beamed as he took the boy from Pete's vice-like grip, setting him on solid ground next to his mother. A moment later he was kneeling beside his panting partner.
"Not bad," McGill chuckled. "For an old timer."
"Next time," Pete quipped, still catching his breath. "You go on the fishing expedition, partner!"
Jim wasn't sure he'd heard the breathy word, but the grip on his arm was real enough. He blinked, looking down to see Pete's hand firmly attached around his wrist.
"Pete?" Jim called, swallowing the lump in this throat. He covered the freckled hand with his own tanned one. "Come on back, partner."
"Don't let go..." came the weak plea.
"I've got ya, partner," Jim promised, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
"I made short stop, Dad," Malloy whispered, an enigmatic smile on his lips. "I made the team." His eyelids fluttered open, searching Jim's face for recognition.
"Short stop, huh?" Jim managed, unable to prevent a broad, involuntary smile. Even if he wasn't making sense, Pete was awake!
"Reed?" Pete still seemed disoriented as his eyes darted around the room, but if he knew Jim that had to be a good sign.
"You know where you are?" Reed asked softly.
"Hospital?" Pete asked more than answered, still just a whisper. "Central Receiving?"
"Yeah," Jim relaxed a bit more with that. "You've got great timing, partner. I was just about to leave...go home with Jean."
"So what's keepin' ya?" Malloy's voice was hoarse and it was apparent he was in a lot of pain.
"Waiting on you to wake up." Jim's smile threatened to crack his face wide open. He felt giddy with the sudden release of fear and worry.
"'m awake," he defended weakly.
"I got your hat." Jim didn't know why he'd said that, but now that his partner was conscious, there Jim was, talking about hats again.
"What are you doin' with my hat?" Pete asked, wincing from the discomfort that was growing as he came more fully awake.
"I was just keeping it for you." Jim thought he should probably get the nurse, but he didn't want to leave Pete's side. "Mac has your badge and gunbelt...and your wallet."
"Good thing I woke up, or I'd have been completely naked." The left side of Pete's mouth drew up in something close to a smile. "You're a mess, partner."
"Yeah, well you're not exactly looking regulation right now," Jim beamed. "It's great to have you back, but I should tell the nurses you're awake."
"What happened?" There was a sudden urgency to the question.
"You don't remember?"
"What I'm remembering doesn't make much sense," Pete closed his eyes against the throbbing in his head and the swirling memories. "I've been having the strangest dreams...none of which would land me here...like this."
"There's time for that," Jim shook his head, unwilling to relive the last couple of hours just yet. "I'm gonna get the nurse...and tell Jean and Mac you're okay. Be right back..."
Pete's hand went to his face, exploring the bandages with the closest approximation of a frown he could manage through the gauze and tape. "You better...you've got a lot of explaining to do."
Reed moved to go, a bit reluctantly, but before he'd parted the cubicle he heard a raspy summons.
He returned to his friend's side with a weary smile. "Yeah?"
"Were we...?" Pete's voice was weak, his bandaged face made Jim wince to look at it, but past the gauze and tape, there was a spark in the eyes Jim recognized. "Tonight...were we...in a...warehouse?"
"You remember," Jim said sadly after a long moment. "I saw it happening...too late to...I couldn't..."
"Partner..." Pete's hand grabbed his partner's arm with a strength that reminded Jim of who was lying in that bed. "Take your wife home...I'll see ya...tomorrow..."
Jim was still struggling with guilt and doubt. He opened his mouth to continue, but Pete cut him off. "There's a lake...I haven't been there in years. Used to be a great place to fish. When I get out of here, you and I...we'll...." Pete took a ragged breath and managed a bit of a smile. "Tomorrow, partner..."
A portion of this story is sure to be mentioned in future reference texts as one of the
canonically problematic passages of Adam 12 fanfic. After a great deal of research,
following the trail of Malloy's penchant for misdirection on the subject and in the absence of
actual documented proof (the missing birth certificate) the date in this story was developed
on the following theory...the episode "The Surprise" which tells the story of one of Pete's
birthdays was orginally aired on Sunday, November 15, and in that script, Jim has a line: "It
is today? Sunday the fifteenth, right?" and Pete finally gives a definite answer... "Yeah, it's
Editor's note: Thanks also to Officer Doc for the kit room officer info. ;)