by Stacy W.
"Here you go, Officer. License and registration." The insolent young man held the documents out of his car window as Pete Malloy approached the driver's side of the car.
Pete took the documents, then leaned over slightly to get a look at the driver. As he did, the unmistakably acrid smell of marijuana smoke assaulted his nose. He stifled a cough. "Okay mister, out of the car."
The young drive glared up at him. "What'd I do? I admit, I was driving a little fast, but what's all the hassle about? Don't you have anything better to do?"
"Out. Now," Pete ordered. He briefly glanced back at his partner, Jim Reed, standing outside his door of their black-and-white, waiting for the return on the registration. "Reed, get over here."
The driver decided to comply with Pete's orders, languidly opening the door and climbing out of his car. "Man, you cops really like hassling innocent people, don't you…"
Pete interrupted the man's unoriginal speech. "Hands against the car, feet back and spread 'em," he barked. Seeing his partner standing nearby, Pete proceeded to quickly search the man. When he didn't find any weapons, he handcuffed the driver and moved him to the back of the car. "Jim, keep an eye on him," Pete told his partner, then returned to the man's car. A quick search of the front seat produced a half-smoked marijuana joint along with a large bag of pot.
Pete stood up out of the car and took a deep breath of fresh air. He walked to the back of the car where the man was giving Jim his "I'm just an innocent person speech", and placed the items he had found on the trunk. He reached into his pocket for the man's driver's license. "Mr. Harvey Jeffords?" He paused to look up at the man.
"That's my name. Don't wear it out," Jeffords snapped.
"Mr. Jeffords, do these items belong to you?"
Jeffords looked down at the drugs on his car's trunk. "Yeah. So what? Everybody does a little pot."
"Not everybody, mister." Pete pulled his notebook out of his pocket, and began reciting the words that were becoming all too familiar. "Mr. Jeffords, being under arrest, I must advise you of your rights. You have the right to remain silent…"
Mr. Jeffords didn't remain entirely silent as Pete read him his Miranda rights. He sighed noisily several times, rolled his eyes and mouthed the words as Pete read them. When Pete finished, Jeffords spoke up again. "Man, I don't see why you're hassling me. Just because I enjoy a little pot every now and then."
"Let's go, Mr. Jeffords." Pete grabbed the man's arm and propelled him toward the patrol car.
Jeffords eyed the officer. "You should understand. Looks like you enjoy a little smoke, too." He nodded toward the cigarette-package shaped bump in Malloy's shirt pocket. "The only difference is that your addiction's legal. Otherwise, you'd be going to jail too. You don't have any right to be hassling me over a little pot." The man's rant continued as Pete opened the back door of the car.
Pete turned the man around to face him. "That's where you're wrong, mister. You're going to jail because you broke the law. Possession of marijuana is a crime in the state of California. Watch your head." Pete lowered the man into the car, then slammed the door shut. And I'm not addicted, either.
Pete stalked around the car to find his partner standing by the driver's door, smirking at him. "Boy, Pete, he's really got your number. Why don't you let me drive, and you can ride in the back with him? Continue that debate he was starting."
"Reed!" Pete glared at his partner. "Back seat."
Jim's smirk fell a bit. "Yes, sir." He snapped off a mock salute, then stepped to the back door and climbed into his usual spot beside their prisoner.
Pete shook his head. Almost liked him better when he was an overwhelmed rookie. Pete climbed into the driver's seat and began the trip back to the station to process the criminal and write the pages of reports the department required.
Several hours later, Jim stared out the window of the patrol car as they patrolled a quiet commercial neighborhood. He heard Pete slam the turn signal lever down and braced himself against the dashboard seconds before Pete whipped the car into a tight left turn onto a side street. "Malloy?" Jim asked.
"What?" Pete's voice held more than one note of exasperation. It was more like an entire chord.
"Aren't you the one that told me we shouldn't let everything criminals say bother us?"
"Yeah, I seem to remember saying that to you once. At least."
"So why are you letting that Jeffords guy get to you? You've been crabby ever since we arrested him."
"I'm not crabby."
"You're not crabby." Jim parroted. "That's why you're driving so rough tonight. Taking corners fast, hitting the brakes hard, accelerating like you're in a drag race… I swear, Malloy, you're gonna throw me through the windshield pretty soon." Jim felt Pete's silent glare on him, and wisely decided to shut his mouth. He sat silently for a few minutes, trying to figure out what could be bugging his normally even-tempered partner. Finally, it hit him. "Pete, it's really none of Jefford's business if you smoke or not. As long as it's legal, you can do whatever you want."
That's right. I can do whatever I want. Smoke if I want to. Quit if I want to. I'm not addicted. That last thought angered him. I'm not that out of control. Although right now, he really could use a cigarette. "Reed, call dispatch and clear us for a coffee break," he snapped at Jim.
Later that day…
Pete pulled open the junk drawer in the kitchen and rifled through the contents. Nothing. That drawer had been the last place he could think of to search. Similar investigations of the other rooms of the small apartment had yielded similar results. Nothing--not in the bedroom drawers, the bathroom cabinet, the pockets of the coat in the hall closet. He sighed and walked back into the living room, which still bore the slightly mussed appearance of a room that had been searched from top to bottom. There was only one conclusion he could draw.
He was thoroughly and completely out of cigarettes.
"Damn," he muttered to himself. Looked like it was time for a trip to the corner market. And with his car broken, he'd have to walk. And it was, of course, one of the rare rainy, cloudy days in Los Angeles. He opened the coat closet and shrugged into a windbreaker. As he opened the front door, a blast of cool, wet air hit him. "What am I doing. I don't need cigarettes that bad," he muttered to himself. Oh yes you do, a small voice echoed inside his head. You need them right now. Jefford's mocking words from earlier ran through his mind again. Looks like you enjoy a little smoke, too.... The only difference is that your addiction's legal.
Pete slammed the door shut. "I don't need a cigarette that bad," he growled. He glanced down at his watch. "As of right now, 7:42 PM, I am through with smoking," he swore to his empty apartment.
Twelve hours into his new life as a non-smoker, Pete stalked into the locker room at the station. He was a more than a little early, but he'd had to get out of his apartment. Getting through his normal morning routine without a single cigarette had been harder than he'd thought it would be. Guess I really was addicted. How did I let that happen? Well, it's over now. He fumbled with his locker, finally getting it open after several tries. When he did get the door open, he almost wished he hadn't. "Oh, great," he muttered. The pack of cigarettes he'd searched his apartment for the night before sat front-and-center of the top shelf of the locker, and he could feel his resolution from last night slipping away. It would be so easy to fall back into his old habits and grab a quick smoke…
Voices from the locker room door caught his attention. Reed, Brinkman and Snyder entered the room, laughing at Brinkman's latest horrible joke. Pete knew he'd hear it from his partner at least once in the next eight hours.
Jim finally worked his way over to his locker near Pete's. "'Morning, partner," he greeted Pete cheerfully.
"Here, Jim. Take 'em." Pete held the package out to Jim.
Jim laughed as he opened his locker. "Pete. You're the smoking half of this team, not me."
Pete continued holding his hand out. "Yeah, well as of twelve hours ago, I'm not either." He paused for a second. "Please, Jim. Take them from me."
"You're really serious, aren't you?" Jim asked in surprise. "You quit?"
Pete nodded. "I quit. Last night." He tossed the cigarettes to Jim, who neatly caught the box and tucked it into his pants pocket. "Decided I didn't like being an addict."
"Well…" For one of the rare occasions since Pete had met him, it appeared Jim didn't know what to say. "Congratulations," he finally added.
"Yeah. Reed, for now, let's just keep this between us, okay? It's hard enough without the rest of these jokers keeping on my case."
"Uh, sure thing." Jim glanced around, seeing if any other officers were nearby. "Hey, did you hear Brink's latest joke? This big guy walks into a bar…"
"Reed!" Pete interrupted him. "I don't wanna hear it."
Pete glared at the radio, for once cursing its silence. He tapped his fingers impatiently against the steering wheel. Come on, Shaaron. Just one call. Anything… Tree in the road, noise complaint, broken stoplight.... I'll stand in the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard and direct traffic all day, if you'll just give us something to keep me busy… His fingers drummed the steering wheel again.
"What's that song you're playing, Pete? Some Sinatra tune?" Jim asked, a silly grin plastered across his face.
Pete glared over at his partner. "No," he snapped, tightening his grip on the steering wheel to keep from tapping it again. "I wish we'd get tagged for something," he muttered.
"Ah-haa," Jim broke in. "I see. It's time for our morning coffee 'n' smoking break, isn't it?"
"Not anymore, it isn't."
"So I don't get my morning coffee because you gave up smoking?" Jim asked.
"That's right. You know, I've heard the caffeine in coffee is addictive. You keep it up, and you're going to be in the same situation I am in a few years."
"Well, who got me hooked on the stuff? I hardly ever drank coffee until I started riding with you. Maybe I should arrest you for pushin'."
"Reed! You even try that…"
The radio interrupted Pete's reply. "1-Adam-12, see the man, a possible 211 at the radio station, 2012 Ventura, 1-Adam-12 respond code 2."
Jim picked up the mic. "1-Adam-12, roger," he responded to the dispatcher, then hung the mike back on its hook. "Wonder what you steal from a radio station?" he mused.
Jim snickered, then held up both hands in the peace sign. "Dude, they, like, they stole the music," he added in a bad imitation of a drugged-out hippie before breaking out in snickers again.
Pete gave his partner an irritated look. "Reed!"
A few minutes later, the two pulled to a stop in front of WABF, the Home of Today's Hot Hits. Almost as soon as they got out of the car, they were met by an agitated man wearing jeans, a fringed vest, and long hair.
"Man, I don't believe it. They took Buffo," he said. "We gotta find Buffo. He's the star of the show."
Pete pulled out his notebook. "Mister, we had a report of an armed robbery here. Was it actually a kidnapping?"
"Well, sort of both, I guess. And I don't think they were really armed. The guns looked kinda fake."
"Who was kidnapped?" Jim asked, trying to force some urgency into the man's report. If this really was an abduction, they needed to be acting faster than they were.
"Buffo. But like I said, I don't know if you'd really call it a kidnapping."
Pete suppressed an exasperated sigh. "Okay mister, let's start at the beginning. What's your name?"
"Michael Keipperson. You know, the Keeper? I'm the morning DJ here. Maybe you've heard my show? The WA-Zoo? Every morning from five to nine?"
"Can't say that I have, Mr. Keipperson. Now what happened here this morning?"
"I'd just finished up my morning show when I came outside for some fresh air. My co-host smokes worse than one of those polluting establishment factories. Really stinks up the place, you know? I needed some fresh air."
Pete nodded, trying to force away the sudden envy of Keipperson's co-host. "And…" he prompted.
"And these two guys pulled up in a pickup truck. They jumped out and waved these guns in my face and made me take them to Buffo. Then they grabbed him and threw him into their truck, and then they were gone. Just like that!"
Jim jumped in at that point. "Mister, that sounds like a kidnapping to me. Can you give us a description of Buffo and the men?"
"Um, well, Buffo's about seven feet tall, mostly brown, I guess, but he has a green shirt and blue shorts painted on…"
Pete interrupted the man before he got any further. "Mr. Keipperson, what's 'Buffo' made out of?"
Keipperson hesitated. "Hmmm? Paper mache, I think."
Jim suddenly stopped scribbling notes and looked up from his notebook. "Then he's not a person?"
Keipperson looked over at the young officer. "'Course not. He's the station mascot--a giant buffalo. We take him out to promotional events, y'know. He gets a lot of attention."
Pete glanced over at Jim, noticing the faint blush that was creeping up his cheeks. That'll teach you to jump to conclusions, partner. "Okay, can you give us a description of the two men and their truck?"
"Oh, sure." Keipperson proceeded with his statement.
"211 of radio mascot, a paper-mache buffalo approximately seven feet tall. First suspect, age approximately 25, blond, blue, wearing jeans and red shirt. Second suspect also 25, brown and brown, wearing white shirt and brown pants. Last seen headed north on Winston in gray pickup truck, unknown license, with the buffffff…" Jim worked hard to suppress a laugh. "With the buffalo in the back." Jim concluded his broadcast and returned the mic to its hook, finally giving in to his amusement. "Pete?" Jim looked over at his partner when he finally got the snickering under control.
"You sure we shouldn't have reported that as a kidnapping?"
"Can I get you another tea, Pete?" Jean asked as she watched Pete drain his glass.
Pete placed his glass down on the table. "That'd be great, Jean, but I can get it." He started to stand up from his seat at the Reed's picnic table.
"No, Pete, stay put. I'll take care of it," Jean protested, then turned slightly on the picnic table bench to face the kitchen door. "Jim, honey, Pete needs another tea," she called to her husband, who was already in the kitchen getting himself a second piece of pie. At eight months pregnant, Jean figured she'd earned the right to be just a little lazy. She turned back to her guest. "So, Pete, Jim tells me you gave up smoking?"
Pete glared at the kitchen doorway. "He wasn't supposed to tell anyone," he grumbled quietly.
"Now, Pete, you didn't really expect Jim to keep anything secret from me, did you?"
"No, I guess not." Pete smiled.
"Well, good for you." Jean stopped to shift on the bench, trying to find a more comfortable position. It didn't seem picnic table benches were made for extremely pregnant women. "Did Jim ever tell you about his one and only experience smoking?"
"JEAN!" Jim protested from the doorway, where he stood with his pie and Pete's tea. "Don't tell that story."
Jean looked back at her husband. "Why not? It's funny."
Pete also looked up at Jim with a raised eyebrow. "Yeah, why not? I wanna hear about my non-smoking partner's smoky past. Go on, Jean, please."
Jean leaned across the table conspiratorially. "The first year Jim was at college, he took me to his school's fall dance. I thought it was so cool--me, a high school senior, hanging out with all these college kids, mostly sophomores and juniors from the football team. Anyway, during a break in the dance, Jim and I and some of his teammates and their dates were sitting around outside talking. Most of them were smoking, and one of the boys offered Jim a cigarette. I guess Jim thought he'd impress me with what a big, strong college man he was…" Jean paused to squeeze Jim's arm as he sat down beside her, "… by lighting up with them. He took the cigarette from that boy, and he didn't take more that a puff or two before he was turning green and coughing his lungs out."
"Aww. So the big man on campus couldn't handle one little Marlboro," Pete teased.
"Nope. But he did prove he could choke with the best of them." Jean giggled as she leaned against her husband's arm.
Jim scowled and stabbed his fork through his pie. "You didn't think it was funny at the time," he grumbled.
"Honey, at the time, I thought you were dying." Jean laughed at the memory, then gasped and grabbed at her abdomen. "Oh!"
Jim dropped his fork and was standing by her side in seconds. "Jean, you okay, honey?"
Jean looked up at him with panicked eyes as she clutched his hand. "I don't know. I think my water just broke!"
Jim glanced down at his wife's huge belly, then back into her eyes, hoping he didn't look as scared as he felt. "I'll go call the doctor." He ran inside to the phone, leaving Pete alone with his frightened wife.
Pete gently laid a hand on Jean's shaking shoulder. "It's okay. Try to stay calm, okay?"
A moment later, Jim ran back onto the patio and knelt down in front of Jean, taking her hands in his. "Jean, Dr. Crocker said everything's probably okay, but he wants us to bring you in to the hospital so he can check you over. He'll meet us there, okay, hon?"
Jean nodded, still trying to remain calm despite her fear.
"Okay. Let's get you to the car." Jim carefully helped his wife to her feet
Pete picked up one of the hospital waiting room's magazines and tried to feign interest in the cover story. He'd driven Jim and Jean to the hospital, and Jean had immediately been taken away to be seen by her doctor. Left with nothing to do but worry, Jim had immediately started pacing the waiting room, and Pete had spent the hour before a nurse came out to take Jim to his wife trying to calm his partner down. Now Jim was back talking to his wife and the doctor, and Pete was alone in the waiting room, fighting down cravings for a cigarette.
He'd just given up, tossing the magazine down on the table and standing up to go in search of the closest vending machine when Jim walked back into the room, looking a thousand times happier than when he'd left only fifteen minutes earlier. "Hey, partner, how's Jean?" Pete asked.
Jim smiled at him. "She's fine. The baby's fine, too. False alarm."
"Yeah." Jim grinned again. "Dr. Crocker thinks that between the big dinner and all the water Jean drank--you saw her, she was sucking it down like a fish--and the baby kicking like it is now, that the little kid just kicked hard in the wrong place and uh, well, you know…" Jim's voice trailed off as he realized how much trouble he would be in if Jean found out he told somebody that she'd basically peed her pants.
"Ah-ha." Pete apparently got the picture. "So nothing's wrong?"
"Nothin's wrong." Jim agreed. "She's getting cleaned up and dressed, and then we can go back home."
Jim Reed sat in his usual seat at Daywatch's roll call, trying hard to suppress a yawn. After driving Jean and him home from last night's adventures at the hospital, Pete had retrieved his own car and left them alone. The excitement and worry had worn Jean out, so they'd turned in early and spent a long time just holding each other, grateful that everything was still right in their world.
Jim glanced at the empty seat next to him, the seat normally occupied by his always-punctual partner. The door to the roll call room opened, and Jim looked up, expecting to see Pete striding through the door. Instead, Sergeant MacDonald and Lieutenant Moore entered the room and took their places behind the desk at the front of the room
Mac looked pointedly at Jim and nodded his head toward Pete's empty chair. Jim shrugged his shoulders, indicating he didn't know where the other officer was either. Internally, he was getting worried. It wasn't like his partner to be late. Not at all. Jim tried to push the list of bad things that could have happened out of his head and concentrate on Lieutenant Moore's briefing.
"We're developing a problem with vandalism of vehicles, mostly in Adam-12's district," the senior officer was saying. "Someone is shooting out windows of parked vehicles. Theft doesn't appear to be a motive--the shooter has left purses sitting on the car seats. We don't have a description of the suspect, but he's apparently using a .22 rifle or handgun--we've recovered several shell casings. Malloy, Reed, you two should keep your eyes open for any suspicious activity." Moore looked up, then frowned when he realized Pete wasn't yet in the room. "Reed, brief your partner when you see him, okay?" he added.
Moore continued, covering several other problem areas before wrapping up the briefing. Jim packed his notebook in his briefcase and spun his chair around. As he stood up, he spotted his partner leaning against the wall by the back door. Seeing both Mac and Lt. Moore were already talking to him, probably about his tardiness, Jim decided not to stick around for the lecture. Instead, he headed for the kit room to pick up the shotgun. He couldn't resist a quiet 'tsk, tsk' as he walked by his partner.
By the time Pete joined him at Adam-12, Jim had secured the shotgun, changed out the hotsheet, and was halfway through checking the car over.
"Right blinker's working," Pete told him as he approached the car.
Jim sat back down in the driver's seat and turned off the blinker. "Thanks. Hey, where were you this morning?"
"I overslept." Pete tried to keep his irritation in check. It's not Jim's fault I decided to quit smoking.
Jim looked up at him in confusion.
Pete sighed. "I thought if I slept in a little later, I would be in too much of a hurry to miss the morning cigarettes. I guess it worked too well. I slept later than I meant to, and I hardly had time to even think about smoking in my rush to get here before you drove my car away from the station."
"Pete, it's not your car."
"Reed, just gimme the keys."
Two hours, five traffic tickets and several rounds of nicotine-craving later, Pete was again silently begging the dispatcher to tag them with any call. Finally, Shaaron heard him. "1-Adam-12, a 415, man with a gun firing at cars, in the parking lot of Coastal Manufacturing, 3587 Morris. 1-Adam-12, respond code 3."
Jim reached for the microphone. "1-Adam-12, roger," he responded to the dispatcher before turning to Pete. "Sound like our vandal."
"Huh? What vandal?"
"Oh, yeah. You missed that this morning. Some guy in our district is shooting up cars. Not taking anything out of them, just shooting out the windows. Clear right."
A few minutes later, they arrived at the scene to find a small crowd of people had gathered outside the entrance to the main building of the manufacturing complex. As they got out of their car, a short, rotund man trotted over to them.
"Officers, officers," he panted. "I'm Art Metzger, plant manager. I'm afraid the shooter has left, but I've gathered everyone whose car was damaged out here for you. The people whose front windows were damaged are over there to your right. The other group had the side windows damaged. I imagine that will help you in writing your reports." Mr. Metzger smiled at his efficiency.
Pete glanced over at Jim and tried to suppress a laugh. "Yes, sir. Thank you." He turned to Jim. "Which do you want? Side or front?"
Jim couldn't keep back a huge grin. "Front." He pulled a pen out of his pocket and headed for the first group.
By the time the two officers had finished taking statements from the numerous victims, it was almost time for lunch. When Jim called in for seven, dispatch had them call the detectives investigating the vandalism reports, and they arranged to meet the detectives at a nearby taco stand for a working lunch.
"The best description we could get of the shooter is a male, tall and thin, dark hair, wearing camouflage clothing. Most of the cars' owners were busy working until they heard the shots and ran to see what was happening." Pete told the detectives before taking a big bite of his taco.
Detective Sanchez scribbled a few more notes. "Anything missing from the cars?"
Jim shook his head. "Nope. Not a thing, as far as the victims could tell. And some of them had expensive stuff in their cars--tape decks, eight-tracks, that kind of thing."
"Uh-hum," Sanchez muttered as he wrote down more notes. "Did anyone see a car that the suspect may have driven?"
Pete shook his head. "Nuh-huh." He swallowed. "They say he fled on foot, and fast too."
Sanchez closed his notebook. "Strangest thing, isn't it? You'd think this guy would steal things from the vehicles he damages. Wonder what his motive is."
Pete shrugged his shoulders. "Political? Maybe he's trying to make a statement about pollution or something?"
"Maybe," Sanchez agreed. "The best way to find out would be to catch him and ask him." The detective closed his notebook and stood up. "And on that note, I'm going to get back to work. Thanks for the info."
Jim and Pete spent a few more minutes finishing up their lunches before they also left the restaurant and returned to patrolling the streets. They had barely driven away from the taco stand when the radio sprang to life, requesting they call Mac at the station as soon as possible. Pete rolled his eyes. "Gweat timig."
Jim looked at him sideways. "Huh?"
Pete shifted the mint he was sucking on to a different position in his mouth. "Great timing. We just got moving again. Why didn't she call a few minutes ago?"
"Don't know, Pete. Hey, there's a call box." Jim pointed to the police phone on the corner they were approaching.
Pete pulled the car over to the curb and watched as Jim got out of the car and called the station. Whatever Mac had to say was amusing Jim to no end--he was smiling and shaking his head every now and then. Finally, Jim returned to the car. "Well?" Pete asked.
Jim snickered. "We, ah, need to go see Mr. Keipperson at WABF. Follow-up on the, uh, kidnapped buffalo. They got a ransom demand."
"Yeah, Pete. Someone is demanding ransom for that paper mache animal."
Pete shook his head, wondering if he'd ever understand the criminal mind. Kidnapping a paper mache mascot.
When they arrived at the station, Mr. Keipperson met them at the receptionist desk and led them across the room to where a small crowd of employees was gathered around an oversized pair of buffalo sneakers.
"There! You see what they did to Buffo!" Keipperson moaned.
"Yes, sir. Where did you find the uh, shoes?"
"The receptionist said a package delivery boy dropped them off in a box this morning. Of course, she didn't open it since it was addressed to me. I just got out here maybe a half hour ago and look what I found in that box. Oh, man. Poor Buffo."
Jim stood up from looking over the box. "No return address," he told them. "Mister, our sergeant mentioned there was a note?"
"Yes. Yes, there was." Keipperson knelt down and reached into the box. "Here you are, Officer."
Jim took the note by one corner, hoping to preserve any fingerprints that might still remain. "'The song must be played. You will do it, or Buffo becomes extinct, '" Jim read off the note. "It's signed 'A Friend of the Surfermen.'"
"Yes. And in case you're wondering, the Surfermen are an absolutely horrid group. Horrid." Keipperson actually shuddered. "No self-respecting radio station would ever play their music. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," Pete replied. "If we can keep this note, we'll turn it over to the detectives. I'm not sure how much they can do--rescuing paper statues isn't a real high priority with them. You may just want to play this song. Maybe they'll return Buffo. And be sure to let the police know if you have any more problems."
Pete gasped for breath as he leaned against the park bench. He'd tried the sleeping late method of avoiding smoking for another day before deciding that tactic wasn't working. All it had accomplished was making him late for work, and putting him a crabby mood by the time he got there. Many more days of that, and he was going to get a black mark in his package, not to mention irritating his partner. So today he'd tried a different tactic--getting up early and going for a quick jog. He hadn't realized how out of shape he'd let himself get, but only one mile out from his apartment, and here he was panting like a fish out of water.
He stood up and began jogging back home. He'd barely gone a block when he heard the sound of gunfire from a nearby apartment complex. He changed directions, running toward the sounds.
In the murky pre-dawn light, it was hard to make out anything but blurred shapes, but Pete finally made out the form of the gunman, taking aim at the windshield of a small sedan. "Hey!" Pete yelled.
The gunman looked up, startled at the presence of a witness to his crime. He shot out the car's window, then tucked the gun into his waistband and took off running. Pete followed, but between the man's head start and the fact that Pete was already tired, the shooter made a clean escape.
"Damn," Pete gasped. He quickly cataloged what he'd seen of the shooter, knowing the police officers who should soon be arriving would need to know whatever he could tell them. Around six feet tall, slender build, dark hair. He'd been wearing what looked like army fatigues, although Pete couldn't figure out why anyone would voluntarily dress as a soldier. With the current political situation, soldiers weren't the most popular people on the streets right now.
By the time Pete arrived back at the apartment parking lot, other police officers were already on the scene. He gave the officers a statement about what he had seen, his very general description of the suspect and his last known location, and they gave him a ride back to his apartment. In spite of the ride, he was just minutes late to roll call for the third day in a row.
This time, however, Pete didn't have to stay after for a 'discussion' with Mac and the lieutenant. Apparently, someone had informed the higher-ranking officers of his adventures that morning. Pete headed straight for the car, and Jim joined him a few minutes later. In addition to the shotgun and his briefcase, Jim was carrying a small brown paper bag.
After Jim sat down in the car and secured the shotgun, Pete pointed to the bag Jim had placed on the seat between them. "Jean pack you a mid-morning snack?"
Jim looked down at the package, then held it out to Pete. "Nope. These are for you."
Pete took the bag and opened it. "Sourballs?" he asked.
"Yup. Those mints make the car smell like… like a mint factory. I figure if you've got to suck on hard candy, it may as well be something that doesn't stink so much."
"I like the way mint smells. It's definitely an improvement over the normal odor of this car."
"In your opinion," Jim wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"Huh." Pete poked around in the bag. "Purple. I don't like the purple ones. You're going to have to make sure I don't get any purple ones."
"Right. No purple ones."
Pete glanced over at his partner. "And thanks. It's good to know you're still supporting me, after all the trouble I've caused you the past few days."
"Isn't that what training officers are supposed to do? Cause trouble for their trainees?"
A glare from Pete made Jim snicker. "Jim, clear us with dispatch."
Several hours into the watch, it was shaping up to be one of those rare, quiet days for the two officers. Just as Jim had opened his mouth to comment on the lack of radio traffic, the dispatcher called them. "1-Adam-12, see the man, possible DB in the drainage ditch, at the south end of Morgan Park."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Jim replied, then slowly hung the microphone on its hook with a sigh. "I hope it's just a smelly ol' bag of fish again."
Pete almost smiled as he remembered Jim's first 'dead body' call. "Yeah." He turned the car onto the busy main street that would lead them to the park.
As he pulled the car into Morgan Park's parking lot minutes later, two teenaged boys waved them over, and Pete brought the car to a stop next to the curb near where the two stood. He and Jim barely had time to get out of the car before the boys were yelling at them.
"Officers! You gotta go look!" the one boy began only to be interrupted by his companion.
"Man, that's gotta be the biggest dude I've ever seen, and I think he's dead!"
"Hold on. Just slow down." Pete held up his hands to stop the disorganized chatter. "Okay, what're your names?" He pulled out his notebook.
"Johnny Allern. You have to go look!"
"We will. And yours?" Pete addressed the other boy.
"Okay. Now Johnny, can you tell me, slowly, what happened here?"
Johnny glanced over at Mike. "Me and Mike, we go to school over there," he started, gesturing toward the nearby high school. "We, uh, well, they're doing P.E. right now, so Mike and me skipped out, I mean, who wants to do P.E. anyway, and we were walking along the top of the drainage ditch over there, and we saw this dude lying at the bottom of the ditch. And he looked kind of, you know, dead or something."
"What makes you say that?" Pete asked.
"He didn't have a head!" Mike blurted out. "Man, that just looks wrong, you know?"
Pete sent a quick glance Jim's way when he heard his younger partner snicker, then turned his attention back to the boys. "Yeah. I know. Listen, you two stay here while my partner and I go check this out."
"Uh, okay." Johnny agreed. "Hey, man, as long as we have to hang around, can you write us a note to get back into class? We don't wanna get in trouble with Mr. Hardley. He's, like, the principal."
"Right." Pete agreed, then gestured for Jim to follow him toward the drainage ditch the two boys had indicated held the dead body. They slowly walked along the top of the ditch, scanning the area.
Jim was the one to spot the body. "Down there," he called out. He looked closer, then turned to face Pete, a huge smile on his face. "Pete, I don't think it's a person."
Pete moved to stand beside Jim and took a close look at the 'body' himself. Jim was right--on closer inspection, it didn't look like a body, at least not a human body.
"I think we found Buffo," Jim said. "Or a least what's left of him."
Pete nodded. "Come on, let's go take a closer look." He carefully headed down the incline.
Jim followed him down. A few seconds later, the two officers stood at the bottom of the hill, looking at the decapitated paper mache form. Jim poked at it with his foot. "That's Buffo, all right. Blue shorts and a green shirt, painted on. Glad those kids were wrong about it being a DB."
Pete snickered. "Yeah. Let's go send them back to class and get a detective out here."
A few minutes later, Mike and Johnny had been returned to school and the two officers resumed patrolling the streets. Pete glanced at his partner, who was looking very thoughtful. "Okay, Jim. Out with it."
Jim turned to look at his partner, then asked the question Pete had been expecting. "Pete, what would someone want with a paper mache buffalo head?" he asked, a huge grin splitting his face.
Pete shook his head. "I don't know, partner. I just don't know."
One Week, Four Days
"1-Adam-12, P.M. Watch clear," Jim informed dispatch as Pete pulled out of the station parking lot for their first shift on P.M. watch. He shifted in his seat to fact his partner. "So, how were the days off?"
Pete shrugged. "Okay. Had a couple of dates."
"A couple? With the same girl? That sounds pretty serious."
"Nope." Pete sent a quick look towards his partner. "Different girls."
"Oh." Jim looked thoughtfully at his partner. "I must've been doing something wrong when I was dating, because I never…"
"And when was that?" Pete interrupted him. "When you were in grade school?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "Pete. No. I didn't meet Jean until my senior year of high school." Not that I had that many dates before that…
"For your information, they were supposed to be with the same girl--Deborah. We went out for a nice dinner Wednesday night, and everything was going great, right up until she pulled out a cigarette after dinner. I asked her if she could skip the smoke, because I was quitting, and she got angry. Stood up, made some remarks about it was her life and she'd do what she wanted, and stormed out of the restaurant. After she upended her wine glass onto me."
"And the other date?" Jim questioned.
Pete glanced at Jim. "Don't you have a social life of your own?"
Jim smiled. "Nope. I've got an eight-months pregnant wife. I don't get to have a social life."
"And you're okay with that?" Pete glanced at his partner, who looked like he was about to launch into Lecture #32 on the benefits of marriage. "Never mind. You're okay with that."
"Yup." Jim nodded. "I know I've told you before…"
"You just want me to be as happy as you are." Pete interrupted Jim before he could get too far along. Desperate to change the subject, Pete launched into the tale of his other date. "Anyway, about the date. I had tickets to a show the next night. I had planned to go with Deborah, but that wasn't going to happen and I didn't want to waste them, so I called up Susan."
"Susan--she's the one that dumped you before you could get too serious, right? The one that's more
marriage-phobic than you?"
"That's the girl. Only she's not marriage-phobic now. As soon as she found out I'd given up smoking, she couldn't stop talking about what a great father I'd make. And you know who she was thinking of as the mother."
Jim snickered. "Sounds like she grew up."
"1-Adam-12, a 415, shots fired, in the parking lot, 2211 Wickersham…" The dispatcher's hotshot call effectively ended the conversation.
Pete flipped on the lights and siren. "The Broken Wagon again," he commented. "Probably another bar fight. That place is almost as bad as Cal's."
Jim just nodded. "Clear right."
By the time they arrived at the bar, no one was shooting, but they did notice a small crowd gathered at the far end of the lot. "Looks pretty quiet to me," Jim said.
"Yeah. But be careful until we know what's going on here." Pete shoved his hat onto his head and left the car, as did Jim. As the two officers approached the group of people, silence fell.
Pete addressed the crowd. "We had a call of someone shooting here. Can one of you tell me what happened?"
A woman stepped forward and pointed to a young man dressed in cowboy boots and jeans who stood staring vacantly at the shattered windshield of a pickup truck. "Somebody shot his truck," she said, slurring her words enough that Pete knew she'd had a few drinks. "An' her car, an' his car, too," the woman added as she pointed out two more patrons of the bar.
"Did you see who did it?" Pete questioned.
The woman smiled at him. "Nossir. It's Friday. I was busy relaxing inside when all their cars got shot." She looked Pete over and giggled. "You got a date tonight, handsome? 'Cause I'm not busy."
"I'm working," Pete snapped. He looked around for his partner, who was talking to the truck's owner. "Reed," he called.
Jim looked up and Pete gestured for Jim to come join him. "Got anything?" Pete asked.
Jim shook his head. "Nope. They were in the bar drinking when they heard the shots, but by the time they got out here, the shooter was gone."
Pete looked over at the bar. "If you wanted to hide from the police, where would you go?"
Jim followed Pete's gaze. "Into the bar?"
"Let's go check it out." Pete led his partner toward the building.
It took a few seconds for the officers' eyes to adjust to the dimness inside the bar, but once they could see, it didn't look remarkably different from any other bar. Customers sat along a dark wood bar along one side of the building; more customers filled the booths and tables on the other wall. Pete studied the customers at the bar, while Jim scanned the tables and booths. "Jim." Pete lightly grabbed his partner's arm. "At the bar, third from the end."
Jim looked at the man. "Fits the description. It could be him."
Pete slowly walked down the bar towards the man. He seemed to be nervous, but then cops sometimes made even people who hadn't done anything nervous. Pete checked to make sure Jim was ready. "Hello there," Pete greeted the man.
"'lo," the man muttered.
"Some people's cars got shot up out there. You know anything about that?"
The man glanced at Pete, then took a swig of his beer. "Nope." He put the mug down on the bar, then suddenly swivelled off the barstool and tried to run.
Jim was too fast for him. Before he'd even completed one stride, Jim caught him, grabbing the man's right arm and pulling him to a stop. "Ouch! That's far enough, mister," Jim ordered the man. "Hands on the bar in front of you."
"Lemme go! I didn't hurt nobody! Hey, come on, I just shot up the cars, not any people. C'mon, let me go," the man begged.
"Hands on the bar, mister," Jim repeated, and this time, the man decided to comply. Jim quickly searched the man, handing the gun he found to Pete. He then handcuffed the man and read him his rights. All the while, the man continued to protest his arrest.
An hour later, Jim dotted the final i and crossed the final t on the arrest report for Mr. Roger Royce Riggenbaumen IV. "Sign here," he ordered his partner as he slid the report across the counter to where Pete was sitting.
Pete scanned the report before scribbling his signature on the bottom and returning it to Jim. "What a nut."
"Yeah," Jim agreed with a quiet snicker. "Said no Riggenbaumen ever did anything noteworthy. Wanted to get name in the paper. Crazy, isn't it?" Jim winced slightly as he picked up his pen to scribble his own name beneath Pete's.
"That it is. What'd you do to your hand?" Pete asked.
"My hand? Nothin'."
"Your hand. Lemme see." Pete reached down and grabbed Jim's right wrist, turning his arm until he could see the row of bloody band-aids affixed to Jim's palm.
"Pete, it's just a little cut. Nothing to worry about."
Jim looked down at his hand. "Huh. Guess it is. Must'a pulled it open again when I grabbed Riggenbaumen."
"Um-hum," Pete agreed. "What'd you do to it?" he repeated.
Jim glanced up and down the hallway to make sure no one was around. "I was helping Jean wash the fine china this morning, and I dropped one of the plates and sliced my hand open picking up the pieces. Okay?"
"Washing dishes?" Pete snickered
Jim sighed. "Yes, I was washing dishes. Jean's gone crazy with the cleaning this week. We had to put another coat of paint on the trim in the nursery yesterday, after I cleaned every weed she could see out of the gardens the day before. Then today, she woke me up at six a.m. so she could get the bedsheets in the laundry. I was still using them at the time." Jim groused. "Then, once I woke up, she had me start washing the china while she dusted the dining-room furniture. That's what she was doing while I was breaking dishes in the kitchen. Dusting the furniture with Q-tips."
"Wow." Pete commented. "Is she okay?"
Jim shrugged. "I guess so. She said she was nesting. Says it's a perfectly normal thing for pregnant women to do. Getting the house ready for the baby and all." Jim looked down at his hand. "Y'know, she actually fussed at me for getting blood on her clean floor. I was standing there bleeding, and all she was concerned about was the floor."
"Awwww." Pete mentally added 'nesting', whatever that was, to his list of reasons not to get married. "Why don't you go get it cleaned up again before you start bleeding on the floor here. I don't think Mac would appreciate a dirty floor any more than Jean did."
Jim nodded. "Right, partner." He stood up and walked a few steps down the hallway before turning around. "And, partner, thanks for the sympathy," Jim added, his voice heavy with sarcasm.
One Week, Five Days
"How's the hand today?" Pete asked his partner as he pulled their patrol car onto the street at the beginning of P.M. watch.
Jim turned his hand over so Pete could see the clean bandage taped to his palm. "Healing up just fine."
"Good. Wouldn't want you bleeding in the patrol car." Pete laughed quietly.
Jim looked over at his partner. "Picky people shouldn't mock the hands that feed them candy."
"That was a mean trick. I'm checking on you from now on. Those purple sourballs are horrible."
"I wish you could've seen the look on your face." Jim snickered at the remembrance. The previous evening, Pete had asked for a red sourball and Jim, still miffed over Pete's reaction to his housecleaning travails, had slipped him a purple one instead. In the dark car, Pete hadn't noticed until it was too late, much to Jim's amusement. "So, could you tell what flavor purple was?"
"Grape, I think."
Jim dug a red candy out of the bag. "Wonder what flavor the red ones are? I mean, orange is obviously orange, and yellow is lemon, and green is lime, but what's red? It could be strawberry or raspberry or cherry or some combination."
And you're going to talk about it for the rest of the shift. "Wonder if the rain's finally stopped for the day?" he asked in an attempt to sidetrack his partner before he got too far off on that tangent.
Jim looked out the window. "It's just foggy now, but it looks like it's gonna rain again. Maybe it'll keep the criminals inside and we'll have a quiet shift."
"Maybe," Pete agreed.
Four hours later, it looked like Jim had been right. The shift had been quiet, with no major calls and remarkably few traffic accidents. The rain had started up again, but then tapered off just before the two officers took seven at a local diner. After they returned to their car, Jim cleared them with dispatch then turned to face Pete. "Where to now, partner?"
Pete shrugged. Their whole district had been quiet all night. "We'll head over toward the freeway. If there's going to be a big accident, it'll probably happen there."
An hour later, their sole contribution to crime fighting was issuing one speeding ticket. As Pete returned to the car after giving the speedy driver his citation, Jim shivered and zipped his jacket up higher. "Close the door. You're making it cold in here," he muttered.
Pete pulled the door closed, then stole a glance at his partner. "You wouldn't be so cold if you weren't so skinny. You gotta talk to your wife about putting some fat on those bones of yours." He started driving down the street again.
"She's trying, believe me. She says she's eating for two, and I should be too. No, it comes from having a skimpy little jacket." He glanced enviously at Pete's warmer jacket, then reached out and cranked the heat up a few notches.
"Reed, it's gonna feel like a sauna in here pretty soon. Why don't you just... Whoa! Look out!" Pete slammed on the brakes to avoid the car that ran a stop sign at the cross street they were approaching, fighting for control of the car as the rear end fishtailed on the wet roadway. "Did you see that? What the heck's he thinking?" He automatically reached for the switches that activated the car's red lights and turned left, following the reckless driver.
In a minute, Pete had caught up with the speeding car enough that Jim could make the license plate. "Ida-David-Sam 6-2-0" Jim muttered, writing down the car's plate before radioing dispatch for any wants and warrants on the speeding vehicle.
Before dispatch could respond, the driver of the car decided to stop, pulling his car over to the curb of the residential street.
Jim sighed. "Guess it's my turn, huh?"
Pete smiled slightly. "Cheer up. At least it's not raining right now."
"Thank God for small favors." With that, Jim picked up the ticket book and stepped out of the car.
Pete watched his partner walk in front of the patrol car and approach the stopped vehicle. From what he could see, the driver and his two passengers seemed to be behaving themselves. The young man in the back seat yawned and stretched, one arm sticking out the window of the small car. Sure looks bored. Wonder how many times he's been pulled over?
As Pete continued to wait for dispatch's return on the registration, an uneasy feeling started growing in his gut. Something's not right here. Pete tried to dismiss the feeling as an aftereffect of giving up smoking cold turkey--he had been on edge for the nearly two long weeks now, although he'd thought he was finally getting past that stage. Frowning, he slid across the seat and climbed out of Jim's door to get a different perspective.
"1-Adam-12, Ida-David-Sam 6-2-0, no wants or warrants, registered to Paul Conroy, 3444 Athens Circle, Los Angeles." The dispatcher's voice almost startled Pete as it broke the silence.
Pete leaned into the car and picked up the microphone. "1-Adam-12, roger." He lowered the mic away from his face, but didn't put it down. He watched Jim talk with the driver. What was wrong with this scene that was making him so jumpy?
Tossing the mic back into the car, he decided he'd go take a closer look at the car. He quietly approached the passenger side of the car. He was still a few steps behind the passenger when he saw it. The man in the back seat was raising a small revolver toward his partner. "JIM! GUN!" he yelled.
The next few seconds seem to move in slow motion. Jim looked up at him, a startled expression on his face, then threw himself to the ground. Pete heard the sharp retort of a gun firing, heard the sound of glass breaking as the bullet broke through the window, heard the sound of his partner hitting the ground with a loud grunt. The shooter whipped around, and the gun was now pointing at him. Pete fired the gun that he had somehow, sometime in the confused seconds pulled out of its holster, and the shooter was thrown back into the car.
The other two men in the car apparently thought better of continuing the fight of their injured or dead comrade, and both raised their hands in surrender. Pete yelled at them to keep their hands in the air as he crossed behind the car to check on his partner. "Jim?" he called, not yet daring to spare a glance.
"'m okay. Mostly," Jim's shaky voice replied.
Pete stepped around the back of the car and quickly glanced down at his partner, who was crawling to his hands and knees in a mud puddle. "He hit you?" Pete asked, keeping his attention focused on the two criminals still in the car.
Jim pulled himself to his feet. "Nuh-uh. Guess I got out of the way in time. Landed on my right arm a little too hard, though. It's kinda numb right now." Jim shook his right arm, but that didn't entirely disguise the fact that the rest of him was shaking a little too, and probably not just from the cold.
"Think you can handcuff these two for me?" Pete asked, trying to keep the shakiness he was feeling out of his voice.
"Yeah. Just take them one at a time, okay?"
Pete gave his partner a small smile. "Sure." He turned his attention back to the car. "Okay, driver. Out of the car. Slowly…"
Five minutes later, the two surviving criminals were secured in the back of Adam-12. As it turned out, neither of them were Paul Conroy of Athens Circle--the car was stolen. All that was left for Jim and Pete to do was wait for their supervisor to arrive. Jim leaned back against the trunk of the patrol car, left arm wrapped around his body to hold onto his right arm. Pete walked over to his partner. "Jim, you sure you're okay?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. I'm just cold. It's a little chilly to be standing around in a wet uniform."
"Yeah." Pete agreed, looking over his bedraggled partner just to make sure Jim really was okay. Jim's normally spotless uniform was both wet and muddy, but appeared at first glance to be intact.
"What're you looking at?" Jim asked as he noticed Pete's scrutiny.
Pete shook his head in mock disgust. "Disgrace to the uniform," he muttered. "You're covered in mud." He continued to study his partner.
"Well, that wasn't really my idea, was it? Pete? What are you doing?" Jim asked as Pete reached toward the left side of Jim's jacket collar.
"Looks like you jacket collar's coming unstitched. You might want to have Jean fix it. Oh, my God." Pete's voice trailed off.
Jim looked up at Pete in concern. "What?"
Pete pointed to Jim's jacket. "It's not a rip. It's a bullet hole." An inch to the right, and you'd be dead right now. A few inches lower, and you'd be bleeding out on the ground. "Maybe you shouldn't have Jean fix that," he tried to joke. He sagged back against the car next to Jim, shaken by the close call.
Jim paled, then reached up and felt the collar, then felt his neck. "Still in one piece," he muttered. "Pete, I think I need to sit down…"
The senior officer glanced over at his partner. Jim was as white as the sheets. "Okay, partner. Hang on here." He grabbed Jim's arms and gently pushed him down onto the patrol car's bumper. "Lean over. Head down between your knees. Breathe slowly," he ordered. He kept a hand on Jim's shaking shoulders, partly to help Jim calm down, partly to make it easier for him to break Jim's fall if he did pass out.
A minute later, Jim sat up straighter, resting his elbows on his knees. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Pete said lightly, the squeezed Jim's shoulder. He leaned forward against the patrol car, keeping both hands firmly on the trunk in an effort to still the bad case of the shakes he still had.
Headlights suddenly illuminated the scene, and Jim looked up. "Looks like Mac's here. No, wait. It's Lieutenant Moore."
Jim stood up and Pete turned around as the lieutenant approached. Pete motioned for Jim to stay put and walked over to greet the senior officer. "Lieutenant."
Moore looked around. "Malloy. What happened?"
Pete gave his former training officer a quick summary of the situation--the traffic stop, the man who had pulled the gun, the action he'd been forced to take. Somehow, he was calmer than he had any right to be.
Moore listened patiently to Pete's report. "I'm getting a shooting team together at the station. I'll drive you back there in a few minutes," the lieutenant informed him, then glanced over at Jim, still sitting on the patrol car's bumper. "Reed okay? He looks a little rough."
Pete nodded. "Yeah. It was a bad scene. He'll be okay."
The lieutenant nodded. "What about you? You okay?"
Pete nodded again. "I'm doing fine."
Moore apparently picked up on the underlying tension in Pete's voice. He looked from his former trainee to the shattered rear window of the stolen car. "You did what you had to to protect your partner, Pete. Remember that"
Back at the station
Now attired in his dry street clothes but carrying his damaged jacket, Jim joined his partner in the small room that the shooting team was once again using. As soon as they'd returned to the station, Moore had led Pete to this room while Mac had taken Jim to the locker room to get out of his wet uniform. Jim took a seat across the table from Pete. "How ya doin', partner?"
Pete looked up at Jim. "Okay." He uncrossed his arms and laid his hands on the table, aimlessly tapping the hard surface. "I hate this waiting. Why don't they get moving?"
Jim glanced at the door. "Don't know."
Pete tapped the table some more. "You call Jean yet, tell her you'll be late getting home?"
"Not yet. We might get out of here on time."
"Optimist," Pete muttered with a small smile. He glanced at the door again, then stood up and paced across the room, then returned to his chair.
Jim watched his partner sit down again and tilt the chair back, arms again folded across his chest. Finally, he reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small package. He put the box on the table and pushed it toward his partner. "Here."
Pete looked at the box, recognizing it as the package of cigarettes he'd given to Jim almost two weeks ago. He gave Jim a questioning look.
Jim shrugged. "You look like you could use something right now. Besides, I figure you've earned at least one tonight. I didn't even see anything wrong."
"Don't know what tipped me off," Pete said while he mentally reviewed the events. There has to be some reason I noticed the gun. What was it? "The car window," he said, snapping his fingers.
"Huh?" Jim looked up in confusion.
"They had one of the car windows open on a cold, rainy night. That's probably how they got into the car to steal it in the first place. Broke that window. That's why it was open."
Jim almost laughed. "That's it? That's what tipped you off?" He picked up his jacket to examine the holes in the collar, then reached up to feel his neck again. "I'm just glad something made you suspicious."
"Me too." Pete added. He nervously reached for the cigarette box that still sat on the table and picked it up. Jim was right--a cigarette right now would really help settle his nerves. He flipped the box over in his hands. But it would also be a major setback in his fight. He turned the box over again, then chucked it across the room. It bounced of the side of a file cabinet and fell into the trash can.
"Nice rebound," Jim commented.
"Thanks." Pete paused for a minute. "And thanks for keeping them around."
"You really don't want a smoke?"
Pete sighed. "Yeah, I really do, but…" He shrugged his shoulders. "I gotta start getting used to living without them, right?"
Jim smiled at him, then reached back into his pocket. "How about a mint, then?" He slid a couple of red-and-white candies across the table.
Pete looked at the mints, knowing how much Jim hated the overpowering smell. "Nah. Hey, you have any gum?"
"Don't think so." Jim checked his pants pockets, the reached for his jacket and checked those pockets also. "Nope, sorry." Jim's eyes were once again drawn to the jacket's collar. "Jean is not going to see this. She'd go nuts."
"More than she already is," Pete joked.
Jim looked up from the jacket with a confused expression on his face, then eventually smiled. "Yeah. The housecleaning." A few seconds later, the smile faded, to be replaced by a slightly worried look.
Pete could almost hear Jim's train of thought changing tracks from worrying about Jean's reaction to his close call to worrying about her mental health. Pete suddenly had an idea. "Hey, why don't I take you two on a little vacation next weekend. There's this old silver-mining town up in the mountains. It's just a ghost town now, but I've been wanting to visit it for a while. I'm sure Jean could use some fresh air, and if she's not at home, she can't be cleaning, can she?"
"She'll probably take her mop and bucket and clean up your ghost town," Jim chuckled. "Would you bring a date?"
Pete shrugged. "Probably, if I could find a girl on short notice."
"A non-smoking girl, Pete. Remember that last date you told me about?"
"I know some girls that don't smoke. Joanne, and Barbara, and Sally. Hey, you remember Sally? The nurse at Central Receiving's ER?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, Sally. She's cute. Seems like the outdoorsy type." Jim paused for a moment, then nodded. "And she's a nurse, too. Jean'll like that."
"That's the one." Pete agreed. "So it's a date?"
"Yeah. I'm all for it, if I can convince Jean to come along." Jim looked over at the telephone. "I think I'll give her a call now."
Pete watched as Jim picked up the phone and called his wife, then stood up and walked as far across the room as he could to give Jim a little bit of privacy. Unfortunately, that put him right beside the trash can and the discarded cigarettes. He was tempted to retrieve the package, but then he turned around and leaned against the file cabinets. I've worked too hard to get this far… I can make it through this. I know I can. He heard Jim say goodbye to his wife and hang up the phone. "Well?"
Jim looked at him. "Jean liked the idea. She wants to check with her doctor, of course, but if he says it's okay, just tell us when you want to leave."
"This Saturday, at the crack of dawn." Pete had to laugh at the dismayed expression that crossed Jim's face. "Just the four of us and nice, quiet Silverlode."