By Meercat

© April, 2002

Sergeant William MacDonald stepped over the raised threshold of the warehouse and into the warmth of welcome sunlight. He heaved a weary sigh and said, "Thank God that's over and no one was seriously hurt. As drug raids go, this has to be one of the best this year. Good work, men."

Those who heard him, both inside and outside the building, mirrored the big man's pride and satisfaction. Over a dozen uniformed officers, along with three plainclothes detectives from the Narcotics Division, had participated in that morning's operation. On an anonymous tip, they'd staked out the area, seen enough activity to obtain a warrant, and pulled it all together with minimal risk to the officers.

As he slipped brown-tinted glasses over his eyes to block the sun, exceptionally bright after their time in the dark warehouse, Officer Jim Reed said, "There's just one thing that puzzles me."

MacDonald and Reed's partner, Pete Malloy, shared an amused glance. Mac said, "Only one? The bad guys must be getting better."

"They'd have to be, Mac," Malloy carried on the ribbing. "Thanks to the brilliant mind of Mr. Sherlock Holmes here, we've weeded out all the dumb ones."

"Who called in the tip?" Ignoring the chuckles taken at his expense, Reed jerked a thumb toward the procession of handcuffed prisoners being led to the transport wagon. "It certainly wasn't one of those clowns."

"Who knows?" Malloy shrugged.

The older officer, an 11-year veteran of the LAPD, waved across the large, open parking lot, beyond the scattering of police units and the large industrial trash bin. On the far side of the elongated container, a temporary chain link fence separated the warehouse from another building under construction. The bottom three floors were enclosed, but four more stories were under varying stages of completion, each more skeletal than the next the higher one looked. Being a Saturday, the site was closed; no one moved across the steel girders.

Beyond that building were four others, all office spaces or storage facilities closed for the weekend.

"Could've been anyone--a competitor or a junkie they'd refused a fix." Right hand holding a shotgun perched on his hip, Malloy indicated the construction site with his free hand. "Maybe one of the steel monkeys up there saw something last week and called it in."

"Does it really matter?" Mac asked. "Let's just be grateful we've taken this lot--and their heroin--off the streets."

"Amen to that," Malloy said with fervor. "There must be close to a million dollar's worth of raw stuff in there."

Mac glanced over to another pair of officers as they exited the sprawling warehouse. Tom Brady held two shotguns and offered his partner, Ed Wells, a shoulder to hang onto as he hobbled over the threshold. The smaller, fairer man carried his right shoe in his free hand. His right ankle, encased in only a sock, looked twice its normal size and would bear no weight.

Though his comment was allegedly aimed toward Mac, Malloy raised his voice loud enough for Wells to overhear, saying, "We're definitely going to have to add rotting wooden pallets to the training course."

"By the next time Wells runs it, I hope?" Reed snickered.

Ed Wells glowered in their direction and cut back, "Yah, yah, yuck it up, Reed. At least I'm not walking around with a badge covered in Play-Doh."

"There's no Play-Doh left on my badge. I cleaned it yesterday. It took me half the night, but I got it all off."

"You missed a spot."

Reed refused to look down. "No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did." Wells pointed. "Right there, in the crease near the numbers."

Shaking his head, Jim said, "You're yanking my chain, Ed, and I'm not going to fall for it."

"Ask Malloy. I'm right, aren't I, Pete?"

Wells turned an earnest air of injured innocence toward the officer in question. When Jim looked his way with a questioning expression, the elder officer held up his hands in surrender.

"Leave me out of this."

"Suit yourself," Wells shrugged. "Just don't be surprised when some little old lady you're writing up for speeding comments on it." An incautious shift of his weight brought his injured foot down onto the ground. He raised it again with a pained grunt. To Brady, he said, "C'mon, partner, let's find me that ambulance so I can get this thing wrapped up."

As the pair moved away, Mac hid a smile behind a large hand. "I better make sure Wells doesn't give the ambulance guys too hard a time. Meet you back at the station."

As the sergeant stepped away from the pair, moving toward the injured officer, Reed and Malloy double-checked their weapons. Once the guns were secure, the pair headed toward their own unit, Adam-12, which stood beside four other black-and-whites and a dark blue unmarked sedan. Other officers milled around the area. Some worked to secure evidence but most did little more than wind down from the few tense minutes of the raid.

More than a little concerned about Wells' "revelation" but determined not to fall for it, Jim Reed looked back over his shoulder to where Mac and Brady steered Wells, blustering and protesting, toward an ambulance set up in the parking lot, close to the exit onto Grant.

"Pete," Jim whispered. "Is it true? Do I still have sticky pink stuff on my badge?"

Malloy laughed and shook his head but said nothing. He kept his gaze firmly on their black and white parked twenty feet away across the open parking lot.

Reed huffed in irritation. Walking backwards a few paces ahead of his partner, he saw Wells occupied with navigating on an injured ankle. He risked a quick glance down. Before he could focus on his badge, Wells' triumphant call cut across the parking lot.

"Yah, made you look!"

Malloy never heard the shot. A rifle cracked the same instant a red blossom appeared on his right shoulder two inches above his nameplate. With a startled cry, he dropped the shotgun and fell to the ground, arms and legs thrown out in an untidy sprawl. The back of his head struck the pavement. Unconscious, he did not register the searing pain in his left thigh.

Reed, still walking backwards, his back to the sniper, had time to identify the danger but none to react. The bullet struck him on the right shoulder blade and flung him forward. With a single, sharp grunt, he collapsed face down, his chest across Malloy's out-flung left forearm. His own left arm lay between them, his right tossed out to the side, palm up and limp. His sunglasses landed several feet away.

Officers scattered for cover. Bullets fired by at least two snipers nipped at their heels. MacDonald and Brady each grabbed one of Wells' arms and lifted him off his feet. The trio, hunched against the danger, fearing to feel a bullet at any second, reached cover behind Mac's station wagon without taking a hit. The silver dust trail caused by bullets striking the parking surface hinted just how close the shots came to their position.

Mindful of the sharp pings of bullets striking metal and the vicious whines of ricochets, Mac ducked low and turned back, anxiously scanning the area to assess the situation. Except for Malloy and Reed, everyone had reached cover without being hit. The men assigned to escort the prisoners had hustled the cuffed suspects into the safety of the transport and locked them inside before taking cover themselves. The ambulance attendants dove into their vehicle and sped away from the scene.

"Where're they coming from?" Wells said, eyes scanning the roof of the warehouse.

"There's only one place." Brady pointed to the steel skeleton of the construction site.

"I make at least two," Mac said, "but there may be more."

Bullets struck the windows of Mac's car. The far side panel and tailgate windshield shattered in a shimmering shower of glass. MacDonald opened his driver's side door, slithered across the seat, and grabbed his radio microphone.

"This is 1-L-120. Officer needs help, officer down, 18944 Grant. We have multiple snipers on the upper floors of the construction site at 18946 Grant. Roll additional units for perimeter control and call up SWAT. All units approach from the east. We'll need paramedics and at least two ambulances standing by."

The female dispatcher's voice answered, "1-L-120, roger. All units on all frequencies. Officer needs help, officer down, 18944 Grant. Units on-scene report taking multiple sniper fire from suspects located at the construction site, 18946 Grant. SWAT has been notified. All available units respond, approach from the east. Two ambulances and a paramedic unit are en route and will stand by two blocks east, corner of Province and Veridian."

Taking his shotgun back from Brady, Wells hissed as he placed weight on his sprained ankle. From his location, huddled near the front fender of Mac's station wagon, he could see the upper levels of the construction site but not the parking lot or the downed officers.

"Who is hit?" he asked.

Mac sighed. From his place down by the tailgate, he could see the pair clearly. Malloy and Reed lay in the open, in a no-man's land halfway between Mac's vehicle and the row of parked A-cars. The nearest cover was twenty or more feet away. The snipers had a clear and direct field of fire.

"Who is hit?" Wells repeated.

"Malloy and Reed."

Wells blanched and gripped his shotgun a little tighter. "Where are they? How bad is it? Can you see them?"

"I see 'em," Mac nodded.

Brady asked, "Anybody else hurt?"

Mac looked around once more then shook his head. "Doesn't look like it."

Wells demanded to know, "What about Jim and Pete?"

"They're out in the open, halfway between here and the nearest black and white. Pete took at least one high on his right shoulder. Reed caught one in the back. There may be other wounds, I just can't tell." Mac dipped his head a moment then faced Wells and Brady, eyes dark with dread. "They're not moving."

Ed Wells ducked down to peer beneath the wagon. The right rear tire blocked his view of everything except the two downed officers' legs. Rising, he hissed air through clenched teeth as he again placed an uncomfortable weight on his injured foot.

Mac saw the grimace. "Tom. Find out where that ambulance took off to. Get Ed over there. Have 'em check him out."

"I'm not going anywhere, Mac," Wells said. For once, every scrap of trademark bluster, acid wit, and devil-may-care attitude had vanished. "My friends are out there."

MacDonald weighed Wells' determination and decided against pressing the issue.

Sensing that he'd won the argument, Ed relaxed and asked, "How are we going to get them out of there, Mac?"

"Brinkman!" Once certain he had the mustached officer's attention, Mac pointed to the transport wagon positioned only a dozen feet from Brink's location. To reach it, he needed to cross a single strip of open space. "Empty that thing then get it back here. We'll drive it between the rifles and our boys, load 'em up, and hightail it out of there."

Brinkman nodded and took off. Ducking low, he sprinted from cover to cover until he jumped behind the wheel of the transport. A swift turn of the key and a screaming shift of gears put the bulky vehicle in motion.

Mac used the time to organize his men, readying his forces to lay down cover fire. They needed to keep the snipers down in the first vital seconds of the rescue.

Brinkman returned less than three minutes later, parking the truck on the curb outside the gate through the warehouse fence. A deep voice, tinny through a bullhorn, boomed from the construction site.

"Go anywhere near either of 'em with that truck and we'll fill 'em so full of lead, you'll need a forklift to carry the bodies!"

One of the rifles fired. Jim sunglasses skipped across the pavement like a stone tossed across water, lenses shattered and frame demolished by the bullet. A second bullet struck the shotgun. The wooden stock shattered into jagged splinters, its metal warped, and the entire gun rendered completely useless. Both rifles opened fire. A spray of pulverized pavement outlined the downed officers in a perfect circle.

The barrage gave the officers time to pinpoint the snipers' precise locations. One was positioned on the northeast corner, fifth floor, near what appeared to be the skeleton of an elevator shaft. The other fired from behind a stack of steel beams on the southeast edge, sixth floor. Mac opened the back driver's side door, reached inside, and pulled out a bullhorn.

"And don't think you can get to us up here!" the sniper said. "We've put land mines all around the area. Anyone trying to sneak in here will blow himself up!"

"Why should we believe you?" Mac asked, his voice amplified by the loud speaker.

The southeast rifle cracked again. One land mine, positioned halfway between the building and the fence, exploded. A geyser of dirt and debris rose skyward. Dirt clods and trash pelted people and objects for dozens of feet. The cloud of dust hung in the air like a golden, dreary haze. In the construction yard, a crater two feet deep marred the surface.

Mac bit down on a curse. The entire site was torn up due to the construction; they had no way of knowing which bit of turned dirt hid a deadly mine. They'd have to abandon any idea of closing in on the snipers from the ground.

"They couldn't have picked a better setup," Brady complained.

"It's too late in the morning for the eastern sun to get in their eyes, and by mid-afternoon, we'll be staring straight into the western sun. We'll be blind but they'll be able to see just fine," Mac said. "And their positions are too exposed for tear gas--the wind would blow it away before it had any chance to work."

"Tear gas wouldn't do any good anyway," Brady said, "unless we could get to them before the effects wore off."

Wells gave his partner a withering look for having missed the point. "It'd at least give us time to pull Malloy and Reed to safety."

"Wells, I need you to get that ankle taken care of then go back to the station." He held up a hand to forestall the ready objection. "Contact the construction foreman. If we find a way around those mines, we'll need everything he can tell us--the floor plan, how far along the construction is, what tools or equipment we have to avoid, and what he has stored on the site, particularly anything flammable or explosive. God forbid, if this thing drags into tonight, we'll need to know, is the area rigged for electricity? Does the site have its own lighting or will we need to bring in floodlights? Dig for every scrap you can then get back here as soon as possible."

Though reluctant to leave his friends, Wells knew his limitations. With his bum ankle, he was more hindrance than help. He'd be of greater use gathering information that might be the only thing to crack the standoff. He passed his shotgun to MacDonald and worked his way behind every available scrap of shelter until he could safely hop around the side of the building.


Sgt. MacDonald swivelled on his heel. Officer Jerry Woods squatted behind one of the drug suspect's personal cars, a shiny black Camaro with a line of bullet holes through its hood, two flat tires, and a cracked windshield. The officer's attention was not focused on the construction area.

Mac followed his line of site. After an eternally long moment, he saw it, too. Movement. Thank you, God.

Malloy, at least, was alive.


Consciousness returned slowly, in very distinct stages. Hearing came first, though he could make little sense of the sounds. An explosion? Had the drug dealers rigged the warehouse? Voices, their words garbled as though heard from underwater.

Warm sunlight touched his face, the first recognizable feeling to return. Wind, too--a gentle breeze brushed across his forehead and tickled his lashes. He lay on something hard. The ground? Why am I lying down on the job? That makes no sense.

Gunshots. He twitched and, for the first time, realized the danger. He tried to shift but part of him wouldn't move. Something wasn't right.

"Pete? Malloy!" I know that voice...who...?

"M-Mac?" Was he voice really that weak?

"Don't move, Pete. Lie still. We'll get to you as soon as we can."

Get to me?

He hurt. Feeling returned to the rest of his body in a rush, bringing with it a ragged gasp of pain. His right shoulder blazed; something sticky and wet puddled beneath his neck. The back of his head throbbed with every beat of his pulse. His left thigh, folded beneath his partly twisted body, definitely talked to him.

I've been hit. At least twice.

Despite Mac's repeated orders to lie still, Malloy wiggled, hoping to take some of his weight off the injured leg. His left arm refused to move. Something held it down. Malloy cracked his lids, squinting against the sun-bright, cloudless sky. Turning his head with determined slowness, he searched for the source of the confinement.

His partner sprawled across Malloy's arm, chest down. His face, turned toward Pete, was ashen, a sickly gray except for the faint flush of rose on his cheeks.

"Oh, dear God," Malloy whispered. "Jim."

His confined arm hurt where his partner's brass--nameplate, badge, and marksmanship medal--pressed into his forearm. Malloy concentrated instead on the barely perceptible beat of Jim's heart and the shallow panting breaths.

Though every movement brought more pain, Malloy twisted onto his left side. He moaned as his injured thigh screamed in protest. Sweat beaded on his skin and his hand trembled, but he managed to turn enough to better see his partner's condition.

A moist patch, shiny wet with blood, encircled a ragged tear in the dark blue uniform high on Reed's right side, over his shoulder blade. The bone may have deflected the bullet, but Malloy saw no sign of an exit wound. He felt no moisture on his trapped arm, so he didn't think it had gone out the front, which meant the bullet was most likely still inside. Where it had ended was anyone's guess.


Malloy heard the desperate, unasked question. Too weak to speak, he managed a wobbly nod of reassurance.

The bleeding. Have to stop the bleeding.

Sobbing with his own pain, Pete reached around to his hip pocket. He felt every twitch in his injured shoulder. Lightheaded and weak, close to losing consciousness, Malloy pulled his handkerchief from his back pocket. The return trip was equally agonizing; he clung to consciousness until he could press the wadded cloth against Reed's wound.

His forehead rested on the back of Jim's left arm, his right ear pressed against his partner's side. Laying there, exhausted and panting for breath, he caught the faint, reassuring beat of his partner's heart.

When the faintness receded, Malloy called out, " to me."

"There are two snipers over in the construction site. They've rigged the area with landmines."

"Jim's hurt bad...get us outta here."

"Every time we try, they take potshots at the two of you, said they'd kill you if we tried again. We can't risk it, not yet. Hang tight, Pete."

Malloy closed his eyes and concentrated on his friend's heartbeat. "Hurry, Mac."


Captain Val Moore arrived at the command post only moments ahead of the first unmarked SWAT vehicles. He jogged up to Sergeant MacDonald in time to hear him deploy two additional officers fresh on the scene. Sergeant Gus Baron, in command of the SWAT team, hurried over.

"What's the situation?" Captain Moore asked.

MacDonald presented the two men with a rough sketch of the location. "Malloy and Reed are here, in the center of the parking lot. I have five uniforms and one detective here, sheltered behind cars. Another two are here, behind the dumpster. They're safe enough for the moment but can't leave their positions without making targets of themselves." Mac tapped the paper at various points. "I've stationed teams here, here, here, and here. The area's been evacuated in a two-block radius. Being a Saturday, there weren't that many people around. The streets are blocked and traffic routed."

He pointed to the red paramedic unit and a pair of red and white ambulances parked in front of a gas station. "We have medical help standing by." Another wave went to the cluster of reporters set up in the supermarket parking lot one block farther east; even as they looked, more arrived on the scene. "And as you can see, the vultures are here. I've sent men to inform Reed's wife and Malloy's girl."

Captain Moore, who served as Pete Malloy's training officer, looked especially grave when he asked, "Malloy and Reed. What are their conditions?"

"They're alive, for the moment. Pete's awake. He took one high on the right shoulder, maybe another to his leg. Jim was hit in the back. He's still unconscious. The snipers don't seem to mind them moving around, but they won't let anyone near them."

"What about driving a van between the snipers and the officers?" Val said. "It would provide enough cover for you to get them out."

Mac shook his head. "We tried that, first thing. The snipers threatened to kill them before we could get anywhere close."

Gus Baron asked, "Are they good enough to do it?"

"Considered they've hit every single thing they've aimed to hit, I would have to say yes."


Pete released pressure on his partner's wound and studied the result. Though the handkerchief was soaked, the dangerous flow seemed to have slowed. His own wound still trickled a sluggish ribbon of warmth, the tickle against his skin a constant reminder and a continual drain on his already depleted strength. Still, it could be worse. They'd both be all right so long as neither of them wiggled too much.

As all right as we can be, Pete thought, given the circumstances.

Through his trapped arm, Malloy felt his partner's first tiny twitch of movement.

"Easy, Jim. Easy. Lie still. If you move around, you'll start to bleed again."

Pete stroked Jim's forehead and cheek to remove specks of trash then grimaced at the thin lines of blood his touch left behind. His hand came to rest on Reed's throat, over the reassuring pulse point. There, as well as through his arm's contact along his partner's back, he felt the subtle, increasing tempo of his heartbeat. He watched, crooning encouragement, as Reed struggled his way back to awareness.

Soft blue eyes eased open, blurred with pain. "P-Pete?"

"I'm here," Malloy whispered. "Don't move, buddy."

Long moments passed while Reed struggled to pull shattered memories together. "'mhit?"



Malloy tried to smile. "I know. I'm not ...feeling so good myself."

A tiny wrinkle appeared between Reed's eyes. "Where...hit?"

"You took one in the back--"

Reed shook his head. ""

Malloy's entire face softened with affection. Trust James Reed to be more worried about his partner than he was about himself.

"Graze along the outside of my left thigh. ... A solid to the right shoulder. Nothing...I can't handle."

"'m...laying on...something..."

"My arm."

"Oh. S'ry." Reed's eyes drifted closed.

"Stay with me, Jim. Don't fade on me." Malloy tapped Reed's cheek. "Come on, partner, I need you here. Stay with me."

The right side of Reed's mouth lifted in a faint smile. "Not...going...anywhere."

Mac's voice called, "Malloy?"

Pete tilted his head back, resting his ear against the warm cement. In range of his vision were a dozen cruisers, including Mac's wagon. Every substantial object--buildings, cars, trees, and dumpsters--sheltered uniformed officers armed with the most powerful weapons they carried--be it handguns, shotguns, or automatic rifles. A pair of SWAT snipers lay on the roof of the drug warehouse with two more on roofs across the street. The area bristled with firepower and police presence.

Mac crouched near the tail end of his wagon, the loud speaker propped up on his bent knee. So close yet so far away.

"I hear you."

"How is he?"

Malloy studied his partner's face, noting the deep crease between Reed's brows and a ripple of muscle along his jaw. A weak shudder passed through the body that rested across his arm. The skin of Reed's cheek and neck felt cold despite the May sun bearing down on them.

"Conscious but in a lot of pain. What's happening?"

"SWAT's here. We have the area surrounded. We're about to try negotiating with them." Mac raised the bullhorn to his mouth. "This is the police. The entire area is surrounded. There's no way out. Throw down your weapons and come out with your hands up. You won't be hurt."

Both snipers answered with near-simultaneous rifle shots. One round struck close to Malloy's head. The other pinged into the ground close to Reed's right side.

"Hold your fire!" Mac ordered through the loud speaker, though whether to the snipers or his own people, even Mac was not sure. "If you won't surrender then talk to us. Tell us what you want. Is it money? Revenge? Safe passage? What?"

The sniper answered through his own bullhorn, saying, "Keep your offers of money and your easy ride! We don't need 'em! All we want from you right now is for you to stay right where you are! As for what we want, you'll learn our plans soon enough. When we're good and ready."


To Jim Reed's way of thinking, the worst part of being held hostage was the boredom between bouts of terror. He had nothing to occupy his thoughts except the pain in his back and the looming threat of imminent death. Lying face down to the pavement, he didn't even have the occasional bird or airplane to fill the time.

Pete had done his best to keep Reed's attention focused with general conversation and a soft-spoken, running commentary on the activities going on around them. Though he tried to hide it, Malloy paid for the effort with strength and endurance he could ill afford to lose.

"Pete? I ask you something. Tell me...truth."

"Always, partner."

"What Wells said...about the Play-Doh...on my badge...was it true? I gotta know."

Malloy's mouth turned up in amusement. A soft laugh escaped. Reed felt the vibration in every area where their bodies connected. They lay side-by-side, Pete's left arm pinned beneath Reed, the right curled around his partner's waist. As the pavement heated, Malloy found it more comfortable to rest his head against Jim's arm.

Though the pressure occasionally aggravated his wound, Reed made no protest. The feeling of comfort, closeness, and protection made any pain he felt worthwhile.

"No, partner. There is no Play-Doh...on your badge."

"Oh. Good. Couldn't've stood...for Ed to be right."

"Though I wouldn't mind it right about now. Might make the badge...a little more comfortable on my arm."


Reed tried to shift. The movement, though slight, awoke the agony in his back. A sound somewhere between a sob and a moan escaped before he could fight it down. The pain crashed over him in consecutive waves, each pulse more powerful than the one before. His mind exploded and conscious thought became impossible. God, help me, it hurts.

Malloy pressed on Jim's lower back as gently as his waning strength would allow. Jim concentrated on that touch. He focused every scrap of attention on that hand-sized area until the pain crested and finally ebbed.

"Stay put. Jim, stop moving around. You'll get your wound bleeding again."

When he at last regained his pain-stolen breath, Reed whispered, "Thought...I'd make you...a little more comf'ble."

"I'm fine. You just lay still, okay?"


The quiet moment stretched into one minute then two. Pete broke it with an air of someone scrambling for anything to fill the yawning silence. "Tell me again how it happened, how you got Play-Doh all over your badge."

Reed cracked a single lid to stare at his partner from the corner of his eye. "I told you...twice already."

"Tell me again."

"Jimmy'd told the new neighbor kids...down the street...that I was a policeman...but they didn't believe him. ... He wanted to prove it...but I'd told him...never take my gear...out of the house. ... While I was in the shower...he took my badge...and pressed it into his make an impression. ... He got a really good copy...but the goo every crease a-and curve. Took-took me...h-h-hours to geditall-"

The story tapered into silence. What was I talking about? It couldn't have been very important.

He floated alone, his mind flittering from thought to thought, disjointed. Through a smog of dizziness, he heard Pete's voice. The sounds echoed in his ears like wind through a conk shell.

"Jim? Come on, buddy, don't go to sleep."

"'m tired, Pete. 'n it h-hurts."

Malloy rested his forehead against Jim's shoulder. His right arm tightened around Reed's waist in a hug of reassurance.

"I know. It won't be long now. Mac's doing everything he can to get us out."

There's something I need to ask Pete to do. Something important.

"Pete? Tell Jean...I love her. And...hug Jimmy-"

"Hey-hey, none of that." Malloy tapped him on the hip. "Comments like that...belong in a spaghetti western. ... You'll tell 'em yourself. Besides...whatever hugs I get from Jimmy...are all mine."

"And Jeannie's...are mine."

"I won't argue with that. If I tried to hug her...she'd probably slap me...if you didn't deck me first."

With his face so close to the ground, the bitter scent of tar and rubber tickled Jim's nose. The shimmering heat off the cement stole the little moisture he had in his mouth and throat. The urge to cough was overpowering. Only knowledge of what such movement would do to his back kept him still.

I'm so thirsty. Lord God in Heaven, I could really use some water.

"Sun...'z hot."


"Mac...It's hot...really hot...out here. Can you see about getting us some water?"

Hearing Malloy's weak, raspy voice, Sgt. MacDonald's attention sharpened on the drama unfolding before him. Awash with helpless anger, he ground his teeth but let none of his concerns filter through to his voice. Between blood loss and perspiration, the two men were very close to serious dehydration.

"Let me see what I can do." MacDonald activated the loud speaker. "You in the construction site. We've done what you asked so far. Now we need a favor from you. The injured officers need treatment. We'd like to--"

A bullhorn-powered response cut him off mid-sentence. "Not a chance, cop! You know the deal. No one goes near either of 'em!"

"Will you at least let us take them some water? One officer, unarmed, can toss a canteen to them. You have my word, no rescue attempt will be made."

"We said no! Anybody goes near 'em before we're ready, we'll kill 'em!"


They almost look like little boys--my boys, the pair of them--huddling together for protection against nightmares. Mac sighed and shook his head. Pete's trying to shield Jim as best he can. God help them.

Captain Moore knelt next to MacDonald behind the damaged station wagon. "Anything?"

Mac shook his head. "One of the snipers has a loud speaker. He won't say anything except to promise to tell us their demands when they're, and I quote, 'good and ready.' We tried getting them to let us get water to our boys." Mac shook his head. "No luck."

"What about our men? How are they holding up?"

Here, Mac offered his first real sigh of relief. "I spoke with Pete. Jim's alive and conscious. Neither of them appear to have gone into shock and their bleeding is under control for the moment, but the sooner we get 'em out, the better."

"The aerial photos are here. Let's fall back and see what they show us."

Mac waved Brady to take his position then followed Moore from cover to cover until they cleared the danger area and reached the command post. Gus Baron waited there, a stack of 11x14 glossy prints in his hands.

"They arrived just a few minutes ago," Baron said as he divided the photos into three stacks and passed them to Moore and MacDonald.

Mac had no sooner begun studying his share of the pictures than Val Moore said, "I thought you sent Wells off to do research."

Mac looked up from the aerial photographs of the area taken by Air-10. "I did."

Moore nodded to someone approaching from the Sergeant's rear. "He's back."

Mac turned to see the fair-haired officer limping at a fast pace in his direction. Though Wells had taken the time to wrap his ankle and acquire a cane, obvious pain lined his face and turned his usually tanned skin an unhealthy gray.

Before MacDonald could scold his man for risking aggravation of his injury, Wells waved a rolled tube of paper in the air and called, "I think I may have something."

MacDonald gave Wells a we'll-talk-about-it-later look but said, "Let's hear it."

Face glistening with sweat and creased with pain, Ed Wells leaned against Gus Baron's black sedan. He spread the large sheet of blue-on-white paper across the hood. Mac studied the architectural and landscape plans. They coincided with the half-finished building containing their snipers.

"I met with the foreman of the construction job over there. He gave me these plans and the start of an idea." Wells waved toward the site. "He says they don't have any explosives onsite anymore. They'd finished the demolition of the pre-existing building a long time ago. There is, however, the basement of the old structure. It's here," he pointed to a spot on the architectural plans, "on the north side, under a stand of lumber. They've been using it to store stuff that might be susceptible to heat or tempting to a snatch-n-grab--flammable solvents, paint, wiring, small tools, stuff like that."

"Sounds promising," Mac said. "Go on."

"According to Joe Wallis--he's the construction foreman--there are two doors into the bunker. One door accesses the area on the side away from the snipers, and the cavity runs almost to the side of the new building. If we can get some men in there without being spotted, we can travel under the land mines and come up through the second door, this one, located less than ten feet from the new structural wall. From there, we'll be able to enter the building and, hopefully, take out the snipers."

Moore, MacDonald, and Baron quickly looked through their aerial photos until Mac produced one that showed the area in question. The three commanders studied the view a long moment before Moore said, his voice cautiously optimistic, "It just might work."

"The stack looks high enough to shield our approach," Baron said. "Gather the men. Mac, I'll need at least two uniforms, more if you can spare them. If they've had SWAT training, so much the better."

"Count me in," MacDonald said.


"No, Ed."


Mac crossed his arms over his barrel chest, glared at his officer, and said, "If you can put your entire weight on that ankle then maybe--just maybe--I'll consider it."

Wells managed a three-second stand on his bad ankle before the burning protests forced him to settle his weight back onto the cane. Eyes bright with understanding, Mac rested a hand on Wells' shoulder.

"I know you want to do something to help Pete and Jim. This information could well be the key. Good work, Ed."

"I agree," Captain Moore said. "Well done."

"I just hope it's enough."

Mac nodded. "It'll have to be."

"Okay, Mac," Gus said. "Pull in whoever you're getting to do this and suit up."

Mac studied the uniforms in their general vicinity before calling, "Taggart, Russell. You're with us."


William MacDonald entered the bunker behind Gus Baron and Officer Joel Taggart. According to the blueprints, the underground structure stretched for almost fifty feet and was divided into four chambers--a large room on either side (formerly meeting rooms for the old office building) and two smaller chambers, including the remains of a washroom, in between. According to Wells' intel, the construction crew had stuffed both large chambers with supplies and equipment. In some places, the crates, barrels, and buckets rose to within inches of the ceiling.

Less than fifteen feet into the first room, between a pyramid of paint solvent and barrels of nails, Taggart came to a sudden and ominous stop.

"What is it?" MacDonald whispered. "What's wrong?"

"Tripwire," the young black officer breathed. "Across my leg."

Mac crept forward until his flashlight beam caught the thin filament stretched across the narrow gap. The strand stretched tight across Taggart's shin. A glance around showed them to be surrounded by flammable liquids and tiny, pointed projectiles. A row of oxygen bottles used in welding stood against the wall and added to the threat.

Even if they survived the initial explosion, the potential shrapnel and resulting ignition of the construction supplies would finish the job.

"Don't move, Joel. I'll get help."

Without moving a muscle, the officer flashed him a wry grin. His deep voice, though tight with tension, held steady. "Not going anywhere."

"Don't you or anyone else touch anything," Baron said, "and don't move around. No telling how many more little surprises they have waiting for us." Gus raised his voice to carry to the other SWAT officers who moved through the chamber on either side. "All units, fall back. Be alert for tripwires and booby traps. Regroup outside."

Gus Baron stayed with Taggart until the bomb disposal team arrived. On Mac's orders, Gus withdrew from the bunker along the same route he'd entered. Fifteen minutes later, a shaken but unhurt Joel Taggart left the bunker and rejoined the others.

"Sergeant Rice is searching for more triggers," Taggart reported. "There's no way to know how many other booby traps they've set. According to Rice, there's even a possibility they've rigged the far door to explode."

Moore sighed and shook his head. "Pull your men back, Sergeant."

Baron and MacDonald protested in unison, "But sir--"

"We were lucky this time," Moore said. "We don't dare risk it. We'll have to find another way."

"What about our men over there?" Taggart said. "Malloy and Reed are running out of time."

"Lord in Heaven," Mac prayed, "I don't see how we're going to get them out."


Pete's head rested against his shoulder. Every breath brushed across the back of Jim's neck and tickled the small hairs along his nape. Resting or unconscious, Reed couldn't tell.

Let him sleep. He needs his rest.

Despite its risks, Jim yearned for the dark, timeless void of unconsciousness. At least then he'd be spared the long, boring wait. His pain, for the moment, was manageable. Even the aches and cramps throughout the rest of his body, born from being still for too long a time, were little more than an annoying distraction. The heat, however, could not be escaped, only endured.

Need to remember to finish the log when we get out of here. Mac'll chew me up for letting it go. And Jean. She asked me to pick something up on the way home. What was it? Can't remember. I'll call her when this is over.

This has to be one of the strangest standoffs in LAPD history. Why don't they demand something, anything! What could they possibly want that is worth this risk? It makes no sense.

I hope Mac has enough units to cover our beat. Mario's liquor store has been hit twice this month. We promised to keep an eye on him. And old Miss Cutler will be calling any second about the blaring TV next door; Mr. Russell's so hard of hearing he never answers the door.

All these cops and we can't do a thing to take these guys down. All these cops...


I don't understand. Malloy railed against the situation in the privacy of his own thoughts. They made this situation, planned for it, executed it with almost military precision, and now they just want to sit and wait? For what? It's been over an hour. What is it they're hoping to accomplish? They've made no demands. It's not a protest against the "establishment" and doesn't feel like a general strike against the police.

"All these cops..."

At the sound of Reed's voice, Pete cast aside his squirreling thoughts, raised his head from his partner's shoulder, and concentrated on understanding the whispered words. "What's that you're saying, partner?"

Reed's tone was puzzled, thoughtful. "With so many targets...why did they hit...just the two of us? Why not more? They've hit...everything they've aimed at. They their shots...however they want."

"Which kinda makes you wonder...why we're still alive," Pete said. A wry smile danced in his eyes. "Not that I'm complaining, mind."

Malloy's attempt at humor passed over Reed, unnoticed. "They had time to take out three...maybe four more...before everyone reached cover."

"I see where you're going," Pete said. "Wells was limping, couldn't move fast...even with help. They would have been easy targets. Why didn't the snipers...take them out?"

"All these cops..." Jim repeated, "holding them here..."

" they won't be somewhere else," Pete finished. He raised his voice enough to be heard. "Mac!"

"I'm here."

"They're holding us all a diversion...that's why they won't negotiate. The drug tip-off, the siege, everything. ... It's all one big divert our keep the police distracted from their real target."


Sergeant William MacDonald resisted the urge to slap his own forehead as punishment for his denseness. The instant Malloy spoke, Mac immediately felt the truth of it.

"Of course!" Captain Moore said. "That makes sense."

"Let me handle it," Gus Baron offered.

The SWAT leader took a single step away from the command post. Moore's hand on his arm prevented a second.

"No, Gus, we need you and your SWAT team here. I don't want to lose your firepower and expertise on a 'maybe.' Mac, redistribute your manpower. I want to reassign as many units as possible without leaving a dangerous hole in the perimeter."


"Jim? Reed, answer me."

Pete Malloy studied his partner's face.

"Mac. Mac!"

"I'm here, Pete."

"Jim's unconscious...going into shock...and he's bleeding again. What's happening out there?"

"We tried to take them out by slipping under their landmines, but they have the area rigged with explosives. Bomb squad's trying to disarm a path through, but it's going to take some time."

"We don't...have any time. We have to move, now."

"If we try anything," MacDonald protested, "they could kill you before we finish."

"We don't...have a choice," Pete said, his words aimed at MacDonald but his entire attention focused on his partner. Arm trembling with fatigue and weakness, he pressed the makeshift bandage down with all his strength but could barely control the flow of blood from the wound. "Jim is dying...I don't think...he has an hour. I don't think I do, either. Do have to do, Mac...but get us out of here."


For the rescue mission to succeed, three things must happen simultaneously. One, Air-10 must swoop in and drop the smoke canisters--if a few should set off some of the landmines, so much the better. Two, ground officers positioned on the perimeter must fire either their own smoke bombs or heavy weapons cover. And three, Brinkman must steer the transport truck into position before the snipers can line on either Malloy or Reed.

Bill MacDonald, Gus Baron, Val Moore, Isaiah Snyder, and Jerry Woods crouched in the rear of the truck, tense and ready. The instant the whipping beat of Air-10's rotors became audible, Brinkman threw the truck into gear and hit the gas. The vehicle, not designed for speed, responded to the floored pedal. It lurched forward with a screech of tires and the scream of a scraped undercarriage against the pavement.

The first smoke bombs detonated. A dense curtain of silver-gray smog hung in the air. Two land mines detonated, adding to the noise and debris. Even as the first echoes raged, the truck shot through the open gate and across the parking lot.

Fast though everyone moved, they were almost too late--the sixth story sniper fired a round that would have struck Reed in the head had Malloy not shifted their position according to the plan. It wasn't much, a matter of only a few inches, but enough to spoil the sniper's shot.

The police gave him no time to take a second. Officers around the perimeter opened fire. The concentrated barrage kept the two snipers behind their protection. The SWAT rifles took more careful aim. While they failed to make a hit, their accuracy alarmed the snipers enough to prevent them from raining any more bullets down on their hostages.

Brinkman slammed on the brakes and fought the wheel. The truck lurched to a drunken stop, the bulk of its frame positioned between the snipers and their downed targets. The truck's rear doors flew open. Snyder held onto the far panel, preventing it from swinging all the way around. He held the door as a shield, protecting the others as they raced around to the sheltered side.

Val Moore and Jerry Woods gathered Malloy between them. Holding him horizontal, they hurried back to the security of their transportation. Bill MacDonald and Gus Baron moved with more caution but no less speed when they converged on Reed. Less than two minutes after the screech of tires on pavement, the recovery operation was complete.


For Pete Malloy, the rescue was a blur of sight and sound caught in snapshot flashes. The whine of the swooping chopper, the billowing smokescreen, the squeal of tires, and the scrape and spark of the truck's undercarriage on the parking surface. Hands grasped Reed, lifting him off Malloy's arm. Others grabbed Pete and heaved him off the ground.

The pain, dulled to a mute roar by immobility, surged back. Malloy cried out. The sudden rush and movement stole both sight and consciousness, leaving him in a brief but fuzzy gray fog. By the time his rescuers reached the waiting ambulances, Malloy had roused enough to answer the paramedic's questions and to protest when he and Jim were placed in separate ambulances for the trip to the hospital.

Overhead, the ambulance siren droned. Its dual-toned, up-and-down wail grew monotonous after a few minutes. That's a familiar sound. Too familiar. Got to stay out of these things from now on. Police siren's nicer. Much nicer.

The tingle of returning circulation in his left arm distracted Malloy. As he massaged his wrist, he felt indentations in the skin of his forearm. Pete looked down at the deep, clear impressions of his partner's brass between his elbow and wrist. The text and numbers, though reversed, were still readable. The area flamed red with returning circulation.

Pete curled his hand around the pressed image of his partner's badge. Lord God, please, please let him be okay. Please.

"How are you doing, Malloy?" the paramedic asked.

"M'okay." That's a lie. I won't be okay until I know Jim's all right.


Peter Joseph Malloy stared out the window of his hospital bed, oblivious to the magnificent rose, lavender, and gold sunset spread out before him. The pain medication blunted the pulse beats in his shoulder and leg. It even dulled the headache, and he couldn't feel the IV in his arm at all. The desire to sleep pulled at his eyelids, but he refused to drift away on a pharmaceutical cloud.

If they don't tell me how Jim is doing in the next five minutes, I am going to get up, walk through that door, and find him myself, and I don't care if my rump is hanging out of this one-sided dress!

Pete closed his eyes and prayed for the hundredth time, Please, Lord, please let him be all right.

A soft tap on the door heralded a new arrival, and not one of the medical staff as he'd expected. Bill MacDonald peeked around the door, saw Malloy was awake, and stepped the rest of the way in.

"Mac," Pete's voice drawled with relief. "You're beautiful!"

Mac sucked in his cheeks to keep from smiling, but he couldn't hide the glitter of mischief in his eyes. "Yes, I know. What clued you in?"

"How's Jim? They won't tell me anything!"

"He came out of surgery a little less than an hour ago. Jean's with him in SICU. The bullet ricocheted off his shoulder blade. The fragments played connect-the-dots with various organs but the doctors are guardedly optimistic, said the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been. He's going to be just fine." Mac pointed to the empty bed between Pete and the door. "I've arranged for him to be brought up here when he's strong enough. Figured that'd be better than the nurses wasting half their shift chasing down one or the other of you."

Tension oozed from Malloy's every pore, leaving him giddy, his mind swamped with relief. Thank you, God.

"What about you?" Mac asked. "I understand from your doctors, the shoulder might be a bit of a problem."

Malloy gazed down on his heavily bandaged shoulder. Just call me the Hunchback of Central Division.

"Won't know for a few days yet. The bullet hit at almost the exact same spot as the time I caught one in Duke's café." He shrugged but regretted the motion the instant the damaged joint protested. "They moved me down from recovery about forty minutes ago. The wound was a through-and-through."

Mac gazed further down his body. He pointed to the elevated area where, under the blankets, Malloy's leg lay propped up on pillows. "What about your leg?"

"It was little more than a deep graze. Took off some skin, that's about it." Malloy met his supervisor's gaze. "What were they really after, Mac?"

"The jewelry expo over at the convention center. With everyone tied up on your situation, they thought their confederates would have little resistance when they tried to steal the merchandise. The snipers planned to hold everyone there until dark then slip out by means of a safe path through an underground bunker, what had been the basement of a pre-existing building. They had police uniforms and fake badges; I think they hoped to mingle with the real cops and slip away before anyone realized they'd left the building. From what I understand, they'd expected the drug raid to take place later in the day and last a little longer. Our early wrap-up threw their timetable into a tailspin."

"We stopped them, though. Right?"

"Yes, we did, and not a moment too soon," Mac said. "As soon as we figured out their plan, we studied a map of the area and chose a point farthest from your location. I redirected four Adam units and a couple of L-cars in that direction. They no sooner reached the area than the alarm came through."

"Was anyone hurt?"

"No one. It's funny, actually, in a pathetic sort of way. They were so sure their plan would work, they had no contingency in place when it failed. I understand one of the suspects broke down in tears as Joel Taggart read him his rights."

"Disappointment can do that to a man," Pete deadpanned, only to have the humor cut short by a deep yawn. "Sorry. It's the meds."

Mac tapped the lump of blanket over Malloy's right ankle. "Don't be. I'll get outta here and let you get some sleep. I just wanted you to know about Jim and the rest."

"Thanks, Mac."

Bill MacDonald stuffed his hands into his pants pockets, shifted on his feet, and looked down, for all the world like a schoolboy caught dipping a girl's hair in an inkwell.

"It was close out there," Mac said. "We almost lost you both."

"But you didn't," Pete said, smiling. "That's the important thing."

"Watching the two of you out there...well, let's just say I won't be the only one visiting the department shrink--and the family church--in the near future. I'm just sorry it happened the way it did."

"I'm not."

Mac frowned. "You're not--why?"

"We're alive, their plot is spoiled, and everyone's where they need to be. They could have found a dozen worse ways to tie us up--a bomb in a restaurant or a theater. If they'd hit the expo yesterday, they could have set up their little siege around a school instead of a drug warehouse."

"Good point," MacDonald said. He tapped Malloy's uninjured leg again and said, "Listen, I'm going to get out of here and let you rest. I'll check in on Reed then head on back to the station. I'll make sure the nurses keep you updated on his condition."

"Thanks, Mac."

Mac no sooner disappeared through the door than someone else knocked and entered. Malloy forced his eyes open to see Tom Brady hold the door open while Ed Wells hopped into the room, struggling to balance on crutches and carry a small, round, yellow cylinder.

Play-Doh. The silly idiot is carrying a can of Play-Doh through the hospital.

"Hey, Peter J.," Wells greeted. The fair-haired cop leaned against the footboard of the empty bed. Splitting his balance between the bed frame and the crutches, he freed one hand to roll the canister around on the blanket. "Just stopped by to see how you were doing. I hear Reed's going to pull through. Like there was any doubt, right?"

Brady nodded a greeting and asked, "How are you doing, Pete?"

"Better, now that I know Jim's going to make it."

Ed Wells gazed hard at Pete, scrunched his face, and whistled. "Ouch, man."


"Whoever turned your spit messed up, my friend. You're raw on one side, overdone on the other."

At Pete's uncomprehending stare, Brady pointed toward first his then Pete's right cheek and translated, "Sunburn."

Wells waggled his fingers to dismiss the subject. "Hey, forget about that. On to something more important. Good thing Mac left when he did," Wells sighed with overemphasized relief, "or I wouldn't be able to tell you about my latest coup."

Pete sighed. "Ed, what have you done?"

"Done? Who says I've done anything?"

"You just did. Besides, your face gives you away every time. What did you do?"

Wells studied his fingernails and shrugged. "Ohhhh, nothing much."

Malloy closed his eyes and grimaced. "Oh Lord."

"No, really. I just made sure Jim will enjoy his first day back at work."

"His did something to his locker. Ed, tell me you didn't?"

Brady shook his head and glared at his partner. The look he shared with Pete begged for sympathy. "He stuffed Reed's locker full of every color Play-Doh. You can smell the stuff in every corner of the room."

Malloy's eyebrows shot up. "You didn't."

"I did," Wells boasted, not one shred of contrition noticeable in either his voice or expression. "It'll take him days to get the goo out of all the cracks and joints, and he'll be able to smell it every time he opens his locker door."

Brady muttered under his voice, "So will everyone else."

"It'll be my welcome-back present, the one that keeps on giving."

"If you've already done your worst," Pete pointed toward the Play-Doh can with his chin, "why did you bring that?"

Wells tossed the can up in the air and caught it one-handed. "Hey, ever heard of distraction? Classic military technique, guaranteed to make him think I've played my joke on him."

"You're certifiable, Ed, you know that?"

"Yeah, I know, but you love me anyway, right?"

Malloy sighed and shook his head. Who needs enemies with Ed Wells around?

"Right? Malloy!"

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