A Matter of Time
by K.F. Garrison
Pete Malloy, senior lead officer for Team-12 of the Los Angeles Police Department's Central Division, looked over the rim of his coffee cup at the man sitting across from him. Pete's partner, Jim Reed, leaned on his elbows across a table in the station's coffee room, and looked expectantly Pete's way.
"Why today?" Pete asked.
"Why not today?" Jim retorted.
"Maybe I just don't feel like it," Pete said casually.
"You're such a hardnose about this, Pete!" Jim's chiseled features contorted into a scowl and his eyes smoldered blue fire. "You'd think, after riding together for almost five years, you'd finally trust me behind the wheel!"
"It's not that I don't trust you, Jim," Pete corrected. "It's just that, well, I don't think today's your lucky day."
The blue-fire gaze turned icy. "You're absolutely impossible," Jim growled.
Pete took another sip of his coffee so that his partner wouldn't see the amused grin that threatened to erupt on his face. Pete's reluctance to relinquish the driving duties for Adam-12, their patrol unit designation, had become a running joke, not only between the two of them, but around the entire station as well. It's not your driving, partner. It's just that I get such a kick out of needling you about it. Even after five years, you're still such an easy target. It's the one button I know I can push and rile you up every time.
"You know what your problem is," Jim continued irritably.
"No, but I'm sure you're gonna tell me."
"You just don't want to do the paperwork that you have to do when you ride shotgun. You're gettin' lazy in your old age."
"Ohhh, ho, now you're gettin' nasty," Pete accused. He had about eight years on his younger partner, but at thirty-six, Pete hardly thought of himself as the Ancient Mariner.
"Pete, I barely get enough driving time to qualify!" Jim complained. "When I go to driving school, I don't do as well as I could."
"You always do just fine," Pete contradicted.
"But I could do better with more driving time!"
"Boy, you sure are competitive," Pete drawled. He drained the last of his coffee and glanced at his watch. "It's almost time for roll call."
"You're not even listening to me!"
Pete couldn't help but laugh at his partner, who suddenly sounded more like James Reed, Jr., Jim's four-year-old son and Pete's godson, than a grown man.
"And now you're laughing at me. Terrific."
"I'm sorry," Pete apologized sincerely.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jim grumped. He began gathering his hat, baton, and briefcase from where he'd left them on the floor.
Pete took a long look at his partner. Besides looking more than a little irritated, Jim appeared tired. Jim's wife, Jean, was eleven weeks pregnant with their second child, and she'd been suffering with severe morning sickness that seemed to stretch into afternoon and evening sickness as well. On top of his worries about her, Pete knew Jim was pulling a lot of extra domestic duty that Jean was too sick to manage. Pete felt certain there was more to Jim's request to drive than just wanting to do better at driving school. It made him feel a trifle guilty, ragging his partner about driving when he was under so much pressure. Aw, I guess I'll give in. Maybe a turn behind the wheel will relax him, get his mind off Jean. It's the least I can do for him.
Pete stood and smiled tolerantly at Jim. "Come on, partner, let's get to roll call before all the good seats get taken."
"Morning, Pete," Jerry Woods greeted Pete in Team-12's meeting room. It was five minutes to roll call, but Sergeant MacDonald was nowhere in sight.
"Morning, Jerry," Pete responded. He pulled out a chair across from the slightly older officer, and took his seat, dumping his paraphernalia on the table and nodding to the other officers already seated and waiting for the daily ritual of roll, briefing and inspection.
"Hi, Jim," Jerry said, as Jim threw his briefcase on the table.
"Hello," Jim mumbled in return, taking his seat.
"Are you okay, Jim?" Jerry asked, with a concerned frown.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Jim lightened his expression and tone of voice.
"He's mad at me," Pete explained.
"I'm not mad at you," Jim objected.
"Won't let you drive again, huh?" Jerry asked.
Jim rolled his eyes as Pete chuckled.
"Hey, I'll stick up for you, Jim," Jerry assured him. "Come on, Pete, give the kid a break."
"You see the reputation you have, don't you?" Jim asked.
Pete spread his hands. "I gotta be infamous for something."
A commotion in the doorway to the meeting room interrupted their conversation. Bob Brinkman, Isaiah Grant, and Ed Wells, three more members of Team-12, entered in the room.
"Wells, why don't you put your money where your great big mouth is?" Grant demanded good-naturedly. His rich basso voice reverberated in the small room. "Let's see some green."
"You're barkin' up the wrong tree, Grant," Brinkman interjected with a shake of his head. "Ed's tighter with a dollar than any penny-pinching Scotsman."
"I got four kids to feed and a wife with expensive taste!" Ed Wells objected.
"Well, then you can just quit mouthing off," Grant eased his tall, lean form into a chair next to Woods. The toothy smile wreathing Grant's dark face balanced the scorn in his voice.
"Boys, boys, boys, let's play nice," Pete admonished lightly.
"Hey, man, this is Wells we're talking about here," Grant reminded.
"What's the beef?" Woods asked.
"Big mouth there says the Dodgers are gonna choke and lose the division," Grant responded.
"It's a done, deal, Grant, my man," Wells insisted. "The pitching's gone south, the bats are cold, and ..."
"We've got a six-game lead on the second-place team! No way they're gonna blow that!" Grant roared.
"Grant, you are a deluded brother," Wells commented.
"And you're an idiot!" Grant shot back.
"Anybody that dresses like you do has no right to call anyone else an idiot."
"Man, your mouth is louder than any righteous threads I happen to own," Grant countered.
"Okay you clowns," Sergeant William MacDonald boomed from the doorway. "I can hear you all the way out in the hall. Settle whatever it is later. We've got a city to patrol." He walked in, shuffling papers and looking around taking a mental headcount.
"Everybody here? Where's Brady?"
"Right behind you, Sarge," Dan Brady called breathlessly, as he hurried into the room.
"About time, partner," Ed jibed.
"Take a seat, and let's get started," MacDonald barked.
Pete frowned at his Watch Commander. Mac seems unusually tense today. Pete looked from Mac's scowling face to his partner's unhappy one. Looks like an epidemic.
"I just got off the phone with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff," Mac said without preamble. "They've had a jailbreak up there. Two men -- one a real violent type and the other little more than a kid, and they've got reason to believe the pair's headed this way. They're having equipment trouble, so we haven't gotten a picture over the wire yet, but we expect one within the hour. They're not exactly sure when the escape happened, but it was some time between two and six this morning. Jailers found them missing at the six a.m. bed check.
"Suspect number one is Marco Ciroppolli, age 34, black and brown, 6'1", 160. Convicted of armed robbery and battery. He's done two of a fifteen-year sentence. Supposedly, he's a real nutcase, got a hair trigger on his temper. He's got an ex-wife in Nevada who he's been threatening to kill for years, but he's got a brother here in LA. They think he might be trying to get to the brother and go to ground until things cool off, then make his way to Las Vegas to get his ex. Brother's name is Antonio Ciroppolli. He lives on Lankershim, and has a package about an inch thick for various offenses. Detectives are on the way over to check him out. Ciroppolli is considered extremely dangerous.
"Suspect number two is Jeremiah Graddock. He's 22, 6'3", 225, blonde and blue. He's done three months of a five-year stretch for burglary. He's not considered particularly dangerous." Mac glanced up from his reading and looked his men over. "Sheriff Braxton couldn't give me any more information. They have no idea what they may be driving, if they're driving, if they're armed, or even if they're in the area. Next time you're in the station today, come by and pick up their pictures, and keep your eyes open. We'll feed you more information as we get it. Questions?"
"Yeah, Mac, how'd they bust out?" Grant asked.
Mac scowled. "There's a lot of finger pointing going on up there right now, apparently. The warden thinks that they took a piece of wood and jimmied up a part of a defective electric fence. Went right under it."
"Gutsy," Wells commented.
"According to Braxton, Ciroppelli is full of guts but short on common sense," Mac drawled. "Just keep an eye out. Any more questions?" After a short pause with no questions, MacDonald plunged ahead. "Okay, quickly, then, here's the crime statistics for last month...."
Mac completed the briefing and inspection quickly and urged the watch out the door. With a shuffle of feet, papers, scratching chair legs, and terse good-byes, Team-12 readied for Daywatch.
Pete fished in his pocket for the keys to Adam-12 and dropped them on the table in front of Jim.
"What's this?" Jim asked, looking up from placing his notepad back in his briefcase.
"Car keys," Pete said sarcastically.
"Guilty conscience, huh?" Jim grinned. He snapped his briefcase shut and picked up the keys.
"It's not too late for me to change my mind."
"Look out, everybody, Junior's driving today!" Ed Wells crowed, when he caught sight of Jim with the keys. "Give me a chance to get out of the lot before you back out, huh, kid?"
"Take a hike, Ed," Jim gruffed.
"I wouldn't be worried, except you don't drive much, and well, you know, you're probably rusty," Ed needled. "Don't expect me to join you on any Code 3's."
"Thanks for small favors," Jim muttered and rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Amen," Pete seconded.
"Oh, and, Pete, just give me a call if you've forgotten how to fill out the report log," Ed offered. He waved and laughed as he walked out the door.
"I don't know what we'd do for entertainment around here if we didn't have Wells," Mac remarked.
"Sometimes I think it'd be nice to find out," Pete sighed. "Partner, I'll pick up the shotgun and meet you at the car."
"Right," Jim nodded.
"Hey Jim, the gas pedal's the one on the right," Mac called.
"Have fun, Jim," Mac laughed.
Pete tried not to show his discomfort as Jim pulled the black and white out into early morning Los Angeles traffic. Fact was, he did get nervous when Jim drove. Not because Jim drove poorly, but just because Pete felt out of control when someone else sat behind the wheel of Adam-12. He'd gotten comfortable with the status quo of their partnership and felt that it worked best when he drove and Jim rode shotgun. After all, Jim was the younger, stronger, faster part of the...
"Clear us, Pete," Jim's gentle reminder broke into Pete's musings.
"Oh, right." Pete picked up the mic. "1-Adam-12 Daywatch clear."
"Boy, you really are out of practice," Jim commented.
Pete hung the mic back on the holder. "Watch it with the wisecracks, junior," he drawled. "I can still find ways to make your life miserable."
"Give me a break, Pete," Jim laughed. "It's not very often that I'm in this position."
"Uh huh," Pete grunted. He gave his partner a critical look. Even though Jim's mood had improved markedly, his eyes still appeared a bit troubled. Let's see if I can open him up. "So, how's Jean doing?"
The subtle change in expression on Jim's face told Pete that he'd hit the mark.
"Sick as a dog," Jim sighed. "And moody. She's cryin' one minute and yellin' the next."
"So am I," Jim chuckled humorlessly.
"How much longer is this morning sickness supposed to last?" Pete wondered.
Jim shrugged. "Hopefully not much longer. Couple of weeks, maybe. She's throwin' up so much, she's exhausted." Jim's eyes clouded over further. "She was in the bathroom sick when I left this morning. I told her to call her mother or her sister if she didn't get better." Jim paused and chewed on his bottom lip. "I didn't want to leave, but..."
"I'm sure she'll be fine," Pete tried to sound confident, but he understood Jim's worry.
"We can stop and you can call and check on her in a few minutes, if it'll make you feel better," Pete suggested.
"I was planning on it," Jim said. He braked the car as a traffic light turned red in front of them. He turned a small smile on his partner. "By the way, thanks for letting me drive. It keeps my mind off things."
"As long as it's on what you're doing, that's fine."
"It is," Jim promised.
"Good. Hey, let's cruise by Phillips High School," Pete suggested, glancing at his watch.
"Okay. You worried that there might be a little pre-game activity in the parking lot?" Jim asked. He flipped on his turn signal and turned off the main road.
"Tomorrow afternoon's the biggest game of the year for Phillips, according to you," Pete reminded. "Rivalries have been known to get out of hand."
"I always hated playing against Phillips," Jim admitted. "They grow 'em big, strong, and mean in their program."
"They rough you up a bit?" Pete asked. He scanned the streets out of the passenger side window after a quick glance at Jim.
"The only time I ever left a game in an ambulance was against Phillips, in my junior year," Jim grinned.
"No kidding? What happened?"
"Ah, it turned out to be nothin', but it pretty much scared my family to death," Jim chuckled and turned another corner, that brought the sprawling high school's campus into view. "Coach called a halfback pass, and after I threw it, some 225-pound linebacker blind-sided me with a late hit. Knocked me out cold. Didn't come to until I was in the ER."
"What happened to the pass?" Pete asked, with a grin. "Well, I know you survived," he added, after Jim scowled at him.
"It was completed for a first down. But we wound up losing the game, anyway."
"No doubt because of your absence," Pete said wryly.
"No doubt," Jim agreed. "Oh, and, by the way, that 225-pound linebacker is now a 250-pound linebacker in the NFL."
"You only get decked by the best, huh?"
Jim guided the black-and-white around the school building and turned into the school's parking lot. Clusters of students lounging on cars, walking towards the building, or standing around moving to music regarded them indifferently or with open hostility as they cruised through the area.
"Sure is a different reception than we get from the elementary school kids, huh?" Jim remarked sadly.
"Sure is," Pete said.
"That's really too bad," Jim went on. "You know, there oughta be a way we can keep from losing them from there to here."
"Well, partner, if you think of it, be sure to tell the world, because there's lots of people who'd like to know that, too."
After a slow cruise around the parking lot and the remaining campus, Pete and Jim were satisfied all was quiet, so they moved their patrol to the residential area around the school. The radio sounded no calls for Adam-12, and after a few minutes, Jim glanced at his watch.
"Do you mind if I stop and make a call home while the radio's quiet?" Jim asked.
"You're doin' the driving," Pete responded.
"Thanks," Jim pulled into the parking lot of a market and parked next to a vacant pay phone. "Just yell if we get a call."
Jim dropped a dime into the payphone and dialed the familiar number to his home. After four rings, the piping voice of his son, Jimmy, answered.
"Hello? Weed west-i-dence."
Jim resisted the urge to laugh. He and Jean had been teaching Jimmy to answer the phone properly, but at barely four years old, the child still had occasional trouble with saying his "l's" and "r's." Most of the time "Reed" came out "Weed," and "residence" got garbled as well.
"Hi, buddy," Jim said, instead. "It's Daddy."
"Hi, Daddy!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"In the bafwoom."
Jim's heart sank. Still sick. He kept any trace of anxiety out of his voice when he asked, "Hey, buddy, go check and see if she can come to the phone, okay?"
"Okay, daddy." The phone clattered in Jim's ear as Jimmy dropped it to go after his mother.
Jim tapped his knuckle impatiently against the glass as he waited. After what seemed a small eternity, Jean made it to the phone.
"Hi, honey," she said weakly.
"Honey, you're still sick," Jim stated the obvious.
"I'm okay. It'll pass," Jean assured him, but Jim could hear the tiredness in her voice.
"Have you called your mother or sister yet?"
"No, that won't be necessary, Jim, really."
"Jean, you don't need to be worrying about looking after Jimmy while you're sick like this," Jim insisted.
"He's being good, honey. He's a big help. He knows I'm not feeling well," Jean told him.
"I'd feel a whole lot better if you had someone with you," Jim insisted. "Now, I want you to call someone when I hang up."
"I really don't.... Uh, honey, I've gotta go," Jean interrupted herself suddenly. "I think I need to get back to the bathroom. Love you."
"Honey...," Jim started, but the phone went dead. "I love you, too," he whispered to the dial tone. He quickly cut the connection from his end, then fished another dime out of his pocket and called his mother-in-law.
"I take it Jean's not any better," Pete ventured, as his worried-looking partner slid back into the driver's seat.
"No, she's not," Jim sighed. "I called her mother, and she said she'd go over and check on her and watch after Jimmy a while." Jim put the unit back in gear and exited the parking lot.
"Was she this sick with Jimmy?" Pete asked. "I don't remember her being sick, but I barely knew you then."
"She was sick, but not this bad. And it didn't last this long, either. I guess it's because she's older or something."
"I know it's pointless to tell you not to worry."
"I know she'll be all right. It's just that now she's got a rambunctious four-year-old to look after, too, and it's wearing her out," Jim pointed out grimly.
"You want me to ask Judy to stay with her when we go back to work on Sunday?" Pete offered.
"You think she'd mind?"
"Are you kidding? I'm sure she'd love to."
Jim looked askance at Pete. "You know, when you start volunteering your girlfriend for things without asking first, you're treading on dangerous ground."
"How so?" Pete inquired. "Judy's crazy about Jean. I'm sure she'd agree."
"When you start doing things like that, you're about one step away from the altar," Jim warned.
"Don't get excited," Pete drawled, but he felt his face redden slightly at the suggestion. Judy had turned Pete's neatly ordered world upside down, but he wasn't about to admit to Jim that his thoughts had turned to marriage more and more in recent weeks. Jim needled him enough about getting married, so Pete had no desire to stoke that fire. But he had to admit, if he could have a marriage as strong and happy as Jim's and Jean's, being married wouldn't be half bad.
"Believe me, I won't hold my breath. But you do realize that the more you put Jean and Judy together, the more Jean plots against your bachelorhood."
"She's been plotting against my bachelorhood for five years," Pete reminded. "And I've managed to stay free so far."
"Ah, but ze noose ees tightening," Jim declared, in a very bad imitation of a German accent.
Pete rolled his eyes. "You really need to work on your accents."
"That's right, change the subject. It never fails. I mention the 'M' word, and you go nuts!"
"I'm not going nuts," Pete contradicted, "but I think you are. Where are you goin', anyway?"
"What do you mean, where am I goin'? I'm patrolling our district!"
"One more block and you're gonna be in 36's district. Ed'll start yelling about us poaching on his territory again."
"Which is exactly why I'm turning left here, and getting onto Mulholland," Jim explained tolerantly.
"Oh, okay," Pete relented, as Jim gave a signal and moved into the left turn lane. At least he seems to have his mind off Jean, now.
Jim drove onto Mulholland and began to cruise the twisting street slowly. Traffic was almost nonexistent, and the radio squawked, but no calls came through for Adam-12.
"Quiet morning," Jim commented.
"For which I'm grateful," Pete said. "Seems like every time you drive we wind up with a couple of Code 3's."
"I'll feel cheated if we don't get at least one today. It's no fun if I don't get to drive over 35 miles per hour."
"You're kidding, right?" Pete asked.
Jim just smiled in response.
They reached a particularly convoluted stretch of road that contained both a steep hill and a sharp curve. As they crested the hill, they noticed a car pulled off on the side of the road, its rear driver's side jacked up. An obviously flat tire lay on the road beside the car, and a broad-shouldered young man knelt, examining the spare, which, on a quick glance, also looked flat.
"I see it. Let's help him out." Jim braked and pulled in behind the disabled vehicle.
The trunk lid of the white Chevy Impala was partially ajar, but Pete could still make out the license. He lifted the mic to contact dispatch.
"1-Adam-12, show us code 6 in the 13000 block of Mulholland Drive, assisting motorist. Requesting wants, warrants, and DMV on Cal 3-6-5 Victor-Ocean-Queen."
"This guy's luck is pretty bad," Jim remarked. "Looks like his spare's no good."
"Could be careless," Pete suggested.
"Could be." Jim rolled his window down and shivered against the unseasonably cool early September air that filtered in. The weatherman had mentioned possible rain moving in for the evening hours. "Need some help, sir?"
The young man shrugged and looked sheepish. "Looks like it. My spare's not in such good shape, either."
"1-Adam-12, Cal 3-6-5, Victor-Ocean-Queen, no want or warrant. A white, 1972 Chevrolet Impala, registered to Richard Tremont, 476 Bayside, San Diego."
"1-Adam-12 roger." Pete relaxed and put the mic back on the rack. "Looks clean."
"San Diego," Jim said, putting on his hat. "Long way from home."
"Could be a college student." Pete grabbed his own hat, and they both exited the vehicle.
"Let's take a look," Jim called to the young man. "There's a gas station about a mile from here. Maybe its in good enough shape to get you that far. If not, we can give you a ride."
"Thanks, officer." The young man stood, and looked over his shoulder at Pete, who approached from the opposite side. The stranded motorist held the lug wrench loosely in his right hand and twisted it nervously. He rolled the tire away from his car, toward Jim.
"Let's see," Jim knelt and examined the spare.
Pete stopped between the rear of the Chevy and the front of their unit and watched Jim as he talked with the young man. Everything seemed normal with the license check, but Pete thought that the young man acted more nervous than he should have been. Maybe he's just scared of cops. Pete looked at the trunk lid, cracked only a few inches. He thought that odd...if the kid had been changing a flat, why was the trunk lid nearly closed? Well, maybe the hinges are shot.
"Here's the problem," Jim said. "There's a nail in the spare."
"Really?" The young man stood over the tire, still twirling the lug wrench. "Where?"
Something about the way the kid stood over Jim, twisting the wrench, made Pete nervous. He took a couple of steps closer, and the kid again turned to look at him over his shoulder, ignoring Jim pointing out the nail.
Pete took another look at the trunk lid, and this time noticed something that caused his heart to race. A small streak of dull crimson stained the top of the trunk lid. To Pete's trained eye, it meant only one thing. Blood? Pete backed up a step and turned to look at the right rear fender. He thought he saw another crimson swatch, so as Jim continued to talk to the young driver, he walked over to look. He had only taken three steps when a blur of movement from the backseat of the car caused him to jerk his head around. He had the impression of a person rising from the backseat, pointing a gun right at his head. Pete went for his own gun and opened his mouth to yell a warning to Jim...
And the world exploded in his face.
"You really need to be more attentive to your spare," Jim told the young man kindly. He looked up into the boy's eyes and noticed perspiration beaded on his forehead. Sweating in this weather? Jim also noticed his partner edge toward the side of the Chevy, brow furrowed in concentration.
"Oh, yes, sir," the boy agreed, distractedly. He looked over his shoulder at Pete, and a panicked look crossed his features.
Jim instantly went on the alert. Something's hinky here...
Just as that suspicion streaked through Jim's mind, he saw Pete jerk his hand toward his gun. Before Jim could react, the report of a gunshot and the shattering of glass sounded almost simultaneously, splitting the silence on the hillside. The drama that played out before Jim in the next few seconds was nothing less than a police officer's worst nightmare.
Jim saw a bloom of blood swell on Pete's forehead, and his partner's hat flew off his head. Pete went down without a sound, and the force of the impact rolled him over the edge of the hillside. For a fraction of a second, Jim froze, his heart palpitating, his mind screaming denial at what he'd just seen. And in the next fraction of a second, his training kicked in.
"Pete!" Jim yelled. His partner's name was wrenched from his lips, his heart refusing to accept that he'd just seen Pete take a bullet to the head. Jim pushed the thought from his mind as his own survival instinct took over. He scrambled backwards, on his haunches, and reached for his gun, trying to slide sideways, fearing he would be the next target. He'd just cleared the gun from his holster, aiming it in the general direction of both the young man and the figure that had suddenly appeared in the backseat of the disabled Chevrolet, when the young man lashed out with the lug wrench and struck Jim on the right wrist.
Jim cried out as a hot streak of blinding pain shot from his wrist up his arm. His hand opened involuntarily, unable to hold his weapon, and the .38 service revolver flew from his ineffective grasp. Jim rolled over, ignoring the burning, tingling agony in his right arm, and reached for his gun with his left hand. Rocks and pavement bit into his back and side as he made a desperate attempt to grab his weapon. He heard yelling from the car.
The boy flew at him again, wielding the metal lug wrench as a weapon of his own. With an unearthly scream, he pounded Jim's side with two quick, heavy blows that drove the breath from him and started a new wave of pain radiating from his right side to his back. Jim lashed out with his legs in an attempt to knock the boy off his feet, but he wound up only grazing the young man's calf. His attacker then grabbed his foot and yanked hard, pulling Jim out of reach of his gun.
Desperate to survive the ferocious attack, Jim threw himself into a backwards shoulder roll, hoping he could move far enough and fast enough to jerk his gun up before the young man or his companion could recover. He managed the athletic move easily enough, but he hadn't counted on the big man being able to move just as quickly. As Jim came out of the roll, he swept his left hand out to snatch the gun, but as his head came up, the young man's foot slammed against Jim's jaw.
Jim saw stars, and his surroundings faded to a gray haze. He fell to the pavement, dizzy, disoriented and in pain. His limbs felt like lead. Get up, get up! But try as he might, his body would not respond. And suddenly, the young man leaped atop him, driving what little breath was left in his lungs out with a whoosh. The gray haze turned to blackness as a fist that felt like a brick smashed into the side of his face, and Jim knew with a certainty that he would never wake up again.
"Get him, Jeremiah! Get him!" Marco Ciroppolli yelled from the back seat of the Chevy. The tall, lanky man rocked the precariously balanced car as he scooted out of the rear passenger side. He had thought they were in trouble when their tire went flat, and the spare was bad, too, but the backup plan he'd quickly devised had worked brilliantly -- only he hadn't counted on it being a couple of cops that would fall into their hands.
Ciroppolli heard his companion yell as the second police officer put up a fight. He glanced over the hillside to make certain he'd offed the first pig, and was gratified to see the officer lying about thirty yards or so down the hillside, face down and motionless. Scratch one pig. Marco scrambled around the front of the car, brandishing the handgun in case Graddock needed help. He skidded to a stop just in time to see Jeremiah land a punch on the cop's face that laid him out.
"Good work, kid!" Marco growled. He prodded the cop with his toe and got no reaction. "Get his shirt off."
"Huh?" Jeremiah Graddock looked up at him, breathing hard and looking confused and scared.
"I said, 'get his shirt off,' dummy. If we're gonna take their wheels, one of us has to pass for a cop until we get out of L.A." Marco stepped over the cop's legs and peered inside the black and white. Just as he hoped, the keys hung in the ignition. "Hurry it up, willya? This is a busy road. Somebody's gonna come by here soon. And he won't stay out for long."
"Wh-what happened to the other one?" Jeremiah tore at the officer's shirt buttons with shaking hands.
"He's dead, kid," Marco said matter-of-factly.
"Oh, God, oh God," Jeremiah moaned. "You killed a cop! Marco! Oh, God!"
"Shut up! Just shut up!" Marco exploded. "Get his shirt off! And get his belt."
"Are you gonna kill him, too? Marco?" Jeremiah almost sobbed.
I would get hooked up with a weakling crybaby. "No witnesses," he said flatly.
Jeremiah managed to get the buttons of the shirt undone and pulled it off the unconscious officer's body. "Here."
"Great." Marco glanced up and down the street to make sure they weren't being watched, then pulled his prison-issue shirt over his head and tossed it on the hood of the black & white. He then put on the LAPD uniform shirt and started buttoning it. "Gimme the hat, too."
Jeremiah picked up the officer's hat and tossed it to Marco, who set it on his head. "How do I look?" he asked.
"Marco, let's get the hell outta here!" Jeremiah ignored the question.
Marco scowled at his young companion. He strode over and picked up the belt from Graddock and retrieved the officer's gun. Ciroppolli fastened the equipment belt around his waist, then aimed the .38 at the unconscious officer's head, reveling in the irony of killing a cop with his own gun.
"Marco..." Jeremiah stood up, looking scared. "What if somebody sees?" His eyes darted up and down the winding road. "Look, there's a car coming!"
Marco lowered the gun and put it into the clamshell holder. He reached behind him and jerked the handcuffs off the back of the belt. "Cuff him!" he ordered. He then moved behind the Chevy to hide his gray prison pants from the passing motorist.
"Do it!" Marco hissed. He tossed the handcuffs to the young man.
Jeremiah knelt beside the fallen officer again, and pulled his hands in front.
"Not in the front, you idiot!" Ciroppolli yelled. "Behind the back!"
"Oh, God...Marco!" Jeremiah moaned. He turned the cop over on his side and pulled his hands behind his back, then secured the handcuffs.
"Stop taking God's name in vain!" Ciroppolli yelled. "Don't you have any respect?"
The car Jeremiah Graddock had spotted passed them with hardly a glance by the female driver of the automobile.
"She saw us, Marco, she saw us!" Jeremiah exclaimed. "Let's get the hell out of here!"
"Get him in the car," Marco instructed.
"What? Are you crazy?? Let's just go! Leave him here! He ain't goin' anywhere!"
"I do the thinking around here!" Ciroppolli exclaimed angrily. "I ain't gonna just leave him here to talk to his cop buddies when he wakes up. And I ain't gonna off him where somebody might see! Now get him into the back seat and shut up!"
Graddock got his hands under the officer's shoulders and dragged him over to the black and white. Marco strolled over and opened the rear door, after checking for traffic, then helped Jeremiah muscle the pig's dead weight into the back.
"Get in. We're going." Marco slid into the driver's seat. He studied the console for a moment, then reached over and tweaked the siren. It let out a strident wail, and Marco grinned. "I've always kinda wanted to do that," he admitted.
"Come, on, Marco! Let's go!"
"Okay, okay, stop your whining." Marco cranked the car and pulled onto Mulholland Drive, fighting down a rush as he realized he was one more step closer to his goal of total freedom.
Pete Malloy awoke to a burning pain in his head that felt like someone had driven a red-hot poker through the top of it. He blinked his eyes, trying to figure out why he was lying face down in a scrubby, rocky field. An involuntary moan escaped his lips as he moved a fraction, causing the burning in his head to turn to an intense throbbing. What the hell happened? He lifted his head and forced his eyes open against the glaring sun to try and get his bearings.
Opening his eyes didn't help because everything he saw was a double-visioned blur. He could make out rocks and scrubby brush around him and he could tell he lay on a hillside. Why am I down here? He became aware of something trickling down his face and into his eyes. He reached up slowly, painfully, to wipe the liquid away and was horrified to see that his hand came back covered with blood.
Blood? Blood... did I... get shot? Shot? Gunshot?
Voices sounded over his head. Loud, arguing, male voices. Through pain-hazed vision, he saw the top of two vehicles, one the black-and-white.
There's...the unit.... What...happened to me? Where's...Jim? A strong sense of urgency overtook Pete. Gotta get...up there...
The siren of the black and white sounded loudly, startling Pete and bumping up the pain of his headache a notch. He squinted against the agonizing glare of the sunlight in his eyes, and saw the patrol car begin to move. The siren stopped, and, with a scratch of tires on gravel, the cruiser disappeared from Pete's view.
Jim? Where? Don't leave me...down here. Pete wiped more blood from his face and stared at his crimson-covered hand. A memory tugged at him. Crimson stains on a white trunk lid and fender. Blood on a car. A movement. Exploding glass and pain... Gunshot! The flat tire... someone hiding... shot me. Panic set in Pete's gut, spreading like a slow fire. Jim wouldn't leave... me here. Jim! Move, Pete, get up! Pete struggled with a moan to his knees. His vision blurred more as he forced himself to stand. He pulled one shaky leg up underneath him, braced himself on unsteady hands, and pushed with all the strength he had. Pete's breath threatened to leave him but he managed to stand up. And he immediately regretted it.
The horizon tilted at a crazy angle, then whirled violently. The ground rushed up at him as he collapsed back to his knees, overcome with dizziness and nausea. Pete swallowed down bile and quickened his breath in an effort to stay conscious.
"Okay," he croaked aloud, just to hear himself talk. "Stay...on knees. But...move."
Pete began the slow and painful odyssey up the treacherous hillside. The dry, brushy vegetation tore at his uniform and pricked his skin, and the sharp spines of the rocks bit into his flesh, but Pete persevered. Although he couldn't remember the exact sequence of what had happened to him, he knew he'd been shot by a hidden gunman. He knew the black and white had left. And he knew for sure that Jim would never abandon him if he had a choice. That left possibilities that hurt even more than his physical wounds: Jim had either been wounded himself, or he was now a hostage. Both possibilities chilled Pete's blood.
Gotta get up there...gotta find Jim...get help....
About halfway up the hill, Pete had to stop and gather his breath. Nausea and dizziness chewed at his strength and kept him from piecing events together. He lay down and gulped in deep, fast breaths, swiping the blood away from his face. Don't close your eyes...don't close your eyes.... Pete worked up the nerve to finally feel around his brow and scalp for the source of the blood. His fingers located a deep groove that started over his right brow and disappeared at the hairline. He didn't bother fishing for his handkerchief to staunch the flow. He'd need both hands to make it up the hill the rest of the way. Bullet just grazed me...any deeper and I'd be dead now...okay, keep moving, keep moving. Pete began crawling again, spurred by the fears that Jim might be at the top of the hill, wounded, bleeding, dying. He refused to think that his partner might already be dead. But Jim's absence nagged at his deepest fears. God help me...just let me get up there. Pete clawed at the sparse vegetation to use as handholds and braced his feet on rocks for leverage. He fought for every step, every inch of progress. Slowly, achingly, Pete closed the gap between himself and the top of the hill. Panting, Pete finally reached the edge of the hillside and pavement. He pulled himself up on one elbow and squinted for any sign of his partner. All he saw was the white car with the flat tire.
"Jim!" Pete called hoarsely. When he got no answer, he crawled over to the white car and looked underneath, to see if Jim might be lying in front or under it.
When that search failed to produce his partner, Pete risked pulling himself to his feet, hoping the shaky jacked-up car wouldn't suddenly drop. The car held, but he wasn't so sure he would. He leaned heavily on the fender until a wave of nausea and vertigo passed, then closed his eyes and dug out a handkerchief to hold against his bleeding forehead. A few minutes later, he dared open his eyes. Time to start thinking like a cop. He studied the area. He didn't see any large amounts of blood, which was good, but a crumpled piece of fabric on the side of the road caught his eye. Pete stumbled over to the cloth and managed to pick it up without falling over. He blinked hard to clear his vision, but even blurred, he knew what he held in his hand.
Prison garb! Those men.... Oh, God...
He staggered around the car to make sure he didn't see Jim anywhere, his already pounding heart racing faster. He looked around, and over the hillside, fighting against the pain and dizziness, but he found no sign of his partner. As he searched, it all started to come back to him: Mac's briefing, the young, blond driver, and the blurred look at the shooter that came from nowhere. Those men had to be the escaped prisoners from Santa Barbara, and now not only did they have new wheels, they had Jim.
Pete grabbed the car again as a particularly vicious wave of dizziness assaulted him. He took deep, gulping breaths to clear his head. When he looked up, he noticed that the trunk lid had raised up higher, probably due to his shaking the car. His heart lodged somewhere around his windpipe.
Jim's not in the trunk, Jim's not in the trunk...
Pete lifted the lid.
Jim wasn't in the trunk, but some other unfortunate human being was. The bloody, dead body of a man clad only in t-shirt and undershorts had been stuffed into the Chevy's trunk. The man looked to be about 45, and he had a gunshot wound to the head and his throat had been slashed from ear to ear. More than likely he was the owner of the car. What'd dispatch say his name was? Can't remember... doesn't matter now. Jim's all that matters. Gotta get help...
He had to alert the division. They had to find Jim before those maniacs got out of town with him. His climb up the hillside had already wasted precious time. Time that Jim needed. Pete stopped and took a deep breath, fighting down fresh panic. Okay, think. There's a call box somewhere...back up the hill...and a gas station down the hill. Pete wasn't sure if he could walk the whole way, but he opted for downhill rather than uphill. He started off toward civilization, and help, stumbling as fast as his condition would allow.
Jim Reed awoke marginally, aware only of the incessant chattering of the radio in Adam-12. Only nothing he heard made any sense; it merely sounded like garbled syllables. What's wrong with the radio? A pungent, slightly sour smell caused him to sniff once, experimentally, and crinkle his nose in distaste. Something stinks. And I'm cold. Why'm I so cold?
Something rough and stiff scratched at his cheek, and he felt something hard pressing into his back. Jim had to struggle to get a good breath. He took a deep breath and felt a sharp pain slice through his side and around to his back. What's wrong with me? I can't move.
Jim squeezed his eyes together tightly, then tried to open them. His eyelids felt made of lead, though, and he managed to move them only a sliver. The only thing he could see was a tan-colored blur, and a man's foot. A foot...in my face? Am I...on the floor? I'm on the floorboard! Why'm on the floor? Jim tried to move his arms, but they wouldn't move. Something cold and hard clamped his hands together, and when he struggled weakly against it, his right hand and wrist tingled, so he stopped moving.
A voice, quiet and unfamiliar spoke from somewhere over his head. "Marco, I think he's tryin' to wake up."
Marco? Who's Marco? Jim tried to force his eyes open further, but squeezed them shut again as the light stabbed at him mercilessly. My head feels like it's gonna explode.
"Good," a low voice growled from the front seat. "I'm gonna need to ask him some questions. I gotta be able to figure out what this radio's jabberin'."
The gruff words from the driver's side front somehow penetrated the fogginess in Jim's brain. Who's driving? Pete's not here...I'm in the unit but Pete.... Pete! Through the pain and disorientation, awareness came flooding back. The stop for the flat...the gunshot...blood on Pete's head...the attack by the young man...Pete falling.
Pete's dead. He's dead. Oh, God...what went wrong? I didn't see it coming. What did I miss? Pete...partner, I'm so sorry...I let you down. Jim squeezed his eyes shut against a surge of tears. No. Not now. He concentrated on the pressure on his back which he now knew belonged to the foot of the young man who sat in the back seat. Jim set his jaw. Grieve later. Now, you've gotta survive. You've gotta think, so you can get out of this mess. You've gotta see that these scumbags get what they deserve! You've gotta live for Jean, and Jimmy...and your unborn baby. Thinking of his family threatened to undo his control yet again, so Jim reluctantly pushed them out of his mind and concentrated on his anger at the loss of his partner. You've gotta live so that you get justice for Pete.
"His eyes are still closed, Marco."
"Give him a kick and wake him up."
Jim tensed as the driver of his hijacked patrol car spoke again. He burned the sound of it into his mind, so that he'd never forget it. The driver has to be the shooter. The bastard who killed Pete.
"Hey," the man prodded Jim hard in the back. "Wake up, man."
Jim bit back a hiss of pain and stayed still. Maybe I can learn something.
"Marco, he ain't wakin' up, man."
"He's gotta be fakin'. You didn't hit him that hard," the one called Marco growled from the front seat. "Tell Officer...Reed...that you'll shoot him if he doesn't open his eyes."
"Do it, Jeremiah!"
Marco...Jeremiah...the two Santa Barbara escapees. Jim felt a moment's confusion as he remembered the return on the DMV as being from San Diego. So freshly stolen it wasn't reported yet. Or there's no one left alive to....
Jim's thoughts froze as he felt the muzzle of a gun butt up against his temple. The cold steel shook against his head.
"W-wake up, man," the young voice pleaded, clearly shaken. "Or, or, I'll kill you!"
This one's scared. Maybe I can use that. Jim opened his eyes and looked up into the face of Jeremiah Graddock.
"He's awake, Marco," Jeremiah reported, clearly relieved. He drew the gun away from Jim's temple.
"Officer Reed," Marco called from the front seat. "What's the call number for your car here?"
"Figure it out yourself," Jim snarled. He hoped his voice sounded ferocious, rather than pain-filled and weak, as he suspected it did.
"Jeremiah, explain it to him," Marco growled back.
"Marco, I..." Jeremiah whined.
"Shut up and do what I say!" Marco exploded.
Jeremiah put the gun back against Jim's temple. It shook even harder than before. "Hey, man, y-you gotta do what he says, man. I-I don't wanna have to kill you."
"You always...do his dirty work for him?" Jim asked, with as much disdain in his voice as he could manage.
"Shut up, man," Jeremiah cried. "I-I ain't no murderer!"
"Not yet," Jim commented. He heard the radio chattering, but it seemed to be business as usual. No code 1 out for us yet. They don't know what happened. They don't know that Pete...
"Shut your trap, pig," Marco snarled from the front seat. "I got your gun here and I ain't scared to use it." Marco paused, then chuckled. "I already offed your pig buddy back there. Soon as we get where it's safe, you're next."
Anger and grief bubbled up through Jim's soul. It took a herculean effort to keep from lashing out at his kidnapper, to keep from saying something he'd only regret and wouldn't help his situation. Don't rise to his bait. Stay focused. Think of a way out!
"Whassa matter, Officer Reed?" Marco asked, his tone amused. "So overcome with grief you can't speak? Or so scared?" Marco laughed at his own words, so loud that Jim almost didn't hear the radio.
"One-Adam-12, Code 1."
Pete struggled to stay upright as he staggered down the side of Mulholland Drive. The horizon kept tilting before him, and waves of nausea and dizziness threatened to drive him to his knees. Gotta...keep...goin'.... Where're all the... damned cars? At this time of morning, Mulholland should have been busy with residents of the nearby neighborhoods driving into the city, but Pete had seen only one since he began his trek to a phone. Its driver hadn't even looked his way.
A chill wind whistled through Pete's uniform shirt, causing his muscles to tremble even more than they did from his weakness. Can't stop.... Jim needs help. He blinked his eyes, trying to erase the blur, to no avail. Pete stumbled on, the growing sense of urgency driving him forward.
The sound of a car engine behind him made him stop and turn. Pete waved his arms at the approaching motorist. Come on, stop! Stop! He took a step toward the street, hoping the driver would notice the uniform and stop. The car didn't even slow. Pete got a fleeting impression of a horrified look on a woman's face as she swerved around him and sped on down the hill.
Please...please... Despair threatened to overwhelm Pete as the road once again became deserted. I guess I do look...scary. He staggered further back off the road, stumbled over the uneven ground, and fell to his knees.
"Get...up!" Pete gritted aloud. He pushed up with shaking hands and made it to his feet. "One foot...in front...of the other."
Pete lurched forward, his halting gait agonizingly slow, the world around him a blurry haze. He focused his gaze on the ground in front of him to keep his bearings. He focused his thoughts on the dead body in that trunk and on the desperation to keep Jim from winding up that way.
The crunch of tires on pavement behind him startled Pete, and he turned, off-balance, to see a car slowing on the road to pace him.
Pete held out his hand to the driver in a "stop" gesture. "Help me!" he called.
The car stopped, and the driver, a teenaged boy, opened his door and got out, his eyes wide. "Officer? Are you all right?" he asked.
"I need...your help," Pete said, gasping to get the words out.
"Man, have you been shot?" The boy's voice ended in a high-pitched squeak. He hurried around the front of the car and took Pete by the arm. "I'll take you to the hospital!"
"No, no!" Pete shook his head, reaching out to brace himself on the car. "Take me to a phone!"
Pete nodded. "Need...to call for help."
"Where's your cruiser, man?" the boy asked.
"No...time...please, just take me to the gas station down the hill," Pete insisted. "It's...important."
"Oh, okay, okay, man, uh," the boy walked around Pete and opened the door. "Lemme help you in."
"Thanks." Pete accepted the boy's help and eased painfully into the car. When the young driver shut his door, Pete leaned against it.
The teenager ran around to the driver's side and piled back in. "Okay, officer, hang on!" The boy stomped on the gas pedal so hard it pushed them both back into their seats.
"Hey!" Pete said sharply, holding out his hand, "Slow down!"
The boy backed off his speed. "But you said..."
"If you kill us both...before we get there...it won't do any good," Pete said more quietly.
"Oh, yeah, sorry." The boy blushed.
"What's...your name, son?" Pete asked.
"Jim. Jim Preston."
Jim. It would be Jim. Pete bit back a sigh. "I'm... Pete Malloy."
"Who shot you?"
"Ambushed...someone in a disabled car." Pete hoped that a margin of strength would return to him now that he was able to sit for a moment. But his heart still raced and his vision still blurred. "Took the car...and my partner."
"Oh, man!" Jim Preston exclaimed. His eyes got wide again. "There's the gas station, Officer Malloy."
"Pull in by the pay phone, please," Pete reached a bloody hand into his pocket for a dime.
"Hey, man, this one's on me," Preston pulled up to the phone booth, reached into a compartment and pulled out a handful of change. He thumbed a dime out and gave it to Pete.
"Thanks. Can you stick around... for a few minutes?" Pete asked, as he opened his door.
The boy nodded. "You need help?"
"No." Pete hauled himself out of the car, using both hands to pull himself up. He lurched over to the phone booth, his legs threatening to give way.
Pete shouldered his way in, jerked the receiver off the hook, and managed to keep his hand steady enough to drop in the dime. The problem came when he tried to dial Mac's office number. He saw at least three of each number. Damn. Come on, come on! Pete stuck his finger in the "0" number and dialed it, knowing he'd never be able to get the number on his own.
"Operator, how may I help you?" A tinny female voice sounded in Pete's ear.
"Operator...connect me with 555-2122...police...emergency." Pete sucked in a deep breath. "Officer Pete Malloy, badge number...744."
"Right away, Officer." The operator's voice was replaced by a moment of silence, and then the phone rang on the other end.
Be there, Mac, be there! Pick up!
After four long rings, Pete began to panic. But the fifth ring was interrupted and Mac's gruff voice came over the line.
"Mac," Pete wheezed, "Mac..."
"I need...help...13000 block, Mulholland...ambushed..."
"Are you hurt? What about Jim? Why aren't you on the radio?" Mac's questions came fast and furious.
"Grazed...by a bullet....they took the car...and Jim...Mac...hurry...."
"Tell me where you are, Pete!" Mac demanded.
Pete felt his strength draining. The world started to spin. "Gas station....Buddy's Gas & Go. Mac...find
Jim..." Pete slid down the side of the booth, the effort to talk
leaving him completely spent. He didn't
even have the strength to hang up the receiver, but let it fall from senseless hands as he sat on the floor
of the booth. The last thing he heard before he closed his eyes against the dizziness was Mac's voice
faintly calling his name.
"How do you shut this radio up?" Marco demanded. "If you ain't gonna tell me what it means, I don't want to hear it! And besides, it's mostly static now."
Jim couldn't see anything but Jeremiah Graddock's foot and the back of the front seat from his position on the floorboard of Adam-12. Jim had taken stock of his physical condition, and figured he was pretty much intact, except for some serious facial and rib bruising. His wrist still tingled, but he could flex it, and figured it hadn't been broken. Once he'd decided none of his pains meant imminent death, he'd ignored them, and instead concentrated on his situation. He'd been trying to figure out where Ciroppolli was headed by the sounds from outside and by the speed and moves of the car, and he'd pretty much decided they were on a freeway. Radio's fading out. Getting way into the county, out of range. I wasn't hearing much anyway. They know we're overdue. But there were only a couple of Code Ones. Why'd they stop? And there wasn't anything else. I wonder if they found Pete. God, Pete.... I swear I'm getting out of this so these bastards can stand trial! I need a plan. Stay calm and think. If I could just see where I was...
"Hey, man, did you hear me?" Marco asked with a growl.
"There's a volume knob on the far right of the radio," Jim said.
Jim heard fabric rustling and then the radio fell silent.
"Ah, much better. Thanks, Reed."
"I did you a favor, now do one for me," Jim bit back the urge to rage at the man.
Marco laughed. "You're not in any position to ask for favors, pig. But I need a good laugh. Go ahead and ask."
Jim kept his voice light. "How about lettin' me up off this floorboard?"
"No way, cop. You're stayin' put. Right now it looks like I'm just an L.A. cop moving a prisoner somewhere. I don't want to risk anybody getting suspicious or recognizing you." Marco laughed again, and this time, it had an ominous tone to it. "Don't worry, you'll get out soon enough."
Jim turned his head as far as he could toward Graddock before pain stopped him and said, "You guys have had it, no matter what. You were the main topic at our briefing this morning -- the word is out that Jeremiah Graddock and Marco Ciroppolli went over the wall last night. By now, your pictures are all over the state of California and probably the whole west, too. You're not gonna get away with it."
"He knows our names, Marco!" Graddock burst out, clearly panicked. "He knows who we are!"
"So what?" Marco growled back. "Whaddya think, kid? That they would just let us go trippin' out of jail without a peep? Of course they know, and they're looking for us. But we're ahead of the game, now, so shut up and don't panic."
"You only think you're ahead of the game," Jim said. "You're not gonna make it. And in an LAPD black and white? You picked about the most conspicuous vehicle you could! By now they know our unit's missing and you're gonna have every cop within a 200-mile radius looking for this car."
"He's right, Marco, he's right!" Graddock agreed. "We've gotta ditch this car! It's no good!"
"I said, shut up!" Marco roared. "We ain't ditchin' this car until I'm good and ready! Stop listening to that pig! He's just tryin' to rattle you. It's the oldest cop trick in the book."
"Graddock, this man's gonna lead you straight to the gas chamber," Jim told him. "You gonna just follow him there?"
"Shut him up, now!" Marco ordered. "If he opens his mouth again, I want you to put your foot in it!"
"Reed, I'm gonna enjoy putting a bullet in your brain," Marco said. "You're gonna join your partner in hell."
A wave of unbidden fear twisted Jim's gut into knots. Helpless as he was, bound and trapped on the floorboard, it would only take an instant for Marco to carry out his threat. The fear both embarrassed and angered him. If he wanted to live through this, he knew he needed to quell both emotions, stay calm and figure out a way to escape. Think of your family. Think of Pete.
Think of a way out.
Jim Preston ran to the phone booth when Pete slid, unconscious, to the floor inside. "Oh, man!" he exclaimed. "Officer Malloy! Officer Malloy!" He pushed on the door and opened it as far as it would go until it jammed against Malloy's legs. "Officer Malloy, can you hear me?" Preston got down on his haunches, then reached out and gently tapped Pete on the shoulder.
"Ummmm," Pete responded, shifting slightly.
"Officer Malloy, wake up!" Preston prodded.
"Ummm...Mac?" Pete blinked his eyes and tried to focus on the face swimming before him.
"No, man. It's Jim. Jim Preston." The teen shook Pete's shoulder gently again.
"Jim? Jim?" Pete struggled to sit up and blink away the fog. The surge of hope he felt hearing Jim's name faded when he recognized the face of his young rescuer, and the name Preston sank in through his pounding head.
"Are you okay, Officer?" the boy asked, earnestly, his eyes widened again.
"Yeah," Pete croaked, and leaned back against the glass.
"Did you call for help?" Preston asked.
"Help's on...the way," Pete assured him. He slowly lifted the receiver to his ear to see if Mac remained on the line, but all he heard was the dial tone.
"What can I do? I...I feel like I should do something!" Preston exclaimed.
"You've done enough...already," Pete said. "Did I say...thanks?"
Preston ducked his head and actually looked sheepish. "No problem," he mumbled.
"Hey!" a gruff voice called from just outside the booth. "What's goin' on here?"
Preston jumped and turned around. A man clad in blue work coveralls with the name "Frank" monogrammed over his left pocket strode the last few steps up to the phone booth.
"Uhh, um,"Preston stammered. "He's hurt..." He pointed to Pete.
"I can see that," Frank knelt down to get to Pete's eye level, and looked at him with concern. "Hey, Malloy. It's Frank Petrullo. What happened?"
Pete had to blink several times before he could focus on Petrullo, the day manager of Buddy's Gas & Go. He and Jim had assisted the man several times in the past year with assorted customer disagreements and an armed robbery. "Frank. Got ambushed...up the hill."
Frank turned a suspicious look on Jim Preston.
"Not by me!" the boy protested.
"He helped me," Pete said.
"You hurt bad?" Frank asked.
"Just grazed...I'll be okay."
"What about Reed?" Frank asked.
Pete closed his eyes, made sicker by having to say the words. "They took him. And the car."
"I'm sorry," Frank said. He fished in his pocket and offered Pete a clean handkerchief. "Here. Yours is soaked. You got help coming?"
The sound of a police siren approaching split the air before Pete could answer. "Yeah," he said. "They're on the way."
Jean Reed sighed as her mother scurried around the living room, plumping pillows and swiping dust off the coffee table. Jean shifted on the couch where she'd stretched out to rest after her mother had come over to check on her.
"Mother, would you please sit down?" she asked. "You're making me tired."
"I just want to help you out some, dear," Marge Smithson said with a sweet smile. "How'd that tea and toast settle with your stomach?"
"Fine, so far, Mother. You really don't have to stay. I'm all right now," Jean insisted.
"I just want to be sure," Mrs. Smithson said. She did sit down, though, in the chair next to the couch.
"Jim shouldn't have called you," Jean continued. "I always get better later in the day."
"I'm glad he did. You certainly aren't up to chasing my grandson around all day," Mrs. Smithson smiled.
"Jim's such a worrywart," Jean accused, a half-hearted pout crossing her face. "And he fusses at me when I worry about him."
"Jim loves you and wants to make sure you're safe. You're lucky to have a man who cares so much about you."
The pout turned into a smile. "I know, Mother. Jim takes good care of all of us. I don't know what I'd do without him."
"Well, dear, let's hope you don't ever have to find out," Mrs. Smithson said as she stood. "I'm going to go check on Jimmy. You just stay there and rest."
"Yes, ma'am," Jean said. "See if Jimmy's ready for a cup of juice."
Jean settled back on the couch and put her hand over her stomach where her unborn child developed. "Hey, baby," she crooned, rubbing her still-flat belly, "you sure are lucky, cause you've got a great daddy. You're gonna love being in this family." A funny feeling came over her as she spoke to the baby, and she wondered what Jim was doing. She didn't like to think about him too much when he was on patrol, because she did worry about him out there on the mean streets of L.A. She comforted herself with the thought that Jim was no longer a green rookie, but had almost five years' experience under his belt, and that he worked with Pete, who had almost twelve years on the force, and who took good care of Jim. She bit back the anxiety that almost always nagged at her when she thought of Jim doing his job. Lord, whatever they're doing, just protect Jim. Please look after them both.
Pete looked up when Adam-36 squealed into the gas station parking lot and screeched to a halt beside Jim Preston's car. He moved the handkerchief from where it fell over his right eye just in time to see Ed Wells leap from the car before it had fully stopped.
Wells ran around Preston's car to the phone booth. "Okay, move over, move over," he ordered shoving through Petrullo and Preston to get to Pete.
"Pete, you okay? What happened? Are you shot?" As usual, Wells's words tumbled over one another. He reached out and moved Pete's hand to see the wound.
"Just...a graze. It's not bad," Pete said.
Ed nodded in agreement. "Not too bad. Ambulance is on the way, though. What happened?"
"Ambushed...up the hill..." Pete struggled to sit up. "Are they looking...for Jim?"
"Looking for..? Pete, where's Reed?" Ed asked.
"They took him. And the cruiser," Pete's anguish cut through his pain. "We've got to go after
them...before it's too late..."
"Easy, Pete, take it easy," Ed gently pushed Pete back against the glass. "Mac's coming, relax. We'll find Jim. We'll find him."
The sound of more sirens split the air as Ed attempted to keep Pete from moving.
"I think...it was those escapees...Mac told us about," Pete said. "I found prison clothing...discarded...by the car where they ambushed us."
Ed's eyes widened.
"Ed," Pete grasped Wells's arm. "They had a body in the trunk. We've gotta find Jim."
Wells nodded. "We will, we will," he declared, in his typical brash manner. "But you just relax." He looked over his shoulder as the sirens got louder, then back to Pete. "Here comes the ambulance."
Pete shook his head. "I'm not goin' anywhere until I talk to Mac!"
"Settle down, now." Ed broke Pete's grasp gently. "We'll take care of everything. Don't move, you hear?" Ed stood and turned to his partner. "Brady! Flag down that ambulance!"
"Get Mac on Tac 2," Pete called out, struggling to get up. "Lemme talk to him."
"Am I gonna have to put another hole in your head to get you to stay still?" Ed asked, but the look he gave Pete held more sympathy than scorn. Once more he turned to his partner. "Brady, see if you can't scare up Mac on Tac 2."
"Officer Malloy, you need to lie still," the ambulance attendant repeated, as he attempted to put a temporary bandage on Pete's bullet crease. "You don't know how serious your injury might be."
"I need to talk to my sergeant," Pete said. He shut his eyes, closing away the sight of the ceiling just above his head. The ambulance felt like a cage holding him captive.
"You said that already. We'll have him meet you at the hospital."
Pete ground his teeth in an effort not to explode in frustration and leap off the gurney. He knew he was in no shape to get up, but no one here seemed to share his urgency in reporting what he knew, which was sure to aid in the search for Jim. Brady had let him know that Mac had alerted the division and started the all-points search, but Pete couldn't relax until he spoke with somebody in authority. The echoing radio chatter from the units parked around the ambulance and the low murmur of officer's voices were too muffled to give Pete anything useful.
"Relax, okay?" The attendant put a hand on Pete's shoulder and settled him back onto the moveable stretcher. "We're ready to go." The attendant slapped his hand on the back of the driver's area, and the ambulance lurched forward, sirens blaring.
During the interminably long ride to County General hospital, Pete alternated between chafing at his painful inactivity and praying for Jim's safety. Every part of him screamed to be out looking for his partner, or at least doing something to assist in Jim's rescue. But every time Pete tried to lift his head or move, the ambulance interior blurred and swirled around him, making Pete face the fact that physically, he simply wasn't able. The ambulance attendant rode quietly beside him, occasionally asking if he was okay.
Okay? How can I be okay, when Jim...God help him! Don't take him -- not now. For the first time since the incident, he thought of Jean, pregnant and sick, and his fear and grief intensified. God, help her through this. Help me know what to do.
The ambulance's siren died and the ambulance slowed as it reached the emergency entrance of County General. When it ground to a halt, the attendant got up and took position at Pete's head.
"We're here," the attendant stated the obvious. "You'll get some help now."
The rear doors opened and the second attendant appeared, accompanied by a nurse and a doctor.
"What've you got?" the doctor snapped.
"Superficial gunshot wound to the head," the second attendant answered. "Vitals are stable, but he's complaining of double vision, vertigo, headache."
"Let's get him inside," the doctor barked.
As they unloaded Pete from the back of the ambulance, the midmorning sun caused the jackhammer in his head to beat more insistently. He covered his eyes with a free arm and swallowed back nausea as they rushed him across the parking lot. Someone moved his arm away, irritating him further.
Once inside, the typical frenetic activity of a large hospital emergency room took over. Doctors and nurses surrounded him, poking, prodding, asking questions, undressing him, shining lights in his eyes, and generally making him more miserable than he already was.
"Is this your wallet? Where's your police department ID card?"
"How did this happen, Officer...?"
"Is there anyone you want us to call?"
"How long were you unconscious?"
"I'm going to put this around your arm now."
"Does this hurt?"
"Lie still and try to relax. You're in good hands now."
In the midst of the cacophony of voices, the jostling discomfort, and his continuing anxiety, Pete finally heard the one voice he most wanted to hear.
"I need to speak to Officer Malloy immediately. It's extremely important."
"Mac," Pete said aloud.
"What's that?" the doctor asked, continuing his exam.
"Mac, my sergeant... I've gotta talk to him. Bring him in here." Pete struggled to sit up.
"Whoa there." The doctor gently restrained Pete. "Settle back. No talking until I'm through. Then you're headed to x-ray. Now, follow my finger." The doctor held up a finger in front of Pete's nose.
Pete refrained telling the doctor what he could do with that finger. "You don't understand," Pete argued, looking at the blurry face of the doctor instead of his finger. "I just need a few minutes."
"It can wait. Now, the finger..."
The door to the exam room opened and a nurse came in, followed closely by MacDonald.
"I'm sorry, doctor," the nurse apologized, "but the sergeant was insistent."
"Mac!" Pete sighed. "Thank God."
"Now wait a minute," the doctor objected.
"All I need is a minute," Mac said, his voice an odd combination of gruffness and concern.
"This man has a head injury of an undetermined nature," the doctor growled. "Any delay could be dangerous."
"I'll take...that chance," Pete said with determination. He lifted a dirty, bloody hand and motioned Mac closer.
"Just one minute," the doctor acquiesced and stepped back.
"Pete," Mac moved to Pete's side. "You okay?" His eyes held both sympathy and worry.
"I'll be fine. Mac, I think it's those...Santa Barbara escapees."
"Did you get a look at 'em?" Mac asked.
"Only one of 'em. Young, blonde, big...maybe 6'3" -- 220, about 22 or 23."
"What about the one who shot you?" Mac asked.
Pete closed his eyes and shook his head, which he instantly regretted. "Only a blur...impression of dark hair...slim build."
Mac reached into his pocket and retrieved a folded sheet of paper. "Is this the kid?" He unfolded the paper and held it up for Pete's inspection.
Pete blinked his eyes furiously in an effort to bring the picture on the paper into focus. He reached up and pulled it closer, and finally was able to see well enough to make out the face of the young man they had stopped to help with the flat tire. "That's him, Mac. That's him!"
Mac nodded tersely. "That's Graddock. What about the other one?" Mac flipped the paper over. "Is this the shooter?"
Again, Pete strained his eyes and desperately searched his memory to see if he could place the face of his assailant. But his attack had been too sudden, too fast. "Sorry, Mac. Could be...but..."
"Don't worry about it." Mac lightly touched Pete's arm. "If you saw Graddock, then it's certain Ciroppolli was the other perp. How did it happen?"
"We turned onto Mulholland briefly...to loop back on our district. Saw the car...with a flat. We stopped to help."
"Dispatch got your code 6. Go on."
"Jim talked to the kid. I ran the car...clean..." Pete stopped for a breath. "I thought the kid acted...hinky. I thought I saw blood...on the trunk lid. When I walked around...second guy sprang up from the back seat...shot through the window...I went out."
"There was a body in the trunk," Mac said.
"I saw it. Mac...you gotta find Jim."
"We're doing everything we can," Mac assured him, his voice sympathetic. "I've got a team at the site, we've put out an all-points, we're notifying every agency, all cars have been alerted. They'll be conspicuous in a black-and-white, so somebody's bound to spot them."
"God, I hope so," Pete closed his eyes again, wishing he could shut off the frightening images that haunted his mind as easily as he could shut away the treatment room.
"Is there anything else you can tell me?" Mac prodded gently.
"When I woke up...I was over the side of the road...down the hill. I heard voices arguing, doors slamming. I heard the siren for a couple seconds...then I heard the car drive off."
"Do you know how long you were out?" Mac asked.
"Sergeant, your time's up," the doctor interjected.
Pete ignored the warning. "Couple minutes...maybe...I dunno."
"Dispatch got your code six at 8:11. How long after that did it go down?"
Pete drug in a ragged breath and blew it out in a frustrated rush. "Four, five minutes...." Pete glanced at his left wrist, then realized the nurses had taken his watch when they'd removed his uniform shirt and equipment belt. "Mac, what time is it now?"
"Sergeant, this man needs medical attention," the doctor moved back close to Pete's side and stared into Mac's eyes.
"Pete, I'll keep you posted."
"Mac, what time is it now?" Pete raised his voice as much as he could. He reached up grasped Mac's arm, and raised himself a fraction.
"Easy, Officer." The doctor put his hands on Pete's shoulder and eased him back on the gurney.
Mac looked at his watch, then back at Pete. "Nine thirty-five."
Almost an hour and a half... "They could be anywhere," Pete whispered.
"Marco! Marco, where you goin' man?" Graddock asked, the edge of panic ever-present in his voice. "I thought we was goin' to Vegas, man!"
"Cool it, Jeremiah," Ciroppolli growled from the front seat. "We are. But I ain't haulin' this cop all the way to Vegas. And besides, we been lucky so far. I gotta get us off the freeway."
"Oh, okay, yeah...right...off the freeway."
"Just relax, willya? How's Officer Reed doin' back there?" Marco laughed.
"Uh, I...I guess he's okay," Jeremiah responded. "He ain't goin' anywhere."
Marco's laughter intensified. "Except to pig hell," he declared.
Jim tried to get comfortable, to ease the cramps and pain that crawled up and down his body, but stuffed onto the floorboard of his own black-and-white with his hands cuffed tightly behind his back, it just wasn't possible. His head and side still ached, but most of the feeling had returned to his right wrist. Now it just felt bruised. But those discomforts were the least of his problems. He'd had some time to think, since those first moments of near-panic when he awakened and realized his predicament, since the moments of suffocating grief when he remembered seeing his partner die. A deluge of fear, anger, grief, and despair had engulfed him, crowding out all his police training. It had taken a gargantuan effort to push those dire thoughts away so he could concentrate on devising a plan to save his life. Jim had no idea how long he'd been unconscious, but since he'd awakened and calmed down, he'd tried to keep track of time. He figured at least an hour had passed, maybe a little more. Judging from the speed at which the car moved, the lack of start-and-stop driving, and the sound of other traffic, Jim knew they'd been on the freeway for that entire time. He also knew their ultimate destination was Las Vegas, and that gave him a vague idea of their direction of travel. Probably north and east, through Glendale and Pasadena toward San Bernadino....then hit the freeway north to Vegas. That's how I'd go.
But now, Ciroppolli had taken the cruiser off the freeway and announced that he had no intention of taking Jim all the way to Vegas. He has to know that by now, they're looking for me, for the black-and-white. We must be somewhere he feels confident we'll go unnoticed. The tank was full; he won't need gas for a long while. If I was him, I'd be looking for a deserted, wooded area to take me. Or maybe the desert. Maybe we're in the Angeles National Forest. Maybe headed toward Big Bear or Lake Silverwood. Maybe even Victorville.
Jim swallowed back the anxiety thinking about Ciroppolli's probable plans brought to his gut. He turned his head to try and see out the window to make out terrain, or familiar landmarks. All he could see was treetops. He didn't see any road signs, but Ciroppolli had slowed the car's speed and had even stopped to make a turn, so Jim figured they were now in some type of small town.
Okay, think, think. How am I gonna get out of this mess? The kid is scared out of his wits; I can probably use that. I can't see him pulling the trigger on me...but he's too scared to do anything except what Ciroppolli tells him to. I don't think talking's gonna do much good -- Ciroppolli's already killed one cop; killing one more won't matter. Can't use my hands, but I've got my legs...now I only need a chance to use them.
"Pete you need to settle down," Mac joined the doctor in urging Pete to lie back and submit to the much-needed medical procedures. "You need to let the doctors take care of you. There's nothing you can do for Jim now."
"I know, Pete," Mac cut off Pete's lament, his voice conveying a sad understanding of what Pete had to be feeling. "I need to get back to the command post, but as soon as I hear anything, I'll let you know."
Pete closed his eyes and nodded once, wearily. "Okay," he said. "Just find him."
"We'll do everything we can. I promise." Mac lay a hand briefly on Pete's shoulder, then turned to leave. "By the way, I called Judy. She's on her way."
"How'd she take it?"
"Okay. I told her you were gonna be just fine." Mac paused. "But I didn't tell her about Jim."
"Okay. I'll take care of it."
The doctor leaned back over Pete and began gently manipulating his head. Pete ignored the intrusion and tried to push back the swell of emotions as he listened to Mac walk back to the treatment room door. He searched for words to formulate a prayer, but words escaped him. The door creaked as Mac opened it. God, please...don't take him from...
"Mac!" Pete exclaimed, loudly, as a sudden thought struck him. He jerked away from the doctor's hands and searched for Mac in the doorway.
"Officer, please!" the doctor objected, holding Pete still.
"What is it, Pete?" Mac stopped in the door and turned back.
"Jean. What about Jean?"
Mac fiddled with his hat. "I'll have to tell her something soon," he finally said.
"Mac, you know she's pregnant...and sick..."
"I know. I'll make sure someone stays with her, Pete. I promise you."
"She was so sick today...that Jim called her mother...God, Mac. This is gonna kill her." Pete's voice cracked, thinking of what Jean faced.
Mac nodded once. "Yeah." Mac paused. "I'll do what I can to make it easier," he promised. "But it's never easy." The sergeant moved a couple of steps and let the door shut him away.
God, get me outta here! I've gotta do something!
"You sure are quiet back there, pig," Ciroppolli said from the front seat.
Jim thought of several scathing comebacks he could throw out to his abductor, but he bit them all back. Pete had lectured him more than once about his bad habit of making certain tense situations worse with undue sarcasm. Until he had a little more time to size up Ciroppolli, Jim decided to play it cooler than usual.
"What do you want me to say?" Jim said, his voice muffled by his position.
"I don't want you to say nuthin'," Ciroppolli responded. "But you were kinda mouthy when you first woke up and I was just expecting you to give more of your usual pig speeches. You know, the one about 'You really don't want to do this' and 'you'd be better off giving yourself up' and all that crap."
"I don't figure you're in much of a mood to listen," Jim said.
"That's right," Ciroppolli agreed. "Nothin' you have to say interests me. I got my plan, and I'm stickin' to it."
"What about you, Jeremiah?" Jim asked. He strained to turn his head so that he could see the younger man's face. "You, uh, in on your partner's plan?"
"We...we're goin' to Vegas," Graddock stated. "Vegas is a big place. A fella can get lost there. And there's easy money there. It's a good plan."
"What about the rest of it?" Jim asked.
"The rest of what?" Graddock asked.
"The plan. The part where he kills his ex-wife."
"You shut up!" Ciroppolli screamed.
"Marco, what's he talkin' about?" Graddock demanded.
"Somethin' he knows nothin' about!" Ciroppolli growled.
"Oh, yeah?" Jim asked. "It was in the briefing this morning. You've got an ex-wife in Nevada you've been threatening to kill for years. So you just happen to be going to Vegas?"
"I said shut up, cop!" Ciroppolli shrieked.
"Marco! Is that true?" Graddock asked. The fear was back, full-blown, in his voice.
"Don't listen to him, Jeremiah. He's just blowin' smoke. He knows I'm gonna waste him so he's tryin' to scare you."
"I...just wanna get lost in Vegas," Graddock said. "Let's get back on the freeway, Marco, and get to Vegas, all right?"
"We're goin' to Vegas. We're goin'. But first, we gotta take care of the pig."
"Marco, there's been enough..." Graddock began, but Ciroppolli interrupted him with an explosion of temper.
"I decide what's enough! I told you, I make the decisions! Now calm down!"
"All right, all right," Graddock nodded.
"And you, pig...I liked you better when you were quiet! Now shut up before I have Jeremiah plug you right here and now!"
Okay, enough. "Whatever you say, Ciroppolli."
Jean barely registered that Mac had left. Somewhere in the back of her awareness she heard her mother talk quietly to the sergeant, and then the door closed, but Jean didn't care. She sat on the side of the couch, arms wrapped around her stomach, trying to stop her shaking. She rocked back and forth, her mind screaming denial at what MacDonald had come to tell her. Not again...not again...not again...oh, God, please...not again.
A knot of emotion sat in her chest, sobs of anguish and screams of anger wrapped in cold fear that lay like a leaden weight on her soul. That fear had sunk its icy tendrils deep into her heart and mind, squeezing out rational thought and replacing it with numbness.
It was the numbness that kept her from letting the sobs and screams out; only the numbness that kept her from falling completely to pieces.
It just wasn't fair. All Jim ever wanted to do was help people. Make the world a better place. Being a policeman was how Jim wanted to do that. And for his trouble, for all his help and caring and hard work, his life was always in danger. And now...and now.... It just wasn't fair.
"Jean, honey," Suddenly her mother was beside her, wrapping a comforting arm around her. "Are you okay?"
Jean dropped her head over onto her mother's shoulder and let some of the pent up tears fall. "Oh, mother," she choked, "I can't lose Jim. I can't."
"Shhh, honey, don't talk like that," Mrs. Smithson soothed. "They'll find him. They will."
"It may already be too late. They shot Pete...left him for dead," Jean sobbed. "Escaped convicts...nothing to lose..."
"Hush, now, hush." Mrs. Smithson hugged her daughter close. "Don't think like that. Jim's strong, and smart, and well-trained. He'll be all right. Just keep thinking that."
"Just pray, mother, please just pray."
"I am, honey, I am," Mrs. Smithson assured her. She patted her daughter's back in comfort. "But right now, I need to call your father. Sergeant MacDonald said that it wouldn't be long before the media got hold of the story. He said we should contact family members in case names leaked out."
Jean lifted her head and looked at her mother, who wiped tears from her daughter's face. "You'd better call Jim's sister, too," she sniffed.
"All right, dear." Mrs. Smithson pushed Jean's hair back from her face. "Is your address book by the phone?"
"Yes." Jean sat up and scrubbed at her face. "And then...please call the hospital and see how Pete is."
"Okay." Mrs. Smithson got up and went to make the calls.
"Mamma," Jimmy called from the hallway. "Mommmieee!" The little boy came scampering into the living room and ran to the couch. He stopped when he saw that she was crying, and his own eyes widened. "Mommy, why awe you cwying?"
Jean wiped her eyes and forced herself to give her son a reassuring smile. "Mommy still doesn't feel very good, baby."
"I'm sowwy," Jimmy said sincerely. He looked at her with wide-eyed solemnity.
Jean looked down into her son's face, so much like his father's, and had to bite her lip to keep from bursting into tears again. Jimmy apparently sensed her distress, because he crawled up onto the couch, reached up, put his hands around her neck, and kissed her on the cheek. Jean hugged him to her fiercely and sent a silent prayer up to God that he wouldn't have to grow up without his father.
"Hey, pig, what's this silver medal on your shirt here?" Ciroppolli asked.
Jim grit his teeth. The thought of Ciroppolli wearing his uniform shirt and carrying his gun galled him beyond words. They'd been traveling along what seemed to be a smaller highway for several minutes. Jim had seen trees and a few billboards along their route, and they'd not stopped for any traffic lights. He figured Ciroppolli was taking them to some underpopulated area in the Angeles National Forest. Probably trying to find a deserted place to kill and dump me. The thought made him both scared and angry.
"Some kinda bravery thing?" Ciroppolli asked again.
"It's a shooting medal," Jim said.
"A shooting medal, huh? Well, how 'bout that! Officer Reed here's a dead-eye," Ciroppolli laughed.
"Good thing you didn't let him get his gun out, Jeremiah, or you'd probably be laying dead on the side of the road back there in LA."
Jim silently agreed, but said nothing. He shot a look at Graddock, who eyed him fearfully.
"So, you're a good shot, huh?" Ciroppolli pressed.
"That's what the medal says." Jim tried once again to shift enough to get comfortable. The floorboard pressed into his sore side and the cuffs put pressure on his wrists. His arms and legs tingled from impaired circulation.
"You ever shoot anybody, cop?"
"Yeah, big city like LA, lots of bad dudes runnin' around, man," Ciroppolli stated. "You ever kill anyone?"
Images flashed in Jim's mind at the question. A sixteen-year old sniper, a desperate man on a bus, a kid high on drugs hiding in an underground pedestrian walkway. Faces Jim would never forget. "Yeah."
"No kiddin'!" Ciroppolli exclaimed, then laughed again. "Well, cop, looks like you and crooks like me got somethin' in common, after all."
"I don't think so," Jim objected.
"Sure! Why, just today, I've killed two people."
"Marco!" Graddock hissed.
"Don't sweat it, kid. He already knows I offed his partner. And I took out the schnook driving the white Chevy. Glad I killed him, too. Anybody stupid enough to drive around with a flat spare deserves to die."
Jim said nothing.
"You think that just because you wear a badge that makes your murders different from my murders?" Ciroppolli asked, heat in his voice.
"I shot in the line of duty," Jim responded, though the reason why he needed to justify himself to this jerk escaped him.
"Line of duty! Line of duty! Oh, man, does that ever sound like a pig talkin'. You know what the Bible says, man? You know what it says? It says, 'Thou shalt not kill. It don't say, 'thou shalt not kill except in the line of duty.' That means you and me, man, we're both murderers in the eyes of God."
Jim was in no mood to debate theology with Pete's murderer. And he certainly had no desire to share with Ciroppolli his own struggles with taking people's lives -- even in the line of duty. Again, he opted for silence.
"Nothin' to say, huh?" Ciroppolli chuckled. It sounded more maniacal than cheerful to Jim. "Well, that's all right. I'll tell you what. I'll just have to kill somebody while I'm wearing this here uniform and see if I feel any different about it. We'll call it an experiment. I'll let you know if wearing a badge makes me feel any less of a killer."
"Marco, what are you gonna do?" Graddock asked.
"Don't sweat it, kid. I got another plan."
"Hello, can you help me, please? I'm looking for Pete Malloy. They said he was here."
The admitting nurse in the ER of County General Hospital looked up from her charts into the wide, fearful brown eyes of a neatly dressed, attractive red-headed woman. The nurse looked at the woman's left hand -- no wedding or engagement ring adorned the third finger, so perhaps this was a sister.
"Are you a family member?" the nurse asked, her voice efficient, but not unkind.
"N-no, I'm his girlfriend. My name's Judy Bramlett. Can you tell me anything?"
The nurse smiled, taking pity on the frightened-looking woman. "He's in x-ray right now, but if you'll have a seat over in the waiting area, I'll let you know just as soon as he returns."
"Oh, he's all right, isn't he?" Judy twisted her hands on the strap of her purse.
"Yes, he's going to be just fine. Now just relax, okay? Go have a seat, and I promise you some information very soon."
"Okay, okay," Judy nodded, and walked back to the waiting area.
Judy sank down into a poorly-padded chair in the waiting area and covered her face with her hands. I can't believe I'm going through this again. It hasn't even been a year. I don't think I can take it again. She sighed, rubbed her face and looked around the waiting area, looking for Jim. The last time Pete had been shot, he'd been seriously wounded, and Jim had personally come to tell her and bring her to the hospital. The memory made her squirm; Jim hadn't looked much better than Pete on the occasion. Since Jim hadn't come this time, and Mac had called her and told her Pete was okay, it had been a minor injury, Judy allowed herself a sliver of optimism that it was the truth. One thing she could say for the LAPD, they took care of officers' families in times of crisis.
Judy swivelled in her chair, searching for Jim's familiar face. She knew he'd tell her the truth about Pete. Judy frowned when she didn't see him anywhere in the vicinity. It worried her briefly, but then she realized he'd be by Pete's side if the medical personnel didn't run him off. Jim worries about Pete almost as much as I do. I'm sure he's with him in x-ray, or loitering around outside the room. That's good; Jim's about the only one who can make Pete behave. Oh, Lord, please let Pete be okay.
The male voice spoke from close proximity, startling her into turning back to face the entrance to the emergency department. She was surprised to see Officer Jerry Woods standing there, his face drawn and grave. He stood there, hat in hand, head slightly bent, a posture that never failed to terrify even the staunchest loved one of a police officer. Her heart rate skyrocketed. "Jerry?"
"Mac sent me to stay with you a while and make sure you were okay," Jerry explained. "He didn't want you sitting here alone."
"Sit down, Jerry," Judy patted the chair next to her.
"Thanks. How's Pete?" Jerry sat in the proffered chair.
"I was hoping you'd know," Judy said.
"All I know is what Mac told me. That Pete had been grazed by a bullet and the docs were cleaning him up. Mac said he's fully conscious and lucid, though his vision's a little screwy." Jerry explained, his voice uncharacteristically quiet.
"His vision? Where did he get hit?" Judy asked.
Jerry paused before answering. "Over his right eye. But it's just a scratch!" He hastened to add when Judy gasped.
"Oh, my God," Judy covered her face with her hands again. "It's crazy. It's all so crazy." She looked up into Jerry's clouded blue eyes. "You people are all nuts."
"That's probably true," Jerry agreed. "But..."
"...somebody's gotta do it," Judy finished, disdainfully. She sighed yet again, trying to ease the knot of anxiety inside her.
"Sounds pretty lame, huh?" Jerry asked.
"When the man you love is lying in the hospital, hurt, yes, it does." Judy looked at Jerry and softened her expression. "Do you know what happened?"
"I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly..."
"That's okay, I'll ask Jim when he surfaces," Judy said, interrupting him. "What's wrong?" Judy asked, when Jerry blanched.
"Uh, ummm, you don't know about Jim," Jerry stated, his expression saddening further.
"No! What about him? Mac didn't say anything...was he shot, too?"
Quietly, sadly, Jerry explained to Judy the events of the incident, as best he knew them. When he finished, all Judy could do was lower her head into her hands and cry.