A Matter of Time, Part 3
Pete looked up at the den clock. He was sitting on the couch, where he had been keeping a solitary vigil on the news for the better part of the last hour. But he'd given up in disgust about fifteen minutes before, when he realized the droning voice of the reporter was only mindlessly repeating the same old news.
Pete blinked the hands of the clock into focus. Twelve forty-five. Ten minutes later than the last time I checked. Pete felt each agonizing second of that hour as the clock ticked precious time away -- time that refused to bring news of Jim. Though desperate to hang onto the spark of hope that Jim was okay, he knew that every minute that passed without word, the spark dimmed.
Pete envied the rest of the household. All the relatives had managed to find ways to occupy themselves. Even Judy had quietly slipped from the room, sensing his need for some privacy. But now he was finding that being alone left him too much time to dwell on unwelcome thoughts.
He resisted the impulse to get up and pace, even though his muscles twitched at the enforced inactivity. As long as he sat still, the sick headache that dogged him stayed at a tolerable level, but when he moved, the symptoms from his concussion flared. He dropped his head into his bandaged hands and relived the moments of crisis over in his mind. What did I do wrong? Could I have done anything to keep this from happening? All my experience -- eleven years, and I couldn't see it coming. Some partner I am.
The piping voice of Jimmy Reed caused Pete to jerk his head up. He hadn't even heard the little boy run into the room. Pete forced his dismal musings aside and allowed the sight of his four-year-old godson to partially buoy his spirits. The child had gone through a recent growth spurt and lost some baby fat; it seemed that with each day that passed his features and build more closely mimicked that of his father. "Hey, tiger!"
Pete opened his arms and Jimmy didn't disappoint him. The boy bounded into Pete's welcoming embrace and climbed up into his lap. He planted a quick kiss on Pete's cheek and gave his godfather a sweaty hug.
"Whatcha been doin', sport?" Pete asked.
"Playin' ball wif Unca Wussell and Unca Phil," Jimmy said. "I diwty."
"You sure are," Pete agreed. He brushed grass and dirt off the boy's t-shirt, then straightened the bill of Jimmy's pint-sized LA Dodger baseball cap. Jim had bought Jimmy that cap just three weeks earlier when he'd taken his son to his first Dodger baseball game. Pete had accompanied the two Jims to the ball game at Chavez Ravine and his heart warmed at the memory. He didn't know who'd had the most fun -- his partner or his godson. The Dodgers had won. Jimmy had eaten his fill of hotdogs and bounced up and down screaming for the home team until he'd fallen asleep during the eighth inning, completely exhausted.
"Whewe's daddy?" Jimmy asked.
"Daddy's still at work, kiddo," Pete said, hating the lie even as he told it.
Jimmy seemed to accept that. "Unca Pete, you have a big boo-boo!" the boy exclaimed, his big blue eyes widening even more as he finally noticed the bandage swathing Pete's forehead.
"Yeah, but it's okay."
Jimmy frowned. "Did a bad man hit you?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah, I guess so."
"Did you aw-west him?"
Not much escaped his godson, Pete reflected. Even at his tender age, Jimmy already had quite an awareness of his father's job. "Not yet."
"Is that why my daddy's still wowking?" Jimmy asked. "He'll catch the bad man fow you."
Pete had to swallow before answering. "He's workin' on it, kiddo."
Jimmy's eyes suddenly clouded over in a painfully familiar way. "Does it huwt?" he asked softly.
Pete felt his own eyes sting as he looked into those guileless blue eyes. Not only did Jimmy have the physical characteristics of his father, but his natural compassion as well. "A little," he said, his voice tight.
"I kiss it and make it bettew," Jimmy reached up and placed a light-as-air kiss on the bandage. "All bettew?"
Pete pulled Jimmy to his chest in another hug and fought down a swell of emotion. Nobody could pierce his heart like his godson; Pete doubted if even Jim fully realized what this child meant to him. "All better, kiddo."
"Good." Ever the bundle of energy, Jimmy scrambled down from Pete's lap. "I hungwy, Unca Pete. Come eat lunch wif me."
He's his father's son, all right. "You go ahead, sport. I'm not very hungry right now."
"Okay! Bye!" Jimmy sped from the room, his throttle still wide-open.
As Pete watched him go, the dark foreboding feeling inside of him tightened its hold. I swear, Jim, I swear, no matter what happens...as long as I'm around, your son will never lack for anything.
"The deputy's name was Craig Meldon," Gidley told Pete. "Thirty-two years old, divorced, father of two boys. Had ten years' experience on the job. Took three bullets, two dead-center chest, the third in the forehead. He was dead before he hit the ground, according to the docs."
Pete made a face and blew out a gusty breath. He resisted shaking his head, which only made it pound worse, but he painfully balled both hands up into tight fists. He had to put that tension to work somewhere. Hearing the details of a brother officer's senseless death was never pleasant; under these circumstances it became downright painful. "They run ballistics?"
Gidley gave him a sympathetic look. "It was Reed's gun."
"I figured." Pete squinted against the brightness of the early afternoon sun. He'd come outside to talk to Gidley when he couldn't take another minute inside Jim's house. He couldn't stand seeing Jean so sick and so sad; he couldn't stand looking his godson in the face and having to lie to him and pretend all was well. He couldn't take the looks Judy gave him when she thought he didn't see, and he sure couldn't take listening to TV news reporters speculate on Jim's condition. The constant parade of neighbors and friends coming in and out with food or calling on the phone got on his nerves as well, though he realized they all meant well. He just needed some space. The unseasonably cool air bit into his bare arms and helped clear his mind of the emotional clutter, if only for a minute.
"Look, Malloy, I don't know how much information you want me to feed the family," Gidley spread his hands. "They've got a right to know, but I'm not sure how much and when."
Pete jammed his hands in his pants pockets, then turned his head to look down the street where the media still swarmed. The sight infuriated him, even though a part of him understood the public's hunger for information and their morbid curiosity over such a drama unfolding in their backyard. "I'll tell 'em later," he finally said.
"Okay, Pete." Gidley paused a minute. "You know, it really doesn't mean anything."
Pete gave Gidley a sharp look.
"I mean that the bastards used Reed's gun to kill the deputy," Gidley continued. "Anything's possible, Pete. Don't give up hope yet."
"I haven't," Pete snapped, but his conscience nagged him even as he said the words. He feared that a part of him had already given up. "I'm sorry," he apologized.
"Don't worry about it," Gidley waved it off. "This is rough."
"Rough is too kind a word," Pete said. He took another deep breath. "Anything new on the manpower deployment? Additional units?"
Gidley reached in his pocket and handed a folded up piece of paper to Pete. "I wrote down the last roll call of those involved in the search."
"Thanks." Pete unfolded the paper. Even though he had to squint to see it, words no longer blurred. Adam 36 -- that's Wells and Brady. X-ray 19, uh, Brink and Snyder. Mary-22, Grant...that's all Mac could spare from the watch. These others are from other shifts, other divisions. Of course, Santa Barbara and San Bernadino both have half their fleet out....
"Pete," Judy called, interrupting his study.
"What is it?" Pete asked. He noticed Judy had her car keys in her hand. "Excuse me," he said to Gidley, then met Judy as she came down the sidewalk.
"It's 2:15, Pete. David's getting out of school in thirty minutes. I was supposed to pick him up today -- he has a dentist's appointment at 3:15."
Pete frowned; he didn't remember Judy telling him that.
"Oh, I hadn't told you about it, Pete, it's just a routine cleaning and check-up," Judy said, "I knew we'd be home by the time you got off watch, anyway." They reached Judy's car and Pete opened the door for her. "Pete, what do I tell him?"
"Tell him what you think he can handle," Pete said.
"That's just it, Pete...when you got shot, David nearly went to pieces. He'd already lost his father, and then when you came so close to dying..." Tears filled Judy's eyes. "And now this. You're shot again, and now Jim...I don't know what to do! You know how crazy he is about Jim."
"Yeah, I know." Pete pulled Judy into a hug. "I know."
"I just don't want to tell him anything until I have to, Pete. I don't want to put him through what we're all going through," Judy sniffed into Pete's shoulder.
"Then don't." Pete rubbed her back. "But whatever you do, don't let him hear it on the news. It's all over radio and TV, so if you think there's a chance, you're gonna have to tell him. Do you want me to come over and tell him?"
Judy lifted her head. "No. You need to be here. I'm sorry I can't stay but I have to take care of David."
"Don't worry about it. David's your primary responsibility. There's nothing you can do here but sit and worry with the rest of us."
"God, I can hardly stand it," Judy said vehemently. She dabbed at her eyes. "Seeing Jean like this, and you...I love you, Pete, but every day I hate your job more and more."
"I'm not sure I can live like this, Pete," Judy whispered. She wiped at her eyes one last time, then gave Pete a quick kiss on the cheek. "I've gotta go now, or I'll be late. Take it easy, please? And call me if anything happens."
"I will. And you call me if you need me," Pete said. A new round of butterflies settled in his stomach, joining the considerable amount already fluttering there.
Judy nodded, then cranked up the car. Pete shut the door and Judy eased the car into the street.
As Pete watched her drive off, he wondered if his encounter with Ciroppolli and Graddock had possibly taken more than just his partner away from him today.
He was cold. He was so very cold.
Jean, quit hogging the blanket.
He tried to reach for the blanket with his right hand, but he couldn't move it. He tried again, and something hot and sharp streaked up his arm, jolting him awake. He opened his eyes wide and tried to sit up. He immediately regretted it. Waves of pain and dizziness rolled over him and he moaned aloud. Jean, I'm sick. Something's wrong.
He squeezed his eyes shut so the room would quit spinning. The bed felt prickly and rough underneath him. What's wrong with the bed? Why'm I so cold?
"Jean," he croaked aloud. "Jean?"
She didn't answer.
He opened his eyes again and tried to roll over, but that same hot, sharp pain hit him again, and he still couldn't move his arms. Wake up! It's a bad dream! He attempted to jerk himself upright and awake, but the pain so overpowered him that he fell back immediately and let darkness reclaim him.
Pete watched Judy's car turn off the Reeds' street onto the main road, and had started to walk back to Gidley when he noticed a black and white turn onto the street. He watched it thread its way carefully through the crush of reporters some of whom rushed the car, hoping for information. Pete finally recognized the driver as Jerry Woods. His heart accelerated slightly. Pete wondered what news Jerry might be bringing that Mac couldn't radio in to Gidley.
Quit jumping at shadows. He probably just wants to pay respects to the family.
Woods parked the car almost in the same spot Judy had just vacated, and, after donning his hat, got out and walked over to Pete. "Don't look so worried," he said, holding up a hand. "I don't have any news on Jim. At least, not directly."
Pete didn't know whether to be relieved or not. "So, what's happening?" he asked.
"Mac sent me here to check on you," Woods explained. "How're you holding up?"
"I'm fine," Pete growled. "I'm just fine. I'm so fine I should be out there looking instead of standing around spinning my wheels!"
"Take it easy, Pete," Jerry said quietly. "You're not in any shape to go anywhere."
Pete glared at him. "I'm the best judge of the shape I'm in!"
"No," Jerry said evenly, patient enough not to snap back, "the doctors are. And we all know what they said."
Pete turned his back on him and rubbed his hand across his face. "Go back and tell Mac I want to go out there."
"All right, Pete, if that's what you want," Jerry agreed. "But you know what Mac'll say."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Pete sighed and turned back around. "I'm sorry, Jerry. I just..."
"Forget it, Pete." Jerry paused a beat. "Listen, I came to tell you that San Bernadino's just put up a chopper in the area. Air Ten's on its way out there, too. Walters volunteered for the gig."
"Good. That's good." Pete felt a surge of gratitude. Walters had been a friend a long time. The patrol officer- turned- air-jockey had dealt Jim his share of grief during Jim's probationary period, but just like most people who got to know Jim Reed, he'd quickly taken him into his circle of friends. "The more eyes we have, the better."
"Mac's also got a team searching the hillside off Mulholland," Jerry said, almost hesitantly. "We have to make sure," Jerry added quickly, seeing Pete's startled look. "We can't afford to overlook any possibility."
"No, of course not." Somehow, he hadn't thought of the possibility that the convicts could have tossed Jim off the side of Mulholland. God only knew the hillsides of Mulholland could hide almost anything.
"A lot of the guys are gonna join the search at end-of-watch. Pete, no stone's gonna go unturned. We'll find him."
Pete nodded, wincing when his head reminded him that moving it quickly was not a good idea. "Let's just hope it's soon."
The cold awakened him again. Only this time, he awoke with more of a startled twitch, eyes snapping open as his trembling limbs jerked him to consciousness. Jim lay still, blinking his eyes to allow the blurry world around him to come into focus. Unfortunately, it didn't help much. The dim haze finally began to coalesce into shapes, but he saw two of everything. And what he saw caused his heart to start hammering.
Instead seeing of the comforting, soothing confines of his bedroom, he saw primitive, harsh, dirty surroundings. Warped and broken boards, dirt floor, rusted old tools, and yellowed scraps of paper brought Jim's memories flooding back in a rush.
I'm still in that barn! Ciroppolli...Graddock...
Jim twisted on the cold, dirt floor and moaned when pain again streaked throughout his body. His head felt twice its normal size and it felt like the USC drum line had set up practice there.
The rest of him didn't feel much better. At first he thought his entire body was broken beyond repair, but as he sorted things out, the aches and pains settled in his ribs, his back, his right wrist and his right ankle. But worse than any of that was the unwelcome discovery that he was handcuffed to some kind of rough wooden support pole.
Jim felt a chilly breeze wash over him. He craned his neck upward. Much of the ceiling above him had rotted away, leaving him exposed to whatever Mother Nature decided to rain down. He could see the blurry outline of tree limbs and leaves above his head. Jim shifted his legs, which not only trembled from cold, but tingled from lack of circulation, and felt the rough texture of the floor on his bare skin.
Bare skin? Jim turned his head so he could see his legs and feet. Even with double vision he could see he no longer wore his uniform pants. He took my pants. No wonder I'm so cold. Jim felt a moment of irrational embarrassment at lying handcuffed to a pole, in an old barn out in the middle of nowhere, clad only in t-shirt and underwear.
And then he realized, as fuzzy memories suddenly clarified....Ciroppolli didn't pull the trigger.
He didn't pull the trigger.
Jim shut his eyes.
He remembered the feel of the cold steel of his own revolver being held against his temple.
He remembered the sound of a bullet sliding into the chamber as Ciroppolli clicked back the hammer.
He remembered the sadistic ritual and the look on Ciroppolli's face as the convict prepared to kill him.
He remembered his fear, his regret, and what he thought had been his final prayer, to ask God to take care of his family.
And then he remembered Ciroppolli's words.
Your faith has saved you.
Your faith has saved you.
Jim lay on the dirt there in that old barn shaking as hard as he'd ever shaken in his life, and not just from the cold air.
Oh, my God. Ciroppolli didn't pull the trigger.
When Pete went back inside the house, he found it quieter than it had been since he'd arrived. A quick glance around the living room showed that the entire family, except for Jimmy and Mrs. Smithson, sat in silence in various places around the room.
Jean lifted her head from her father's shoulder. "Pete, any news?" she asked.
"Not really," Pete said with a shake of his head. "Where's Jimmy?"
"Asleep," Russell said quietly. "Phil and I finally wore the little tiger out."
"You've been wonderful," Jean sighed gratefully. "He still has no idea anything's wrong."
"It's gonna stay that way, too," Mr. Smithson said with determination. He sat with his arm draped protectively around his daughter's shoulders. "There's no need for him to worry."
"I do have some information," Pete told them. He repeated Gidley's report and the news Woods had brought. When he finished, the somber silence deepened. Everyone avoided looking at each other.
"Those men are animals," Jane seethed, breaking the silence. "I just don't understand why people do things like this!"
"Desperate men do desperate things," Pete said quietly. "They develop their own kind of twisted logic. Things they do make sense to them, but...." he trailed off, not stating the obvious.
"Come sit down, Pete," Jean scooted over closer to her father and patted the empty spot on the sofa. "You've been up on your feet too much."
"I probably should," Pete agreed. Before he could sit, however, a quiet knock sounded at the door.
Everyone froze as they stared at the door. The fear in the room became palpable.
Pete found his own heart had taken up residence in his throat. "I'll get it," he managed to stammer out. He opened the door and Gidley stood there, a frown on his face.
"No news," he said quickly, glancing from Pete's anxious face to the others in the room. "Mrs. Reed, do you know someone named Thomas Warren?"
"Of course. That's our minister. Dr. Warren," Jean sat up. "Why?"
"Officer Stewart's got him stopped up the street. You never know what some of these reporters'll do to get in the house. I just wanted to make sure he was legit."
"Oh, he is!" Jean assured him. "He's the pastor at Covenant Christian."
"Do you want us to let him through, then?" Gidley asked.
"Please," Jean nodded. She sat up and ran fingers through her hair.
"Okay, I'll let Stewart know," Gidley backed out of the door and motioned to Stewart.
"Do you want us to leave?" Jane asked.
"No, please stay," Jean insisted. "I think we all need to hear what he has to say."
"I'd better bring in a couple of chairs from the dining room, and get your mother," Mr. Smithson said. He got up and disappeared into the adjacent room.
Pete stood in the open door until the minister parked his car. He wanted to be certain of the man's identity before he got close to the house. The clergyman started up the walk, carrying a casserole dish. Pete recognized Dr. Warren once he got a good look at him; he'd seen him on a few occasions when he'd gone with the Reeds to a couple of church-sponsored Easter egg hunts and a fall festival. Pete matched up the man with what he remembered: medium-height, slight build, salt-and-pepper black hair, early fifties. Yeah, that's him. Pete relaxed Maybe he can be some comfort to Jean.
"Hello," Dr. Warren greeted Pete when he reached the door. "You must be Pete Malloy. I'd shake your hand, but it's full of hot casserole dish right now."
"You remember my name?" Pete asked, startled.
"I remember your face, but I have to admit the television refreshed me as to your name." Dr. Warren's eyes crinkled as he smiled warmly at Pete. "Although how I could ever forget it escapes me; Jim talks about you all the time. How are you feeling, son?"
"I'm fine, sir," Pete assured him. He made a mental note to ask Jim just what he'd been saying to his minister about him. If I get the chance. Pete immediately rebuked his pessimism.
"I'm sure Jim will be pleased to know you weren't seriously injured, once this whole ordeal is over."
"Here, Dr. Warren, let me take that," Annie suddenly appeared at Pete's side and took the warm dish from the minister.
"Ah, thank you, my dear. Be careful, it's hot." Once relieved of the dish, Dr. Warren carefully shook Pete's hand.
"Come in," Pete offered, feeling a little like an interloper, acting as host in Jim's home. And he felt a little uneasy in the presence of clergy; why he didn't know. Maybe it reminds me too much of finality...a funeral.
"Hello, Thomas," Jean called to him. She stood and smiled tiredly. Pete could hear her forcing some life into her voice.
"Jean," Dr. Warren crossed the room and took her hand. "I'm sorry it took me so long to get here. Alice and I were out of town and hadn't heard the news about Jim until a couple of hours ago. And then she insisted on making something for you."
"Thank you," Jean said.
"I'm so very sorry about all of this," Dr. Warren said sincerely. He placed a hand on her back. "How are you holding up? You look a little pale. Still having that morning sickness?"
"I'm all right," Jean said, unconvincingly. "I have lots of help."
"I can see that," Dr. Warren smiled at the congregated family members.
"Let me introduce you," Jean said, a little of her natural hospitality coming to light. She started with Jim's sister and went around the room calling names. They all exchanged polite courtesies.
Pete continued to feel uncomfortable as he took a seat in one of the chairs Mr. Smithson brought in from the kitchen. Certainly he had no quarrel with Dr. Warren or any other minister, and comforting people in need he knew to be part and parcel of a minister's job. Why, then, did he feel so on edge? Maybe because we feel forced to face things we're not ready to face.
"Looks like the most important person's missing," Dr. Warren said with a smile when Jean had finished. "Where's little Jimmy?" The smile faded to concern. "Does he know what's happened?"
"No, he doesn't know about his daddy. Jimmy's napping. He's been having a wonderful time. His uncles have worn him out, playing ball with him, and keeping him busy."
"That's for the best right now," Dr. Warren nodded. "No need to frighten him with something he really can't understand."
All he would be able to understand is that the daddy he worships is in trouble. Pete couldn't stand the thoughts of his godson enduring the kind of pain losing his father would bring him. One of those things I don't wanna face. He forced his attention back to Dr. Warren.
"What's the latest information?" Dr. Warren asked. "I never know what to believe about what I hear on the television."
"Pete, would you please?" Jean asked. She finally sat back down, looking very weary, and Dr. Warren sat next to her, still holding her hand.
Pete nodded, though every part of him rebelled at having to relive even one moment of this nightmare of a day. He started at the beginning. As he talked, he had to fight the storm of emotion recalling the events unleashed. He'd pushed the chaotic feelings into hiding, but describing what had happened brought them all roaring back. Dr. Warren regarded him with genuine sympathy, and Pete found himself having to turn away from his concern. Pete paused to gather his wits before his voice betrayed him.
"I know this is hard for you," Dr. Warren commented quietly. "If you need a moment..."
"No," Pete shook his head, wishing this man would stop being so darned kind to him. Pete realized then the source of his discomfort. He feared this man would break down the wall he'd so carefully built to keep the pain at bay . To stay strong, he'd replaced fear and sorrow with anger. Anger at circumstances, anger at his own ineffectiveness, and maybe, despite his pleas to God for help, maybe a little anger at the Almighty, too, for allowing this to happen. He needed that anger; he wasn't ready to let it go. But already Pete felt this man chipping away at the hard edges. "No, that's okay." Pete continued with the story until he ran out of information.
Dr. Warren shook his head sadly. "I never have been able to understand why some men become so hardened; so evil. Or why good, caring, upright men like Jim have to suffer for it. As a spokesman for God, you'd think I'd have some answers, but I don't. God gave man free will. Unfortunately, many of us choose the wrong path. Why God places others of us in that path, I can't say. But God offers us hope with his promises, and with prayer." Dr. Warren turned to Jean. "Jean, I left Alice at home, calling the deacons and other church leaders. They'll call others. And they'll call even more people. By now, we should have quite a prayer chain going for Jim. God's people are praying for him, and for you. For all of you."
"Thank you," Jean whispered. She blinked back fresh tears.
"I count Jim as my friend, Jean, and I know how much my heart's breaking for him. But I can only imagine how difficult this is for you, " Dr. Warren said. "But God is loving and powerful. Lean on Him and rest in His love and power. Let Him sustain you. He'll walk with you every step of the way."
Jean nodded and dropped her head to hide her tears. She did not let go of her minister's hand.
Pete's own throat got tight, listening to the kind and comforting words from this man. He clenched his fists, fighting to stay detached from the sympathy. The pain from his hands helped him focus on his anger.
Dr. Warren continued. "When I was getting ready to drive over here, I was praying, trying to think of something to say to help get you through this. No matter what I tried to come up with, it just didn't seem sufficient. It all sounded dumb, even to me. Then I realized that God's already said it all and much better than I could. I kept thinking of times in the Bible when God's people were imprisoned, or in danger, and all the times God delivered them from what seemed a hopeless situation. I found several passages in the Bible that gave me some hope and peace. Let me share some with you and maybe it will help you, too." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, well-worn Bible.
The minister opened it to a place he had bookmarked. "This is from Psalm 91. I think that it's particularly appropriate now...
"'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; In Him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence."
Pete looked down at his feet, not daring to meet anyone's eyes. Deliver thee from the snare of the fowler...Jim sure needs deliverance, all right.
"And this verse, from Proverbs 11, 'The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.' Again from the Psalms, number 37, 'But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him." Dr. Warren paused."And that's what we need to do now....trust in Him."
Pete bit back a tired sigh. If it were only as easy as it sounds! How can I trust in the face of what I know? What I've seen in the past? It's too hard.
Dr. Warren closed his Bible. The only sound in the room was quiet crying. The women in the room had, without exception, become openly emotional. The men seemed touched, also, and though their reactions were more subdued -- a hard swallow, or a ducked head -- Pete could easily see their struggle to stay strong.
Pete struggled to keep his own protective wall in place. Why is it that words of comfort are almost always our undoing? Why is the kind deed the one that brings us to tears? Maybe if somebody yelled at me -- told me I was a jerk for letting Jim get snatched, I'd actually feel better.
"I know that at times like these, words are often empty and trite," Dr. Warren broke the tear-filled silence, "but God's promises never are. Claim those promises for Jim and trust in God to bring him home safely to you. Put your faith in God; He won't disappoint you. In fact, let's talk to Him now and ask Him to protect and watch over Jim. Let's pray."
As they all bowed their heads and Dr. Warren led them in a simple, heartfelt prayer, Pete found it hard to voice his own needs. He still wanted to be angry. He still needed the protective wall of stoicism. He still felt the guilt, deserved or not, of feeling responsible for the whole fiasco. He took a quiet, shuddering breath, silently breathed the only word that he could force himself to say, and hoped that God would understand.
It took several minutes for Jim to stop shaking. He lay on the ground for what seemed a small eternity, jumping at every noise, looking over his shoulder, staring into the shadows that seemed to move and jump with each racing heartbeat. What if they come back? They could get lost and come back. What if they come back? Having escaped what he thought was certain death once, he wasn't sure he had the courage to face it a second time.
Something skittered along the ground on the far side of the barn. Jim jerked his head toward the noise, straining to see. That could be him . . . it could be him. He yanked frantically at the handcuffs, thrashing and pulling in a panicked frenzy until he heard a chittering squeak and a chipmunk showed itself in the hazy outline of a broken window. He sagged back with a shuddering sigh and a gutful of recriminations. You're a trained police officer! Stop acting like a damn idiot and calm down! You can't think when you're panicked!
Jim made an effort to slow his breathing. He shut his eyes and thought of the most peaceful place he could think of and imagined himself there, holding Jean and Jimmy. He imagined he could hear Jean humming Jimmy to sleep.
The tactic worked. Finally, the overpowering, panicked reaction slowed, then stopped, and Jim allowed himself to relax. He still shivered from the cold, but an odd peace settled over him, and after a few deep breaths, he managed to push the fear and the accompanying irrational thoughts away and take stock of his situation.
Okay. That's better. Now. Think like a cop. Nobody's gonna find you here for a long time. If you want to get outta here, you're gonna have to help yourself.
A pang of guilt sliced through him at that thought. Ever since this whole ordeal had started, he'd asked for God's help. And He'd given it. God had seen fit to spare him so far, though Jim wasn't exactly sure how or why. Ciroppolli's words still rattled around in his head:
Your faith has saved you.
Jim wondered exactly what Ciroppolli had meant by that. The words were simple enough, but Ciroppolli was such a headcase, Jim wondered if they held a more twisted meaning. If not, what had caused Ciroppolli's change of heart? My faith isn't spectacular. I spent most of my time makin' Ciroppolli mad. I don't understand what changed his mind. Why am I still here?
Thinking about it made his head hurt worse. He'd just have to sort it all out later. Right now, he had to worry about survival. Jim knew he was still in a mess and he hoped that God wouldn't abandon him now. Jim took a moment to sincerely express his gratitude. God, thank you for letting me live. And for helping me. Now please, help get me home to my family! Somebody told me once that God helps those who help themselves. So I'm gonna help myself. Give me a clear mind to think. Okay, think.
First thing, get loose.
Jim flexed his arms and pulled the handcuff chain against the wooden post. His right wrist reminded him of its bruised condition with a dull ache and he felt something scratch against his palm. That's when he remembered the picture. The picture. I'm still holding the picture of Jean and Jimmy. He folded the fingers of his right hand over and felt the glossy texture of the picture. He didn't have to see it with his eyes to get the image fully set in his mind. He'd memorized every detail of that picture long before this day. He closed his eyes and saw Jean's long, shining hair, curling around her shoulders, dimmed only by her smile. How sexy she looked in that blue dress. Even holding his son, who smiled his own cherubic smile, she at once looked both the epitome of motherhood and the alluring object of his desire. He clutched the picture tight. Jean, honey, hold on, baby. I'm gonna get outta here!
"Thank you for coming by," Pete said to Dr. Warren as he walked with him to the front porch. "I know it meant a lot to Jean. She needs all the encouragement she can get right now." He paused. "We all do."
"I'm very concerned about her physical condition," Dr. Warren said, his voice pitched only for Pete's ears. "She seems so weak."
"She's pretty sick," Pete agreed. "But her mother's keeping a close eye on her."
"I'm glad to see her family and friends rally around her. That's important." Dr. Warren's face sadden a bit. "It's something Jim would want. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how much Jim loves his family."
Pete nodded. As the day wore on, and especially after the emotional visit from the minister, he found it harder and harder to talk about Jim without choking up. And he couldn't afford to give in to that.
"Is there anything concrete I can do for Jim?" Dr. Warren asked. "Do you need men for the search? I can have twenty men ready to go in a half-hour."
"Thanks, but not right now," Pete said, touched by the offer. "We can't involve civilians in a search until we know more about the situation. Those men are armed and dangerous. We can't put civilians in harm's way."
"I understand. But if the situation changes, the offer stands."
"I'll remember that." Pete's stomach turned over. If the situation changes, it probably means Jim's dead.
"I'll keep in touch periodically," Dr. Warren said, "But if anything changes in the meantime, please have someone call me. Jean has my home phone if it's after hours."
"We will," Pete promised.
"And I'll keep praying. For Jim. For Jean. For all of you." Dr. Warren shook Pete's hand again.
"You do that, because, quite honestly, it's getting hard to find the words," Pete admitted.
Dr. Warren placed a hand on Pete's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "That's the great thing about God. When we can't find the words, He still knows the desires of our heart. Hang in there, son. God knows what you need."
I'm glad somebody does, Pete thought sadly, as he watched the minster leave. I'm glad somebody does.
Jim licked at his lips and swallowed hard a couple of times, trying to work moisture back into his parched throat. Between his extreme exertions, gulping in chilly, dry air, and breathing in the dust from the ancient barn, his mouth felt like it was coated with sand. He supposed he'd just have to add being thirsty to the long list of other physical complaints that he'd have to ignore until he worked himself free. Every board in this place is rotten. I should be able to crack this pole if I try hard enough. Jim looked upward to see what the beam supported, blinking to try and clear his blurred, double vision. Hayloft. It looks rotten too. I'm liable to pull the whole thing down on my head. But what's one more knot on my head today? I've already got two and the headache to prove it. He looked further and was gratified to see two other support poles, in addition to his. Maybe it won't fall on me, after all.
Jim shifted from his side to an upright to improve his leverage. He grunted. Ciroppolli probably broke a rib when he kicked me. Doing his best to ignore the pain, he scooted his hips so that he sat flush against the wooden support.
Okay, here goes.
Jim pulled with both his arms against the pole, using the handcuff chain to brace against the wood. He used a slow, steady force, leaning his body forward as far as he could. The metal of the handcuffs bit into his skin and his wrists screamed in protest against the harsh treatment, but Jim set his jaw and kept pulling. He pulled until the pain became so intense that he yelled out loud in the empty barn until his dry throat went hoarse. Sweat popped out on his brow, and he strained his tired muscles to their limit.
The pole held firm.
After several more fruitless minutes of straining, Jim sagged against the pole, took a few painful deep breaths and changed tactics. Instead of a slow, steady pressure, he began to yank with as much force as he could against the pole. He jerked against the stubborn wood, hoping to hear a crack that would indicate his efforts had paid off. Jim even arched his back and slammed backwards into the pole so hard that it rattled his head. But that hurt him so badly that his vision grayed around the edges and he came close to passing out.
And still the pole refused to break.
Wouldn't you know he cuffed me to the only decent piece of lumber in the joint? He probably tested them all first.
What do I do now?
The answer was ridiculously simple. Call for help.
No...there's nobody to hear me. Surely no sane person lived out in the forest. What if hikers are out? What if the authorities are tracking? But he felt stupid, even thinking of yelling for help.
Which would you rather be, stupid or dead?
He started yelling. He yelled until he thought his vocal chords would explode from the strain. He yelled until his voice rasped and thirst forced him to stop.
You idiot. A fat lotta good that did. Nobody's anywhere near. It was a waste of time.
Jim closed his eyes and rested against the pole, trying to gather some energy. Wracked with pain, covered in cold sweat, and exhausted, he felt himself sliding toward the release of sleep. No! Jim forced his eyes open and sat up. If I can't yell for help, if I can't break this damned pole, maybe I can use the chain of the handcuffs to saw into it! Keep going...keep going.
He kept going.
Pete stood at the back door of Jim's home, watching his godson play in the backyard. The boy had awakened from his brief nap shortly after Dr. Warren had left, had eaten a quick snack, and immediately coerced his uncles into resuming their interrupted ball game.
He's really growing up. He's getting a good arm, too. I can see Jim's influence already.
Pete shifted his gaze from his godson to the sky. Clouds had replaced the bright sun of early afternoon, and a chill breeze stirred the trees. It had been unseasonably cool all day, and now it looked like rain. Nothing like a little rain to complicate things even further. He rubbed absently at his head. The ferocious pounding pain had disappeared, thanks to that second dose of aspirin, but it left in its wake a dull ache that had settled somewhere behind his eyes. Pete's vision had all but cleared, though he still had to squint against the light.
"He's really something, isn't he? My grandson."
Pete turned to Mrs. Smithson, who sat at the kitchen table peeling potatoes. She'd busied herself doing something in the kitchen for most of the long afternoon
"Yes, ma'am, he's something else," Pete agreed readily. "Quite a boy."
"He's going to be tall, like his father," Mrs. Smithson attacked the potato skin with fervor. "Amazing how much he looks like Jim already. Even has some of his mannerisms," she said, her voice filled with nervous energy. "Ever notice how Jim scratches the side of his nose when he's nervous? Jimmy's starting to do the same thing, especially when he's trying to fib his way out of trouble."
Pete couldn't help but smile. Nose scratching was one of Jim's most telling mannerisms. He hadn't noticed Jimmy doing it, but he'd be sure to keep an eye out for the habit in the future.
"Pete, why don't we hear anything?" Mrs. Smithson dropped the knife and potato. "Why can't they find him?"
I've been asking the same question over and over. I don't get an answer. "I don't know," he said honestly. "I know they're doing all they can. They've got choppers up and men searching; the news has saturated the airwaves with descriptions and pictures. We just have to be patient." He winced inwardly at the hypocrisy of his words. I'm ready to climb the walls, and here I am telling her to be patient.
"For how long? It's been hours...the strain..." Mrs. Smithson picked up her potato again. "It's just too much."
Don't I know it. Pete patted her shoulder. "I know. We just have to hang on."
"Pete!" Annie appeared in the doorway, a terrified look on her face.
"What's the matter?" Pete asked anxiously.
"Sergeant MacDonald just pulled up outside."
"Mac's here?" Oh, God...it's gotta be bad news if he's come in person.
"Yes!" Annie moved aside as Pete walked past her into the living room. Mrs. Smithson followed him closely.
Jean stood at the window, staring at Mac's approach, her arms wrapped around her midsection as if she were physically holding herself together. "Oh, Pete, it's bad news, I just know it," she whispered.
"We don't know that," Pete said, but deep down, he felt the same way. He moved to the door and opened it before Mac could knock.
Mac removed his hat and stepped inside. "How you feelin' Pete?" he asked, his voice strained and quiet.
"Mac, what's happened?" Pete ignored the question and cut straight to what everyone wanted to know.
"We haven't found Jim," Mac said. His gaze traveled around the room to each anxious face, lingered on Jean's a moment, then settled back to Pete. "But I do have news." He took a deep breath and clutched his hat tighter. "Ciroppolli and Graddock have been sighted, just northeast of Baker."
"Positive identification?" Pete asked immediately.
Mac nodded. "It was about an hour ago," he continued. "An attendant in a gas station didn't call it in until about fifteen minutes ago when he finally caught a radio broadcast. They've changed cars, apparently. They were driving a green, 1970 Chrysler LeBaron. They stopped for gas...and paid for it using one of Jim's credit cards."
Oh, no...Pete's heart sank. He kept his face carefully neutral, though his emotions boiled.
Jean made a little sobbing sound and put her hand over her mouth. Mr. Smithson moved to her side and draped his arm around her.
"San Bernadino authorities questioned the attendant thoroughly. Showed him pictures of Ciroppolli, Graddock, and Jim. He positively identified Ciroppolli as the driver of the car and the one who signed for the gas. He said Graddock was in the passenger side. He pumped the gas and washed the windows, so he got a good look in the car. Jim wasn't with them."
Pete bit his lip as he remembered how the duo had stuffed Tremont's body into the trunk of his own car. Oh, God, please, no....
"What do you think that means for Jim?" Jane asked, her voice trembling.
"I don't know," Mac said, hesitantly. "It could mean a lot of things."
"None of which are good!" Jean cried, tears spilling from her eyes. "You think he's dead, don't you?"
"Jean, I didn't say that...."
"You didn't have to! I can see it on your face! And on yours, Pete!" Jean sobbed accusingly.
"Jean, honey, nobody's giving up yet," Mr. Smithson said, with a look at Mac.
"He's not dead, do you hear me?" Jean insisted angrily. "He's not!"
"Jean, I promise you, we're still hoping for the best," Mac said, his voice as tired and pain-filled as Pete had ever heard it.
"Listen to me, all of you!" Jean pulled away from her father and took a step toward Mac. "Jim is alive! And he's out there, somewhere! You find him, Mac! You find him!" She put a hand over her unborn baby and closed her eyes. "Please, Mac...please find him." She dropped her head and began to sob. She swayed slightly in place and her knees buckled.
Mac, Pete, and Mr. Smithson all reached for her, but her father was closest. He caught her as she sank toward the floor, finally releasing the wracking sobs she'd fought so hard to suppress..
"Jean, honey," her mother called, hurrying to her side. "Hush, now. It'll be all right." She knelt down and wrapped her arms around her daughter.
"He's not dead, Mama, he's not," Jean choked between gasping sobs.
"Of course not, dear, of course not," Mrs. Smithson cooed, stroking Jean's hair. She looked up at her husband. "Dan, let's get her to bed."
Mr. Smithson didn't hesitate. He scooped Jean up in his arms and carried her to the back of the house. Mrs. Smithson and Annie followed.
"I don't know what to say," Mac shook his head as the sounds of Jean's crying quieted. "I wish I could say something with certainty, but I can't."
"You won't give up, will you, Sergeant?" Jane asked. She wiped tears of her own away.
"No, we won't," Mac said, firmly. "I know Jean doesn't believe me, but we're all betting that Jim's gonna be okay. We working as fast as we can."
"What's the next step, Mac?" Pete asked. Mac's news and Jean's distress had shaken him deeply. His need to do something was quickly turning to desperation. "If they were in Baker an hour ago, they're in Nevada by now. They're heading to Vegas, Mac. And they're leaving a trail a rookie could follow! Why use the gas card?"
"Who knows with those two? Confident, I guess...feeling invincible. I agree it was stupid, but it sure gave us a break. And it sure looks like they're heading to Las Vegas. Don't worry, Pete, we've talked to authorities there. They're on the alert and looking for them. Ciroppolli's ex-wife has been warned and removed to a safe house. They've set up a sting operation at her residence. If Ciroppolli goes to his ex-wife's house, he'll find special agents waiting on him."
"The operation's basically split into two parts now," Mac continued. "One is the search for Ciroppolli and Graddock, and the other is the search for Jim. I'm still coordinating the search for Jim, but San Bernadino's handling the search for the two convicts." Mac hedged a moment and fiddled with his hat again. "We're still communicating, of course, because when we find Ciroppolli and Graddock....they can tell us where Jim is."
Pete didn't want to consider the possibilities of it coming down to that. "Where'd they pick up the car, Mac? Maybe there's a clue there."
"The car is registered to Jack Woodson. He lives alone, way out in the woods in San Bernadino county, in a trailer. San Bernadino authorities are still trying to track him down. He's a truck driver, currently out on a haul. He doesn't even know his car's been ripped off yet. We figure that Ciroppolli and Graddock walked through the woods to his house and took the car. Now, when we put the timeline together from the time of the shooting until the sighting, it gives us a fairly good idea of the amount of territory that they were able to cover on foot. We've got some men backtracking from the trailer through the forest towards Powderly, and others moving in the opposite direction, from Powderly. It's a pretty good bet that somewhere in that area, we'll find where they dumped the black and white."
"That's a whole lot of ground to cover," Pete sighed.
"I know. We've got a lot of volunteers, though. And Walters has been told to tighten up his search pattern to that area. There's rain moving in, but he can stay up as long as it doesn't get too bad."
"What about dogs?" Pete asked.
"On stand-by," Mac said. "I took Jim's shirt out of his locker and gave it to the officer in charge of the canine unit, so they'll have a base scent to go on. But we're holding off on the dogs until we get the area narrowed down just a bit more. When we find the black and white, if Jim's not...." Mac stopped abruptly and glanced at Jim's sister, who still stood, listening intently to what he had to say. "If Jim's not in the immediate area, we'll call them in."
"What about working the dogs backwards from where Ciroppolli and Graddock stole the car? That makes sense, doesn't it?"
"On the surface, yes, and we thought of that. But we're not one hundred percent sure they stole the car from the residence. We have no witnesses and we can't get hold of the owner. They're not willing to commit the dogs until we know something certain. You know how it goes, Pete."
"Mac, let me get out there," Pete pleaded. "I'm better now. You need the help, you've got an area I can work. Give me an assignment."
"No, Pete," Mac said firmly. "It's being handled. You need to be here, for more reasons than just your health."
"Mac, I can't do anything here but sit and wait and worry. I'm up to it, Mac, I swear!"
"Absolutely not, Pete. I can't have you collapsing on me out there. I've got enough to worry about. No arguments," he held up his hand to cut off yet another entreaty from Pete. "And I've got to get back to the command post and get an update. Take care of things here, Pete. I'll be in touch." With that, Mac nodded to Jane, put his hat back on and left.
Jim had no idea how long he raked his hands back and forth, back and forth across the pole. Time had lost meaning for him as he worked against pain and fatigue to make a dent in the beam. He sawed against the wood, stretching his hands taut against the handcuff chain, hoping the dull metal would at least chew weakness into the beam to crack it. After what seemed like forever, he finally had to stop to rest. He tried to use his hand to feel if he'd made any progress, but he could barely feel his hands, let alone any indentation in the wood.
Jim leaned back against the pole and tried to find some way to get comfortable. He flexed his bare feet and pulled his knees up to force some circulation back into his legs. He wiggled his fingers to coax blood back into his hands. Every movement caused pain somewhere, but his extremities already felt cold and numb; he couldn't afford to lose his ability to move them. His exertions had warmed him enough to break him into a sweat, but now that Jim had stopped, the cool breeze filtering down from the roof and through the rotten walls of the old barn sliced through him. He shivered.
It's gotten so dark. It must be getting late. Jim looked up and decided that it might have turned cloudy outside. The forest had been very dark to begin with, but at least some sunlight filtered through the trees. Now he saw no evidence of any sunlight, and the air had taken on a dampness that reminded him of the onset of evening. I wonder just how long I've been out here. Don't know how long I was unconscious. Surely somebody's lookin' for me by now. Mac'll have set up a command post, people are searching....
The thoughts of his comrades looking for him simultaneously pleased and horrified him. From personal experience he knew the frustration, worry, and exhaustion that accompanied a search for a missing officer. And with Pete dead...
Jim had been so preoccupied he'd pushed thoughts of his slain partner out of his mind. He'd been fighting so hard for his own life, he'd not had time to grieve for the loss of his partner...his friend. A replay of the bullet slicing through Pete's head insinuated itself in his mind and he reluctantly relived it, one horrifying second at a time. It ended the same way in the replay as it had in real time -- with Pete lying dead somewhere on the hillside off Mulholland Drive.
Pete. Rest in peace, partner. I'm sorry I didn't see it coming.
Jim felt sorrow welling up in his chest. Tears stung his eyes, and unlike earlier, he let himself give in to the grief from the loss of his friend. It would never be the same again, crawling into a black and white without Pete at his side. Over the past five years Pete had been mentor, protector, friend, big brother, and much more. I don't know if I can do it without him. And Jimmy...how do you tell a four-year-old that his Uncle Pete won't be playing ball with him anymore? Thinking of Jimmy and Jean pushed his sorrow to a deeper level. Jean...what she must be going through now. Pete's dead, I'm missing. Just one more crisis my job is putting her through. God, just help her! Somehow let her know I'm alive. Help me get outta here! Jim took a deep, painful breath and pushed the thoughts of Pete and his family out of his mind.
No time to rest.
Jim braced himself, stretched his hands apart, and started sawing at the wood again.
After Mac left, and Jane went outside to whisper the latest news to her husband and brother-in-law, Pete sat on the couch, head in his hands, trying to sort out the jumble of thoughts spinning through his mind. Mac's news had all but quenched that spark of hope he had been trying to keep burning. Deep down inside, he still wanted to stubbornly hold to the belief that Jim might still be alive, but the evidence otherwise had become overwhelming. The practical side of him kept telling the hopeful side to face the facts. But the hopeful side kept clinging to one of the verses Dr. Warren had read -- The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead. Pete sighed. Please let it be true.
"Pete," Dan Smithson sat down beside him, and Pete sat upright, startled. He hadn't even heard him come back into the room.
"I'm sorry," Mr. Smithson apologized. "I didn't mean to startle you."
Pete looked at Jim's father-in-law and saw that his eyes were red and watery. He looked like he'd been punched in the gut. "That's all right, sir. How's Jean?"
Mr. Smithson shook his head. "Heartbroken," he whispered, sounding completely heartbroken himself. "Marge is calming her down."
"Maybe you should call her doctor and have him send her a sedative," Pete suggested. "Just so she can rest."
"She refuses to take anything, because of the baby. You know...drug side effects. But if she can't relax..." Mr. Smithson looked straight into Pete's eyes. "Pete, I need you to be honest with me. I mean brutally honest."
"All right," Pete agreed, his heart sinking as he guessed the question that was coming.
"What are the chances that Jim's still alive? Answer me as a police officer, not as a friend."
I can't say it. I just can't say it. "I don't know, Dan."
"Pete, please. I know it's hard for you, but I need your honesty. Marge and I....we never had a son, so Jim and Russell...they are our sons. And Jim...he's...well, there's just something special about Jim. I love him as much as if he were my own flesh and blood. So does Margie." Mr. Smithson stopped and rubbed his hand over his eyes.
"I understand." Pete said.
"If we're going to lose him...I have to prepare myself. Somebody's going to have to hold Jean and Marge together...and Jimmy...." Mr. Smithson had to stop and take a deep breath. "So I need you to tell me, Pete, what do you think his chances are?"
Pete took a deep breath of his own. "Not very good," he managed to say. I feel like a traitor. Saying it out loud...what if it makes it come true?
"I didn't think so. You think they killed Jim and dumped him somewhere?"
"I honestly don't know, Dan."
"But given their history, it's likely."
Pete sighed. This conversation was entirely too painful. "Likely, yes. We know they've already killed two people and one was a police officer. I doubt they'd have any qualms about killing one more. And a hostage, especially a trained police officer, would just slow them down. It'd be to their advantage to get rid of Jim. And I kinda doubt they'd just let him out on the side of the road somewhere." Pete's voice turned bitter, as deeply buried anger and grief bubbled to the surface.
"How are we ever going to find him?" Mr. Smithson asked brokenly. "There's so much ground to cover. He could be anywhere."
"My guess is, you find the black and white, you find Jim," Pete said, though it tore his heart out to do so. "If I were Ciroppolli and Graddock, that's where I'd have left him."
Mr. Smithson nodded. "Makes sense." He sat silently for a moment, then took a deep breath and put a hand on Pete's shoulder. "Thanks, Pete. I know that wasn't easy, but that's what I needed to hear."
"Dan, I'm still not willing to give up hope," Pete told him, trying to bolster his own spirits as much as anything. "With the criminal mind, you never know what they're thinking. And Jim, well, he's talked his way out of some pretty tight spots before. He thinks fast on his feet. Just maybe he did it again."
"I sure hope so, Pete. I sure hope so."
One hundred more times. Come on, Jim, just one hundred more times. Then you can rest. One, two, three, four....think of your family....five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten....just ninety more. Come on, dig deep. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen....don't wimp out. Come on, keep sawing. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty....eighty more, come on. Jimmy needs you....twenty-one, twenty-two....so does your unborn baby....twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five....I bet it's a girl, she'll look just like Jean....twenty-six, twenty-seven....you want to hold your wife again, don't want to leave her alone with two kids....twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty. That's it, just seventy more. Come on, so what if it hurts? When you get outta here, Jean'll kiss you and all the pain'll disappear. Thirty-one, thirty-two....
"Mommmiiiieeee! I'm hunggggwwwy!" Jimmy burst through the kitchen door, sweaty, dirty, and still full of energy. "Mommmiiieeee!"
"Ssssh, Jimmy, mommy's resting." Jane intercepted her nephew in the kitchen before he could run into the main area of the house. She'd taken Mrs. Smithson's place in the kitchen, trying to work off some nervousness.
"Auntie Jane, I hungwy and fiwsty," Jimmy complained.
"I'll just bet you are," Jane took off his jacket and Dodger cap and lay it on the end of the counter. "But you have to clean up before you eat."
"Okay!" He started to run into the living room, but Jane snagged him by the shoulder.
"Walk in the house, young man," she scolded with a smile. "You know mommy and daddy don't let you run in the house. And be quiet. Mommy is trying to sleep."
"Okay, Auntie Jane," Jimmy whispered. "I be quiet." He looked up at his aunt. "Is daddy home?"
"No, baby, he's not home yet," Jane said.
"Is he comin' home for dinnew?"
"No, honey, he's still working. Now, go wash up and when you come back, I'll feed you."
Jimmy's sunny disposition suddenly turned sour. "Don't wanna eat 'til daddy comes home," he announced with a pout.
"Sweetie, he might not be home until after your bedtime," Jane explained patiently.
"Evewybody hewe but daddy," Jimmy complained. "I want daddy to come home."
"I know you do, Jimmy, but he can't right now." Jane found herself having to blink back tears. "You know he has to work extra sometimes."
"Unca Pete not wowking. Daddy and Unca Pete wowk togethuh." Jimmy pointed out, employing a child's logic.
"Uncle Pete hurt his head today, remember?"
"Daddy's looking fow the bad men that did that," Jimmy remembered.
"That's right," Jane agreed, relieved that Jimmy seemed to accept that. "We don't want the bad men to get away."
"No," Jimmy shook his head solemnly.
"Now, you go wash your face and hands and then you can have something to eat."
"Okay. And then I'm gonna dwaw a pictuwe fow daddy. I dwaw him catching the bad men." Jimmy flashed a miniature version of Jim's smile, then ran from the room.
Jane watched him go, then leaned heavily against the counter, emotionally drained just from that small encounter. How much longer can we hide this from him? Oh, Lord, please bring my brother home, alive! Please!
Ninety-seven....ninety-eight....ninety-nine....one hundred! See, you did it!
Jim dropped his hands and rested against the pole. He'd repeated the one hundred-saw ritual five times, and his arms, already half-numb from lack of circulation, now felt like rubber. He'd rubbed his palms and wrists raw and he felt like he'd been rubbing on a cactus, so many splinters had punctured his hands. The moisture that ran under the handcuffs he knew was too warm to be all perspiration.
Jim licked his cracked and dry lips. A thimble full of water would be worth a year's salary. He tried to work up some spit to moisten his mouth, but it remained as dry as the Mojave.
All this work's makin' me sweat. I'm losing moisture.
But it would be worth it when he freed himself. He might have to crawl out on his belly, but if he could just get away from this pole, he'd sure do it.
What little light he'd had in the barn had now disappeared, and the darkness settled heavily around him in a blanket of even cooler air. Night sounds from the forest filtered in. Songs of crickets, cicadas, and occasional unidentified birds had become his only comfort. Jim figured that the sun had set, and even though he dreaded the darkness, at least it gave him an idea of the time. He arbitrarily decided it was about 6 p.m.
Six o'clock. Any other day I'd be home, eating one of Jean's delicious dinners. Playing with my son...sitting in my recliner getting ready to watch the ballgame. Jean's been so sick, I was gonna bring dinner home tonight. I wonder what they're doing now....God, I hope she's got her mother and dad there.
An unusual screeching sound split the near-silence of the forest, and his heart raced in response. What on earth was that? He wondered nervously if any bears or cougars inhabited this area of California. I'd be a tasty morsel, all tied up and ready for eating. He sat very still, listening, but after several minutes the sound did not repeat, so he pushed the morbid thought of becoming some predator's dinner out of his head.
A quick flash of light suddenly pierced the darkness around him. Seconds later, the low rumble of thunder sounded a foreboding accompaniment.
He looked up at the gaping hole in the roof almost directly over his head. Oh, no, not a storm....not a storm.
And then he felt the first cold raindrops fall on his bare legs.
"Unca Pete, see what I dwawed for daddy?" Jimmy ran into the living room and proudly held up a piece of paper on which he'd drawn several colorful stick figures.
"Well, let's see," Pete reached out and took the paper from Jimmy. Fortunately, his vision had returned to normal and he didn't have any trouble seeing the drawing. Unfortunately, interpreting it proved more difficult. "This is really good, Jimmy."
"Fanks," Jimmy grinned. He crawled up into Pete's lap and cuddled up against his godfather.
Few things in the world made Pete feel as content as when he held his godson in his arms. Maybe, for just a moment, he could escape the maelstrom of emotions swirling in the Reed home. Just for a moment, it could be any other evening spent at the Reed's.
"You fink daddy will like it?" Jimmy asked.
"He'll love it," Pete assured him. Pete looked over Jimmy's head to where Jean sat on the couch, silent and withdrawn, but, for the moment, calm. Seeing her shattered the illusion of normalcy. When she'd emerged from the bedroom about an hour after Mac's visit, she'd pulled herself together, but her eyes held the haunted, hollow look of a person gone completely numb. Pete had seen the look countless times in his years of police work, sometimes in the eyes of officers' wives as they awaited word on their injured spouse, or sometimes in the eyes of a victim, trying to cope with a devastating loss.
It crushed Pete to see it in Jean's eyes. If Jim saw her like this...it'd break his heart.
As if reading his thoughts, Jean turned towards him and managed a wan smile. It never reached her eyes.
"Unca Pete, will you hep me wite 'daddy' on the papuh?" Jimmy asked.
"Okay," Jimmy wiggled out of Pete's lap and ran for his box of crayons. He returned quickly. "Mommmiieeee! What coloh do I use? What's daddy's favwite coloh?"
"Blue," Jean replied immediately. She sounded so sad Pete couldn't believe Jimmy didn't notice.
"Mine, too," Jimmy beamed. He crawled back up into Pete's lap. "See, I dwew daddy in blue," the little boy pointed. "This is daddy, and these are the bad men he caughted. Oh, and this one is you. See I put a boo-boo on youh head."
"I see," Pete whispered. He chanced a look over at Jean, but she'd averted her eyes.
"You hold my hand, Unca Pete, and hep me wite 'daddy.'" Jimmy clutched the blue crayon in his hand and poised it on top of the paper.
"Okay, sport." Pete wrapped his big hand around Jimmy's tiny one, and guided him to scrawl 'daddy' on the paper.
About halfway through the exercise, Pete's vision began to blur again. But this time, it had nothing to do with his concussion.
The cold rain fell harder. It didn't take long for Jim to become thoroughly wet. Cold rain trickled down his face and back. He opened his mouth and let some of the cool liquid run into his dry throat. It helped relieve some of his thirst, but at a price. With the rain came the wind, and now that he had become soaking wet, a deep chill followed.
I'm in trouble. I'm really in trouble. I've gotta keep moving somehow.
Jim jiggled his legs and bounced them up and down. He started his vigorous sawing motion again. Despite this activity, his teeth chattered.
Gotta stay warm enough to stay awake. Jim clutched the picture of his wife and child even harder. He had not relinquished his hold on it since it had been placed in his hand. It reminded him of just how hard he had to fight to survive.
And he didn't plan on giving up now.
As the long day turned into evening, exhaustion brought on by nerves stretched beyond the breaking point started to settle over everyone at the Reed home. Jimmy had been put to bed, though not without protest and tears that his daddy had not yet come home, and now they all settled in the den to keep an eye on the news. Although the phone had rung off and on most of the day into the evening, never failing to cause their hearts to lurch, for the last hour or so it had been quiet. When the phone suddenly shrilled at nine o'clock, it startled everyone.
Russell, who had been handling phone duties most of the day, grabbed it on the second ring. After greeting the caller, he handed the phone off to Pete, who had been almost dozing in Jim's recliner, as exhausted as the rest of the family after the endless hours of waiting. "It's MacDonald."
"Oh, thanks," Pete hauled himself out of the chair with an effort, thinking brief, envious thoughts of Jimmy asleep in his bed and oblivious to the strain. He rubbed his face and took the receiver. "What's happening, Mac?"
"Pete, how you feeling?" Mac asked.
"Much better. Headache's about gone. What's the latest?"
"I wish I had some positive news for you, but there's really no change," Mac's voice sounded tired. "Conditions in the search area have deteriorated pretty rapidly. There's a steady light rain, and low cloud cover. For safety's sake, we've sent Air Ten back to the hangar. It was getting too risky even for IFR."
Pete blew out a breath. "I understand, Mac."
"We still have ground units out, but we've come up blank. We're just about to end the Mulholland search; we've covered all that area to our satisfaction."
"My gut tells me that's the right thing to do," Pete chose his words carefully, fully aware that the family listened intently to his words.
"Yeah. And when we close that search down, we're moving the command post to the sheriff's substation at Powderly. I'm gonna stick around 'til after PM watch when we'll get some fresh volunteers, then I'm gonna turn it over to Sergeant Delacroix. I'm gonna go home and grab a few hours of sleep, but I'll be back at it early tomorrow. If anything happens during the night, Delacroix will contact me and I'll get in touch with you. Are you staying there or going home?"
"I'm not sure yet, Mac, but probably staying put. Tomorrow, if we're still looking, I'm going out there no matter what."
"I figured you'd say that, but before I put you on any search team, you're gonna run by County and get checked out first." Mac insisted.
"Mac, we'll talk about it tomorrow," Pete growled quietly. "Any progress in locating Ciroppolli and Graddock?"
"Yes and no. Nevada authorities found the stolen LeBaron abandoned right in the middle of a residential area in a little place called Blue Diamond. It was just parked on the side of the road out in plain sight. They've really intensified the search in that area. But so far, no luck. And don't worry -- Jim wasn't in the trunk."
"So I gathered. I don't suppose there were any relevant clues in it, either?" Pete asked.
"They're going over it with a fine-toothed comb," Mac told him, "but so far, nothing. San Bernadino's contacted the FBI. They'll probably come in on the search tomorrow if they don't turn 'em tonight."
"I wondered when that would happen."
"Finding Ciroppolli and Graddock may be our only link to finding Jim," Mac said solemnly.
"I know," Pete agreed. "I know."
"I know you probably can't talk, but how's Jean doing? Any better?"
"Marginally," Pete hedged. "Hanging in there."
"That's about all we can hope for at this point. Get some rest, Pete. If anything breaks, I'll let you know."
"Do my best, Mac. I'll check in with you in the morning. 'Night."
"I can't see me lovin' nobody but you, for all my life....When you're with me, baby, the skies will be blue, for all my life.... Me and you, and you and me.... No matter how they toss the dice, it had to be, the only one for me is you, and you for me...so happy togeth---er!" Jim croaked his way through his sixth rendition of Happy Together by the Turtles.
In an attempt to stay awake and keep warm, Jim decided to sing. He'd already exhausted his repertoire of Elvis and Beach Boys tunes, sung every Beatles number he could remember and thrown in some Chuck Berry and the Monkees for variety. Now he had started on the Turtles. Singing Happy Together made him feel closer to his wife. It had been "their" song from the first time they'd heard it.
Unfortunately, it didn't make him feel any warmer, and his voice had deteriorated from a passable baritone to more of a toneless rasp. Jim's teeth chattered a staccato accompaniment to his singing, and his voice trembled with each note.
"I can't see me...." Jim stopped to cough, hissed at the resulting ache in his side and back, then rasped, "singing any longer." He sagged against the pole to rest. His waterlogged underclothes stuck to his body, providing no warmth at all. Even though Jim jiggled every limb he could, kept sawing at the pole with his handcuffs, and moved his upper body back and forth as much as pain would allow, his shivering became more violent.
I gotta get up. I can't go to sleep. I've gotta move. Jim moved his bound arms up and down the pole experimentally, and determined that he had enough space to stand up. If I stand up, I can stay awake longer.
The rain continued to fall through the gaping holes in the rotten ceiling of the old barn. The intensity of the rain waxed and waned, but it had not stopped for what seemed like hours. Even when the precipitation slowed to a drizzle, the wind that whistled through the ancient structure made it feel like ice water falling on his body. Jim leaned his head back and opened his mouth to wet it. The rain had at least partially alleviated the worst of his thirst, but Jim wondered if he wouldn't be better off a little thirsty than freezing cold .
Jim bent his knee and pulled his good left foot up flat on the dirty floor. He'd have to use it to push himself up. One glance at his swollen and purple right ankle told him he'd never be able to depend on it for any strength. Okay, what's a good song for doing something that's gonna hurt like hell? It wasn't a song that popped into his head, but rather, a line from one of little Jimmy's books, The Little Engine That Could. "I think I can, I think I can...." Jim laughed out loud. "God, I'm getting punchy. No, I'm way beyond punchy." Jim moved his arms up on the pole, braced his back and shoved with his left leg. He raised up about a foot off the floor.
Every stiff and aching muscle in his body protested the extra strain. A muscle in his left thigh knotted up and, with a painful moan, Jim slid down the pole and stretched it out, trying to keep it from cramping completely. He couldn't imagine many things more painful than having a charlie horse in his leg and being unable to walk it out. Muscles are so cold...they're gonna keep cramping. He started bouncing his legs up and down harder, trying to work more circulation into them. The Beatles served as his inspiration. He swallowed once and started to sing again: "Well, shake it up, baby...shake it up baby...twist and shout...twist and shout..."
"Jean hasn't come back inside yet?" Mr. Smithson asked, walking back into the den from the guest bedroom.
His voice startled Pete, who had been nearly asleep in Jim's recliner. Pete sat up, trying to appear alert. He had an irrational guilty feeling for relaxing while Jim....
"Not yet, Dad," Annie answered sleepily. She'd curled up against her husband in the corner of the den sofa and had almost drifted off to sleep herself.
"It's starting to rain," Mr. Smithson said with a frown.
"She needs some time alone," Annie said.
After Pete had ended his phone call with Mac and he'd updated the family on the latest information, Jean had left the den, checked on Jimmy, then announced she was going out back and that she wanted to be alone.
That had been nearly an hour ago.
"She doesn't need to get sick, though. It's chilly and damp out."
"I'll go get her," Annie said.
"Let me," Pete offered. "I need to get up anyway." And I need some time alone with Jean. I really haven't talked with her all day. It's just been too crazy.
"Thanks," Mr. Smithson said, then left to go back to the guest bedroom.
Pete got out of the chair, stretched, then walked to the kitchen. He could barely see Jean through the open back door, sitting at the picnic table on the patio, her head in her hands. She hadn't turned on the patio lights, and with no moonlight to illuminate the evening, she sat in near total darkness. Only the light from the kitchen offered enough brightness to make out her silhouette. Pete felt a moment's guilt for intruding on her solitude. She really needs this time. But Mr. Smithson's right...she's sick enough without getting chilled.
Pete pushed the screen door open and walked out into the chilly night. Tiny raindrops fell on his face and arms; barely enough moisture to tickle the skin with wetness.
"Jean?" He slid onto the bench beside her and draped his right arm around her shoulders. The light misting rain had already made her blouse damp.
Jean didn't say anything, but leaned her head against Pete's shoulder and let the weight of her body rest against him.
Pete felt her shivering, and he tightened his grip around her slight shoulders. She's so little. She seems so frail. She's about had it. "Jean, I know you need some time to yourself, but you should come in. It's raining, and cold. You don't want to catch a chill."
"He's cold," she whispered quietly.
"Jim. Wherever he is, he's cold. They took his shirt...and it's chilly." Jean made a sound somewhere between a sob and a chuckle. "You know Jim. If it drops below 70 degrees, he starts whining and puts on a jacket."
Pete had to agree. Jim always was first to go for his field jacket and the gloves. For an active guy, he certainly seemed cold-natured. "Yeah," he said. "Jim likes it about a constant 75 degrees."
"He keeps threatening to move to San Diego," Jean said. "But he'd never do that. He loves this city too much. It's like his mission field or something." She laughed bitterly. "Jim's such a crusader. He always has been. He thinks he can just charge in and solve the world's problems all by himself. I tell him that his heart's bigger than his brain most of the time."
It took Pete a minute to get past the tightness in his throat to reply. "Jim feels things very deeply," he said.
"It kills him, you know," Jean went on. Pete couldn't believe how calm she sounded. "The job, I mean. He lets it get to him too much. But I don't have to tell you that."
I've just been preaching to him about it for five years. And he still lets it get to him. He's just better at hiding it now. "No, you don't."
"I try so hard to understand, Pete. Really I do. And I thought, after Jim took that undercover narco assignment and you got shot, and he won the Medal of Valor, that I'd finally made peace with the job and how much it means to him. But then this happens...and I can't justify it, Pete. I can't."
Pete wiped rain from his face. He thought of Judy's parting words to him earlier in the afternoon: I don't know if I can live like this, Pete. Essentially, Jean was echoing the same sentiment. He groped for words, but he couldn't find any that seemed to fit. What could he say? Once Jim had asked him if he hadn't married because of the dangers of the job. Pete had told him no, on that night so long ago, but now he had to admit that it had become a consideration. Could Judy deal with being a cop's wife? Did he want to ask her to? Or any woman?
"It's not fair, Pete," Jean went on, saving Pete from having to say anything. Except for her slight shivering, she seemed oblivious to the rain dripping off her face and hair. "He's just trying to help people...he's such a good man...it's just not fair." Her composure faltered, and she began to cry.
"No, it isn't," Pete agreed. He held her closer, trying to offer her a measure of comfort and warmth.
"I can't think of him as being dead, Pete," Jean sobbed. "I can't accept it. And I won't. Not until...not until...." She trailed off, unable to finish.
"Sssh, don't think about it, then. Just keep thinking about him coming home."
"I'm so scared, Pete. I'm just so scared."
"I know, Jean. I know." I know, because I'm scared, too.
Three times through Twist and Shout seemed to be enough time to loosen up his leg muscles enough to chance another try. "Okay, let's try this again." Jim clenched his chattering teeth together, rubbed the picture of Jean and Jimmy for luck, moved his arms up, put his left foot flat on the floor, and pushed. He felt the strain in his left calf again, but before he could chicken out, he moved his arms up another notch, arched his back, and pushed again. And again. And again. Each time he hitched himself upward, pain exploded somewhere in his body. Spots swam before his eyes as muscles pushed beyond their limits cramped and his cold, bruised body ached. The rough wooden post scratched his back and added to his body's collection of splinters. Jim was glad no one was around to hear him yelling, but suddenly, he found himself standing upright, leaning heavily on his left leg.
"Oh, man," Jim said aloud. His entire body trembled from cold and exertion. He couldn't find a spot that didn't ache. "I'm up. I'm up. Okay. Take a breath, and try to break this pole again. Maybe if I'm standing...." Jim braced himself on his left leg, bent forward slightly, then slammed backwards into the pole. The resulting pain in his back nearly caused him to pass out. His leg buckled underneath him, but he forced himself to stay standing. "No...no, don't fall b-back," he moaned. "You worked...too hard...to get up."
Jim dragged in a couple of deep breaths, but the deeper he breathed, the worse he hurt. "He musta broken...a rib...oh, man...." Gotta try something different. Jim put his right foot down and put some weight on it, slowly. "Owwwwwww....come on, a...little morrrre--owww!" Jim shifted his weight back to his left foot. That didn't work. Wonder if I can kick the pole with my heel.
Jim lifted his right foot and pressed the heel against the pole. His ankle twinged, but at a bearable level. "Okay, try... a little kick." Jim picked up his foot and half-heartedly swung it backwards against the pole. Even that small pressure sent jarring waves of pain spiraling up his leg. "Nope. Not gonna work. I c-can't risk...passing out. B-but I'm so c-cold...gotta stay awake..."
Jim bounced up and down on his left foot and moved his shoulders up and down as much as he could. "S-stay awake...think of another s-song." Jim thought a second, then came up with one. He started in on it with as much energy as he could. "Wake up...little Susie...wake up..."
Pete let Jean cry on his shoulder a few minutes, then gently lifted her head from his shoulder. "Let's go inside, Jean. You're shivering."
Jean swiped at her face. "Somehow...I feel closer to him out here," she said quietly. "Like maybe he can see the same sky I can."
I just hope he can see anything at all. "I can appreciate that, but one thing I can say for sure is that Jim would want you to take care of yourself. He sure wouldn't want you out here, cold and wet. Think of your baby."
"You're probably right," Jean rubbed her hand over her belly.
"I know I'm right. All he could think about this morning was you and how sick you were. In fact he was so worried, I..." Pete stopped abruptly, thinking about how he'd let Jim drive, and his stomach turned over. His conscience pointed an accusing finger at him as a thought he'd kept buried deep inside finally bubbled to the surface. Why did I give in? If I'd been on that side of the car.... Then an even worse thought hit him. When he'd been teasing Jim about not driving, he'd said something. Something that had been a joke when he'd first said it, but now drove the dagger of guilt deeper into his chest. Maybe I don't think this is your lucky day. Oh, God...why did I say that?
Jean touched his hand. "What?" she prompted, her voice a whisper.
Pete looked at her face, barely visible in the darkness. "I'm sorry," he said, turning his gaze over her head. "I hadn't told you. I guess I didn't really want to face it myself." Pete dragged in a shaky breath. "Jim was so upset this morning about you being sick...he asked me to drive and I let him." He couldn't bring himself to voice the rest of it.
"You actually let him drive?" Jean asked in surprise. Even in the blackness of the evening, Pete could see the look of disbelief on her face.
"Yeah, I did. I wanted to help keep his mind off you. If he had to drive, he'd concentrate on the street instead of sitting there, brooding."
"That was very sweet of you, Pete."
"Don't say that. If I'd said no, I'd have been on that side of the car. I'd have been the one they grabbed, and Jim would be here, with you, where he belongs." There. He'd said it. But it didn't make him feel any better. Guilt still clawed at him.
"Pete, you don't know that," Jean squeezed his hand. "Besides, Jim's about an inch and a half taller than you are. If he'd taken the bullet you did...he might not have been as lucky."
Pete considered that. "Maybe," he said noncomittally. He still felt the need to ask for forgiveness. "I'm just so sorry, Jean...I'm supposed to look after him...I didn't today....and look what happened. I don't know how you can stand to look at me. You must hate me right now."
"Hate you? Pete, don't be silly. You're Jim's best friend; the godfather of my son. How could I hate you?" Jean squeezed his hand again. "I'm so glad you're here. I know it didn't seem like it at first, but when I look at you, I can see your strength. And it helps me, Pete. It gives me hope."
"Good. Because I've felt pretty useless around here today. I should be out there...looking."
"I was pretty sure you hated being cooped up here, waiting. But don't you feel a bit guilty about that. Whether you realize it or not, I've been depending on you a lot today," Jean smiled at him.
"I'm glad I can help you," Pete said quietly. "I can do that much for Jim, at least."
"When he comes back home, I'll be sure and tell him how much you've done for me here today."
Pete finally returned her smile. "But he won't believe you if you've caught a cold from sitting out here in the rain. Come on, let's get inside."
The sensation of falling awoke Jim with a start. Despite his best efforts, pain, fatigue, and cold had worked in concert to take its toll . Somewhere during a hoarse, trembling rendition of Elvis' "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" he'd drifted off to sleep. His head had nodded onto his chest, and his left knee buckled under him. He managed to catch himself before he sank completely onto the floor.
"M-musta...fell...asleep-p," he mumbled. With a groan, he pushed his leg back up straight and leaned his head back onto the pole. "C-can't s-s-sleep...t-too c-c-collld..." Jim struggled to draw in a deep breath to clear his head. Sharp pain sliced through his side and back. He hissed, but the pain helped to jar him further awake.
Stay awake. Stay awake. Jim rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder and flexed his stiff and aching shoulder muscles. He looked up into the steadily falling rain. You know they're looking for you. You know they are. Hang on, just hang on. Your family...your family... Jim curled his right hand so that he could feel the picture of Jean and Jimmy that he'd clutched in his hand for hours. But all he felt was his own, cold palm.
"M-m-my p-picture," Jim stuttered, his breathing quickening. "G-gone...no, I-I n-need it...." He looked frantically around, but could see nothing in the pitch blackness of the night. Please, God, I need my family near me. Jim took his bare right foot and felt around on the wet ground, searching for the photo he'd apparently dropped when he'd fallen briefly asleep. Only wet, cold mud tickled the bottom of his foot.
Probably behind me...gotta get it. Jim bent his left knee and slowly slid down the pole so that he sat down on the floor again. Please be where I can reach it...please...
With shaking hands, Jim groped around sightlessly on the wet floor, desperately searching for the picture. As each second passed without success, frustration and anguish built inside Jim, threatening to erupt from him in hysterical sobs. No! Please...the picture...I need it....they need to know...I love them.... Tears flooded his eyes as he spidered nearly numb fingers through the muddy, cold floor, trying to gather the image of the family he loved so much into his hands. He shook so hard he could barely control the limited movements of his hands, still bound securely to the post.
Suddenly, though, the texture under his hand changed from wet and grainy to wet and smooth. "T-that'ssss it...that's i-i-ittt." Jim scissored his index and middle fingers and gripped the slick picture. It took him a few tries, but he finally shepherded the small rectangle into his hand, where he clutched it tightly. Thank you, thank you...
Jim sagged backward against the pole, completely spent. He closed his eyes and thought of Jean and Jimmy and his unborn baby, as he allowed tears born of discouragement and sorrow to fall down his face.
"Pete. Pete, wake up."
"Huh?" Pete grabbed the hand insistently shaking his shoulder and opened his eyes to see Jean leaning over him. "What?"
"It's Jean, Pete. Come on, wake up," she whispered.
It took only a second for Jean's voice to filter through Pete's sleep-induced fog and register enough to jolt him awake. He released her hand and sat up, pushing the footrest of Jim's recliner closed with a snap. Someone, probably Jean, had covered him with a quilt, and it fell away, draping around his ankles."What's wrong?" he whispered back. He could barely make out her face in the darkened den. "Jim?"
"No," Jean whispered. "I haven't heard anything. I'm just checking on you."
"Me?" Pete's brow furrowed. "Why?"
"You've been asleep for several hours. I remembered that when Jim had a concussion, I had to keep waking him to make sure he was responsive. I thought I'd better check on you."
"I'm all right," Pete said quietly. He could see the dark forms of Annie and Russell asleep on the den couch, huddled under a blanket. "What time is it?"
"I'm supposed to ask the questions," Jean said. "But it's about 2:30. Who's the president of the United States?"
"Richard Nixon, and why aren't you in bed?" Pete asked, noting that Jean still wore non-sleep attire.
"I can't sleep," Jean said. "I've been dozing a little, but I keep thinking of Jim out in the cold and rain, and I can't rest."
"You need to try."
"I have been trying. Do you need any aspirin?"
"No. I need you to do what the rest of us are doing and go get some rest."
Jean reached down and picked up the fallen quilt. "I'll go lie back down," she said, pulling the quilt up around Pete's waist. "You go back to sleep. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
Pete took her hand. "Do you need to talk?" he asked her quietly.
A ghost of a grateful smile crossed Jean's face. "No. But you let me know if you need anything, okay?"
"All right. You go get some sleep, yourself."
Jean nodded, then quietly left the room.
Pete, now wide awake, waited until he heard her bedroom door shut, then got up and walked over to the lone den window. He turned his gaze toward the streetlight illuminating the front walk and watched the steady curtain of light rain fall through the night. Caught in the artificial light, the raindrops appeared to fall in slow motion. A light breeze blew the moisture at an angle.
It was a depressing sight.
He could sympathize with Jean's inability to sleep. Every time he thought of Jim, fear squeezed his gut with nauseating force. He shared Jean's desperate hope that Jim was still out there somewhere, alive, and felt the irrational need to voice encouragement. He whispered the words to the night sky. "Don't give up, partner. Wherever you are, whatever's happening, just don't give up. We're coming, I promise. Please don't give up."
Jean closed her bedroom door, then leaned her head against it, taking a moment to gather enough strength to make it the short distance from the door to the bed.
The bed that she and Jim shared.
She could hardly stand to look at it, with his side empty, let alone lie down in it and sleep. Even when Jim had to work late, she rarely went to bed before he got home. She preferred to sleep on the sofa, or in the recliner, because lying in the bed without Jim next to her made her feel so alone. It frightened her, even when she knew Jim would be home within a matter of minutes.
Tonight, she felt downright terrified.
Oh, God, please....
With an effort, Jean pushed away from the door and took a deep breath to keep a surge of nausea at bay. Her gaze fell on the floor between the dresser and the bathroom door, where Jim had dropped his pajamas when he'd gotten dressed that morning. Funny how she hadn't noticed them until now.
Oh, Lord, if you bring him home safe, I'll never fuss at him again for leaving dirty clothes in the floor. Or the toilet seat up. Or tracking dirt on the carpet.
She knelt down and picked up the crumpled clothing. She clutched them to herself and buried her face in their softness. They smelled like Jim -- the barest hint of her favorite aftershave, mingled with the natural scent of his skin and hair brought burning tears to her eyes. Had it only been a few short hours ago when she'd last smelled that scent? Jim had held her head while she'd been violently ill from morning sickness, wiped her face with a cool cloth, and had carried her in his strong arms back to bed after it was all over. Then he'd wrapped her in his arms, stroked her hair and told her how much he loved her and how beautiful she was until she had drifted back to sleep.
Jim had spent so much time with her, he'd almost been late for work. No wonder he'd dropped those pajamas in the floor.
Jean's tears turned into sobs as the memories returned. She sat down on the floor, buried her face deeper into the folds of Jim's pajamas and gave in to her sorrow.
Your faith has saved you. Your faith has saved you.
That's what ol...whassisname said.
But I think I'm...runnin' outta faith, God.
I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die...in my underwear.
Jim's whole body convulsed with tremors. He'd long since stopped trying to sing. The words got all jumbled up in his head, anyway, and he had no voice left. He'd tried once again to call out for help, not caring that he felt like a fool yelling into the empty night.
But his raspy voice barely carried to his own ears, let alone the ears of any rescuer.
Jim could no longer force his arms to saw on the wooden pole. He could no longer force himself to sit up straight against the pole. He'd fallen over sideways and lay on his right side on the muddy floor. The rain dripped on him, the wind sliced through his body, and he hurt from his head down to his bare feet.
Time had lost all meaning . Pain, cold, and loneliness were his only reality. His muscles had stiffened beyond movement and it was increasingly difficult to put coherent thought together.
I'm...sorry...Mom...it's not even clean...any more...floor's dirty.
Jim squeezed his cold-numbed right hand as hard as he could. The picture hadn't fallen from it. Love you...Jean. Had he told her he loved her this morning? Or was it yesterday? He'd tried; he'd tried...but something had happened. She'd hung up. Why'd you hang up...on me, baby?
I'm dying...in my underwear....
Jean dragged herself off the floor once she'd exhausted her ability to cry. It seemed all she'd done all day was either cry or throw up. She didn't think she had any tears left, but then she'd see something, or a memory would float through her head and it would start the crying all over again. She stumbled over to the bed and collapsed onto it, still clutching Jim's pajamas.
It seemed that nothing she did gave her any comfort. Nothing served to quell the fear, or to ease the anxiety that had gnawed at her since Mac's early morning visit. All her tears, all her prayers, all her family and friends support and comfort; none of them had helped. God, I'm grateful for all my family. My friends. But I'm so afraid. I'm so afraid. God, I can't live without Jim. Please don't make me have to...please let him come home to me. To Jimmy. Please help me to cope.
They're not gonna find me in time.
It's taking too long. I'm not gonna make it out of here alive.
God, it's not fair! All that's happened today....to be so close...now to just die here in the mud and wet.
It's just not fair! Did I not have enough faith? Did I not ask enough? Too much? God , don't understand why...why'd you take us both? Now Jimmy...won't even have Pete....I'm mad about that, God. It's too cruel.
It's just too cruel.
I'm sorry....it's just that I don't...understand why.
And I'm so cold...it hurts so much. Hard to think straight.
If I'm gonna die, I need to know you're there. Please...help me...
Jean reached over ran her hand over the sheets on Jim's side of the bed. As if the crisp chill of the smooth fabric sent her a message, she felt a sudden urge to pick up her Bible from the night stand where she'd placed it that afternoon. I'm too tired to read. She stared at the black leather-bound book a moment, then shut her eyes tiredly and tried to settle back on the pillows. God, be with Jim. She rubbed her hand absently over the sheets again, and again she felt the need to open the scriptures. Jean sat up and took the Bible from the night stand. She placed it in her lap and opened it to Psalm 91, the passage that Dr. Warren had read from during his visit. She read through a few verses, but they didn't speak to her. She flipped backward a few pages and read another passage, but some restless urge made her continue to search. A verse she'd learned as a child entered her head. The Lord is my shepherd....
Jean found the passage she wanted then -- Psalm 23. Something -- or maybe someone -- tugged at her heart to read the familiar words. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want....
"I...c-c-cannn't...ssssss-tay...'w-w-ake....'neee....l-l-lonnn...ger," Jim whispered aloud. It took all of his effort just to string words together into a coherent thought. The space between lucid moments had become longer and longer.
I'm cold. I'm so cold.
Mom, what did I do wrong? Why'm I sleeping on the floor?
Jean...I need some aspirin. My head hurts.
I think I'm dying. Am I, God? I don't wanna die.
I'm...scared. I'm scared to die...like this.
It's so cold and dark. Am I dead already?
Mom, Janie keeps opening...my window....
Somebody's cryin'. Jean, honey...check on the baby....
God, are you there? Can you hear me? I...think...I gotta go...to sleep.
Say my prayers? Mom...I'm way too old...and I can't remember...words.
The Lord...what? Mom, tell me the words...tell me the words...
The Lord is...my shepherd? Oh,yeah, thanks, Mom...thanks....
The...the Lord...is my shepherd. I...I...shall...not want.
Jean continued to read out loud, her voice a whisper, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures...He leadeth me beside the still waters...."
He...restoreth my soul...
"...he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake..."
...yea, though I walk...through the valley of the shadow...of death...I...will fear...no evil...for thou art with me....###
"...thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...."
And I will dwell...in the house...of the Lord...forever....
I love you forever, Jean...
"...and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Jean closed the Bible and placed her hand flat on the cover. "Jim, I love you. I'll always love you. Please remember that. Don't stop fighting. Come home to me."
Lord, I think it's time... for forever....