A Matter of Time, Part 6
"We'd just be in the way," he said, but he completely understood Mr. Smithson's motives. "If it's bad, they won't even let Jean stay. And if it's good, we'll know soon enough." Even as he tried to be the voice of reason, Pete's insides roiled as his own impatience demanded audience.
Mr. Smithson sat down and rubbed at his forehead. "You're right, you're right. I just hate Jean having to do this. I hate all this waiting."
"I know. So do I." Pete looked over at Judy, who had placed a hand on top of his own. She patted it reassuringly, and Pete made a conscious effort to relax his grip on the armrests.
"Maybe he's waking up," Jane said, her voice more hopeful than the expression on her face.
"I'm sure that's what it is," Judy nodded, as the others sitting around echoed the sentiment.
Pete let the rest of the conversation float over his head. Instead, he kept sending up silent prayers that his partner would be all right.
"Yes, honey, it's me," Jean gave Jim her most beautiful smile. "I'm here."
Jim's brow furrowed, and even though he looked straight at her, Jean could tell Jim hadn't connected to his surroundings. Traces of confusion and flickers of fear darted through his clouded blue eyes.
"Jean," he breathed again, this time it sounded almost like a question.
"Yes, Jim. I'm right here." Jean leaned over and brushed his lips with a light kiss, then stroked his forehead with a gossamer-soft touch. "I love you. You're in the hospital. County General. Everything's okay. You're safe."
Jim didn't seem reassured. He squirmed underneath the blankets, twisting his shoulders. "Ssssstuck," he said. "Help...me." He shook his head slowly, as if trying to dislodge the oxygen mask.
"No, honey, you're not stuck," Jean soothed. She put her hands on Jim's shoulders. "You're wrapped in blankets. That's an oxygen mask on your face. Don't try to move, okay? Trust me, darling, it's all right." She leaned over and kissed him again, nuzzling against his neck. "Just relax."
Jim moaned, his teeth clicking as he shivered, but he stopped struggling.
Dr. Gibbs moved into Jim's line of sight and gripped his shoulder. "Officer Reed," he said.
Jim's eyes widened as he looked at the doctor; he flinched so obviously and so hard that Dr. Gibbs dropped his hand and backed off a step. "I'm Dr. Gibbs, Jim," he said, pitching his voice to be lighter and using Jim's given name. "I'm taking care of you."
"It's all right, Jim," Jean assured him. She continued to stroke his forehead and kissed his cheek. "He's your doctor. Honey, do you understand where you are?" Jean could clearly see and sense Jim's fear. She so rarely ever saw him show fear that the unfamiliar emotion chilled her.
Jim's eyes tracked from Dr. Gibbs to Jean's face and back again. Finally, he croaked, "H-hosp-pi'l."
"That's right, honey," Jean said. "And this is your doctor, Dr. Gibbs."
Jim nodded his head once, then his eyelids slid shut. His features relaxed.
"Jim, stay with me, all right?" Dr. Gibbs stepped back to Jim's side. "Open your eyes again."
"I know. You have hypothermia -- your body's temperature is too low. We're warming you up slowly. It's good for you to shiver. Are you in any pain?"
It seemed to take Jim forever to formulate an answer. "Yessss," he finally hissed.
"Where do you hurt?" Dr. Gibbs asked.
Jim looked at Jean and closed his eyes again. He licked at his lips. His breath came in little, short pants. Jean stroked his forehead. "It's okay, honey."
"Jim, tell me where you're hurting," Dr. Gibbs repeated.
Jim's lips quivered slightly before he wheezed out, "Ev...everywhere."
"Relax your breathing, Jim. Slow down some. Breathe slowly through the mask. That's better, slower, deeper breaths if you can. Now tell me, what hurts worst?" Dr. Gibbs smiled.
"All right. What next?"
"Okay. Before I can do much for your pain, I need to ask you some questions. Jim, do you remember what happened to you?"
Jim's brow furrowed and his face contorted. His breathing returned to the choppy, panting rhythm.
"What can you remember, Jim?" Dr. Gibbs prompted.
"Honey, relax, baby," Jean soothed. "You don't have to think about it if you don't want to," she added, shooting a perturbed look at Dr. Gibbs.
"Jim, when's your birthday?" Dr. Gibbs asked.
Jean nodded confirmation when Dr. Gibbs looked to her.
"S-so tired," Jim said plaintively. He turned his head so that it leaned against Jean's hand and closed his eyes again. He dislodged the mask, so Dr. Gibbs reached over and replaced it.
"I know, my love," Jean kissed his forehead.
Dr. Gibbs straightened. "You rest, then, Jim." He gave Jim's shoulder a gentle pat, then turned to consult with a second doctor, who had been studying the heart monitor throughout the conversation.
"You can go back to sleep, darling," Jean told him. She tried to listen in to Dr. Gibbs' conversation, but the two doctors kept their voices low.
Jim made a funny gasping sound, then sighed with a nod of his head. He wriggled under the blankets as if to try to get comfortable, looking to Jean like an overgrown version of their son during a nap. "I'll be here when you wake up."
For a moment, Jim stayed silent, his chattering teeth the only sound he made. After a beat, though, he whispered, "H-h-appy....t-togeth...er."
"What, honey?" Jean asked. "What did you say?" Happy together? "Yes, honey, we're happy together."
Jim made another funny sound, deep in his throat. Then another, and another, in an oddly rhythmic pattern. It took Jean a second to realize that Jim was humming. Or at least attempting to hum.
"Oh!" She gasped, the light dawning. "Happy Together! Our song! You want me to sing it to you, baby? Whatever made you say that?"
But Jim didn't answer. He had fallen back asleep.
Jean didn't know why Jim had, seemingly out of the blue, requested their song. But if he'd made the effort to say the words and even try to hum the tune, she knew it had to be important. She leaned close to his ear and picked up the humming where Jim had stopped.
When the time for the planned press conference drew near, Dr. Gibbs left Jim in the care of Nurse Wesley and the second doctor, who Dr. Gibbs introduced as Dr. Pinkerton. They kept a close watch the heart monitor, and also on Jim, who continued to sleep restlessly.
Jean watched the medical personnel as they watched Jim; she didn't want to miss anything. Even though they had assured her his condition continued to improve, the way they watched the heart monitor made her nervous. She squeezed Jim's hand, glad she'd finally snaked her hand under the twist of blankets that swathed her husband so she could intertwine her fingers with his. She measured her grip so that she didn't aggravate Jim's injured hand.
"I love you, Jim," she whispered, as she'd done about every thirty seconds since he'd gone back to sleep. She shifted on the stool that Nurse Wesley had brought for her and stretched her back. The long night of stress and no sleep had knotted her muscles into taut strands. But she had no intention of leaving Jim's side. Not now. Not until he fully awakened and could convince her he would be all right.
Jim's sister Jane had come into see him, and Jean had hoped he would respond to her voice. Jim had opened his eyes only for a short time, looked at his sister and quirked his mouth up in what Jim probably intended as a smile, though the mask made it difficult to tell. Then he'd gone out again. After that, Jean's father had dropped by and brought her some cold ginger ale to sip on, which had helped her stomach to settle. She'd sent him to call her mother and check on Jimmy. She'd also told him to let Pete come in to talk to Jim as soon as the press conference was over and see if that would rouse him to full wakefulness.
Her father returned first with the news that all seemed well at home. Jimmy had been told that his Uncle Pete had found his daddy as he'd requested, and the little boy's grieving mood had done an about face. My poor little boy. If only he hadn't seen that broadcast, he'd have never known and wouldn't have had to grieve so. I'll have to remind everyone not to mention it to Jim until he's stronger. It would have upset him so much to see Jimmy hysterical like he was this morning.
Jean suppressed a sigh as she watched Nurse Wesley take another set of vital signs and record them in Jim's chart.
"Looking good," the nurse told her with a smile. "Everything's coming along just as we hoped."
"That's good news," Jean returned the nurse's smile. She liked Nurse Wesley, whose quiet, competent mannerisms helped to keep Jean calm.
"When he wakes up again, Dr. Gibbs wants us to try to get some warm fluids in him. Does he like hot tea?"
Jean shook her head. "Won't go near it. He's a coffee man."
"We can give him some decaf, then. But we'll spike it with lots of sugar. Warm, sweet drinks are what he needs."
"Whatever he needs, I'll get it down him," Jean told her.
The treatment room door opened and Pete stuck in his head. "Can I come in?" he asked.
"Sure," Jean said, and Nurse Wesley nodded. "Maybe he'll wake up for you."
Pete crossed the short distance to the exam table. He squeezed Jean's shoulder briefly, but he kept his gaze directed at Jim."How's he doing?"
"They say very well. Everything's progressing just how they want."
"Has he been awake again?"
"He opened his eyes once when Jane came in, but he went right back to sleep. They say he'll wake up when he's ready, not to worry." Jean stroked Jim's forehead, pushing back the edge of the cap atop Jim's head. "Jim would die if he knew everyone was looking at him with this silly hat on his head."
"Probably," Pete agreed. Jim always liked being in control, or at least looking like he was in control. Pete knew all this attention would certainly make Jim uncomfortable.
"Daddy said you went to the press conference. Is it over?"
"Not quite. Those reporters are still in there asking questions. I left before I got noticed and they started coming after me."
"It was a press conference," Pete shrugged. "Mac and the doctor both did a good job, and the FBI updated them on the search for Ciroppolli and Graddock."
"Any news there?"
Pete shook his head. "The watch was their last solid lead. They're checking out the activity on your credit cards now. They've been getting a lot of calls from citizens saying they've spotted them but none of those leads have panned out. That's normal in situations like this."
"You don't think they got away, do you? That maybe they moved on?"
"It's possible, but unlikely. We still have a lot of unanswered questions. I guess we'll just have to be patient."
Jean noticed a flurry of emotions dance across Pete's face. She couldn't even quantify most of them, but she knew worry topped the list. In its own way, this is as hard on Pete as it is on me. He feels responsible. I can see that in his eyes. He has to know that Jim would never blame him for this!
"Talk to him, Pete," Jean suggested. "You spend eight hours a day sitting next to him in a car. He's used to your voice talking to him. It might just do some good."
Pete looked hesitant. "What do you think I should say?"
"Anything. Talk about the Dodgers. Or the weather. Tell him a fishing story-- he loves your fishing stories. Or pretend you're dispatch and manufacture a call he wouldn't want to miss," Jean smiled at him. Pete still carried a reluctant expression on his face, and Jean wondered if he might be embarrassed to talk in front of her. "Would you like me to leave, and give you some privacy?" she offered.
Pete tried to hide his surprise at Jean's offer of privacy. Am I that transparent? I must look as guilty as I feel. "No, Jean...that...won't be necessary," he stumbled over the words, trying to mold his face into some convincing configuration. I've got a lot to things to say to Jim, but he's gotta be awake when I say them.
"If you're sure, then. But I know he'd love to hear your voice. The doctor told me the hearing always comes back first, and even if he's out of it, he probably can hear us."
Jean flashed him that warm, understanding smile again that felt more like daggers in his heart than the reassurance she probably meant it to be. "Sure, I'll talk to him."
Jean leaned over to kiss Jim's cheek and whisper in his ear. "Honey, Pete's here. Why don't you wake up and talk to him?"
When Jim didn't respond, Pete walked around Jean and the end of the exam table to stand on Jim's other side. "Hey, Jim. It's me, partner." Pete reached out a tentative hand and lightly tapped Jim on the shoulder. "What do you mean, laying there like a bum snoozing while we're all awake worrying?" Pete paused to see if Jim would rise to his teasing, but Jim remained still and quiet, save for his constant shivering. Pete could hardly stand to watch him, even though he knew it to be a good sign. "You know you've got half the city on its ear, don't you? You even got a press conference in your honor. Come on, partner, why don't you wake up?"
Jim's eyelids fluttered slightly and he shifted under the blankets, his legs and shoulders twitching. Pete stopped talking.
"Yes, honey, wake up," Jean said. "Pete'll tell you all about it."
Jim sighed and made some moaning noises, but he did not open his eyes. His movements stilled.
"I guess he's just not ready," Jean said, unable to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
"I guess not, but maybe it won't be long," Pete said. Disappointment tugged at him as well. Like Jean, he couldn't relax until Jim came back to them, fully aware.
"Maybe not." Jean didn't sound convinced.
"Hang in there, Jean. You're doing great," Pete encouraged her. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine. Daddy brought me some ginger ale, and that's helped me feel better."
"I think I'll go back out to the lobby, if you're all right, then," Pete told her. "They said some of the guys are on the way in from San Bernadino, and I want to talk to them when they get here. See what the FBI did out there."
"You go on. I'll let you know as soon as Jim's awake."
"Okay." Pete tapped Jim's blanketed shoulder once more. "Jim, everything's gonna be all right. I'll be back later. 'Bye, partner." He took one last look at Jim's pallid, still face, gave Jean a tight smile, and left. He thought he'd feel better after getting another look at Jim, but he didn't. He wondered if he'd ever feel better. It's just your fatigue talking. It's gonna be all right. Just be patient. It's only a matter of time.
Jean watched Pete as he walked away from Jim, worried at his slumped posture and subdued demeanor. She knew that exhaustion had overtaken him, but it seemed more than that. Pete appeared depressed. Or deeply disturbed. Or both. He'd been so strong for them all yesterday; stronger than he had any right to be, given his injuries. She guessed it had taken its toll.
As the door closed behind Pete, a sudden sound from Jim pulled her attention back to her husband.
"What is it, baby?" Jean soothed, squeezing his hand and giving his forehead a gentle caress.
Jim's lips moved under the mask, and he shifted restlessly under his coverings.
"Be still, honey. Be still." Jean looked up as the heart monitor started the erratic beeping that always got the attention of Nurse Wesley and the doctors. This time was no exception as the two of them moved closer to the monitor.
"P..peeete," Jim whispered, almost inaudibly.
"Yes, honey, that was Pete," Jean said.
"S-ssor...ee," Jim hissed. He jerked his arm so hard Jean almost lost her grip on his hand. "P..eee..te..." A single tear left his eye and rolled down his temple.
"Oh, honey, don't," Jean reached out and wiped the tear away with a soft brush of her finger, then kissed the spot gently. "Everything's okay. Pete's okay, you're okay. Believe me, darling, it's okay."
The light burned so brightly it bothered him even through squeezed-shut eyelids.
The sun must be coming out. At least the rain is over. Maybe I'll warm up. This roof has so many holes in it....
He opened his eyes to see if he could see the sun, but he closed them fast, as the light burned his eyes. He opened them again, and didn't see the rotted, decaying beams of the barn, but clean, sterile, white tile. But the light still hurt and he shut his eyes again. Something hard and cold sat on his face.
Oh, yeah...somebody told me I wasn't in the barn...who was that? Jean? Jean?
Then where am I? I thought I heard Pete, but that'd mean I was dead...'cause Pete's dead....
He tried his eyes one more time and forced them to stay open longer. He saw the tiles again, and the blinding light above his head, and a man wearing a white coat.
Hospital. I'm in the hospital. Jean told me...Jean...
His eyes slid closed again. It took too much effort to keep them open.
I want to see Jean. If she's here...I know I'm not in the barn...I'm not dead...
Somebody...somebody told me...my faith...my faith saved me...who was that?
"Jean," Jim croaked. He forced his eyes open and searched for her again.
"Well, there are those beautiful blue eyes," Jean said, her voice the sweetest sound Jim could imagine. "Welcome back, sleepyhead."
Jim finally got his eyes open enough and turned in the right direction to see his beautiful wife. Her smile dazzled him even more than the light over his head.
"Jean," he whispered again. Even the whisper hurt his parched throat. He licked at his lips and swallowed. He tried to smile back, but his lips merely twitched. The plastic on his face hindered him.
"I'm right here, honey," Jean said. Jim felt her squeeze his hand, and he wanted to squeeze back, but his stiff, weakened muscles would not respond.
"What...hospital?" Jim asked.
"County General," Jean said. She leaned over, moved the offending mask from his face and kissed him on the lips. It felt like heaven.
Jim took a deep breath, but it hurt. Pain rocketed through his side and he gasped.
"Easy, love. Don't move too much." Jean put the mask back in place.
"Nurse, see if you can get Dr. Gibbs in here," Dr. Pinkerton spoke from his position across the room.
"Right away," Nurse Wesley nodded and left.
Jim grunted and shifted uneasily. He couldn't get warm. "H-how....how long?"
"You've been at the hospital about three hours. You were missing for over a day."
"Yes, honey," Jean squeezed his hand again. "Don't you remember?"
"I...yes....a little." Jim squeezed his eyes shut as images ghosted across his mind.
A dark haired man with hate-filled black eyes.
A burly young blonde with fists like bricks.
A dark forest...pain...cold...
Rotted timbers and splinters eating at his hands.
"I'm so cold," Jim whispered.
"I know you are, darling," Jean said. She squeezed his hand again. "Keep your eyes open, honey. Don't go back to sleep. The doctor wants you to drink something warm."
Jim made a low, throaty moan, but opened his eyes again and focused on Jean's face. He didn't want anything to drink. He hurt over every square inch of his body, from the top of his head down to his feet. He had the sensation that his exam table danced on a choppy ocean. And he still felt trapped, covered in scratchy, heavy blankets, the restricting mask on his face and his muscles unresponsive. He had a sudden, overpowering longing for his own bed at home, where he could snuggle under soft covers with Jean and she could kiss his pain away.
"Wanna...go home," he said to Jean.
"Oh, honey," Jean sighed, as she stroked Jim's face. "You're too sick. You have to get well first. Then I promise I'll take you home."
"Mr. Reed, I'm Dr. Pinkerton." The doctor moved to Jim's side. "How are you feeling?"
"Bad," Jim said. "Wh--what's wrong with me?" His words slurred together.
"You have a lot of minor injuries," Dr. Pinkerton told him, "but your most serious problem is hypothermia...your body is too cold."
Jim frowned. "Oh...yeah...s-somebody tol' me that...."
"Dr. Gibbs told you when you woke up the first time," Jean supplied.
"You're very weak; your muscles are stiff and slow from the cold," Dr. Pinkerton said. "But that will improve rapidly as we get your body temperature closer to normal." The doctor took his stethoscope and put the earpieces in. "I want to listen to your heart here for a minute, so just relax and breathe normally."
" 'kay," Jim sighed, then looked back to Jean. Seeing her face made him feel better, but the worry he saw in her eyes made him nervous.
Dr. Pinkerton moved the blankets back enough to snake his hand and the stethoscope in underneath. He placed the flat disk on Jim's chest and listened a beat, then moved it around and listened some more. "Does your chest hurt you?" he finally asked.
"Are you having trouble breathing?"
"Hurts...when I b-breathe deep."
"Don't try to breathe deeply right now, then. Slow and steady through the mask." Dr. Pinkerton withdrew the stethoscope and pulled the blankets up tightly around Jim's neck again.
Jim nodded. He still had to fight to stay awake. At least asleep he wouldn't feel the pain. Jean's hand tightened on his.
"Doctor?" Jean asked. Jim could hear the anxious tone in her voice.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Reed. His heartbeat's a little irregular, but we're watching it closely."
"What about medicine for it?" Jean asked.
"We want to hold off on any medications until the body temperature is back to normal, if we can. When Dr. Gibbs comes back in, we'll discuss it. Please try not to worry."
"All right, I'll try," Jean said. She squeezed Jim's hand yet again and gave him a weak smile.
Jim tried to clear the cobwebs from his brain as he lay on the uncomfortable exam table in the treatment room. At first, all he had been completely aware of was Jean's hand holding his, her face, and her voice. When the doctor spoke to him, he could answer, but it took him a long time to process information and get his sluggish brain to understand and answer. After he'd heard the doctor tell Jean that his heartbeat was irregular, he started noticing that he could feel it pounding in his chest. And even he could tell that it didn't beat in the normal, slow, steady rhythm as it usually did. He wondered if he should be worried. All he really knew was that it felt funny.
Minutes passed. Jean still held his hand and talked to him, her voice soothing and gentle, as was her touch on his forehead. Her hand felt warm and comforting on his cold skin. Jim used the contact to try and break out of the fog that had encased his brain much like the blankets that cocooned his body. But breaking out of the mental confusion brought other problems. It brought the memories. Memories that he didn't want to face right now.
Maybe not ever.
Instead, he pushed the thoughts and faces back into the recesses of his consciousness and tried to think only of the woman by his side. Thank God she was there. He didn't know what he'd do if she ever wasn't.
He took a shuddering breath. "Jean," he whispered.
"I'm here, honey," Jean answered immediately.
"I love you, too." Jean kissed him on the forehead. "Rest easy."
Easier said than done. The pain that he'd complained of had worsened over the past few minutes. Every time he moved the slightest bit, it felt like broken shards of glass coated the bed beneath him. His right ankle sent jolting streaks of pain up his leg and the back of his head pounded. And even though heavy blankets swathed his body, they did nothing to ease the arctic cold he felt all the way to his insides.
The dark emptiness of sleep beckoned him as the only solution to his pain, both mental and physical. He closed his eyes.
"Jim, don't, honey," Jean's voice, sharp now, cut through the comforting release of near-sleep. "Keep your eyes open."
"Hurts," Jim whimpered.
"I know, darling, I know," Jean stroked his forehead again. "But it's important, okay. Look at me. If it hurts too bad, squeeze my hand."
Jim turned his head enough to see Jean's face and look into her eyes. Under almost any other circumstances, he could get lost in those eyes. But now, even the comfort and love he saw there did little to make him feel better. He moaned slightly, the irritation and frustration of lying painfully helpless unexpectedly angering him.
"Hang in there, honey," Jean whispered.
Jim heard the door open and someone enter.
"Dr. Gibbs is here, honey," Jean said.
Jim shifted his gaze back and the doctor he vaguely remembered seeing before came into his view.
"Hello, Jim, remember me?" Dr. Gibbs smiled at him. "I'm Dr. Gibbs."
"Uh, huh," Jim said, as the doctor pulled out his light and leaned over him.
"Am I in the way?" Jean asked.
"No, you're fine," Dr. Gibbs pried Jim's left eyelid open, flashed his light into the eye, then repeated the action with the right. "What's his temp now?" he asked, over his shoulder.
After a brief pause, the nurse answered, "Ninety-four point two."
"Much better. But you're still cold, aren't you?" Dr. Gibbs took out his stethoscope and moved the blankets as Dr. Pinkerton had earlier.
"Take as deep a breath as you can," Dr. Gibbs instructed. He moved the stethoscope to Jim's left side.
Jim struggled to draw in a deep breath, but the resulting pain made him cry out softly.
"Okay, easy," Dr. Gibbs patted Jim's shoulder. "Easy. I know you're in a lot of pain, Jim, but I can't medicate you right now. You've got a head injury, and with your body temperature still so low, it's risky. You're just going to have to hold on a while longer, okay?"
"I'll...try...." Jim wheezed through the mask. His side and back burned with slow fire.
"Can you swallow?" Dr. Gibbs asked.
Jim gave it a try, found he could. "Yes."
"I'd like for you to drink some warm liquids. Think you can do that?"
Jim nodded once, though the prospect didn't enthuse him.
"Good. Tea, or decaf coffee?"
"Ugh," Jim commented. Neither sounded appealing.
"Make it the coffee," Jean supplied.
"Nurse, go get some decaf, heavy on the sugar. Bring a straw."
"Right away." Nurse Wesley disappeared through the door.
"I'm going to raise the head of your bed just a little," Dr. Gibbs said. "You can drink more easily that way. You may be a little lightheaded at first, but it'll pass." Dr. Gibbs nodded to Dr. Pinkerton, who moved to the head of the bed. "About twenty degrees," Gibbs instructed.
Jim grit his teeth and winced as the bed raised; it stirred the pain in his head and back to new vigor. The room spun at a crazy angle and Jim squeezed his eyes shut against the bilious sensation.
"Stay with me, Jim," Dr. Gibbs said. "Are you okay?"
Jim mumbled something unintelligible. He fought down the dizziness and pain.
"Jim, are you with me?" Dr. Gibbs repeated.
Jim felt his arm being removed from the blanket and something tight wrapped around it. He then felt the cold disk of the stethoscope in the bend of his elbow. "I...I'm here. Dizzy."
"It'll pass. Give it a minute." Jim heard the pumping sound and felt the cuff tightening around his arm as Dr. Gibbs checked his blood pressure. He kept his eyes squeezed shut, fearful he'd vomit if he watched the room spin any more. Finally, he heard the hiss of a pressure release and the tightness on his arm lessened. "Your blood pressure and pulse are both still low, but they're much improved," Dr. Gibbs told him.
"Good," Jean said.
"Jim, open your eyes," Dr. Gibbs said, tucking Jim's arm back under the blankets. "I need you to concentrate for me."
Jim didn't want to, but he forced his eyes open. The room had settled down somewhat, but the pain in his head and back had not.
"How's the dizziness?"
"Good." Dr. Gibbs held up a finger. "Without moving your head, I want you to follow my finger with your eyes. Understand?"
"Good." Dr. Gibbs moved his finger up and down and side to side.
It made Jim dizzy to follow the moving digit, but he managed. It only looked slightly blurry to him.
"Good job, there, Jim," Dr. Gibbs said. "Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I need to know what you remember. I understand that it may not be pleasant, but try for me, all right?"
"'kay," Jim agreed.
"Do you remember what happened to you? How it all got started?" Dr. Gibbs asked.
The memories that Jim fought to keep in the fog now rattled for attention. He couldn't remember many details, but he could see in his minds' eye a stalled white car, the big kid with the flat tire...and then...the gunshot....unexpected...shocking...Pete going down...the blood on his head....No. No.
"I...remember..." Jim said, a knot of emotion swelling in his throat.
"Tell me what happened."
Jim looked up at his doctor, who regarded him with sympathetic eyes. Why, Jim wondered, should he tell him? He didn't want to talk about it. He closed his eyes, hoping the doctor would just leave him alone.
"Jim, don't close your eyes. I need to know about memory impairment so I can assess your head injury more accurately." Dr. Gibbs put both hands on Jim's shoulders. "Look at me, okay?"
Jim dragged his eyes open and swallowed against the knot in his throat. "Stalled...car. Mulholland Drive...big kid....big kid...can't remember .... name. Had a flat." Jim stopped to rest, and Jean squeezed his hand.
"Take your time, honey," she soothed.
"Stopped...to help. Talked to the kid....my partner...my partner...someone was hiding...." Jim blinked back tears of sorrow as he recited the events that led to Pete's death. How long ago did Jean say it had been? "He shot...he shot...my partner...." Jim dragged in a ragged breath that ended in a sob. It was just too hard to think about it. As foggy as some events were in his brain, the memory of the blood on Pete's head and his falling remained painfully clear. Tears that burned behind his eyes now spilled over. He turned to Jean, who had tears pooling in her own eyes. "I...couldn't...didn't....Pete's...dead. He's dead."
"Oh, Jim, no! No, honey, he's not!" Jean exclaimed quietly. "He's not dead."
"Saw him..."Jim croaked, the tears cracking his voice. He felt his heart beating funny again in his chest. "Shot in head.... Blood...."
"Jim, listen to me!" Jean carefully took his face in her hands. "Pete is not dead. I wouldn't lie to you about that. He was just in here talking to you a few minutes ago. He's not dead."
Jim's brow furrowed. A spark of hope blossomed in his chest. "He's...alive? Really...alive?"
"Yes, darling, really alive. In fact, he's okay. The bullet just grazed his forehead." Jean smiled. "Pete's one of the ones who found you. He's been here ever since."
Jim couldn't believe it. He knew what he'd seen. This was too good to be true. He couldn't believe
it...wouldn't... "Can...I...see him?"
"If it'll help you calm down, sure," Dr. Gibbs answered. He patted Jim's shoulder. "Relax. Your wife's telling the truth. Your partner's alive and well."
"He's in the waiting room, honey. I'll go get him. Will you be okay if I leave for a second?"
Jean kissed him and squeezed his hand. "He's really alive. I'll bring him right back."
Pete took the final bite of the ham and cheese sandwich that Judy had bought for him and swallowed it down with a splash of coffee. He had to admit, he needed the food and had offered only a superficial argument when Judy had offered it to him. Seeing Jim had shaken him; Pete didn't think he looked much better than when they first brought him in, and the addition of the tubes, wires, and assorted equipment to his partner's body made for a terrifying scene. Pete certainly had no desire to eat after the encounter, but he realized that he needed something to bolster his flagging strength.
"That's much better," Judy said with a smile.
"Thanks. I really needed that," Pete told her. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"I know you did. Even if you really didn't want it."
Pete glanced at his watch. "You know, there's no need for you to hang around here any longer. I'm fine, and I have lots of friends around. David's out of school, and honestly, Judy, I don't know when Jim's gonna wake up. Jean's not gonna leave his side until he does, so you can't do anything for her, either." Pete did his best to look alert. "Why don't you go home and let me call you when Jim's awake and settled, and you can come back and see him?"
"You're not nearly as fine as you think you are," Judy frowned. "And if I'm not here to take you home, you'll try and stay all night. I've taken care of David, and, if it's all the same to you, I'll stay a while longer." Her frown deepened. "Unless you're trying to get rid of me."
The way Judy said her last words, with no hint of light-heartedness or sarcasm, jolted Pete. The uncertain feeling that had plagued him since yesterday afternoon returned. "No," he said, managing to keep his voice level. "Why would I want to do that?" He took her hand in his and pulled it to his lips in a kiss.
"I don't know. Why would you?" Judy asked.
Pete couldn't think of anything to say in answer to that, so he merely stared at Judy, feeling as awkward as he'd ever felt in his life.
"Pete!" Jean's voice from across the room broke the tension-filled moment. Pete got to his feet as Jean motioned to him frantically. I hope nothing's wrong. "Judy, I'll be right back." Pete crossed the room to Jean's side.
"Jean, what's wrong?" Pete asked.
"Pete, please come back to the room with me. Jim's awake, and he thinks you're dead." Jean took Pete by the arm. "He won't believe me until he sees you."
"I was afraid of that," Pete said, his voice grim. "From where he was it had to look bad."
"Come on," Jean urged, pulling Pete toward the treatment room. "He's so upset."
"I'm with you, don't worry."
"Were you ever unconscious, Jim?" Dr. Gibbs asked, after Jean left.
Jim didn't want to answer any more questions. It hurt too much. All he wanted to do was see Pete walk through that door, alive and well.
"Yes," Jim said. He remembered the young boy's rock solid fist that first took him out. What was his name? Can't remember...
"Get hit with a gun on your head?" Dr. Gibbs asked.
Jim searched his memory. Gun? Don't remember a gun...except the one that shot...
"I...I can't 'member..."
The treatment room door opened and Jim looked around the doctor, hoping to see Pete. But the nurse who'd been taking care of him walked through the door instead. She held a large, steaming cup in her hand.
"Then don't worry about it now," Dr. Gibbs said. "I'm going to remove your oxygen mask so you can drink a little bit. If you have any trouble breathing, tell me, and I'll put it back on."
Jim nodded, and Dr. Gibbs gently lifted the young officer's head to move the strap holding the mask in place, then removed the mask.
Jim took a breath, found he could breathe all right, then nodded again.
"Great. Nurse." Dr. Gibbs motioned for Nurse Wesley to join them.
"This is ultra-sweet decaffeinated coffee. It's hot," the nurse said. She stuck a straw in the cup and bent it so Jim could sip. "Take a slow, tiny sip. See how it settles."
Jim sucked down some of the hot liquid. The coffee felt good going down, but it tasted so sweet it turned his stomach. He wrinkled his face in distaste.
"I know it's sweet, but your body's depleted. It needs energy and warmth," Nurse Wesley explained. "Try another sip."
Jim screwed up his courage and took another sip. It tasted just as bad at the first.
"Barely," Jim swallowed hard to keep the nausea at bay.
"Try one more, and you can rest a minute," the nurse urged.
Jim sipped once more and barely managed to keep the hot liquid down. "No...more," he whispered.
"Enough for now," Dr. Gibbs said, and the nurse moved away. "We'll try it again in a few minutes. Rest a bit."
Jim started to close his eyes, but the movement of the treatment room door opening again stopped him. Jean came in, followed closely by the one man in the world he never thought he'd ever see again.
"Hey, partner," Pete said, followed by the easy, closed-mouth grin that he greeted Jim with at the beginning of every shift.
I can't believe it....I can't....
Jim opened his mouth to try and say something, but nothing could get out past the enormous lump in his throat. Hot tears flooded his eyes. I never thought....I never....
Pete walked to Jim's side, the easy grin still on his face, his eyes holding just a hint of light, but mostly looking concerned. "Who started that nasty rumor that I was dead?" he asked, a soft lilt to his voice.
"Pete," Jim croaked. "Pete...thank...God." He squeezed his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to keep from falling completely to pieces.
"After five years ridin' together I thought you'd know I'm too hard-headed to kill that easy," Pete said, still talking softly.
Jim couldn't keep the tears of relief and joy from sliding from his eyes. He was too tired and relieved to care if anyone thought he was a sissy for crying. He'd been given another chance. A chance to set things right. "Pete...so...sorry," he choked out, his voice broken. "I...didn't..."
"Hey, none of that, now," Pete put a hand on Jim's shoulder and gave it a gentle pat. "Everything's okay. It's gonna be all right."
"Pete," Jim said again, then shifted on the table, ignoring the flurry of pain it stirred. Jim used every ounce of strength and will he had to move his left arm. It felt like he was moving a ton of lead, but he managed to free his arm from his prison of blankets. The limb shook from the cold and strain, but he stretched it out toward Pete and opened his hand. It's too good to be true. Thank you, God, thank you.
Pete took Jim's outstretched hand in his own, then clasped his other hand around it in a firm and comforting grip.
"Thanks...partner," Jim whispered.
"No thanks necessary, partner," Pete said, his voice husky and about an octave lower than usual. "I'm just thankful we found you." Because we sure cut it close. You wouldn't have lasted much longer. It took the very force of Pete's will to gather what little strength he had left in him and not break down as he held Jim's cold, trembling hand between his own. Pete's eyes stung, but he fought against the tears' release. Jim didn't need him to fall apart; Jim needed him to be strong.
"Me...too," Jim said, his eyes closing briefly.
Pete swallowed against a too-tight throat. Watching Jim tremble from cold, his normally tanned, healthy face pale, swollen from the beatings he'd apparently taken, was almost too much to bear. Jim's hand felt like an icy glove. Pete had touched dead men who hadn't felt this cold. The irregular beeping of the heart monitor added a somber percussion to the room. The scene pressed down on Pete's soul, and the realization that Jim had taken the blame for Pete's own injury squeezed Pete's self-imposed noose of guilt that much tighter.
The stressful moment threatened to escalate into an emotional overload. To cope, Pete fell back on the trick he'd been using for the past day and a half -- he turned the emotions into anger. He fanned the flickering flame of fury he'd held inside him into something hotter and brighter. He let his distress over Jim's condition morph into wrath at the men who had put his partner here and at himself for letting it happen. They left him there to die. God only knows what they did to him before they left him.
Jim's hand tightened slightly on his and he opened his eyes to look at Pete again. "Did they...c-catch 'em?" he asked.
The question startled Pete. He mentally checked his facial expression, wondering if Jim had somehow picked up on his angry thoughts. No. He's too out of it. "No, Jim, they haven't," he said. "But they're looking."
Jim's eyes closed again. "Dangerous," he whispered. Then his eyes opened, but his forehead furrowed in concentration. "D-dark haired...black eyes...."
"Take it easy, Jim, we know who they are and what they look like. US Marshals, FBI...they're all out there looking. We'll get them both."
Jim took a shaky breath. The look of frustrated concentration deepened. "I... I...they tol' me...where...but I...can't...."
"Relax. We know they're headed to Las Vegas. They've been seen in the area. The dragnet is closing; it's just a matter of time," Pete soothed. "It's not for you to worry about. You just need to concentrate on getting better."
Dr. Gibbs stepped over. "That's enough for now," he said, tapping Jim lightly on the shoulder. "Listen to your partner and just lie back and relax."
Pete shot a worried look at the doctor, who looked mildly concerned himself.
"He needs to rest a while," Dr. Gibbs offered in explanation. "His heart rhythm is too irregular."
"Sure." Pete gave Jim's hand a final pat, then lay it down atop the blanket. "Take it easy, Jim. I'll be out in the lobby if you need me. You've got a lot of friends out there pulling for you. So mind your doctor and rest."
Jim offered no argument, certainly an uncharacteristic response from his partner. " 'kay."
"I'll be back later," Pete promised, and, as hard as it was, he turned and started for the exit.
Jean lay a hand on his arm as he walked by. She wiped tears from her face and smiled at him. "Thanks, Pete."
"No problem," Pete squeezed her hand, and walked out of the room.
Once the door shut behind him and he'd walked a few steps, Pete's knees felt like they might not support him the rest of the way. He stopped, leaned against the corridor wall and took a moment to compose himself. The visit had been much harder than he'd anticipated. He rubbed a hand over tired eyes and scrubbed at his face, in a vain attempt to rub away the raw emotions that kept springing up to surprise him. "Come on, Malloy, pull yourself together," he muttered to himself.
Pete dropped his hand and snapped his eyes open. He hadn't heard any footsteps; letting someone sneak up on him like that reminded him just how tired he'd become. "Uhhhh, hello, Doctor, ummmm Tomlinson," Pete dragged his memory and came up with the name of the white-coated man who stood before him. You just saw him yesterday, Malloy, what's the matter with your brain?
"Are you all right?" Dr. Tomlinson peered at him.
"Oh, sure, I'm just...." Pete groped for words that wouldn't land him in a treatment room getting examined, "concerned...about my partner."
"I heard they brought him in. I wouldn't worry too much. From what I hear, sounds like he'll recover."
"That's what they say."
"You don't sound convinced. All the medical apparatus can be intimidating; don't let that frighten you." He paused a beat, then nodded toward Pete's forehead. "How's your head?"
"Had any nausea? Memory lapses? Blurred vision? Dizziness?"
"Ummm, no," Pete hedged. His head still pounded, but in a more distant way, and he could manage.
"Head still hurting?"
"A little," Pete admitted. He pushed away from the wall and took a couple of steps toward the lobby, hoping to escape the medical board of inquiry Dr. Tomlinson had convened.
Dr. Tomlinson put out a hand to stop him. "Have you taken aspirin?"
"About two hours ago."
"But it's not helping much, eh? As long as you're here, you should let me take a quick look at you."
"That won't be..."
"Look, if you let me check your eyes and reflexes and ask you just a few more questions, I can probably give you something to knock the headache right out."
"I have to stay awake."
"I promise you will. I've got a patient in here now, but as soon as I finish up and discharge him, I can look you over. Won't take five minutes. Are you waiting out in the lobby?"
"Yes," Pete said, disgusted he'd been trapped into being poked at yet again.
"Have you eaten anything lately?"
"Just had a ham sandwich and coffee."
"Good. That'll help you. How about rest? You get any last night?"
"You should go home, take some medication and sleep for a day. You'll feel better."
"I can't leave yet."
"Somehow I knew you'd say that." Dr. Tomlinson flashed a toothy grin at him. "But I'll send a nurse for you in just a few minutes. Don't go anywhere."
And with that, Dr. Tomlinson disappeared into the treatment room next to Jim's.
Pete stared at the door until it closed, then shook his head in resignation. Everyone will want an update on Jim. Maybe I can tell them and hide out in the men's room until Dr. Tomlinson gives up. He bit back a sigh, chastised himself silently for acting childish, then turned to head back to the lobby.
Before Pete took even one step, however, Agents Dixon and Zoellner turned the corner, heading in his direction. Oh, no they don't. Not now. Jim's not ready. He stepped into the center of the aisle and crossed his arms over his chest. "Now's not a good time," he told them firmly, as the FBI men approached.
"He is awake?" Agent Dixon asked.
"He is," Pete confirmed, "but he's still in bad shape. He's confused and hurting. The doctor even ran me out, and I wasn't trying to question him."
"I trust you don't mind if we talk to the doctor ourselves?" Zoellner asked.
"Suit yourself," Pete said, the slight edge to Zoellner's voice rankling him. "but remember our deal. I'm there whenever you question him. Understood?"
"That's not a problem, Officer Malloy," Dixon assured him. He looked at Zoellner. "Go check with the doctor and see when he thinks we might can question Reed."
"Right." Zoellner stepped past Pete and went into Jim's room.
Pete had to clench his teeth and force himself not to follow the man.
"Malloy, you know we don't want to do anything to put your partner's life at risk," Dixon said calmly.
I know no such thing. Pete swallowed back the cynical thought. "I know you have a job to do."
"And I know what it's like to feel responsible for a partner," Dixon responded, his voice kind.
"The first night he rode with me, I told him I'd checked him out in one piece, and I'd get him back home the same way." Pete stared at Dixon. "Nothing's changed in five years."
Dixon nodded. "I understand. But I hope you do, too. Ciroppolli and Graddock must be found."
"Believe me, I want those guys as much as you do. Probably a hell of a lot more. And I know Jim, too...he'd be the first to want to do everything he can to help get 'em." Pete spread his hands. "But I'm not sure that Jim can remember anything reliable right now. He did ask me if Ciroppolli and Graddock had been found, but he didn't remember their names. And he said he thought he should remember where they were headed, but he didn't even know that."
"So he did mention them to you just now?"
"He did. But his thoughts and memories were a little...disjointed. And the doctors are concerned about his heart rhythm. He asked me to leave so Jim could rest."
"We won't question him until he's ready. You have my word on that."
Agent Zoellner came out of the treatment room and rejoined them. He flashed Pete a look that Pete couldn't quite interpret, then turned to Dixon. "Dr. Gibbs says it'll be at least another hour, possibly two, before he'll let us question him. He said Reed's body temperature needs to be around 97 degrees before he'll allow it."
Dixon looked at his watch. "All right, tell you what. We'll go grab an early dinner or late lunch, check in at the office, then come back. We might as well be productive while we wait."
"Might as well," Zoellner echoed.
The three of them walked down the corridor into the waiting room and found it buzzing with excitement. The policemen still waiting had congregated and were talking excitedly, and even Mr. Smithson and family members seemed animated.
"Something's happened," Pete said.
"Obviously," Zoellner agreed.
Pete walked straight to Mr. Smithson, who sat closest to the corridor. The two agents followed. Mr. Smithson stood to meet him.
"What's going on?" Pete asked.
"An officer just came in," Mr. Smithson jerked his thumb back toward the knot of excited officers standing in the back of the waiting area, "and said they'd just heard that they got a positive sighting of Ciroppolli and Graddock outside Las Vegas less than twenty minutes ago. Federal agents are closing in. Looks like they're gonna get the creeps right now."
"This seems to be good information," Dixon reported several minutes later. He'd made a phone call to confirm the news brought by the LAPD officer, then came over to update the large gaggle of men in the waiting area.
"What'd they say?" Pete asked.
"Apparently a citizen called the Clark County Sheriff to report that her car had been stolen from a supermarket parking lot. Couple of witnesses said that two men, one tall and dark, the other big and blond, had driven off in it. Sheriff's deputies spotted it about fifteen minutes later, with two men fitting that description inside. A high-speed chase ensued, apparently a long, dangerous one, too. Bottom line is, they lost 'em somewhere in a maze of subdivisions on the outskirts of Vegas."
"Just great," Pete muttered.
"But they did find the car abandoned, and another citizen called in to say he saw the two men running through some backyards in his neighborhood. They showed the man a picture of Ciroppolli and Graddock and he positively identified them as the men he saw."
"If they've run into a heavily populated area, then they've made a tactical error," Mac said. "Lots of eyes to keep track of their movements."
"And lots of innocent citizens to exploit," Pete reminded grimly. "Those people had better lock their doors and watch their backs."
"According to my sources, there's an incredible amount of manpower out looking. The area is saturated with local law enforcement, US Marshals and FBI. It's just a matter of time before we nail 'em."
"I hope so," Pete said. He hardly dared hope it would be over this soon. One good thing is if they do pick them up, it takes the pressure off Jim. There won't be quite as a big a rush to question him. It'll buy him some time to recover before he faces the pressure of having to remember. Yeah, God, let it happen.
"No more, honey. N-no more," Jim clamped his lips shut and shook his head as Jean tried to get him to take another sip of hot, sweet coffee.
He and Jean had been left temporarily alone in the treatment room, while the medical staff attended to other matters. Even though Jim's temperature continued to rise slowly, Dr. Gibbs had wanted Jim to take some more warm fluids.
"Honey, you need this," Jean insisted. She teased Jim's lips with a gentle finger, trying to get him to open up.
Jim turned his head away from her hand. If he'd had the strength he'd have pushed her hand away. "Disgusting."
"This is helping you warm up from the inside," Jean said firmly. "The doctor said he'll give you something for pain once your temperature gets back to normal. And you're getting closer."
"I'm about to throw up," Jim said. "Too sweet."
Jean sighed. "Okay, we'll try again later. Do you feel any warmer?" She got up and put the coffee down on a nearby counter, then returned to Jim's side.
"A little bit." Jim scowled and tried to stop his lips from trembling. He did feel warmer, but he was still very, very cold. "I'd be....warmer with clothes on." Jim had discovered his lack of clothing not long after Pete had left. It made him feel uncomfortable.
"Honey, the doctor explained to you why you can't wear your clothes right now," Jean said, with infinite patience. "But I sent Daddy to the house to bring you some for later. So don't worry about it, love. You're covered up."
"Honey, don't worry about it. You're not going anywhere. Please, just relax."
"Jean..." Jim said irritably. Time had gotten all jumbled up in his head. Jean said he'd been missing over a day, but he couldn't account for it. People had walked in and out of his treatment room for what seemed like a long time, but because he'd been in and out of consciousness, he didn't have a good grasp on the passage of time. It seemed to Jim all that he could do was shiver and hurt. The blankets scratched him; the wires and tubes chafed him, and all the poking and prodding irritated him.
"It's nearly six o'clock at night," Jean said. She leaned over and brushed his bruised cheek with a kiss.
"When...d-did they bring me in?"
"Somewhere around noon. Jim, please relax."
The cold and pain made it hard to relax. "Noon," Jim repeated. He felt a distant sense of urgency starting to build through the confusion in his brain. He wanted to talk to Pete again. He couldn't define why he felt the urgency, but it might have had something to do with the man in the dark suit who came in to talk to Dr. Gibbs right after Pete left. Jim didn't know who he was, but somehow he felt like he needed to talk to him, too.
"Yes, honey. But don't worry about it. Everything's okay. There's nothing you need to do but rest and get well."
Jim closed his eyes and tried to piece together the last day and a half. I remember the white Chevy. The kid...the shot that took out Pete. The kid jumping me...we were in a car...the floorboard...not the Chevy...the black & white! "They stole the black and white," he said out loud. He opened his eyes and looked at Jean for confirmation.
"Yes, they did," she said.
Jim concentrated again. He thought he could remember lying in the floorboard of Adam-12. He remembered running somewhere. Somewhere dark. Somewhere in the woods? He remembered an old barn. But he couldn't remember getting out of the car and he couldn't remember how he got to the barn. Or how he got out of it. It seemed like a dark curtain hung over his memory, and he could only lift it a little at a time to peek at what lay behind it.
When he needed to unravel a mystery in his job, he asked questions. Maybe if he asked questions...If I can think straight to ask the right ones...
"Did they...find it?"
"Your patrol car? Yes, honey, they did. But, Jim..."
"Where?" Maybe if he knew where, he could figure out how things had gone down.
"In the woods, not too far from that barn they found you in."
"What woods? Where?" Jim asked, his voice rasping from the effort to raise it.
"Jim, calm down, or you're going to get your heart all crazy again."
"Tell me where."
"San Bernadino County, not too far from a little hole-in-the-wall town called Powderly."
"Powderly." Jim's brow furrowed again. "I...I don't remember being there."
"You don't have to right now."
"Jean, I've got to remember!" Jim snapped, but his voice held very little energy. "It might be...im-important!"
Jean stayed silent a long while. Jim searched his wife's eyes for a clue to what she might be thinking. But he was simply too tired to figure it out. She lay a tiny hand on his shoulder and managed an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I know it's important. But your body's so weak...I don't want you straining to remember." Her voice dropped even lower. "Or being upset when you do remember."
"Why?" Jim asked, his gaze searching Jean's face again. "Wh-what do you know?"
"Nothing, honey. I just want you to get better."
Jim caught a slight hesitation in Jean's voice. "You do too know something," he insisted breathlessly. "Tell me."
"Jim, I really don't know much of anything. Only what Mac or somebody else from the department would come by and say."
"Like...what? Please, Jean...I might remember."
"Jim, after they came and told me what had happened on Mulholland, there was a long space of time where nobody knew anything about where you were," Jean said quietly. "The first report we got was that the black and white had been spotted outside Powderly."
Jim frowned. "How'd we get that far...without being noticed? Those guys...can't remember their names..."
"Ciroppolli and Graddock."
"Cir-ciroppolli and Graddock," Jim mulled the names over and dug deep into his head to pull the faces of his captors out to match the names. Everything's just so fuzzy.
"Honey, Ciroppolli -- that's the dark headed one -- took your uniform shirt, your hat and equipment. At least that's what we think. We know he was wearing them from what witnesses said later."
"He took my clothes?" Jim asked. "My belt? Then he must have had my...gun?" That thought caused Jim's heart to flutter crazily. Something tickled the back of his memory.
"Yes, he took your gun. You don't remember any of this, do you?"
"No. At least, I...I...don't think so." Jim concentrated. A picture flashed in his head. A picture of him begging Ciroppolli not to...not to kill me? No. Not me...who? "Then what?"
"Well, after that, they started searching the Powderly area." Jim didn't catch the hesitation in Jean's voice as she started talking again. "They'd been mostly searching around Mulholland, thinking you might have been...left there. But of course, you weren't there. The next thing I heard was that Ciroppolli and Graddock had used your gas credit card at a service station in Baker."
"Stole my wallet? Oh, no..."
"Actually, they only took some of your cards and your money, and your license. They left the wallet, and your uniform brass. The FBI took it for testing."
"Yeah, the FBI and US Marshals are on the case now. They got called in last night."
"The guy in the dark suit...FBI agent."
That visit made sense now. The FBI wanted to question him. But he couldn't remember a damn thing. "Why...haven't they asked me questions?"
"Oh, they want to, all right. But the doctor won't let them just yet."
"Can't remember anything anyway," Jim said, in a tone of self-derision. "After Pete got...shot...it's all so fuzzy. I can only get snatches of images. And I don't know if they're real or not."
"It'll come back to you, Jim. You're still sick." Jean stroked his forehead.
"What else?" Jim prodded. "Pete said...they were in Vegas?"
"Yeah. They were spotted there late last night. The young one, Graddock -- he pawned your watch in a pawn shop."
"My watch? They took...my anniversary watch?"
"Yes, but they've recovered it. They're holding it for evidence, too. So don't worry, it's in good hands. You'll get it back."
"I can't remember...giving them these things...why can't I remember?"
"Jim, honey, please relax. Stop trying so hard, and maybe it'll come back to you."
"I probably know something...they need," Jim whispered. "They're still loose?"
"Yes, but it's been a while since anyone came in and gave us an update."
"Pete still here?"
"I assume so."
"I wanna talk to him again."
"Honey," Jean started, but Jim cut her off.
"He might know something....that will help me remember."
"I'll have to check with the doctor. Every time you get excited your heart gets out of rhythm."
Jean sighed. "I'll cut you a deal. You drink some more coffee, and I'll see what I can do."
Jim made a disgusted sound. "I'm gettin' the worst of that deal."
"Best I can do for a sick man." Jean slid off the stool and retrieved the coffee.
Jim let Jean stick the straw back in his mouth, and obediently, albeit reluctantly, swallowed some more coffee. "Ugh."
"Me, too." Jim shut his eyes and braved another sip. As the liquid slid down his throat, he went through the sequence of events he could remember. He started at the beginning, with the stop on the side of the road at Mulholland. The flat tire. A conversation with young...Graddock? Pete walking to the side of the white Chevy. Jim froze Pete's face in his head. Pete was frowning. He saw something. What? Did I get suspicious? Should I have warned him? Did Pete go for his gun? Then the unthinkable...the shot, the shattered glass, the blood, Pete going over the side of Mulholland. What next? An attack by the boy. A ferocious struggle. I dropped my gun. Dammit, I dropped my gun. A fist in his face and then...nothing. Nothing except waking up in the floorboard of the black and white. Cold. Hurting. Sick with fear.
The scene of him begging Ciroppolli not to do something came back again. He could remember the floorboard rough against his face and body. Hands cuffed behind him. Ciroppolli, whatever you've got planned, don't do it. Then a voice, disembodied, couldn't see his face -- Shut up, pig. You ain't got no say... Jim remembered a sense of panic. Desperation. What? What was he going to do?
"Jim?" Jean's voice brought him back from the floorboard of the black and white.
"Of course he did, dear. He shot Pete and..."
"No, besides...besides... that." Another scene flashed through his head. Ciroppolli was talking to him... I've already killed two people today. "Damnation, I can't put it together."
"It'll come, honey."
"He had my...gun," Jim whispered, angry inside but too weak to work the emotion into his voice. If you shoot someone here...with my gun...
"You had no control over that."
Jim moved the straw out of his mouth and looked at Jean with narrowed eyes. "Did Ciroppolli...shoot somebody...with my gun?"
Jean looked away and stared at something across the room. The only sound for a few seconds was the irregular blips from the heart monitor.
Jean's expression told Jim he was on the right track. "Tell me, Jean."
Jean brought her gaze back to Jim's face. He could see that she didn't want to say what she had to tell him. "Yes, honey, he did. That's how we knew you were in Powderly."
"Who did he shoot? Did they die?"
"He shot a San Bernadino County sheriff's deputy. And yes...he died."
Jim shut his eyes again. "Oh, no. Oh, no."
"Honey, it wasn't your fault."
"A sheriff's deputy...oh, God. Had he pulled us over?" Why can't I remember it all?
"We don't know," Jean said honestly. "I guess that's one of the things they want you to tell them."
"And I can't remember!" Jim managed a hoarse exclamation. "I-I'm just getting flashes...bits and pieces."
"Jim, just relax, okay? The more you tire yourself, the harder it'll be to remember."
Maybe if he talked to Pete. Or Mac. Or the FBI. Maybe with formal questioning, he might could remember. He needed to remember. He had to remember. Why couldn't he bring it all together? "Jean. Go get Pete. I want to talk to him...now."
Even though the emergency department's waiting area was fairly large, Pete didn't think it would be able to hold many more people. Pete felt sorry for the people who had to visit the ER today for routine problems, or even more serious emergencies; very little room remained for seating, and even though the multitude of police officers who kept coming and going and Jim's family were quiet and respectful, even the quiet voices added up to a considerable din. Most of the press had dissipated, or moved to the designated press area on the other side of the hospital; but a few die-hard reporters still hung around the ER doors, their presence casting a malignant shadow over the entrance.
Wells, Grant, Brinkman, Snyder, Woods, and Brady had arrived from San Bernadino not too long after the FBI agents had left, and Pete had spent the better part of an hour picking their brains for information and updating them on Jim's condition. The men had no real new information to share, other than the fact that federal agents had swarmed both the barn and the black and white; Adam-12 had been towed to the Powderly substation and all contents confiscated. The agents had even taken Jim's hat for examination. A similar scenario took place at the barn, though less physical evidence had been found there.
Of course, they all had expressed their concern over Jim's condition and decided to stick around in hopes of seeing him later. Wells exuded his usual energy, and hadn't stopped talking since he'd arrived except to shove food and drink into his mouth. Even that didn't deter him much. The conversation naturally turned from the horrors of the past two days to regaling each other with tales that included Jim in some way, and Ed obviously took great pleasure in sharing as many embarrassing anecdotes as he could remember.
Pete finally had to excuse himself from the crowd.. Dr. Tomlinson had made good on his threat and had called Pete in for a quick exam, pronounced him fit but exhausted, given him something for his headache and ordered him to rest. Pete had to push the order to rest aside until later, but despite the painkillers, Pete felt the stress of the past two days starting to gain the upper hand. He wanted to go outside and take a walk in the cool air in hopes of recharging his rapidly draining energy, but too many reporters still loitering about deterred him. He opted, instead, to collect Judy from her chair and walk down the hallway leading into the heart of the hospital.
"Where are we going, Pete?" Judy asked, when Pete took her hand and intertwined his fingers with hers.
"Just walking," Pete said. "I need some space for a minute."
"Pete, maybe you should go on home. You're out on your feet."
"Not quite yet," Pete objected. Something itched in the back of his head. He had a feeling Jim might need him soon.
"Stubborn," Judy accused.
"So I've been told."
"All of you are. The whole LAPD. Is that in the job description?"
Pete couldn't help but smile. "No, but it kinda comes with the territory."
"Stick with it until you solve the case, huh?"
"Something like that."
They passed the bank of elevators that led to the main patient areas of the hospital and a sudden urge struck Pete. "Let's go window shopping," he said, pulling Judy to a stop.
"What? Window shopping? What are you talking about?" Judy asked.
"That's what Jim calls it," Pete said, punching the elevator call pad.
"Calls what?" Judy frowned at Pete.
"You'll see," Pete smiled, knowing Jim would approve of what he was about to do, and would likely do it himself as soon as he could get permission to get out of bed.
"Honestly, Pete, I'm worried about you," Judy tapped her foot impatiently as they waited on the elevator. "Are you cracking up?"
"No. Trying to keep that from happening."
A car arrived, amazingly empty, and they entered. Pete reached over and punched the "6" button, then looked at Judy and smiled.
Judy shook her head, but returned the smile. "I'm glad to see you smile," she said softly.
As soon as the doors closed, Pete pulled her close to him and gave her a warm kiss. To his great relief, Judy returned the kiss with fervor. "Thanks for being here for me," he told her, when he broke the embrace.
"Where else would I be? I...love you, Pete."
"I love you Pete, but?" Pete asked, noting the hesitation in Judy's voice.
"But...I don't know. It's hard. I can't...."
"Pete, this isn't the time to go into it," Judy brushed the question away.
"When will be the time?"
"When we're all a little less...crazy."
The elevator reached the sixth floor then, and Pete chose not to pursue the conversation further. He didn't want to ruin what he hoped would be an uplifting moment. He took Judy's hand again and led her from the elevator.
"Oh, I know where we are!" She exclaimed, looking around. "Window shopping! That Jim's such a nut sometimes!"
"What do you mean, 'sometimes?'" Pete smiled, remembering a few times he'd spent with his partner on this floor, County General's Maternity Ward, staring at the newborn babies through the nursery window. Jim called it window shopping.
"You and Jim come here often?" Judy asked dryly, as they approached the voluminous nursery.
"More than I care to admit," Pete nodded. "But Jim loves it. He says it helps him deal with some of the things we see on the job. So I come along for the ride." Pete thought back to the first time Jim had dragged him up here to "window shop." He thought Jim had totally lost his mind. But he couldn't argue with the obvious change in Jim's mood after the visit. Or with his own.
"What about you? Does it help you? Pete Malloy, the die-hard bachelor?"
They stopped at the window. Today had apparently been a busy one in Labor and Delivery. The room was filled with about 20 newborns, swaddled comfortably in colorful receiving blankets, tucked in their plexiglass cribs. Pete looked them over, and felt a grin trying to erupt on his face.
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"How come you never told me about this habit before?" Judy asked, now clearly amused.
"You have to ask?" Pete looked at her askance. "And, by the way, you're sworn to secrecy. Talk about this and the consequences might be dire," he added lightly.
"My lips are sealed. So, since Jim calls it 'window shopping' I take it he picks a few out he'd like to take home?"
"Yeah," Pete did grin then. He could almost feel Jim's presence next to him. He could imagine the glint in Jim's eyes and the lift in his partner's voice when he would talk about the babies. "Jim says that seeing so many little ones in one place gives him hope for the future. He thinks about all the potential in this room. All these babies, so innocent and so pure. A blank canvas on which to write the future." Before they turn into psychopaths like Marco Ciroppolli.
"I had no idea Jim was so philosophical."
"You should sit in the car next to him eight hours a day."
Judy slipped an arm around Pete's waist and stepped closer to him. "I'm glad you do. And he's right, too. About this."
Pete pulled her closer to him and watched with amusement as one child in the front decided to wail. Before long, Baby Boy Mendez had a whole chorus accompanying him. "Yeah, he is."
While the visit to the nursery didn't completely lift the fatigue from Pete's back, it did lighten his load, even more than Ed Wells' exaggerated war stories. As long as Ed never found out where he went, everything would be okay.
Pete didn't want to be away from the ER for too long, so they only stayed a short while. He and Judy took the elevator back downstairs, and Judy chatted non-stop about the cute babies. Pete hoped he hadn't made a tactical error in taking her up there.
It had been worth it, though, to make the trip up to sixth floor. Once again forced into inactivity, actually getting up to do something positive, something Jim enjoyed doing, made Pete feel like he was making a contribution to his partner's well-being.
"I'm gonna see if they'll let me in to see Jim again," Pete said quietly, as the elevator slowed to a stop.
Judy smiled. "Somehow, I figured that."
They exited the elevator and headed back toward the ER.
"Jim, I'm not leaving you here alone," Jean said firmly. "When one of the medical staff comes back, I'll go get Pete."
"Jean, please." Jim's frustration level doubled. How could he make her understand the importance of remembering? What if he knew something? Something vital?
"A few minutes wait won't hurt, honey." Jean placed her hand on Jim's shoulder and gave it a few gentle pats.
"A lot can happen...in a few minutes," Jim said. His weak voice reflected the exhausted, pain-filled state of his body.
"Yeah, like your heart rate going crazy again," Jean nodded toward the heart monitor, which had started beeping irregularly once more.
Jim didn't need to hear the off-rhythm beats to know his heart had fallen out of kilter. He could feel his heart dancing in his chest, and he was struggling to get a good breath. Right now he didn't really care. He just wanted to fill in the black void in his mind.
Jean slid off the stool. "I don't like the sound of that. I'm calling for the doctor."
Jim didn't argue. He closed his eyes to shut out the sight of the room, which had started to tilt. Jim felt himself drifting. He drifted into a cold, dark place where it was hard to breathe. He felt fear. Extreme fear. Desperation. Exhaustion. Something grabbed at his hair, pulled at his face. Blurry images sped through his mind, even as he could hear the sounds of the treatment room around him. The heart monitor bleeped. The door opened and shut, then opened again. Footsteps sounded.
A voice, harsh and guttural, screamed at him.
"I'm gonna catch you, you pig! And when I do, you'll beg me to kill you!"
His chest hurt. And even though he was cold, sweat poured from his body. He was gasping for air.
"I'm coming to get you, Reed!"
"Mr. Reed? Mr. Reed?" Hands grasped his shoulder.
"No," Jim mumbled. He fought to move the hands. The dark face moved closer to him.
"End of the line, pig!"
It's not fair...
Something covered his face. Tried to smother him.
"Jim, breathe easy, now. Try to relax."
Relax your foot. Relax. You can get free. You have to get free.
Jim jerked his leg. He had to get his foot free. He jerked it again. He still couldn't move. And he still couldn't breathe.
"You're okay, Jim. You're okay. Don't move. Just relax."
"Looks like you're in a bit of a jam, Officer Reed."
Why couldn't he move his foot? Why couldn't he get free? He gasped for air.
He felt really funny and the darkness began to close in on him.
"Any last requests?"
My picture. Where's my picture? He tried to move his hand to find his picture of Jean and Jimmy, but like his foot, his hand wouldn't budge.
He was simply too tired to keep fighting. Too tired and too cold. He would just close his eyes and sleep for a little while. Just a little while.
"Jim, open your eyes!" Dr. Gibbs took Jim by the shoulders again and spoke sharply to him. "Look at me, now! Come, on, stay with me."
"What's wrong with him, doctor?" Jean asked, her voice betraying fresh fear.
"Nurse, get Dr. Pinkerton and Dr. Tomlinson in here, and get some help," Dr. Gibbs spoke to the nurse before he turned to Jean. "Mrs. Reed, I need for you to step outside and let us work on him."
"But what's happened?" Jean almost wailed. "Is it his heart?"
"Don't worry. It's not serious right now, just a little scary. But I feel like if we don't take aggressive action right now, his condition might continue to deteriorate and become serious. So please, go back to the waiting area and I'll come out and get you as soon as we get him stabilized and comfortable again." Dr. Gibbs pulled out his stethoscope and turned his attention back to Jim.
Jean hesitated, taking a long look at Jim. She didn't want to leave him. He looked so confused and vulnerable -- so helpless. He needs me! But then the treatment room door flew open and a large number of medical personnel whisked in. Dr. Gibbs started giving orders, mostly talking in medical terminology that she didn't understand, and they spread all over the room, caring for her husband.
She knew she was simply in the way. "Jim, darling, I love you. I'll be right outside," she called to him. She hoped he heard and understood her.
Jean stumbled out the door, fighting back both new tears and new fears. The emotional roller coaster ride she'd been on for what seemed like weeks had taken another plunge, and she wondered how much longer she could handle the ride. The need to be by her husband's side superceded all others. She wanted to stand by the door and wait, but her legs felt rubbery and she decided she needed to go sit down. Jean placed a hand over her unborn baby and gave her belly a rub. "Hang in there, little one. Your daddy's gonna be okay."
Jean took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, then walked down the hall toward the waiting area. When she turned the corner she almost ran smack into Pete. "Oh, Pete!" she gasped, startled.
"Jean, what's wrong?" Pete asked. He reached out and grasped her arm to steady her. "You look upset."
"Something's happening," Jean said, her voice choking up despite her resolve not to cry anymore. "Jim's having some problem."
"Is it serious?" Pete asked, his eyes clouding over.
"Dr. Gibbs said no, but that if they didn't act now, it could be." Jean's voice wavered, but she kept from sobbing. "Oh, Pete, his heart was beating all crazy, and he was acting almost delirious. He was trying so hard to remember what happened, and he couldn't...but he asked me if they shot anybody with his gun, and I couldn't lie to him, and he got all upset!"
"Hey, slow down, Jean, it's all right," Pete said. "Of course you couldn't lie to him. He expects the truth from you. He needs the truth from you."
"I--I'm so afraid the news about the deputy caused this to happen," Jean husked, still trying to keep from breaking apart. "He's still so sick; he's not ready to hear it."
Pete put his arm around Jean and pulled her close to him. "It's not your fault," he said with conviction. "Trust me when I say that Jim doesn't want anything less than the truth from you. From all of us."
"But right now the truth's hurting him."
"He'll have to face it all sooner or later. Most likely sooner," Pete said quietly. "You can't shelter him from it. Only he really knows what went on during the time he was missing, and he needs to face whatever it was."
"What if...if it was so horrible...he can't handle it?" Jean asked, finally voicing the fear she'd been harboring since Jim had awakened. Maybe he was blocking all the horror out.
Pete looked straight into her eyes, held her gaze for a moment, then smiled. "Jim's strong," he told her with confidence. "And if there's one thing in the world I know about Jim, it's that he draws that strength from his family. If he has you beside him, he can face anything. He'll get through this. You both will."
Jean nodded, then closed her eyes, at that moment feeling the accumulated stresses over the past two days closing in on her. If Pete hadn't had his arm around her, she might have fallen over. As it was, she leaned heavily into his supportive grasp.
"Jean?" Pete tightened his grip around her shoulders.
"I'm okay," she said. "I'm just so tired. I just want Jim to wake up and be all right!" Despite her best efforts to blink them back, tears spilled over.
"Let's go sit down," Pete said, gently turning her toward the waiting area. "Remember what I told you last night about taking care of yourself? That he would want you to take care of yourself, and his little baby, and that he expects me to make sure that you do? When he does wake up and come to his senses, he's liable to put another hole in my head if I don't."
Jean giggled despite herself, or maybe because her own delirium was about to set in. She wiped away the few stray tears that had fallen, and let Pete lead her to the waiting area. Before she sat down, she pulled herself together and gave her family and friends the latest news on Jim's condition.
Pete bit back a sigh, and stretched surreptitiously in his chair in the waiting area, hoping Judy wouldn't notice that he'd almost nodded off twice. Here I am, waiting again.
Almost forty-five minutes passed before Dr. Gibbs came out to talk to Jean. He assured her that Jim had stabilized and was making good strides in his recovery. The doctor explained the frightening episode as an extended period of irregular heartbeats which made him lightheaded from lack of oxygen, and a slight drop in core body temperature. The latter wasn't unusual, he told them, but they had taken more aggressive steps to warm him further, and now his temperature was rising rapidly. They had given Jim some medication for the irregular heartbeat, and it had brought his heart back to a more normal rhythm. Dr. Gibbs predicted that within the hour, Jim would probably be moved to his own room in sub-intensive care.
Pete had greeted that bit of news with unabashed relief. The relief spanned a multitude of levels; relief that Jim seemed to have finally turned the corner, relief that Jim would perhaps now get some relief from his physical discomfort, relief that maybe Jean could get settled and comfortable. Pete had watched her walk back to the treatment room with Dr. Gibbs and had wondered how much longer her stamina would hold out. Even though the presence of a goodly amount of Jim's colleagues, family, and friends was a comfort, it was also a drain on the emotions. Jean needed some quiet, meaningful time with Jim.
And Jim...God only knows what he needs. God only knows what he'll go through in the next few days. Weeks. Months.
A part of Pete desperately wanted to know exactly what had happened in the thirty-plus hours his partner had been in the hands of his abductors. But the other part of him dreaded the telling of the tale. Jim having to relive what had to have been hours of sheer terror. Pain. Loneliness. And, judging from what Jim had tried to tell him in the treatment room earlier, guilt.
Misplaced guilt. But so typical of Jim.
"Pete, are you all right?" Judy's quiet voice intruded on Pete's thoughts. She squeezed his hands. "Need some coffee?"
Pete managed a smile that didn't bring the usual bright sparkle to his eyes. "I'm all right."
"I wish you'd go home and go to bed," Judy said, then as Pete started to protest, added quickly, "But I understand why you don't."
"You probably should go, though," Pete told her. "Or at least call David."
Judy glanced at her watch. "That's probably a good idea. You'll be all right if I slip out and call him?"
"Of course. Be sure and tell him I'm all right, and that his Uncle Jim is much better."
"I will." Judy got up and went in search of a telephone.
Just as she disappeared from his view, a hand on his right shoulder caused him to turn back. Mac stood, looking down at him, a grim expression on his face.
"Mac, I thought you'd gone home for a while," Pete said. Mac had left soon after the press conference ended. Apparently he had gone home, at least briefly, for the sergeant had changed from his suit to slacks and a pullover shirt.
"I did. How's Jim doing?" Mac slid into the seat next to Pete.
"He had a bad spell about an hour ago. Scared Jean half to death. But the doctor just came out and said he's turned the corner. He might be in his own room within the hour."
"That's good news," Mac said, but his face and voice reflected no joy.
"Mac, what's wrong? Something's happened," Pete said. He'd been friends with Mac long enough to know when the Scotsman had bad news to tell him.
Mac leaned in and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "This hasn't been made public just yet, but Ciroppolli's killed another cop."
"What?" Pete hissed, stunned. "Who? What happened?"
"I got a call about twenty minutes ago from the Lieutenant. Ciroppolli killed a Clark County Sheriff's deputy about a half hour ago. It's not hit the news yet because of the family notifications."
"My God. They're still loose? You know any details?" Pete ran a shaky hand through his hair. When will this nightmare end?
"No details yet. And yes, Ciroppolli and Graddock are still on the loose. But the FBI's on the way back here. They're desperate to talk to Jim now. You think he's up to it?"
"I don't know, Mac. He was still out of it a couple hours ago, but the doctors said he was much better. Looks like he's going to have to at least try to remember something."
"Yeah. He is. I'm surprised I beat the agents here, to tell you the truth."
"Me, too." Pete frowned, then looked over his shoulder to the rear entrance, half-expecting to see the two agents standing behind him.
"Pete you know it has to be done," Mac said, apparently sensing Pete's reluctance.
"As long as they keep their promise to me and let me be in there while they question him, it's okay. I know Jim has to start talking soon, but you know I'm not gonna let them badger him."
"I think it's a good idea, you being there," Mac agreed. "Maybe it'll help Jim feel...somehow safer....talking about it."
Pete's frown deepened. "I hope so, Mac. I really hope so."
"I warn you, gentlemen, even though Mr. Reed's condition is much improved, he's still in a very fragile condition," Dr. Gibbs said, his voice stern. The expression on his face clearly reflected his unhappiness about Jim being officially questioned now."We haven't been able to give him any painkillers yet, so he's very uncomfortable. And mentally, he's still not processing information very well. You can't press him for answers he might not have, as much as you might want to. He can't take it."
"I assure you, doctor, that we have no intention of endangering Officer Reed's life," Agent Dixon said, his cool voice a noticeable contrast to the doctor's.
"But we do need to ask him some questions," Agent Zoellner added. "These guys are a danger to society. If Reed has some information that can help us bring them in, we've got to get it."
Pete watched as the FBI agents discussed Jim's condition with Dr. Gibbs. He kept a close eye on Zoellner, who he didn't trust to keep the promises of a light touch during the questioning. Dixon seemed patient and imperturbable, but Pete could see the light of zealousness glimmering in Zoellner's eyes. Pete understood the younger man's urgency. Pete wanted Ciroppolli and Graddock caught and brought to justice more than either of the federal agents. Under ordinary circumstances, Pete would encourage and appreciate such zealousness.
But the circumstances were far from ordinary.
"I'm going to be monitoring him during the questioning," Dr. Gibbs spoke again. "And if I think he's getting in trouble, I'll pull the plug on you. You're on my turf now, and I make the calls here. Agreed?"
Ah, my hero, Dr. Gibbs. Pete kept his expression neutral, but he felt better having the doctor in his corner.
"You're the boss, doc," Dixon smiled tightly and spread his hands outward.
"I'd like to go in first," Pete said.
"Why?" Zoellner asked.
"First, I don't think Mrs. Reed should be in the room when you question him," Pete held up one finger, ticking off his reasons.
"Why not?" Surprisingly, the question came from Dr. Gibbs. "She has a real calming effect on him. It might be good for him."
Pete shook his head. "No. Jim shelters her from the harsher realities of police work as much as possible. If she's in the room, I think he'll be uncomfortable talking frankly. I'd like to go in, tell him you're coming, and bring her out to sit with her family." And besides, I want a good look at him before you guys pounce.
"Makes sense," Dixon said, with a nod.
"And while we're at it, I'd like to avoid telling Jim about this latest killing," Pete said. "I don't think it's necessary, and I think it'd be one more burden to lay on a sick man." Pete knew that Jim would grieve for the loss of yet another brother officer, and he'd somehow find a way to blame himself. Especially if ballistics bore out the suspicions that Ciroppolli had once again used Jim's gun. He wanted to put off telling Jim that particular piece of bad news as long as possible. Especially that the guy was a 23-year-old rookie. Six weeks on the force. A two-week old son at home. That would tear Jim's heart out.
"I don't have a problem with that," Dixon agreed. "But I trust that you don't want us to lie about it, should he ask."
"No. I don't want you to lie."
"While we're standing here talking, these guys might be killing someone else," Zoellner said with impatience. "Let's get moving."
"Wait here. I'll be right back."
Pete pushed the treatment room door open and plastered a smile on his face before he entered. Dr. Gibbs followed on his heels.
"I brought you another visitor, Mr. Reed," the physician said, from over Pete's shoulder.
"Hiya, partner," Pete greeted him.
Jim managed a weak smile. He did look marginally better to Pete, though the pain Dr. Gibbs alluded to had etched itself all over his partner's face. Even with that, Jim no longer looked like he was at death's door. Now he just looks like he's on the porch.
"Hi, Pete," Jim croaked in return. "Guess I didn't hallucinate you earlier, huh?"
"Guess not." Pete moved to Jim's side and stood beside Jean, who sat perched on a stool to Jim's left. She had a hand on Jim's shoulder, her fingers lightly tapping a reassuring rhythm. "Feeling any better?"
"Little bit," Jim said.
Blankets still swathed Jim from chin to toes, and the wool cap hadn't been removed, though the oxygen mask had. The tubes and wires hadn't been removed, either. It hurt Pete to see Jim's pale, battered face, but hearing him speak more coherently and less breathlessly eased that hurt some.
"Good. You up to talking a bit? Answering a few questions?"
Jim nodded, once, but beside him, Jean stiffened.
"So soon?" Jean asked.
"The FBI needs to ask a few questions," Pete kept the tone of his voice light. "It's important."
"So is Jim's health!"
"Hon...it's okay," Jim said.
"I'll be here to make sure it doesn't get out of hand," Dr. Gibbs told her.
"And I'll be here, too. Don't worry, Jean."
"I still don't like it," Jean objected.
Jim cut his eyes toward his wife, then looked back at Pete.
"Ah, Jean," Pete said, clearly understanding Jim's unspoken message, "I think it'd be better if you waited in the lobby while the FBI's in here."
Jean slid off the stool, her face flushing red. "You want me to leave?"
"I think it'd be best," Pete said.
"I don't want..."
"Please, honey," Jim interrupted. "Please."
Jean turned to look at her husband, the surprise clearly written on her face. "Jim?"
"I'll be fine. I'd...rather...you waited outside." Jim wriggled under the blankets and managed to pull his left arm free of the constricting cocoon. He grasped Jean's hand.
The look of surprise faded from Jean's face and a mellow expression of understanding replaced it. "If that's what you want, honey."
Jean leaned over, brushed Jim's lips with a kiss, and gently tucked his arm back under the covers. "I love you," she said. "I'll be right back."
"Thanks, honey," Jim smiled again. "Love you, too."
Jean turned to go, but not before she fixed Pete with a look that he had no trouble interpreting. He continued to be amazed at the spirit the woman exuded, even under such stress.
"It'll be okay, I promise," Pete told her. He followed her to the door and opened it for her.
"I'm counting on that," she whispered, in a near-hiss. She exited the room, brushed past the FBI agents, who she fixed with a venomous glare before heading on down the corridor.
Pete couldn't keep from smiling at the look of consternation on the agents' faces as they entered the room.
"She doesn't look very happy," Dixon said quietly.
"She's not," Pete agreed. "But deep down, she understands." He turned and headed back to Jim, who lay there watching as Pete the agents approached. "Jim, this is Agent Dixon and Agent Zoellner, Los Angeles Field Office, FBI."
"Hello," Jim said. He pulled his left hand out again and offered it to Dixon, but the agent waved it away.
"Relax, Officer Reed," Dixon said, with a smile. "There's no need for formality. We just want to ask you a few questions."
Pete took station at Jim's shoulder, and as Jean had done earlier, put Jim's arm back under the blanket. Jim did not protest or even react, another indicator to Pete just how sick his partner still was. Dixon stood next to Pete, while Zoellner moved to the opposite side, just in front of where Dr. Gibbs stood. The younger agent took out a notebook and pen. A nurse hovered at the working desk near the door, writing in what looked to be Jim's chart.
"I'd like to express my regrets to you for what all you've been through in the past two days," Dixon said sincerely. "I know this has been a difficult time for you and your family."
"Thanks." Jim blinked at Dixon. "They're...still loose?"
"Yes, they are," Dixon said, his voice calm and compassionate. "But we're closing in on them. We'd just like to ask you a few questions to see if you might have information to make that job easier."
"Okay. I'll try to remember."
"Did Ciroppolli or Graddock give you any indication as to what their plans were after they left you?" Dixon asked.
"Only that they were heading to Las Vegas," Jim said. "Nothing beyond that."
"Did he mention going after his ex-wife?"
Jim frowned and closed his eyes, obviously concentrating very hard. It took him almost a minute to answer, and he still sounded hesitant. "N-no. He didn't. I...think...I mentioned it once."
Again, Jim took a long time to formulate an answer. "It's still kinda fuzzy. But I...think...I was trying to turn them...against each other."
Dixon nodded. He glanced over at Zoellner, who scribbled in the notebook. "I see. What was the response to that?"
"I...I think...Ciroppolli got angry," Jim's words came slowly, haltingly. Pete could tell that Jim had to fight for coherent thought.
"Did he deny that was his plan?"
"Noooo...I don't think so. I just remember him getting angry. He did that a lot."
"What? Get angry?"
"Yeah. I think...he's a headcase."
"We'll come back to that in a minute, Officer Reed," Dixon said. "Can you remember how Graddock reacted to the mention of Ciroppolli's ex-wife?"
"She okay?" Jim asked.
"Ciroppolli's ex?" Dixon almost smiled. "She's fine. She's in a safe house and we have a sting operation set up at her home. If Ciroppolli shows up there, he'll have a surprise waiting for him."
"Good," Jim nodded.
"Now, back to Graddock's reaction."
"Graddock...." Jim paused a long few beats, obviously searching for words. Pete had to resist the temptation to tell Jim to relax and take his time. "Graddock is a scared kid. I don't think that he knew about the ex-wife. I think all...he wanted was to get lost in Las Vegas. I think I remember him saying he wanted to get some money and get lost." Jim took a deep breath and briefly shut his eyes, obviously tiring fast.
"Do you think they might separate?" Dixon asked.
Jim nodded. "Yeah. Ciroppolli...didn't like Graddock. I think he thought, he thought....that he was stupid."
"Is it fair to say that you think whatever plan Ciroppolli had in mind, Graddock wasn't a part of it?" Dixon asked.
Jim nodded again. "Yes."
"And you can't remember anything that Ciroppolli might have said that would tip you to any future activities?"
Jim's brow furrowed. He stayed in that concentrated pose for almost a full minute. "I'm sorry," he finally whispered. "I can't remember anything like that."
"It's all right," Dixon assured him. "If something comes to you later, you can always get word to us. Now, what makes you think that Ciroppolli might be a headcase?"
"I can't remember...a lot...but I can remember him...screaming...being out of control at times."
"Screaming at you? Graddock? The world?"
"Me. And Graddock."
"Can you remember anything specific he yelled about?"
This time, Jim stared at the ceiling as he thought. "I...I can't really remember anything specific," he sighed. "But...I think...talking about his ex-wife made him yell. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Officer Reed. Can you remember if Ciroppolli made any unusual religious references?"
Jim's eyes widened briefly. "Re-religous references?"
"Yeah. Did he quote any scriptures, say any prayers? Talk about anything spiritual?"
Pete could have sworn Jim went another shade of pale. Jim's chest rose more rapidly as he closed his eyes, his brow creasing with the effort of thought. Pete refrained from saying anything, for fear of breaking Jim's intense concentration.
"I...I can't be sure," Jim said at last. He opened his eyes, looked over at Pete, then looked up at the ceiling again. "I want to say...maybe...he mentioned...God once or twice."
"But you don't remember anything specific?"
Jim took so long to answer that Pete thought he might not answer at all. "No."
Dixon looked over at Zoellner and nodded. The younger agent reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a folded piece of paper. Dixon took the paper from him, unfolded it, and held it out to Jim. "Have you ever seen this before?"
Pete looked over at the paper. Ah, the facsimiles must have arrived. Wonder why I haven't had a look at those yet.
Jim squinted as he stared at a facsimile of the mysterious scripture reference that Pete had found in Jim's notebook. "I...don't think so."
"That's not your handwriting, or your wife's or anyone you know?"
Jim frowned. "Not that I can tell. What is that? A...Bible verse?"
"Yes, it is," Dixon said. "Numbers 35:30."
"Where did it...come from?" Jim asked, his voice again sounding breathless.
Out of the corner of his eye, Pete noticed that Dr. Gibbs moved closer to the heart monitor.
"From out of your police notebook."
Jim's frown deepened. "My notebook? I didn't...write that."
"We didn't think so, Officer Reed. We think Ciroppolli did. We have the original paper in the hands of our handwriting analysts and we're checking into Ciroppolli's religious beliefs. So he didn't quote any scripture to you?"
"No. Well, I can't remember if he did or not, but...surely I'd remember that. What does that verse say?"
Dixon pulled the paper back close and read off the back where someone had put the verse. " 'Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.'"
Jim's eyes closed again, and Pete could see him tremble underneath the blankets. Somehow he didn't think it was from the cold. An uneasy feeling settled over Pete, but he remained silent.
"You have any idea what Ciroppolli might have meant by that?"
"No," Jim whispered so low he could barely be heard above the medical equipment.
Pete looked at Jim in concern. He's really shaken by this. What's spooked him?
"Which one of them killed the deputy outside of Powderly?" Dixon asked, not unkindly.
"Ciroppolli," Jim said, in almost a sigh.
"What happened there?"
"I can't...exactly remember," Jim said.
"Do you remember the shooting?"
"Did the deputy pull you over, or were you already stopped?"
Jim licked at his lips and closed his eyes. He exhaled a long, shaky breath. "We were already stopped. But I can't remember why."
"Where were all of you in the car? Ciroppolli was sitting where?"
Jim did not open his eyes, but seemed to retreat into himself further, as if opening them would reveal some horror he didn't want to relive. "Ciroppolli was driving. Graddock was in the backseat. I was down in the floorboard."
"You were handcuffed?"
"And Ciroppolli was dressed in your shirt and had your gun."
"Did he bait the deputy into coming to the car? Call out to him?"
"Call...out? No...but I did...I tried to warn him off...I yelled, I tried...but I couldn't...."
The despair in Jim's voice almost broke Pete's heart. This time he did intervene. He put a firm hand on Jim's shoulder. "Take it easy, partner. You were handcuffed, in the floorboard of the car. You did what you could."
"So you yelled out a warning to the deputy?" Dixon asked. "What happened then?"
"Ciroppolli...shot him.... I heard him hit the gravel.... He made a noise," Jim drew in a ragged breath and opened his eyes. Pete could see tears gathered there. He squeezed Jim's shoulder gently. "Graddock...started yelling. Ciroppolli shot again....he used...he used my gun." Jim's voice quavered.
"How did he get your gun? Your other equipment?" Dixon kept his voice low and calm.
Jim had to swallow and take a deep breath before he answered. "After Ciroppolli shot...Pete... I went for my gun. I...I had it out, about to fire...Graddock hit my hand with the tire iron." Jim dragged his right arm out from under the blankets and held it up as a silent witness to some of the abuse he'd taken. The IV tubes dangled from his forearm, and the large discolored bruise on his wrist stood out in stark contrast to the pallor of his skin. "I dropped the gun.... I dropped the gun...."
"Jim, take it easy," Pete said. He reached over and tapped Jim's arm so that he would lower it.
"We struggled. He jumped me..."
"He being?" Dixon prompted.
"Graddock. I couldn't get the gun. Couldn't get it...." Jim's breathing grew rapid and ragged again.
"Take your time," Dixon said.
"He hit me...and...then...I woke up in the floorboard," Jim closed his eyes again and shuddered. Pete squeezed his shoulder again.
"Gentlemen, I think that's enough for now," Dr. Gibbs spoke up. "Mr. Reed needs to rest."
"One more question, if you don't mind," Dixon held up a hand to the physician. "Officer Reed, what happened to the other gun? The one that Ciroppolli shot your partner with?"
Jim made an obvious effort to calm himself. He took a couple of deep, ragged breaths and licked at his lips again. "Ciroppolli gave the gun to Graddock," he said.
"Did Graddock ever use or threaten to use the gun?"
"No." Jim shook his head slightly, then winced as it obviously caused him some discomfort.
"Do you think he would use the gun if forced to?"
Jim thought a beat. "Maybe. He's scared. Really scared. I...don't think he wants to hurt anyone, but...he'll do anything Ciroppolli tells him to. He's...more scared of Ciroppolli than anything." Jim's voice sounded strained. He coughed, then grunted painfully.
"Gentlemen," Dr. Gibbs said, walking to Jim's side.
"I think we've got enough information to start," Dixon nodded "Officer Reed, thank you for your help. You rest now, and we'll talk later." He looked at Zoellner and inclined his head toward the door. "Officer Malloy, could you join us outside?"
"Jim, I'll be right back," Pete said. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." Jim whispered.
"Don't go anywhere," Pete smiled.
"Deal," Jim managed a smile of his own.
Pete gave Jim's shoulder a final pat and followed the FBI agents out the door.
"What do you think, Malloy?" Dixon asked Pete as the three men walked a space down the corridor.
Pete bit back a sigh. He felt drained. Pete had been on edge during the brief interrogation, fighting back a variety of worries. He couldn't have been any more tense had he been the one answering the questions. "I think Jim's still a very sick man. And that he told you everything he possibly could under the circumstances."
"Are you sure about that?" Zoellner asked.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Pete asked, with considerable heat. Had Zoellner's voice held a hint of belligerence, Pete would have throttled him right then and there.
"I don't mean any criticism, Officer Malloy," Zoellner held up his hands in a surrender gesture. "But I watched you watch your partner during the questioning. I think if you're honest with yourself you'll admit there were a couple of questions that he seemed to hold back on."
Pete fumed inwardly. That's the oldest trick in the book. Watch the associate of the one you're questioning. You can learn just as much, that way. Sometimes more. Damn. "He can't remember much right now."
"We realize that," Dixon said, with a sideways glance at his own partner. "And I'm satisfied with the answers that we got from him. For now."
Dixon's placating tone of voice did nothing to placate Pete. "Give the man a break! He's only a few hours from having been at the point of death! You didn't see him in that barn. I did! It's a miracle he could talk to you at all!"
"You saw how he reacted to the questions about the religious references," Zoellner stated. "I saw it in your eyes."
"What I saw was fear," Pete said, a knife of guilt slicing through him for saying that about Jim. "We don't even have an inkling yet of the extent of what he suffered at the hands of those maniacs. What I saw was a man trying to come to grips with that! He wouldn't hold back information."
"Perhaps," Zoellner nodded.
"Perhaps, nothing! Jim's a damn good cop, and an even better human being. He's not..."
"Relax, Malloy," Dixon said. "We read his package. Yours, too. You're both outstanding law enforcement officers. Both of your packages are full of commendations. Innovations. A Medal of Valor for Reed. You don't have to convince us of Reed's commitment to law and order."
"And you're right about one thing," Zoellner added, "We don't know the full extent of what happened to him out there. And whether or not he can't remember, which is entirely possible, or whether he's holding back, all I know for sure is, I have a lot of questions I don't know the answer to. And that makes me very uncomfortable."
Pete didn't say anything. He wanted answers himself. Badly.
"Exactly what kind of religious beliefs does Officer Reed hold?" Dixon asked.
"You said he went to church. What denomination is it?"
Pete's anger kicked up another notch. "You asked me about that once today already, and I answered you. I don't think that has anything to do with this case!"
Dixon raised an eyebrow. "I have to disagree. We have a mysterious Bible reference that shows up in your partner's notebook. Reed obviously reacted to the questions about the reference. The change in his condition was plain to see. I think it means something. It may be of vital importance to the case, but then again, maybe not. But I think you'd agree that we need to know which. I think maybe we need to ask his wife about his religious beliefs again. There could be some tie-in."
Pete ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "A tie-in to what exactly?" Pete sure didn't want Jean dragged into this any more than she already had been.
"I don't know," Dixon admitted.
"Let me point something out to you," Zoellner said. "Of all the people who have come in direct contact with Ciroppolli and Graddock, Reed is the only one who's alive to tell us anything."
"I'm alive," Pete objected.
"You aren't supposed to be," Dixon said bluntly. "Ciroppolli sure tried to kill you and apparently thought he had. He killed a deputy in cold blood, according to Reed. More than likely he's the one who killed Tremont, and he's killed a second deputy in Las Vegas. Aren't you just the least bit curious why Jim Reed is still alive? With no gunshot wound? With no apparent overt attempt to kill him?"
"You don't think stripping him half-naked, beating him, and leaving him handcuffed in a barn exposed to the elements is an overt attempt to kill him?" Pete tried to keep his voice from shaking with anger.
"Not as overt as putting a bullet in his brain," Dixon pointed to Pete's head.
"Something to think about," Zoellner shrugged, then walked off.
Dixon clapped Pete on the shoulder. "By the way, all the facsimiles of the contents of Reed's notebook and wallet came in. I'd like you to take a look at the notebook contents. I'm going to have Mrs. Reed look over the wallet. Come on out to the waiting area and we'll take care of it now." He left to join Zoellner.
Pete watched the two agents disappear around the corner, then sagged against the wall, angry and exhausted.
And more than a little conflicted. With all his heart he believed that Jim would never hold back vital information from an investigation. But he had to reluctantly admit that the agents were right -- Jim had reacted strangely to the questions about the religious reference. And even though he was profoundly grateful that Jim was still alive, more than once he had wondered why.
Pete finally allowed himself the sigh he'd been holding back all evening. "Partner, what happened to you out there?"