A Matter of Time, Part 7
Jim shifted in the bed and tried to get comfortable, but he couldn't find a position that would ease the pain in his back and side. He could ignore the pain in other parts of his body, and the lingering sensation of being cold, but the discomfort from his back was too overpowering.
But not overpowering enough to make him forget the pain in his soul.
Your faith has saved you.
Jim still had trouble remembering the details, but over the past few minutes, as he lay alone in his new hospital room, the major events of the past day and a half had started flooding into his mind with gut-wrenching clarity. He couldn't shut the memories out by closing his eyes, or talking with the doctors, or even thinking about the relentless pain.
He finally remembered how he'd torn up his ankle. The memory of Ciroppolli's face looming over him as he'd struggled to free his foot from the hole in the ground sent a chill down his spine that had nothing to do with his lowered body temperature. Jim remembered the cold rain pouring down on him as he sat handcuffed to the pole in an old barn so dark he couldn't see his own feet in front of him. He remembered the chill of his own gun touching the back of his head and the sound of a bullet dropping into the chamber. A bullet meant for him.
A bullet that was never fired. Your faith has saved you.
Jim squeezed his eyes shut. My faith. Why my faith? It's nothing special. I'm just ordinary.
The sound of the door opening caused him to open his eyes. He hoped it would be Jean joining him here in his new room in sub-intensive care, but instead, a nurse entered the room.
"Mr. Reed, how are you feeling?" the nurse asked. She crossed the room into the pale light that illuminated the area beside Jim's bed.
"My back hurts," he replied honestly. The doctor had promised him some painkillers once he'd been moved and settled, and he was more than ready for them.
"I'm sure it does," the nurse agreed. "Dr. Gibbs has ordered something for you, and we're working on it now."
"Good. Where's my wife?"
"She's signing some papers. She'll be up in a few minutes. By the way, my name's Jessica, and I'll be your night nurse. Are you warm enough now?"
"Not really. But getting some clothes on helped."
Jessica smiled at him as she adjusted the IV drip. "I can turn up the heat in here some more and bring you another blanket if you'd like."
"I'll take care of that as soon as I check out all your wires and tubes here. We don't want anything getting past us."
"Okay." Jim rested his eyes as Jessica prowled around him, checking tubes and wires, adjusting monitors and scribbling into his chart. But he opened them almost immediately when visions of Ciroppolli started re-entering his head. He wanted Jean to come back. When she held his hand and talked to him, he could push the bad memories out of his mind.
But pushing the memories away made him feel guilty. He hadn't exactly lied to the FBI agents...had he? He guessed that faith would be considered a religious reference. But what good would it have done to tell them what Ciroppolli had said when he couldn't even figure it out himself?
Your faith has saved you.
Pete had come back in after the FBI men had left, but his partner wouldn't say what he had discussed with the agents. Pete knew. He didn't say anything but he knew. He knew I lied. But I didn't lie...I really couldn't remember...and I don't think it means anything...does it? I didn't lie...did I? God, I'm so confused.
"Mr. Reed, do you think you could eat something?" Jessica's voice cut into his thoughts. "The doctor said you could have some warm broth."
The thought of eating anything turned his stomach. The supersweet coffee they'd force-fed him still sat heavily. "I'm not hungry."
"All right," Jessica said. "I just need to get your blood pressure, then I'll check on your medication and get you another blanket. I can see you're uncomfortable."
"Thanks." Jim lay still and tried to make his mind a blank as the nurse took his blood pressure. He hoped whatever medication he wound up with would make him sleep. Despite his pain and exhaustion, his mind couldn't shut off long enough for him to drift off.
Your faith has saved you.
"I'll be back in just a minute," Jessica removed the blood pressure cuff, scribbled in his chart, then adjusted the blanket back over his arm. "Will you be all right?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah."
Jessica looked at him as if she didn't believe him, but then gave him a smile. "Okay. If you need anything, I've clipped the call button by your hand here." She patted the bed to show him. "But we're monitoring you from the nurses' station, so don't worry."
Jessica left the room, and as the door closed behind her, leaving him alone in the near-darkness, Jim fought down an unexpected surge of panic. He didn't want to be alone, with only his dark, confused thoughts for company. His heart started to pound in that crazy rhythm again, and he actually felt a sweat break out on his forehead. What's the matter with me? He took a deep, gasping breath. Another. And another. After a few frantic seconds Jim's hammering heart finally slowed, the panic replaced by embarrassment at his overreaction to the dark.
I'm just tired. I can't think straight. Tomorrow I can make sense of it. Tomorrow I'll remember everything and it'll make sense.
The rationalization didn't comfort him. By tomorrow, Ciroppolli might kill again. What if I know something that could stop him? What am I missing? Jim knotted his hands into fists, gasping slightly at the painful protest from his bruised right wrist. He forced himself to relax.
Your faith has saved you.
"Why?" Jim asked the darkness.
A gentle tap at the door interrupted his introspection, and he frowned. Jean wouldn't knock, nor would the nurse. "Come in," he called, hoping that his weak voice would carry.
The door opened slowly and Dr. Thomas Warren stepped into the dim room. "Jim?" The minister said quietly.
"Thomas," Jim whispered.
"So good to see you, Jim." Thomas quickly crossed to Jim's side, a genuine smile splitting his face.
Jim offered his pastor his left hand. "My right hand's a bit, well..." Jim hefted it to show Thomas the bruises.
"Quite all right, Jim," Dr. Warren briefly grasped Jim's left hand in an awkward shake. "I'm just happy to see you."
"I'm happy to be here," Jim said. An uncomfortable feeling settled in the pit of Jim's stomach. Jim suddenly realized that he was afraid that Thomas might ask him some spiritually-related questions that he had no desire to discuss. He couldn't fathom why -- he considered Thomas a friend. And if anybody could help him unravel a mystery of faith, it should be his pastor.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to get here," Dr. Warren apologized. "I had an out-of-town wedding this afternoon, and I didn't even hear the news you'd been found until I was on my way back in. Then there was a big traffic snafu on the freeway, and I'm just getting here."
"That's okay. I was pretty much out of it until just a few minutes ago."
"I saw Jean downstairs. She filled me in on everything. She says you're going to be just fine."
"That's what they say," Jim said. "I had my doubts for a while."
"I never did," Thomas said. "Too many people were praying for you. Our church. Jean. Your partner. All your colleagues. You know, there's still a lobby full of police officers downstairs. They never gave up hope."
Jim's throat closed as a knot of emotion rose from his chest. He hadn't even really had time to think about the ones who worried and waited. And prayed. They were the ones with the faith. Not me. "Thanks, Thomas," he husked, trying to keep embarrassing tears at bay.
"All part of the service," Thomas joked softly.
"It means...a lot to me," Jim said. He swallowed hard.
"I know." Dr. Warren let the silence stretch out between them for a few moments. "Is there anything I can do for you, Jim?"
Jim blinked. He couldn't sort out his whirling, fractured thoughts to formulate a coherent question. I need...something.... But Jim couldn't find his voice.
Dr. Warren apparently saw the confusion and hesitation in Jim's eyes. He touched Jim briefly on the shoulder. "It's all right," he said. "I'm here for you, when you need me."
Jim nodded, grateful that Thomas didn't push him to talk. He simply could not face those confusing issues now.
"I'll be back tomorrow, when you're feeling better. Get some rest, Jim."
Dr. Warren patted Jim's shoulder, then turned and walked to the door.
"Thomas," Jim called after him.
"Yes?" Thomas turned back.
The darkness couldn't hide the look of understanding painted on Dr. Warren's face. "Of course, Jim. God knows you still need Him. And He's still there. Let that thought give you some peace."
Peace. I wish I could find some. Jim nodded, then closed his eyes before Thomas could close the door and leave him alone again in the dark
Pete collapsed onto his bed with a heavy sigh. After he'd opened his apartment door and locked it behind him, he'd headed straight for the bedroom, not even bothering to take off his jacket. The exhaustion he'd been ignoring for nearly two days had finally overcome him. Pete didn't even know if he'd have the energy to stand back up long enough to turn down the bedcovers.
I'll just sleep right here. On top of the bed. It's not against the law. Who's gonna know? Pete cracked one eye open to check the time on his alarm clock. Eleven-fifteen. And the alarm's still set for five. No way I can leave that. Damn.
It took a mighty effort, but Pete rolled over and sat up, then flipped the alarm button off. "Might as well do it right," he muttered to himself. He leaned over and tugged at his hiking boot laces as if they had suddenly become his enemy. Once unlaced, he slung the boots in the corner of the bedroom. He ripped his jacket off and it soon joined the boots. So I won't win any Good Housekeeping awards tonight. I just need to rest in peace and quiet.
Judy hadn't understood his need to be alone right now. She had wanted him to sleep at her house, "so she could look after him," she'd said. He'd politely declined, knowing that now he needed his own bed, his own familiar surroundings and some space. Judging from her reaction, Pete realized he'd probably hurt her feelings. Not only that, he'd likely driven another nail into the coffin in which they would bury their relationship if things didn't change.
Pete scrubbed at his face, then took a little more care stripping out of his clothing. He carefully steered his thoughts away from the emotional land mines concerning his and Judy's relationship. The past two days had left him too raw to deal with anything as charged as a troubled romance. Those kinds of thoughts, of a necessity, had to take a back seat.
A part of him felt terribly guilty about that.
Pete's shirt and pants joined the growing pile in the corner. In a bizarre way, the pile of clothing mirrored the clutter in Pete's mind. Layer upon layer of worries piled there. Jim's health. For that matter, Jean's health. The cop-killing Ciroppolli. Dedicated FBI agents. He wondered what had happened to Jim. The list grew.
Pete jerked the covers down on his bed, then fell into it after he flipped out the light. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and let it out in a long, slow, exhalation. He forced himself to relax, to truly let go of the tension that had attached to him like a leech since Thursday morning. But the worrisome clutter lined up and paraded through his mind, mocking his attempt to sleep.
I hope Jim sleeps through the night. What kind of nightmares might be running through his mind now? I should have offered to stay with him, for Jean's sake. Poor Jean. She cried so hard when her father and the doctors insisted that she leave. But she was on her last legs, and she'd been there when the pain medication finally sent Jim off to sleep. It was the best thing for her and the baby. And if Jim had been in his right mind, he would have insisted she go himself. He'll never realize she went home. I hope.
Pete's last glimpse of Jim had been just before the pain medication his partner had so desperately needed finally kicked in. Jim had tried to smile a good-bye at him, and had wiggled his fingers in a half-hearted wave, not bothering to even let go of Jean's hand. Jim had held her hand almost fiercely, and the look in his eyes had been almost painful to see.
What was that look? Pain? Some. Fear? Yes, but not the usual kind. There was something else there. Emptiness? Loneliness? Desperation? Maybe all of that. Jean saw it, too - that look. And she'd obviously felt the neediness in Jim's grasp. That's why she hadn't wanted to leave him. And I don't blame her. I didn't want to leave, either.
Pete sighed. He'd never get any sleep if he kept dwelling on that last look of Jim's and on Jean's subsequent distress. He'd just have to do what his Aunt Nell told him to do when he had a plate full of worries. She told him that he should be like Scarlett O'Hara and think about that tomorrow. That hadn't made much sense to him when he was a ten-year-old kid, and had no clue who Scarlett O'Hara was, but right now it made a heck of a lot of sense. Nothing he could do right now anyway. Tomorrow he could handle the situation. Tomorrow he'd be rested, and so would Jim, and together they'd sort it all out.
Jim twisted the hospital blanket that covered his body in his good left hand. First, he gave the cotton material a counterclockwise twist, then paused to track the bare sliver of light that slithered under his door with a blurred gaze. He then gave the blanket a clockwise twist punctuated with a frustrated sigh. His gaze returned to the strip of light at the foot of his door. That light, and the faint noises of early-morning hospital activities were the only connection to the rest of the world that Jim could find in the cloying darkness of his hospital room. Jim dropped the blanket, then plucked the picture of Jean and Jimmy out of the pocket of his pajama top. He rubbed the damaged photo gently, still wondering how it had found its way into his left hand. The picture had been his lifeline in the dark, pain-filled hours in the barn, and now, it gave him some comfort in his darkened hospital room. Jean must've slipped it into my pocket after I went to sleep. I guess Pete or somebody must've found it and given it to her. I'm glad it didn't get left out there.
Jim had been unable to sleep since his nurse, Jessica, had inadvertently awakened him about four a.m. during a routine check of his vital signs. She had startled him awake from an ill-defined dream full of cold shadows and darkness, and in the heart-pounding moments of mental confusion that followed, he'd searched for his wife, only to find her gone. Jessica had assured him that she was okay, just exhausted, and the doctors had insisted she go home to rest. Jim knew in his head that Jean had done the right thing, but his heart ached for her presence in the lonely darkness of the night.
Jessica, apparently sensing his unease, had lingered over her duties and talked with him for several minutes. She fussed over his pillows and blankets, poured him some water to drink, and even chatted with him about the Dodgers game he'd missed. But even hearing of a Dodger victory did little to ease the anxiety Jim felt inside. And once Jessica had left him with an admonishment to go back to sleep, the blackness settled over him with suffocating blanket of empty silence.
He knew he should feel safe, here in the hospital surrounded by attentive caregivers, but the loneliness of his empty hospital room too closely mimicked those long hours in the barn. He was essentially held captive in his bed, tied down not with handcuffs but with tubes and wires almost as restrictive. And though his hospital bed was warm and dry, he was again alone with only blackness, pain, and his thoughts for company. Sleep proved to be impossible.
It was almost too much to bear. He fingered the picture again and clutched it tightly to his chest.
Some inner demon whispered into his mind's ear that he was weak. A coward, to be afraid of the dark, clinging to a lifeless picture as comfort. Inadequate, that he had been unable to see disaster coming and to avoid capture. Less of a man because he so needed the company of his wife that he physically shook. Useless, because he couldn't provide information to help his colleagues capture the two animals who had carved a trail of terror and put him here. And oh, so unworthy to still be alive.
Your faith has saved you.
The words still haunted him. As he lay in the dark, fighting the fear, the memories of his captivity began to surface. Jim could now remember just why Ciroppolli had pulled over the black and white in Powderly. He could remember with a surprising clarity the chilling conversation he had with Ciroppolli concerning killing in the line of duty. He could remember begging the felon not to kill someone to carry out his chilling "experiment." Jim remembered his great relief when Ciroppolli agreed not to kill, and then the sick feeling when Jim had heard the crunch of gravel and the flash of red light that indicated a law enforcement officer had stopped to check out why an LAPD black and white was pulled over to the side of the road outside of its jurisdiction. That law enforcement officer paid with his life.
Your faith has saved you.
The San Bernadino County deputy's only crime had been to approach Marco Ciroppolli from a distance. His involvement with the felons had lasted just a few brief seconds and ended in violent death. Jim's own involvement with the escapees had lasted for hours. He had interacted with them. Needled them. Fought them. Ran from them. Pushed them to their limits and tried to turn them against each other. It had been Ciroppolli's intention from the beginning to kill him, just as the criminal thought he'd killed Pete.
And yet, here he was, alive.
Your faith has saved you.
Jim blew out a shaky breath, trying to rid himself of the anxiety that had his insides in knots. The memories of what should have been his last minute on earth were so intense that he imagined he could feel the cold steel of his own revolver pressed against the back of his head. He could hear Ciroppolli's ritualistic words as his captor forced him to his knees, and then the sudden switch from cold ritual to casual conversation as he complimented Jim on his guts and asked him for last requests.
Did he spare me because I said I loved my wife? Because I asked for a moment to talk to God? What if I hadn't asked to pray? What if I'd just looked him in the eye and said nothing? Would I be dead now? Was the prayer an excuse? Did he really think I had great faith? Or is he just such a headcase those words meant nothing? Why am I not dead? Why was I spared? God, help me understand!
Alone and confused, Jim stared at the ceiling of the darkened room and didn't bother to fight the tears that burned his eyes from spilling over. He prayed for the strength to make it until sunrise, when maybe the light of day would help him make sense of it all.
Jim stood it as long as he could. It seemed that hours and hours had passed since Jessica had awakened him. Surely the sun had risen by now. Surely Jean would be back any minute. Or Pete. But his room was still dark, and he couldn't take it any longer. He slipped the picture of Jean and Jimmy back into the pocket of his pajama top, then groped with his left hand and located the nurse call button. He pushed it three times. It didn't take long before Jessica came in.
"What's wrong, Mr. Reed?" she asked in concern.
"What time is it?" Jim asked. His voice came out hoarse, and he cleared his throat.
"Six-fifteen," Jessica said, after a quick glance at her watch.
"Will you please open the blinds? And turn on the light?" Jim asked.
"Of course," Jessica reached over and pulled the cord that turned on the light, then turned to open the blinds. "Better?"
Jessica looked at him closely. "Are you in pain?"
"Some," Jim told her. Actually, a lot. But I don't want any medicine. I have to think straight. "But I'm all right."
"You can have more pain medication if you want it. Dr. Gibbs okayed an additional dose any time after 3 am."
"No. No, thanks. I need to...clear my head."
"I've been watching the monitors at the nurses station. Your heart rate's been high since I woke you at 4. You haven't slept, have you?" Jessica pulled out a blood pressure cuff from her coat pocket and slipped it around Jim's arm.
"Not much, no."
"You should have called me earlier," Jessica said, as she pumped up the cuff. "I could have gotten you a sedative."
"That's all right."
Jessica finished her blood pressure reading, noted it on a pad she pulled from her pocket, then checked his temperature from the foley. "Ninety-eight point three," she announced. "Do you feel warm enough?"
"Yes. When can I get out of bed?" Jim looked around for a phone, but didn't see one.
"As soon as your doctor says you can. Dr. Gibbs makes rounds about 7:30. He'll let you know."
"Where's the phone?" Jim asked.
"There's no phone or TV in here," Jessica told him. "This is sub-intensive care, and we don't allow those things here. Who on earth would you call this early, anyway?" she flashed a smile at him. "Breakfast won't be around for another hour. Why don't you try and sleep a little more?"
She's right, it's too early yet. I shouldn't drag anybody out of bed. "Can I at least have a paper?" he asked. Maybe he could get some information there.
Jessica looked ready to object, but then gave him a wry look. "You're a stubborn one, aren't you? All right. Maybe reading will help you relax and get back to sleep. You still need your rest. I'll be right back."
"Thank you," Jim said. After Jessica left, he pulled his right arm out from under the blankets and looked at his injured hand. It hadn't been wrapped yet, and the discolored palette of bruises had darkened and spread down to the base of his fingers and up part of his arm. He flexed the swollen hand experimentally, and wasn't in the least surprised to find it stiff and sore. He didn't bother looking at his ankle -- he could tell from the pain radiating from there that it had to be in bad shape. The same logic held for his back and right side, both of which ached and burned. I can take it. Until I can give my statement to somebody, no more pain medication.
Jessica came back in then with his paper. "Hot off the presses," she announced. She unfolded it and put the paper in Jim's lap, then clicked the light up another notch. "Do you need to sit up some more? I can raise the bed for you....Mr. Reed? What's the matter?"
Jim hadn't heard a word his nurse had said from the moment she'd put the paper in his lap. The bold headlines of the LA Times morning edition screamed out at him and sent his mind reeling.
Second Deputy Slain by Escapee
Jim went numb all over. No. Not again. He frantically scanned the article for details as Jessica chattered at him. Clark County Nevada deputy...a rookie...oh, God...on the job only 3 months...leaves a wife and a two-week old baby...dear God, no. The words blurred and Jim closed his eyes to shut out the sight of the painful headlines.
"Mr. Reed!" Jessica spoke to him, sharply this time. "Are you all right?"
No. I'm not. Is anything ever going to be all right again? Is this never going to end? Jim forced his eyes open and looked at Jessica. He somehow managed to keep his voice calm and steady. "Jessica, I really need to make a phone call."
"Mr. Reed, you can't get out of bed."
"Then you make it for me."
"I'll have to clear this with Dr. Gibbs," Jessica began, but Jim cut her off. He reached out with his left hand and grasped her arm with what little strength he had. The agony he felt inside drove him to near desperation. "If you don't do it, I swear I'll tear every tube out of my body and crawl out of here. I have to contact somebody."
"Mr. Reed, really! You're in no shape..."
Jim let go of her arm and reached for his IV tube.
"No!" Jessica intercepted Jim's hand before he could yank it free. In his weakened state, she had no trouble stopping him. She grasped his hand in hers, and brought her other hand over to pat it comfortingly. "Please calm down, Mr. Reed."
Jim locked gazes with his nurse. "Jessica, do you see that headline?" he asked, his voice shaky.
She looked down at the paper. "Yes," she answered, squeezing his hand gently. "But there's nothing you can do."
"Maybe there is," Jim contradicted. "There's a madman out there who's killed an innocent civilian, tried to kill both my partner and me...and has killed two police officers. Two men with families...children...." His voice broke and he kicked himself mentally for his lack of strength. "I might have information that can stop him. I don't want anybody else to die because of me." Jim had to stop and take a wheezing breath. "Please, Jessica, help me."
Jessica squeezed his hand once more, then lay it gently down atop his covers and reached for her notepad. "Give me the number," she said quietly.
The phone shrilled in Pete Malloy's apartment, startling him from a deep sleep. He snapped his eyes open, then shut them immediately as the harsh light from his bedroom window painfully assaulted his eyes. The phone rang a second time and Pete moaned and rolled away from the window. On the third ring, he pried his eyes open again and made out the blurry outline of the time on his bedside clock. 6:38...too early... On the fourth ring he slung a rubbery arm out and grabbed the handset to prevent the fifth ring.
" 'lo. Malloy," he croaked, still only half-awake.
"Is this Pete Malloy?" A hesitant feminine voice sounded from the receiver.
"Yes," Pete said, then wondered if that had been a mistake. It might be a reporter.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Malloy. My name is Jessica Martin and I'm your partner's nurse at County General Hospital."
That woke Pete up in a hurry. "What's wrong?" he asked. He sat up in bed, instantly alert.
"Well...he's very upset, I think. He says he needs to give a statement about what happened, and he said you'd know who to call and what to do."
"At six-thirty in the morning?" Pete stifled a yawn and ran his free hand through his hair.
"He saw the morning headline and it seemed to upset him."
"What headline? How'd he get a paper so early?" Was the whole world up except for him?
"He was having trouble sleeping. He asked for a paper. I brought him one. I...I didn't know that he didn't know about the second deputy that had been killed."
Pete's heart sank. Now it made sense. The nurse spoke before he could formulate an answer.
"I tried to calm him down, but he threatened to pull out all his tubes and crawl out himself if I didn't call you."
"And he would have done it, too," Pete sighed. Partner, you are out of your tree.
"I know. Anyway, he said he wanted to talk so nobody else would die because of him. Can you come down here so he'll calm down?"
Pete bit back another sigh. "Of course. Tell him I'll be there as soon as I get dressed. Tell him I'll call the appropriate people. And then tell him to behave himself or I'll have to tell his wife on him."
Jessica laughed nervously. "I'll tell him. Thank you, Mr. Malloy."
"No problem. I'll be there in about a half an hour."
"I'll let him know. Good-bye."
"'Bye." Pete hung up the phone, a leaden feeling settling in the bottom of his gut. I won't call the FBI until I'm ready to leave. I want to get there ahead of them. And I guess I'd better call Mac, too and see if he wants to get in on this.
Pete shook his head. He had a feeling that it was going to be one of those days. He sighed, stretched, and got up and headed for the bathroom for a shower and shave.
Pete arrived at the hospital about forty minutes later, with still-damp hair and a growling stomach. He made his way to the fifth floor and checked in at the nurses' station -- a requirement to enter sub-intensive care. Jim's nurse Jessica was waiting for him there.
"You made good time," she said with a smile, but her dark eyes betrayed concern.
"No traffic on Saturday," Pete said. "Has anyone beaten me here? How's Jim doing?"
"No one's beaten you here," Jessica told him. "Mr. Reed seems calmer, but I can tell he's still upset. He won't eat his breakfast. I want to let you know that I have called Dr. Gibbs. He's not real happy about all this activity taking place before he has a chance to examine him. Mr. Reed has a lot of minor injuries that still need attending."
"I'll do everything I can to keep it short. But giving his statement is probably the best thing Jim can do for himself," Pete said.
"Hasn't he been through enough? He can't even take a day to rest?"
"He's been through plenty, but unfortunately, if we're gonna get those creeps off the street, he's got a little more yet to go. Can I go on in?"
"Sure. I'm going off duty, but I'll be back around 10 or so tonight. Sue is his day nurse and I've filled her in on everything. Dr. Gibbs should show up in an hour or so. See if you can't get him to eat something."
"I'll do my best," Pete promised. "Thanks for calling me. You did the right thing."
"I hope so," Jessica frowned.
Pete made the short walk down to Jim's room and tapped lightly on the door before he pushed it open and stuck his head in. "Jim?"
"Hey, Pete, come in," Jim said, his voice sounding weak and tired.
Pete walked to Jim's side and noted that Jim's face matched his voice, which looked as tired and weak as the voice had sounded. Jim's right cheek had discolored further overnight, and it was still swollen to twice its normal size. Assorted cuts and scratches covered his forehead and cheeks, and two days worth of facial hair growth sprouted from Jim's face, giving Pete an uncomfortable memory of the last time he'd seen Jim with a beard. Somewhere along the line Jim had lost the woolen cap from his head, but it had left Jim's usual neat coif in disarray. Dark circles underscored Jim's eyes and they spoke volumes to Pete's trained eye just how sick, tired, and upset his partner was. Pete tried to keep his dismay at Jim's condition from showing on his face, but apparently Jim saw through the act.
"Do I look that bad?" Jim asked
"Uh, well, you look a lot better than you did yesterday," Pete hedged. He moved to Jim's side, avoiding the tray of uneaten breakfast Jim had obviously pushed aside. "How do you feel?"
Jim made a face. "Like I've been run over by a steam roller," he said.
"Won't they give you anything for pain?"
"Don't want any right now. I've got to have a clear head." He pushed the paper in his lap toward Pete.
Typical, stubborn Jim. "Jim, Ciroppolli killed that deputy before the FBI came in to question you," Pete said firmly. "There was nothing you could have done to prevent it."
"He used my gun again," Jim said quietly, but with an edge of anger in his voice.
"I haven't read the article," Pete said. "But I figured as much."
Jim sighed heavily, leaned back into his pillow, and squeezed his eyes shut. "I can't stand the thoughts of it. Him using my gun...to kill police officers."
Pete understood Jim's dismay. Pete knew just how sick he felt about it; it had to be almost unbearable for Jim. But what could he say to comfort Jim? What words could ease the hurt inflicted by a cold-blooded killer? "We'll get him," Pete finally said. "He'll pay for what he's done."
"That'll be cold comfort for three kids who don't have a daddy anymore," Jim growled.
"Jim, it doesn't do any good to dwell on that. You're not responsible."
Jim opened his eyes and looked at Pete. "If I'd been one second faster. If I hadn't been kneeling. If I'd just..."
"Stop it, Jim." Pete said, letting his voice harden a bit. "It's useless to speculate. Besides, I can match you 'what if' for 'what if.' What if I hadn't seen the blood on the car? I wouldn't have moved into Ciroppolli's line of sight. What if I hadn't let you drive? We might have taken a different route and we wouldn't even have gotten into that mess to begin with. What if I hadn't said...." Pete stopped, not intending to bare his soul quite so much so soon.
"What?" Jim prompted softly.
"Nothing," Pete shrugged.
A knock on the door interrupted Jim. Pete looked up, expecting to see either Mac or Dixon and Zoellner enter the room, but a nurse stuck her head in instead.
"Come in," Jim invited.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," the nurse apologized. "but your wife just called to check on you. She said to tell you she'll be here as soon as she can. She wanted me to let you know she loves you and see if there was anything you wanted her to bring."
"Did she sound okay?" Jim asked.
"She sounded fine, just worried about you," the nurse smiled. "Would you like me to call her and have her bring anything?"
"No. Thank you."
The nurse looked at Jim's untouched breakfast. "You haven't eaten," she said.
"I'm not hungry. You can take it."
The nurse gave him a disapproving look, but she took the tray from the bedside stand and left with it.
"You really should eat," Pete said.
"Don't feel like it," Jim shook his head. "Did you call the FBI?"
"Yeah, and Mac, too."
"How long before they get here?"
"Relax, will you?" Pete said. "It's early on a Saturday morning. They'll be here soon."
"I'm sorry," Jim sighed. "I guess I lost track of the days. It's Saturday?" He squirmed in the bed and grunted as he moved.
"Yeah." Pete frowned at Jim, who was in obvious pain. "Are you sure you're up to this?"
"I'm sure," Jim said. "I've got to tell them that Ciroppolli...he's crazy. They've got to find him, Pete. I don't want anybody else to die."
"They're doing everything they can, Jim."
"Maybe I can remember something that will help. I need to try." Jim dragged in a wheezing breath. "Last night I don't think...I was much help."
"Last night you were half dead," Pete reminded him. "I'm surprised you could talk at all. Take it easy on yourself."
Jim looked at Pete for a moment, then turned his eyes away and stared out the window, apparently lost in private thoughts. Pete stayed quiet, giving Jim some space to think through whatever it was he needed to think through. Pete watched his partner pick at the blanket nervously as his gaze stayed focused on some distant horizon.
"Pete," Jim finally said, without looking at him, "last night, there was something I didn't say to the FBI when they questioned me. I didn't think it made any difference, and I didn't really understand what it meant. Heck, I still don't. But I-I'm not sure."
"You want to tell me about it?" Pete asked.
Jim finally turned his gaze back to Pete. "Pete, am I...am I a good person?"
Pete blinked at Jim's apparent drastic change of subject. "Are you a good person?" he repeated, genuinely surprised.
Pete couldn't fathom where that question came from, or why Jim would ask it. But the answer was easy. "Of course you're a good person! You're one of the finest people I know. What kind of question is that?"
Jim looked embarrassed, and turned his head away again. "Something Ciroppolli said to me. I...I've just been wondering."
Pete stayed very quiet, but inside he started to seethe, wondering what kind of head games the convicts might have played with Jim. When long seconds passed and Jim said nothing, Pete prompted him. "What did he say to you?"
For a long moment, Pete thought Jim might not answer him. But finally, Jim spoke, his voice strained and low.
"He said two things. One of the things he said was when we were in the car...I was in the floorboard, and he was wearing my uniform shirt and stuff. He started going on about my shooting brass. He asked me what it meant, so I told him. Then he asked me...if I'd ever killed anyone. I told him, yeah. Then he said that we were alike, he and I, because we'd both...killed people."
"That's nonsense," Pete said. "He kills for his own gain. You've killed in the line of duty. There's no comparison."
"I told him that. He said that the Bible doesn't make a distinction. He said that the commandment says 'Thou shalt not kill.' Period."
"He was messin' with your head," Pete growled, his anger growing. "Trying to justify his actions."
"I know," Jim said quietly, but he sounded less than convinced to Pete.
"Is that what you didn't tell the agents? When they asked about religious references?"
"No, I didn't even remember that until this morning." Jim twisted the blanket and blew out a breath. "That's why he killed the deputy in Powderly, Pete. He said he wanted to see if it felt different...to kill...wearing a badge." Jim's hand knotted into a fist and his voice turned bitter. "He wanted to bait somebody to come close so he could kill them in cold blood. Called it 'an experiment.'" Jim's words came faster. "I begged him not to do it. Had him talked out of it. And then the deputy pulled up. I swear I tried to warn him, Pete. I tried to call him off, but it was too late."
"I believe you, Jim. Take it easy. Like I told you last night, you did what you could. No one could expect you to do any more."
"He was a sitting duck," Jim whispered. "Pete, hadn't they put out a broadcast by then? He approached us so casually. He obviously didn't know."
"He didn't," Pete confirmed, a sad note to his voice. "I talked to the FBI about it yesterday, briefly. An all-points had been issued, but he apparently had been out of the car on a call and missed it."
"No wonder," Jim muttered. "Poor guy. He never had a chance. I think he saw me in the floorboard...but Ciroppolli nailed him before he could react. Ciroppolli and his damned experiment."
"That ought to prove to you right there how unalike you and Ciroppolli are. Anybody that kills for kicks...he's sick. Evil." At that moment, Pete wanted nothing more than to have his hands around Ciroppolli's neck. For an extended period of time.
"Evil..." Jim repeated, seemingly distracted.
"So don't let anything that scum said bother you. It's meaningless." Pete paused a beat to push his growing anger aside. Later. Get mad later. Jim needs you now. "What was the thing you didn't tell the agents?"
Jim blew out a breath and pushed his hand through his hair. "I'm not sure it means anything to the case, but...I can't get it out of my head."
Jim appeared to have to steel himself to get started. He took a deep breath and flexed his left hand open and closed several times.
"Relax," Pete soothed. "It's just me."
"Yeah, yeah," Jim lay his hand down on the blanket. "Relax, right. You remember when...I know we said we wouldn't talk about it again, but that night, out in the desert?"
Pete's stomach lurched. Of course he remembered. He would never forget those terrifying hours spent in the clutches of Steve Deal and Norm Landon. He still had the occasional nightmare that forced him to relive that incident. "I remember," he said, willing his voice to come out calm and even. "And it's okay to talk about it if we need to."
Jim nodded, but his nervousness seemed to increase. "Ciroppolli did to me, what Deal did to you...outside the bus."
Pete's heart hammered. Even after two years, he could still remember every detail of that ordeal. Deal pushing him to his knees, the ground cold and hard beneath him. He remembered Deal's taunting, pointing the gun in his face, and declaring him about to die. But most of all, he remembered the emotions, and the effort it took to remain silent and bold in the face of it all -- waiting and hoping that Jim would get free of his restraints in time to rescue him. Which, of course, he did. And for Jim to face the same thing...alone. Pete shivered despite himself.
"It was in the barn," Jim continued, drawing Pete away from those disquieting memories. "I still can't remember everything, but he had me down, on my knees. My hands were cuffed. He'd beaten me so badly I could hardly breathe, and he had...he had my gun to the back of my head." Jim's voice cracked and he stopped and covered his eyes with his left hand.
Pete found that he'd balled his own hands up into tight fists. "My God, Jim. I'm sorry."
Jim swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, then waved it dismissively. "Not your fault," he said. "I didn't think...I'd have this hard a time...talking about it."
"It's okay. I just wish I could have been there, like you were for me."
"I thought you were dead," Jim said, his voice still full of despair. "And I knew I was next. Ciroppolli was making some kind of ...ritual out of it. He said some mumbo-jumbo I can't remember, and touched me on each shoulder with the barrel of my gun. And then he just went off on some tangent about how sorry he was to have to kill me. He asked me if I had any last requests." Jim stopped to swallow. "I thought about you -- that night --how calm and brave you were outside that bus, and I wanted to be that strong. But I...wanted Jean and Jimmy to know that my last thoughts were of them." Jim's voice choked again, and he had to stop.
"Take your time, Jim. I know this is hard," Pete had to work at keeping his own voice steady.
"Harder than I thought," Jim admitted, clearing his throat. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. It's okay."
Jim took another breath and continued. "So I asked him for the picture of Jean and Jimmy that I keep in my wallet. He gave it to me." Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out the wrinkled picture. "And somebody gave it to me again last night."
Pete smiled. "Must've been Jean. You had it grasped in your hand when we found you. I took it out and gave it to Jean later at the hospital. She got the message, and apparently she wanted to return the favor."
"Thanks," Jim husked, tears gathering in his eyes again.
"No problem." Pete paused and gave Jim a minute to compose himself, then prompted gently, "What happened next?"
"I asked him for a minute...to ask God to watch over my family. I don't mind telling you, Pete, I was scared. I thought I was gonna die, and I thought you were dead already. Jean, and Jimmy -- they'd be so alone."
"I understand," Pete assured him. "Believe me, I understand."
"I know you do," Jim said with a sighing breath. "Anyway, he left me alone a minute and I started to pray...and all of a sudden Ciroppolli came back and said...he said, 'Your faith has saved you.' And then he whacked me on the head with the butt of the gun and the next thing I know I woke up half-naked, handcuffed to that pole, and Graddock and Ciroppolli were gone."
Pete couldn't speak for a minute. He didn't know what to say anyway. He could see how torn up Jim was inside over all of it; that only served to fuel Pete's anger. With an effort, he pushed it aside again and kept his face neutral.
"What did he mean by that, Pete?"
"I don't know, partner," Pete shook his head. "But I don't think you need to waste your energy worrying about it. Is that what you were worried about not telling the Feds?"
"Yeah. I could remember him saying it, but I was confused, and I didn't think it meant anything. But then, when I was thinking about it later, I wondered if I should have said something."
"It wouldn't have made any difference in the search," Pete said with confidence. "So don't worry about it. And as to what it means...what does it matter? The important thing is, you're alive, and I'm damn glad of that. Whatever his motivation..." Pete stopped, and took a deep breath. His anger at Ciroppolli and Graddock had almost reached the boiling point, and the knew he needed to back off for Jim's sake. He continued, his voice more gentle. "There's time enough to think about it when you're feeling better."
"Yeah. I'm alive, but two other officers aren't. And you came mighty close to being the third," Jim said, his voice still bitter. "What makes me so special? I should be dead, but I'm not. And I don't understand why."
"Jim," Pete began, but a knock on the door interrupted him. He looked at Jim, who nodded as he placed the picture back into his pocket. "Come in," Pete called.
Mac walked in, followed by Agents Dixon and Zoellner. "Oh, good, Malloy, you're here," Mac said. "I picked up these two in the lobby. Jim, how you doin'?"
"Better than yesterday," Jim said.
"That wouldn't take much," Mac said with a smile. He moved to the far side of Jim's bed, and the two agents stood at the foot.
"Jim, do you remember Agents Dixon and Zoellner?" Pete asked.
"Not really. I remember talking to two agents but I couldn't have picked you out of a lineup if you'd been the only two in it," Jim said tiredly.
"Quite understandable," Dixon said.
"Is there anything new on the search?" Jim asked. "I know about the second deputy," Jim added, when Dixon looked to Pete before answering.
"I see. No, nothing new yet. They're still on the loose. But maybe your insights will help us change that. Are you ready to get started?"
"Yeah," Jim said with a slight nod of his head. "Where do you want me to start?"
Jim answered questions for over thirty minutes without stopping. But with each passing minute, Jim seemed to wind down like an old clock, what little energy he had clearly dissipating. Both Mac and the agents had brought recording devices so Jim's words could be transcribed later, but Pete wondered after a bit if Jim's voice even would pick up on the recorders.
Pete listened to Jim's horrific tale as it unfolded, and the terrifying details came to light. Pete stayed quiet and forced himself not to react, even though his insides churned. He couldn't help but flinch as Jim calmly recalled the abuse, both verbal and physical, that he'd taken from his captors.
Jim, however, had somehow managed to push his emotions aside during the questioning; he functioned in full professional mode. Pete thought he'd become almost robotic, apparently burying whatever feelings the questions brought up deep inside. A part of Pete felt great pride in Jim's determination and professionalism -- and the other part felt fear that Jim was pushing too hard.
"Can we take a little break?" Pete finally asked, almost forty minutes into questioning. Jim had just started talking about his escape and frantic run through the woods, and his partner's voice had turned raspy and almost inaudible. Reliving the harrowing experience was taking its toll on Jim, as well, and, recalling his promise to Jean, Pete felt it time to intervene.
"I'm all right," Jim objected, with a slight shake of his head.
"I think a little break would be a good idea," Mac said, and shut off his recorder. He gave the FBI agents a look and tilted his head marginally toward the door.
"Sure," Dixon said. He motioned to Zoellner, who cut off the small recorder he held. "We can take five."
"I should probably call the office, anyway," Zoellner said. He turned and left the room and Dixon followed him.
Pete picked up the water pitcher from the bedside table and poured Jim a cupful. "Here, drink this."
Jim held out his left hand and Pete put the cup into it. Jim tried to take a drink, but his hand shook so badly that he wound up spilling a good portion of it. "Stupid," Jim said, clearly embarrassed.
Pete reached out and took the cup back. "I shouldn't have filled it so full," he said quietly. He found a small hand towel in the top drawer of the table used it to blot the water off Jim's blanket and pajama top.
"Maybe there's a straw in the drawer," Mac suggested.
"Of course," Pete said. Jim looked so embarrassed at his weakness that Pete stopped fussing over him with the towel, even though he hadn't cleared up all the water. While Pete rummaged in the drawer for a straw, he let Jim sop up the last few drops himself. Pete found a straw, unwrapped it, and plunked it into the cup. This time, though, in spite of the potential insult to Jim's pride, Pete held the cup while Jim took a few sips through the straw.
After Jim had finished, he sank back into his pillows and closed his eyes. "I'm pathetic," he muttered.
"After what I've heard this morning, that's not exactly how I'd describe you," Mac said dryly. "I think you're pretty damned amazing."
"I don't know how you can say that," Jim said. "I couldn't do anything."
"Just surviving all you went through is amazing enough," Mac moved closer to Jim's bed. "And believe me, I'm speaking for everybody on the watch when I tell you we're glad you're still with us."
"Thanks to you and everybody who looked for me," Jim said. "You'll have to tell me who all..." Jim broke off and coughed a couple of times, rubbing his left hand over his chest.
"What's the matter?" Pete asked. He and Mac exchanged a concerned look.
Jim waved the question off. "Nothing," he wheezed. "Just a tickle. I was saying, that everybody that looked for me...I'll have 'em over for a steak cookout. To say thanks."
"I hate to tell you this, partner, but your grill isn't gonna be big enough," Pete deadpanned, "unless we eat in shifts."
"Or change the steaks to hot dogs," Mac grinned.
Jim managed a small smile, then coughed again.
"You're supposed to be resting," Pete reminded. He didn't like the sound of that cough. "We'll talk about saying thanks later."
Jim nodded, then closed his eyes. But no sooner had he done so, than the door to his room opened and Dixon and Zoellner reappeared. Both agents had expressions of restrained jubilation on their faces.
"What's happened?" Mac asked, obviously having no trouble picking up on that expression.
"We got Graddock," Dixon reported, not trying to keep the pleasure from his voice.
"All right," Pete said with great satisfaction. He looked at Jim, who merely nodded without even a smile. He doesn't look very happy about it.
"Do you know the details?" Mac asked.
"You won't believe this," Zoellner said, with a surprising sunny smile. "But they got him in a casino...standing at a slot machine feeding it quarters. The security man at the casino recognized him while he was watching the monitors in the back room. He called the Las Vegas field office and they took him without a struggle."
"How about that?" Mac laughed. "That wasn't the brightest move for a felon, to walk into a place armed to the teeth with security cameras."
"Well, Jim, you said last night Graddock wanted to go to Vegas for money," Pete grinned. "Looks like he went for it."
"What about...Ciroppolli?" Jim asked, almost breathless. He coughed again.
"They've apparently separated," Dixon told him. "They're questioning Graddock now to see what he knows. But looks like your hunch was right, Reed. Ciroppolli didn't waste much time distancing himself from Graddock."
Jim didn't acknowledge the praise from the federal agent, but instead shook his head. "Ciroppolli's the dangerous one. He's the one you've got to get."
"And we will, so don't sweat it," Dixon said firmly.
"He's as good as caught. Getting Graddock takes a lot of the pressure off. The search can be narrowed, and all the manpower will be focused on catching Ciroppolli," Zoellner seconded. "It's only a matter of time."
"Let's finish up," Jim said tiredly, "so maybe it'll happen faster."
"All right," Dixon said. He gave Pete a questioning look.
Pete nodded, but not without reservation. He knew that Jim would never rest until he felt like he'd done everything he could to help with Ciroppolli's capture. The sooner that happened, the sooner Jim could relax. Pete reached out and patted Jim on the shoulder, once, and Jim started to talk again.
Pete sat alone in the claustrophobically-sized waiting room just outside the doors to sub-intensive care. He'd chosen a seat so he could see the bank of elevators just down the hallway, hoping to catch Jean when she came in. He had expected her long before now, but he figured she had either been delayed by her own morning sickness or maybe by Jimmy. Either reason gave Pete cause for concern. Only a small part of him felt relieved that Jean hadn't shown yet.
I really don't know what to say to her about all this. Jim wants a chance to tell her what happened on his own timetable, but she'll be so full of questions. And I don't blame her for that. And I don't blame Jim for not wanting to tell her everything. God, what he went through.
Pete shook his head as Jim's words rolled over in his mind. Again. Pete couldn't shake the image of Jim, on his knees, his own gun pressed to the back of his head, waiting for certain death. Pete knew first-hand how it felt to be on his knees, facing eternity courtesy of a madman with a gun. Ever since Jim had mentioned it, Pete kept remembering the sick, icy fingers of fear that had closed around his heart in those terrifying moments in the dark, chilly silence of the desert. Even now, as he thought of that time, his heart pounded in sympathetic reaction.
And I had an ace-in-the-hole. I had Jim for back-up. He had nobody. He was alone. He thought I was dead.... God, no wonder he's so shook up about all of it. No wonder he can't reason through it. I don't even know if I can help him.
Pete clenched his hands together to keep them from shaking. God, why couldn't it have been me? Why did I let Jim drive? Pete got to his feet, emotion driving him to move or lose his control. He made two trips across the room, then forced himself to sit back down. Stop it. This is useless.
The elevator dinged its arrival on this floor, and Pete leaned forward and saw Jean exit the elevator. He took a deep breath, then got up again to intercept her as she walked by the room.
"Jean," he called, stepping into the doorway. "In here."
"Pete!" Jean exclaimed, obviously surprised. "You're here early. Why are you in here instead of with Jim? Is everything okay?" Her dark eyes widened, then narrowed with worry.
Pete took her by the arm and gently led her into the room. He thought she looked only marginally better than she had when he left her last night. "Come in and sit down and we'll talk. Jim's okay, so don't worry."
"I want to see Jim," Jean said, as she sat. "I feel bad enough I didn't stay with him last night."
"Jim's not in his room right now," Pete said, "which is why I'm sitting in here."
"Where is he? You said he's okay?"
"Dr. Gibbs came in a few minutes ago and ran us all out. He examined him, then came and told me that he wanted to take some more x-rays and get his hand and ankle wrapped. Maybe the ribs. So they rolled him out down to x-ray and treatment. I was waiting here to grab you when you came by."
"Oh," Jean said, her disappointment not lost on Pete. "I should have gotten here earlier." She frowned. "Wait a minute. Ran all of who out?"
"Well, it's a long story."
"It appears that I have plenty of time, so spill it," Jean said, her eyes showing a bit of her usual spark.
Pete couldn't help but smile. When Jim was in trouble, Jean always came through. Jim's a lucky man.
Pete explained to her that Jim had awakened early and had wanted to give his statement to authorities while he wasn't under the influence of painkillers. He carefully left out any details, as Jim had requested, and downplayed Jim's state of mind and obvious physical weakness. She'd see that for herself, soon enough.
Soon enough came even sooner than Pete expected.
"What aren't you telling me, Pete?" Jean asked, leaning back in her chair.
Other than everything? He opted to play dumb. "I don't understand."
Jean snorted. "Sure you do. I can see it in your eyes. You have that same look that I get from Jim when he gives me the G-rated version of things that happened on the shift."
"You don't miss much, do you?" Pete asked, chuckling.
"I've been married to a full-fledged policeman now for over five years," Jean said wryly. "I've learned a lot about observation."
Pete opened his mouth to respond, but Jean cut him off.
"And I've learned how you both work. You watch each other's backs, both on and off the street. For which I'm grateful."
"I'm afraid I didn't do such a good job of that on Thursday," Pete said. He still felt funny when Jean praised him for looking after Jim or giving her help. The feeling of failure still dogged him relentlessly.
"You did far more than you realize," Jean said quietly. "Anyway, I know he probably asked you not to talk about it, and I won't pry you with questions." She rubbed her hand over her stomach and made a face.
"Are you okay?" Pete asked.
"Yeah, sure. Just a little nausea. Par for the course these days." She took a deep breath, swallowed hard, then looked at Pete. "I am going to ask you one question, and I want an honest answer."
"I'll do my best," Pete said.
"Is he going to be all right? And I don't mean physically. When all this is over, is he going to be the same man that left the house on Thursday morning? Is he still going to be my Jim?"
Pete could hardly stand the desperate look in her eyes. He wanted to shut his own eyes against that look, to shut away the pain. To shut away the fears -- both hers and his. How can I answer that when I don't know? When I'm afraid of the same thing myself? He forced himself to look at her and made his face as sympathetic as possible.
"I don't know," he said, honestly. "But he is going to need you, Jean. A lot. He's going to need your patience, and understanding, and support, and love. He's going to need to know that...you can be strong...when he might not be."
"I can do that," Jean whispered, her eyes filming over. "At least...I hope I can."
"You can," Pete said, patting her on the shoulder. "You and Jim...you have something special. Something worth fighting for. Through anything." As he said the words, Pete wondered if he'd be able to say the same thing about he and Judy. Right now, he just didn't know.
"I know," Jean said, her voice strained. She rubbed her stomach again. "Uh, Pete...can you watch my purse? I need to find the ladies' room." She jumped up from her chair, and hurried out the door, her hand over her mouth.
Pete stared after her, wondering if he should follow her. Can't go in the bathroom...but I can get a nurse! He jumped up to follow her, remembered the purse, and picked it up from the chair before he left the room. He vaguely remembered that the bathrooms on this floor were to the left of the nurses' station, so he headed that direction.
When he got there, he located Jim's nurse, sitting alone at the station, writing in a chart. "Excuse me," he called.
The nurse turned, smiled when she saw him carrying the purse. "Nice bag," she teased.
Pete felt his face flushing. "It's Mrs. Reed's," he explained. "She just went in the bathroom, and I think she's sick. Can you check on her? She's pregnant and having morning sickness."
The nurse got up immediately. "Of course. Wait here."
"Are you sure you're okay, now? Maybe I should drive you home," Pete hovered over Jean, watching her sip on some cold ginger ale. They both sat back in the waiting area, after Jean had spent almost ten minutes in the bathroom. The nurse had given her some saltines and ginger ale, and a cool rag for her face.
"I'm not leaving until I see Jim," Jean said, shaking her head. "Darn this morning sickness, anyway. I was never this sick with Jimmy." She took another sip of her ginger ale. "I guess I'm getting old."
"Hardly," Pete smiled.
"I'm serious, Pete. I was sick for only one week with Jimmy. And I'd throw up just once, in the morning, and it was over. And I had plenty of energy. Oh, I got tired, but I could do just about anything I wanted. But with this one," she patted her stomach, "I've been sick for three weeks now. And it's almost all day. And I have no energy. Getting old stinks."
Pete laughed out loud.
"That's right, you can laugh -- you're not the one falling apart." Jean gave him a sour look over her cup of ginger ale.
"I'm not laughing at your situation, Jean. I'm laughing at the idea that you think you're getting old when you're barely 28 years old."
"Look at this," Jean smoothed her shirt down over her belly. The rounded pooch Pete thought he'd seen yesterday was clearly evident. "I'm not even twelve weeks pregnant and look at this! I didn't wear maternity clothing until I was five months with Jimmy, and today I can barely even zip up these pants. I'm going to be a cow in two weeks."
Pete didn't say anything. He knew from experience that commenting on any woman's weight was a lose-lose proposition. Pregnant or not.
"Never mind me, Pete," Jean said. "It's the hormones."
Pete was saved from commenting by the arrival of Dr. Gibbs. "Mrs. Reed?"
"Oh, Dr. Gibbs! How's Jim?"
"Back in his room and in need of some pain medication...which he won't take until he talks to you," Dr. Gibbs shook his head and grinned wryly. "He's about the most stubborn patient I've ever had."
"You're not telling me anything new," Jean said, matching Dr. Gibb's wry tone.
"That stubbornness probably saved his life, though," Dr. Gibbs said. "We took new film of his ankle, hand, and ribs. There's no broken bones in the hand, believe it or not. It's bruised and sprained, so we wrapped it. Same for the ankle. He's got a severe sprain, lots of swelling and bruising. We wrapped it, too. We've got ice on both extremities. He does have a hairline fracture on a rib, and he's still showing deep kidney bruising. Still has blood in the urine, but it's only trace amounts. I suspect it'll heal on its own. I'm most concerned about the heart arrhythmia. His heart still hasn't regulated on its own, so I'm giving him medication for it."
"How serious is that? It sounds so scary."
Dr. Gibbs shrugged. "As arrhythmias go, not serious. But it's bothersome. When the heart falls out of rhythm for an extended period of time it can cause lightheadedness, breathlessness, and it feels uncomfortable. But I'm sure it's temporary, and as soon as he gets proper rest, food, and unwinds from all the traumatic events he's been through, it'll straighten right out. He's young, and in excellent physical condition, otherwise. I expect a full recovery."
Jean sighed deeply. "That's a relief. How long is he going to have to stay here?"
"I'm keeping him in subintensive one more night, mostly for his own privacy and rest. I know he's got family and friends who want to see him, but if we can keep his visitors at a minimum today, that'd be better for him." Dr. Gibbs looked over at Pete. "No more round-robin inquisitions, please."
"No problem," Pete assured him.
"Good. Tomorrow, I'll move him to a regular room, and then I'll evaluate his condition for a possible release on Monday. But I'm suspecting it'll be Tuesday before he's ready."
"Have you told him that?" Jean asked.
"Not yet. I told him we'd discuss it tomorrow, when he was more rested. He seemed to accept that. So, Mrs. Reed, why don't you go talk with him now so we can get him medicated and comfortable?"
"I'll do that," Jean said with a smile. She put down the ginger ale and gathered up her purse. "But don't wait too long on that medication. I don't want him hurting."
"I've already put in the order with the nurse. I told her to wait about ten minutes before she gave it."
"Thank you, doctor."
"Yes, ma'am. Let me know if I can do anything for you."
"I will." Jean turned to Pete. "Pete, thanks for helping Jim out this morning. You want to say hi to him?"
"No, you need some time alone with him, and then he needs to sleep," Pete said with a shake of his head. "Tell him I'll come back this evening. Or he can call me if he wants to talk."
"You take it easy, too, okay?" Pete reached out and gave Jean's hand a gentle squeeze.
"Sure." Jean unexpectedly put her arms around Pete in a bear hug. "Thanks so much for being here for me."
"It's the least I can do," Pete said quietly, feeling that pang of guilt once again.
"All the same, thanks." Jean kissed him lightly on the cheek, then left.
Dr. Gibbs started to follow her, but Pete called him back.
"Yes?" the doctor asked.
Pete waited just a beat to make sure Jean had moved out of earshot, then said in a stage whisper, "Can you have the nurses keep an eye on Mrs. Reed? She's pregnant and having a bad time with morning sickness. She just got out of the bathroom being sick about ten minutes ago. Jim's too out of it to notice, probably, and Jean's too determined to take care of him, regardless of how she feels."
Dr. Gibbs nodded. "I'll mention it to the nurses. We'll see what we can do to make her comfortable and see that she rests."
"Of course." Dr. Gibbs shook Pete's hand and left.
Pete followed slowly, hands in his pockets. He hoped that leaving now was really the right thing to do. But he knew that Jean needed some alone time with Jim, and he felt a tugging at his own heart to go spend some time with Judy. So Pete turned the opposite direction and headed for the elevators.
Jean paused outside of Jim's door and took a moment to take a deep breath and calm herself. She ran a hand through her hair, plastered a smile on her face, and entered the room. "Hi, honey," she said, forcing as much lighthearted cheer into her voice as she could muster.
"Hey, baby," Jim whispered back. He smiled at her, but his eyes reflected more pain than joy.
"I'm sorry I'm so late," Jean apologized. She hurried to his side and took the left hand he had held out to her. She tried not to react to the sight of him, so pale, so bruised and beaten, and so obviously in pain. She pushed the feelings of despair and anger aside, then leaned over and brushed his lips with a kiss.
"It's okay. I've been busy, too," Jim smiled weakly at her. "They got me all wrapped up like a mummy." He held up his right arm that sported a fresh support bandage. The bag of ice slipped off. "And just when I start to warm up, they're covering me with ice."
Jean replaced the ice pack. "I saw Dr. Gibbs. He said they'd fixed you up. Does it help the pain any?"
"A little." He twitched a brief smile at her. "But the kiss helped more. Do that again."
Jean obliged him with another kiss, this time lingering over it. Jim dropped her hand and pulled her closer to him, encircling her waist with that good arm. Jean could feel the tremor in his arm as he held her, his grasp only a fraction of its usual strength. "I love you," she said, using her fingers to gently stroke his tousled hair into a semblance of order.
"Love you, too," he responded in a breathy tone. He removed his hand from her waist and touched her cheek. His fingers shook, and a troubling look joined the pain in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, honey."
"Shhh," Jean clasped his trembling hand in hers, kissed it, then held it against her bosom.
"I put you through so much..."
"I said, shhh," Jean shushed him again, and emphasized it with another kiss. "We'll talk about it later. Right now, I want you to just close your eyes, relax, and sleep. They're going to bring you some medication, and you'll feel better."
"I already feel better."
"No, you don't," Jean shook her head. "But I appreciate the effort to convince me otherwise."
"Never could fool you, hon."
"Of course not." Jean kissed him again. "Now, close your eyes, love." Jean took her hand and gently passed it over his eyes. "Don't worry about anything except resting."
"There's so much I want to say."
"Later," Jean said. Later would be better for her, as well. She knew she needed to get her own shredded emotions under control before she could even begin to help Jim. If he started to tell her what happened and she fell apart, that would only drive him further into emotional withdrawal. "There's plenty of time, love."
The door creaked, and Jean looked up. The nurse who'd helped her in the bathroom entered, bearing a syringe. "Here's your pain medication, Mr. Reed," she announced.
Jim looked over at the nurse, and his eyes widened as he got a look at the needle attached to the syringe.
"Oh, don't worry, Mr. Reed," the nurse laughed, obviously and accurately gauging Jim's reaction as needle-phobia. "This goes into the IV port. No stick."
"Good," Jim breathed, causing the nurse to laugh again.
"Yeah, this is the best of all worlds," the nurse told him as she wiped the IV port with an alcohol pad. "No stick, and in about two minutes, you'll be pain-free and sleeping. You may feel a little burning when the medicine enters the vein, but that'll go away in a few seconds." The nurse finished her preparations and injected the medicine. "Call me if you need anything," she chirped, then left.
Jean kept one hand stroking Jim's hair, the other grasping his left hand. She watched as his eyelids grew heavy and his battered body started to relax. She felt her own body relax in concert.
"Gettin' sleepy," Jim slurred.
"Good. Go to sleep, honey."
"You...you'll be...here...when I wake up?" Even though he looked at Jean through half-closed eyes, she could see his need for her in them.
"You bet, honey," Jean whispered. "I'll be right here."
"Good," Jim closed his eyes. Within seconds he drifted off to sleep.
Jean kept a grip on his hand and stood staring at her husband as he slept. She still had very little knowledge of the horrors he must have endured during his captivity, though the physical evidence splayed across Jim's body gave silent testimony to cruel and brutal treatment. The easily-seen physical evidence had been minor, compared to what it might have been. The emotional evidence, however, would be harder to find, buried deep in Jim's mind and heart. Half of her wanted to know what had happened to him, but the other half wanted to run and hide from the horrible truth. But she knew that the time would come when she'd have to face it. There wasn't any way around it.
"The time will come," she whispered to Jim, "but later. For now, rest, love. Just rest."
All I want is my husband home, safe and well. I just want my Jim back. The way he was. The loving husband and father he's been all these years. Happy and strong. And I'll do anything to make sure that happens, even listen to stories from the pit of hell. Jean lifted Jim's hand, kissed it gently, then lay it down on his chest, tucking it under the blankets.
I'll do anything.
Pete swiped a sweaty palm on the side of his pants leg before he rang the bell at Judy's home. I haven't had sweaty palms since our first date. Long seconds passed and Pete had a wild thought that Judy might leave him standing here looking stupid. Then he wondered if he'd dragged her out of bed, since she often slept in on Saturday mornings. A quick glance at his watch showed the time to be 9:45, so he knew that she had to be up by now. He debated on whether to ring the bell again, or simply leave, but before he could do either, the door opened.
"Pete!" Judy said.
"Hi," Pete said. "I didn't get you out of bed, did I?"
"No, of course not." Judy brushed hair off her forehead. "But I look a sight. I haven't gotten my face on yet."
"You look just fine to me," Pete said sincerely.
"Well, what you see is what you get," Judy joked, then held the door open wide. "Come in, come in."
Pete walked in, leaned over and collected a kiss from his girl. After the kiss, he drew her close to him, but Judy pulled away and gave him a curious look.
"What are you doing out so early?" Judy asked. "Is everything all right with Jim?"
"Jim's sleeping by now, thank God," Pete sighed. "But he had a rough night, according to the nurses. And he got me up early."
"Why? He called you?" Judy closed the door. "Sit down, Pete, you look exhausted. Have you eaten?" As usual, Judy's words tumbled over one another.
"No, I haven't. I came by to see if you wanted to go grab something."
"I'll fix you something," Judy shook her head.
"You don't have to do that."
"I want to. Bacon and eggs? Toast?"
"Sounds good to me. David home yet?"
"No. He and his friend Zach that he spent the night with are going to the movies. He won't be home until later this afternoon." Judy reached out her hand to him. "Come sit at the table and tell me about Jim while I cook."
"Okay." Pete followed her into the kitchen and sat tiredly at the table. Judy poured him a cup of coffee and set it in front of him. "Thanks." He took a slow sip while Judy gathered materials she needed to cook. Then he told her about the events of the morning, focusing on Jim's condition and determination rather than the details of Jim's story.
Pete watched Judy's face grow solemn as he talked. Before long, she turned away from him and reached for a bowl from an overhead cabinet. Stiff-backed, she cracked three eggs into it. Pete started to get that anxious feeling that Judy was about to shut him out.
"I don't know how, but Jim made it through it all," Pete said, watching Judy closely. "He's got a lot of guts."
Judy didn't respond, but stared into the bowl for a moment, then started beating the eggs furiously with a fork. Pete watched her for a few minutes as she continued to relentlessly whip the eggs, her eyes never leaving the bowl.
"Judy," he finally said, quietly.
Judy jumped as if she'd been stuck with a pin. "I don't want to talk about it anymore," she snapped, her voice quavering. She poured the eggs into the pan and lowered the heat. She didn't turn to look at Pete, but her body language screamed her unhappiness.
"Maybe we should."
Judy shook her head and transferred her energies to stirring the eggs in the pan. "I can't." She paused briefly. "I hope scrambled's okay."
"Scrambled is fine." Pete felt scrambled himself. His insides, already twisted enough over the craziness of the past few days, tightened into another series of knots as he stared at Judy's ramrod-straight back. Her posture reminded him of something Jim had said several months ago when Jean and he had faced a crisis in their marriage over the job. Jim hadn't said much about that time, but he had mentioned that Jean had put up a wall between them. Now I know what Jim meant. If that's not a wall, I don't know what is.
Jim had also said something about the wall being Jean's way of protecting herself from the fear. But is Judy afraid? She looks more angry than afraid.
But deep inside, Pete knew that Judy was afraid. And he didn't blame her. She'd already lost a husband; he felt certain she didn't want to put herself in a position to lose another one. She'd already made that clear last year, when he'd gotten shot, almost hounding him about hanging up the badge. Pete had wondered more than once if Judy had it in her to be a cop's wife.
Six months ago, it hadn't mattered so much to him. But that was then. Now, sitting in her kitchen, watching her cook, he felt the ties of hearth and home pulling at him more strongly than ever. He thought Judy would be the one who would finally lure him to settle down. But now he had his doubts, and those doubts worried him far more than he wanted to admit. What he did know for sure was that at this point in his life, he couldn't be happy doing anything else but being a cop. Despite his gloomy thoughts of yesterday, no hardware store in Fresno would ever be enough for him.
Judy dragged him away from his thoughts by plopping a steaming plate in front of him. Before she could move away, Pete reached out and caught her by the wrist.
"Pete, don't ask me to talk about it right now," Judy said before he could say anything. "I can't. It's all I can do to just make it through all this mess. Don't ask me to sort out how I'm feeling." Judy shook her hand away from Pete's grasp. "Please...just eat your breakfast, and for fifteen minutes let's pretend that it's just a normal Saturday morning."
That scenario went against everything Pete felt inside. It wasn't a normal Saturday. No matter how much he wanted it to be, pretending wouldn't help. But if it helped Judy get through a bad time, he could wait to talk...for a little while.
Pete nodded tightly, then picked up his fork and took a bite of eggs that suddenly had lost all their appeal.
"Mr. Reed, you need to wake up for me now."
The unfamiliar voice intruded into the warm, quiet place where Jim had retreated to escape the strange images, voices, and feelings that had been swirling about him. It had taken a while to find the quiet place, and occasionally he would lose it, falling into an abyss of pain-filled darkness where voices taunted him and odd faces sneered at him. He didn't like that place, and he didn't want to go back. Jim squeezed his eyes tighter and tried to turn away from the insistent voice.
"Jim, honey, wake up. You've been asleep for a long time, and you need to wake up and drink something."
Jim felt a soft hand gently stroke his forehead. He recognized the second voice as belonging to Jean. Jean was safe. He could open his eyes for her. He blinked, forced his eyes open and was relieved to see Jean's face almost directly above his, covered in a smile. She looked like an angel to him, after the parade of twisted caricatures he'd seen in his dreams. So beautiful. So safe.
"That's better, lazybones," Jean said. She gave him a quick kiss. "You've almost slept the entire day away."
"Sorry," Jim blinked the haze from his eyes.
"It's okay, but you need to eat something," Jean said.
"You haven't had anything to eat for a while, and nothing to drink since this morning," the nurse spoke up. She placed a cup on the tray next to his bed. "Your urine output is way down. You need to get something in you."
"She brought some apple juice," Jean took the cup and held it so Jim could reach the straw. "Drink some, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Jim said, around a yawn. He let Jean guide the straw into his mouth, and took two long draws. The cold liquid felt good on his throat.
"See if you can get all that down, Mr. Reed," the nurse said. "Your dinner tray should be here within the hour. You need to eat."
"Okay, I'll try it," Jim agreed. His appetite still hadn't returned, but he acknowledged the need to eat anyway.
"Good. I'll be back," the nurse promised, then left.
"Dinner tray?" Jim asked, after taking another swallow of the sweet juice. "Is it really that late?"
"It's almost 4 o'clock," Jean told him. She swiped some hair off of Jim's forehead.
"I slept that long?"
"Well," Jean smiled, "You'd wake up occasionally, but you were so out of it it doesn't count. Then you'd go right back to sleep." She giggled lightly.
"What's funny?" Jim asked.
"Oh, some of the things you said when you'd wake up. You kept me entertained most of the day."
"Oh, great," Jim muttered. He knew that he had a tendency to say crazy things when he'd been given medication.
Jean giggled again. "It's okay, honey, everybody understands. It's the drugs."
Jim let the straw drop out of his mouth. "Who's everybody?" he asked. "Am I gonna be embarrassed..." He stopped to cough as the funny feeling in his chest returned.
"Hon, you okay?"
"Sure. I just get this tickle in my chest occasionally. It makes me cough." Jim rubbed at his chest and coughed again. "Tell me what I said."
"Jane came by to see you and we got you to wake up enough to look at her."
"Jane was here? I don't remember that."
"We didn't figure you would. Anyway, when you woke up and saw her, you accused her of stealing Ol' Blue out of your room and flushing him down the toilet." Jean laughed in earnest as she related the tale.
"Ol' Blue...?" Jim's face flushed. "I did not say that!"
"Oh, but you did. Jane got quite a kick out of it, too. I got to hear all about your favorite little teddy bear."
"You're making this up!"
"How could I make it up since I didn't even know about the existence of Ol' Blue until today? How come you never told me about him, anyway? He sounds adorable."
Jim rolled his eyes. "I was just a little kid when I had him. I hadn't even thought about him for...oh, come on, Jean, I really didn't say that, did I?"
"Drink some more," Jean urged, pushing the straw back toward him. "Yes, you did. And when Jane started laughing, you called her an 'old meanie' and told her to get out of your room and stay out. Then you went back to sleep."
"Oh, brother. Man, I really was out of it. She's not mad, is she?"
"Are you kidding?" Jean laughed again. "It was funny."
"Did I do anything else stupid I need to know about?" Jim frowned, but took another drink of juice. It tasted surprisingly good to him.
"Only in front of me," Jean assured him. "You woke up once and said, and I quote, 'I want a pink one'."
"A pink one?" Jim shook his head, his cheeks flushing again. "I don't remember that, either."
"Well, you were barely awake. You went right back to sleep."
"Anything else? I'm almost afraid to ask."
"No, other than that you were sleeping. Thomas came by to see you, but it was right after you'd been sedated and you were out like a light. You didn't wake up. A lot of the guys from the station have called, but they're telling them at the desk not to come today, to wait until tomorrow. There's a bunch of flowers and plants, too, but you can't get those until you get moved to a regular room. They don't allow them in sub-intensive. They're holding them for you at the nurses' station until you get moved."
"They're all very nice here," Jean agreed. "They're taking good care of you."
"So are you," Jim said. He grasped her hand and held it tightly. It felt good there, tiny and warm, but the connection gave him strength. "I'm glad you're here."
"Where else would I be?" Jean smiled at him. "Come on, drink all of this. You need it. They're worried about your kidney function."
"Yes, ma'am," Jim returned her smile and complied. His chest tickled again, so he paused to take a deep breath and cough. The coughing hurt his back, but whatever they'd given him for pain seemed to have taken the constant burning sting away.
"That cough worries me, baby," Jean said, her brow wrinkling.
"It's nothing. Has there been any word on Ciroppoli?"
"Not that I know of. Nobody's said anything, anyway."
Jim felt the leaden sensation that had plagued him during his waking hours return with a jolt to his gut. Just saying the felon's name made his stomach twist and sweat break out on his body. It made him want to go back to the warm, quiet place he found in his sleep. But sleep also brought the vague nightmares. Those scared him, too. He wondered if he would ever find a truly safe place again. I think I'm going crazy. Nothing feels right. Nothing feels normal.
"Ow! Jim, you're about to crush my hand," Jean's yelp of pain startled Jim from his thoughts.
"Sorry," Jim said and let go of Jean's hand. He hadn't even realized he'd been squeezing it so hard.
"What's wrong? Are you hurting?" Jean flexed her fingers and shook her hand to restore the circulation.
"No, not really. Honey, I'm sorry." I must be out of my mind. I think I AM losing it.
"It's all right, Jim." Jean gave him a worried look. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I am." Jim nodded. He took another sip of juice. "I didn't break it, did I?"
"No, honey." She reached out and placed the same hand gently on his face. Jim turned his head so that he could kiss it. "You want to talk about it?"
Jim jumped guiltily and looked up at her, startled. Is she reading my mind? "No," he said quickly, then stumbled over an explanation. "I mean, I'm okay."
"Jim," Jean sighed, "this is no time for heroics. I love you. Please don't shut me out."
"I love you, too," Jim whispered, his voice almost failing him. "But I need...to sort things out first."
A knock sounded at the door as Jim and Jean shared a searching look. Jean averted her gaze first and called, "Come in."
Jim expected to see a nurse, Dr. Gibbs, or maybe even Pete enter the room, but his eyes widened when Agent Dixon walked through instead.
"Is this a bad time?" Dixon asked.
"No, come in," Jim invited. "I hope you're here with good news?"
"I wish I were," Dixon said. He nodded toward Jean.
"Honey, this is FBI Agent Dixon," Jim said. "This is my wife, Jean."
"We've met," Jean said coolly, returning the nod.
When Jim looked confused, Jean said, "We met and talked last night."
"I don't remember too much about last night." Jim fixed Dixon with a questioning look. "Why are you here? Has something happened?"
"We have another lead on Ciroppolli, and since it involves you a bit, I thought I'd come by and let you know."
"Involves me? Has he killed someone else with my gun?" Jim asked. He could hardly get the words out over the suffocating knot of anxiety that bloomed in his chest.
"No, no," Dixon held up a hand and shook his head. "Nothing quite so dramatic. But he did use your Sears card about two hours ago."
"Really?" Jim said. "Where? What did he buy? Didn't anybody recognize him?" Jim asked breathlessly and then coughed when the strange sensation in his chest returned.
"Take it easy, honey," Jean warned. She put the cup of juice down on the table next to his bed and put a hand on his shoulder.
"He's still in the Las Vegas area. It was a Sears store in the northeast area of the city. According to the clerk, he bought men's clothing." Dixon consulted his notepad. "Underwear, socks, jeans, two shirts, pair of tennis shoes and a cap. Total came to eighty-two dollars and ninety-five cents."
"Got tired of my uniform, I guess,"Jim said, his voice bitter. "Sounds like he's trying to blend in better. Guess he heard his buddy got nabbed."
Dixon shrugged. "Maybe so. We've got the charge slip. We're analyzing the handwriting to be sure, but based on the clerk's description we're ninety-percent sure it's Ciroppolli."
"How'd he get in and out of that store without being spotted?" Jim asked. "Surely his face has to be all over the news. And I know you had flyers out at the stores?"
"Oh, sure," Dixon nodded. "But this gal who checked him out had just come on shift. Apparently Ciroppolli was her first customer and she hadn't seen the flyer yet. By the time she noticed and double checked the name, it was too late."
"Rotten timing," Jim sighed, then coughed again.
"We're all over this guy now, Mr. Reed, so relax," Agent Dixon said. "He's either getting careless or desperate. Either way, he'll make a mistake and we'll nab him."
"The sooner, the better," Jim sighed.
"And by the way, they analyzed the handwriting from that scripture reference they found in your notebook. It's definitely Ciroppolli's handwriting. As to what it means..." Dixon shrugged, but then continued, "We think it's just part of Ciroppolli's bizarre personality. We've interviewed his brother and some former cell mates. They all agree he's a real religious fanatic. His brother said that Ciroppolli was very close to the maternal grandmother, who was a devout Catholic. She was the matriarch of the family, held it together simply by her presence until she passed away. The brother said Ciroppolli took it real hard. It wasn't long after that when he started his criminal career." Dixon paused for breath. "Consensus is Ciroppolli left you the reference just to play with your head. He buried it pretty far back in the notebook, figuring it'd be a while before you found it."
"You make it sound like he wanted Jim to live," Jean said. "How could Ciroppolli assume that he would survive when he left Jim chained up out in the middle of nowhere?"
Dixon shrugged again and glanced at Jim before answering. "It's all supposition, Mrs. Reed. We won't know for sure until we can ask Ciroppolli himself."
"I hope that happens soon," Jim said between clenched teeth. The emotions of the ordeal boiled higher inside and he fought not to shake. He coughed instead. Jean tightened her grip on his shoulder. Ciroppolli's gotta be caught. Now.
"It will," Dixon said with confidence. "And I'll keep you informed on the latest. For now, I'll leave you to rest." The agent dipped his head toward them. "Mrs. Reed."
"Good-bye," Jean said. "Thanks for letting us know."
"Sure thing," Dixon said and slipped out the door.
Jim coughed and blew out an explosive breath when the door closed behind the agent. "Ciroppolli couldn't be content with trying to rip our lives apart with murder and kidnaping," he croaked angrily, "now he's trying to ruin us financially."
"It's not that much money," Jean soothed, rubbing his shoulder. "And it may turn out to be what ultimately gets him caught. That'd be worth a few dollars."
"You know how tight the budget is," Jim said. "And with this happening...there's no telling what kind of expenses we'll have on top of everything else."
"Stop worrying, honey. It'll be all right. Besides, maybe they won't hold us accountable for that charge, since they know it wasn't you making the purchase."
"Don't hold your breath on that," Jim muttered.
Jean leaned over and kissed him. "Please just relax, honey. Relax, and concentrate on getting better."
"Anybody ready for a little dinner?" Without knocking, one of the dietary staff walked in with Jim's tray.
"Oh, good," Jean grabbed the rolling table and positioned it over Jim.
"Your doc's got you on a bland diet tonight, but at least you get ice cream," the jovial woman said, sliding the tray onto the table. "Enjoy. I'll be back for the empty tray later."
"You need to sit up a little bit, honey," Jean said. She reached for the bed controls. "Let me know if I hurt you."
"Just go slow." Jim held his breath as Jean raised the bed, but it didn't hurt as much as he feared. "That's enough."
"Okay, let's see what you've got here," Jean grinned.
"Bland doesn't sound too promising."
Jean removed the cover from the plate and set it aside.
"Ugh," Jim commented. He didn't have much of an appetite anyway, and hospital food had never been high on his list of favorites. Especially bland hospital food.
"Now, now, don't complain. That chicken breast looks good, but you'll never be able to cut it by yourself with your hand all wrapped up." She took the silverware out of its plastic sleeve and pulled the plate closer to cut it.
"This soup doesn't look too promising," Jim said, warily eyeing a cup of dishwater-colored liquid. "Some kind of broth."
Jean made one cut on the chicken breast, but then put the knife and fork down on the plate with a clatter.
"What's the..." Jim started, but broke off as he got a look at her face, and he realized what was wrong. "It's making you sick," he stated, as Jean backed away from his bedside, a hand over her mouth.
Jean nodded, gulping in some deep breaths.
"Then leave," Jim said. He covered the plate again and pushed it away from her. "I don't want you getting sick."
"Uhhh, too late," Jean said, then fled for the bathroom.
"Oh, man," Jim moaned. He reached for the nurse call button and punched it as the unmistakable sounds of sickness echoed from the small bathroom. "Honey, I called a nurse!" he called out to her.
Only more sounds of vomiting answered him. He waited helplessly for a nurse to show up and help, and kicked himself mentally for being a thousand times a fool.
What kind of man am I? I've never even asked her how she felt. She's been here almost non-stop, wearing herself out and I've been so damned selfish I haven't even thought about how it might be hurting her...and the baby. I haven't even asked about Jimmy! There's no telling how he's feeling, I've been gone so long! I'm so wrapped up in my own problems I haven't even considered my family. You stupid jerk.
A nurse came in the room then, and Jim pointed to the bathroom. "My wife's sick. Please help her."
"All right, just relax. I'm sure she's fine." The nurse disappeared into the bathroom and Jim heard her start to tend to Jean.
"God forgive me for being a complete idiot," Jim muttered to himself. He rubbed at his chest and coughed as a new layer of guilt and worry applied itself to his heart. It had been thoughts of Jean, Jimmy, and his unborn baby that had given him the strength to survive his captivity and abandonment, and now that he was back with them...how could he have been so selfish? God just please let her and the baby be okay. Please.
"You realize, of course, that you're being entirely too hard on yourself," Pete told Jim candidly. He stood at the end of Jim's bed and tried to give his partner a tolerant look. Pete had called the nurses' station to check on Jim's condition a little after six p.m., and they told him that he'd sent Jean home and seemed depressed and anxious. Pete had wasted little time in getting to the hospital, and he'd pried the story of the disaster over the dinner tray from Jim.
"I don't think so," Jim argued, his voice an odd mixture of bitterness, sadness, and utter exhaustion. The younger officer stared at the ceiling of his hospital room, his bruised and bandaged right arm flung over his forehead. His other hand held the bedcovers in a white-knuckle grip.
Pete clamped down on his jaw to keep from sighing. Jim's emotional state, already fragile at best, now seemed to be wavering somewhere between miserable and despondent. The nurse hadn't been far wrong when she described him as "depressed and anxious." This very scenario had been one of Pete's fears -- that the abduction and subsequent ordeal had so bruised Jim emotionally, that any ability to reason or to deal with anything out of the ordinary would be impossible for him. Jim had a tendency to judge himself too harshly even in insignificant matters. But when it came to perceived neglect of his family or his duty, Jim held himself to almost impossibly high standards. Pete couldn't keep count of the number of times he'd had to talk Jim out of a session of self-castigation over some imagined transgression.
"What kind of man forgets his wife is pregnant and doesn't even ask about his son?"
"You didn't forget," Pete said, with as much patience as he could manage.
"I might as well have. Jean must think I'm a real jerk."
"She thinks no such thing." Pete hitched a hip onto the foot of Jim's bed and gently settled there. "Unlike you, she's thinking straight."
Jim sighed and continued as if he hadn't heard Pete. "She was so sick, and I didn't even notice. All I could think about was how much I needed her."
"Listen to me, you meatball," Pete growled good-naturedly, giving Jim's uninjured foot a tap. "When we brought you in here on Friday afternoon, you were more dead than alive. When you finally did wake up you were in shock, in pain, and confused...and after that you've been sedated most of the time. This morning you could barely make it through giving your statement, and from what I hear, you'd only been awake and coherent about a half an hour this afternoon when Jean got sick...and part of that time was taken up by Agent Dixon. So give yourself some slack, will ya?"
Jim relaxed his grip on the bedcovers, but still picked at the blanket nervously. "I guess you're right," he finally conceded in a quiet, unconvincing tone.
"Of course I'm right."
"But it still seems somehow....neglectful."
Pete shook his head. One step forward, two steps back. "And what did you do as soon as you realized how badly she felt? You sent her home. Where she's resting, where she can be with your son, and where her mother can give her some of the TLC you can't manage right now. That doesn't sound like neglect to me."
"And all I can think about is how much I wish she was still here."
"And now that I've started thinking about it, Pete, I miss Jimmy so much. It feels like it's been years since I've seen him and held him...and I can't even call him! He's gonna forget who I am." Jim's eyes misted over and he coughed.
"Nonsense. Jimmy's fine," Pete assured him, hoping Jim would later forgive him the little white lie. According to reports, Jimmy had been fretting over the absence of his daddy for the better part of the day, and although he hadn't been hysterical the way he'd been on Friday morning, there had been tears, and tantrums, and difficulty sleeping. No way I'm telling Jim that.
"Everything's so messed up right now. I can't even think straight."
"Give it time," Pete said, realizing even as he said it, that he needed to take his own advice. He felt pretty much the same way, as if a tornado had roared into his life, ripping his well-ordered world asunder. And if he felt that way, he could only imagine the hell Jim was experiencing.
"Do you know how tired I am of hearing that?" Jim snapped, though with his weakened voice, it didn't sound as angry as it did defeated. "They'll catch Ciroppolli -- in time. I'll feel better -- in time. Things'll start to make sense to me -- in time! Well, while I'm waiting on all this time to pass, what the hell am I supposed to do? What's my family supposed to do? How many more people are going to die?" Jim barely croaked out the last statement as he lapsed into a coughing fit that caused him to gasp for breath.
"Jim, you all right?" Pete asked, as Jim's face twisted with obvious pain. Pete got up and moved to the head of the bed. "Do I need to call the nurse?"
"No," Jim shook his head. He rubbed at his chest and gulped in some deep breaths.
"You don't look good. Or sound good, either." Pete reached for the nurse call button.
"No, no, don't," Jim sighed, and put a weak hand out to stop Pete. "I'm okay. I just get...breathless...sometimes. And when I cough...it hurts my side."
"How about some water?" Pete offered. He felt helpless; he had to offer to do something.
"Okay, thanks," Jim nodded and closed his eyes, looking exhausted.
Pete poured some water from the pitcher into a cup, remembered to stick a straw in it this time, and held it while Jim took a couple of sips. "That's good, thanks."
The door to Jim's room opened unexpectedly, and Jessica, Jim's nurse from the previous night, came in. "Everything all right in here, Mr. Reed?" she asked, moving to Jim's side. "Your monitor started screaming at me at the station." She smiled at Jim disarmingly, and took his wrist in her hand to feel his pulse.
"I'm all right," Jim said. "You're here early, aren't you?"
"Someone on dayshift had to leave early, so they called me. I just got here about fifteen minutes ago." Jessica put Jim's hand down and jotted the number on her notepad. She then took out a blood pressure cuff and wrapped it around Jim's arm. She started pumping the device, then looked at Pete. "You haven't been here all day, have you?"
"No, I just got here a few minutes ago." Pete said.
Jessica nodded, then concentrated on her reading. "Mr. Reed, I think you're doing too much," she said, after writing down the numbers and removing the device. "Your heart rate and blood pressure are up, and the irregularity is back. And you're a bit clammy. My guess is you're in some pain. Am I right? And don't bat those baby blues at me and tell me a lie, either."
"Well," Jim hedged, around another cough. "Yeah, some."
"I'll see what I can do about that," Jessica promised, patting Jim's hand. "I'll be right back." She looked to Pete again. "Maybe you and Mr. Reed should wrap things up," she suggested, with a lift of an eyebrow.
Pete couldn't help but grin. "Yes, ma'am," he agreed.
That made Jessica laugh. "I'll bet being in a patrol car with you two is quite an experience."
"Some days are better than others," Pete said.
"I'll just bet. I'll be right back, Mr. Reed."
"She's right, you know," Pete said, after the nurse disappeared.
"We do seem to find our share of trouble," Jim agreed.
"I wasn't talking about that, you nut. You're doing too much. You got yourself all worked up over nothing and now you're paying the price. You need to relax and let her give you something and sleep the night away."
Jim sighed. "I know," he conceded wearily. "But it's all running through my head. I can't stop thinking about everything. I keep re-living that time in the barn. Thinking about what Ciroppolli said."
"I can't help it, Pete," Jim declared, his eyes looking haunted. "I just keep thinking about it and wondering why I'm still alive. Why am I alive, and three other men aren't? Why did Ciroppolli spare me? My faith....it's just ordinary. I'm nobody special. I can't make sense out of it."
Pete's mind raced. Jim had said almost the very same things this morning and because of an interruption, the statements had gone unanswered. And apparently Jim had been unable to come up with an answer since. His partner needed reassurance and he needed it now. But Pete had no words to give him. His own inner turmoil kept him from being as detached as he needed to be. His fear of inadvertently making Jim feel worse made words stick in his throat. But he couldn't just stand here and say nothing; that would be a worse betrayal than saying something dumb. Okay, God, I need some words. He took a deep breath and plunged in.
"Jim, you're very special to a lot of people. Your wife, your son, your in-laws -- heck, Jim, your father-in-law was telling me on Thursday night how he thinks of you as his own flesh and blood. You may not be President of the United States, or an NFL quarterback, or a Nobel Prize winner, but the people who love you don't care about that. Just you being you is special to them. I think I can understand why you feel guilty about being alive, but you shouldn't. You might never know exactly why Ciroppolli did what he did, but you're here, and there are a lot of people who are very happy about that." Pete paused. "And that includes me."
Jim didn't respond, but stared at the ceiling, still looking unconvinced.
"And about your faith. I'm no theologian; I can't explain the great mysteries of life to you, but I know a person of faith when I see one, and I know you have faith. I see you use it nearly every day, on the job, when you calm a crying child, or when you replant an elm tree in the middle of the night so an injured man can have some hope, or when you disobey orders trying to save your partner's life."
"Pete, that's not faith," Jim objected. He turned his head and finally locked gazes with Pete. "That's just me."
"My point exactly."
"No, Pete. Faith is....believing. Knowing in your heart that something's gonna happen...and never doubting. I doubted. I gave up. Don't you see? My faith gave out."
"I think you're wrong," Pete said, frowning. "From what you said this morning, I think your body gave out, not your faith. There's no way, as abused as you'd been, that you physically could have kept up what you were doing."
Jim shifted his gaze back to the ceiling.
"The physical body has its limits, Jim, no matter how much faith we might have. I don't mean to be sacrilegious or anything, but even Christ had to have someone carry his cross for him. And there were a lot of people out there carrying your cross. Your family. Your minister. The people you go to church with. They were all praying. And they kept praying, even when the news sounded bad. And then all those men that kept looking for you for all those hours....there probably wasn't a handful of us who actually thought you might be alive. But we still looked. Despite how we felt -- despite our doubts. That's faith, Jim. And that's what you've gotta do now. No matter how bad you feel inside, no matter how confused you are, no matter what doubts you might have about what you did or didn't do...you've gotta keep going. You just keep going, believing in yourself, and your abilities, and believing that your life will be back to normal soon, because there are a lot of people who want you back in their lives the way you were Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. We know it'll take time -- sorry, but it's true -- but that's the faith that'll save you, Jim. That faith will bring you back whole and happy to your family, to your job, and to yourself."
Jim closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and fingers of his uninjured left hand, obviously fighting back emotion. Pete gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze, but moved his hand away when Jessica came back into the room.
"Okay, Mr. Reed," she said cheerfully. "I have some pain medication for you. It's the same thing they gave you this morning, so you'll be sleeping before you know it." Jessica stopped as she apparently realized she'd interrupted something important. "Everything okay?" she asked.
Pete nodded. "Everything's gonna be fine," he said.
"Good." Jessica cleansed the port of Jim's IV and injected the medicine into it. "Just relax and let the medicine do its work, Mr. Reed. I'll be back in about ten minutes to make sure you're asleep."
"Thanks," Jim whispered.
"I'll stay until you doze off," Pete said, when Jessica had left.
"You don't have to."
"But I want to."
"When you get home, will you call Jean and tell her that I love her and Jimmy very much?"
"You bet," Pete promised.
Jim's eyelids started to droop. "You're...a good friend, Pete. Thanks...for everything."
"What are friends for?" Pete said lightly. But his own insides gave a little lurch as Jim thanked him. As
Pete watched Jim slip off into sleep, he realized, once again, that he needed to take his own advice and
stop feeling guilty over something that was out of his control. We've both got a long way to go.