A Matter of Time, Part 8
"I'm looking for some news," Jim said, as he pressed the channel changer again.
"It's not time for the news, honey," Jean said patiently. "It's only a little after four. Why don't you take a nap? This is the first time all day you haven't had a room full of visitors."
It had been a busy day for Jim, beginning with an early morning examination by Dr. Gibbs, who pronounced him ready to be moved to a regular room. That move had begun with getting his IV, heart monitor, and catheter removed. Then Jean had showed up in time to help him get a sponge bath, his hair shampooed, a careful shave and into fresh pajamas. That much activity had exhausted him, but once he'd been moved to his new room, and the candy stripers had brought in the flowers, plants, and cards that had been sent but he'd not seen, it buoyed him both emotionally and physically.
In the afternoon, a steady stream of visitors had kept him distracted. Men from the division, family, neighbors, his minister, and other people from church had all turned his Sunday into a tiring but uplifting day. Some of the visits had been emotional, especially the one from his old academy buddy, Red Lightsey, but he'd been touched by everyone's outpouring of love and concern.
The visits also served to keep him from brooding over Ciroppolli's continued evasion of the law. But occasionally, during a brief quiet moment, his thoughts would turn inward and the anxiety would return. This had been one of those moments, so he'd turned off the Packers-49ers game and went in search of a channel that might give him some news.
"If I tried to go to sleep, someone else'll just come in and wake me up," Jim said. He made the rounds of the hospital's limited channel selection, and turned it back to the game when he located no news.
"Or the phone will ring. Again." Jean frowned. Those friends who hadn't dropped by in person had telephoned, keeping Jim busy talking most of the day one way or the other.
"At least I have a TV and a phone now. I don't feel cut off from civilization any more. And I got to talk to Jimmy." Jim beamed, thinking of the conversation he'd had with his son. Jimmy had been the first person Jim had called once he'd been settled into his new room.
Jean smiled. "I think that did you more good than anything."
"Yeah," Jim agreed. Even though the aches and pains had truly settled in, keeping him from feeling as well as he would have liked, and he still got tired and breathless, that one conversation with Jimmy had done him more good than all the medicines he'd been given. It had also driven home what Pete had told him last night -- that he had to keep going, to keep fighting to get his normal life back. Time would help him deal with the emotional trauma, but he could help himself now by concentrating on what was good in his life and work through the rest as his strength and circumstances allowed. "I can't wait to see the little tiger. I wonder if I can talk Dr. Gibbs in letting me outta here tomorrow morning?"
"He said Tuesday at the earliest, honey," Jean reminded. "And that's only if the heart rhythm stays normal and the blood in your urine decreases."
"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Jim asked in a half-hearted pout.
"Yours, love," Jean said firmly. "Believe me, I want you home more than anything, but getting you out too soon wouldn't be in your best interest."
"I can rest at home," Jim argued. "I'd rest better at home. In my own bed. And I'd sure eat better, too."
"That's the real reason you want to come home," Jean teased. "Just for decent food."
"It's a part of it, but not the real reason," Jim said, not rising to Jean's teasing. Jim just wanted to be home. He needed to be home. His family needed him there. "I need to get home."
"Stop worrying about that," Jean said, as usual, reading his mind. "I feel a whole lot better today." Jean rubbed her tummy. "Maybe I'm finally turning the corner, and this morning sickness will go away for good. And I've got a lot of help with Jimmy, so everything's fine."
The phone rang, cutting off any answer Jim had to that. He shifted to reach for the phone, but Jean stood up quickly.
"You stay put. I'll get it." She took the two steps she needed to take to reach the phone and answered it. "Hello? Oh, hi, Pete!"
Jim smiled. Pete had turned into a real mother hen. He'd dropped by early in the day, before the real rush of people had arrived, and had promised to return later in the evening so they could watch the Dodgers game together.
"Yes, he is. Yeah, there's been a ton of folks here today. So many we can't keep up," Jean laughed into the receiver. "What? You are? Well, yeah, I did. Yeah. That'll be great. Sure, Pete." She paused, nodding.
"He can't hear your head rattle, honey," Jim joked, then moved his arm when Jean playfully swatted at it.
"Sure thing Pete. See you later. Bye." Jean hung up the receiver.
"What?" Jim exclaimed. "He didn't want to talk to me?"
Jean laughed. "He wanted to see if you were awake. Judy wanted to drop by and see you, so they're on their way over. He'll talk to you then."
"Oh," Jim said. "Okay."
"You're so silly sometimes," Jean leaned over and kissed him warmly. When she started to pull away, Jim reached up and pulled her as close as the rail would allow, lengthening the kiss.
"This is the real reason I want to come home," he whispered, running his hand through Jean's hair. "I want to hold and kiss you without this dadgum railing coming between us."
"That sounds good to me," Jean agreed, turning to kiss the hand he had entangled in her hair. "Really good."
Jim gently pulled her into another kiss until Jean squawked. "Ow, that darn rail!" she said, rubbing at her side.
"Sorry," Jim apologized.
"A kiss like that is worth a little pain," Jean smiled. "Listen, honey, would you mind if I stepped out for just a minute? Will you be okay here? I...need to stretch my legs a bit."
"I'll be fine. I'll watch some more of the game. You okay?"
"Yeah. I've been sitting for too long, that's all. I'll be right back." Jean blew him a kiss and slipped out of the room.
Jim lay back in the bed and turned his attention to the ball game. He registered that the Packers had the lead, but he had little real interest in the game. He didn't like being alone for too long, even with the television for company, because his mind invariably would wander to uncomfortable topics. He was trying very hard to stay positive and focused on the good things, but it took a lot of effort, and if he didn't have a lot of distraction, he couldn't manage it.
The busy day had taken its toll, and Jim found himself sinking, both physically and emotionally. Man, she's not even out of the room for a minute, and I'm already depressed again. That's crazy. Jim sighed and closed his eyes. He thought of Ciroppolli, still running around loose with his gun, charging up on his credit cards, killing innocent people, and his insides churned with worry and guilt. A part of him knew he had no control over the situation, that the guilt was unwarranted, but that rational part of him was buried deep underneath the raging emotions. He knew Pete had been right last night when he advised him to "give it time," but that didn't help the knot of anxiety go away.
Jim jumped when something metallic clanged against the door, and it opened. He relaxed, though, when Jean poked her face around the door, grinning from ear to ear.
"What are you up to?" Jim asked.
"Nothing," she said, with the innocent tone that confirmed to Jim that she most definitely was up to something. She stepped aside and Jim saw a wheelchair being pushed through. On the back side of the wheelchair stood Pete, with a grin on his face to match Jean's.
"Pete! How'd you get here so fast?" Jim asked. "And what are you doing with that? I smell a set-up." Jim narrowed his eyes.
"Still sharp as a tack," Pete said, a gleam in his eye. "You wanna bust out of this place?"
Jim had to laugh. "Sure, if you're up to helping me crawl out of this bed." He looked over at Jean. "Is it okay?"
Jean went to the closet and pulled out Jim's robe. "I checked with the nurse, and she said it would do you good to get up for a little while as long as you don't walk. Your feet are still not ready. If you get too tired you came come right back."
"Okay, but let's go slow, all right? It hurts like heck to move."
"Of course, honey."
Pete moved to Jim's side and helped ease him into an upright position. "Okay?"
"So far," Jim gritted. "Not too bad." He grunted as he swivelled slowly and hung his feet over the bed. The torn soles of his feet tingled as the blood rushed downward.
"Hold out your arms," Jean instructed, "and we'll slide your robe on. I'll tie it when you stand up." She helped Jim get into the robe, and used her fingers to smooth his hair. "You look beautiful," she said.
"Welllll..." Pete wiggled his hand back and forth and made a face.
"What does he know?" Jim asked.
"Watch it, partner, I'm the one driving this jalopy," Pete pushed the wheelchair close to Jim, then moved to help Jim up. Pete braced him and with only a minimum amount of groaning, Jim stood awkwardly on the side of his left foot.
"You okay, honey?" Jean asked. She pulled the robe closed and tied the sash.
"Yeah," Jim said through clenched teeth. He wavered slightly, and Pete tightened his grip.
"You sure?" Pete asked.
"Just sit me down, quick," Jim said. Standing hurt a lot worse than he expected. The room tilted a little crazily. "Head rush."
"Okay, easy, now," Pete turned him, and supported most of Jim's weight until he could settle him in the chair.
"Ohhh, man, I feel like I'm a hundred years old," Jim said shakily. Sweat broke out on his skin. His back cramped and his ankle throbbed.
"Here's a pillow for your back," Jean eased a pillow behind him. "Is that better?"
"Yeah, thanks," Jim wheezed. "Maybe...I'm not quite ready for this..."
"Oh, just a quick trip, baby," Jean said. "You need to get out of this room for a minute."
"What about your foot?" Pete asked. "I can raise the leg support."
"That'd be good," Jim nodded. As long as he kept his ankle still and elevated, the pain was bearable.
Pete made the necessary adjustments, Jean folded a towel to put under his foot, then Pete put his foot in the support. "Man, that ankle is still really swollen."
"I can't believe I didn't break it," Jim agreed. "Felt like I did at the time."
"Thank goodness you didn't. But a sprain can be just as bad," Jean said, as she covered his legs with a blanket. "And then there's all those cuts on the soles. I know they still hurt."
"Tell me about it." Jim shifted painfully to find a comfortable position.
"You ready, partner?"
"I guess so." Jim gave up on comfort and settled for less painful. "Where are we going?"
"Just leave the driving to me, Jim," Pete said.
"Where have I heard that before?" Jim groused, as Jean opened the door and Pete pushed him through.
Jean took Jim's uninjured hand and held it as she walked beside him. She squeezed it gently. "If we need to slow down, let Pete know."
"I'm fine. Just watch the bumps."
"I always offer a smooth ride," Pete said.
They stopped in front of the elevator and Jean pushed the "down" button.
"The elevator?" Jim asked. "Where are we going?"
"You'll see. Just be patient, honey."
"I hope this isn't gonna be embarrassing," Jim said. "I know I'm being set up. It hasn't even been ten minutes since you called, so I know you had to already be here."
"He's a regular Charlie Chan," Pete laughed, as the elevator doors opened. Jean stepped in and held the "door open" button while Pete gently pushed the chair through. Despite his care, though, Jim couldn't help but hiss as the chair bumped. "Sorry, Jim."
"It's all right. Not that bad."
Jean took Jim's hand again. "Hang in there, baby. I think you'll find this trip worth it."
"Now I'm really getting nervous."
"Trust me, there's nothing to be nervous about." Jean squeezed his hand.
They exited the elevator on the ground floor and Pete steered the wheelchair to the left, away from the lobby and toward the cafeteria. Jim could smell the food as they rounded the corner.
"We're not going to the cafeteria, are we?" Jim asked. "That food's only one step up from the gruel they send on the trays. Hold your breath, honey, or you'll be throwing up again."
"It's not too bad. I thought you took seven here sometimes," Jean said.
"Only when we're desperate," Pete laughed. "Relax, Jim, we're not exactly going to the cafeteria."
"Not exactly? Then why are we headed right for it?"
"We're not. We're headed for the exit next to it."
"Oh. That leads to a patio, right? Am I going over the wall? Being sneaked home?" Jim asked hopefully.
"No, darling, but it's the best we could manage in place of that. Now, close your eyes."
Jim frowned. "What? Close my eyes? Why?"
"I won't if I close my eyes!"
"Just mind your wife, okay?" Pete said.
"Okay, I'll play," Jim closed his eyes. "But if people jump out at me and yell 'surprise' I'll probably have a heart attack."
Jim felt Pete turn the final corner before they reached the cafeteria. The smell of food wafted strongly in the air. Had Jim been hungrier, it might have smelled better. He heard Jean's footsteps as she moved to open the door that led to the outside. What has she done? "Ow," he said, when Pete rolled him over the door jamb and onto the concrete patio. A rush of cool air flowed over him. It felt refreshing, and he took as deep a breath of it as he could manage.
Jim heard voices of people on the patio, the sound of a bouncing ball and the scuffling of feet as someone moved around. "Can I open my eyes now?" he asked.
The sound of the bouncing ball stopped, and almost simultaneously Jim heard the sweetest sound he'd heard in a while.
"My daddeee!" Jimmy's voice shrilled from across the way, and Jim's eyes snapped open to see his son racing for him, his arms outstretched.
"Jimmy!" Jim called, all aches and pains and worries forgotten as he drank in the sight of his child.
"Whoa, whoa!" Pete intercepted Jimmy before he could sling himself into his father's arms. He scooped the boy up. "Remember what I told you about how you had to be gentle? Daddy's very sore, remember?"
"I wemembuh," Jimmy nodded, squirming to free himself from Pete's grasp. "I'll be still."
"Come here, you little squirt," Jim held out his arms to Jimmy, and Pete eased the boy down into his father's lap.
Jimmy threw his arms around Jim's neck. "Daddy," he said, and it was almost a sob. "Daddy, I miss you."
Jim squeezed his son close, not caring a bit that his ribs protested. "I miss you, too, son," he whispered past a knot of emotion that choked his throat. "I'm so happy to see you."
"Unca Pete and Auntie Judy bwoughted me," Jimmy said. He didn't release his hold on Jim's neck. "And David."
Jim looked past Jimmy and saw Judy and David walking toward him.
"Hello, Jim," Judy said. She smiled tightly at him, but Jim thought her eyes looked troubled. He didn't give it much thought, though, as David came up beside his wheelchair.
"Hi, Uncle Jim!" David said exuberantly.
"Hi, David," Jim gave him a little tap on the shoulder. Holding Jimmy close, with his wife and best friend beside him, Jim could almost forget the nightmare of the past few days. "Pete, Judy -- thanks for this. All of you."
"I told you it'd be worth the trip, didn't I?" Jean leaned down and whispered in his ear. She kissed both Jims on the cheek.
"Oh, yeah," Jim said, hugging Jimmy even tighter. "This is the best medicine on earth."
"Tomorrow, I'm bringing you a ranchburger and fries from Duke's," Pete declared, as he sniffed disdainfully at the cold food on Jim's hospital tray. "I wouldn't wish this on a dog."
The hospital staff had brought Jim's dinner tray in while he'd been downstairs with Jimmy, and by the time he'd come back, gotten settled in the bed, and sent Jean home with Jimmy, the food had gone stone cold. Looking at it, Pete didn't think it would have been any more appetizing if it had been hot.
"It doesn't matter," Jim said, pushing the tray away. "I would much rather have spent the time with Jimmy than eating this stuff, anyway. Thanks again for bringing him, Pete."
"You're welcome. It was Jean's idea. She thought it'd do both of you a world of good. She called me this afternoon to set it up while Ed, Jerry, and Isaiah were here."
"So that's where she went. She was right, though, it did me a lot of good. And you were right, too."
"I'm always right, remember?" Pete joked. He rolled the table with the cold tray of food to the opposite side of the room near the door, then settled into the chair next to Jim's bed. "What was I right about this time?"
Jim rolled his eyes and shook his head. He lay back in the bed. "About giving it time. About concentrating on my family and worrying about other things later."
Pete nodded. "Getting better and getting back home should be your top priority right now. Anything else can wait."
Jim managed a small grin. "I swear, it looked like Jimmy had grown an inch since I saw him last. I know that's crazy though...it's only been three days. It just seems longer."
"It sure does," Pete agreed. He noticed that Jim still held the drawings Jimmy had brought him in his lap. "You want me to take those and put 'em somewhere?"
Jim ran his hand over the top sheet and smoothed out a wrinkle. "Nah, I'll hold onto them for a while. Before you leave you can hang them on the mirror over there, I guess."
"Okay. But why don't I run down to the cafeteria and bring you something to eat? I know you're not gonna eat that tray, but you need to eat something."
"I'm not really that hungry, anyway, but thanks."
"You heard what Jean said before she left. Eat. How are you gonna get your strength back if you don't eat?"
"I know, but the food's so bad here." Jim frowned and stifled a yawn. "If I get really hungry during the game, I'll let you go bring me something back."
Pete regarded his younger partner with some concern. "Are you okay? You look uncomfortable."
"Just tired," Jim admitted. "Going downstairs took a lot out of me. But it was worth it."
"There's an hour 'til game time. Why don't you catch forty winks? I could use a few myself." Pete stretched his legs out and hooked his heels over the rail on Jim's bed. "It's been a long day."
"Judy looked kinda tired, too," Jim commented. "You two stay up too late last night?"
Pete shrugged. "I guess she might've."
Jim looked at Pete and frowned again. "You guess? You didn't go over there after you left here last night?"
"No," Pete said, his voice clipped. Drop it, Jim.
Jim's frown deepened. "Is everything all right?" When Pete didn't answer him immediately, Jim sighed. "She's not taking this well, is she?"
"Jim, I don't..." Pete snapped, then softened his tone. It's not Jim's fault. "I really don't want to talk about it right now, if you don't mind."
"Okay," Jim said. "Sorry."
"No, I'm the one who's sorry. I didn't mean to growl at you like that. It's just that.... we're all on edge over this. I'm not sure what there is to say."
"She'll come around, Pete, don't worry," Jim said with confidence. "Maybe she and Jean can talk some while Jean's driving her home tonight."
"Yeah. Maybe." Pete had his doubts that Judy would talk to anybody right now. He'd had a hard time even talking her into coming to the hospital today. Only David's insistence on "seeing Uncle Jim" had pushed her into coming. And it had been obvious during the visit on the patio that Judy had been uncomfortable. It seemed to Pete that as time passed Judy grew more distant instead of more at ease.
"Look, you don't have to baby-sit me," Jim said. "I'm tired, and I'll probably flake out before the game's over, anyway. Why don't you go on over to her house and spend some time with her? Maybe she just needs some quiet time on the couch with you."
I hope that's all it takes. But right now, I just don't know. "Maybe tomorrow I'll do that."
"If you think that's best." Jim looked like he wanted to say more, but instead he asked, "When's Mac gonna let you go back to work? We were supposed to get back on PM watch today, right?"
"Yeah, that's right. Mac said sometime this week. Until then I'm on administrative sick leave." He didn't mention that Mac said that both of them were probably going to have to undergo some counseling before they came back on the job.
"Well, you could use the rest," Jim said, closing his eyes. "You did take a bullet, you know."
"Kinda. But I don't even have a headache any more. I could work desk."
"The brass probably wants you to decompress some more before you come back."
The phone rang, interrupting their conversation.
"I'll get it," Pete offered. "Stay still."
"Maybe that's Jean, saying she got home okay," Jim said, but he let Pete answer the ringing phone. He didn't want to make the effort to move. Jim had his doubts that he would last through the third inning of the upcoming Dodgers' game. Not that it mattered, anyway, because he had more than enough ammunition to use against Wells' assertion that the Dodgers would choke in the clutch. Jim stifled another yawn as Pete picked up the receiver on the third ring.
"Hello? Yeah, Mac, it's me. What's...yeah, I've got it. I'm never without it. What's wrong?"
"What?" Jim asked, an anxious feeling grabbing at his stomach. The only thing Pete was never without was his gun.
Pete held up a hand to keep Jim quiet, then listened intently for several seconds, his forehead furrowed. "When?" Pete snapped into the phone, then turned and looked toward the door of the room, his jaw clenched and his eyes hardening. His hand moved to the butt of his off-duty weapon.
"What?" Jim demanded again. Something's happened. Something bad.
"Don't you worry, Mac, I'm not going anywhere. They're on the way? Did you call security or you want me to do that?"
"Security?" Jim's anxiety threatened to flare into full-blown panic. "Pete, what the hell's going on?"
"Sssh!" Pete hissed at him, then turned back to the phone. Again, he listened for a few beats, then said, "Yeah. Yeah, Mac, I've got it." Pete slammed down the phone, turned a quick look on Jim, then raced around the end of the bed to the door of the room.
"Pete! What's going on?"
Pete cracked the door, stuck his head out and looked around, then ducked back in and took up station at the door. He stuck his foot in the door to prop it open, then drew his gun.
"Jim, I don't want you to panic..."
"I'm already panicked!" Jim sat up in the bed, grimacing as his back and side protested the quick movement. "Tell me!"
"That was Mac," Pete said, his voice terse. He glanced at Jim, then back out the door, then back at Jim. "About three hours ago, Ciroppolli kidnaped a man at gunpoint from a convenience store outside of 'Vegas. He made the man drive toward LA. Said he had 'unfinished business' here."
Jim blanched, and his eyes widened. His heart flipped and took up residence in his throat. "How do they know that?"
"The man escaped from him. I don't know how, but somehow he got away, and he got a call in to the Highway Patrol. Mac says the FBI's questioning him now, but Jim...they're pretty sure he was coming back after you. Mac's on the way over, and he's sending some protection. He told me not to move from here until..."
"Pete!" Jim interrupted him. His heart kicked into overdrive as a terrifying picture snapped into place. "I don't think it's me he's after!" Jim turned and grabbed for the phone, moaning as the stretch tore at the sore muscles and ribs. Jimmy's pictures fluttered slowly to the floor.
"Jim, what are you doing?" Pete demanded.
Jim grabbed the phone, then fell back onto the bed, dragging it with him. He jerked the receiver off the hook and started dialing. "Pete, he's got my drivers' license. He knows where I live." Jim finished dialing, then turned his gaze to his partner. "Jean's all alone tonight....her parents went home. Come on, honey, answer the phone!" Jim yelled into the receiver.
Pete's eyes widened. "Calm down, Jim. I'm sure he wouldn't go after Jean."
"She's not answering!" Jim choked. His heart not only pounded, but the frightening arrhythmia started up again. He coughed as the irregular rhythm tickled his chest. "What if..."
"She had to take Judy home, remember?" Pete reminded Jim in his most reasonable tone. "She's probably still there. Call Judy. And calm down."
"Oh, right, right! Maybe I can catch her there." Jim dialed two numbers, with hands that jerked from fear, then looked up at Pete in confusion. "I can't remember her number! What is it?"
"Settle down, Jim. 555-7734. Relax." Pete stayed glued to his post at the door but kept one eye trained on Jim.
"Seven, seven, three, four..." Jim's hand shook so hard he could barely finish dialing the number. "Come on, Judy, pick up!"
"Jim, calm down. I'm sure Jean's fine."
"Come on, come on, pick up!"
After the fourth ring, David picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"David!" Jim exclaimed, then realizing how hysterical he sounded, he took a breath and lowered his voice. "David, are Jean and Jimmy still there?"
"Hi, Uncle Jim. No, they left a few minutes ago."
Damn! "How long ago, David? It's important."
"Ummm, well, lessee...maybe fifteen minutes. Jimmy fell asleep in the car, so Aunt Jean just let us out, and didn't come in."
"Okay, David, thanks. Thanks a lot." Jim couldn't keep his voice from shaking.
"Is something wrong, Uncle Jim?"
"No. I'll explain later. I gotta go, David. Thanks again." Jim depressed the hook and looked up at Pete. "Pete, she's on her way home. I want you to go to my house. Now."
"Jim, I'm not leaving you here. Ciroppolli doesn't have a reason to go after Jean, but he's got plenty to come after you."
"Pete, for God's sake, I can take care of myself! But Jean's alone...and it's dark...he could be waiting for her!" He dialed his number again and prayed she would answer.
"Jim, what makes you so sure that Ciroppolli would go after Jean?"
"I told you...he saw her picture. In the barn...near the end...remember, I told you that I asked for Jean's picture. He gave it to me. But I didn't tell you what he said about her. He thought she was beautiful. He said that a beautiful woman like her would be worth the risk of coming back for. Damn! She's still not answering! What if he's already there?" Jim slammed down the receiver. "Pete, you've gotta go over there and make sure she's all right!"
"Jim, I'm not leaving you here unprotected," Pete's voice held no compromise on the issue.
Jim put the phone down on the bed and threw back his covers. He dangled his good leg over the side of the bed.
"Jim, don't you get out of that bed!" Pete growled.
"If you won't go, I'll go!" Jim declared. He slid onto the side of his one good foot and held onto the bed railing for support.
"Don't move another inch! You're not supposed to put any weight on your feet. You're in no shape to walk across the room, let alone leave here," Pete insisted. He took a last long look down the hallway, then holstered his gun and crossed the room to block Jim from moving any further. The door closed behind him.
Pete took Jim by the arm. "Get back in the bed," he said softly.
"I won't let him hurt my family!" Jim cried, his voice cracking. He coughed again. "He's an animal, Pete. You didn't hear his voice. You didn't look in his eyes...and see the evil there." Jim shook off Pete's grip and tried to push away from him, but Pete simply moved a step and blocked him again. In Jim's weakened physical condition, Pete easily outmaneuvered him.
"I could never beat Jean home from here," Pete said calmly. "Let's call the station and have them send a unit out to the house. They can have a black and white there in three minutes."
Jim blinked. "Right. Of course." He took a deep, shaky breath. Why didn't I think of that?
Pete picked up the phone off the bed and put it back on the night stand. "You want me to call?"
Jim nodded, silently cursing himself for panicking and wasting valuable time that could have been used getting help to Jean. Idiot! You did exactly what you've been trained NOT to do. Did you forget all your training?
"You need help getting back into bed?"
"No. Just hurry with that call."
"I'm dialing." Pete had gotten as far as dialing the exchange, when something slammed hard into the door, making a report almost as loud as a gunshot. The door slung wide open.
"Jim, get down!" Pete cried.
Jim didn't think twice. He threw himself down on the floor, crying out as the impact rattled his bruised body. The room swam around him, and he tensed, waiting for a gunshot or the rush of a madman.
Out of the corner of his eye, Pete saw Jim dive for the floor. Pete dropped the phone, which clattered noisily to the tile, then whirled and drew his weapon. He aimed it at the door and tensed, his finger on the trigger, ready to shoot down....
...A middle-aged, rotund black woman dressed in the light blue uniform of the hospital's dietary staff. She walked into the room and the broad smile on her face turned to an expression of utter terror as she saw Pete standing with the gun pointed straight at her heart. She screamed, long and loud, a throaty, hoarse cry that nearly curled the curtains back.
"Oh, Lord! Oh, Jesus, have mercy!" she cried, slinging her hands up into the air. "Oh, don't shoot me! Please don't shoot me! Jesus, have mercy!"
Pete lowered the gun and took a deep, shaky breath. He'd come damn close to blowing a hole right through the poor woman's chest. Only his training, experience, and quick eye kept him from doing so. His knees went weak. "I'm sorry," Pete stumbled over his apology.
"Oh, Jesus! Oh, Lordy have mercy!" the woman continued to scream, her hands still waving in the air.
"Ma'am, it's okay!" Pete yelled over her histrionics. He would have laughed at the ludicrous situation, had he not been scared out of his wits. "It's okay, I'm a police officer! Calm down!"
"The PO-leese?" the woman exclaimed, finally lowering her hands. She clutched at her chest. "All I want is the dinner tray!"
"I'm really sorry, ma'am," Pete apologized again. He put the gun back in its holster. "Go ahead."
The woman ran for the tray and grabbed it up. "Did you shoot him?" she asked, nodding toward Jim, who still lay on the floor.
Jim! Pete had almost forgotten him. "No ma'am!" he said. "Jim, you okay over there?" He started around the bed to help his partner up off the floor.
"Yeah," Jim answered. "Pete, the call! Make the call!" Jim dragged himself to a sitting position. "I'm all right."
Pete didn't believe him, but he stopped in mid-stride. Jim's priority now was his family, and Pete respected that. "All right. I'll call." Pete turned back around and went for the phone.
"You people are crazy!" the woman cried, as she retreated through the door. "Lord, have mercy!"
Jim's heart raced almost as fast as his mind did as he listened to Pete dial the station and ask for a cruiser to be sent to Jim's home. He sagged back against the bed rails, gathering his strength before he tried to push himself up and crawl back into the bed. His heart did a double-time mambo in his chest. He prayed for Jean and Jimmy's safety. God, please don't let Ciroppolli touch my family. Keep them safe. Let help get there in time. If anybody has to die, God, let it be me. Let it be me.
"Jim," Pete's voice brought him back to the present. "It's taken care of. There's a unit on the way to your home. They'll call when they know the situation."
"Thank God." Jim blew out a breath. "Pete, I think I'm gonna need some help getting up."
"Okay." Pete hurried to Jim's side and slowly pulled him to his feet. "You all right? You hit the floor pretty hard."
"It hurt like the devil, too." He hitched his hip onto the bed, then let Pete help him raise his legs. "Ow," Jim hissed.
"I'm sorry," Pete apologized. "But she came tearing in here like gangbusters and I guess I overreacted."
"Scared me, too," Jim admitted. He shifted, trying to get comfortable. Pete straightened the covers and Jim pulled them up over his legs.
"You sure you're okay? Maybe I should call the nurse and let her check you out. You look kinda pale."
"No, I'm okay. Just worried about Jean."
"Try to relax; she's got help coming. She'll be fine. Just fine."
"God, I hope so."
"Let me check the hall again. Stay still and calm down."
Pete kept his gun in his holster but he checked the hallway again to make sure it was clear of danger, and to see if his backup might be on the way. The incident with the woman from the dietary staff rattled his already jangled nerves. If that had been Ciroppolli, he'd have caught Pete with his back to the door. That won't happen again. I'll be damned if that guy's gonna take me by surprise. Pete pushed the door halfway open, so he could see both the hallway and Jim, then stationed himself directly in the doorway, leaning against the jamb. He put a hand on the butt of his gun again.
The hallway seemed quiet. All Pete saw was a young girl walking into a room two doors down from Jim. Pete was a little surprised that the terrified staff member's screams hadn't brought nurses running from every corner. The thought angered him. Why didn't someone hear? Where's hospital security? Where's the back up Mac promised?
"What's happening?" Jim asked. Pete could clearly hear the tension in Jim's voice.
"Nothing much. Hallway's deserted."
"Nope. But I'm sure Mac will have somebody here quick. Don't worry -- I'm on it."
"Why don't they call?" Jim asked, after a couple of beats of tense silence.
"Give them time, Jim. It's only been couple of minutes." Pete did his best to keep Jim reassured, but his own skin prickled in nervous anticipation.
Jim exhaled noisily. "I know." Jim looked toward the ceiling. "God, don't let anything happen to her."
"Pete...I can't stand the thoughts of him even looking at her, let alone..." Jim broke off, apparently unable even to say the words aloud.
"Don't think like that, Jim."
"In the barn, when I asked Ciroppolli to give me Jean and Jimmy's picture...the way he looked at her, his tone of voice...I could see, in his eyes...." Jim squeezed his eyes shut, as if to try and erase the horrible memory from his mind. He rubbed a hand over his chest, and Pete saw it tremble.
"He won't get to her, Jim. You've got to relax." Pete worried that this latest development might be the final stressor that broke Jim completely. If anything were to happen to Jean, Pete doubted that Jim could survive it.
"I can't," Jim coughed and looked at the phone. "Ring! Come on, ring!"
Jim stared at the phone; willed it to ring. Tension had wound itself so tightly around him he could scarcely breathe. Just when he thought he had started to conquer the inner demons that tortured him with a myriad of fears and doubts of his self-worth, Ciroppolli surfaced and once again threatened to tear his world apart.
Your faith has saved you.
Had it really? And was it enough to save his wife, too?
I was a fool to ask for the picture. I was a fool to let him see her. I'll never forgive myself if something happens to her. Let him come to me, God. Let him come here. I'd rather take a knife in my heart than to let him even look at her. Or for her to have to look at him...such evil.
He saw Pete shift in the doorway and narrow his eyes.
"Nothing, Jim. Just saw someone move past the corridor."
Is this what life's gonna be like from now on if we don't catch Ciroppolli? Am I going to look over my shoulder for the rest of my life? Is there no safe place?
Jim sighed and tightened his hands into fists, flexing the stiff fingers of his right hand experimentally, watching Pete watch the hallway. He wondered, if it came down to it, if he could do anything useful in his present condition.
Is this ever going to be over?
"Jim, here comes Bob Brinkman," Pete said, interrupting Jim's miserable thoughts.
"Maybe he can tell me something about Jean," Jim said hopefully.
"He probably doesn't know anything much," Pete said. "Bob! Get down here!" Pete called out the door.
Brinkman jogged the rest of the way down the hall, his hand on his gun case. "Pete! Jim okay?" he asked.
"For now," Pete said.
Brinkman stuck his head in the door. "Hey, Jim," he greeted him cheerfully. "You can relax now, the cavalry's here."
"Bob, what do you know about Ciroppolli?"
"I don't know too much," Brinkman said. He stood in the door, watching the hall as Pete moved back into the room and stood by Jim's bed. "Woods and I got a call from Mac telling us to get over here, because Ciroppolli was possibly headed back to LA and might be gunning for Jim. Woods is downstairs coordinating with hospital security."
"What kind of vehicle is he in?" Pete asked.
"1972 Monte Carlo, maroon. Nevada license. Mac's got all the details. He oughta be here any minute."
"Good," Pete said. "I'd feel better if we had some more information."
"Pete, maybe we should call my house again."
"Jim, the dispatched unit will call when they can," Pete said calmly. "Relax. Everything's gonna be all right. Jean and Jimmy are fine. I'm sure of it."
"Don't worry, Jim," Brinkman said from his guard spot at the door. "This guy's not gonna get anywhere near you or your family. We're making sure of that. He'll be sorry if he dares show his face around here. Pete, here comes Mac."
"Great. Now, maybe we'll get some answers."
"Ah, good, Brinkman, you're here," Mac's voice filtered into the room from down the hallway. "This is your post until I say otherwise. Woods is briefing the hospital security staff. He'll stay downstairs and coordinate the units outside the building and at the main entrances."
"I brought a cc unit so you can communicate with each other. It's tuned to the right frequency." Mac appeared in the doorway and handed the walkie-talkie over to Brinkman, who clipped it to his belt.
"Pete, Jim," Mac walked in, looking grave. "Everything okay?"
"For the moment," Pete answered, "But we need more information."
"Mac, he might be after Jean," Jim blurted.
"I heard the call to your house go out over the air," Mac said. "I should have remembered he had your license. But don't worry, Jim. The man he grabbed seemed to think it was you he was after."
"What do we know, Mac?" Pete asked.
"The man he grabbed is named Robert Black. His wife sent him out to the store for a few groceries, so he just drove down the street to the convenience store. But he forgot one of the items she'd sent him after, and he called her from the pay phone outside the store. When he hung up and turned around, Ciroppolli was standing there, with a gun leveled at Black's chest. Told him to get in his car and drive or he'd kill him. So they got in Black's car -- maroon 1972 Monte Carlo -- and started driving. Black said he recognized Ciroppolli from all the news broadcasts, and he figured his time was pretty much up. He started trying to figure out a way to escape. Black said that Ciroppolli told him to drive to LA, because he had some unfinished business here. Black said he tried to engage him in conversation, but Ciroppolli wasn't talking much. Just kept the gun pointed right at him. All he would say is that he had to 'finish something he'd started' back in LA, and that he did a lot of muttering about being too softhearted."
"Softhearted!" Pete exclaimed, as Jim made a snorting sound.
"Yeah, he's a real sweetheart," Mac said.
"How'd the guy get away?" Pete asked.
"He got lucky. They'd gotten as far as Yermo, and had to stop at a traffic light. It just so happened that there was a diner across the way and a CHP unit was on seven there. So Black just bailed out and, in his words, 'ran like hell.' For whatever reason, Ciroppolli didn't go after him, but slid over to the driver's side and took off. By the time Black made it inside, found the officer and blurted out enough of the story so that the guy didn't think he was nuts, Ciroppolli was long gone."
"He always slips away," Jim ground out through clenched teeth. How does he do it?
"Not this time, Jim," Mac declared. "We're all over him. He's finally made his fatal mistake. I've got three units here, LA County Sheriff combing the incoming roads, the FBI and Federal Marshals are on his tail...no way he's getting by us this time."
"He's resourceful,"Jim insisted.
"His luck can't hold out forever," Mac said, but Jim wasn't so certain.
"Can you...check on Jean?" Jim asked Mac. "The officers were supposed to call, but I haven't heard anything." Jim tried to look calm, but his insides felt like they were being pressed through a meat grinder.
"Sure, Jim," Mac smiled with understanding. "I'll use the cc unit and have them meet me. I'll see what's going on."
"Brinkman, let me have that cc unit," Mac walked to the door and took it from his officer. He tuned to a new frequency, then spoke into it. "Control, this is 1-L-120. Have 1-Adam-45 meet me on Tac 2."
"1-L-120, you are not readable. Say again." The dispatcher's static-filled response could barely be heard.
Mac walked closer to the window and repeated his request.
"Roger, 1-L-120. 1-Adam-45, 1-Adam-45, meet 1-L-120 on Tac 2."
Mac switched to the proper frequency. The radio hissed static as they waited for the unit's response.
"Who's in 45?" Jim asked. "Snyder?"
"Snyder and LeCroy."
"Jean knows them," Jim said. "That's good."
A full minute passed and the radio produced only static.
"Mac, where are they?" Jim asked.
"They might have been in the house and didn't get the radio call," Pete said. "Take it easy."
"Or we might be out of range. I could barely reach Control." Mac held the radio up to the window.
"Check again," Jim urged. His anxiety had almost reached the bursting point.
"All right." Mac thumbed the dial back to the main frequency. "Control, this is 1-L-120. Did you get a response from 1-Adam-45?"
"What's their status?" Mac asked.
"1-Adam-45 is Code 6 at 722 Glenhaven Street."
"Roger, Control. Continue broadcasting the request to meet me on Tac 2."
"See, they're there. They're probably inside with Jean or out searching the yard," Pete said.
"Then why haven't they called me?"
"Give them a little time."
"What if he was waiting on them when they got there?" Jim asked. He rubbed his chest as his heart flipped and pounded. He took a couple of quick breaths and coughed. "Or they might have walked into an ambush or something. Maybe you should check on them."
Jim looked at the phone and rubbed at his face with nervous energy. He missed the worried look that Mac and Pete exchanged.
"Jim, you're talking nonsense," Mac reprimanded gently. "You know these things take time." Static from Tac 2 punctuated Mac's words.
"You don't get it, Mac." Jim yelled, his face reddening. "You weren't...there. You didn't see his eyes!" Jim lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. "The look in his eyes...." Jim spread his hands out and they shook from the intensity of his emotions.
"Jim, take it easy," Pete soothed.
"Stop telling me to take it easy!" Jim raised his voice again notch. "I can't! I'm trapped here, because of him! And he could be at my house...doing God knows what! And I can't even help my family...." Some of the fire drained out of Jim, and his voice softened into sorrow. "God help me, I can't get to my family." He covered his eyes with his left hand and gasped for breath.
Pete put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "It'll be all right, Jim. Hang in there, partner. We're here to help you, no matter what happens."
Jim nodded without speaking for a moment, trying to gather his wits and regain his composure. "Sorry," he finally managed.
"Forget it, Jim," Mac said. "We understand."
"I didn't mean to lose it like that." Shame burned on Jim's face.
"The boss said forget it, partner," Pete squeezed Jim's shoulder and gave him a brotherly pat.
The phone shrilled just at that moment. All three men in the room jerked at the sudden intrusion of noise, and Jim grabbed the receiver, not caring that his side ached when he moved. "Hello! Oh, Jean, thank God, thank God. Are you all right?" Jim sank back into the bed, weak from relief, at the sound of his wife's voice. He covered his eyes again with his bandaged hand. "Thank God you're okay."
Pete moved away from Jim's bedside to give him some privacy as he talked to his wife. He was just about as relieved as Jim that he'd heard from her and that she was okay. In his opinion, Jim was skating dangerously close to an emotional breakdown. Not that he would blame him, after all he'd been through, then to have the added strain of this new threat.
Mac moved with Pete, then leaned in close to Pete's ear. "Is he going to be okay?" the sergeant asked in concern. "He seems close to the edge."
Pete shrugged. "I wish I knew. He's exhausted, for one thing. This is just too much for him right now."
"Maybe he should be sedated."
Pete risked a quick look at Jim. He seemed more relaxed, talking with Jean, but his eyes still held a distant fear. "He probably wouldn't go for that."
"Still, I'm concerned. Keep an eye on him, willya?"
"Of course, Mac."
"I need to get back to the station. On my way out, I'm gonna stop by the nurses' station and tell one of 'em to come back here and check on him."
"Okay, Mac. Keep us informed."
"Will do." Mac gave the cc unit back to Brinkman and left.
Pete ambled up to Brinkman, still waiting for Jim to finish his conversation.
"Everything okay in there?" Brinkman asked, concern etching his features.
"I think so."
"It's under control here, too. Don't worry, Pete, we'll all get through this."
Pete flashed Brinkman a grateful smile. "Yeah. Thanks, Brink."
"Why don't you get some rest, Jim?" Pete asked. Since Jim had finally been assured of Jean and Jimmy's safety he'd calmed down. Jim had insisted that they go to her parents' home, and she'd given him no argument. Snyder and LeCroy escorted her there without incident and Jean had called to tell him they were safe and settled.
Then it had been Jim's turn to reassure Jean that he was surrounded by protection and Ciroppolli had no chance of getting to him. It had taken him a few minutes to do that, and the energy and effort to sound confident and well had cost him dearly. Once he'd ended the call, Jim had looked like a deflated balloon, sinking back into the bed, totally spent.
The nurse Mac had sent for came by to check Jim's vitals, looking concerned enough to come back a second time and bring him some juice and advice to rest. Jim drank the juice, but ignored the advice.
As he ignored Pete's.
"I'm all right, Pete," Jim said, though his drooping eyelids and stifled yawn contradicted his words.
"No, you're about to crash. It's almost 9 o'clock. I'm here, security's in place, so you can relax."
"I should stay alert."
"For what? Even if Ciroppolli got past the security, you'd be no good in a fight," Pete said with a lopsided grin.
"Probably true. You don't think Brink has a throwdown on him somewhere he'd loan me, do you?"
Pete laughed out loud. "I doubt it. But if Ed were out there, I wouldn't put it past him to have one. You've seen that cannon he carries around for his off-duty weapon, haven't you?"
"Who hasn't? He flashes it around the range all the time. But I wish I had it right now."
"Not to worry. You've got the best shot in the division as a bodyguard."
"It's probably better that I don't have a gun right now, anyway," Jim said quietly. "Because all I can think about is putting a bullet right between Ciroppolli's eyes."
"Doesn't surprise me," Pete said. He didn't mention how he'd been wanting to do that for days.
"I just don't get people like him," Jim went on, his eyes holding that clouded, haunted look that had taken up residence there. "How do some people get so...evil?"
"I don't know, partner. Some loose screw? Emotional hangup? Who can say? All we can do is try to keep 'em corralled." Twelve years in police work had given Pete a more seasoned perspective on the criminal mind, but even at that, Ciroppolli stuck in his craw.
Like Jim, he would love to have a crack at Ciroppolli.
The window rattled from a sudden gust of wind outside, and Pete's heart jackhammered in his chest. He noticed that Jim flinched, hard. We're both strung out. We're jumping at shadows.
They shared a look of semi-amusement. "I guess he won't come in a sixth-story window, would he?" Jim asked derisively.
"I kinda doubt it."
Jim yawned and rubbed at his chest. "I hate this waiting. Lying here, trapped....almost helpless. It's almost like being back in that barn again. Can't do a damn thing useful."
"Sleep, then. You need it."
"It wouldn't be right, me going off to sleep while you and half the shift are out there playing bodyguard."
"None of us have been through what you have, Jim. Do yourself a favor -- stop thinking so much. For once, put your stubbornness aside and let others help you."
"I'm not stubborn," Jim mumbled.
"Oh, brother," Pete rolled his eyes. "You're the only one that doesn't think so."
Jim frowned but said nothing, because Brink knocked on the door twice -- a little code they'd worked out to keep Pete from drawing down on any more unsuspecting hospital staff -- and stuck his head in.
"The nurse is here with Jim's nine o'clock medication," he announced.
"Send her in," Pete nodded. He turned to Jim. "I hope one of 'em's a knock-out pill."
Pete almost laughed when Jim rolled his eyes and shook his head in resignation.
Two hours later, Pete sat at Jim's bedside, sipping a cup of coffee that a kindhearted nurse had brought for him. Things had calmed down considerably as the hospital had started winding down for the night. Security procedures had slipped firmly into place and Brinkman assured Pete the hospital was as locked down as a hospital could ever get.
The nine o'clock medicine had relaxed the already-exhausted Jim into a drowsy state, which he fought with that typical Jim Reed stubbornness until his body finally gave up and he drifted off into an uneasy slumber. Pete dimmed the lights, leaving only enough light to see in the outside chance Ciroppolli somehow got through all the security and tried to get to Jim.
Jim's sleep had been restless, however, and occasionally, he'd awaken with a jerk or a soft cry, and ask about Jean or Ciroppolli. Pete would remind him that Jean was safe, and that half the law enforcement officers in LA were on Ciroppolli's tail, and Jim would nod and return to his fitful dozing. Pete wondered if Jim was having nightmares. He's certainly entitled.
Other than providing reassurance for Jim, Pete felt absolutely useless. Every police instinct Pete had screamed for him to be out, looking, actively doing something to locate Ciroppolli, rather than sitting in a dark room waiting for the felon to make a dramatic move to come to him. Every rattle of the window,
every footfall in the hallway, every sound of hospital equipment humming or beeping caused Pete to jerk for his weapon, his heart racing. He wanted to be out, in Adam-12, cruising the streets where he felt comfortable.
Come on, Pete, you know being here with Jim is the most important thing you can do right now. It's what Jean wants. It's what Mac wants. Somebody's gotta be in this room, and you're the best one for the job.
Pete finally had to acknowledge to himself that he wanted to be the one to bring Ciroppolli in just because he held such intense anger inside toward the convict. He still hadn't dealt with all the raw emotions the past few days had foisted on him, from the mind-numbing fear for Jim's life, to the sadness of watching Jean and Jimmy suffer through Jim's absence, to the disturbing possibility of losing the woman he was planning on asking to marry him, to Jim's fragile emotional state. Pete had plenty of reasons to be angry. He wanted to be the one to put the cuffs on the madman.
And then he wanted to beat the hell out of him.
The thoughts that Pete wouldn't voice to Jim about revenge rattled around in his head as he sat in the dim hospital room. In his mind, Pete replayed a very satisfying vision of pounding Ciroppolli into a bloody pulp with his own bare hands. No gun, no baton, no holding back. Just the satisfaction of making Ciroppolli regret the hell he'd unleashed over the past few days. The thought that he would be capable of carrying out such an act scared Pete, but only for a moment.
Too bad I'd lose my job and wind up in jail myself.
Pete took another sip of his coffee, and sat up straight as the door to Jim's room opened quietly, no two knocks from Brink. Pete hadn't heard any footsteps. His heart quickened, and he put a hand on his weapon. He relaxed immediately, however, as Mac walked in.
"How's Jim?" Mac asked.
"Restless," Pete whispered. "In and out of sleep. What's happened? You look smug."
"We got him, Pete."
"Ciroppolli? You got Ciroppolli?" Pete's whisper ended in a near-squeak. He put the cup of coffee down on the night stand and stood quickly.
"Yup. He's in custody. Being booked now, on everything from murder to kidnaping, to assault, to escape. We got him." Mac rocked back on his heels and broke out into a wide grin.
"How? Where? What'd he say? Did he try to shoot it out?" Pete found it hard to contain his excitement. Unbelievable! We got him!
"They took him without incident, thank God. A unit in Rampart division spotted the car driving down Sepulveda. They called it in, took up a discreet surveillance...and we just got enough personnel to box him in. We got him pulled over and he came out with his hands up."
"I can't believe it. Son of a gun." Pete shook his head. "Gave up without a fight."
"Yep. And get this -- all of Jim's equipment was inside the car in the Sears bag he'd gotten on his little shopping expedition. Shirt, pants, belt, gun...everything but his shoes. Recovered Jim's stolen credit cards, too, and his license. It was all there."
"Jim'll be relieved. Was he talking?"
"Not when I left. He was still being booked. But there was a long line waiting to get a crack at him."
"I'll bet. I wish I was in that line," Pete scowled.
"I have to admit...I had a real hard time looking at him without thinking about how much I'd like to throttle him," Mac sighed.
"There's another line for that," Pete said. "And I'm at the head of that one."
"I think there are some people who'd fight you for that privilege," Mac said. "Are you staying here all night?"
"Depends. I'd like to go home, but if Jim stays this restless, I'd hate for him to wake up alone. But maybe once he hears this news, he'll settle down."
"You're not going to wake him up and give him the good news?"
Pete glanced over at Jim, thought only a beat, then shook his head. "No. He needs whatever rest he can grab. Besides, he's been waking up about every half-hour, anyway. I'll tell him then."
"That's probably for the best. Just be sure to let him know everything's under control and he can finally rest easy."
"You can be sure of that."
"Just so you'll know, I've sent all the units here back out on patrol, or home, as the case may be." Mac glanced at his watch. "And I've got to get back to the station. Believe it or not, it's already a media circus."
"Oh, I believe it. A lot of folks will be breathing easier tonight."
"Me included." Mac looked at Jim, smiled grimly, then nodded to Pete. "Call me if you need anything."
"I will, Mac, thanks."
Mac slipped quietly out the door, and Pete settled back in the chair, overcome by an urge to laugh. Ciroppolli's in custody. After all that's happened. Just like that. Taken without a shot. It's almost anticlimactic. Well, Pete, what did you want? Him to die in a hail of bullets? Pete glanced over at Jim, whose face still looked worried, even in sleep. Maybe so. The very idea of Ciroppolli getting a chance for justice when he'd given so few others a chance galled Pete. Again that vision of him giving Ciroppolli a good beating insinuated itself in Pete's mind. But Pete knew the rules, and he knew his job, and unfortunately, it wasn't written anywhere for Pete to be judge, jury, and executioner of Marco Ciroppolli. He'd just have to learn to deal with that.
Jim moaned quietly, and his eyes fluttered open, as they had several times over the past two hours. "Jean?" he croaked.
"Jean's at her mother's with Jimmy. But I'm here, Jim," Pete stood and leaned over so that Jim could see him. The medicine's keeping him confused.
"Pete." Jim blinked in apparent confusion.
"Yeah. You feeling okay?"
"Sleepy. Where's Jean?"
"She's at her parent's, remember?" Pete asked. "We sent her there so she wouldn't be alone."
"Oh, yeah. I remember....Ciroppolli's still loose!" Jim exclaimed, his eyes widening.
"Easy, now." Pete put a restraining hand on Jim's shoulder. "I've got good news. Mac just came by. Ciroppolli's in custody."
Jim blinked. "What? He's caught?"
"He's caught, Jim. They took him just a few minutes ago. He's being booked now. He had all your stuff, too. They got it all back."
"Ciroppolli's caught," Jim repeated, as though he didn't believe it.
Pete didn't blame him -- he hardly could believe it, either. "That's right. You don't have to worry any more. He's behind bars. You can relax. Jean's safe. You're safe."
Jim looked at him and grinned sleepily. "Ciroppolli's caught. It's over, Pete. It's over. Thank God, it's over."
"Yeah, Jim. It's over." Pete hoped he sounded convincing, and he gave Jim's shoulder a reassuring pat. "Go back to sleep. You need your rest."
Jim obediently closed his eyes. "I can't believe it's over," he mumbled. Within seconds, most of the tension fell away from Jim's face and he seemed to relax into his first truly peaceful rest of the evening. Pete hoped that peace would last.
Me either. Pete couldn't shake the feeling that it was far from being over. Sorry, partner, but I don't think it's over. Not by a long shot.
Jim could hardly keep from bouncing up and down in the car as Pete slowed to make the turn out of the hospital parking lot street. Only the realization that bouncing up and down would really hurt made him remain still. I'm really going home. Finally. I never thought I'd see it again.
The chaos of Sunday night had turned into a long three days for Jim. The initial rush of relief at Ciroppolli's capture didn't last long. Ciroppolli remained an enigma, adamantly refusing to talk despite repeated questioning by every law enforcement agency involved in his crime spree. The only things the felon had to say at all were cryptic references to Jim and Graddock with a few puzzling scripture references thrown in.
Ciroppolli's silence and odd behavior made Jim more nervous than if the convict had ranted and raved. He'd stayed on edge for days, despite his best efforts to return to normalcy. Maybe at home, things will seem normal. I can relax. If I'm in my own bed, maybe the nightmares will disappear. I'll stop jumping at shadows. It'll just be me, and Jean, and Jimmy....we'll have our privacy. I can stop thinking about Ciroppolli, and all the questions, and dodging all the reporters, and trying to figure out what it all means. Jim stared out the window as Pete drove, looking at all the familiar sights of the city, willing them to help chase the uneasy memories away.
"You doin' okay over there, Jim?" Pete asked, after several minutes of silence.
Jim turned and looked at his partner-turned-chauffeur and offered him a tight smile. "I'm all right, Pete. Just thinking."
"Good thoughts, I hope?"
"You're going home," Pete reminded. "It'll get better. It just takes some time."
"Yeah. Yeah." Jim forced himself to smile and bury his anxiety. He really didn't want to walk down that dark path of uneasy memories. Pete's right. It'll be better. "I can't wait to get home."
"You could have been home yesterday if you'd behaved yourself better."
"Nag, nag, nag. So I'm not the world's greatest patient."
"Now there's an understatement." Pete turned the car onto the road that led to Jim's street.
"You've got no room to talk," Jim countered. "Do I need to remind you about the prune juice incident, oh, about nine months ago?"
"That's a forbidden subject," Pete pointed a finger at him, and colored slightly.
"Okay, then, back off, partner."
Pete laughed. "All right."
Jim returned to staring out the window. "You don't think there'll be any reporters waiting to pounce on me, do you?"
"Because I don't want to talk to any."
"You won't have to. They've been trying to get at you all week, and we've managed to keep them away from you. Even if some are hanging around, we'll do an end run."
Pete turned onto Jim's street, and no reporters lurked anywhere in sight. A lump formed in Jim's throat as his home came into view. It may be too small, too modest by most people's standards, but I love it. Every inch of it. Every nail, every stuck window, every tile on the floor. I'm home. He blinked back tears of sheer joy as Pete pulled into the driveway and he saw Jean and Jimmy standing in the doorway, waving at him. Thanks, God, for bringing me home.
"We're here," Pete announced unnecessarily.
"Yeah," Jim grinned. "I'm home. And it's never looked better to me."
Jimmy came running out of the house as Pete killed the engine. The child leaped from the porch instead of taking the steps, shrieking in delight.
"Daddy's home! Daddy's home!"
"James Allen Reed, Junior, you come back here," Jean scolded. She moved onto the porch and followed Jimmy at a more discreet pace down the steps.
Jim's heart quickened at the sight of his family. They had always been his anchor; his reason for doing what he did. After the stifling fear over their safety he'd experienced on Sunday night, he now appreciated them now more than ever.
"Hey, tiger," Pete opened the car door and grabbed Jimmy up for a quick hug before the boy could get to the other side of the car. "You're excited to see your daddy, huh?"
"Oh, yeah, Uncle Pete! Daddy's home!" Jimmy escaped Pete's grasp and ran to the far side of the car to open the door for his daddy.
"Remember what I told you about daddy," Jean reminded. "Be gentle!"
"I will," Jimmy declared, as Jim slipped his arm around his son in a hug. "Daddy, I'm so glad you can come home!"
"Me, too, son," Jim whispered. His throat tightened as Jimmy gently hugged his neck in return. How I've missed this.
After allowing them a brief, undisturbed reunion, Pete broke the moment. "Okay, tiger, I gotta help your daddy get inside."
"Go see if you can help mommy," Jim said, giving Jimmy's hair a tousle.
"Okay, daddy!" Jimmy sped away as fast as he'd come.
"That boy moves at light speed, doesn't he?" Pete laughed.
"Only on slow days," Jim joked. He eased himself sideways and Pete helped him lift his legs out of the car. "I would injure everything on one side of my body so I can't use crutches," he groused half-heartedly.
"It is inconvenient," Pete said, and Jim chuckled. It felt good to be out of the sterile confines of the hospital. It felt good to kid around with Pete again. Maybe life would get back to normal.
"We could have gotten you a wheelchair, you know," Pete reminded.
"No way. Not today. No way I was coming home in a wheelchair."
"So you said. Repeatedly." Pete grinned to take any sting out of his words.
Jim let Pete help him out of the car and support his right side. Jim draped his right arm around Pete's shoulders, and they walked slowly toward the house, Jim hobbling on his left foot. It still hurt to move, but the smile on his wife's face made him forget all about the pain. She looks great. I'm so lucky.
"Welcome home, honey!" Jean greeted him with a tiptoe kiss on the cheek. She took up station on Jim's other side, and slipped her arm around his waist. "Are you making it okay?"
"Fine, honey. Don't try to hold my weight. You don't need to do that. Pete's got me."
"I'm fine, Jim."
Jimmy opened the door for them, then held it as Pete and Jean maneuvered Jim inside.
"Where to, Jean?" Pete asked.
"Straight to bed, just like the doctor said. At least two more days in bed," Jean reminded. "Your feet need more time to heal."
"We'll see," Jim said, drinking in the sights and smells of his home. Everything was just where it was supposed to be. Clean, neat, orderly. Warm and inviting. His home. A place of consistency and peace in his topsy-turvy world. Thank you, God.
By the time he reached his bedroom, Jim was exhausted and his bed was a welcome sight. His bed in his home. The colorful, familiar linens looked and smelled like the comforting haven he remembered.
"You okay, Jim?" Pete asked.
"Yeah." Jim tried not to wheeze, but hopping that far, even with help, had stolen his meager strength.
"Easy, now," Pete slowly helped Jim sit on the side of the bed.
"Honey, do you want to leave your robe on, or take it off?" Jean asked, as she hovered near him. Jimmy raced around to the other side of the bed and leaped in.
"Slow down, son," Jean scolded. "You can't bounce daddy around. Remember, his back hurts."
"I'm just sitting," Jimmy said innocently. He crossed his legs and sat close to his daddy, watching him with a happy grin.
"I'll leave it on for now," Jim said, reaching over to tweak Jimmy's nose.
"I've got extra pillows for your foot," Jean said, as Pete helped Jim lift his legs onto the bed. She fluffed the two pillows that she pulled from the foot of the bed, then slipped them gently under Jim's injured foot. "How's that?"
"Perfect. Great. Man, this feels like heaven after that horrible hospital bed," Jim sighed, feeling contentment sweep over him like a wave. He settled back into his pillows and allowed himself a satisfied sigh.
"I'll go get the suitcase," Pete said. "How about some help, sport?"
"Can I help Uncle Pete, Daddy?" Jimmy asked.
"I'll be back, Daddy," Jimmy almost dove over Jim to get off the bed, but remembered in time and slid off the end instead. He took Pete's hand, and the two of them went to get Jim's suitcase from the car.
"I thought they'd never leave," Jim smiled at his wife.
"Silly," Jean laughed, but she smiled back, and the love Jim saw shining from her eyes instantly dulled his pain and restored his energy.
"Come here, gorgeous," he said, holding out his arms to her. "Remember I told you the real reason I wanted to come home?"
"I remember." Jean moved to her side of the bed and crawled in next to Jim.
Jim wrapped his arms around her, and Jean gently put her arms around him in return. "I don't want to hurt you, baby," she whispered.
"Believe me, I'm not hurting," Jim told her. How could he hurt with the woman he loved in his arms? "Come closer so I can kiss you right."
Jean snuggled closer, and Jim pulled her tight, giving her a kiss that, on any other day, would have led to an afternoon of lovemaking. Only the sound of Pete and Jimmy coming back into the house ended the kiss.
"I've been waiting a long time to do that," Jim whispered in her ear.
"It was worth the wait, honey," Jean brushed the fading bruise on Jim's cheek with a feather-light kiss. "You certainly haven't forgotten how to kiss."
"Good. Because I plan on doing a lot more of it," Jim said, nuzzling her neck.
"The doctor said you have to take it easy," Jean teased.
"Dr. Gibbs doesn't realize the temptation I face, being married to you."
"Mommy! Daddy!" Jimmy burst into the room again. "Uncle Pete says to stop kissin' so he can come in with the suitcase!"
Jim and Jean laughed. "I think Pete knows us a little too well," Jim said.
"It's safe, Pete!" Jean called, but she didn't move from Jim's embrace.
"It doesn't look too safe," Pete said, walking into the room. He set the suitcase down by the dresser, then looked at Jimmy, who looked confused at the conversation. "How about we go play catch in the backyard for a few minutes?" he asked.
"Okay!" Jimmy cried. "I'll get my glove!" He started to bolt, then looked to Jim for confirmation. "Is it okay, daddy?"
"You bet, sport. You gotta keep in practice, right?"
"Wight!" Jimmy kissed his daddy on the cheek and ran from the room.
"Put on your jacket," Jean called after her son.
"I'll get it for him," Pete offered. "I should be good for a thirty-minute game of catch," he said with a wink.
"Thanks, Pete," Jim said. "Thanks for everything."
Pete hesitated a moment, looked like he wanted to say something serious, but instead grinned. "You'll get my bill," he joked, then joined Jimmy in the hallway.
"He's been so great during all this," Jean said, after they heard the back door close.
"He's a good friend. One of a kind. And I'm glad he's still around," Jim said, then started nuzzling Jean's neck again. Thinking of Pete almost dying brought the river of dark thoughts too close to the surface.
"I'm glad you're still around, too," Jean whispered, her eyes teary.
"Me, three." Jim smiled, kissed her tears away, then kissed her again for real.
They spent a long time kissing tenderly but deeply, enjoying each other's company, quietly celebrating the fact that God had brought Jim back home relatively unscathed.
Jim relaxed and let his wife's gentle touch steer his mind from the darkness.
"Honey," Jean finally said, breathless from their latest kiss, "I hate to spoil this moment, but...you still haven't...talked to me about what happened out there. And I want to know."
Jim brushed her hair away from her face and simply looked at her, feasting on her beauty. Her eyes spoke the world to him of her love and her concern. He felt himself being drawn into those dark pools, not wanting to deny her any wish. But he didn't want to burden the soul behind those eyes with the ugliness of what had happened to him. He knew he couldn't keep it from her forever, but it hurt him to have to talk of such darkness, such evil with her.
"Honey?" Jean prompted.
Jim let his hand fall to Jean's belly, and he rubbed the little curve developing there. My baby. Our baby. I know it's a girl. She'll be beautiful, like her mother. Such beauty, both inside and out, in a world that can be so ugly. Did he have to mar such beauty with the twisted evil of men like Ciroppolli? He fell back on safety. "I love you, Jean."
"And I love you, Jim. I want to help you get through this."
"I know you do," Jim said, still rubbing her belly. Her words touched him, causing the flame of his love for her to burn even brighter. "But I'm going to have to ask you to be patient, honey. There was so much that happened...none of it good. There's still so much I'm trying to figure out." Jim paused. He hadn't even talked to his minister, who had faithfully come to see him every day, about his doubts and confusion. He couldn't talk to anyone until it made more sense. "I don't know if I can find the words. Not right now. I need a little more time. Can you trust me on this?"
"Of course I trust you, honey," Jean assured him. "But I also know how you are. How you hold things inside and brood, all in the name of protecting me. I'm not made of spun sugar. If you're hurting, or upset, I want you to know that I'm here for you. I promised you I would be. So, I want you to trust me, too. You don't have to do this alone."
Jim felt tears moisten his eyes. I don't deserve this woman. How did I ever get so lucky? "Okay," he husked. "But it won't be pretty, I warn you."
"That's all right baby. And you don't have to tell me now, or today, or even tomorrow. But...soon. When you feel up to it. I know it won't be easy, but we'll make it through."
"Yeah. We will," Jim said, then drew her to him in another heartfelt kiss. He melted into her arms, feeling her love wrap around him with warm, supportive strands. Those strands would hold them together. Forever. And they would make it through, despite his doubts, despite the efforts of a madman to separate them, despite everything life could throw at them. They would have to work at it, but life would be normal again. One day. Like Pete said, it's only a matter of time.
And this moment was a pretty good start.