"Jim, I wish you'd let me drive you home," Pete repeated for the third time in five minutes. The two men stood beside Jim's car in the station's parking lot. "You're exhausted and you only have one good arm."
"Pete, I'm all right," Jim assured him. He fumbled in his jacket pocket for his keys, finally located them and unlocked the driver's door.
"No, you're not," Pete contradicted. "And you know it."
"I'm going straight home. I can drive with one arm."
"But are you awake?" Pete asked.
The recreation of the shooting had taken longer than expected. Miller had wanted to walk through the scenario from beginning to end several times, and then they had keyed in on the shooting, recreating that part until Miller had been satisfied. Representatives from the media loitered at the fringes of the activity, held back by stern-faced officers. Still, lights from their flashbulbs and mobile cameras stabbed at their eyes in an irregular rhythm, irritating them all. The media never had been particularly kind to the police, nor popular with police officers. During times of high-stress incidents such as this one, their actions became even less desirable.
By the time Miller announced they were done, it appeared to Pete that Jim was on his last legs. Jim had all but dozed off in the car on the ride back to the station and his eyes held the glazed, off-focused look of a battle-fatigued soldier. Jim stubbornly insisted he was fine and refused Pete's offers to drive him home. But Pete had known his partner long enough to read every expression Jim could produce, and especially when his friend was lying through his teeth.
"Yes, I'm awake. Now stop acting like a mother hen," Jim said the words but his voice lacked its customary energy. He eased into the car with slow, deliberate movements.
Pete gave up with a suppressed sigh. "Just be careful. I'll see you in the morning. About seven?" Pete asked.
"Pete, you don't have to..."
"Yes, I do." Pete started to push Jim's door closed for him, but stopped the movement halfway. "I know it's useless to say this, but try not to worry. Get some sleep."
"I'll try," Jim agreed. But his expression and tone of voice did little to reassure Pete that he'd do either.
Pete nodded, knowing that's all he'd get from his partner. "See you in the morning."
Jim looked up at Pete, then turned and stared out through the windshield. "Will you...say a prayer...?"
"You can count on it," Pete promised.
"Thanks," Jim whispered, then cranked the car.
Pete shut the door and watched Jim pull out of the station parking lot. He fingered his own keys as he walked to his car. His heart felt like lead; he couldn't begin to imagine how Jim must feel. He blew out a breath and looked up at the stars, almost obscured on the hazy August evening. Oh, God, help.
Jim wheeled his car into the drive at his home and killed the engine, grateful he'd made it in one piece. Pete had been right; he was exhausted. And his mind had been focused on everything but driving. Jim couldn't remember a day so stressful; he felt as if his entire world had been turned upside down. He'd been so distracted that he'd blown through a stop sign a few blocks from his house. Fortunately, at almost 1 a.m., there hadn't been much traffic. There'd been no one around to witness his lapse or to get hurt by it. He wondered wryly if he ought to write himself a ticket.
Jim pulled the strap of the sling over his head and eased his aching arm out of it. He'd swallowed four aspirin right before he'd left for home, hoping to kill the pain which had flared anew during the shooting reenactment. The medicine had served to ease the pain to a dull ache, but wreaked havoc on his empty stomach, which felt more unsettled by the second. Please don't let me throw up.
Jim folded up the sling and pushed it under the seat where Jean wouldn't see it. While his shirt and jacket could hide the bandages covering his wound from Jean, he feared his face and eyes would tip Jean off to the pain he felt. And there was no way he would burden his wife tonight with any detail about what had happened today. They both had to get through tomorrow's biopsy before dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. Jim pushed any thoughts of those possible consequences as far from his mind as he could. Even the possibility of losing his job or being prosecuted for an out-of-policy shooting paled next to the idea that his wife might have cancer.
Jim locked and closed the car door, took a deep breath to chase the emotions away and headed for the house. The only illumination came from the porch light and the living room windows. Jean's probably waiting up for me, sitting on the couch, watching the door like a hawk. I hope Annie kept her from the TV. God, help me pull off this acting job. Jim stuck his key in the door and let himself in. To his surprise, it was Annie who sat on the couch and not his wife.
"There you are," Annie put down the magazine she'd been reading and got up from the couch. "Are you okay?"
"I'm all right. Where's Jean?" Jim asked.
"Asleep. At least I hope she's still asleep." Annie walked over to Jim and looked him over with a critical eye. "You look awful."
"Never mind me," Jim brushed her off. "How'd you manage to get her to sleep? I thought she'd be too keyed up."
"Well," Annie blushed and grinned, "She had a little help. I made her a glass of warm milk and put a half a sleeping pill in it."
"You slipped her a mickey?" Jim's voice squeaked.
"Don't be mad," Annie pleaded. "She was just so upset and I knew you didn't want her to know about the shooting and all...that's the only way I could think of to get her to bed before you got home."
"I'm not mad. I'm glad she's asleep. But I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when she realizes what you did."
"I think she realized it as she was dozing off," Annie smiled ruefully. "But don't you worry; I've been handling my little sister for a lot of years now. Longer than you have, as a matter of fact. Besides, I'm going to be completely off the hook once she realizes you hid getting shot from her. She'll forget all about the spiked milk."
"I can't add to her worry, Annie," Jim reminded. "It'd be too much."
"I know. She worries her head off about you, anyway. Personally, I agree with your intent. Whether Jeannie will forgive you for it or not is another matter. I did what I could to cover for you."
"Thanks. Thanks for being here, Annie. I realize now I should've called in sick and stayed with her myself. She probably hates me for not doing that."
"No, Jim. In fact, I think she's secretly glad you weren't here. It gave us a chance to talk about a lot of things that maybe she's just wasn't quite ready to face with you yet," Annie pointed out.
"Girl things," Annie continued. "Things that she'd have talked to mom about. Things you men-type folks don't quite get, even if you're a nice guy like you."
Jim nodded, not quite sure he understood, but willing to concede the point. "So, how do you think she's handling it?" He asked his sister-in-law.
"She's pretty scared," Annie responded bluntly. "What woman wouldn't be? But she's just as scared for you and how you're handling it." Annie paused a moment before saying, "She knows you're thinking about your dad."
It always amazed Jim how Jean could read his mind; how she knew things before he even mentioned them. He'd been chasing the skeletal images of his father on his death-bed out of his mind all day. The fear that Jean might have to endure the pain, the indignities, the horror of dying slowly, piece-by-piece, as his father had, unnerved him completely. He couldn't even respond to Annie, afraid if he did his voice would fail him.
"Jim, what happened to your dad isn't going to happen to Jean," Annie tried to reassure him. "Don't even think about it. More than likely it's nothing. Just a simple fibroid tumor. Women get them all the time. "
"I hope you're right, Annie. God, I hope you're right." Jim ran his hand through his hair.
"If you want my opinion, Jean's doctor's scaring the both of you unnecessarily, with all this rushing into the biopsy. Why couldn't it wait until next week?" Annie complained.
"Annie, if there's even a chance she's got cancer, I want it out of her now," Jim insisted. "I can't even stand to think about it."
"Try to relax," Annie urged. She gently took Jim by the arm. "Come sit down and let me get you something to eat, Jim. We saved you a plate."
"No, I'm too tired to eat. I want to go check on Jimmy, then try to get some rest. We have to be up in a little over three hours."
"If you're sure. You really look like you could use some rest. Are you certain your arm's okay?" Annie asked dubiously.
"It'll be fine. It hurts a little, but by tomorrow it should have quit even that. I just need to lie down a while and rest." Jim pulled away from her as Annie gave him a skeptical look.
"My advice is to be sure the lights are out," Annie warned. "if Jean wakes up and catches a look at you, she'll know something's wrong for sure. You're white as a sheet."
"I will. 'Night, Annie. And really, I appreciate all you're doing for us."
"I have to look out after my baby sister, don't I?" Annie smiled. "And you know how I feel about little Jimmy."
Jim managed a weak smile. "He's something else, isn't he?"
"He sure is. Now, go lie down and rest. See you in the morning."
Jim walked down the hall and peeked into his son's room. The toddler, now old enough to be out of his
crib, slept peacefully in his very own bed. Jim came in the room to give the boy a light kiss on the head
and to put Jimmy's favorite stuffed animal, a little blue dog named Boo, back in the bed with him from
where it had fallen on the floor. He lingered a moment, envying his son the deep sleep of the innocent.
An image of having to rear his boy alone crept into his mind, almost choking him with fear. Please,
God don't let that happen.
Jim slipped out of the room quietly, not wanting to wake Jimmy, and made his way to the darkened bedroom he shared with his wife. He could only make out the outline of her form in the bed in the dark, but she appeared to be sleeping soundly. She had rolled over to lay partly on his side of the bed, and had her arm wrapped around his pillow.
I do the same thing when she's not in bed with me. Somehow he found that oddly comforting.
Jim put up his gun, keys, and wallet as quietly as he could, stashed his medicine and the wound care instructions in the drawer beside the gun, then gently pulled his injured arm out of the sleeve of his jacket, trying not to make a sound as the fabric rubbed against the bandage and tweaked the pain a little. After he awkwardly shed the jacket, he stumbled around in the dark to the dresser to find a t-shirt big enough to come down over his elbow and hide the bandages swathing his upper arm. He managed to locate one without aid of the light and he took it into the bathroom to change, just in case Jean awakened while he was changing.
If I can just get in bed without waking her, she'll never know anything. I can keep this quiet until tomorrow afternoon.
He managed to get out of his shirt and into the jersey in the darkened bathroom, gritting his teeth against the sharp tendrils of pain that radiated up and down his arm, despite the aspirin. Getting out of his pants proved to be much easier than getting into them had, and within just a few minutes he pushed the bedroom door almost closed, then slid into bed, grateful that his tired, aching body could finally relax. Not that he could really relax with all that lay before him and all the stresses fighting for attention in his brain.
Luckily he slept with Jean on his right side rather than his left, so she wouldn't accidentally roll over on his wound, and he could also wrap his arm around her, which is what he wanted to do now. He just wanted to be as close to her as he possibly could. Jim gently disengaged her arm from his pillow and propped his left shoulder and arm on the fluffy rectangle. He then snuggled against his wife and draped his good arm over her in a protective embrace. Jean murmured in her sleep and adjusted her body to conform to his.
Jim couldn't resist leaning over to brush her lips with a kiss. Her presence had such an effect on him - except for the rare times they got in a squabble, he couldn't be near her without touching her or kissing her. It had been that way from the beginning, from the first time he'd caught sight of her at that basketball game. She'd taken his breath away, then stolen his heart on that night, and nothing had changed in the almost ten years since.
So beautiful. I'm so lucky. God, ten years isn't enough. I want a lifetime with her. Please let her be okay. Don't take her from me. He bent over and kissed her once more.
Jean stirred and blinked her eyes and Jim silently cursed himself for waking her. "Jim? Honey?" she croaked groggily.
"Yeah, honey, it's me. Go back to sleep. I'm sorry I woke you," Jim whispered back.
"'s okay," Jean tried to blink sleep from her eyes. She seemed disoriented, and her slightly slurred speech suggested that the sleeping pill hadn't quite worn off. Jim rubbed her back, trying to coax her back to sleep.
A few quiet minutes passed, and Jim thought Jean had drifted off , but then suddenly she spoke again.
" 'm sorry I fell ashleep. I think..... Annie drugged me."
"Yeah, she did, but you shouldn't be mad. You needed the rest."
"I wanted... to be up when you... came home," Jean insisted groggily. She turned to better face him and snuggled closer, wrapping an arm around his chest. "What time'zit anyway?"
"Oh, a little after one."
"Not too late then. How was work?"
"Just routine," Jim assured her, hating himself for the lie. "Go on back to sleep, honey. We have to get up early."
"I'd rather kiss you," Jean turned her face up and smiled thinly.
Jim obliged her, giving her a lingering, heartfelt kiss. Jean tightened her embrace around him and Jim thought he could feel her trembling. "Honey, are you okay?" he asked once the kiss ended.
She didn't answer for a moment and, if anything, her embrace tightened even more. Finally, she whispered, so low Jim could barely hear her, "Jim, I'm so scared."
The fear in her voice nearly ripped Jim's heart in two. He pulled her closer and even draped his injured arm over to hug her hard. He ignored the pain and held his wife, stroking her hair, fighting back his own fears. "I'm scared, too, baby," he admitted.
"Jim, if this is cancer..."
"Hush, now, hush. Don't even say the word," Jim cut her off. "It's not. It's just not. I won't believe it." Jim did his best to sound confident and reassuring, but the knot of dread in his gut wouldn't go away.
"Jim, I know you don't want to think about the possibility, but you should," Jean spoke into his chest, muffling her voice. "If it is, our lives will change so much."
Jim swallowed against the tightening in his throat. Be strong. She needs you to be strong.
When Jim remained silent, Jean spoke again. "They'll have to take off my breast. I'll be....disfigured..." Her body suddenly shook harder as she started to cry. "Half ...a...woman..."
"No, no, baby, never that, never," Jim soothed her. "I love you. I love you for who you are..."
"You'll never want to touch me again," Jean sobbed. "I'll be hideous."
"Jean, honey," Jim searched for the right words to reassure her, knowing full well nothing he said would really help, "you'll always be beautiful to me. No matter what."
"You're just saying that," Jean sniffled. "You don't know how it'll look."
"Maybe not," Jim agreed. Emotion threatened to overcome him and his voice got husky. "But I do know that I love you and I can't live without you. I want them to do whatever it takes to keep you with me for the rest of my life. I didn't marry you for your breasts, baby, I married you because of who you are on the inside. Nothing can change that."
Jean lifted her head to look at him. What little light from the street managed to filter through the curtains caused the tear tracks on her cheeks to shine accusingly at Jim. He reached up to brush them away, the ache in his heart overpowering the burning twinge in his arm.
"You aren't thinking about what I'm like on the inside when we're making love," she whispered.
Jim couldn't help wincing as Jean's words reverberated in his head. She's right. The starkness of the truth lay between them like a wall. A truth Jim had been trying to ignore since the doctor had shattered his world less than twelve hours ago. For a moment, Jim couldn't speak. She's right. I say the comforting words, but how do I know if I'll be able to adjust? What if I can't?
He cast about blindly for words, hating himself and his doubts, knowing every second he hesitated would confirm her worst fears. "Honey, I . . ." He swallowed hot tears of his own and went on. "Jean, honey, please trust me," Jim pleaded quietly, desperate to make her believe him, and desperate to make sure she didn't sense his uncertainties. "No matter what happens with this, I love you and I always will. Nothing can make me ever stop loving you. I'd be the worst kind of slime imaginable if I stopped loving you just because they took off a part of your body."
"Oh, Jim, I'm sorry," Jean's weeping got harder. "I didn't mean....I'm just so scared."
"It's okay, baby, it's okay," Jim gently rocked her as she cried. He planted little kisses on her head, trying to comfort her, and convince himself that his next words weren't empty lies. "It's gonna be okay. We'll get through this. We will."
"Just hold me, please, honey," Jean sobbed.
"I won't let you go," Jim promised.
Jim stared out the window of the tiny room assigned to Jean in the same-day surgery unit of Sunnybank Hospital, watching the early morning sun rise over a hazy city. He cradled his injured left arm against his chest, finally giving in to the discomfort after his wife had been wheeled out of the room and whisked away to surgery. It had been a minor miracle that he'd been able to hide the injury and the entire shooting incident from her. Only Jean's worries over her own condition had blinded her to the surreptitious juggling acts Jim had performed to avoid using his left arm. The effort had left him drained. He'd swallowed another four aspirin when he got up at 4:15, rather than risk side-effects from the prescribed painkillers, but now, three hours later, the pain-killing effect had begun to wane and the throbbing soreness returned. He'd stuck four more aspirin in his pocket before he left, but held off taking them for the moment, because the first four seemed to be doing a number on his empty stomach. He hadn't taken the prescribed antibiotics yet, either, fearful that they really would make him sick.
Not that he needed aspirin or antibiotics to make his stomach churn; just watching Jean being poked and prodded and then taken away from the room, drowsy and scared, had been enough to do the job. He'd walked with her, holding her hand, all the way to the elevator, but there the nurses made him stay. Even though he'd waved goodbye with a smile frozen on his face, he'd never felt more scared and lonely in his life as when the doors closed, shutting her away from him.
Now I know how she feels when I get injured and she's the one helpless and waiting. She must be stronger than I am...I feel like I'm about to throw up. God, please, please let her be okay.
Pete glanced at his watch as he locked up his car in the hospital parking lot. 7:15. Surely they've taken her up by now and the coast is clear. He rubbed sleep from his eyes as he made his way to the entrance. He'd hardly slept all night, between reliving the shooting and worrying about Jim and Jean. He figured Jim had had a similiar night - only shorter. He sighed. The last time he'd come to this hospital to see Jean it had been to help celebrate the arrival of James A. Reed, Jr. My godson. Maybe I'll go by and play with him awhile after I leave here. Jim'll have other things on his mind.
Pete pushed through the door and made his way toward the information desk to get Jean's room number and to make certain that she'd been taken up. He didn't want to blow Jim's cover at this late date. He sidestepped an elderly couple doddering down the aisle, a move that put him into a seating area in front of the information desk. Pete looked down to avoid a chair and his eye landed on a morning newspaper sprawled on a table next to it. The headline stopped him in his tracks.
COP KILLS TEEN
The words splashed across the front page in bold, huge type. Oh, just great. That's just beautiful. Pete picked up the paper and his heart sank further at the picture plastered underneath the headline. There, in living color, taking up almost half the page, sat a picture of him, Jim, Mac, and Miller at the scene, obviously taken during the re-creation of the shooting. While the picture had been taken from a distance, it was close enough for people who knew them all to recognize them immediately. The caption under the picture thankfully didn't reveal their names, but it did label them all "Central Division Officers." Pete hurriedly scanned the article, relieved to see that their names had not been revealed, but dismayed that the article held a very "anti-cop" sentiment, held incorrect and misinformed opinions on the incident from neighbors, and seemed to hold the boy up as some sort of model citizen. Typical of the media to do exactly that. A bitter thought crossed his mind as he scanned the article. Even though Jim took a bullet, and still managed to save my skin, there aren't any bold headlines about that. Pete shook his head and put the paper back down. No way he would burden Jim with this right now.
Pete walked to the information desk, and got the attention of a receptionist working there. Once he had Jean's room number and confirmed she had been taken to surgery, he made his way through the maze of corridors to the proper location. He wrinkled his nose at the antiseptic smell, not enjoying the unpleasant memories of the times he himself had spent in a hospital bed.
Pete found the door to Jean's room partially ajar. Jim stood at the window, shoulders slumped as he stared at some internal vista that Pete couldn't begin to imagine. If any man looked like he needed someone to put his world back together, it was Jim. Pete hesitated, suddenly feeling unequal to the task. What do I say? He needs more than just a friend. He needs a miracle, and I don't know where it's gonna come from. Pete took a deep breath and rapped quietly on the door.
Jim turned. Pete forced himself not to react at the sight of Jim's pale, haggard face. Dark circles underscored eyes that still held that glazed look from the night before. He cradled his injured arm, supporting it with his other hand. He looks like hell. "Hey, partner," Pete said softly as he closed the door behind him. He looked at the empty bed, then joined Jim at the window. "You holding up all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Yeah, I can see that. Pete made a vague gesture toward the door. "They, uh, say how long it would be?"
"Hour and a half, two hours," Jim replied tonelessly, his gaze returning to the nether reaches.
Pete blew out a long breath. "Never thought two hours sounded so long," he said with a faint smile that faded when he noticed the slight tremble of Jim's hands. This is eating him up inside, and this time there's nothing I can say or do to help him. Pete put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Jim, why don't you sit down before you fall down."
Jim shook his head. "I can't. I feel like . . ." He bit off whatever it was he was going to say and abruptly turned away from the window to start pacing in the space between the bed and the wall.
Pete watched Jim in silence, letting him take his own time to work through his thoughts.
Jim finally came to a stop and stared briefly at the ceiling. "This..." he took his good arm and waved it in a sweeping motion around the small room. "...whole thing. It's just so damned unfair," he choked. He blinked rapidly, then with an embarrassed glance toward Pete, let out a soft, bitter laugh. "But I guess life isn't always fair, is it."
"No, it's not," Pete agreed sadly. "But that's the way it is."
The corners of Jim's mouth flicked briefly upward in an ironic smile. "Good cop, handle with care," he said softly, apparently remembering another time he'd ranted to Pete about the unfairness of life. "You never stop teaching me, you know that?"
Pete shrugged, embarrassed. "Not a lot I can tell you about how to handle this one, partner."
The door suddenly swung open, letting in a candy striper laden with an armful of sheets and what looked like a newspaper. Pete sucked in his breath and tried to get to the paper before Jim, but Jim had already pushed past Pete to help the girl out. The newspaper fell to the floor, and Pete cringed at the look that crossed Jim's face when he saw the headline.
"I...I'm sorry, sir," the young girl stammered from behind her oversized pile of sheets.
Jim didn't respond, just continued to stare vacantly at the paper.
"It's okay," Pete spoke up. "I'll get it for you." He crossed the small space and retrieved the paper off the floor. He offered it back to the candy striper.
"Oh, no, sir, that's for you, while you're waiting," the girl chirped. "Can I get you anything else?"
"No, I don't think so," Pete said, casting a sideways look at Jim. He hadn't thought Jim could get any more pale, but somehow, he had.
"Just call if you do," the volunteer smiled, then turned and left.
"You knew," Jim finally spoke, his tone accusatory. His cheeks flushed scarlet.
"Saw it on the way in," Pete confessed.
"And you were just gonna keep it to yourself?" Jim snapped. He reached out and jerked the paper out of Pete's hands.
"Take it easy," Pete soothed. "I didn't think it was the right time for you to deal with this," he explained as Jim glared at him.
Jim managed to get the paper unfolded with one hand. "Look at that picture!" The younger man exclaimed, the muscles in his neck distending. "You can clearly identify us all!"
"Jim, sit down," Pete pulled a chair out from the wall and motioned for Jim to sit in it.
Jim ignored him and began to read aloud. "An unidentified LAPD Central Division police officer shot and fatally wounded a seventeen-year-old local boy Thursday evening. The boy, whose name is being withheld pending notification of family, was a rising senior at Taft High School, where he...."
"Sit down," Pete repeated forcefully, interrupting Jim's recitation. Pete took him by the good arm and steered him toward the chair. "Prop the paper on the bed and you won't have to try and hold it with one hand," he suggested.
Some of the fire left Jim's eyes as Pete's calm demeanor reached through the emotional front. He dropped wearily into the proffered chair, wincing as the movement apparently jarred his wound. "I'm sorry," Jim apologized. "It's not you." He rubbed at his arm.
"I know," Pete took the paper from Jim. "Just relax."
"Wish I could," Jim blew out a breath. He rubbed a shaking hand over his eyes.
"I'll read it to you," Pete offered, not missing Jim's obvious fatigue. To Pete he looked as bad as he had during the shooting team interrogation.
A little surprised that Jim had acquiesce so readily, Pete read the article aloud, and Jim listened without comment.
"How does it feel to have a trigger-happy, bloodthirsty, child-murdering cop for a partner?" Jim asked bitterly, once Pete had finished.
"Ah, Pete, the press has tried and convicted me already," Jim said with disgust. "I'm just another gun-happy LA cop who get his kicks out of killing innocent kids."
"What the press thinks doesn't count," Pete reminded him. "The SRB will decide your fate, and you know as well as I do that there's no way they'll find anything other than a justified, in-policy shooting."
"Maybe," Jim agreed, still sounding angry, "but thanks to these vultures in the press, public confidence in us and what we do gets shot to blazes. It makes all of our jobs that much harder."
"When the full facts of the incident are released, everyone'll realize you had no choice. This article is mostly conjecture and speculation, since when they put this issue to bed, nobody was talking to anybody." Pete folded the paper and put it aside. "All they had were snatches, rumors, and comments from misinformed neighbors."
"I'm sure the article in the evening edition of the Times will be even worse. We'll probably be named."
"More than likely," Pete agreed. "We've been through this before and we survived. We'll survive this time."
"Yeah, and that's part of the problem," Jim griped.
"What is? Surviving?"
"No! Going through it before! As soon as they release our names, the press is gonna start digging into the files, and they'll find where I killed that sixteen-year-old sniper when I was on probation, and they'll crucify me. And the department."
"Jim, this boy wanted to die," Pete said firmly. "It's a clear-cut case of 'suicide by cop.' He forced you to kill him. He was determined to die, and he found a way to do it. We just happened to be the unlucky unit that got the call. And we were damned lucky that one or both of us didn't go out with him. It was close enough as it was."
Jim didn't respond to that, but with an obvious effort, pushed himself out of the chair and walked back to the window, once again taking up his silent vigil there. After a long few minutes, he finally spoke, not bothering to turn around.
"You know what, Pete?"
"I don't...right now, I don't care what happens with the SRB."
"You coulda fooled me, partner."
"I'm serious, Pete," Jim still spoke to the windowpanes. "Oh, I'm ticked at the press all right, and I'm really sorry I killed that kid. God knows I didn't want to do that. But right now, I just don't care if they fire me or prosecute me or whatever. All I care about is Jean. All I want is her out of that operating room and by my side again, well. If I can just have my wife back without cancer, they can do whatever the hell they want to do to me and I'll be happy. I'll dig ditches the rest of my life if I have to, but I just want Jean to be all right." Jim's voice got tight and quiet. "I can't seem to feel anything for that boy or his family right now. I can't even feel anything for the job. Guess that makes me pretty much a low-life jerk."
Pete got up and joined Jim at the window. "You're not a low-life jerk. You're a young man on emotional overload. It's not that you're not feeling, it's that you're feeling too much at once. Something has to take a back seat for a while or you'd lose your mind."
Jim chuckled humorlessly and flexed his neck, rubbing it with his good hand. He leaned wearily against the wall. "I think I'm pretty close to doing just that anyway," he said, his voice husky.
"You gotta hang in there, partner," Pete encouraged quietly. He gave Jim a couple of brotherly pats on the back. "Deal with one thing at a time. I'll do everything I can to help you get through it, but you gotta hang in there."
Jim nodded, swallowing hard. "I know. I know."
Pete watched Jim pace around the hospital room and bit back a sigh. As the promised two-hour limit for the biopsy grew closer, Jim grew more anxious. Despite his obvious discomfort and exhaustion, Jim had taken to pacing, ignoring Pete's exhortations to sit, just as he'd spurned Pete's offer of food or a quick nap. Pete finally gave up and started reading the paper, keeping a surreptitious eye on his partner in case he collapsed, something that didn't seem too far out of the realm of possibility. Jim continued to cradle his wounded arm, but he also rubbed at his stomach, as if it were bothering him as well. Pete decided not to ask.
The phone beside Jean's empty bed suddenly rang, startling them both. Jim snatched the receiver off the cradle.
"Hello?" He said breathlessly. "Yeah, this is he.....oh, thank God," Jim sighed. There was a pause, then, "Can I see her?" Another pause. "Oh, okay...how long? Yeah. All right. Thanks, doc, thanks." Jim hung up the phone.
"What'd he say?" Pete asked.
"She's out of surgery, she did just fine. She's in recovery, and they'll bring her back here in about a half an hour. The doc said he'd come by and talk to us shortly after that." Jim, though obviously relieved, still looked tense.
"Sounds good so far, Jim. Now, sit down and pull yourself together before Jean gets back," Pete suggested.
"Yeah, yeah." Jim blew out another deep breath. He reached in his pocket and retrieved some tablets, popping them in his mouth and swallowing them without water.
"What's that?" Pete asked.
"Aspirin. Maybe it'll kick in before they bring her back." Jim finally did sit back down.
"Will you be all right if I leave?" Pete asked. "I don't want Jean to catch me here."
"I'll be fine. Thanks for coming, Pete. I really appreciate it."
"I didn't do anything," Pete objected.
"Yeah, you did. More than you know," Jim contradicted. "You're a good friend."
Pete stood and turned a corner of his mouth up in a slight, wry smile. "Glad I could help. Now, you call me once you get her home, and let me know how she's doin', okay?"
"Sure thing, Pete."
"And Jim, try to get some rest."
"I will. I'll be a lot better once I see her...maybe I can finally sleep."
"I hope so. You sure look like you need it. Oh, do you think Annie would mind if I dropped by to play with Jimmy for a few minutes?"
"Oh, good grief. Annie!" Jim jumped up from the chair and grabbed the phone again. "I promised I'd call her as soon as Jean got out. Sure, go by and play with Jimmy. He'd get a kick out of it. I'll tell Annie you're coming."
"Okay, great." Pete headed for the door as Jim dialed his home.
"Oh, Pete," Jim called.
"Take the paper with you, huh?"
"Sure," Pete smiled, picked up the paper, and stuck it under his arm. He closed the door behind him, shutting off Jim's conversation with his sister-in-law.
"That's right. Yeah, deliver them there this afternoon, but not before 3:00. You got that credit card number, right?" While he talked on the phone, Jim kept one eye on the door to the room, waiting for someone to wheel Jean back in. He had decided to send his wife some flowers; between what she'd been through this morning and what he was going to hit her with this afternoon, Jim figured she deserved them. "Okay, thanks."
Jim hung up the phone and sat back down in the chair for a minute. His arm burned and throbbed worse than it had earlier; the aspirin had served only to make him feel more queasy. He lay the injured limb against his stomach in hopes both might feel better. Jim closed his scratchy eyes for a moment and shook off an unexpected chill. Cold in here.
Jim had hardly settled himself in the chair when the door to the room swung open, startling him out of his brief moment of rest. He jumped up to see a smiling nurse enter. "Guess who's back?" she asked cheerfully.
For the first time all morning, Jim ignored his physical problems and smiled, too. "She okay?" He asked anxiously.
"Ask her yourself," the nurse suggested. She held the door as two orderlies wheeled Jean's gurney into the room.
A sleepy-looking Jean smiled up at Jim as he hurried to her side. She lifted a hand and he grasped it, pulling it to his mouth to gently kiss it.
"Hi, honey," he whispered. "How do you feel?"
"Sleepy," Jean murmured.
"Are you in pain?" Jim didn't think he could stand the thoughts of her hurting.
"Not right now," Jean assured him. She smiled as he kissed her hand again. "You miss me?"
"You bet." Jim gave her his most dazzling smile.
"Mr. Reed, if you'll just step aside for a minute, we'll get her in the bed," the nurse, still smiling, motioned Jim aside.
"Oh, sorry," Jim apologized, and Jean actually giggled.
Jim backed out of the way and watched as the orderlies and nurse settled Jean in the bed. He would much rather have picked her up himself and not let any of these strangers touch her, but he realized what an irrational thought that actually was, especially since he was essentially one-armed at the moment. Jean often accused him of being too possessive; maybe she was right. But he couldn't help it that he loved her so much.
"The IV will stay in until this bag runs out," the nurse's words broke into Jim's thoughts. "That ought to be about another hour. I'll be back in to bring her something to drink and check her vital signs in about fifteen minutes."
"Thank you," Jim said, and Jean echoed his words quietly.
The nurse and orderlies left them alone, finally, and Jim took his place by Jean's side again. He leaned over and gave her a proper kiss, then took her hand again.
"I really did miss you," he said.
"Now you know how I feel," Jean said around a yawn, "sitting around waiting for some doctor to fix you up after you get hurt on the job."
Jim cringed inside when she said that, knowing what he was going to have to tell her later, but he kept any guilt from showing on his face. "I sure do. I promise not to fuss at you about worrying any more."
"I'm gonna hold you to that," Jean promised. She squeezed his hand.
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation, and the doctor stuck his head in the door. "May I come in?"
"Sure, sure," Jim stood up, glad to actually see the doctor so soon. "Thanks, doc, for bringing her back in one piece." Jim shook the surgeon's hand.
"My pleasure." The doctor moved to Jean's side. "How are you feeling, Mrs. Reed?"
"Okay, just sleepy," Jean answered.
"The procedure went well," the doctor informed them. "It's a simple thing, really, though I realize any time you're the one getting cut on, it's not so simple. But I didn't find anything in there I didn't expect to find. I removed the growth and surrounding tissue and I've sent it off to the lab for pathology to analyze."
"How long do we have to wait?" Jim asked. He'd been hoping the doctor would be able to tell them something reassuring today.
"Well, today's Friday, so we have the weekend, at least...I'm hoping I'll have a report in my hands by late Wednesday, but it might be Thursday." The doctor both looked and sounded apologetic. "I know that seems like a long time to wait."
"Yeah," Jim sighed quietly. He gently squeezed Jean's hand.
"There isn't anything you can tell me today?" Jean asked hopefully.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Reed, but we talked about this earlier," the doctor said kindly. "The lab makes all the diagnoses. Due to the nature of the way it's removed, I didn't even really get a look at the actual growth itself. I know it sounds trite, but try to relax. Even if it does turn out to be the worst, I'm positive I removed all of it, and based on all the tests so far, your prognosis would be excellent with this early diagnosis."
"All right," Jean didn't bother to hide her disappointment. "I'll try not to worry."
"You do that. And I promise you I'll call you as soon as I get the word."
"When can I take her home?" Jim asked. He really didn't want to think about the possibilities now. He spent so much time in hospitals, both as patient and policeman, that he absolutely loathed them. He wanted to get Jean out of here and home.
"Well, in a couple of hours. We'll let the IV run its course, and we'll keep a close check on her vitals until noon or so...then, if everything's okay, we'll kick her out right after lunch. I'll have the nurse instruct you on how to care for the incision site and your at-home care. Do you have any other questions?"
"I guess not. Honey?" Jean looked to Jim.
"No, guess not."
"All right, then, I'll check back in with you later. My advice for now is to just sleep off the effects of the anesthesia and get some fluids in you. Call the nurse if you need anything."
"We will. Thanks again, doc." Jim shook the man's hand again.
"Anytime. Try to relax, now, okay?" The doctor smiled and left.
"I was so hoping..."Jean began, but Jim shushed her.
"I know, I know." Jim stroked her forehead gently. "But we knew we'd have a wait. You should do what the doc says and sleep for a while. I'll sit here and hold your hand."
Jean smiled tiredly at him as Jim took her hand in his once again. "You're a good husband," she said sincerely.
"I'm a lucky man," Jim responded.
Jean started to say something, then stopped and squinted her eyes at her husband.
"What's wrong?" Jim asked. "Are you hurting?"
"No, I'm looking at you. You look kinda pale."
"It's just the light in here," Jim assured her quickly. "Now, close your eyes like a good girl and go to sleep." Go to sleep before you ask me questions I'm not ready to answer.
"Yes, sir." Jean obediently closed her eyes. "Wake me up when the juice comes, okay?" she mumbled.
"Sure thing, baby. Now rest where we can get you outta here and home where you belong." And please forgive me for being less than honest with you.
"Hello, Annie," Pete greeted Jean's sister when she answered his knock at the Reed's door. It always amazed Pete how dissimilar Jean's and Annie's looks were. Annie stood at least 4 inches taller than Jean, and while Jean's hair was a coppery-brown, Annie's was blonde. Standing side-by-side, they didn't even resemble each other.
"Hi, Pete, come on in," Annie opened the door wide and motioned him in.
"Where's my godson?" Pete asked, not finding him after a quick check of the living room.
"Playing with blocks in his room," Annie said. "We'd better get back there before he decides to go exploring. That's a favorite pastime of his now."
"So I hear." Pete followed her back to the nursery.
"How was Jim holding up?" Annie asked.
"Ehhh, not so good. He needs some rest."
"I trust you've seen the paper?"
"'fraid so." Pete confirmed.
"Yup. He's not happy." Pete stopped in the door and watched Jimmy clumsily manipulate a small block on top of a stack. The toddler sat with his back to the door, but he turned when he heard the grown-ups enter.
"Peeeete," Jimmy's face lit up with a grin that melted Pete's heart.
"Hiya, tiger!" Pete stepped into the room and swept the little boy up in his arms, giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek. He then hefted him up into the air, spinning him upside down until he squealed with delighted laughter.
"If he throws up, you get to clean it up," Annie laughed.
Pete straightened Jimmy up and sat him on his shoulders.
"Peeete pway?" Jimmy asked, once he'd caught his breath.
"Sure thing. Whatcha wanna play?"
"Baw. Pway baw."
"Okay, but we have to go outside. Where's your shoes, buddy?" Pete asked, goosing Jimmy's bare feet.
"No, Peeete!" Jimmy squealed and kicked his feet so that Pete couldn't tickle him. "Me get down and get baw."
"And your shoes,"Pete reminded.
"Ainie, whewe shoes?" Jimmy asked.
"In the closet where Mommy keeps them," Annie reminded. "Go get them for Ainie."
" 'Ainie?'" Pete asked.
"Can't quite get 'Aunt Annie' out yet. Comes out Ainie."
"Yeah, he's still workin' on 'Uncle Pete' too."
Jimmy stopped on his way to the closet. "Whewe mommy? Whewe daddy?"
"Mommy and Daddy went somewhere," Annie said gently. "They'll be back after a while. Now get your shoes."
Jimmy's face contorted in a frown that mimicked one of his daddy's expressions so much that Pete had to cover the smile that broke out on his own face. But the frown left almost as soon as it came, and Jimmy went back to looking for his shoes.
"He's been asking for them all morning," Annie whispered. "I think he knows something's up, but of course he can't figure it out."
"That's one of the reasons I came over," Pete whispered back. "A little distraction."
"I'm glad you did. The phone's been ringing off the hook this morning. Once everyone started reading the paper, and saw Jim's picture with his arm in a sling...you wouldn't believe. Half the neighborhood's called, and half of their church. Even their minister called to see if Jim was okay. I had to fib to a minister! I'm gonna burn for that one, I'm sure." Annie shook her head. "And if that wasn't bad enough, after the preacher called, Jim's sister called. I told her that Jim would call her as soon as she could, but she was plenty upset over that picture and article, and the fact that Jim hadn't called her yet."
"I can understand that."
"And then to top it all off, right after I got off the phone with Jane, Mother called."
"Uh, oh," Pete commented.
"No kidding. You should have heard the whoppers I told her. I'm really gonna get it when they get back, which is gonna be today instead of day after tomorrow. That's why she called. She and Daddy are tired of Denver, so they got up early and changed their flight. It gets in this afternoon. She kept saying how much they missed Jimmy and they want to come and see him right away."
"This just gets better and better," Pete commented wryly.
"Shoes, Ainie," Jimmy toddled over holding one blue tennis shoe and one white tennis shoe.
"Jimmy, baby, these shoes don't match,"Annie told him.
"They shoes," Jimmy insisted, and put the Jim-like frown back on his face.
"Yes, but they aren't the same color," Annie explained patiently.
"Put shoes on!" Jimmy demanded. He stomped a foot and stuck out his lower lip.
The phone rang then, before Annie could explain why he couldn't wear two different color shoes.
"Go get the phone, and I'll take care of the shoe crisis," Pete grinned. "I'm used to dealing with his daddy's temper tantrums."
"You're terrible," Annie laughed as she left the room.
"Come on, tiger, let's find the right shoes, then we'll go play ball." Pete scooped Jimmy up with one arm and took him back to the closet. "What color do you want to wear? Blue, or white?"
"Yes, we wear shoes. What color?" Pete knelt down and located the match for both shoes. "Blue, or white?"
"Bwoo," Jimmy said, but he pointed to the white shoe.
Exasperated, Pete rolled his eyes. He picked up the blue shoes and put the white ones down. "Blue shoes."
"No! Not!" Jimmy cried, pushing the blue shoes away.
"Okay, okay, the white shoes, then." Pete swapped the shoes. "Go sit on the bed and I'll put 'em on for you."
Jimmy scampered down from Pete's arm and jumped onto his bed. Pete knelt, took a chubby foot in his hand and started trying to fit it into the shoe. Jimmy curled his toes up, and the foot seemed to double in size. Pete wrestled with the shoe, but it didn't want to go in.
"What's wrong with this shoe?" Pete asked rhetorically. "Poke your toes out, Jimmy." Pete rubbed the side of the boy's foot to get him to relax it.
Jimmy jerked his foot away. "Tickles!" He giggled.
"Sorry, buddy. Now give me your foot back.."
"No tickle," Jimmy insisted.
"Okay, no tickle. Now, gimme that foot, little boy." Pete reached out and grasped Jimmy's ankle. As soon as he touched it, however, Jimmy started giggling wildly and jerked his foot away again. "Jimmy, we can't go play if you don't put your shoes on." How do Jim and Jean do this every day and stay sane?
"Having trouble?" Annie asked from the door.
"What makes you think so?" Pete asked irritably.
"Let me do this," Annie offered.
"By all means." Pete got up and handed Annie the shoes.
Annie gave him an amused look and shook her head. "You men. Socks always help." She retrieved a tiny pair of socks from the drawer and sat on the bed to finish the job Pete started. "That was Jim on the phone," she said, as she grabbed Jimmy's foot, slipped on a sock and started wrestling with Jimmy to get the squirming, wriggling boy's foot into the first shoe. "He said Jean's back in the room, doing fine. The doctor came by and said he'd probably let her go home a little after lunch. He said he'd call before they left the hospital."
"That's good news. How'd Jim sound?"
"Tired. Really, really tired." Annie grasped Jimmy by the ankle and pulled him closer to her, then put a gentle martial arts-type move on the toddler to hold him still so she could tie the first shoe. Jimmy continued to giggle and squirm and Annie leaned on him a little harder.
"I didn't know you needed police training to get shoes on a kid!" Pete exclaimed, looking slightly aghast at the sight of Annie practically hog-tying Jimmy to keep him still.
"I've learned a few moves from Jim," Annie admitted with a grin. She finished off the first shoe and started in on the second. She sobered quickly, though, and continued with her report. "The doctor didn't tell them anything they really wanted to hear. He said it'd be Wednesday or Thursday before the pathology report would be in."
"That's rough. It's only going to get harder until both this thing with Jean and the shooting gets cleared up." Pete winced as Jimmy squirmed on the bed and twisted his foot for Annie. "Are you sure you aren't about to break his leg?"
"I'm sure. I'll give out before he does. Be still, punkin," Annie scolded gently, then looked up at Pete. "What's gonna happen, Pete?" she asked, looking slightly scared. "With the shooting, I mean."
"The shooting review board will meet...." Pete began, but Annie interrupted him.
"I know that. What will they do? Did Jim do the right thing?"
"You're asking me? He saved my life! Of course he did the right thing."
"The papers made it sound so bad."
"The papers don't have the whole story," Pete told her firmly. "The truth'll come out, and Jim will be justified. In the final analysis, it's as simple as that. Of course, it'll be a media circus for a few days."
"Pway baw, Peeete?" Jimmy sat up as Annie finished with the second shoe.
"Sure thing, Jimmy," Pete grinned at the child.
Jimmy scrambled off the bed and started digging in his toy chest for his favorite ball.
"Don't worry, Annie," Pete said quietly. "It's gonna be rough for a few days for Jim, but I'm positive everything will work out just fine."
"Now if we only knew everything would work out okay with Jean, maybe it wouldn't be so hard. The timing of all this is so lousy. I mean, how much can two people take at once?"
"Catch baw!" Jimmy cried. He slung a red and blue ball he'd retrieved as hard as his little arm would throw straight at Pete.
Pete couldn't react in time, and the ball hit him squarely up side of his head, shattering the serious moment. It bounced off and hit the floor. Annie covered her mouth to hide her giggles.
"You miss!" Jimmy squealed delightedly, clapping his hands.
"I missed," Pete agreed ruefully, rubbing the side of his head. "Come on, tiger, let's get outside."
A half-hour later, Pete sat on the ground in the Reeds' backyard, totally exhausted, while Jimmy continued to cavort around, chasing the ball with seemingly boundless energy.
"Fwow baw again, Peeete!" Jimmy called. "Me catch!"
"Aren't you ready to get something to drink, tiger?" Pete asked hopefully. "It's hot out here."
Pete sighed. "Okay, catch!" He tossed the ball gently to his godson, and, as he had for most of the half-hour, Jimmy managed to get his hands on the ball, but couldn't quite get the hang of catching it completely. He needed more practice before the Dodgers took any notice. "Good try, Jimmy!"
Jimmy hurled the ball back to his godfather. One thing Jimmy could do well was throw things; he just needed to work on his aim. The ball sailed over Pete's head, and he dragged himself up to go get it.
"Huwwy, Peeete." Jimmy urged. He clapped his hands as he ran in a circle waiting on Pete to get the ball.
"Yeah, I'm hurrying, buddy." Where does he get all that energy? No wonder Jim comes to work so tired sometimes. Pete retrieved the ball.
"Fwow baw high!" Jimmy threw his hands up to illustrate.
"Okay, get ready!" Pete tossed the ball high and deliberately a little past him, afraid that the ball would plonk the boy in the head.
Jimmy didn't seem to mind, but squealed happily and took of chasing the errant throw.
"Pete," Annie called him from the back door. "Sergeant MacDonald's on the phone for you."
Oh, great. If he's tracked me down here.... Pete felt his stomach tighten involuntarily. "Thanks, Annie, I'll be right there."
"I'll stay out here with Jimmy," Annie offered. "It'll give you some privacy."
"Thanks." Pete made his way indoors and picked up the receiver of the kitchen phone. "Hello, Mac?"
"Morning, Pete. Sorry to track you down, but I wanted to update you on the latest." Mac paused briefly. "And I wanted to ask about Jean. I know you can't say much, but can you tell me how she's doing?"
"She's okay. The procedure is over and she's resting. She's supposed to come home after lunch."
"That's good. Now I suppose they wait for answers?"
"How was Jim holding up?"
"He's doin' okay. He's tired, and scared, and worried. But he'll be fine."
"I wish that I could resolve this situation for him. But all I can do is what I can do. I thought you might want to know the latest."
"Miller's report's ready and going through channels. The shooting review board's going to meet Tuesday, 9:00 a.m. at Parker Center. The Captain's scheduled a press conference for this afternoon at 2:00. He'll release a formal statement and take questions. Your names will be given."
"We figured as much. You might as well; the picture in the paper was pretty clear."
"Yeah, damn press. Nothin' much we can do about it. Anyway, the statement says you're both on administrative duty until your case is heard by the SRB. After their ruling, that might change, depending. Officially, that's all I can tell you."
"What about unofficially?" Pete asked.
"Unofficially, I think you both should relax," Mac replied. "Unofficially, Miller told me he thought everything was by the book, Jim's problem notwithstanding. In fact, everybody around here pretty much thinks Jim's a hero."
"No argument here, Mac. But that's good to hear. I'll pass that on to Jim later."
"Once your names are public, the press might try to contact you. You're not to speak with the press. You know the drill."
"Yeah, we know. Don't worry, neither of us want to talk to the press, Mac."
"Good. One other thing, though."
"The boy's parents. They've already been in the Captain's office this morning, leaning on him. Naturally, they're upset. They're demanding to talk with the both of you. They've called their lawyer. He's tried to explain procedure to them, but they're not in any mood to listen. I recommend you don't talk with them, either."
"Oh, wonderful. I suppose their version is that their son was a model child, never in trouble, and that the police must have done something to cause him to stand in that window and take pot shots at the neighbors." Pete couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice.
"Something like that. Detectives are talking to 'em, but they're so emotional right now they're not getting much. But they'll keep working on it. Ric Sanchez is heading up the official follow-up investigation."
"What about the autopsy? Any bloodwork back? Was he high?"
"We're still waiting on all that. Try to be patient, Pete, and don't worry."
"Easy for you to say, Mac. It's not your neck."
"I'm sorry," Pete apologized, blowing out a frustrated breath. "It's just...."
"Don't apologize, Pete. I know that you're both feeling the pressure."
"It'd be bad enough if we were just sweating out the shooting board results, Mac. But Jim has this thing with Jean eating at him, and he's so upset over that, I don't think he's even really thought about how he feels about having killed a kid. He's pushin' it all back, trying to get through this thing with Jean and I'm worried he's gonna crack."
"I wish I knew what to say. I'll do anything I can to help, but Jim's not letting us know how we can."
"That's Jean's choice right now. Her parents are out of town and she didn't want to call them back, so she made Jim promise not to tell anyone. But they're coming back tonight, and it's all gonna have to come out then."
"Jim still hasn't told her anything, has he?"
"No. And that's just another bit of added pressure. Once he talks with her I think that'll help him some."
"Probably so. How's his arm?"
"Who knows? I think it's bothering him pretty badly, but that's another thing he's holding back on."
"It never rains but it pours, eh?"
"Mac, you have an unsurpassed talent for understatement."
"Pete, let me know something as soon as you're free to talk," Mac requested. "And tell Jim all the guys down at the station are thinking about him and don't want him worrying about the SRB."
"I'll let him know. And as soon as I hear anything, I'll call you."
"Okay. Take it easy, okay, Pete?"
"Do my best, Mac. Thanks for calling."
"You bet. Bye."
"Bye, Mac." Pete hung the receiver back on the hook. 2:00 press conference. In about 4 hours, we're gonna become infamous. I'll have to have Annie warn Jim when he gets home. And I probably should get home and take care of a few loose ends myself. Take a deep breath, Peter J. -- it's about to get rougher.
"Jim, if you're not going to eat anything, at least go lie down and get some rest," Annie suggested gently.
Jim stopped his pacing along the length of the den just long enough to shake his head negatively. "I want to see if the press conference gets on the air," he said tiredly.
"Jim, you're about to drop in your tracks," Annie observed.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Jim brushed her off. Fine except for my arm feels like it's about to drop off, my stomach hurts, and I'm aching all over. And I'm worried that the phone's gonna start to ring off the hook after this news conference. And how's Jean gonna take all this when she's feeling so badly herself?
"Uh, huh," Annie shook her head. "Now I know what Jean means," she said under her breath.
"Never mind. Look, Jim - Jean's asleep, and Jimmy's asleep - you should be asleep."
"As soon as the press conference is over...or if we can't find it on the air." Jim rubbed absently at his wounded arm, and walked over to the window.
Annie suppressed a sigh and sat down on the couch.
"Your mother and dad....they're coming home to such a mess," Jim said regretfully. "They're probably never going to trust me again."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Who's being ridiculous?" Jim asked, still staring out the window. "I'm Jean's husband. I'm supposed to protect her, keep her safe."
"Jim, I hate to tell you this, but that lump in her breast is out of your control. Surely you're not going to take the blame for that!"
"No," Jim agreed, "but I could have called them yesterday and they could have flown home to be with her today. I could have stayed home with her yesterday when she needed me and I wouldn't have wound up killing a 17-year-old boy and becoming the center of a media storm; a storm she's gonna get caught up in." Jim's voice grew bitter. "So at the very least, they're gonna question my judgment. They have enough doubts about me being a policeman in the first place...and don't try to deny that."
"Jim, mother and daddy love you very much," Annie assured him. "They know how much you love Jean and Jimmy. You're a good man, Jim. They know Jean's a lucky woman."
"Some luck." Jim ran his hand through his hair and shook off a chill. "It's almost 2:00 - let's see if we can find it."
"You sit, and I'll run the channels."
"Thanks. Keep the volume down...I sure don't want Jean waking up."
They sat for fifteen minutes, running the channels, looking for the press conference, but all they found on television were soap operas, game shows, and the occasional afternoon movie. After another fifteen, they gave up.
"I guess we lucked out this time," Jim breathed a sigh of relief. "They'll play it on the news tonight, I suppose."
"That doesn't mean the press won't try to call here. I unplugged the bedroom phone. But if anyone calls here looking for me, I don't live here, understand? I mean, Pete, or Mac or my sister...." Jim drew in a breath and rolled his head back as yet another loose end revealed itself. "I haven't even called her yet. But how can I tell Jane about this mess when I haven't even told my wife yet?"
"Haven't told me about what?" Jean asked from the den door.
"Honey, what are you doing up? Are you okay?" Jim stood quickly.
"I'm fine. I got up to come get a drink." Jean stood with her hands on her hips. She still looked a little groggy, but her eyes held a little suspicious fire. "What mess are you talking about? What haven't you told me?"
"Jean, honey, why don't you go back to bed?" Jim soothed. "I'll get you something to drink. Whatcha want, baby?"
"I want you to tell me what's going on here," Jean insisted. She walked into the den, and Jim took her by the arm to help her to the couch. She shook off his hand and glared at him. "Jim..."
"Jim," Annie said from behind him. "Just tell her."
"Just tell me what?" Jean's face turned from angry to fearful. "Jim, has the doctor told you something he hasn't told me?"
"The doctor? Oh, no, no, honey." Jim pulled her to him and hugged her. "It's not about you, honey." Jim walked her to the couch. "Sit down, sweetheart, and I'll tell you."
"I'll leave you two alone," Annie said quietly. She leaned over and kissed her sister as she passed by her.
"Jim, what's happened?" Jean asked. The fear did not leave her eyes.
Jim took her hand in his. "Now, honey, I want you to try to stay calm. You don't need to get upset."
"I'm already upset! Now, please, Jim!"
Jim took a deep breath. "Last night, honey, Pete and I got called to a residence where a kid was shooting up the neighborhood with a high-powered rifle. We tried to talk him out, and we thought we had. But he came out shooting. I....I had to shoot him to keep him from killing Pete. And I killed him."
"Oh, honey, no," Jean drew in a breath and squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry! How old was he?"
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Jean kissed his hand. "Are you okay with it?"
Jim shrugged. "To be honest, I haven't had much time to think about it. I'm sorry it ended like it did. I didn't want to kill him....no matter what anybody else might think."
"Of course not. Who would even suggest such a thing - oh, you mean the press."
Jim nodded. "Who else?"
"What about the homicide team? You did that already?"
"Last night. That's why I was a little late coming in."
"Oh, and you didn't even tell me...you held it all in because of my surgery..." Jean kissed his hand again. "What did they say? Are you in the clear? What's going to happen?"
"I don't know yet. The Captain held a press conference at 2:00 to tell the press the whole story. That's what Annie and I were looking for, but they didn't air it."
"Well, that's good, I guess. What about the paper?"
"There's an article. And a picture. But the article is bad. You don't want to read it."
"Typical media bias against the police?" Jean asked. "Written with only half the facts?"
"If that much," Jim sighed. "But there was a picture of Pete, Mac, and me at the scene. Annie said half the neighborhood and half the church called here this morning."
"Oh, Jim, I'm sorry. I haven't been any help to you at all. You must feel terrible." Jean put her arm around Jim's back and rubbed it comfortingly.
"I'm okay," Jim tried to sound convincing, but his voice sounded hollow even to himself. "What you're going through is much more important to me than this. And besides, I feel like I need to apologize to you."
"Why?" Jean looked puzzled.
"Because, you needed me more than Mac did," Jim admitted, "and I ran off to go to work. Then all this mess happened. If I'd stayed home with you where I belonged, none of this would have happened. I'm sorry. I want you to know you mean a whole lot more to me than my job. I just got so shook up I wasn't thinking straight."
"Honey, you don't have to apologize. Neither of us was thinking very straight yesterday. Now, tell me exactly what happened."
"Uh, Jean, honey, there's a couple more things I have to tell you, first. More bad news, I'm afraid." He felt Jean stiffen as she hugged him.
"Well, let's see...I'll go in order of how angry you're gonna get when I tell you. Guess I'll save the worst for last. Okay, uh, when I was going through the homicide questioning last night, uh, well, they asked me about my state of mind. That's a routine question during a shooting team interview. They want to make sure your head's on straight and all. Well, I was late to roll call yesterday and I guess I wasn't very good at hiding how upset I was, so, I got forced into telling the homicide team that you had to go into the hospital. I'm sorry." Jim ducked his head.
"You told them everything?" Jean asked.
"No, no, only that you had to go into the hospital for a procedure and that I was late because we had gone to do paperwork. And if I was distracted, that was the reason why. But I had to tell them something, baby. Everybody knew I wasn't exactly Mr. Cheerful yesterday."
"Well, I guess I can't get angry at that, if they made you tell. I can see why it'd be important to a shooting investigation," Jean said quietly. "And you didn't give them any details. It was asking a whole lot of you not to tell anyone, anyway."
"Well, honey, you know...when they first asked me about it, I refused to answer...and they started leaning on me a little. And I ah, well, I lost my temper, I'm afraid and yelled a lot."
"Oh, Jim," Jean shook her head and hugged him harder. "You and your temper. You don't lose it often, but when you do, it's spectacular. Did Pete have to talk you down?"
"Yeah," Jim managed a humorless laugh. "The room cleared out and Pete and I talked...and I did tell him everything, honey. I just had to tell somebody, and Pete gave me that look, you know...."
"I know. It's okay, really, honey."
"He came and sat with me this morning."
"He did? How sweet of him!" Jean smiled. "Actually, I'm really glad you had him to talk with. I'm not angry. I know he'll keep his mouth shut."
"That's a relief," Jim said sincerely. "I felt guilty, breaking my promise to you not to tell, but the circumstances..."
"Were unusual. It's okay, I understand." Jean leaned her head on his arm - his wounded arm - and Jim had to clench his jaw not to hiss from the pain. "Don't feel bad. Pete's your best friend; I should have told you to talk to him, anyway. See, I'm not angry." Jean smiled at Jim.
"Well, I haven't told you the worst yet. I can guarantee this one'll do it." Jim pushed away from his wife slightly, and clasped her hand again. "Now, honey, remember, the doctor told you to rest and take it easy, so just stay calm, okay?"
"I'm calm," Jean assured him. "Have I yelled yet?"
"Uh, no, not yet."
"Well, tell me, honey."
"Okay. Okay." Jim took a deep breath. "Remember, I told you that the suspect came out shooting?"
"Well, uh, he was shooting at uh, me. And uh, well, he hit me."
Jean stared at him for a full three seconds. "What?"
"The kid. He, uh, shot me." Jim repeated.
"You got shot?" Jean exclaimed, obviously still stunned. "Where? Why are you walking around? I don't see any wound...Jim, what happened? Why wouldn't you tell me?"
"Calm down, calm down. I'm okay, really. He shot me in the left arm. It was a through-and-through wound; the bullet didn't lodge. The doc cleaned it up and bandaged it, and said it was okay." Jim explained. "I didn't want to upset you before today."
"I can't believe you! You got shot and you didn't tell me!" Jean's eyes blazed with anger. "You came home and lay down beside me and told me everything was okay at work! 'Just routine,' you said! You let me whine about this biopsy today and cry my eyes out and you didn't even tell me you were wounded?"
"You had enough on your mind, honey," Jim said gently. "I didn't want to worry you."
"Jim, it's one thing to not tell me about a shooting investigation, or even that you'd killed someone. But it's another to get shot and not tell me!"
"The wound is minor. It wasn't any big deal," Jim insisted.
"Wasn't any big deal?" Jean exclaimed. "Any time my husband gets shot that's a big deal! Ohhhh, I can't believe you, sometimes!"
"Jean, you're getting upset. You don't need to get so upset."
"Upset? Of course I'm upset! You're walking around like nothing's wrong! You got shot! That's upsetting!" Tears pooled in Jean's eyes. "I suppose Annie knew!"
When Jim didn't answer, Jean started to cry. "She knew. And she hid it from me, too."
"Because I asked her to." Jim reached for her to hug her, but she pulled back. "Jean, please don't cry."
"I told you in the hospital that your color was bad," Jean sniffed. "And you didn't say anything! And you've been running around waiting on me when you probably should be in the bed yourself! You're so impossible, sometimes!"
"Honey, I love you," Jim protested, reaching up a hand to wipe tears from her face. "I'd do anything to keep from hurting you. I thought it was better to keep it from you until the biopsy was over. I promise, I was only thinking of you."
"Jim, I know that," Jean fought to get her tears under control, "but Jim...getting shot! We could have called Jane, or somebody from church to help out. When it was just me, that's one thing. But you having to deal with this after getting shot, it's just too much!"
"I'm okay, love."
"You're lying through your teeth! Now that I'm really looking at you, I can see how uncomfortable you are. You're pale, and your eyes...."she put her hand on Jim's cheek. "And you feel so warm. I bet you have fever. You should be the one in bed."
"Honey, it's okay." Jim took her hand and kissed it.
"It's not okay! Did they give you any medicine? Pain medicine? Antibiotics? I'll just bet you haven't
taken any of it. Uh, huh, I knew it," she sighed, when Jim looked sheepish. "You see why I'm angry,
now? You never take care of yourself! If I don't make you, you never take medicine, or rest like you're
supposed to! You'd probably push yourself until you dropped!" Jean pulled her hand away from Jim.
"Let me see it!"
"Let me see it!" Jean insisted. "I bet you haven't even changed the dressing from last night, have you?"
"No, I haven't had a chance."
"Ohhhh, you...come on, take that shirt off, so I can see it. I wondered why you wore long sleeves in the middle of August!"
Jim knew that now that he'd confessed, there would be no escaping Jean's natural mothering and worrying instincts. He bowed to the inevitable and unbuttoned his shirt. Maybe fussing over me will actually help her get her mind off the waiting.
Moving carefully herself, Jean reached up and helped Jim take off his shirt. He eased his arm out of the sleeve, revealing the swath of bandages wrapping his left upper arm. A large circle of blood bloomed bright on the side.
"Oh, honey," Jean sighed. "Was this blood there last night? It looks fresh."
"Ummm, well, it wasn't even there this morning," Jim frowned.
"Okay, this bandage is coming off right now. Get up and get to the bathroom." Jean pointed to the back of the house.
"No arguments! The best way to get back in my good graces is to let me make sure you're okay. So scoot, mister!"
"Jean, you're not supposed to overdo it today," Jim reminded his wife. But he got up from the couch and let her lead him to the bathroom.
"Now, there's the pot calling the kettle black," Jean fussed. "Annie! Annie, I'm gonna need your help!"
Jim spent the next twenty minutes being fussed at and "doctored" by his wife and sister-in-law. Following the doctor's instructions Jim had crumpled and hidden in the drawer, along with his medicine, Jean changed the bandages and cleaned the wound, while Jim endured the resulting discomfort with a minimum of whining. Convinced that the arm looked redder and more swollen than it should, Jean insisted that he let her take his temperature, and indeed, the thermometer showed that his temperature was almost 101. Jean had him take both his antibiotics and pain medications, put his arm back in the sling, got him into pajamas and into bed, all the while complaining about Jim's lack of good judgment in ignoring the wound as he had.
During that twenty minutes, the phone rang four times, and each time it had been a reporter searching for Jim for a question, or comment. Annie fielded and deflected the callers until her patience ran out, then she merely left the phone off the hook.
Finally, apparently satisfied she'd done all she could for Jim, Jean crawled into bed and snuggled against him.
"You happy now?" Jim asked. He hoped the pain medication would kick in soon, because the wound ached with renewed vigor, despite support from the sling and a couple of extra pillows. Even though he longed for desperately needed sleep, the pain from his arm coupled with a churning stomach prevented him from getting comfortable enough to drift completely off. He closed his eyes as the room suddenly titled.
"No, not really, because I know you're not," Jean said. She clasped his hand in hers and kissed his shoulder. "Tell me how you're really feeling. And I don't mean physically."
Jim considered. How do I feel? I don't think I know. My brain's pulled in so many directions. All I feel is the fear. Fear of my life slipping out of my control. I could lose my job, I could lose my wife. How do I feel? Hell if I know.
"Jim, talk to me," Jean pleaded quietly. "You listened to me last night; now I need to do the same for you."
"I really don't know what to say," Jim admitted. He squirmed, responding to a slight itching sensation marching up and down his back and chest.
"Maybe you could start by telling me what happened."
Jim swallowed back a surge of nausea. Suddenly he felt a whole lot worse. "I'm really not up to it right now. Can we wait until I get some sleep, first?" Jim closed his eyes again as the room started to spin in earnest.
"Okay," Jean agreed, sounding slightly disappointed. "But if you're doing this because of me..."
"Uh uh," Jim grunted. "I'm doing it because I think I'm about to throw up."
"Uh huh. All of a sudden, I'm feeling a lot worse than I was fifteen minutes ago."
"Really?" Jean sat up.
"Really....uhhhh, I'd better go..." Jim got up and headed for the bathroom, with Jean on his heels.
Jim managed to make it to the bathroom before he got sick, losing the little bit of juice he'd taken the pills with just the short while ago. He fell to his knees, overcome by dizziness. As he made a desperate grab for the toilet, his arm twinged violently, and the pain triggered another uproar in his stomach. "Oh, God," he shuddered, as more dry heaves plagued him.
"Jim, honey, are you okay?" Jean asked. Her voice sounded far away. He felt something cool touch his face, and realized that she'd wet a washcloth and had started rubbing his forehead and cheeks with it.
"I feel kinda strange," Jim answered, his voice raspy. He felt as if his head suddenly had become disconnected from his body. The slight itching he earlier felt blossomed into a fiery crawling sensation as if ants wearing cleats were marching up and down all over his body.
"Jim, honey, look at me," Jean said firmly, but Jim barely registered it. "Jim!"
Jim turned slowly to look up at his wife. He noted the worried look on her face, but didn't seem to be able to do anything about it. He felt like he was floating.
"Jim, you're turning red all over, and your face is swelling," Jean exclaimed quietly. "I think you're having a reaction to your medication."
"Oh, man...." Jim moaned. He leaned his head against the sink, because holding it up took too much work. He heard Jean call for Annie, then heard his sister-in-law come into the room. But his vision started to blur, and suddenly his chest tightened as if someone had put a load of bricks on it. I think I'm dying. God, I can't die today....
Pete pulled his car up into the Reeds' driveway and killed the engine. He sat a few moments, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. He wasn't sure he should have come by in mid-afternoon. If everything went okay, both Jim and Jean would be sleeping and he sure didn't want to disturb them. He'd played with Jimmy long and hard enough so that the boy should be exhausted and sleeping, too. That left Annie, and he was certain she was sick of seeing him today. And if by some chance, Jim and Jean were awake, he sure didn't want to interrupt any attempt by Jim to explain to Jean about the shooting. And once Jean had the full story, Pete wasn't so sure Jean wouldn't consider him persona non grata.
But something nagging at Pete's soul had made him get into his car and drive over here, after a fruitless search for the press conference on television. He couldn't help but worry about Jean and how she was, and about Jim, since his partner refused to take care of himself properly. Sure, knowing Jean was okay had to be Jim's top priority, but Pete had a feeling that Jim would need to talk, and he also had a feeling that, as usual, Jim probably didn't realize just how much he needed a listening ear. Circumstances had conspired to bury the poor guy in uncertainty and worry, and certainly there was a limit to how long Jim could continue to hold in his emotions.
Pete got out of his car and strolled to the front door. He rapped quietly on it, foregoing the bell in case the family was asleep. No one came to the door on his first try, so he rapped again, just a little louder. He had almost decided that everyone had gone to sleep and turned to leave, when he heard footsteps approaching.
The door cracked open slightly and Annie's face peeked through. When she caught sight of him, she slung the door open wide and grabbed Pete by the arm.
"Pete! Thank God you're here!" She tugged at Pete and dragged him inside.
"What's wrong?" Pete asked, alarmed. "Jean?"
"No! Jim!" Annie hurried him back toward the bedroom. "We think he's having a reaction to his medication!"
"Great," Pete hissed.
When Pete reached the bedroom, he saw Jim sitting on the side of the bed, breathing heavily, his face reddened and puffy. Jean sat beside him, talking to him, looking very scared and upset. She looked up as Pete entered the room.
"Pete! Talk sense to him, please," Jean pleaded. "Tell him he needs to go to the hospital! He's having trouble breathing!"
"It'll....pass..." Jim wheezed.
Pete didn't need a second look at his partner to know Jean was right. Jim exhibited all the symptoms of someone having an allergic reaction to medicine, and from long experience Pete realized there was little time to waste.
"Not this time, partner," Pete said firmly. "I'm taking you straight to County General."
"Pete...." Jim shook his head.
"No arguments!" Pete cut him off. "Jean, do you have the medicine bottles?"
"Right here," Jean fished in her robe pocket and gave Pete the two vials of medicine.
"Good. Annie, call the emergency department at County General and tell them we're coming and what's happened. See if Dr. Stephens is on duty today," Pete, used to taking charge in the field, took charge here, as well. "Where's your robe and slippers, Jim?"
"Can't...go...like this..." Jim objected breathlessly
"Jim, stop being so stubborn!" Jean huffed. She got up from the bed and pulled Jim's slippers and robe from the closet.
"Jean, stay...still!" Jim tried to raise his voice, but it came out a hoarse rasp.
"I hate to tell you this, but you're in a lot worse shape than I am right now!" Jean snapped, her obvious concern putting an edge in her voice. She dropped Jim's shoes on the floor in front of him. "Now please, honey, go with Pete and take care of yourself for once. Annie's here if I need her." Jean's voice softened.
Pete took the robe from Jean and helped Jim stand up. To Pete's surprise, Jim offered no resistance but let Pete help him slip the robe on and tie the sash awkwardly, avoiding the injured arm. Pete noticed that Jim's fingers had swollen to twice their normal size, and his sense of urgency bumped up a notch. "Come on, Jim, let's go."
Jim did resist, this time. He turned to Jean and reached out his good arm to pull her to him. "Don't worry....honey. You take it...easy and...rest."
"I promise. Now just go." Jean broke the embrace quickly and gently pushed Jim toward the door. "Pete, please call me."
"Of course," Pete assured her. "I'll take care of him, Jean. Don't worry." With that, Pete steered Jim out the bedroom door and helped him to the car.
A little over two hours later, after having been examined, diagnosed and treated for both an allergic reaction to his pain medication and an infection of his gunshot wound, a drowsy Jim lay in a treatment room in County General, officially under observation until the doctor said otherwise. A part of him wanted to give in to the new medications, and let his exhausted, battered body sleep, but the other part of him couldn't keep his mind off Jean at home. Guilt over the convoluted situation gnawed at his conscience and kept him awake, wondering what on earth he'd done to deserve the calamities that had befallen him and his family in the past two days.
Physically Jim felt much better than he had just a half-hour ago. Whatever Dr. Stephens had done to him had worked. He no longer itched, he could breathe freely, and he no longer looked like a bloated raspberry. He still felt a little achy and sore, but he no longer believed he might die at any second, like he had thought when Pete had dragged him into the emergency department earlier.
Pete. What would I do without him? He's always there for me. He's the only reason I'm still sane after what all's happened in the past day and a half.
The door to the treatment room cracked open, and Jim expected to see Pete come in, back from calling Jean with an update, but a nurse entered instead.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Reed?" she asked, with that professional forced cheerfulness every nurse he'd seen used.
"Much better," Jim told her.
The nurse took his wrist to check his pulse. "A little sleepy?"
"Yeah. And a little thirsty."
"I'll bring you something to drink after I check your temp," the nurse promised. "Now open up for me."
Pete sighed as he hung up the phone from talking with Jean. He'd done all he could to reassure her that Jim would be okay, but Jean had been through so much lately, she just wasn't handling the situation well. With every passing minute, the situation seemed to get more complex and emotional, and Pete wasn't sure how much more either of them could take. Jim and Jean were at their strongest when they were together; however, circumstances had conspired to keep them apart during times of crisis, and it made it harder for them to deal with the unfortunate events.
What both of them need is about twelve hours of uninterrupted, worry-free sleep. Fat chance of that happening.
"Pete!" A familiar-sounding voice called to him across the waiting room, rousing him from his own worried thoughts.
Pete looked up and saw Jerry Woods walking across the ER waiting area.
"Pete, what are you doing here?" Woods' voice held a note of concern. "I thought you were off...are you sick?"
"No, I'm fine, Jerry. It's Jim. He's had an allergic to reaction to his pain medication and I brought him over," Pete explained.
"Oh, man. The kid's had some tough luck lately," Jerry shook his head. "He okay?"
"Yeah, he's fine, Jerry. I had my doubts there, for a few minutes, but a couple of injections took care of it. He's resting now, and the doc has him under observation for a while. But he'll probably get to go home in a couple of hours."
"That's good. How's Jean doing?"
"Okay, best I can tell," Pete said evasively. He didn't know just how much he should say, or what had been circulating around the station about the situation.
Woods shrugged and shook his head again. "Man, those two have really been through the ringer. I wish there was something I could do."
"They're strong; they'll be okay. Just keep 'em in your thoughts." Pete smiled weakly at his colleague. Sometimes it didn't do to get Woods on a tear; the man could out-worry Jim. "Why are you here, by the way?"
"Oh, we picked up a hype down in the park at Crown and Grover. Snyder's in the treatment room with him, getting what info he can. I just came out to call the station," Woods said.
"You had a lot of calls?"
"No, not really. Nothing like yesterday, brother." Woods looked down at his feet, then back up at Pete. "How you doin' with this whole shooting mess, Pete?"
"I'm okay," Pete told him. "Nothing I haven't been through before. Besides, the heat's really more on Jim than me."
"Yeah. How's Jim taking it? I heard it got kinda rough last night."
Nothing like being the subject of locker room gossip. "About like you'd expect after he had to kill a kid," Pete responded quietly. "He's got a lot on him right now. But he's hanging in there."
"He's a good cop," Jerry affirmed. "He doesn't have to worry; the SRB will clear him."
"I'm sure they will," Pete agreed.
"Uh, Pete," Woods hedged, "I almost hate to say this, but the boy's parents and their lawyer were at the station this afternoon. I saw 'em right before roll call."
"Mac said they'd been around this morning, and had threatened to call their lawyer," Pete sighed. "I guess they did."
"They were plenty upset," Woods commented.
"Do you blame them?" Pete asked. "Their son is dead, under horrible circumstances, and they want answers. I don't have a kid, but I can imagine how they must feel."
"What do you think they've got a lawyer for? I mean, what good will it do 'em? You think they're putting pressure on the Captain to press criminal charges?"
Pete shrugged. "I don't know, Jerry, but it doesn't do any good to speculate, now, does it? Departmental procedure's being followed, and we've told the truth. I've got faith in the system. It'll be okay."
"Man, you've got more faith than I do," Woods admitted. "I don't know how you're staying so cool. I'd be sweating it out, big time."
Somebody's gotta keep a level head. It might as well be me. "Jerry, I need to get back to Jim. Good to see you. Be careful out there."
"You bet. Give my best to Jim, Pete."
"I will," Pete shook Woods' hand and walked back to the treatment room.
Pete met the nurse coming out of the room and had to sidestep to keep from colliding with her. "Excuse me," he apologized. "Uh, is something wrong?"
"Oh, no, I just checked his vitals and then brought him something to drink. He's improving, but see if you can't encourage him to sleep a little bit. I think it'd do him some good."
"I'll see what I can do," Pete promised. He pushed open the door.
Jim stopped sucking on the straw of his water when Pete popped back in. "How was Jean?" he asked quickly, though his voice sounded a bit slurry.
"Worried about you," Pete told him. "I did my best to assure her you were doing just great, but I'm not sure she really bought it."
"That's my Jean," Jim sighed. "Always worrying."
"Look who's talkin'," Pete teased.
"I only worry when there's a real reason to worry," Jim objected. He took another sip of his water. "Jean just worries for the sport of it."
"Whatever you say, partner," Pete rolled his eyes. "Oh, and she said to tell you -- she got the flowers and they're beautiful."
"At least that worked out right. Did she sound okay?"
"She sounded fine, until she started talking about the flowers and then she got a little choked up."
Jim closed his eyes. "Women. What is it about flowers that makes them cry?"
"Now, you know as well as I do it isn't the flowers themselves that makes them get all crazy," Pete smiled.
"I guess not," Jim managed a small smile himself. "What else did she say?"
"You sure you wanna know?"
Jim's eyes flew open. "Of course. What?"
"Your in-laws got into town about an hour ago. They called and they're on their way over to your house."
Jim groaned and closed his eyes again. "Oh, it's gonna hit the fan now." Jim suddenly sat up, sloshing water over the sides of the cup, but fell back as an apparent wave of dizziness hit him.
"Not wise," Pete scolded. "Lie back." He grabbed a nearby tissue and swiped the water from Jim's sheet.
"Pete, did Jean say whether they saw the paper? Mr. Smithson's a news nut...I bet he went straight for the newsstand at the airport."
"They saw it," Pete confirmed grimly.
"Oh, man," Jim groaned. "I can just hear him now. His daughter's had surgery, and his son-in-law's a front page news item. I think I'm glad I'm in the hospital again - maybe Mr. Smithson will have mercy on me and not kill me on sight."
"Relax, Jim. You know he won't hold you responsible."
Jim snorted. "You don't know how he is about 'his baby girl.' Man, why couldn't they have just stayed in Denver until Sunday like they'd planned? I swear, they've got some kind of radar that knows when something's wrong. It's uncanny."
"Don't worry about it. Personally, I'm glad they're back. I think you and Jean need some extra support right now, and you know they'll give it to you," Pete reminded gently.
"Yeah," Jim agreed with another heavy sigh, "they will. But I'm starting to feel like Job. One bad thing after another keeps happening. I'm afraid to see what's gonna happen next. Pete, I don't think I can take anything else bad. I can't deal with it."
"You're tired. It's been a hell of a two days for you. You just need to relax and rest."
"I know, but I just can't." Jim took a final swig of his water, then set it clumsily down on the tray next to his stretcher-bed. "Every time I close my eyes, I see a replay of the past two days and all the bad endings that are possible. It's like a nightmare."
"Look, you said you felt like Job. If I remember the story right, Job kept his faith despite all the bad circumstances around him, and in the end, God rewarded him. Gave him back everything he'd lost and more." Pete met Jim's eyes. "Don't lose faith, Jim. No matter what, don't lose faith."
"And that's the way it went down," Pete said quietly. "Jim had no choice but to shoot. The kid came out gunning. He wanted to die, and he knew the best way to get that way was to try and kill us first. He darned near got Jim, and I was next on the list if Jim hadn't gotten him first." Pete's words hung heavy in the silence that followed.
Pete sat at the Reed's kitchen table with Jean's parents and Annie, who listened with great interest to the story. Jim was home again, in bed, asleep under the influence of a new round of painkillers. He'd barely been awake enough to grunt a hello at his in-laws. Pete and Jean had tucked him into bed, where he'd fallen asleep immediately. The Smithson had convinced a teary-eyed Jean to crawl in beside him to get some rest, which she did.
While they slept, Mrs. Smithson had insisted that Pete eat some of the light supper she and Annie had prepared. Pete had agreed, and as he ate, he told them everything he knew to that point.
Jim had been right about one thing: Jeans parents were extremely upset. But Pete was relieved to see that they weren't mad at his partner, but at the situation itself. Jim'll be glad to hear that. One small bit of good news anyway.
"If that's the way it happened," Mr. Smithson said, with a lot of heat in his voice, "Why did the papers print that malarkey in there?"
"Well, you know the press," Pete drawled quietly. "They're gonna write something, whether it's the full truth or not. When they put this paper to bed, they didn't have any facts. I haven't seen the evening paper yet. Maybe it's a little less prejudiced."
"Somehow I doubt it," Annie shook her head.
"Oh, I don't know, Annie. Our side of the story came out at the press conference today - at least part of it," Pete pointed out.
"When will they make everything public?" Mrs. Smithson asked. She held Jimmy in her arms, who had fallen asleep with his thumb in his mouth, and she stroked the toddler's hair off his forehead.
"After the shooting review board meets and makes a decision."
"When will that be?" Mr. Smithson asked.
"It's scheduled for Tuesday at 9:00 a.m., if Jim's up to it. All the toxicology and autopsy should be available by then. If for some reason they aren't ready, the meeting might be postponed."
"All this waiting," Mrs. Smithson fretted. "Waiting on the shooting review board. Waiting on Jean's biopsy report. It's awful. I hate it."
Annie reached out and patted her mother's hand for comfort.
"It's difficult for everyone," Pete agreed.
The doorbell rang before anyone else could speak.
"That's probably Jim's sister," Mr. Smithson said, pushing away from the table. "She called right before you got here and said she was coming over after she fed her husband. I'll get it." He disappeared out the kitchen door.
"Is Jim really all right?" Mrs. Smithson asked, still looking worried. "I mean, getting shot...it's so frightening. And he looks so terrible. I can't believe that he kept it from Jean like he did."
"He'll be fine," Pete assured her confidently. "The wound isn't that serious. If he'd just taken care of himself like he should have - if circumstances had been better, that is - he wouldn't...." Mr. Smithson's angry voice boomed into the kitchen from the living room, interrupting Pete.
"What on earth?" Mrs. Smithson exclaimed, her eyes widening.
Another male voice joined Mr. Smithson's. It didn't sound angry, but Pete thought that the voice sounded familiar.
"I don't know, but it's not Jane, that's for sure." Pete hurriedly got up from the table and went to Mr. Smithson's aid. When he caught sight of the person at the door, Pete's own temper flared. He bit back the worst of his anger, but still snapped, "Mike Clearly, this is a new low, even for you."
"Ah, Malloy, Malloy, I knew I'd find you here," Clearly said, looking over Mr. Smithson's shoulder.
"You know this bozo, Pete?" Mr. Smithson asked.
"Of course he knows me," Clearly affirmed.
"I know him. Unfortunately," Pete agreed, not bothering to hide the disdain in his voice. "Beat it, Clearly."
"Malloy, I'm your friend! Is that any way to talk to a friend?" Clearly eased around Mr. Smithson.
Pete snorted. "You aren't anybody's friend, Clearly, not really. Your friendships last about as long as it takes to break a story."
"So you are a reporter," Mr. Smithson growled. "Get lost."
"Have a heart, Malloy," Clearly begged. "I've gotta get a story. Now, I can print your version, or the public's version. I'm here to do you a favor."
"Do me a favor, and don't do me any favors," Pete said flatly. "You know the drill, Clearly. Anything you get from the department has to come through the brass. We can't talk to you. And besides, like I said, this is really low, invading Reed's privacy like this."
"Malloy, I'm only concerned about him. And you, too," Clearly insisted. "I like you boys. You're real straight arrows...my kinda guys...and you're not coming across too good in the press today. A few words from you could turn that around."
"Like I said, Clearly..."
"I know what you said, Malloy. But how about a little quid pro quo? I'll give you some information and you give me a statement."
"No deal, Clearly," Pete shook his head. "Now, just get out of here."
"Get out before I toss you out," Mr. Smithson warned.
"Take it easy, Mr. Smithson," Pete said easily. "Clearly's just leaving, I'm sure."
"Scuttlebutt has it that Reed shot the guy out of anger."
"That's ridiculous!" Mr. Smithson barked, and Pete held up his hand to settle him down.
"How 'bout it, Malloy? Was he mad? Distracted? Careless?"
"No comment, Clearly," Pete gritted at the irritating reporter. It took all of his self-control to keep from yelling and tossing the guy out on his can.
"This isn't the first kid Reed's killed," Clearly continued. "You gotta know how bad this looks."
"Now wait a minute!" Mr. Smithson roared.
"Easy, now," Pete said to Mr. Smithson. He turned to Clearly and said through clenched teeth, "For the last time, Clearly, get out."
"I know the results of the toxicology tests," Clearly blurted. "Uh, huh, that got your attention, didn't it?"
"You're lying, Clearly."
"I got my sources, Malloy. I know the results, and I'll give you this bit of information....the kid wasn't high."
Pete blinked but didn't say anything.
"I swear, Malloy, this is the truth. I have a really good source, and the kid wasn't high. They found traces of heroin in his blood and a little speed, but it was leftovers." Clearly told him. "Well, say something!"
"I can't talk to you, Clearly." Pete had to bite his tongue to keep from saying what he really thought of both Clearly and his information. "You want information, call Lieutenant Moore. Now, scram."
"Man, you're a tough nut to crack, Malloy," Clearly complained. "But I love a challenge. I also know that the Sanford's lawyer is gonna bring civil charges, no matter what the SRB finds. So even if you get cleared, you're looking at a civil suit."
"That's ridiculous!" Mr. Smithson yelled. "The boy was shooting at them! What were they supposed to do?"
"Mr. Smithson, don't," Pete cautioned. He placed a hand on Smithson's shoulder, "or you'll find yourself plastered all over the Chronicle tomorrow."
"This....gentleman had better leave or he's gonna be plastered all over the sidewalk!" Mr. Smithson balled his fists and took a half-step toward the reporter.
"Whoa! Back off, cowboy!" Clearly held both hands up as if in surrender and moved back.
"Easy, Mr. Smithson. He's not worth it." Pete gently tugged Mr. Smithson back. "Beat it, Clearly. Nobody here's talking to you. And if you dare show up here again, I'll have you arrested for trespassing."
"It's not a threat, Clearly, it's a promise. Half the men in the division would fight to be the one to book you and throw you in jail, since you've maligned at least that many of us at some time or another." Pete couldn't keep the anger from his voice.
"Lucky for you, Malloy, I'm a forgiving kind of person. I won't hold your bad manners against you. But if you don't like what I write in the paper tomorrow, you have only yourself to blame." Clearly arched his eyebrows at Pete, then turned and left.
Mr. Smithson slammed the door behind the retreating reporter, then turned an angry expression to Pete. "Is he telling the truth?" he demanded.
Pete shrugged. "He's sleazy, but he's smart. I'm sure he's got snitches buried in every public office in Los Angeles. He's probably right, though I'm surprised the tox tests are back so soon."
"What does it mean for Jim if the boy wasn't high?"
"As far as I'm concerned, nothing. The kid still had a gun and was a threat to everyone in the vicinity. In fact, if he was in control of his faculties, it proves premeditation and intent to kill."
"Why was he making such a deal out of it, then?"
"Because the guy's a jerk. He's always nosing around, trying to stir up trouble. He wanted to try and get me to say something he could use to sensationalize," Pete explained. "But if he comes around here again and I'm not here, don't waste your breath on him. Just call Foothill Division and have them send out a car to haul his sorry carcass out of here."
"And you should take your own advice," Pete offered Mr. Smithson a grim smile. "Until we hear from the SRB, nothing is official. Just remember that."
"Okay, Pete. I'll try to keep that in mind. I've gotta hand it to you, Pete. You really know how to keep your cool. I wanted to throttle that jerk."
"We're trained to stay cool in the face of a lot worse than that," Pete reminded him.
"I think I just realized just how hard that can be."
"Sometimes, harder than you know," Pete admitted. And you don't want to know.