Jim Reed pulled his shirt on over his head, glanced at the clock, and then looked back at his wife. Worry wrinkled his brow and clouded his eyes.
Jean sat on the edge of the bed, holding her head in her hands. She shook her head slowly without bothering to raise it.
"No, honey. Don't worry about me. I'm sure this will pass." Her voice sounded weaker than it had a few minutes before.
And they say I'm stubborn... . Jim walked over to Jean's side of the bed and knelt down beside her. He reached up to lightly stroke the side of her head.
"At least let me call your mom. You're in no condition to take care of Jimmy." He waited for some kind of response, but got none. After a few moments he continued. "You know as well as I do that your mom loves every chance she gets to be with her only grandson."
Still no response came, and Jim's concern ratcheted up a notch. His eyes darted across her mostly-covered features, searching for some clue as to what might be wrong. He laid a gentle hand protectively on her shoulder.
"Honey, please talk to me."
Jim had never seen Jean like this. She'd been sick before, of course. But never had she seemed so defeated, so spiritless. She's got no fight left in her.
A few moments later, Jean responded sluggishly. "Whatever."
Jim stood, feeling helpless and frustrated. He looked down at his wife for a few moments, and then hurried to the phone. He dialed the first number from memory.
"Hi, Mom? It's Jim."
Jim enjoyed a very close relationship with his in-laws, and right now he felt more than usually glad for their availability.
His worry must have shown in his voice.
"What's wrong, honey? Is my Jean still sick?" Candace Bailey didn't even wait for an answer. "Now don't you worry, I'll be right there, and I'll take care of everything. I'll stop at the market first, to get something to cook, and I'll be there in about half an hour. Will that be soon enough?"
"I'm sure we have something in the refrigerator, Mom. Could you hurry? I should leave for work in about ten minutes." Jim cast another worried glance at his wife. Jean hadn't budged from her position.
"Oh, all right, dear. If you think that's best." Candace seemed to be busy doing something as she spoke, and he heard the phone jostle against her shoulder. "I'll be there in just a few minutes."
"Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate it. I've got to make a few more phone calls now."
"Okay, Dear. Don't worry, now."
"All right. Bye." He hung up, but didn't let go of the receiver.
Jean moaned a little, and Jim felt his stomach sink.
Something is really wrong.
Don't worry? Yeah, right... .
"Honey, I'm going to call the doctor and get you an appointment." Jim started to look for the phone number, but then he looked at the clock and thought better of it.
Better call the station first. Jim had been an LAPD officer for a little over six years now, and he could have dialed the station's number with his eyes closed.
"LAPD, Officer Mulroney speaking."
Jim recognized Dick Mulroney's voice as soon he answered the phone, but he didn't take time for small talk.
"Watch Commander's office, please."
"Just a moment." Mulroney didn't seem to have recognized Jim's voice, but that wasn't too surprising. They hadn't worked together all that much. Mulroney had been taken off patrol for a few weeks while recovering from an appendectomy.
I wonder how long he'll be on desk duty? Jim glanced back at his wife, and suddenly didn't care about such trivial questions.
"Sergeant MacDonald." The watch commander's voice finally came over the line.
Jim's sentences ran together without a pause.
"Mac, this is Reed. Listen, my wife is really sick. I'm afraid to leave her. Her mother is on her way over, and she should be here soon. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to be a little late."
Mac's voice filled with concern. "Afraid to leave her? What's wrong?"
"I don't know. She started having headaches about a week ago, and they've gotten worse every day. Today she just can't even function. Jimmy's still in bed, but I want to stay until my mother-in-law gets here, in case he gets up. I don't think Jean can care for him right now."
"I hope she's not getting migraines. My sister gets those, and they're awful." Mac sounded sympathetic. "Don't worry. Pete can fill you in on the details of the morning briefing. You just take care of Jean, and give her my best, will you?"
You're the greatest, Mac.
"Thanks. I'll be in as soon as I can." Jim started to hang up, but stopped when another idea occurred to him.
"I'm sure Pete's already left for work. He doesn't know anything about it, so would you fill him in please?" Jim's partner and best friend, Pete Malloy, would be concerned if Jim were late. Reed always prided himself on his punctuality.
"Sure, Jim, don't worry about it. Go take care of your wife."
Mac's compassion never failed to touch Jim when he went through hard times, and he appreciated it now.
"Thanks." Jim hung up and, after a last worried look at his wife, left the room to renew his search for the doctor's phone number. After a few moments he found it on the refrigerator door, held up by a heart-shaped magnet. The magnet read, "Love is Forever." Jim had bought it for Jean on a whim about a year ago, and he believed its message wholeheartedly.
Right now, the woman he loved needed some real help. More help than he could give her. He picked up the kitchen phone and dialed the number he read on the fridge.
"Hello, Dr. Franken's office." The receptionist's voice was as impersonal as the station dispatcher's at work.
"This is Jim Reed. I need an appointment for my wife, Jean."
"Is she a patient here?"
Only for the last seven years! "Yes, she is."
"Just a moment please."
Jim fretted and drummed his fingers while the receptionist forced him to wait. Finally she returned.
"Yes, I have her file."
You had to find her file to schedule an appointment? Jim's worry made him fume at what he perceived as needless red tape.
"What seems to be Mrs. Reed's complaint?" The receptionist's nasal voice began to set Jim's teeth on edge.
Jim filled her in on the details of the last week, and then resumed his finger-drumming.
"We can get her in at 4:00 this afternoon," the nasal voice stated.
"Four o'clock! I told you, my wife is in pain!" Jim made no attempt to hide his frustration.
"I'm sorry, that's the best we can do. Do you wish to take that appointment?"
"Yes." Jim bit back an acerbic retort. "If anyone cancels before then, will you please give us a call? We could bring her in on a few minutes' notice."
"Of course, Mr. Reed. Goodbye, Mr. Reed." The receptionist hung up abruptly.
Jim took the phone away from his ear and stared at it, trying to believe how rudely he'd been treated. After a moment, he slammed his receiver down, and went to the front door to look for his mother-in-law.
C'mon, Candace, hurry, please! In his annoyance, he dropped the "mom" title.
He made one last search of his street, but the familiar Buick did not appear. Jim turned and headed for his bedroom.
The sight of Jean made his stomach flutter. She sat exactly as she had before. What in the world is going on?
He hurried to her side and knelt again.
"Jean?" He put his hand back on her shoulder.
Jean jumped, startled, as if she had been asleep.
"Were you sleeping, honey?" Jim felt relieved to see her eyes finally meeting his.
"I...I guess so. I don't remember."
"How's your head?"
"Better, right now." Jean's expression suddenly registered surprise. "Are you dressed already? When did you do that?"
"You were too out of it to notice, Hon. I've also called your mother to come over and help you, and I've made an appointment for you at the doctor's at 4:00." Jim gently brushed her hair back away from her face.
"Oh, Jim, it's not that bad. I don't know why you bothered." Jean stood abruptly and headed for the kitchen. "What do you want for breakfast?"
Jim stared after her, finding it hard to account for the awful feeling in his gut.
It's as if the last half-hour didn't happen.
He hurried to catch up with her. "Honey, don't you remember? I made myself something, because you were feeling so bad." He took her shoulders in his hands and turned her to face him. His eyes searched hers, hoping she would help him make sense of things. Hoping she would help to un-knot his insides.
Jean looked at him as if he were crazy. "I haven't been feeling bad. Just because I fell asleep doesn't mean I was feeling bad."
Jim's worry turned to near terror.
"Jean, I want you to go lie down." He moved around behind her and steered her by her shoulders towards the bedroom. She protested his silliness, but allowed herself to be directed.
"Jim, this is ridiculous. I'm fine!" Jean asserted as Jim propelled her around the corner into their bedroom.
A moment later, her knees buckled.
"Jean!" Jim dropped low to scoop her up, and carried her the rest of the way to the bed. He laid her down on her back, and felt his blood turn cold at the sight of her face. Her eyes looked glassy, and she seemed unaware of him.
"Jean? Honey?" Jim's mouth went completely dry, and he felt the edges of panic settling in. C'mon, Jim, you're a cop. Pull yourself together!
A loud knock on the front door made him flinch. He ran to meet his mother-in-law, throwing the door open and practically pulling her toward the bedroom.
"Something's really wrong with Jean! Hurry!" He pulled Candace through the bedroom doorway before releasing her arm. The two of them hurried to Jean.
"Hi, Mom!" Jean smiled sleepily. "I guess I fell asleep. What are you doing here?"
Candace flashed a mildly annoyed expression at her son-in-law.
"Jim's a little worried about you, dear. I'm sure he's fussing over nothing. You know what a worrywart he is. But never mind. I'm here, and I'll be a help if I can. How's your head, dear?"
"It hurts off and on, but not so bad right now."
Jim stared at his wife throughout the exchange, wondering if he was losing his mind.
I couldn't have just imagined that. I'm not that big a worrywart!
The living room clock chimed the hour. Jean turned surprised eyes toward her husband.
"Jim, why are you still here? Shouldn't you be at roll call?"
"Don't you remember?" Jim almost wanted to beg her to think. "I was staying until your mom got here."
"Oh, you're so sweet, but you shouldn't have bothered." She gave her mother an eloquent look.
She thinks I'm making a big deal out of nothing, too.
Just then Jimmy, their almost-six-year-old, burst into the room, still wearing his pajamas.
"Hi Nana!" The youngster squealed with delight at the unexpected guest. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi sweetie!" Candace scooped her grandson up and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Mommy's a little tired today, and she has a little headache, so I'm going to help her today. What do you think of that?"
"Cool!" yelled Jimmy. "Wanna come see what I built with my blocks yesterday?" He hopped a bit with excitement, as usual having more energy than one boy could possibly need.
His grandmother seemed only too happy to inspect his handiwork.
Jim shook his head as if trying to knock his thoughts into alignment. Jean looks okay. Mom's here. Jimmy's up and happy.
Maybe I should just go to work.
Jean started to sit up, but quickly abandoned the attempt and clutched her head with her hand.
"Owww. My head hurts."
"Candace!" Jim yelled.
His mother-in-law appeared quickly.
"Her head's hurting really bad again. It seems to come and go a lot. Please keep a close eye on her for me, okay? And she has a doctor's appointment at 4:00. Can you take her there? Do you know where the office is?"
"Of course, dear." Candace sat beside her daughter, no longer dismissing Jim's concerns. "Honey, would you like some aspirin, or a warm cloth for your head?"
Jean didn't answer. Jim's mouth went gravel-dry again.
"Poor dear. I bet she's getting migraines. My Aunt Sylvia used to get those. She always liked aspirin and a warm compress. I'll get them for her."
She turned to leave, then paused at the sight of her worry-sickened son-in-law.
"Sweetie, you go on to work. I'll take care of everything. Turn off the lights on your way out, would you? Aunt Sylvia always wanted darkness and quiet when she had her headaches." Candace bustled around the house gathering supplies for her mission of mercy.
Jim trudged reluctantly toward the bedroom door. Migraines. I guess it could be that. That's bad enough, isn't it?
He turned off the light and looked back at Jean. She seemed to have fallen asleep. At that moment, Jim wanted nothing more than to call in and take the rest of the day off.
Don't be such a mother hen, Jim. He tried to push the anxiety down out of his throat, where it had lodged for quite a while. She'll be all right. She's in good hands. He forced himself to turn and leave, passing his mother-in-law on his way.
"Candace, please call me if you need anything."
"We'll be fine. Go to work. Get, get, go!" She shooed him out like a trespassing puppy.
Jim moved slowly toward his car, at every step fighting the urge to run back inside. He felt lost and scared, like a little child who can't understand what's happening, but knows it's bad.
Stop it! He commanded himself with the same inner voice that he used when facing an awful situation at work. Just do what needs to be done. Feel later.
He climbed into his car and drove the familiar route to the station.
She'll be all right. She'll be all right. She'll be all right.
Pete Malloy maneuvered the black-and-white patrol car onto Madison Street. "Okay, here's what you missed." He tapped his notepad on the seat next to him. "Do you want to read it, or shall I just give you a summary?"
"I don't want to read it." Jim replied. I'm not sure I could if I tried.
"All right." Pete's tone made it clear that he recognized Reed's state of mind, and he sounded doubtful that Jim was paying attention.
He was right. Jim knew his partner was onto him, but he still only half-listened as Pete filled him in on the details of the morning briefing.
"There has been a rash of car thefts in 36's area, and Mac says... ."
I know she lost consciousness. I'm sure of it. Does that happen with migraines?
"Lieutenant Moore is going on vacation next week. Lieutenant Sloane will be filling in, so... ."
Maybe it is just migraines. I don't know much about migraines. It could be that.
"...double shifts, and they're asking everyone to volunteer for... ."
Maybe I really am just a worrywart like they say.
"...and a purple elephant sat on Mac's desk and broke it."
No, I KNOW what I saw!
What? Pete's words began to tickle annoyingly in the back of Jim's head.
Jim jerked himself back to the present, and turned confused eyes toward Pete.
"What did you say?"
Pete looked bemused. "I was just checking to see if you were listening, partner. Your head is orbiting the moon."
Jim tightened his lips and looked away.
"Did you even hear what they're asking us to volunteer for?"
"I need to call Jean." Jim didn't even acknowledge his partner's question.
Pete's rolled his eyes with exasperation.
"Jim, we've only been on patrol for ten minutes. Are you going to stop and call her six times an hour? Relax! Your mother-in-law will call you if anything goes wrong. And I'm sure nothing will."
Jim set his jaw and turned his thoughts back inwards. He didn't notice when Pete pulled Adam-12 over into an empty parking lot.
"Reed." Pete's tone held both compassion and command. Jim turned quickly toward him.
"You're not on patrol with me, Jim." The words stung, but Pete wasn't through. "This isn't an L-car. I'm supposed to have a partner with me. I'm counting on you, and you're not here." Pete's face showed his concern, but also made it clear that Jim was to straighten up his act.
Jim looked down briefly. "I'm sorry, Pete. I'm with you." He turned back toward the senior officer, looking him full in the eyes so that Pete could size him up.
After a moment Pete nodded, apparently satisfied that Jim's head was screwed on straight.
Pete pulled the unit back out onto the street. "I'm sure she'll be all right, Jim." His tone now held only sympathy.
Jim clamped down tightly on his emotions, and ordered himself to listen as Pete reiterated his earlier report. Minus the elephant, of course.
One more hour, and then I'm going to call, no matter what.
"All right, Mom. Thanks." Jim hung up the pay phone, feeling more than a little annoyed at himself. One look at Pete, still seated at the wheel of Adam-12, told him his partner was ready to give him some friendly ribbing.
Maybe I deserve it. Maybe I am just a hopeless worrywart.
He sighed, exited the bi-fold doors of the phone booth, and tried to talk himself out of his anxiety. A few steps brought him back to the unit, and he let himself in, closing the door behind him with yet another sigh.
"Well?" Pete asked.
Jim avoided his partner's gaze. "Mom says Jean's okay. She's been sleeping peacefully."
"There, now, do you feel better?"
Not really. "Yeah."
What if she's really unconscious again? Jim didn't dare voice his concern to Pete. He already thinks I'm going off my rocker.
Maybe I am.
Jim reached back and rubbed the back of his neck. Try not to sound worried. "Mom said she's about to take Jimmy to the grocery store."
Pete pulled Adam-12 out into traffic.
"Evidently, her Aunt Sylvia thought chicken soup was the cure for migraines. We don't have any chicken. She figures Jean will sleep until she gets back."
"She probably will." Jim couldn't help noticing Pete's slightly worried glance.
Stay on your toes, Jim. Be Pete's partner. He checked a license plate against his hotsheet, though he had no reason to do so, other than his desire to appear on top of things.
Pete sighed and shook his head, but apparently decided against voicing his thoughts to his friend. The two men rode in silence.
"Where am I?" The unfamiliar room struck terror to her heart. "What am I doing here? Why was I asleep?" Confusion wracked her brain, so that only the sound of her own voice made any sense.
She stood, only to feel a wave of pain in her skull that nearly knocked her back onto the bed.
"No! I can't lie back down on that bed." She stared at the flowered sheets as her headache settled down. Her heart hammered with a dreadful question, which she had to voice so that she could hear herself.
"Why was I sleeping in a strange bed?" She clutched her robe around her, and then stopped to finger the unfamiliar fabric.
"What's happened to me?"
Nothing made sense. Everything seemed eerie and ominous.
"There's something wrong with this house. I have to get out. I have to get out."
She half-staggered out of the room, wondering which way to turn.
"There. That way." She walked unsteadily down the hall and into the living room.
I've never seen this place before.
Pictures of strangers hung on the wall. She looked them over, hoping she'd find someone familiar.
They look like a nice family, but I don't know them.
I don't belong here.
"How do I escape?" She spoke aloud again, somehow comforted by the sound of her own voice.
Her eyes fell on a purse. She picked it up and studied it. No, it's not mine.
She opened the clasp and looked inside.
Keys! Maybe they can help me escape!
She felt a tug of guilt at opening someone else's purse and taking their keys. But only one impulse burned deeply enough to control her.
I have to escape. I have to get out. I have to go where I'm safe.
She clutched the keys in her hand, dropped the purse, and walked out of the house. A shudder ran down her spine when the door thunked closed behind her.
Now what do I do?
Her breath caught. A sedan sat in the driveway.
Will anyone see me? Will they catch me before I can escape?
Who brought me here, and where are they? What do they want from me?
No one attempted to block her path. In fact, she saw no one at all. Except there, across the street, a woman was watering her garden. Jean instantly felt afraid of her.
I don't know her. I can't trust anyone I don't know. I have to escape. I have to go where things make sense. I have to find something familiar.
The woman across the street raised her hand and waved at her. "Hi there!"
Her heart nearly stopped. Don't talk to her. She hurried to the car, praying that a key in her hand would fit into its lock. She almost wept with relief when the first key she tried turned easily, and she opened the door.
She spent a moment acquainting herself with the controls of the unfamiliar sedan. After a moment she felt confident that she could drive it, and she cranked the engine with another surge of panic.
Hurry, hurry! Escape!
She backed the sedan into the road. The woman with the hose looked at her with concern in her eyes.
She knows I'm trying to get away. She'll try to stop me.
Don't look at her. She threw the car into gear and stomped on the accelerator. The sedan leaped forward.
Go, go, go!
She ignored the stop sign. No time. I have to escape. She turned left, though right would have worked just as well. Nothing in this neighborhood looked familiar.
Just one more corner. Turn one more corner, and there'll be something I've seen before.
One more corner turned into five, and then ten, and then more.
She blinked back hot tears.
Where am I?
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, call the watch commander on the land line."
Jim picked up his mic and acknowledged the call, then glanced at his partner. "I wonder what that's about."
Pete just shrugged. "We'll find out soon enough." He waited for an oncoming Ford to pass, and then performed a neat U-turn. A police phone stood less than a block away.
Pete pulled up to the curb, and Jim climbed out.
Jim reached into his pocket and fumbled for the box key. He only needed a moment to unlock the box and make the call that connected him with Mac.
"Sergeant MacDonald," Mac answered formally.
"Yeah, Mac, this is Reed. You wanted us to call?"
Mac's voice sounded tense and sympathetic at the same time.
"Jim, I just got a call from your mother-in-law. She sounded very upset, and said you needed to go home at once. Evidently, Jean drove away while your mother-in-law was shopping, and the neighbor said she was acting very strangely."
Jim's stomach lurched, and his hands began to sweat. He opened his mouth, but couldn't find his voice for a few moments.
"I'm here." He realized how stunned and scared he sounded. C'mon, Jim, be a pro!
"Mac, please don't think I'm crazy. I want you to put out an APB on our car. Jean is in no condition to drive. If she was acting strangely....Mac, she was so confused this morning! If she's driving in that condition...." Jim's voice trailed off as his thoughts led him down terrifying paths.
"Are you sure?" Mac sounded concerned, not skeptical.
"All right. Give me the description of your car, and of Jean." Mac already knew what Jean looked like, of course, but it made sense to get the exact details from Jim.
Jim forced his panic down, falling back on police protocol. He recited the familiar facts about his sedan and his wife, all the while picturing them at the bottom of a hillside somewhere. Jean could be dying right now... .
Jim's knees felt weak.
I shouldn't have left her. Jean, I'm so sorry!
Mac's voice broke through his thoughts.
"You get to your house, Code 2. Find out everything you can, and get back with me. I'll get this APB out immediately."
"Yeah." Jim hung up the phone and leaned heavily against the box for a moment.
"Jim, what's wrong?" Pete's worried voice right next to his ear made Jim flinch, but then his friend's hand rested reassuringly on his shoulder. "Is it Jean?"
Jim only nodded wordlessly, then turned and walked woodenly toward the car. Pete jogged quickly to the driver's side. Once both men were inside, Pete turned to Jim again.
"Jim, you have to tell me. What is it?"
Jim's voice sounded a million miles away to his own ears as he filled Pete in.
His partner's face went through a variety of emotions, from sympathy, to alarm, to deliberate professionalism. After the first few sentences Pete stepped hard on the gas, pushing the car toward Jim's house as fast as he could without lights and sirens.
C'mon, Jim, be a cop! It took a Herculean effort, but Reed managed to pull himself together.
The radio came to life with the APB broadcast. Hearing his own car's description going out over the airwaves made Jim's stomach do strange things. But the dispatcher's next words made him downright nauseated.
"...The driver is ill and may be incapacitated ...."
Jim wiped his sweaty hands on his uniform pants, his eyes searching frantically down every side street they passed.
"Hang in there, partner." Pete's admonition held its own tone of fear.
Jim nodded mutely.
"I don't know what more I can tell you, than what I told Jim's mother-in-law here." Mrs. Donovan's face filled with sympathy and fear as she gestured toward Candace.
Jean's mother paced nervously between the officers and the road, scanning repeatedly for some sign of her daughter, willing the sedan to appear.
Pete nodded patiently to the neighbor. "Let's just go over it again anyway."
Mrs. Donovan's words came out in a jumbled rush.
"Well, I was watering my garden when Jean came out. I thought it was odd ... that she came out in her bathrobe, I mean. But I waved at her and said 'hello.'"
The distraught woman laid a hand on Pete's arm and looked into his eyes.
"Officer, she seemed so scared! She wasn't herself at all. I almost thought she was having difficulty walking. She didn't even wave back at me, and we've been friends for as long as they've lived there. I've even watched Jimmy for her at times. But it was like she didn't know me." She wrung her hands nervously.
"Everything about her seemed so ...so strange. She got into the car, and she wouldn't even look in my direction. And Jean's always a careful driver, but this time she roared off and ran through that stop sign without even slowing down!" Mrs. Donovan placed a nervous hand over her mouth and contemplated the stop sign, shaking her head as if watching Jean all over again.
Jim's eyes widened, and he too turned to stare at the stop sign. Jean would never do that. A thousand vicious worries chewed at his gut.
"Which direction did she turn?" Jim asked, using police procedures to help him fight his own rising terror.
"She turned left, Jim, and that was the last I saw of her."
"How long ago was that?"
Mrs. Donovan checked her watch. "About an hour ago."
Jim shot a worried look at Pete, whose own face mirrored the same sentiment. Such a long time ... .
Mrs. Donovan apparently saw the look, too. "Oh, I should have called the police right away, shouldn't I? I'll never forgive myself. But at the time, it just seemed that she was upset about something, and you don't call the police about that, do you?" She almost seemed to be pleading for exoneration.
"Of course not, Mrs. Donovan." Pete tried on his most soothing voice, but Jim could still hear his anxiety.
Candace Bailey had listened fretfully to the neighbor's report, but at this point she could take no more. She stopped her frantic pacing next to Jim, and poured out her own heart.
"It's not your fault, Mrs. Donovan. It's my fault. I never should have left her. Jim knew how sick she was, and he told me to watch her, and I went out instead and bought chicken! And then I saw something else to buy, and then something else. Before I knew it I was there a while. I should have stayed with her." She turned pooling eyes toward her son-in-law. "I'm so sorry, Jim. I'm so sorry!" The poor woman looked ready to collapse with her grief and guilt.
Jim placed a hand on his mother-in-law's shoulder, but could find no strength to speak.
How can they blame themselves, when the fault so obviously lies with me?
Pete stepped in to the emotional quagmire. "Ladies...and Jim..," Pete eyed his partner significantly, "...no one is at fault here. This is a very unfortunate thing, and we're all upset about it. But we can't afford to waste time, or emotional energy ..." he cocked an eyebrow at Jim, "...trying to lay the blame. There's an APB out, and every officer in the division is looking for Jean. We need to pour all of our energy into finding her, not into feeling guilty. Is everyone clear on that?" Pete's tone demanded compliance.
Jim found himself rallying. The ladies, too, seemed to pull themselves together, though Candace mopped at her eyes with a tissue.
Pete directed his next question to Candace.
"Who have you called?"
"Everyone. I've called all the relatives, all the neighbors, the church, even folks in Jean's phone index that I don't even know. No one has seen or heard from her." She crumpled her tissue with a despairing gesture. "That's when I gave up and called the station."
The sound of a car turning the corner made everyone's heads turn. But instead of the longed-for sedan, they saw only Mac's station wagon.
"Maybe he's bringing some news." Pete almost managed to sound positive.
Jim sprinted toward the wagon. "What's the news, Mac?" Please, God….
"Well, the APB is out." Mac opened the door and stood.
"Yeah, we heard it. Any sightings?" Pete broke in.
"No, not yet." The sergeant turned sympathetic eyes back to Jim. "Everybody's looking, Jim. We'll find her."
Jim couldn't bear to stand around any more. "I know what you're going to say, Mac. But I need to be out looking for her."
"You're right, Jim. You need to be, but I can't let you. You know that."
Jim dropped his eyes. His jaw clenched, and so did his fists. Frustration welled up in his soul.
Jim wanted to work up a good rage at his boss, wanted to scream and curse and bully his way into search operations. This is Jean we're talking about! But Mac's gentle sympathy, and their long history of mutual respect, short-circuited Jim's anger. It wouldn't do any good anyway. I need to be a pro, for Jean's sake.
Jim could feel the worried gaze of his friends on him, but he could not look up to meet it. He turned and walked back toward his driveway.
I wish there were someone I could throttle. But there's no bad guy, just this awful illness. There's no one to get mad at.
Jim turned and slammed his fists into the top of Candace's Buick, then clenched and unclenched his hands as he worked through his frustration. I need to do something. If Mac won't let me search, I'll go on my own. I don't need his permission.
Jim's jaw knotted itself as hard as his fists did. If I go off on my own, no one will be able to reach me. Unless Mac gives me an L-car. But he won't. I know he won't. He swore softly. I have to do something!
He felt Pete's hand, strong and comforting, settle briefly on his shoulder. No one spoke.
Finally, Mac broke the silence. "Who's taking care of Jimmy?"
Jimmy? Jim spun around to look frantically for his son. Jimmy? How could I have forgotten about him?
"Candace! Where's Jimmy? Where's my son?" Jim didn't know what he would do if his son's safety were somehow in doubt.
"He's fine. As soon as we got home, he asked to run over to Frankie's." Candace pointed at the house a few doors down, though Jim knew where his son's best friend lived. "I let him go, and then it dawned on me that Jean's car was missing. I went looking for Jean immediately, and of course I didn't find her." Candace paused to collect herself, as painful memories threatened her composure.
"Then I saw that she'd left without her purse ... ."
"Without her purse?" This new detail shocked Jim. Jean never goes anywhere without her purse.
"Yes. That worried me, too. That's when I realized that something was really wrong. So I called Mrs. Yates and asked her to keep Jimmy there as long as she could. I explained what was going on, and she said Jimmy could spend the night with Frankie if it came to that. As far as I know, he has no clue that anything's wrong."
"Good. Let's keep it that way." Jim blew out his cheeks and ran a hand through his hair, trying to collect his thoughts.
"Come on, Jim. Let's go inside and talk through this thing." Mac started toward the house, and Jim fell in close behind. That's more like it. Anything sounded better than simply worrying.
Behind him, he heard Mrs. Donovan excuse herself and return to her home.
Once inside, Mac, Pete and Candace seated themselves, but Jim began to pace. Fear gnawed at him, but he'd worn LAPD blue for too long to be easily overwhelmed.
"Where is she, Mac?"
"Where would she be likely to go?" Mac radiated calmness and strength, and even though Jim could see past it to Mac's deep concern, he still drew courage from his friend's fortitude.
"I don't know. I don't know what she's thinking, or feeling, so I can't imagine where she might have gone." Jim clenched his jaw again, frustrated by helplessness.
"The neighbor said she looked frightened. Was there any place she liked to go when she was frightened or upset?"
"Sometimes she goes to the park around the corner. She likes to look at the ducks. Says it calms her down." Jim strode purposefully toward the door. "I'll go look there!"
Mac held up a hand to stop him. "I've already had the park searched. It turned up nothing."
Jim resumed his pacing.
"Any place else you can think of? Any friends that might not be in her phone index?" Pete prompted.
Jim searched his mind, desperate to find some nugget of information that would restore sanity to his life.
"No, nothing that I can think of." He knew that his worry was clear in his voice, his face, his posture. He also knew there was no point in trying to hide it.
An unhappy silence settled over the room.
Mac cleared his throat, and his two officers looked up at him expectantly.
"Jim, there's one more thing you need to consider." Mac squirmed, looking as close to miserable as Jim had ever seen him.
"How has … your relationship been lately?" The words fell like lead from his mouth and sank to the floor with a thud, taking everyone's hearts with them. All eyes stared at Mac, hardly able to believe his line of thought.
Jim's mouth moved with several futile attempts at speech. He imagined he looked like a fish on dry land, and he felt just as desperate.
"Things have been fine, Mac." Jim shook his head, looking inwardly for any hint of … the unthinkable.
Could she have left me?
For the first time all day, Jim felt himself becoming sure of something.
No. Jim looked fire into Mac's eyes. "She wouldn't have left me, but if she were going to, she wouldn't go without Jimmy. She wouldn't go in such a back-handed, sneaky kind of way, either. She just wouldn't."
Mac looked searchingly into Jim's eyes for several long seconds, and then relaxed, apparently satisfied.
"Okay, Jim. I'm sorry that I had to ask that."
"I understand." Mac has the hardest duties sometimes.
Mac rose to his feet. "All right. I need to get back to the action. Jim, please call if you think of anything, no matter how insignificant, that might help our search."
"Mac, you've got to let me get out there, too!" Jim couldn't help saying it, even though he knew the answer.
Mac regarded him with a mixture of compassion and firmness. "You know I can't do that, Jim. Stay where we can reach you. We'll find her." He turned for the door, and Pete rose to follow him.
"I'm coming too, Mac." Pete's eyes dared Mac to refuse him.
His superior rose to the challenge. "No, I need you here."
"Why? What good am I doing here?" Pete allowed his anger to creep into his voice, more than he had intended.
Mac let steel come into his eyes. "Pete, we'll talk outside."
Mac's manner left no room for argument, and Pete followed him out. He hadn't expected quite that strong a response, and he wondered what Mac had to say that he didn't want Jim to hear.
Once outside, with the front door separating them from the Reed family, Mac relaxed visibly. But he continued to walk toward his wagon without speaking.
Pete followed mutely.
At the wagon, Mac swung around and nailed Pete with his eyes. Pete held his gaze unflinchingly, but also without challenge. After several long moments, Mac spoke.
"I need you with me, Pete. I don't need to fight with you right now." His voice was soft but firm.
"What do you want me to do?" Pete's tone was soft, too. Mac had asserted his authority, and Pete submitted. Mac had earned Pete's respect many times over, and their friendship was long and deep. Pete would trust him now, as always.
Mac's eyes filled with sorrow again. He glanced toward the Reed home, almost as if he were afraid someone inside might hear him.
"Pete, I've notified the morgue."
Pete sucked in a harsh breath. The notification was, of course, standard procedure. But the implications for Jim and Pete were anything but standard today.
"If they call me on any Jane Doe's, I don't want to send Jim out there unless I'm sure. That would be ... too much." Mac turned grave eyes back toward his friend. "Can I send you, if a call comes?"
Pete felt as if Mac had closed a fist around his throat and cut off his breath.
But no matter how awful it would be for me, it would be infinitely worse for Jim.
Pete nodded, unable to speak.
The two friends shared a moment of silent commiseration. Their feelings were too deep to be understood by anyone unfamiliar with tragedy. But for these two men, who had been through a thousand fires together, the understanding was profound, precluding the need for words.
Mac clapped Pete on the shoulder and turned to leave.
"Take care, my friend."
"You too." Pete stood in the yard and watched Mac's wagon until it rounded the corner and disappeared from view. Then he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and focused his gaze on the afternoon sky, trying to restore his own equilibrium.
Going to a morgue to identify Jean ... . Pete's throat constricted, and he closed his eyes against the overwhelming grief that the thought provoked.
And then coming back to break the news to Jim ... . and taking him back to the morgue because he'd need to see her for himself.... Pete didn't know how he could do it.
In all these years of police work, that would be the worst thing I've ever had to do.
He swallowed hard, forcing the awful possibilities out of his mind.
It won't happen. It won't come to that.
Please, God, no… .
She drove relentlessly. It has to be here, somewhere! She couldn't have told you exactly what "it" was, except that she wanted to find something, anything familiar.
She had driven meticulously through the neighborhoods near where she'd awakened, and she'd found nothing. She widened her search, but then decided that she had to be very far from Familiar Things, indeed. So, when her search yielded an interstate highway ramp, she drove onto it. This will take me far, far from here.
Speed Limit 55. She checked her speedometer. I'm doing 65. I hope I don't get stopped for that. She slowed down marginally, but nothing could restrain her need to go.
At least I'm feeling better now.
She paid no attention to the passage of time. Highway signs held no clues for her. She learned that she was in Los Angeles, but had no idea how far that was from Familiar Things. Los Angeles gave way to another city, and then another. None of the names meant anything to her.
She chewed her lip, whimpering occasionally at the overwhelming terror that gripped her.
What do you do when nothing, nothing makes any sense at all?
You go. You keep driving. You find sanity. Go, go, go.
She blinked back tears, and flexed trembling fingers around the steering wheel. A shuddering sob escaped her.
As she drove further and further from that Strange House, a new, even more terrifying thought began to wrap itself around her mind. Its tentacles squeezed her until she shook uncontrollably.
I stole this car.
I stole this car.
The police will catch me, and they'll take me to jail.
I don't want to go to jail.
Oh, please, please, won't somebody help me?
Who can I trust in this insane place?
She mopped away a continual stream of tears with her sleeve.
Keep driving. The miles, and the hours, hurried past.
Jim squinted into the afternoon sun. Nothing yet. He turned his eyes away from the glare and rubbed at his temples. It's been so long. Why can't they find her?
His feet reluctantly carried him back through his front door, back to the living room where he and Pete kept their quietly anxious vigil. Neither of them spoke much. What was there to say?
Jean, where are you?
She squinted against the glare of the afternoon sun, then felt her gut lurch with fear. In her rear view mirror she spotted a black-and-white patrol car, just entering the interstate.
No! Not when I've come so far. Panic clutched at her chest, constricting her lungs. Her whimpers of fear grew louder. What do I do?
There, there's an exit. She moved to the right, glancing anxiously back at the patrol car every few seconds. It remained two cars behind her. She steered onto the exit ramp and down into what appeared to be a small town.
The piercing wail of a siren pushed her pounding heart up into her throat.
Officer Enrique Hernandez glanced repeatedly at the sedan ahead of him. He couldn't see the plates because of a convertible between them. If he could have seen them, he'd have run them.
Something's hinky about that driver. The woman in the sedan kept looking back at him nervously.
He decided to try for a better view of her plates. He signaled, intending to pull out from behind the intervening car.
But fate stepped in.
"1-L-59, back up 1-Adam-72 at the 211 in progress... ."
This is your lucky day, lady. Hernandez glanced at his watch. Three-fifteen. Almost end of watch. Good thing I was planning on a double anyway.
The suspicious sedan veered into an exit lane. The officer craned his neck for a better look as they parted ways. He couldn't see the plate, but he did get a good look at the driver's profile, and he noted the exit she took. Then he switched on his lights and siren and hurried to back up his comrades.
I have a feeling I'll need to remember that particular car.
She trembled as she searched her mirrors for her pursuer. Finally she saw the telltale flashing lights, moving away from her, up on the interstate. She clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from sobbing in her relief. After a few moments she forced herself to drive again. I don't want to attract any attention.
In her fear over the police car, she had failed to take note of the name of the town. That oversight didn't bother her.
Names don't seem to mean much any more.
Her heart still pounded, despite her reprieve. I'm not safe anywhere.
I have to get rid of this car.
She drove slowly through sleepy streets, frantically searching for Familiar Things.
They're not here, either. A little sign told her she'd passed from Morrisville to Lewiston, but the new little town looked just like the old one.
She glanced at the dashboard. I'm almost out of gas! Now what am I going to do?
Grief and fear rose up in her throat, stung in her eyes, spasmed in her lungs. She pulled the car over under the shade of a large oak, laid her forehead on the steering wheel, and gave free rein to her sobs.
After an age of crying, and a time of blackness of which she had no memory, she finally lifted her tear-stained face to look around her again. The sun dipped low in the western sky. How long have I been sitting here?
She rubbed her knuckles into her eyelids until stars shot through them. I'm never going to find Familiar Things. The thought broke her heart.
I'm alone. So alone.
I have to get rid of this car.
She got out of the sedan slowly, searching for a likely direction to walk.
This looks like a nice enough little town. Maybe if I can't get home, I should choose a new home.
Maybe this is far away enough from the Strange House to be safe.
She began walking, not even bothering to close the car door behind her. She walked through the quickly gathering darkness, staying close to wooded areas in case the police came looking for her. She walked through alleys behind back yards, and looked into houses where people lived with their own Familiar Things.
I don't belong in any of them.
She walked. Dogs barked as she passed, some terrifying in their determination to get to her. She flinched away from shadows, only to duck into them and hide whenever dog owners came out to see what had disturbed their pets.
Keep going. Just keep going.
She walked until her legs could no longer carry her, though, in her current condition, that was not terribly far. Night surrounded her. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue now ravaged her as mercilessly as her fears, and her head pounded and throbbed.
Hide. If you've got to sleep, then you've got to hide.
She stumbled deeper into the swath of trees that seemed to line this entire town. The darkness became complete as even the moonlight abandoned her. Branches ambushed her, poking and scratching her until she bled. Sobs tore afresh from her throat.
Where is help?
She sank down at the base of a large oak, sobbing and shivering in the cool night air. Despair pressed down on her, crushing her down into the dirt. She curled into a little ball like a terrified child, stuffing her fist into her mouth to muffle her cries.
There, in the loneliness of these woods, she became aware of the first certainty that she'd felt all day.
There are supposed to be strong arms. Strong, gentle arms. Holding me. Comforting me.
She couldn't exactly remember those arms, but her heart knew they ought to be there.
Where are they?
Darkness settled in at the Reed home. The darkness outside came from the setting of the sun. But the darkness inside was thicker, palpably so.
No one spoke. By now, the entire family had gathered, but all sat in shell-shocked silence. Jim's mother had insisted on cooking a dinner that no one had the stomach to eat. It sat, ignored, on the table.
Every so often, someone would stand up and leave the room, crying. Only Jimmy remained blissfully unaware, sheltered at Frankie's house.
Jim's fear turned to a slow, gnawing dread as the sun set.
Why haven't they found her yet?
What's happened to her?
Jean, please come home to me!
Everywhere he looked, he saw shadows of her. He expected her around every corner. Surely she's in the kitchen, whipping up something delicious. Or she's curled up in bed with her favorite book, waiting for me to come distract her. Or she's in the back yard, looking at the stars.
Tears stung at his eyes.
How did this happen? How could my whole world turn upside down?
His mind felt numb. Nothing, nothing could have prepared him for this. His entire world revolved around Jean and the child they'd created together. Jean lived in every heartbeat, every decision, every detail of his life.
I can't lose her. I can't, because... His mind couldn't go beyond "because."
Because if I lose her... .
The ramifications were too horrific to consider. His thoughts slammed into a wall of terror, and left him numb again.
His years on the LAPD provided vivid images to haunt and terrify him. Every murdered woman, every raped woman he'd seen in the last six years now re-appeared before his eyes in merciless detail.
Jean. No. It can't happen to you. I won't let it!
There's not a thing I can do to stop it.
The phone rang, and Jim jerked as his overwrought nerves reacted to the sound.
Pete sat lost in his own thoughts.
I wish Judy were here. Should I call her? Pete's longtime lady friend had left town a day or two before for a family reunion and an extended vacation. Pete had known he would miss her, but now, with tragedy looming, his need for her comfort became a gnawing ache.
No, there's no point in ruining her vacation. She's been looking forward to this all year. Pete sighed. There's nothing she could do, anyway.
A moment later the phone's strident ring jerked Pete from his musings.
"I'll get it." He had run interference between Jim and the phone all day, and Jim had seemed content to let him. That worried Pete a little.
"Reed residence," Pete informed the caller.
"Yeah." Pete's heart began to pound when he recognized Mac's voice. Pete tried to keep his fear and the caller's identity a secret for now. Maybe it's nothing.
Mac's grim tone shattered that hope.
"Pete, do you remember the errand I asked you about?"
Pete's heart dropped to somewhere around his toes. He gripped the phone a little tighter, and swallowed the lump that suddenly appeared in his throat.
"Yeah." He didn't want to say anything that might alert the family to the nature of the call.
"I need you to go now. Are you up to it?"
Pete closed his eyes, gathering some reserve of strength for this most dreaded task.
"Yeah." He heard the worry in his own voice, and knew the family must have heard it too.
He hung up without another word, and turned to face the anxious gaze of each of Jim's relatives.
Pete quickly searched his mind for the right words, realizing that any delay would only heighten their fear.
"That was Mac. They haven't heard anything solid. Just a possible lead. Mac wants me to go check it out." He used the most professional voice he could muster, but he doubted he'd fooled anyone.
"That's good," replied Jean's younger sister Barbara. No one else in the room shared her optimism. All eyes remained on Pete.
They know I'm upset, and they want to know why.
He couldn't bring himself to look at Jim. Not now.
Pete excused himself and walked briskly out to his car. He cranked the engine, threw it into reverse, and drove out of sight of the house as quickly as the law and safety allowed.
Then he pulled over to the side of the road, got out, and threw up.
Harry Walker stared out the window of his rented house. He scratched absently at the stubble on his face.
"She ain't come back yet, Sam. What do you suppose is going on?"
"I don't know. She looked like she was drunk or high or somethin'." Sam Torrance rejoined his colleague at the window. "All I know is, this looks like a gift from Heaven."
"Since when does Heaven have anything to do with us?" Harry laughed. But his humor quickly faded when he looked back at Sam.
"You idiot!" He slapped at Sam's hand, making him drop what he held. "Don't you know better than to polish your fool gun in front of the window?"
"Lots of folks has guns, and lots of 'em polishes 'em. It ain't no crime."
Sam's Texas drawl and dropout grammar made him seem ignorant. But those who presumed him stupid did so at their own peril.
One had even paid with his life.
Sam bent down slowly and retrieved his pistol, then straightened up at lightning speed and slammed his fist into Harry's jaw. Harry windmilled backward until he fell over a folding chair.
Sam walked slowly toward his fallen cohort and loomed threateningly over him.
"Don't ever touch ma gun again."
Sam returned to the window, contemplating the sedan that sat, unlocked and open, right in front of his house.
"This is the break we been waiting for," he murmured. Then, in a louder voice, "Git up, Harry! We gonna get us a car!"
Without waiting for Harry to struggle to his feet, Sam walked nonchalantly out to the sedan and climbed into the driver's seat.
Yes! He grinned widely. The keys dangled from the ignition. He yanked them out and returned to the house, tossing the keys up and down with a lighthearted whistle.
Harry slouched on a chair, feeling his jaw with his hand and shaking his head.
"Git your stuff together. We're leavin' tonight," Sam drawled. "We got a free ride to Arizona, and once we git ourselves lost there, we'll have no more worries."
Pete drove through the darkness like a man in a trance, unaware of the other cars that he somehow avoided hitting, heedless of traffic signals that he somehow obeyed. His entire focus had narrowed down to one phrase, four words that gave him the strength to push the gas pedal.
It won't be her. It won't be her. It won't be her.
He breathed the phrase with every breath. He heard it in the ticking of his turn signal. He whispered it as he pulled into the parking lot of the morgue. He prayed it as he walked up the steps and into the halls of death that he knew only too well.
It won't be her. It won't be her. It won't be her.
The phrase pounded in his heartbeats as he spoke to the man behind the desk. It echoed in his footfalls as he followed the man back to the room with the drawers. The awful drawers. The drawers that shut in human remains as if they were nothing more than kitchen gadgets.
It won't be her. It won't be her. It won't be her.
Pete recognized this particular employee, thought he wouldn't have come up with his name if he hadn't seen "D. Robinson" pinned to his chest. It seemed that Robinson recognized him as well. He droned on at Pete about the Jane Doe with no more concern than most people feel when discussing the weather.
"Yeah, she's about five feet four inches tall, reddish blonde hair, just like the sergeant said. I don't know about her clothes, because she wasn't wearing any. Looks like she was raped and choked to death." For all the concern in his tone, he might have been reciting the ingredients for a cake recipe, not the ingredients of a horrible crime.
Pete clamped down on his stomach, which threatened to turn violent on him again. It wasn't often that the seasoned officer lost his lunch, but this was a situation like no other.
Jean. She's the little sister I never had. She's my best friend's wife. My godson's mother…
Grief welled up in his eyes; grief for Jean, for Jim, for dear little Jimmy, for himself, for all those relatives assembled at Jim's house. His ears went deaf to the chattering of his guide.
It won't be her. It won't be her. It won't be her.
Robinson seemed oblivious to Pete's anguish. He walked toward an already opened drawer and yanked the sheet off of a body without any warning.
Pete jerked his face aside, not yet ready to see her. Whoever she was.
Please don't be Jean.
He collected himself. He lied to himself. This is just another case on just another day at work. You can do this. You can do this.
It won't be her. It won't be her. It won't be her.
"Hey, Malloy, are you all right?" Robinson finally realized that something was amiss. "Oh, no, are you here on....on personal business?"
Pete nodded mutely.
"Oh, man, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I assumed it was just police business. I didn't know you knew her."
"I still don't know if I do." Pete managed to say. "I haven't looked yet."
The truth was, he had seen the briefest of glimpses, and it could have been Jean. It could have been.
It won't be her. It won't be her. It won't be her.
Pete steeled himself, blinked back tears, and turned toward the grisly sight. He felt as faint as he could ever remember feeling.
He recognized her.
He had seen her before.
It's not her!
He studied the bruised and battered features.
But why do I know her?
It's not Jean!
Pete was almost afraid to believe it. If it's not Jean, why does she look so familiar? Am I just in denial?
He shook himself, forcing himself to look with a policeman's eye.
Yes. I know now.
"She's not who I was afraid she would be." Pete suddenly felt weak-kneed and dizzy as relief washed over him. He turned to sit on a bench that the morgue provided for grieving family members.
"But I've seen her before. She's a prostitute that I've arrested several times. There'll be a record of her at the station, though I can't promise that the name she gave us is really hers."
Pete heard his mouth speak as an officer, but his heart and his mind reeled with the shock of having dodged a terrible bullet. The adrenaline that had pushed him to this point left him trembling now that the crisis was past.
Thank you, God.
The morgue employee interrupted his thoughts with a pat on the shoulder. "I'm glad it wasn't her. Whoever you thought she was. Are you all right now?"
Pete nodded. "Just give me a few minutes."
"Take all the time you need." He turned to leave Pete to his own thoughts.
Pete closed his eyes and willed his insides to stop trembling. After a few moments he realized he was still sitting next to the unfortunate woman whose demise had brought him here. He gave her a regretful look, sorry that her life had come to this. I wonder if anyone is worrying about her right now.
Pete gently pulled the sheet back over her and took his leave. As he walked, the good news fully hit home.
It wasn't her! It wasn't her! It wasn't her! His heart felt about a hundred pounds lighter than it had on the way in. If he'd been anywhere other than this dreadful building, he might have even smiled.
Pete let his feet guide him back to his car, and he slipped gratefully into the driver's seat. Once inside, he laid his head back on the headrest and tried to gather himself.
Pete had been on adrenaline roller coasters before. He knew that the happy giddiness was just as dangerous as the tearful trembling. Either one could turn on him, leaving his head spinning and his emotions completely out of control. So he sat for a long while, until he was sure he'd regained his equilibrium.
Time to go see Jim.
The drive back to the Reed house seemed to go much more quickly than the drive to the morgue had been.
He climbed out of the car and went inside without knocking. The Reed home was his second home, and he had long since stopped feeling like a guest there when he knew he was expected.
Jim rose to meet him, took him by the arm, and led him out to the back yard. Pete eyed him with some alarm, but let himself be led.
Jim pulled the sliding glass door closed behind him, and turned to face his friend.
"You were at the morgue, weren't you." It was a statement more than a question.
Pete nodded. "It wasn't her, Jim."
"I know. I could tell from your face when you got out of your car."
Pete nodded, his eyes stinging again.
Jim looked into Pete's eyes with piercing clarity. "That must have been a nightmare for you. Thanks."
The words were ridiculously inadequate, both for summing up Pete's experience, and for expressing Jim's gratitude. But the words did act as a bridge, allowing each man to reach the other's heart, to acknowledge the depth of their friendship.
The two men stood in silence on the back porch until the mosquitoes chased them back inside.
"How did your lead pan out, Pete?" Barbara asked.
Pete and Jim exchanged swift glances. "Someone thought they might have seen Jean, but it wasn't her."
"Oh, that's too bad." Barbara sat back down, her expression glum.
No it's not, Barbara. No it's not.
Pete's sense of relief did not last long. Jim's pain and grief etched themselves back on his face as soon as they went back inside. Seeing his friend suffer so nearly broke Pete's heart. Especially since he knew that it could get worse. Much worse.
And of course, Mac could always have another errand for me to run.
Pete wasn't sure if he could face that again.
God, please end this nightmare.
"Jim, you need to get some sleep!" His mother pleaded with him for the fourth time.
Is everyone in this house going to harp on that?
"I told you, I can't!" Jim snapped, his tone betraying the tumult in his soul. He turned and fled to the back yard, the only place where he could really escape.
I can't sleep in our bed. Not without her. Not without knowing if she'll ever be there again. The thought chiseled away at his heart until only a yawning emptiness remained.
Carol Reed looked worriedly through the glass doors.
"Are you sure I shouldn't go out there, Dear? He's been outside for so long. I think he's fallen asleep. The mosquitoes must be eating him alive."
Her husband Dan came to look for himself, and shook his head at what he saw. "He's worn himself right out with worry."
"My poor baby." Carol didn't really think of Jim as a child, but like all loving parents, the sight of her son in pain brought back all the old nurturing feelings.
"Maybe we should see if we can get him to bed." Dan eased the sliding door open as quietly as he could.
"What's going on?" Carol jumped at the voice in her ear.
"Oh, Pete. You startled me. Dan's going to try to bring Jim inside."
Pete joined Dan at Jim's side, and the two men gently roused Jim. "C'mon Jim, you'll get a crick in your neck if you stay like this. Let's get you more comfortable." Pete took hold of one of Jim's arms, and Dan took the other.
With a little more prodding, Jim came fully awake and shook free of their grasp. He walked on his own into the house, rubbing at his neck. "I take it you haven't heard anything."
"No, nothing," Pete shook his head regretfully, and Dan's eyes looked, if possible, even more sorrowful than before.
Carol walked over to join her husband, slipping an arm around his waist. "Jim, you should go to bed."
"No, Mom, I'm fine."
"Ohhh, you're impossible. Jim, you're anything but fine!" For a moment Carol forgot that her son was a grown man. "You aren't superhuman, you know. You need your rest!"
Jim did indeed look like a man on his last legs, but he only clenched his jaw and shook his head.
"Tomorrow will be a long day," Pete broke in gently. "You'll need to be rested up for it. And you know we won't let you sleep through anything important."
Jim gave Pete a long, miserable look, and he seemed to be wrestling within himself. After a while his shoulders drooped, and he turned toward his room with a little nod. All eyes remained riveted on Jim as he approached his bedroom doorway.
That doorway stopped him short. Jim put one hand on each door sill and stared inside for a long time.
For the first time, Carol realized why Jim didn't want to go in there, and she began to think of him more as Jean's husband than as her own son. Her eyes misted, and after a moment she had to brush some tears away. Dan squeezed her a little tighter.
Jim's arms dropped to his sides, and he walked into his room, shutting the door behind him without a backward glance.
She awoke, wondering at the pain in her back. What am I lying on? Her fingers explored and found hard dirt, tree roots, and even a pine cone in her hidden bed. She tossed the offending cone away and lay back down, wrapping her arms around her knees to stave off the chill of the night.
So tired. I'm so tired.
Officer Hernandez allowed himself a luxuriant stretch in the break room chair, and finally allowed himself to relax.
His 211 call had turned into a hostage ordeal that stretched out for several hours. But the suspects were finally in custody, and the former hostages were now safe in the arms of their families. The rest of his second watch had kept him mercilessly busy until this moment. Enrique intended to enjoy this moment.
"Hey, Ricky!" someone called from behind him, using the nickname his colleagues had given him years before. Enrique turned to acknowledge his friend.
"That was quite a call you were on," Officer Toby Greene commented as he straddled the chair next to Hernandez.
"Yeah, but it all worked out well."
"I heard. That's great."
"Yeah." Enrique took another sip of coffee. "The watch is so close to being over, I'm really thinking of sitting right here in the break room until it ends. I have some seven time coming to me."
"I wouldn't blame you, but I'm not sure the Sarge would take too kindly to it."
"What? Are you gonna tell him?" Hernandez grinned at his friend.
"No, man. My lips are sealed."
The two men sipped their coffees in comfortable silence.
"Hey, Ricky, did you happen to hear that APB that came out from Los Angeles?" Toby asked casually.
"APB? No. It must've come out while I was on that 211. All the way from LA, huh? What was it about?"
"Some woman who was sick and incapacitated. Evidently she took off in the family car while they thought she was napping. Nobody knows where she went, but they're afraid she isn't fit to drive. Her poor family. They must be worried sick."
"Yeah, I would be, too." Enrique thought about his aged grandmother. "Some old senile lady, I suppose?"
"No, a young lady. In her 20s, as I recall. Driving a...well, here's my copy. You can see for yourself." Toby fished a bulletin out of his folder. "I hope a cop finds her before some pervert does."
Hernandez took the paper from his friend, then sat up so quickly that he spilled his coffee on the table.
He swore softly under his breath. "Brown sedan, same make, model, and year. Female approximately five foot four, reddish blonde hair. That's her. I'm sure that's her."
"That's who? Did you see her?"
"Yeah, and she was acting hinky. I almost got a look at her plates, but then the 211 call came in. She got off at the Morrisville exit. Come on!"
Hernandez burst into his watch commander's office, waving the bulletin at him before slapping it down on the desk.
"I saw her!" he exclaimed, jabbing his finger at Jean's APB for emphasis. "It was right before my 211 call!"
"Ricky, that was hours ago. Are you sure?"
"Yeah, Sarge, I'm sure. She got off at the Morrisville exit."
"She could be anywhere by now," the sergeant frowned. "But I'll relay that information to LA. I'll see to it that they send some units out there at the beginning of the next watch. Everyone else is already here, or almost here, for the end of our watch. Otherwise, I'd send someone out now."
"I'll go." Hernandez didn't wait for a response from his superior. "I'll let you know what I find."
"Let Mason know what you find. I'm going home!"
Hernandez and Greene walked out together. "What, are you coming with me, Toby?"
The lanky young officer shrugged. "Why not?"
"Cool. But I need to call my wife first. Tell her I'm gonna be late. You know how she worries." Hernandez stopped at the nearest phone to place his call. A short conversation later he hung up, his eyes gleaming with excitement, his earlier fatigue forgotten.
Even after all these years, I still love this job.
"C'mon, let's go find us a sick woman and send her home!"
The two men went out as the morning watch came in. Not even the barest hint of sunlight showed itself.
"You know, this really could be a goose chase. Just because she took the Morrisville exit doesn't mean she stopped in Morrisville." Greene's doubts didn't slow him down on his chosen mission.
"I know, but it's the best starting point I know of. Once we get to Morrisville, you take the roads from Main street north, and I'll take the roads to the south."
Greene nodded, and each man climbed behind the wheel of his L-car.
Enrique took one last look at the bulletin he'd filched from Greene. " 'Jean', is it? C'mon, Jean. Help us find you."
"Hurry up, Harry!" Sam Torrance hissed.
Harry finished stuffing the last duffel bag into the trunk of the sedan, and hurried to the passenger's seat. He huffed slightly as he sat down.
"You know, I still don't like this, Sam. I mean, we just paid for next week's rent!"
Sam gritted his teeth, gripped the wheel more tightly, and stayed silent.
"What's the rush, Sam?"
And you called me an idiot? Sam's voice took on a sarcastic tone. "Well, it ain't exactly every day that somebody hands us a car like this. And what do you think that little lady's gonna do when she comes back and finds out her wheels have flown the coop, hmm? I want to be long gone before she sics the cops on us. The sun's almost up. Let's go!"
The sedan roared to life, made a three-point turn in the road, and worked its way through Lewiston, through Morrisville, and finally to the interstate on-ramp.
Jim woke up and reached groggily for his wife.
"Jean? I had a terrible dream, honey."
His hand found only the sheets on her side of the bed, cool from disuse.
"Jean?" His eyes flew open. A panicked feeling rose in his gut. It was just a dream, wasn't it?
Reality shocked him fully awake as the terrible events of the day before crashed in on him. Jean, where are you? Why haven't they found you yet? It's morning. It can't be morning already. Where did you sleep? You must have been so cold.
Jim threw off his sheet and rushed into the living room. Everything looked blurry, and he knew he could blame that more on tears than on sleepiness. He blinked hard, angered by his momentary weakness.
Pete? He scanned the room until his bleary eyes found his friend. Pete lay sleeping on the recliner, covered with a blanket that Jean's grandmother had crocheted.
Jim maneuvered past several sleeping bodies sprawled on the floor, finally making it to Pete's side without stepping on anyone.
"Pete," he hissed. "Pete! Wake up!"
Pete jumped, startled, and sprang to his feet as soon as he saw Jim's face.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"Is there any news?" Jim's voice almost trembled from pain and fear. Be strong. Be strong.
He saw Pete come down out of High Alert Mode.
"No, nothing. I'm sorry, Jim." Pete ran his hand through his hair, probably more out of distress than concern for his appearance.
Jim felt himself deflate. Nothing. No Jean. No hope.
His father-in-law, Bud Bailey, awoke and sat up, making room on the couch. "C'mon, son. Sit here."
Jim sank down to sit on the sofa, rubbing his face with his hands. Bud put an arm around Jim's shoulders, and the comforting touch carved a massive hole in Jim's tenuous emotional armor. It was everything he could do to keep from coming completely unglued.
A thousand images flooded his mind.
Jean on their wedding day, radiant in white lace.
Jean walking through the house with tired patience, her belly swollen huge with their unborn child.
Jean's uninhibited laughter, so delightful to his eyes and ears and soul.
Jean's loving eyes, her warm embrace, her comforting touch when his heart ached.
Jean's kind nurturing of their son.
Jean, his wife, his best friend, his lover.
I can't believe I'll never see her again. I won't believe it.
Officers Hernandez and Greene surveyed the sleepy streets of Morrisville on this Saturday morning. A faint tint of rose petals adorned the Eastern sky.
Few houses showed signs of wakefulness within.
The two patrol cars sat side-by-side at the head of Main Street, just where the off-ramp had deposited them. Greene looked to his more experienced colleague for a plan of action.
"For starters, let's look for the sedan, and save our door-knocking for the houses that have lights on," Hernandez began. "We can work our way back in a little while and do a more thorough sweep of the houses, especially when backup arrives."
Greene nodded, and they split up according to their pre-arranged plan. Hernandez turned his L-car to the right, and began sweeping the south side of town.
Does everyone in this town own a brown sedan? He slowed down to check out several on each block, or at least it seemed that often. But the fit was never perfect, and he moved on.
Dawn quickly spread its wings over California. Hernandez flicked the cruiser's headlights off. He took advantage of a stop sign to take a break and rub his eyes.
Nothing. Where are you, Jean?
He kept one ear tuned to the radio, and he didn't like what he heard. Their small police force had few officers to spare, and it seemed that every family around here decided to have domestic disputes this morning. Hernandez began to wonder if he would ever get any backup for this search.
There's another house with a light on. He pulled over, threw the cruiser into park, and walked up the driveway. He didn't really expect to get any more information from this interview than he had from a half-dozen already completed. But you never know. Keep trying.
Help me find you, Jean.
Jim's mother came and sat by his side. She put her arm around his shoulder and hugged him close, then began to gently rub his back.
"Why don't you come eat something, honey? I know you don't feel hungry, but you haven't eaten since yesterday morning. You have to keep up your strength!"
Jim recognized the worry in her eyes. That's how I'd feel if I were her, and my son wouldn't eat.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I can't right now. I ...I don't think I could keep it down."
The phone rang, once again startling him violently. Everyone else in the room came fully awake at the sound.
Pete snatched up the receiver. "Hello, Reed residence." He listened intently for several long moments.
"I see, I see. Well, that could be good news, Mac. Let's hope so. Are you planning to send any of our people out to help?"
Jim sprang to his feet, every nerve tingling. What's happened?
"I see. Keep us posted."
Another few eternities passed for Jim before Pete finally hung up and turned to him.
"A cop is pretty sure he spotted Jean near Morrisville late yesterday afternoon, before the APB went out to their county. He didn't hear about the APB until almost the beginning of day watch, because he was tied up with a 211 hostage situation. But he says she took the Morrisville exit, and he's taken another officer to search."
Jim's face underwent a remarkable series of changes, from despairing, to hopeful, to determined.
"And we're going to Morrisville, right?" Jim had a vague awareness of the distant small town, only from having passed by the exit on his way to other places.
"Several of our off-duty officers are going. You and I aren't. You know that."
"Maybe we could at least go there, even if they wouldn't let us search." Jim's voice held a hint of desperation. I just want to feel like I'm close to her.
"Jim, a phone call can reach you here just as quickly. And remember, it's been hours since she was seen taking that exit. She could be anywhere. This is a long shot. They're going to wring every bit of information out of that town as they can. They'll turn over every stone. But...," Pete's eyes misted a bit, "Jim, don't get your hopes up too high. Yet."
He's right. I hate it when he's right.
Jim ran his hand over his hair, then rubbed at the knot in the back of his neck. Jean knows just how to work those knots out. He could almost feel her slender hands, surprisingly strong, massaging the aches out of his body.
A wave of incredible loneliness swept over him.
Jean, I need you. I love you so much. Come back. Please come back.
He slowly became aware of the rest of his family. They all sat around glumly, and Jim felt that he should say or do something for them.
How can I comfort them when I hurt so bad myself?
"Uh," he began, "... does anyone want some coffee?" Jean usually takes care of that. It seemed that he bumped into memories of her everywhere.
Candace jumped up immediately. "I'll get it, Jim. You sit down." He could hear her muttering to herself as she made her way into the kitchen. "I should have thought of that myself. What's wrong with me?"
Her self-recrimination only heightened Jim's own sense of guilt.
No, I can't feel that way. I have to stay strong.
An idea struck him, and he turned to Pete with new energy.
"We've got to send a copy of her medical record down there with someone. If she needs...emergency care, they'll want all that information."
"Jim, there's no way you're going to get anything from the doctor's office now. They won't open for hours."
"I don't have to call the doctor. I keep copies of our medical records here." He noticed Pete's surprised expression, and couldn't resist a retort. "And you tell me I'm too organized!"
Pete threw his hands up, ceding the point. "All right. Let me alert Mac. For all I know, he may have teams ready to go already."
After a few calls the arrangements were settled. Jerry Woods would stop by the Reeds' home and pick up the records before heading to Morrisville.
Jim felt vastly relieved at having made a contribution, but now that it was over, his forced inaction hurt even more. "Pete, I wish I could take those records there myself."
Pete wore his most patient expression. "Jim, nobody knows if she's even there. If they don't find her, you will have made a long trip for nothing. If they do find her, they'll call, and I promise you, I'll get you there as fast as I can."
Jim frowned but nodded his agreement. He sat down and steeled himself for another interminable wait.
I hate waiting.
Before long, Jim began to experience an adrenaline roller coaster ride of his own. The rebound from hope to despair took him lower than he had been before.
What if they don't find her? What if my hopes are for nothing? Pete's right. This is a long shot. Hoping only makes the wait hurt worse.
And then, the most frightening thought of all. What if they find her ...dead?
The unwelcome image sent a chill of terror through him.
One look at his assembled relatives told him that they felt the same. Silence settled over the room again. It spread its tentacles and stole the brightness out of the lights. It weighed down each person until they became paralyzed. It choked the air out of the room.
Suddenly Jim could bear it no longer.
He retreated to his back porch, gulping in the crisp morning air.
The sun had fully risen now, but it had no power to warm the chill in Jim's heart. He shivered, wishing he'd brought his sweater out. But at least here he could be alone with his own grief, and not have to feel the others' grief too.
He closed his eyes. Maybe I don't even have to feel my own. He felt layers of armor wrapping around him, insulating him. I don't want to hurt any more.
The morning wore on for Officer Hernandez. Those LA cops should be arriving soon. I hope.
The radio burst to life with the first excited voice he'd heard all morning.
"1-Adam-80, we are in pursuit of a brown sedan, license number... ."
Hernandez lunged for the volume knob. That's it. That's it! Everything matched, and the pursuing officers knew it. "Vehicle is named in a Los Angeles APB... ."
"Go get her. Go get her!" The pursuit had begun on the interstate well south of town, and headed further away from Morrisville with every second. Hernandez knew there was no point in trying to join in the pursuit. But he could certainly cheer from the sidelines.
Wait, that's not right! The officers had radioed in a description of the car's occupants, and it made a chill of fear creep across Hernandez' flesh.
"Suspect vehicle is being driven by a white male, no other description available at this time. He has a male passenger...."
"Oh no. What have you done to Jean?" Hernandez didn't even realize he'd begun speaking aloud.
He listened breathlessly as the chase moved off the interstate and across a lonely stretch of state highway. Hurry! Don't let 'em out of the county.
"Suspect vehicle is pulling over and coasting ..."
Hernandez smiled triumphantly. Sounds like they ran out of gas.
The next transmission came across like a scream.
Hernandez sat bolt upright, feeling icy fear traveling up his spine.
The radio fell silent.
The phone jangled. Jim turned to look into the house, gazing idly as Pete answered the call.
Jim had ridden several emotional waves all morning, but he felt strangely detached now. Shock had settled in again, dulling the pain to a manageable level, smothering his emotions with a merciful blanket of numbness.
He had no idea how long he'd sat there at the picnic table, but he knew the sun had moved a good bit.
Jim turned his back to the house, not wanting to see anything that might threaten his fragile peace. The morning grew rapidly warmer. Jim closed his eyes and let the sunlight fall on his uplifted face. He focused on the light that managed to go through his eyelids, and he forced his mind to go blank.
The sliding glass door opened behind him. Before it closed again, he heard the unmistakable sound of women weeping.
No, I don't want to know. Please... .
Panic crept in despite his best attempts to hold it at bay.
Pete's voice sounded grave. Pained. Sad.
No! Jim did not open his eyes. God, I can't take it. Please don't let it be. He stood abruptly and walked several steps, putting distance between himself and the bearer of bad news.
"Pete, don't tell me. Please. I know it's bad. I'm not...ready...to hear it." Jim kept his eyes closed, but now it was to keep his tears in check. He trembled despite himself. Be strong.
The words had no meaning.
Pete came to stand in front of Jim, and put a hand on each of his shoulders. Jim finally opened frightened eyes to meet his partner's.
"Jim, they haven't found her."
Thank God. He found that he could breathe again, and relief weakened his knees. He had thought his family's sobbing could only mean one thing; that they'd found her dead.
He realized that Pete was still looking intently at him, waiting to tell him whatever news had hurt his family so.
He swallowed hard. "Then what is it?" His voice sounded strange in his own ears.
"They found the sedan."
"Yes. Well, actually on the interstate heading away from Morrisville."
Jim looked to his partner for more. My family wouldn't have cried about that. "What are you not telling me?"
"It was being driven by a man, and there was a male passenger. There was no sign of Jean."
Jim slowly returned to the picnic bench, feeling the words insinuating themselves into his soul with an icy grip of dread.
He needed several long moments before he could speak.
"These men...what did they say...about her?" Jim closed his eyes, bracing himself.
Pete sat down beside Jim.
"The passenger said they never touched her. He said she'd left the car by the curb with the door wide open, and she wandered off and never returned."
Jim grasped at this thin thread of hope.
"The way she was acting yesterday, she could have done something like that. It could be true." The thought shaved only a thin layer off of his terror.
"Yes, it could be." Pete's voice sounded guarded.
Jim looked back into his friend's face. What he saw there confirmed his fear. There's more.
"You don't seem too hopeful." He swallowed, though his mouth was too dry to have needed it. "Why not?"
Pete's face wore its most compassionate expression.
"The driver tried to shoot it out with the arresting officers. Don't worry, the cops are fine. But the driver took a bullet in the chest. They don't think he's going to make it."
He was armed? Jim could feel the blood leaving his face.
The bad news only got worse.
"The driver …" Pete averted his eyes and cleared his throat. "The driver had a warrant out for him in Texas."
Jim's heart turned a flip.
"A warrant … for what?" He could only manage a whisper.
Pete looked him full in the eyes. "Murder," he replied flatly. Pete kept his gaze locked with Jim's, clearly offering all the warmth and compassion he could muster.
Jim drew on that comfort more and more with each passing moment. The awful realities and their dreadful implications struck him in relentless waves, each one stronger than the one before. Grief and terror clawed at him, threatening to tear his heart into pieces.
"Pete … this is too much. I don't know how to cope with this. I can't lose Jean. I can't lose her!"
Jim's voice failed him as the knot in his throat choked it out. Hot tears stung at his eyes, and Jim struggled with all his might to keep them from spilling over.
Pete appeared to be waging an emotional battle of his own, and seemed near to losing it as well.
"I'm sorry, Jim. I'm so sorry for what you're going through."
Pete's red-rimmed eyes and gentle concern broke down even more of Jim's defenses.
Jim balled his hands into fists on his lap, chest heaving, wishing for something or someone to strike. But there was nothing, no one he could punish for this. At least, no one within reach.
Jim focused on the men who had taken Jean's car, trying to work up enough rage to stave off his own collapse. But even the thought of pounding their faces to a pulp offered no comfort. What difference would it make? If Jean is gone …
If Jean is gone …
A shuddering sob came up from deep in his chest. He fought it, arms taut, jaw clenched, but it still escaped him. The sound of his own cry broke something in Jim, and the sobs came fast and hard. He tensed every muscle until his head pounded and he thought he would explode, but he still could not contain his anguish.
Pete once again laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't fight it, Jim. No one will think less of you for crying at a time like this." Pete's own voice sounded husky with emotion.
"It's not that," Jim managed to say between gasps for breath.
"Then what is it?"
Jim drew a ragged breath and dragged his sleeve across his face.
"If I lose …" Jim paused for a very long struggle with himself. "If…if…if the worst happens, I won't dare ever, EVER let myself break down. Because if I do, once I do, I won't be able to pull myself back together. They'll have to stick me in a rubber room somewhere, Pete. It's too overwhelming. I'll have to wrap my heart up in armor so tight and strong that nothing can get through. Otherwise, I won't survive." His chest still heaved, and he panted out his sentences as if he'd run a marathon.
Pete's face filled with a new kind of concern.
"You can't do that, Jim."
Pete waited until Jim looked back into his eyes.
"Because there's a little boy in this house who will need your heart more than ever, if the worst happens. If you shut away your heart, you shut him away too. And me. And every relative, every friend you have. You go ahead and cry all the rivers you need to now, and, God forbid, later if need be. You will survive. You may not feel like you will, and for all I know you may not even want to. But you will. I know you will. Because your heart is too big to turn your loved ones away, and it's too strong to surrender."
Pete's heart poured out with his words, and Jim's last dam broke. Finally he let his tears flow freely, without fighting them, his face buried in his hands. And somehow, as they flowed, they became a healing stream, draining the knots out of his muscles, quieting the pounding in his skull, taming the heaving of his chest.
But it took a long time.
She awoke, cold, stiff, and achy. But worst of all was the pounding in her skull.
It hasn't been this bad since yesterday morning.
Yesterday morning ... even through her throbbing pain she sensed that there was something she ought to remember.
In the Strange House…he said he'd called the doctor.
She wrapped her arms around her pain-wracked head and begged herself to remember. But the memory seemed as elusive as it was important.
Now I can't even remember anyone saying that, but I guess I did remember it a few minutes ago. Why won't it come back to me?
A particularly harsh pain made her gasp, and everything went black.
She awoke again, relieved to find the pain in her head diminished. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew she had been dreaming. She couldn't remember the details, but the emotions remained.
I was safe. I was warm. I was loved. I was held in strong arms…
The sun was now fully up, and she began to wonder what she should do next. As she took stock of her situation, her panic returned in full force.
I need food. I need water.
I don't have any money.
I don't know anybody.
I stole a car.
I don't know where I am.
I don't know where to go.
She buried her face in her hands.
How could this have happened to me? I don't feel like a bad person. How could I have stolen a car?
Am I really someone bad?
This isn't right. I don't belong like this. Somewhere, somewhere, there are strong arms for me. I am meant to be loved. I know it.
But if that is true, what am I doing here, like this?
The relentless questions made her head spin. Hunger and thirst clawed at her. Fear dogged her.
What am I going to do?
Hernandez glanced up as the Greene's patrol car approached.
That didn't take long.
Only a short time had passed since Sarge had radioed with the news. The surviving suspect had finally begun to talk, and he'd identified where they'd found the car. Despite his lack of sleep, Enrique had driven straight for the house in Lewiston. Evidently Greene had decided to come along, too.
Greene exited his car and approached on foot. "Hey, what's up? Any evidence to back up his claim?"
"Not really. Nothing solid anyway. I just got here a little while ago, so I've only talked to a few people. You want to take that side of the street?"
"Sure." The officers split up. Hernandez trudged up a cactus-spiked lawn and knocked on a shabby-looking door.
"Hello, ma'am? I'm Officer Hernandez. I'm taking part in a search to find a missing woman who is ill. Did you see or hear anything unusual last night?"
The woman in the doorway wrapped her robe a little more tightly around herself.
"Well, my dog did go crazy around 8:00 last night. Who's missing? Is it someone from around here?"
"No, ma'am. Tell me, did you look outside to see what upset your dog?"
"Yeah, but I didn't see anything. He barks a lot anyway, so I didn't think anything of it."
"But now you think that something unusual may have been behind the 8:00 barking?"
"Well, maybe." The woman fiddled with her hair, looking very uncomfortable. If she had any idea how many women I've talked to in their bathrobes ... .
"What makes you think that?" Hernandez kept his tone patient, though he'd had almost the identical conversation with everyone he'd found home on this block.
"Well, he seemed more upset than usual, that's all."
"But you don't have any idea what may have upset him?"
"No, not really."
"All right. Thank you, ma'am. Here's my card." He fished one out of his shirt pocket. "If you think of anything else, or if you hear any new suspicious activity, please give me a call."
The woman nodded and retreated into the privacy of her home. Hernandez trudged to the next house.
"No inglés" the woman replied, dismissing him with a wave of her hand.
"Momento, momento, Señora, por favor. Busco una mujer..."
Señora Gonzales offered no helpful information, and Hernandez moved on. By the time he'd finished his side of the street, he could barely stifle a steady stream of yawns.
He joined up with Greene to compare notes.
"Find anything?" Greene asked.
"Well, maybe it's nothing. But it's the best lead I've found so far. Everybody on this side of the block says that their dogs went crazy around 8:00 last night, but no one knows why. Could have been a cat, or a skunk, or a prowler, or a sick woman. Who knows?"
"Well, at least that gives us a starting place." Greene scanned the neighborhood as if hoping Jean would walk right out in front of him.
"Yeah. Let's go ahead and search this alley. I'm really hoping to find some ladylike shoe prints. Or slipper prints. That what they said she was probably wearing, remember?" Hernandez gestured as he spoke. "You start on this end, and I'll go back to the other end and head toward you."
"All right. Let's do it." Greene turned and made his way to his assigned area.
Hernandez walked quickly down the street in the opposite direction. As was his habit, he spoke to the missing person in his mind.
All right, Jean. Tell me where you are. If I were you, where would I go?
They said you might be confused, or fainting.
What made you choose this place? Why did you seem so nervous when you saw me in your rear-view mirror?
Come on, Jean. Help me out. Let me help you.
"Why haven't they called yet?" Jim paced nervously by the phone.
"It's only been a short time. We just have to wait, Jim." Pete sat on the recliner, hoping that position would make him seem less antsy. I'd like to pace, too.
"What about dogs? They didn't say anything about a canine search team. Surely they're going to try to sniff her out."
"They may not have a canine search team in those small towns, Jim. And borrowing a team from another department...well, I wouldn't hold my breath." Pete's eyes followed his partner as he endlessly retraced his path on the carpet. His heart ached with sympathy for his friend.
"They'll find her, Jim. Give them time."
Jim's relatives rarely spoke, especially since Pete and Jim had come back inside. Pete knew they had seen Jim's meltdown through the large glass doors. He had seen how the women came unglued as they watched. The men, too, seemed shaken by it. Now they all sat in shell-shocked silence, trying to maintain their equilibrium.
It's hard to watch a strong man cry. Especially when he's someone you love.
God, bring her back to him.
Officer Hernandez reached the end of the block and walked around to the back alley. He looked carefully for any sign of Jean, but he didn't expect to find any yet. Not until I'm west of the house where she left the car.
If that creep was telling the truth.
He passed one house, then another, and then another. Here. This should be the one where he said they found the sedan.
Nothing. No footprints. C'mon, Jean. Where are you?
He passed that house and moved on to the next. Maybe she stayed on the main road instead of coming back here.
But everyone said that their dogs were barking at something in the alley.
There, angling into the alley. Unmistakable slipper prints. They straightened their course and hugged close to the trees, heading west.
He followed them, his breath coming short.
"Ricky! Get over here!" He heard his friend call. Hernandez traced Jean's path at a fast trot until it intersected with Greene at his end of the street. The two officers then tracked together, block after block, sometimes losing the trail, but always finding it again within half a block.
"Looks like she kept hiding in the trees." Greene noted.
Hernandez just nodded.
Finally, after about six blocks, the trail disappeared for good into the woods, where a bed of fallen pine needles and oak leaves made tracking impossible.
Time to start yelling.
"Jean? Jean Reed? Where are you? I'm Officer Hernandez, and I want to help you..."
Her troubled thoughts were interrupted by the shouts of male voices. They sounded close. Too close.
They're not looking for me, though. They're looking for someone named Jean. My name isn't Jean. My name is...My name is....
For the first time, a horrible realization dawned.
I have no name. I mean…I must have a name, but I don't know what it is.
A surge of panic struck her again, but a strange calm quickly followed.
Maybe the problem isn't with the whole world. Maybe the problem is with me. I can't remember anything. I don't know who I am.
Somehow it seemed less frightening to narrow the scope of the problem.
Maybe I can get my head on straight again, and then the world will make sense. Maybe there's hope.
"I'm Officer Hernandez. I want to help you." The shout sounded even closer. She sought shelter behind some bushes, still not ready to trust the police.
I did steal that car. That's illegal, even if I don't remember much of what came before that.
I don't want to go to jail.
She cowered, trembling behind the bushes. I can't do it. I can't let him see me.
His footsteps sounded closer now, almost on top of her. But he still shouted loudly, clearly unaware that she was practically under his nose.
She flinched at the sound of a second voice.
"You know, Ricky, we've been searching the way you do when someone wants to be found. When someone wants help. But what if she's confused, like they say? Maybe she's scared, maybe even avoiding us."
Are they talking about me? I sure am confused, so it could be me they're looking for.
Wouldn't I know if my name was Jean?
"Yeah, I thought of that. Also, if she's fainted she won't answer us either. But LA is sending search teams down here, and morning watch should be sending some more men as soon as they can spare them. When they arrive, we'll have the manpower for a comprehensive sweep. In the meantime, I want to see if I can raise her by calling."
"Jean? Jean Reed? I'm Officer Hernandez, and I want to help you."
The two officers moved away, and for the first time she could see them as they passed her row of bushes.
She gasped aloud.
Something about that uniform...
One of the officers paused.
"What is it?" the other asked.
Jean held her breath.
"I thought I heard something. C'mon back this way."
The two officers turned toward her, and after only a brief moment, one of them locked eyes with her.
Jean curled her knees up to her chin, feeling like a helpless, terrified child. I'm going to jail. She trembled uncontrollably.
And yet, something about that uniform made her heart pound with something other than fear. I want to trust you. I don't want to feel afraid of you. Something tells me you are good.
Her conflicting emotions left her paralyzed, so she simply sat and waited to see what her fate would be.
Enrique Hernandez stopped in his tracks.
There, about 20 yards back, hidden from his view before by a row of bushes, sat a tiny, terrified, childlike woman. Her posture tugged at his heart, as if he were seeing his own little daughter in her nightgown, crying after a nightmare.
I don't want to scare her. Go slowly. Go slowly.
He could see now that she had her knees tucked tightly against her body, making her appear smaller than she really was. She could be five-foot-four, like the APB said. Reddish-blonde hair. She fits. And she's definitely the woman from the sedan. I'm sure of that.
He stayed where he was. "Jean?" He watched to see how she would react to his voice.
She just stared at him, weeping softly.
No reaction to her name at all. Maybe she doesn't know who she is.
He gave her his most reassuring smile and stepped forward, just a few steps.
"Don't be afraid. I'm here to help you."
A few more steps. I'll take a gamble on this.
"I know how confusing everything has seemed lately. You've been sick, haven't you?"
For the first time, he saw a little response. Her head nodded, ever so slightly.
That's right, Jean. You can trust me.
He walked steadily now, without stopping, but still very slowly.
Greene whispered to him from behind. "I'll go call for an ambulance and notify Sarge."
Hernandez nodded without looking at him, and the other officer moved quickly back toward the patrol car.
Jean flinched, seeming alarmed at Greene's sudden departure. Her eyes darted after him, and then back to Hernandez.
"It's okay, Jean." Hernandez stopped now, afraid he would frighten her into running. She looks so fragile, and she's sick, and it looks like she's been through a lot....
A chase through the woods is the last thing she needs.
He was close enough now to see how she trembled, and to see the many scratches and cuts which bore testimony to her flight through the trees.
"Are you cold?"
Again he saw a tiny nod.
"May I give you my coat?"
She hugged her knees and said nothing.
Time to gamble again. He slowly pulled his uniform jacket off and held it out toward her. When she did not react, he cautiously approached her again.
Such big, frightened eyes. They're beautiful, too. I wonder what happened to her.
He walked more confidently now, hoping his appearance of comfort would put her at ease. He smiled, but not too broadly. I don't want to look like a used car salesman.
Finally, he stood just a few feet in front of her. He motioned toward her with the jacket, and then let it drop on the ground in front of her.
Her eyes did not follow the jacket. Instead, they remained glued to his uniformed chest, and she wore an odd expression on her face.
After her prolonged stillness, her sudden movement startled him. She jumped to her feet, and Hernandez prepared himself for pursuit.
But then the frightened woman ran toward him, weeping. She threw her arms around him and buried her head in his chest. For the first time, she spoke.
"Help me. Please help me." Her voice sounded as fragile as her body looked.
After a moment he let his arms loosely encircle her, and he patted her reassuringly on the back.
"It's going to be all right, Jean. It's going to be all right."
Jim stared at the wall, but did not see it. He vaguely wished that he could settle on one emotion or another, instead of constantly ricocheting between intense grief and mindless numbness. If I get to choose between the two, I'd rather not feel, thank you.
Right now he had his wish. Almost all of his family members had left for work or for errands, taking their burden of grief with them. Only Candace remained. And Pete, of course.
As much as Jim loved them and appreciated his family's show of support, it seemed that their pain only added to his own.
If only Mom wouldn't try to shove food down my throat. It didn't matter which 'Mom' he referred to. Both of them kept pestering him with food, despite his constant refusal. They couldn't seem to understand that the mere thought of eating made his stomach churn.
The doorbell rang. Pete jumped to his feet, but this time Jim outpaced him. He threw the door open, hoping against hope that Jean would be standing there, ready to explain this whole nightmare away.
"Mrs. Yates!" He tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "Come in, please."
Pete extended a hand to greet the neighbor as well.
"Jim, I'm so sorry about what's been happening. Is there any word?"
She listened with brimming eyes as Jim told her a cleaned-up version of events. No need to burden her with the whole truth. She has to keep calm for Jimmy.
Besides, I don't think I could talk about it all right now.
Even the toned-down report distressed his poor neighbor.
"Oh dear, oh dear. This is so awful. Is there anything I can do?" Mrs. Yates held a trembling hand over her mouth.
"Believe me, just keeping Jimmy happy is a tremendous help. He's not causing any trouble, I hope." He tried to keep his tone light, but his effort fell flat.
"No, of course not. Jimmy's never any trouble." She seemed to be making valiant attempts to control her reactions, but she had no more luck than the rest of them.
"Oh, listen to me standing here blubbering. I really should be asking you for some clean clothes for Jimmy. I'd like to take him and Frankie to the zoo, if that's all right with you."
"Oh, well…I'm sure Jimmy would love that…and I'd sure appreciate it." Then maybe Jean will be home before he will. But still… He refocused on his neighbor. "Are you sure it isn't too much trouble?"
Mrs. Yates laid a gentle hand on Jim's arm. "No, dear, you're the one with too much trouble. I only wish there were more I could do."
Candace approached them with some fresh clothes for her grandson, and handed them to the neighbor.
When did she have time to go get those? Jim gave his mother-in-law a grateful look, and she smiled sadly before returning to her seat.
After a few more moments of hand wringing, Mrs. Yates left with Jimmy's clothes. Jim sighed with relief. His skull had felt on the verge of exploding.
Jimmy. Jim sat down and rested his forehead on his hands. What will become of him if ... How could I ever break it to him? He could see Jimmy in his mind, hysterical with fear and grief.
Jim closed his eyes. No. No. It won't happen. It can't. Because if it does, it will be the end of both of us.
Jim deliberately retrieved his numbness and wrapped it around himself like a blanket. And he stared sightlessly at the wall.
Pete watched his friend with growing concern.
Jim has always been a man of action. But he didn't even fight with Mac about going on the search.
Pete shook his head, remembering a time when his own life depended on a being found.
He deliberately disobeyed Mac to go on a search before. A search for me. But now he just sits and stares at the wall. This isn't good.
I've never seen him so defeated.
Pete wondered what to say to help his friend, but his thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone.
Officer Hernandez escorted his frightened charge toward the ambulance. She clung to him like a child, and he couldn't help feeling very protective of her.
"Why is there an ambulance here?" Jean spoke up for only the second time. Her voice trembled a little, and she stopped walking.
Hernandez patted her gently. "You've been sick, remember? Plus, you spent all night sleeping out here. The doctors will want to see if they can help you."
"Will you come with me?" She looked up into his eyes with such trust and hope; he could not possibly refuse her.
"Yes, I'll come with you."
She began walking again, holding tightly to his arm.
"Then will you be the one who takes me to jail?" She asked so softly that he could hardly hear her. But her fear came through plainly.
"Jail? No, honey, you're not going to jail. You're going to go see the doctors, and then you're going to go home."
She stopped in her tracks. "Home? Do you know where my home is?"
"I know that you live in Los Angeles. There are some LA police officers on their way here. They should arrive any minute. They'll be able to tell you more about home." His heart absolutely melted for this fragile, confused woman who had placed her trust in him.
He glanced up and saw a Los Angeles black-and-white pulling up to the pre-arranged site for the command post.
Greene stepped up to greet the two officers as they climbed out of their car. He pointed out Jean and Hernandez walking toward them.
The LA officers took off at a fast trot toward him and Jean.
What's wrong with them? They'll scare her.
Hernandez gestured at the officers with some irritation, and they immediately slowed to a walk. After a few hundred feet, the two little groups met each other.
"Jean!" One of the LA officers said, his face wreathed in a smile. "Boy, am I glad to see you! Are you all right?"
Jean nodded hesitantly.
The officer, whose nametag said "Woods," turned his attention now to Hernandez.
"We just heard over the radio. The sergeant called the other search units back. We're staying to get the word on her condition and help in any way we can."
"Thanks so much for finding her." Woods pumped Hernandez' hand in an enthusiastic handshake, still grinning widely.
"She's kind of scared, and confused. She can't remember anything." Hernandez felt a strange urge to protect Jean from this over-exuberant LA cop.
Woods' eyes became concerned. "Jean, do you remember me?" She shook her head slowly.
"It's Jerry. Jerry Woods. I work with Jim." Jean's face registered nothing but slight nervousness.
"Who's Jim?" Hernandez asked.
"He's an LA cop?" That would explain her trusting response to my uniform.
"Yeah, and he's worried sick. He would have been out here searching, but our watch commander wouldn't let him come."
Jean spoke up at last, her eyes wide with wonder.
"You know me?"
Hernandez saw the pain on Woods' face. This fellow's okay after all.
"Yes, I know you." He reached for Jean's hand, and she tentatively reached out to him in response. "And I know your husband. He's as fine a man as I've ever known, and he can't wait to see you again."
"You know me!" Jean echoed. Her eyes searched Woods' eyes, earnestly, pleadingly.
"Tell me something."
"Sure, Jean, anything!"
Her eyes misted over. "Am I a good person?"
Hernandez thought his heart would break, and he saw Woods swallowing very hard. The two officers exchanged sad, mystified looks. Why would she ask that?
"Yes, Jean, you're a wonderful person."
Jean began to weep softly, but it looked to Hernandez like she wept with relief.
The second LA cop finally spoke up.
"Jean, I'm Bob. Bob Brinkman. I work with Jim, too. And I just want to say how glad I am ...we all are ...that you're okay."
Jean suddenly found it hard to focus on the others' voices. A rushing noise filled her ears, and she felt faint.
"Am I okay?" she asked softly. "Then why can't I remember anything? What happened to me?"
"You had some headaches, and then you got confused. We don't really know why, but the doctors will figure all that out for you."
"Speaking of doctors..." Hernandez gestured toward the waiting ambulance.
"Of course. Sorry. Jean, let's get you to the hospital. Would you like me to ride in with you?"
Jean grabbed Hernandez arm and backed away a step. "He said he would come with me."
Woods looked back at Hernandez. "Okay, we'll follow you in." He continued speaking as they walked. "And I guess I'd better give you these." Woods pulled Jean's medical information out of his jacket and gave it to Hernandez. "She seems to want you with her, so you'll need these to give to the doctor." He turned to Jean again. "Your husband sent these papers for you, and he'll be here himself as soon as he can."
Jean listened through an ever-deepening fog. She heard the words, but their meaning escaped her. The pain in her head grew almost nauseating, and she felt her knees buckle.
Strong arms. Carrying me. Where are we going?
He's putting me down!
Don't leave me! She reached up desperately toward Hernandez, but something lifted her up, away from her friend.
No! Confusion and panic threatened to overwhelm her, and darkness narrowed her vision.
Gentle hands, holding hers. What is he saying? She struggled to listen through the roaring in her ears and the pounding in her skull.
"Don't worry. I'm right here. I won't leave you, Jean."
He's here. He's here. Relief washed over her, and she relaxed into the darkness.
Jim jumped as the phone jarred him back to reality. He stared at it, and then decided that he had to answer it. I have to do something. I can't just sit here.
But Pete's reaction was swifter.
Jim knew instantly who the caller was. Pete tried to hide it, but Jim knew his expressions too well. A wave of dread washed over him. It's Mac.
Pete's jaw dropped. His eyes lit up. His breath caught. And his face filled with ...was that joy?
Jim found himself standing, though he didn't remember getting up. He could scarcely breathe.
Pete turned his face toward Heaven, his eyes closed, and a beatific grin on his face.
"They found her, Jim. Uninjured. They found her!" Pete lowered his eyes, and they were very moist.
Jim's knees buckled, and he sat down hard.
Found her? Not hurt? Not raped? Not murdered? He heard Pete pressing for more details, but his partner sounded a thousand miles away. Jim began to tremble.
They found her! She's okay! They found her! She's okay!
He had to repeat it over and over again before his brain could get a hold of it. Joy and relief knocked tentatively at his heart, and he opened ever so slightly for them.
She's okay! His eyes stung with tears of a very different kind than before. She's okay! He began to laugh through his tears. Or perhaps he cried through his laughter. He didn't know which it was, and he didn't care. Joy and relief burst down the walls, flooding his soul with delicious warmth.
He saw Pete hang up and drop down onto the recliner. His partner seemed at a loss for words, and his eyes still brimmed with tears. His hands gestured a little, as if trying to make up for his silence.
"They found her!" Pete finally managed to say. He gave a shaky sounding laugh and thumbed at the corners of his eyes, clearly struggling to pull himself together. "I guess I'd better fill you in, huh?" Pete squared his shoulders in a way that Jim knew was meant to fortify himself.
"You can fill me in on the way there." Jim regrouped and rose to his feet. "I need to go see her, Pete. Now."
"I know. Come on." The two friends picked up some things that Jim had gathered for just this eventuality. Jim quickly filled his mother-in-law in, and gave her instructions for while he was away. Finally, he called Mr. Yates and made arrangements for Jimmy to come back home after the zoo.
Jim's store of patience had nearly run dry by the time they finally were ready to leave. I need to see her. I need to hold her. I need to know that she's going to be okay.
She has to be okay.
"Mrs. Reed … Mrs. Reed?"
Light. Too bright. Stop shining that in my eyes!
Be quiet! Stop calling her, whoever she is. Let me sleep!
"I think she's starting to come around."
A more familiar voice, further away. "Try calling her 'Jean'. She's more familiar with that name."
Ow! That light hurts my head.
Jean? That's my name. That's what they call me, anyway.
She forced her eyes to open, but the sights confused her, and she closed them again.
"Jean, try to stay awake. I'm Doctor Terhune."
She opened her eyes again, and this time a man in white took up most of her view. His body mercifully blocked some of the light, and she felt grateful. But then he shone a flashlight right into her eyes, and she recoiled against the intrusion.
"Don't!" She batted at the offending light.
"Good, she's talking now." The light switched off, and the man's face re-appeared.
"Jean, it's okay. I'm Doctor Terhune, and you're in the hospital. We're just checking to see how you're doing. You can relax. We're taking care of you."
The room came rapidly into focus now, and she felt her thoughts clearing.
"Where ... where is he?" she whispered.
"Who?" The doctor's voice sounded kind.
"My friend." She looked frantically around for him, and then saw his familiar form walking toward her.
"I'm right here. You're safe. These doctors and nurses will take good care of you. You can trust them."
She relaxed with his comforting words.
"Mrs. Reed, do you know where you are?" the doctor spoke again.
"The hospital," she whispered, then cleared her throat and tried again. "The hospital." She felt surprised that she could speak so strongly.
"Good. Good for you. Now, we want to run a few tests. Can you look to the left please? Good. Now the right."
"Why are you doing this?" She asked.
"I'm assessing your cranial nerve functions. Don't worry. You're doing fine."
Cranial nerve functions? That must have something to do with the brain.
If I know that, why don't I know who I am?
"I'm here to see my wife. Her name is Jean Reed." Jim could hardly believe he was finally here. She's all I've wanted to see since yesterday morning.
The nurse peered at a clipboard. "Ah, yes. She's in room 314, but she's resting now. Doctor Terhune is her physician, and he wanted to speak with you. If you'll wait right over there, I'll let him know you're here." The nurse stood and left without waiting for a response.
Jim looked at Pete, frustration barely held in check. I don't want to sit in the waiting room. I want to see my wife!
Pete gave him a sympathetic smile. "Patience, Jim. It will be good to see her, but it may help to talk to the doctor first."
Jim doubted that, but it seemed he had no choice. Why is it that everyone else has the right to make me wait?
He walked to the plastic chairs, but did not sit down. I've been sitting around for so long....
Pete sat down and tried to look relaxed. He picked up a magazine and began flipping the pages.
You're not fooling me. You're almost as anxious as I am.
"You know," Jim fretted, "I bet room 314 isn't very far from here."
"Jim!" Pete slapped his magazine down on his lap. "No. Don't even think about it! Let's hear what the doctor has to say before you go barging in anywhere."
Jim chewed his lip and said nothing. He had only been half serious, wanting to bait Pete and lighten his own mood in the process. Pete had taken the bait, all right. But he'd also brought up a troubling thought.
I wonder what the doctor feels he needs to prepare me for.
Pete set his paper down again, more gently this time. "Jim, it might be a while. Why don't you at least get a snack out of the snack machine?" He gestured toward a large dispenser down the hall.
Jim groaned. "Not you too! You sound like my mother!"
The mention of his mother reminded Jim of his responsibilities. He pulled some change out of his pocket and scanned the room until he spotted the pay phone.
"I'm going to call home."
He dialed the number and got an immediate answer.
"Reed residence." Jim's father had evidently taken on the role of phone handler.
"Hi, Dad. We're here at the hospital. I don't know anything about Jean yet, except that she's in room 314. I'm supposed to meet with the doctor any minute."
"Bud and Candace are fretting to go out there. Candace would have left already, but Bud told her to wait until we heard from you. Should I tell them to go? Should any of the rest of us come? What should we tell Jimmy?"
Jim thought carefully. "Don't send anyone here yet until I find out some more. I'm sure it won't be too long. As for Jimmy ..." Jim rubbed at his forehead, feeling a mild headache coming on.
I don't even want to think about telling him.
"Um, Dad... what do you think I should tell him?" Jim felt too overwhelmed by his problems to worry about his pride. Right now I'd like to be a little kid and let him take care of me.
Get a grip, Jim. Don't fold now.
"Well, Jim, I always believed it was best to tell a child the truth, but to tell it in a way that he can cope with it."
Jim thought about that for a few moments before his father gently prompted him.
"Jimmy's been home for a while now, and he's starting to ask questions."
"Okay, okay." Jim ran his hand through his hair and blew out his cheeks with a sigh.
"Tell him...tell him that Mommy is sick, and she went to the hospital. Tell him that Daddy went to be with Mommy...."
Dan interrupted his son. "Why don't you tell him yourself? He's right here, and he wants to talk to you."
Jim felt a rush of panic, but forced it back down. Dad's right. He's my responsibility. I need to be strong for him too. The added burden settled on his shoulders with crushing weight.
"Okay, Dad." He wondered just how many knots his stomach could tie itself in.
He heard the phone jostling around from grandfather to grandson.
"Hi, Daddy!" Jimmy's voice carried its usual bubbly enthusiasm.
I don't want to burst that bubble!
"Hi, son." Jim tried to keep his voice neutral.
"Daddy, are you sad?"
Why did he have to inherit Jean's ability to read me like a book?
"Well, yes, a little bit, son."
"Why?" The little voice came through the line with heart-wrenching innocence.
"Well..." Jim cleared his throat to keep it from closing. "...well, son, Mommy's sick."
"Yeah, I know. She has headaches." Jimmy's voice revealed his sadness, born of natural empathy.
He put his hand on top of the wall-mounted phone and buried his face in the crook of his arm. God help me to do this right.
He cleared his throat. "So," he continued, "Daddy's here helping Mommy. Grandma and Grandpa Reed, and Nana and Papa Bailey will take care of you."
"Where are you, Daddy?"
Jim sighed deeply. He'd hoped to avoid that question.
"I'm...at the hospital, Jimmy. The doctors are going to...to see how to make Mommy better."
If they can.
"The hospital? Did someone shoot Mommy?" Jimmy's voice sounded terrified, and his words tore Jim's heart in two.
Look how much my job has frightened him. Little kids shouldn't even have to think about parents getting shot…
"No, son. Nobody hurt Mommy." He couldn't find the voice to say any more.
Jimmy, you don't deserve this!
"Mr. Reed?" The nurse's call startled Jim. He turned to look at her, and held up a "just-a-minute" finger.
"Jimmy, son, I have to go now. The doctor is going to talk to me now about Mommy. Remember, Tiger, nobody hurt her. She's just sick, okay?
"Okay, Daddy. When are you and Mommy coming home?"
"I don't know, son. I don't know. I have to go now. I love you. Bye, Jimmy."
Jim hung up and took a few moments to pull himself together before turning to walk to the nurse.
"Come with me please. Doctor Terhune will see you now."
"Can my friend come with me?"
"If you like."
Jim looked at Pete, gratified that he needed no words. Pete rose and followed as Jim and the nurse rounded the corner and entered a comfortable-looking office.
A man with kindly features sat behind a large desk. He rose to greet Jim with a handshake.
"Mr. Reed? I'm Doctor Terhune. I'm glad to meet you. Have a seat."
Sitting again? Jim hardly wanted to, but he complied. He began to feel very nervous as he looked around the office. Pictures and charts filled the walls, and they all had to do with the brain.
What's wrong with her brain?
The thought made his throat constrict and his mouth go dry. He almost didn't hear as the doctor started speaking again.
"Mr. Reed, I want you to know that your wife is resting comfortably right now. We've given her something for her headaches, and it seems to be helping."
Jim just nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Resting comfortably. I hope he's not going to tell me that that's all they can do for her.
The doctor continued, his face etched with sympathy.
"We've done a number of tests and X-rays, and I believe I have found the source of your wife's difficulties." He pulled a set of X-ray prints out of a folder as he spoke.
The doctor stood and walked to a panel on his wall. He snapped the prints into a slot on the panel, and turned on the backlight.
"Mr. Reed, I don't want to alarm you, because this may not be as bad as it sounds." He looked intently at Jim. "But I believe I have found a tumor on her brain."
Jim clutched the arms of his chair, an involuntary cry escaping him. " A tumor? NO!" His mind reeled at the word, and his terror of losing Jean arose like a specter that wouldn't stay in the grave.
The doctor and Pete remained silent for a while, giving Jim time to absorb the dreadful news.
After a little while the doctor's voice filtered through Jim's anguish. "Mr. Reed, I know this sounds awful, but it may not be as bad as it sounds."
"I can't imagine it being good," Jim replied, hating the shakiness in his own voice.
"Mr. Reed, not all tumors are cancerous. People hear the word 'tumor', and they automatically think of cancer. But it may not be. We won't know for sure until we get in there and take a look."
"Brain surgery?" His mind refused to wrap itself around that concept.
"Yes. That's what it will take. But, the definite piece of good news that we have is the location of the tumor. It is operable. We can reach it."
Jim absorbed that bit of hope, forcing his breathing to return to normal.
"I understand that the headaches began just a few days ago?"
"Yes." Jim nodded.
"It is very likely that this is a fast-growing kind of tumor."
"Wait a minute. How can it be fast-growing and not be cancer?" Jim's mind struggled to make sense of all the uncertainties.
"Remember, Mr. Reed, I'm not saying that this isn't cancer. I'm saying it might not be. But even benign tumors can grow. They just grow in different ways. Cancer grows by multiplying. Benign tumors grow by simply getting larger. Do you understand?"
Jim nodded. That does make sense. He forced himself to focus, to try to think logically.
"Now, Mr. Reed," Doctor Terhune continued, "I am a fully qualified neurosurgeon. I could go in there and take that out." He paused, apparently gauging Jim's responses. "But, I'll be honest with you. LA is a much bigger city, with much bigger hospitals, and much better resources.
The doctor cleared his throat. "I personally know one of the neurosurgeons at UCLA Medical Center, a Dr. Barnes. He's an excellent neurosurgeon, and he has equipment that I would give my right arm for."
The doctor paused again, giving Jim time to consider his words.
I'd have her close to home. Jim found that thought particularly compelling.
"Do you have any children, Mr. Reed?"
"Yes, one son. He's four. Why do you ask?"
"That's just all the more reason for you to be in LA."
"Now, Mr. Reed, you and I have a decision to make."
Jim listened intently. Finally. Something that's in my hands.
Dr. Terhune continued. "There's a lot to be said for keeping a patient overnight for observation prior to sending them on a long drive. It would be good to know for sure that she's stable enough to make the trip."
Jim nodded, but felt his heart sink. I wanted her home tonight.
"However," the doctor added, "If this is a fast-growing tumor, and I believe it is, it may be critical to have it removed as soon as possible. Even a day's delay might not be acceptable."
He paused again, and Jim collected his thoughts with a heavy sigh.
"My gut tells me that, if she were my wife, I would probably want her to go home to LA tonight, and be scheduled for surgery as early as possible tomorrow. Especially since she is still pretty lucid, and was able to function as well as she did yesterday."
Pete spoke up at last. "That's one thing I can't understand, doctor. How did she manage to drive so far, when she kept having those blackouts?"
"Well, I have a theory about that, but I certainly can't prove it. One thing she told me while I was testing her was that she was worst in the early morning, pretty good in the late morning to afternoon, and only mediocre in the evening. That would have been on the first day. Then on the second day, she also had blackouts in the morning, and felt better in the afternoon. So it appears that she is following a consistent pattern."
He paused again, checking on his listeners. Pete and Jim both nodded.
"Science has been learning a lot lately about the importance of each individual's 'internal clock.' Have you heard anything about that?"
"A little," Jim said with a shrug.
"We're learning that people tend to follow consistent patterns throughout the course of a 24-hour period. They experience normal fluctuations in metabolism, blood pressure, and things like that. It is quite possible that those normal fluctuations may have affected her body's ability to cope with this tumor. But we'll probably never know. Let's just be thankful that she did manage it. Because if she'd blacked out at 55 mph on the interstate..."
The doctor didn't finish the thought. He didn't need to.
Jim shuddered. Thank you, God.
"But, back to the question at hand, Mr. Reed, have you any thoughts or questions about the best plan for Jean? Do you want to keep her here overnight for observation, or do you want her sent to LA? I'll support you in whatever you decide."
The decision took only an instant. "I want her home."
Dr. Terhune nodded. "All right. I'll get in touch with UCLA Medical, and have word sent to Dr. Barnes. I'll personally stress to him the need for an early surgery, but I can't guarantee anything. He may already have a full load of equally serious cases. I'm sure he'll do the best he can."
"Thank you, doctor." Jim stood abruptly. "I really just want to see my wife now."
The doctor stood just as quickly. "Mr. Reed, there's one thing I need to tell you about before you see her."
Jim's heart sank. I was afraid of that. He moved to stand behind his chair and held on to the back of it.
The doctor's demeanor became even more sympathetic. "Your wife does not remember anything prior to the time that she woke up in what she calls 'The Strange House'. From what I've learned of the timing of events, that would have to be your house, yesterday morning."
The Strange House? Jim felt himself grasping for equilibrium again.
Dr. Terhune's eyes shone with compassion. "She does not remember anything before that time." He gave Jim a few moments to digest that, and then hit him with the hardest blow.
"She does not remember being married."
Jim gripped the chair until his knuckles turned white.
I thought I'd gotten her back, but she's still lost.
Pete stepped in. "What are the chances that her memory will return?"
Jim looked quickly at the doctor for his answer.
Dr. Terhune shook his head. "Impossible to guess. The tumor is still in place. Once it's removed, her memory may return, or it may not. It may be months before we can say for sure."
Several moments of silence passed.
"Mr. Reed, from what time I've spent with your wife, she seems like a very warm-hearted, wonderful person. It's time you got to see her again." He clapped Jim on the shoulder and gestured toward the door.
"I'll make the arrangements for her transportation, and I'll contact Doctor Barnes immediately." He smiled reassuringly at Jim.
"Thank you, Doctor." Jim walked slowly out of the office, with Pete close at his elbow. Once he heard the door click shut behind him, he stopped and leaned his back heavily against the wall.
"I'm not sure I can do this." He hugged his arms around his stomach again.
"I am." Pete said softly.
"To see her looking at me like I'm a total stranger..." Jim shook his head at the horrible thought. He felt queasy again.
"You may be a stranger to her now, but you won her heart once. You can do it again."
Pete took hold of Jim's arm and gently invited him along. Jim followed woodenly.
He said she was a warm-hearted, wonderful person. I hope she can still love me.
Enrique Hernandez felt sad about what he had to do.
Jean had won his heart on the first moment that he saw her, so scared and alone. Her childlike trust and dependence on him only added to his caring, protective feelings.
Now I have to break the ties.
Her eyes had just opened from her sleep, and she had immediately looked for him. Now she held his hand, seeming content just to have him there.
"Jean, you know, your husband will be here soon."
A look of alarm spread across her face. "How can I face him? He'll be so hurt that I don't remember him. And what if ... what if I don't like him? What if he doesn't like me the way I am now?"
Hernandez felt suddenly helpless in the face of such questions. He turned to look behind him to where Woods and Brinkman sat.
Woods quickly joined him at the side of the bed, and Brinkman took the other side.
"Jean, believe me. I know your husband. I've worked with him for years. And I've never seen a couple as in love as you two are." Woods' fervent tone lent credence to his words.
"Yeah," Brinkman stepped in, "and he's a really kind, understanding sort of person. He'll understand what's happened to you, and he'll be patient with your memory problems. I know he will."
Jean smiled. "Thank you. That's so good to hear."
Hernandez nodded his gratitude to his LA counterparts.
"Jean, do you know why you felt such trust for me the first time you saw me?"
"No. I really don't understand it, because I felt that way even though I thought you were going to take me to jail."
"Well, I think I understand it." Hernandez took his hand gently out of hers. "It's because your husband wears a uniform a lot like mine. He's a police officer, too. Some part of you knows that. And that part of you must have a lot of love and trust for your husband, judging by the way you reacted to me and my uniform."
Jean's eyes welled up with tears. "You're saying goodbye, aren't you?"
Hernandez tried to keep his own eyes dry. "Well, in a way, yes. Not 'goodbye' as in 'I'm not your friend,' or 'goodbye' as in 'I don't care about you any more.'" He smiled softly at her. "It's 'goodbye' as in 'I know you're going to be in good hands, back where you belong, with the man who loves you. The man you love, whether you remember that or not.'"
He swallowed hard.
"I can tell that you love him."
He's been one lucky guy. I hope he's not going to lose you now.
A few tears spilled out of Jean's eyes, though he could tell she was trying to be brave.
She reached back for his hand, and he let her take it.
"Thank you for everything," she whispered tearfully.
Hernandez swallowed hard against the knot in his throat, but it stayed stubbornly in place.
Someone knocked on the door.
Jim needed some long moments outside of Jean's door before he was ready to go in.
God give me strength.
He willed his stomach to stop churning. Well, almost.
He opened his eyes and looked at Pete. "Will you come in with me?"
"If that will help, but I really think you and Jean will need some privacy."
"Why would I need privacy with a total stranger?" Jim's voice came out in almost a whisper.
"Because she's your wife, and the two of you are facing a crisis. She's still Jean, from what the doctor said. 'Warm and wonderful.' That's her, isn't it?"
Jim closed his eyes and tried to swallow the boulder in his throat. It had been there so often lately, it seemed like the normal state of affairs.
A moment of raw courage welled up in him, and he grasped it. He turned and knocked on the door, then pushed it open without giving himself a second to change his mind.
Two men walked in, and Hernandez knew instantly that the first one must be Jean's husband. Both men looked like they'd been through an emotional wringer, but the one in front looked the worst.
But it wasn't the pain that spoke most clearly to Hernandez. The love that he saw light up in the man's eyes at the sight of Jean....
Oh yes, she's in good hands.
Jean! His heart skipped a beat, and his breath caught in his throat. She was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. His eyes brimmed with the joy of seeing her, alive and mostly well.
Mostly well, except maybe going to die from brain cancer.
Don't think about it.
What on earth do I say?
The look in his eyes gave him away.
That's him! Jean didn't know whether to smile or not, and she sure couldn't think of anything intelligent to say. So she just laid there, feeling awkward.
She saw his eyes grow moist, saw him swallow hard and dip his head as he struggled for control.
It's true what they said. He really does love me.
Who's that with him?
What do I do?
She offered him the barest of smiles, and he returned it shyly. Then he moved to stand next to her bedrail.
"Hi." He shrugged, looking for all the world like a bashful schoolboy about to ask out his first date. "I'm Jim. I'm...." he turned and looked toward his companion, as if for moral support. His friend smiled and nodded encouragingly.
Jim turned back toward her, then smiled, apparently surrendering to the absurdity of it all.
"I thought you must be." She couldn't help feeling charmed by this stranger. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's really handsome, and what a killer smile!
The moment stretched out awkwardly, until she thought of a good way to break its spell.
"And you are?" She directed her question to the man who seemed to give her husband strength.
The man immediately approached the bed. He gave her a charming, lopsided smile, one which couldn't quite hide the pain in his eyes.
"I'm Pete. Pete Malloy. I work with Jim. We're both police officers." Pete glanced at Jim with that same 'what-do-I-say' panicked look that Jim had worn.
I probably look the same way.
Officer Hernandez approached from the other side and introduced himself to the men.
"Are you the one who found my wife?" Jim pumped Hernandez' hand hard.
"One of the ones, yes."
"How can I ever thank you? I owe you...a debt I can never repay." Jim looked choked up again.
"Just take care of this little lady. She seems like someone really special"
"One in a million." Jim agreed, and Jean felt a surge of warmth at his words.
Hernandez turned to Jean and reached out for her hand. She quickly gave it to him.
"You are in very good hands. Remember everything I told you."
Jean felt an overwhelming surge of loneliness. She patted her friend's hand, but couldn't speak.
"I need to go get some rest. I've been up about 24 hours. You take care, and don't worry. You'll be fine." She could see that his eyes were misty now, too.
I don't know how much more emotion I can take right now. Jean felt as if her heart would burst. She struggled to fight down a rising sense of panic. Hernandez had been her lifeline since the moment she locked eyes with him. He was, in fact, her best and only friend, and she'd relied heavily on him to bring her through this confusing maze she'd found herself in.
He nodded reassuringly, and gently extricated his hand from hers. He patted her hand, then turned back to Jim. "Take care of her."
Hernandez gave Jean one last smile, and walked out the door.
Pete motioned to Woods and Brinkman, patted Jim once on the back, and the three officers walked out of the room.
I'm alone with him!
Jean covered her face with her hands and burst into tears.
"Oh, honey, don't cry!" Jim placed a tentative hand on her arm. "It's okay, honey. You'll be all right. What's wrong?"
"I've just lost my best friend!" she sobbed.
"Your best...? Oh, I see."
Jim fell silent, and the only sound in the room was Jean's quiet sobbing. It took a long time for her to pour out her grief.
Jim sat patiently, one hand still lightly touching her arm. Sometimes he stroked it just a little.
Jean felt comfort in that touch, even though it came from a stranger.
When she dared to look into his face, she saw exquisite pain there. It only made her hurt worse.
Jim sat helplessly by his wife's side. If she were herself, I'd be holding her right now. Except of course, if she were herself, she wouldn't be crying over a 'best friend' she just met this morning.
Jim struggled to stay afloat in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions.
I'm so glad for what Officer Hernandez did, and I know I shouldn't feel this way. He blinked hard. But I'm so jealous that she's broken up over him, and she doesn't even know me.
And I'm so blasted tired of crying.
Jim's overwrought emotions carried him to the brink of overload. His prolonged fast had depleted his physical reserves. He desperately longed for a place he could go, a place where no one hurt, no one cried, no one reminded him of the relentless pain in his soul.
Instead, he kept a gentle hand on her scraped, bruised arm and waited. He let his chin rest against his arms on her bedrail, and he tried to go blank.
She's not going to like being taken back to LA tonight. Maybe I was wrong to choose that.
Jim realized he had no idea when she might have to leave. I'd better tell her as soon as she pulls herself together.
He began to speak to her in the low, soothing tones she always loved to hear. It became almost a croon. "It's all right, Jean. It's all right. Don't be afraid. It's all right."
She's trying to calm down. She really is. It's just so hard for her.
I can't imagine what she's been through.
He used that thought to fortify himself. No matter how hard it is for me, it must be worse for her. Be strong for her. Be strong.
Jean began to mop at her eyes, and her sobs gave way to shuddering sighs, coming further and further apart.
"I'm sorry...Jim. I didn't mean to fall apart like that."
"Perfectly understandable." He patted her arm again.
"It's just that I don't know what I'll do without him."
Jim swallowed hard. "I'm glad he was there for you. I only wish I could have been. But I came as soon as I knew where you were." He felt a strange need to justify himself to this woman who looked like Jean, but somehow wasn't.
I should have been the one who found you.
Jim searched his wife's face for any sign of her old feelings for him. Please don't love him more than me.
Jim wanted more than anything to change the subject, but despite his pain, his compassion held sway.
Be strong for her. I may not like it, but losing him hurt her. I need to help her with this.
He cleared his throat. "Before Officer Hernandez left, he told you to remember what he said." Jim didn't want to appear nosy, so he left the question unspoken. Maybe it was too personal.
The thought made his skin crawl.
But Jean smiled, and actually reached out to lay a hand on his arm. Her eyes met his for the first time since she'd started crying.
"Yes, he said something very helpful to me, just before you came in." She reached for a tissue and wiped at her nose. "He told me why I felt so comfortable with him the moment I saw him."
"Oh, why was that?" Jim felt as if a heavy weight rested on his chest.
Jean smiled shyly at him. "He said it was because you wear a uniform like his, and that deep down inside I…I love you, and that's why I trusted him."
Jim closed his eyes, and felt a mountain of worry move off his shoulders.
Thank you, Officer Hernandez.
"I'm sure it must be true." She looked at Jim now with more clarity, more focus. "I can't think of any other reason that I should have trusted him, when I was sure he was going to take me to jail."
Jim's eyebrows jumped. "To jail? Why did you think that?"
Jean's eyes suddenly filled up again, and she looked away.
"I'm so ashamed."
Jim couldn't bear to see the humiliation in her eyes. "No, don't be, please. No one could ever blame you for anything that happened while you were so confused."
"But I stole that car, Jim."
"The car I drove here in, of course."
Jim began to grasp for the first time just how lost and bewildered she must have felt.
"Honey, no. You didn't steal that car. That was your car."
She looked confused. "My car?"
"Yes, and the house you woke up in...the 'Strange House'...that was your house. Our house."
He saw her bewilderment growing.
"You were confused. That's why you didn't know where you were."
He summoned his courage, and broached the scariest subject.
"Jean, there's something very important I need to tell you."
She listened quietly while he explained to her about her tumor, and the trip to LA, and the surgery. When he finished, he gave her plenty of time to process the news.
Finally she looked up at him, a new kind of sorrow in her eyes.
"Am I going to die?" Her eyelashes remained heavy with tears.
"Not if any of us have any say in the matter." He tried to give her a convincing smile, though her question had set a whirlpool spinning in his gut which threatened to drag his heart under. He paused a moment to compose himself.
"There are an awful lot of people who love you, Jean. And we're taking you for the best help available." He hoped that would close the subject, because he was dangerously close to losing his emotional grip again.
Give her something to live for.
"Oh, I forgot." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a family photo. "Here's our family. That's me, and you, and Jimmy."
"Jimmy?" She took the picture from him, her hand trembling a little. "Jimmy? We have a son?" She turned wide eyes toward him, the question urgent on her features.
I should have prepared her for that. "Yes, he's almost six years old now. That picture was taken almost a year ago. I guess it's time to get a new one."
Why did I say something lame like that?
Jean studied the picture again, bewilderment etched across her face.
"How could I not remember?"
A soft knock on the door interrupted them, and Doctor Terhune stepped in.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, but I was wondering if I could speak to you a moment, Mr. Reed?"
"Of course." Jim stood and gave Jean a reassuring smile. "I'll be right back. You can keep the picture." He turned and followed the doctor out into the hallway.
The doctor spoke first. "I didn't want to talk in front of her, in case you haven't told her about her transfer."
"No, she knows already. But that's okay. What's up?" Jim tried to brace himself for whatever news the doctor might have. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Pete in the waiting area. His partner made a pretense with that same ridiculous magazine, but Jim could see him straining to hear their conversation.
"Well, I just wanted you to know that the arrangements are all made. An ambulance will be taking her back to LA tonight. She won't be arriving there until 11:00 tonight, and she should try to rest on the way. I assume you'll be riding with her?"
"May I?" Jim pounced on the opportunity.
"Of course. I called Dr. Barnes at home, and he actually was planning on taking tomorrow off. But he said he'd be ready to scrub in at 4 a.m. That's really good news."
Four a.m.? This must really be urgent.
He shook off the frightening thoughts. One thing at a time.
"Jean's family is anxious to come and see her. What should I tell them?"
"I wouldn't recommend it. It is hard to strike a balance between giving an amnesiac familiar stimuli and overwhelming her. Right now, while she's in this pre-surgical condition, I think it would be wise to keep her visitors down to a minimum. And of course, since she's heading back to LA so soon, it really wouldn't make sense for them for them to come all this way."
Jim nodded. That makes sense.
Jim extended a hand. "Thank you so much, Doctor. I don't know what I would have done without your help today."
"My pleasure. I really hope everything works out well for you and Jean and your son. Would you mind if I followed up with Doctor Barnes, just to see how Jean is doing?"
"No, not at all. I appreciate your concern."
"All right then. Good luck. The nurse will help you get Jean's things together. She didn't have much; only the clothes she wore. I doubt they've had time to send them to the laundry. The nurse will know."
The doctor turned back toward his office. "The ambulance driver will be expecting her at 8:00. If you have any questions before leaving, please feel free to ask the nurse."
"Thank you again, Doctor Terhune." What inadequate words!
Jim looked back at Pete, and decided that the distance between them was too great for Pete to have heard their conversation. He walked over to his partner and filled him in.
"Why don't you head on back now, Pete? Woods and Brinkman already left, didn't they?"
"Yeah, but I don't mind staying here to see you off."
"Well, suit yourself. But I don't know that there will be much for you to do."
"I'll worry about me. You go worry about her." Pete nodded toward Jean's door.
"All right. Thanks, partner." Jim walked quickly back to the room that held his wife.
If she still was his wife.
She's in there. She must be there, underneath all that confusion.
I need her to be there.
Jim tried to make himself comfortable on the low bench. Jean lay on a stretcher next to him, looking small and vulnerable. Jim turned to watch as the attendant climbed in, squeezing into the already crowded ambulance.
Pete waved from outside, then turned to head for his car.
The attendant gave a "thumbs up" to the man outside, and a moment later the ambulance doors slammed shut. The engine coughed and then smoothed to a hum.
Jim and Jean began their long journey together.
Jean looked up at him. "So, tell me how we met."
Jim smiled. I don't know why I didn't expect that question.
"Well, I've always considered our first meeting to have been at one of my high school basketball games."
"We've been together since high school?"
"Inseparable is a better word."
"What do you mean ... you've always considered that our first meeting?"
Jim laughed. "Well, we did exchange a few words before that, but that was mostly me trying to get you to talk to me, and you not wanting to."
Jean's eyes widened with surprise. "What was wrong with me?" She half-turned her face away with a smile, still looking at him out of the corner of her eye.
That's the same expression she always uses when she feels like being coy with me.
The flirtation and the compliment made Jim blush, almost as if they came from a stranger.
"Well...you thought you wouldn't like me because I was a jock."
"Oh?" Jean giggled a little.
Jim couldn't take his eyes off of her. He was utterly charmed.
"I'm glad I came to my senses." She reached out to lightly touch his arm. "I may not remember you, but I can still feel ...it's hard to explain." She searched his eyes in the low light of the ambulance. "Somehow, I know that I feel safe and warm and good with you. I know that I...loved you." Those last three words seemed to require a lot of effort, and after she said them she withdrew her hand and looked shyly away.
Jim felt a glow of warmth spreading like sunrise throughout his soul. He blinked back tears, tears that were very different from the many he'd shed since yesterday. He couldn't have found words for his feelings if he'd tried.
Jim waited quietly for a few seconds until she looked back at him. He realized immediately how plainly his emotions must have shown on his face, because she grew teary and placed a gentle hand on his cheek. He sat motionless, almost afraid to breathe lest he disturb the moment.
He saw nothing but her eyes.
After a time he gently enfolded her hand in his, kissing it lightly. He rubbed her knuckles softly, just the way she always liked. A few tears breached his defenses as the familiar loving touches soothed away hours of fear and pain. He smiled and gently kissed her hand again.
The passing street lights glinted against the tears on her cheeks, and he reached out to tenderly brush them away. I think those are happy tears. I hope so.
"I love you, Jean." He spoke in a whisper, almost afraid that his words would frighten her. What must this be like for her?
"I'm so tired now. I want to rest. But I don't want to sleep yet. Will you...will you just talk to me? Tell me stories. Tell me about us, about Jimmy, about you, about everything. I want to know so much." She closed her eyes.
Her took both of her hands in his, feeling a rush of happy memories flooding his soul. He lost himself in reminiscences, sharing them with her and delighting in her sleepy laughter. Sometimes he would wonder if she had drifted off, but then she would ask him a question that sparked a thousand other memories.
It seemed so strange, telling Jean the stories of her own life, knowing that she was hearing them as if for the first time. And yet, it was strangely wonderful, too. The memories took on a new life as he watched her enjoying them. We've had so many terrific times.
I will treasure these hours for the rest of my life.
Jim sat beside his wife in the pre-surgical waiting room, watching over her as she slept.
Jean had fallen asleep on the last half-hour of their trip, right in the middle of the story of Jimmy running nearly naked through the church. Their arrival at the hospital had failed to waken her, and the staff had let her stay on the gurney to avoid disturbing her. By now she'd slept about two hours, and Jim had to struggle to keep himself awake. When she wakes back up, I don't want to miss it.
The door swung open and Jim jerked his head around. Two nurses bustled in. "It's time to head in for surgery," one informed him brusquely.
"So soon? But the surgeon won't be here until 4:00!" Jim clung to Jean's hand. After so long apart, he couldn't bear to let her go again.
"That barely gives us enough time." The nurses gave him no time to argue. Each grabbed one end of the gurney and began wheeling Jean out. Jim had to let go of Jean's hand when they got to the doorway, but as soon as the gurney passed through he rushed after it.
The nurses talked between themselves in medical-ese, effectively shutting Jim out and irritating him to no end. After a few futile attempts to interrupt them, he lunged forward and grabbed the gurney to stop it, just outside the OR doors. "I want to come in with her."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Reed, but you'll have to wait out here. We need to prep your wife for surgery."
"But... I didn't get a chance to say goodbye."
"She's asleep, Mr. Reed. Don't worry. We'll take good care of her. Now please, wait out there and let us do our work." The nurse left brusquely, closing the door in his face. She exhibited none of the sympathy and kindness that Jim had received all evening, and he found their exchange jarring.
Nurse Bryngleson. I'll remember her to the doctor!
"C'mon Jim." Jim's head snapped around at the sound of Pete's voice.
"I thought you were going home!"
"And leave you here, alone? No way. You'd be wreaking havoc in no time." Pete smiled tiredly and escorted Jim toward a chair.
Jim pulled away from Pete. "I'll stand, thanks. That was a long ride."
"Suit yourself." Pete stretched out across a couple of chairs. "But sitting and standing aren't the only options." His eyes poured out sympathy for his friend, and his voice softened. "It's going to be a long wait before the surgery even begins, and then a longer wait for it to finish. Why don't you try to get some rest? There are plenty of chairs. Evidently the other patients scheduled their surgeries for reasonable hours."
Indeed, the waiting room was empty, and Jim's exhaustion made standing harder than he'd expected. But he knew he couldn't relax.
"I need to call home." Jim walked to the phone and placed his call.
His father picked up on the first ring, just as he had done before.
"Hi, Dad. I'm sorry to bother you so late." Jim glanced at his watch.
"No, of course you're right to have called. Fill me in, please."
Jim told the latest to his father, including the powerful moments he'd shared with Jean in the ambulance.
"What can we do?" Dan Reed's voice carried his compassion clearly, despite the distortion of the phone line.
Jim sighed. "I don't think it makes any sense for people to come out just yet. It's going to be hours before the surgery begins. Tell folks to rest. The earliest they should come would be 4:00, but later would be fine, too. It's going to take hours, and you all can come in shifts if you'd rather. That way there will always be someone to look after Jimmy."
"I'll pass everything along to the others, and folks will show up when they think best. How does that sound to you?"
"That's fine. Thanks, Dad."
It took Jean a moment to react. She still couldn't get used to thinking of that name as hers.
"Please, call me Jean." She hoped that would make things easier. She liked the look of the nurse who spoke to her. The nurse wore a pleasant expression, and seemed almost motherly, in contrast to the two others in the room.
I wish I could remember my mother.
"All right, Jean. I'm Nurse Fisher, but since we're on a first name basis, you can call me Millie." Millie smiled kindly, but Jean began to worry about the supplies the nurse brought out.
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, Jean, I'm afraid I have to do the job that nobody likes. I'm going to have to shave your head. I'm so sorry."
"Shave my head? Oh, no!"
Jean felt almost panicky at the thought. She knew so little about herself, and most of that she could see in the mirror. Now even her reflection was going to change. It felt totally unnerving.
But it's more than that. Jean wondered if she had actually remembered something. For a moment it seemed that she could almost feel strong, gentle hands moving up through her hair at the back of her head...
But then all she had was the memory of a memory, and she wondered if it had been real.
"Here we go, honey." Millie's voice sounded truly regretful, but she did not hesitate in her duties.
Snip, snip, snip. "I have to take off the long hair with the scissors, and then I'll go back over it with the razor."
Snip, snip, snip.
Jean stared up at the tiled ceiling, shivering a little in the chilly room. Silent tears pooled in her ears, and before long they gave way to muffled sobs.
"There, there, honey. I know, I know."
Snip, snip, snip.
"Pete?" Jim spoke softly, unsure whether his friend was awake or not.
"On the way down here, Jean and I had a wonderful time."
"You did?" Pete sounded truly surprised, but also happy for his friend. He rolled over on his side to face Jim, though lying that way on the row of chairs could not have been comfortable at all.
"Yeah. I told her all sorts of stuff about us, and she loved hearing it. We shared so many memories, and it all seemed so fresh because it was new for her. We laughed, we cried, we held hands...." Jim felt his words catch in his throat. "Pete, she told me that she loved me. Or at least that she could feel that she had loved me before. I can't tell you what that meant to me."
"I'll bet." Pete's voice sounded hushed, almost awed by Jim's experience.
"It was so wonderful that it allowed me to forget...what we were coming here for. I wasn't prepared to have her yanked away from me and taken in for an operation that she might not survive. I just got her back! Pete, it was like falling in love all over again in that ambulance. I can't lose her now!" He paced back and forth, his tone pleading. But finally he stopped in front of Pete, who by now was sitting up again. "I didn't get to say goodbye, Pete. How will I live with that if she...if she..."
"Jim, you're making yourself go crazy. It is going to be many, many hours before we know anything. You have to save your strength. Get some rest. Ask a nurse for a pill or something, if you need to. But you can't do this for hours. It's too much for you. And for me."
Pete threw in that last line as a brave attempt at humor, Jim knew. He also knew that Pete was right.
I'm going to go crazy.
No matter what, I'm not going to ask for any pills. But he did sit down to mollify Pete.
He rested his forehead on his hand and began rubbing at his temples. A strange, trembly sensation shook his gut and radiated outward to fill his whole being. He recognized the symptoms of overwrought nerves, of lack of food, of exhaustion. His near euphoria on the ride here began to boomerang, giving him the emotional equivalent of a whiplash. Jim began to fear as much for himself as he did for Jean.
Pete's right. I've got to do something.
Pete watched his friend with a critical eye. He could see the trembling. He knew how long it had been since Jim had eaten, and how little sleep he'd gotten.
Of course, I haven't done much better, but this has got to be a hundred times worse for him.
A nurse walked past, and Pete gestured to her. She approached him with a kind expression.
"May I help you, sir?"
He smiled at her. "My name is Pete, and that's my friend Jim. His wife is getting prepped for brain surgery right now, and he's about on his last legs. He hasn't eaten or slept well for over 24 hours, and he's been through unbelievable stress. Everybody's been trying to get him to eat, but he won't. What can we do for him?" Pete spoke softly, hoping that Jim wouldn't pay him any attention.
The nurse cast a worried frown at Jim.
"His wife is Dr. Barnes' patient?"
"Yes, that's right."
"It's going to be quite a wait. I'll see what I can do. Do you know if he's allergic to any foods?"
"None that I know of." Pete searched his memory, but it seemed to him that Jim was pretty omnivorous. With one exception. "Oh, he hates Chinese food."
"Any medical facts I should know about him?"
"He doesn't like needles."
"Aha!" the nurse sparkled at Pete and lowered her voice further. "We can use that to our advantage. I'll be right back."
She stayed away for over ten minutes, and Pete began to worry that she wasn't returning. But finally she appeared with a tray in her hands. The food on it looked almost appetizing.
"This is the best that our cafeteria has to offer. I hope he likes hamburgers." She whispered conspiratorially.
"Yeah, he does." Pete whispered as he warily eyed the other contents of the tray. There, next to the fork, lay the biggest hypodermic he had ever seen.
The nurse noticed the direction of Pete's gaze, and when he looked back at her she winked at him and whispered, "Let's just call that some friendly persuasion. Who was the referring physician? Was it Doctor Terhune?"
"Yes, that's right. What's in that needle?"
"Sugar water and food coloring." She winked again, her whisper almost inaudible.
The nurse walked over to Jim and set the tray down beside him. He looked up at her, his eyes dull.
"Mr. Reed? I'm Nurse Higgins. Dr. Terhune has been in touch with us. He told us what you've been through. I'm truly sorry."
"Thanks," Jim murmured.
"He told us we needed to help you, too. The way he explained it, we have two options. Either you can eat, or I can give you this." She held up the hypodermic, and Jim's eyes became saucers.
"Well, it's a combination of things. It's a mild sedative, and it's a nutritional supplement. That's why we have to use such a big needle. Otherwise we'd just have to hook you up to an IV, and we'd have to admit you for that."
She smiled charmingly, as if it were normal for her to blackmail people with threats of elephant-sized injections.
Pete could hardly keep a straight face. He swallowed hard to keep from snorting at the whole thing.
Jim eyed her with a mixture of suspicion and dread.
Uh oh. I think he's on to her.
Her smile widened, and she did that nerve-wracking thing that nurses do, holding the needle upright and squirting a little liquid out of the tip.
Pete coughed to cover his laughter and struggled to look innocent.
Jim turned distrustful eyes toward his partner.
I still think he's onto us, but I hope he's not willing to take the chance.
"All right. I'll eat. But I don't think you're playing straight with me."
I'd hate to play poker with that lady. Nurse Higgins' face wore an expression of shocked denial. But she patted the tray and laid the hypodermic back down on it.
"Okay, you eat, and I'll watch." She held up a finger and cocked her head as Jim started to protest. "Doctor's orders!" Her eyes turned meaningfully toward the needle on the tray.
Jim ate. He began tentatively, but soon wolfed down every crumb as his hunger refused to be denied.
Nurse Higgins winked at Pete again, and he returned the gesture.
Jim set his empty tray aside, his demeanor somewhat improved. Nurse Higgins patted him on the knee.
"There. See? That was easy. Now, is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Is there anything else I have to do to avoid a stabbing?"
"Not at the moment, but I'll let you know if something comes up later." The nurse smiled cheerily and walked away with the tray.
Jim looked at Pete and shook his head. "The lengths you'll go to!" Despite his meal, Jim's fatigue still showed plainly on his face, and he rested his face in his hands.
"The lengths you force me to!" Pete pretended to be annoyed, and stretched himself back out across the chairs.
"Thanks Pete," Jim said softly.
"You're welcome." Pete closed his eyes, but after a few minutes he opened them to check on Jim again.
His partner lay across five chairs, snoring softly.
Sleep well, Jim. Dream well, too.
Who knows what nightmares are waiting in the real world?
Jean lay on the hospital bed, looking exhausted but happy. She smiled sweetly at Jim, and he responded with a weak smile of his own. Mostly he felt overwhelmed, even terrified, and yet overjoyed at the same time. He looked away from Jean and into the face of the newcomer. The stranger who had just turned their world upside down. The tiny, wrapped bundle of utter dependence that squirmed in his arms and yawned into his face.
I love you, little Jimmy. I don't know you yet, but I love you already.
I love you too, Jean. How did you do it? How did you create this little person inside yourself? He's a miracle. I guess that makes you a miracle worker.
He looked back at Jean, and this time could return her smile more fully.
We're a family!
"Mr. Reed?" A hand shook his shoulder.
What? Is something wrong with the baby?
No, that was the dream.
He fought against waking up, knowing that his dream had been much more pleasant than whatever realities awaited him. But after a moment his eyes opened. He sat up and rubbed the sleep out, then looked questioningly at the nurse.
"Oh. What is it?" He finally figured out where he was, and panic brought him fully awake. "Is something wrong with Jean?"
"No, no Mr. Reed. She's fine. It's just that we're only an hour away from surgery, and we really do need to get this paperwork taken care of. I'm sure sorry to have to disturb you."
Jim didn't recognize this nurse. Her name badge said "Watson."
"No, no problem. I want to do whatever needs to be done. How is Jean? Is she awake now?"
"Oh yes, she woke up when we started to prep her."
"Then why wasn't I allowed in to say goodbye, to hold her hand for her?" Jim felt the same awful guilt that plagued him when he sat in his house and let someone else find his wife.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Reed. We have to keep everything perfectly sterile." Nurse Watson gave Jim a sympathetic look. "It is going to be a long wait for you, I'm afraid. Please try to get more rest as soon as the paperwork is done. Once again, I apologize for this inconvenience."
She handed Jim a clipboard full of papers. "It should all be self-explanatory, but if you have any questions, feel free to come see me at the desk."
Jim nodded numbly, and the nurse turned to leave.
"Yes?" Nurse Watson turned back toward him.
"What is all this prepping they have to do? Why does it take so long?"
The nurse sat down next to Jim. "Well, there are a lot of things that have to be done. First of all, they had to monitor her vital signs for an extended period. Blood pressure needs to be stable before we head into this kind of surgery, so they keep tabs on it for quite a while before. They also monitor her temperature, watching for any spikes that might indicate an infection of some sort. While all that's going on, the different doctors are looking over the X-rays and consulting amongst themselves."
"Different doctors?" Jim felt confused.
"Yes, there's the neurosurgeon, and the anesthesiologist, and some neurosurgery students."
"Students?" Jim felt sudden rage at the thought.
Nurse Watson raised a conciliatory hand. "Don't worry. They won't be touching your wife. They're only there to observe and learn."
Jim felt himself relaxing a little, but then the nurse's expression became cautious, sympathetic.
Oh no. What is she about to tell me? He tensed again.
Nurse Watson placed a hand on Jim's arm. "Then they had to shave her head."
Jim felt the words like a knife in his heart.
"Shave her head?" Some cool, logical voice in his brain told him he should have expected that, but the rest of him felt a sorrow akin to mourning.
"I know, that's often such a hard thing for spouses to accept. But it really does grow back." The nurse continued to show nothing but compassion in her manner. She clearly saw Jim's distress, and waited for him to collect himself.
Her hair. Her beautiful hair. Jim felt as if he'd lost someone dear to him. He loved her hair; the way it shimmered in the sun, the scent of it when they cuddled close, the luxury of running his fingers through it. He could almost feel it in his hands as he thought about it, and once again he found himself battling horror.
Pull yourself together, Jim. It will grow back. It will grow back.
Pete came over and sat next to Jim, offering whatever support he could. Jim slowly realized that the nurse still waited patiently for him.
"I'm...I'm sorry," he murmured. He kept his arms tight around his stomach again, as he had done in Doctor Terhune's office.
"No, don't be. There is a lot about this that is hard. But one thing I can tell you. Dr. Barnes is one of the best in the country. People come from everywhere to have him for their surgeon. Jean's fortunate to have him as her doctor."
Jim nodded and rubbed at his temples.
"Do you want to hear more?" The nurse asked kindly.
"Well, after the head is shaved, it has to be disinfected, and then a sterile field has to be set up around it. And then the skull mapping has to be done."
"What's that?" Jim was almost afraid to find out. It sounded awful.
"It's nothing to worry about. It just means taking a marker and drawing the lines where the doctor will need to cut, and marking the area that covers the tumor. That sort of thing."
Jim tried hard not to think about the cutting part.
"The anesthesiologist will begin giving low levels of anesthesia. If he had to knock her out completely, it wouldn't be so tricky. But he needs to find just the right level that allows her to stay calm and still, but still respond to questions."
"Respond to questions? You don't mean during the surgery?"
"Yes, she will be awake during the surgery." The nurse must have seen Jim's horror, because she hurried to reassure him. "Don't worry. She won't be in any pain. But she needs to be able to speak so that she can respond to the doctors. They will use her responses to see what effect, if any, their actions might have on her abilities."
Jim began to feel completely overwhelmed. He wanted to stand up and call a halt to the whole thing, demanding a reprieve for himself and his frightened, confused wife. He fought hard to regain his perspective.
They're trying to save her life. If we don't do this, she'll die.
"Is there anything else I need to know?" He couldn't even look at the nurse.
"Well, the surgeon will scrub in, and then he'll double check everything that was done before. With surgery like this, you can't be too careful."
Jim nodded wordlessly.
"Do you want to hear about the surgery?"
Jim nodded again, though he didn't know if he could bear it.
The nurse explained to him all of the meticulous procedures for opening the skull, mapping Jean's brain, and determining the safest way to remove the tumor.
Jim tried to absorb it all, even though it meant lying to himself. We're talking about hypotheticals, not about Jean. He couldn't have borne it any other way.
The nurse concluded with words of encouragement.
"I know it all sounds overwhelming, Mr. Reed. But really, all of those special procedures exist just to make this as safe for your wife as it can possibly be. Doctor Barnes and Doctor Solomon...he's the anesthesiologist...have worked together for years, and have done quite a few of these surgeries. They'll do it as well as it can be done."
She stood to leave. "Now, I really do need to let you get to that paperwork, and I need to get back to my desk. But please, do come up and ask me anything at any time. I'll do my best to answer you."
Jim mumbled his thanks and turned nearly sightless eyes toward the stack of papers on his lap. His mind swam with unaccustomed medical thoughts, with fear, with sadness, and with pain.
The documents refused to come into focus. Jim rubbed a hand on his forehead again, trying to clear his thoughts.
They shaved her head.
Jim's imagination became cruelly vivid. He saw those beautiful locks falling onto the floor. He saw Jean becoming bald. He saw her weeping with the humiliation of it all.
He closed his eyes and squeezed his arms even tighter around his belly, no longer even trying to tend to paperwork. How can they expect me to do that at a time like this?
He felt someone lay a hand on his shoulder, and guessed it was Pete.
"Jim." His partner's voice held such compassion, even now after all these hours of supporting Jim.
"I know. I know. Just give me a minute, please." Jim swallowed against the rising sensation in the back of his throat, the one that made him feel that he might lose that hamburger at any moment.
Be strong. Jean needs you to be strong. Do it for her. Do it for her.
He forced his eyes open. Focus. Concentrate. Do it.
He picked up the pen with trembling fingers, blinked the forms into focus, and tried to write.
Reed, Jean Marie. D.O.B: He scribbled the numbers in, then mopped at his nose. Address:
She doesn't know our address. Our home is a strange house.
He wrote in the numbers, then dropped the pen and wiped away a few silent tears before forcing himself to go on.
Never had anything required such strength on his part. Never had the temptation to collapse been more alluring. This is too much. I can't take it. I have to. Do it. Go on. Be strong. He pushed himself even as he trembled, even as he fought back the tears that sometimes defied his best efforts to hold them back.
Don't die, Jean. Please, don't die!
Jean lay still, listening to the voices above her head. They filtered down to her as though through a haze. When they spoke to her, she managed a sluggish response. When they spoke to each other, many of their words were medical mumbo-jumbo that defied comprehension. Even the words that she understood seemed strange to her. They connected with her mind, but seemed detached from her emotions.
"All right, are we ready to proceed?"
"Vital signs are all go."
"Everything is double-checked."
"Let's do it."
She heard an awful sound. Or at least, some small part of her thought it was awful. But that part lay smothered under a blanket of drug-induced stupor. Her fear grew to panic, but somehow she couldn't pay attention to it. Terror in the background, drowsy apathy on the surface.
She could hear someone screaming in the back of her mind. Someone who desperately wanted to be heard.
Jean lay still, listening through the fog, feeling through the blanket of medication, wondering why she couldn't panic. Why she couldn't listen to the voice of reason, the one that pleaded with her not to let this terrible thing happen.
A hideous vibration wracked her skull. The screaming grew louder, but she could only listen to it with vague curiosity. The doctor's voice seemed more important.
"No, I'm not in any pain." She thought even her own voice sounded unnatural. So calm. How can I feel so calm, and yet not believe my own feelings?
"It buzzes too much." Jean felt her teeth rattling.
"I know," a male voice answered kindly. "It will go on for a few minutes, and then things will be a lot easier."
Okay? They're taking my head apart! They're splitting my skull! What do I mean, 'okay?'
"How're you doing, Jean?"
"Fine." Somehow, the reality forced upon her by the drugs took precedence.
The screaming in her mind gave way to heartbroken sobbing.
Nobody's listening. Not even me.
Jim handed the paperwork to the nurse and returned to his seat. He felt numb again, and he welcomed the relief. It seemed so easy just to sit, unmoving, unthinking, unfeeling.
I wonder what's happening to her. What she's seeing, and hearing, and feeling.
Jim pushed the thoughts aside. I don't want to think. I want to stay numb.
He jumped a little when Pete spoke to him.
"Jim, I'm feeling really tired. Would you mind if I tried to get some sleep?"
"No, you go ahead." Jim's voice sounded dull and lifeless in his own ears.
"All right, but only on one condition. Promise me you'll wake me up if any news comes, or even if you just want to talk."
"And one more thing. Promise me you'll try to rest, too."
I won't succeed, but I'll try.
The vibration finally ended, and a number of encouraging voices spoke.
"Good job, Jean. That's the end of that. No more cutting. You can just relax, and we'll ask you some questions when it's time. Okay? Do you understand?"
She shuddered as the surgeon placed pieces of her skull on a tray.
"I have it visualized," Dr. Barnes continued.
"What does it look like?"
"Here, see for yourself."
Several people came and looked at her brain.
They're seeing the seat of my soul, and their faces are covered so that I wouldn't know them on the street. That's not fair.
The doctor asked for some instruments, and then spoke to Jean.
"We're going to biopsy the tumor now. You won't feel a thing."
The doctor needed only a few seconds to complete that task. Jean saw him place something into a container, and then it went somewhere else.
The whole world is 'somewhere else.' Jean's own world narrowed down to what she could see and hear within the confines of her sterile field. She couldn't even turn her head to see more.
"It appears to be highly vascularized." That sounded like one of the students.
"Yes, I would expect that with something that's growing as rapidly as this is."
"But it makes removal more complicated."
"Naturally. However, I don't see any contraindications at this point. I believe we can safely proceed."
The doctors' voices became quieter as they talked to each other. "Okay, here we have Broca's area, and Wernicke's area. We'll start mapping with those areas."
"Jean, I'm going to touch your brain in this area right here. When I say 'okay', I want you to count to ten again. All right?"
"Okay, Jean. Count to ten for me, please."
"Good. Now I'll move my probe..." he seemed to be talking to the student surgeons again.
"Jean, count to ten for me again, please."
Jean tried, but no words would come out. Try as she might, she couldn't say them. She felt panic rising in her throat, but she could find no words for that, either.
She couldn't answer him.
Despite his best efforts, Jim could not stop wondering.
I bet she's scared. She must be. I wish she didn't have to be awake for this.
He began to feel antsy. He rubbed his sweaty palms against his pant legs.
I wish there was something I could do!
Jim glanced over at Pete, who still managed to sleep on those hard chairs. Jim envied him, but couldn't imitate him.
Jim stood and began to pace, hoping he could distract himself from his troubled thoughts.
Maybe I should go to the restroom.
Jim walked the few steps to the men's room, fighting down the irrational feeling that he was abandoning his post. He used the facilities, then washed his hands and splashed cold water on his face. The shock of the dousing helped to clear his own tired brain, and he indulged for several long moments.
Finally he straightened up and started to reach for a towel, but he stopped when he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror.
I look awful!
The face that stared back at him looked haggard. His bloodshot eyes bore telltale dark circles. Stubble covered his chin. I never even thought about shaving.
I wonder what Jean looks like now.
The thought rocked him, sending cold chills through him that had nothing to do with his recent splashing.
He instantly felt guilty for his reaction.
I don't care what she looks like, God. I just want her back.
I can't speak! Terror overwhelmed Jean, and she began to struggle. Gentle hands quickly but firmly pressed down on her.
"Jean, it's okay. We expected that. I'm removing the probe now, and the words should come back."
"Try it now."
Jean felt overwhelming relief as the words once again poured forth effortlessly.
"Okay, I need a marker please." A nurse gave Dr. Barnes something tiny. Jean struggled to see out of the corners of her eyes, but she could only guess.
"Did you...did you put something on my brain?" The thought made her shudder.
"Yes, but don't worry. That marker is your friend. It tells me what part of your brain I must not invade, because if I do, it will affect your ability to speak. We're going to find all the untouchable spots, and we'll mark them. Everybody's brain is slightly different, so we have to do this for safety's sake. It will take a long time, so please be patient."
I guess I don't have any choice, do I?
I've been doing this for hours! Jean could scarcely believe all the poking and prodding, testing and re-testing. They haven't even begun to take the tumor out!
At first she felt terrified every time a probe found a "hot spot," and some important function would stop working. But she found that her abilities always returned when the doctor removed the probe, and she learned to relax more with it.
Dr. Barnes straightened up and stretched. "Nurse, I have a muscle spasm, right below my right shoulder blade."
Millie began to work on the knotted muscles with a practiced hand.
Jean had never before thought about the physical rigors facing a surgeon. I bet he's tired.
"Hey, when's it my turn for a backrub?" Jean smiled, hoping to bring some lightness into the room.
It worked. Millie smiled back at her. "When this is all done, honey, I'll give you a backrub for sure."
"I'm gonna hold you to that."
Once he felt able to go on, Dr. Barnes thanked the nurse, and then spoke the words that removed all lightness from Jean's heart.
"All right. I believe we're ready to take this thing out. Doctor Solomon?"
"Vital signs are stable. Jean, can you count to ten again please?"
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten." Even though she'd successfully passed that test many times over, Jean still felt a little tingle of nervousness each time she had to perform it.
"Can you wiggle your fingers? How about your toes?"
Jean complied on both counts.
"She's looking good. Everything's 'go' from here."
They're going to start removing it!
This is what I've been waiting for. Why am I suddenly so afraid?
"All right. Cautery."
A pungent burning smell assaulted Jean's nose. Her stomach roiled. The long-dormant voice of panic made sudden new inroads into her drug-induced calmness. Her arms and legs stiffened with fear. Waves of nausea swept through her.
"She's becoming agitated."
"Jean, Jean, this is Doctor Solomon. What's wrong, Jean?"
"I'm going to vomit."
"No, you don't want to do that. You mustn't vomit. Can you tell me what's making you feel that way?"
"That smell. That awful burning smell." Jean saw Millie approaching with an emesis basin.
"Olfactory nerve is working." Jean hoped Dr. Barnes hadn't meant for her to understand that, because she felt to ill to ask for clarification.
Dr. Solomon spoke again. "Close your mouth, okay? That will lessen the smell."
Jean hadn't realized her mouth was open, but she quickly closed it.
"Now, breathe deeply and slowly through your nose. I know it sounds backwards, but you'll smell less that way."
Jean forced herself to comply with the strange instructions, and her nausea eased. She also thought she could feel heat in her arm, as if the doctor had given her more medication.
"What do I smell burning?"
"Jean? This is Doctor Barnes. That burning smell is coming from the cautery. We are cauterizing the blood vessels that are supplying this tumor. Do you know what that means?"
"I ...I'm not sure."
"We have to destroy the blood vessels so we can remove the tumor."
"How can that be safe?" Jean felt terror trying to claw its way back to the surface.
"Because we're only destroying the parts that supply the tumor. Not the parts that supply your brain. Don't worry. Everything looks fine so far."
The doctor spoke to someone else. "What's the time estimate on that pathology report?"
A female voice answered. "Nine o'clock in the morning."
"Thank you, nurse."
"Jean, can you count backwards from ten?"
"Ten, nine, eight..."
Jim paced in front of the nurses' station.
"Mr. Reed, I have a report for you."
Jim spun to face Nurse Watson. "How is she?"
"She's doing fine. The doctor expects a report on the tumor at 9:00 this morning. That will tell us if it is benign or cancerous."
Jim glanced nervously at his watch. Three and a half more hours. An eternity.
"Does that mean they've got the tumor out?"
"No. That part of the process is really just beginning. It will take several more hours to remove it, and then quite a while to close the skull back up. But Jean is doing just fine. Her vital signs are stable, and she's communicating quite well with the doctors. When I left she was demonstrating her prowess at counting backwards." The nurse smiled encouragingly. "I'm afraid there's no choice but just to be patient. If there's anything I can get you, especially food, let me know." The nurse walked back to her seat and began some more of her endless paperwork, leaving Jim to his thoughts.
I don't ever want to hear the word 'food' again.
Jim glanced over at Pete, who slept soundly on the chairs.
I'm glad one of us can rest.
Three hours and twenty-five minutes to go.
One hundred and sixty-seven. I took one hundred and sixty seven steps in the last three minutes. That means I'll need to take... Jim tried to do the math in his head, but quickly gave up. I'll need to take too many steps before the report gets here.
Time to try something else to pass the time. He walked over to the window and began counting.
...ten, eleven, twelve. There are twelve trees in that parking area.
Over the next half-hour Jim memorized the number and names of all the selections in the snack machines, the names of the doctors on the wall plaque, the names on the charts in the nurses' station, and the number of tiles between his seat and Pete's. Not to mention the number of steps between any two given points in the room.
Two hours and fifty-five minutes to go.
The elevator door swooshed open. Jim turned to see Jean's parents emerge, looking right and left.
"Over here." Jim called to them, and they hurried to his side.
"You know I would have called you if things weren't going well." Jim finally found something he could focus on. Help the relatives through this. "You really didn't need to come so early in the morning."
"That's okay. We couldn't sleep. Barbara's on her way over, too. She should be here any minute."
Candace sat down in a chair across from Pete. Bud preferred to stand and stare out the window.
Pete stirred and sat up. "How long have I been asleep?"
Jim filled everyone in on the details.
"Well, that sounds like good news," Candace said at the end of Jim's report. But her hands fretted endlessly with her purse buckle, and her eyes darted nervously around the room.
Pete excused himself and headed for the men's room.
Jim began to wish his in-laws hadn't come. Already their stress compounded his own.
We can't just sit here and stare at the walls. I'll go crazy.
Jim broke the silence, feeling awkward but compelled to speak. He told Bud and Candace the story of the ambulance ride. By the end of it, Candace wept openly. Jim knelt down in front of her.
"She's going to be all right, Mom. She's a fighter. The nurse says she's doing well, and she wouldn't lie to us."
The elevator doors slid open again, and Barbara stepped out. She dabbed at her nose as she approached.
Jim sighed, dreading the prospect of telling it all over again.
When will this finally be over?