Curse of the Sabeth, Part VI
"So we don't know the whole story of what really went down last night," Coop said, taking a quick look at the closed door. "Because of the whack on the head he took?"
"The last thing he remembers is chasing down a suspect. That was earlier during yesterday's shift. Before we picked up Michelle."
A few seconds passed as neither man said anything.
"I know what you're thinking, Pete," Coop said. "But don't jump to any conclusions."
"A syringe was there."
"With nothing in it. Probably a scare tactic. And from the looks of things, she got the worst end of it, right?"
"No maybe about it. How do you think she got stuck by her own needle, anyway?"
"Clumsy?" Pete said, briefly calling on Coop's sense of humor.
Coop made a sound that wasn't quite a laugh. "Right. So…did you tell him anything?"
"No," Pete said as he scouted the area for Jim's physician. "Jean came in and I'm not sure how you're supposed to handle something like this. Maybe the doctor can shed some light."
Pete spotted Doctor Patterson exiting the elevator but drew back as a sudden thought took hold. "Jean. I need to make sure Jean doesn't say anything yet. Coop, flag down that doctor over there, will you?"
Coop whipped around in pursuit of the man in the white coat at the same time Pete turned and pushed his way back into Jim's room.
The look of surprise on Jean's face was quickly replaced with instinctive apprehension. "What's wrong?"
"Pete?" Jim raised his head a few inches from his pillow. Although bleary and bloodshot, the younger man's eyes zeroed in on Pete with mounting clarity.
Pete swung a thumb toward the hallway. 'Sorry. Jean, can you talk to the doctor?"
"Isn't he coming to check on Jim?" Jean asked, her frown more confused than critical.
"It'll only take a minute and then he'll be in here to harass your husband," Pete smiled apologetically.
"Oh, all right," Jean bent and kissed Jim's lips lightly. "Don't go anywhere, you."
"No problem," Jim murmured thickly.
Holding the door open for Jean, Pete stepped in behind her.
The sound of Jim's voice stopped him cold.
"Yeah?" Pete turned, slipping on the neutral expression required so many times on the job. He hadn't expected to use it on his partner--nor did he like doing so.
"Thanks a lot."
"Jim, you're the one that's horizontal in the hospital bed. So let me make sure the doc's got everything he needs from Jean and gets back in here to look you over, okay?"
"Okay," Jim grumbled as he settled back and closed his eyes. "By the way…I heard what you said."
"What I said?"
"Wells." Jim's eyes stayed closed as he moistened his lips.
"Yeah, really. Sounded like a threat."
"Extreme situations call for extreme measures," Pete responded with a crooked half-smile. The faint amusement he saw surface on Jim's face heartened him. Before Jim could vocalize a response, he ducked out of the room and made a beeline for the nurses' desk where Dr. Patterson stood with Jean and Coop. All three of them looked at him expectantly.
"Officer Malloy, Detective Lee said you needed to talk to me before I looked in on Mr. Reed," Doctor Patterson said, pushing his glasses up toward the bridge of his nose. "What's this about?"
"Pete, what's going on?" Jean asked before Pete could answer the doctor.
"I didn't mean to worry you, Jean."
"Why are you worried?"
Pete hesitated a second. "Because Jim doesn't remember what happened last night. None of it."
"He doesn't?" Jean said, seeking confirmation from the doctor. "Well, he's still a little groggy…that's normal, isn't it?"
"A little disorientation is to be expected. Or we might be dealing with retrograde amnesia," Doctor Patterson said, nodding. "Very common with these type of cases. How much time is missing and how long it continues will give us some indication of the severity of the injury."
"He doesn't realize that he's missing anything, Doctor. And I wasn't sure if I should tell him," Pete said, glancing at Jean. "That's why I wanted you to wait and talk to the doctor, Jean."
"I'm not sure I understand," Jean said. "What happens if you tell him something he can't remember?"
"Many people who suffer a traumatic blow to the head cannot remember the events before and surrounding the time of the injury," Doctor Patterson said. "Many times the memories come back on their own, sometimes not. The sooner that occurs, if it occurs, the more complete the recovery. Whether or not to assist the patient in this process is a difficult decision for many in the medical profession. But, speaking as the physician in charge, I believe that it should be a natural process, unhindered by outside pressures."
"Doctor, that may not be possible," Pete said, trying to keep a lid on the conflicting emotions inside of him. "We're in the middle of a criminal investigation and it's important…it's crucial that we find out everything we can as soon as we can. The suspects don't normally offer up much information. My partner is the only person who can tell us what happened to him."
"Under normal conditions, I would prefer to let nature take its course. It's much less traumatic that way. Memories can return spontaneously or be triggered by even the smallest of things. I understand that we're dealing with a unique situation here. Whether or not to keep the truth from him for now is something I can better answer after I've examined him."
"I don't lie to my husband, Doctor," Jean said, her tone unmistakable. "Are you telling me that the truth could jeopardize his health?"
"I'll update you as soon as possible. There's a waiting area near the elevators. I'm sure you saw it when you came in. Why don't you make yourselves comfortable there for now?" Doctor Patterson gestured to the nurse to accompany him and adjusted his glasses again as he walked away from the small group.
"He didn't answer me," Jean said, watching the pair enter Jim's room. "Pete, I can't lie to Jim." Her delicate eyebrows rose slightly as her gaze rested on Pete. "And neither can you."
"Mrs. Reed, I haven't known your husband for very long but I've figured out that he's the kind of man who deals straight from the deck. And he deserves the same," Coop spoke up, his gray eyes earnest. "I wouldn't want to look him in the face and tell him otherwise."
"Thank you, Detective Lee," Jean said. "I appreciate that. And Jim would, too."
"Just tellin' it like it is, ma'am," Coop said, with a small shrug and smile. "Pete, I think I'll call the station."
"Let me know if there's anything new," Pete replied, catching Coop's eye as the detective turned to leave.
"Yeah, will do."
"He's very good at his job, isn't he?" Jean asked, watching Coop round the corner.
"Yes, he is."
"I thought you had enough information. You caught the people that did this to Jim, didn't you?"
"We believe so. But there are some missing pieces, Jean. And we won't know the whole picture until we have them. When it comes right down to it, Jim may be the only one who can fill in those blanks."
"It's more than that." Jean studied him thoughtfully. "You think that Sabeth person was involved, don't you?"
"Yeah, I think he was there. But it's just a feeling."
"Jim depends on that instinct of yours," Jean sighed. "Pete, I know that you and Sargeant McDonald served the condensed soup version to me earlier...about last night. At the time all I wanted to hear was that Jim was going to be all right, that Jimmy would still have his father and I'd still have my husband."
"Pete, listen to me. I don't want to keep anything from him. But now there's a part of me that doesn't want Jim to remember any of it. What if it's a blessing in disguise? If he does start to remember, won't it be like reliving it all over? Whatever horrible thing that happened…" Jean said, taking a quivering breath and not waiting for an answer. "I don't want him to go through anything more."
"He's strong, Jean. He'll get through it," Pete said, resting what he hoped was a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"But he thinks he has to be strong all the time, Pete. For me, for Jimmy, our parents, the department…and you. You know how anxious he's been about the baby and me these past few days, trying to make sure we weren't in any danger. And all the while it's him he should've been thinking about. They came in our house--our home!" A small tremor claimed Jean's voice as it rose in volume. "Why couldn't he stay safe, too? Is it too much to ask?"
"No," Pete said, softly. "It's never too much to ask."
"Oh, God, I'm sorry, Pete," Jean gasped, her hand briefly covering her mouth. "I didn't mean…I mean…you did keep him safe! If you hadn't found him..."
"It's okay, Jean."
"Please don't think I'm upset with you, Pete," Jean said, visibly shaken.
Pete smiled. "I don't. I know it's hard, Jean. Why don't we wait for the doctor and we'll go from there. Okay?"
"Okay," Jean nodded with a whispered sigh.
"Hey, I know we're both concerned about big Jim but how about the little one? Is Jimmy still sick?"
"His fever's down but he's kind of cranky. He's not been sleeping too well without his daddy in the same house."
"I bet he's not the only one, huh?"
"No," Jean shook her head slowly.
Pete escorted Jean to the waiting room, encouraging her to try and relax even though he figured it was a futile gesture. Both Pete and Jean maintained their agreement to put off any further discussion. Instead, Jean initiated conversation with another woman who held a sleeping infant in her arms. It became obvious that both women shared a common bond. The distraction was a good one and well timed, Pete thought.
Pete got to his feet as he saw Dr. Patterson and glanced at Jean to make sure she saw him as well. Relieved that the doctor's examination of Jim was brief, he could only hope that it was a good indicator. Jean said something to the young mother that he couldn't hear and then stood next to him. He noticed that her slender fingers nervously twisted the gold wedding band on her left hand.
"Mrs. Reed. Officer Malloy," Doctor Patterson said, removing his glasses.
"Doctor? How is he?" Jean asked.
"He's doing well, considering. He's asleep now. That's to be expected. However, the nurse will be checking on him at regular intervals for the next 24 hours."
"What about his memory, Doctor?" Pete asked.
"Even if he stayed awake long enough, I doubt that he would be very useful. You were correct--he's lost some recent time. But what he needs most is to rest…I think you'll have better luck if you wait."
"Come back this afternoon. We'll see if his physical and mental status have improved at that time."
"I'd like to sit with him," Jean said, taking a step forward.
"Of course." The doctor squinted as he rubbed a white cloth across the framed bifocals. "If he feels pressure to remember, however, it could actually make it more difficult for him in the long run. So simply try to reassure him for now and encourage him to rest.
"All right, I'll try. Pete, why don't you go on home and get some sleep, too?" Jean said.
"I'll think about it. You go on back in there. I'll be around for a while yet."
"Somehow I figured you'd say that," Jean said. She gave him a resigned shake of her head as she made her way back to Jim's room.
"She's right, Officer Malloy. You certainly look like you could use the rest," Doctor Patterson added, focusing again on the stubborn spot on his glasses. "But I suspect you want me to confirm whether or not Mr. Reed was poisoned with the toxin you mentioned. And you wanted to wait until Mrs. Reed was not around, am I right?"
"I'll be honest. The rest of the tests we ran were inconclusive. He did exhibit some mild signs but nothing too serious. The main concern would be respiratory problems resulting from muscle paralysis. But he appears to be doing fine at this time. Don't worry. We'll continue to monitor his vitals and keep a close eye on him."
Pete nodded tensely.
"It was wise of you to inform us of this possibility, Officer Malloy. If even a trace amount of the toxin was introduced into his system, either orally or by injection…and it appears that there was… I believe that the quick administration of intravenous fluids aided his recovery immensely. In the meantime, I don't want that aspect to overshadow the more obvious injuries, namely the concussion which can bring about an array of unpleasant symptoms. The best thing for him is a little peace and calm."
"I'm sure he'd find that a nice change of pace, Doctor," Pete said. "Thanks."
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see you here."
Pete's head tilted up, sending a miniature shockwave through his back. He'd spent the last few hours fidgeting while trying to get situated in a chair he was sure was designed to discourage long-term lingering. His neck, back and gluteus maximus substantiated his theory. There were other, more comfortable pieces of furniture but he couldn't, in good conscience, plop himself in one of those whenever a lady or family in need came by.
"Mac. I didn't expect you back so soon," Pete said, getting stiffly to his feet and stretching his arms behind his back one at a time. "Tell me you have good news."
"You first. How's Reed doing?"
"Better, I think. Except he doesn't have any recollection of last night."
"I heard. Detective Lee passed that along to me when he called earlier."
"He did, didn't he?" Pete tried to clear the cobwebs out of his head. "Guess Jim's not the only one having memory problems."
"We can fix yours easily enough. I want you to go home now and sleep," Mac said, holding up a hand in warning. "And no buts. Lee's already been given the same orders by his commanding officer. Now it's your turn."
"Mac, I'm not comfortable leaving Jim here like this. Not with Sabeth still out there. I know we didn't catch him at the scene but you and I both know that he's got his hands in this. And they're dirty."
"I agree. The secondary door in that secret room led to another set of stairs, parallel to the wall and to that back door. Sabeth might've been there and escaped unnoticed, using that route."
"It was locked when we arrived."
"Both of those doors were still locked. But Dent told us that no one else in the Temple could access those entryways, only Sabeth."
"Probably the only one with a key. A little insurance for himself."
"That's why he'll be picked up on suspicion. The detectives…Lee's the primary on this…have a long list of questions to ask him."
"Then you understand why I can't leave, especially now with Jim so exposed here in this hospital. What if Sabeth tries to get at him again before they can bring him in? The Reverend has lost some valuable members of his little circle. I don't imagine he's too happy right about now."
"And I said, I agree." Mac pointed at the elevator doors. "If you'll have a little patience…"
Pete held the back of his hand up to his mouth as a wrenching yawn caught him off guard. His eyes squeezed mercifully shut for a few seconds. Blinking them back open, he was surprised to see Bob Snyder pop into the hallway and head toward them.
"What's going on, Mac?" Pete said, acknowledging Snyder's presence in uniform.
"Bob," Pete nodded.
"Snyder has volunteered to remain here at the hospital," Mac said. "If the Reverend decides to make an unannounced appearance, he'll have his own private welcoming committee."
"I'll make sure of that, Pete," Bob said, folding his arms across his chest. "Anyone trying to get in Jim's room is going to have to get through me first."
"Volunteered?" Pete asked, sorting through his muddled thoughts.
"I stopped in back at the station, updated the Lieutenant and he asked for volunteers from Day Watch this morning during roll call. Needless to say, every hand went up."
The fog in Pete's head dissipated. Mac wasn't prone to exaggeration.
"You're not going to be any good to Jim or this case if you collapse from exhaustion, Pete. I know how many hours you, Jim and Detective Lee have been putting in lately, officially and otherwise. This isn't the first time I've had to remind you that you do have limitations. So go home and get some serious sleep. And I don't mean forty winks and a pot of coffee either."
"You drive a hard bargain, Mac," Pete said, as he directed his attention to Snyder. "Bob, Jim's wife is with him. It'll be obvious why you're here but assure her that it's purely a precaution. She's got enough on her mind."
"Will do. Hey, Jim's going to be okay, isn't he?"
"Yeah," Pete said, his throat catching. "Yeah, he'll be okay."
"Well, don't worry about a thing here, Pete," Snyder said, patting his sidearm. "I'll keep an eye out…and so will the rest of the guys."
"Your relief will be here in four hours," Mac said as Snyder turned to leave.
Snyder only nodded.
"Four hours?" Pete questioned, watching the officer disappear around the corner.
"Split shifts. Once word spread, we had several men call in that were off-duty. We're going to start them after Snyder's shift. Then he'll go to an L-car. We're keeping the shifts shorter so we can advantage of the surplus of help. And these guys will not be tired. Ring a bell?"
"I get the message, Mac," Pete said, surrendering a weary smile.
"Good. Maybe we'll pick up Sabeth soon and none of this will be necessary for long."
"Maybe. One last question. What about Michelle? She was one scared young lady the last time I saw her."
"She went from scared back to stubborn. Wouldn't leave the station until word came back that Jim had been found. She wanted someone to bring her up here and prove it but Miss Cahill insisted that her parents could check on things tomorrow," Mac said, pausing. "I guess that would mean today."
"So she's at McLaren Hall?"
"Safe and sound."
"And what about you?"
"I thought that was your last question."
"What about me?"
"If I'm not mistaken, you've been putting in more than your share of man hours on this, too. And for a man of your age…"
"Maybe you are mistaken."
"But I'm not."
"You are with that age remark."
"Okay, so I'm tired and a little punchy."
Mac shook his head with a weary smile. "All right, all right. If it makes you feel any better, it was also…recommended…that I do the same."
"He's concerned about the entire situation," Mac said, pulling a ring of keys from his pants pocket. "So, how about it, Pete? I've got a guard on Jim and the hospital administration has notified their key personnel. There's a bulletin out on Sabeth so if he's anywhere in the area, he'll have a hard time keeping it a secret. Tinneman and Regina Cain are off the street for now. And the best news is that your partner is recovering right over there with his wife by his side."
"Are you telling me to stop worrying, Mac?"
"No, Pete. I'm telling you to take a break and let someone else worry. At least for a little while."
"All right," Pete said. "But just for a little while."
Standing quietly at the end of the bed, Jean watched the sleeping form of her husband. In the hazy light, she could still discern the deepening bruises above his right eye, the reddening alongside his left jaw. She'd been told about the stitches and the additional bruising. But the cruel, raw marks around his wrists devastated her the most and told her more than anything the doctor had said. Even more than Pete.
When she looked at Jim, she saw her husband--both the young man she'd fallen in love with and the man he'd become. She knew him so well. He loved her. He'd do anything to protect her and the child that had come from the love they shared. And if someone needed help, Jim was there, whether it was a friend or a total stranger. But while she was no stranger to the harsh realities of being a cop's wife, she felt like she was coming face to face with some monster without ever really seeing it. How could another human being do something like this? It was beyond her experience. Until now. Jim had been taken for the sole purpose of inflicting pain, fear and who knows what else? They'd come so close to succeeding that it made her physically ill to think about it. Mental pictures invaded her private thoughts and twisted into all sorts of unspeakable scenarios. She had to put up a wall between her mind and the horrible thoughts that screamed at her.
There were times when she encouraged Jim to talk about his job but there were also times when she thought it claimed too much of their lives. She let him sheltered her from the more sordid aspects. But if he had to endure such ugliness, then, as much as it scared her, she wanted to be there to face it with him. Maybe she should ask Pete to share more details with her. Surely her imagination was far worse than the facts. It had to be.
Maybe she'd wait.
She dozed fitfully after the doctor's last visit but couldn't force herself to relax enough to sleep for any length of time. Pete's unspoken concerns, the doctor's guarded manner, and the officer standing out in the hallway--signs she couldn't overlook. She was both grateful and relieved. But on top of those emotions was a layer of apprehension, thickening and spilling over like a boiling pot left unwatched.
Nurses continued to enter the room as regular as a stopwatch. Medical checks barely roused Jim but it was apparently enough to provide the required information for his chart. Each nurse always nodded and smiled at her before leaving the room. Jean didn't want to think she was being placated--a pat on the head of the little wife wringing her hands anxiously at her husband's bedside. But she was his wife and she was anxious and she was having a hard time dismissing the trepidation that had followed her into the hospital.
The curtains were closed, further blocking any daylight that the blinds failed to keep out. But Jean wasn't sure it would've made any difference to Jim. He never slept like this, not even when he was down and out with the flu. He's dead to the world. The old adage slipped into her thoughts before she had time to pull it back. Instinctively, she pressed her lips together tightly. What a stupid thing to say--to think! Subtle but building tremors took possession of her hands and arms. She hugged herself tightly. Tears threatened to flow too freely and shatter the reassuring composure she wanted Jim to see when he woke up again.
I can't break down now. I've got to be strong, too. For Jim. And for our baby. Our parents, the department, Pete.
The shuddering gradually diminished as she gripped the footboard and gazed at the face of the man who meant so much to her. She couldn't comprehend her life without him. It's going to be all right.
When he got home, he'd make her laugh again. He'd cradle his son and rock him to sleep, talking to him as if he understood every word. And he'd look at her and flash that amazing smile that made her heart race every darn time, even when she was exasperated at him. It's going to be all right.
Taking back the chair she'd used earlier, she eased into it and curved her hand through the bed rail until her small fingers touched Jim's larger, stronger ones. Gently resting her hand on his, she closed her eyes and pictured her family at home together, safe and sound. And happy. It wasn't a dream. It was real. And it was going to be all right.
Pete walked the halls of the station far enough to end up near one of the briefing rooms. Coop, standing with his back against the wall, nodded and gave him a distinct grin. The detective was surprisingly bright-eyed, considering it was late afternoon and Pete figured he couldn't have had more than five or six hours of real sleep at the most. In contrast, Pete still felt like something the cat dragged in…and out again.
"Pete, how's it goin'? What's the latest on Jim?"
"I spoke to the nurse in charge a few minutes ago. He's still asleep but I'm headed up there soon. I wanted to see if there was anything new with our two suspects first."
"Or Sabeth, right?"
"Yeah," Pete said, a frown creating small creases at the corners of his mouth. "But he hasn't been spotted yet."
"I don't think he's skipped town yet, Pete. Don't ask me why. But, in the meantime, we do have an interesting development with Tinneman."
"What's that?" Pete's interest perked up a few notches.
"Well, neither one of them are going to be arraigned anytime soon. I've got that from a reliable source. So that gives us some time. I wanted to get back here and see if I could budge some information out of 'em. Haven't talked to Regina yet. Figured Tinneman was our best bet," Coop said, loosening the top button of his shirt. He pulled the collar away and gestured toward the closed door. "He's in there now with his fleabag attorney. What a pair. Merle Dean. Dope peddlers, street hustlers, B & E, grand theft…this is right up his proverbial alley."
"So what's your take on it?"
"In this case, I think it could work to our advantage. His nickname is Dealin' Dean. He's always lookin' for the fastest way out for his client. That's his standard for success. Personally, I've always thought he was afraid to fight it out in court too often. No Perry Mason, if you get my drift."
"Tinneman hasn't even been before the court yet," Pete said, trying to interpret Coop's expression. "Did he already offer up something?"
"No, Dean likes to get the ball rolling and be in control. Or so he thinks. He's been talking with his client but I'm due to get back in there. You have time to join me for a little question and answer session?"
"I do now," Pete answered.
"By the way, one of the other detectives finally tracked down the owner of the property--the Temple, I mean. Commercial real estate developer who's been out of town until today. Came down to the station and gave a statement. Seems the owner has been trying to get rid of the place, along with several other buildings on that block, for over two years. When Sabeth came along and asked to rent it, he jumped at the income even though it wasn't much. Sabeth didn't ask for any improvements and took the place just as it was. He always had cash and always paid on time."
"Money wasn't a problem, then. What about references, that sort of thing?"
"The guy said that the place wasn't worth anything sitting empty so he wasn't concerned with references and Sabeth didn't volunteer any. Big surprise."
"Yeah," Coop smiled for all of two seconds as his hand grasped the doorknob. "He knows Tinneman."
Jim bolted up in bed, heaving in deep breaths of air into his lungs. Bands of grey rolled in and out as his eyes adjusted to the muted light.
"Jim?" Jean moved to her husband's bedside and touched his shoulder. "Jim, it's okay, sweetheart."
"Jean." His whispered voice clung to her name as he turned to focus on her face. Her pale lips smiled at him, her fingers gently brushing back the moist strands of hair above his eyes.
"Yeah." Jim faltered. "Guess so."
"You can't recall any of it?"
"No." Jim shook his head slowly, a weak laugh escaping. "I should remember…"
"Don't try. It was a dream, that's all," Jean said, softly patting the pillows behind him. "Come on, lie back down."
Settling into the bed, Jim's eyelids and his brain persisted on shutting down again. He felt the warmth of her lips graze his cheek and then the surprising coolness of a damp cloth as it covered his forehead. I don't want to sleep again.
"Keep talkin', Jean," Jim mumbled.
"It's all right, Jim. It was just a dream."
Just a dream.
Pete felt two pairs of eyes tag onto him as he sat in the corner of the small briefing room. He had no doubt that the detective had his own agenda and Pete had no intention of throwing a monkey wrench into it. A uniformed officer stood nearby, ready to take Tinneman back to his cell--whenever that might be.
"Detective, what's the idea? Is the department going to sell tickets next?" the thin-lipped man sitting next to the suspect complained as he looked at Pete suspiciously. Not a greasy hair out of place, the black-suited lawyer adjusted his matching tie as he threw a huffy look back at Coop.
"Officer Malloy has a vested interest in the case," Coop dismissed the man's tirade with a shrug. He dragged a chair away from the table, swung it around and straddled it casually. His arms rested across the back of the chair as he looked at each man in turn. "So. Ready to talk some more? And this time, maybe you'll say something worthwhile."
Pete saw Tinneman push back in his own chair and lock his arms across his chest like a tight vise. Seeing the suspect again in the bright lights of the station only reminded Pete of his size and physique. It was no wonder that Jim took such a hit on that loading dock. It also caused Pete to speculate on his background. His obvious fitness, probably from his time in the service, tended to keep him in the dealer category which meant he was in it purely for the money. A junkie's habit usually caught up with them, sooner or later. The eyes, the skin, the mind…dope could ravage a person in a lot of different ways. Pete noticed that the young man's tanned, unshaven jaw remained clamped together, giving his attorney silent permission to speak for him instead.
"My client and I have discussed the charges against him. While we certainly want to cooperate with law enforcement whenever possible, I am also of the opinion that Mr. Tinneman has been unjustly accused of a crime he didn't commit."
"Merle," Coop said, with a conspicuous sigh. "You know as well as I do that Russ here was apprehended with enough narcotics in his possession to get tossed back in the slammer for what you might call an extended vacation. Especially since this isn't the first time. And let's not forget that he was recently found at the scene of another crime. Very recently."
"And released for lack of evidence, isn't that right, Detective?" Merle Dean well-timed smirk looked like he practiced in front of a mirror every day. "Those charges didn't stick and neither will these."
Disregarding the attorney's remark, Coop cocked his head slightly and turned his attention back to Tinneman with a gaze that settled on him slowly and thoroughly like a fine dust. The thick-necked man shifted in his seat, his fingers fidgeting and tapping on the edge of the table.
"Pete, I think I told you earlier," Coop remarked, never taking his eyes off Tinneman. "Russ here had a career in the Navy not too long ago. A very short career."
"Iinconsequential, Detective," Dean said.
"Oh, I don't know. A dishonorable discharge is a pretty big deal. Come on, Merle. It doesn't look good. First, Russ is found near the body of a dead woman who used to be a part of the Temple group on South Arden. Now he's caught committing a crime in the house of another woman who uses the very same Temple as her home away from home."
"One has nothing to do with the other," Dean replied. "And the key word that you're leaving out is alleged."
"Sorry. Allegedly committing a crime. Are you telling me that there's absolutely no connection between your client and the Temple of the Soul?"
"No connection whatsoever."
"He happened to be in the close proximity of two women who were connected to the Temple."
"Exactly. Pure happenstance."
"Is that what Regina Cain is going to tell us when we talk to her?"
"Good luck finding that crazy woman," Tinneman muttered under his breath.
"We won't have to look far, Russ…she's right down the hall. You weren't the only one busy last night."
"There you go then, Detective," Dean said, holding both hands out in false submission. "Obviously the police already suspect the woman so why don't we finish this up?"
"Oh, she was arrested on an unrelated charge. Assault and kidnapping of a police officer. In fact, Russ, you know the officer. Officer Malloy here can attest to that since they arrested you previously. Mr. Dean, is this what you would call another coincidence?"
"That woman is liable to tell you that she's been to the moon and back. From what my client has told me, Miss Cain belongs in a mental institution. You can hardly take anything she might say as fact, Detective."
"You cross certain people…" Tinneman mumbled, looking away.
"What's that, Russ?" Coop asked, his eyes narrowing. "Did you and Regina Cain decide to get back at Officer Reed and take matters into your own hands? Or were you referring to someone else?"
"That's enough, Detective," Dean insisted, trapping Tinneman with a disapproving look. "Are you charging him with anything other than possession? Do you have any proof that my client was involved in these other incidents?"
"We call them crimes, Mr. Dean," Coop said. "By the way, we completed a search of the house where you were apprehended, Russ. We found a couple of boarded up spaces upstairs. Nifty for hiding things. In fact, we did find more dope."
"The house doesn't belong to Mr. Tinneman."
"No, but he's been there. And the stuff we found inside was the same stuff he was packing into his car. I think you should think about some additional charges. In the meantime, I'm going to speak to Regina. It should be interesting to see what she has to say, don't you think?"
"I told you, she's crazy! You lousy cop!" Russ Tinneman blew up, banging one fist on the tabletop. Splotches of red mushroomed across his face as he leaned across the wooden surface, nearly coming out of his chair.
The uniformed officer took a step forward but Coop stopped him with a glance and a nearly indiscernible shake of his head.
"Russell! Shut your trap and let me handle this," Dean snarled, smoothing out the lapels on his suit jacket at the same time.
"I met the crazy chick at a party," Tinneman said, ignoring his counsel. "So when she asked me to move some stuff for her, I did it. How was I to know it was illegal drugs?"
"What party was that, Russ? When? Where?" Coop asked, tilting his head forward slightly.
"I don't know, a few months ago. Last year. I don't remember. Who can tell one party from another?"
"So you started hanging out at her place?"
"Stopped by a couple of times, that's all. She was kinda freaky but, hey, live and let live. That's what I always say."
"I bet you do," Coop said. "Go on."
"She makes up stuff. Likes to live in her own little freaked out world. Probably dropped too much acid on too many trips. That's why you can't believe her little stories. Lies, all of 'em."
"What's that got to do with you being in her place moving a stash of dope into the trunk of your car?"
"My client had no knowledge of the drugs, Detective Lee," Dean said. "After all, they were enclosed in boxes. Which he did not open, isn't that correct, Russell?"
"Yeah, never even popped a peak."
"Where were you taking the packages?" Coop asked.
"I don't know. She was supposed to meet me and then I'd drive her wherever the hell she wanted to go. That's all. I don't know anything else."
"You must be a pretty nice guy to help out like that with no questions asked."
"Do you know Michelle Camden?" Coop rested his chin on top of his arms and stared an unmistakable hole through Tinneman.
"Who?" Tinneman sounded genuinely thrown off.
"The teenager living with Regina Cain. Did you ever meet her?"
"Oh, her." Tinneman's expression skidded into a faint leer. "The girl with the moony eyes. Cute. Very cute."
Pete knew he wasn't the only one in the room that wanted to wipe that look off Tinneman's face. The fist that Coop had tucked beneath his arm clenched once, twice, cracking the detective's casual veneer momentarily. Only Pete could see the discreet action and, to Coop's credit, he managed to bring it under control almost immediately as he slowly straightened up.
"So you did meet her."
"Sure, once," Tinneman said, shaking his head at Coop's comment. "Hey, don't go makin' anything out of it. I didn't have anything going on with her either."
"Three for three, huh, Russ?"
"Detective, this line of questioning is getting us nowhere," Dean said, clearing his throat noisily. "Now why don't we talk business and see if we can't come to some kind of agreement? Perhaps one count of receiving stolen goods."
"Mr. Dean, are you saying that you have knowledge that it was stolen?"
"No, no, just assuming that the police could see it that way since the items were not owned by Mr. Tinneman here."
"Quite an assumption. Especially considering that your client hasn't come forth with much to deal with. Why don't we keep trying? I've got plenty of time."
Although clearly disappointed, Dean nodded again at Tinneman who scowled and grunted loudly.
"Do you know a T. Leland Sabeth?" Coop continued his questioning.
"Look," Tinneman said, stabbing an angry finger in Coop's direction. "I know it's about more than the drugs! You're trying to trick me into spilling stuff about that place and that dead girl. But you're barkin' up the wrong tree. I've never met this Sabeth guy and I've never been near that Temple. And it wasn't me who killed her! So don't think you can pin this rap on me!"
"Russ, calm down," Dean said, trying to push Tinneman's offending fist out of sight. "Don't say another word for now."
"Your lawyer's giving you some good advice, Russ," Coop said, pulling his arms away from the chair back and bracing his hands on his thighs. "Can I get either of you a glass of water or maybe some coffee?"
Dean shook his head.
"Cigarette." Tinneman rubbed at his shirt pockets as he looked around at the various men in the room. "I need a cigarette bad."
"Sorry, Russ. I don't smoke," Coop said, turning to raise his eyebrows at Pete. "Pete?"
"Good man," Coop said, rising to his feet. "Looks like you'll have to tough it out, Russ. I have a redhead to talk to now. In the meantime, why don't you and Mr. Dean see if you can come to some kind of understanding? It's just a thought--but I think it might help if I could take something to the District Attorney that's actually true. And it better be something we can use."
"Detective Lee, if you're implying…" Dean began, rising to his feet.
"I have an eye-witness who will swear in court that your client has not only met T. Leland Sabeth but did so in the very building he claims never to have entered. Now, the way I see it is this…if he lied about that very important bit of information, why should I believe anything else he's said up to this point?"
Silence was the only counter to Coop's statement as Merle Dean tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his irritation with his client. Tinneman merely pressed both of his hands to his forehead while staring down at the tabletop.
Pete chose to stand, sensing that this portion of the interview was being shelved temporarily. Leaving with so few answers was a grueling exercise in patience but he had an idea that Coop had scratched the surface enough to leave some marks. Pete opened the door a few inches and waited.
"Mr. Dean, Officer Watkins will remain outside the room if you'd like to use the time with your client to his advantage. Or he can escort Mr. Tinneman back to his cell. Your call."
"Er, uh, Detective?" Dean said, clearing his throat noisily.
"Yes, Mr. Dean?"
"I believe we will want to talk again in a few minutes."
"I thought that might be the case," Coop said. He nodded to the officer and followed Pete through the door, closing it only after Officer Watkins took his position next to it."
"I have a thought, too," Pete said, as he and Cooped proceeded further down the hallway.
"Yeah? What's that, Pete?"
"That landlord. He told you something else, didn't he?"
A chuckle broke out from Coop. "I keep telling MacDonald he has a couple of officers with detective blood running through their veins. What tipped you off?"
"Simple. You act like a guy who still has an ace up his sleeve."
"Well, I do. I showed the landlord the same pictures I showed Michelle last night. And he did identify Tinneman. He made a spot check of the property one day quite a while back and saw Russ in the back door of the temple with Sabeth. He also recognized Angie."
"From the temple or somewhere else?"
"The temple. Talking to Sabeth and Russ Tinneman. Tinneman's arm was around her."
Pete felt a flash of relief as he realized that they might be making some real progress in the case. "That might tie in with what the woman at the restaurant said. Anything else?"
"The guy said that he parked on the street early one morning, walked in and found the place empty. So he made sure everything was still in one piece and then left the same way. But he decided to do a quick inspection of the exterior and very nearly interrupted a discussion between the three."
"Did they see him?"
"He says no. Heard them talking and snuck a look around the corner. In his words, he decided to leave well enough alone. I guess Sabeth's money is good enough but he didn't want to get any more involved than that. Unless, of course, the police start asking questions. Then he's all for doing his civic duty."
"Did he hear anything they said?"
"Only that Angie sounded upset."
"And that didn't worry him."
"He said she didn't sound afraid, only mad."
"At who? Sabeth or Tinneman?"
Coop shrugged. "Don't know. He made tracks out of there. Guess he wasn't that curious. Look, I really am on my way to see if Regina will give us anything. You wanna come along?"
"Like to but I need to get up to the hospital."
"I understand. Tell Jim I'll stop by later."
"Will do. And you'll…"
"Yeah, I'll keep the faith here," Coop grinned and held up two fingers in a peace sign offering as the two men parted ways.
Pete shook his head, thinking that's not exactly what he was going to ask but knowing it was all the same in the end.
Turning at the sound of McDonald's booming baritone, Pete saw his sergeant walking briskly toward him. The grim set of his face immediately set off worry alarms in Pete's head.
"Mac, what's wrong?"
"Are you headed up to the hospital?"
"On my way there now."
"I just hung up the phone with McLaren Hall. Michelle's missing. Again."
Pete glanced at his watch. ""I thought her parents were supposed to have picked her up a long time ago. Are you sure she's not with them?"
"No, their plane was delayed. Some mechanical problem and they're still waiting for an open flight. Miss Cahill explained the situation to Michelle and she seemed fine with it. But now she's gone and they don't know if it was voluntarily or not."
"The or not being Sabeth," Pete said.
"They're questioning all the staff to see if anyone saw a stranger or anything unusual. You said it yourself, Pete. He's probably not too happy about the recent turn of events. Maybe he's trying to rectify that. Then again, maybe she changed her mind about going home. I'm no expert on teenagers, that's for sure. But I'm not looking forward to explaining this to her parents when they come to my office looking for their daughter."
"How was she last night, before they took her to McLaren Hall?"
"Scared, upset because of all the commotion, of course. She waited up until she was told Jim had been found and was all right. Miss Cahill said that she seemed to quiet down after that."
"So what do you want me to do, Mac?"
"You're being assigned to Coop for now--officially until further notice. I know that the doctor wants us to be careful when it comes to Jim's memory but we need to find out what he does remember. And don't lead him, Pete. Just give him the facts. He's got to be the one to fill in the blanks or his statement could be interpreted as biased. We've got to be sure about the information he gives us."
"We've got a general alert out for Michelle and I've got a unit checking the Temple and the house. I figured you could keep a lookout while you're at the hospital until I can free up a unit."
"We have to find her before Sabeth does, Mac."
"I know, Pete."
Jim realized, with a tingling jolt, that he was awake. Truly awake as opposed to some fuzzy, twilight place where disjointed voices never quite made sense and hands that touched him barely registered. The roaring in his head had dulled to a tolerable whine. The room didn't spin ahead of his eyes when he moved. All in all, it was an improvement.
It was Jean's voice--sweet, clear and the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard. He didn't have to turn to see her. She stood next to him, wearing a smile that didn't quite cover the shadows of anxiety.
"Jean." He smiled back as he tried to clear the gravel from his throat. The numbness had faded a bit and it was easier for his mouth to form words. "How long have I been here?"
"Since last night. Make that very early this morning," Jean answered, smoothing the sheets around him. "You've been sleeping…pretty soundly, I might add. But that's good. That's what you need."
"Oh. What time is it now?"
"I'm not sure," Jean said, turning her watchband around to check. "It looks like it's a little after five o'clock. How do you feel?"
"Uhh, better, I think. Did you say five?" Jim said, his neck knotting up as he peered at the closed blinds. "Why's it dark outside?"
"It's supposed to storm tonight. It's odd…it's not even the season for it."
He watched as she meticulously pinched and pulled the corners of the folded blanket near the foot of the bed, rearranging only small segments at a time.
"Maybe you should go on home before it gets rough out there," Jim said, shreds of concern spiking. "To your parents' house, I mean. You didn't drive here, did you?"
"I'm not leaving because some wound-up weatherman on Channel Seven thinks a few raindrops are going to miraculously fall on Southern California." Jean shook her head and continued to fuss over the bedding. "And no, I didn't drive up here. Sgt. McDonald sent someone for me."
"If it does storm…"
"I won't melt."
Jim touched her arm as she neared the other side of the bed. She worked around him, very nearly pulling the sheet up to his neck. "How's Jimmy?"
"Jimmy's fine. I'm fine. Everyone's fine but you," Jean said, the last few words smarting with an unmistakable sharpness.
The terseness caught them both off guard. Jean stared wordlessly at the weaves of cotton fabric crumpling beneath her fingers.
The tone of his voice was a quiet invitation, drawing her eyes slowly back to him. Jean bit her lower lip and took a quivering breath. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that."
"You're worn out. You're upset and scared. And it's my fault."
"Jean, I'm okay. Honest," Jim said, a half-hearted smile on his lips. "Yeah, I'm a little stiff and sore and I've got a whopper of a headache. But it's no worse than the time Archie Simmons pitched that power ball at me instead of over home plate where it belonged. Remember that?"
"How could I forget?" Jean said, her eyes lacking real enthusiasm. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"It should make you feel secure--your husband has a hard head. Pete tells me that all the time," Jim said, with a short-lived grin. "It's going to take more than a tumble off a prehistoric fire escape to keep me out of the game."
He hoped his words relayed enough reassurance to convince her of that. Something in her reaction was a little off although she recovered herself quickly, tousling his hair with a gentle but playful touch.
"Pete's right," Jean said, smiling at him. "Thank goodness for that hard head."
"I'll remind you later that you said that," Jim said, with a wink that still managed to hurt.
"I'm sure you will. I'll think about it. Going home, that is. Joanie told me I could call her if I needed a ride."
"Good. Why don't you call her now?"
"All right. I do need to check on Jimmy."
"And you need to eat something. And get some rest. Soon," he reminded her. He clumsily shifted position, his shoulder edging up to the heavily starched pillow.
"Hold on, let me do that," Jean said, grabbing the side rail to push it down. The metal bar noisily clicked into place. She sat on the bed next to him and reached up to adjust the plump cushion. "Be careful how you move around. Remember, you've got stitches."
"Yeah, I feel 'em," Jim grunted, his hand grazing the bandage. With Jean's assistance, he raised his head and she carefully eased the pillow down closer to him. The earlier discomfort scarcely backed off. But it was worth it to have her this close to him.
"Good. Especially this part," he said, wrapping his free arm around her waist as she leaned over him. He brushed back wisps of copper hair that had come undone from a thin gold clip. Her lips touched his for an all too brief second, hesitated, and then returned to claim a passionate kiss that temporarily displaced the pain he felt from his injuries. Jean pulled back and smiled at him, her eyes distinctly warm. It was a look he loved to see on her face.
"You do feel better."
"Told you," Jim said, taking her hand. "Did the doctor say when I could get out of here?"
"He said he wanted to keep you for 24 hours. That means you have to stay until at least tomorrow morning. But they're going to take out that i.v. soon and bring you something to eat. How's that sound?"
Jim scowled, moving around in another attempt to get comfortable. "Hospital food. Not exactly my favorite. You're sure he said tomorrow?"
"I'm sure. It won't do you any good to get into a mood about it," Jean said, squeezing his hand.
"I'm not in a mood. I just want to get out of here."
"I have faith," she smiled.
"What do you mean?"
"I confess. I took a change of your clothes with me over to my folks--in case I could talk you into staying over. Now they're here in the top drawer." She pointed at the standard issue bedside dresser. "I brought your canvas shoes, the slip-ons. I knew you'd be raring to go as soon as he gave the word. And so would I."
"That's my girl."
"Don't get any wild ideas, though. You have to wait until the doctor officially releases you with a100% okay, nothing less. You got that, Jim Reed?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, his smile relaxing. "It'll be great to be home."
Jim felt the pressure of her hand tighten momentarily and wondered about the vague flicker in his wife's expression. "Jean?"
Jean bent down again, this time pressing her cheek close to his ear as she whispered, "That's where we all belong. Home."
Pete stood outside the elevator doors and skimmed a hand down each arm for the third time since he'd entered the hospital. Beads of water dripped steadily from his pant-legs onto the floor around his shoes.
He looked up to see a disapproving frown on a nurse's face.
"I'll call maintenance," she said, sighing loudly as she walked away.
Pete mouthed an apology but he had doubts that it made any difference. He thought about suggesting that they keep the mop handy since he'd hardly be the last person to track in water this evening. Seeing the nurse's expression convinced him to keep his ideas to himself.
His waterlogged feet squished inside his shoes as he made the wet trip down the hall to Jim's room. He probably should've gone back to the station and changed but he was already running late due to circumstances beyond his control. He didn't want to delay seeing his partner any longer.
Seeing Ed Wells stationed at Jim's door was a surprise. Ed caught sight of him and walked over to meet him.
"Hey, Malloy," Ed said, keeping his voice low as he took in Pete's sodden state. "Caught in the rain, huh?"
"Yeah. That, too," Pete spoke quietly. "How's Jim?"
"Okay, I guess."
"You guess? Ed, you're supposed to be keeping an eye on him," Pete said, taking a step toward the door.
Ed caught his shoulder with one hand, holding him back from going into Jim's room. "Wait a minute, that's not what I meant. I meant that the doc said he was okay and since I'm not a doctor I'd have to go with that. I haven't actually talked to him. I've been guarding him. No one's gone in that room that hasn't been verified by me personally."
"Are you sure he's even in there?" Pete asked, not quite satisfied.
"Okay, okay!" Ed paused, looked up at the ceiling and blew out a breath. "I checked on him. Are you satisifed?"
"I opened the door…and sorta…peeked."
"Yeah. He was asleep. The doc said he was real pleased about his progress, though."
Pete visibly relaxed and moved back from the door. "So you asked the doctor about his condition?"
Ed shrugged. "He happened to mention it when he came out, that's all."
"What about Jean?"
"Oh, Jeannie left right after I got here. She was going to call a friend for a ride but I made sure the guy I took over for drove her to her folks' house."
"Well, Ed, it sounds like you have everything under control," Pete said.
"Of course. Who do you think you're dealing with, anyway?"
"Sometimes I'm not real clear on that," Pete said, wiping away a trail of water from the back of his neck.
Jim's eyes were on him as soon as he walked through the door. Pete was aware that everything from his hair to his uniform was more than a little soggy. He felt slightly chagrined as Jim took in his disheveled state.
"Jean said it was supposed to rain. I guess the channel seven weatherman was right," Jim said, attempting to smile.
"That's it? That's all you're going to say?" Pete asked, shaking one leg at a time to keep his trousers from sticking to his legs.
"I'll laugh at you tomorrow."
"I'm sure you will," Pete said, smiling. "How ya feel?"
"Considering you're in the hospital?"
"Yeah," Jim said, gesturing to a chair in the corner. "Got a few minutes, Pete? I know you're wet and all…"
Pete grabbed the arm of the chair and dragged it closer. "I can stay longer than a few minutes. Actually I'm a lot later than I'd planned but had a little detour on the way."
Sitting down, Pete cringed as the vinyl cushion squeaked at first contact with his wet clothes. "About halfway here, the car ahead of me lost control, skidded and hit a fire hydrant. Busted it wide open. I called it in, stayed and assisted until fourteen arrived along with another truck. Unfortunately, I didn't have any rain gear with me."
"Then it started raining," Pete said, with a lopsided smile. "That old saying, when it rains, it pours, took on a whole new meaning for me."
"I'll say." Jim positioned both arms and pushed himself further until he was sitting upright.
"You need help?" Pete leaned forward but resisted the urge to get all the way up.
"No, I got it."
"You look better than the last time I saw you."
"Thanks," Jim said, giving the small bandage on his wrist a cursory look. "They were in a while ago and disconnected every tube they had in me. Trust me, it wasn't a pretty sight. I never want to set foot in a hospital again."
"I believe you," Pete said.
"They brought food."
"What was it?"
"I have no idea."
"Did you eat it?"
"A little, I guess."
"Maybe I should've stopped at Duke's and picked up a ranch burger for you. With a side of chili."
Pete waited as Jim stared too long at the door. He ignored the dim flash of unexpected lightning outside the windows. "You gonna tell me what's bothering you?"
Jim's eyes narrowed as a low rumble of thunder crawled through the building. He shifted position again and looked directly at his partner. "A lot of things."
"First of all, Jean."
"What do you mean?"
"I understand that's she's worried, Pete. But it's more. She gets this odd look on her face whenever I bring up what happened. She gets fidgety and changes the subject. I had her call me when she got to her folks and I could still hear it in her voice."
"Maybe she doesn't want to be reminded of you getting hurt."
"I thought of that. But, look, Pete, it's not that serious."
"Doctors don't treat concussions lightly, Jim. Neither do wives. And, come to think of it, neither should you."
Jim gave in. "All right. But that's not all."
"Okay, what else?"
"Jean told me that I was admitted here…early this morning. Does she have it right?"
"She also told me I had to stay at least twenty-four hours so I wouldn't be able to leave until first thing tomorrow morning. Doctor's orders," Jim said, pressing his lips tightly for a second. "I chased that kid…what, around six-thirty, seven last night?"
Pete didn't hesitate. "Yes."
"What about the seven or eight hours after that? It doesn't make any sense," Jim said, closing his eyes. Wincing, he pressed a flattened palm hard against his forehead.
"Jim," Pete said, rising from his chair. "Should I call a nurse?"
Jim opened his eyes and waved him off. "No. It doesn't last long. The doctor said to expect headaches and dizziness for a while. He wasn't exactly generous with any other information, though."
Pete sat back down and waited as his partner struggled to reason with a jumble of confusing memories.
Jim continued, his hand dropping to his side. "I've been lying here ever since Jean left, trying to backtrack to all the calls we had on that last shift. There's something I'm missing, isn't there? Because now I remember bits and pieces of things that happened after collaring that teenage purse snatcher."
"Meeting with Coop in Mac's office. Talking about Michelle. Didn't we pick her up?"
Sinking into the pillow, Jim turned to look at Pete as he pointed an accusing finger at the door. "Ed Wells is standing out in the hallway. I'm sure I saw him poke his head in earlier. Not visiting and in uniform. And just now, when you walked in…he's still there, isn't he? Or are you going to tell me I'm hallucinating?"
Pete sighed as he leaned back in the chair, no longer caring about the obnoxious sounds emanating from the chair cushion. "No, he's there for a reason. But, right now, you need to tell me everything you remember, Jim. Let's start with the kid in the alley."
Jim studied him, his blue eyes deepening with an altered awareness. "This is official, isn't it? And it's not about me taking a spill on the street."
"No, it's not." Pete shook his head, noticing for the first time that rivulets of water streaked furiously down the glass panes on the other side of the room.
"You know, don't you?"
"Talk to me first, Jim. Tell me everything you remember."
Jim took a deep breath and nodded. "All right."
Before either of them could say another word, the overhead lighting and the small lamp unit connected to the bed winked out.
"Storm?" Jim said, the tension in his voice under control.
"Probably." Pete got to his feet as emergency lights flickered on, providing nominal visibility in the small room. Another booming vibration of thunder rolled through the floor.
Ed Wells pushed open the door with one hand. He squinted at Jim briefly before re-directing his attention to Pete. "Malloy, there's some trouble in one of the other wings on this floor. One of the nurses is begging me to go help. She's pretty hysterical. What'd ya think?
"What about hospital security?"
"Nobody else around and the phone lines are all dead."
"Go on, check it out," Pete said, moving toward the hall as Ed rushed into the darkened corridor. He stayed at the edge of the hallway, keeping the door open with his back and shoulder. Two hushed figures in white hurried past him, one male, and the other female. Headed in the same direction as Ed Wells, their hurried footsteps faded seconds later.
Glancing back at his partner, Pete scowled. Jim's legs hung over the side of the bed, his feet bare as they touched the floor. One hand rested heavily on the nearby bedside table and the other pushed back the bedcovers in anticipation.
"Don't even think about it."
"Any idea what's going on?"
"No. Get back in bed."
"They might need help."
"That's why I sent Wells," Pete said, risking another glimpse into the now empty hall. The elevator was to the right and back around the corner. The nurses' station for the floor was located down the corridor immediately to his left and around another corner. He remembered seeing the area always staffed with medical personnel. "Jim, press your call button. We'll see if one of the other nurses can tell us anything."
Pete waited, knowing that Jim was doing his best to do the same. Fifteen seconds passed. Thirty, forty-five. No one responded to the call and that concerned him in more ways than one.
Trying not to think of all the implications, Pete took another step into the hall, keeping the door halfway open with one hand. The inner hallways depended solely on artificial lighting with windows framing only patient rooms and the space near the elevators. The normal sights and sounds of a hospital were drastically diminished, nearly to the point of being nonexistent.
Jim's voice almost startled him. "What?"
"Why didn't you go with him?"
"I'm not going anywhere, Jim," Pete replied, knowing his partner expected and deserved an answer. "Not under these conditions."
"A power outage and an unknown disturbance?"
"Yeah. Something like that."
Pete didn't elaborate but, even without the benefit of bright lights, he witnessed the questioning expression on Jim's face.
"You might as well take a look around, Pete. Who knows what's going on out there?"
That's what I'm afraid of, partner.
"I'll stay here and keep buzzing the nurses' station."
Hesitation skimmed over Pete. He wasn't used to the feeling and he didn't like it. He also didn't like being in the dark with no answers.
"All right. I won't be far and I won't be long," Pete said, reluctantly. His mouth tensed as he looked at Jim. "Stay put."
The door closing behind him, Pete stood in the hallway and took in the view around him. Every passage bent with unfamiliar shadows. Every corner cut into slices of blackness.
There wasn't a soul to be seen, darkness or not. Pete definitely felt something very hinky was going down. He only wished he knew where it was going down.