Curse of the Sabeth, Part VII
The door closed slowly behind Pete. When it came to rest with a muffled thump, Jim pulled open the top drawer of the bedside table and grabbed the stack of clothes Jean had left earlier. Granted, she had no idea he'd be wearing them this soon and would probably be more than a little upset with him later on. But he was relieved that she'd had the foresight to think ahead, even if the end result was entirely different than she had planned.
As he stiffly tugged on one sock, Jim thought about his partner's reactions and responses. Confident that Pete would've been straight with him about everything, he felt more than a little frustrated that they never got that chance. But his concern and his curiosity jumped a notch or two when Pete chose to stick close to him instead of joining Wells. Pete would never hang back if trouble came up--unless he was worried that bigger trouble was closer to home. And that brought Jim back to one nagging suspicion. Sabeth.
The second sock was a little easier. Getting the jeans on was another thing. Jean was really something--she'd picked out the worn Levis that he usually wore when he worked around the house. They weren't her favorites but she knew how much he liked them. Now if he could only get them on.
One leg at a time.
Sweat chilled his upper body as he stood up to finish the task, convincing him to get it over with as fast as possible. He dropped back on the bed as dizziness closed in on him, giving him a split second of doubt. Letting out a deep breath, he let the canvas shoes fall on the floor in front of him and worked his feet into them. He slid his arms into a work-shirt with the sound of the rain pelting the windows behind him. As he turned and caught his likeness in the glass, a sudden and overwhelming sense of aloneness swept over him.
He got up slowly and made his way across the room to stare quietly at the numerous buildings flanking the hospital, their glowing dots of light crisscrossed and blurred by the rainfall. His fingers made tentative contact with the casement, feeling the vibration as each spatter of water burst against the thin windowpane. The lines of bruising on one of his wrists came into view, puzzling him with another odd detail. If he saw the marks on someone else, he wouldn't hesitate to speculate on the cause. It became more difficult reasoning out theories for himself. It was another question for Pete, one that he'd been hesitant to bring up earlier. Taking random bits of information and fragments of memory and forcing them together on his own wasn't working. It only succeeded in making his head hurt worse than before. Being in the dark, both figuratively and literally, was getting to him more than he wanted to admit.
The buttons of his shirt left undone and forgotten, Jim placed a tired hand over his eyes as he tried to reorganize his thoughts. Incomplete as they were, he could remember going to the Temple and retrieving Michelle. He could even see Sabeth and the simmering anger in his face. What time did they get back to the station? Coop was there, too. And Pete waited around so he could go home and call Jean. Did he even talk to Jean?
Stay away from my family....
Jim's eyes flashed open as his hand clenched tightly. That threat he did remember--all too clearly.
Turning away from the sight of the outside world, he crossed back to the door and cracked it open a few inches, taking in the immediate area. It was a limited scene. He heard no sound and saw no movement. Pete was either being very thorough or had found something of interest. It wouldn't surprise Jim if both answers were correct. But it bothered him that his partner wasn't anywhere around.
A heavy pounding from somewhere interrupted his thoughts. Pulling the door open further, Jim took a step into the hall and paused to listen again. Frowning, he waited to see if the sound had been in his imagination or if it was another tattered piece of memory coming to life.
In the last few minutes, Pete had encountered a couple of alert patients but most of them remained sleeping or, more likely, heavily medicated. To those awake and aware, his presence provided a fleeting moment of alarm followed by reassurance. Pete wished someone else would come along and dole out a little of the same to him. At this point, he didn't even know where Ed Wells had ended up. And there didn't seem to be any sign of anyone in authority.
Closing in on the nurses' station, he slowed his footsteps. Even in semi-darkness, it was obvious that things were not quite right. The beam of his flashlight hovered over files and pens scattered on the floor, papers under his feet. A plastic pitcher was tipped over on the counter, its contents still dribbling slowly into a small puddle. Cautiously, Pete took two more steps and spotted one of the phones off the hook and dangling over the edge of the desk. He bent over to pick up the receiver and held it up to his ear. The normal dial tone was missing. He punched all of the numerous extension buttons one after the other and heard the same hollow silence.
Any attempt to communicate over the phone would be fruitless. A cc unit would've been handy but it had never occurred to Pete that he might need one here, tonight. Since choices were getting slim, Pete decided to go back to Jim's room, get his partner and take him downstairs until they found some assistance or at least a phone that worked. He wasn't thrilled about leaving so many patients unattended but he was no doctor and he wasn't helping them much by waiting around.
Keeping an eye out for anything unusual…anything more unusual... Pete made his way down the hall. The emergency lights were slightly dimmer than the after hours lighting normally used in the hospital. Still, a person could see and find their way…if they didn't move too fast or jump at every shadow.
The distinct sound of a door opening or closing brought Pete to a halt as he neared one of the exit hallways. Peering around the corner, Pete was confronted with the unlikely appearance of Larry Dent. The man was out of breath, drenched to the skin and visibly stunned to see Pete. The exit sign bathed his skin and clothes with a sickly tinge of red, giving him a rosy shade of jaundice.
"Mr. Dent?" Pete said, as he took a step closer to the man. "Mr. Dent, what's wrong? Why are you are at the hospital?"
"Who?" Pete asked, growing uneasy.
Mr. Dent hesitated, hugging his torso and trembling, either from the thorough soaking or nervousness or something else entirely.
"I…I think he's gonna hurt someone."
"He's here now?" Pete's eyes narrowed as he glanced over his shoulder.
"I seen him," Dent nodded.
"You better stick with me. Come on."
As far as he could tell, the storm was still doing its thing outside. Pete hadn't turned up nor had anyone else. Every hallway and alcove looked alike and the decision to venture out began to feel like a huge mistake. Jim began to wonder if the heavy sleep he'd lingered in had taken longer to shake off than he thought. It already felt like he was walking through some kind of fog. Maybe it was the same way inside his brain.
Jim's steps slowed as the hallway opened up to a small vestibule with twin elevators. The floor indicators above and the call buttons for each one remained dark and non-operational. A silver-white arc of lightning slashed the inky blackness, briefly exposing an assorted grouping of chairs and a table cluttered with magazines. The hard-hitting rain continued as it punctuated a broad backdrop of windows.
He circled the wider section, walking past several chairs that were clustered together. Not even sure what he was looking for, Jim paused to gaze at the L.A. skyline. A flash of lightning washed the city again, followed by growling thunder that rattled the panes. When the empty silence returned, Jim felt a thickness in the air around him that wasn't there before. A trace of movement shimmered across the glass. Jean's troubled voice echoed in his head. A large, looming shadow that moved like a man…
"The curse seeks its own foreseeable conclusion."
Jim's breath hitched in his throat. He spun around to meet a piercing black gaze.
His face framed and nearly hidden by fabric darker than his skin, Sabeth smiled. He drifted closer, his voice melodic with words hushed but clear. "The spirit of Mojo calls your name a final time."
Straining to see in the dimness that blurred lines and skewed features, Jim instinctively looked for a weapon and saw none. Sabeth merely touched the shiny gold medallion hanging from his neck, ensuring that Jim took a good look at it. It reminded him of the way the Reverend had brandished the oversized plastic eye in front of his followers that day, an outrageous gesture with a deadly intent behind it. Inanimate objects in the hands of a madman took on new meaning.
Jim's legs were ready to snap like matchsticks, but his feet stayed cemented to the floor. He told himself that he'd stand his ground, that he wasn't afraid of this man. He didn't want to admit that some unnamed fear still clawed at his senses, along with that thick veil of isolation he'd experienced back in his room just a few moments ago. This never-ending nightmare had grabbed onto him and refused to let go.
"Your fate was sealed from the moment you spoke out against me. You desecrate my temple. You mock the spiritual foundation that sustains my followers and presume to sway their beliefs. And you take those who do not belong to you."
Jim's head began to throb as his brain scrambled through a blender to take in Sabeth's accusations. Seeing Sabeth again was like tearing open a wound, one that hadn't healed ---and one that Jim wasn't even sure how he got. The Reverend's hypnotic stare drilled into him, and he still couldn't force his feet to budge an inch.
The large, round pendant flashed as Sabeth's movements caught the erratic light from the outside.
"It is fitting that you are alone," Sabeth said, and then added with a whisper, "Again."
Jim winced as that one word pried open his memory, stirring up images and voices with shocking clarity. He gasped and his eyes began to water as pain spiked through his skull. His legs shook as he stumbled forward, his feet no longer glued into immobility.
"I will take back what belongs to me and more," Sabeth hissed, his ivory teeth still gleaming. "You have a lovely wife, Officer Reed. It was a pleasure to watch her within the safe confines of your own home. A pity that she and your child are no longer with you. Although you have no need to worry. After you complete this final journey, those whom you claim as your own will follow, I assure you."
In a blind rage, Jim struck out and shoved the other man with every bit of strength he had, his hand catching on the heavy gold medallion swinging from Sabeth's neck. Jim wrenched on it as he jerked to the side and back. The twisted strands resisted the pressure at first, then snapped all at once. The folds of Sabeth's hood dropped away, revealing the unyielding hatred in his eyes. The Reverend flailed at Jim, but missed, swiping the air with unrestrained ferocity. Jim grabbed at and tripped over pieces of furniture to avoid the blows, falling to the floor with a shock that revived the ache in his shoulder.
"There are no boundaries, no limitations to my power. Once the shadow has been cast upon you, there is no escape," Sabeth said, recovering quickly to press a knee into Jim's chest, giving him no room to move and not much more to breathe. Fingers flexed and seized Jim's throat under the glare of heavy-lidded eyes. "You will release all that is mine. Now."
As his own hand tightened around the medallion, Jim braced himself for Sabeth's response, feeling the meaty fingers squeezing deeper into his neck, rapidly cutting off what was left of his air supply.
Jim tossed the chunk of metal in the opposite direction, hearing it skate across the hard surface with a tinny ring before hitting an obstacle in the darkness. With both hands free, he clawed in vain at the reinforced grip on his throat, his lungs bursting as the shades of black around him expanded. Sabeth's voice was lost in a deafening rush of sound.
With Larry Dent dogging his tracks, Pete pushed the door to Jim's room wide open, expecting to see his partner waiting impatiently for him.
The discarded hospital attire didn't escape his attention nor did the half-closed and empty dresser drawer. Pete moved quickly to the private bathroom door, knocking once but not waiting for a response before checking inside. He already knew Jim wasn't there.
Pete heard the whispered oath and stared back at the gaunt man huddled against the doorframe. He'd almost forgotten about Larry Dent.
"He can't be far," Pete said, pushing past Dent and into the maze of halls. It was true. In his condition, Jim would've needed extra time to get dressed. Surely he'd only been gone a few minutes. But where and why?
A noisy disturbance further down the hall halted his questioning and spurred him to move faster, leaving Larry Dent behind. His right hand already gripped his gun. The noises might be nothing or they might be a whole lot more. As he approached the elevator foyer with caution, he heard low voices, scuffles of movement…and stole a look around the last corner.
Something small slid across the floor and hit his shoe. Pete didn't have time to see what it might be because he was staring at a dark silhouette crouching low to the floor. In the blink of an eye, he realized what he was actually happening right in front of him.
"Let go of him now!" Pete said, his service revolver snapping up to point directly at Sabeth's looming form.
No one moved.
"Now or I'll shoot!" His finger balanced on the trigger, Pete wasn't willing to wait any longer. And then Sabeth's hands flew up, suspended in mid-air as he rose effortlessly and took a step back.
Jim's harsh gasp followed by wheezing and a fit of coughing was a welcome sound to Pete's ears. He saw his partner roll over and look at him and, this time, there was no doubt in Pete's mind. It's all right.
"T. Leland Sabeth, you're under arrest for kidnapping, assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Turn around and put your hands on your head."
Sabeth did exactly that, his enigmatic facade going with him as he faced the wall.
Pete crossed the short distance cautiously but quickly. With one hand feeling his throat, Jim accepted the arm Pete offered and got to his feet.
"You okay?" Pete asked, still watching out for Sabeth.
Jim nodded, his chest still rising and falling with labored effort.
"No. No." Larry Dent spoke up, faltering as he stepped out of the dimness and into the line of fire. He aimed a pistol at Reverend Sabeth's back.
"Mr. Dent," Pete said, now trying to keep his eyes on both Sabeth and Dent. "There's no need. We're going to take care of it. Back off and hand over the gun."
"Don't you understand? You can't do it. It's for me to put an end to it," Larry Dent swallowed, his hands trembling visibly. "It's up to me."
"Larry," Jim's voice nearly failed him. He forced a cough and made another try. "What about your wife? What does she want?"
"She'd understand. Where we come from, folks like Reverend Sabeth…well, they know a powerful lot of things. That's why we trusted him," Dent continued, sticking the gun out further. "We had faith in him."
"Faith not absolute," Sabeth said, looking over his shoulder as his eyes fused into hard-edged creases,"is no faith at all."
Dent's own eyes widened as his hands shook under the weight of the oversized weapon and the reproachful gaze of Sabeth. Uncertainty and sadness raked at him, shredding his resolve and hindering rational thought.
"Larry, your wife needs you," Jim said, quietly. "You've got to be there for her. What happens to her if you're in jail for killing a man?"
"Even a man like…him?" Dent asked, hoarsely. The gun in his hand lowered slightly.
"Even a man like him."
Larry Dent's shoulders slumped, his arm dropped and the gun hung loosely from his fingers. Jim took possession of the weapon and watched helplessly as the man collapsed onto the couch.
A thick hum pulsed through the building as a startling brightness splashed the entire floor. The accompanying heavy blast of cool air signaled a return of familiar air conditioning. Within seconds, phones began to ring as signs of life in the hospital ward began to reappear. Call buttons chimed and lit up as one set of elevators doors jerked open with a fit, exposing the solitary figure of Ed Wells.
"Finally! It's about time! I've been trapped in there like a rat in a…" Ed shouted, as his footsteps pounded out his exit. His tirade was silenced as he took in the scene. "Uhh, hey, you guys need a hand?"
"Yeah, Ed," Pete said. "Cuff the prisoner, would you? We're going to need to take the Reverend and Mr. Dent in."
"Got it covered." After manacling Sabeth, Ed planted himself squarely with his hand resting securely on the butt of his revolver. He eyed the towering figure with a blatant mistrust.
"Wait, Pete," Jim murmured. "I want to talk to Mr. Dent first."
"You better do it now. He's going to have to go to the station, Jim."
"I know," Jim said, handing Dent's weapon over to his partner.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I am, Pete. Your timing is something else," Jim said, one hand dropping away from the red imprints on his neck. "Again."
Pete watched as Jim joined Larry Dent on the couch. The poor man's misery hung onto him like a sickness and Pete felt more than a pang of sympathy for him. It was a sad situation that had gotten a lot worse in the last few minutes.
The ding of the elevator repeated, netting his attention as the doors opened and released several hospital personnel who dashed out like racehorses from a starting gate. None paid them a second look. The last person to step off the elevator was Cooper Lee, wearing a light denim jacket that appeared a little wrinkled and damp.
Pete walked over to him as Coop slowly took in the aftermath.
"Coop," Pete said, "Good to see you."
"Looks like I missed all the action," Coop said, with a rare grimace. He scrunched fingers through wet hair and wiped the moisture from the back of his neck. "Apparently everyone survived?"
"More or less," Pete said, his gaze on Jim and Larry Dent before moving over to Sabeth. "I'll fill you in with the details later. Are you here checking on things or something else?"
"Both. Had a bit of a breakthrough with our suspects presently in custody." Coop broke a grin and spoke a little louder as he glanced at Sabeth. "Russ Tinneman is willing to cooperate in exchange for a plea bargain. He's got lots of interesting things to tell us, Pete."
Coop purposely turned away from Sabeth and lowered his voice. "Tinneman alleges that it was Regina who swung the blow that killed Angie Barrett."
Coop shrugged. "Combination of things, it looks like. Tinneman is willing to testify that Sabeth believed Angie was going to spill her guts to someone." A shadow briefly crossed the detective's face. "Guess that'd be me. She knew things--things that could hurt him. Seems that she'd always been afraid before and that had kept her under control. In fact, it reinforced his image within the neighborhood. I'm not sure we'll ever know Angie's whole story."
"So why was Tinneman involved in the first place…the dope?"
"Yup, that was his primary interest. He hasn't admitted too much there yet but I'm guessing the two of them probably had connections in San Diego, using port of entry access. After all, Sabeth seems to have traveled quite a bit and Tinneman's only been out of the service a couple of years. I'm betting he's got a few contacts and Sabeth is one of them. When he heard that the girl might jeopardize the operation he wanted to leave town. Sabeth convinced him that Angie could be intimidated and controlled."
"Is this where the poison comes in?"
Coop nodded. "Tinneman swears it was all a ruse to scare her. But Angie wasn't backing down, started screaming her head off and fighting him. The next thing he knew she was dead on the floor and Regina's standing there with the tire iron in her hand. Tinneman said he didn't even know that she'd brought it with her. That may or may not be true, of course."
"Any idea how they lured her into the warehouse?"
"Tinneman said Regina pulled it off. I wasn't sure he was being straight on that until later. I got an inkling when I talked to Regina."
"Hard to believe she'd be willing to talk," Pete said, dryly.
"You're tellin' me. But when I made a big deal out of Tinneman's involvement, she got offended…like she wanted credit for trying to protect Sabeth. Started boasting about playing Angie for a fool. She set the poor girl up, Pete. Put on a little show of her own, crying and going on about how the Reverend hurt her and she wanted to leave, too. She got Angie's attention, her curiosity, maybe eventually, her sympathy, I don't know. But it was enough to pull her into that warehouse, alone and defenseless. Regina led that girl straight to her death, Pete. And, as far as I'm concerned, Sabeth set it all in motion. We only have hearsay from Tinneman that the toxin in that syringe was a scare tactic."
"You don't have to convince me," Pete said, turning to stare at the Reverend who stood very still, with Ed Wells trying not to shift nervously beside him.
"Well, Regina's convinced nothing's going to happen to her or Sabeth because of this mojo magic of his. That could work to our advantage when she finds out otherwise. And Tinneman never bought into it so he's looking at his present situation a little differently."
"With what happened here tonight then, we could have a package deal wrapping up this nightmare," Pete sighed, resting his hands on his hips. "Would you mind going with Wells and taking Sabeth down to the station? I'll get there as soon as I can."
"No problem. I'm going back at some point and check the house again. Even though we found a couple of small hideaways, I want to see if secret rooms are becoming the popular trend of the new decade. But I'll be looking forward to hearing the lowdown on this later," Coop said, turning to leave.
Pete waited, wanting to give Jim enough time to complete his conversation with Larry Dent. He wasn't sure what was being said but the expressions on both of their faces were a testament to the ordeal each had been through at the hands of T. Leland Sabeth.
"You'll have to go back to Police Headquarters, Larry," Jim said, leaning over with his hands hanging loosely over his knees.
"I know," Larry said, so quietly Jim almost didn't hear him.
"We'll do what we can," Jim paused, and then continued. "You and your wife have been through a lot."
"Startin' our family out here in California…life back home was hard. We thought it would be easier out here. And then we found Reverend Sabeth and me and Sue Ellen knew everything was gonna be just fine," Larry said, looking down at the floor between his feet. "But then, she got so awful sick…and…well, you know."
"I thought about the things you said. At the hospital. And then it come to me."
"What's that, Larry?"
"We didn't do nothin' wrong, he did. He's the one with the power. That's why I showed 'em the secret room where the Reverend does his strongest spells…where they found you." When Larry Dent finally raised his head, a tear dropped from the corner of his eye and ran down to his jaw. "Today, the doc told us…he said, Sue Ellen might not be able to have no more babies. What kind of man robs you of your children?"
"I'm sorry, Larry," Jim said, as his own eyes burned.
Larry bowed his head before he looked at Jim. "For me and mine. That's why I took my granddaddy's gun and followed him here. Couldn't think of any other way."
"And you decided to do this tonight."
Larry Dent hesitated, wiping his nose with the arm of his sleeve. "Had to…wait for the courage to hit me first, I guess."
"You did the right thing in the end." Jim rested a hand on the other man's shoulder and caught Pete's eye. "Let's see what we can do about getting you home."
Both men stood, but Pete moved quickly to brace Jim's arm when he swayed. Waiting until Jim nodded at him, Larry Dent walked away with a slow gait and chose to stand on the other side of Cooper Lee. Sabeth remained positioned between the detective and Wells, still staring calmly at Jim with a disturbing trace of a smile. The doors to the elevator closed mercifully quickly.
"Hey. I picked up something while you were talking to Dent," Pete said, holding the amulet between his thumb and index finger. "Do you know anything about this?"
"Yeah," Jim said, with a drained smile. "Only distraction I could think of on such short notice. I was running out of options."
"Well, it must've worked." Pete examined the thick gold disk in his palm, and then deposited it into his pocket. "I'll take it back with me."
"Pete, I know I griped about this place earlier. But that hospital bed sounds pretty good right now."
"Come on," Pete said, taking his partner's arm again. "And later, we'll talk about how you never stay put when I tell you to…"
"The phone lines are still acting up so you're going to have to wait to call Jean," Pete said, reclaiming the ugly chair he now considered his own.
"As long as Sabeth's and the others are no longer on the streets, then I'm not worried. I can wait a little longer," Jim responded, stretching out under the bedcovers. "But the least they could've done was let me stay in my clothes."
"You heard the doctor. With tonight's little incident, you bought yourself some additional time in here. And I don't think they're too fond of treating fully-clothed patients."
"I just want the bed."
"Which brings me back to the million-dollar question…why'd you leave the relative safety of this room and go off on your own like that?"
"I heard something. You weren't back yet," Jim started to shrug, ending it with a wince instead. "Thought you might need backup."
"So when were you going to tell me what happened with Sabeth and Regina?"
"Needed to hear it from you first, Jim. Mac didn't want me shading your recollection. And the doctor thought it'd be better if you remembered on your own."
"Well, I do remember," Jim said, as his eyes clouded. "At least most of it, I think."
"I didn't know what was going on or what to do. If they wanted to kill me…or something else," Jim said, his bloodshot eyes doing nothing to hide the haunted look. "I was scared, Pete. Like never before. I guess that much stayed with me whether I knew it or not."
"Any sane person would've felt the same way if they'd been in your shoes, Jim."
Jim rested his head back with a scrap of a smile.
"What?" Pete smiled, curiosity lightening his expression.
"Shoes. At least Ed can't rib me about my shoes tonight. I had some on."
Pete chuckled. "That's true."
Jim's eyelids dropped once, twice before he strained to open them again. "I should tell you what I can recall now, Pete."
"Whenever you're ready."
"Oh-kay." Eyes closed again, followed by a slow and regular pattern of breathing. The steady, gentle rhythm of the rain was the only other sound in the room.
Pete folded his arms across his chest, leaned his head on the back of his chair and shut his eyes. "Whenever you're ready, partner."
"Thanks, again, Pete," Jean stepped through the patio doors, holding a large, empty platter in her hand. "I'm glad you were able to get so many of the guys to come over."
"Not necessary," Pete said, shrugging one shoulder. "Besides, when is a second invitation to a Reed cookout ever necessary?"
"Still, you all made sure that everything at the house was repaired and back to normal before Jim was even out of the hospital. You and I both know that he would've tried to do it himself."
"Jean, really, it's no big deal. The guys wanted to do it." Pete squelched the images of bloodstained carpeting and a broken door lock.
"I know and that makes it even more special," Jean said, giving his arm a faint squeeze as she held the plate up to him. "Would you do me a favor and take this to Big Jim while I check on little Jim, please? It's for the ones that are ready."
"Be glad to."
"And this, too, please," she said, handing him a regular size white envelope. "The mailman came late today and I forgot about it when the guests started arriving. It's funny. Jim tells me that paperwork is his least favorite part of being a cop but he sure wants to stay on top of every piece of paper that comes into this house."
Laughing as he relieved her of both the plate and envelope, Pete replied, "Anything else you need before I go over there?"
"Yeah," Jean said, her eyes softening. "Tell me this is all over, Pete."
"It's over, Jean."
Jean's lively smile surfaced, the one he realized he hadn't seen in a while.
"Okay," she said. "Now go tell Jim I've got another dozen hamburger patties on the way."
"I will," Pete said, putting the envelope in his pocket. He turned to follow the pungent aroma of white hickory smoke.
Pete found Jim at the grill where thick slabs of raw meat sizzled and dripped between occasional spikes of orange flame.
"How's it going, chef?" Pete asked.
"Good, Pete. It's all in the technique, you know. The secret of getting the meat evenly cooked is not letting it go too long on one side." Jim gripped a large fork and spatula and poked at a barely tan burger, and then decided to flip it over. The beef split three ways and big chunks crumbled, fell apart and dropped through the rack onto the hot coals.
"Now I know why it's a secret," Pete said, peering at the smoldering and blackening remains. "That one was yours, by the way."
"Actually, it was yours."
"I talked to Larry Dent yesterday," Jim said, glancing back at Pete.
"Really? How is he?"
"Okay, I think. The D.A. considered all the circumstances, including the fact that he doesn't have any priors and that the gun he carried wasn't exactly in working order. And that he was instrumental in helping us catch Sabeth. They didn't push for any charges and the Dents decided to move back home. Los Angeles wasn't what they expected."
"Not the first time we've heard that."
"No. I guess it won't be the last time either."
"There wasn't much more either of us could've done, Jim. At least for the Dents," Pete said, setting the plate down. "Michelle's another story. She's with her parents, safe and sound, far from the reach of T. Leland Sabeth. It's a good thing she never told him where she was from."
"She was something else, wasn't she?" Jim grinned, leaning back as grease spattered and popped in the air. "She had everyone looking for her again and there she was, right in the same hospital, sitting with Mr. Marinoni. Girl has a mind of her own, I guess."
"Good thing. She bought into Sabeth's act but eventually used her brain to see the truth. By the way, did you know that she was on her way up to see you as well that night?"
"No," Jim said, pausing. "I'm glad she never made it. Sabeth being there and all…"
"Yeah, I know. Mr. Marinoni said that she came to see him, cried a little, then fell asleep. It's a miracle that she's all right."
Jim nodded. "I hope her family gets another miracle before too long."
"Yeah, me, too."
"Hey, hey!" Ed Wells yelled from behind them. "I hope you're not burnin' those masterpieces, Reed. I'm starving."
Turning, Pete saw Coop wandering beside Ed as the two men neared the center of the cooking activity. "And I hope Coop knows what he's getting into if he's spending time with you, Ed."
Coop opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by Ed.
"Even detectives can still learn a thing or two from those of us out on the street every day--in the thick of the action."
Jim set the spatula down and looked at Coop sympathetically. "Coop, I forgot to warn you. Ed here is our self-proclaimed expert on…well, according to him, everything."
"It's all right. Mac gave me the word," Coop said, grinning.
Ed shrugged. "Sometimes the truth hurts, gentlemen. Nothing can take the place of first-hand knowledge, finely honed skills and years of experience."
"Yeah, that's why you carry that good luck charm in your pants pocket," Brinkman spoke up as he arrived at the outer edge of the small group. Pointing to Ed's backside, he laughed. "He hasn't gone on a call without that rabbit's foot since this whole thing started."
"I'll have you know that I'm only holding it for my nephew until my sister comes back for a visit," Ed sputtered, digging into his pocket. "But I said it before and I'll say it again, that reverend or whatever he called himself was a real nutcase, no matter how you look at it. And Reed here had to go and become a target for his loony tunes kind of trouble. And what happens to one of us might as well happen to all of us. So if I want to carry around a little extra protection, what's the harm? That is, if I wanted to."
"It didn't help you much when you got stuck in the elevator, Ed," Brink said, his teeth flashing beneath his mustache.
"I had to subdue a 200-lb psychiatric patient in the stairwell. Well, me and one scrawny intern and a really mean nurse. We were two flights down before I realized it. Can't hardly blame me for trying to take the elevator back up. Who knew that the power wasn't all back on completely?"
"Ed, it's okay. You're right," Jim said, as a matter of fact.
"Sure. But I hope your rabbit's foot is more reliable than the last item you came up with."
"Huh? Whaddya mean?"
"Well, that thing you tried to shove off on me wasn't worth the paper it was made out of…remember?"
Brinkman and Pete laughed while Coop patiently watched and waited for some explanation.
"You go right ahead and laugh," Ed said, stretching his arms behind his back before settling them across his chest. "But Sabeth is in jail and Reed is here. As it turns out, I think that's a pretty good endorsement for the Ed Wells' Hex-O-Gone invention, don't you? Even if you did smash it before you realized its true potential."
With a half-snort, Jim shook his head and turned his attention back to the nearly ready burgers.
"Jean!" Ed stuck his hand up suddenly as he stepped away from the gathering. "Are those beers for us? I think one of them has my name on it!"
"I guess you're going to have to clue me in about him sometime, you guys," Coop said, watching Ed's departure.
"That could take a while, Detective," Brink said. "Sometimes I don't even know if Ed's been clued in. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to give him some grief about the latest Sabeth rumor. Ed can't decide if he believes in the hocus pocus stuff or not so it's up to me to keep him on the fence."
"What exactly are you talking about?" Jim asked, almost reluctantly.
"He still won't shut up about the ceiling crashing in on you two. And it hasn't helped that the Fire Department and the city building inspector can't agree on the official cause. Add to that the whole freak rainstorm out of nowhere. Plus the blackout, of course. But the latest bit is how odd it was that Mr. Dent followed the Reverend to the hospital and he ended up being soaked to the skin, pretty much like Pete and Detective Lee. But Sabeth was dry as a bone. At least that's what we heard. Not a drop on him anywhere."
"I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation, Bob," Pete said, his expression weary.
"Sure, Pete, we all know that. But Woods and I are gonna have a little fun with Ed before he realizes it," Bob said, laughing as he retreated. "Can you blame us?"
Coop chuckled, shaking his head. "You two work with some real funky characters."
"Can't argue that," Pete said, grinning.
"But Wells was right on about one thing."
"Yeah? What?" Jim asked, brushing charcoal grime from his pants.
"When something bad hits one of us, it hits all of us...in one way or another. But, I'm glad to say, the same can be said of the good stuff, too."
Pete's eyes roamed around the backyard as he noted the number of fellow officers with their wives or girlfriends and the accompanying bursts of laughter and conversation. He turned to catch Jim doing the same.
"I've avoided a certain word lately but right now it seems to fit. I am a very lucky man," Jim said, with a smile as his gaze held in one direction.
"Jean, your ears must've been burning," Pete said, as she approached them.
"Do I want to know?"
"I'll tell you later," Jim said, kissing her on the cheek and taking the two bottles she held out. "Hey, sweetheart, thanks. You must've been able to slip by Ed."
"That's not a difficult assignment. He's a little hard to miss."
All three men laughed and Jim said, "Coop, why don't you take this one?"
"No, better not. I'm on duty later." Coop held up a hand as he looked longingly at the chilled glass container.
"I've heard you work a lot," Jean smiled mischievously. "Maybe too much?"
"Oh, I don't know about that…"
"But you do take time out for a social life, don't you? You're here, after all."
"Yes, ma'am," Coop said, chuckling.
Pete ran a thumb across his lips as he focused on Jim's cooking technique with a renewed interest.
"And I also hear that you're a bachelor, is that right?" Jean said, with an innocent arch of both eyebrows.
"Uh, yes, ma'am," Coop said again, peering at Pete and Jim suspiciously.
"Wonderful! There's someone I want you to meet," Jean said, taking Coop's arm and smoothly guiding him 180 degrees before he could utter a word of protest. With a twinkle in her eye, she threw a smile at Jim. "Be back in a minute."
Jim laughed as he sat his drink down and checked the status of the hamburgers once again. "Go ahead. Say what you're thinking."
"You know, Jim, I think you're going to have to start sharing."
"What, the burgers?" Jim chuckled, pointing. "There's plenty, Pete."
"Nope, I was talking about some of your luck," Pete said, as he watched the young detective being led away. "I think Coop's gonna need it."
"Speaking of need…would you hand me that sauce, Pete?" Jim said, gesturing over Pete's shoulder to a nearby table."
Pete pivoted and picked up a large bottle with red letters emphasizing 'Mountain Joe's Mighty Hot BBQ Sauce.' "
"What's that sticking out of your back pocket?" Jim said, nodding slightly.
"Oh, I forgot," Pete handed over the bottle and pulled the envelope out. "Jean said this was in the mail."
"Probably a lousy bill," Jim said, twisting the bottle top. "Would you mind lookin' at it for me? I'm a little busy here."
"Sure. But I'm not going to pay it." Pete peeled back the barely sealed flap, withdrew a small index card and read it silently.
"So? What is it?" Jim said, as he poured a smattering of liquid across a row of the raw patties waiting their turn on the grill.
Pete didn't answer right away.
"We can talk about it later."
Jim halted his actions when he saw the look on Pete's face. "What?"
Pete hesitated, his expression turning dour as he displayed the contents of the document as inconspicuously as possible.
"'Suffering now known yet never to be purged from the soul'," Jim said, under his breath. "Great. Just great."
"It can't be Sabeth, Jim," Pete said. "You and I both know he's been in custody all this time."
"It looks like the same handwriting, Pete."
"Maybe a good forgery."
"By one of his followers, then?"
"Possibly. I'm sure Coop will check it out."
Jim remained silent as the meat in front of him continued to crackle and spit. He looked at the people milling around, directing his focus on Jean as her laughter sprinkled the air.
"I'm going to turn it over to Coop before he leaves. And we'll talk to Mac about it when he gets here," Pete said, slipping it into his back pocket. "But you gotta promise me something."
"Don't let this hang over you. Sabeth and his bunch are out of the picture…and will be for a long time. Even if he is somehow behind it, it's too late for him. You, on the other hand, have to get on with your life."
"I know, Pete, but this…"
"No buts. Got it?"
"Yeah. I got it."
Pete watched as Jim busied himself with the grill again, scooping up all but the charred burgers. His hand checked the paper in his pants pocket, making sure it was still there and felt a twinge of disappointment when he discovered it was. He thought about Jean's earlier plea and his all too confident response.
He hoped it was true.
I want to acknowledge Stephen J. Cannell, who wrote the episode, "The Ferret" and whose characters I borrowed without shame or guilt. Still, I hope he doesn't mind! LOL I always felt that the boys' encounter with T. Leland Sabeth was only the beginning...so I decided to expand on it in my own way. Yet it was also important to me to stay true to all original characters in this different kind of story. As always, continued thanks to all the actors, writers and crew involved in the making of Adam-12. Obviously, the show stands the test of time or we wouldn't be involved in A-12 fanfiction.
A big thanks to Kim for her legal expertise and tips--I appreciate your
time and support! Another grateful nod to Lisa, who posted my first story and
then read the very first few paragraphs of CURSE so long ago. Lastly...and they
know they're not leastly, my gurus, Cathy and Karen...without whom I would have
never finished this story! Thank you both for encouraging and inspiring me,
for pushing me to write better and not settle for "okay," and for
hanging in there with me! -- susu